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Entries in Kant (6)


Philosophy and Practicality

Updated on July 29, 2014 by Registered CommenterStuart W. Mirsky

Not being a member of the academic community of philosophers, and yet having an abiding interest in that community's subject matter (some elements of it, at any rate), I have often wondered about the meaningfulness of the field. This is partly a reflection of my own decision more than 40 years ago not to pursue a a graduate philosophy degree (I doubted my ability to make a mark in that particular arena and also the value of doing so). I was drawn to Wittgenstein back then, perhaps partly because he seemed to be the epitome of the anti-philosopher but, I think, even more because his strategy and approach to the business philosophers did seemed to clarify so many of my own concerns. I was caught in the web of idealism at the time, after a flirtation with logical positivism and, briefly, American pragmatism. But I was always and primarily drawn to the analytic approach of which Wittgenstein was a part even after leaving that reservation in his later years. The fact that there seemed to be no solutions to the pressing philosophical questions both kept my head spinning and suggested, to me at least, the virtual pointlessness of bothering with such questions. Yet I could not simply divest myself of them, not even after exposure to Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations.

I spent a number of years, after graduating, still troubling the same philosophical bones but finally gave it all up entirely and moved on. Yet, in my later years I've found myself drawn back to these kinds of concerns. Although I have improved my understanding of many of the issues and, I think, of Wittgenstein himself, it has seemed to me that there are still areas worth chewing over for those who are philosophically inclined. Of course, if Wittgenstein was right in his later years, we're all better off moving on to more practical endeavors but perhaps, when one has finished the practical part of one's life, a return to philosophy is just what's called for. And so I've engaged on and off over the years in philosophical discussions on Internet sites like this one. They have not always been satisfying but have often been edifying. . . .

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Brandom's Ethical Strategy

Updated on June 3, 2014 by Registered CommenterStuart W. Mirsky

Updated on June 5, 2014 by Registered CommenterStuart W. Mirsky

Continuing with Robert Brandom's Reason in Philosophy: Animating Ideas, the ethical strategy which he adopts in the second half of the book builds on the classical notion of the good life as in what is most conducive to human flourishing, what is good for human beings as human beings. Brandom adopts this conception of ethical valuing and grounds it in his more basic claim that epistemic capacity stands on normative activity, i.e., that knowing that is a species of knowing how. Taking this from the Kantian conception of knowledge as a function of human capacities, of the conceptual structures we have, and the latter as instances of how we relate to statements (recognizing their inferential dimension in terms of what they authorize and obligate us as language speakers to do), he goes on to suggest that this normativity runs all the way down. He makes the further distinction between sentience and sapience, arguing that sapience, which is what we have, rests on but qualitatively changes the underlying sentience.

Sentience, he suggests, is the state of having sensations, sensory information, feelings -- of being aware. Sapience is the state of having the capacity to conceptualize and so think about the things we experience as sentient creatures. At least in the case of creatures like ourselves, he argues, sapience, which he describes as fundamentally normative (a matter of learning and following rule-sets) rests on the sentience we have but radically alters its nature. . . .

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How to Derive "Ought" from "Is"

Back when I was in college and taking up philosophy, the received opinion concerning ethics claims, the standard doctrine espoused by all my teachers, was that, since Hume at least, we can all agree that one can't derive "ought" statements from "is" statements, that is claims about what we ought to do in any given case do not follow based on the descriptions of the facts of the case alone. Of course, this is moderated somewhat by the realization that some "is" statements present us with reasons to make "ought" claims to the extent that we are so inclined and that we believe others share the same inclinations that we do. Confronted with a fact that prompts us to choose X, for instance, we will naturally expect that someone else with values like ours will be susceptible to the same prompt and recognize the same reason to act as we do. To the extent moral assertions are built on that, it is possible to move in a seemingly logical way from what there is to what we ought to do about it. But the problem, particularly in the moral case, boils down to situations where the prompts themselves are in question.

If seeing someone in danger or in pain serves to prompt me to try to alleviate the conditions causing the other person pain or putting them in danger, it doesn't follow that that prompt will have the same effect on someone else. Nor does it follow that it should have that effect on me if it so happens that it doesn't. This is the problem of deriving oughts from is's. And it lies at the very heart of the moral case.

Since Hume this has been standard stuff in moral philosophy . . .

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Obligation and Goodness

As Duncan Richter has pointed out, Anscombe and some others reject the idea of duty-based ethics, of morality as obligation. Setting aside, for the moment, Anscombe's additional rejection of the term "moral," as it is ordinarily used, and her apparent preference for "ethical" in lieu of "moral," and taking both terms, for argument's sake, to be roughly the same in ordinary use, what we're left with is the question of whether the idea of obligation underlies moral judgments or vice versa. That is, do we have certain obligations because we recognize them as morally good or do we find the morally good by recognizing certain obligations which we cannot shirk? Richter writes that Anscombe rejected the idea that moral claims were founded on duties of this sort and, in doing so, apparently rejected the very notion of a duty-based ethics . . .

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Empathy and Reasons

This is a very preliminary draft which I expect will require a lot of revision. It's also longer than my usual offerings here which aren't especially short in general anyway. I also diverge here from the typical Wittgensteinian path I usually follow and verge, dangerously, on a kind of existentialist incoherence. I hope to fix that in a later iteration. But for now I've decided to put this up on the list anyway . . . in case anyone here shares my interest in trying to understand and explain how moral valuing works.

Wittgenstein pointed out that the search for justifications, for reasons, ultimately comes to an end. We can only dig so deeply and then, as he put it, our spade is turned. We can go no further. But valuing is a reason-giving game since in making any ascription of value we do so with reasons in mind. Not to have reasons leaves us without a basis for valuing the thing at all – in which case, even if our spade is turned at some point, it cannot be turned here, within the valuing game itself, or that game must collapse. Without the reasons we give others and ourselves – which reflect comparisons of different things, of different options, of different possibilities – value cannot be ascribed. Reasons are the explanations we give ourselves and others when called upon to justify what we do. . . .

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A Matter of Ethics

Updated on November 7, 2013 by Registered CommenterStuart W. Mirsky

Considers some possibilities in finding justifications for the validity of our moral claims. If the basis of such claims cannot be justified in some bottom line way, can the claims we base on them be argued for at all?

I once tried unsuccessfully to argue that moral claims are based on the general principle of self-improvement and that self-improvement takes many forms and that how we understand it will determine the nature of the moral judgments we make . . . in the final analysis there is only one really reliable form of self-improvement [I argued] because all other options are too limited in scope to truly represent real improvement of the self . . . because, I thought, the self was rather like Kant's transcendental subject, clothed in our experiences, memories, beliefs, etc., and the point was to act in ways that most aligned with this purest core of our being. Alas, for me, the argument could not even withstand my own scrutiny of it.

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