Sunday, December 6, 2009

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 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:
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.

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?

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."

The Discussion

[13:21] herman Bergson: So much on Frankena
[13:22] Gemma Cleanslate: He is very interesting
[13:22] Paula Dix: yes i liked very much
[13:22] herman Bergson: if you have any question or remark, feel free ...
[13:22] Gemma Cleanslate: his chapters were easy to follow
[13:22] herman Bergson: Yes it is an interesting approach
[13:22] herman Bergson: And readable indeed Gemma
[13:22] Gemma Cleanslate: i will read the whole thing when i have time
[13:23] Paula Dix: just to avoid confusion: this expression " maximize the balance of good over evil" means lots of good and less and less evil, right?
[13:23] Gemma Cleanslate: but as usual there are still the questions of good and what is good
[13:23] herman Bergson: What is so interesting is that he combines a utilitarian theory with a virtue theory
[13:23] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:23] herman Bergson: Well... in that matter is more or less follows in Moore's footsteps
[13:24] Paula Dix: i liked that he gives a general view besides his position, i felt situated
[13:24] herman Bergson: He doesnt define good, even talks about intrinsically good
[13:24] Gemma Cleanslate: YES
[13:24] Paula Dix: he gives that list of 5 or 6 ways something can be good
[13:25] Gemma Cleanslate: that is what i camr out of it all with still not a clear idea of good as we are triying to define
[13:25] herman Bergson: However, wiht his moral point of view theory he yet gives nonmoral reasons and arguments for the meen ig of good
[13:25] Repose Lionheart: so he just asserts the existence of non-moral intrinsic goods?
[13:25] herman Bergson: Yes, PAula, where the last on is intrinsically good
[13:25] Gemma Cleanslate: the intrinsic good
[13:26] herman Bergson: Cant be explained he end up in saying "Try it eand see!"
[13:26] Paula Dix: no, the intrinsic is the most englobing, isnt? in total?
[13:26] herman Bergson: He grounds his view on human rationality
[13:27] herman Bergson: Freedom is intrinsic good, as knowledge is and truth
[13:27] herman Bergson: If you would deny that, you have to come up with a rational argumentation
[13:28] Repose Lionheart: innocent until proven guilty?
[13:28] herman Bergson: to say beauty is not good, sounds irrational
[13:28] Paula Dix: lol some will say some knowledge isnt good ( i dont agree)
[13:29] herman Bergson: The morality of knowledge is not in its content but in what we do with it
[13:29] Repose Lionheart: true until proven false?
[13:29] herman Bergson: What do you mean Repose?
[13:29] Repose Lionheart: don't like his method much
[13:29] Paula Dix: exact, to know isnt bad or good. or no, thats wrong, to know is always good
[13:29] idanthology Sandalwood: you mentioned love at the last does frankena tie love into this?
[13:29] Repose Lionheart: think he needs to ground his assertion of non-moral intricsic goods
[13:30] herman Bergson: to answer your question, Idan, I would refer to chapter 5 of Ethics ㋡
[13:30] idanthology Sandalwood: haven't had time to reach that chapter as yet, but i'll get there ;)
[13:30] herman Bergson: He dedicates a whole paragraph to that specific issue
[13:31] herman Bergson: neither did I read that specific paragraph ㋡
[13:31] herman Bergson: I just loved other parts
[13:32] herman Bergson: I had no time to read the whole book
[13:32] herman Bergson: But what about his method Repose?
[13:32] herman Bergson: What dont you like in it?
[13:32] Repose Lionheart: well, he simply asserts that intrinsic goods exist
[13:33] herman Bergson: true..
[13:33] Repose Lionheart: don''t find that very satisfying
[13:33] Repose Lionheart: would like to see some justification for the claim
[13:34] Repose Lionheart: esp. as he seems to ground moral goods in intrinsic non-moral goods
[13:34] herman Bergson: But this intrinsic good is closely related to obtaining a balance of good over evil as goal of moral action
[13:34] Repose Lionheart: hmm,ok, but don't understand the significance of that
[13:34] Repose Lionheart: hmmm...
[13:34] Paula Dix: if its a balance, shouldnt be equal amounts of both? thats bothering me
[13:35] herman Bergson: What he calls intrinsic good are things that improve a life, create a good life
[13:35] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:35] herman Bergson: Primarily should the balance be in favor of the good
[13:35] Gemma Cleanslate: i hope so
[13:35] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:36] Paula Dix: so it should be in balance of good over evil :))
[13:36] Repose Lionheart: oh....his notion is descriptive
[13:36] herman Bergson: Well, Gemma, that is what makes us moral beings, to make an effort to create such a life for oneself and others
[13:36] Repose Lionheart: i think i see
[13:36] Gemma Cleanslate: exactly
[13:36] Repose Lionheart: i always go so ontological on things ㋡
[13:37] Repose Lionheart: things
[13:37] herman Bergson: I see ㋡
[13:38] herman Bergson: His idea of goodness is not meant to be a property of something like knowledge
[13:38] oola Neruda: when Nietzsche talks about looking inside...recognizing and even embracing what is there... and it is often not good... is he getting into ethics or is it a separate kind of thing entirely
[13:38] herman Bergson: We experience knowledge as good, as excellent, satisfactory in life
[13:38] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:38] Paula Dix: interesting oola!
[13:39] herman Bergson: I dont know oola
[13:39] herman Bergson: I would say it is more how Nietzsche interprets being
[13:40] herman Bergson: Maybe he refers to weakness there
[13:41] oola Neruda: separate issue? i am wanting all the parts of philosophy to match up with the other parts
[13:41] Gemma Cleanslate: lololol
[13:41] Paula Dix: looks to me he says we should accept our bad things also... not necessarily moral i guess
[13:41] oola Neruda: maybe the different questions are isolated
[13:42] Paula Dix: or it can be moral in the sense that knowing our weaknesses we can deal better with everything, prevent them of being a problem
[13:42] herman Bergson: I'll have a look at how Nietzsche fits in in theory of ethics
[13:43] herman Bergson: Well, anyway we can say that William Frankena is a discovery, like time ago Marry Midgley was
[13:43] herman Bergson: Or was it Margret ? ㋡
[13:43] idanthology Sandalwood: balance of good over evil...he sees evil as a necessary component to drive the good or he sees evil as, unfortunately, an inescapable part of existense & human nature?
[13:44] herman Bergson: I would say the later, Idanthology
[13:44] herman Bergson: Besides it is a complete new chapter to talk about the existence of evil
[13:44] herman Bergson: Fascinating subject tho
[13:45] herman Bergson: But I think Frankena takes evil as a fact of life
[13:45] oola Neruda: nietzsche
[13:46] oola Neruda: too
[13:46] herman Bergson: and regards the virtuous person who sees it as his duty to do good as the one who will fight evil
[13:47] herman Bergson: Next time we'll discuss the Golden Rule and dig into deontic ethics, duty ethics
[13:47] Gemma Cleanslate: ok
[13:47] herman Bergson: in fact uses Frankena the Golden Rule too
[13:48] herman Bergson: You can find that in chapter 6 where he explains his theory of the moral point of view
[13:49] herman Bergson: If no one has any questions or remarks anymore, I thank you for your participation ㋡
[13:49] BrainCrave OHare: thank you herman
[13:49] Gemma Cleanslate: thanks Herman
[13:49] Repose Lionheart: Thank you, Professor
[13:49] Gemma Cleanslate: see you tuesday
[13:49] BrainCrave OHare: bye all
[13:49] Abraxas Nagy: ty herman
[13:49] Abraxas Nagy: bye brain
[13:49] herman Bergson: We yet missed Q ㋡
[13:49] Repose Lionheart: thanks for the tree, too ㋡
[13:49] oola Neruda: thank you Herman
[13:49] Justine Rhapsody: thank you Professor
[13:49] herman Bergson: My pleasure Repose
[13:50] Abraxas Nagy: see you all next time :D
[13:50] herman Bergson: Bye Justine ^_^
[13:50] idanthology Sandalwood: later y'all

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