P H I L O S O P H Y P A T H W A Y S ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 104
1st June 2005
I. 'Resolving the Objective-Subjective Conflict in Moral Valuation'
by Ruel F. Pepa
II. 'Competition in Academia' by Maushumi Guha
III. 'Comment on Martin Herzog's Article' by Geoffrey Frost
IV. 'A Short Note on Knowing and Wondering' by Hubertus Fremerey
Are moral judgements objectively true, or do they merely reflect our subjective
attitudes? Professor Ruel Pepa offers an insightful exploration of this
perennial issue, focusing on his critique of the analysis of subjectivism by
moral philosopher James Rachels.
Three short pieces by Maushumi Guha, Geoffrey Frost and Hubertus Fremerey
illustrate different facets of philosophy as a 'search for truth'. Maushumi
Guha offers a compelling argument for the value of competition in academic work
as a spur to progress and an antidote to mediocrity. Geoffrey Frost, in his
comment on Martin Herzog's article in Issue 103 of Philosophy Pathways,
questions whether we would find philosophy so compelling if it were merely a
'cerebral, dispassionate activity' as it is sometimes portrayed. Hubertus
Fremerey reminds us that there is a kind of understanding and knowledge that
depends upon keeping a 'respectful distance', and which is destroyed by the
attempt to analyse.
On Monday, I returned from a memorable trip to the Czech Republic where I gave
a lecture at Prague College. More information including the complete text of
the paper is published today in Issue 19 of Philosophy for Business. If you are
not already subscribed, you can request a subscription by emailing
I. 'RESOLVING THE OBJECTIVE-SUBJECTIVE CONFLICT IN MORAL VALUATION'
BY RUEL F. PEPA
An inquiry into the problems of the origin of values in general and of moral
values in particular
The context of this discussion is focused on values specifically appreciated by
humans. This clarificatory introduction is important to distinguish human values
from things 'valued' by other living species in the animal and plant realms. The
issue of value enters at this particular consideration as humans observe how
plants and animals are benefiting from their environments. Under these
circumstances, it may be assumed that animals and plants 'value' the things
from which they benefit in terms of survival and life sustenance. We say that
water, plants and air are valuable for animals because the latter depend on
them in these animals' need to drink, eat, and breathe. However, we as humans
are limited as to the access to evidence pertaining to whether animals really
'value' these things or not in the same way that we do. In other words, do
these animals really consciously exercise a sense of appreciation in the act of
'valuating' the things that are useful to them? Is such an act really a
valuation? Is there a way for us to find certain answers to these concerns? Is
it worthwhile to deal with this matter seriously in the context of this
particular treatise's main inquiry? These questions being unanswered at this
point in time (or may even be unanswerable at any point in time), a better
course is to proceed on the path that has been beaten to resolve the major
burden of this treatise.
Are Values Basically Objective in Origin?
These are people who claim that values have external sources - points of origin
distinct from us. In many cases, these external origins are even considered to
be of a higher nature such as God, Bathala, Allah, the Absolute Reality,
Brahman, Nature, etc. With these sources, values emanating from them are deemed
to be thoroughly objective. This perspective assumes the non-necessity of the
human factor in the existence of values. In other words, humans are not
necessary in the formation of values, so that values exist independent of
humans. In this sense, it is said that values are basically objective and it
specifically means that (1) values are factual properties regardless of whether
there are humans or not, or (2) values emanate from supernatural origin, or (3)
values are inherent in nature.
Regarding the first, it doesn't make sense at all to say that humans could not
have valued things if these things were not to the least inherently valuable.
It is a most basic assumption that things are deemed valuable based on the
appreciation that humans extend to them so as to satisfy or achieve human
purposes. In short, things of this world are axiologically neutral by and in
themselves and can only be said to be either valuable or insignificant
depending on the purposes that humans have determined for their usefulness or
uselessness. The words of Wittgenstein at 6.41 of the Tractatus agree to this
...In the world everything is as it is and everything
happens as it does happen; in it no value exists - and if it
did exist it would have no value. If there is any value that
does have value, it must be outside the whole sphere of what
happens and is the case. For all that happens and is the
case is accidental.
A further clarification of this view is revealed by the pericope where it is
located in the Tractatus:
6.373 The world is independent of my will.
6.374 Even if all that we wish for were to happen, still
this would only be a favour granted by fate, so to speak;
for there is no logical connexion between the will and the
world, which would guarantee it, and the supposed physical
connexion itself is surely not something that we could will.
6.43 If the good or bad exercise of the will does alter the
world, it can alter only the limits of the world not the
facts - not what can be expressed by means of language. In
short, the effect must be that it becomes an altogether
different world. It must so to speak, wax and wane as a
whole. The world of the happy man is different from that of
the unhappy man.
The whole point being presented here is summarized in Wittgenstein's Notebooks
(p. 77): 'Ethics does not treat of the world. Ethics must be a condition of the
world, like logic.'
Things of this world can only become valuable as humans attribute values to
them. This matter of values further extends particularly more strongly to
aesthetics and ethics, the latter being our focus of concern in this treatise.
We can then say based on the presuppositions that we have already established -
that in matters of ethics and morality, the stronger can the claim be that moral
values can never be found inherent in states of affairs or events without humans
to value them. Moral values are therefore strictly basically human in origin.
Values in general and moral values in particular are basically of human origin;
hence, they are basically subjective in terms or origin.
The entirety of the previous discussion can be essentially presented via the
following logical arguments:
1. 'Values are basically either inherent to things valued or human-attributed.
If values are basically inherent, then, they are not basically
human-attributed. Hence, if values are basically human-attributed, then, they
are not basically inherent.'
2. 'Values are basically either inherent to things valued or human-attributed.
If values are basically inherent, then, they are basically objective in origin.
If values are basically human-attributed, then, they are basically subjective
in origin. Therefore, values are either basically objective or basically
subjective in origin.'
3. 'Values are basically either objective or subjective in origin. If values
are basically objective in origin, then, they are not subjective in origin.
Therefore, if values are not basically objective in origin, then, they are
subjective in origin.'
Now that the first argument supportive of the objective origin of values has
been debunked, could the next be a tenable claim? Do values emanate from a
supernatural origin? [The term 'supernatural' used in the context of the
succeeding discussion is different in meaning from the context of its use in
Wittgenstein's 'Lecture on Ethics.' In the latter context, the term
'supernatural' is linguistically contrasted with the 'natural' which is the
realm where the sciences operate. The contrast being linguistic in character
does not in any way imply an affirmation of the reality of a higher dimension
of existence inhabited by more intelligent and more powerful denizens. Says
Wittgenstein: 'I can only describe my feeling by the metaphor, that, if a man
could write a book on Ethics which really was a book on Ethics, this would,
with an explosion, destroy all the other books in the world. Our words used as
we use them in science, are vessels capable only of containing and conveying
meaning and sense, natural meaning and sense. Ethics, if it is anything, is
supernatural and our words will only express facts; as a teacup will only hold
a teacup full of water and if I were to pour out a gallon over it. I said that
so far as facts and propositions are concerned there is only relative value and
relative good, right, etc.']
Perhaps it could still be safely said that the majority of people in this world
believe in a supernatural entity they call 'god' or even many of this type of
being which are called 'gods.' They generally believe that values, specifically
moral ones, emanate from or dispensed by this 'supernatural reality' or
'ultimate reality,' if you will. He (if we want to personify this reality) has
formed the world as well as the things found in this world, and has established
values - both artistic and moral - for all creation, more specifically humans,
to obey. Of course, it is not logically impossible for such supernatural
entities to exist and have done such dispensation of values. However, we can
neither make any final conclusion or affirmation as to certainty of their
existence. We should definitely opt to exercise strong belief - which could be
construed as 'faith' in religious language game-but such cannot be considered
as objective proof.
Looking at the problem now of which of the set of moral laws or moral bans we
ought to obey, the complication has been created by the differences among
groups of people or communities of people who recognize different 'gods' or
supernatural beings: the Judeo-Christian tradition; the Hindus; the Confucians;
the Taoists, etc. These supernatural beings as well as the thought systems and
religions honoring and worshipping them have accompanying systems of morality.
There could be some points of similarity, but in a lot of instances,
differences are so pronounced and oftentimes very wide. It is, therefore,
difficult if not really impossible for us to ascertain the most accurate
supernatural foundation. This factor tells us that no evidence is available to
prove the necessary supernatural origin of objective moral values. At this
point, nothing is left in our minds but the impression that even the so-called
morality of supernatural origin is subjectively attained by people who needs
and wants are determined out of a common goal to live and enjoy life in a
peaceful and productive milieu rather than having been 'commanded' to be and to
do so from a supernatural dimension.
What about the third option now - are values inherent in nature? Those who hold
the notion that values are inherent in nature promote the argument that moral
laws are within the realm of nature and hence, part of the natural world. It is
further held by them that anything that violates or goes contrary to nature is
therefore wrong. But there seems to have some confusion here in treating 'moral
laws' at par with what science tells us as 'natural laws' like the law of
gravity, the law of buoyancy, and others. There is a difference in meaning when
the word 'law' is used in relation to nature and when the same word is used in
relation to morality.
Natural laws are descriptive, whereas moral laws are prescriptive. Natural
laws, on the other hand, are generalizations based on contrast regularities
discovered in events or states of affairs. On the other hand, moral laws are
'invented' for the maintenance of order and to promote acceptable behaviors and
attitudes or conducts in human relations. In H.O. Mounce's discussion of
Wittgenstein's view of ethics in the Tractatus, Mounce says: 'The ethical
problem is not to determine what is so but what to do, what attitude one is to
adopt.' For those who affirm the reality of 'natural moral laws,' one thing
should be proved: that there are laws discovered and discoverable (or observed
and observable) in nature telling humans the way they ought or ought not to
behave. But it seems to be difficult, if not impossible at all, to prove it
because nothing prescriptive actually issues out of nature. In other words,
nature does not demand morality to be acted on by humans. It is a
reconfirmation that moral values are not basically objective in origin even if
we appeal to nature. To 'see' in nature some events or states of affairs that
move or lead us to behave morally is but an interpretation of an entire gamut
of experience involving human interest in favor of and advantageous to our
circumstances, needs, desires, objectives and satisfaction. In this sense,
moral values formed out of our relationship with nature are therefore basically
subjective. In the article 'Naturalism,' Charles R. Pigden says: 'In the famous
Principia Ethica, G.E. Moore contended that most moralists have been
naturalists and that all naturalists are guilty of a common fallacy. They have
confused the property of goodness with the things that possess that property or
with some other property that good things possess. This is what naturalistic
fallacy is: a mixing of two distinct items.'
The Basic Subjective Origin of Values, Particularly Moral Values
The notion that values have a basic subjective origin doesn't necessarily mean
that they are always subjective through and through, i.e., at all times. Hence,
when it is argued that values have a basic subjective origin, what is hereby
contradicted is the opposite notion that values have a basic objective origin -
not that values are objective. It only means that even if it is claimed that
values have a basic subjective origin, such a claim does not necessarily
contradict the notion that values may be objective. This matter is a vital
aspect of the thesis of this treatise which in the progressive development of
the discussions about it will ultimately unveil the non-contradictory character
of what is being proposed as an ethics that is both objective and relative.
Relativity of values in general and moral values in particular is however an
offshoot of subjectivity and this matter will be discussed later to summarize
the points being raised here. In logical terms, we say:
1. 'Values either have a basic subjective origin or a basic objective origin.
It has been demolished that values have a basic objective origin. Hence, values
have a basic subjective origin.'
2. 'Objective values may issue out of values whose basic origin is subjective.
Values are really of basic subjective origin. Therefore, it cannot be that
objective values will not issue out of values whose basic origin is
3. 'Objective values may issue out of values whose basic origin is subjective.
Relative values may also issue out of values whose basic origin is subjective.
And the basic origin of values are really subjective. Therefore, it can be that
values are both relative and objective.'
4. 'If values can both be relative and objective, then, it cannot be that
there is contradiction between relative values and objective values.'
Going back to the issue of the basic subjective origin of values, particularly
moral values, it is simply the idea that the starting point or the begin-all of
valuation is a person's expression of his/ her personal desires or feelings.
Nevertheless, the Humean view that reason doesn't play any role in the function
of moral judgment is not hereby affirmed. This writer believes otherwise. [James
Rachels observes in his article 'Subjectivism': '[T]he function of moral
judgment, says Hume, is to guide conduct, but reason alone can never tell us
what to do. Reason merely informs us of the nature and consequences of our
action and of the logical relations between propositions Hume concludes that
in the final analysis, 'Morality is determined by sentiment.' Reason plays a
vital role in such function because the acceptability of someone's personal
feelings or desires demands rationality from a moral agent and reasonableness
in a moral act. Perhaps, the rhetorical statement of Blaise Pascal applies
here: 'The heart has its reason that reason does not know.'
However, that which we consider subjective may evolve towards the direction of
the objective. Yet an 'evolved' value seen in the objective realm doesn't have
the 'natural' characteristics inherently found in the original properties of
matters of fact located in this realm. At this point, let us further discuss
the complexities surrounding the issue of the subjectivity of values so that a
smooth transition could be effected from subjectivity to relativity which are
actually so much related between each other. In fact, value relativity issues
out of value subjectivity. In other words, value subjectivity effects value
relativity and there could be no value relativity without value subjectivity.
Logically we say, 'There is value relativity if and only if there is value
subjectivity. And there is value subjectivity. Therefore, there is value
From Simple to Critical Subjectivity in Ethics: James Rachels' Analysis
In James Rachels' discussion of subjectivity in his article, 'Subjectivism,' he
distinguishes between two types of subjectivism: the simple one and the improved
version called emotivism. This is the way his discussion goes:
The historical development of ethical subjectivism
illustrates a process typical of philosophical theories. It
began as a simple idea - in the words of David Hume, that
morality is more a matter of feeling than of reason. But as
objections were raised against the theory, and as its
defenders tried to answer those objections, the theory
became more complicated. So far, we have not attempted to
formulate the theory very precisely - we have been content
with a rough statement of its basic idea. Now, however, we
need to go a bit beyond that.
One way of formulating ethical subjectivism more precisely
is this: we take it to be the thesis that when a person
says that something is morally good or bad, this means that
he or she approves of that thing, or disapproves of it, and
We might call this version of the theory simple
subjectivism... However, simple subjectivism is open to
several rather obvious objections, because it has
implications that are contrary to what we know to be the
case (or at least contrary to what we think we know) about
the nature of moral evaluation.
For one thing, simple subjectivism contradicts the plain
fact that we can sometimes be wrong in our moral
evaluations. None of us are infallible. We make mistakes
and when we discover that we are mistaken we may want to
change our judgments. But if simple subjectivism were
correct, this would be impossible - because simple
subjectivism implies that each of us in infallible.
...In the face such difficulties, many philosophers have
chosen to reject the whole idea of ethical subjectivism.
Others, however, have taken a different approach. The
problem, they say, is not that the basic idea of ethical
subjectivism is wrong. The problem is that 'simple
subjectivism' is too simple a way or expressing that idea.
Thus, these philosophers have continued to have confidence
in the basic idea of ethical subjectivism and have tried to
refine it - to give it a new, improved formulation - so that
these difficulties can be overcome.
The improved version was a theory that came to be known as
The criticism towards simple subjectivism is a valid one if this type of
subjectivism really creates difficulties to clearly determine the rightness or
wrongness of moral evaluations. In this situation, everybody becomes entitled
to his or her moral views and opinions without the obligation of testing
whether his or her moral evaluation is right or wrong. (We could sense a
situation of relativism here, but this is not the type of relativistic position
that is advocated in this treatise.) In other words, there is really right or
wrong moral evaluation and under this condition, everybody really becomes
'infallible.' Some critiques of simple subjectivism who do not intend to
totally reject the whole notion of ethical subjectivism but to salvage its more
basic idea are, however, correct in their intention to transcend its prominent
errors and make a refinement of it.
As has previously been discussed, the basic subjectivity of values in general,
and moral values in particular, owing to the fact that values have a basic
subjective origin, is an empirically defensible and logically coherent
position. This is the basic idea of ethical subjectivism which is salvageable.
But is emotivism the truly critical alternative to transcend the errors of
simple subjectivism? Let us look at emotivism closely.
Emotivism: An Improvement from Simple Subjectivism
The starting point of emotivism is the recognition that humans use language in
so many ways. We use it not only in expressing factual statements whereby we
give information that may either be true or false. With language we may also
issue requests and commands whose objective is not to give information or
describe a state of affairs but rather prescribe an action or attitude. The
statement, 'President Macapagal-Arroyo is against human rights violations,' is
descriptive, whereas, 'Let us condemn human rights violations!' is
Looking at the issue of moral language, emotivism holds that 'moral language is
not fact-stating language; it is not typically used to convey information. Its
purpose is entirely different. It is used, first, as a means of influencing
people's behavior: if someone says 'You ought not to do that,' they are trying
to stop you from doing it. And second, moral language is used to express (not
report) one's attitude.'
Comparing simple subjectivism with emotivism at this point, we say, on the one
hand, simple subjectivism grasps ethical statements as factual statements
reporting the speaker's attitude. So that when President Macapagal-Arroyo says
that she is against human rights violation, such is tantamount to saying, 'I
(Pres. Macapagal-Arroyo) do not approve human rights violation' - a factual
statement about his attitude. On the other hand, emotivism disagrees that Pres.
Macapagal-Arroyo's words are an expression of fact. According to emotivism, what
Pres. Macapagal-Arroyo says is simply, 'Damn human rights violation!' or 'To
hell with human rights violation!'
Regarding this view, Rachels observes that the difference between simple
subjectivism and emotivism is not a superficial hair-splitting matter but an
important one. Simple subjectivism says that statements of moral judgment are
statements about feelings, whereas, emotivism says that they are statements of
feelings. Thus, they cannot be subjected to truth-value analysis. If I believe
that X acted alone in plotting the assassination of Ninoy Aquino and another
person believes that X was ordered or commanded by a group of conspiring Marcos
cronies to plot the assassination of Ninoy Aquino, such a disagreement is over
facts. However, if I advocate the view that capital punishment or death penalty
is an effective deterrent to the commission of heinous crimes while another
believes otherwise, the disagreement is in opinion or views. The first type of
disagreement can be solved by an appeal to facts which in turn will determine
which of the two beliefs is true (because both cannot be true). The second
type, however, is a matter of making a choice based on desires or feelings,
i.e., making one of the views desirable over the other according to the
particular individual's perspective, barring the possibility of choosing both.
Rachels rightly echoes the points made by the American philosopher C.L.
Stevenson (the most prominent spokesperson of emotivism) in his classical book
on the subject of emotivism, Ethics and Language, that such an opposition is a
'disagreement in attitude and contrast it with disagreements about attitudes.
Moral disagreement, says Stevenson, are disagreements in attitude. Simple
subjectivism could not explain moral disagreement because once it interpreted
moral judgments as statement about attitudes, the disagreement vanished.'
There has been an expression of a similar view prior to this in a chapter of an
earlier work by Alfred Jules Ayer, Language, Truth, and Logic, entitled
'Critique of Ethics and Theology':
Thus, although our theory of ethics might fairly be said to
be radically subjectivist, it differs in a very important
respect from the orthodox subjectivist theory. For the
orthodox subjectivist does not deny, as we do, that the
sentences of a moralizer express genuine propositions. All
he denies is that they express propositions about the
speaker's feelings. If this were so, ethical judgments
clearly would be capable of being true or false. They would
be true if the speaker had the relevant feelings, and false
if he had not. And this is a matter whish is, in principle,
empirically verifiable. Furthermore they could be
significantly contradicted. For if I say, 'Tolerance is a
virtue,' and someone answers, 'you don't approve of it,' he
would on the ordinary subjectivist theory, be contradicting
me, because in saying that tolerance was a virtue, I should
not be making any statement about my own feelings or about
anything else. I should simply be evincing my feelings,
which is not all the same thing as saying that I have
However, not all is secured yet for emotivism's place as a formidable position
having transcended the loopholes of simple subjectivism. Rachel makes the
criticism that emotivism has also faced some rough sailing. Says he: 'Emotivism
also had its problems and they were sufficiently serious that today most
philosophers reject the theory. One of the main problems was that emotivism
could not account for the place of reason in ethics.'
Rachels who is a subjectivist would classify his variety of subjectivism as
rational. According to him, there ought to be good reasons to support value
judgment of any kind in general and moral judgment in particular. We tend to
evaluate actions as either right or wrong. Mere expressions of personal likes
and dislikes may not need supporting reasons. Without the latter, such
expressions amount only to arbitrary statements. Rachels says, '[A]ny adequate
theory of the nature of moral judgments and the reasons that support them. It
is at just this point that emotivism falters.'
In conclusion, Rachels comments:
Thus, as our final attempt to formulate an adequate
subjectivist understanding of ethical judgment, we might
say, nothing is morally right if it is such that the
process of thinking through its nature and consequences
would cause or sustain a feeling of approval toward it in a
person who was being as reasonable and impartial as is
humanly possible (italics supplied).
An Evaluation of J. Rachels' Analysis
The central issue brought out by Rachels in his critique of emotivism and in
the formulation of his 'rational' brand of subjectivism is the importance of
reason as the determinant of the moral rightness or wrongness of an action.
Basically, there should be no quarrel at all regarding this matter. The only
problem here is that it is difficult to establish objective rationality or
reasonableness in matters of ethics or morality on the individual plane. In
other words, the only meaningful rationality on that plane is subjective
considering the fact that an individual A's moral choice of x is rational or
reasonable depending on circumstances that led him/ her to make such a moral
choice. Whereas, in the case of individual B's moral rejection of x, such is
likewise rational or reasonable from his/ her perspective and in his/ her own
right. So that, A and B are rational or reasonable in their own respective
decisions, even if they are opposite to or contrasting each other.
The element of 'thinking through' that is being proposed here by Rachels is an
acceptable aspect of making moral judgments rational or reasonable. But again,
such a process - if we call it a process at all - is done on the individual
plane. Hence, the function of which is still subjective, i.e., depending on the
circumstance and conditions surrounding the individual person making the choice
All in all, the basic subjective origin of moral judgments has been proven once
and for all a formidable assumption in the tracing of the rootage of morality
and ethics. This assumption is also the foundation of moral or ethical
relativity which is the bridge that ultimately leads us to a more realistic
type of ethical or moral objectivity that is far different from an ethical
objectivity that depends on moral facts. The type of moral or ethical
objectivity that is herein being proposed dialectically develops from the
subjective rootage and evolves therefrom along relativity until it reaches the
point of objectivity. In short this type of moral or ethical objectivity cannot
really be formulated without making any basic and initial recognition of the
twofold reality of its subjective-relative beginnings.
We cannot actually underestimate the basic importance of subjectivity in its
universal applicability. Even science basically starts off from subjectivity.
In this regard, let me quote Prof. Claro Ceniza, the eminent symbolic logician
and analytic philosopher of De La Salle University-Manila, in his article
'Logic of Confirmation and Objectivity' that appears in SOPHIA, vol. XXV,
Subjectivity can be helpful in producing preliminary
hypotheses, even in science. In fact, there is no other way
of producing preliminary hypotheses except by ways that are
affected and influenced by subjectivity. We tend to advance
preliminary theses to which our personal experiences and
cultures direct us. Science, however, and everyday life
cannot remain on that level. There is always an objective
way of finding out what the object in question really is
either by common consent or better through the process of
confirmation and disconfirmation.
1. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, as quoted in
Wittgenstein's Tractatus (ed.) H.O. Mounce (Chicago: The University of Chicago
Press, 1981), p.94.
2. Ibid., pp. 95-96.
3. Ibid., p. 95.
4. Mounce, Wittgenstein's Tractatus, p. 97.
5. Charles Pigden, 'Naturalism' in A Companion to Ethics (ed.) Singer, Peter
(Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell Publishers, 1994), p. 426.
6. James Rachels, 'Subjectivism' in A Companion to Ethics, p. 433.
7. Ibid., pp. 434-436.
8. Ibid., p. 437.
9. Ibid., p. 438.
10. A.J. Ayer, Language, Truth and Logic (Middlesex, England: Penguin Books,
1974), p. 144.
11. Op. cit., Rachels, p. 438.
13. Ibid., p. 440.
14. Claro Ceniza, 'Logic of Confirmation and Objectivity' in SOPHIA, Journal of
Philosophy, Vol. (ed.) Elwood, Brian Douglas (Manila: De La Salle University
Press, Inc., 1995-1196), p. 40
(c) Ruel F. Pepa
II. 'COMPETITION IN ACADEMIA' BY MAUSHUMI GUHA
Academic progress depends on competition, for competition requires people to be
productive and therefore, active. Mediocrity, which is bred by laziness and
which breeds more mediocrity, is against competition and productivity. Many
academic institutions and laboratories are making very little progress because
they have given in to mediocrity and shunned competition.
I do not believe that people are born either mediocre or bright. I believe that
mediocrity is the work of a certain kind of education and a certain kind of
upbringing. Everyone is born with potential to achieve something or the other.
That potential must be reared and encouraged. Competition is a natural way to
groom people with potential.
So, the only way academic institutions and laboratories can produce good work
is by making their members compete and the only way they can make their members
compete is by asking them to showcase their work in front of their peers. This
is the whole idea behind peer review. Co-operation or collaboration is not
something that can be forced upon people as a principle. Co-operation or
collaboration can occur only between people who are willing to compete.
Competition is another name for openness and honesty. When one competes, one is
open about one's skills and knowledge-base. People who are unwilling to compete
usually look for a safe and secluded corner created possibly by a magnanimous
mentor, discouraging others from asking questions or sharing information. On
the other hand, if one is open about one's skills and knowledge-base and
willing to enter into competition with equals, one is more honest, more sharing
and in general more welcoming towards one's peers. It is this sort of
competitive openness that leads to cooperative and collaborative moves.
In this connection, here are a few important points that come to mind:
1. In order to have genuine progress, people in academics should come forward
and showcase their work in whatever manner they deem fit and on a regular basis.
2. For any academic organization or laboratory to function there has to be a
careful balance between a centralized system of working and a federal system of
3. Every organization must have some active members who work not on a
unilateral but on a communicative basis. Communication is always a two-way
relation so an academic administrator or lab-in-charge must make sure that
everyone is communicating with everyone else. If one member works overtly,
sharing information and results, while another keeps mum, sharing nothing till
the end, the active member will refuse to collaborate fearing lack of
cooperation from the other side. This will affect the work and overall
atmosphere of the institution or lab.
4. Competition requires communication. Communication breeds transparency and
builds trust. Competition is thus the key to progress.
5. The kind of competition being upheld here is healthy. It is not the kind
that requires one to have dark circles under one's eyes or to sacrifice family
life, entertainment and going out with friends! Everybody wants to work. But
the work must not spill over and occupy the time that rightfully belongs to
friends, families or just to oneself. Such a work culture is like a good habit.
It comes from practice. And such good habits define optimal living.
6. The trick lies here: when everyone realizes that everyone has something to
contribute, there will be healthy competition, greater co-operation and much
more happiness in the working environment of an academic institution or a Lab.
(c) Maushumi Guha 2005
III. 'COMMENT ON MARTIN HERZOG'S ARTICLE' BY GEOFFREY FROST
I enjoyed Martin Herzog's article in issue 103 and I would like to offer these
comments more as a note of caution than in disagreement.
An aspect of philosophy which I like is watching the way people engage in it. I
call this 'philosophy as a spectator sport' and like sport it has countless
facets. The relationship between what you see and what is going on underneath
is an important one of these. Philosophy is overtly a cerebral, dispassionate
activity but frequently there is a tumult of strong feelings underneath and a
belief that opposing views are not just mistaken but wicked. That the debates
are held in a controlled and civilised manner (the incident with the poker,
Popper and Wittgenstein apart!) adds to rather than detracts from the
perceived intensity of the feelings. The novels of Jane Austen and Barbara Pym
work in much the same way.
Philosophy would not be such an absorbing and significant activity if it was
not thus. It would have to be practiced by machines rather than people and for
machines rather than people. The real world which Martin Herzog's politicians,
scientists etc. inhabit is the same one that philosophers live in and the
latter's discipline is not quite so rarefied as they sometimes believe.
Pressures bear on philosophers too.
Politicians are in power to change things and cannot wait until the debate
concludes with us all in agreement to start doing so. We must also accept that
business is there to make a profit and may have allies among certain economists
of the profit motive. Implicit in the practice of technology is an agenda to
increase the power of mankind over nature and in this endeavour it exploits
science. Ideally the natural sciences would be dispassionate, truth-seeking
activities, but the areas in which research is funded depend upon the needs of
technology, which in turn are part of the profit/ power game.
We cannot expect other disciplines to abandon their agendas. Philosophy can
highlight considerations that might cause them to pause in their single-minded
pursuit of their aims. It is especially good at identifying the beliefs
implicit in particular policies and holding these up for scrutiny. We should
support Martin Herzog's rallying call for philosophy to engage with the real
world to do these things, and because, perforce, it's already a part of it.
I don't know quite where truth figures in this. Some philosophers believe there
is no such thing, that it exists only relative to a particular narrative or is a
function of power.
This is not my view but I don't think we should exclude people who believe this
from the philosophical club - much less hound them out with a poker!
(c) Geoffrey Frost 2005
1. See 'Wittgenstein's Poker - a Moment of Destiny' by Colin Amery Philosophy
Pathways Issue 22, 30th December 2001
IV. 'A SHORT NOTE ON KNOWING AND WONDERING' BY HUBERTUS FREMEREY
What do we call 'reality'? Plato was chided by Aristotle for introducing those
'ideas' which Aristotle found 'unnecessary'. Others have been chided by Hume
e.g. for keeping to the 'unnecessary' concept of God. But what is 'necessary'?
If you see a wonderful cloud on a bright summer's day, is it 'real'? If you
enter the cloud it turns into mere mist. And if you approach the rainbow it
will vanish. How 'real' then is the rainbow? You get down to 'fundamentals' and
'irreducibles' but by this you loose a world and are left with fragments and
meaningless details and 'explanations'.
This is what happened to the modern mind: It has destroyed and lost the world
while getting down to the fundamentals in desperate distrust. First the
physicists cracked the substances into atoms, then they cracked the atoms into
electrons and nuclei, then they cracked the nuclei into quarks, and now they
are trying to crack the quarks into strings. In a similar way most of the
'modern' thinking of the last some 250 years is analytical, dissolving
'reality' into 'its constituents', pulverizing the world in a desperate search
But what did we get? Did we get nearer to the truth? Do we really know a
beloved person better when we try to know 'everything' and to get 'at no
distance'? No, we may lose a person just by trying to know too much.
Paradoxically we know better when respecting a distance of puzzlement. We
should accept that the other person or the pet animal or the flower or the
world around us always remains something strange and mysterious, something
inaccessible to be respected on its own terms. We may talk to the other and be
glad if it answers and then try to understand and talk on. But analyzing is not
talking. Analyzing is disrespecting. Analyzing is raping. Love is different. But
even love is a way to better understanding.
The modern Western obsession with analyzing springs from a fundamental distrust
in the world around us and in everything that meets our eye and mind. This
modern obsession first became clearly visible in Descartes and his study of the
analytical method. [See 'Discourse on Method' from 1637:
http://www.mala.bc.ca/~johnstoi/descartes/descartes1.htm] But loving is
trusting and accepting. This was the world of Adam and Eve before the Fall, the
Well, if you have found out that Santa is in fact your uncle, you never will
take Santa seriously again. The paradise of childlike innocence and first love
is lost and cannot be regained. We have to find another sort of paradise now
if there is any. We cannot go back behind analytical thinking. We cannot become
naive again. As the Bible put it: 'And they knew that they were naked.'
Love need not stop when we are grown up and more knowing and experienced. Even
after a long marriage or friendship partners may be fascinating each other as
strangers. What they know is not that important, because the strangeness
remains the more important part of the relation. Strangeness is not the worst
of things. To see the world as something strange is according to a famous
dictum of Aristotle the beginning of all philosophy.
And here we are again: Even after Descartes and Hume and Kant and all of
analytical philosophy up today we may begin to wonder anew: 'Why is there
anything and not nothing? What is the cause and meaning of this all? What is
it, that we humans are expected to do? Will there be trans-human beings of our
own making? Should there be? What will the future hold anyway?' etc. There are
so many deep questions left even after all that modern knowledge accumulated
over the last some 300 years since Newton. Even if God does not exist, his very
idea is keeping some of the brightest minds and much of mankind thinking and
struggling all the time as a great mystery. And even if God is 'only a
projection of man himself', then this would confront man to his greatest riddle
- to man himself.
In a good marriage we know what we know, but the fascinating mystery did not go
away. If the mystery has gone away, then the marriage will rot. Well, we have
lost our childlike innocence of pre-modern times. But now we may regain a new
awareness of our ignorance and by this regain a new distance to the world we
live in. We are married to the world in some sense, but this must not become a
rotten marriage. It depends on how we see and approach each other and the
world. Then we may enjoy the clouds and the rainbow and all other beings again.
If we are only analyzing with a cold eye, we will be lost. Love may reassemble
the fragments into a whole, meaningless words and letters into a text again.
We moderns are too loud and too arrogant. We think we know much. We should try
to be humble and to listen again and to wonder.
(c) Hubertus Fremerey 2005
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