Sunday, May 10, 2009

23c Mary Midgley

Since Francis Bacon (died in 1626) and the rise of Science and the scientific method religion gradually lost its grip the moral question. No longer was it sufficient to refer to the Bible to know what is morally right or wrong.

Historically this is not entirely correct, because Plato(died in 347 B.C) confronted us in the Euthyphro with a difficult question, when Socrates asks Euthyphro: "The point which I should first wish to understand is whether the pious or holy is beloved by the gods because it is holy, or holy because it is beloved of the gods."

Or to rephrase it in a less socratic way: Are things morally wrong, because God says so, or does God say that some things are morally wrong, because they are morally wrong? Even Thomas Aquinas had a struggle with this one.

Thence, when religion can't offer a rocksolid foundation for our moral standards some tend to believe that science can explain our morality and thus you get writers like Richard Dawkins. And a lot of people who literaly BELIEVE what he says.

Actually it not so surprising that a man like Dawkins writes a book like "The God Delusion". He is so happy with the public approval of his selfish gene theory, that he feels that he also can take the next step too. The new religion is Science.

All of a sudden I understood Mary Midgley completely and in this understanding I saw what mission she has, what goal she is pursueing and in what impressive way she does that.

She is definitely aware of the situation I described at the beginning and thence she has only ONE question. You find this question in every book and articel she has written: How can we explain morality, or stated in another way how can we explain that the human being is able to know what is morally right and morally wrong.

2000 Years of philosophy, religion and science had already demonstrated that the answer on this fundamental question was not as obvious as we might have hoped. And besides that we are not talking about history here, but about a contemporary question and the answer of a contemporary philosopher.

This is our question, our discourse and Mary Midgley is very inspireing in this discourse. She is not like an Ayn Rand offering an ideology, but she offers us a genuine philosophical discourse, "careful, rigorous, well-documented, limited and specific" as she qualifies it herself.

Her startingpoint is Darwinian and from that perspective she started to study the woks of people like Konrad Lorenz, may be too a man like Desmond Morris with "The naked ape". She did research in ethology to find an understanding of the question how the human being could be an animal as well as rational.

To understand this, I shall examine, through animal parallels, what conditions must have been necessary in a prerational creature if reasoning was to develop and what, therefore, must be retained as a setting for reason?

I do this, not in the belief that reason can be 'reduced' to nonrational elements, but from the desire to make sense of our nature as a whole to find how each of us can regard himself as one thing, not two, when part ,of our nature is prerational.. .

It is not clear how a creature such as Plato and Descartes described could ever have evolved without celestial interference. Amputating the Cartesian Immortal Soul and leaving the rest of the compound untouched does not, as some people think, help us. The intellect is still left as an alien intruder in the world.

Here you see her basic program: she wants to explain why reason can not be reduced to nonrational elements. That is what philosophical Materialists do, that is what Dawkins does with his selfish gene.

Neither is reason or rationality something like Plato and Descartes suggested: some alien sitting in a material vehicle, called body. According to Mary Midgley, we should understand reason thus:

(...) rationality is not just cleverness. Even the word intelligence is often used to mean a good deal more (...). And rationality always means more. It includes a definite structure of preferences, a priority system based on feeling. Now that kind of structure is not peculiar to the human race, but is also found in the higher animals.
- END QUOTE Let's see what she means by this structure.

I want to get away from the essentially colonial [means 'built from a number of singular pieces' here] picture in which an imported governor, named Reason, imposes order on a chaotic alien tribe of Passions or Instincts.

The colonial picture, which is Plato's, was handed down through the Stoics, Descartes and Spinoza, to Kant. It performed a very good service' by honoring Thought.

But once doubt arose about how thought could establish values, it ceased to do so. Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and the Existentialists changed the governor's name from Reason to Will.

Kant spoke of the will, but he meant by it reason in action 'the Will is nothing but Practical Reason.' But the will now stands mainly for arrogance, arbitrariness, and contempt for the natural facts.

All these philosophers. mentioned here, pointed at some singular faculty as the tool to supply the answer on the question: what makes the human being a moral being. Like the emotivists (G.E. Moore) and prescriptionist (Hare) philosophers of her days pointed at feeling/emotion and set rationality aside to answer the question.

This is the startingpoint of Mary Midgley:

Instead of being colonial, I want to look at the continuity (...) , to talk of (...) "the whole system", as I may speak, of affections, including rationality, which constitute the "Heart", want to consider reason as growing out of and completing a natural balance of parts.

So the answer to our question doesn't lie in reason or rationality or feeling or emotion. The answer is found in special abilities, which depend on reason and feeling equally.

What are these abilities? You'll hear next time....Dawkins can wait ^_^

The Discussion

[13:26] herman Bergson: so much for today :-)
[13:26] Cailleach Shan: I like her reference to 'a natural balance of parts'... that sounds good to me.
[13:27] herman Bergson: Yes...she is special in the fact that she looks at man as a whole, not a bag of parts like feeling, reason, passion, intentions
[13:27] Gemma Cleanslate: goodness this womann gets a lot of time
[13:27] Alarice Beaumont: yes..think that is what humans expeire there are natural catastrophiesnce.. when changeing nature
[13:27] Gemma Cleanslate: :-)
[13:28] Alarice Beaumont: she is good Gemma.. you have to admit :-)
[13:28] Samuel Okelly: i like the wholeistic approach she adopts
[13:28] Gemma Cleanslate: absolutely
[13:28] AristotleVon Doobie: If these special abilities depend or 'reason' and 'feelings'...doent this contistute a duality of self?
[13:28] Vladimir Apparatchik: Modern neuroscience is showing that reason comes out of feeling
[13:28] herman Bergson: Yes me too......she doesnt preach or wants to be dogmatic
[13:29] herman Bergson: Yes Vladimir.....that is her point too
[13:29] Vladimir Apparatchik: People who have lesions in the brain that centre on emotion have great difficulty in coming to rational decisions
[13:29] herman Bergson: there is no rationality without feeling and visa versa
[13:29] Vladimir Apparatchik: There is no such thing as Mr Spock !
[13:29] Ze Novikov: lol
[13:30] herman Bergson: Somehow in semantics they admit this too by saying that statements also have a connotation
[13:30] Cailleach Shan: lol
[13:30] herman Bergson: That sounds logical Vladimir :-)
[13:30] Vladimir Apparatchik: :)
[13:31] herman Bergson: When I say "I am a democrate" I do not just give a description of my rational is definitely connected to a feeling, an emotion too
[13:32] Alarice Beaumont: yes.. think so too
[13:32] Vladimir Apparatchik: I think Midgley is good on this - I think though that she almost deliberately misunderstands Dawkins sometimes - it has become a bit of a feud
[13:32] Samuel Okelly: would mary view that "feeling" as being defined by the sign or by the self?
[13:32] herman Bergson: Mary Midgley is regarded as a moral philosopher and that she is indeed and very consistent
[13:32] herman Bergson: And to me she is like formerly Dewey, a philosophical revelation
[13:33] herman Bergson: She is very engaged in what is happinging nowadays....
[13:33] herman Bergson: And not only Dawkins...
[13:33] herman Bergson: Just have alook at what is called Sociobiology
[13:34] Cailleach Shan: ??
[13:34] Cailleach Shan: Do you mean transplanting genes etc.?
[13:34] herman Bergson: Dawkins is just one of the representatives
[13:35] herman Bergson: No...I mean the idea of explaining all human behavior as for instance the result of a bag of genes
[13:35] Cailleach Shan: kk
[13:35] Vladimir Apparatchik: A bit prejorative Herman - you sound like Midgley
[13:35] herman Bergson: I think I'll explain it in more detail in the next lecture
[13:35] herman Bergson smiles
[13:36] Gemma Cleanslate: :-)
[13:36] herman Bergson: Yas Vladimir, I agree
[13:36] herman Bergson: tho deep in my heart I am a materialist..I love the Australian materialist philosophers :-)
[13:36] Vladimir Apparatchik: Sociobiology has morphed into evolutionary psychology - which is very fashionalble
[13:37] herman Bergson: evolutionary psychology...indeed a great term
[13:37] AristotleVon Doobie: If one is deciding on whether a course of action is moral or not, what inside them is providing the'point' and what is providing the 'counterpoint' ?
[13:37] Samuel Okelly: sounds quite similar to deterministic approaches that have already been tried and rejected
[13:38] herman Bergson: You are too fast, in my opinion Samuel
[13:38] Cailleach Shan: Aussie philosophers..... now there's a contradiction in terms.
[13:38] Ze Novikov: lol
[13:38] Vladimir Apparatchik: See the Monty Python sketch
[13:38] hope63 Shepherd: he confounds aussie with nz cal..:)
[13:38] herman Bergson: You would be surprised to discover more than kangeroos in Australia Cailleach
[13:38] Cailleach Shan: lol
[13:38] Ze Novikov: lol
[13:39] Vladimir Apparatchik: All the philosophers are called Bruce
[13:39] Cailleach Shan: Hahahahahahahahaaaa
[13:39] Gemma Cleanslate: lol
[13:39] Alarice Beaumont: lol
[13:39] herman Bergson: But to get back to Aristotles remark.....point and counterpoint
[13:40] herman Bergson: Let me answer to that in the next lecture, where I'll go into detail about what Midgley sees as rationality and human nature
[13:40] herman Bergson: And to Samuel I would say..
[13:41] herman Bergson: I understand what you mean...and I am saying that I tend to materialism
[13:41] herman Bergson: I am not at all ready with ideas on matters as determinism
[13:42] Samuel Okelly: IMV it would open up a can of worms
[13:42] herman Bergson: I understand Dawkins genes idea, like i understand neuropsychological interpretations..
[13:42] herman Bergson: but I still have no fixed stand
[13:42] Vladimir Apparatchik: One can be a materialist and darwinian - and still have sophisticated views on determinism and free will - see Dan Dennett
[13:43] herman Bergson: yes Vladimir....that is somewhat the direction I am looking in too
[13:43] Vladimir Apparatchik: Dennett's book Freedom Evolves is worth reading
[13:43] herman Bergson: But I have hardly begun....I was in philosophical hibernation for 20 years ^_^
[13:44] Gemma Cleanslate: lol
[13:44] herman Bergson: Teaching computer classes :-)
[13:44] herman Bergson: Here in SL I woke up again......and RL made me retire earlier as planned so..I am on my way now ^_^
[13:45] herman Bergson: And you are an awesome group of people, being so kind to accompany me :-)
[13:45] Cailleach Shan: It's a privilege Herman.
[13:45] AristotleVon Doobie: sorry, I must ask to be excused early, RL conflict
[13:46] Gemma Cleanslate: Bye
[13:46] Gemma Cleanslate: ari
[13:46] Vladimir Apparatchik: bye
[13:46] Ze Novikov: bb
[13:46] Cailleach Shan: Nice to see you Ari.
[13:46] AristotleVon Doobie: bye all, thank you Herman
[13:46] herman Bergson: Ok Aristotle..duty calles to put it in a moral context
[13:46] hope63 Shepherd: bye ari,, good luck solving your conflict:)
[13:46] Vladimir Apparatchik: Between reason and emotion Ari?
[13:47] Samuel Okelly: please excuse me folsk
[13:47] Samuel Okelly: thanks again herman :)
[13:47] Cailleach Shan: cu Sam
[13:47] herman Bergson: My pleasure Samuel
[13:47] Ze Novikov: bye
[13:47] Gemma Cleanslate: see you next week
[13:47] Alarice Beaumont: bye Sam
[13:47] Cailleach Shan: Are we finished today??
[13:48] herman Bergson: Well no....I want you to give the problem that Plato formulated...:-)
[13:48] Vladimir Apparatchik: Back to Midgley for a minute - she writes letters to the UK New Scientist magazine often - berating the latest example of "scientism" in the mag
[13:48] Ze Novikov: :)
[13:48] herman Bergson: And what does that mean Vladimir
[13:50] Vladimir Apparatchik: In her terms "Scientism" is the view that science is the only route to knowledge
[13:51] herman Bergson: yes...that's her...she is 89 now... but still active it seems
[13:51] Vladimir Apparatchik: Still has her marbles - as we say in Britain
[13:52] herman Bergson: I havent so much problems with saying that science leads to knowledge
[13:52] Vladimir Apparatchik: And still attacking Dawkins :))
[13:52] hope63 Shepherd: when she pokes her finger onto someone.. it hurts them:9
[13:52] herman Bergson: I only would have problems to accept that what is valuable for us as humans is primarily knowledge
[13:53] herman Bergson: She loves to pick on Dawkins :-)
[13:53] herman Bergson: If we say that we are back to where we began....that there is a Reason...a Ratio, that is control over all other pieces of life
[13:53] Vladimir Apparatchik: Maybe I was not quite right to say just "knowledge". Scientism in her view is that science explains everything - including morality
[13:54] Cailleach Shan: Yes...... that wonderful quote "it is unnecessary to break a butterfly upon a wheel'
[13:54] herman Bergson: No you were right.....
[13:54] herman Bergson: It is only that science doenst offer ALL knowledge....for instance the knowledge of values
[13:55] herman Bergson: So far we still have no rocksolid knowledge about our morality, like we have about physical processes for instance
[13:56] Vladimir Apparatchik: yes - and Midley says that Dawkins et al think that it is only science that will properly explain morality eg through disciplines like evolutionary psychology
[13:56] Anne Charles: Would you say that philosophy takes over where science ends?
[13:57] herman Bergson: that is why he wrote The God Delusion.....I think a futile attempt to prove his stand
[13:57] herman Bergson: Yes Anne I would think so
[13:57] herman Bergson: Betrand Russell says in Problems of Philosophy...
[13:57] hope63 Shepherd: i wouldn't say its a take over..
[13:58] herman Bergson: when some question is answered with a definite answer it leaves the realm of philosophy
[13:58] herman Bergson: and enters the realm of science
[13:58] Anne Charles: ageeed
[13:59] Vladimir Apparatchik: For example like "What is life?" Vitalism as a philosophy is now dead after the scentific discoveries of DNA etc
[13:59] herman Bergson: the ether theory is past tense
[13:59] herman Bergson: Vitalism is a good example
[14:00] hope63 Shepherd: lets not forget philosophy as such is at its beginning..and science.. like neuology.. will influence it.. just like psychology might influence neurology..
[14:00] herman Bergson: I think so too Hope...
[14:00] Vladimir Apparatchik: Got to go - it's been great to be back - see you soon
[14:01] Anne Charles: Thank you Professor -- good bye all.
[14:01] herman Bergson: Thanks for your participation Vladimir
[14:01] Ze Novikov: bb
[14:01] hope63 Shepherd: thanks for your contribution vlad.. found it most interseting..
[14:01] herman Bergson: Ok....formally: Class dismissed ^_^
[14:01] Ze Novikov: ty herman
[14:01] herman Bergson: I hope you saw that spark Alarice :-)
[14:01] Ze Novikov: bb everyone until next week
[14:02] herman Bergson: Bye Ze ^_^
[14:02] Cailleach Shan: Very interesting Herman.... a good one.
[14:02] herman Bergson: thnx Cailleach
[14:02] bergfrau Apfelbaum: byebye cailleach and ze
[14:02] Cailleach Shan: Bye all. Cu Hope... don't stay up too late.
[14:02] Alarice Beaumont: have to go... oh geeze.. bye :-)
[14:02] herman Bergson: Bye Alarice
[14:03] Alarice Beaumont: bye Herman ._))
[14:03] hope63 Shepherd: have an hour more as usual cla..
[14:03] hope63 Shepherd: cal..
[14:03] Alarice Beaumont: was great....
[14:03] bergfrau Apfelbaum: byebye Ala :-)
[14:03] herman Bergson: Yes....clock is changed this weekend..:-(
[14:03] herman Bergson: in what direction?

Posted by herman_bergson on 2009-03-29 09:21:00

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