Friday, December 18, 2009

13 A grand total

12 lectures ago we started a quest in Modern Theories of Ethics. We already have seen a number of ways to deal with ethics and moral judgement and in the first lecture is said:

…... 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.

And now I feel the need to take stock of what insights we have come to so far. Is there emerging some general conclusion. Is there some growing insight of our heading and will we find a haven?

Just for the record: 'haven' is a nice word expressing exactly what we might be looking for. The nice thing about the word is, that it is a Dutch…. the dutch word for 'port'. Must have slipped into the English dictionary in the 16th or 17th century :-)

I think there is already one interesting thing which may help us defining our position: is ethics an individual responsibility, ethics as conceptually justified or is ethics embedded and defined by the social framework we live in.

Here I think of a contraposition of a philosopher like Kant with his Categorical Imperative against cultural relativism also read as moral relativism.

From the lecture on moral relativism I want to store in memory at least the view of Philippa Foot (1978). She holds that words like 'good' or 'rude' or 'brave' not only have an evaluative content, but also a descriptive content.

That means that moral judgements can have truth-value, which means that they can be rationally evaluated. Here I see a link with the "moral point of view" idea of William Frankena.

In lecture 3 I already mentioned the Golden Rule as an example of a moral judgement, that is found in almost all cultures. In my latest lecture I related that idea with the phenomenon of reciprocity, which you see in social behavior of primates.

So my conclusion was that moral relativism or moral subjectivism was not a tenable option. This means that we have to move on to some kind of objectivism in the theory of ethics. The truth or falsity of a moral judgement is not just depending on one's personal opinion.

Here we have reached the quintessential question of ethics: how can we justify an objective (which means: not entirely depended of an individual mind) base for morality. I have committed myself to that.

This opened doors to sociobiology and evolutionary theory in relation to our understanding of human nature and how morality can be a part of human behavior.

That was the moment that I introduced the idea of the "personal philosophical program". That means, that you adopt a number of theories or arguments and regard them as yours.

You don't question their origin but you take it as your philosophical program to put these theories and arguments as much as possible to the test.

So, while we were heading for a naturalistic ethics, we ran into G.E. Moore, who showed us with his "naturalistic fallacy" that we are completely wrong.

Forget it…. completely impossible to translate ethical terms like "good" and "right" into non-ethical terms like "please", "happiness" etc.

And again Frankena shows up. He nicely pointed out, it cannot be assumed at the outset that what Moore calls the naturalistic fallacy really is a mistake of any kind.

The naturalist proposes a certain kind of definition of some moral term and the non-naturalist then simply asserts that anyone who thinks such definitions are possible is mistaken.

But there is no fallacy here. It is a discussion on semantics and as Moore does, claiming that a concept as "good" is an intuition and can not be defined is unsatisfactory.

Thence as moral realists we face a cluster of explanatory challenges concerning the nature of moral facts (how they relate to naturalistic facts, how we have access to them, why they have practical importance).

In this context there was no room for the emotivism as proposed by Alfred Ayer. The idea that moral judgements have no truth-value but are expressions of attitudes.

So far it has shown us that at least my quintessential question in modern ethics is: Is (rational) justification of moral values possible or not. Or stated more popular, can we transcend the"Well, that is your opinion ..... but this is my opinion!" deadlock?

A first step in the direction of an answer is John Searle's idea about metaphysical objectivism and subjectivism. If you want to refresh your memory on that, reread lecture 9.

Finally I discovered in William Frankena is an inspiring source of support of the idea that justification of moral judgements is possible by taking the moral point of view.

So, what is my position in these ethical discourse now? My opinion is that ethical term like 'good' and "wrong" and "right" can be defined in non-ethical terms.

This means that moral judgements can have a factual content of which we can establish the truth of falsity. Thence moral judgements are not the expression of just personal opinions.

Course is laid in ….. ENGAGE!

The Discussion

[13:24] Repose Lionheart: hehehe
[13:25] herman Bergson: If you have any questions or remarks...feel free...
[13:25] Repose Lionheart: well, not sure what to say
[13:25] Repose Lionheart: i seem to agree with it
[13:25] Repose Lionheart: and am just making sure i do
[13:25] herman Bergson: No..Is a bit like your course Repose, isnt it?
[13:25] Repose Lionheart: and am not just being pulled along in your wake ㋡
[13:26] Repose Lionheart: my course?
[13:26] herman Bergson: no..we were already on the same ship, I guess ㋡
[13:26] Repose Lionheart: suspect so
[13:27] Repose Lionheart: disagree on particulars upon which the verdict is still out
[13:27] Repose Lionheart: nature of matter, deep things that make the natural world
[13:27] Repose Lionheart: social ethic
[13:27] Repose Lionheart: thought a couple of sessions ago of feral kids
[13:28] herman Bergson whispers: feral kids..what are those?
[13:28] Repose Lionheart: can't separate a social from an individual ethic
[13:28] Repose Lionheart: children raised with little or no human contact
[13:28] Abraxas Nagy: ah
[13:28] herman Bergson: ok...
[13:28] Repose Lionheart: ummm...Truffaut (sp?) made a movie of one
[13:28] Abraxas Nagy: wow... that could be me then
[13:28] herman Bergson: never the less these children will display social behavior
[13:29] Repose Lionheart: hehehe
[13:29] Repose Lionheart: not much
[13:29] herman Bergson: lol...I didnt want to say it Abraxas... ㋡
[13:29] Repose Lionheart: they don't ever really acquire language
[13:29] Abraxas Nagy: haaaahaaaahaaaahaaaahaaa
[13:29] Abraxas Nagy: o A o!
[13:29] Abraxas Nagy: its not that bad with me
[13:29] Repose Lionheart: but it shows how much we owe to our social environment
[13:29] herman Bergson: nevertheless simple rules of survival will apply to them too
[13:30] Abraxas Nagy: mmm indeed
[13:30] Repose Lionheart: yes, they do
[13:30] herman Bergson: I think that ethics is a social thing
[13:30] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:30] Repose Lionheart: maybe the ground isn't
[13:30] herman Bergson: philosophers my dissect it and analyze it and try to reason about it, but to me it is a social thing
[13:31] Repose Lionheart: yes, agree
[13:31] herman Bergson: ethics is behavior
[13:31] herman Bergson: what a philosopher does is to make this behavior object of contemplation
[13:31] Abraxas Nagy: what else would it be
[13:32] herman Bergson: it could be conceptual Abraxas
[13:32] Abraxas Nagy: ah sure
[13:32] Repose Lionheart: and behavior is always relational
[13:32] Abraxas Nagy: of course
[13:32] herman Bergson: The rationalist approach...ethics is a discovery of the mind
[13:32] Repose Lionheart: oh
[13:32] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:32] herman Bergson: We become ethical beings because of our mind
[13:33] herman Bergson: But I prefer to compare use with a group of chimps in a zoo and observe the behavior
[13:33] Repose Lionheart: that's science
[13:34] herman Bergson: and from there I would begin to try to understand the rules
[13:34] Repose Lionheart: which i just note
[13:34] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:34] herman Bergson: yes Repose, ethology
[13:34] herman Bergson: or ethology>
[13:34] Repose Lionheart: ahhh...not heard of either ㋡
[13:35] herman Bergson: what is is called in English..Conrad Lorenz is a great name in that field of study
[13:35] herman Bergson: Desmond Morris: The Naked Ape
[13:35] Repose Lionheart: not really sure
[13:35] herman Bergson: And Dawkins goes even further: The Selfish Gene
[13:36] herman Bergson: Ok...we make it an easy class today...
[13:37] herman Bergson: The teacher is ill...huurraaa!! ㋡
[13:37] Abraxas Nagy: haaaahaaaahaaaahaaaahaaa
[13:37] Repose Lionheart: hehehe
[13:37] Abraxas Nagy: so students go ape
[13:37] Abraxas Nagy: haaaahaaaahaaaahaaaahaaa
[13:37] Repose Lionheart: always
[13:37] Abraxas Nagy: without any doubt
[13:37] Repose Lionheart: thatks, Prof
[13:38] herman Bergson: A lot of them stayed in the trees today Abraxas
[13:38] Abraxas Nagy: I'd say
[13:38] Repose Lionheart: your program/project is clarifying for me
[13:38] Abraxas Nagy: they missed this tho
[13:38] herman Bergson: Dont know what is the matter today ㋡
[13:38] Repose Lionheart: they'll never evolve that way :0
[13:38] Abraxas Nagy: me neither
[13:38] Abraxas Nagy: right
[13:38] Repose Lionheart: press of the holidays, maybe
[13:39] Abraxas Nagy: I guess so
[13:39] herman Bergson: Hasnt happen in three years...except when there was a grid issue or the time shift
[13:39] Abraxas Nagy: mmmm I can imagine this is strong
[13:39] herman Bergson: Well...let's see who shows up next Tuesday
[13:39] Abraxas Nagy: wow yes even closer to the hollidayts
[13:40] Repose Lionheart: true
[13:40] herman Bergson: Ah yes....
[13:40] herman Bergson: I make next tuesday the last class before the Holidays…good idea Abraxas
[13:40] Abraxas Nagy: ah yes i think that might be a goodplan
[13:40] Repose Lionheart: yes, sounds like
[13:41] herman Bergson: yes indeed
[13:41] herman Bergson: So than you all for your participation ㋡
[13:41] Abraxas Nagy: ok I guess I'll go then
[13:41] Repose Lionheart: Thank you both ㋡
[13:41] Abraxas Nagy: ty professor
[13:41] Repose Lionheart: bye
[13:41] Abraxas Nagy: bye my friends
[13:43] herman Bergson: Das war es fur heute ㋡
[13:43] bergfrau Apfelbaum: heute waren nicht viele da
[13:43] bergfrau Apfelbaum: man merkt eben dass bald weihnachten ist :-)

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