How could I get children (age 14 approx) to think about designing the ideal society?
I don't think you should try to do this or even want to. In history, attempted ideal societies have tended to be authoritarian, illiberal, restricting and inflexible. These characteristics actually seem to be inseparable from ideal societies and utopias because those who establish them obviously don't want them to change. But those same characteristics often explain to a great extent why so many ideal societies eventually fail because of the internal stresses and strains they generate. A major problem is always what do you do about all those people who do not like what you regard as ideal?
Much better is to inculcate in your children a healthy scepticism towards those people who claim to know what an ideal society should be.
This doesn't mean you shouldn't encourage your children always to try to improve the world. They certainly should. In his work on political philosophy, Sir Karl Popper advocated just this. When you see something wrong with society, try to fix it. But bear in mind that the actions you take to fix the problem may well produce unexpected new problems that you had never even thought of. Of course, you don't then give up. You try to fix the new problems, and so on. Society then progresses in this way through processes of trial and error. Hopefully it also improves but, as Popper said, there can never be any guarantees of improvement.
Popper called this sort of approach 'piecemeal social engineering' and it is really at one with his whole philosophy that all life is problem solving.
But it's like painting the Forth Bridge. The work never stops. And we shouldn't want it to because if it did stop perhaps because it was thought that the ideal society had been achieved there would nothing left for us to do. It would be like being in heaven. That sounds fine until you remember you can only be in heaven if you are dead.
I will not concern myself with the question whether such a question is useful. But why not?
Just some ideas: THE ideal society doesn't exist. Every system of thought has its own ideals. You might think that for instance democracy is ideal. Why? It could very well be possible that in Eastern cultures this doesn't fit. So start with letting think children about THEIR ideal of society. But I guess that's what you mean. At the age of fourteen their creativity shouldn't be a problem. A bigger problem is usually your own value system. Try not to judge. Children often have problems constructing a system. So why not add promising ideas to a virtual society (let them decide what is promising).
Well, there's always science fiction... Ursula LeGuin has several books on this theme... you might try her Lathe of Heaven. John Brunner The Stone that Never Came Down, and maybe, if they're bright kids, Stand on Zanzibar. There is always Wells' Time Machine... and so forth. All in all, I'd take a look into the sci-fi literature; there's lots of utopian speculations there, and some of it is combined with good adventure also.
Steven Ravett Brown
Of course you will start letting the kids put down any ideas of what they think a good society should look like. This would be the first round of this game. The second would be to look for contradicting goals in this list. Perhaps put the list on the blackboard in front of them in the classroom and let them debate and see. To learn that some goals are contradicting is a great step to deeper insight.
Then let them discuss different ideas of what is "good". I always call Plato's Republic a "brilliant nonsense", because it's a brilliant analysis of our concepts of "justice", but misses the important fact that human togetherness is not only justice. I compare this to the different concepts of "good eating" underlying the advice of the gourmet and the advice of the doctor: The gourmet speaks of "grand cuisine", while the doctor speaks of vitamins and minerals and calories etc. In this sense you may have the kids compare the life of a playboy or playgirl on a palm-beech ("The Bacardi World") against the life of a monk or nun in a cloister after vowing "poverty, chastity, and obedience" to the prior. While completely different both forms of life and togetherness are decent, sensible and "good" in a specific way.
Next let them see the difference between utopian totalitarian designs as in Huxley's Brave New World or as in Fascism and Stalinism and in the Taliban regime etc. as compared to interpersonal relations in the New Testament or in "humanistic psychology" (Maslow, Rogers, Fromm etc.) concentrating on "mutual love and understanding" without any "grand design" of society. What makes the difference? Here is a hint:
The socialist model of society failed, the Christian model of society failed likewise, and so did the liberal model. Why? Because all three models presupposed a very unrealistic model of human behaviour.
People are cowards, they are lazy, they are greedy, they are envious, they are vile, they are stupid, they are stubborn, they are arrogant, they are self-opinionated, they are vain, they are craving for power, they are sadistic, they are weak, they are forgetful but unforgiving, they are whimsical and capricious, they are lecherous and hypocrites, they are sensuous and voluptuous, they are thoughtless, gullible, and superstitious, and they sometimes even are mad and beset by mad ideas and fears and irreal hopes etc. And all this you have to take into account when building "an ideal society".
You cannot build a society on the concept of a "Christian" or a "socialist" or a "liberal" personality. That's nonsense. Those people are very rare indeed like geniuses and saints. It was not only the idea of a socialist society that was questionable. The real cause of failure was the misunderstanding that people could be selfless and caring and behave responsible all of a sudden. If you are a member of the "nomenklatura" in a communist state, you are not the "representative of the workers" anymore, but you are the member of the nomenklatura in the first line. You adapt to the requirements of this nomenklatura and to the specific craving for power and the specific greediness, vileness and self-righteousness of this nomenklatura. But of course you would never admit it. Thus the whole construct of "representing the working class" becomes a great lie and self-deceit of the members of the "socialist elites". And if you are paid a meager but at the same time assured and equal income by socialist standards, indifferent of your abilities or industriousness or inventiveness, you eventually stop being industrious and inventive and start being lazy and indifferent. And this you start not only because of resignation, but also because of being hassled by the more lazy and indifferent people around you. You cannot expect many achievers in a society that in fact calls achieving an unnatural and inhumane and "un-social" behaviour. Likewise there are many liberal lies and self-deceits on the real goings of a liberal society like in the USA or elsewhere. And of course there are many lies and self-deceits on the real goings of a Christian or an Islamic society defended by the true believers against all evidence.
All this is quite natural and "human". A good society is one that tries to be honest to experience, that tries to avoid the self-deceit, be it socialist or Christian or Islamic or liberal or whatever. Sounds very simple, but is very hard, because most people prefer false dreams. To be slim you should eat less fat and sugar an do sports and walking. But people prefer to eat fat and sugar and then pay dear for wonder-pills and wonder-exercises to get their weight down. This too is quite natural and "human". The problem is not to pay for the poor and the jobless and the elderly, the problem is that people don't like to do what is needed. They prefer to wail over all sorts of "crises of the welfare state". This is exactly like wailing over too much weight: Serious experts know what to do, but since it's annoying their advice is not asked for and so the quacks do the show.
And then there is this other and even deeper problem: The problem of perfectionism. Most well meaning people, when starting to design a "good society", set up a list of all evils as are smoking, drinking, "immoral behaviour" etc., and then simply call it item for item "forbidden" or "unnatural" etc.. Thus no smoking, no drinking, no "immoral behaviour" etc. anymore. They simply don't understand the difference between robots and living humans. Eating cake all the time surely is not good, but sometimes eating cake is very good. Fighting, running and achieving all the time surely is not good, but sometimes fighting, running and achieving in a contest is very good. But those schematic people designing a better world don't get it. Since they are principled fools they want clear decisions: X should be either bad or good, but not sometimes bad and sometimes good. But most things in life are good or bad only in some measure or under certain circumstances and not once and for all and under all conditions. Simpleminded persons get confused by this, while it's only common sense. This too is "being honest to experience".
Thus let all things as they are? No! There are real fools and evil persons around whose thoughts and deeds should not be tolerated. In a certain way, the Giuliani (the former mayor of New York city) principle of "zero tolerance" against trespassers of the law is not bad. But this does not include strictures in the form of a totalitarian regime like that of the Taliban or of some Christian fundamentalists as in the Geneva of Calvin.
There is an essential and clear difference to be seen: The "zero tolerance" principle is a defensive principle, not an oppressive or positively coercive one. It does not tell people what to do, it only tells them what NOT to do. It says in effect "Keep out of my home and garden, no trespassing here but I don't care what you do otherwise." Thus "zero tolerance" only means "drawing the line". And by this the principle of "zero tolerance" lacks the moral arrogance of all true believers that try to impose their moral convictions on other people. True believers are zealots that don't like to learn and to listen, but that only want all others to have to learn and to listen. This is not the position of defenders of "zero tolerance", who are liberals.
And it's not the position of defenders of the Golden Rule either: The Golden Rule says "As you would like to have others do onto you, so do yourself onto others!" But this is not enforcing the behaviour of the others but your own behaviour. If you want people to be nice and helping, you first start to be nice and helping yourself and not shouting people around what to do and how to behave.
And then: According to Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle "the good" is desired just for being good, like sweets are desired by the kids just for being sweet. Thus to make the good look good and attractive you have to advertize and to demonstrate it's quality, not to force people into some "good behaviour". You have to sell the better quality on the marketplace. But this is imposed on you, the seller, it's not enforcing the buyers to buy. You may be tempted to ban some "bad goods" from the market but you should not. You may denounce what you think is bad, but let the customers decide for themselves. This is the way of an open and learning society. Criticize and advertize but don't patronize or matronize, and don't compel.
Thus it is not quite impossible to bring some clarity into this debate on a good society. Even teenies should get an idea of the dangers of "designing the ideal society" by this and should become very cautious. But at the same time they should be encouraged: There really is much that can be done to improve human togetherness. That too they should learn by thinking it over.
In the sport of sailing, we have an appeal procedure run by the Royal Yachting Association. I am the chairman of the Appeals Committee. We have a rule in racing that an entry to a race can be rejected or cancelled providing the organizers 'state the reason for doing so'. We are debating the question as to whether a reason has to be reasonable. Can you help?
As I understand the 'issue' here, it seems to me that you are wondering what criteria should be in place to determine if a reason counts as a good' or acceptable reason. On the surface, it seems like a reason for rejecting an entry could be just about anything. The rule in place only says that a reason must be given and does not stipulate the content of the reason. So, we might imagine for argument's sake that a reason plainly stated like, 'We dislike green-eyed people, and prohibit them from racing,' could be offered to cancel an entry. Yet such a reason might be considered 'unreasonable' as it is arbitrary. When offered this reason we can ask the question, 'Why?' Indeed, how would one explain why? 'Well, these people are disagreeable and nobody likes them.' But, why? 'They have green eyes.' But why is that disagreeable? 'It is simply how we feel.' But why is that grounds for rejecting an entry? 'Because it is how we feel.' But, why is that grounds for rejection (and not anything else)? 'It is because we say so.' Arbitrary reasons have the character of being unjustifiable they cannot withstand testing (why questions). Often, they are justified ultimately on the very lacking grounds of 'just because.'
Acceptable, non-arbitrary reasons have some justification. These reasons are 'reasonable' in the very least, they provide us with grounds for a real debate. For instance, we might imagine that an entry is rejected for the reason that the crew members are all seven years old, and the association prohibits such an entry. The association gives the reason that unsupervised minors are not permitted to enter races. When asked why this is so, the association may claim that such a situation represents a safety hazard. When asked why, the association may make reference to the risks involved in the sport and that minors cannot legally assume these risks. Now, there might be an argument about the merits of these particular seven year-olds involved, or the legality involved, but, ultimately, the association has provided a non-arbitrary reason for its decision.
The issue then is whether or not the Royal Yachting Association wishes to deny entries for races with arbitrary reasons or with justifiable reasons. A private club or association might be within its rights to utilize arbitrary reasons for rejecting applications, but then would face fairly reasonable criticism, perhaps even legal action for discrimination (unjustified bias against the green-eyed, for example). It seems to me that although the language of the charter is vague and open to this sort of interpretation, it is hard to imagine that anyone in your association would want to act upon this sort of interpretation. It would be best to assume that the reasons the association should provide must be non-arbitrary and justifiable (or, as you put it, reasonable reasons).
I think you will find that in the rather loose way in which rules like these are framed, the intention is to put off an applicant in the nicest (and most logical) way, and in this respect the demand is certainly for a 'reasonable' excuse. In essence, of course, it is wholly arbitrary. A committee like your's represents an interest group, and part of your duty is to preserve and protect those interests (providing they are within the applicable laws). For instance, it would probably not be considered a reasonable rebuff to an applicant to point to his/ her hairstyle and/ or manner of dress yet if the rules demand of all applicant to have crew cuts and to wear a blue and white outfit, then that 'unreasonable' criterion becomes suddenly eminently reasonable. In most committee work of this kind (at least those of which I have had experience), a 'reasonable reason' is usually required for most decisions which reject an application; though in these as in most cases, it is the majority opinion which prevails in the judgement of what is 'reasonable' under the circumstances. I suppose you're aware that every now and then a court may overturn one of these 'reasonable' decisions; but this tends to happen more often in the 'serious' avenues of life, e.g. schools or highly competitive sporting environments.
I'm going to take it that you really are who you say you are... which means you are a) serious about this, and b) reasonably sophisticated in human relationships. Now, clearly "reasonable" doesn't merely mean "have a reason", since that could be anything, and very well might be. So I do think that you have to set some standard, or establish a procedure for setting standards. As I see it you have several choices.
First, you can set up some meta-rule to this effect: "a reason shall be deemed valid by a majority vote of the rules committee; there will be one opportunity to appeal a negative ruling within one month [or whatever] and the ruling from that appeal is final". That's one possibility... reasonable is what a majority says is reasonable. Period. Why not? You must have thought of that, surely.
Second, you could do the same as the above, basically, and let the chairman have the final say, or the tie-breaking (if you can have ties) say. I'm in favor of this one, for the reason that the captain of a ship has the final say, and you are then modeling the committee after a ship. A workable model, it seems to me, given the nature of your club.
Third, you could take a look at legal definitions of "reasonable". That isn't my field; I have no idea as to what they might be; but I cannot believe that some lawyer on your committee or in the club could not find such a definition. Then use that as the definition for your committee.
Well that's it for my ideas... I don't see any point here in going on about different ethical systems, etc. Arbitrary as it sounds, I'm in favor of the second alternative for your club. Anyway, I hope this helps.
Steven Ravett Brown
It depends on your aims. It is our whim or we don't like you are reasons. But they are not reasonable in the sense of being fair and fairness is to be expected by an Appeals Committee just because such a body is expected to act reasonably or there would be no way of appealing with any sort of case. And I expect it is your aim to be held in regard.
A simple question: How do you describe a color that you never saw before?
I believe that's a moot question, since by the time children learn to describe colours, they have typically seen those colours more than once. In fact, learning to describe colours would seem to depend on noticing that adults do not merely call this "green", but also this, this and this, which resemble it in a certain way.
T. P. Uschanov
Department of Philosophy
University of Helsinki
A simple answer: Research into the psychology of colour has established that all primary and at least some secondary colours are universally recognised by all human beings irrespective of their social upbringing. However, the naming of these colours shows occasional inconsistencies which do depend on social conventions. Now naming is not an innocent (irrelevant) factor, and so it happens that researchers equipped with colour charts will find themselves every so often amid one or another native tribe (usually nomads) who use the same word (say: "dark") for all colours that seem dark without apparently distinguishing red and blue and green. And so on. Yet in spite of this, when confronted with the flora and fauna of their habitat, they readily distinguish purple from orange and other subtle variations. Clearly, there is an evolutionary endowment among us humans to make such distinction based on hierarchies in the visible spectrum; and part of this endowment is an intuitive (admittedly not infallible) skill in establishing the relation of certain hues to their sources. E.g. purple, mauve and turquoise all have some blue in them, yet purple is unfailingly perceived as "red". So if you see a colour for the first time, your obvious starting point would be from the primary (pigment) colours yellow, red and blue, from there to their mixtures orange, brown and green. Already this covers a large percentage of the visible spectrum; your reference point from any unknown colour would be to this ensemble (plus, obviously black, white and grey). There is no colour conceivable to us that would not show one of these as a recognisably prevalent.
In short, for the sake of the exercise, look at aquarells, where the colours tend often to be very subtle shades and try to find one that is plainly not referable to one the above. But if you have a conception of (say) blue and you encounter mauve, you could always say: "Well, some sorta blue... kinda blue minus... like a bit of white thrown in"; and already you're halfway to its place in the spectrum. Anyway, this is not really a philosophical topic and this rough guide may suffice you to start your research. The best place to look for information is under the heading of design with colour. There is a huge volume of technical information (look also for the name "Itten").
You mean, if you're an interior designer, and you want to inform your clients about new wallpaper? Or do you want to describe color to a color-blind person? Or do you mean that you are trying to describe the color to yourself, and you've never seen it before? There's always metaphor: "it's a warm red, warmer than fire-engine red". How about that? Or, "it's a combination of purple and greenish-yellow". Or, "no, chartreuse is green, not purple". Like that? Or are you asking what it is for the aliens around Orion to see x-rays? I'd guess they'd have to use metaphor to describe it to us also, wouldn't you?
Or are you asking why you have to use metaphor? Now, that's a more interesting question, and I'm not sure that anyone has the answer, completely. But if you look at how the brain's color system works, you find that there are certain "primary" colors, determined by absorption characteristics of pigments in the cones on the retina; and in the brain, those are refined and combined, and processed by an opponent-color system which contrasts "complementary" colors. It's very, very, complex. But the result is that there are particular relationships between colors, described in part by a "color wheel", and those relationships incorporate a great deal of asymmetry. So it is not possible, for example, to combine red and blue in the same way that yellow and purple are combined, for a variety of reasons. Take a look at Palmer, S. E. Vision Science: Photons to Phenomenology. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1999. And that, in a nutshell, is why you need metaphor... the laws are a) extremely complex, and b) not all known yet.
Yes, this is a simple question in the sense that "how does a tomato grow" is a simple question; it's easy enough to ask.
Steven Ravett Brown
A simple reply: probably by analogy with colors you have seen before. Suppose you had never seen green before. You might describe it as a kind of blue with a yellow tinge.
John Locke, the English philosopher, once talked about trying to describe the color scarlet to a congenitally blind person. He suggested saying it was like the blast of a trumpet.
Who was Aristotle? And what did he believe in?
He was a Greek and his second name was Onassis. For all I know he believed in sex and money. I am told he got plenty of the first; and his affairs of the "heart" were the talk of the world, among them the legendary opera singer Maria Callas and the widow of former American President Jack Kennedy. But as to money, plenty is too modest a word: it is common knowledge that when God invented money, his left hand gave to all men on earth to share equally, but what his right hand gave was all for Ari (as he was affectionately known). Anyway, he is dead now; and since we can't take our money with us to the other world, I guess it can't have mattered all that much.
There was, however, another Aristotle, nicknamed the "Stagyrite" on account of his father owning a deer park, who is less well known and died much longer ago than Ari. He earned his keep as a private tutor to the well-to-do and wrote reams of books on a thousand different topics that kept a lot of people guessing how he managed to squeeze his life in between all those books. Anyway, one of his pupils was Alexander the Great, the Macedonian conqueror, and on account of this blatant hobnobbing with the great and famous, he is still sometimes mentioned in Alexander's biography. Howsobeit, he does not seem to have been as clever as his namesake, because when you read what people like Galileo or Bacon say about his books, you realise that he just couldn't get his facts right. Well, he's not alone in this.
Finally there is a fellow called the "English Aristotle", another indefatigable scribbler whose books occupy a whole shelf in my bookshop; but when you look on the title pages you find that there is no such person, but rather a team who must have adopted this name as a corporate pseudonym. Anyway I stay away from those books, because there are no pictures, and I'm a great believer that the captions in a book say all that's worth reading.
How can certain things be proven to be inherently bad and other things proven to be inherently good?
I'll give Laura an absolute criterion for "certain" things being inherently bad. Here we go: given the normal definitions of numbers, we know what "2" means, and what "4" means. We also know what the operation of addition is, symbolized by "+", and the symbol, "=". So we know what "2 + 2 = 4" means, as normally defined. So, here's an inherently bad thing: "2 + 2 = 5, given the normal definitions of those terms". An inherently good thing: "2 + 2 = 4, given the normal definitions of those terms". As you can see, there are literally an infinite number of both inherently good and inherently bad things. Of course, it all depends on another definition (aside from "thing"), i.e., "inherently". I actually have no idea as to what that means, in the above question. But I can't think of any other meaning that would let me do what I've just done, i.e., give well-defined and concrete examples, unless we assert that there are moral properties of things that inhere in them. I am, of course, employing a non-moral use of "good" and "bad" here, which is also something not specified in the above question.
Well, well... nitpicking aside, what can we do with this question? Cite all the various philosophers who a) do assert the reality of moral properties, vs. b) those who assert the intrinsic opposition of "is" and "ought", vs. c) those who assert that both a & b are false? Well, that's an old and tired one, which I don't feel like pursuing... not to mention that it would take much more space than I want to fill here. Now, one interesting aspect of the above, which may or may not have been intentional, is the way it's posed: "how" can we prove.... "How" is an intriguing way to put it... not "can" we prove, but "how".
How do we prove things? Usually, we proceed through straightforward deductive methods... or in some formal systems, we can use inductive proofs, if we can show that the series which cannot be enumerated does follow some rule or formula which can, or does converge to some final value or statement. But we certainly can't say that latter of morality. We could do the former (deductive), but then of course we're tied to our assumptions... which we can't prove, at least by these methods. However, we could be classical phenomenologists, say, and take "proof" to imply the apodicticity of eidetic intuition... right? And indeed certain British moral philosophers around the turn of the century liked something like that kind of "proof". Well, I don't think that it is at all valid (not to mention, for example, Levin's extended refutation, etc...).
So, for morality, we've got deduction, which doesn't work in this case. Induction, which we laugh at scornfully. Intuition, which we sneer at (unless we're phenomenological believers... and they're still around). There's religion... but that takes us back to deduction, and justifying our assumptions, doesn't it. What about this: I speculated previously about philosophical positions, schools, agreements... to the effect that in a great many cases, philosophers agree more by default than anything else. That is, whole schools, once hotly debated, now are collecting dust on library shelves because philosophers simply consider the questions, answers, debates... irrelevant, unimportant, and probably not even good enough to be termed "wrong". This is a form of induction, when you come down to it, isn't it, which seems very similar to some of Kitcher's analyses of the processes of scientific validation. Does this get at anything "inherent", or does it merely reflect current cultural values? Well we know the postmodernist answer to that one, don't we. But some of those books have been collecting dust for a long time, on lots of library shelves.
It seems to me that some sort of consensual procedure is going on here. Is it a valid one? Does it reflect any sort of universal, at least, universal human, values? My feeling is that it does. And so, then, the question is, is there an interesting and reasonably rigorous way to pursue what might be another way of "proof", or at least a particular variety of induction? In addition, does this address the "how" question? Is the way to address moral problems to go on and on about them, and then see which of the rants survive the next century or so? Actually, unsatisfying as this might be to any contemporary ranters, it might be just the way to go. Get the opinions and arguments out, let them simmer while a couple of generations go by, and see what's left in the pot, so to speak. This is, after all, what we do with works of art, isn't it. Perhaps then we need to consider philosophical arguments to be closer to art than mathematics...
Steven Ravett Brown
What are Schopenhauer's basics of morality?
Essentially his whole philosophy revolves around the idea that the Will is the Kantian "Ding an sich". He makes a case that the Will is some kind of force or energy, completely impersonal (maybe like the electromagnetic radiation that streams across the emptiness of outer space), but with the peculiar disposition of penetrating everything alive at birth. Now at first sight, this does not seem to make a great deal of sense; but if you consider that with all our science we still don't know what "will" is, why we have it, how it connects with the material tissue of our bodies; and finally why it seems such an irrational factor in our lives, then you begin gradually to suspect that maybe he has a case after all. I mean: there are even theories around (quite respectable ones) that the universe as a whole is alive in some way; and if you can find yourself contemplating this possibility, then you might find yourself attuned with Schopenhauer's notion that this aliveness must come out in something. And since it doesn't come out in matter, then it must perforce seek out the biological partition in the universe, i.e. humans, animals, fish and birds, plants and microbes; and if then you seek to discover the one thing they all have in common, you can't fail to come up with the same answer as Schopenhauer. To be alive means to will something, even if nothing more than the will to live.
According to Schopenhauer, we are driven by this will; all our emotions, passions, ambitions etc are its manifestation; and since in the overwhelming majority of cases, what we will is just selfish, careless, ignorant, hateful, thoughtless, egoistic etc., he concludes that evil rules the world through the Will. Accordingly he casts about for a remedy. How can we escape this insane condition and find peace of mind, fulfilment etc.? His answer is not very different from what most religions have taught: forget sex, ambition, power and so on. But of course these demand great effort and sacrifice; and most people are simply too undisciplined even to make the effort, let alone capable of thinking that their lives are in fact wasted for as long as they pursue their vapid dreams, the inspirations of the Will. Nevertheless there is hope.
Most of us, at least in our better moments, are capable of SYMPATHY. Schopenhauer believes this to be an outcome of an intuition, innate in us, which enables us to actually (though unconsciously) realise that this will which drives us is the same in every living creature and that we also recognise that essentially we have hardly any control over it. So when we feel SYMPATHY, and especially its variant PITY, this innate intuition is coming to the surface, and for a few moments we forget that we are slaves of our will. Thus he feels that these sentiments are something that could and should be developed. Naturally this would involve a study of his philosophy, where he explains all these issues in great detail. Be that as it may, the point is, ultimately, that by this rare consciousness which comes out in moments when we feel sympathy and/ or pity for our fellow beings, we are causally entangled in an emotional force which opposes the Will and enables us to recognise that everyone is in principle everyone else; that when I suffer you suffer also, because we are essentially emanations and victims of the one Will. Sympathy and pity, in a word, promote the idea that if I perceive you are in pain and my pity is aroused, this happens because I am intimately cognisant of the pain you suffer, almost as if I were suffering along with you (hence "Mitleiden" = suffering-in-community-with). Accordingly this capacity has a moral dimension; it is something which our better side is capable of and it informs a great deal of philosophical thinking as well as poetry and literature and art.
Our big problem is that we have not discovered, in spite of thousands of years of trying, a means of subduing the Will with these moral drives. Even religions only ever succeed for some time, then they succumb again. The will is too powerful. But, Schopenhauer argues, this is only because we have never before properly understood what kind of a power this Will is. His philosophy explains it. And to this extent, he claims, his philosophy is the first and only philosophy ever written that is truly moral without ifs and buts, totally analytical and atheistic, and for this last reason also the only one without bias or an axe to grind.
You understand that I have rather simplified things: but nevertheless, this is the gist of his moral philosophy. I suppose the question arises from this: are his claims true and supportable? Well, there is a definite problem here. But I should stress that the problem is not the truth or otherwise of Schopenhauer's system. We human are (unfortunately?) so made that we tend not to adopt a 'mere' philosophy for a trial run; sad to say, if it was a religious doctrine it might have had a chance. Many religious doctrines don't have half the cogency of his arguments. But there is also the problem that western society in the last 200 years has become increasingly suspicious of any philosophical doctrine that comes across as a metaphysical system; but morals are of course deeply embedded in metaphysical issues. For all sorts of reasons, we tend nowadays to trust science more than philosophy or religion and we seem to be becoming increasingly cynical about politics and authoritarian figures. Well, there's nothing wrong in trusting science if you ask a scientific question. Unfortunately, however, morals are not scientific objects and therefore incapable of a scientific answer. And Schopenhauer warned us about this too.
As a last comment, it is worth pointing out that Schopenhauer's moral philosophy does not stand or fall by his theory of the Will. Even if this theory is pure fiction, what he says about the origin of morals is worth reading and digesting. But then, he may not be wrong about the Will. This is one of those issues where proof is not likely to be forthcoming, least of all from science. And if I may interject a final personal opinion, I can't see how any scientific effort to improve or impose moral values in society has a ghost of a chance. We do in fact expect of science that, somehow, it will find a cause or reason for the possibility of moral behaviour, and sociobiology is one department of science that has made such an effort. My belief is that sociobiology has not established its credentials to be trusted on moral issues; and I think that the very quest is doomed to failure, because we are asking the wrong questions and putting them to the wrong people. But this is something where you might wish to develop a view of your own; and reading Schopenhauer on this topic is certainly not a waste of time.
I've been reading up on the epistemology of Carnap and Quine. Although Carnap maintains the analytic/ synthetic distinction, while Quine rejects it, both philosophers hold that any statement (including analytic) is open to revision. Given this, it is unclear to me why Carnap argues for the analytic/ synthetic distinction. Please help me illuminate his argument.
My take on Carnap and analytic truths is that they are those that come from considerations of logic. Synthetic truths come from empirical data, roughly speaking. Now, a truth which comes from logic is the result of deduction, usually (or induction on a known series, let us say), and as such follows from premises, according to the terms defined, the operations employed, etc. Now let's take an analytic truth like "any triangles' angles add to 180 degrees". This is provable within a particular framework, Euclidean geometry, as we all know. But as we also all know, at this point, this truth only holds on a plane. On the surface of a sphere, one must say (as I recall... it's been awhile), "any triangle's angles add to more than 180 degrees" (I'm just not sure of the "any" in that quote... but I think it's correct). And on a hypersphere (a surface of negative curvature), we must say, "any triangle's angles add to less than 180 degrees". So the Euclidean truth must be revised, mustn't it, when one generalizes to other surfaces than planes, to read, "any planar triangles' angles add to 180 degrees". And so it goes. But one still can say that those truths are analytic, if that term is indeed meaningful, as Carnap believed.
Steven Ravett Brown
For Carnap, a given statement can be analytic relative to one system or theory, but synthetic relative to another. Quine's objection in 'Two Dogmas of Empiricism' to the 'dogma' of the analytic/ synthetic distinction hinges on the fact that we don't know which is the correct theory prior to experience. I.e. we don't first arm ourselves with a set of concepts and then go about investigating the world.
What is the definition of discrimination (age, sex, racial)? Why is it unethical and unjustified?
To discriminate is to distinguish. It is the power to tell apart. It is generally a desirable ability to have. People who can discriminate among fine shades of color, tones, textures, accents, etc., are in demand. To describe someone as being of discriminating esthetic taste is a form of praise.
One person discriminates against another, however, when he or she tells people apart by their membership in groups and then demonstrates an aversion toward a member of a group just because of that membership. The presupposition of anti-discrimination ethics is that mere membership in a group is morally irrelevant. To discriminate against people is effectively to penalize them. It is immoral to penalize for a morally irrelevant reason.
But is group membership necessarily morally irrelevant? Certainly not in those regions of the world in which group conflict has risen to the level of violence. One is morally obliged to protect oneself and one's loved ones from bodily harm and worse, ruffled feelings be damned. For the question does not turn on whether the discriminator believes that the distinguishing traits of a group member mechanistically determine him or her to harm members of the discriminator's group. It turns on whether those traits are sufficiently information-bearing. Common sense suggests that they often are.
A Catholic, for example, is not welcome in a Northern Ireland pub frequented by Protestants. It is not, all things being equal, that no one would like to know what that particular Catholic chap feels deep down inside about the troubles. But all things are not equal: no one has the resources (especially time) to find out. The transaction costs of finding out, or being wrong, are too high. So he is "discriminated against" and encouraged (politely or impolitely) to leave. Yes, for all we know, he may be an apolitical pacifist. But who would pay the price of error here? Perhaps everyone else in the pub. A bureaucratically imposed anti-discrimination law here would impose on the innocent the costs of knowledge-acquisition or the costs of error (usually the latter).
Even in situations less volatile than civil war we find ourselves making summary judgments about people based on traits that we regard as inconclusive, but information-bearing, and therefore relevant. We do it, not because we are mean and nasty, but because the information that would enable us to form a reasonable judgment is not available now, and we must act now.
What may make all this go down a little easier for some is the realization that the discriminator is not depriving his "victim" of anything to which he is entitled. The importance of this point cannot be overstressed. If you are turned down for a job, or a house, or a business loan just because you fit the profile of those who have in the past underperformed, you will certainly be disappointed, perhaps even angry. Your interests, after all, have been harmed. Your rights, however, have not been violated. There is a difference between the two. You undoubtedly have an interest in getting the job, house, or loan, but you have no right to it. If you did, you would to some degree already be an owner of the object of interest along with the original owner, who now lies prone on a slide under the anti-discrimination microscope. Merely by showing up and declaring an interest you have not created any "hook" that attaches you to the property. If you are turned down, you are no worse off than you were. You may not be where you want to be, but that creates no obligation on those who own what you want.
Alas, this has nothing to do with the real world, for the real world is not constituted exclusively by unhampered voluntary transactions. It is rather a world in which such transactions are inhibited at every turn bydemocratically agitated State bullying. As if by some conceptual equivalent of Gresham's law, a bad idea has driven out the good. The original notion of discrimination acting upon an aversion toward a group member just because of that membership has been driven underground. Intentions are now irrelevant. After all, virtually all institutions fervently desire to comply with anti-discrimination statutes and, going beyond that, to diversify their workforces ethnically. But the traditional "victims" do not have the social or economic parity they demand and to which they believe they are entitled. Politically, that's all that matters. To the rescue has come the notion of the "disparate impact" that some private practices, no matter how benignly intentioned, have had upon different groups. And so a new weapon has been added to the vast income-redistribution arsenal in which "victims" win by settlementmore than what discrimination allegedly denied them, and certainly far more than they ever hoped to have earned by honest labor.
I know that Kant and Hume were influential concerning a priori knowledge, but why exactly have philosophers held that all necessary truths are knowable a priori if they're knowable at all?
I will give you a basic example. Take a look around your room and count a few objects. As you do, say to yourself: all this is unreliable knowledge, because I could be dreaming or hallucinating or looking into mirror, or the light might fall into the room in at a certain angle and what looks like a doll is just the shadow cast from the chandelier. Happens all the time. Or you might look at a coin and decide that it describes a circle, but if you took a photo and traced the shape, you'd find it to be an ellipse. Or you pick up a piece of wood and find that it just plastic. And so on. Out in the world at large we negotiate our way through all the objects by heaps of half-conscious guesses, most of the time without taking in what they are, other than obstacles. Okay, so far so good. You might begin to realise (I hope) that half-guessing and knowledge are not the same. But now consider this: how come I know that these are objects at all? Even if I'm dreaming, even when I'm on autopilot, I must still negotiate objects; I must recognise them as objects, because not to do so might be fatal. How then can we define what an object is?
You might like to try this yourself before reading on. The answer, of course is that objects occupy space that's why I need to navigate them, for ultimately I am also an object. And now the cruncher: try and define space. What is this 'container' where objects clutter the landscape?
Resist the temptation (if it is one for you) of loading the argument with scientific mumbo jumbo. We want a simple, clear-cut idea of space. What is it? Where is it? Why is it? Do you think you can answer this? Feel like trying?
Now the answer to this question, and the reason why I warned you about science, is that we can have no knowledge of space either. If there is such a thing at all, we cannot know what it is (or where it is) because we are in it. And if you pursue this thought to its logical conclusion, you will find that there is only one answer: that space is the possibility for objects to exist. This entails no claim that either space or the objects really do exist. It cannot assert any more than a possibility. But it does say that if there are objects, then they must occupy space. So that the beginning of all genuine (=necessary) knowledge concerning objects is that space precedes objects as an organising principle, that without space no objects could be perceived; and that since we are objects ourselves, we could not exist in the absence of any space. So space "comes before" (=a priori) all objects and we are thus led to the conclusion that our intuition of space is the bedrock of the very possibility of experience. And this is where I'm going to leave you to your own devices. I hope, though, that you will now feel somewhat encouraged to get to the bottom of it yourself.
If it's 0 degrees outside, and it's supposed to be twice as cold tomorrow, how cold will it be tomorrow?
It will still be 0 degrees, since 0 x 2 = 0.
T. P. Uschanov
Department of Philosophy
University of Helsinki
There is no answer to Melissa's question as formulated. A 0-degree reading does not stand for a nullity as does, for example, a 0 balance in a bank account (i.e., no quantity of money). Rather, it marks a position between -1 degree and +1 degree, neither of which is a nullity. The question as formulated may misdirect some into doubling the cardinal value of zero, yielding zero, with the paradoxical result that tomorrow's temperature will be the same, and "twice as cold," as today's.
Let's consider a similar question. If an earthquake in 2002 registered 5.0 on the Richter scale, and another in 2003 was 60 times more powerful, what was the reading for the latter? The answer is 6.0: each succeeding number from 1 to 10 on the Richter scale represents a force 60 times greater than that of the preceding number. The ordinal numbers on a thermometer, however, do not represent magnitudes the way a Richter scale. That is, we can say that a 30-degree day is warmer than a 15-degree day, but not "twice as hot" as the latter. There may be some objective meaning to "twice as cold," e.g., the halving of some thermal magnitude. We cannot divine that meaning, however, by treating the ordinal numbers on a thermometer's face as cardinal numbers. Positions are not quantities.
The perception that the weather is 'twice as cold' as it was yesterday has nothing to do with the reading on a thermometer, but everything to do with where one happens to live. Tell someone who lives in Moscow who is used to hard winters that it will be twice as cold tomorrow and they form a different expectation as measured on a temperature scale from a Londoner.