Posts tagged ‘ethics’

November 10, 2012

Do not interpret magic as tricky illusions, (impossible) supernatural events or psychological manipulation — those are but the lazy dismissals of a self-sure science. Magic does not split the world into individuals as we now do; it is a newly alien, metaphysical claim with practical, human implications.

December 16, 2011

The Meillassoux Machine

A young Frenchman was the talk of his town. Every day at exactly noon he could be found strolling along the streets and, as the bells tolled, he would perform some novel & absolutely unusual deed no one had ever seen performed before. Sometimes it was almost nothing; at other times he would be arrested for breaking some law; but regardless, he invariably continued his aberrant practice.

One day, as he strolled down the street shortly after noon, someone walked up to him and asked why he behaved so oddly? He answered: “I have created a new contraption i call the Meillassoux Machine, which every morning invents an entirely unheardof act for me to perform. One day, i expect it will suggest a deed so unimaginably good, it will change the world for ever.”

October 29, 2011

A wiser man

A wise man was being led to the gallows after having insulted the cruel despot who ruled the land. While still on the way, the man turned to one of his guards and said: “Quickly, go back to the King and tell him i have repented and, if he should spare my life, will spend the rest of it only speaking to what will make him happy.” The soldier ran off with his message and returned a short while later, staying the executioner because the King had pardoned the sage.

Reinstated in court, the wise man began in earnest to find the very best ways the King could make himself happiest. When one of the King’s wives had angered him and he wished her flogged, the wise man took the King’s defense and said: “Oh King, your wife behaved badly indeed, and we must ensure that none of this weigh upon your mood one minute longer. It is surely not in your interest to punish your wife as she will then sulk, the children she bore will hate you, and your days will become misery. Instead, send her a sumptuous gift and shame her into loving you!” The King smiled at his cunning advisor and gave his say-so.

When a seditious general was brought in a few months later to be sentenced, tortured and hung, the wise man again took the King’s defense, berating the general for alarming and saddening their gracious ruler. Then, turning to the King, he said: “Oh gracious one, i plead with you, do not sentence this man to death or you shall never hear the end of it: his children and grandchildren will come after you, and your soldiers’ fear will destroy the palace’s festive air. Instead, speak to him, steal his heart, and you will have the greatest of friends and staunchest of defenders!” And so it was.

On his deathbed, the old King called his wise counselor to him. He said, “I know what trickery you have been waging all these years; i was never duped. But your ingenuity so amused me, i gladly watched you play the clown.”

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May 11, 2008

wittgensteinian thoughts on morality

How does one choose a morality? — Like shoes: by trying them out.

A: Aren’t humans determined by their moral past?
B: No, they can interpret it.
A: With what?
B: With one another.

What do i want? — To be at peace with myself and the world. — Is this what everyone wants? — Probably not. Others are creatures of movement.

When i decide between a kantian and a utilitarian act (killing an innocent man to save the world), the ultimate rule of my decision is nothing other than my peace of mind.

What is the purpose of morality?

May 11, 2008

wittgensteinian thoughts on evil

Do you know you just became evil like an unbeliever knows he just became christian?

–Where does evil begin?
–Do not ask that question. Ask: When did we begin speaking of evil?

“Evil is a destroying of the good” — What is the cash value of that statement?

Imagine a robot programmed to shoot and kill human beings. Is this object evil or is it just bad?

May 11, 2008

on the origin of good and evil

Do not ask: Unde malum? but: Unde malum atque bonum?

There is no good reason to assume that the world is good and then ask how evil came to it. The greater mytery is whence our concepts of good and evil came from. One simply explanation is evolutionary: one day, someone came up with the word “good” and said to her friend, pointing at a berry: “good!” and pointing at another, poisonous one: “bad!”. Humans suddenly had a means of structuring their social interactions, of getting one another to do things by talking to them. The invention of the words “good” and “bad” or “evil” was a revolution, like the invention of agriculture or electric power.

January 26, 2008

alain badiou on evil

I like what Alain Badiou says in this interview about evil not being something that can be derived from nature, but i wonder about his solution, making it all a mater of subjective perspective. His book on the subject (which i havent read yet) is Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil (Amazon). From the interview:

that the natural state of the human animal has nothing to do with Good or Evil. And I maintain that the kind of formal moral obligation described in Kant’s categorical imperative does not actually exist. Take the example of torture. In a civilization as sophisticated as the Roman Empire, not only is torture not considered an Evil, it is actually appreciated as a spectacle. In arenas, people are devoured by tigers; they are burned alive; the audience rejoices to see combatants cut each other’s throats. How, then, could we think that torture is Evil for every human animal? Aren’t we the same animal as Sencea or Marcus Aurelius? I should add that the armed forces of my country, France, with the approval of the governments of the era and the majority of public opinion, tortured all the prisoners during the Algerian War. The refusal of torture is a historical and cultural phenomenon, not at all a natural one. In a general way, the human animal knows cruelty as well as it knows pity; the one is just as natural as the other, and neither one has anything to do with Good or Evil. One knows of crucial situations where cruelty is necessary and useful, and of other situations where pity is nothing but a form of contempt for others. You won’t find anything in the structure of the human animal on which to base the concept of Evil, nor, moreover, that of the Good.

But the formal solution isn’t any better. Indeed, the obligation to be a subject doesn’t have any meaning, for the following reason: The possibility of becoming a subject does not depend on us, but on that which occurs in circumstances that are always singular. The distinction between Good and Evil already supposes a subject, and thus can’t apply to it. It’s always for a subject, not a pre-subjectivized human animal, that Evil is possible. For example, if, during the occupation of France by the Nazis, I join the Resistance, I become a subject of History in the making. From the inside of this subjectivization, I can tell what is Evil (to betray my comrades, to collaborate with the Nazis, etc.). I can also decide what is Good outside of the habitual norms. Thus the writer Marguerite Duras has recounted how, for reasons tied to the resistance to the Nazis, she participated in acts of torture against traitors. The whole distinction between Good and Evil arises from inside a becoming-subject, and varies with this becoming (which I myself call philosophy, the becoming of a Truth). To summarize: There is no natural definition of Evil; Evil is always that which, in a particular situation, tends to weaken or destroy a subject. And the conception of Evil is thus entirely dependent on the events from which a subject constitutes itself. It is the subject who prescribes what Evil is, not a natural idea of Evil that defines what a “moral” subject is. There is also no formal imperative from which to define Evil, even negatively. In fact, all imperatives presume that the subject of the imperative is already constituted, and in specific circumstances. And thus there can be no imperative to become a subject, except as an absolutely vacuous statement. That is also why there is no general form of Evil, because Evil does not exist except as a judgment made, by a subject, on a situation, and on the consequences of his own actions in this situation. So the same act (to kill, for example) may be Evil in a certain subjective context, and a necessity of the Good in another.

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January 24, 2008

Jim Wallis on the new christianity

Jim Wallis (wikipedia), a non-right-wing intelligent evangelical christian (no joke), was on the Daily Show (video) talking about how (his) religion needs to refocus on the environment, peace (Darfur) and ethics.  Refreshing. From the Friendly Atheist.

January 21, 2008

Kant, Hume and the evolution of morality

There is a long post on the Illusive Mind blog defending an evolutionary morality against Kant. I do not particularly want to defend Kant, but i do want to raise a very sizable caveat: whatever “morality” evolution has given us isn’t by any means necessarily the “right” one!

Here is the synopsis of the article/post:

In this essay I will outline what I regard as the most successful attempt to explain the evolution of altruism. I will then illustrate some of the effects that an evolutionary account of moral behaviour has on cognitivist and noncognitivist theories of ethics. I will argue that evolutionary theory does not undermine Hume’s noncognitivism but supports it and casts doubt on Kantianism.

Where things go horribly wrong is when morality is reduced to “a question of desire” because we then have nothing to ‘get behind desires’ and assess them morally (unless you posit some kind of coherence theory, but that is no the case in this article):

The question of retaining moral judgements then is reduced to a question of desire. Do we want to utilise judgements whose agenda is the ongoing survival of the species (at the level of the gene) through a system of rewarding co-operation and punishing cheating?

In effect the morality we have inherited through evolution is taken to be ‘valid’ – except when we don’t like it. The exception is, in my opinion, befuddled; the first part of the above sentence is, however, very dangerous, committing something akin to an is/ought or natural fallacy.

The only alternative on offer is a purely rational ethics à la Kant, but even this is undercut by more primary evolutionary forces:

The only way to be objectively moral and avoid ‘evolutionary baggage’ from tainting our moral judgements seems to be to devote oneself completely to reason in a Kantian fashion. However, it is not a forgone conclusion that reason is above evolutionary pressures. In The Evolution of Reason, William Cooper argues, “the laws of logic emerge naturally as corollaries of the evolutionary laws” (2003, p.5).

In the end, one gets the impression that we are enslaved to the morality evolution thought up for us and are incapable of stepping out of it to evaluate our own moral intuitions.

Admittedly, evaluating our moral intuitions is no easy task. But what is often forgotten is that we are not alone working at that task. It might be impossibly solipsistic for me to want to morally evaluate my own moral intuitions (where would i stand in order to do so?); but it certainly is not very difficult for someone else, actually many other people, to do so.

The solution will likely be neither Humean nor Kantian. We must both use some moral intuitions to assess other ones but also reason through our moral intuitions and find instances where the intuitions clearly go wrong.

January 18, 2008

being friendly to yourself

From Godwin Samararatne, Talks on Buddhist Meditation:

I think it is difficult to be friendly to others unless you are friendly to yourself.

For one, its good practice. For another, though its a state of mind, which must be acquired and its easiest to start at home.