标签: Philosophy

Philosophy

Essay

Plato and Aristotle Views of Politics – Comparison of Plato and Aristotle

Plato is Aristotle’s teacher, but they have lots of difference in politics. Plato advocated that the rule under a philosopher king is the best while Aristotle argues that the rule of law should be better than the rule of one person, but their views both have their limitations. A rule which combines their views together should be the best rule.

In order to claim their view points, I’ll list the differences between their views in two parts: different states of a country and their ideal governance of a country.

1. Different states of a country

Plato believes that individuals are different, and their lives should be also different, so people should be divided according to their talent. From the human nature, three social classifications will be generated. The men who focused on pursing truth and nuture rationality is a kind of performance of wisdom, thus it’s their duty to take response of govern and manage; the men who seek for honor and achievements is the embodiment of spiritedness and courage, so it’s better for them to be guardians and responsible for warding; and the men who prefer the satisfaction of enjoyment should be the working class of a city. In Plato’s theory, the three class of the society is made by gold, silver and bronze and they are immutable. This has led to inequality and insurmountability of human nature. If a worker wants to get to the guardian status or the auxiliary, or an auxiliary wants to get to the guardian status, then the city will be in a mess. If the three classes change their status with each other, in Plato’s words, “The city will be ruined if it ever has an iron or a bronze guardian.” (Republics, III, 415c)

Aristotle resolutely criticized Plato’s idea of ​​classifying human nature to form three classes. In Politics, he says: “A social instinct is implanted in all men by nature, and yet he who first founded the state was the greatest of benefactors.” (Politics, 1253a19-125a39) His definition of a state is: “Every state is a community of some kind, and every community is established with a view to some good; for everyone always acts in order to obtain that which they think good.” (Politics, 1252a1-1252a8). At the same time, the state is the ultimate realization of good and the greatest happiness of mankind. Therefore, the establishment of a state must be aimed at achieving the happiness and harmony of the people of the state. Aristotle divides people into rich, poor, and middle classes based on their citizenship, saying that “In the first place we see that all states are made up of families, and in the multitude of citizens there must be some rich and some poor, and some in a middle condition; the rich possess heavy armour, and the poor not.” (Politics, 1289b28-1290a12)

2. Ideal governance of a country

Plato analyzed and criticized the Timocracy, Oligarchy, Democracy, and Tyranny in Greek society at the time. (Republics, 8, D) He pointed out that the ideal government model should be Aristocracy, which is the under the rule of philosophy king. In Plato’s view, human beings are born unequal, and are destined to be ruled by the fewest people. The fewest people are the philosophers. Plato affirmed, “Until philosophers rule as kings or those who are now called kings and leading men genuinely and adequately philosophize, that is, until political power and philosophy entirely coincide, while the many natures who at present pursue either one exclusively are forcibly prevented from doing present pursue either one exclusively are forcibly prevented from doing so, cities, will have no rest from evils, Glaucon, nor, I think, will the human race.” (Republics, 437 D) Plato thinks that the philosophical king has the highest knowledge, the ability to understand the origin of things, and the ability to understand the virtues. He placed great emphasis on the rule of individuals. Plato believes that once a competent ruler appears, humans no longer need to be ruled by law.

Aristotle argues that the best regime should be the republic regime ruled by middle class. In his word, “There only can the government ever be stable where the middle class exceeds one or both of the others, and in that case there will be no fear that the rich will unite with the poor against the rulers.” (Politics, 1296b35-1297a14) Aristotle advocated to form a republican system, and the rule of law becomes a logically necessity of this ideal government. Aristotle pointed out that the rule of law should be better than the rule of one person. To implement the rule of law, there must be a good and sound complete system, and universal obedience is the key to implementing the rule of law. He also pointed out that the law is effective because of the obedience of the people, and the custom of obeying the law must be cultivated for a long time. At the same time, the law must be consistent.

According the comparison above, in short, we find that Plato admire the politics of the wisdom men and Aristotle recommends the republican government ruled by law. From the present point of view, we know that the development of history and the reality of society made it impossible for Plato’s sage politics with philosophy as the main to be achieved or Aristotle’s rule of the middle class, so Plato had to reaffirm the importance of law in Laws, and Aristotle’s idea didn’t solve the problem in Greece at all. The problem is that Aristotle and Plato both construct an “ideal” state, which is not practical at all.

The first limitation is that they didn’t treat the citizens equally. Plato’s view of the governing advocates that the philosophical king is the supreme ruler. The abolition of the law means that one person is above the others, so it’s hard to have individual freedom of will, nor can there be mutual communication among various classes. In Plato’s opinion, he equates the fate of the entire state with the fate of the ruling class. Aristotle’s advocacy of the authority of the law means the unity of democracy and the rule of law, every class in society is treated fair and justice, but he still treats people unequally. In Politics (1254a20-1254a23) he points out, “For that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient; from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule.”

It can be seen that Plato divides the class based on human nature as the basis of social division of labor, and then divides social division of labor as the basis for distinguishing social classes. Finally, the mysterious “oracle” will define the classes of the individuals. The hierarchy is so strict and unchangeable that once the three classes change their status, it might be a disaster. The purpose of Plato’s class division is to demonstrate a “justice” state, which guarantees that each class perform their own duty and the city will reach in harmony. As he says, “doing what is one’ own and not interfering or meddling in many things”. Obviously, Aristotle classifies society based on practicality and wealth. In practice, he acknowledges the variability of status between classes. Unlike Plato, Aristotle’s purpose of classifying is the proof towards his definition of state that “every state is a community of some kind”, and people always acts in order to obtain that which they think good.

Plato and Aristotle think that the fate is destined from the birth, which is obviously wrong. Plato uses wisdom to measure the ability of a person, while Aristotle uses wealth to class the citizens. A baby knows nothing when he comes to the world, and his wisdom depends on his postnatally education. Knowledge can be accumulated, so there doesn’t exist a person who knows everything. The ruler should keep learning to avoid make mistakes. As for classing citizens according to their wealth, it’s ridiculous to tell a person that he should be the ruler because he is in the middle class. Treating their citizens unequally according to the absurd classing methods is their limitation. Everyone should be treated the same in the country.

The second limitation is that both Plato and Aristotle only consider one mode of the governing. There is neither perfect “philosophical king” in the reality, nor perfect law. Therefore, the ruler should be talented enough and bound hand and foot by the law. Nobody can make sure that they won’t make any mistake in their whole life, and the restriction of the law will ensure that once the ruler did something wrong, he will be punished. As Aristotle suggested, the ruler should be elected in turn. Once the law comes into force, it must not be easily abolished. As everyone obeys the rule of law, the ruler should not be a tenure, but should be campaignable by everyone, says, people serve as rulers and ruled in turn, as he says, “Thus the one party rules and the others are ruled in turn, as if they were no longer the same persons.” (Politics, 1261a10-1261b16)

Plato thinks that the wise man governs the country by relying on philosophical insights, that is, individual wisdom, and not law. He is partially right. Exactly, there is no perfect law, and sometimes the law is actually so bad that it will hinder the rule of the wise man. Law is made by human beings, if this happens, the law should be modified, not abolished directly. It’s a good idea because the ruler cannot accumulate strong power during the short period, the lure of power will be reduced. Of course, although the country is ruled relying on the law, the ruler should be wise so that his decision won’t ruin a country.

Aristotle thinks that the middle class is the democratic force and the best governor, and the country will be pluralistic. However, Plato thinks nothing will be worse than splitting up and turning one into more, and nothing be better than unity. Exactly, there will be no confliction when all people listen to one person’s opinion, but if the ruler makes mistakes, nobody will correct him. A country has lots of social division, military, factory, schools and so on. If we narrow the concepts of “ruler” into the leader of a department, we will find that things are easier. In some departments, ruler can make things into unity, for example, soldiers have to obey their superiors. However, in some areas, plurality is important. People have to use the wisdom of the community. Thus, a country needs both unity and plurality, in another word, the combination of the views of Aristotle and Plato.

Plato and Aristotle both purposed different views about Greek politics. Their views are like the two sides of a coin, although their opinions seem like opposite and different, if we combine them together, we will get the complete idea towards an ideal politics, which is practical and perfect.

Works Cited:

Cooper, John M. (ed.), 1997, Plato: Complete Works, Indianapolis: Hackett. Barnes, J., ed. The Complete Works of Aristotle, Volumes I and II, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984.

Philosophy

Notes

Nietzsche

Background:

We will focus on the first book of his famous Genealogy of Morality, where he discusses the concepts of good, bad, and evil.

He says we need to perform a genealogy of our moral values.

Start with an etymological, linguistic analysis of the words “good” and “bad” in Indo-European languages.

Interestingly, turns out that “good” develops from the following seemingly unrelated concepts: “noble,” “aristocratic,” “a high soul,” “warrior,” “man of war,” “brave” . . . 

And “bad” is developed in parallel with “good,” and is connected to the following: “common,” “low,” “plebian” . . .

He gives us an interesting story: a story of how our moral concepts of good, bad and evil come into being.

The Masters

The story:

A socio-political explanation of how the ruling class in early human societies came into power: usually through conquest, war, violence, destruction and brute force.

Perhaps: the relationship between peaceful agrarian societies versus herding-nomadic-hunting societies.

Violent, aggressive, war-like groups of people come to dominate peaceful communities. These war-like groups become the social nobility, the ruling class, the “masters.”

These conquerors or masters have the following characteristics and values:

Physically powerful, violent, strong, healthy, love of health-promoting activities [like sports, exercise, hunting, war, etc.], physically beautiful (or vigorous, more probably), active, love of war and adventure, honest, naïve, straightforward, cheerful, having healthy instincts (“killer animal instincts”), bold and courageous, emotionally impulsive, desire to overcome challenges and become master of all things, love of victory, love of strong enemies and opponents, destructive, cruel.

We will see that the masters’ value-system is based on their own qualities, by looking inwardly at themselves.

These masters rule over the “slaves,” i.e., the people the masters have conquered and dominate [not just slaves, but includes mostly the farmers and ordinary common people].

The “slaves” have the following qualities:

Weak, poor, powerless, harmless, low [social status], passive & reactive, sickly, suffering, ugly (in the sense of not physically vigorous), peaceful, patient, humble, meek, docile, indirect, secretive and hidden, unforgetting, unforgiving and forever vengeful against others (esp. the masters).

The masters are strong, powerful, beautiful, full of energy (especially creative energy). And they are the social/political rulers: they are in positions of power and dominance.

The masters, because they are overflowing with this energy and power, create new values and names for these values: “good” and “bad.”

They feel and establish themselves and their actions to be “good.” What is “good” is valuable.

“Bad” is created as an “afterthought,” as the opposite of “good,” and designates the opposite qualities, i.e., the qualities of the slaves. What is “bad” is not valuable.

Master Value System

Why do the masters do this? Why do they create “good” and “bad”?

Simply because they can do it, and they have the natural impulse to do this (from their very nature); because they have the creative power and ability to do so, they do it.

This is what it means to be a strong and powerful human being, according to Nietzsche: to create new values. 

NOTE: recall that Nietzsche was actually physically very weak and sickly!

So, in the master value-system:

“Good” = refer to qualities of masters = valuable.

“Bad” = refer to opposite qualities of masters, i.e. slave qualities = not valuable.

So the masters rule and dominate society, under their own value system which they create.

BUT: eventually, something very interesting happens: a group called the “priests” come into the story . . .

The Priests

These “priests” are the first religious men (and women) in society.

NOTE: recall that Nietzsche’s father was a pastor (a Christian religious leader).

They emerge among the slave class in society.

And because they are slaves, they are impotent, weak, and powerless.

They hate the masters passionately and deeply, and desire to overthrow them.

But they cannot, since they are too weak and can’t physically compete with the masters to overthrow them.

But these priests are very clever, and they find a very interesting way to overthrow the masters – as Nietzsche says, things become very interesting when this priestly class comes into being:

They conquer the masters by something called “ressentiment.”

What is ressentiment?

It’s not ordinary resentment. It is ressentiment (in the French sense)!

The priestly class is very unhealthy in the mind, according to Nietzsche: they have an aversion to action, and instead prefer to brood and have over-active emotions, they are reactive rather than active.

They are oppressed and repressed, to a poisonous degree.

They cannot act against the masters because the masters are too powerful, so instead the priests brood, and grow more and more resentful, more and more hateful, more and more vengeful.

This is ressentiment! An extreme degree of pent-up resentment and vengeance that has been stewing inside for a very long time!

This hatred and vengeance for the masters keeps building and building, until finally . . . Boom!!!

A great creative explosion occurs in the form of an “imaginary revenge” or “spiritual revenge.” 

Because they cannot physically overthrow the masters, the priests carry out the revenge in their minds instead!

I.e., they invert the master value-equation …

Now the priests carry out a radical “revaluation of moral values,” they invert this master value-system:

“Bad” = opposite qualities of masters, i.e. slave qualities = valuable.

“Good” = qualities of masters = not valuable.

And then they simply transform “Bad” into “Good,” and “Good” into “Evil”:

“Good” = now refers to opposite qualities of masters, i.e. slave qualities = valuable.

“Evil” = now refers to qualities of masters = not valuable.

This is how the priests (and thus the slaves, through the priests) create their new values.

Creating the concept “evil” is their original, creative act.

Thus, the priests create and institute (eventually and gradually, not instantly) the slave value-system (“slave morality”).

Slave Morality

For the slave value-system, the key distinction is not good vs. bad, but rather: good vs. evil.

What fuels this creation of a new moral value-system is: ressentiment.

This ressentiment, Nietzsche wants to say, is very unhealthy!

YET the priests, because they can create a new value-system, are ALSO very strong people (have creative energy)!

The priests, with their creation, initiate the “slave revolt” in morality.

Today, this slave revolt has been completely successful all over the world.

We are all living in a slave moral value-system!!!

We are all thus living under a value-system generated by a deep ressentiment, and this, Nietzsche wants to say, is very unhealthy to human beings!!!

RECAP:

Qualities of the masters:

Physically powerful, violent, strong, healthy, love of health-promoting activities [like sports, hunting, war, etc.], physically beautiful, active, love of war and adventure, honest, naïve, straightforward, cheerful, has healthy instincts (“killer animal instincts”), bold and courageous, emotionally impulsive, desire to overcome challenges and become master of things, love of victory, love of strong enemies and opponents, destructive, cruel.

Qualities of the slaves (the people that the masters rule over):

Weak, poor, powerless, harmless, low [social status], passive & reactive, sickly, suffering, ugly, peaceful, patient, humble, meek, docile, indirect, secretive and hidden, unforgetting, unforgiving and forever vengeful.

Masters create a value system: master morality.

The priests (slaves) invert this value system [inversion of value-equation], through ressentiment.

Ressentiment is unhealthy, poison to human beings!

They create a new value system: slave morality.

From [master morality]:

“Good” = qualities of masters = valuable.

“Bad” = opposite qualities of masters, i.e. slave qualities = not valuable.

To [slave morality]:

“Good” = opposite qualities of masters, i.e. slave qualities = valuable.

“Evil” = qualities of masters = not valuable.

Today we are all living under the slave moral value system.

So we are all unhealthy, poisoned and sick!

Important Differences Between MM and SM

(1) Looking Inward vs. Looking Outward

Master morality (MM):

Starts by self-affirmation and spontaneous creation. Self-affirming, self-valuing.

Full of life and filled with passion for life.

Creates the concept “good” by reflecting on themselves – looking inward. They define themselves by looking inward.

 “Bad” is simply created as an afterthought – not important. “Good” is the important concept.

Seeks the other only to affirm itself more.

Lack of ressentiment: they can exhaust their  hatred and vengefulness through action.

Slave morality (SM):

Starts by denying the outside, the other, needs the other to exist.

Defines themselves by looking outward at the other (the masters).

Creates the concept “evil” by looking outside, at the other.

Slave morality is essentially reactive: its  “action is fundamentally reaction.”

(2) Happiness

MM: masters are happy with themselves; they are self-sufficient.

Thus, no need to look to the other to define their happiness.

Their happiness cannot be separated from their actions and deeds.

SM: priests and slaves need to define their happiness by looking at the other (the masters).

BUT: since they do NOT have what the masters have, they are not happy.

In fact, they are miserable and suffering.

They are inactive – too weak to express themselves through action and deed.

(3) Enemies and Love –

MM: the masters truly love not only themselves, but their enemies also (at least worthy ones)! They have a healthy respect and admiration for worthy enemies.

They need worthy enemies that they can respect and honor, in order to prove themselves and become great.

True-enemies are a mark of self-achievement and self-worth.

Thus, masters are full of love (for themselves and even their enemies).

Master morality starts from love.

SM: slaves have no love for their enemies.

They truly hate their enemies at a spiritual level.

Secretly hate themselves also – hate what they really are (i.e., slaves).

Thus, slaves are full of hate (for their enemies, and full of self-hate).

Slave morality starts from hate.

Philosophy

Notes

Cultural Relativism

Moral Relativism

Moral relativism is generally the view that: what is morally right may differ among different societies, groups, or individuals.  

Moral relativism is opposed to moral objectivism (the view that there is an objective or universal and culture-independent moral standard; e.g., Kant, utilitarianism).

I.e., moral objectivism argues that there is an objective moral standard of right or wrong that applies equally to many different societies, groups or individuals.

We will examine one kind of moral relativism here: cultural relativism.

Cultural relativism is one kind of moral relativism, which argues that: one’s moral standard (or moral code) is derived entirely from one’s own culture, AND different cultures may have different moral standards / codes. Morality can differ among different societies and cultures.

More than a hundred years ago travelers reported very interesting cultural practices among the Eskimo people [not sure whether this is actually true]:

Wives: polygamy, and wife-lending as courtesy; also, special “right of access” given to leaders and village chiefs.

Treatment of infants: infanticide was supposedly very common and accepted.

Treatment of elderly: abandonment was  acceptable.

If these practices really did take place among Eskimos, we would find them unacceptable.

BUT we would be naïve to think automatically that we are right and the Eskimos were wrong to do these things: from ancient times, human beings had a wide range of varying cultural practices. 

For example, treatment of the dead: some cultures buried dead bodies, some burned them, some sent them down rivers, and some even ate them [ancient Callatians].

Cultural relativism starts with the very reasonable premise that we are all right: every culture is morally right, according to their own standard.

The 5 Claims of Cultural Relativism

1) Different societies have different moral codes [a “moral code” = a system of moral beliefs or moral standards].

2) The moral code of a society determines what is morally right within that society.

3) There is no objective moral standard that can be used to judge that my society’s code is better than another society’s code. I.e., there is no society-independent or culture-independent moral standard. I.e., there does NOT exist any moral truths that hold for all people at all times.

4) The moral code of my own society has no special status or value. It is just one among many others. All moral codes are equal in status and worth.

5) It is arrogant for you to judge the actions of people in different cultures. You need to be tolerant of other cultures and their moral codes.

NOTE: These claims are independent of each other although they are often asserted together, i.e., some of them may be true while others may be false. Also a relativist does not need to hold onto ALL of these, she may hold onto some of them only.

Strengths of Cultural Relativism

(A) Can explain the complexity and diversity of our moral intuitions:

It shows us that at least some of our moral beliefs may be just products of our own culture, and thus conventional and applicable to only our own society (but not necessarily to other societies).

Thus people from other very different societies and cultures may have very different and diverse “moral intuitions.”

(B) Teaches us the importance of keeping an open mind and attitude toward others:

We find our own ways of doing things “natural,” but we must not think that other peoples’ ways are therefore “unnatural.”

There are many different natural ways: that’s the point of cultural relativism. Don’t think that your way is the only right way! This can only lead to suffering and conflict among human beings. 

Problems for Cultural Relativism

Problem 1: The Cultural Difference Argument.

A supporter of cultural relativism might make the following argument (“the cultural difference argument”):

Premise: different cultures have different moral codes/standards.

Conclusion: there is no objective moral truth (no objective morality that applies to all cultures), i.e., right and wrong are merely matters of opinion and opinions can vary from culture to culture.

So basically, the cultural difference argument says that because different societies disagree about what is morally right, there is no objective or universal moral truth.

Problem:

The premise is about beliefs, while the conclusion is about facts or truth.

Your beliefs are not always necessarily true!

Example: does Sara really love me? A belief in something does NOT guarantee truth in that thing.

So: just because different cultures have different moral beliefs, this cannot guarantee that there is no objective moral truth. But the cultural difference argument says precisely this: because different cultures have different moral beliefs it MUST be that there exists no objective moral truth. This is wrong.

For example: there may be an objective moral truth, but it’s just that no culture has discovered this so far.

OR: may be possible that one culture has in fact discovered the moral truth, and hence its moral beliefs are in fact true while the other culture’s moral beliefs are false.

Problem 2: Cultural Relativism Leads to Unacceptable Consequences.

If you believe in cultural relativism then you must also hold onto two consequences of cultural relativism:

1: there is no way to criticize another culture’s morality and moral standard. Why?

Because cultural relativism says that all cultures’ moral standards are equal in status. If another culture’s standard is equal in status to yours, then you have no basis to criticize it as inferior to your own culture’s standard.

2: you cannot even criticize your own culture’s moral standard. Why?

Because what is right and wrong for us is determined by our own culture’s moral standard, so we can’t criticize the standard itself. We can criticize someone’s actions (if he belongs to our own culture) based on our moral standard, but we cannot criticize our moral standard itself.

These consequences are not acceptable to us because:

1: sometimes we need to criticize some culture’s morality – when a culture is peaceful, then no problem, but imagine a very warlike and violent culture! What if they want to come and kill us? Should we just let them do it, because we are cultural relativists and we have no basis to criticize them? No, we MUST morally criticize and condemn them.

But cultural relativism says we should not condemn or criticize these violent and destructive moralities.

2: sometimes we also need to criticize our own culture’s morality because no culture has a perfect moral standard. Sometimes we do and we should criticize the moral standard of our own society.

But cultural relativism says we cannot do this, since our moral standard is what determines our morality.

Thus: cultural relativism leads to unacceptable consequences, and if a moral theory leads to such problematic consequences, then the moral theory itself also is unacceptable [reductio ad absurdum].

Problem 3: Cultural Differences DO NOT Guarantee Moral Differences.

Example 1: in the Hindu religion in India, it is wrong to eat a cow.

In our culture, eating beef is perfectly acceptable.

So we have a cultural difference (differences in cultural values) between us and Hindus, and this seems to show different moral values in these two cultures (wrong to eat beef vs. right to eat beef).

BUT: this difference may NOT be based on differences in moral values, but rather on  differences in religious or factual beliefs.

Hindus believe that after your family members die they could be reborn (reincarnated) as a cow. And this is why they think it’s wrong to eat cows. We don’t have such religious beliefs.

So, in fact BOTH us and Hindus believe it is morally wrong to eat our ancestors.

The cultural difference is due to different views about the human soul and what happens when we die, NOT about what we think is morally wrong.

Thus moral values are the SAME yet there are differences in culture (different cultural values) due to other (non-moral) factors.

Cultural Relativism (CR) claims that differences in culture guarantee differences in moral values (since all moralities are determined by the culture they grow in). 

But these examples show that differences in culture DO NOT always guarantee differences in moral values – moral value is the same, yet there are cultural differences [which are due to other factors, such as differences in religious beliefs, or differences in physical environment].

This means that morality is NOT always determined by culture [since you can have cases where there is cultural differences yet SAME moral value].

THUS, cultural relativism is incorrect.

Problem 4: Some Moral Values Are Same for EVERY Culture.

Consider these moral values:

A: telling the truth.

B: not murdering other people.

These moral values are actually held onto by many different cultures. In fact it turns out that EVERY culture has these moral values.

This is simply because these moral values are necessary for any society to continue to exist. Without these, no society could function properly.

SO: if this is true, then we DO have an objective culture-independent, society-independent moral standard (a standard that applies to all cultures):

Rules such as “don’t murder” and “tell the truth” [and there could be more rules] can function as objective moral standards that could apply to every culture and society, simply because they are necessary for any society to exist.

CR claims there CANNOT be any such objective moral standards.

THUS, if there are such objective moral rules, then CR is wrong!

Philosophy

Notes

Virtue Ethics

Two different frameworks of approaching morality:

1) What is the right action to follow? This approach focuses on actions or rules for action (obligations, permissions).

We have already examined this approach many times (this has been the dominant approach in the west from the 1600’s to the present):

Social contract theory

Kant

Utilitarianism

All of these focus on what rules to follow

2) What character traits or qualities make somebody a good person? This approach focuses on the person (the individual) rather than rules for action.

So: 2 different questions: what we ought to do vs. what we ought to be.

Now, we are examining morality from the second approach (what we ought to be). I.e., what qualities make us moral people?

Answer: if you have virtues, then you are a good person.

Virtue (def.) = a commendable trait of character manifested in habitual action that is good for everyone to have.

Vice (def.) = a not commendable trait of character manifested in habitual action that is bad for everyone to have.

Explanation (of “virtue”):

“commendable”: praiseworthy, admirable.

“character”: a trait or quality of a person, not a rule for acting.

“habitual”: need to be a repetitive habit, not a “one-off” performance. Repetition makes it easier to do.

“anyone”: everyone can benefit from having a virtuous quality or character trait.

We seek and are attracted to virtuous people.

We shun and avoid people with many vices.

There are many different virtues: benevolence, compassion, cooperativeness, courage, courteousness, dependability, fairness, friendliness, generosity, honesty, industriousness, being just, loyalty, moderation, patience, prudence, reasonableness, self-discipline, tolerance, and etc., etc., etc.

4 cardinal (primary) virtues, according to the ancient Greeks: prudence [wisdom], justice, temperance [i.e., the right amount of pleasure], courage.

2 basic types of virtues according to Aristotle: intellectual virtues & moral virtues

Intellectual virtues: excellences of the mind (judgment and thinking), traits that allow us to understand, reason, and judge well.

Moral virtues: dispose us to behave well (action).

Our focus: on moral virtues, obviously.

BUT: the general definition of virtue doesn’t help that much; we need to go through examples to see how the virtues work in detail.

NOTE: each virtue is unique.

Courage

A virtue is a midpoint between two extremes: between excess and deficiency.

For the virtue of courage, the excess is recklessness or foolhardiness, and the deficiency is cowardice.

Courage = having just the right amount of fear: being steadfast in the face of danger.

BUT: The 9/11 hijackers were courageous, yet what they ended up doing was very horrendous (thousands of people died).

Possible reply: the hijackers had 2 qualities actually: courage (a virtue) and murderousness (a vice).

And their courage was used to murder thousands of innocent people.

Thus, given what they did, and given their particular circumstances, and considering the situation as a whole (in total) = they were bad people and what they did was wrong.

A further point: the points of excess and deficiency, thus the point of courage, will be different for different individuals, depending on their particular personality, upbringing or training, social role or position, etc.

Virtues are context-dependent, they are situational: they are sensitive to individual, time, place, and social context.

What it is for someone to be courageous will depend on the particular individual, time, place, and society we are concerned with.

YET: there could also be some general, common features of virtues (as we will see)

Generosity

One can be generous with one’s resources: time, knowledge, emotional support, love, money, forgiveness, etc.

Extremes: stingy, extravagant.

Midpoint (“being generous”): giving just the proper amount.

Jesus gave too much, in fact everything; he was wasteful. NOT Generous!

We have to look out for our own interests as much as we look after other’s interest: this is the way to live normal, meaningful lives.

Our lives consist of projects and relationships that eat up a lot of our resources, and we shouldn’t give this up easily because if we did, we would lose meaning in our lives.

Some people may of course choose to live like Jesus if they find meaning in doing so. But most of us do not want to, and we don’t need to live like Jesus.

Thus, the best approach is: be generous while still being able to maintain your normal meaningful lives.

PROBLEM: the billionaire who needs a lot of fancy stuff to live a meaningful life:

What if this guy needs a yacht, 10 Ferraris, 10 mansions, lots of expensive watches, etc., in order to carry on his “normal” meaningful life???

Common moral sense: this guy should give up at least some of his luxuries to help the starving kids in the world. That would be the moral thing to do.

BUT: virtue ethics: he doesn’t need to donate anything, since to have a meaningful life he needs all of these things!

Thus conclusion: something must be wrong with the virtue ethics analysis.

Honesty

The extremes:

Always lying or deceiving, or always telling the truth.

Midpoint (being “honest”): can lie when there are good reasons for doing so; also, should be honest only to those who deserve to be treated honestly.

But really: you mean it’s ok for an honest person to lie?

YES, sometimes it’s ok! 

Example: the priest trying to evade his pursuers (who want to murder him).

Honesty is not always the only thing we value:

(1) In some situations, another value may have more importance.

Example: life-threatening situation, where a lie could save one’s own life, such as the priest who lied to save his own life.

In such a situation, even if he lies to his pursuers, he is still an honest person overall.

2) Furthermore, honesty should be given only to those who deserve honesty:

If someone is trying to do bad things to you, this person doesn’t deserve your trust or honesty!

General Points

The importance of virtues: why are virtues so important? What is their significance?

They are necessary for a flourishing (excellent) life: to reach “eudaimonia” (bliss, happiness [but not necessarily pleasure], fulfillment in life):

For example: 

For social success, need: loyalty, fairness, honesty, etc.

For individual growth and development, need: perseverance, industriousness, etc.

To overcome challenges (e.g., danger, temptation, etc.), need: courage, self-control, etc.

NOTE: necessary does NOT mean sufficient! Although necessary, having them may still not guarantee a flourishing life.

Are the virtues the same for everyone? (Same virtues equally important for everyone to have?)

NO: depending on your personality, your job, or social culture, or even on the culture you belong to, some virtues will be more important for you than for others.

E.g., scholar vs. soldier, child vs. parent.

So: what virtues are important can differ from person to person, society to society:

Different social values and institutions can give rise to different kinds of life,

E.g., samurai values of honor and ritual suicide. In our society, this doesn’t make much sense.

The character traits needed to occupy different social roles will differ, thus traits needed to live successfully will differ for us.

BUT more generally, YES: some virtues are necessary for everyone to have, for example:

Courage: there will always be some kind of danger and risks you need to face in your life.

Generosity: there’s always someone who will need help, including yourself.

Honesty: every society needs reliable communication to function properly.

Loyalty: everyone needs friends to have a meaningful life, without loyalty you can’t have genuine friends, etc.

THUS: although social customs, individual personality, and situation all heavily influence and shape the virtues, we CANNOT say that social customs (etc.) completely determine the virtues.

In other words, at least some virtues (though maybe not all) come from our common human condition.

Thus, these are the same for everyone, i.e., important for everyone to have.

But NOT ALL of them, it seems. Further, the virtues may be determined differently from person to person.

Strengths of Virtue Ethics

Before moving onto criticisms and attacks against Virtue Ethics, lets examine some of its strengths:

(1) Offers a better account of moral motivations:

The Hospital Example.

We base our personal relationships on friendship, love, loyalty, and respect, NOT only on an abstract sense of moral duty (as Kant says, “doing the right thing” according to the C.I.).

So: Virtue Ethics provides a more complete account of the “moral life”: personal qualities (virtues) such as friendship, love, loyalty are important motivations for action and they are morally relevant.

For Kant, they are not directly relevant, only the abstract moral duty (from the C.I.) is relevant.

(2) Could successfully deal with reasonable doubts we might (sometimes) have on the principle of impartiality.

Recall that the principle of impartiality says: all people are equal from a moral point of view [need to treat everyone’s interest as equally valuable].

Virtue Ethics does NOT always accept this idea as true (although sometimes, it accepts it).

It seems that sometimes, in some situations, we should actually NOT be impartial.

E.g., a mother caring for her child more other children – she is partial (to her own child), but there is nothing wrong with this! Society may function the best if each mother is partial to her own child.

E.g., valuing friends over strangers – there’s nothing wrong with doing this, we need friends to have a meaningful life.

Virtue Ethics can easily explain this: some virtues (e.g., love, loyalty) are partial virtues, while others are impartial virtues (e.g., justice, beneficence).

There are partial virtues and impartial virtues.

Impartial virtues: require impartial treatment for all, e.g., justice (equal treatment for all).

Partial virtues: do NOT require impartial treatment for everyone, e.g., loyalty (favors friends and family over strangers).

Sometimes, it is ok for one to be partial, and Virtue Ethics can explain why.

The reason why a mother can be partial to her own child over other children, and why we can be partial to our friends over strangers, is because what is involved in these cases are partial virtues (love, loyalty)!

Problems for Virtue Ethics

Attack 1: Application Problem:

Consider the virtue of kindness:

I learn that your good friend died in a car accident, and you don’t know about this yet. If I don’t tell you, you might never discover this truth about your friend who died.

And you are the type of person who would want to know this.

What is the kind thing for me to do?

Should I do what you would want me to do, and tell you about this friend’s death? If I do, I would bring you mental pain.

OR: should I not tell you, and thus spare you the mental pain?

Is being kind about caring about what you want, or is it about not bringing you pain?

It seems virtue ethics cannot tell us clearly enough how to behave in such a situation.

This is the application problem: sometimes it is very difficult to apply a virtue to a particular case.

Attack 2: Clash of Virtues:

Imagine your girlfriend or boyfriend has a new haircut, and asks you how he/she looks. You can tell the truth and me unkind, or you can lie and be kind.

You may have good reasons to do both, but you have to choose one or the other.

What do you do in such a situation?

This is a similar problem with Kant’s clash of absolute rules problem.

This is the problem of clash of virtues: sometimes when there is a conflict of different virtues in a particular situation, virtues may not provide enough guidance.

NOTE: these two (Attack 1 and Attack 2) are NOT the same problems, although both are dealing with the problem of how virtues can guide us in specific situations.

Attack 3: Problem of Relativism:

The form that a virtue may take may vary according to time and place. (We already discussed this, but this attack is now insisting that this is a huge problem!)

For example: virtues of Confucian society were different from the virtues of Christian or Islamic cultures. Also, warlike cultures tend to value heroic virtues, while peaceful cultures tend to value generosity and kindness.

So, which one is better?

Also, what does it mean to live a fulfilling human life? Can this be separated from one’s own society/culture?

Further, every virtue could be given a different interpretation, depending on which culture you belong to, for example for courage:

Islam: courage is to live (and die) for your God.

Confucians: courage is to be a gentleman and scholar.

Zhuangzi: courage is to be a free individual.

Samurai: to kill yourself in a ceremonial way if necessary.

Thus: interpretations of even a single virtue could vary widely.

Why is this a problem for Virtue Ethics?

Because: Aristotle thought there was a common human nature (same for everyone): rationality. Relativism seems to go against this. 

Philosophical Background to Aristotle – Teleology

Morality (and thus virtues), according to Aristotle, is grounded in human nature. Human nature, in turn, is part of nature. So what is nature like, according to Aristotle? 

The philosophical background in which Aristotle develops his Virtue Ethics: teleology, which is a view about nature.

Teleology holds that everything in nature has a goal or purpose. Nature has an order, and these “principles of order” direct things toward goals (their mature final form, or essential traits, or tendencies or capacities qua species).

Natural things always fulfill a purpose or a goal. Everything in nature has a natural pattern of growth and development.

“Seeds of the same form always mature to the same form.” “Acorns always become oak trees, not elms.”

Human beings are a part of nature also, thus there is a goal and purpose to humanity as well. What is our human goal?

The ultimate goal for humanity is eudaimonia (blessedness, prosperity and flourishing, deep fulfillment, a healthy soul). This is NOT equal to pleasure.

Further, there are paths we should follow to achieve this ultimate goal of eudaimonia.

Developing the virtues produces a healthy soul in a person, which fulfills essential human functions and purposes and thus leads to eudaimonia.

Here it gets a little confusing – Aristotle also says that our “rational element” is unique to us and it is the essentially human function or purpose. Being rational, in other words, is what separates us from other animals.

The key assumption here is: only by being rational can human beings achieve eudaimonia.

Being rational has two functions:

A: to gain knowledge and truth about the world: the intellectual virtues help us achieve this.

Intellectual virtues include: practical knowledge, scientific knowledge, and practical wisdom. . .

B: to guide our free choices [free will] and actions properly: the moral virtues [what we have focused on] help us achieve this.

NOTE: thus, an essential feature of human beings is the freedom to act and choose in the way one chooses.

Only by developing BOTH of these capacities can we function well and flourish as human beings and achieve eudaimonia.

Not everyone can automatically achieve eudaimonia: nature has many defects (e.g., imperfect animals, plants and trees, and humans).

At the same time, we seem intuitively able to grasp the distinction between doing something well and doing it very badly (think of a great master chef vs. a person who is a horrible cook, we can easily decide who is the master and who is the awful cook).

Just as many things in nature, human beings can have many defects as well.

The goal, according to Aristotle, is to overcome these defects and achieve perfection (excellence, flourishing) as human beings (or at least get as close as possible to perfection).

The way to achieve this perfection (or flourishing, excellence and functioning well) is to perform our essential human capacities, i.e., exercise our rational functions (which requires the moral virtues, as we saw).

Only a healthy person that is functioning well and excellently can be a happy person.

This is the connection between the virtues and Aristotle’s teleological view of nature and the universe.

Philosophy

Notes

Egoism

(Def.) Egoism = being selfish, i.e., pursing your self-interest primarily OR exclusively.  

“primarily”: you pursue other people’s interests also, but your self-interest always comes first.

“exclusively”: you ONLY pursue your own self-interest, never other’s interests.

There are actually different kinds of egoism:

Psychological Egoism [PE]: a claim about human nature and human psychology: each person, as a matter of fact, does pursue his or her self-interest or benefit. [descriptive]

Ethical Egoism [EE]: a claim about what we should do: each person, as a matter of what is morally right, should pursue his or her own self-interest or benefit. [prescriptive]

Why focus more on EE than PE? Firstly, PE is probably wrong, but probably also impossible to know this for sure.

Also: PE is a question for psychology (moral psychology), not for ethical normative philosophy [which focuses mainly on how we should live].

Also: just look at it from common sense point of view: humans seem both good and bad, selfish and generous!!

So PE probably wrong,

BUT not entirely wrong, of course: egoism is a strong human tendency, but so seems altruism!

So is EE correct? This is a more interesting question, from a philosophical point of view.

Once again, EE says: the only moral duty you have is to pursue your own self-interest: the only thing that makes an action right is whether it is to your own advantage.

The answer to whether EE is right, is a real mystery – no clear answer.

This question touches on one of the core issues in thinking about ethics and morality.

Arguments Supporting EE

Argument 1: Ayn Rand’s argument that EE respects the individual.

A famous female intellectual, champion of capitalism.

She argues that altruism leads to the denial of an individual’s value, worth and rights.

Altruism tells us to sacrifice our life for others (i.e., your time, resources, etc.). This is a fundamental disrespect to one’s own self.

Logical structure of argument:

P1: each person’s life has supreme importance and value.

P2: Ethical Altruism [EA] (the opposite of EE) says one should sacrifice one’s life (time, resources, etc.) for others. This fails to seriously value the individual’s life.

P3: EE treats each person’s life as of the highest value. This respects the individual’s life.

Conclusion: we should all accept EE, reject EA.

A Problem for Rand:

Fallacy of False Dilemma.

An alternative third choice exists, which is better than either of the two:

The common sense view: one’s own interests and the interests of others are BOTH important, and must be balanced (sometimes act selfishly, sometimes altruistically!).

Argument 2: EE is compatible with our common sense moral views.

Find the unity underlying our common moral rules. I.e., is there a basic fundamental moral principle that can explain all our rules?

Examples:

A) Common sense Rule 1: Don’t harm others!

Others will harm us if we harm them.

We’ll be ostracized.

Lose friends.

Lose help from others.

Thus: it’s in our own interest to follow rule 1.

B) Common sense Rule 2: Don’t lie, be honest!

If we lie, we’ll get a “bad rep” and this will harm us.

Lose the trust of others.

Others will lie to us in turn.

Thus: it’s in our self-interest to follow Rule 2.

C) Common sense Rule 3: Keep your promises and your word!

If break my word/promises, no agreements.

If no agreements, I lose many social benefits.

Thus: it’s in our self-interest to follow Rule 3.

The bottom line: the principle of self-interest seems to be driving all these common sense rules!

In other words, it looks like what is underneath all of our common sense moral beliefs is what Hobbes called the “Golden Rule”: treat others how you want them to treat you!

A Problem with Argument 2:

What about situations where we can benefit from doing something wrong?       E.g., murder someone and get       away with it and benefit???

EE would say: we should go ahead and murder!

BUT our common-sense moral view would say: no, cannot murder!

What this shows: the principle of self-interest CANNOT explain ALL of our common-sense moral rules.

In other words, there may be other basic moral principles, in addition to the principle of self-interest, that we are commonly holding onto.

Thus: EE (which says the principle of self-interest is the ONLY moral principle) is wrong!

EE CANNOT explain all of our common-sense moral rules. So Argument 2 is wrong.

*NOTE:

First: even though you have no duty to look after other peoples’ interests, you can still help them, as long as their interests coincide with your own interests (oftentimes this is actually true).

So EE is NOT the view that you should never help others!

The only thing that makes an action right is if it is in your own interest (to your own advantage). If it is in your interest to help others, then you should!

Second: you must generally pursue your long-term interests, NOT your short-term interests.

E.g., in your interest to take drugs? NO – even if it gives you short-term pleasure, it will most probably harm you in the long-term.

Arguments Attacking EE

Argument 3: EE is arbitrary and unfair. 

P1: everyone believes in the principle of equal treatment: treat like cases alike; i.e., treat everyone in the same way (in a fair & equal way), UNLESS you have a good reason not to. (Explanation: if two students study equally hard and do equally well, but one gets A and the other gets C = no good reason for differential treatment.

BUT: if one studies hard and gets A, the other parties all night and gets F = good reason for differential treatment.)

If you do have a good reason, then you can treat people differently.

P2: EE violates the principle of equal treatment: it divides world into 2 categories, and values one over the other for no good reason (thus arbitrary)! (Explanation: divides the world into “myself” and “everyone else.”

And then it treats people differently, it says I can treat myself in a special way and value my own interest as more important than everyone else’s interests.

BUT I have no good reason to value my own interest over everyone else!

Why? Because there is no morally relevant difference between me and everyone else. *From a moral standpoint, I am not special. Everyone’s lives are equally important, and we all equally deserve to live!)

C: EE is incorrect!

Thus EE tells me to treat myself differently (and more importantly) from other people for no good reason at all. And this is wrong.

It’s a violation of the principle of equal treatment.

Some Caveats:

(1) SIDE-NOTE about the principle of equal treatment:

Substantive Justice vs. Procedural Justice

Treating people in the same way does not always guarantee the same outcome for all.

Example: the Vietnam War Draft – some were selected to go fight (and die), some did not get picked – was a lottery.

Thus the result (substantively) was unequal.

BUT: the process of selection (of who goes to fight in the war) was fair – was supposed to be a fair lottery. Thus procedurally fair.

We call this the difference between substantial vs. procedural fairness/justice.

The Vietnam War Draft, some may argue, was substantially unfair (the result was unequal, some had to fight and some didn’t have to fight).

However, it was procedurally fair (the process of selection was fair).

Thus, the Draft still respected the principle of equal treatment (because it was procedurally fair).

In other words, it was procedurally just, even though substantially unjust, thus still compatible with the principle of equal treatment.

(2) What exactly is the difference between the principle of equal treatment, and the principle of impartiality (which we saw in both classical utilitarianism and in Kant)?

Principle of equal treatment: treat people in the same (equal) way unless you have good reasons not to.

Principle of impartiality: everyone is to count equally from a moral point of view.

Argument 4: EE leads to contradiction (Baier’s argument).

Imagine 2 people are running for President of the US: Trump and Jin.

It’s in Jin’s interest to win, so it’s in Jin’s interest to murder Trump!

Thus, EE says Jin ought to kill Trump.

BUT: it’s in Trump’s interest to stay alive, thus Trump ought to stop Jin from murdering him!

The problem: when Trump protects himself from me trying to kill him, his action is both right and wrong:

Wrong because it prevents me from doing my moral duty;

Right because it is in Trump’s moral duty to do it.

BUT: * same act CANNOT be both morally wrong and morally right – that would be contradictory.

Thus: EE leads to contradiction.

Philosophy

Notes

Hobbes – Social Contract Theory

2 key concepts in Hobbes’ account: social contract, and state of nature.

State of nature: a state of experiment = doesn’t mean it actually existed in actual history. It’s just a hypothetical situation, from which we can draw conclusions about human beings.

Imagine a world with no God, no altruism, no morality, no government, no laws and police (no ways to enforce rules of society) – this is the State of Nature. Four basic features:

1) Equality of Need: food, shelter, clothing, etc.

2) Fundamental Scarcity: much toil to produce, esp. when nobody is producing.

3) Equality of Power: who gets these scarce goods? Hard to say – fair game.

4) Very Limited Altruism: only care about ourselves and those closest to us – cannot expect others to help us. People in SofN are fundamentally selfish (egoistic).

*a world of perpetual competition and struggle.

BUT: in this struggle, nobody prevails in the end: a “constant war of one with all.”

It would be a terrifying, dreadful, and very short existence (average lifespan for humans: maybe 10-20 years)

Notice that if selfish people cooperate and work together, the will each get more for themselves, and thus promote their selfish goals. Social cooperation increases output exponentially, not linearly, and so each person gets more for herself (well, usually, all other factors remaining constant).

This social cooperation, or willingness to cooperate, is the Social Contract – the agreement to cooperate (for selfish gain).

For social cooperation to be possible at all, people need to agree on the rules of cooperation. These rules, according to Hobbes, are called “morality” (e.g., don’t harm others, don’t break promises, be honest, etc.).

An enforcement mechanism to enforce the social rules: the role of the government (sovereign) or king.

Note: social sanction (peer pressure) is another way to enforce these rules.

These rules of social cooperation are called “morality” or the “moral rules.”

Thus, for Hobbes, morality comes into existence through the Social Contract.

Summary:

  • Purpose of morality: make social cooperation possible (through rules of cooperation, i.e., “moral rules”).
  • Purpose of government and law: enforce the moral rules – make sure everyone obeys.
  • Morality (def.): the set of rules governing behavior that rational selfish people will accept on the condition that others also accept them. 

What idea of rationality is Hobbes working under?

Different from Kant [obeying CI].

For Hobbes: practical means-to-end rationality (sometimes called “instrumental rationality”): knowing the best ways and methods to get what you want.

Advantages (or Positives) of Hobbes’ Theory

A) How do we determine the content of moral rules?

Hobbes’ view gives a standard, which might be better than Kant or utilitarianism: only those rules that facilitate social cooperation are to be chosen! Only these are “moral rules.”

B) The theory instructs us on when we can rationally break the rules:

1) When someone breaks the rules first, he releases us from our obligations toward him, so we can do what we like toward this person (no need to respect the rules of cooperation toward him)!

(BUT, remember, power to punish this person is restricted to the sovereign only, so we cannot personally punish him, but the sovereign can – a sovereign theory of punishment.)

2) When a rule can never possibly benefit me, I can break it – indeed if I am selfish and rational, I MUST break it!

E.g., Jim Crow laws for blacks in America.

C) Puts reasonable limits on what morality can demand from us: morality must always respect the fundamentally selfish nature of human beings.

So, for example: “sacrifice your life for the lives of others!” — This is NEVER acceptable to a rational selfish person.

Cannot expect selfish rational people to follow such a rule, makes no sense for them to follow it.

Other such rules: excessive giving to charity and the poor, excessive altruism; etc.

Thus, morality cannot demand that we follow such rules. 

Natural limits placed on morality: cannot force us to follow rules that rational selfish people would NOT agree to follow.

For Hobbes, morality is nothing sacred or special!

Just a tool for rational selfish people to get more benefit for themselves. 

Problems for the Theory

Attack 1: Social Contract and State of Nature = fictions !!!

Didn’t happen historically.

Even if it did happen actually:

Maybe agreement was not unanimous (what about those who did not agree? Can we treat them in whichever way we want? That seems wrong);

Also: if contract agreed to by ancestors before us, why are we bound by it?

A REPLY that social contract supporter could give:

A contract/agreement does exist for all of us – it is implied, not explicit!

There are rules we all recognize as binding:

We expect others to follow these rules.

We accept the benefits of social life under the rules.

Thus we have duty to follow the rules!

Example: if you join a game, you implicitly agree to follow the rules of the game.

Same for society and moral rules!

FURTHER PROBLEM:

You can choose to leave a game if you don’t like it.

Can you choose to leave society altogether?

NOT REALLY:

Can’t choose to be born into a particular society.

Can’t choose to leave society altogether – no genuine choice – cost is too high.

If you’re rational and selfish, not a real option.

Can’t even move to another society – you may not like the rules of any society.

THUS:

No real choice to leave society.

If no genuine choice or freedom to contract, the Social Contract is NOT a genuine contract, thus it is invalid (has no force).

A FURTHER REPLY that social contract supporter could give:

Just FORGET CHOICE AND AGREEMENT! Focus on rationality instead:

If you are “rational” you would choose to live in society under the moral rules no matter what – because you would benefit from doing so.

So you SHOULD follow the rules of society even if you don’t agree to it!

Attack 2: Some individuals or groups could NEVER possibly bring us any benefit.

For example: future generations who would be born 200 years after we are dead.

These humans could never bring us any benefit because we would all be dead before they were even born!

If they don’t bring us any benefit, we have NO reason to get into a social contract with them (we contract with others only for mutual benefit, but this future generation can’t offer us any benefit).

Thus, there would be no rules of morality to obey between us and this future generation of humans.

Thus, we can treat them in any way we want, including in immoral ways!

For example: run up the national debt, cut up all the trees, eat all the animals on earth, poison the environment and make it uninhabitable for them.

BUT: this is unacceptable (according to common sense morality). 

THUS: social contract theory is incorrect! (since it tells us to disrespect these future generations if we want.) WE MUST CARE about humanity’s future! 

(The Prisoner’s Dilemma)

Philosophy

Notes

Kant

Kant develops a deontological moral theory. (About duty/responsibility)

Duty: duty qua duty, duty for the sake of duty (categorical duties).

Key difference between utilitarianism: Not a consequentialism – regardless of consequences, and regardless of how you feel about it. Duties you MUST follow no matter how hard the world makes it to follow them.

For Kant: morality = shut up and do your damn duty!

Background: Kant was trying to respond to David Hume, who thought morality was rooted in the emotions (desires, feelings, etc.), and Kant rejected this idea.

Starting point: Hypothetical vs. Categorical (norms: how one should behave and what should one do)

– Hypothetical oughts: conditional, contingent (dependent on our desires). (instrumental)

Binding force; can get out of? YES

If you want…, please don’t do… (For example, if you want to get an A, don’t be absence for class.)

– Categorical oughts: unconditional, necessary, universal (applies to all rational people).

Can get out of? NO

Don’t… (For example, don’t cheat, don’t lie, don’t kill people…)

Moral oughts: == categorical oughts.

Morality is nothing about consequence, nothing about happiness, categorical oughts is absolute duties – duties no matter what consequences they bring.

Where do categorical oughts come from? – From Reason/Rationality.

The C.I. (Categorical Imperative) – a fundamental principle of human reason/rationality. All humans are the same insofar as they are rational. (basic rules, a principle of rationality)

Morality = rooted in rationality (thus has an objective basis).

Normal human beings are rational, the principle become general and common for everyone.

What is the definition of C.I. (categorical Imperative)?

– Act only according to the maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law!

Or more precisely: Always follow the maxim that you can will to be a universal law.

People are self-control most of time and powerful, so for Kant, the most important thing for morality is that we CANNOT be held morally responsible for what is beyond our control!

Motives (intention, reasons, can control) – Action (can control) – Consequences (external circumstances, cannot control)

Therefore, Kant gets to the conclusion that consequences are irrelevant to morality (According to Kant, CU is totally wrong)

The C.I. and C.I. Test: Apply the C.I. to particular actions and rules – to know whether an action X (or a rule X) is morally right or wrong, do the “C.I. Test”.

STEP 1: What the rule is the action following?

STEP 2: Would you accept this rule to be a universal law? I.e., would you allow this rule to be followed by all people, at all times?

STEP 3: a) If Yes, the rule is sound, it’s a categorical moral rule, and everyone should follow it at all times.

STEP 3: b) if No, the rule is unsound, it’s an immoral categorical rule, and everyone should NEVER follow it.

The C.I. Test and Self-Defeating (unsuccessful) Rules

STEP 2 is the key step, and it’s extremely difficult to understand and apply.

Criticisms of Kant’s C.I. and C.I. Test

Attack 1: “lie to save another’s life”, rather than “go ahead and lie”

Kant’s moral theory has an inconsistency: his theory does not allow a conditional rule to be moral rules, but then can still pass the C.I. Test and thus be a moral rule – contradiction.

Attack 2: Clash of Absolute Rules: refugee smuggler – either lie or allow all to perish, cannot do both.

Possible reply by a Kant supporter: there’s only one moral rule in the end: “Do the right thing.” (Horrible reply! Useless, empty of content and meaning!)

Attack 3: Kant’s morality is just too demanding (raised by one of Kant’s contemporaries)

Sometimes, when following a rule would bring truly consequences, we must break it. (e.g.: honestly revealing where the intended victim is hiding; honestly refusing to tell a white lie when you must).

Kant argues that we can never break a categorical moral rule (e.g., “Never lie!”)

Ends and Means, Value Theory and Animals

According to Kant, only human beings have intrinsic value (intrinsic worth) and dignity. Human have individual autonomy, we are self-governing, can decide who we want to be. Humans can appreciate the moral dimension in the world. All other things have instrumental value only (not intrinsically valuable), including animals. Thus, humans are special beyond all else – a single loss of human life is irreplaceable, lost forever!

1. Why do humans have special value?

1) Humans = self-conscious desires and the sole value-creators. We create values, and this makes us very special (Compare: Nietzsche).

Animals: have desires, but are not self-aware that they have them. Not value creators.

Objects: have only instrumental value – valuable only if we value it. Same for animals (only instrumental value).

Question: can we treat animals any way we want?

YES, and NO. We can because them only have instrumental value to us, but morally the rude actions aren’t beneficial to us, we shall still treat them well.

2) Humans possess rational agency (and thus dignity):

Free will (self-control) – responsible for our own actions.

Question: Can a dog be responsible? Kant says NO. (a dog cannot decide when to eat or when to go out.)

Autonomy – we decide our own paths and choices, independent from external control, we shape our destinies.

Set life goals/life plans – we determine who we want to be.

Act from reasons – we weigh reasons for and against an action/choice. (marriage: why I want to marry with him/her? Animals cannot think for a reason)

Act from moral reasons – only humans.

Question: Do animals have all this? Kant says NO.

2. The Good Will

Kant says morality exists only for rational agents who act from a “good will”, which is understanding what you should do from a sense of moral duty and respect for the “moral law” (i.e., from the C.I.)

Moral actions, from human beings, are the only kind of things in the world that have moral worth.

Moral values exist entirely within us humans – if humans are wiped out, then morality would entirely disappear as well. BUT: morality is not subjective, it is objective, universal, and categorical.

This is the interesting position that Kant takes on morality.

3. Kant’s Theory of Ends and Means

Another formulation of the general moral principle, according to Kant: Treat human beings always as an end, never as a means. [the “Ends and Means Principle”]

1) What this means:

Promote the welfare of other human beings, protect their rights, be kind to them, don’t harm anyone.

But more importantly, this means: need to respect peoples’ rational choices and decisions, and cannot manipulate others to achieve your own aims and goals.

Question: We use people all the time, is this principle wrong? As long as we are honest with others about what we want from them, tell them the truth and let them exercise their own reasoning and free will, then it is fine.

Question: If so, then they choose your goal as their goal as well!

Treat people always as an end and never as a means only: We can treat them both as a means and as an end at the same time (with informed voluntary consent), just don’t treat them only as a means.

Concluding remarks:

Not only must you treat others as an end, must treat yourself as an end also!

I.e., be responsible for your actions, be a free and independent, individual, and always try to be rational, fair, and moral!

Philosophy

Notes

Classical Utilitarianism

Attacks on CU

ATTACK 1: Happiness is NOT the only intrinsic good

In Sara’s example, utilitarianisms may say that the happiness is the maximum, but according to the “moral intuition”, “common beliefs” and “common sense”, we may find that it’s an improper action. Thus, we can conclude that the classical utilitarian is incorrect.

Conflict: different understandings towards conceptions of the good

– Intrinsic good:

 – Classical Utilitarianisms: pleasure, happiness is the highest good

 – Common sense: art, creativity, knowledge, family, friends (many things are valuable)

– Instrumental good (extrinsic good). “Good in itself”, “Good for its own sake”

Consider: Because friendship is an intrinsic good, it makes us happy? OR: because it makes us happy, friendship is important and valuable.

Defend for ATTACK 1:

ATTACK 2: CU is only forward-looking

If someone thinks if break the promise is happier, then utilitarianisms will suggest him to be a promise-breaker. However, our common sense says that if someone makes a promise, he should not break it. Thus, we can conclude that the classical utilitarian is incorrect.

Conflict:

– Promising = creation of a moral obligation  cannot easily break

– Promising is backward-looking: whether an act counts as breaking or fulfilling a promise depends on a past fact (i.e., the promise itself)

However, the utilitarianisms are always focusing on the consequences, thus they are forward-looking. They don’t really mind whether they need to fulfill the promise.

Consider: Do past fact determine whether your act now is morally right or wrong? Or: only future consequences can determine moral right or wrong?

Defend for ATTACK 2:

ATTACK 3: Justice and Right (a Big One)

For justice and right, not about the future consequences, but about the fairness and desert, but they still matter for right or wrong. However, for CU, the only thing that determines whether an act is right or wrong. For example, we should never torture and innocent person, but for CU, it’s okay if it brings lots of happiness. Therefore, we conclude that CU is fundamentally wrong.

Basic ideas of human rights (nobody can take it from any human being): freedom of speech, right to property, religion, political, life, privacy, … (inviolable)

– Justice: Notions of fairness and desert, equal treatment at the heart of this concept

– Individual rights: Notions of basic ideas of human rights.

Example – nude pics. CU’s response vs. our common sense response.

Notion of inviolability (with exceptions) essential to every person qua personal, un-overridable

Defend for ATTACK 3: respecting these rights will tend to create more happiness.

Reply to the defense: There exists a basic problem: CU can respect rights, but cannot fundamentally respect the rights. (Not always respect the rights, even if there is one percent possibility, it will be dangerous)

How to define justice, there is not always absolute justice, take an example of the torture, if a person is tortured will make most of people happy, then he should think about whether he did something wrong. It just like voting. According to ATTACK 4, utilitarian requires we treat everybody the same, we will absolutely don’t want ourselves to be tortured, then it can be proved that tortured an innocent person will not make people happy.

ATTACK 4: The Impartiality Problem

CU requires we treat EVERYONE’S happiness (pleasure) as equally important (impartiality). This may be very unrealistic and sometimes even impossible, given human psychology. Then we get the conclusion that CU is unrealistic, and thus wrong.

– Example: baby daughter and baby Theresa.

– Human psychology = fundamentally partial

Does CU make us destroy and undermine our friendship?

– Furthermore: not giving preference to yourself is violating your own personal dignity and integrity.

Defend 1: prefer our own projects and those we love and care for – the path to greater overall happiness, more effective.

Defend 2: giving yourself dignity and self-worth will maximize happiness for yourself and society as a whole.

Reply to Defense: cannot fundamentally respect human psychology; does not fundamentally respect your dignity.

Treat equally doesn’t have conflict with have preference. Two dogs in our home, I treat them equally, I feed with the same meal, spend same time with them, buy same shampoo for them, but it doesn’t matter that I love the yellow one more than the black one. Go back to the example of Teresa, if my neighbor stands in my stage, she will save Teresa rather than my daughter. So actually, the probability that both Teresa and my daughter is 50%, so we should still consider that they are treated equally.

The example should be changed to be three people to make sure that possibility will be persuadable.

ATTACK 5: The Calculation Problem

CU cannot give us practical guidance oftentimes. If a moral theory cannot give us practical guidance, it’s not a good moral theory.

Defend: Usually, we don’t need to consider all the variables, only the relevant ones. Even though CU cannot help us to make better choices in our lives.

ATTACK 6: The Application Problem

200 happiness for a guy or 50 happiness each to three girls.

The Utilitarian Defense – Rule Utilitarianism

individual acts vs. rules for acts

The RU question: what general rules in society maximize overall happiness?

– Actions = right/wrong depending on whether they conform to the rules we have chosen for society.

Example: “Don’t easily break promises” OR “Break promises whenever it benefits you!”

– Others:

 – “Don’t lie to others,” OR…

 – “Don’t violate others’ rights,’’ OR…

 – “Be just to others,” OR…

 – “Be loyal to your friends.” OR…

Smart’s Alternative Approach: reject common sense, and embrace the CU position

CU does NOT go against common sense values, it JUSTIFIES them.

(The essence of the common sense is actually all about the happiness. In some situation, we should even break the common sense because of the unhappiness)

Summary: For utilitarianisms, they are not selfish. For example, in the question of prisoner’s dilemma, in order to maximize the happiness of all, utilitarian will choose to deny while ordinary people will choose to confess.

Philosophy

Essay

Abraham and Religious Faith – Review of Fear and Trembling Written by Kierkgeaard

In Fear and Trembling, Johannes de Silentio mentioned a story. God tempted Abraham and asked him to sacrifice his son, Isaac, to him. When Abraham had shown his willingness to sacrifice his son and hold the knife, God sent an angel to stop him. Finally, they go back home together peacefully.

Johannes de Silentio argues that Abraham is remarkable because there is a paradox between what the preachers always preach and the traditional ethics, but not because Abraham is willing to offer the best thing he has to the God. People ignore the ‘anxiety’ in Abraham’s story.

Abraham’s story is always glorious no matter how poorly it is understood. Johannes de Silentio wrote that:

We glorify Abraham, but how? We recite the whole story in clichés: “The great thing was that he loved God in such a way that he was willing to offer him the best.” (F&T, 28)

Johannes de Silentio thinks that the term “the best” is a vague term. Although Abraham loves his son more than anyone, still, Isaac cannot be interchanged with “the best”. Johannes de Silentio uses the example of the rich man whom Jesus met along the way to explain his idea (F&T, 28). On the street, the young man leaved upset because he didn’t want to give away all his possessions. However, even if he did what Jesus said, he cannot become another Abraham. This is because that to money, men don’t have ethical obligation; but to the son, the father has the highest and holiest ethical obligation. If people ignore the anxiety happened through the sacrifice, then they might misunderstand the story.

The ethical expression for what Abraham did is that e meant to murder Isaac; the religious expression is that he meant to sacrifice Isaac—but precisely in this contradiction is the anxiety that can make a person sleepless, and yet without this anxiety Abraham is no who he is. (F&T, 30)

When God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son, Abraham is surely going to the Mount Moriah with faith. If Abraham lacks faith, then he will get nothing. His faith is the individual one, which cannot be understood by others. Ethically, a father should not kill his own son, but his faith requires him to sacrifice his son. Compare to the tragic hero Agamemnon, who sacrificed his daughter to Goddess for the war, his faith is a higher level. When Agamemnon decided to sacrifice his daughter, his soldiers understood his choice, and his decision is still within the ethical. While the tragic hero is great because of his moral virtue, Abraham is great because of a pure personal virtue (F&T, 59). Abraham’s story shows the paradox of the personal faith and ethics, and Johannes de Silentio believes that the individual faith always transcends the ethical.

Johannes de Silentio also claims that the God is love. During the journey to the Mount Moriah, Abraham believes that God will not take his son, and yet he is willing to sacrifice him if it was demanded. This kind of faith is kind of absurd, because it’s absurd for God, who demanded the sacrifice of Isaac, rescinds his requirement in the next moment. This faith and b is connected with absurdity, and the meaning of absurdity is that it lacks the possibility of being understood by others, but still appears as a fact.

But what did Abraham do? He arrived neither too early nor too late. He mounted the ass, he rode slowly down the road…No doubt he was surprised at the outcome, but through a double-movement he had attained his first condition, and therefore he received Isaac more joyfully than the first time. (F&T, 36)

Usually, God is always the representation of the ethics. Abraham’s story is actually the conflict of faith and ethics. In this situation, Johannes de Silentio argues that the individual transcends the ethical.

Ethics is eternal because of its universality because everyone can understand and accept it. Faith is internal because of its individuality, it cannot be adequately described or expressed and it’s difficult to understand for others. What Johannes de Silentio pursued was to set aside time, to pursue eternal purity and to get the courage to stop with the absurdity and faith (F&T, 33), and thus to obtain eternal Isaac like what Abraham did. It is true that this kind of resignation is painful and lonely, but only such persistence can maintain God’s love and faith. Only in this way can one reach the highest state of a person, in another word, the knight of the faith.

Works Cited:

Kierkgeaard, Fear and Trembling, Kierkegaard’s Writings volume XXI.1, ed. & trans. H.V. Hong, et.al. Princeton University Press: 1983.

Philosophy

Essay

Absurdity and Attitude Towards to Absurdity – Review of The Myth of Sisyphus Written by Camus

Living in the world, we may always find absurdity, and Camus purposed his opinion to explain the generation of the absurdity and the attitude towards the absurdity. Camus says that the absurd is born of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world and he thinks that when facing to the absurdity, one should persist awareness of the absurd and revolt the absurdity. I will argue that when the absurdity actually comes from the lack of information, and when facing to the absurdity, one should review himself and ignore the unrealistic absurdity.

Camus believes that the mismatch between human beings and the world leads to the absurdity. At the beginning of Myth of Sisyphus, Camus points out that: “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest…comes afterwards…the meaning of life is the most urgent of questions.” Camus thinks that “suicide”, no matter philosophical suicide or physical suicide, represents that the life is meaningless. Then he starts to talk about the absurd using some specific examples. He also points out the act of a man who armed only with a sword attack a group of machine guns is absurd, and get to the conclusion: “… But it is so solely by virtue of the disproportion between his intention and the reality he will encounter, of the contradiction I notice between his true strength and the aim he has in view.”

 The example is not convincing enough to prove that the absurdity comes from “not in man (if such a metaphor could have a meaning) nor in the world, but in their presence together.” The definition of absurdity provided by Camus is a little bit wrong. When people talking about the absurdity, they are always talking about the absurd actions or the absurd things happening on the others, not themselves. Therefore, the object we always focusing on is the outside world, not the subjective individual themselves. Obviously, Camus mistook the object he wanted to talk about. When a person tries to judge the action of another person is absurd or not, he stands only on his position, which may be affected by lots of limitation. Therefore, in fact, the absurdity doesn’t come from the mismatching of the world and man himself; it comes from the asymmetry or lack of the information.

Let’s consider a specific situation. During the World War II, Polish army rode on the horses and used their swords to fight against Nazi with tanks and advanced weapons. According to Camus’s description, this is an absurd fighting. However, we all know that the battle was not absurd at all – it was a fierce but glorious defense battle. Here comes the question: why will the bystander make wrong judgement after reading Camus’s description? This is because Camus didn’t introduce the complete background knowledge, so the reader will consider the battle in a different way. No one will fight with a stronger enemy without reason, so it’s important to understand the reason or background behind the absurdity. It’s because the lack of information, the bystander will make wrong judgements. Therefore, mostly, absurd is neither comes from the absurdity itself, nor the confrontation between the man and the world. Absurdity always comes from the ignorant of the complete events and the lack of information.

Nagel criticized Camus viewpoints. He thinks that the absurdity arises because of the clash between two human attitudes: “unavoidability of seriousness” and “inescapability of doubt”. He claims that the seriousness is unavoidable because people care about how their lives go and have certain aspirations and projects that matter to them, and the doubt is inescapable because as reflective creatures, human beings have the ability to “step back” and look at their lives from a detached, critical position. Human can adopt this perspective toward any set of goals or values, and nothing is immune from our ability to put it into question. Nagel’s views are more convincing because the absurdity has nothing to do with the world, it’s only about the person himself. It’s human being himself feels absurd, therefore, the focusing object should also be the human being. However, we will find that the seriousness is not always “unavoidable”, and the reflective doubt is not always “inescapable”. The absurd doesn’t come from the confliction of the, it comes from the weakness and limitation of human being.

Take an example of an excellent jumper. A jumper wants to jump 100 meters high, and he works hard for his goal. He trains every day but he still cannot reach the goal. According to Nagel, the jumper has “unavoidable seriousness” and “inescapable doubt”. Now the jumper may think that the world is absurd because his effort doesn’t pay off. If the jumper sets his goal to 2 meters high, we will find that his effort pays off. He may achieve his goal easily. However, if he sets an extremely high goal which is far beyond his power, of course he will find that he cannot make it. In this case, both the seriousness and the doubt can be eliminated by changing a reasonable goal.

Human beings have their limitations. They cannot run as fast as jaguars, and they cannot lift as heavy as elephants. There are differences between individuals, so people all have their own limitation. It will be a disaster if asking Michael Jackson to learn boxing, so if asking Muhammad Ali to learn singing. Usually, the absurdity generates from the excessive demands on oneself and the limitation of one’s ability. In a word, it’s because the lack of understanding of oneself leading to the absurdity. Therefore, the ultimate cause of absurdity is the lack of information towards to a whole event or a specific person.

After knowing the cause of the absurdity, it’s kind of easy to find out the attitude we should have when facing towards the absurdity.

In Myth of Sisyphus, Camus used the example of Sisyphus. Sisyphus is a clever man who tricked Hades into being handcuffed until Ares released Hades and sentenced Sisyphus. Sisyphus was condemned to perpetual stone rolling. Camus thinks that Sisyphus is an “absurd hero” because he is aware of his situation and has inner revolt against the gods. Camus thinks that the best attitude towards absurd is revolting against the absurdity, which is not helpful or practical. The best attitude towards absurd should be ignoring it.

When Camus talks about Sisyphus, he explains the motivation of the rolling stone as “revolt”. Actually, there was nothing happens during the revolt. Sisyphus kept repeating the stone every day, he cannot escape or stop rolling the stone. Nobody can say that Sisyphus’s life is meaningful when rolling the stone, only Sisyphus can tell his true feeling. The fact is that, although he is fighting against the fate, as Camus says, still, nothing has changed. Obviously, Sisyphus will not want to keep rolling the stone, and the world doesn’t give him any response, and that leads to absurdity again. If we think in Camus logic, then the whole thing seems to run into an infinite circle. Therefore, trying to revolt against the fate is not the best method when facing the absurdity.

Sisyphus’s story is interesting because he is sentenced by gods. The gods’ sentences are absolute and irresistible, which make any revolt useless and absurd. Human being’s life is just like the sentence of Sisyphus. We cannot change the fate, sometimes we may think the fate is unfair, and sometimes we are effortless. The absurdity comes from the lack of information, the information contains two parts: the others’ and ourselves’. Learning the information of others’, we are doing our best to achieve our goal; learning the information of ourselves, we are learning the ability and the limitation of ourselves and trying to accept the cans and cannots in our life.

Come back to Sisyphus’s story, we will find a new perspective to explain the story. Sisyphus is so clever that he knows he cannot escape the punishments from the god. Therefore, he didn’t try to fight against the gods because it’s not a wise decision. He repeated the boring and tiring job again and again, although he didn’t want to do. The life seems meaningless when doing the useless work. According to Richard Taylor, his life can be meaningful in two scenarios: Sisyphus’s labor accomplishes some goal, or the gods implant in Sisyphus a desire to roll stones. Taylor argues that meaning can achieved through having some purpose or goal, meaning can also achieved through having a desire to do what he is doing. However, after going through the background of the myth, we will find that both opinions cannot explain the story. The gods want to punish Sisyphus, so it’s clearly that they don’t want Sisyphus working happily. Sisyphus keeps rolling the stone without any desire or goals, just repeating the same motion every day.

As clever as Sisyphus, he must have already considered the meaning of his life, and the absurdity of his situation. Finally, he chose to ignore the absurdity and the meaningless question. Rolling the stone is meaningless, but Sisyphus’s life is meaningful.

During rolling the stone, Sisyphus trains his muscles and becomes stronger and stronger; during rolling the stone, he may look at the sun rise at the mountain which he never pays attention to when he is busy with his kingdom; during rolling the tree, he may have lots of time communicating with his hearts and souls and have lots of time to keep peaceful and steady. Although he doesn’t have the ability to reject the sentence of the gods, he can find something more meaningful than asking himself “is my life meaningful” again and again.

Ignoring the absurdity doesn’t mean that he is cheating or deceiving himself. On the contrary, Sisyphus is soberer than anyone. He knows that human beings have limitation so he should not enrage the gods by refusing rolling the rock, instead, he keeps doing the rolling although he despises the punishment. He ignores the absurdity in his situation, but he pays his attention to things he can control: during the punishment, he learns a lot, and gains a lot. Ignoring the absurdity is the best way to express his despise, and he will find more meaningful things during the process.

Trying to change or control the things exceeding our ability is effortless and meaningless. Absurdity always comes from the lack of understanding of the outer world and inner ourselves. When facing towards the absurdity, we should accept our weakness and adjust our goals or expectations. Ignoring the absurdity and the meaningless problems, focus more on the meaningful questions, the absurdity will be eliminated naturally.

Works Cited:

Camus, A. (1955), The Myth of Sisyphus, trans. O’Brien. Penguin.

Belshaw, C. & Kemp, G., 12 Modern Philosophers, Blackwell Publishing Ltd.