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pathways (letters)

22 September 1997

Dear Barry,

Thank you for your letter of 15 September with your notes on unit 10 of Reasons, Values and Conduct. I am glad you enjoyed your holiday...

Well done for trying a different approach! I shall try to match your format as best I can.

Reading page one, I get the impression that you need to disentangle more clearly three different roles played by 'the other' in my practical deliberations. The first role is simply as one of the factors to be included in the considerations which lead to the formation of my valuational perspective. I do not need to be given a reason for taking my wife's or my children's interests into account; I care. I identify with their needs. Their health, happiness, and success is inseparable from my own happiness. That is not to say on occasion that my wife, say, does not have to argue her case. I may lack sensitivity regarding a particular issue. But note here that where I fall short is in factual knowledge; my willingness to consider her needs and interests goes without question.

Under this heading I would put your decision to alter your route when your partner finds the going too difficult. It goes without question that you care; the only consideration is whether it is best to turn round or whether, on the contrary, what your partner needs on this occasion is a bit of extra encouragement.

A second role for the other is in questioning the accuracy of any list or account I would give of my own value judgements. This is simply a particular application of the general rule that any judgement, even about matters that are subjective and personal, can be wrong. 'Others can know me better than I know myself.'

It is the third role which is crucial for the argument for the 'objectivity of moral considerations': the categorical imperative tells me that, whether I happen to care or not, 'every person counts for something and not for nothing'. The main difference from Kant here is that I still want to allow for some persons to count more than others.

'I have recognised that my values are based primarily on my own interests and then allowed for the possibility of correcting them if they are wrong' (p. 2). — Here, you can plug in each of the three considerations in turn. You can adjust your plans out of consideration of a person or persons you care for. You can be wrong about what your values are. Or you can recognise that it would be morally wrong to ignore a certain claim, even though you have no reason or motive to care, or indeed a strong motive not to care. (You encounter a stranger who has got lost on the trail. How far do you go out of your way to help him? Say, it was the obnoxious boor who was drinking heavily in the bar the previous evening, boasting that he could find his way through the pass without a map.)

'This does not answer the question of why I ought to recognise the values of others.' — Correct. Up to this point, you have given an account of the formation, maintenance and alteration in one's valuational perspective. Because I care, I do take certain persons into account. We share perspectives. something more is needed for action which is morally motivated. — But what?

The important thing to see is that a philosophical argument is required here, something that essentially goes beyond the account of the 'mechanics' of forming and maintaining a valuational perspective. Values provide one kind of rational constraint on conduct, but not the only kind of rational constraint. In addition to a theory of values we need a theory of moral conduct.

It is a question I address in unit 9 para 170 and following. The difference can be put in terms of two different senses of 'because' in the statement, 'It is because the other recognises a need that I recognise it too.' In the first sense it is contingent, in the second sense it is necessary. It is indeed that sense of necessity we are looking for in pursuing the question of an objective basis for moral conduct.

Yours sincerely,

Geoffrey Klempner