Thursday, October 29, 2009

01 An Introduction in Modern Theories of Ethics

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….

The Discussion

[13:17] herman Bergson: So...get ready ^_^
[13:18] herman Bergson: If you have a question or remark...tell us :-)
[13:18] Gemma Cleanslate: I have a feeling it is going to bring on heated discussions
[13:18] Repose Lionheart: Fascinating start!
[13:18] herman Bergson: thank you Repose....
[13:18] herman Bergson: I actually agree with you :-)
[13:19] Repose Lionheart: :))
[13:19] AristotleVon Doobie: morals and ethics...if you could just hold them in your hand :)
[13:19] Gemma Cleanslate: :-)
[13:19] herman Bergson: When I started to prepare for this lecture, digging through a lot of literature to find a good WAS fascinating
[13:20] herman Bergson: Yes Aristotle.....especially in these days where they look like water..
[13:20] AristotleVon Doobie: indeed a great analogy, Herman
[13:20] Frederick Hansome: Professor, would you please distinguish between "morals" and "ethics"?
[13:20] Gemma Cleanslate: I looked at the wiki and also some other sites for an idea of direction but there are many directions
[13:20] Zen Arado: isn't morality just a consensus of a bunch of guidelines that help ppl to live togethter well?
[13:20] herman Bergson: Yes Gemma..I know.....
[13:21] Gemma Cleanslate: maybe that is why we have so much trouble living together Zen
[13:21] herman Bergson: But I realized that it is my personal perspectives that set the direction here.
[13:21] Gemma Cleanslate: globally i mean
[13:22] herman Bergson: It is not that I am so special....but it gives a structure...
[13:22] Repose Lionheart: morality is lived, ethics is the reflection upon that lived experience?
[13:22] Gemma Cleanslate: lol one i hope you can control
[13:22] herman Bergson: The problem is, Zen
[13:22] herman Bergson: that we lack a justification for that consensus
[13:22] AristotleVon Doobie: as long a morals are a consensus, then there will a minrotiy with different morals
[13:23] Zen Arado: just trying to find a start
[13:23] herman Bergson: In the times that the world (Western world) was dominated by christianity there was that justification
[13:23] oola Neruda: may i repeat the question... what is the difference between morals and ethics
[13:23] Gemma Cleanslate: :-)
[13:24] Qwark Allen: ;-)
[13:24] herman Bergson: so one of our big questions is: Is there a common justification for moral views.
[13:24] herman Bergson: Hi Qwark :-)
[13:24] Qwark Allen: Helloooooo!
[13:24] Qwark Allen: Hey!
[13:24] Qwark Allen: ;-)
[13:24] AristotleVon Doobie: Q-man :)
[13:24] Zen Arado: should it be a practical justification?
[13:24] herman Bergson: And I think that it is our present task to find one
[13:24] Zen Arado: or an abstract theory?
[13:24] Qwark Allen: nice to be back
[13:25] herman Bergson: That is hard to say at this point, Zen...
[13:25] herman Bergson: We only know that we have lost that justification ground of christianity...
[13:26] herman Bergson: but that happened only 150 years ago or so
[13:26] Zen Arado: but moral guidelines are in all religions
[13:26] herman Bergson: Say...with Darwin
[13:27] Zen Arado: and are similar
[13:27] herman Bergson: Yes...they are....what at least gives us a start with the observation that the human being is a moral animal
[13:27] Zen Arado: some seem obvious
[13:27] herman Bergson: well....there the questions begin......what is obvious for instance?
[13:27] Lovey Dayafter: moral - principles, standards, or habits with respect to right or wrong in conduct; ethics.
[13:28] AristotleVon Doobie: I suspect that religion only attempts to manipulate and use mroal code to maintain power, historically be must successful than contemporairy
[13:28] Zen Arado: do not kill, steal
[13:28] herman Bergson: Yes Lovey....and what is right and what is wrong?
[13:28] AristotleVon Doobie: more*
[13:28] Zen Arado: though how you interpret is not obvious
[13:28] herman Bergson: It isnt that simple Zen.....
[13:28] Zen Arado: I know
[13:29] Zen Arado: just thinking....
[13:29] herman Bergson: When you have to keep your children alive and the only way to get food is stealing, what would you do ?
[13:29] herman Bergson: The US still has a death penalty...
[13:29] herman Bergson: in war people kill
[13:29] herman Bergson: does justified killing exist?
[13:29] AristotleVon Doobie: religion is not the originator of himself is responsibility for ethical thought and then his reasoning right and wrong
[13:29] Zen Arado: there are exceptions...thats why they can only be guidelines
[13:30] herman Bergson: I agree Aristotle
[13:30] Repose Lionheart: me too
[13:30] Myriam Brianna: hello all
[13:30] herman Bergson: But there again we have a problem Zen
[13:30] herman Bergson: exceptions....
[13:30] Zen Arado: but man is the originator of religions too :)
[13:30] Lovey Dayafter: Hi:-)
[13:30] herman Bergson: who decides what the exceptions are?
[13:31] Repose Lionheart: we do by our best lights
[13:31] Zen Arado: we have to make a decision in the experience
[13:31] herman Bergson: No Repose...'we' do not exist :-)
[13:31] Repose Lionheart: ahhh...
[13:31] Repose Lionheart: I do...
[13:31] herman Bergson: If death penalty is an exception, it is not you who decides about the justification
[13:32] herman Bergson: But you could demonstrate against it for instance
[13:32] Zen Arado: ah yes that is a state policy
[13:32] Lovey Dayafter: are u against the death penalty?
[13:32] Zen Arado: yes Herman
[13:33] AristotleVon Doobie: hhmmm, all states are representative of their citizenry
[13:33] herman Bergson: Am I against death penalty.....?
[13:33] Zen Arado: law is morality frozen into rules
[13:33] herman Bergson: yes..I am....for when even one innocent person is killed by it we are murderers
[13:33] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:34] Zen Arado: yes
[13:34] Zen Arado: miscarriages of justice
[13:34] Gemma Cleanslate: i believe that too
[13:34] AristotleVon Doobie: Florida executes folks so I am just as guilty
[13:34] Repose Lionheart: and the state should not have the power to kill...
[13:34] Gemma Cleanslate: so many executions are now being proven wrong
[13:34] Gemma Cleanslate: by dna
[13:34] Qwark Allen: omg
[13:34] Gemma Cleanslate: wrong person
[13:34] Lovey Dayafter: so all murdrerers should be let free to kill millions of innocent people then?
[13:34] herman Bergson: On the other hand...people that are sentenced to death are that vicious that they have to be removed from society, but not by killing them
[13:34] AristotleVon Doobie: all have the poser to kill, not one has the right
[13:35] AristotleVon Doobie: power
[13:35] Gemma Cleanslate: that is ok with me'
[13:35] Gemma Cleanslate: but then there are those that think humans should not be caged
[13:35] AristotleVon Doobie: laws are instituted to protect society from harm
[13:35] Lovey Dayafter: people are never removed they are put back into society
[13:35] herman Bergson: That might be true, Gemma, but I would see it the other way around....
[13:36] herman Bergson: society should be protected against certain individuals
[13:36] Zen Arado: what do you mean by 'new'ethics Herman?
[13:36] Gemma Cleanslate: i know i believe that also
[13:36] herman Bergson: Did I say "new" ethics?
[13:36] Zen Arado: seems to me we bring back o;d theories of morality
[13:36] Zen Arado: modern theories?
[13:37] AristotleVon Doobie: and then there is the advent of false evidence and mistaken eyewitnesses.....who can justifiably condemn a person to death?
[13:37] Repose Lionheart: science sometimes offers new input into ethics
[13:37] herman Bergson: With modern theories I mean the answer on contemporary developments
[13:37] Zen Arado: oh how Repose ?
[13:37] Zen Arado: ok Herman
[13:37] herman Bergson: one of the major issues here is the meaning of the evolution theory
[13:38] Repose Lionheart: well, the physiological development of the brain
[13:38] Repose Lionheart: implies a moral development, too
[13:38] herman Bergson: and the position of the human being in this world in relation to that
[13:38] AristotleVon Doobie: yes Repose
[13:38] Zen Arado: doesn't explain behavior though?
[13:38] AristotleVon Doobie: and it is that evolutionary transformation that allows for civiliation
[13:38] Repose Lionheart: no, not fully, or so I believe...
[13:38] herman Bergson: That is one of those issues, Repose..
[13:39] herman Bergson: did we developed a 'better' moral sense through the ages?
[13:39] herman Bergson: ith there evolutionary ethics for instance
[13:39] AristotleVon Doobie: the evolutionary state of the brain explains good and bad behavior
[13:39] AristotleVon Doobie: good
[13:40] Zen Arado: does our understanding of the mechanism of evolution change our moral beliefs?
[13:40] Repose Lionheart: yes, deep questions, for sure
[13:40] herman Bergson: that is one of the questions I hope to deal with Zen...
[13:40] AristotleVon Doobie: it does for me, Zen
[13:40] herman Bergson: it is a fascinating question
[13:41] Zen Arado: ok how?
[13:41] Lovey Dayafter: i don't think we've developed morally
[13:41] herman Bergson: well Lovey, I wonder....
[13:41] Gemma Cleanslate: oh wowo to some extent we have
[13:41] herman Bergson: yes Gemma I would agree with you
[13:41] Zen Arado: I think it only helps us understand why we behave certain ways
[13:42] Zen Arado: not whether or not that is a good way?
[13:42] Gemma Cleanslate: or do we behave certain ways because of it
[13:42] AristotleVon Doobie: we have been transformed from animal to human because of hte evolutionary development of our cerebral cortex
[13:42] herman Bergson: We may be still the same greedy and selfish animal, but we have learnt to control oursels, unless you are a banker :-)
[13:42] Gemma Cleanslate: ah yes ari
[13:42] Gemma Cleanslate: lol
[13:42] Zen Arado: :)
[13:42] AristotleVon Doobie: yes, Herman .....control
[13:42] AristotleVon Doobie: we can control that primal self
[13:42] herman Bergson: in a way control in this context is another word for ethics
[13:43] Lovey Dayafter: i'm not an animal
[13:43] AristotleVon Doobie: we know what is right and wrong
[13:43] Lovey Dayafter: never have been never will be
[13:43] AristotleVon Doobie: we are all half animal still
[13:43] Lovey Dayafter: haha
[13:43] Startwinkle Aya: only in your opinion do you think you know right from roung
[13:43] herman Bergson: I know what you mean, Lovey
[13:43] AristotleVon Doobie: you just keep yours caged better :)
[13:43] herman Bergson: Non of us is an animal in a literal sense
[13:43] Lovey Dayafter: haha
[13:44] herman Bergson: We are only pixels actually ^_^
[13:44] Lovey Dayafter: haha
[13:44] AristotleVon Doobie: lol
[13:44] Repose Lionheart: we're animals and something more...
[13:44] Zen Arado: I thought evolution shows we are just another species of animal?
[13:44] Repose Lionheart:
[13:44] Myriam Brianna: no, we have strong emotional markers on acts and non-acts that let us think of them as right or wrong. No knowing there. And we have less control than we think - as empirical psychology shows
[13:44] AristotleVon Doobie: if you have ever been so angry you had to walk away, you were control that beast
[13:44] Lovey Dayafter: you can be an animal if you want to lol
[13:44] herman Bergson: But no kidding...we have the same biological structure as a lot of other primates
[13:44] Gemma Cleanslate: even as mice
[13:44] Repose Lionheart: evolution is a creative process...we're something new
[13:45] Repose Lionheart: deeper
[13:45] herman Bergson: those others we call animals , what they call idea:-)
[13:45] Zen Arado: we elevate our own qualities
[13:45] Zen Arado: make a distinction
[13:45] Lovey Dayafter: why animals, why not gods?
[13:45] Repose Lionheart: possibly
[13:45] AristotleVon Doobie: our power to reason elevates us up above the animals
[13:45] AristotleVon Doobie: I am god too :))
[13:46] Gemma Cleanslate: :_))
[13:46] Lovey Dayafter: oh you're everything lol
[13:46] Zen Arado: if we regard reason as all important
[13:46] AristotleVon Doobie: I am the center of my universe , yes
[13:46] Myriam Brianna: no, we are animals that (sometimes) have the power of reason
[13:46] Lovey Dayafter: haha
[13:46] Zen Arado: which we do :)
[13:46] Qwark Allen: heehheheh
[13:46] AristotleVon Doobie: :)
[13:46] Gemma Cleanslate: lolol
[13:46] herman Bergson: least we are biological organisms
[13:46] Repose Lionheart: agree with
[13:46] herman Bergson: so..controled by biological processes
[13:47] Myriam Brianna: i.e. animals
[13:47] AristotleVon Doobie: yes Herman
[13:47] herman Bergson: right myriam....or plant...
[13:47] Repose Lionheart: yes..can start there
[13:47] Lovey Dayafter: i'll look up human and animal in the dictionary
[13:47] Myriam Brianna: no contradiction in being human _and_ an animal
[13:47] Zen Arado: I think ppl just used evolutionary theory to excuse bad behaviour
[13:47] herman Bergson: no ...not at all
[13:47] Zen Arado: like social Darwinism
[13:47] Myriam Brianna: Human: Primate, ... etc
[13:47] Repose Lionheart: sometimes, for sure...
[13:47] Gemma Cleanslate: really zen???
[13:48] Repose Lionheart: eugenics
[13:48] Zen Arado: yes
[13:48] Repose Lionheart: excuse for racism
[13:48] Frederick Hansome: social Darwinism is a fallacy
[13:48] Zen Arado: that too Repose
[13:48] AristotleVon Doobie: animals innately know how to survive as do wee....we have the great power to reason which controls (hopefully) rampant survival inclinations
[13:49] Qwark Allen: and exterminate most of them
[13:49] herman Bergson: We can not deny that our mind makes the difference..
[13:49] Qwark Allen: ,-)
[13:49] Zen Arado: our ability to reason makes us very powerful
[13:49] AristotleVon Doobie: powerful and dangerous LOL
[13:49] Zen Arado: but also gives great responsibility
[13:49] Repose Lionheart: morality and ethics may not just function as social controls
[13:49] herman Bergson: powerful....? I would start with 'different' :-)
[13:50] Zen Arado: we are so powerful we can wreck this planet
[13:50] AristotleVon Doobie: no, Repose I think they are self-rewarding
[13:50] Repose Lionheart: there may be something innate that gets occluded by social expectations
[13:50] Lovey Dayafter: animal - a brutish or inhuman person, beast
[13:50] Frederick Hansome: I would still like to be able to distinguish clearly between morality and ethics
[13:50] AristotleVon Doobie: we pride ourselves on how ethical and moral we are
[13:50] Gemma Cleanslate: well there are those who will not let us wreck it
[13:50] herman Bergson: I would say, that we lack the power to prevent this to happen, Zen :-)
[13:50] Repose Lionheart: self-rewarding?
[13:51] Repose Lionheart: i don't understand
[13:51] Zen Arado: wonder how much morality is innate how much conditioned...
[13:51] AristotleVon Doobie: sure, everything we do is based on the 'self'
[13:51] Repose Lionheart: oh...i think i see
[13:51] herman Bergson: Ok, Zen.....after this project we might have a better insight in that question
[13:51] AristotleVon Doobie: morality is not Innate
[13:51] Repose Lionheart: ahhh...but it might be
[13:52] AristotleVon Doobie: it is nurtured
[13:52] Zen Arado: psychopaths don't have much innate morality
[13:52] AristotleVon Doobie: either externally or internally
[13:52] herman Bergson: As I said in my lecture...morality is a social phenomenon...
[13:52] Repose Lionheart: ohhh...that's true Zen
[13:52] AristotleVon Doobie: psychopaths are defective
[13:52] Repose Lionheart: yes, i see
[13:53] Zen Arado: still feel some is innate
[13:53] Startwinkle Aya: are they broke? or missing something?
[13:53] AristotleVon Doobie: nothing innate but survival skills
[13:53] Zen Arado: has genetic advantages
[13:53] Qwark Allen: most of time its a defect at neurotransmittors
[13:53] AristotleVon Doobie: yes, they are defective brainly
[13:53] Startwinkle Aya: so basicly then no helping them?
[13:54] Zen Arado: ability to co-exist well has genetic advantages?
[13:54] Qwark Allen: medication helps
[13:54] Gemma Cleanslate: yes
[13:54] Startwinkle Aya: i disagree
[13:54] Repose Lionheart: no cure though
[13:54] Startwinkle Aya: medicine are just bandaids
[13:54] AristotleVon Doobie: I think medication can cover up some of the defects
[13:54] oola Neruda: there are some people who actually do not have a conscience…
[13:54] Qwark Allen: no cure so far
[13:54] Zen Arado: would psychopaths agree to meds? think not
[13:54] AristotleVon Doobie: ahhhh, where does conscience come from?
[13:55] Qwark Allen: depends on the issue on defect
[13:55] Myriam Brianna: yes Oola. No "interior" even. People who would easily pass a Turing test, but no test of "morality"
[13:55] Startwinkle Aya: i think the drug companies have fooled people into being drug adics
[13:55] Qwark Allen: all are different
[13:55] oola Neruda: literally.. built in... born with... no conscience.. they are very scary... when you meet one
[13:55] AristotleVon Doobie: is the the results of ethics/morals?
[13:55] Startwinkle Aya: they drug your children to send to school
[13:55] AristotleVon Doobie: you are not born with a conscience
[13:55] herman Bergson: Let's not get lost in extremes and exceptions
[13:55] Gemma Cleanslate: good idea
[13:55] Startwinkle Aya: nods
[13:55] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:55] Gemma Cleanslate: we will never get anywhere
[13:55] Zen Arado: could be too much moral conditioning?
[13:56] AristotleVon Doobie: it is so interesting Herman ...all the connections :)
[13:56] Zen Arado: nanny state?
[13:56] Startwinkle Aya: i think so
[13:56] herman Bergson: Well...I think you now have a taste of what is ahead of us....
[13:56] AristotleVon Doobie: :))
[13:56] Zen Arado: a maze :)
[13:56] Repose Lionheart: great stuff
[13:56] Gemma Cleanslate: lol
[13:56] herman Bergson: A lot of questions are boiling up ...
[13:56] Gemma Cleanslate: maze good
[13:56] Lovey Dayafter: is there something we can look up for next week?
[13:57] Zen Arado: BBC prog called the 'Moral Maze'
[13:57] Gemma Cleanslate: really??
[13:57] Repose Lionheart: aptly titled!
[13:57] Lovey Dayafter: what are we doing next time?
[13:57] Zen Arado: radio prog on BBC4
[13:58] herman Bergson: For next class (Thursday) you could do some readings on (cultural) relativism.
[13:58] Gemma Cleanslate: ok
[13:58] Zen Arado: ha ha have a book on it :)
[13:58] Gemma Cleanslate: wiki has
[13:58] herman Bergson: In our blog there are already a few lectures on relativism too
[13:58] Gemma Cleanslate: yes
[13:58] Gemma Cleanslate: next week everyone will be back on track with the time like abraxas lol
[13:59] herman Bergson: We dealt with relativism already
[13:59] Gemma Cleanslate: one hour late
[13:59] Lovey Dayafter: haha
[13:59] herman Bergson: that next week?
[13:59] Lovey Dayafter: better late than never
[13:59] Zen Arado: it is interesting subject
[13:59] Gemma Cleanslate: we change here on sunday morn like you did last week
[13:59] herman Bergson: I must say that this time we managed quite well
[13:59] Gemma Cleanslate: still have to gt thru thursday lol
[13:59] herman Bergson: I recall giving two classes once...
[14:00] Gemma Cleanslate: i remember
[14:00] AristotleVon Doobie: sorry folks I have to take off....great class Professor
[14:00] Qwark Allen: :-)
[14:00] AristotleVon Doobie: good bye all
[14:00] herman Bergson: at 1 PM and 2 PM...due to that timeshift ado
[14:00] Qwark Allen:Bye !
[14:00] Gemma Cleanslate: yes time
[14:00] Qwark Allen: ari
[14:00] Abraxas Nagy: bye Ari
[14:00] Myriam Brianna: by Aristotle
[14:00] Qwark Allen: nice to see you back to
[14:00] Gemma Cleanslate: Thank Youuuuuuuuuu!!
[14:00] Gemma Cleanslate: herman
[14:00] Justine Rhapsody: bye everyone
[14:00] AristotleVon Doobie: :))))
[14:00] Qwark Allen: abraxas m8
[14:00] Zen Arado: yes thanks Herman and everyone for discussion
[14:00] herman Bergson: SO thank you all for your participation again
[14:00] Abraxas Nagy: Hey Qwark m8
[14:00] Repose Lionheart: Thank you, Professor!
[14:00] Qwark Allen: you got one hour late
[14:00] Qwark Allen: eheheheh
[14:00] herman Bergson: Class dismissed :-)
[14:00] Abraxas Nagy: hello everybody

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