From Quentin Meillassoux’s Après la finitude: Essai sur la nécessité de la contingence i learned that the laws of science mightn’t be as strict as i had once imagined, but could instead prove to be approximate, superficial explanations that should soon give way to an infinitely stranger world, one out of which, pace the genius philosophe, something like gods might reappear to enchant us.
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?
To answer the question: “What is religion?” ask: “What do religious people do?” or should we ask: “What do people do when they practice religion?”
What do religious people do? — They do certain things in a certain way.
What do non-religious people do? — They don’t do certain things. — Or do they do them in a different way?
What sort of things do religious people do?
The religious person points towards the solution, trying in vain to describe it.
When i think about religion, am i being religious? Can you think in religion? Can you do religion?
A: What happens when a christian converts?
B: She sees things differently and she does things differently.
A: Is that how a buddhist converts?
Why do so few people believe in hell? — Because they don’t need to.
Why do so many people believe in heaven? — Because they want to.
A: God does not exist.
B: Which god?
A: No gods exist.
B: True, God is beyond existence.
A: There are no supernatural beings.
B: Indeed, God is more natural than nature itself.
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?
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.
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.
I have stumbled across a most interesting set of mini (blog-post-length) interviews with prominent Kant Scholars about Kant. Three questions were asked:
(Note: i’m linking to the Google cache because the actual files are not properly formatted HTML files and don’t display.)
I’ve only made it through the first question. The very best, and at the same time most representative, answer is probably the last, that of Alan Wood:
Allen Wood: Kant’s two most valuable and enduring ideas were these: First, that rational nature in human beings is an end in itself, and the foundation of all value. Even the value of human happiness is grounded on this. Second, that it is important to understand the contribution of our free activity as theorizers to the structure of scientific knowledge. This is the basic correction to empiricism that is needed to prevent empiricist prejudices from distorting our view of science.
I just finished re-watching the third and conclusive episode of the Jason Bourne films last night. I was struck at the end by the ethical/religious positions the film takes.
In 2007, in Hollywood, fundamental Christian ethics still rules: Despite what we learn about all the evil that Jason Bourne had done during his career at the C.I.A. and despite the fact that we learn that he knowingly agreed to it, we forgive him because he repented.
It should however be noted that the repentance and forgiveness work very well without either a concept of sin or of god, let alone of someone dying on a cross. In this case a fundamental religious concept is very well translated into secular language. Habermas would be proud.
This probably belongs in the Why Oh Why Can’t We Have Better Religions category. My Gmail offered me the following ad just now:
which i naturally clicked on (the AdWords overloard knows me so well). First i wondered why someone would pay google to be able to explain Wittgenstein to me. Then you realize the link has nothing to do with the Austrian philosopher but is actually advertising a free book on philosophy by one Jon Hellevig, lover of Putin.
The only people paying to give out free books are usually religious as far as my experience goes. This guy seems to be advertising a philosophy though. I guess he is investing in possible future fame, whether or not he hopes to become wealthy as a result.
I don’t know about you, but i get the impression that we are in a time of searching for meaning … any meaning.
From the site:
All is Art is a book in two sections: On Social Practices and Interpretation of Feelings, and On Democratic Competition.
The first section of the book launches social practices and individual interpretation of feelings and language in which they are manifested as the new philosophical paradigm, the framework for all cognition. The book is devastatingly critical to the modern conception of science and instead shows how all is art, even science being but a form of art. – The presentation owes a lot to Marcel Proust’s treaties on the human nature telling how philosophy and life itself is a search for lost time, back to the roots of humanity, and that at the end of the search there is time regained, and the future.
The second section of the book discusses the essence of democracy from the point of view of this new philosophy of social practices.