Sunday, May 10, 2009

23d Mary Midgley, a final lecture

In the first half of the 20th century the philosophical discourse on ethics was dominated by philosophers like G.E. Moore. There emerge theories like intuitionism, emotivism and prescriptivism: all designed to tell what a value-judgement is.

They had one thing in common: the complete detachment of value-judgements from the rest of thought. Any reasoning that people might seem to use in support of their moral attitudes was held to involve a ‘naturalistic fallacy’, that is, an illicit inference from facts to values: the socalled IS / OUGHT problem.

How did they accomplish this detachment? G. E. Moore held that this was the main question in ethics: IS GOOD DEFINABLE? Definable like we define all our scientific terms.

Based on the observation that it is illogical to deduce an OUGHT statement from IS statements ( this is so, that is so thence we ought to act thus - there is no 'ought' in the premises)), the answer could only be negative, so ethics must, from now on, proceed in conceptual isolation.

In this context it is interesting to see that G.E. Moore chose as title for his main work: "Principia Ethica", with an eye on Newton offering the suggestion that we had a new kind of autonomous field of science here.

According to Mary Midgley this was the wrong question, which led to a fragmentation of man and an unjustified dichotomy of reason and feeling. It would have been better if we had paid attention to the next questions:

In what ways are our judgements about value connected with various kinds of fact? How can we avoid the mistakes that have led to connecting them wrongly? And to what do we commit ourselves, in action, in thought and also in feeling, by making judgements of this kind?

To answer these questions we have our rationality and our ability to reflect on our actions and thus could refrain from following our primary needs. There are, Mary Midgley says, two distinct elements in rationality: cleverness and integration.

By integration I mean having a character, acting as a whole, having a firm and effective priority system. The second is a condition of the first, not the other way round.

Our ability to reflect on our actions she also indicates as the ability to self-control, or as conscience. Conscience should not be understood as some autonomous inner voice that tells us what is right or wrong. It is our nature itself, becoming aware of its own underlying pattern.

In the Foreword of her "Heart & Mind" (1983) she gives a perfect description of her program:

These essays all centre on a single point—the unity of that very complex creature, a human being, and the need to respect that unity in our view of morals. This is not a remote, theoretical matter, but one that presses on all of us.

The way in which we think of ourselves—the picture we form of our essential nature—directly affects the way we live. But academic specialization continually fragments that picture. It has to be somebody’s professional business to put the pieces together again. And this is, in fact, the job of moral philosophy.

In this plead for the unity of the human being there is little room for someone who wants to reduce this unity to only one particle of it: the gene. Mary Midgley loves to pick on Richard Dawkins.

And if you ask me, she loves to do so primarily because the man is so vain. Have you ever noticed that his face is on a lot of the bookcovers of his publications ? ^_^

But of course also because he commits two serious sins, or actually three. First sin is his reductionism and scientism. His second sin is sloppy and suggestive use of language: his use of the word "selfish" throughout his book The Selfish Gene is highly questionable.

And his third sin is that he is demonstrable contradictory. Unfortunately I can't find the webpage again. It was an article by the Australian philosopher David Stove (1927 -1994), in which he shows all inconsistencies of the use of the word "selfish" by Dawkins in "The Selfish Gene"..

A Google job for you. Funny philosopher, by the way, in the evolution and neo-darwinism debate.

Mary Midgley is one of the greatest commonsense philosophers of today and a consistent opponent of what she calls the "Myths of Science". I think I have given you enough material to continue your study on her.

The Discussion

[13:24] herman Bergson: This on Mary Midgley :-)
[13:24] herman Bergson: One final remark...
[13:24] herman Bergson: It is interesting to see that she belonged to a group of women philosophers at Oxford
[13:25] herman Bergson: together with Iris Murdoch, Mary Anscombe, Philippa Foot and Mary Warnock
[13:25] herman Bergson: All these philosophers were opposing the Emotivist philosophy on morals
[13:26] herman Bergson: Actually it was a situation of male philosophers against women philosophers :-)
[13:27] herman Bergson: My opinion: males lost ^_^
[13:27] herman Bergson: If you have any questions or remarks..feel free...:-)
[13:27] AristotleVon Doobie: I wonder what gender a thought is
[13:27] hope63 Shepherd: fully agree with mary.. and you herman:)
[13:27] herman Bergson: Good question Aristotle...:-)
[13:28] Athena John: What gender a thought is? That is easy: feminine. Men think with the non-thinking brain
[13:28] Athena John: :D
[13:28] herman Bergson: in fact it has no gender when written down on paper
[13:28] AristotleVon Doobie: lol
[13:28] ChatNoir Talon: In Spanish, thought is masucline and idea is feminine
[13:28] herman Bergson: when you dont know the only have the thought
[13:29] Anja Amaterasu: Professor , can you explain me "Emotivist-philosophy"????
[13:29] herman Bergson: Yes Anja....
[13:29] AristotleVon Doobie: I would suggest the thought is neural and we paint it with our inclination
[13:29] herman Bergson: When you say cant define the term GOOD, it still can be used cant ignore it
[13:30] herman Bergson: so you have to find another explanation for the use of the word good...
[13:30] herman Bergson: when I say ...that action is good I am refering to how I feel about this action....
[13:31] herman Bergson: so I dont describe a quality of the action but the emotive relation I have with the action
[13:31] Anja's translator: HM ... a kind of metalanguage?
[13:31] herman Bergson: So in general you could say that moral statements are expressions of aproval or diapproval with certain actions
[13:32] herman Bergson: no ..not a meta language...
[13:32] Alarice Beaumont: this sounds good to me...
[13:32] Alarice Beaumont: yes.. it is an evalutaion
[13:32] Anja's translator: A Reflection?
[13:32] Samuel Okelly: a semantic subjectivism of meaning?
[13:32] herman Bergson: the value-judgements doesnt say anything about the action but how I relate to that action as a person..approving it or diapproving it
[13:33] AristotleVon Doobie: so you would be applying your moral code to mine and finding me good or bad
[13:33] herman Bergson: In other has nothing to do anymore with thought or knowledge
[13:34] AristotleVon Doobie: and so it comes down to 'opinons'
[13:34] ChatNoir Talon: It just FEELS good or bad. Yeah, sounds pretty non-convincing argument
[13:34] AristotleVon Doobie: opinions
[13:34] herman Bergson: That is what this group of women philosophers was trying to refute...
[13:35] Alarice Beaumont: this sounds quite plausible to me
[13:35] Anja's translator: But, as I myself as a whole person (holistic) relater to ideas?
[13:35] herman Bergson: Well ChatNoir...I agree, but I think the argumentation of G.E. Moore was a little more subtile than just saying it is how you feel about it
[13:35] ChatNoir Talon: Of course
[13:35] herman Bergson: But I cant reproduce that argumentation here ...sorry
[13:36] herman Bergson: So..interesting point for G.E. Moore on his Emotivism
[13:36] herman Bergson: see if Mary Midgley was right
[13:36] ChatNoir Talon: I'm just thinking about it. Ethics is worthless unless they can be put into action. Portraying them as totally subjective and relative to the individuals would lead us nowhere....
[13:37] herman Bergson: No indeed...
[13:37] herman Bergson: But that is why Mary Midgley related human nature so much to animal nature.....pointed at ethological resemblances and differences...
[13:38] herman Bergson: showing that it wasnt just that gratuit
[13:38] herman Bergson: there is an underlying system in our behavior as a person
[13:38] herman Bergson: and not just a behavioristicaly explicable behavior
[13:38] AristotleVon Doobie: how many people does it take saying your are good to know that your are indeed good....isint being good a democratic process? if I think I am doing good and not one else agrees , am I?
[13:39] Gemma Cleanslate: wow ari
[13:39] herman Bergson: I dont think that is realistic Aristotle....
[13:39] ChatNoir Talon: Proably the same mount of people it takes to define a new word
[13:39] herman Bergson: Human behavior is always a social process within the context of a group
[13:40] AristotleVon Doobie: the root of a moral code it indvidulalistic or collective
[13:40] Athena John: I'd say individual. In the end I am responsible for my morals
[13:40] Alarice Beaumont: the society defines the moral code
[13:40] herman Bergson: I think that Midgley would regard it as a collective aspect
[13:40] Gemma Cleanslate: that is true al
[13:40] Gemma Cleanslate: ys
[13:41] Samuel Okelly: i disagree herman..., the person who may live remotely can live a moral and "good " life on their own
[13:41] herman Bergson: When you are in a group and you alone claim that what you do is right while all others say it is wrong...
[13:41] Gemma Cleanslate: that is true too sam
[13:41] AristotleVon Doobie: but Sam...according to who?
[13:41] ChatNoir Talon: Can they? Mhh....
[13:42] Samuel Okelly: precisely Aris!!! great question
[13:42] hope63 Shepherd: no sam.. then you are the only one to judge what is good..
[13:42] Alarice Beaumont: hmm.. if left alone..then by his on standards... .but who is left alone in this world?
[13:42] Samuel Okelly: saying that assumes a subjective morality
[13:42] herman Bergson: Well Samuel...that raises the question whether morality is a social issue or can be a absolutely individual one
[13:43] ChatNoir Talon: I vote on social.. but then again... it's not a democracy is it? :P
[13:43] Samuel Okelly: i agree herman and neither can simply be assumed to apply without considerable support and justification i think
[13:43] Gemma Cleanslate: lol
[13:43] herman Bergson: Midgley points at many examples of social behavior of animals to make her point in certain matters
[13:43] Athena John: It HAS to be individual. I give you the example of the US in the last 8 years: run by evil but with good people in it
[13:43] Alarice Beaumont: think if you are robinson crusoe on a lonley island... then it is individual
[13:43] hope63 Shepherd: as scientifically speaking there is no individual organism around..
[13:44] AristotleVon Doobie: Is a culture's moral code only an individual moral code with prerequisites added to it by popular vote
[13:44] herman Bergson: Well Athena,...
[13:44] herman Bergson: I just read an article about the US MBA institutes....
[13:45] Samuel Okelly: slavery had the support of the democratic social majority but am guessing that the slave always felt unjustly treated
[13:45] herman Bergson: they had no ethics in their curriculum since the 80s....only one golden rules was taught...maximalisation of profit
[13:45] herman Bergson: that is what the managers did....
[13:45] herman Bergson: made that their moral standard
[13:45] Samuel Okelly: must dash as rl is calling
[13:46] Samuel Okelly: thanks again herman
[[13:46] Athena John: Yet there are people who KNOW that is wrong. They are good moral people, now outside society's norm
[13:46] herman Bergson: Bye Samuel
[13:46] AristotleVon Doobie: or at least a great neutralized or moral standard, Herman
[13:46] Gemma Cleanslate: i am off too see you all thursday i hope
[13:46] AristotleVon Doobie: bye Gemma
[13:46] herman Bergson: Bye Gemma :-)
[13:46] hope63 Shepherd: moral.. good can not be just the judgement of a majority..
[13:46] Alarice Beaumont: bye Gemma :-)
[13:46] Athena John: Bye
[13:46] Anja Amaterasu: Bye Gemma
[13:46] Anja's translator: Bye Gemma
[13:47] AristotleVon Doobie: I agree hope
[13:47] Athena John: Exactly- good is an individual decision
[13:47] herman Bergson: I still have no answer to that statement Hope
[13:47] ChatNoir Talon: I agree Hope, I think it has to be objectified in some way
[13:47] hope63 Shepherd: individual.. but only valid in respect to society..
[13:48] herman Bergson: is important to ask what you mean by individual..
[13:48] herman Bergson: in fact we are all part of a group, a the meaning of 'individual' is pretty unclear, I would say
[13:49] AristotleVon Doobie: from a common sense view, two folks cannot share thoughts, so empathy has to be felt by one and agreed on by others
[13:49] hope63 Shepherd: the individual can only understand him self as such through the group..
[13:50] herman Bergson: this is in a way parallel to the ideas of Mary Midgley....she saw the human being as a whole, like in fact the individual is part of a whole too
[13:51] ChatNoir Talon: That sounds good
[13:51] herman Bergson: I can create a thought experiment like....suppose it was only you on this earth....
[13:51] herman Bergson: but what sense does it make?
[13:52] hope63 Shepherd: difficult to imagine even that you could..
[13:52] herman Bergson: Yes, I agree Hope
[13:52] herman Bergson: Sometimes theoretical assumptions help to clarify ideas
[13:53] herman Bergson: but I guess that is all
[13:53] herman Bergson: or to show the logic of an argumentation
[13:53] herman Bergson: But I am pleased by the comonsense approach of Midgley
[13:54] ChatNoir Talon: We need more commonsense... not only in philosophy
[13:54] hope63 Shepherd: smile.. don't like the word common sense. i would say smart- open sense:)
[13:55] hope63 Shepherd: we had common sense in philosophy before:9
[13:55] AristotleVon Doobie: I loved when my son played baseball as a child, it is a game that can not be played successfully without all nine players, yet each positon requires differntl talents and wonderful anology of society for him I thought
[13:55] hope63 Shepherd: stupid game.. but i understand what you mean ari:)
[13:55] herman Bergson: Something like that yes, Aristotle
[13:56] AristotleVon Doobie: a marvelous game, hope :))
[13:56] hope63 Shepherd: lol.. if they amputate my brain.. i might start to like
[13:56] ChatNoir Talon: "Oh no, you didn't"
[13:56] herman Bergson: Hope....:-)..plz
[13:56] AristotleVon Doobie: one of the only sports with no aggression toward hemans...only the control of a ball
[13:57] AristotleVon Doobie: humans*
[13:57] hope63 Shepherd: rugby.. agression and respect of the other..
[13:57] herman Bergson: I almost read 'hermans' Aristiolte :-)
[13:57] AristotleVon Doobie: :)))
[13:57] ChatNoir Talon: Well, truth be told I got hit on the head with a baseball :(
[13:57] hope63 Shepherd: that is more like we humans are.. or should be..
[13:57] ChatNoir Talon: Never quite liked it after that
[13:58] AristotleVon Doobie: anyway , a very scientific game
[13:58] herman Bergson: Hope ..that fact that human beings love to play games is a completely different subject..tho interesting
[13:58] AristotleVon Doobie: we just love to compete lol
[13:59] herman Bergson: there we go...Aristotle ^_^
[13:59] hope63 Shepherd: true.. but as ari brought up the subject of game and morality-social behaviour..
[13:59] AristotleVon Doobie: who's got the brightest feathers?
[13:59] hope63 Shepherd: ethics in confrontation with the competition..
[13:59] Athena John: In what species?
[13:59] herman Bergson: well playing games is often seen as a way to teach children morality
[13:59] AristotleVon Doobie: our competition is an ancient motive
[14:00] Anja Amaterasu: =)))))))))))
[14:00] Athena John: Here in the US, games teach that winning is the only thing
[14:00] ChatNoir Talon: Most baby mamals play games to learn skill usefull in their adult life
[14:00] Anja Amaterasu: =)))))))))
[14:00] hope63 Shepherd: team games are for for social behaviour.. you win and lose together..
[14:00] herman Bergson: yes,,..good example ChatNoir :-)
[14:00] hope63 Shepherd: chat.. those are not "games"
[14:01] herman Bergson: So there may be a relation between (learning) moral rules and playing games
[14:01] hope63 Shepherd: its survival training..
[14:01] herman Bergson: this is playing games with words Hope :-)
[14:01] ChatNoir Talon: Well, you know, the word game is so hard to define it's neither here nor there
[14:01] ChatNoir Talon: Hey, have you ever played Monopoly? Some millionaire would say it's survival training too :P
[14:02] herman Bergson: Exaclty ChatNoir
[14:02] AristotleVon Doobie: the aggressive sports are exactly the beginning of military traing
[14:02] Athena John: Jim Morrison once wrote that "All games contain the idea of death"
[14:02] ChatNoir Talon: yes, or flight simulators
[14:02] hope63 Shepherd: played it chat.. but didn't help me to become a
[14:02] ChatNoir Talon: heheheh
[14:03] herman Bergson: I am sorry to hear, Hope ^_^
[14:03] AristotleVon Doobie: the different colors becoming symbolic of nationalism
[14:03] AristotleVon Doobie: the demonizationg of the opposition
[14:03] herman Bergson: Yes and morality...quite an issue
[14:04] herman Bergson: But that may be a subject for another lecture
[14:04] AristotleVon Doobie: yes indeed
[14:04] AristotleVon Doobie: as always, a wonderful lecture and discussion.....thanks Herman
[14:04] AristotleVon Doobie: I have to run....goodbye all
[14:04] herman Bergson: Thank you, Aristotle for your participation
[14:04] hope63 Shepherd: to first base ari?
[14:04] ChatNoir Talon: Bye Ari
[14:04] AristotleVon Doobie: a homerun lol
[14:04] hope63 Shepherd: ¨lol.. take cae ari:)
[14:04] herman Bergson: Will be a Homerun Hope
[14:05] Alarice Beaumont: bye Ari

Posted by herman_bergson on 2009-04-01 05:36:30

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