Thursday, January 28, 2010

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 Philosphy" (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 :
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……

The Discussion

[13:22] Alarice Beaumont: he sounds so right to me!
[13:22] herman Bergson: Who do you mean Alarice?
[13:22] oola Neruda: Herman... can human psychology be used as an excuse for immoral behavior? what about responsibility.. or am i missing the point
[13:22] Alarice Beaumont: ethics and character belong together.... in my humble opinion
[13:23] Gemma Cleanslate: true
[13:23] herman Bergson: Yes Alarice...
[13:23] herman Bergson: are moving way to fast....
[13:23] oola Neruda: adn self discipline
[13:23] herman Bergson: the only thing we can say is that there is a close relation between psychology and ethics
[13:24] herman Bergson: But those stories like..he killed his mother because he had a bad childhood so he is excused...that has nothing ot do with ethics
[13:24] Alarice Beaumont: no .. i agree on that
[13:24] Alarice Beaumont: and honestly i don't like that excuse
[13:25] herman Bergson: But what is interesting is for instance that consequentialists have endless debates on al kinds of cases...
[13:25] oola Neruda: am i not using the correct definition of ethics?
[13:25] Adriana Jinn: yes i think that it depend of each one of us to know what we find good or bad
[13:25] Alarice Beaumont: so easy to blame everybody else but not the guilty
[13:26] Repose Lionheart: does biological constraint on moral behavior mitigate moral responsibility, though?
[13:26] Adriana Jinn: what someone can find bad someone else will not
[13:26] Alarice Beaumont: think oola is right
[13:26] herman Bergson: there is a huge difference between a psychological explanation of behavior and moral justification
[13:26] Repose Lionheart: oh
[13:26] Alarice Beaumont: uuhh sorrry for the typos :-(
[13:26] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:27] herman Bergson: In virtue ethics it is important to find out where psychology stops and ethics begins, I would say
[13:27] herman Bergson: Fact is that moral behavior has become a subject of investigation of psychology
[13:28] herman Bergson: before ..say 1950 this hardly ever had been the case
[13:29] herman Bergson: So now we have arrived at a station where the tracks split up into psychology and philosophy of ethics
[13:29] Alarice Beaumont: hmmm
[13:30] herman Bergson: The next step will be to discover the demarcation between the philosophical analysis of the concept of virtue and how psychology deals with it
[13:30] herman Bergson: To say it in another way....
[13:31] herman Bergson: when a psychologist starts a research on virtuous behavior he has to define his concept of virtue...
[13:31] herman Bergson: there is no scientific method for getting that is a philosophical analysis basically
[13:31] Repose Lionheart: ahhh...this is possibly circular?
[13:32] Repose Lionheart: oh
[13:32] Repose Lionheart: i see
[13:32] herman Bergson: Well your remark point at the danger Repose...
[13:33] Repose Lionheart: Has the Milgram experiment been replicated?
[13:33] herman Bergson: You could get into circularity here easily indeed
[13:33] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:33] herman Bergson: Oh yes..many times and in many ways..outcome always the same...
[13:33] Repose Lionheart: oh
[13:33] Repose Lionheart: seems to put the subjects under great moral stress
[13:33] herman Bergson: The Milgram experiment was to administer electric shocks to a person who gave wrong answers..
[13:34] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:34] herman Bergson: the leader of the experimant stimulated the test person to obey the rules of the test..
[13:34] herman Bergson: wrong answer ..more voltage in the shock
[13:35] herman Bergson: about 62 % of the test persons did as ordered..even when they heard the 'victim' scream
[13:35] herman Bergson: But an anecdote...
[13:35] herman Bergson: Of all test persons who refused to go too far...
[13:36] herman Bergson: no one ever inquired about the condition of the electro tortured person
[13:36] Repose Lionheart: wow
[13:36] Repose Lionheart: depressing
[13:36] herman Bergson: check Milgram experiment in Wikipedia
[13:37] herman Bergson: Yes… I was surprised to read that
[13:37] Repose Lionheart: thought about wath i'd do
[13:37] Repose Lionheart: pretty certain i'd not push the button
[13:37] herman Bergson: question too
[13:37] Repose Lionheart: but hard to know for sure
[13:37] Abraxas Nagy: exactly
[13:38] herman Bergson: yes..that is the scary part
[13:38] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:38] Abraxas Nagy: right
[13:38] Abraxas Nagy: under the right circumstances
[13:38] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:38] Abraxas Nagy: u can be made to do some pretty awefull things
[13:39] herman Bergson: so ..we have arrived at a crossroad of psychology and ethical theory...
[13:39] Repose Lionheart: that's why i read history
[13:39] Repose Lionheart: so i don't repeat it
[13:39] Adriana Jinn: right
[13:39] Repose Lionheart: if possible
[13:40] herman Bergson: Next time I'll dig into the philosophical analysis of Virtue and maybe we can see a connection with psychology then too
[13:40] Abraxas Nagy: ah interesting
[13:40] Repose Lionheart: yes!
[13:40] herman Bergson: How I see it is like this.....
[13:41] herman Bergson: After the exclusively philosophical theories on ethics we have arrived at the individual, the person...
[13:41] herman Bergson: the virtuous person...
[13:41] herman Bergson: that is what psychology is looking at too
[13:42] herman Bergson: the next level is to show that the individual person is a social person too
[13:42] herman Bergson: which has consequences for ethics
[13:42] Abraxas Nagy: indeed
[13:43] Repose Lionheart: oh, the rise of virtue ethics coincides with the growth of psychology?
[13:43] Repose Lionheart: yes, a social ethic
[13:43] herman Bergson: then the final step could be to show that the person eventually is a social biological organism which places him in the line of evolution
[13:44] herman Bergson: so that willl be the conclusion of this project...
[13:44] Repose Lionheart: !
[13:44] herman Bergson: when we have arrived at the bilogical level
[13:45] Abraxas Nagy: ah
[13:45] Repose Lionheart: one possible empirical ground
[13:45] herman Bergson: yes Repose
[13:45] Repose Lionheart: ah
[13:45] Repose Lionheart: very cool
[13:45] herman Bergson: But you say 'ONE possible ground'
[13:46] Repose Lionheart: hehehe
[13:46] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:46] Repose Lionheart: could be another direction too
[13:46] herman Bergson: You mean to imply the possibility of other grounds too?
[13:46] Repose Lionheart: a further ground perhaps
[13:47] herman Bergson: ok..anything particular in mind?
[13:47] Repose Lionheart: a religious or spiritual naturalism, maybe
[13:47] Repose Lionheart: logically compatible
[13:47] Repose Lionheart: i think maybe
[13:47] herman Bergson: Yes...we dont exclude that option
[13:47] Adriana Jinn: i was thinking of spiritual also yes
[13:47] Alarice Beaumont: uhm.. sorry.. have to go earlier today :-(
[13:48] Alarice Beaumont: cu on thursday :-)
[13:48] Abraxas Nagy: c ya Alarice
[13:48] herman Bergson: Bye Alarice..and thnx
[13:48] Repose Lionheart: bye!
[13:48] herman Bergson: We definitely have to come to terms with spirituality in relation to our ethical discourse
[13:49] herman Bergson: I'll keep an open mind to that option too
[13:49] Repose Lionheart: ok!
[13:49] Adriana Jinn: yes
[13:49] herman Bergson: allthough I have my personal perspective on these matters...
[13:49] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:50] herman Bergson: But stick to your own too plz....
[13:50] herman Bergson: I take the privilige to be biased in these matters and expose my biasedness here
[13:50] herman Bergson: Hello Rodney !
[13:51] Repose Lionheart: a brave thing, i think
[13:51] Rodney Handrick: Hi Herman
[13:51] Adriana Jinn: biase ??????
[13:51] Abraxas Nagy: it sure is
[13:51] herman Bergson: I guess you would do the same Repose
[13:51] bergfrau Apfelbaum: hey :-) Rodney
[13:51] Repose Lionheart: hehe
[13:51] Repose Lionheart: yes, i think so
[13:51] Rodney Handrick: Hi Bergfrau
[13:51] herman Bergson: so a solid ground for a good exchange of ideas and discussion
[13:52] Abraxas Nagy: right
[13:52] Repose Lionheart: yep
[13:53] herman Bergson: So ..everyone..dont hesitate to give your opinion...
[13:53] herman Bergson: we are entering delicate grounds now ㋡
[13:53] Abraxas Nagy: uuhhhmmn
[13:53] Abraxas Nagy: lol
[13:53] Abraxas Nagy: I'd say
[13:53] Qwark Allen: the least
[13:53] herman Bergson: But as I said before....
[13:54] Abraxas Nagy: but doenst that make it more interesting?
[13:54] herman Bergson: You should all have your Personal Philosophical Program
[13:54] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:54] Repose Lionheart: hmmmm
[13:54] herman Bergson: which means....your set of basic ideas....
[13:54] herman Bergson: dont question your basic ideas..they are yours...
[13:55] herman Bergson: but put them to the test....see if they hold in a good philosphical debate
[13:56] Qwark Allen: seems to me , always a work in progress
[13:56] herman Bergson: As JJC Smart said... Not everyone will be persuaded by his theory of ethics..
[13:56] Repose Lionheart: he was right
[13:56] herman Bergson: Yes long as you live it like that you are always on the right track
[13:57] herman Bergson: Yes Repose....
[13:57] herman Bergson: the expectation that we finally will find the ultimate truth, the ultimate answer is a lost cause
[13:58] Repose Lionheart: agreed
[13:58] Repose Lionheart: or maybe an ever distant goal
[13:58] herman Bergson: where we can play the logic trick by saying that that statement must be the ultimate answer ㋡
[13:59] herman Bergson: Yes Repose.. a Popperian approach....
[13:59] herman Bergson: from the very beginning of mankind...we always have tried to reach the horizon....
[14:00] herman Bergson: we are still on our way.. ㋡
[14:00] Adriana Jinn: sure
[14:00] Repose Lionheart: yep
[14:01] herman Bergson: Well..may I thank you for your interest and participation again....
[14:01] Abraxas Nagy: thank you Herman
[14:01] Adriana Jinn: thanks herman it is really interesting
[14:01] herman Bergson: if you have no remaining questions about today's subject....class dismmissed ㋡
[14:01] Repose Lionheart: Thank you, Professor!
[14:01] CONNIE Eichel: thanks professor :)
[14:01] Repose Lionheart: great class
[14:01] Abraxas Nagy: indeed
[14:01] Justine Rhapsody: thanks Professor
[14:01] Rodney Handrick: thanks Herman
[14:01] Abraxas Nagy: like always
[14:02] herman Bergson: You are welcome
[14:02] herman Bergson: It is pleasure to work for you
[14:02] Adriana Jinn: thanks again
[14:02] Adriana Jinn: see you on thusday
[14:02] Adriana Jinn: bye all
[14:02] Repose Lionheart: yep
[14:02] CONNIE Eichel: bye bye
[14:02] Abraxas Nagy: c ya Adriana
[14:02] Qwark Allen: thank you
[14:02] herman Bergson: ok..Till Thursday
[14:03] CONNIE Eichel: till then :)
[14:03] Qwark Allen: ******* Herman *******
[14:03] Abraxas Nagy: see you all next time :D
[14:03] Qwark Allen: more interesting then ever
[14:03] Qwark Allen: ;-)
[14:03] herman Bergson: thank you Qwark
[14:03] Qwark Allen: hope to see you thursday
[14:03] Qwark Allen: ;-)
[14:03] Rodney Handrick: bye
[14:03] bergfrau Apfelbaum: ty!! herman! that you are, a piece of our way :-))
[14:03] Qwark Allen: indeed
[14:03] herman Bergson smiles..

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