to the Assembled
Herr E. Powers Kraft
MODERN THOUGHT AND ANTARCTICA
Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for having me here
as your speaker. My name is Dr. E. Powers Kraft
and I am interested in discussing the Antarctic connection
to the most profound questions asked on the world in
which Antarctica rests.
The eternal questions, I mean, those asked since
What is Good?
What is bad?
Why is justice important?
Why is it better to be Good and just rather than
bad and unjust?
Most people have the faculties to make judgement
over what is just and unjust. We have a history as ethical
beings. We have many philosophical dilemmas: are ethics
universal and unchanging? or, are they culturally relative?
how can the creation of an ethical system for societies
Big questions are a few, little questions are many.
Usually in classes on the UANT campus today, and indeed
on campuses worldwide, people apply the big principles
to answering the little questions, like:
'Is cloning a Good idea'
'who is in the right, the police or the suspect?'
''was this war a just one?',
is abortion ok?'
'is it ok for the developer to pave this?'
'should Antarctic ice be melted to supply the planet
with fresh water?'
But all these questions are in fact answered from
principles elucidated from the answers we give to the
FEW big questions:
'Does life have a purpose or design?
'Is there a God?
is there life after death?
'Are Good and Evil real?
Are we free or determined?
Few people defend injustice, cruelty, stupidity,
slavery, murder, selfishness, arbitrariness, cowardliness,
addiction, despair, hatred. And few people deride justice,
kindness, wisdom, freedom, peace, courage, unselfish
love, reason, respect for life, self control, hope.
The disagreements come when we 1) apply the principles
in situations and 2) when we try to justify or explain
them by exploring their foundations- as in, where they
come from. In the first situation, you don't need to
necessarily look at history. But for the 2nd, you must
look at it.
BRING OUT THE BEST
Let's perform a thought experiment: what if you could
take King Solomon, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Acquinas,
Augustine, Descartes, Pascal, Kant, Neitszsche, Buddha,
Kirkgaard, and bring them into our lives to see what
they would do? We can, at least, do it to their ghosts.
They wrote great books which give a kind of afterlife
to their thoughts. We can insert them into our conversation
by inserting us into theirs. They talked to each other
in their books, and we are here to talk back. They are
not entertainers, they are thought-stimulators.
APPLYING THEIR THOUGHTS
On all seven continents but especially here in the
Western World, we live in what seems to be in fact
a Brave New World. We seem to have so many new
problems: scandals in government, cloning, genetic engineering,
radically new ideas about the family, terrorism, wmd's...
but in practice they are not wholly new. There have
always been scandals, because we have always found it
hard to practice our principles. Especially in theory
there is not much new, because there can in fact be
no new ethical principles. Are there any new ethical
principles out there? No. Only new applications of the
same old ones. The principles themselves are timeless.
How do I know this? Imagine a society dedicated to
selfishness, cowardess, dishonesty and injustice as
moral goods! We can't imagine it because such a society
wouldn't last long. We can imagine that a personal preference
for rape or torture may exist in some societies, but
we cannot imagine there to be a moral obligation to
do those things. The moral obligation would be not to
do what one's baser selfishness wants even in the most
In all history, no one has ever discovered a new
MORAL VALUES: ARE THEY, LIKE, REAL?
I used college-student tone to show you how different
I am from you. Can you imagine me talking that way?
Give me a break. Now, where do the original moral values
come from? Do we create them like the rules of a game-
using our artistic skills, or do we discover them like
scientist, using observation and deduction? The first
is subjective, the second objective. The answer EVERY
pre-modern society gave in reply to this question is
that they were discovered. They were, and are, objective.
Most intellectuals in the West today say they are not.
They counter that moral virtues were generated artistically
by our ancestors in the game of life. Good rules, perhaps,
to generate for the continuence of their certain cultural
strain. Modern philosophers criticize the old view that
there are unchanging, objective, universal moral values-
as narrow minded and dogmatic.
Why the Antarctic trend to recapturing the moral
traditionalists of Christendom? If moderns say that
the subjective view is correct and that values are culturally
relative, and Antarctica's people are also modern and
in fact depend on science for daily living to a high
degree- shouldn't they instead agree with the moderns?
3/4 of all Antarctica residents and students proclaim
the Gospel of Jesus and the Constantinapolitan Nicene
Creed in the last survey, and that number is no doubt
growing. I am even considering re-evaluating my own
positions on the matter.
Well, if the new Antarctica trend is correct and
the moral virtues are objective, and that we do discover
them instead of inventing them, from where are
they to be discovered? In nature? Somewhere else beyond
nature? If in nature, somewhere in that part we call
human nature? Is human nature unchanging then? These
are difficult questions.
If one claims this is not so, that moral values do
not come from nature / human nature, then moral values
cannot be unchanging. So, where do they come from?
PHILOSOPHY IS ESPECIALLY ABOUT THIS BIG QUESTION
The first philosopher was confronted with this very
problem, moral objectivism vs. moral subjectivism. Moral
truth vs. the non-existence of moral truths. He agreed
that there were such objective values, such true ones,
but that they were not secure, obvious or easy to find.
So, he offended both the dogmatists and skeptics of
ancient Athens. Lets see how: If you are a dogmatist
and "already know all the answers", see, you
do NOT philosophize and ask questions. Conversely, if
you are a skeptic of moral truths and do not think there
is indeed something called objective truth(s) to know,
you do NOT ask questions about them either. Philosophers,
however, think there is a truth to be found, and
want to get at it. We have been teaching philosophy
at University Peak for nearly 40 years, and many of
our students are second generation Antarctica residents.
I am willing to posit that a new culture is forming
here based on this enquiry. There may be some truth
to be found, but that is something you must decide for
yourself. People here have a relatively high standard
of living despite the harsh elements. Perhaps the harshness
points the compass of the mind to parts unknown for
exploration. What do you think about it?
When you are thinking, indeed, when you are really
thinking, you feel exhausted after about an hour. My
lecture today will run about six hours. I hope you and
I both will have the stamina to make it through. We
will be tired of thinking at 1730. You see how long
the road to get to that time is... and how easy it is
to forget the blatherings of a full day speaker. Don't!
WESTERN AND ANTARCTICAN TRADITIONAL ETHICS
What is ethics about? The Good. Ethics and morality
are the same thing. Some people think morals are spontaneous
unthought values, and ethics are carefully considered.
Not so. Its only a matter of degree. Other people think
morals are private values while ethics are public values
for everyone in society. Well, in that sense people
think morals are usually sexual morals, while ethics
is about justice. Not so. Both are important and need
to work well. Sex is something you do with someone else,
even if only in your fantasies, and so is not merely
private. Justice is but something only an individual
can practice. To call a whole society Good or bad, you
really mean that there are Good or bad individuals in
society. Or, you mean the laws and institutions which
make those people better or worse. All are one. There
is no way of keeping a moral value in the private sector
alone, or in the public sector alone.
-It is about the Good, the Good life, Good and evil,
right and wrong. Most people understand this, but the
mistake is made more often in conflating what ethics
is NOT. For example:
1- it is NOT a check up, like a veto power- which
is a negative thing, but that's wrong. It Good!
It is about the Good life, not about not doing something to
follow a list of rules and regulations. So, 'ethics'
is not a list of rules, it is an investigation into
the substantive: what IS the Good life and a prescription
showing how people can fulfill that good life.
Telling a joke is ethical, it helps with the Good life.
Jokes hurt or heal, they can weaken a foolish attachment
to a demagogue through satire, or weaken our attachment
to something Good through unfair ridicule. Like atomic
energy, jokes can be used for good or ill.
2- It is not a set of mores. Mores facts, morals
are values. Mores are patterns of behavior, common to
man and beast, morals are unique to man only. We can't
say animals because we are animals, rational ones. Beast
is an animal without human reason. Morals are principles
of behavior and are in man only. Shame, meanwhile, is
the frustration over being accepted. Shame comes from
others. Guilt comes from yourself. When dog pisses on
carpet, it feels shame. Not guilt. When your ass falls
down in public, you feel shame but not guilt. You didn't
freely choose it. In guilt, yourself is divided into
two. One is the judge which tells the that you have
been bad, the other is the self being judged, that hears
it. This is not consciousness, but self-consciousness.
That is why only man has ethics.
Humans have three gifts beasts don't have:
a) power of free choice and ability to make moral
judgement. For example, an amimal might stop hitting
you on the head cause it hurts bad, but they would not
understand that it is wrong to hit you on the head.
b) religion, the ability to worship something like
c) aesthetic beauty appreciation (not for sexual
purposes) but for its own sake. How about curiousity?
Well, higher animals have this somehow... but we have
a power they don't in this respect. We have abstract
minds they do not, we know men are mortal, and we have
words for concrete and abstract things.
3-Ethics is not like psychology, about how you feel
about yourself, in relation to Good and evil, as in,
guilt feelings about yourself. Psychology may take away
our guilt feelings, but it cannot take away our guilt.
For that we need the blood of Christ.
In psychology you say I feel that... in essays. Not
in philosophy. You think or believe but you do not feel.
You must state a truth-claim. A feeling is not a claim.
Philosophy is not like religion either, because philosophy
does not claim to remove guilt, but can argue about
it. Religion claims to remove guilt.
4-it is not Ideology, either left or right. Ideology
is manmade, whereas Ethics seeks the real truth about
Good and evil which does not change from time and place.
Ideology changes from time and place. Ideology can be
judged as moral or immoral. Right and left argue about
this. For example, is it more ethical to give poor people
welfare or teach them to fish? Ethics argues about and
judged ideology. Today, ethical philosophers called
deconstructionists disagree, they say that ethics is
just ideology too, wearing a mask and camoflaged. Power
putting on the mask of justice. Just might makes right,
like Machiavelli said. This is what the sophists said
5-it is not meta ethics. ethics is thinking about
Good and evil. meta ethics is thinking about ethics.much
of contemporary ethics research is meta ethics. How
are moral statements linguistically meaningful, how
moral reasoning differs from reasoning about facts.
These are secondary. First you have to make a moral
choice, then reflect on it, and only then can we in
the 3rd place reflect on our ethical reflections. Ordinary
people rarely ask them, and we will focus on first order
questions directly about moral choice.
6-it is not applied ethics. there are many new tricky
situations that call for the application of ethical
principles, social science, biology etc. but ethics
itself does not legislate within a particular field
per se. Medical ethics it is not, because one must know
not only ethics but medicine.
7-ethics is not religion: one does not NEED religious
faith to do ethics, but religious faith may help you
to do ethics. They may be marriable, but they are as
different as male and female: ethics is based on reason
and religion is based on faith or on fear... but religious
fear is different than practical fear: fear of god or
a spirit is not like fear of a tiger or cancer or a
bullet. Its in something in another dimension, something
unknown, awesome. The religious instinct is to
believe in or aspire to or worship that transcendent
mysterious something. The moral instinct is to feel
obligated to do Good and avoid evil. Both instincts
are against the base practical. I might put myself in
danger to help someone drowning. But I might do it anyway
because I am morally obligated. In the West, both religion
and ethics have the same end, because that which is
religiously worshipped is also supremely moral- but
religious and moral instinct can be separate too- atheists
reject religion but not morality.
WHAT ETHICS IS ABOUT?
So, Ethics is not about a check up, mores, psychology,
ideology, meta ethics, applied ethics or religion. What
IS it about? The Good life.
Ethics is about 3 terms:
1) Good- means the thing desired. the goal, the ideal,
the fulfillment, the telos
2) Right- the opposite of wrong as defined by some
3) Ought- personal responsibility, obligation, duty,
experienced in conscious
And Ethics has 3 main questions- relate them to a
fleet of ships at sea, and ethics is our orders: How
to cooperate: how to avoid bumping into each other,
how to supply each other's needs. This is SOCIAL ETHICS.
How to have your boat stay ship-shape and afloat: that
is INDIVIDUAL ETHICS. How to be a Good person, just
as if you don't start with good bricks, you don't wind
up with a good building. What your mission is. This
is most important. Why are they at sea in the first
place? That corresponds to the question of values, esp.
the highest value. The meaning of life. The ultimate
purpose and goal of human life. If we don't know where
we are going, it doesn't matter which road we
take. In Alice in Wonderland, she asks Chesire Cat:
Which way should I go from here? That depends where
you want to go I don't care where... Then it doesn't
matter where you go.
Quo Vadis: Where are you going?
Modern philosophers ignore that question because
either they are afraid its too religous and that arguing
about reiligion will put us back in the time of religous
wars, or they are too skeptical to think we can ever
have an answer. They distinct facts from values, so
that values cannot be facts, and therefore not knowable
as true or false. Ancient philosophers do not make that
distinction. They think values are the most important
facts of all, that what ought to be is a dimension of
what is. Their world-view (metaphysics) included a life-view.
What is your metaphysics? Ethic depends on metaphysics,
Your ethics depends on your metaphysics, so you got
to know the answer to, "Quo Vadis". Ethics
also must depend on your anthropology: on your philosophy
on human nature, cause you gotta know the nature of
man. Also, it depends on epistemology, the knowledge
of how you know knowledge (through senses, perception,
ancient chords of memory, etc.). Now that we have
an introduction to ethics and how Antarctican ethic
is understood to exist, it's the contrast between ancient
and modern ethics that I want to discuss now. It is
a huge distinction.
THE GREAT CONVERSATION AND ANTARCTICA
Students, researchers, scientists, fellow professors,
visitors... you sometimes lose your way. Sometimes you get confused
in all this talk. I can see it from the podium. Many
of you UANT students in the audience looking back at
me, like you--> and you---> (laughter). That's
means you are trying to understand and enter the Great Conversation.
What is the Great Conversation? A dinner party, a very
old one. Imagine back to when you were a kid. You are
overhearing an adult conversation that's been going
on for 2,500 years. Listening, you feel a mixture of
confusion and fascination. That is the experience of
someone beginning to study history, ethics and philosophy.
In Antarctica, indeed here on the University Peak campus,
this feeling comes awash over all of us at one point
or another. If it hasn't awashed your face as of yet,
I hope today will be its catalyst for your baptism into
the Great Conversation.
Enter, then, the great conversation. Of course,
it takes time. You need to know some history first,
which is why Western Civ. here at UANT is a good class
to take. The Triad Program is full of moments of an
almost electric introduction to this reality and what
the adults are talking about.
What has the conversation been about so far? Reading
the great books can do it for you time and again. If
you let Plato talk to you in the Republic, and you talk
back, literally, with your tongue, you will find your
great book coming alive. It is like a ghost, a ghost
of its author. Mortimer Adler's How to Read a Book can
teach you how to do it if you need some coaching. But
for us, the best way to understand something that is
bewildering, is to find a point of reference. Hard to
find because we have so many modern philosophies now, and
it is a very pluralistic situation.
Yet, we can relate
them all somehow or another to one common point of reference:
the single ethical philosophy that was universally believed
until recent times. It consisted of the classical Greco-Roman
culture PLUS the Judeo-Christian, and the medieval synthesis
of the two. That is, as they would say today about an
ongoing message online, our thread.
Also useful to do because the disputes today happen
to be between the old and the new views! Are you one
of those postmoderns who has forgotten the old, premodern
view? If so, let me give you an wake up call. An overview- a summary,
if you will, of the old view. I will outline now twelve
differences between the 'old fashioned' and 'newfangled'.
Old fashioned is of course the greater of the two. And
you know this in your bones.
We even tribute it... by calling it 'ancient
wisdom'. Have you ever heard of 'modern wisdom', for
example? No. Even though
we have so much more knowledge available, its still
just knowledge. And wisdom is something that knowledge
is not. Encyclopedia facts and technical know-how are
the beginning of wisdom, not the end. When not combined
with a sound ethics and social promise, they can become
tools of oppression of the megamachine. We do recognize,
surely, 'modern knowledge'. But let's see what
there is to learn from the ancients:
Assumption I of the ancients is that ethics comes
first. Absolutely first, not second or third. It is
the single most important ingredient to a Good life
for the ancient teachers. And the whole point of life
was not life per se, but moral virtue, which equalled
what they called in old times the Good. There was disagreement
on if material success was necessary for a Good life.
Aristotle said yes, Plato said no, but moral virtue
was the main ingredient in the Good life for both. Moderns
question if it is moral virtue that is even necessary-
they invert the argument and say material success is
in fact the key to a good life. Our priorities have
changed. Ethics was central to the ancient leaders:
Greek, Roman, Jewish and Christian, but is more of an
afterthought to our modern intellectuals...
Assumption II of the ancients, showing that ethics is
FIRST not second, is given credence by remembering that
morality for them was not a means to an end, but
it is the end in itself. The point of living is to live
well, not just to live. Not just to BE, but to BE GOOD.
It would be wise, even, to sacrifice to be Good.
The ancients did not feel surprised or resentful when
the need for sacrifice arose. Not because they were
primitive, but because they were sure of the rightness
of their philosophy. Sacrifice was a part of blessedness,
and happiness. Also, there was respect for tradition,
authority and obedience. How old-fashioned! Certainly
that is out of style. Just yesterday I saw on this very
campus a monitor with something that looked like an
emergency flare put it in the ground and out came a
rainbow ray, it went into the snow and made my loins
tingle. It was extremely disrespectful. The word conformity
has in any case a negative connotation now, but
it did not to the ancients. To be clear, however,
this was not just any old conformity. It was conforming
to higher authorities- to abstractions like moral values,
and great sages, saints, great minds and books, which
stored the tradition. That conformity is no longer popular
because the basic consensus on what good has been obliterated.
Not for the last 500 years since Luther and and especially
not in the last 50. Because of this newness and newfound
variety and diversity, we tend to believe that different
cultures create different values. But the ancients were
NOT cultural relativists, except the Sophist teachers
of Athens, who were the only exception. The ancients
knew that one cannot just create or invent a new morality.
One would have to create a new universe. So my question
to you the audience now is WHY don't we like conformity
anymore? And I will give my answer, as you probably
guessed. It is because when we speak of conformity to
authority today, it means the arbitrary authorities
of changing social fashions or the current political
elite. Do not be fooled: the ancients thought highly
of conformity to authority because they were thinking
not of conformity to power but of conformity to goodness.
Not might, but right. "Authority" itself meant
moral power, not political power. Not the power of rulers
and propagandists. This is one of the sharpest differences
between ancients and modern moral attitudes. The ancients
respected conformity and humility and looking up to
your moral superiors. They assumed something that we
do not: they assumed that hierarchy exists as a concrete
thing. In other words, superiority and inferiority.
To use a word even more out of fashion: inequality.
Here's an example: a student at UANT a week ago came
to me and said she had read everything she could about
Heaven, and still couldn't picture what it was like
in her head. She had even stated that she didn't want
to go there because she was afraid of it. She asked
me if we would all be the same in heaven. I responded
with the correct answer, which is, "No- heaven
is not a democracy, and it is not based in equality.
You'll not have equality with God." She was shocked
but I believe understood, because she replied, "That's
a relief, I don't know if I'd want equality with God."
I laughed, hesitatingly. (laughter)
Another assumption of the ancients about
ethics, the third, was that you do ethics by using Reason-
If Moses or Socrates or Aquinas were transplanted here
to Antarctica or anywhere else,
the most shocking thing for them would be the reverence
we have for people's feelings instead of rationality. "I feel
bad, so it means it is bad...", disarms any other
argument. Socrates meanwhile,
said, "If only you were wise enough to know that you
cannot be happy without exercising moral virtue... than
you would be virtuous." Live according to reason and
not emotion, and you will see. Why did they give such
a power, such a store to reason? They must have had a broader concept
of it: not just calculation and logic and scientific
method, but wisdom in all its facets. The rational animal
is not just an ape with a computer!
Assumption of the ancients is that ethics is open
to religion. Modern ethics separates itself from religion
totally, sometimes even anti-religion. At the least,
it does not base itself on religion. This is because
there is no longer a religious consensus. We live in
a pluralistic society in which out memories are scarred
by the memories of religious wars. This secularization
disestablished religion from a political force to a
purely spiritual force. Modern ethics shies away from
asking the greatest of all question: what is the meaning
of life? This question sounds too religious, divisive,
offensive and therefore dangerous. Well, a moral and
ethic code is part of every religion... atheists also
have a moral code. All can agree a little on ethics,
if not on theology. So, in America, we have grounded
law in this certain agreed upon ethics (natural laws),
instead of a particular religion. Of course, moral controversies
have divided America: women vote, minority votes, prohibition,
civil rights, abortion, etc. But NONE of them were religious
controversies: like in Europe: 30 years war, religous
wars, french revolution... and though religion informs
people's attitudes like in abortion, or in civil
rights... but those controversies are not about religion
itself, but morality. Historically though, religion
was the most powerful source, motivator and informer
of people's morality. Dostoyevsky: If God does
not exist, everything is permissible. He meant that
if you believe in a moral God, and that morality goes
all the way up into eternity, and merges with ultimate
reality, you will take it much more seriously. That
is why the Founding Fathers encouraged religion as the
strongest support for morality, which therefore is the
strongest support for a just and peaceful and happy
polity. That connection is very much in question today...
most of our ancestors did not believe that an atheist
could be ethical. Today, most do. Ancients had a deeper
concept of happiness- as objective perfection of life,
fulfillment of life- not just subjective contentment...
And a deeper concept of ethics which is not just a set
of rules, and so did not contrast ethics and happiness.
If you want to be happy, you have to be Good. They believed
ethics was not just a set of rules that interferes with
what you WANT to do, but one in the same with what we
do want. Ethics is the roadmap to the country of our
happiness. The ancients based their ethics on human
nature. All the ancients based their ethics on human
nature. That is what it mans natural law. Those who
used human animal nature (happiness of the flesh) to
find happiness, like Epicurius and Lucretius, deduced
from this anthropolgy that the greatest happiness was
comfort, pleasure and peace. Those who thought human
nature was the same or like that of the gods, that is
to say spiritual, deduced, like Plato and Plotinus,
that the real happiness was spiritual, and that material
Goods did not count nearly as much as spiritual. Some
joined the two, like Aristotle. For him, human nature
was neither fully animal nor angel, and both spiritual
Goods like wisdom and virtue, and also material Goods
like pleasure and wealth counted too. Spiritual Goods
just counted more. Moderns are more skeptical- they
do not base their ethics on anthropology at all, but
on desire and satisfaction (calculating the consequences
of an act in terms of the greatest satisfaction for
the greatest number of people, which is called utilitarianism),
or else on pure reason abstracted from human nature,
like Kan'ts purely logical Categorial Imperative: do
un to others as you would have them do un to you. Instead
of any specific argument based on human nature, such
as 1. do not steal because humans need private property
or 2. do not commit adultery because human sex is for
families not just for individuals or 3. keep a sabbath
because humans need leisure for their highest capacities
to flourish... instead of this, we have a kind of do
whatever to others whatever you want to them to do to
you idea - meaning something abstract, not specific
content which could be right or wrong. Instead of 7,
we have something like 3. We have mere equality between
the people in the equation as a given, and that's the
criteria for moral Goodness, something you can have
a consensus on, divorced from anthropological human
nature. Now, Early Modern philosophies did base ethics
on anthropology: Hobbes and Machiavelli found human
natures to be evil and selfish and competitive animals:
their ethics consisted on power and insititutions to
check this nasty human nature. Contrast this then with
Rousseau, who believed anthropoligcal human nature was
essentially Good, he had a relaxed and permissive ethics.
The Founding Fathers denied both Hobbesian pessimism
and Rousseauian optimism: they gave us a republic that
presupposes the ability of everyone to make Good choices,
yet with checks and balances just to make sure. If men
were angels, laws would be unnecessary. When a lady
asked Ben Franklin what kind of government the Continnental
Congress had come up with in Philadelphia, he said,
"A Republic, madam, if you can keep it.
For the ancients, the most important question was
not "What is a Good person" or "what
are Good virtues" or "how should I treat other
people" or "how might we have a just society!"
These are all important, but the MOST important question
was "What is the summum bonum?" What is the
meaning of life, the greatest Good? If, like moderns,
you think the scientific method is the only way to come
up with real answers, than you cannot have hope that
this question can ever be answered. You cannot put the
value of virtue, money, pleasure etc. into a test tube
and see which is the most basic, as you can put chemicals
in to see which is hotter, heavier etc. Of course, its
a kind of contradiction: the scientific method cannot
prove that it is the only way to find truth. So its
a paradox: its your choice to use that method always,
sometimes or never, and your values prepare the way
for it to be used as a tool. A materialist who believes
that only material things are real, would
use it always. A spiritualist, like a hindu or buddhist
mystics, who believe matter is only an illusion, would
use it never. A dualist who believes in both spiritual
and material, would use it sometimes. He would use it
on material things, but not spiritual things. Ancient
Western culture was dualist. There were champions of
the material, like Epicurus and Democritus and Lucretius,
or the spiritual, like Plotinus. Modern Western culture
is much more materialistic (at least its philosophers
are). Ancients believed that politics WAS social ethics.
No totally different ethics for individuals and their
societies. The ends, the aim, of society, is virtue,
just as the end of individual life is virtue! No modern
believes this. Except Peter Morin, who said, "A
good society is one that helps you to be Good."
The ancients would have said Duh! But today NO ONE believes
this. The aim of society for moderns is totally in question,
sometimes the question is off the table. The philosopher
who effected this huge change in philosophy was... Machiavelli,
400 years ago! Most modern systems of political philosophy
are watering downs of Machiavelli's trashing of the
idea that the aim of society is moral virtue. Ancients
believed that human nature had both Good and evil in
it. Some moderns believe this too... but now many also
believe these: 1. we have no essence at all. its whatever
is put on the tabula rasa, total environmentalism, total
nurture. The master philosopher of this is Marx. Human
nature is just the word, put there by others, and is
malleable. There is nothing in common between feudal
man, capitalist man and communist man. 2. pessimism.
man is innately bad, not Good, and it takes Hobbsian
force to keep him acting Good. So ethics is like the
bit in a horses mouth, so the man-horse can be driven
in the right direction. 3. the most popular in America
today: optimism. man is innately Good, not bad. he is
innately Good, so blame social structures, blame society,
but don' t blame him. Don't blame the man, the victim.
Man was born Good. Many people want ethics to be
scientific- its a popular belief that the rise of science
kicks out religion, but not ethics. For example,
as in Greece when Socrates and philosophy gradually
kicked out mythological paganism, so in Western Europe
since 1600 science has done that to the Christian religion.
So, we SHOULD base ethics on science. A scientific ethic.
But, this history is a little too simple: religion is
still around first of all, and science has not disproved
a single religious dogma: it was not DOGMA that the
earth is only 6000 years old, or that hell is at the
center of the earth. These were just popular opinion.
The decline of religion was not caused by science itself,
but by something else. Yes, science has succeeded, as
has its practical product: technology. And that is our
great Western modern project. It separates us from all
the ancients, and from all other civilizations. So,
can ethics be scientific? The Enlightenment project
tried to make it so, but, If the scientific method is
the ONLY way to get to objective truth, then ethics
must be either scientific or subjective. And this leads
us again to the HUGE difference between ancient and
modern morality: the ancients believe morals to come
from nature, human nature and was objective. Because,
nature is not only what science can SEE. The moderns
do not. To them. morals are subjective, and culturally
relative, and manmade. In all ancient philosophies,
ethics was dependent on metaphysics. Ethics is your
life-view and metaphysics is your world-view. Moderns
do not base ethics on your metaphysical world-view,
because they are skeptical of the existence of metaphysics.
Kant had the greatest attempt at proving this.
Its something intuitive, not just logical. For the ancients,
the most important question was actually not, "What
is a Good person" or, "what are Good virtues"
or, "how to treat other people" or, "how
to have a just society"...! These are all very
important, but the MOST important question was "What
is the summum bonum? What is the meaning of life, the
greatest Good- the end to which we seek"? On the
road to that summum bonum, (also called by the Greek
word "telos"), the ancients said that what
makes a society prosper, is ethics. Today we say it
is economics. Plato in the Republic had one paragraph
on economics, and ten whole books on ethics. Moderns
say that economics is what makes a society prosper.
Candidates for public office argue about economics all
the time, but not about ethics (unless there is some
scandal). Huge difference: if you were to write to the
bishop or king of any ancient society, asking an ethical
question like "what is the meaning of life, what
is Good and evil, what is the nature of reality?"
You would actually get answers! An official answer!
If you asked this today of a government, they would
not only think you were a nut, but tell you, if you
press them for an answer, "We don't (can't) tell
you that, its up to you." So, our society gives
us more knowledge, power, wealth, freedom and distraction
than any ancient society, but it gives us less meaning.
That means we have to find moral meaning for ourselves.
Most people actually like that if you ask them. In fact,
they explicitly don't want the government telling them
what is Good. But it gives us an obligation to find
out for ourselves.
THE STORY SO FAR - SOCRATES
We Western people today have both
the ancient and the modern in our passionate minds. The two sides
have to learn how to talk to the self. We have to do
our own thinking. But can the 'mind' make you a better
person? Can philosophy help you to actually live a Good
life? Well, Socrates said it could. He was convinced
the key to a moral life was wisdom... wisdom gained
through philosophy. Can virtue be taught, then?
Socrates said not only that it could, but that reason
can be taught as well, and good, free thinking people
can be molded into being from humble beginnings. In
that way, people (like us) who care about a better life
for ourselves and our society are children of Socrates.
Socrates taught about the role of reason in ethics.
He was born in 5th Century Greece, died in 399 BC at
70, condemned to death by a jury of 501 democratic citizens.
No one man in history, except perhaps Jesus, has made
more of a difference in the history of the West. All
philosophy after him (and science- which is a spin off
from philosophy) stems from Socrates. Half of Western
culture depends on Socrates! Every single philosophical school in antiquity
except materialistic Epicurianism claims lineage from Socrates:
much like all Christian denominations claim lineage from Jesus.
The difference between Socrates and pre-socratics
is much more than the difference between Socrates and
his successors. THAT is his power. What made him different
was his whole new way of thinking. He invented a skeleton
key for thinking, a reasoning power tool: he invented
the logica argument. When a point was really proven
to be true, to any reasonable person, that was done
using logical reasoning. Its a thing, that can be used,
and appealed to. He questioned people as a lawyer questions
someone in court, this is the Socratic Method. In doing
it in a logical way, he could show you that if you accept
a certain number of premises as true, you HAVE to accept
certain conclusions to be true, too. If all A is B,
and all B is C, then it absolutely must be true that
all A is C.
This seems simple and innate, but Socrates first
discovered and practiced this art. It awoke from its
long slumber in the mind of Socrates first, who
gave it expression through his voicebox and his actions.
In Socrates, reason became aware of itself. It became
differentiated in the mind. Why was it in the West that
science arose and not in Eastern Civilization? Oriental
Man is no less brilliant and wise than Occidental man!
So why did he remain intuitive and mystical instead
of rational and scientific? Barrett's book Irrational
Man tries to figure that out. He says its because of
Socrates and his successors. Socrates applied the new
rationality to ethics. He was not interested in politics,
like Plato was, or the arts etc. Just the connection
between reason and ethics. He said, "Virtue IS
knowledge, and vice is ignorance. If you really know
the Good, what is Good for you, then you will do it.
Thus, all evildoing is rooted in ignorance. Not ignorance
of facts, but ignorance of values. This sounds stupid:
we know of brilliant villains and dull 'Good' people:
Marquis d' Sade and Forrest Gump, for example. Well,
that just means intellectuals are no more virtuous,
per say, than other people. So, what does he mean by
saying that virtue is knowledge and vice is ignorance?
We all have the experience of knowing what is Good and
what is evil, and yet choosing evil. Socrates is not
ignorant of this, and his answer, as to why, is found
in one of the greatest speeches ever made: the Apology
before the court. Apology is not an admission of guilt,
but defense of beliefs. More like, I'm not sorry at
all, in fact, Ill prove I'm right. He tells the democratic
crowd/jury the story about how he became a philosopher.
He is on trial for atheism, and he answers that charge
by telling how pious he really is: At the oracle of
apollo at delphi, there lived the delphic oracle, a
prophetess who gave guaranteed true answers in the form
of riddles, inspired by the god apollo. Even Greeks
who were skeptical of the gods (and there were many)
believed in the oracle because it always came out right.
So, Socrates friend Kairophon asked, "is there
anyone in this world wiser than my friend Socrates?"
And the oracle answered "no." When he told
Socrates later, he was shocked. He had no wisdom! Now
comes the part that proves his piety: instead of dismissing
the oracle as a fraud, he assumed that apollo's oracle
did not lie, and wanted to understand the meaning of
this riddle. So, he wanted to seek out a wiser person
and take that person to the oracle to have it explain
its riddle based on the new evidence of a wiser person.
But he never got to go to the oracle with this wise
man, because he never found him. What he found instead
was that everybody thought they had wisdom, but upon
cross-examination, they didn't. So, the self-fulfilling
prophecy of the oracle was born: the oracle's answer
made Socrates go out and invent the Socratic Method,
the art of cross examination, and become a philosopher.
The oracle's riddle was the catalyst that originated
Western Philosophy's method of understanding! An example
of a Socratic conversation: he would find a politician
and ask him a simple question:
Oh great and wise politican, what are you wise about?
Justice I am wise about, Justice- that's my thing.
Oh well, then can you answer me the simplest question
about it what is it? What is justice- so I don't
confuse it with injustice.
Oh socrates, everybody knows what justice is.
Do then you know too? please tell me so I know.
It means paying back what you owe and being paid
back in turn what is owed to you.
Thank you sir, good day. Wait! Before you go, I'm
not sure I understand your definition. Do you mean
that if i had lent you my knife, and then i became a
maniac, that it would be just for you to give me back
my knife in that state?
No! Of course not.
Well then, justice is not always paying what is owed,
because it would be paying me back to give me back my
property, but not just. So, please tell me what justice
is universally, by its essence.
Socrates, don't be a troublemaker!
THE SOCRATIC PARADOX
Socrates would go home, thinking that he learned
not much about what justice is, but thinking he did
learn a lot about what wisdom is. This man thought he
was wise, but he was not. Socrates knew he was not wise,
and so he actually was. After much of this, he came
to the conclusion that he indeed was the wisest one,
because he at least knew that he didn't have the required wisdom,
and that is why he asked questions that no one else
did. He found out that people come in one of two kinds:
fools who think they are wise, and the wise who know
they are fools. He therefore tried to help people become
wiser, by teaching them or getting them to understand
that they were actually fools- fools who needed wisdom.
Who needed to love knowledge so much they were prepare
to seek it wherever it may lead. Who needed to be philo-sophers
(lovers of wisdom) and that to get at it, they had better
start asking questions.
This paradox is cute, maybe even profound. Wisdom's
priority one lession is that you must humble yourself
into understanding that you need to inquire. That inquiry
gets you to knowledge and that knowledge is virtue.
To be virtuous is to be wise, and one cannot be wise
without being virtuous. Self-knowledge, therefore, is
inherent in wisdom. The first step to virtue is to know
yourself. 'Knowing thyself' meant searching for the
wisdom you know you don't have through self-reflection.
Secondly, this self-knowledge meant to know something
of human nature, to know what you were- along with who.
SOCRATES WAS RELIGIOUS
Over the temple of Apollo was the inscription, "Know
Thyself". It is the key to ethics. Socrates followed
this law better than anyone in Greece! Ironically, the
only man democratic Athens ever executed for a religious
crime was really the most religious man Athens ever
produced! He was following the precepts of Apollo the
god of widsom better than anyone. The parallels with
Jesus here are remarkable. In the Antarctic trend glorifying
the risen Christ, a significant substrain reveres the
wise old man of Athens. In the Apology, this wise old
man taught another paradox: he taught to be sure of
this: "if you kill me, you are harming yourselves-
for the eternal law makes it impossible for a Good man
to be harmed by a bad one."
This was his swan song. But what does this actually
mean? Its baffling really. He means it is literally
impossible for a Good man to suffer evil either in this
world or the next. Socrates answer to, "why bad
things happen to Good people?" is that they never
do! Yes, Socrates is giving us a puzzle, and in solving
it, we become wise.
SOLVING THE PUZZLE
His meaning is that, like in Apollo's puzzle, "Know
thyself", (which did not mean "what personal
feelings and experiences have you had in your life?")
but, "what is a human being- and therefore what
are you and what is your nature? Put another way, what
is the ESSENCE of man?" If you find the answer
to his question, you will find the answer to why
a Good man cannot suffer any evil. The link is that
evil cannot be done to a Good man because of the answer
to 'know thyself'. Because of what a 'man' is. What
his basic essence is... when honor, freedom and even
life are taken away, what is it that is left? What
is his ESSENCE? Socrates himself provided the example
at his execution. These guys took it all from Socrates,
even his life.
THE ESSENCE OF MAN
But, the ESSENCE of man is necessarily that which
cannot be taken away: His virtue and his wisdom. Where
are those things located? Not in his mind or body, but
in his soul. The true self, therefore, is the soul-
the inner self- the personality- the character. That
is why bad people cannot harm Good people, because they
cannot attack your soul. Evil from outside can attack
your body, and can harm only your body. The only evil
that can harm you comes from YOU, from the inside. It
comes by your folly and your vice. No one else can make
you foolish or vicious, wise or virtuous. No one but
YOU is in charge of your soul, your character,
your personality. Not society, but you- are the master
of your fate, and the captain of your soul.
THE GREATEST DISCOVERY
This discovery was a radical discovery in the history
of human consciousness. Today we call the self a 'who'
not a 'what', but this is due to Socrates. The Greek
word for soul is psyche (see-shay). Before Socrates,
that word meant ghost. Today, as in psychology, it means
self. And in movies today, they usually show the 'soul'
coming out of the body like a ghost, like the pre-socratic
philosophers imagined it. But for Socrates, its the
body that is the ghost- the soul is the real thing that
lasts. Its the solid unkillable thing. Socrates changed
the meaning of the word psyche (soul). When Christianity
arrived, it found a ready made word for the self...
psyche. Soul. So, Know Thyself is the key that explains
the paradox of evil: it cannot happen to the self, it
can only be chosen by the self. We are responsible for
what happens to us, because we choose to be happy. No
evil, or Good, can just 'happen' to a man. When Christianity
came into the world four centuries later, Jesus says
something like this- because he says that the soul is
closer to your essence, and your body is more outward.
Its not everything, but its primary. The body may not
be nothing, indeed it is your temple, but it is, in
Jesus said to the Pharisees that the devil cannot
come to you from ritual impurities, only from within...
from your own heart. The Know Thyself principle, then,
makes clear that all virtue is knowledge. That if you
only KNOW the Good, you will do it. That all evil comes
from ignorance. And if true, this is an astonishing
breakthrough: we would have isolated the cause of evil,
and to know the cause, is to know the cure. What is
more important than that? How revolutionary is this
idea? Lets assume: that we all seek our own Good...
not harm... for ourselves. Its a psychological fact.
A second thing: you know yourself, and know that the
self is the soul, and that your own true Good is the
Good of your soul. You know that happiness is not in
the body, any more than weight is in the soul. And thirdly,
you know without doubt that virtue is the way to happiness.
Because virtue is health of soul. If you know these
three things, what would follow? We would always seek
virtue and never vice. Because if we unify them, virtue
is indeed happiness, and our greatest Good. This is
the Socratic revolution: that the mind is the key to
being Good. Moral wisdom is there. So is wisdom itself,
AN EXAMPLE OF IGNORANCE
Example: You are poor. You want to be rich and buy
things that give you pleasure. You are also poor in
wisdom: you confuse your "self" with your
"body" and its material Goods (including pleasures).
You identify the Good life as that which allows you
the power to get whatever you desire when you want it.
You ought to do right not wrong, though. You drive down
the street and a bank robber drops a sack of money,
you pick it up and you think damn, no one saw me! I
can keep it. You know you should give it back. But you
are tempted to keep it. You are not a professional thief...
it doesn't feel like stealing... why are you tempted?
Because you don't really believe that virtue always
makes you happy. You don't know really believe that
happiness is a matter of your soul, not your bank account
or your body. Because you are essentially your soul,
your mind, will, your character. You don't know that,
at least not deep down, without doubts. You are not
wise enough to know yourself, you figure, "well
a little moral evil might be worth it. because it sometimes
will give you a lot of happiness." Suppose the
thieves had dropped a sack of cockroaches. You would
not be tempted to steal them. Why? Because you see the
true value of cockroaches and know they won't make you
happy. You'd have to be nuts to think that... but you
do think the money can make you happy... and if you
do think that, YOU DO NOT KNOW YOURSELF
SOLVING IGNORANCE IN YOURSELF
Now, if ignorance is the cause of evil, wisdom is
the cure. Remove the effect, remove the cause! To remove
evil, remove ignorance. For Socrates, philosophy, love
of wisdom, is the cure for moral evil. So, why has it
not worked then? What's wrong with this argument? The
mind DOES plays the major role in moral behavior...so
the mind must have the major role in determining if
we are Good and evil... but is the the only factor?
Socrates did call the mind the soul's only light, like
the navigator seeking the lighthouse on a dark sea,
but he left out the Will. The Will is like the captain
of the ship, the captain has the power to tell the navigator
to shut up, or to speak. When we reflect on our own
Good and evil situations, we find both at work: mind
and will. We do find what Socrates says about the apparent
attractiveness of the evil we are tempted to do, and
thus what is behind that attractiveness: ignorance.
Lack of wisdom. But what caused the lack of wisdom?
When you see that money and know you can steal it without
being caught, at that moment something in you tells
you the moral truth: you KNOW that moral evil will not
make you happy, not in the long run. But there is something
else that is telling you to shut that voice down. It
wants the temporary satisfaction and desires the money
can give. And that something else want you to listen
to IT. Its like the old cartoons when the angelic and
devilish you are talking in your ears. One voice comes
from your reason (conscience), what Freud calls your
superego, while another comes from your desires (id),
and you (the I, or ego) cast the deciding vote. The
ego, that's you. You tell one of those two voices to
shut up and agree with the other. You command your thoughts,
and your will commands your mind to turn to one set
of thoughts or another. The captain orders the navigator
around. You are responsible not just for you actions,
but for your thoughts! Socrates didn't see that fully.
Buddha and Jesus did.
BUDDHA AND JESUS SAY THOUGHTS ARE IMPORTANT
1st line in Dama Pada: All that we are is determined
by our thoughts, it begins where our thoughts begin,
and moves where out thoughts move, and ends where our
thoughts end. If we think thoughts like "he hurt
me, he stole from me, he is my enemy," then our
life and our destiny will follow that thought like the
wheel follows the axle. And if we think thoughts like
"he cannot hurt me, only I can hurt myself, he
cannot steal from me, he cannot be my enemy, only I
can be my enemy," then our life and destiny will
follow those thoughts. And Jesus reproved the self-righteous
Pharisees, though their actions seemed morally respectable,
for their thoughts. He turned ethics from an outward
focus on action to an inward focus on the heart. St.
Paul said in a letter, "Take every thought captive,
and have the MIND of Christ." Thoughts are extremely
important to Buddhist and Christians, and they are to
be controlled by a deeper source, a more mysterious
center. What we in the West call the 'heart' or the
'will'. Socrates didn't quite reach that point. The
question remains, how much can the mind really do to
make us Good? Can virtue be taught to us at all? Can
we have moral education? Should our schools be making
their students not just smarter but better? Even if
virtue is not JUST knowledge, how much of it IS knowledge?
MENO AND THE IDEA THAT VIRTUE CAN BE TAUGHT
Plato asked this question, in the Maeno. Maeno asks
Socrates, "Can virtue be taught? Or, does it come
to man in some other way, by habit and practice? Or
is it simply innate in his nature? Or does he get it
in some other way? These four paths to getting virtue
that Plato gives are EXACTLY the four main philosophies
in the next 2,400 years. By teaching? this is plato's
answer. all you have to do is make the mind wise and
the rest will follow. plato would expect our schools
to do moral education. By practice and habit? that is
aristotle's answer. we are not vicious or virtuous by
nature, and that moral virtues come to us by practice.
Only the intellectual virtues come through teaching.
so he would agree that our schools should not do moral
education because that is the family's job. By our nature?
The most optimistic- this is rousseau's answer Against
our nature? the most pessimistic answer. virtue comes
against human nature, and must be enforced through fear.
we have to machiavell's answer in 16C and Hobbes answer
in 17C. In china, later on, they came up with the same
four answers! Lao Tzu was like Rousseau: we are virtuous
by nature, Confucius was a combination of Plato and
Aristotle: teaching and habit both contribute to acquiring
of virtue, and the Realist School summarized the way
to solve social problems in two words: hit them! Its
amazing that Plato summarized the next two thousand
four hundred years in philosophy in the first paragraph
of his dialogue maeno! There are two questions here:
first, "can you tell me socrates?" and "can
virtue BE taught, or does one get it by one of those
another ways?" The answer to the first one Socrates
gives, but not the second. He does not answer questions,
he teaches, not tells. Teaching takes place by questioning
not lecturing. First, Socrates says he can help find
the answer in two ways. First, he admits that he does
not know. Maeno says he does, but he doesn't really.
Secondly, Socrates says we have to define virtue's essence
or we won't know what we are talking about. So, Maeno's
definitions are shown to be in error, and then Maeno
gets frusterated and wants to go home. He becomes skeptical:
people cannot know the truth anyway! But then Socrates
refutes skepticism: he gives up that everyone really
does have a hidden storehouse of knowledge in the mind.
Knowing is really remembering. Remembering what is in
the unconscious what you will. You have to 'remember'
unconscious knowledge. Socrates pushes the buttons to
access this knowledge by his Socratic logical questioning.
He demonstrates this to be true by teaching Maeno's
uneducated young manservant a complex geometric principle:
the Pathagorean Theorem, just by drawing some lines
in the sand and getting the guy to answer some questions
about them. He tells no answers, and the boy figured
it out. So, now Maeno is without an excuse on not wanting
to find out what virtue is by thinking about it. So,
Socrates inspires him by agitating him by taking both
sides: first he proves virtue is knowledge and therefore
can be taught, but then proves that there are no teachers
of it, so it is not teachable. Even the best people,
like Pericles, and even Socrates himself, did not teach
their children the right virtue. So, its a contradiction.
Finally, the dilemma is solved: virtue is neither certain
knowledge, nor ignorance, but a sort of knowledge. A
right opinion, or belief. It is neither easily teachable
by men, like geometry is, nor unteachable. It is teachable
in a 'way', only 'god' can teach it, but we can help.
Religion? He did say that it was 'right opinion' and
'right belief', the words for that are 'ortho' and 'doxa':
orthodoxy. Socrates says virtue is a faith: which is
a kind of knowledge, but it is based on faith, not knowledge.
if you really believe that you are a soul, and that
virtue makes you happy, that works as well as knowledge.
And only god teaches virtue? But is he not teaching
it? No, he is teaching about virtue. He is a prophet
who reveals not answers, but the right questions and
method. Maybe he is kidding. No joke. Some scholars
think he is not being serious here, and actually giving
us a deliberate weak answer so we would find a better
one. For one thing, he did NOT think that religous faith
and the gods of his society would make you virtuous.
The gods themselves were not virtuous! Socrates was
executed for not believing in these gods! On the other
hand, he may have been seriously. He did not ever speak
seriously about the greek gods, but he did speak at
times of a single unknown God, whom he never claimed
to know or name. Who was mysterious, but who was there.
Is ethics based on religion, then? Is ethics dependent
on religion? Is a thing right just because the gods
say so? Is ethics an alternative to religion? A better
alternative that uses reason over faith, that attains
knowledge instead of belief? Or is it another kind of
If everyone seeks happiness- if most people know
the road to happiness is to do Good- so are we crazy
or stupid? We would have to be crazy not to pick virtue,
which would lead to happiness. Socrates said we are
stupid. But we are crazy too... we prefer sometimes
to be hurt. Sometimes envious! There is something that
addicts us to something that we know is harmful for
us, yet we do it.
THE EUTHYPHRO: PIOUSNESS AND GOODNESS
This dialogue is a troublemaker, because it challenges
not only the existing religion of Socrate's time (and
got him into trouble) but the mode of thinking of any
religion, namely faith, and replaces it with a new mode
of faith: logical reasoning. He was a man teaching not
a new religion, but a new kind of religion, the religion
of the pursuit of truth by reason. The athenians knew
deep down that this was a threat against their existing
religion, which was totally irrational. The conflict
was between faith and reason: religion and philosophy.
What's going on? Socrates is being arrest and on his
way to court for being an atheist because he cannot
profess his faith in any of the gods approved by the
state. He was actually a pious agnostic, not an atheist.
But, on his way he met an arrogant young man named Ethyphro,
who is going to court to prosecute his father for acidentally
killing a manservant. That was not normal. Religion
and family always go together, and the greeks regarded
something vs your mom and dad as impious. So, Socrates
asks him why. He is doing it out of piety. Socrates
turns on the irony: you must be an expert on piety to
be so sure you are doing the right thing... yes i am.
the socratic method continues: a definition: what is
piety? Doing what the gods do and loving what the gods
love. Well, there is a myth that says that a god prosecutes
his father. Socrates: are you pious in relation to ALL
the gods? yes. But the gods contradict each other in
our religious tales, in fact, they fight with each other.
At that moment, if you were pious to one, it would be
impious to the other. A single act would be pious and
impious at the same time, which is illogical. So, you
have not defined piety, and is therefore not just in
acting on a false idea of piety, as if you know what
it is. Euthyphro redefines it: Its doing what all the
gods agree. Hmm... well, even if all the gods agree,
is a thing pious because the gods will it, or is it
Good because the gods will it? uhh, its Good because
they will it. This is the divine command theory. If
god commanded us to eat our neighbor's ears and give
ours for the eating, that would no longer be bad.
The problem here is that it makes god arbitrary,
to be obeyed not because god is Good, but because he
is the boss. Luther, Calvin and Kirkegaard all agreed
with this. In fear and trembling, Kirkegaard sees the
sacrafice of isaac as a teleological suspension of the
ethical by god, a purposful setting aside by god of
morality. Now, morality is known by reason, and God
is known by faith. Kirk says reason is low down. Reason
should not be confused with faith, which is the greatest
Good. Not moral reason, because if moral reason is greater,
Abraham is not a hero but a murderer. Kirk had a point.
If God wills a thing and it is Good, that SEEMS to put
Goodness above god, and therefore we can judge God by
this standard of Good. We can turn around and judge
God by the Good that is done. Now, Socrates says that
a thing is not Good because the gods will it, but that
god wills Good things. Unlike the greek gods who are
less than Good, the God of the bible cannot be judged.
Socrates is saying that morality is higher than religion,
and that religions can be judged by moral standards.
And, if we find morals through reason, ad religioun
by faith, than we place reason over reason over
faith to judge it, not faith over reason. So, should
we put morality over religion or vice versa? does god
command Goodness, or is Goodness above god? the traditional
answer is neither. God and Goodness are equally absoulute,
because God's essence is Goodness. Add an o to god and
you get Goodness. Add a zero to any number, and you
get that same number.
Then what about the Abraham / Isaac story in gen.
22? Well, God is teaching Abraham the exact opposite
lesson from what Kirkegaard thinks: that human sacrifice
is wrong, and that this new religion that God is revealing
to Abraham will be the first one in history that will
be completely moral. And therefore will not have human
sacrifice. The lesson comes at the END of the story,
when God's angel intervenes and forbids the sacrifice.
And provides a ram instead. The ritual sacrifice of
animals was a central event in judaism until the destruction
of the second temple in 70. Christians believe the slaughter
of Jesus, the lamb of God, was the historical fulfillment
of that symbolic pattern, or type. Kirkgaard is ignoring
the historical context. He is also ignoring the historical
difference between Socrates, who saw real contradictions
between reality and the dying greek religion, and started
the philosophy movement which grew into the hole it
was leaving (because it was dying, because it was immoral
and irrational). In Christianity, we have the opposite
situation. Religion and philosophy were married
in a synthesis, instead of contradicted. In Greece,
the priests and philosophers were enemies, and one could
tell which they were by their clothes. In the Christian
middle ages, almost all the philosophers were priests.
Kirkgaard is in the minority of Christians, along
with William of Ockham, Martin Luther, Calvin etc. and
fundamentalists today agree with Eutheryo and usually
believe in the divine command theory. They have a low
conception in human reason. But the mainline Christian
position, that of church fathers east and west, Augustine,
Acquinas, CS Lewis, Vatican Council I and II is that
human reason can know God, and know the Good. Can know
that a thing is Good in itself and not just that God
commands it. It it Good and that is why God commands
it. That it is Good in itself because it is like God,
like God's character. We can know something about God's
character by our reason. Reason is our tool for this.
Acquinas puts the relation between our reason and
faith very clearly: there are two kinds of truths: those
we can know just by reason, and those we can know by
revelation by the supernatural God. These truths cannot
contradict themselves, what we discover by reason is
truth, and what we believe in by faith is truth. Reason
and faith are like two books from the same author, God,
who never contradicts. What reason discovers when it
is properly used, is truth, what faith believes, when
it is properly understood, is truth. And truth can never
contradict truth. This cannot be argued against, except
of course if you do not believe that the faith is true.
If your religion taught something that reason proves
false, because if it did then you cannot believe it,
because you cannot honestly believe in something you
know it is false. Mark Twain jokingly defined faith:
the art of believing something you know isn't true.
Its funny only because it is not true. You can't believe
in something you know isn't true.
Socrates vs. Dostoyevsky: D says if god does not
exist, everything is permissible. Socrates says that
ethics is not based in religion, but knowable without
it. So? Is this a real contradiction? Who is right?
This is important because historically, ethics nearly
always comes from religion. Since most people have some
religion, and all religions having some morality. Religions
have three facets: teaching about gods and ultimate
reality, commandments or ideals for moral living and
liturgy and public worship.
Creed, code and cult (words, works and worship).
So a moral code is part of all religions... and they
are strikingly similar across all religions. Surprising
because theologies are hugely different, so are liturgies.
But they share a nearly common morality. And this is
not just common sense morality: we can group all moralities
in the world into 3 kinds:
THE LOW KIND: calculated self interest (you don't
bash my head in if I don't bash yours, and we both save
on doctor bills). Purely pragmatic. A business deal.
But if it doesn't work, its over. If one party thinks
they can get what they want without the deal, its junked.
The deterrent is shame, if you get caught, or fear of
THE BETTER KIND: morality of justice: do Good deeds
because its the right thing to do. There are some things
like moral laws, virtues, responsibilities that have
a claim on you, and you ought to follow them. Its just,
fair and Good. The deterrent here is guilt. It is not
external and public, but internal and individual.
THE HIGHEST KIND: Also the rarest- you go beyond
justice- to self sacrifice, to unselfishness, to mercy,
to forgiveness. The remarkable thing is that every single
major religion teaches this highest kind- this 3rd level
morality, as if they had a peephole into the curtain,
that allows them to see the same hidden secret. For
outside religious communities, this secret is rarely
seen. In the West, secularists who claim to have lost
religion still often say they believe in this morality,
but they are almost always remembering it from the religion
they or their family or their culture once believed
in. And that religion is Christianity. Antarcticans
have been remembering the same thing in the past few
years. Almost no one ever came up with this third level
on their own, independently of religion- especially
Christianity. Should we treat all people as intrinsically
valuable? Why should we not use people and love things,
but love people and use things? most people say "because
we are all god's children, or created in god's image.
or because that is what god wants."
So, back to
the question: is religion the ONLY justification for
ethics? Dostoyovsky says yes. Socrates says. "No,
a thing isn't Good because the gods will it. The gods will it because it is Good."
Now, Dostoyevsky is christian, Sartre is atheist
and Socrates is agnostic (one who does not know). The
dyslexic, agnostic, insomniac stayed up all night imagining,
"is there a dog?".
These three are talking about the "everything
is permissible" statement.
Dostoyevsky: "if there is no God, there is no
real Goodness, and no answer to the simple question,
"why can't be whatever assmonger I want to be?"
There is no reason for me not to be whatever egotistical
pig I want to be. So, there must be a God to make morals
and ethics, and some of us who are skeptical about Him
are just fooling ourselves and suppressing the knowledge
because we don't want to know it- it depresses us.
Sartre: In the brothers karamazov, dostoyevsky puts
his saying in the mouth of the athiest Ivan Kramazov,
who is honest and a Good man, but who wants to kill
his horrible father. God and morality stood in the way
of killing him. So Ivan has to kill God first. Freud
loved this book, the oedipus complex is right there!
Sartre identifies not with Dostoyevsky but with Ivan
the new athiest, who now believes everything is permissible.
Sartre does not want to kill anybody but the conclusion
of Bros. Kraramazov filled him with distress because
it so powerfully made clear that without God, life is
meaningless and everything is permissible. There is
no higher standard to judge Good and bad. Sartre
was sad, but Neitzsche was exhilirated, because now
that God is gone, Man can be Superman. Can become Uberman,
the new man without religion or morality. Without restraint.
When God dies, man becomes the new god. So, but both
Sartre and Neitzche agree with Dostoyevsky: without
god, everything is permissible. If there is no god,
there is no morality. Its a package deal.
Enter Socrates: S disagrees that if there is no God,
there is no morality. Dosotyevsky's saying sounds like
Eyuthpro, who said that an act is right or wrong because
the gods will it. But this is not quite the same thing,
cause Dostoyevsky was saying that if God did not EXIST,
then there would be no morality. D was not a pagan polytheist,
but a Russian orthodox monotheist, who believe in the
one perfect ultimate God. God is the ultimate standard
for Good and evil. So, why didn't Socrates see this?
Well, because they did not have this one God! They didn't
posit that God created the universe out of nothing,
and is not the creator of the universe, earth, man and
man's morality. That was a Jewish idea only. For us,
God created Goodness.
Enter Albert Camus, athiest. in "The Plague,"
Dr. Rue who goes about helping people does so because
he knows he has to be a saint, a moral hero. He believed
in morality even though not in religion. This doctor
agonizes over this dilemma. He believes in 3 things
that can't all be true: 1. the meaning of life is to
be a saint. 2. you can't be a saint without God. 3.
there is no God. oops. something is wrong, and he never
figured it out.
FOUR RESPONSES TO DOSTOYEVSKY "NO MORALITY
1. The saying is true, and there is no god, so no
morality (Neitzsche, Sartre)
2. The saying is true, and there is a God, and so
there is morality (Judeo-Christianity)
3. The saying is false, and while there is no god,
there is morality anyway (Plato, however, believes in
a single perfect God, but never tells us the connection
between this god and morality (Socrates)
4. The saying is false- Yes, a god exists- but everything
is still permissible. God just don't care too much (millions
of Americans, Europeans, Antarcticans say or behave
like this- people who don't want to be athiests because
they want the comfort of believing in a god of love,
but who also don't want to be saints, and don't want
to feel guilty about anything. So they use pop-psychology
and condemn traditional morality for being repressive.
So they judge morality for being judgmental, and tolerate
only tolerance but are intolerant of intolerance, and
are dogmatically opposed to dogma, and absolutely opposed
to absolutes, and they say its true there is no truth.
Philosophy can show what a fool you are, and can make
you feel very uncomfortable).
Believers in God use Doystevesky's phrase to make
an argument; the moral argument for God: since not everything
is permissible, there must be a God. The distinction
between Good and evil means there is a God. But this
assumes that Good and evil are objectively real. Some
people do not believe in this premise, they say that
Good and evil rules are sort of arbitrary. Not real.
made up by us, like the rules of a game.
But, when you ask these people if they really believe
its ok to rape, or cannibalism or burn the rain forest,
they don't say then that morality is subjective. When
they tell you not to push their morality on them, suppose
you say that's your morality. But, imposing morality
on other people, that's my morality. So, don't
impose your morality of tolerance and respect and justice
on me. Then you will find out that they are not moral
relativists, but selective-relativists. They are relativist
about sex but that may be all. The moral argument for
God says if there is a real morality, where does it
come from? From a godless universe that is made up from
a bunch of atoms and chance? how do you get a real Good
and evil from molecules and kinetic energy and quanta
and force...? And if the voice of conscience is not
God, but your parents or society or genes, then why
do we believe its always wrong to disobey your conscience?
To deliberately do something we honestly believe is
evil... we really think that. Even moral relativists
who say different strokes for different folks have one
absolute: although its not ok to sin against society,
religion, and the ten commandments and all that, its
never right to sin against your own conscience! Why?
Why do you treat your conscience like a prophet or a
divine deity? Perhaps it is. So we have an argument
from conscience for the existence of God. The evidence
is the absolute authority of conscience. But nothing
has that authority. So there must be an absolute Good.
I started this discussion with Socrates substituting
rational thought for religion, and ended it with an
argument FROM rational thought FOR religion. Are we
So, do you need God to be moral? Well, if there is
a God who is absolutely Good, he HAS to be, in the ontological
sense (the fact) sense, yes. In psychological terms,
no, you can be a virtuous person without God.
PLATO AND THE REPUBLIC
Like Jesus and Buddha, Socrates wrote nothing at
all. By luck or divine providence, one of his deciples
happened to be the greatest writer in the history of
philosophy. Plato. Before he met Socrates, he was a
up and coming poet, hoping to compete in the same competitions
of drama and poetry that were won by aescylus and sophocles...
but then he met socrates. He had something like a religious
conversion. He publicly burned all his poetry as frivelous,
and devoted all his energy to writing up the conversations
of Socrates in dialogue form. Philosophy was meant to
be a life-changing experience in the ancient world.
If Socrates came to our time, he would no doubt ask
if we had philosophers in our culture. He would be told
that there are professional philosophers working at
university departments of philosophy. He would laugh,
or probably weep. Philosophy was not a department to
Socrates, but a way of life. And professional? Selling
wisdom for money? The professor is an intellectual prostitute,
and the university is their pimp. Plato and St. Augustine
sing philosophy. Its worth learning Greek to read Plato,
and Latin just for Augustine. Plato's ideas are incarnated
in characters. He puts legs under his ideas. Whitehead:
the whole history of philosophy can be a series of footnotes
of Plato. Plato wrote 30 dialogues, and the greatest
is the Republic. It is about ethics. Everyone thinks
its about politics, and it is- but that's secondary.
The bottom line of it is a thesis on ethics: that justice
is always more profitable than injustice. And Justice
meant more than 'rights', that it is broader: its
almost the whole of ethics. All values stem from it.
More than giving and getting rights, it means a cosmic
order, a harmony, a music. Don't think of justice like
you were an accountant working out debts and payments.
In Republic: politics is there as a MEANS TO AN END:
Ethics. Moral values for the state and for the individual
both, are analogues of each other. Politics, justice,
think not of the accountant but of those old coins with
walking liberty on them. Much more moral, much more
idealistic. Politics was about the Good life, the Good
community, the moral life. The Polis was not the bureaucratic
state, but the human community. Communities are made
by and for individuals. Lincoln said the same: Government
was of the people, by the people for the people. Plato
agrees, but didn't believe in democracy. Heck, democracy
just executed the wisest man in the world.
CHAPTERS 1-3 OF THE REPUBLIC
A conversation on what justice is. Socrates talks
to three generations, grandpa, papa and young man. Sephalus,
Polymarchus and Thrusimicus. Wants a real definition
of justice, so he can have certainty on what it is.
What it is ALL the time. Sephalus says: It is paying
back what you owe. But that's not it because we don't
give the weapon we borrowed to a lunatic. So, Polymarchus
says that "Justice is giving people what they deserve."
Socrates reminds him that sometimes we are wrong on
who our friends and enemies are. So Polymarchus says
"Ok, its doing Good to the Good guys and bad to
the bad guys." Socrates criticizes this as well,
and says something amazing: that justice should do Good
to the bad guys too! Because justice is a virtue, it
can do only Good, not harm, all the time. Jesus said
the same thing. Now, Thrusimicus barges in and bullies
Socrates: "Justice is what the strongman says it
is." If Germany won WWII, he is a hero and Chruchill
is a goat. We might say this sucks, but this is what
Maciavelli, Neitzsche and many of us say today too!
The rest of the Republic tries to refute it. This philosophy
is familiar to us today: the consequence of it though,
is that it is naive and foolish to be just. Go the the
root of the matter and for the power. Justice is NOT
the way to the happy life, according to Thrusimicus,
and sometimes injustice is more profitable than Justice.
So, do justice when it profits you, and injustice when
that does. So, the end justifies the means. There is
no moral absolute. Morality is just a set of words or
values, something abstract in human minds. Its NOT REAL.
This moral relativism was rare among the ancients (except
for the Sophists) but it is far from rare today. In
ancient culture the teachers were more moralisic than
their students, today its the opposite. Opinion polls
reveal a morality gap between the intellectuals and
the peasants. Thrucimicus writes the books today. His
two major claims are big: "Justice is based on
power". Well, this one is not accepted today much,
even among intellectuals. Too much like crass totalitarianism.
The other claim, moral subjectivism, is much more popular.
There is no universal, timeless objective truth to find.
Morals are an art like building bridges, or a game,
like baseball, to make and do. Manmade, not discovered
like the laws of physics. What led men to create morality,
Thrusimicus? "Weakness. It was the weak not the
strong who did it, who created justice. Why would the
strong man lower himself to equality with the others?
it was the weak who banded together and as the majority
forced justice, a false unnatural equality." And
if that is so, there is not reason to be moral, except
for your own punishment. There is no problem with doing
whatever you want, as long as you get away with it.
Prof: Why should you not do anything wrong?
St. Because you might get caught
Prof: suppose you don't?
St: Well, people will hate you.
Prof: suppose they won't- suppose you can con them,
your power includes propaganda, power over the mind?
Or suppose you just don't care what they think. Why
not do evil if you can get away with it and get what
you want? Why is Thrusimicus wrong? Why is justice not
Its surprisingly hard to find an answer for students.
Although its the most basic question in ethics. Thrusimicus
goes home pissed off. But Socrates is not satisfied.
Glaucon, Plato's brother, takes up Thrusimics' line
(becoming a devils advocate) using a mythological image
that is famous in the West- Old in Plato's day, no one
knows its origin, and used again in the medieval epic
of the Niebelungs, and again by Richard (Rihkhard) Wagner
in the great opera cycle, and finally by the book that
5 separate opinion polls chose as the greatest of the
20th Century: Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Its the
image of the ring of power. In it, Gaiges, like Gollum,
is a loser, He finds a ring that makes him a winner:
he can do whatever he wants and the ring will make him
invisible. So, he kills the king, marries the queen,
rules the kingdom and cons the people. Isn't the power
the way to happiness? Gaiges used it wouldn't you? Tolkien,
like Plato, said no. The quest is to get rid of the
ring. If a genie came out of a lamp, Plato would say
"wish 1: destroy the lamp". Power corrupts.
Everybody wants happiness. Not everybody wants happiness
or justice, or even power, but everyone wants happiness.
So, how do you attain it? How shall we then live? Through
justice- or through injustice with the power to do whatever
you want to "get it"? Now, ok, we are not
all doing Thrucimicus' bidding, we are not crass enough.
But whenever we think its ok to cheat a little, or lie
a little, or be unfaithful a little, we really do believe
it. If we didn't believe doing wrong would make us happy,
we wouldn't do it. If sin didn't look like fun, we'd
all be saints. So, Plato's high aim in the republic,
is to convince us that sin isn't fun. Injustice is never
profitable. And, really convince us. Not just give us
a logical reasoning about it. And that aim, so high,
make it one of the greatest books ever written, whether
it succeeds or not. Its politics are full of rather
rediculous things, so ignore it. Its superb on ethics,
crap on philosophy. It never worked, and don't let it
prejudice you against plato. Hegel thought the kingdom
of God came to earth with Bismarcks Prussia, and Heidegger,
best philospher of the 20th C, joined the nazi party
and proclaimed Hitler the new god. Plato wasn't that
stupid. Plato's goal in the Republic is to say that
"Justice is always more profitable than injustice.
That being Good is the best way to be Happy." Now,
this road has four steps, in book 6,7's elucidation
of the theory of the process of education. A line is
divided into four parts, and the image is of a prisoner
escaping from a cave. cave of ignorance. Step 1. Tradition
and Authority. Accepting conventional opinoins, others
opinions, just as your eyes accept images reflected
in the mirror, or in the water's reflection. But not
seeing them in reality.=E2=80=A8Step 2: Experience.
Seeing the images yourself. Step 3: Logical Reasoning,
being able to prove what you see. Step 4: Wisdom. Understanding
them, like justice, the essence of things. The Republic
follows its own path, it goes through each of the four
steps itself. It starts in book one when Steps 1-3 are
done through Socrates arguments about justice. 1. Cephalus'
conventional authoritarian and traditional definition
of justice. Then 2. testing it with concrete examples
through experience (the knife and the madman) and 3.
logical reasoning, showing Cepthalus and Polymarchus
that their definitions have self-contradidictions in
them. Then book 1 ends. But Socrates is not satisfied
because step 4 has not been completed: understanding
the essence of what Justice is. The rest of the Republic
is dealing with this last step. Plato's strategy: We
want to prove that justice is better than injustice.
And we want to reach certainty on this, so we want to
know their essences are. We need a real definition.
Well, how to find them? Justice and injustice exist
in 2 places: in the individual soul, and in the state.
Which is harder to find the essence in? The soul, because
they are small, invisible and not easy to get at. But
the state? yes, that is examinable. Like reading a large
print book. What is the history of the rise of justice
in the state? What is the pattern of justice and injustice
in states? Well, Plato begins with the history of the
rise of the just state, which is a natural thing, because
a state naturally arises from the fact of specialization.
Division of labor kind of thing. This efficiency in
specialization creates wealth, then they invent medium
of exchange. Divide of classes now, rich and poorer.
Then, a police/military must be created to protect the
wealth of the wealthier (and the state, against neighbors
who want the wealth). They need someone to supervise
them: wise legislators. So, three classes naturally
develop: producers of wealth, supervisors (keepers of
order) and the rulers (the legislators). The law abiders,
law enforcers, and law makers. The people, the warriors/police
and the legislators. Each class needs a specific virtue
a Good habit: What the producers need most is moderation,
what the soldiers need is courage, and what the legislators
need most is wisdom. Wisdom, courage, moderation, with
justice as the harmonious force making them all work
together. Where is justice in all this? Its not in any
one of the classes by itself, but in the harmonious
functioning of all these together. So, justice in a
community is what health is in a body. These 3 classes
in Plato's community... are very interesting. They seem
to have existed all throughout human society's history!
In the details, Plato's off, but in this structure,
he seems to have hit something powerful. And, Plato
brings it back now to the soul. The same pattern exists
in the soul, and Plato makes a map of the soul. The
experience of an inner conflict: desire vs. reason.
The conflict is resolved by a third power: Will (Spirit).
This third takes the side of one or the other, depending
on which is best. A spiritually healthy soul, the just
soul, is like a just state; where the 3 powers do their
job with their proper virtue: AND THE SAME VIRTUES ARE
NEEDED: Reason by the Mind, Courage is needed by the
Will, Moderation is needed by the Desires (the body,
the inner producers), and Justice is the harmony of
all three working together doing their proper job. Like
a car is the extension of the human body, the state
is as well. These virtues have been adopted as the "4
Cardinal Virtues" ever since Plato. Freud's id,
ego, superego correspond to them. Now, Plato has found
what justice is, and now he must find what injustice
is. But before that, a digression: who would rule a
utopian -just -republic? Well- Philosopher Kings. "Until
philosophers becomes kings, or kings become philosophers,
there will be no rest from trouble in the world! Well,
so what is a philosopher? What kind? No surprise: Someone
like Socrates. Someone who can achieve that 4th level
of education. Someone who can know the essences of things.
The kind of question that Socrates is always asking.
Abstract theoretical wisdom is the key to practical
ethical wisdom. Cause, if you know succeed in knowing
what justice and injustice are, then you will KNOW that
justice and virtue are better, and more profitable than
injustice, and that moral virtue will always make you
happy and not vice. The only way to be certain of this
is to know the essence of both. You are CERTAIN that
a circle can't be a square. You know the simple essence
of what they are. You are not totally sure that a quasar
is not an angel. In order be certain that justice is
more profitable than injustice, you must understand
their essences. A Socratic philosopher knows these,
and if not, at least knows what he has to search for.
That is why a philo should rule the state. The other
details in Republic are silly, like relations between
the sexes. "There is no difference between men
and women, and men are better at everything". So,
Plato is both a radical left wing unisexist, and a radical
right wing male chauvenist. But, Plato did contribute
something else: the idea that the single most important
thing in a Republic is education. He invented university
education. He founded the first university in the world:
the Academy. Even though education has not brought us
utopia, or solved all world problems, we are further
along than without it. Something else, Plato emphasizes
the power of music: for education, it is imperative.
A whole book devoted to music, one paragraph on economics.
Music is powerful, it puts order or disorder into your
soul. Even as an adult, it gets into your soul without
passing the guard-gate of reason. Its the water that
seeps under castle walls no matter how strong they are.
It connects you to the patterns of harmony of the cosmos,
and makes you happy by this cosmic connection to its
harmony. And harmony is a result of justice. So, music
is a key for morality. Justice is the key virtue for
Plato, and if you know justice, you know the other three
cardinal virtues: wisdom, courage, and moderation too.
But there is something even greater than justice and
the cardinal virtues. The Platonic form of the idea
of the Good. Goodness itself. It cannot be defined because
it is not in everybody's mind, Its the eternal form,
the infinite, known by a mind. If we cannot define this
absolute ideal, we can define it through parables, like
Jesus when he was defining the kingdom of God. The Good,
he says, is like the Sun. You can't stare at it without
going blind, you can't see the sun directly, but you
need the sun to see by its light. You need the light
to see everything else, and is only by that light that
you can know what you know. Same with the Good, absolute
Good. You can't know the absolute Good like you can
know finite things like justice. Though undefinable,
the Good is the origin of all order, all intellegibility,
both physical and spiritual. Everything is known by
its end, its design, what it is Good for. Plato's Cave
is a story of the steps of the philosopher's education.
It is the most famous thing anyone has ever written.
Read the first few pages of Book VII of the Republic.
Plato defines then INJUSTICE. Both in the STATE and
in the SOUL. He finds four forms of injustice in the
two places, when the natural order is turned upside
Five Forms of Government Aristocracy: rule by
the best. Timocracy: rule by the brave. Plutocracy:
rule by the rich few. Democracy: rule by the masses
(almost like anarchy). Tyranny: rule by one asshole.
Plato had no idea of the rule of law, rather than the
rule of arbitrary will. The only democracy he saw rule
was the passionate mob that executed socrates. He also
knew democracy led to dictatorship after order is restored
when the mob screws it up. 2,3,4,5 are perverted. 1
What about in the soul?
1. Reason 3D a just soul
2. Will (like soldiers)
3. Desires (the elite few desires you have)
4. All desires (chaos) like the masses
5. Inner tyrant of obsession and addiction
So, by this, we can SEE that justice must
always be more profitable than injustice. We can TELL
that it is, and we need not rely on the lower three:
1. authority telling us it is so
2. our own ever-changing
3. clever logical reasoning
But now we
re at stage 4... we can see that the soul of an unjust
man is like a zoo, where the zoo animals rule the zookeeper.
So, what's wrong then? Why does not everyone who reads
the Republic become so convinced of Plato's conclusion
that they become saints?!? Well, maybe there is something
wrong with Plato's argument? But maybe its something
else. Maybe we are not swayed into being saints by argument
alone. Maybe there is something Plato didn't figure
on: that our psychology is darker and more irrational
than he thought: maybe we can actually understand that
justice makes us happy, with certainty, and yet pick
injustice instead. Last time you did something bad,
was it only an intellectual mistake? Didn't you really
know it would not make you happy, and you did it anyway?
First in the Meno, Plato asked if Virtue could be taught.
The Republic taught what it was, and why it is profitable.
But maybe, that's just not Good enough. Maybe Plato
was wrong, and you do not get virtue by just being taught
it. He did mention another way, after all, in the Meno,
to get virtue: by practice. For us it is hindsight.
It was for his pupil, the philosopher who was for Western
Civilization what Confucius was for Chinese Civilization.
Very practical, less mystical, more common sense, less
intellecticalistic. Paragon of common sense, and most
of us are Aristotilians.
ARISTOTLE AND THE NICHOMACHIAN ETHICS
Next to The Republic, Nichomachean Ethics is the
most read philosophy book on ethics in the world. Aristotle
is the greatest philosopher in the world's history. But his books
are rather more dull than Plato, because he did not
write like Plato in dialogues. Aristotle wrote his lectures
at the 2nd oldest university: the Lyceum. And his lectures
are about common sense.
They agreed that reality was full of intelligible
forms that could be known and defined. But, Plato believed
that their essences were changeless, and existed in
a separate dimension from the changing world. Aristotle
said they were the just the essences of changing things.
Plato said you would find justice in itself apart from
just actions, states etc. which just reflected some
of the real justice in an imperfect way. Aristotle said
there were not two realms, said, "The forms, essences
or ideas exist only in changing things, and in the minds
of those who know them." So we know things by seeing
them in concrete things.
Plato sharply separates the body and soul (mind)
but Aristotle says that they are form and matter of
the same substance. The soul is the form of the body,
and the body is the matter and content of the soul.
Like the words and meaning in a book. Aristotle found
that we do not feel like a 'ghost in a machine'.
How do you know? Plato separated soul and body, and
so separated reason, the soul's tool for KNOWING, from
sense experience, the body's tool for knowing. Plato
knew that we all had an innate knowledge of the Platonic
ideals in the mind, and we 'called them up' thorough
recollection. Aristotle said we abstract knowledge of
'forms' by seeing them in concrete things. So, 'justice'
is found in just men, and you must experience seeing
it in just men. We abstract what justice is through
our sense experience of seeing it.
So you must begin with experience, in Aristotle. Both
in method and content, they differ. Plato says "the
Good life is the virtuous life, and bodily Goods do
not matter.' Aristotle said they did, but no, not as
much as the soul. So, A does not agree with Socrates
when he said that no evil could happen to aGood man
simply because he was simply his soul. A was not an
ethical relativist, he was an ethical realist. In method,
Plato is looking for a perfect definition. Aristotle
is always looking at real life.
THE NICHOMATHEAN ETHICS
It is the 1st systematic study of ethics. It asks,
"What is the Good?" What is a Good man? What
is a Good life? The question of the Good man is the
question of virtues: of Good habits of acting.
Neither P or A were legalists with lists of rules.
Aristotle is more about character than rules. A added
8 virtues to Plato's 4 cardinal ones. What is the best
life? is the major question. What is the end, telos
or purpose of life? What is the greatest Good? The end
of ends? The most important question of all. Its answered
in Book 1. The other 9 books flow from that.
Aristotle first defines the word Good. He looks at
what people call Good, the many many things, and then
finds something common in all of them, and THAT is the
Good. "Every art and every enquiry, and every action
and every pursuit, is thought to aim at some Good. And
for this reason, the Good has been declared to be that
at which all things aim." So, the Good is something
we are aiming for, the object of aim... what we desire.
Wait! So, the Good is what we desire? But I desire healthy
food and you unhealthy food! No, our desiring it is
not what makes it Good, but its Goodness, or apparent
Goodness, makes us desire it. Desire is to Good what
belief is to truth.
Desire has a structure. Some things we desire as
a means to get something else: money, tools, medicine.
Other things we desire as an end in itself: pleasure,
beauty, truth. That narrows our investigation as we
are looking for the Good as the end. And even more specifically,
the final end, the end of ends. The end of ends question:
what Good is human life? What purpose does it have?
Perhaps it has no purpose. The sophists thought that
the question of the meaning of life was not meaningful.
Because, life has no 'end', only means. So, Aristotle
first has to argue that there is some kind of telos,
a final end, to all things. If there is NOT a telos
for human life, the whole attempt to find it will come
to nothing, like the search for the pot of gold at the
end of the rainbow. His argument: "If we choose
everything for the sake of something else, that process
would go on for infinity, so that our desire would be
empty and vain." So, just as the principle of cause
and effect dictates that a first domino falls first,
felling the others, cause and effect works in reverse
too... effect necessitates a cause. There has to be
a last end, a thing worth desiring for its own sake,
in order that we might desire all the means to that
end. The end is the final 1000 piece puzzle, the means
are the individual pieces. We have to want to put the
We wouldn't want a car if we didn't want to use it
to go places. Life is not a circutious merry-go-round,
it must have a telos. If nothing is worth having just
for the sake of having it, life would be a merry go
round going nowhere. There must be some end, some goal
that motivates us as final. At least unconsciously.
That's what we are seeking summum bonum: the meaning
Aristole calls this a very practical question. "Will
not the knowledge of it then have a great influence
on life? Shall we not be like archers aim better if
we know where we want to hit? A place, a station in
life? goals? Yes.' Its not an easy question though.
Some things have an objective truth, a definable right
answer: math and the physical sciences. Ethics is not
like that. On the other hand, at opposite extreme, matters
of taste fashion and human convension, the arts, these
are subjective. Does ethics belong here like the sophists
and modern ethics peddlers say? It may look like ethics
belongs here. But Aristotle says there IS a universally
true Good, but it is not easy to find. "It is the
mark of an educated man to find as much clarity as the
nature of the subject permits. It is equally foolish
to accept only probable reasoning from a mathematician,
or to demand demonstrative proofs from a retoritician,
Ethics is not either of these. Between the two. It is
not clear cut like math, but not manmade and artificial
like rhetoric. Its easy to put into words: it is happiness,
yes. But with regard to what happiness is, is difficult.
Everyone seeks happiness, no one wants to be unhappy.
Everyone seeks it as an end, not a mean. The means are
different for people but the end is the same, The words
aristotle uses for happiness mean more than subjective
contentment. Macarios means 'blessed contentment' and
is stronger than Eudynomia, Happy. Happy comes from
happens: old english: hap, (luck). So, we somehow think
of happy like luck, as in "damn that happened to
you, you;re lucky and happy!" It has nothing to
do with how Good you are, it just happens, by chance.
Eudynomia is not like that, its different. Its not by
chance, its by choice. It has everything to do with
how Good you are and that is lasting. Eu (Good) dymon
(soul) ia (lasting state of nature): the real lasting
state of really having a Good soul. It has three major
connotations that the english word happiness does not.
1 you have to be Good to be happy, 2 it is more in the
soul, more than the body or outside circumstances by
Good luck. 3 its an objectively real state or nature.
In english we don't say "you think your happy but
you aren't." The objectivity of it means that you
can be MISTAKEN when you say you have it. In English
it makes no sense to say that "you think you're
happy... but you aren't." Or, you don't think
you're happy, but you are." But in Greek it does
make sense. Take suffering. Could suffering possibly
be part of happiness? In English no, in ancient greek,
yes. Aristotle and Aescyclus said "you cannot be
truly happy unless you are wise, and you cannot be wise
unless you suffer. The man who has not suffered... what
could he possibly know anyway!
Closer to Eudymonia is the word blessed. You may
think you are blessed... if you inherit a big estate
and it wipes you out in taxes. Or you can think you
are not blessed when you are... we tell people to 'count
your blessings.' So, we are looking not for subjective
contentment (Aristotle would tell someone watching TV
all the time or making mud pies, and that person was
contented, he would not classify that person as happy).
Much of what we think makes us happy is just fancy mud
pies. So what is the content of happiness- if not TV
or mud pies? We are looking for the Good, and we have
identified it with the final end, and the final end
with happiness (there is a hidden assumption: that happiness
is essentially the same for everyone. Because it comes
from our deepest desire, which comes from our essential
nature, which is somehow the same in everyone. This
is an assumption not popular today. But why? Do we not
think happiness is the fulfillment of our deepest desire?
Do we not think our deepest desire comes from our very
essence? Do we deny essential human equality? Different
strokes for different folks only goes so far- I might
like frozen yogurt and you ice cream, or I like the
Devil Rays and you like the Yankees. But we both like
pleasure, health, beauty, knowledge, friendship, freedom...
everyone does. Aristotle mentions different candidates
for true happiness: Most men love pleasure, a few love
honor, and a very few love a mystical experience human
beings can have: a god like thing in life: contemplation.
This is the knowledge of eternal truths for its own
sake. Problem: only a few people are capable of it and
only for short periods of time.
WHAT THEN IS THE GOOD?
What about the Good being pleasure? No, it cannot
be the highest Good, because it is not human, its common
to men and animals. Money and wealth cannot be the ultimate
Good, because it is a means, not an end. What about
Plato's idea of the Good? No, Aristotle says it is too
abstract and indefinite. Honor? Honor cannot be the
HIGHEST Good because it depends on those who bestow
honor, not only those who receive it. Whereas the Good
is one's own possession and cannot be taken by 'one
who bestows' it upon them.' Also, because men pursue
honor not only for its own sake but in order to be assured
of their merit and mettle. They seek honor on the grounds
of their virtue. Well... so maybe it is Virtue, then!
Ahh, virtue. It is compatible with great suffering.
Indeed, virtue is part of the definition of Happiness,
but not the whole of it, because great virtue comes
often and most poignantly from great suffering. Example,
King Priam of Troy suffered many misfortunes, like Job.
Highly virtuous. And even though Aristotle thinks human
happiness is not mainly bodily and external, bodily
goods must count for something. You don't need a lot
of material goods to be happy, but you need some. And
you can be happy and yet suffer, but not if you suffer
enormously. Aristotle is a middle of the road: the materialist
on one side, and spiritualist (Plato) on the other.
Plato who tried to prove in the Republic that all you
need is justice for happiness... like Socrates, who
had no material goods.
We still do not have a good definition of happiness!
So, Aristotle takes a new route. He gives us a better
way to find it than the abstractness of the popular
answers. "Look at the natural function of man.
See that there is a natural telos of every occupation
or work of man. Carpenters, soldiers, farmers... Mustn't
there be a natural telos for human life itself? An analogy:
every bodily organ has a telos, a purpose; to do its
job. What is the telos of man as a whole? If we can
find that telos, that end, we would find true happiness
because we would know how to seek and attain it. Being
happy, being good and being fully human... are 3 ways
of saying the same thing. So what could that be? What
Good does happiness consist in? Not just pleasure or
physical life, or sense experience... its not distinctively
human. What distinguishes us is reason: mind. Using
what separates us: happiness is in the rational soul
living according to reason. That includes both intellectual
virtues like wisdom and knowledge and moral virtues.
Here is Aristotle's definition of happiness (3D the
good for man): An activity of the soul in accordance
with virtue... in a complete life, with enough material
goods. There are some things the lack of which take
the luster out of happiness: the man who is ill born,
ugliness, solitary, childless (or have bad children),
is not likely to be completely happy. Is A thinking
about Socrates? He was born poor, not understood, had
no possessions, bad children, and was ugly. Yet, he
WAS happy. Based on all this, how could Aristotle explain
why Socrates was happy? In Book 1 Ch. 10 Aristotle changes
his mind more than once, in print, over whether happiness
requires these things at all.
On the one hand: if activities are as we said what
determines the character of life, than no blessed man
can ever become miserable, because he will never do
the acts that are hateful and mean. The man who is truly
good and wise will bear all the chances of life becomingly,
and always make the best of all circumstances, as a
good general makes the best use of an army at hand.
One thinks of Robert E. Lee. And if we were to follow
his fortunes, we would call the same man happy and again
wretched, making the happy man out to be a cameleon.
The trials and tribulations of family life laid bare,
reveals throughout all times the man taking care of
his family might live in a mean state, but yes is full
On the other hand, no one could call poor Priam or
Oedipus or Job happy. At least until the end. Aristotle
finally solves his dilemma with a compromise: small
pieces of good or bad fortune clearly do not weigh down
the scales of life one way or the other. But a multitude
of great events if they turn out well will make life
blessed... or if they turn out ill, will crush and maim
blessedness. You cannot control good luck, and if luck
plays a role in happiness, then no matter how good you
are, your life could turn out like Priam. Aristotle
has trouble making up his mind about it. How important
material good are? Materialists are certainly wrong.
Poor nations and individuals have lower suicide rates
than rich. That's a pretty spectacular index for that.
Material things do not make you happy. Yet, the Platonic
idealist who says the body is our prisonhouse is wrong
too... the body is part of our nature! So, good or bad
can happen to us without our control. Remember he don't
agree with Socrates: who says that 'nothing bad can
happen to a Good man.' It can, because he has a body.
THE GOLDEN MEAN
This finding of a middle ground between two extremes
is Aristotle's most famous feature: the principle of
the Golden Mean. Now, he didn't call it the golden mean,
like Christ did not call his principle the Golden Rule.
When it came to DEFINING EACH VIRTUE INDIVIDUALLY (cause
how the hell does one do that?), Aristotle sought to
find the virtue sandwiched between two vices, two defects:
Virtues are chosen by reason and the will, which impose
the right form or structure on the matter (or raw material)
of material actions and passions (desires), so we must
steer down the middle of each road, both sides of the
road have ditches to fall into. For every virtue there
are two opposite vices!
Courage is the mean between cowardice and recklessness
(too little fear).
Justice is the mean between getting or giving more
or less than what is deserved
Temperance (Moderation) is a mean between being too
sensitive or insensitive to pleasure and pain
Modesty is between shamelessness and bashfulness
Wit is between boorishness and buffonery
Friendliness is between quarralsomeness and flattery
Righteous Indignation is between irascability and
insensibility (too short and too slow a fuse)
Pride is between vanity and false humility (arrogance
and worminess) (this pride is not one of the seven deadly
sins: he means proper self respect and self love (Jesus
even said 'love others as thyself!') no, it is more
competitive (pride against God).
How to get an A on an assignment on 'A Logical Critique
of Aristotle's Golden Mean?' One sentence did it: "I
think this is a good idea but Aristotle carries it to
It means: Isn't Aristotle a bit too moderate? Too
controlled, too rational? What about wildness, what
about emotion, what about love! Don't we need a little
extremism sometimes? Well, when Thomas Aquinas was asked
if EVERY virtue was an Aristotelian mean between two
extremes, he said, "No, there are three that are
not: Faith, Hope and Love." Aquinas added another
dimension to life that Aristotle did not have: the vertical
(supernatural) dimension. In that dimension there is
an infinite object-a being we call God- that is infinitely
good and lovable. One can love any finite good too much,
but one cannot love the infinite good too much. Aristotle
did believe in a God, a Deistic God, a first unmoved
mover, but this was not a Mover that loved, or loved
us, or who even knew us (in fact, Aristotle never connected
this god to ethics at all). Aristotle does mention love,
however, in fact, he devoted two whole books to it!
Only he calls it Friendship.
He ranks friendship as the fullest form of love.
He says it transcends justice. Eros is the word for
love (desire) and storgay (natural affection), common
to man and animals. Agape was too vague, but this was
resurrected by the Christians to connote the specific
sharp concrete meaning: the love that God the Father
has and is.
THREE KINDS OF FRIENDSHIP
1. mutual pleasure: because you are fun
because I need you for something
3. respect: because I
admire you and want to be like you in character, in
virtue (highest form)
He gets these three kinds from
a broader context: from the three kinds of goods: because they give us pleasure, because they are useful,
because they are morally good. So, this is a hugely practical idea: there are only
3 good reasons for doing anything, for loving anything:
because it is morally good, because its a practical
necessity, or because it gives you joy. If it give you
none of these, get rid of it. Our lives are so cluttered,
and if we applied this criteria, we would be much freer.
It would be a spring cleaning. Only buy these things,
read the things and do the moral virtues on things,
that find a place in these criteria.
BEING GOOD AND BEING SUCCESSFUL: THE MEANING OF LIFE
Ethics is about three things (review); 1. social
ethics: good behavior and manners... which raises 2.
individual ethics: what kind of person should you be
yourself. What are the virtues and vices? And hidden
in these is the 3. WHY should I be a good person? why
should we live a good life? what's the point the
purpose the value in human life, what's the meaning
of life? This is the most important of all. The issue
of the ultimate end or goal of human life. Somehow,
this is related to the idea of success... that this
goal is something that can actually be achieved. Success
means attaining an end. On the scale of an individual
life, some successes may come: at war or sport means
winning. success at finance means money, courtship means
marriage, education means knowledge and wisdom, and
the certification is supposedly a good grade. But who
wants to get good grades but flunk life?
No one. So, success at life means attaining life's
end. But this assumes life has an end. a point, a goal
purpose or meaning. Almost everyone, in every culture,
before modernity, did assume just that. They had different
answers to the question of what the meaning of life
was, but philosophers and regular people thought that
life had a real meaning. Today is radically different.
In fact, this may be the most radical difference between
our present modern culture, and all others. Many people,
and most intellectuals, do not believe that life had
a real meaning, a point, goal end or ultimate good.
At least not an objective one that is true for everyone,
and is not subjective: varying from one group to another.
Aristotle, as we have seen, argued that life did have
an end for everyone: happiness. Conceived of as perfection:
real attainment of our true end, not subjective contentment.
So, we must look at this most important question,
is not raised much today, and in fact is ignored by
our intellectuals. And we must survey the 8 most popular
answers to it. How do we know this is the MOST important
question? Well, think about the campfire, think about
storytelling. This is the most typical and universal
human art: storytelling. Why does everyone, everywhere
like stories? Because they are about life. Conversely,
life is like a story, like a play or novel. So the question
What is the meaning of life? Means, what
kind of story- are we in?
In Lord of the Rings, that is the question that Sam
asks Frodo as they trudge into Mordor, on their pretty
much hopeless quest. What kind of a story are we in?
Sam wanted to know if it would be a happy or sad ending.
But there is a deeper meaning in it: both comedies and
tragedies are meaningful- is our story meaningful? Does
it have an end, point, purpose, telos, summum bonum
at all! Or it might be just sound and fury, signifying
nothing. Few premodern thinkers thought that. The writer
of Ecclisiastees did. Thats about it. For him, life
was vanity of vanities,' and then in the
last few verses, he says that life is not a vanity of
vanities, but has a meaning: religion. Fear God and
keep His commandments, and thou shalt be fulfill the
duty of man.
The Greek Sophists also though that life had no meaning
and purpose. They were subjectivists, skeptists and
relativists. They thought truth was unattainable, whatever
you wanted it to be. Another untypical school were the
Cynics also said life was meaningless- they were
pessimists about human nature (humans are stupid etc
and selfish)... but that's not really meaninglessness,
its just pessimism. Life has meaning, virtue and wisdom,
humans are just too stupid to get at it. Its not nihilism.
In a TS Eliot play the Cocktail Party where Celia
the protagonist, a typically modern, confused, alienated
girl, tells her psychiatrist: really hope you tell me
that I'm insane. Because if I'm not insane,
than the universe is insane. And I couldn't live
with that. Even if you are pessimists like the cynics,
even if you think you are insane- as Cylia hopes to
find she is, life is meaningful, reality is meaningful,
and there is hope: hope of being reconciled to reality.
Conformed to reality. But if there is no meaning, no
purpose or objective reality, why, it doesn't matter
who we are or what we do. No matter what lines we speak
in the play, the whole thing is meaningless. If the
play is Sound and Fury, it doesn't matter if you
are a good actor or a bad one, it doesn't matter
how you interact with the other actors or what you do.
If there is no golden castle at the end of the road,
then it doesn't matter which road we choose. Life
is like a play, and the 3 questions of ethics: Social,
Individual and Summum Bonum, are the plot, characters
and theme of the play. But if there is no THEME, then
the characters cannot be heroes or villains. So, the
hardest thing to sell in modern America is the serious
heroic epic. The only sin in america is judging someone
a sinner or evil. We don't believe in heroes and
villains anymore. Because, we donE280 99t believe we
are in the kind of story that allows for them.
Judge not, we say, and by saying so, are judging
against judgementalism. Something else to connect this
to: why are we so afraid of suffering? Why are we such
softies? Why do we lack courage today in contrast to
all premodern cultures? This question was asked by Solzhenitsyn
in 1978's Harvard Commencement. Its because we
lost the conviction that suffering is meaningful. The
intellectuals, the opinion moulders, the teachers- they
have. CS Lewis wrote up an essay called the 1st
and 2nd things. He said that when we rank the
good things in life, if we put 1st things 1st, we can
hope to get both. But when we put 2nd things 1st, we
not only miss the 1st things, but pervert the 2nd things.
Example: an alcoholic perverts alcohol by putting it
1st, so it does not gladden the heart, and cannot enjoy
the proper pleasure of alcohol. When you make a false
god, moving a 2nd thing, like money, a creature, sex,
power, self esteem. You remove God, and pervert the
thing that you have made into your god by putting divine
expectations on it.
CS Lewis then asks, as far as 1st and 2nd things,
what our civilization puts first. The answer: life.
Survival. Material and quantative goods in life. But,
if we don't know WHY we should survive, we probably
won't very long. Cultures have given many different
answer to E2 809CWhy should we survive?E2 809D But they
all had some reason, some motive to live for. If all
we have as an answer is to live longer,
or surviving', we probably won't. Ships
at sea who do not have a mission, will alm ost certainly
fail. They will not accomplish their mission by accident.
So, this apparently abstract philosophical question
of the greatest good, the summum bonum, the meaning
of life, is actually the most practical question we
could possibly ask. In ethics, if we have no answer
to this question of the greatest good, it is not likely
that we will get the lesser goods. The sailing ship
have their orders (how to cooperate), how to stay afloat
and their purpose of mission (meaning in life). The
first two depend on the third.
Meaning in life for us means purpose, or goal, or
good. Everything we have and do is either a means or
telescopic rifle sight --- using a rifle --- winning
a battle --- winning a war --- peace but, what is peace
for? eventually you get to the end, the
summum bonum. If there is no summum bonum, the others
are stripped of their meaning. The ancients would say
that this is moral insanity.
In MacBeth, after he has committed murder, and is
in despair, and is on the way to hell, he makes this
speech: life's but a walking shadow. a poor player
that struts for his hour on the stage, and then is heard
no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound
and fury, signifying nothing.
Victor Frankl wrote that, Everyone's most basic need
is an answer to this question: the question of meaning.
The men who had some answer, any answer, usually survived,
and those who didn't didn't. The physically
strongest were not the ones who always survived. Many
doctors see that the Will to survive is the great unpredictable
factor in recovery. That is the mind over matter. But
there is another step: the will to live requires a reason
to live. If you have a reason to live, you also have
a reason to suffer, to endure suffering. If life has
a meaning, suffering has a meaning too. Nietzsche: a
man can endure any how, if only he has a why. You can
endure even in Auschwitz, if only you have an ultimate
reason for it. For some, it was revenge, some, work,
some, family, some, God. But all, needed a summum bonum.
The meaning of life. An answer to the question: what
is the sonnum bonum?
Frankl is right. That is why suicide is directly
proportional to wealth. The less you have, the less
suicide. All Western, post-Christian nations have suicide:
Hungary, Russia, Sweden, Holland, USA. Lowest are poor:
Bangladesh, Haiti, Chad, and the Austrialian Aborigines.
Reason is not hard to find: if you are poor, your life's
meaning is to survive. To escape your poverty and move
up the ladder. If you're already high on the ladder,
then what is your lifeE280 99s meaning? You can still
have one, but its not obvious. And if you lack an answer
to the primary question of the meaning of your life,
you' re much, much more likely to kill yourself.
Because you are deprived of your PRIMARY NEED. It more
primary than life itself, than freedom, than liberty,
than pleasure, than all the things you have. If its
all meaningless and valueless, nothing else matters.
Every great philosopher has had an answer to this
question: moses, solomon, buddha, krishna, buddha, confuicius,
lau tzu, socrates, plato, aristotle, jesus, paul, augustine,
mohammad, aquinas, machiavelli, bacon, descartes, hobbes,
rousseau, neitzsche, kirkegaard, marx, freud, sartre...
all thinkers think about that. And all philosophical
story tellers too. Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides,
Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, Dickens, Tolstoy,
Dostoyevsky, Tolkien. All stories are about that too,
implicitly or explicitly- and your answer to this question
colors and shapes the answers to everything else. Question
II in Aquinas' Summa is the greatest summarization
of it. Called Of those things in which man's
happiness consists. He quotes Aristotle
and Boethus, who wrote a book called Consolation of
Philosophy, 5th C, also a great summary. Like Socrates,
Boethius will be killed, cause his philosophy upsets
the political bosses. And he wonders why bad things
happen to good people. And, what does happiness consist
Here goes, the 8 most popular pop culture answers
to this question, a real Quest-ion- one you must set
out on a quest to answer.
1. WEALTH. The stupidest of the popular answers.
Happiness seems to consist in wealth, and most people
say this first. Its the first thing that comes to mind!
But why should the first thing that comes to mind be
the most important. Think... this might be true for
fool, but we should not listen to the council of fools,
but the wise. There is a second argument for money:
its like an umbrella- spread out in the sky- everything
can be bought. Although money can buy everything money
can buy, it can only buy what money can buy. That is,
physical goods and services. It cannot buy non physical
goods, like wisdom, knowledge, or peace, or goodness,
or neighborliness, or happiness. The most practical
man who ever lived once said, for what is the
profit of man if he has won the world but lost his soul?
You would rather be in love in the Bronx than divorced
in Hawaii. But wait! The desire for wealth is
unlimited! Maybe... but differentiate between
artificial wealth and natural wealth. Artificial wealth
is money, natural wealth is the real things that money
can buy. The desire for natural wealth is actually limited:
one can only eat so much, enjoy so many houses, cars,
prostitutes. Even kingdoms and palaces. But the desire
for artifical wealth is indeed unlimited: if you are
a millionaire you want to be a billionaire. But this
is only a MEANS to the end of buying natural wealth.
Therefore it is not an end, and therefore not the telos
of life. Contrary to the really stupid saying he
who dies with the most toys wins. Wins WHAT?
Aquinas conclusion: wealth is not it because it is a
means, given away, exchanged etc. Happiness is not like
that, possessing that is an end in itself.
2. HONOR. Being held in high esteem by others. Does
happiness consist in this? Honor is twofold: the old
way was aristocratic- that you were honored for being
superior or better. Being held in high esteem. For being
different. Today's version is egalitarian, by being
one of the crowd. By not being different. Both are crushed
by Aquinas. He ask if happiness is honor because honor
is the reward of virtue. But it is not, because it is
NOT the reward of virtue: happiness is. When you work
hard in school, your reward is the happiness you get
from the knowledge you get from the course. The grade
you get the A? That is just a sign that points to something
else. You don't go to the school for an A, you
go for what it signifies. You are a fool if you seek
only the grade... the zen buddhists say a finger
is good at pointing at the moon, but whoa to he who
mistakes the finger for the moon! Its like going on
an expensive vacation only for the taking of pictures
for later bragging. Well... what about the fact that
some people will lose anything except their honor?!?
That is a more premodern situation. A male situation.
But as we observe people wanting honor, they want it
for having some other virtue, not for honor
3. GLORY (FAME). Glory seems to be the reward for
being great. Yet, it can be given by fools. And anyway
the glory you have after you die, is in the minds of
other people, not you, so you are not enjoying it on
4. POWER- It could be crude like the power of a conquerer,
or it could mean freedom! Huh? Think of empowerment...
freedom and power both mean the lack of impotence, the
opposite of enslavement, of not being able to do or
go where you want. We spontaneously say Almighty
GodE2 809D, thinking of God's power before his
goodness. We even say G ood God' as a
swear word! But this is a canard. Its bad theology.
God's power is nothing if not his goodness. God
cannot use his power for evil, because God is infinitely
good. But we can use our power for evil. If we want
to be like God, we want to be as powerful as God, not
as Good as God. Anyway, we fear losing power a lot,
that is an argument for its being happiness. In fact,
we would rather have a difficult life freely chosen
than an easy life of servitude. But WHY do we so hate
servitude? Because it hinders our ability to use power
for good, not because power is a supreme end. Power
is not happiness for the same reason money can't,
because its a means, not an end. Here's another
way to look at power: power makes you anxious of losing
it. Hegel said: a master is really the slave, because
he is enslaved to the need for his slave. How about
us today? We don't own other people anymore, but
we do own gadgets and electronics. It explains why we
don't get happier as we get more technologically
powerful. Our slaves are our machines and we just don't
So, none of these four are the supreme good. Because,
they are all external goods. Their satisfaction is partial,
they can harm you, and so on. So, what about internal
goods? Lets look at these.
5. HEALTH. This candidate is well known. Ahh,
at least you still have your health! The old Jewish
grandma says. True. And important. But, it is still
a means to a further end. The soul, the I, the personality,
the self. And since the body is a means, and happiness
is an end, they don't match. Anyway, man surpasses
all animals in happiness, and, as well, unhappiness.
No ape can be happy or unhappy as a man. But in bodily
goods, man is surpassed in many respects. In longevity,
the elephant lives longer. The stag runs faster, the
lion in strength. Again, they do not match. Mr. Universe
is Mr. Universe, not Mr. Happiest Man Alive.
6. PLEASURE- This is closer to happiness, because
it is more internal. In fact, it is a function of happiness.
It is sought as an end, not as a means, and so it is
confused. When we have happiness we are indeed pleased.
But, Aquinas calls pleasure an EFFECT of happiness,
not a cause of it. It is not the essentiality of happiness.
Also, we often regret pleasures later on. Hmm...
7. WISDOM AND VIRTUE- Well, we've gone
from the external material, to the bodily, and now to
the soul. Closer still... virtue. Happiness must consist
in the goods of the soul! The perfection of the soul
must be is rational understanding and wisdom, and moral
virtue, and this must be happiness. Those two powers,
which separate the soul of man from the animal world.
We have rational understanding and freewill. BUT, says
Aquinas, there is this catch: the soul cannot be its
own last end. A soul cannot be its own telos. Yes, by
the soul, by virtue and wisdom does the soul grow...
but there's the rub. It grows. It changes. If an
archer shoots an arrow at a bullseye, the arrow is the
soul and what is it shooting at? It flies, grows, changes...
what is the target?
8. GOD- The good that is greater than the soul. The
only thing that is not an external good, bodily good,
or good of the soul... God. Augustine said, thou
hast made us for thyself and therefore our hearts are
restless until they rest in thee. Nothing in this
world perfectly satisfies our desires, and so either
there is not such thing as perfect happiness, anywhere,
ever, or there is something more than this world. But
we have a natural desire for happiness! We have a lovers'
quarral with the world: but even after Shakespeare and
Beethoven, we ask, Is that all there is?
Now, if nature makes nothing in vain, if every natural
desire corresponds to something real that can satisfy
it (which IS true for EVERY other desire, food, drink,
survival, sex, knowledge, beauty, peace... exist somewhere)
well than this biggest desire too, the desire for supreme
Happiness and the Good, must also correspond to something
that really exists. Whenever we get some finite good,
it only satisfies us finitely. The goods of this world
and ourselves are limited, but our desire is unlimited.
So there must be something that is an unlimited good
that satisfies all our desires. And that is Aquinas
argument that the ultimate human good is the existence
of God. Aquinas argued for the existence of God like
this in the Kosmos: In a universe of movement, there
must be Unmoved mover. The chain of causes depends on
a First Cause of things. Perishable things depend on
an imperishable being. The relative degrees of perfection
we see in all things requires a real absolute standard
and perfect being. The design of nature in which many
things are ordered requires an orderer (designer). But
the most poignant argument for God, the most challenging
one, is the one of desire. The physical ones are there.
But the human desire' argument as God as
a final End, directly impacts ethics. This is not religion,
but philosophy. Not faith in divine revelation like
the bible, but logical reasoning. If you reason about
self knowledge, this is what you get. About 300 years
after Aquinas, Machiavelli will also use reason to come
up with as radical a different set of conclusions as
you can get. Read the Prince and be ready to enter a
completely different world.
BEING GOOD AND BEING SUCCESSFUL: IS IT
Machiavelli. The origin of modern philosophy, at
the opening of the Western ascendence. In the whole history of thought,
no thinker as influential as M has been so despised. Most of his
influence has been in the field of politics but he's also the source
of much of the modern mind in ethics. All his successors repudiate
his teaching- it was much too radical to be popular in its original
form. In his time he was called the son of the devil. And one of the
most popular names for the devil was old nick', as Niccolo
was his name. So, not only was he named after the devil, the devil was named
after him! Wow!
Yet though all his successors reject his teaching,
they all accept some of it and mitigate it with their own thought.
So do you.
Quiz: is politics about
b) doing what is possible?
B. That is Machiavelli. The classical and medieval philosophers
Machiavelli lowered the ideals. The world accepts
his lowering of the ideals, but the world Machiavellian is not a word
of praise. Someone who teaches you to be sinister, sly, scheming, amoral
or immoral, purely pragmatic. Someone who teaches you to be successful
rather than moral, powerful rather than good. And that's
not an unfair description! He says it himself. In the Prince, all he says logically follow from
three assumptions. First from metaphysics, another from anthropology
and one from epistimology. Metaphysical assumption (about reality)
is that Reality does NOT include ideals or goods or values, values
are not facts, not objectively real. Reality consists only of material
facts (facts you can see and get) M is a materialist. Anthropology
(about man); man is essentially competitive, immoral, wicked and selfish.
He must be because he just said that matter is all that is real'
so if that's true, than all that is real in man is matter, too.
His biology. And biology is competitive. Basic law of all matter:
two bodies cannot occupy the same space at the same time. The more
money I give to you, the less I have. The more food I eat, the less there
is for you to eat. Only spirit transcends this. If spiritual things
are indeed real, they can be given away without being lost. Teachers
give knowledge without losing it. Lovers do not lose joy or self
when they give that self to another. Material goods like power, glory,
territory and wealth are diminished when shared. But spiritual
goods like love, beauty and wisdom and joy MULTIPLY when shared. But
if they don't exist, and if all that exists is the material, then
men will compete always, like two animals. BUT M says, traditional
morality is always teaching that selfishness is BAD and unselfishness
is GOOD. Therefore, morality totally contradicts morality. The third,
the epistimological truism is that human history can be a science, and
we can know it. There is a formula for success in public life. There
are only two variables in life: Virtu and Fortuna. Virtu is not
virtue, but strength. Power, control, prowess. Your ability to
impose your will on something else. Fortuna is not fortune, meanwhile,
it is rather luck, fate. All the things that you cannot control. So,
the formula for success? Maximize Virtu and minimize Fortuna. Or,
the conquest by virtu over fortuna.
M's assumption about reality, that material
goods is all that there are and ideals are not real, is metaphysical. The
assumption about anthropological man, that man is by nature selfish
and competitive, is about man. The third assumption is the epistimological
one, that human history can be reduced to a science, and we can know
it and predict and control human behavior scientifically... is also
a spiritual one: because reducing everything to virtu and fortuna
is implicitly the politics of atheism. And he in fact was an athieist
(he never came out with that- he would've been burned at the stake
in 16th C Italy)... What about the things that flow from divine providence?
Nothing about that here! Only Virtu (the
human agent) and Fortuna (pure chance). In the Prince, Machiavelli radically separated the
real and the ideal. The classical ideals were too high and difficult
to attain. They are like the stars, says M. Beautiful but impractical...
too high and far away, to cast light on our lowly Earthly paths...
when walking on a mountain road at night, we use a lantern to see by
on our path, not the stars. The lantern is the realistic answer to
how do I negociate the road at night?'
Forget ideals! Plato began with ideal states, and
for the last 2000 years (Plato--Machiavelli) no one ever created the
ideal state! So what to do? It dialectic: either make what is real
the ideal, or lower the ideal back to the real. Since the first is troublesome,
lets do the second! Thus, the immoralism of the Prince is
defended. This is not a book about ideals, but a book about success.
If you want to find a book about contemplating beautiful and unattainable
ideals, like the stars, then go ahead and read Plato, Aristotle, Augustine,
Aquinas, Cicero. But if you want success, read my Prince.
Its not a book about ethics, in fact, it examines what happens to Good
people in history- they become martyrs. The low road, my friend, is
the road to success! Its not a value, its a fact. Unarmed prophets have
failed, armed prophets have succeeded.
So, real and ideal are NOT the same. Plus, only a
few individuals in any state can be saints, no society can as a whole.
Remember when Plato said that a soul and a state are kind of the
same thing, can what is good for an individual soul can be said to
be good for the state too? He said that Justice is more profitable
for a soul and a state than injustice. Well M says, after two thousand
years... no way. Justice does NOT mean the same thing for a person
and a state. The state must be utterly value-free. A third implication
of Machiavelli's separation of the real and the ideal: before Machiavelli,
it was assumed that the ideal was the standard for the real.
How closely the real came to the ideal is how well it is judged.
M flipped it: ideals are to be judged on how realistic they are, and how
practical they are, and how they have worked in the past. We can
know this as historians and as scientists. Ethics: theory. History:
data. Use the data.
Machiavelli explains that he is expanding on Plato
(he is really contradicting him), in the Prince, ch. 15: The things
for which princes have been praised and blamed have been written
about before. But this is an original path to doing this, because
this is for practical use. Many have dreamed up republics and
principalities that have never existed. And the gulf between how one
should live and one does live is so big, that a man who neglects what
is actually done, in favor of what should be done, is doomed to self destruction,
not self preservation. Sounds Darwinian.
Well... in Republic, Plato said that the philosopher-king
(the Prince) must know both the shadows in the cave (the follys
and illusions of popular politics) AND the more real world
the cave, justice, truth etc. So, its M's propaganda that the classical
authors were narrow and naive and one-sided and that M is opening
a wider perspective. Its the other way around. In addition, Plato would agree that a man who
neglects what is actually done for what should be done, learns the
way to self desruction... but Plato's goal was not
self preservation. Socrates could've saved his body at the trial by lying
a little, but he thought that a man was his soul. He sacrificed his body and
saved his soul. M thinks that is absolutely crazy.
In ranking bodily self-preservation above virtue,
M concludes that the body is more than the soul. He does not SAY this,
like Plato says the opposite. Instead, he says, If a Prince wants
to act virtuously, he will come against those who are not. If he wants
to know how to stay powerful and maintain his rule, he must therefore
not be virtuous. Where Plato attempted to teach virtue, and Machiavelli
is now teaching vice! In the Meno, Socrates wanted to see if virtue
could be taught. Mow M says men must be taught to be vicious. There
is a paradox here. Usually, people say that Plato was an optimist,
he taught virtue, and Machiavelli was a pessimist, he taught vice.
But this is not necessarily true: Socrates want to teach virtue because
he knew that men needed that training! You teach virtue to sinners,
not saints. They were not born virtuous and pure. This seems
more pessimistic than M! Indeed, M thought men were generally too good,
too good to survive in the wicked world of politics. And therefore needed
to be taught some vice. Here's, an example of M's wicked
world: The Pizzi conspiracy: on Easter Sunday, in the sanctuary at
the moment of the consecration, there was to be a murder. It was botched,
but blood flowed, and the congregation captured the two conspirators
of this offensive- one of whom was the bishop- and they hung
them out the cathedral windows, and the crowd below cheered as
the two men tried to stab each other while dangling. Edifying. Well, Machiavelli
knew that in this world, you gotta do what you gotta do.
One notorious answer to the wickedness of human events
for a Prince, comes in ch. 18, when M asks when should a
prince honor his word?Answer: Only when it works. He contrast
the traditional value first: everyone knows that a Prince should honor
his word and that this is praiseworthy. Nevertheless, experience shows
that the prince who has achieved great things has given their word
lightly. he knows how to trick people with cunning. A prudent ruler,
then, should not keep his word if it does not befit him. Wow, a new
ethic here. Should. So, a prince should not be honest or he will not
survive. The assumption is that survival is the greatest good.
Plato would not agree with either of these.
Another argument for the idea that Princes should
not honor their world: if all men were good than this could
be set aside, but since they are not, and wretched creatures, and would not
keep their word to you, you need not keep it to them. This assumes
that your morality depends on other peoples' morality. That, how
good or evil other people are is your standard too!
Usually, machiavelli is said to be advising his Princes
to be proactive, strong leaders, not reactive. But its
really the opposite! He's telling them to wimp out and let others
set the standard, like Pilate not Jesus, to stay in power. This arguement
is from history, it works! He says. Well, which of those two, Pilate
the Machiavellian Prince, or Jesus, the moralist, which has survived?
Which had more Virtu, more influence on history, than any other
man who ever lived? And which is reviled and condemned a million times
a day when Christians say their creed: suffered under
Pontius Pilate, died and was buried. And, which one attained success?
Which was happy? Which accomplished his job? Jesus of course, but M would
say yes but Jesus was killed. Remember, armed prophets succeed, unarmed
prophets fail. But to understand M, lets look at another example
from Florence. A friar, Savanna Roll was beloved and like St. Francis,
preached reform and people reformed their lives. People loved him,
but then people wanted to go back to their wicked ways, and M literally
watched as an unarmed prophet failed, and was burned at the stake.
The Florentines burned their external conscience.
So M is disagreeing with an assumption that EVERYONE
before him believed about human nature. They believed that there
was a strong moral force in human nature, something like conscience.
Dei spiritual power,' in Chinese. A Buddhist story: humble
little monk was the wisest in the land. a warrior was also strong and
arrogant. The warrior said, I think you are a fake: show
me your wisdom or i will show you my sword. What can you tell me that I do
not know? the monk said, I will show you the gates of heaven and
hell, for you do are foolish and do not know them. The warrior was
enraged, got red in the face and went to cut off his head. Pointing to the
warriors face, the monk said, I have now shown you the gates of
hell. The warrior paused for a moment, and was ashamed, and put back
his sword. The monk said, And now i have shown you the gates of
heaven. That is an example of Dei, and M argues that it doesn't
exist! He writes it is unreasonable to expect an armed man would obey an
unarmed man. He calls this story fiction, and it couldn't really
happen. What we DO observe, proves the opposite is true. In fact, if
man were moral, he would fear pangs of consciousness more than fear
But you must define fear. Do you fear your son become
the victim of a crime, or that he become a criminal himself? Is it
worse for you to be attacked by a demon than to become a demon? No. It
is somehow worse to accept evil into your freewill than to be the victim
of it. We deep down agree with Plato in the Republic when he said
Justice is always more profitable than injustice. And what he said
in Gorgias, Doing injustice harms us more than suffering it.
And of course Jesus: What good is it to win the world... and lose your own
soul?' And its true: what good would it do you to win all the objects,
but lose the person who wanted to enjoy those objects!
All this is negated by M. He purports denial of Dei
and conscience, inner-sanction, and this leads him to says something
disturbing about war: There is no avoiding war, it can only
be postponed to the advantage of others. Laws are worthless without punishments
for enforcing them... and since no one is virtuous, there
is no dei, and there is not an inner force, so the out-there
cops must multiply. M spends a LOT of time therefore on war. No laws, just
war. The art of war is all that is expected of a ruler. A Prince
must think about one thing continually, military strategy. Well we think
this is absurd. But, for M it was not. It logically followed from
his anthropology, that no one was trustworthy. You can't trust
your staff. Trust NOBODY. He advised a Prince who conquers a new territory
to go live there himself and not let subordinates get in charge cause
it will be stolen or spoiled. This never fails: Whoever is responsible
for someone else's successes, does his own undoing. Trust
no one. Cooperation is impossible, competition is the law of nature. Problem
is that cooperation is more efficient. G. Carlin said that
In america, in 3 generations, everyone will be a lawyer and the US
a huge courtroom. Without food. Bronx Tale, It is far better
to be feared, than loved, if you cannot be both. Pure Machiavelli. This
is a notorious logical extension of M, and he added, For, men are
fickle and deceitful. Treat them well and they are with you. But what is
better, love or fear? They worry less about doing injury to one who
makes himself loved, than one that makes himself feared. Men break
the bond of love as they please... they are in charge. They do not
break the bond of fear, as they are in fear of punishment, the Prince
is in charge. M is useful. He connects the ethical conclusions of
a philosopher's metaphysics and anthropology. In this case, using
Virtu as your means to success.
Neitzsche said, To understand any philosphers
metaphysics (life-view), just look to their arguments and the
morality they lead too. Plato vs. Machiavelli: Plato says wisdom
consists of differentiating appearance and reality, and choosing
reality. To know it, and improve it. Not the cave, not the nexus.
Reality. M flips this, and says that appearance is more important!
Huh? Everyone sees who you appear to be, only a few know the real you.
Well, this is just spineless, he is using other peoples' opinion.
This is today's advertising! They say, image is everything
what you appear to be is more important than the reality. Fortuna is image.
Hitler was machiavellian cause he was the first to master the
media. Totally practical. In addition, M says that cleverness in
military force helps: foresight. The south almost beat the north
due to the great strategy of Robert E. Lee. The Romans did what
all wise rulers must: they cope with present troubles, and also deal with
ones that may arise, and forestall them. If trouble is sensed well
in advance, it can easily be remedied, but if you wait for it to
show itself, any medicine may be too late, it may be incurable.
Doctors say that in the beginning, it is easy to cure but hard to diagnose.
In time, it becomes easy to diagnose but hard to cure. So it
is in politics.
Lao Tzu said the same thing in the Tau Te Ching.
He spoke of a chinese emperor who ruled by music: he walked in disguise
through all the cities of the realm. and listened to the music people
made. if it was good, he left the city alone. if not, soldiers came
in. Musical revolutions in modern times always precede political
So, can the Machiavellian formula, and that's
what it is, a formula work? He's banking that it does, because its
practical and not moral. The whole point is that it works, not that its good.
So if it don't work, its shot. It would be a big win for the moralists
who see 1st and 2nd things, morality is 1st, worldly success
is 2nd. If you put 2nd things first, you negate both. So does the immoral
advice work? Since fortune is changeable, one who adapts his policy
to the time prospers, and those who clash with the times do not.
Since policy is virtu and the times come under fortuna, this means
that the only way that virtu can conquer fortuna is by conforming to
it. Its the old master slave relationship in which the master in
enslaved to the slave. In order to master fortune, you have to be
fortune's wimp, lackey. You bend, you break, you lose your soul to
the environment. The concrete Prince is really a wimp.
LECTURE 9: BEING GOOD AND BEING EVIL: IS MANKIND
Machiavelli was a revolution. He lowered the standards
and rejected tradition. So who would follow him? His successors
accepted some of his principles. They mitigated him and made him more
acceptable, respectable, by using some of his stuff and adding
their own. Thomas Hobbes agreed with M that virtue was NOT the
telos of human society, but instead of glory and military conquest,
Hobbes substituted self-preservation against the threat
of violent death. He devised natural rights' too, and was also
an athiest and materialist. He was still to radical to become popular.
John Locke soon after, dropped atheism and materialism,
but he too rejected virtue as the social greatest good... and
traditional morality as the social basis for society, but this
time substituted something that COULD be accepted popularly... property.
The desire for property (and wealth) was a new, respectable substitute
for virtue, that used to be a private vice: Greed. But now, it
is a public good- under the new capitalist economy, this desire for
property became the profit motive, which drove society to become richer,
and the more greedy people are, the more rich society gets through
a trickle-down effect. The WORK ETHIC replaces ETHIC as the foundation
for the good society. They used to say that the best society is
one in which it is easy to be good, and now say that the best is one
in which it is not necessary to be good. Just rich. The aim is not being
good but doing well.' He he he.
So is man intrinsically good or evil? Hobbes and
Rousseau disagree. Hobbes says no. M is right, man is selfish! But,
his main desire is one we can identify with: he wants to live. No death,
leave me alone! Society is artificial, and not based on natural law.
So, we must construct the Leviathan. Man created civil society
in order to protect him from a violent, nasty, solitary, brutish and
short life. Pessimist. Society makes natural mean man good.
Rousseau says yes, man is good. He is a noble savage,
and taught to act badly by society. In the state of nature before
the invention of civil society by the social contract, he is good.
A nice cavaman. Society is artificial though, like Hobbes said. SN
is not like civil society. Its an artifice. You don't bash
me and I won't bash you, and we'll give up our rights to some cops to make
sure we don't bash each other even though we agreed not too. The origin
of this idea, so accepted today, is found first way back in the Republic.
Civil society was created and separates us from nature, as we think,
but none of the ancients but the Sophists believed this. Plato disagreed
with Thrucimicus the Sophist, saying that society is natural,
not artificial. Social justice is natural. Society is
like a body, with natural intrinsic rules for its health and happiness.
Thrucimicus, Machiavelli, Hobbes and Rousseau all REJECT the natural
law theory, in favor of the artificial social contract theory.
Thrucimicus, M, Hobbes all think man is evil, Rousseau
thinks man is naturally good. Ethics depends on this answer a lot,
because what is man? Good or evil? Optimist or Pessimist in athropology?
An optimist says that The best government is that which
governs least! Freedom maximised. A pessimist would say no way, we
need more government for more structure and order. Education? Optimist is
permissive, treating the child like a flower, letting it unfold itself
in the sun. Pessimist would emphasize structure and training
and breaking the child's rebellious will. Marriage? Optimist
likes natural romance, while pessimist doesn't mind arranged marriages.
Obviously we live in a Rousseauian, optimist society. But which is right?
Two kinds of good and evil: Ontological goodness: the goodness in your nature
apart from your deeds / lifestyles.
Moral goodness: the virtues of your deeds, virtuous
acts, will, what you behave like. Ontological evil: misery, suffering, death (what
we are, what happens to us) Moral evil: the bad things we do by our free choices
Spoiled genius Hitler has more ontological goodness
than Harry the Nice Hamster. But the sweet little hamster has more
moral goodness. Possible Anthropologies Traditional: ontologically (originally) good, morally
(environmentally) bad Hobbes: ontologically bad, morally bad
Rousseau: ontologically good, morally good Sartre: ontologically bad, morally good:
1. Traditional Classical View: Man is ontologically
very good and valuable. In Judeo-Christianity, its because he is
created in God's image. For the Greco-Romans, its cause he's
a little god himself (master morality). For modern secularists, its cause
he has rights. If an old man and a billion dollars of paintings are
burning in a museum, which do you save? The old man. The old man has more
ontological value. Yet, man is not morally perfect and acts in
contradiction to his innate ontological goodness. So, there is need
for repentance. If he was ontologically evil, there would be no need
for repentence- we wouldn't be doing anything unnatural. The king's
kid acting like an ape. Made in the image of King God, acting more like
king kong. We are too proud of what we do, not proud enough about what
we are. Of course, there is a little bad in the best of us,
and a little good in the worst of us :)
2. Hobbes denies, like Machiavelli ontological goodness.
Man is not a child of God but a shivering naked beast that is
afraid of violent death. Morally selfish and competitive-Hobbes is
a materialist. Love is just refined animal lust. Matter is in essence
competitive. One body must push the other out. Material goods must
be taken to survive. So man is not good morally or ontologically. If there
are two people and food for one, one must die. Our anthropology
3. Rousseau was the super optimist: ontologically
and morally good. There is no such thing as sin. Human nature can be
trusted, and the only thing to judge is judgementalism, the only evil
is belief in evil. The only thing to be intolerant of is intolerance.
We are all brothers.
4. Sartre said there is no such thing as intrinsic
human dignity or worth, and also no such thing as sin or evil. Man
is ontologically worthless but morally good. Because man and human
life is meaningless and absurd, and cause there is no god to design us
and give us value, there is no such thing as ontological value. Yet
we have moral goodness because since we invent morality as we go,
without a god to tell us right and wrong, so we cannot be evil because
we invent what evil is, and that is totally subjective. Our will
creates morality. The latter denies both the original assumptions of
the ancients. We've already looked at what could be called
optimistic or pessimistic anthropologies. Recall that Plato's Theory of
Education in the Meno was optimistic, as was his Theory of the Teaching
of Virtue in the Republic. Meno asked, can virtue be taught,
or does it come by practice, or is it in our nature, or does it come
in another way that is against nature? pessimism says that it comes against nature because
our nature is evil. optimism says it comes by nature.
Plato's view: it comes by teaching- enlighten
the mind and the will will follow. Aristotle's view: the middle view: both virtue
and vice come by training- repeated practice and development of habits.
By nature we only have the potential for virtue or vice. To actualize
these, takes habits.
Americans used to be closer to 4. Aristotle, and
today they are more like 2., which is the opinion of Rousseau. The innate
tendancy to sin (original selfishness) is very unpopular today. But
babies are selfish! We have to socialize them and train them
morally. And we don't succeed most of the time: just think of
the adults being selfish. Those people are those kids grown up.
So whose right? Rousseau or Hobbes? Innate goodness
or innate evil? We can find out not through emotion, but by reason:
to find out what is in man, let it come out. Give man Freedom and Power
and see what happens. Its like a chemistry experiment where
you need a catylist to see what the chemicals do. Freedom and power can
be used equally for good or evil. Its not the opposite of good or evil,
but constraint. So, modern democratic society has given us more freedom
than we ever had before, and science and tech has given us more
So, are we better? more moral? wiser? less prone
to family and social breakdown? Do we call our times happy days?
No. Compare: suicide rate, cowardess, lust, addiction, violence etc. Compare
lyrics of popular songs of the past with those today. Compare
movies on screen: now with the power to do anything onscreen: is the
morality better, the wisdom better, even the themes? characterizations?
It looks like Lord Acton was right: absolute power
corrupts. So knowledge, power and freedom unlock evil. Now, decrease
the power and freedom. Think of a power outage, a hurricane, a
great depression. What happens? people chip in, they help much more
than before, they act like neighbors! they sometimes even act like
saints! There is both surprising good and surprising evil in human nature.
Which seem to be more evil when we are given all we want. This good
/ evil in human nature refutes Rousseau.
A syllogism: Power corrupts us, put us and power
together and you get trouble, but power is neutral, not evil, so the evil
must come from us. That's the bad news. Is there any good news?
Another syllogism: Suffering ennobles, but suffering
is not good in itself... so the good must come from us! Too much
suffering we can't take, but we do act more saintly under moderate poverty.
So, it seems human goodness comes out best when there
is not too much, nor too little power, money and freedom. In other
words; Middle Class Virtue! A class and a virtue that is resented bitterly
by the right and the left: by the rich and the poor, by the overeducated
snobs and the undereducated slobs. But bourgeois is the best
condition for fostering moral virtue. Bourgeois is the best! Yet,
there ain't no word more despised by the intelletuals. But the two
heros of the greatest book of the 20th C are bourgois. Frodo and
Sam. Two creature comfort loving hobbits who become heroes. Like the
English in WWII.
Here's an argument against pessimism and for
innate goodness in human nature: if we didn't have innate goodness, we
wouldn't know it' and therefore would not use it to judge evil by, yet
we do it, and that proves we are partly good. Because we recognize what
evil is and condemn it. We are good stuff gone partly good.
So man is ontologically both good and evil. We all
know that murder, torture rape and cruelty morally bad- but why? if
man is not ontologically good, why is harming him so morally
So, what makes him ontologically good? Just cause
we say so and we love mankind? Just cause we love man and that makes
him good? Therefore he IS good? If its just our desires or
choice, that can be changed. We can change that. But we can't. So,
if he is objectively good, where does this goodness come from? What is
the origin of his goodness? Because he was created in the image of
God? Or cause we evolved from animals who can't do anything like
that? Are we little gods fallen or great apes risen? Or both?
So if we are so good ontologically, why so bad morally?
How is it that we are corrupted? Animals can't be as bad or
as good as we. Children are not as bad or good as adults. Lilies that
fester smell far worse than weeds, we just disdain adults who are
bad, because unlike children or animals, they choose.
Most of us cannot be as morally bad as Hitler because
we are not as strong willed and clever as he. What a saint he would
have been, had he been one. So what's the origin of our evil?
we just don't know we are not evil, its just an illusion.
society is to blame, pass the buck to them- really
just other people. this line says then that you are to blame for other
people's doings- heridety is to blame, as we are just risen apes.
eve's excuse: the devil made me do it. adam's excuse: the woman made me do it.
the most uncomfortable: look in the mirror, its our
own freewill... I made me do it.
Its 7. But why did God or nature give us freewill
if he or she knew that we would misuse it badly? Well, because we cannot
be morally good without free choice either. Anymore than we can be
morally evil. So this raises a question about free choice: do we have
it? It is real or an illusion?
Ancients and moderns conceived freedom differently.
Freedom and freewill, are they the same thing? Ancients say we
are rightly praised for making good choices and embodying virtues. And
rightly blamed for embodying vices and ill character- BECAUSE we are
morally free to make the choice and be that person.
FREEWILL VS DETERMINISM
Moral Judgmentalism much despised by
moderns, presupposed that some choices are really morally right or wrong, objectively.
It also supposes that we are responsible for our choices-
that we have freewill. The ancients knew about the freedom to
choose- freewill. Many moderns deny it- they say that everything is
determinism. Actions are determined (caused) by necessary forces: heridity
plus environment. Freedom to ancients meant freedom of
choice, freewill, that makes us morally responsible. That is inherent
in human nature, and is not present in animals. You don't appeal
to a dog's conscience not to urinate on the rug, you hit the dog. Animals
never have freewill, while humans always do. Even if you are
captured and in prison, you can choose to agree or disagree with
your captors. You can hate or forgive them, hope or despair. Solzhenitsyn
and Dostoyevsky wrote how some people only discover their true freedom
in prison. Modern thinkers think freedom is autonomy. Freedom
to make laws, or even break laws. No responsibility to choose
judged under a moral law, but freedom to make those laws. We see laws
as limiting, ancients thought law defines freedom. Autonomy is something
we strive for, freewill is inborn.
So, if freewill is right, how is it compatible with
other things, like the fact we are conditioned by heridetary and environment,
and how does it relate to predestination, diving providence,
fate, destiny... Moderns excuse bad moral behavior because they believe
it was caused by society (the environment), or chemistry and hormones
(heridetary). Well, the ancients believed in fate and destiny,
and YET, humans STILL had responsibility for their moral behavior! That's
even more determined than chemistry and society! Usually, we
believe in a combination of freewill and a destiny or divine plan.
All our stories have both of these in it. Plot (plan) and actors
with an uncertain future, who use their agency to make something happen!
Ancients believed in both working in tandem. Moderns
deny one or the other, or both! This has huge consequences for ethics,
if you deny freewill, you cannot blame or respect anyone. And
if you deny destiny, there is only randomness, its a play without right
or wrong lines to speak. And so there is no objective right and wrong.
Aquinas said: man has freewill, otherwise all praising,
blaming, rewarding, punishing, counsuling and commanding would
be meaningless. Legacy of Rousseau and Hobbes: not satisfying thinkers,
but powerful, and both questioned something traditional: Hobbes
questioned innate human goodness, Rousseau questioned innate human
badness, and they opened up more options, still unsresolved. More confusing
now even! Many moderns deny freewill because of science often
times. Scientists find causes, and are usually determinists. This all
started with the book that is the origin of all modern philosophy
in science: Descartes Discourse on Method.
THE PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE: CAN MORALITY
BE A SCIENCE?
Can ethics be a science? Do they match or repel?
Some have tried to use science to find ethics: Three attemped to do ethics scientifically:
17th C Rene Descartes Rationalism
18th C David Hume Empiricism
19th C John S. Mill Utilitarianism
19th C Immanual Kant Purely
Rational Scientific Ethics- Single most important modern ethical philosopher: to discuss
him, we must know what he knew, the first three, and that means knowing
the great conversation.
We start in late Renaissance, when modern culture
begins. Divided into earlier artistic renaissance in the 16th and the
scientific renaissance in 17th. If anything can be said to be
something we can be proud of, its science. It is the one thing that totally
distinguishes us from every premodern culture. We may not be wiser,
happier or more moral, but we are more scientific. Pure science has
given us more factual knowledge, and its spinoff, technology (applied
science) than any culture of the past ever had or imagined having.
If you took anyone from there to here... in a time machine, he
would think he died and went to heaven or hell. Skycrapers came from
cathedrals? what are those hand held things with demons in them! How could
chunks of matter do that? Those flying things, they are angels or
gods. And when he found out that men made those things, just by understanding
matter... he would think men were now like gods. How did he
do all this!?! What caused this unbelievable scientific explosion?
In a word, method. When it was used, the method acted like a skeleton
key opening the doors to all the sciences. Its not because interest
arose for the first time, don't believe that medieval man
was only concerned with the next world because it was the age of faith'.
Medieval man WAS interested in nature, but like children. They did
not have a clear notion of the scientific method, they did science
that was religious and poetic, but not scientific. So what about this new science method and ethics?
It works so well everywhere else, so why not ethics (a kind of science-
it seeks rational knowledge of good and evil through causes
and explanations. Its not a physical science, and it asks something
that other sciences don't, namely what is and OUGHT to be. Its rational
and argues for its conclusions though. And it is a discovery.
Machiavelli was first to do this: he used human HISTORY
to find data that would apply to his prince. The Romans were the
most successful in history, why? He tried to find the causes for Roman
success, and sought to replicate that successful stuff. Purely
factual. The only morality he had was an anti-morality- he found that
moral people are martyrs. Morality does not work, high ideals conflict
with the fact that mankind is not ideal. All of this was too shocking
of course, traditional morality was still in place. But M's
method was accelerated by Descartes. The new science was like
a rocket ship, the old a paper airplane.
Descartes was father of modern scientific philosophy.
Medieval philosophy ended with nominalism (name-ism, as it,
nothing is real, just a name) and the resulting skepticism. Montaigne,
D's contemporary, was a skeptic. So philosophy was in
a rut. Science was going forward. Why??? What was the secret of modern
science and how could philosophy imitate it? Descartes did not look
back, but forward. He abandoned tradition. He borrowed nothing from
his predecessors. He is the first philosopher since Socrates to not cite
any previous philosopher. To answer a skeptic, begin as a skeptic.
If you begin with certainties, you end in doubts. If you begin
with doubts, you may get to a certainty.
So, the secret of science's success? Its method!
Lets apply it to ethics, which will give ethics the same clean slate
and new start everyone else gets, in his great book, A Discourse
of Method. He says, the ancient philosophies are like magnificient
temples which laud the virtues and make them more beautiful than
anything else. But they are built on mud and sand. They give no criteria
for good and evil. No tightly logical proofs for these criteria.
On the other hand, the scientific method IS just such a strong foundation,
but on this strong foundation, we have erected not temples but
only little technical workshops. Francis Bacon's summum
bonum says the purpose of man and man's nature is the conquest of nature!
Its great! But ethics is important too. So the great project is to join
the new scientific method with the old ethics. Lets move the new foundation
under the old temple. Or, the old ethical temples onto the new
Not unlike Socrates. His moral teaching was not new,
but what was new was his method. So new that his contemporaries were
afraid of his constant questioning of commonly held beliefs. Descartes
is like a new Socrates! First thing he does is to redefine reason.
Reason is scientific reason. He narrowed it. The method? Descartes begins with universal methodical
doubt. Its false until proven true. The first rule of the method.
An idea or hypothesis is always treated skeptically. Guilty
until proven innocent. Except, nothing is true until proven true
with certainty. Descartes began with universal doubt and went to
prove his own existence: I think, therefore I am. Then he proved
that he is a mind / soul / spirit. Then the existence of a God, from
the concept of a perfect being in his mind. The concept of total perfection
must include the perfection of existing, outside of our
mind. Statement: God lacks existence is self-contradictory.
What about the validity of the material world and the validity of our sense
perceptions of it? The premise he used is that if the sense perception
we have use of are illusary or deceptive, and they were given to us
by God, a perfect being, than God is not perfect and that is not true.
So, our faculties are good indicators of truth in nature.
Most today believe Descartes is a genius and did
a good thing, but few think Descartes succeeded in his proofs on these
things above: proving he exists, he is a mind / soul, existence of God,
existence of the world etc. He claimed to prove these. He didn't
apply the new method to ethics. In Part III of the Discourse on Method,
he gives us a pragmatic ethic, to live with safely and comfortably
until he got a better ethic done, but he died young. No book.
His successors, however, did.
David Hume. Hume used
his Method to generate empiricism. In front of your face-ism.
Emperically, science is the only reliable source. Human knowledge
has two tools: the mind and the senses. Descartes and his rationalism said
the mind was the revealer of knowledge. Hume and his empiricism said
no, it is the senses. Contrasted with D. Rationalist says only
the Mind can be trusted, and the senses must be judged by the mind.
Empricist says the senses must judge the mind, they should be trusted,
because they alone give you the DATA in the surrounding world. This
Reason and sensation are the two poles of human knowledge,
Descartes put forth rationalism. Locke and Hume were empiricists.
Hume: Ideas are just less vivid copies of sense impressions,
and there was nothing in the mind besides what the senses put there.
But what about Ethics?!? There's the NEW trouble for ethics: uh oh, there
is no place for it in the new order! What? By the time we get to Hume in
18th Century, ethics is in crisis. The problem is that it cannot
be measured by science. Good and evil have no shape or color or
size or mass or other scientific qualities, they cannot be reduced to sense
data or said to be founded on sense data. So, there can be no knowledge
of good and evil in this epistemology. So how did Hume account
for our ethical ideas? Oh... well, they are Feelings. Emotive Theory
of Values. When we see a mugger kill an old lady, we think we have
seen something evil. But Hume says we did not see evil. He says
we saw a series of sense impressions: a arm, knife, slash, cry, fall,
pool of blood. We call it evil, but where is the evil? It is not seen
outside, it has no size or color, but felt inside. Its inside our feelings.
Well, feelings are not objective, and do not reveal anything
in the world outside of us. But we think they do! When we see
the old lady murdered, we feel bad and mad and angry, and we project
those feelings out at the murder and the murderer. Hume says the
objective ACT cannot be good or bad, its just physical, not moral. Morality
comes from inside, it is a quality of our feelings. Ethics,
therefore, cannot be objectively good bad, and it can never become a science
because there can be no certainty about it. Arguing about ethics
is useless. Many philosophers are happy with this reduction of ethics
to a feeling. But none were happy with what followed.
THE LIMITS OF RADICAL EMPIRICISM
With the eliminating of a basis for understanding
good and evil, radical empiricism also must deny certain other things
in life, because we cannot sense them: it denies the nature
of causality (like the causal connection between the bird and the egg,
or the bat hitting the ball into the outfield- we sense only the two
events. So it must be feeling or mental habit that makes us connect
them) since we don't sense that essences in nature exist (example is a
table. we don't sense the tableness, only the brownness, hardness
etc.) And most disturbingly, we don't sense ourselves. We look
within and find only a bunch of feelings, desires, thoughts etc., but not
the self that we think thinks the thoughts! Or senses things! There
is no YOU! You are just a temporary motel where the atoms you call you
have an affair for 70 years. These are not ethical conclusions, but
they have consequences for ethics. If there is no substantial
self', there is no locus of responsibility for things. We cannot
know that the bat caused the ball to move, we cannot know that we caused
the vicious or virtuous act, because there is NO REAL ME.
No one feels comfortable about this, yet the two
follow from the same empirical premises. Hume has many followers. 20th
C logical positivists were. They said the only cognitive
meaningful sentences are those that can be verified or falsified. If not,
it is not meaningful. There are only two ways to verify and
falsify: by formal logic, and sense. 2+23D4 is verifiable by mathematical
logic. The shoe is red is verifiable by sense. Sky is blue is verifiable,
spiders have 10 legs is false. What follows? All ethical
statements are strictly meaningless. Ought and ought not is not verifiable.
Non logical tautologies are unprovable as true or false. Murder
is bad. That is an expression of you, not empirically verifiable scientifically.
Personal, private, subjective feelings, not intellectual
claims. This is widespread in our culture now: Different
strokes for different folks, get your values away from me!
don't impose your values on me! As if values were a subjective personal
preference like a preference for football to ballet, or red to blue
ice cream. We call them lifestyles' today, as if the difference
between terrorism and heroism or adultery and fidelity were the same kind
of thing as the difference between top hats and baseball caps, or
an english vs. a brooklyn accent. Matters of style' not
content. Not truth, not goodness.
Obviously, there is something wrong with this philosophy.
Even though its called logical positivism, or logical empiricism,
it is utterly illogical. Why? It says, all meaningful propositions
are either logical tautologies or empirically verifiable,
it itself is neither one. It is so narrow that it eliminates itself! It
Very few philosophers defend it today. People empirically
do argue quiet soundly about right and wrong, and meaningfully.
The theory does not explain the empirical data. Also, people argue
about subjective facts, and what should have happened. In an accident,
what should the person have done is as important as what happened!
He should have hit the brakes... so there IS some relationship between
ought' and facts. It can't be known by the scientific method.
We don't argue about your dream vs mine, those are subjective. I feel pain,
you pleasure, and we don't argue about that. But we do argue about
good and evil. Is this a just war? Is abortion always wrong?
We are looking for the OBJECTIVE TRUTH HERE, the objective moral fact, not
a feeling! And we argue about what those facts are. Skeptics say
that we argue about it in vain, and they are just unprovable opinions
and feelings. Are they? Or is the emotive theory wrong?
Skeptics say these are unscientific feelings. AND
yes, ethics cannot be they cannot be science, otherwise it WOULD be
science. And if it is just a feeling', no. But if subjective
moral feelings' are indeed related somehow to objective moral fact, then the
question opens up: what kind of science can ethics be? Can it be something
like the modern scientific method? That would be a great way
to answer the subjectivist.
Descartes never found one. Hume never did. But English
philosopher John Stewart Mill did. It is utilitarianism. He says,
There is a scientific criterion for good and evil. IF science
uses 1. empirical observation and 2. mathematical measurement. Now,
empirically, everyone desires happiness, it is an observed fact.
And, our choices affect other people in society: make them more or
less happy. And given: happiness can be measured. So, ethics can
be scientific because all you have here is observation. So! The criterion
for good and evil: whatever causes the greatest happiness for the greatest
number of people is the greatest good. Good and bad are measured
by how much good and bad they produce. They are multiplied by
two things: the intensity or quality of happiness, and how many people
are affected. Quality? Hmm... well his predesessor Jeremy Bentham
said push pin is as good as poetry, if it makes you happy. Mill
said that was too simplistic: its better to be Socrates dissatisfied
than a pig satisfied. There are higher and lower pleasures.
Both agreed that an act is good if it makes people
happy. Only happiness is good in itself, and other goods are
means to this end of being happy. There are no intrinsically good or evil
acts. If I was a sadist and you a masocist, its totally good if you
are tortured by me. There are no moral principles. The consequences are
more important than the principles, consequentialism vs. principalism.
An act is good not because it obeys a prior universal abstract principle,
or good law based on one, but the concrete consequences of the
act (the happiness caused by the torture). We can see why this makes
utilitarianism scientific- the consequences can be calculated whereas
the principles cannot.
American pragmatism in William James is related to
this, though much more humane than the raw utilitarianism of Mill.
What's wrong with Mill's utilitarianism? It sounds nice but breaks
down in real situations.
It gives you no reasons to call cannibalism wrong.
If you were on an island with 99 cannibals. The most happiness that
there can be on that island is if you were cut up and served to them 1/99
for each. Utilitarianism does not consider what is right.
Its subjectivism is disheartening. Even happiness
in ancient thought was not subjective. It means perfection, true happiness.
And it might require some suffering. In identifying happiness with pleasure, no one is
a utilitarian who believes that man has a metaphysical soul, or that
there exists a God, or that there is anything spiritual above and beyond
the materialism of the material world! Utilitarianism criticizes traditional morality for
being arrogant and claiming to know too much: universal absolute truths
about good and evil. But, isn't it utilitarianism that
is more arrogant? It plays God! It claims to know the future, to know what will
bring the greatest happiness! It will do anything for that
happiness, means regardless. The traditional view is really the humble
one, like a soldier who obeys the commander because he trusted
him, thought he does not see how it will lead to the best consequences.
Suppose some egoist asks, why should I be concerned
with other peoples happiness? I don't care about them!
The utilitarian says well your happiness affects others too...
and the egoist says, fuck that, I'm in it for myself! The altruism
on the part of the utilitarian is a leftover from traditional morality,
and he can say nothing back, there is no basis for convincing an
egoist to be an altruist. Neitzsche pointed that out.
How does utilitarianism account for evil? Evil is
reduced to a miscalculation, an intellectual mistake. Was the
Holocaust a miscalculation? Utilitarianism doesn't pass the death
test'. You can't die for it. It doesn't help us explain death or make sense
of it. Its psychology seems too simplistic. We DON'T
want JUST pleasure! Chesterton said man's most pragmatic
need is to be more than a pragmatist! Man has deeper desires than utilitarianism
considers. The better people all condemn utilitarianism! The
better you are, the less you are a utilitarian. How could moral and intellectual
maturity take you in opposite directions? That would be a
distortion of the human heart's design.
The most devastating: utilitarianism is not just
weak ethics, its NO ethics. It has no ethical dimension. There are no
moral laws, no duties, no obligations. It reduces values to facts,
and is morally colorblind. So what is to become of figuring out ethics scientifically?
Of doing ethics on a basis of the scientific method? Next
we will see the most successful attempt. That of Immanual Kant. The greatest
modern ethical philosopher. He erects a system of ethics on pure
reason, a system WITH principles, unlike utilitarianism. He erects
this system of principles and obligations on scientific reason,
not metaphysical reason. Descartes tried, and didn't. Kant completes
the circle, the Enlightenment Project of applying scientific reason
Kant's classic, fundamental principles
of the metaphysics of morals, it and Aristotle's Ethics and Plato's Republic
are the triad of ethics book. They all end with good strong reasons for being
ethical. But they are not the same reasons!
BEING GOOD AND BEING FAIR, THE ETHICS
Child of the scientific enlightenment, saw it as
the paradigm of human knowledge. He wanted to complete the enlightenment
program of putting all of life on a scientific business. Descartes didn't
get around to it, Hume simply gave up on it and reduced ethics
to feelings and Mill sacrificed the very essence of ethics (moral
obligation) reducing it to pragmatic calculation of the greatest happiness
for the greatest number.
Kant wrote 3 great books about the great human ideals
from all times: the true, the good and the beautiful (epistimology,
ethics and aestetics). Critique of Pure Reason, Practical Reason
and Critique of Judgement. But we look at the best: Foundations of
Metaphys of Morals. Shorter of all them.
His metaphysics: are anti-metaphysics or else deontological
ethics (ontology and metaphysics is the same thing).
Can you have ethics without metaphysics? Kant wants
to find out. In the Critique of Pure Reason, he outlined his epistemology:
he goes to solve the impasse in epistemology (how you know
what you know) between rationalists like Descartes and empiricists
like Hume, by saying both were wrong cause they both assumed the
same false thing about Truth: rationalists like Descartes said we
can attain truth through pure reason, and Hume said it was through
sensation, and Aristotle said it was done by both.' But
all three understood truth as the mind's conformity to reality, its understanding,
struggling understanding of reality'. Aristotle defined
Truth, if one says of what is that it is, or of what is not that it is
not, he speaks the truth. If he says of what is that it is not, or of
what it is not that it is, he does not speak the truth. So, that's
conforming to reality.
Kant in Critique of Pure Reason, suggests what he called a Copernican
revolution in philosophy: a radical redefinition of truth itself:
he says reality conforms to the mind, not vice versa. Human thought
is like art not science: it actively structures the world rather
than passively mirrors it. It creates, rather than discovers, all
the order and form and meaning in the world that it seems'
to find'. So objective truth? No, its impossible. We cannot know reality,
or things in themselves.' But that is not thought's
business! Human thought is not a failure but a success at its proper business- to
MAKE the world. To create the world' form and meaning. The world
is cookie batter, and the mind's catagories are like cookie cutter
shapes. We make it, it's not out there. But, all minds are structured in the
same way, so there is a common world. Common forms we all impose on
the batter. Form has 3 parts:
Forms of sense perception (space and time, all there
is in nature)
Catagories of abstract logical thought (like causality
The three most fundamental ideas: self, world and
These are all subjective not objective, they are
in the mind, but they are in all minds, universally. But we can know this
but we can't know if they are in objective reality. We can only know
appearances, because we make them. We make them all the time,
like if we had colored glasses, and we see space-time in. We all
wear glasses. Space and time (all that we can sense), color our glasses
red and blue, which make rose. We only see the hue our glasses
let us see in. We cannot know reality.
So, if we can't know objective reality, where
the hell do we get our data? From... think Kenneth Clark here... the Light
of Experience! Our experience of moral obligation. We've seen that
ethics is about 3 words: Good, Right and Ought. The ancients were worried
about the Good, moderns are concerned about rights, and Kant
was concerned with OUGHT. The binding power of moral law over the human
conscience. His fundamental piece of datum is that We are absolutely
obligated to be moral. Question then, where do we find the
grounds of this obligation? Why? The ground of obligation is
sought not in the nature of man, nor in man's changing sense experience,
but a priori, (prior to sense experience and not dependent on it) solely
in the concepts of pure reason. Rationalism. Sense experience lacks
universality and necessity because what senses tell people differs,
but not reason. The sky is dark for an Australian and light for a Canadian.
But 2+23D4 for everyone. Necessary and unchangable.
There are only 5 possible grounds for moral obligation:
nature of god- Aquinas will of god- Kirkegaard and Euthyphro
nature of man- Aristotle will of man- Moral relativists by way of a social
contract abstract, logical, pure reason- Kant. So Kant says all ethics can be based on pure reason.
He outlines how to find the supreme principle of morality. Steps:
Identifies the absolute good: good will
Identifies good will as that coming from someone
doing it from a moral duty
Identifies moral duty with respect to moral law as
such, from an
overarching general law, it is called the Categorical
This is the Categorical Imperative: There is
no possibility of thinking about anything in the world (or out of it)
which can be regarded as good' without qualification,
except a good will. Intelligence, wit, judgement, and others are doubtless
good and desirable, as are such qualities as temperament and
courage, but these can also become extremely bad of the will which makes
use of these gifts of nature is not good. Same for gifts of fortune,
power, honor, health, these make for pride and even arrogance unless
there is a good will.
He's got a point here.
We wish monsters like Hitler did not have all those
qualities. He misused all these all these good qualities by an
evil will. Kant says that happiness is not good in itself, but means happiness
in the purely psychological, subjective way, as in, contentment'.
Not like Aristotle and Aquinas used it, meaning objective
perfection. So happiness has no moral content for Kant. What makes
a good will then? It is good not by a means to a higher end, but only
through its willing. It is not a means to a higher end (opposite
to utilitarianism here), and so how to find what kind of willing makes
the will good? Answer: a good motive. Just the motive. What makes
the motive good? Duty. Unfortunate word today, doo doo. Toilet training.
And German war criminals I vas doing my duty. But that
is narrow. Misleading. Kant means duty as respect for moral law, because it is
morally right, period.
Ancients said that 3 things make something good:
the deed, the act, the circumstances. For Kant, just the motive.
Kant makes the contrast between duty and inclination.
He unmodernly point that feelings (part of inclination) have no
moral worth, because they are not under our power, not free-choice. Example:
to preserve your life is a duty, and yet everyone has an inclination
anyway, so the preservation has no moral worth. They preserve
their lives according to duty, but not from the motive of duty.
But if you life is so painful that your inclination
is to kill yourself, then your life's preservation has
moral worth. Example: To be benefiscent is a moral duty, and besides this,
there are some people who are so sympathetically constituted that
they find inner pleasure in spreading joy to the people around them.
However amiable this is, it has no true moral worth. It is on a level
that arises from any emotion! This all seems severe and inhuman,
he is saying these are gifts of fortune, not free-choice. The point
is one nearly all the saints agree with: This is why the scriptures
command us to love our neighbor, even our enemy. They do not mean love as
in tender feelings' that is an inclination, and that cannot
be commanded... So no tender sympathies, but beneficient practical love,
driven by our will, and this is a duty. In that we have moral worth.
This is the opposite of utilitarianism, which says an act is
good because of what comes from it for the greatest number of people,
and instead focuses on the principles which comes before it and motivates
So what is that principle? That supreme principle
of moral clarity? The Categorical Imperative. He formulates two of
these Ultimate Moral Principles.
Now, its hard to find people who act from pure duty.
Most of us are too weak to follow that path. But like Plato, he
defines a perfect ideal, and therefore a spectrum to judge our actions.
His claim is not how good we are', but what goodness
is.' Kant's morality is too idealistic to work, but that doesn't mean it
isn't valid. Kant did NOT say, however, that its too idealistic.
Kant: Why does moral instruction accomplish
so little? Because the teachers have not purified their concepts, they spoil
the medicine by making it really song. When a righteous act is done
away from public view, away from reward in this or another world,
even under the greatest temptation of need or allurement, it far
surpasses any similar action that was affected by an extraneous
incentive. It inspires the soul. Children see this. That is why
duties should not be represented to children in any other way.
Don't bribe your kids, just tell them to do
it because its right. When they do something for a reward, the bribes backfire
when the money runs out. But rightness never runs out.
So Kant wants to know if virtue can be taught, like
Plato first asked in the Meno. Usually philosophers say Yes it
can, but it must be through example. We learn it by imitation of moral
heroes. By concrete not abstract ideas. But, Kant denies this. He says
no. Surprise! His epistemology says no. You cannot abstract universal
truths from individual sense experiences. The Copernican
revolution in philosophy' means that reason structures experience,
rather than learning from it. Kant: Worse service cannot
be rendered to morality than to derive it from examples. For, each example
of morality must first be judged according to principles of morality
to see if it is fit to serve as an example or model. But in no way
can it furnish a concept of morality. Even the holy one must be compared
to our ideal of moral perfection before he is recognized as such.
Christ: Why do you call me whom you see good? No one is good, as
in the archtype of good, God, whom you do not see. Kant: Imitation,
then, has no place in moral matters. Its just good for encouragement.
Kant is wrong. What you are, speaks so loud
that I cannot hear what you say. Saints teach morality better than
philosophers. Kant is ready to formulate the Catagorical Imperative:
There is only one IC: Act according to the maxim that you would
will that it become a universal law. Do only what you want everyone
else to do. Its a variation of the Golden Rule, but Kant deduces all
duties from it. If I lie to you, I can't will that you lie to
me. I lie only to gain an advantage over you. Same goes for murder or robbery.
We don't will them to be universal laws. If we follow this one
law, one commandment, to do only what we want everyone to do, we would
do only good. And this is the only law we need. A law of justice, and
equality. Like mathematics, this law is like an equals sign. A scientific
ethics. All good which is for equality based, and bad if inequality.
All good is equality, doing what all others should do. All evil
is inequality, doing other things from what people should equally
Human nature? Kant: Every rational being exists
as an end in himself, and not as a means to get to something else, used
by another will. Non rational beings are called things, rational ones
persons. Nature marked them out as ends in themselves, and thus objects
of respects. There is a Practical Imperative', a variation
of the Catagorial Imperative. Wait a minute... people are not mearly
subjective ends? Kant: Act in such a way so that you treat humanity
as an end, not as a means. Landmark in ethical thought. Basis
of Universal Human Rights and a moral order that transcends culture and history
and race, popes and athiests have praised it and used it. Kant gives
us moralism, humanism and rationalism. This morality is not relative,
negociable, hypothetical etc. its right there. And it gives us
humanism acceptable to everyone. Even liberals and conservatives.
But. There's always a but. Some problems. There
is no substance or content in it. If half the world were sadists and
half mascocists, what about the CI would stop the torture? If we all
were alcoholics, what would stop that? I do to you what I see
as something everyone should do.Whatever you will others to do, do
Also, no acceptable exceptions. What about celebacy?
How could that be moral? No one wishes it on the whole human race,
we would be extinct! Motive. Can it really be the one and only moral determinant?
It is important, just look at our laws:
1st degree murder full
intention and motive, and deed most
attempted murder full
intention and motive, no deed second
accidental homocide no
intention and motive, but deed third
still counts, we punish even if there is no intention).
Traditional morality says there are 3 moral determinants:
act, intention, circumstances. Legalism says there is 1 determinant: the objective
act. Pharisees are some of these. Kant also says there is 1 determinant too: subjective
intention. Pretty one sided.
Another problem: Kant makes duty the ONLY worthy
motive. But what about love, like mommy and baby? Example: 2 rich
men give to the poor, one out of duty the other out of love for fellow
man. Is the 2nd really less than the first? Do we love principles
not persons? Like, if I never cheat on my wife for 40 years, its it
because of love or because I respect the catagorical imperative? Should
we be faithful to persons or principles? Or, do we love persons and
see principles as ways to define our interaction with them?
So, duty is not the greatest moral motivator! Love
is another one, and what about superheroism? How can heroic actions beyond
the call of duty be just following duty?' Its not,
its going beyond that. Yet they are morally beautiful.
Also, Kant does not account for the fact that the
better you are the more joy you get form doing good. In Rome. St. Francis
and Bluebeard the pirate are walking down the street. A bank bursts
open and gold pieces are all over. Its night so no one else is
there. St. Francis does not steal the money out of moral habit, its
easy for him not to. He's detatched from greed. Bluebeard too, this
one time, says to himself Im not gonna do it. Its hard
for him, he's a greedy pirate. But this time he's not doing it.
Kant and Aristotle are watching this. Kant: See,
Bluebeard has more moral worth cause its harder, it cost something.
It was easy for Francis not to steal, but Bluebeard found it hard,
but didn't do it anyway. Aristotle, are you saying Bluebeard
is better than Francis? What Kant is missing is the value of virtue,
habit and character. He ignores human nature and looks only at deeds, and
even narrower, the motives. But isn't it better to look at character?
RRR principle: Right Response to Reality: Treat things
as things and people as people, not vice versa. Respect and love
people and use things, not use people while loving and respecting
things. That's much more solid than the 1st formulation, which is the
golden rule. Thats a rule of justice, while the 2nd formulation is a rule
of love. Another missing thing in Kant: 1st Catagorical Imperative
is a rule for ALL evil things, but NOT all good things. How?
He rightly sees all evil as self-contradicary bad deeds cannot
be made into universal laws. But, some good things right for one person
and wrong for another cannot. Example, heroism, having 10 children,
one spouse or another, etc. Right for some, good for some, choices
of a job or friend, but not others, and you wouldn't wish
it on them.
3 Postscripts: 3 necessary postulates of morality:
God, Freedom and Immortality. WE cannot prove any of them, so we cannot
know if they do exist, but we must act as if they did exist. If they
did not, we cannot be fully moral. If there is no God there is
no perfect ideal. If there is no freewill there is no human responsibility,
just machine like determinism. No immortality? than no ultimate
Justice, cause justice is often not done in this life.
The God point is the most controversial. He says
God is not the source of moral law, because WE create the moral law. Strange...
like we locked ourselves into a prison and kept the key with
us. Kant says There are two aspects of the self, the empirical
ego (the self we can see inwardly), and the transcendental ego (something
like the unconscious self, like the Hindu achman, or the oversoul
of Emerson, or the collective unconscious of Jung. But wait! He wants us to live a lie if God does not
exist. If he does not exist, its not honest to live as if he did, we
cannot will him into existence for moral reasons. And if he does
exist, living autonomously by our own laws is impossible because
we are not the highest being or ultimate authority. Unless we are
part of God, which means pantheism, a new can of worms.
So should we live a lie in order to live well? Freedom
and morality either exist or not. Flat out. If they do exist,
lets use the RRR principle! And believe it all because its true, rather
than because they LEAD to a better Kantian morality!
Kant's epistemology is off, therefore. If God
and His order exist, fine, we follow it and we base ethics on Him and
on it. But what if God does not exist? Next we look at atheism and ethics:
Jean Paul Sartre.
BEING GOOD AND BEING SECULAR, CAN ATHEIST
Kant didn't think you could prove the existence
of God or Freedom or Immortality by theoretical reason, but he did think
it was necessary to believe in them either way by practical reason-
they are a must for any adequate morality. He was probably wrong about
the Immortality because not only can you believe in morality without
immortality, but Kant says the pure motive does not posit that one
does something good for the reward of immortal life or heaven, but because
its an end in itself. Plato in Republic deliberately kept immortality
out of his argument about justice, so he could prove that justice
was its own reward- that it is virtuous and wise and health for
the soul in THIS life, whether or not there is a next one. Then he
proved there was a next one! In the Bible, God used the same strategy:
he did not clearly reveal life after death till many centuries after
Moses... probably to avoid it being a bribe, and to illicit a good motive
to be good in this life regardless of the afterlife. Be holy
because I the Lord your God am holy. Only after that pure motive
was in place was the life after death revealed.
So thats immortality, but what about Freedom and
what about God? Sartre centered his ethics around a radical new concept
of freedom: not freedom to choose to obey or disobey a moral
law, but freedom absolutely, without constraint. What is the usual
constraint? God. For Sartre, there is no God. We have the freedom to make
values and our own laws. I am totally free because there is
Lets put him into the Great Conversation now: up
against the others, relating him to the history of western philosophy,
we must define the many freedoms':
Freedom opposite from slavery
Freedom opposite of political tyranny
Freedom opposite of prison
from addiction (drugs, sin, pathological states)
But two are needed to understand Sartre. Freedom
of will... Freewill and Metaphysical Freedom. Freewill is traditional,
metaphysical freedom is new. It assumes a great freedom unique
in our totally unique mode of the human station in the world. Ancients
all assumed freewill, without calling it by its name (Aristotle
distinguished voluntary and involuntary actions, for example- the
voluntary ones are subjected to ethical criteria).
Some deny freewill. Meanwhile Democritus and Lucretius
were materialist philosophers. Everything is made up of
matter, atoms. Some Christian theologians deny freewill: because they
believe in predestination. Calvin is the most famous. Luther
denied it, but meant only the ability to save ourselves us from sin by
our own power, which would mean having the freedom of doing something
good without God's grace, which is another issue than the power of moral
choice between good and evil or between two goods.
The mainstream Christian view, however, is to affirm
and defend freewill. Aquinas tells us that moral language
is meaningless if it doesn't exist.' Our patterns of praising,
punishing, blaming, counsuling etc. shows that we believe in freewill.
Founder of pragmatism, William James, in 1900 gave
this a new twist. He was skeptical of theory and divided belief into
live' and dead' options, live ones were those that make a difference
in your life. God, Freewill and Immortality he said were live.
James criticized philosophers for thinking about dead options, issues
that made no practical difference. He found good reasons for both
freewill and determinism (caused by forces in our heraditary and
environment) beyond our control. So he expressed his indecision
in a parable about a philosopher new to Boston, 1900. Boston had many
philosophical clubs on a certain street, people cared about this stuff!
He didn't know which to join, the freewillers society or the determinists.
So he goes to join the determinists club and the doorman asks
him, why did you come here? and he said, I came here out
of my own freewill. the doorman slammed the door in his face. So he goes
to the freewillers and the doorman asks the same thing, and he said,
they kicked me out across the street so i had no choice! and the
door slammed there too.
But James gave this pragmatic reason for believing
in freewill: we don't know if its yes or no, so our ignorance
leaves us free to choose, and its better to choose to believe in it,
because it makes us more than helpless cogs in a machine. It makes moral
language make sense and be real. It gives us a sense of dignity
and importance, and makes us responsible for our choices, unlike Adam
and Eve who tried to pass the buck. So we can freely create the choice
to create the freewill.
But no one until Sartre proposed this most radical
form of freedom, metaphysical freedom, one inherent in our radically
different and unique mode of being. Being FOR itself, that's
human reality- Human reality (to do what one wills in nature) is existence'
not essence'... vs Being IN itself (the
non-human animal world). Freedom is Sartre's favorite idea. His ethics
comes from his metaphysics, a quite usual thing. His new notion
of freedom says there is a distinction between being FOR itself and IN
itself. Subjects of consciousness (FOR themselves- persons) vs. Objects
of consciousness (IN themselves- things and ideas). THINGS have essences
that can be defined, while humans have no human essence or nature,
he has no pattern (because there is no God to set one) so man
is totally free of boundaries, definitions, and limits. He creates his
own essence, values and meaning. So ethics is totally arbitrary
depending on us. Existence precedes essence! Essence is definable
nature, and that is what we, who exist, invent our essence (definable
nature, like a triangle confined within 3 sides or an acorn confined
within the species- oak, and Lassie, that can only be a dog,
confined by species). But Humans have a unique way of existing-
we are subjects, not objects. We are not objects of consciousness
because we have free choice. Consider a paper cutter- it was made by man
to do a certain job- to cut paper. That is its end. Sartre said theists
believe that man is like a paper cutter- because he was fashioned
by God to do something, he is an object made by divine knowledge
to do a job. But if you drop God, there is no meaning or purpose for
human life, no telos, and there is no preexisting essence or nature
or design for man at all. Even cats have a nature, a species, evolved
by chance like us, but they follow a script. They are predictable. But
we are not in any play with a script, we write the script as we go
along. Human life is all improv. And ethics then is too. No preset moral
laws or objective values. Ethics is pure art, that we invent, and not
science, not discovery. Subjective. Free from essence. We create
our own essence. Our existence precedes our essence.
E preceding E is the origin of the word Existentialism.
Furthermore, that is the freedom inherent in us,
and it is actually liberating because we are not an object. Its the
only one that gives man dignity, that does not make him into an object.
Christian and Jewish philosophers indeed say that man is an object
designed by god, and therefore has an essence, but also that he is
a subject, because he is created in God's image and has freewill
as a subject of moral choice. So man has freedom and dignity precisely
because there is a God giving it to him. Sartre arrives at freedom from
the opposite pole, that there is no God! But Sartre is not only
saying there is freedom from determination, or predestination, but
freedom from MEANING. Freedom from having an essence, a character,
a set of goals, a nature. All these things are totally up to us.
Ethics? Totally up to us. Our being is not given to us by God OR Nature- its
made by our own choices- receiving anything is incompatible with
being free. Consequence? There is no such things as meaning
of life. There is no intelligent creator or author. Nothing justifies
any of the meanings we give them. It signifies nothing. It is ABSURD.
There are no objective unchangable truths to judge subjective
truths by. No divine mind for them to come from. No divine will for them
to conform to.
My entire philosophy is an attempt to draw
in all the consequences of the atheistic position. Well, ideas have consequences.
Sartre is good to study as an exercise in seeing the logical consequences
of an idea. Appreciate the alternative by contrast, because we
usually appreciate something when it is taken away. Comfort through
discomfort, health through sickness, life through death. Also, he constitutes
a test between ethics and religion.
So is ethics dependent on religion? 4 possible answers.
Sartre and Euthypryro both say
yes its dependent on religion.
1. Sartre: no to any objective ethics only cause
there is no religion
2. Euthyprhro: yes to ethics only because yes to
Yes to ethics but not JUST cause of religion, which they say yes to, but also on reason and philosophy
4. Plato: he had no real religion but did have an absolute
So if you are an atheist, the debate you ask yourself
is if you agree with the position of Sartre vs. Plato, and if you
are a theist, the question is between Euthyprho and Socrates/Aquinas.
Sartre's most important writings are not philosophy.
They deliver an existential challenge. And the unexamined life is
not worth living. The meaning of life is nauseating' in
his book Nausea'. Socrates knows you are afraid to ask if life has a meaning,
cause the answer might be no. But Socrates insists that you face the
question. Its better to face the question of the meaning of life
(the summum bonum) in Nausea' than never to face it at all.
Powerful and terrifying, the protagonist looks for meaning in his life everywhere,
like Solomon in Eccleasistes. He tests 5 modes of meaning:
As a historian he looks for meaning in finding truth
in history- the finding of historical truth. But he finds it all
comes from the historian himself, not the history he studies.
As a man he goes to live a life of wild adventure.
Concludes there are no adventures' with meaning, no reason
to risk your life, no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Just a series of
things that happen one after the other. As a man he tries to find meaning in man as a basis
for humanism. Worshipping man as a God, but he finds he cannot
idealize man because he is so dishonest. So dishonest... he cannot be
a subject of worship, even thought there is nothing higher to worship!
As a man he finds meaning in love. Not! Looking for
affirmation of his life in the eyes of another, but all he finds is
women who want to use him to make their lives more meaningful. Two zeros
do not make a positive integer. As an alive man, he tries to find meaning in suicide.
But finds even this is meaningless. Its no gain, and neither life
nor death have meaning. His unliving corpse has no more meaning
than his live body. One promising one: genuine love: love for the other
for the other's sake. He says its impossible though. Paul Johnson's
mini biography Intellectuals shows that he never received
it or gave it. Couldn't take it seriously.
In the play No Exit, 3 people find themselves
dead, and in hell, which Sartre does not believe in, but its a parable
of this life. They are not tortured, no fire, nothing. No demons. They
torture each other because each of the three people need and craves
love, but each of the 3 are unlovable. The only way each can love is to
live a lie. To pretend not to know the unlovable characters. Garcon
knows Estelle who knows Inez who knows Garcon. Each wants to be known
AND loved. Light and Fire. But none of them will get it. People want
to be known (truth) and loved (goodness). These are the two things
that separate us from the beasts. And the two knowable attributes
of God in the West. The millions who have had out of body experiences
always say that the light' is all knowing, and all
loving. But Sartre says this is impossible together.
There are a few ways to get' this, none
of which make much sense, but here goes:
This love would be the synthesis of a being FOR itself
(human reality, but always on the path to becoming. Always making
choices to try to create its essence, but this means we are unlovable),
and a being IN itself (objects, forces, this is passive can only
be known, not do the knowing and loving). Genuine altruistic love would
have to not proceed from a need', but from a perfection'.
So, this is where sadism and mascocism comes. I-IT relationships. The word We'
which lovers who fall in love find takes on a magical meaning when
said, is strictly meaningless for Sartre. You're in an I-IT relationship.
There is only an I subject, not a WE subject. I can't
recognize you as another person. You are either beloved or lover.
Not both. Just like argument against God: impossible synthesis of object
and subject. Beloved and Lover.
Or try this one: God would be both I (a being
FOR itself) and also a perfect being (IN) itself. Well, God revealed himself
to Moses, and said actually that he WAS both of these, when he
revealed his name: I am. Both I and AM:
both person and being. Sartre set up his two metaphysical categories to make God impossible.
ETHICAL CONSEQUENCES OF SARTRE
Obviously, many. Goodness is subjective, manmade,
arbitrary, unjustifiable, utterly different from one subject
to the next. Sartre: There was a soldier who came to him during Vichy
France who told Sartre that his mom was dying at home and he was
fighting Nazis in the resistance movement. What should he do? Sartre: There
is no possible advice I can give you. It is totally up the individual.
Each of the two excludes the other. No right thing
to do. More. We cannot ever choose evil. Why? Since we create
the meaning of our choices by the act of choosing them, what we
do is always good... at least to us! Its never evil to us! It might be
evil to you, but F that! Its not to me! You may say,
with equal validity. No more, no less. Ethics is creative.... like art.
No such thing as progress, because progress means
betterment. There is no better' because better'
means getting closer to a certain real goal, stable and unchanging, otherwise there can
be no progress to it. Many progressives say they do not believe
in any static goods, principles or truths- but this makes no sense, because
if there is no changeless truths, no eternal goals, or being, then
there is nothing to progress to.
Here he offends some atheists, called humanists.
Secular Humanists who see man as the center, not God. Pro Human.
Two kinds of humanists', Christian humanism is just a philosophy that affirms
the intrinsic value of a human being. Or its a deliberately anti-religious
thing. Sartre says he does not agree with the strategy of
the great secular humanist, the philosophes of the French Revolution
who wanted to do away with God, but keep the idea of unchangable moral
principles and absolute values. He says that makes absolutely no
sense. No God? No morality. Humanists want to get rid of God
with the least possible problems attached to that. They say God is
a useless and costly hypothesis, but in order for values to be taken seriously,
there must be some good that are good a priori. Don't beat
your wife. Have kids. etc. But this is not possible because there are no
a priori goods (goods good prior to our understanding them).
Not so. Because, we are in a reality in which there
are only men.
...only men... there are no a priori goods because
there is no infinite consciousness to think of it. This means,
no objective values. At all. Dostoyevsky prophesized this. Ivan Karamazov wants
to kill his father and wants to murder him without guilt. So he wants
God not to exists, so he can murder him without guilt. Sartre: God
does not exist and as a result, everything is permissible. And so man is
in despair! Neither within him or without, does he find anything to cling
to. So is atheism easy? No! There is no cosmic father
wagging his finger at us, but Sartre sees deeper than this. He does
not say something like and as a result man is happy and free!
he says and so man is in despair!
TWO ULTIMATE POSSIBILITIES
Man has nothing to cling to, nothing to give him
meaning! Our deepest need is not freedom, but meaning. Either we have
total freedom cause there is no God, or we have limited freedom, but
objective meaning, if there is a God. A God of Abraham, or of Plato (the
eternal idea of the Good) or of Aristotle (the unmoved mover) or of Kant
(that we can't prove exists but should believe in as a justification
underpinning the value regime of the categorical imperative. In Sartre's
world, no one can ever be wrong. Because everything is permissible.
Because there is no God. And so if nothing is wrong, nothing is right
either. We are absurd. William James called Sartre a tough minded
philosopher. He affirms we are absurd simply because he thinks its
true, not because it makes him happy. Thinkers can be tough minded
or tender minded. James says the tender say goodness or happiness is
the absolute, while tough minded say objective truth, facts, are the
WHAT CAN YOU BE? FOUR CHOICES
Tough minded atheists like Sartre are just that,
tough. He and they put forward this because he thinks its true, not cause it comforts him.
Tough minded theists are as well, like Aquinas,
in God because he believes, in fact, that he can prove God exists. CS Lewis is another
one, who was converted kicking and screaming because
he came to believe in the physical proof of existence of God.
Tender minded atheist humanists- they
think atheism is a way to overcome guilt or be liberated. Neitzsche is one.
Tenderminded... Neitzsche!?! Wow? Yes, because his argument against
God is I will now disprove the existence of all gods. If there were
gods, how could I bear not to be a god? Consequently there are no gods.
He announces not that God does not exist objectively, but that we
killed him. He kills God.
Tender minded theists like Kant, who
believes in God not because he is convinced that it is true, but because God's
being there is comforting to me and to him and to our value system's foundation.
Can one have more sympathy for Sartre than for Kant?
Yes. Because even though we may believe God exists, we must believe
that honesty is an absolute absolute. And living as if' God
existed even if perhaps he does not, is somehow dishonest. Like believing in
Santa Claus even though you know better. God would give Kant the more
severe purgatory, because Kant did not learn the rule of primacy of
Lesson 1. Sartre did, or seemed to. Only God knows.
Why would Sartre write books if there is no meaning
Imagine a bubble, and inside there is the inside
meaninglessness, and outside the outside meaninglessness. He writes to
expand the inside meaninglessness, because that is what he does. Not
because it means anything.
EASTERN ETHICS VS WESTERN
So far, its been just the Western half of the world.
But since ethics are universal, we'd better look to the east
as well. In the West, philosophy distinguished itself from religion, due
to Socrates and his successors, but in the east there was no Socrates.
So there is no purely rational science, but closely tied to religion.
So is there ethical philosophy if it is based on religious experience
or faith? Well, yes, if philosophy means love of wisdom. In
any event, eastern religions are not religions like in the West. They
do not include the following claim:
There is no personal god who created the universe
out of nothing that god revealed himself through written scriptures
and historical miracles.
That religion is a dialogue between two distinct
persons: man and god
That god has a will
That god is a moral commander
That he gave mankind moral commandments
Each of the religions: hinduism, buddhism, confuciusism
and taoism all have moral codes. Interestingly, all have different
significantly on theoretical questions, but they all agree about practical
questions about how to live. Moral goodness and what it is.
LEVELS OF MORALITY
Level 1. pragmatic (survival) morality (I won't
hurt you if you don't hurt me)
Level 2. justice morality (do the right thing just
because its right)
Level 3. charity (unselfish) morality - don't
just do things so you get something, like level 1, and even just because
its equal (like level 32) and just - but to give itself away, to
forget yourself. The meaning of life is to be a saint.
Why does Antarctica University exist?
Most people recognize level 1, and some still understand
and practice level 2 morality, but level 3 morality is rare. Justice,
equal rights? that's not rare. But going beyond that? going
to give up your very self, is quite rare. Yet, every great religion teaches
level 3. Self-giving... self forgetfulness, self-subordination.
You must lose your self.'
Lots in eastern religions is lofty and idealistic,
but the status of ethics is lower. The role is less than in the west,
where moral behavior comes from all the way up, to ultimate reality,
to God. The reason for human morality is God. Dueternomy especially
tells about this: Be holy because the lord your God is
holy. In east we must also be holy, but on a certain stage on the way up,
you don't need it anymore, like a multi stage rocket dropping off.
The purpose of morality in the east is to wipe the dust off the
mirror of the human mind, so we can see god and have mystical experiences.
The goal of eastern religions is mystic experiences, while in
the west it is sanctity. In the east the moral will has to be purified
so that the mind is clear... in the west the mind has to be enlightened
so that the will can be made better. In hinduism the ultimate
reality is Brahman- sometimes portrayed as a person, or as an
ultimate reality' and we are all manifestations of it. IN the depths
of our souls we are like a single undersea continent, connected but looking
like separate islands. Akman (soul) is Brahman. That one'
is god. There are four different roads (yogas, ie deeds or work) to lead
us to Brahman. All have different traits, but all have a moral code
1. Genana Yoga is a mental path in which you learn
to understand yourself differently. An intellectual path in which
you identify yourself with Brahman and detach your thoughts from
your desires and ego.
2. Karma Yoga is a path to Brahman through ordinary
daily work. Through sheer obedience to your fate. Karmic duties
fulfilled not for selfish ends, but obedient.
3. Bakdi Yoga is a personal emotional path of love
and attachment to Brahman instead of yourself.
4. Raja Yoga is a careful detailed way in which you
make your life into a spiritual laboratory that combines all the
Ethically, good things come from all these paths:
the role of the mind is primary in Genana, role of purity of motive and
work in Karma, emotion and personal attachment in Bakdi, but they
all have the same goal: detachment from selfishness and attainment
of a greater consciousness in which you see that you are in fact
part of Brahman, or that you will attain spiritual union with Brahman.
The major specific difference between Hindu and Western
ethics concerns the value of individual life. If a Hindu
sees someone dying, they will not try to save him, because that would
be interefering with his karma. This man will pass out of that body and
soon get another one through reincarnation.
THE CHRISTIAN DIFFERENCE
The Christian incarnation says that Jesus was God
become man, and that this God was the son, or logos of God. God came to
become man, and man therefore has inherent dignity. He is raised on high
as well as women. No other religion calls a woman the mother of God.
That is why life is given a more precious place than common sense takes
it to be. Life, Liberty... Reincarnation in hinduism means coming back to earth
in a new body to learn the lessons you did not learn up to that point.
So life is less important, less final, than common sense takes it
to be. Hindus agree with this. You westerners take your lives and
individual deaths and lives too seriously! Fear death less, and love life
less, because both are repeatable. If you believe you only go around
once in life, you will take it much more seriously. That's true
for people who believe in heaven, too, because this is the only earthly
life you get. So you'd better get it right. Live it with gusto!
In the east, a big cultural difference emerges from
the reincarnation principle. Hindu ethics says reincarnation is like
taking a test with endless chances to pass. India is very patient, the
West is impatient. We emphasize right action, they emphasize right understanding.
We have more hospitals, and also more wars.
Buddha summarized his ethics in the Noble 8 Fold
Path, which is like Raja Yoga. Buddha is atheist about Brahman and denies
Akman (soul). It denies the soul. It says our belief that we
have souls comes from our action of desiring. If we did not desire, we would
see that there is no one there doing the desiring... and we want a
state of consciousness on the ultimate plane, nirvana (extinction).
The end of Buddhist ethics is to extinguish all desires, which
then stops suffering- because suffering comes from selfish desire.
Most of us in the West believe that Buddhist are
right that selfishness is bad. But we do not agree that the
self' and soul' is an illusion, and that ending self consciousness is
the ultimate good. We do like the idea of salvation from suffering'
of course, but not at the buddhist price: extinguishing of the self.
For us, the self is both bad and good, and its the same self that both
suffers and enjoys. When you reach Nirvana you are not good or bad...
you are simply not. Ethics does not perfect the self in Buddhism, ethics
exists only to be transcended. Its job is to destroy the self.
Buddha in 6th C. BC outlined the 4 noble truths:
all life is infected with Dukah, suffering reason we suffer is because of Tanha, desire, wanting
what you don't have to eliminate the effect, eliminate the cause
there is an 8 fold path to get there and it is your
prescription another popular philosopher said you can't
always get what you want he also said, I can't get no, Satisfaction.
Buddhism is a way of salvation, not from sin like
Christianity (there is no god to judge sin) but from want.
TWO STORIES FROM CHRISTIANITY AND BUDDHISM
Victor Hugo used a great Christian story in Les Miserables,
from 6C France. St. Martin of Tours was a wealthy bishop.
A thief stole some gold from him, and the police brought the thief into
the town square so he could be indentified. I came to identify
him so I can give him the rest of my gift: my coat. He ran away too fast
for me to give it to him before. With this goal I have introduced your
soul to Christ, to charity, who did this through me. Welcome.
In 10C, a buddhist monk in tibet was in a trance
in front of a buddha statue in winter. a thief stole the statue and then
stole one of his robes, and stole it off his body. This woke him up
and he chased the thief and caught him. He said I kept calling
you to stop but you didn't listen. You need this second robe more
than I do. Your job requires you to be outside in winter! You're
crazy! I will tell you why I am not crazy. if you were out in the cold,
and had two gloves on your right hand and none on your left,
what would you do? Put one on the left hand. That
is what I have just done.
Isn't it striking that so many religions have
a common ethics?' Yes! Similarities of the ethical system is a real puzzle.
They are not derived from a similar theology, nor have any historical
connection. Plato would say this common secret' is
from an innate unconscious knowledge, like Jung's collective unconscious.
Why? Vertically, you might say that if God created us in his own image,
he put in us the tendency to think these thoughts- a mental resembelence
to him. Or Horizontally, if the story of the Garden of Eden
is true, how we have such a disenchantment with the world. We have no
memory of being princes' or from a high place to fall
from, but indeed it could be something from beyond our memory!
For whatever reason, all the religions produce strikingly
similar holy men. Feeling as one with all suffering beings
is called Karuna. Like Christian charity (agape)... agape is active love.
They both negate the same thing, which is selfishness. But Agape affirms
willing the good of the other for their sake, and is to be given
to people good and bad. Karuna is to be given to good and bad people
as well, but also to animals, and is empathy for suffering. Two
buddhists were fishing, one was enlightened. A lizard attached itself
to the enlightened one's hand and was sucking out his
blood. He didn't pull his hand back and stop it, but fed the lizard his
own blood. The monk let him do it. The other person said, don't
you know what that lizard is, its poisonous! the monk replied, don't
you know who that lizard is? its me.
We have seen that there is not the great emphasis
put on individuality and human life, and human bodily salvation that there
is in the west. What about love and hate? Hate is bad, but love is
not given its exaulted place. Charity is not.
Story: A sailor who could not swim was caught in
a storm, and another boat got in his way and his toppled over. he came
up out of the waves and shook his fist at the sailor who cost him his
life. He went down and bobbed back up, shook his fist, but could not
see the sailor. One more time, came up and shook his fist, and saw that
there was no one there. It was empty. He uncurled his fist and drowned
in peace. He had no one to hate.
The boat is the body, sailor is the soul, the self,
the ego. Buddhism says we are empty boats driven by the wind. There
is no one there to hate. The price to pay is that there is no one there
to love, either.
He transformed China from civil war to peace for
2,000 years. Its central idea is harmony. Justice is not equality
or rights, but a social harmony. This ethic was taken by Mao Tse Tung
who destroyed it and replaced it with communism, which is its opposite
(based on the class conflict and totalitarian authority).
Confucius was successful in death, like Socrates.
In social ethics, more have been Confucian than anything else. Elaborate
correctness. Every Chinese schoolchild had Confucian ethics everyday.
Americans would find it oppressive. There is a right way to
address your older brother, different than older sister, different than
younger brother, etc. And the basic unit of society? Not the individual.
The family. The extended family. Individual is subordinated to the
family. Perserving family loyalty and honor is primary. Surprisingly,
this system gave happiness to more individuals than any other: more
people in the largest nation on earth for the longest time.
Great emphasis on tradition and the old. Valued what
the old embodies: wisdom, rather than (as in our case) youth, who are
good at pleasure and health. Biggest difference in ethics? Genius of the West
is to distinguish things' like good and evil and define things,
clearly and logically ever since Socrates. The genius of the east is to
join' and harmonize' with people. Social indication:
America has 4% of world's people, yet 75% of the world's lawyers... and
China has 20% of the world's people and 1% of the world's lawyers.
Confucius met Lao Tzu once, and said, I know
a monkey, and a fox and a rat when I see one, and today I met a dragon.
Taoism is romantic where Confucism is not. His name means only
the old guy. He left civilization like Thoreau leaving for walden pond-
and went out to the gatekeeper of the great wall. He was disenchanted
with confucian rules and regulations. The gatekeeper did not let him pass
without a fee-not money but wisdom.
He got off his water buffalo and scribbled 81 poems
and left, never to be heard from again. Those poems constitute the 2nd
most popular book in the world after the Bible: the Tao Te Ching. Not
only Taoists but Conficians, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians and
many others love the book. Lots of it reminds Christians of Jesus'
sermon on the mount.
Ching (book), Te (spiritual power), Tao (way),
the way nature works. Learning from nature is the way of taoist ethics.
Finding a pattern of natures tao' is the way. Tao of the Tao.
Greatest power is in the feminine side of the being, where we are womblike
and receiptive and changable. Flexible things live, rigid things die.
Think of Howard Bloom's sustaibility situation! The great strong
oak breaks in the hurricane. The weak little willow does not.
Great analogy to water. Water always go to the lowest
humblest place, and it is ultimately flexible: it takes the form
of its container. Yet its the source of all life, and is so patient that
over millions of years turns the sea rock into sand. If we let our
spirit be empty, like the emptiness at the center of a bowl, or doors
and windows that let you through a wall, you too will have the Tao.
Tao is humble. It does not agree with modern Western man's conquest
of nature by technology. When the Japanese mountain climbing team
conquered everest, they stopped 50 ft. from the summit and
went back down out of respect for the mountain.
What in the West owes to Taoism? So called Deep
Ecology. Nature is a sacred vessel, and those who only use her will fail.
It never took much in china, only as a counter culture. Mars and
Venus, practical and mystical, or in chinese, yin and yang.
YIN AND YANG
In nature there are mutually complementary things:
left and right, male and female, light and dark, hot and cold. and
life and death. At the heart of life there is death: when we are born,
we begin to die. Or like Jim Morrison: No one gets out of here alive!
There's great wisdom in all this. What's
missing? Well, moral good and evil are not like physical life and death. Life depends
on death, but good does not depend on evil. Life depends on death
because if we don't die, there'd be no room for new people.
But you do not have to be wicked to be virtuous. Unless even God had a dark
side... then you'd have a Star Wars type Hindu situation:
Darth Vader is Skywalker's father, so the hero is the son not
of God but of Satan!
In the West, God has no darkside, and in fact discriminates
against evil. In Hinduism good and evil both go all the way
up (vishnu is creator, shiva the destroyer, both merge with Brahman).
Or neither goes all the way up, such as in Buddhism. Ultimate
reality is beyond good and evil here. But in the West, only good goes all the way up. So
morality is taken with ultimate seriousness cause its rooted in ultimate
seriousness: God. Its the morally absolute thing, no yin being
relative to yang, cause good does not depend on evil. Good is good,
period. So if its pre Christian, Christian or post Christian,
the West tends to moral absolutism.
So who has disagreed with this again? The sophists and epicurians,
Machiavelli and the utilitarians, but in the West they've been in the minority. Still today,
except not among the intellectuals, I suppose. Now moral relativism is replacing
moral absolutism. That's why oriental philosophies are more popular
and fashionable today, at the same time relativism is replacing absolutism!
Can our civilization survive without its traditional
WHO IS RIGHT?
Have you been dialoguing with the philosophers during
the course of this long speech? How
should you interiorize the philosophies and believe now? Can
these different flowers be arranged in a bouquet? But! Many of these
THE CONCLUDING QUESTION
Three reasons to ask?
Whose to say? Could mean I know we can never
know, and this is a wild goose chase. This is skepticism, and is a cop
out. Its an excuse for mental laziness.
Whose to say? Could be a question in which you are
seeking an answer to a desperate search for an authority figure, some
expert, for someone to believe in. But this is mentally lazy
too, and is dogmatism, and if you are searching for answers,
this is just as lazy!
Whose to say? Could be an honest confession of confusion
and doubt and a hope that it can be made educative. So, can we
reconcile these disparate positions? And, what can you gain from
HOW DO WE COPE WITH THE CONTRADICTIONS?
Light in our civilization comes from many lamps.
Many bright lamps. For this we can feel gratitude. A more monolithic
civilization would not have given this gift to us. We are smart people.
Western Civilization's glory and freedom has produced
people who are united in a rich large chorus of voices, and its not the sound
of one hand clapping. Diverse voices. Cacophony or harmony? Both!
Rather like the 9th Symphony of Beethoven, we just have not gotten
to the ode to joy yet. Perhaps its getting more cacophony and less
harmonious now, but in the great symphony of the West, WE HAVE TO WORK
SO THAT THE BEST IS YET TO COME. Inspiring us to do this is, in part,
listening to the symphony of the ages. The symphony will end, or the
ode to joy will emerge.
Ok, but, sometimes the bright lights of civilization
are indeed either, or. Not like Plato and Aristotle
but Plato and Machiavelli. One wins one not. What then? These issues draw blood:
not different colors but like night and day. Is Machiavelli in
Plato's Cave or is Plato in it? And Machiavelli out in the sunlight?
Both night and day are spread like a sky over EVERYTHING,
do we have a freewill?
do we have a creator?
do we have a soul?
does life have an ultimate end or purpose?
if so, what is life's meaning?
is there a double moral standard?
are we better, wiser and happier than the ancients
We have argued about these things and killed and
been killed over. Socrates may have been the 1st martyr over philosophy
but he was not the last. Example: if Karl Marx had not written a
little book called the Communist Manifesto, 100 million people would
not have been killed. America's Civil War was about slavery,
a moral idea. The French Revolution was the archtype of modern revolutions
was about ideas: liberty fraternity and equality vs. throne
and alter. The 30 Years war was the most horrible in Europe's
history: 1/3 of the civilian population of Germany was killed.
Our past history shapes how we think today. We fear
today to argue about these great moral questions very passionately.
We fear the violence that used to result from this. Not cause
we are cowards, but because we are more compassionate today and don't
want to die (even for convictions) and we are unwilling to kill for
these convictions. So we agree to disagree. We so fear this, dressing
up in uniforms and killing people over convictions. We are SO skeptical
of this conclusion that we fear deeply the premonition from
which all of that violence in history was deduced. We now deny there
is anything great for us. However, we can believe in a spiritual struggle
against evil without taking it outside in war. The most recent
religious war was... confined to northern Ireland. And that is over. The
Middle East wars are about territory and politics and other things
more than religion. In the West, religion is taken seriously by most
people, most people really want to know the truth', but it
just is not violent anymore.
Why? Why are religious wars finished but ethical
1: Religion is separated from state today, which guarantees
the freedom and independence and health of religion
AND politics. That's good. What about ethics? The state has
to judge yes or no on things like cloning, abortion, euthanasia, war, drugs,
homosexual marriage, polygamy? State cannot be neutral to ethics.
Irony: way more potential conflict in religion than ethics, but we've
got religions coexisting.
2: Decline of Religious Wars for another reason: rise
of two new answer to the problem of religious differences
and how different they really are. In the past, people figured that
religions were exclusive to each other, and mutually
Today, two answers to this are widely promoted: inclusivism
and pluralism. Inclusivism claims that although religions seem to
contradict each other, they don't deep down, or way up high.
The mountain of truth has all the religions taking different roads up the
same mountain. Or islands peeking out of the sea, all part of the same
undersea continent. Or many windows to God in the same room.
Pluralism, meanwhile, says we cannot know which, inclusivist
or exclusivist, is right, because we don't have the last analysis.
So lets just all get along.
Can these two new answer help philosophy? Not much.
Philosophy does not use faith or mystical experience, and it does
use reason. The inclusivist makes a leap of faith to see'
that all religions are somehow connected and in fact, in unity. Reason says
that Sartre vs. Aquinas is a solid argument that can be judged with
reason. And pluralism is a cop out in philosophy: human experience
and logical reasoning IS used to figure things out, so we CAN
3: A third reason is the development of the art of dialogue.
Learning from each other. Passionate but polite conversation.
But demanding a deeper understanding of the other side
before judging or acting. When we do this, what happens? Easy answer!
You have JUST done it by listening to my lecture! You are test case
for Western Civilization because you understand the philosophers
better. What you learn is truth, and truth never contradicts truth.
These philosophers have contradicted each other but you learn truth
through studying them in contrast!
How have you done it? You've done it as they
did it. Each philosopher learned from his predecessors in the Great Conversation,
which began with Socrates. All branches on the single human tree.
Without the predecessors none could even have philosophers- even
Descartes- who said he was abandoning all that came before and starting
over! Without predecessors you cannot ignore your predecessors
and look for a new way!
So... an opposing philosophy helps. Sartre or Nietzsche
helps theists, and atheists are helped by theists. Machiavelli can
learn from Plato what problems give rise to the Machiavellian solution.
Aristotle's metaphysical ultimate end and Kant's non-metaphysical
absolute purity of duty. Kant claims pursuit of happiness as
the ultimate end has no moral worth because it is a natural inclination,
and not freely chosen by the will.' Aristotle must reply and know
himself better in the reply. Kant severely limits morality to justice
and equality and that is abstract- an ethic for angels not humans.'
Kant must reply to that, and that is the Great Conversation. The conversation
is what happens in your mind when you study them. Another benefit: you appreciate your own philosophy
more and can modify it to make it better when under scrutiny.
Even nazism has to start with patriotism, honor, idealism, order, purity,
heroism, courage before it can twist all those things so horribly.
No one sees everything, and no one sees nothing.
We all can contribute something.