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Stuart W. Mirsky
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Entries in mental (2)


The Moral and the Mental

One of the issues that has come into focus for me while exploring the best way of accounting for (and so of explaining) how moral valuing works is the importance, in all this, of a robust picture of the self. That is, the elements we associate with subjectivity, with being a subject, seem to be critical in any account of moral valuing, not only because valuing itself implies the presence of a subject but because what is of particular interest in the moral game is the value placed on the self, i.e., the acting subject. Thus there is a need to presume the reality of the self in a way that sometimes seems to imply "entity." But, of course, given the insights of many modern philosophers, especially Wittgenstein, we don't want to do that for selves aren't things, aren't existents that parallel the bodies which have them!

The species of valuing which we call "moral" considers the quality of agents' acts and that quality can only be assessed if the acts in question are seen in their entirety and not in piecemeal fashion (which is how acts gain value for us when we are valuing the things they can obtain, achieve or produce for us). To make a moral judgment about an act, we have to go beyond the derivative value accorded the act as means to end. We have to consider the act as a whole. So what's involved in seeing an act in its entirety? Well, to the extent an act consists of certain physical events brought about by an agent, and, in a more extended sense, in certain outcomes those events achieve for the agent, it also consists of what the agent intends, i.e., what the agent undertakes the act in order to accomplish. And intentions, whatever else we may want to say of them, are mental phenomena. They happen in the minds of agents, in the thoughts, beliefs, wishes and inclinations which agents have and which underlie, in a generative sense, the acts performed. . . .

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Minds, Brains, Souls/Anscombe on Wittgenstein and the Mental

I've recently picked up Human Life, Action And Ethics by G. E. M. Anscombe, a student of Wittgenstein and later editor of some of his work. I was not familiar with her as a philosopher in her own right, though I knew she had that standing. The book, a compilation of a great many of her most important essays, dealing mainly with matters of ethics and morals, was edited by Mary Geach, her daughter and also a philosopher in her own right, and Luke Gormally with whom I am not familiar. The very first essay (which is as far as I have so far got), is entitled Analytical Philosophy and the Spirituality of Man. Although I have not yet gotten far in it the following passage, near the very beginning, struck me as relevant to the battles so often played out in this discussion group (can we call it that?) and on earlier lists where many of us also participated. She writes . . .

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