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01 An Introduction in Modern Theories of Ethics

 


29 October 2009 at 18:48
Today we begin a whole new philosophical adventure. Our goal is to gain insight in the ethical discourse of our time. It will not be an easy journey.

If we look at Western civilization we only can conclude that we hardly can recognize a prevailing moral philosophy. We have Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, a collaped socialist system, an economic system that almost collapsed because of the greed of the few.

We have terrorists of all kinds, fundamentalists, indifferent consumers, only looking for personal pleasure, a decayed influence of churches, a growing influence of extreme right-wing politics and among all this noise we live our life.

I am not at all a pessimist or doomsday philosopher. In fact the world is quite an interesting place to observe. How do we get it organized every day? We do…..

But to find any coherence in all this, to find an answer on the question "What should I do?" , not just a personal answer, but a kind of generally accepted and justified answer, that will be a huge enterprise.

Where it will lead us, what we will gain, I have no idea. Of course, like in all epistemological and philosophy of science debates I have a personal philosophical perspective.

But for me this will be a discovery as much as it can be for you. I have some personal convictions, fundamental philosophical views, but how they will fit in with the ethical discourse of today, I have no idea yet.

Moral concepts change as social life changes. I deliberately do not say "because social life changes," for this might suggest that social life is one thing, morality another, and that there is merely an external, contingent causal relationship between them.

This is obviously false. Moral concepts are embodied in and are partially constitutive of forms of social life. One key way in which we may identify one form of social life as distinct from another is by identifying differences in moral concepts.

Eighteenth-century English moralists and nineteenth-century utilitarians write from within a society in which individualism has conquered.

Hence they present the social order not as a frame- work within which the individual has to live out his moral life, but as the mere sum of individual wills and interests.

Sartre, the prescriptivists and emotivist do not trace the source of the necessity of choice, or of taking up one's own attitudes, to the moral history of our society.

They ascribe it to the nature of moral concepts as such. And in so doing, like Sartre, they try to absolutize their own individualist morality, and that of the age, by means of an appeal to concepts.

And thus there emerges already a philosophical perspective, ethics as an individual responsibility, ethics as conceptually justified or ethics as being embedded and defined by the social framework we live in.

Or we may take it even a step further. We assert things like "Generally speaking, you mustn't tell lies" and "Cloning humans is a terrible thing and mustn't be permitted," and these assertions fail to be true.

They fail to be true not because lying or cloning are really okay, but because they employ predicates like ". . . is forbidden" and ". . . is morally good" which are (in senses to be explored) vacuous.

Roughly, when one reflects carefully on what it would take for an action to instantiate a property like being morally forbidden, one sees that too much is being asked of the world .

There is simply nothing that is forbidden in the specifically moral sense of the word. The thought that morality is a fiction in this way is hardly an original thought,

enjoying a long history that can be traced back through Camus,Wittgenstein, Russell, Nietzsche, Hume, Mandeville, Hobbes.

So, a long journey ahead. A few vague beacons at the horizon to head for, but I think it may be "a long and winding road, that leads to [the] door". We'll see….

 

 

 

02 On Cultural Relativism


31 October 2009 at 12:20
Relativism is always attributed to others and almost always as a criticism. Like skepticism it has a bad name for some reason. And today we'll talk about cultural relativism, which is more or less equivalent to moral relativism.

One of the interesting aspects of it is, that it is quite new: a product of the 20th century. Of course before the 20th century we find traces of relativistic thinking, but that tends more to skepticism.

At the beginning of the 20th century most people were convinced that that our Western moral values were superior to the moral values of other cultures.

Few thought all moral values had equal or relative validity, or anything of that sort. So we sent out missionaries with mirrors and beads to convert the pagans.

But then came the anthropologists. They were fascinated with the diversity of cultures, and they produced detailed empirical studies of them—especially "primitive," non-Western ones.

And with them came cultural relativism, the conviction that saying that Western civilization was superior to other "primitive" cultures was sheer respectless arrogance and cultural imperialism.

We find scientists like Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead on our Path. Ruth Benedict, an influential American anthropologist who lived from 1887 to 1948, specialized in the study of native American cultures.. Margaret Mead studied South Pacific and Southeast Asian traditional cultures.

In 1947, on the occasion of the United Nations debate about universal human rights, the American Anthropological Association issued a statement

declaring that moral values are relative to cultures and that there is no way of showing that the values of one culture are better than those of another.

Or to quote Ruth Benedict herself: "Most organizations of personality that seem to us abnormal have been used by civilizations in the foundations of their institutional life.

Conversely the most valued traits of our normal individuals have been looked on in differently organized cultures as aberrant. Normality, in short, within a very wide range, is culturally defined.

It is a point that has been made more often in relation to ethics. We do not any longer make the mistake of deriving the morality of our own locality and decade directly from the inevitable constitution of human nature. We do not elevate it to the dignity of a first principle.

We recognize that morality differs in every society, and is a convenient term for socially approved habits. Mankind has always preferred to say, "It is a morally good," rather than "It is habitual," and the fact of this preference is matter enough for a critical science of ethics. But historically the two phrases are synonymous.

The concept of the normal is a variant of the concept of the good. It is that which society has approved. A normal action is one which falls well within the limits of expected behavior for a particular society." (1934)

Important words of an anthropologist which resound in the statement of 1947. Cultural relativism and along with it, moral relativism, was put on the map.

In moral philosophy we can look at moral relativism from different angles. The first one is the empirical:

As a matter of empirical fact, there are deep and widespread moral disagreements across different societies, and these disagreements are much more significant than whatever agreements there may be.

The second one is the meta-ethical one: The truth or falsity of moral judgments, or their justification, is not absolute or universal, but is relative to the traditions, convictions, or practices of a group of persons.

And the third angle is the implicit normative idea of relativism, that we ought to be tolerant with respect to other opinions and moral ideas.

As you see, cultural relativism is not just a simple observation of anthropologists. We still are allowed to ask, whether they are right or wrong, or to what extend.

To be continued next week…

 

 

 

03 Another analysis


6 November 2009 at 20:51
Thesis 1:As a matter of empirical fact, there are deep and widespread moral disagreements across different societies, and these disagreements are much more significant than whatever agreements there may be.

The meta-ethical position usually concerns the truth or justification of moral judgments, which leads to

Thesis 2: The truth or falsity of moral judgments, or their justification, is not absolute or universal, but is relative to the traditions, convictions, or practices of a group of persons.

These are two theses which deal with different aspects of epistemology. T1 focuses on the question: What can I know, in which it assumes that sensory experiences is the source of our knowledge.

T2 assumes that we obtain data by sensory experiences and that we can formulate statements with truth-value based on them. Thence it asks how truth is established.

T1 registers that in some cultures you see that there is polygamy and in others there is not, which leads to a conclusion that monogamy is not a universal standard. T2 goes on step further and says "Polygamy is morally wrong".

When you say that this statement is true, T2 says that the truth is relative to a specific culture. Even stronger…we have no rational basis to decide on the fact that in culture A it is true, and in culture B it is false, with the more complicating factor that is can be relative to a group or different persons in one group even.

Against T2 we can bring forward moral objectivism, which holds that rationally we can prove that moral judgments are ordinarily true or false in an absolute or universal sense.

Or we can use even a heavier attack and claim that moral judgements can not have truth-value at all, because they are completely different from descriptive statements as used in science, like "The distance between the Moon and Earth is n km".

First of all we can challenge the focus on disagreement in T1. Before you can disagree with someone there must be a lot of agreement first, otherwise you could not even communicate with that other person as the meaning of every word could be challenged then.

If this is right, there cannot be extensive disagreements about morality. The agreements are more significant than the disagreements. T1 cannot be true.

Another way of criticism we encountered in Philippa Foot (1978) in my lecture on her ideas. She holds that words like 'good' or 'rude' or 'brave' not only have an evaluative content, but also a descriptive content.

This enables us to unveil the agreement we can have on moral terms based on the descriptive content of the term, which means the behavior, actions it refers to.

Again a reason to reject moral or cultural relativism is that it may be said that the supposed evidence is incomplete or inaccurate because the observers are biased.

For instance based on the fact that our language doesn't have words for certain phenomena in another culture and that the words we use represent them in a biased and coloured way.

An other argument against the empirical evidence on which T1 is based is the anthropological assumption that cultures are rather discrete, homogenous, and static entities.

There are arguments to hold that a culture is an ongoing process, which changes and can be influenced and if this is so, it would be much harder to know the moral values of different cultures and to prove that the disagreements prevail.

Besides, these disagreements between cultures can also be caused by religious differences and that for instance the underlying conviction, that a person for instance has a right to his life can count on a general agreement.

And from that you can even go one step further and hold that the opposite of T1 is an empirical fact: there is a lot of agreement on fundamental moral values.

Take the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you". You'll find it in many cultures like basic moral prohibitions against lying, stealing, adultery, killing human beings, etc.

Hans Küng (1996) and others even maintain that there is a common "global ethic" across the world's major religious traditions. As you see, there are a lot of ways to critizise T1.

This objectivist standpoint, the view that there is some kind of independent moral standard, leads to the conclusion, that we rationally could discuss moral disagreements.

By testing moral judgement against an objective standard you can rationally conclude that judgement A is right and judgement B is wrong.

A relativist would admit that it might be possible to resolve disagreements within one moral framework, but not when these judgements are taken from different moral frameworks.

Another consequence of an objectivist standpoint is that there only one right moral standard, which implies that this standard has to be superior to other moral standards.

In reality we see this idea about ethics expressed in matters as Universal Human Rights and the activities of Amnesty International,

or in the worldwide actions agains global warming. It seems that about all nations are convinced that the moral standard that one should preserve and protect life a universal moral standard is.

This may be a somewhat long and complicated lecture, but we cant escape that: the thesis that moral disagreements prevail and can not rationally resolved is easily stated, but way more difficult to defend, which counts for most philosophical standpoints.

 

 

04 Moral subjectivism( and your own Philosophical Program)

 

After our latest discussion I realized that it would be a good thing, when I bring forward my personal view on Modern Theories of Ethics. For a good understanding it may be helpful to know in what way I am partial or biased.

Today I'll put my personal views against those of moral relativism and in particular moral subjectivism, which you may call a subspecies of moral relativism.

As we have seen is moral relativism relatively new. The first steps towards a subjectivist interpretation of moral judgement has a longer history.

It was David Hume who came close to classic subjectivism: "X is good" means "I like X." in "A Treatise of Human Nature "(1739).

- quote - "Since morals have an influence on the actions and affections, it follows, that they cannot be derived from reason; and that because reason alone can never have any such influence.

Morals excite passions, and produce or prevent actions. Reason of itself is utterly impotent in this particular. The rules of morality, therefore, are not conclusions of reason.

Reason is the discovery of truth or falsehood. Truth or falsehood consists in an agreement or disagreement either to the real relationship of ideas, or to real existence and matter of fact.

Whatever, therefore, is not susceptible of this agreement or disagreement, is incapable of being true or false, and can never be an object of our reason.

Now 'tis evident our passions, volitions, and actions, are not susceptible of any such agreement or disagreement. 'Tis impossible, therefore, they can be pronounced either true or false, and be either contrary or conformable to reason.

Thus the course of the argument leads us to conclude that, since virtue and vice are not discoverable by reason, it must be by means of some sentiment that we are able to mark the difference between them. Morality, therefore, is more properly felt than judged of."
- end quote -

The quintessence of moral subjectivism is that moral judgements are not factual statements about mind-independent qualities, but refer to attitudes of the individual person.

The hardest problem for moral subjectivism is to explain, how moral judgements can have authority over others. Hume himself found this problem on his path and tried to solve it more or less by saying:

-quote- "The notion of morals implies some sentiment common to all mankind, which recommends the same object to general approbation, and makes every man, or most men, agree in the same opinion or decision concerning it. This is the sentiment of humanity." -end quote- An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751)

These thoughts of Hume had a great impact on modern theories of ethics and you'll find them in many variations in all kinds of subjectivist theories.

After only this few lectures on modern theories of ethics I cant ignore the feeling that I explicitly have to take a position in this discourse. Talking about these subjects is completely different from what I have done so far.

Besides that it is important to have a philosophical program of your own. Those who have attended my lectures for some time, may have some idea what my personal program is, but with respect to this subject, ethics, I want to be explicit about it.

Although philosophers always are put in some ISM (empiricism, rationalism, existentialism) does this not mean that they had clear-cut theories about every philosophical question according to their "ism". It is us who love to organize philosophical thinking in 'isms"

To define you personal philosophical program, your way of philosophical dealing with for instance moral judgements, you may discover that you feel more attracted to certain arguments and more in disagreement with other arguments, even tho you may not yet have a good explanation for your preferences.

I hold the meta-ethical view that ethical sentences express propositions and can therefore be true or false and that that ethical sentences express propositions about mind-independent facts of the world. Thence you may classify me as someone who believes that moral realism holds the best cards.

This is closely associated with my ontological standpoint that we are just matter and that we have to look for (philosophical) answers at evolution theory, biology, ethology, psychology and neurophysiology for instance.

This doesn't mean that I only need to read the few articles on moral realism and materialism and I'll have all my philosophical answers. This would turn philosophy into some kind of religion.

The contrary is actually the case: the more lectures I give the more desperate I become. There are so many arguments for and against ideas. However, what saves me from insanity, is my personal philosophical program.

In fact it is a rather pragmatic solution. In your personal history you discover, that you are inclined to prefer certain (philosophical) ideas above others. Don't waste time on questioning where that inclination has come from.

A personal philosophical program means not only that you study as much as possible what supports your ideas (that is only to make you feel good:-)

but especially, that you - in an almost Popperian mode - focus on what is brought AGAINST your ideas and are willing to enter the philosophical debate.

And in a way you may discover, that we may never find the definite truth, but that a good argumentation can make some philosophical standpoint untenable, which observation brings you closer to your personal views.

So, from this perspective I will present you my lectures on Modern Theories of Ethics.

 

 

05 Moral Objectivism

 

Among objectivist theories of morality, the most straightforward version declares that is it an objective fact, for example, that it is wrong to ignore a person in distress if you are able to offer aid.

This sort of theory asserts that the wrongness of such behavior is part of objective reality in the same way that the sun's being more massive than the earth is part of objective reality.

Both facts would obtain regardless of whether any conscious being ever came to know either of them.

Thus is the claim put forward, that there exist moral facts, that morality is a property of things. Of course we immediately have to face the question "How can we know these moral qualities?"

Our five senses tell us how things are in the world, not how they ought to be. Nor can we reason from the way things are to the way they ought to be, since, as David Hume noted, "is" does not logically imply an "ought."

Some postulate a special mode of perceiving for moral values, but that is problematic. We have a good understand of how our senses operate, but such a moral sense….what is it, how does it work?

Others see in the fact that there is such a widespread disagreement about moral values a proof of the subjectivity of moral values. However, that is a mistake. Widespread disagreement does not indicate that there is no objective fact to be known.

There has been a period of widespread disagreement about the fact whether the earth is round and rotating around the sun or flat. The disagreement doesn't justify that you can have it both ways. Eventually there are the facts.

If there is widespread disagreement and we claim that morality is a property of our world, then logically we support the assertion that one of the conflicting moral judgements is wrong.

When we accept that morality is a property in our world which not just depends on our mind, like the green color of the grass is a property of that plant independent of whether there is a perceiver or not, we could say ….

Ok…..I see that moral property, for instance of an action, but WHY should I be moral? Even if I am aware of basic moral standards, such as don't kill and don't steal, this does not necessarily mean that I will be psychologically compelled to act on them.

Here we have reached the quintessential question of ethics: how can we justify an objective (which means not entirely depended of an individual mind) base for morality.

We can claim that standards of morality are in some sense derived from, or entailed by, the nature of the world and the nature of human beings.

And since human beings are by nature rational beings, it is morally appropriate that they should behave in a way that conforms to their rational nature.

as Bentham once wrote, "nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do.

On the one hand the standard of right and wrong, on the other the chain of causes and effects, are fastened to their throne" (Bentham 1832).

If a moral philosopher asks "whence morality," he is most likely to be concerned with the justification of moral principles or the source and nature of obligation. And this reference to our psychology can be an explanation of such a source.

We can go one step further and think of the claims made over thirty years ago with the emergence of sociobiology, when E.O. Wilson suggested that "the time has come for ethics to be removed temporarily from the hands of the philosophers and biologicized" (1975).

There are important potential connections between the scientific explanatory issues and philosophical ones. And one of the primary scientific questions could be: are we the only living being which is capable of normative guidance?

If so, then it would be part of evolved human nature to employ moral judgment in governing human behavior, rather than a mere "cultural veneer" artificially imposed on an amoral human nature.

How neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory might bear on our understanding of ethics or morality is a new chapter in the philosophical discourse on ethics. We'll come to that later.

 

06 Emerging intuitionism in ethics

 

In my former lecture it was quite clear that I am inclined to plead for a naturalistic interpretation of ethical terms.

That is, I suggest that there are relations between these terms and evolution theory, behavior, neurophysiology and biology.

I explicitly say 'inclined to', because this inclination is still based on incomplete knowledge and information. But nevertheless it is what I recently called my personal philosophical program.

That means, that you adopt a number of theories or arguments and regard them as yours. Your philosophical program is to put these theories and arguments as much as possible to the test.

And in this process we are confronted with the arguments of a philosopher who had a great influence on the meta-ethical discourse till the 60s of the 20th century: G.E. Moore.

G.E. Moore coined the expression "naturalistic fallacy" for how I am inclined to define ethical terms. However, what I plan to commit is not a fallacy at all.

As Frankena (1939) also nicely pointed out, it cannot be assumed at the outset that what Moore calls the naturalistic fallacy really is a mistake of any kind.

The naturalist proposes a certain kind of definition of some moral term and the non-naturalist then simply asserts that anyone who thinks such definitions are possible is mistaken.

Let Moore makes his point: "How "good" is to be defined is the most fundamental question in Ethics. If I am asked "How is good to be defined?" my answer is that it cannot be defined. (…)

"Good" is a simple notion, just as "yellow" is; as you cannot explain to one who does not already know it what yellow is, so you cannot explain what good is. (…)

"Good" is incapable of definition, in the most important sense. The most important sense of "definition" is that in which a definition states what parts invariably compose a certain whole; and in this sense "good" has no definition because it is simple and has no parts. "
- end quote -

When it is about moral statements like "It is good to do X", Moore says: "When I call such propositions "Intuitions," I mean that they are incapable of evidence; I imply nothing as to our cognition of them."

And all this in a situation where I am focusing my philosophical analysis on a naturalistic semantical interpretation of the concept "good".

Moore says, when you say "Some action is good, because it generates pleasure (for the largest number of people)", I still can ask the question "Is pleasure really good?" This question makes sense and must mean something else than "Is pleasure really pleasure?"

He has a point there, but he leaves me with a lot of questions I have not yet proper answers to. That doesn't worry me too much, because there already exists a lot of philosophical literature on this issue.

This saves me from inventing the philosophical wheel again. However, saying that "good' is a special concept, a non-naturalistic one, while e.g. pleasure is a naturalistic one, is my first hurdle to take.

To say that 'good" is indefinable, that it is a simple concept, to some extend I understand what he means, but isn't here an other semantical interpretation possible?

And finally the claim that a concept is self-evident, that understanding is based on intuition, is unsatisfactory to me. Do we all have that intuition? Does it work the same in every human being.

In other words, still a lot of work to do ( ^_^ )
But yet as The Philosophy Class, which is not primarily intended to give all answers, but to get acquainted with real philosophical questions and discourse, we touch home.

 

 

07 Moral anti-realism / Moral Realism

 

Slowly but surely, the contours of the contemporary debate on ethics become clearer. Because I awoke from a philosophical hibernation of almost 20 years, it is more or less new to me.

I mean I lectured 10 years on philosophy professionally in RL and then moved on to teaching computer classes at an Academy of fine Arts.

Philosophy never leaves you, but reading the complicated and detailed argumentations again, it feels like updating my Operating system, somehow like updating Windows 3.1 straight to Windows Vista.

But the contours of the current philosophical discourse on ethics become clear now. I obtained the insight with help of reading Ayer on his Emotivism and The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
http://plato.stanford.edu/contents.html

In the superb article "Moral Anti-Realism", which is related to Ayer and his emotivism, I found a paragraph which in fact describes what I said in my lecture "04 Moral subjectivism( and your own Philosophical Program" . For your information: today is lecture 07 of this project.

Or said in other words, this paragraph put my personal position, I then explained, in the wider perspective of the current philosophical debate on ethics.

- quote begin -
In short, attempts to establish the burden of proof are as slippery and indecisive in the debate between the moral realist and the moral anti-realist as they tend to be generally in philosophy.

The matter is complicated by the fact that there are two kinds of burden-of-proof case that can be pressed, and here they tend to pull against each other.

On the one hand, moral realists face a cluster of explanatory challenges concerning the nature of moral facts (how they relate to naturalistic facts, how we have access to them, why they have practical importance)—challenges that simply don't arise for either the noncognitivist or the error theorist.

On the other hand, it is widely assumed that intuitions strongly favor the moral realist. This tension between what is considered to be the intuitive position and what is considered to be the empirically, metaphysically, and epistemologically defensible position, motivates and animates much of the debate between the moral realist and moral anti-realist.
- quote end -

What struck me in this paragraph was "that intuitions strongly favor the moral realist". It made me think of my words in relation to your own personal philosophical program:

-quote begin -
"To define you personal philosophical program, your way of philosophical dealing with for instance moral judgements, you may discover that you feel more attracted to certain arguments and more in disagreement with other arguments, even tho you may not yet have a good explanation for your preferences."
- quote end -

In other words, take a stand and don't ask "why do I support these axioms, basic ideas, point of view?", but put them to the test. Join the debate and use rational argumentation and logic as your tools.

The second thing that excited me in this paragraph was the observation that "moral realists face a cluster of explanatory challenges concerning the nature of moral facts…"

That is my philosophical challenge for the next 10 years indeed. This is The Philosophy Class in Second Life. A real class not only for you, but absolutely also for me. We are exploring new sims here. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. I appreciate your motivating support and participation.

 

 

 

08 Emotivism

Hume's argument for subjectivism is a disjunctive syllogism, so it's valid (its logic is correct):
Premise 1:
Moral judgments originate either in sensation (impressions with external origin) or feelings (impressions with internal origin).

Premise 2:
They don't originate in sensation ("Is" does not imply "ought").
Conclusion: Therefore, they originate in feelings.

To this we ad a bit of Alfred Ayer (1910 – 1989):
- begin quote -
Logical positivism proposed that only two types of statements make genuine truth claims (claims that are true or false).

First, there are empirical statements (like "It is snowing outside"); these can in principle be shown by our sense experience to be true, or at least highly probable.

Second, there are analytic statements (like "All bachelors are single"); these are true because of the meaning of words.

Since moral judgments do not fit in either category, they cannot be true or false. Instead of being truth claims, they only express emotions. "This is bad" is much like "Boo on this!"
- quote end -

For logical reasoning we need statements, that are either true or false. Knowledge claims are based on statements being true or false. Now look at our situation regarding moral judgements.

Let's put some more oil on the fire . Ayer: "Moral judgments do not say anything. They are pure expressions of feeling and do not come under the category of truth and falsehood."

How in the world is there any rational debate on moral judgements possible? John says: "Homosexuality is wrong!" and the Gay Activist says: "Homosexuality is morally acceptable!"

According to Ayer this should be translated in "Homosexuality! Yuck!" or "Homosexuality! Hurray!" or as prescriptive expressions like "Don't be homosexual." or "Homosexuality: go for it."

As expressions of emotions there is no truth claim here. The speakers are expressing different attitudes toward it, or urging different actions.

Does that mean that we are stuck in opposing opinions? It is my feelings against yours and as we saw already, logic and reason don't apply to feelings.

Ayer: "Ethical philosophy consists simply in saying that ethical concepts are pseudo-concepts and therefore unanalyzable. The further task of describing the different feelings that ethical terms express, and the different reactions that they provoke, is a task for the psychologist.

There cannot be an ethical science, if by ethical science one means the elaboration of a "true" system of morals. As ethical judgments are mere expressions of feeling, there can be no way of determining the validity of any ethical system and no sense in asking whether any such system is true. - quote end -

So a genuine moral disagreement would be something like you feel "Do it!" while I feel "Don't do it!" and there it stops. We seem to be with our back agains the wall.

For, suppose you say : "Homosexuality is wrong even if the Gay Activist expresses approval for it or advocates it." that would mean "Homosexuality! Yuck! /Don't do it! – even if the Gay Activist expresses approval for it or advocates it."

But that would make little sense, because there is a clear difference of opinion and such an argument would not be acceptable at all for the Gay Activist.

Here again we are victim of that indestructible urge of the human mind to think binary. Emotivism assumes that if a moral judgment expresses my feeling, it can't also be supported by reason.

either my moral judgment expresses my attitudes OR it is the outcome of a reasoning process, but not both. But why not both?

Suppose you go the your doctor because you have a terrible headache. That is what you feel at least, and you say to the doctor "I have a headache!" The doctor says: " I don't think you have a headache. That is how I feel about it."

Fortunately your doctor wont react in that way. If he would have you would be stunned. You would say something like "Are you out of your mind?"

And all this is created by the initial assumption of Hume and Ayer, that a a statement expresses EITHER a feeling which cant have a truth value OR an empirical fact which is true or false.

What your doctor will do is examining you, in other words examining the factual content of the 'feeling' I have a headache.

And in that sense have moral judgements also a factual content together with an emotional content. So I think that this semantical interpretation of moral judgements is more acceptable than the emotivist point of view.

 

 

09 A personal view...

You may or may not yet have noticed that there is something special developing here. What you are witnessing is in fact the confrontation of my personal philosophical views with the theories of ethics.

One thing that emerges clearly is my personal rejection of subjectivism in ethics (as well as in other areas like epistemology).

An other thing that becomes clear is, that since Hume we make a strict distinction between "feelings" and "sensory experiences", which is closely related to "subjective" and "objective".

When you look at the order of subjects on the board behind me you also see a road from subjectivism to objectivism. That order is not my personal creation.

It is from "Ethics: Contemporary Readings" a Routledge publication form 2004. After a global survey of the book I thought its setup would be a nice roadmap and to me it is a revealing adventure.

So far it has shown us that the quintessential question in modern ethics is: Is (rational) justification of moral values possible or not. Or stated more popular, can we transcend the"Well, that is your opinion ..... but this is my opinion!" deadlock?

You may have noticed that it is my conviction that we can. Yes, we can ...who said that before? This means that we once and for all have to get rid of that simplistic dichotomy "subjective - objective"

In everyday conversation they are mutually exclusive. "Subjective" means private "mental" stuff: sensations, beliefs, feelings, emotions, opinions, etc.

"Objective" means public "physical" stuff: publicly-observable things, events, knowledge, facts.

But this is just a way we, as thinking beings, have interpreted our world, our experiences. We love simplicity, however the philosopher John Searle showed that we have to be less simplistic in this case.

Metaphysics consists of arguments and counterarguments about what we should call "real" or what we should say "is" or "has being". "Is free will real?" is a metaphysical question.

In metaphysics, something exists objectively if its existence does not depend on its being experienced. A claim is epistemologically objective if there are generally recognized methods for deciding whether the claim is true or false.

Now we make the following distinction. We should distinguish two kinds of objectivity:
1. metaphysical objectivity, and
2. epistemological objectivity.

We also should distinguish two kinds of subjectivity:
1. metaphysical subjectivity, and
2. epistemological subjectivity.

Your toothache is metaphysically subjective. It is your pain. Noone else can feel it. Impossible to know if my toothache would feel the same for you. So, when you say "It hurts!" is this just your personal opinion, about which I can't say a thing?

On the contrary. Your toothache is also metaphysically objective. First there is your public statement "It hurts!". Then there is the dentist who describes the bad condition of your tooth, the infection, etc.

Your toothache is a private experience. Only you know what you feel. What knowledge does the dentist have about it about this metaphysically subjective matter.

In epistemology, a statement (claim, assertion, proposition) is epistemologically objective if its truth value can be determined intersubjectively by generally-agreed methods or procedures.

To say a statement is epistemologically objective is not to say the statement is true; it's just to say we could figure out a public method for determining whether or not the statement is true.

As you may understand, the dentist has access to the metaphysically objective properties of the toothache. He can examine your tooth and together with you observe its specific condition.

In other words, what seems to be a subjective matter, your pain, can be objectively assessed as well. Your pain is not just a matter of opinion.

Okay — are ethical statements mere matters of opinion or expressions of personal attitudes or emotions?

A moral subjectivist says in effect that moral judgments are either subjective or objective in the ordinary (over-simplified) sense.

The subjectivist then assumes that if you feel a certain way about X, you can't then be objective about X, since feelings are subjective and "subjective" and "objective" are supposed to be opposites. And if you can't be objective, you can't use math or logic, i.e., you can't reason.

When you take into account the more nuanced view of John Searle, you can see the shortcomings of the subjectivist's reasoning .

An example: "Abortion is wrong." If this is only a pure metaphysically subjective feeling, how should we then discuss this matter? It is indeed your opinion, just that.

However, whether you are for or against abortion, I guess everybody would agree that it is wrong to take innocent human life.

And then the debate on ethics will start and we can only reason our way to consensus, based on metaphysically objective facts.

In other words, the way people generally think in terms of subjective/objective is a simplification and a cause of many unnecessary disagreements.

Finally let me show you something on the board behind me. The scheme is a development from R. M. Hare's A Taxonomy of Ethical Theories (1997) and then the test.

Read it carefully and then answer the question: where do you think, I stand in this taxonomy?

 

 

10 Justification of moral judgements

A recent cartoon in a local newspaper depicted a man and a woman talking. The caption read, "Of course your mind is cleaner than mine, you change it more frequently."

I don't think you will have trouble guessing who was speaking and who was the object of the assertion. The cartoon speaks to a pervasive societal attitude-that one of the ways in which the sexes differ is in moral character.

Schopenhauer wrote, "The weakness of their reasoning faculty also explains why women show more sympathy for the unfortunate than men." More frequently, when differences between the sexes are claimed, women are portrayed as men's moral inferior. Check Freud, for instance.

For women, the moral problem arises from conflicting responsibilities rather than from competing rights and requires for its resolution contextual and inductive thinking rather than formal and abstract reasoning (Gilligan 1979).

I think it is good to mention the gender issue again, when we discuss justification of moral judgements, because this difference does not exist in philosophical discourse.

When you do a search on "justification of moral judgement" you get tons of hits, which refer for 99% to all kinds of psychological research on this subject.

A dominant perspective is in philosophy, psychology, and law centers on the idea that our moral judgments are the product of a conscious decision in which individuals move directly from conscious reasoning to moral verdict.

An alternative theoretical perspective holds that at least our moral judgments are the product of unconscious psychological processes, and thus, intuitive. A significant component of the intuitive perspective places a strong emphasis on the role of emotions.

An interesting parallel with the theories of ethics we have seen so far, from realism to emotivism. Psychology and philosophy show a close relation here.

William K.Frankena, an American philosopher who lived from 1912 to 1994, presents an interesting philosophical view on the justification of moral judgements.

A judgement becomes a moral judgement by the point of view, that is taken, in giving reasons and facts to justify the judgement.

-quote-
"What is the moral point of view? (..) Hume thought that the moral point of view was that of sympathy, and it seems to me he was on the right wavelength. (…) My own position, then, is that one is taking the moral point of view if and only if

(a) one is making normative judgments about actions, desires, dispositions, intentions, motives, persons, or traits of character;

(b) one is willing to universalize one's judgments;

(c) one's reasons for one's judgments consist of facts about what the things judged do to the lives of sentient beings in terms of promoting or distributing nonmoral good and evil;

(d) when the judgment is about oneself or one's own actions, one's reasons include such facts about what one's own actions and dispositions do to the lives of other sentient beings as such, if others are affected.

One has a morality or moral action-guide only if and insofar as one makes normative judgments from this point of view and is guided by them."
-quote end-

But why be moral? Why should we take part in the moral institution of life? Why should we adopt the moral point of view? This may mean we ask for a motivation or for a justification.

Motivation for taking a moral point of view is easily given. It can be a lot of things, from fear, self-interest to altruism.

Justification is an other chapter. First, why should society adopt such an institution as morality? Why should it foster such a system for the guidance of conduct in addition to convention, law, and prudence?

There is a clear answer to that. Without it we hardly could life a satisfactory life in groups. We would end up in a Hobbesian society or in some totalitarian society, ruled by brute force.

But every criminal might say :"This shows that society requires morality and even that it is to my advantage to have others adopt the moral way of life. But it does not show that I should adopt it, and certainly not that I should always act according to it. And it is no use arguing on moral grounds that I should. I want a nonmoral justification for thinking I should."

The answer Frankena gives is, that, if you were to choose rationally, or in other words, freely, impartially, and in full knowledge of what it is like to live the various alternative ways of life, including the moral one, what would you choose?

The response "Why should I be rational?" is a bit odd, for asking for a justification implies already being rational, of course.

So Frankena concludes that what makes normative judgements moral judgements, is not the use of the words "good" or "right" in them, nor feelings that accompany such judgements, but the moral point of view you choose to give justifying reasons.

You find William K. Frankena: "Ethics", 1973, second edition at
http://www.ditext.com/frankena/ethics.html
Worth reading…

 

 

11 The Moral Point of View of William Frankena

 

Sometimes in your research yo run into a philosopher, who is not one of the standard textbook philosopher. However, his ideas have been influential and important.

In American philosophy curricula of universities you see that the works of William Frankena are been used very often. So in these days he still is an often read and quoted moral philosopher.

You'll find his important book "Ethics" at http://www.ditext.com/frankena/ethics.html. William K.Frankena, an American philosopher with Dutch parents, lived from 1912 to 1994.

The first thing we learn from him is that the main debate in ethical theory at present is about the controversy Action-Based Ethics vs. Character-Based Ethics.

What is the primary concern of an ethical theory: should it focus
primarily on WHAT TO DO or HOW TO BE?

Action-based theories the "ought", what we should do, are primarily teleological. This means, that what we should do is determined by a 'tells', a goal.

To mention a few examples: hedonism regards as its goal: pleasure for me, utilitarianism seeks happiness for everyone.

Or you see a deontological approach, which means that the ethical theory focusses on on 'to deon', what HAS to be done, so on Duty. The categorical imperative of Kant is an example of such a theory.

The character-based theories focus on how we should be as a person, on virtue. We are already familiar with this action/character based theories since the Greek.

Frankena argues that we should not see the relationship between action-based and virtue-based ethical theories as disjunctive, but as conjunctive.

Both moral principles and virtues have important roles to play in a complete theory of ethics. Thus, the two types of theories are complimentary not competitive.

In his discussion of utilitarianism he says:
-quote-
we cannot be satisfied with the principle of utility as our sole basic standard of right and wrong in morality (…). In particular, I have contended that we should recognize a principle of justice to guide our distribution of good and evil that is independent of any principle about maximizing the balance of good over evil in the world.

(…) we should recognize two basic principles of obligation, the principle of utility and some principle of justice. The resulting theory would be a deontological one, but it would be much closer to utilitarianism than most deontological theories; we might call it a mixed deontological theory.
-end quote-

So moral action is focussed on bringing about the greatest possible balance of good over evil in the universe. It seems clear, however, that this principle presupposes another one that is more basic, namely, that we ought to do good and to prevent or avoid doing harm.

-quote-
We have a prima facie obligation to maximize the balance of good over evil only if we have a prior prima facie obligation to do good and prevent harm. I shall call this prior principle the principle of beneficence.
-end quote-

But to do good leads to questions like what is desirable, good, or worthwhile in life? what is the good life as distinct from the morally good life? what values should we pursue for ourselves and others?

What it is all about now is, can we explain moral terms, like good, right, wrong in terms of nonmoral terms?

-quote-
For example, if one is asked why that was a good concert, one must say something like, "Because it was profoundly moving," which implies that being profoundly moving is a good-making characteristic, at least from an aesthetic point of view.

In fact, all evaluations properly so-called are at least implicitly made by reference to some standard or to some set of general judgments about what is good-making or prima facie good.
- end quote-

And like there is an aesthetic point of view there is, according to Frankena, also a moral point of view. When we say "X is good" this value judgement becomes an aesthetic or moral judgement depending on the reasons we give.

"Good" can mean a lot in a nonmoral sense. But as Frankena says: "We also sometimes say that things are good, desirable, or worthwhile in themselves, as ends, in themselves, as ends, intrinsically."

In an extensive analysis Frankena shows that not only pleasureless is intrinsic good. He gives a whole list of concepts which can be used as arguments for the goodness of moral judgements.

What is intrinsically good is not truth, knowledge, beauty etc. but what is intrinsically good is the contemplation or experiencing of them.

All this is obtained by our morality. As Frankena says: "Autonomy seems to me to come in here, as well as the other things just listed, but I should want to add rationality and related dispositions like objectivity and intellectual responsibility too. And perhaps this is where one should mention love again."

And what it is all about is how we are as a moral person:"Virtue, as Socrates says in the Meno, is not the power to achieve the good or obtain good things; it is acting justly, honestly, temperately, and, we must add, benevolently."

 

 

 

12 The Golden Rule


Our main question at this moment still is, how to justify our moral judgements. On what do I ground my judgement that I ought to do something, that some action is morally wrong?

In our former lectures, dealing with the ideas of William Frankena, I found an interesting combination of ideas of moral duty, rationality and also a utilitarian approach. So he stays on my list.

But can't it be way more easier, based on thousands of years of human history? Don't we have what we call "The Golden Rule". Read this:

-quote-
A UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF A GLOBAL ETHIC

III. A FUNDAMENTAL RULE
We propose the Golden Rule, which for thousands of years has been affirmed in many religious and ethical traditions, as a fundamental principle upon which to base a global ethic:

"What you do not wish done to yourself, do not do to others," or in positive terms, "What you wish done to yourself, do to others." This rule should be valid not only for one's own family, friends, community and nation, but also for all other individuals, families, communities, nations, the entire world, the cosmos.
-end quote

The Wikipedia (EN) has an extensive article on the Golden Rule: "The golden rule has its roots in a wide range of world cultures, and is a standard which different cultures use to resolve conflicts; it was present in the philosophies of ancient India, Greece, Judea and China."

So, global ethics, a long history and support of the rule in Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Humanism, Islam, Judaism: this rule seems to have the best papers as a way to justify moral judgements.

There may even be an evolutionary base in the phenomenon of reciprocity. In social psychology, reciprocity refers to responding to a positive action with another positive action, and responding to a negative action with another negative one.

But I think you already feel it coming: this is not my favorite rule at all. And it seems I am in good company. The philosopher Immanuel Kant himself rejects the the golden rule in his Critique of Practical Reason, not by discussing it extensively but just in a footnote.
So what is wrong with this rule?

The norm of reciprocity varies widely in its details from situation to situation, and from society to society. Anthropologists and sociologists have often claimed, that having some version of the norm appears to be a social inevitability.

And there is the catch. Reciprocity may exist, but is depended on situations, societies and cultures. Just imagine…… some examples:

It is a consequence of someone's deepest religious conviction that his wife should wear a burkha and should walk 2 meters behind him in public, not at his side? Is this this man acting immorally to do this to his wife?

Or another situation. I see that a man falls in a canal in Amsterdam. I know that man. Was smarter than the police and escaped conviction of rape, women abuse, forced prostitution and women slavery.

The evidence was waterproof and corroborating, but he got away because of such a legal formality, that was not correctly applied. And now he yells "I can't swim !!"

What is my moral duty? Would I like to drown? No! But then, save the man? That would mean that he possibly will continue his horrible treatment of women and criminal behavior and hurt other people again.

Or when the man gets convicted he could ask the judge, if he would like to spend the rest of his life in jail. Would he do that to himself? I guess not. So isn't is justified then to let the convicted man go?

We must conclude that this rule wont work as a universal one, but within the boundaries of a specific group, it definitely can be used as a guiding principle. It relates to the reciprocity, which can be observed in the behavior of primates.

But what about Kant. When he wipes such a golden rule off the table in a footnote, then he must have been pretty convinced about his own rightness, when he proposed his Categorical Imperative.

Kant's rule: "I am never to act otherwise than that I could also will that my maxim should become a universal law. It is the simple conformity to law in general that serves the will as its principle."

Suppose I lie to you, telling you that Christmas won't be celebrated this year due to the global warming of the climate…. no snow. I should say to myself… suppose it is a universal law that everyone may lie.

Any rational person will say, that that is not good, so my lie about Xmas is immoral. Thou shall not lie. Ok, an other example then.

They knock on the door. I open the door and there is the Gestapo: "We are searching for Jews. Do you hide jews in your home?" I answer "NO" and my jewish friends hiding in the attic feel relieved.

There is a lot more to say about Kant's ideas, but he doesn't stand the test either. So, although it looks so attractive to solve all moral issues with a single rule, we must conclude that life isn't that simple.

To finish a simple instruction on how to use google to study philosophy. Many of us have the habit of typing one or two words as search key. That is ok, but may I advise you to type as search key, for instance, "What is wrong with the Golden Rule".

You will be amazed about the results you get. The only critical thing is that you need the knowledge and insight to determine what is rubbish and what result of the search has quality.

In other words, use as search key anything you like, words but also whole phrases. The search engine of Google, Yahoo, Altavista or whatever program you like to use does the rest.

 

 

 

 

13 A grand total


12 lectures ago we started a quest in Modern Theories of Ethics. We already have seen a number of ways to deal with ethics and moral judgement and in the first lecture is said:

…... to find any coherence in all this, to find an answer on the question "What should I do?" , not just a personal answer, but a kind of generally accepted and justified answer, that will be a huge enterprise.

And now I feel the need to take stock of what insights we have come to so far. Is there emerging some general conclusion. Is there some growing insight of our heading and will we find a haven?

Just for the record: 'haven' is a nice word expressing exactly what we might be looking for. The nice thing about the word is, that it is a Dutch…. the dutch word for 'port'. Must have slipped into the English dictionary in the 16th or 17th century :-)

I think there is already one interesting thing which may help us defining our position: is ethics an individual responsibility, ethics as conceptually justified or is ethics embedded and defined by the social framework we live in.

Here I think of a contraposition of a philosopher like Kant with his Categorical Imperative against cultural relativism also read as moral relativism.

From the lecture on moral relativism I want to store in memory at least the view of Philippa Foot (1978). She holds that words like 'good' or 'rude' or 'brave' not only have an evaluative content, but also a descriptive content.

That means that moral judgements can have truth-value, which means that they can be rationally evaluated. Here I see a link with the "moral point of view" idea of William Frankena.

In lecture 3 I already mentioned the Golden Rule as an example of a moral judgement, that is found in almost all cultures. In my latest lecture I related that idea with the phenomenon of reciprocity, which you see in social behavior of primates.

So my conclusion was that moral relativism or moral subjectivism was not a tenable option. This means that we have to move on to some kind of objectivism in the theory of ethics. The truth or falsity of a moral judgement is not just depending on one's personal opinion.

Here we have reached the quintessential question of ethics: how can we justify an objective (which means: not entirely depended of an individual mind) base for morality. I have committed myself to that.

This opened doors to sociobiology and evolutionary theory in relation to our understanding of human nature and how morality can be a part of human behavior.

That was the moment that I introduced the idea of the "personal philosophical program". That means, that you adopt a number of theories or arguments and regard them as yours.

You don't question their origin but you take it as your philosophical program to put these theories and arguments as much as possible to the test.

So, while we were heading for a naturalistic ethics, we ran into G.E. Moore, who showed us with his "naturalistic fallacy" that we are completely wrong.

Forget it…. completely impossible to translate ethical terms like "good" and "right" into non-ethical terms like "please", "happiness" etc.

And again Frankena shows up. He nicely pointed out, it cannot be assumed at the outset that what Moore calls the naturalistic fallacy really is a mistake of any kind.

The naturalist proposes a certain kind of definition of some moral term and the non-naturalist then simply asserts that anyone who thinks such definitions are possible is mistaken.

But there is no fallacy here. It is a discussion on semantics and as Moore does, claiming that a concept as "good" is an intuition and can not be defined is unsatisfactory.

Thence as moral realists we face a cluster of explanatory challenges concerning the nature of moral facts (how they relate to naturalistic facts, how we have access to them, why they have practical importance).

In this context there was no room for the emotivism as proposed by Alfred Ayer. The idea that moral judgements have no truth-value but are expressions of attitudes.

So far it has shown us that at least my quintessential question in modern ethics is: Is (rational) justification of moral values possible or not. Or stated more popular, can we transcend the"Well, that is your opinion ..... but this is my opinion!" deadlock?

A first step in the direction of an answer is John Searle's idea about metaphysical objectivism and subjectivism. If you want to refresh your memory on that, reread lecture 9.

Finally I discovered in William Frankena is an inspiring source of support of the idea that justification of moral judgements is possible by taking the moral point of view.

So, what is my position in these ethical discourse now? My opinion is that ethical term like 'good' and "wrong" and "right" can be defined in non-ethical terms.

This means that moral judgements can have a factual content of which we can establish the truth of falsity. Thence moral judgements are not the expression of just personal opinions.

Course is laid in ….. ENGAGE!





14 A first step to consequentialism


Epicurus (341—271 B.C.) developed an unsparingly materialistic metaphysics, empiricist epistemology, and hedonistic ethics.

Epicurus taught that the basic constituents of the world are atoms, uncuttable bits of matter, flying through empty space, and he tried to explain all natural phenomena in atomic terms.

Epicurus rejected the existence of Platonic forms and an immaterial soul, and he said that the gods have no influence on our lives.

Epicurus also thought skepticism was untenable, and that we could gain knowledge of the world relying upon the senses.

It is almost unbelievable. More than 2000 years ago some man combined views on metaphysics, epistemology and ethics in a way, I try to do myself today. He saw an intrinsic relation between materialism, empiricism and hedonism.

If you know me philosophically because you've attended more than one lecture, you'll certainly know that I value the relation between materialism and empiricism.

What about hedonism. What is it? Epicurus' ethics starts from the Aristotelian commonplace that the highest good is what is valued for its own sake, and not for the sake of anything else, and Epicurus agrees with Aristotle that happiness is the highest good.

Why elaborating on hedonism? The reason for this is, that it is the basic presumption of utilitarianism and later of consequentialism.

Or to quote Jeremy Betham 's (1789) ringing passage that opens his An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation:

"Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain, and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do"

Thence, if we want to continue our planned route, we have to have a close look at this basic assumption of consequentialist theories of ethics.

We can distinguish between motivational hedonism and normative hedonism. Motivational hedonism is the claim that only pleasure or pain motivates us.

Normative hedonism is the claim that all and only pleasure has worth or value, and all and only pain has disvalue.

And then in 1863 we hear the words of John Stuart Mill, who was the founder of consequentialism:

begin quote -
Utility, or the Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in
proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to
produce the reverse of happiness.

By happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain and the privation of pleasure. Pleasure, and freedom from pain, are the only things desirable as ends;

and all desirable things are desirable either for the pleasure inherent in themselves, or as means to the promotion of pleasure and the prevention of pain. (…)

The utilitarian standard is not the agent's greatest happiness, but the greatest amount of happiness altogether.
end quote-

Especially this last statement is important. Morally good is not just what creates individual happiness (motivational hedonism), but what creates the greatest amount of happiness altogether (normative hedonism).

We have before us a long and winding road, which we will have to follow to figure out what the basic concepts mean: what is pleasure? Can we calculate amounts of pleasure?

What consequence do we have to take into account? Foreseen, unforeseen, short term, long term and so on?

I think we'd better leave these issues for another lecture . Thank you.
And I wish that 2010 will be good year for all of us.

 

 

 

15 What is pleasure?


What has intrinsic value…is it eventually only pleasure? Hedonism claims that pleasure is the only intrinsic good and that pain is the only intrinsic bad. And as we learnt last time: hedonism is the basic assumption of utilitarianism.

You are easily inclined to say: What is the big deal? Pleasure is just a feeling of enjoyment or content. However, if it were that simple. The MacMillan Encyclopedia of Philosophy, as well as the Stanford Encyclopedia have both an extensive article on pleasure.

Since pain is most commonly used as a term for a kind of bodily sensation, it is natural to think of pleasure as having the same status. And indeed there are uses of the term pleasure in which it seems to stand for a kind of bodily sensation.

But hedonist have often insisted that pleasure means more than a localized bodily sensation. You also have to include states of the following sort:

(1) Enjoying (taking pleasure in) doing something, such as playing tennis.
(2) Getting satisfaction out of something, such as seeing an enemy humiliated.
(3) Having a pleasant evening; hearing pleasant sounds.
(4) Feeling good, having a sense of well-being.
(5) Feeling contented being.

It seems clear that phenomena of these sorts do not consist in localized bodily sensations of the same type as headaches, except for being of an opposite quality. So this is a first problem with pleasure that can give you a headache.

Suppose you play a game of tennis. It is in fact too hot and you feel an oppressive humidity, you also enjoy the game, Apparently a mix of unpleasant and pleasant sensations.

Yet, afterwards you qualify the game as extremely pleasant. The pleasure sensation occurs in consciousness at the same time as all these cognitions. Therefore the sensation theory implies that I must be enjoying the oppressive humidity and the plane just as much as I am enjoying playing tennis.

But this is contrary to the facts. A person knows immediately which of the various things he is aware of at the moment he is taking pleasure in; and the sensation theory can give no account of this discrimination.

Then we choose to drop the view that pleasure is a (nonlocalized) sensation and choose for the idea that pleasure is not some kind of stand alone feeling but that pleasure is a quality that can attach to any state of consciousness.

However, listening to a symphony is pleasant as is kissing my wife and more, but we are unable to isolate a felt quality that they share, in the way in which we can easily isolate a quality of redness which a number of different visual sensations share, or a quality of painfulness that a number of different bodily sensations share.

When experiencing different shades of red we have outside support of our sensory qualities. We can tie down the quality to a certain kind of stimulation; people ordinarily get red visual sensations when and only when their optic nerves are stimulated by stimuli of a certain physical description.Nothing of the kind applies to pleasant sensations.

We can raise an even wider issue about motivational hedonism, about the idea that pleasure is the only value which justifies our actions.

Is it a contingent claim, about an aspect of our psychology that could have been otherwise? Or does it posit a law of our psychological nature, or a necessary truth about all metaphysically, conceptually, or logically possible worlds? We won't deal with these questions here, but think about them….

Some critics argue that not all pleasures are valuable, since, for example, there is no value in the pleasures of a sadist while whipping a victim.

Other opponents object that not only pleasures are intrinsically valuable, because other things are valuable independently of whether they lead to pleasure or avoid pain. For example, my love for my wife does not seem to become less valuable when I get less pleasure from her because she contracts some horrible disease.

Robert Nozick (1938–2002) came up with the idea of the experience machine, in fact the situation which you see in the movie The Matrix. Assuming that the machine is reliable, it would seem irrational not to hook oneself up to this machine if pleasure and pain were all that mattered, as hedonists claim.

Since it does not seem irrational to refuse to hook oneself up to this machine, hedonism seems inadequate. The reason is that hedonism overlooks the value of real friendship, knowledge, freedom, and achievements, all of which are lacking for deluded people on the experience machine.

These are just a few arguments which question the meaning and usability of pleasure / pain as the sole explanation and justification of morality. J.J.C Smart wrote a Defence of Consequentialism.

We might have a look at that next lecture. Maybe there is a consequentialism that leans less heavily on the hedonistic justification.

 

 

 

 

 

16 Consequentialism


Before we pay attention to a defence of consequentialism, we fist have to get clear what exactly is consequentialism. We have a nice -ism here, so we also are inclined to think that it refers to a clearly defined theory. If that were true...

Any consequentialist theory must accept the claim that certain normative properties depend only on consequences. If that claim is dropped, the theory ceases to be consequentialist.. So, it is all about consequences. Let's focus on that.

Our starting point could be thus: whether an act is morally right depends only on consequences as opposed to the circumstances or the intrinsic nature of the act or anything that happens before the act.

But you could narrow that down to for instance the actual consequences as opposed to foreseen, foreseeable, intended, or likely consequences.

You also could say that moral rightness depends only on which consequences are best as opposed to satisfactory or an improvement over the status quo.

We also could take into account that the consequences should effect to ALL people, not just yourself or your family or your tribe or the present people.

And then, how to evaluate the consequences? The Hedonist utilitarian says, that the value of the consequences depends only on the pleasures and pains in the consequences as opposed to other goods, such as freedom, knowledge, life, and so on.

But who decides on the quality of the pleasure. In the debates on consequentialism the idea emerged that whether some consequences are better than others should not depend on whether the consequences are evaluated from the perspective of the agent as opposed to an observer.

In other words one way or another the consequences should be evaluated by some kind of ideal observer: impartial, not involved , rational, etc.

And then there is the other issue that not only the consequences have to be counted for but also the act. I mean, when I blow up the tax office, killing a number of people in the process,

the consequences might be that you don't need to pay taxes for a whole year. Aren't we happy then? At least the greatest number of people.

The philosophical floor is littered with dozens of (counter)examples to show that focussing on consequences to morally justify an act, is not coherent.

Take the "sheriff example": a sheriff in a small town knows that there will be riots in which dozens of people will be killed. He can prevent this massacre by convicting an innocent person: a scapegoat.

What about the consequences? The death of many people on the one hand, injustice to an innocent person on the other hand. If people would find out, their belief in the justice system might be shocked.

You may say I am biased and I'll immediately admit it, but the more I dig into consequentialism, the more I feel lost. Take this example for instance from IEP…

-begin quote
For a more extreme example of meddling (into other people's business.), suppose that by using your grandmother's pension to contribute to efficient and thoughtful charities you can develop permanent clean water supplies for many distant villages,

thus saving hundreds of people from painful early deaths and permitting economic development to begin. You need only keep her bound and gagged in the cellar and force her to sign the checks.

Consequentialism would seem to say that you should do this, but moral common sense says that you should not. Hence consequentialism is opposed to common sense and is probably wrong.
- end quote

You might reply to such odd and extreme cases: Moral common sense is shaped by and for the demands of ordinary moral life and so common sense may not be very reliable in odd cases.

Hence the fact that consequentialism disagrees with common sense about odd cases is no disproof of consequentialism.

Maybe true, but I am not convinced. However, I still have the article of J.J.C. Smart on the shelf, in which he defends consequentialism. Will he convince me, you, are you already convinced?

 

 

 

 

17 A defense of consequentialism


J.J.C.Smart, an Australian philosopher born in 1920, works in ethics and philosophy of science. His defence of utilitarianism in Utilitarianism: For and Against (1973), co-authored with Bernard Williams.

After distinguishing various types of utilitarianism, (and there are a dozen or so at least) Smart opts for act-utilitarianism. He hopes that our widely shared desires to promote everyone's happiness may lead others to become act utilitarians too.

I wondered what makes utilitarianism and consequentialism so popular among empiricist philosophers. The answer is quite obvious. It makes the notions of good and bad in fact 100% empirical.We all can see the consequences, don't we?

"Act-utilitarianism is the view that the rightness of an action depends only on the total goodness or badness of its consequences, i.e. on the effect on the welfare of all human beings (or perhaps all sentient beings).", is Smart's thesis.

He rejects the idea that act-utilitarian principles could be known to be true by intellectual intuition and holds the view that ultimate ethical principles depend on attitudes or feelings.

This is his first argument: ethical principles depend on attitudes or feelings and thus have no truth-value. This is what is called the non-cognitivist position in meta-ethics.

Smart: "In adopting such a meta-ethics, I renounce the attempt to prove the act-utilitarian system. I shall be concerned with stating it in a form which may appear persuasive to some people, and to show how it may be defended against objections."

And then he formulates his goal: "In setting up a system of normative ethics, the utilitarian must appeal to ultimate attitudes which he holds in common with those whom he is addressing.

The sentiment to which he appeals is generalized benevolence, the disposition to seek happiness or good consequences for all mankind, or perhaps for all sentient beings."

This is the quintessence of his position: he regards generalized benevolence, something like the attitude that eventually we would love to see everybody happy, as an empirical fact of being human.

And then he makes an remarkable statement about the defender of act-utilitarism: "He will not be able to convince everybody, but that is not an objection. It may well be that there is no ethical system which appeals to all people."

Bentham evaluated the consequences just by their plain pleasantness, which is a hedonistic utilitarianism. Mill made a distinction in qualities of pleasantness: playing darts isn't just as pleasant as reading poetry for instance.

Moore believed that some states of mind, such as knowledge, had intrinsic value independent of their pleasantness. As if you could say that pleasantness combines with act of acquiring knowledge is a higher quality of pleasantness than winning a game of darts.

Smart: "I shall now state the act-utilitarian doctrine. (…) Let us say, then, that the only reason for performing an action A rather than an alternative action B is that doing A will make mankind (or, perhaps, all sentient beings) happier than will doing B.

This is so simple and natural a doctrine that we can expect that many readers will have some propensity to agree. For I am talking, as I said earlier, to sympathetic and benevolent men, that is, to men who desire the happiness of mankind.
(…)

The utilitarian's ultimate moral principle, let it be remembered, expresses the sentiment not of altruism but of benevolence, the agent counting himself neither more nor less than any other person."

Smart: "The utilitarian position is here put forward as a criterion of rational choice. We may choose to habituate ourselves to behave in accordance with certain rules, such as to keep promises, in the belief that behaving in accordance with these rules is generally optimistic (productive of the best outcome),

and in the knowledge that we often do not have time to work out pros and cons. The act utilitarian will regard these rules as mere rules of thumb and will use them only as rough guides. He acts in accordance with rules when there is no time to think.

When he has to think what to do, then there is a question of deliberation or choice, and it is for such situations that the utilitarian criterion is intended."

I almost hear David Hume say: "Custom is the great guide of life."

And here the final stand. Smart: "Among possible options, utilitarianism does have its appeal. With its empirical attitude to means and ends it is congenial to the scientific temper and it has flexibility to deal with a changing world.

This last consideration is, however, more self recommendation than justification. For if flexibility is a recommendation, this is because of the utility of flexibility."

Let me draw the picture: We live in an empirical world, in which is no such thing as an objective moral truth. What we have at the best is the empirical observation of the human attitude of generalized benevolence and the quality of rationality, since the utilitarian position is according to Smart a rational choice.

Based on that we have to keep a sharp eye on the consequences of our actions for them to stay in tune with our benevolence. If we do so we act morally right.

And here I rest my case………

 

 

 

18: Virtue Ethis, an introduction


Virtue ethics is currently one of three major approaches in normative ethics. It emphasizes the virtues, or moral character, in contrast to the approach which emphasizes duties or rules (deontology) or that which emphasizes the consequences of actions (consequentialism).

When the physician of the village is in great need the utilitarian would feel morally obliged to help him, if it were only for the consequence that the village will keep its physician, which contributes to the well being of everyone.

The deontologist would say "Do unto others as you would be done by" and uses that as his moral maxime to guide his actions and do good.

The virtue ethicist would regard it as a quintessential feature of being human, that you are charitable or benevolent and kind towards the other in need. It was already Aristotle who formulated these thoughts perfectly in his "Ethica Nicomachea" about 330 B.C.!

- begin quote
However, to say that happiness is the chief good seems a platitude, and a clearer account of it is desired. This might perhaps be given, if we could first ascertain the function of man.

For just as for a flute-player, a sculptor, or an artist, the good is thought to reside in the function, so would it seem to be for man, if he has a function. Have the carpenter, then, and the tanner certain functions, and has man none? Is he born without a function?

Or as eye, hand, foot, and in general each of the parts evidently has a function, may one lay it down that man similarly has a function apart from all these? What then can this be?

Life seems to be common even to plants, but we are seeking what is peculiar to man. Next would be a life of perception, but it also seems to be common even to the horse and every animal.

There remains, then, an active life of the element that has a rational principle. Now if the function of man is an activity of soul which follows or implies a rational principle, and we state the function of man to be a certain kind of life, and the function of a good man to be the good and noble performance of this,

and if any action is well performed when it is performed in accordance with the appropriate excellence: if this is the case, human good turns out to be activity of soul in accordance with virtue, and if there is more than one virtue, in accordance with the best and most complete.
- end quote

It is historically interesting to see, that during the nineteenth century Aristotle's words were overshadowed by men like Kant with his deontic approach of ethics and in the Anglo-American philosophy by Bentham and Stuart Mill with their utilitarianism.

In our project on Women Philosophers we met Margret Anscombe. In 1958 she published the article "Modern Moral Philosophy", which lead to an increasing dissatisfaction with the forms of deontology and utilitarianism .

To quote from the Stanford Encyclopedia: "Neither of them, at that time, paid attention to a number of topics that had always figured in the virtue ethics' tradition

— the virtues themselves, motives and moral character, moral education, moral wisdom or discernment, friendship and family relationships, a deep concept of happiness,

the role of the emotions in our moral life and the fundamentally important questions of what sort of person I should be and how we should live."

And although I read this only today for the first time, you may recognize in this quote my increasing dissatisfaction with consequentialism,

my repeated remark, that I was missing something. And I think , that it was this that I was missing. This doesn't mean we have found the golden egg.

We still have to deal with serious questions like:
1. are the virtues natural or acquired?
2. are the virtues reliable?
3. what makes the virtues valuable? Are they instrumentally or intrinsically valuable?

 

 

 

 

19 Virtue Ethics continued


The most mysterious and inexplicable moment in evolution must have been the moment that a biological organism said to himself: "Here I am!", the emergence of self-awareness.

Probably the next question could have been: "And now What ???" I just do as it pleases me (moral subjectivism) or I feel myself as a subject of a greater Universe with its own laws, which I should obey (Deontic ethics).

Or I am just a member of the tribe and have to watch my actions, take care that they contribute not only to my personal wellbeing, but that of the tribe as well (Utilitarianism/Consequentialism);

Or I could say, 'No, it is not just about consequences. I have to go back to the source of them: me as an acting person. There I may find the answer on my "Now what?" (Virtue ethics)

In my former lecture I referred to an increasing dissatisfaction with the forms of deontology and utilitarianism and that neither of them, at that time, paid attention to a number of topics that had always figured in the virtue ethics' tradition,

— the virtues themselves, motives and moral character, moral education, moral wisdom or discernment, friendship and family relationships, a deep concept of happiness,

the role of the emotions in our moral life and the fundamentally important questions of what sort of person I should be and how we should live. What has Virtue ethics to say about this is our question of today.

Margret Anscombe states in her famous article "Modern Moral Philosophy" (1958) our problem as follows:

[One preliminary remark. To cheat is just behavior. To say that cheating is unjust is a completely different story]

-begin quote-
In present-day philosophy an explanation is required how an unjust man is a bad man, or an unjust action a bad one; to give such an explanation belongs to ethics; but it cannot even be begun until we are equipped with a sound philosophy of psychology.

For the proof that an unjust man is a bad man would require a positive account of justice as a "virtue." This part of the subject-matter of ethics, is however, completely closed to us

until we have an account of what type of characteristic a virtue is—a problem, not of ethics, but of conceptual analysis— and how it relates to the actions in which it is instanced…
-end quote

You can find the original article of 1958 here : http://www.philosophy.uncc.edu/mleldrid/cmt/mmp.html#_edn5
It is not easy reading…

Keep in mind that it was 1958, when the ethical discourse was still dominated by deontological ethics and consequentialism. Psychology was still in its infancy.

Before starting a philosophical analysis of the concept of virtue we first need a 'sound philosophy of psychology' she says. What might that be?

Philosophy of psychology refers to issues at the theoretical foundations of modern psychology. Some of these issues are epistemological concerns about the methodology of psychological investigation.

Other issues in philosophy of psychology are philosophical questions about the nature of mind, brain, and cognition, and are perhaps more commonly thought of as part of cognitive science, or philosophy of mind.

After WWII moral behavior was no longer a subject of philosophical reflection only. It also became a subject of psychological research. One of the famous experiments is of course the Milgram experiment.

An experiment that tested the confiict between moral standards like "Thou shall not hurt your fellowman" and obedience.

Just do a google search on "psychological research on moral behavior" and you are right in the middle of the modern debate on ethics.

Just one exemplary search result of the present situation of ethical discourse. It is a book with the title "Lack of Character: Personality and Moral Behavior" by a John M. Doris (2002).

But when you read his opening sentences it is not just a John M. Doris. It is philosophically and scientifically an exciting John M. Doris.

-begin quote
I'm possessed of the conviction that thinking productively about ethics requires thinking realistically about humanity. Not everyone finds this so obvious as I do; philosophers have often insisted that the facts about human psychology should not constrain ethical reflection.

Then my conviction requires an argument, and that is why I've written this book. The argument addresses a conception of ethical character long prominent in the Western ethical tradition,

a conception I believe modern experimental psychology shows to be mistaken. If I'm right, coming to terms with this mistake requires revisions in thinking about character, and also in thinking about ethics.
-end quote

And read this review:
-begin quote
'… Lack of Character is by far the best thing I know of written on the implications of recent social psychology for philosophical discussions of virtue and character.

The book refers to and assesses an extraordinary large literature in psychology, philosophy, and beyond, and works out in considerable detail one very plausible way of thinking of ethics in the light of the facts of psychology.'
Gilbert Harman, Stuart Professor of Philosophy, Princeton University
-end quote

For today I have to come to an end, but I am so excited about the results of my research on virtue ethics. It feels like a confirmation, that we followed the right track and really arrived at a station.

It was a woman philosopher(!), Margret Anscombe, who constructed the tracks. A John M. Doris, who claims that philosophers made a mistake by ignoring psychology in their philosophical debates on ethics.

To be continued……

 

 

 

20 Virtue Ethics and Ethic of Care

 


With our subject of Virtue ethics we have arrived at a fairly new station along the tracks of modern theories of ethics. It is exciting to discover that it plays an important role in the debates on ethics of today.

This means that in the research in preparation of my lecture I run into an abundance of new issues, names, publications related to Virtue Ethics. And we first have to sort them al out to get to the heart of the debate.

For instance, in my former lecture I mentioned the author of 'Lack of Character (2002), John M. Doris. Further research showed that he is not just somebody.
http://moralpsychology.net/jdoris/

He also has written an article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy about Moral psychology. Let me quote him, so that you see how psychology and philosophy of ethics have become close connected these days.

-begin quote
To date, discussion of empirical psychology in philosophical ethics has tended to focus on moral character.

In contrast to Kantianism and Utilitarianism, which share an emphasis on identifying morally obligatory actions, the burgeoning tradition of contemporary virtue ethics emphasizes the psychological constitution, or character, of actors.

The central question for virtue ethics, so the slogan goes, is not what sort of action to do, but what sort of person to be. The importance of moral psychology to this tradition is not far to seek.

On the one hand, proponents of virtue ethics often contend that ethical theories focused on character manifest greater psychological realism than do their competitors .

On the other, there are masses of empirical research in personality and social psychology that appear directly relevant to familiar philosophical notions of character;

although the parallel was not much noticed until fairly recently, philosophers and psychologists had, to a considerable extent, been talking about the same things.
-end quote

And all this is mainly caused by Margret Anscombe 's article "Modern Moral Philosophy". Interesting to note, that when I was a philosophy student at the university in the early 70s, virtue ethics wasn't a subject at all.

The whole program was heavily leaning on deontological ethics, in particular Kant. In my program was some room for philosophers like Hare (emotivism) and Moore. Utilitarianism wasn't hardly mentioned, nor Jeremy Bentham or John Stuart Mill.

So you can imagine that my "discovery" of virtue ethics (for me a logical outcome of our study of deontology and utilitarianism in all former lectures) is very exciting. In a way it fits into my personal ideas and frame of mind. On the other hand it opens all kinds of new perspectives and relations.

So lest summarize the potion we have reached once again. Moral theories are concerned with right and wrong behavior. This subject area of philosophy is unavoidably tied up with practical concerns about the right behavior.

However, virtue ethics changes the kind of question we ask about ethics. Where deontology and consequentialism concern themselves with the right action, virtue ethics is concerned with the good life and what kinds of persons we should be.

"What is the right action?" is a significantly different question to ask from "How should I live? What kind of person should I be?"

Where the first type of question deals with specific dilemmas, the second is a question about an entire life. Instead of asking what is the right act here and now, virtue ethics asks what kind of person should I be in order to get it right all the time.

Whereas deontology and consequentialism are based on rules that try to give us the right action, virtue ethics makes central use of the concept of character.

The answer to "How should one live?" is that one should live virtuously, i.e. have a virtuous character. [from IEP]

Another interesting aspect of our present subject is its relation with my former project on Women Philosophers. Not only because Margret Anscombe had a crucial influence in this matter. There is more. Just read this.

-begin quote
Over the past fifteen years, Carol Gilligan has been listening to women and men talk about morality. [In] her book, In a Different Voice (l982a), Gilligan describes a moral universe in which men,

more often than women, conceive of morality as substantively constituted by obligations and rights and as procedurally constituted by the demands of fairness and impartiality,

while women, more often than men, see moral requirements as emerging from the particular needs of others in the context of particular relationships.

Gilligan has dubbed this latter orientation the "ethic of care," and she insists that the exclusive focus on justice reasoning has obscured both its psychological reality and its normative significance.
-end quote

Because the relation between the theory of ethics ands psychology has become more tight due to the issue of virtue, there has developed also a feminist approach to ethics.

Where such other moral theories as Kantian morality and utilitarianism demand impartiality above all, the ethics of care understands the moral import of ties to families and groups. It evaluates such ties, differing from virtue ethics by focusing on caring relations rather than the virtues of individuals.

Another result and modern development thanks to Margret Anscombe.

To be continued next week…………

 

 

 

21 On Intention


Before we begin I did an interesting observation. As a student I bought The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, publisher MacMIllan, in 1973. It was the reprint 1992 of the first edition of 1967.

There is no article on Virtue Ethics in the encyclopedia, not even a reference in the index of it. In 2006 was published the 2nd edition of this encyclopedia and it has an article on virtue ethics, written by Robert Loudon (1998)

This is how fast things go in philosophy. It all began in 1958. In 1967 it still wasnt worth a place in the encyclopedia. Forty years later an article was written to be published in the 2nd edition 2006.

There was deontological ethics. There was utilitarianism and consequentialism and then a new theory emerges: virtue ethics. To fully understand it, we have to go back to its roots, its origin.

As a human being we are an endless stream of actions. We act, yet stronger, we are even unable not to act. It is like existing, you cant escape it.

Like the man in the courtyard of the hotel in the novel of Simone de Beauvoir "Tous les hommes sont mortals" (1946) [All men are mortal] tries to do.

Our actions don't come out of the blue. Closely related to them is the concept of "INTENTION". we speak of 'events in a man's history' as intentional actions, of the intention with which an action is performed,

and of the expression of intention, or of the corresponding 'pure' intention for the future, which may exist though no action has yet been done with that intention.

Of course not all our actions are intentional, but we could say that an action is intentional when it is subject to a certain form of explanation,

or as Margaret Anscombe puts it , when 'a certain sense of the question "Why?" has application' to it.

What we have to figure out is, to which actions this particular "Why?" can be applied. It is obvious, that it doesn't apply to actions we are not aware of. Body language is a great example of such actions.

It also doesn't apply to actions of which you become aware of, all of a sudden. You walk to pace, pondering about a problem, and all of a sudden realize that you are walking your room back and forth now for at least half an hour.

Or I know that I am doing something, although I have no clue why I am doing this. Maybe caused by some external power source or maybe hypnosis. Something that can manipulate your central nervous system.

If a piece of behavior passes these tests, it is an intentional action, unless perhaps it is a case of 'mental causality', like a startle response when you hear a sudden sound.

I walk side by side with my friend and I may strike him intentionally, or I could stumble and my hand hits his face unintentionally. These are not two distinct actions of mine.

Actions are thus intentional only 'under a description'. What is given in answer to the question 'Why?' is in fact often a further description of the same action.

A series of such questions will thus reveal an order among many of the descriptions true of an action:

'Why are you pushing that thing?' -'because I am shoveling snow - 'But why are you shoveling snow?' - 'Because I am clearing the pavement in front of my house'.

This chain of questions 'Why?' may often be pressed into the future, and thus beyond any description of what is now happening;

the responses will then merely express the intention with which the action mentioned earlier is performed.

An important conclusion it, that this knowledge one has of one's intentional actions is not achieved by empirical observation of these actions.

Ascombe calls this "practical knowledge", where, I suppose, the word practical relates to the greek verb 'prattein', which means 'to act', so what is meant here is "knowledge of our actions".

She famously compares the relation that practical thought bears to action with the relation a shopping list bears to the contents of the shopper's basket.

The corresponding model of non-practical or 'speculative' thought is given by the relationship between the same basket and the list of its contents constructed by the detective who follows its owner.

The difference is in 'direction of fit', as it is now called: the detective amends a mismatch between list and basket by altering his list, the shopper by altering the contents of the basket.

These are the basic ideas of Margaret Anscombe in her book "Intention" (1957) and now you can imagine how the story will go on in her famous article "Modern Moral Philosophy" of one year later (1958)

Neither in a deontological ethics or in consequentialism is relevant what a person intends to do. In a deontological ethics a (divine) lawgiver tells what 'ought' to be done and in consequentialism you just look at the effect of actions.

Now it may also be clear why Anscombe pleaded for a real philosophy of psychology, because from her perspective we have to investigate , that what generates his intentions,the psychology of the person.

Again we didn't elucidate the concept of virtue, but had to pay attention to preliminary issues. What is clear now is, that the foundation of ethics is in human action which is closely related with human intentions.

Thus the justification of moral actions comes from within and is based on, as Margaret Anscombe concluded, on very specific human traits, called virtue.

To be continued…….

 

 

 

22 On Virtue Ethics


Virtue theory is the view that the foundation of morality is the development of good character traits, or virtues. A person is good, then, if he has virtues and lacks vices.

It is interesting to see that historically, virtue theory is the oldest normative tradition in Western philosophy, having its roots in ancient Greek civilization.

Aristotle is the man who in his Ethica Nicomachea gives an extensive account of what a virtue is. There he argues that moral virtues are desire-regulating character traits which are at a mean between more extreme character traits (or vices).

The virtue of courage thus is the mean between cowardice and rashness. He concludes that it is difficult to live the virtuous life primarily because it is often difficult to find the mean between the extremes.

By the late Middle Ages Aristotle's virtue theory was the definitive account of morality, especially insofar as it was endorsed by medieval philosopher Thomas Aquinas.

With the waning of the Middle Ages and the rise of the Renaissance, the Scientific Revolution, and Enlightenment thought, the influence of Aristotle's virtue ethics declined.

So it was in the time that religion lost its leading position to science, that the theory of virtue was seriously criticized in particular by a Dutch philosopher, Hugo Grotius (1583 - 1645)

He was that man, who escaped from imprisonment in a castle by hiding himself in a bookcase. He was one of the supporters of the natural law theory. Like they discovered natural laws of physics, philosophers developed ideas regarding natural laws of morality.

For Grotius, morality involves conforming one's actions to moral laws which are fixed in nature and which even God cannot change. Grotius rejects the role of virtue assigned by Aristotle, and directly criticizes Aristotle's theory on three accounts.

First, Aristotle's doctrine of the mean fails to adequately explain basic moral concepts such as truthfulness and justice. A mean of what should such concepts be?

Second, in the case of justice, the person's particular motive does not matter. All that matters is following proper reason with respect to the rights of others. We'll get to this, when I'll discuss agent-based versus action-based ethics.

Third, contrary to Aristotle, the moral person does not have special moral insight simply because he is virtuous. Instead, morality is fixed in natural laws which can be rationally perceived by all.

Here you see how the virtue theory almost disappeared in the ethical discourse, on the one hand because of this natural law idea and the power of the ratio, which can obtain insight in these natural laws.

Of course you may see here the close link with Kantian philosophy and the deontological ethics. The Categorical Imperative, as Kant called it, was known by rational insight.

And on the other hand if you give primacy to the senses instead of the ratio you look at the effects of your actions and thus arrive at utilitarianism.

Here you see the quintessential meaning of virtue ethics. It is a critique of those theories of ethics, which leave out the "agent", as the acting person in ethical theory is usually called.

I am afraid, that you already have seen it coming. Grotius had a point: in matters of justice we don't judge a person by taking into account his virtuousness. We judge a person by his actions.

In the former lecture I mentioned Robert Loudon as the writer of the article on virtue ethics in the MacMillan Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

In 1984 he published a book with the funny title "On Some Vices of Virtue Ethics". The content wasn't meant to be funny. It was one of the most systematic attacks on contemporary virtue theory.

Loudon has a long list of critiques of virtue ethics. To mention a few.: virtue theory is not designed to offer precise guidelines of obligation,

or the observation that character traits change, and unless we stay in practice, we risk losing our proficiency in these areas. This suggests a need for a more character-free way of assessing our conduct.

More serious questions are for instance : How do you determine who is virtuous? It does not help to look for some external criterion such as visible indications in the agent's action.

This all means that our next step will be an interesting one: what can be said in defence of virtue ethics. We are morally judged by our actions. Do we need virtue to decide whether something is right or bad?

How do we get to a moral judgement at all when we over-emphasize virtue? Is intention the link between virtue and action?

The big difference of approach in theories of ethics here is clear: "What is the right action?" is a significantly different question to ask from "How should I live? What kind of person should I be?" That is what it is all about.

If you have time, try to find out yourself how virtue ethics comes to a moral judgement. Next Tuesday we'll investigate what theory of ethics should prevail: agent- based or action-based theory. Or a combination maybe?

 

 

 

23 Virtue Ethics continued


In the former lecture I said : The big difference of approach in theories of ethics here is clear: "What is the right action?" is a significantly different question to ask from "How should I live?

What kind of person should I be?" , referring to consequentialist and deontological theories on the on hand, and virtue ethics on the other hand.

Such a question presupposes an explicit philosophy of psychology, an answer to the question: how is the inner person "constructed".

You only can do psychological research in moral behavior if you for instance assume that a person has a knowledge of good and evil.

Although Aristotle In the first book of the Ethica Nicomachea warns us that the study of ethics is imprecise, he has a clear and precise idea about the base of our ability to moral behavior.

He assumed, that the function of man is reason and the life that is distinctive of humans is the life in accordance with reason. If the function of man is reason, then the good man is the man who reasons well.

Reason is the human quality that shows us how true virtue requires choice, understanding, and knowledge. Virtue is a settled and purposive disposition.

So when someone has the virtue of compassionate it means, that he will act accordingly, since having the virtuous inner dispositions will also involve being moved to act in accordance with them.

Moral education and development are a major part of virtue ethics. There are a number of factors that may affect one's character development,

such as one's parents, teachers, peer group, role-models, the degree of encouragement and attention one receives, and exposure to different situations.

Our natural tendencies, the raw material we are born with, are shaped and developed through a long and gradual process of education and habituation.

Thus moral standards by education. Yet moral relativism one could say. However these standards are related to our natural tendencies. Compassion could be regarded as a general human trait, but the resulting moral action will depend on the given cultural context.

But if the morality of a person is so closely connected with his education of character, we have to face a serious problem, for not everyone is in the lucky position of receiving a good education, for instance.

Do we then have to conclude that not everyone is equally morally responsible for his actions? That is counterintuitive.

When you have killed someone on purpose, you are a murderer, even though your moral education wasn't that good.

Thus we can get trapped between intuition and fact. The intuition is that luck must not make moral differences. Whether you studied at a university or only 'graduated' from primary school can not affect what a person is morally responsible of.

However, the fact is that luck does seem to make moral differences. You were lucky to be born in a wealthy and educated family. The other person wasn't and that was out of his control.

I won't resolve this problem here, but just refer to what we can experience very day and then ask yourself what you would decide.

It is a fact that verdicts in Court often take into account the background (-lack of- education e.g) to decide on the punishment. Just think about it.

This is the present landscape of modern theories of ethics: deontology, consequentialism and virtue ethics. Virtue ethics is closest to the psychology of the person.

As it was clear from the beginning, there is no such thing as THE definite theory of ethics. Each of us has to find his way through this landscape and weigh all arguments.

Final lecture of this project will be on Ethics and Pragmatism. Will it bring us new insights?

 

 

24 Ethics and Pragmatism: a conclusion


Let me position myself as a philosophical naturalist, one for whom the human journey is constitutive of its own meaning and is not to be rescued by any transcendent explanations, principles of accountability, or posthumous salvation.

Like Dewey stay close to nature and interpret knowledge as the product of the interaction between organism and environment, and knowledge as having practical instrumentality in the guidance and control of that interaction.

The organism interacts with the world through self-guided activity that coordinates and integrates sensory and motor responses.

The implication for the theory of knowledge is clear: the world is not passively perceived and thereby known; active manipulation of the environment is involved integrally in the process of learning from the start.

This means that knowledge is not a static given but a process and that any proposition accepted as an item of knowledge has this status only provisionally, in other worlds...just a coincidence that it works. It soon can be replaced by an better proposition.

These fundamental ideas we can also apply to moral behavior. In order to understand Dewey's moral philosophy, we must again focus on his concept of the situation.

Man is a creature who by nature has values. There are things, states of affairs, and activities that he directly enjoys, prizes, or values.

Moral choices and decisions arise only in those situations in which there are competing desires or a conflict of values.

The problem that a man then confronts is to decide what he really wants and what course of action he ought to pursue. He cannot appeal to his immediate values to resolve the situation;

he must evaluate or appraise the situation and the different courses of action open to him. This process of deliberation that culminates in a decision to act is what Dewey calls "valuation." But how do we engage in this process of valuation?

For this we need to accept a few basic assumptions. The first one is that as a species humans are basically the same all world with regard to physiology and neurobiology.

The second assumption is that the quality of life is achieved by reason and intelligence, These qualities give us the power of rationality, which means that education is essential and learning a lifetime activity.

The third assumption is what we find in virtue ethics which presupposes reasonable , positive qualities in man based on finding the mean between extremes, the virtue, or what Dewey would describe as the interaction of the organism with his environment.

In this interaction, which has an evolutionary origin, we learn to live together and are able to realize all virtues in ourselves.

I don't mean to say that we eventually will become all Saints, but this interaction with our environment began when man discovered himself.

And I think that we are maybe still at the beginning of this process, but if we are willing to accept that the human being is a learning and adaptive organism we will follow our virtues, guided by reason more and more to improve the human condition.