Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Seeing the world aright

[What follows is little more than a bunch of quotes strung together. But they are good quotes.]

The desirability of seeing what is under our noses and thereby becoming free is a bit of a theme in 19th century European thought.

Here's Father Zossima, a favorite of Wittgenstein's, in The Brothers Karamazov (emphasis added):
Brothers, have no fear of men's sin. Love a man even in his sin, for that is the semblance of Divine Love and is the highest love on earth. Love all God's creation, the whole and every grain of sand in it. Love every leaf, every ray of God's light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love. Love the animals: God has given them the rudiments of thought and joy untroubled. Do not trouble it, don't harass them, don't deprive them of their happiness, don't work against God's intent. Man, do not pride yourself on superiority to the animals; they are without sin, and you, with your greatness, defile the earth by your appearance on it, and leave the traces of your foulness after you—alas, it is true of almost every one of us! Love children especially, for they too are sinless like the angels; they live to soften and purify our hearts and as it were to guide us. Woe to him who offends a child! Father Anfim taught me to love children. The kind, silent man used often on our wanderings to spend the farthings given us on sweets and cakes for the children. He could not pass by a child without emotion. That's the nature of the man.
This advice (there is more in the surrounding pages) is given as an alternative to the (allegedly) false wisdom of the day, which sounds very similar to today's dominant ideology:
The world has proclaimed the reign of freedom, especially of late, but what do we see in this freedom of theirs? Nothing but slavery and self-destruction! For the world says:
“You have desires and so satisfy them, for you have the same rights as the most rich and powerful. Don't be afraid of satisfying them and even multiply your desires.” That is the modern doctrine of the world. In that they see freedom. And what follows from this right of multiplication of desires? In the rich, isolation and spiritual suicide; in the poor, envy and murder; for they have been given rights, but have not been shown the means of satisfying their wants. They maintain that the world is getting more and more united, more and more bound together in brotherly community, as it overcomes distance and sets thoughts flying through the air.
Alas, put no faith in such a bond of union. Interpreting freedom as the multiplication and rapid satisfaction of desires, men distort their own nature, for many senseless and foolish desires and habits and ridiculous fancies are fostered in them. They live only for mutual envy, for luxury and ostentation. 
Plato might have agreed with this, too, so perhaps the 19th century has nothing to do with it, although the emphasis on perception seems very post-Kantian. Speaking of Plato, here's Schopenhauer:
Plato often says that men live only in a dream; the philosopher alone strives to awake himself.
And here is Schopenhauer again, sounding a bit Zossima-ish:
[W]hen some external cause or inward disposition lifts us suddenly out of the endless stream of willing, delivers knowledge from the slavery of the will, the attention is no longer directed to the motives of willing, but comprehends things free from their relation to the will, and thus observes them without personal interest, without subjectivity, purely objectively, gives itself entirely up to them so far as they are ideas, but not in so far as they are motives. Then all at once the peace which we were always seeking, but which always fled from us on the former path of the desires, comes to us of its own accord, and it is well with us. It is the painless state which Epicurus prized as the highest good and as the state of the gods; for we are for the moment set free from the miserable striving of the will; we keep the Sabbath of the penal servitude of willing; the wheel of Ixion stands still.
But this is just the state which I described above as necessary for the knowledge of the Idea, as pure contemplation, as sinking oneself in perception, losing oneself in the object, forgetting all individuality, surrendering that kind of knowledge which follows the principle of sufficient reason, and comprehends only relations; the state by means of which at once and inseparably the perceived particular thing is raised to the Idea of its whole species, and the knowing individual to the pure subject of will-less knowledge, and as such they are both taken out of the stream of time and all other relations. It is then all one whether we see the sun set from the prison or from the palace. 
Forgetting all individuality also sounds a bit like Zossima, who says:
My brother asked the birds to forgive him; that sounds senseless, but it is right; for all is like an ocean, all is flowing and blending; a touch in one place sets up movement at the other end of the earth. It may be senseless to beg forgiveness of the birds, but birds would be happier at your side—a little happier, anyway—and children and 
all animals, if you were nobler than you are now. It's all like an ocean, I tell you. Then you would pray to the birds too, consumed by an all-embracing love, in a sort of transport, and pray that they too will forgive you your sin. Treasure this ecstasy, however senseless it may seem to men.
Nietzsche, too, believed in something like objective perception of reality, although he seems to deny the possibility of any such thing. Nevertheless, he opposed the "narcotics" of alcohol and Christianity. Marx wanted to replace false consciousness with (true) consciousness. But that's all fairly familiar. Less familiar to me until recently is Tolstoy on a similar theme, talking about causes in history. The whole chapter (Book Nine: 1812, Chapter 1) is worth reading (along with the first chapters of the next two books, not to mention the whole novel), but here is one highlight:
To us it is incomprehensible that millions of Christian men killed and tortured each other either because Napoleon was ambitious or Alexander was firm, or because England’s policy was astute or the Duke of Oldenburg wronged. We cannot grasp what connection such circumstances have with the actual fact of slaughter and violence: why because the Duke was wronged, thousands of men from the other side of Europe killed and ruined the people of Smolénsk and Moscow and were killed by them.
To us, their descendants, who are not historians and are not carried away by the process of research and can therefore regard the event with unclouded common sense, an incalculable number of causes present themselves. The deeper we delve in search of these causes the more of them we find; and each separate cause or whole series of causes appears to us equally valid in itself and equally false by its insignificance compared to the magnitude of the events, and by its impotence—apart from the cooperation of all the other coincident causes—to occasion the event. To us, the wish or objection of this or that French corporal to serve a second term appears as much a cause as Napoleon’s refusal to withdraw his troops beyond the Vistula and to restore the duchy of Oldenburg; for had he not wished to serve, and had a second, a third, and a thousandth corporal and private also refused, there would have been so many less men in Napoleon’s army and the war could not have occurred.
Tolstoy suggests that there is no one right way to understand what caused what, but he also raises the possibility of seemingly inevitable (and bad) events being prevented by ordinary people's refusing to go along with them. If we just realized this, and acted accordingly, how much better the world might be.

39 comments:

  1. would be (and in a sense take) a different world than this one, and by extension a different Maker...

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    1. Maybe. I hope not (of course), but that's an understandable, and interesting, thought.

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  2. That's a nice set of quotations!
    Thought that is motivated by curiosity and the aim of making sense of the world and our experience of it, the approach to truth-seeking of the scientific world vs. the bending of all intellectual resources to getting what one wants and making sure that one dominates over all others, especially one's enemies who are only out to block one: the latter is part of right wing mentality, part of the world view of the primitive Donald Trump, and the source of much of the intellectual dishonesty in the public debate. Today's ideology of dominance: Why should I allow anyone else to have any? I have the power: why shouldn't I take all of it? Plato, Christ, Gautama Buddha: why has the lesson not taken? Strangely, I have confidence that Father Zossima's view will eventually win the battle for the soul of mankind. That will be possible when we (everyone) discover the preconditions for the ability to love in the sense Father Zossima is describing.

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  3. ". . . this is just the state which I described above as necessary for the knowledge of the Idea, as pure contemplation, as sinking oneself in perception, losing oneself in the object, forgetting all individuality, surrendering that kind of knowledge which follows the principle of sufficient reason, and comprehends only relations; the state by means of which at once and inseparably the perceived particular thing is raised to the Idea of its whole species, and the knowing individual to the pure subject of will-less knowledge, and as such they are both taken out of the stream of time and all other relations. It is then all one whether we see the sun set from the prison or from the palace."

    Does not this urge us to reject the state of being a person with our cognitive capabilities (which make us persons in a world and not just sentient creatures buffeted by the world's phenomena) and seek, instead, to achieve an animal level of consciousness?

    Many religions seem to press this on us and, certainly, the Hinduism and Buddhism that so affected Schopenhauer do). And there is something to be said for quieting the mind and just opening up, just being as it were. And yet is not the capacity to differentiate, to see a world beyond each current moment and each current location, the very thing that makes us human? Is moral judgment to be grounded then in rejecting that human cognitive capacity for the immediacy of the animal? That is certainly what Schopenhauer does to a degree in embracing eastern mystic thought and what many others sometimes seem to urge on us.

    But how can discarding the things about us that make us human, and so able to value things at all and, more, to judge our actions and those of others in a moral way, be an improvement on a life of engagement with moral choice? Indeed, religions like Buddhism actually reject moral claims at a certain level, holding them to be part of the delusion that ensnares us. The Buddhist samurai of old Japan were often willing to countenance injustice to others in pursuit of spiritual goals understood as the liberation of the self from the ensnaring dream of existence Buddhism holds our lives to be.

    More, animals, entirely subsumed in their own immediacy, have no sense of the moral. Only humans do. So either the moral is some kind of delusion (in keeping with Buddhist thought) or it is a unique aspect of human life in which case jettisoning it must strike us as the abandonment of what is good, not as achieving it.

    Just sayin'.

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    1. It's good to have some pushback on these romantic ideas. Helps prevent sentimentalism.

      I don't think Schopenhauer values animal consciousness above human consciousness, necessarily. He doesn't seem to like individual consciousnesses (animal or human) much though. Nor moral judgment. He's more a "love your neighbor as yourself" kind of guy, and doesn't see love as needing much cognitive capacity.

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    2. I think something akin to Santayana's animal-faith is more to the point of the Witt/Zossima line of thought, you might enjoy the book
      Thinking in the Ruins: Wittgenstein and Santayana on Contingency

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  4. Right. He thinks that you either feel compassion or you don't, though, if you don't, society can train you to it for its own benefit. But not everyone is equally trainable although, he thinks, access to the spiritual experience of oneness with all has the byproduct of putting us in a compassionate state of mind because, in ceasing to identify with our own distinctness, we also lose our inclinations to selfishness, thereby finding sympathy with all beings.

    The problem with this,though, is that, as the pessimistic Schopenhauer had it, the universe is "red in tooth and claw" so ceasing to identify with our own individualness does not necessarily imply compassion, Schopenhauer's supreme moral motivation. It might just as easily imply indifference since we're all part of an infinite unity in any case so why should the suffering of some even matter? But, if it doesn't, then cruelty and deceit are no worse than their opposites and moral concerns fly out the window.

    It seems to me Schopenhauer's whole approach to moral value here is wrongheaded. And it rests on a rejection of the very stuff that makes our human type of life possible and moral claims meaningful. Is it really better to abandon all awareness of differences and similarities, indeed the very possibility of discursivity itself, which language makes possible, for absolute quietism, assuming that is ever actually achievable so long as we retain working human brains?

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    1. Yes, indifference does seem to be a potential problem for Schopenhauer's view, as for Buddhism. I imagine they would have some kind of response to this charge, but I don't know what it is so I can't evaluate it.

      And whether what Schopenhauer wants is actually achievable also seems like a good question. Although if it isn't then the rest becomes rather moot. In general, though, a push against egoism and towards compassion and empathy seems like a very good thing to me.

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    2. " . . . a push against egoism and towards compassion and empathy seems like a very good thing to me."

      It does, doesn't it? We think the moral is best exemplified by a positive response to the question of whether we should care about the interests, needs, concerns of others.

      While some have argued for other moral points of view (e.g., selfishness as a good), we generally think that whatever underlies our moral values must somehow give us reason to take others into account in our calculations. Many things are thought to be morally right (including how we dress, who we marry, what we eat, the words we use, etc.) but the things that seem to have a certain universality in that they are recognized across cultures and are not merely culture specific, all seem to boil down to setting aside our own personal interests in deference to the interests of others (whether other individuals, the group and so forth) at least some of the time.

      As social beings we have the inclination to do that but we don't always follow that inclination and sometimes we don't actually have it either, and then we argue (with others or just with ourselves) about whether we should have it or try to cultivate it, thinking that we can choose to have it if we have a reason to.

      Schopenhauer tries to explain moral valuing, in the sense of caring about others, by equating it with compassion and arguing that compassion cannot be reasoned into, we just have to have it or get it, either naturally or by training or as a natural outgrowth of those occasions when we collapse our sense of self (of being an individual) into the larger universe of which we are part. Compassion, he suggests, is the byproduct of this psychological collapse.

      But is compassion even the right emotion or sensibility to focus on when seeking to explain the idea of moral goodness? If compassion itself can be assessed as morally good, which seems obvious since there are some instances when compassion may be problematic (should we let the sufferer die if he desires it or speed him along and which choice is the compassionate one?), it begs a further question: Why should we think compassion is morally good in every case? Might not the school of hard knocks offer someone a better option than being coddled out of an abundance of compassion for their discomforts?

      More basic than compassion, I would suggest, is what we call empathy since compassion only happens to the extent that we recognize the subjectness of others, i.e., that they have a mental life, experiencing needs and wants as we do and that they depend on having them filled to some extent if they are to flourish in the world as we do.

      So before we can feel compassion for another we have to recognize the subjectness of the other; before compassion there must be empathy or else indifference is as good an answer to the question of what we should do as compassion's opposite: cruelty.

      Schopenhauer seems to have taken empathy, the capacity to see ourselves in the other, for granted. Yet, if we give up the idea of selfhood, of being selves with feelings qua needs and wants (which is what his prescription calls for), there is no longer anything to feel compassion for. If all selves are illusory then who cares what happens to anything? But if one has empathy or a reason to be empathetic, then the basis for compassion is laid down and compassion arises from that. So if moral valuing rests on reasons at all, it must rest on a reason to be empathetic and on the possibility of being so through the choices we make.

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    3. (Sorry for the delay in replying. I've been away.)

      If all selves are illusory then who cares what happens to anything?

      I don't know what Schopenhauer would say to this, but if there is no one can't there still be an all, and can't I care about something qua part of the whole? Perhaps I shouldn't care that it is my cat that is suffering (I don't think this, but perhaps a true Schopenhauerian would) but might I not nonetheless care that a cat is suffering? And try to help it? Schopenhauer thinks that soil is great, so I think he could argue that cats (or catness) are (is) great. He wouldn't then care about the particular cat he was helping but he could care about helping a member of the general body of cats. He also might think of pain as bad in general, and reducing it as therefore good.

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    4. He might but isn't the point of moral judgment how we treat others? I believe W. H. Bradley pushed the case you're suggesting Schopenhauer might have made (treating others well is a way of connecting to the All, losing oneself in the greater Oneness of which we are all part). But on this view (which I think suffers from the same problem as Schopenhauer's though Bradley was not so pessimistic as the German) the All contains all the good and all the bad, everything that we are pleased to have happen to us and everything we are not pleased about. So if someone is suffering, it's part of the greater All.

      In Schopenhauer's picture the universe is "red in tooth and claw" and nature has no pity upon any of us. We live and die, enjoy and suffer, as the case may be. He felt that if we reach a point of equanimity because we are no longer bothered by life's inevitable sufferings, recognizing that our individual selfness is merely illusory, then we don't worry about what's good or bad for us. When that happens, we open up to others and feel their pain. But that doesn't seem to be a necessary result of losing our sense of distinct individuality. For we can also conclude that if others are no more individuated in fact than ourselves, then they count in the grand scheme of things no more than we do, their interests of no more worth than our own.

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    5. Bradley puts a more positive spin on this, akin to the one you suggest, that achieving that state includes feeling a kind of boundless love for all. Arguably this is not so different from where Schopenhauer would take us except that it avoids Schopenhauer's darker vision of existence (as pain and anguish for all who exist until they cease to feel attached to their own individuality). Bradley's is a more affirmative spin: that achieving a state of connectedness with the All implies compassion for all. In this sense his view makes a better case but in the end it suffers from the same flaw, namely the fact that once we grant that the self is unimportant in the grand scheme of things, that each of us is merely a bubble on the surface of a vast sea of which we are an insignificant part, even compassion pales as a motivating factor. If we must all die, if suffering is part of the state of being alive itself (existing as a life form), then compassion is ultimately transitory, too, and can have no greater claim on our decision-making than more morally reprehensible sentiments for each state plays a part in the great existent that is being itself.

      Here we slide into the continental way of thinking or at least what has been called Existentialism. Does this give us a moral ground? Do we need one? I think we do because, otherwise, if moral judgments are just a function of our own wants and needs, then they can be no more than self-delusion and, once that's seen, the whole idea of the moral boils away.

      Does connecting our moral judgments to feelings premised on a belief that the universe is ultimately amoral (Schopenhauer plunks for the Hindu picture while Bradley's is the Christian) really give us the ground needed to make moral judgments rationally defensible? I think neither Schopenhauer nor Bradley's formulations solve this, at least in a way that permits rational justification (which I am inclined to think moral valuing requires).

      They do seem to reflect how we do feel when we act in ways we count morally appropriate, i.e., when we choose to act in ways that show concern for others' interests, but the open question remains: Why should we choose to act in such ways if we don't already feel inclined to do so, and surely we don't always -- or no one would ever have to worry about which things they ought to do?

      I think Schopenhauer's answer, which makes moral valuation either an outgrowth of irrational dynamics or a function of a larger spiritual motivation, of deeper but non-moral provenance, actually goes in the right direction. But I don't think it gives us reason to hang our moral judgments on and if we have no reasons to cite then how can we justify making moral choices to others or ourselves?

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    6. I should clarify one thing about Bradley. (It's so hard to be clear in this kind of formst.) Bradley's view is expressed in terms of duties, not feelings. Although he seems to think feelings drive duties, contra Kant, it is the relation of recognizing one's obligations, having a duty, that characterizes his picture of the moral. And the duty that matters is what we owe to the universe in toto, to All.

      When we we experience this greater connectedness moral behavior follows. I don't think that works unless you embrace a picture that portrays something called Love as the underlying principle of the universe.

      But not only is that not consistent with a Schopenhauerian view, it's out of sync with any clear headed assessment of how the universe works if we think about it. It requires an almost willful pollyannish denial of life as it is. Wr can do that, of course, but it requires an extra-rational move on our part, cutting reasons out of our moral judgment although all valuing seems to be reason-based (otherwise all we have are the attractions and repulsions which chracterize the life of beasts.)

      In this, at least, I think Schopenhauer was more clear-eyed than Bradley.

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    7. Sorry, that should have been "F. H. Bradley". Senior moment I guess. More and more of them these days!

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  5. In Schopenhauer's picture the universe is "red in tooth and claw" and nature has no pity upon any of us.

    It's also great, though, isn't it? The setting sun is beautiful even when viewed from a prison cell. And here he is on matter in general:

    matter, by its absolute permanence, insures us
    indestructibility, by virtue of which whoever was incapable of comprehending any other might yet confidently trust in a certain imperishableness. “What!” it will be said, “the permanence of the mere dust, of the crude matter, is to be regarded as a continuance of our being?” Oh! do you know this dust, then? Do you know what it is and what it can do? Learn to know it before you despise it. This matter which now lies there as dust and ashes will soon, dissolved in water, form itself as a crystal, will shine as metal, will then emit electric sparks, will by means of its galvanic intensity manifest a force which, decomposing the closest combinations, reduces earths to metals; nay, it will, of its own accord, form itself into plants and animals, and from its mysterious womb develop that life for the loss of which you, in your narrowness, are so painfully anxious. Is it, then, absolutely nothing to continue to exist as such matter?


    Roughly: how the world is is crap (red in tooth and claw, suffering, etc.), but what the world is is great. And recognizing the goodness of things might seem to motivate care for them.

    Still, I think you're right that it's hard to come up with reasons to be good. "Because it's good" is not much of a reason. But perhaps no reason is needed. Virtue might (have to) be its own reward, vice its own punishment. The cost of being like Trump is being like Trump.

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  6. Alas we due and with that all the beauty we love, and isn't that the point?

    Wonderful as the world is, it's the loss of it that our exit from it is troubling to us for it produces the realization of impermanence. Sure we can delight in the thought that. with death we merge with the rest of the universe, not lost exactly but transformed. And yet what is lost is our awareness of it, our appreciation, our capacity to experience it or anything at all.

    In the end individual subjectness fails and is replaced by ultimate objectness. If we, or our parts are ultimately reassembled into some new subjective thing, our subjectness is not restored unless we embrace the idea of a soul. But on a view like Schopenhauer's souls, too, are impermanent. Where then is the basis for finding anything morally good in anything but a purely localized sense? But if the moral good is merely that then it is conventional and that's not much of a reason to give others or ourselves when the question arises as to what we ought to do via a vis others.

    As I said, I do think Schopenhauer was on the right track. But I think something essential to the game of moral valuing is still left out if we merely follow Schopenhauer's reasoning through to it's end point.

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    1. That's "Alas we die" but alas autocorrect still exerts its tyranny of the objective over the subjective on these so-called "smart phones"!

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  7. Schopenhauer, like J.S. Mill, thinks (I take it) that what you say in the first half of this (not the comment about auto-correct) is a good reason to overcome egoism and care more about things outside oneself. Easier said than done, of course, but it seems like good advice.

    I don't see how the question "Where then is the basis for finding anything morally good in anything but a purely localized sense?" follows from this issue. Are you thinking that we're all going to die so nothing matters so why be moral? I tend to think that we're all going to die and this is precisely why we ought to be moral. Roughly: women and children first, and everyone is women and children (because "women and children" means the vulnerable).

    This logic is different from the one you appear to be using, and I don't claim that one is more logical than the other, but I think my logic/grammar/language-game is at least as logical, etc. as yours.

    There is no doubt a lot more to be said about all this though.

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  8. Yes, lots more. But I guess we've pretty much exhausted this one by now. I see the moral question not so much as what should I do (there are plenty of answers to that question) but as why should I do it?

    In part these often seem like the same questions but I don't think they are. Not exactly, anyway.

    Lots of cultures offer many variations on "good" things to do (with some significant similarities but also many significant differences). The rules of the society or culture in which we stand tell us what to do and generally offer reasons as to why. But, because these rules differ as much as they do (think ISIS values vs. Western values), the why becomes critically important in any account of what's right and what isn't.

    The culture of the Nazis sanctioned things we find abhorrent. If it's just a kind of emotional distaste that we feel, a personal sensibility, then having it or not becomes crucial to our moral claims. Can we alter our sensibilities? And, if we can, should we and how?

    Why not just be a Nazi if that's what we've been raised to be or if we see being one as in our interests?

    If moral valuing is to make any sense it must offer reasons to choose between being a Nazi or a jihadi and being something else. It must support an argument, or be based on an argument, for changing our stripes if we happen to have the wrong stripes or are tempted by the wrong ones.

    I think Schopenhauer was right to notice the role of sensibility in all this, taking it where Hume didn't, namely to our understanding of ourselves, of who we are, what we are. But I don't think his insight, essentially that of Hinduism and Buddhism, gives us a reason to choose to refrain from lopping off heads or gassing people or doing a whole host of other awful things to others (whether human or non-human) if we are so inclined. Moral reasoning cannot merely be local to the culture in which it stands even if it sometimes is and certainly it is in some cases (dietary and dress habits, who we may marry, etc., etc.). It must offer something that, if not transcendent in the classic sense of "transcendental," at least transcends cultures as such. Otherwise moral progress, the passage from sanctioning human sacrifice, infanticide, etc., etc., is not morally relevant and such things aren't really terrible after all, they just seem to us to be so in this time and place because of how we have been taught to think about them.

    If a reason to be moral is that we all die (as you have suggested), it is certainly also a reason to be immoral (at least where "moral" is understood to refer to treating others as if they were like us or not).

    A core aspect of what we understand as moral goodness seems to have to do with treating others in ways that acknowledge and respect their concerns, their interests, their needs and this seems to transcend cultures for the most part or else the idea of moral progress cannot be sustained.

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    1. Just a bit more on this, because I am so damned longwinded, I guess:

      We find moral injunctions to act with concern for others across a very wide range of human cultures, even allowing for differences in conceptual meanings (murder in one society may not count as such in another, even if the idea that some forms of killing others are illicit and, thus, count as murder).

      Schopenhauer suggests that the feeling of compassion (which he sees as the fundamental motivator of morally good actions) arises in one of three ways: some of us are born with it; some trained to it; and some achieve it by gaining an insight about existence itself roughly in accord with the insight of the Hindus. The first two are beyond reason, he suggests, while the third is superior to reason since it occurs as a natural outgrowth of the spiritual insight he applauds.

      The first two can offer a superficial basis for moral claims (reasons that work) if we don't dig too deeply into them and realize the things we cite as reasons are irrelevant to actual rational choice. The third (rightly I think) offers a ground for a reason to choose to be moral, but only if we have a motivation to pursue and experience the insight in question.

      Certain religions are built around this (Hinduism, Buddhism) but it is what we get from succeeding in that pursuit that matters, not the moral actions associated with that pursuit.

      That, I think, is the rub. For Schopenhauer, the insight that all is transitory, that we are part of a deeper mystery makes the worldly concerns we have irrelevant but that also undermines the moral judgments we make as part of being in the world. If, underneath everything, there are no individuals then this insight can support any old way to behave (as long as it doesn't get in the way of reaching and remaining in touch with our main goal of achieving a grasp of the underlying unity of all existence). Thus, moral goodness is stuck in the mode of illusory existence. Beyond that, as the Buddhists teach, there's neither good nor evil, right nor wrong.

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    2. I'm stuck, for better or worse, on the game analogy with this. If I have a receiver wide open in the end zone then this is a reason for me to pass to him. If the goalkeeper is off her line then this is a reason for me to try a shot from long range. And if you loaned me $20 last week and the loan is due today, then this is a reason for me to pay you back your $20. The reason for acting in each case is determined by, or relative to, the rules of the game.

      Some people might want to leave the matter there, and think of treating other people well as just another game, or set of games (the games of debt-paying, truth-telling, and so on). But it is possible to come up with reasons for playing these games. These reasons will tend to be more or less utilitarian or contractualist: it is in the general interest (including my interest) to play, and to encourage others to play, the truth-telling game, etc.

      Not only that, though. Given the way we are and the way we are raised we (most of us) do care about fairness, about avoiding suffering, and so on. Asking why we should seems idle. We just do, and we have no doubt about the value of such caring. I don't know how much sense it makes to ask whether it's rational or irrational for us to be this way. Given that we are this way, it does seem rational to try to be fair, compassionate, etc. Gross unfairness and cruelty are often taken to be symptomatic of irrationality.

      I find I want to say the following things: to a limited extent it is possible to argue that being moral is indeed rational; sometimes asking "why be good?" makes no sense; whether it is rational to be moral depends on how we define 'rational'--if we define it in terms of self-interest then being altruistic will obviously not always qualify as rational, but if we define it in terms of something like good mental health then we might get a different answer; it is a mistake to try to climb out of our having certain values and concerns in order to try to assess the rationality of having those values and concerns--rationality is itself one such value/concern, and is probably not comprehensible in isolation from other norms and the practices informed by them.

      Or: if someone asks "what is the good of not murdering whoever I like?" there is a possible answer to this question; if someone asks "why should I prefer good things to bad ones?" there is something nonsensical about this question. Nevertheless, if a self-sacrificing person occasionally wonders why they (should) bother I wouldn't say their question was either nonsensical or easily answered.

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    3. . . . if you loaned me $20 last week and the loan is due today, then this is a reason for me to pay you back your $20. The reason for acting in each case is determined by, or relative to, the rules of the game.

      Yes, but is it a compelling reason? After all there is no reason to play by the rules, is there, if you think you can get away with it. Kant's approach rests on taking reasons to be consistent as the reason to be moral but we don't have to. More, isn't the moral question about whether we should be consistent, play by the rules, etc., etc. in this or that case?

      Utilitarian or contractual reasons to play by the rules still leave open the question of whether, if not doing so works out to our advantage, why should we? Maybe a more personal utilitarian calculus will prompt me to break a rule that serves society generally, especially if I can get away with it.

      What about the "general interest"? Playing by the rules might be in the general interest but, again, why should we care if we can avoid being adversely affected?

      The moral question is not just about whether or not it's in my interest to play and keep playing but about whether, if it's not (if another's interest is all that's affected), I should care.

      Yes, most of us do care just as a matter of fact, either because it's built into us or it's learned. But what if we don't? Can we hold others accountable, or be held accountable ourselves, if we just happened to miss that particular feature in the genetic lottery or in the kind of upbringing we had?

      Do we have a legitimate moral complaint about the ISIS terrorists or the Nazis? Or is it just a matter of how we feel about this vs. how they do?

      If that, how can we blame them for the things they do? Yet blaming and commending are essential moves in the moral game. If we cannot justifiably invoke these moves then how can we continue to play that game?

      What does it mean in a case like this to bring up rationality? Isn't every claim of goodness or badness subject to justification and that is to be rational? If I say, that was a very good book, what can I mean if, when pressed, I can't think of anything about it that underwrites my claim? We can say of ice cream that we just prefer this flavor to that one and that seems alright in this case. But can we say well we just prefer not to commit infanticide or burn heretics but it's okay if you prefer to do it or perhaps I may change my mind and then it will be okay? This can't be like preferring chocolate to vanilla!

      I think you're right that rationality is a value, too, that choosing to be rational (to pay attention to the logical implications of some set of premises) is a matter of valuing such behavior. It's not as if reasons are external to us (to what we want) just because they are employed to support assertions of value. But does that mean that when it comes to moral valuing, the game stops at some point where moral concerns have no application?

      The terms "good" and "bad" are empty of content if not deployed in the language game as they are meant to be. What's good and bad is a function of how things affect us, the valuers, and not something in the things themselves. So context (the relation between us and the things we are referring to) matters. But that doesn't suggest to me that the general terms can have no actual application themselves.

      For what it's worth, it seems to me that the question of what is morally good is a more significant one than your analysis suggests. Sometimes there are real concerns in the world re: how to proceed, whether to condemn the perp or not. Granted we have laws and customs we abide by in this or that place and they form the backdrop for condemning or praising when such laws (or conventions) are transgressed. But merely because a society adheres to this or that set of norms cannot be a reason for supposing them to be good ones or people following them are doing the right thing.

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    4. After all there is no reason to play by the rules, is there, if you think you can get away with it.

      I think the answer to this might be Yes, No, and Yes. That is, to the question "Why did you give that person $20?" a perfectly acceptable answer might be "I owed it to them." That is the kind of thing that we mean by a reason to do something. The rules of a game provide reasons for doing things.

      Must we play the game though? No, of course not.

      But making sense itself depends on rules, e.g. of grammar. To do anything (that can be understood as a something) is to follow some rules. So the question seems to be not so much whether to follow rules but which rules to follow.

      Perhaps that much is obvious. But I don't think it's obvious that ethics is itself a game that we can choose to play or not play.

      Do we have a legitimate moral complaint about the ISIS terrorists or the Nazis?

      Yes. Of course we do.

      What's good and bad is a function of how things affect us, the valuers, and not something in the things themselves.

      I disagree, but we've discussed this before.

      Sometimes there are real concerns in the world re: how to proceed, whether to condemn the perp or not. Granted we have laws and customs we abide by in this or that place and they form the backdrop for condemning or praising when such laws (or conventions) are transgressed. But merely because a society adheres to this or that set of norms cannot be a reason for supposing them to be good ones or people following them are doing the right thing.

      I agree.

      It might be possible to show that one's chances of happiness are reduced if one lives the Nazi or ISIS life. I doubt it can be shown in anything like the way a mathematical proof shows things that it is bad to be a Nazi or an ISIS fighter. But then 'bad' is not a mathematical term. It is arguably part of the concepts of being bad and of being irrational that people like Nazis are bad and irrational. If we don't want to use that kind of concept/conception of badness or irrationality then we won't be able to demonstrate the badness/irrationality of such behavior. But I can't see why this matters. Neither of us is about to join ISIS if no such proof can be found. Nor would it significantly reduce the ranks of ISIS members. Perhaps we want a science of ethics, but I don't think we shall ever have such a thing. Nor do I really want it.

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    5. Yes, following the rules is a reason but we play games on top of games, games within games and so forth. Whether we should follow any particular set of rules is a matter of following other rules.

      If I'm playing chess, there are things I can do and things I can't but whether I choose to play or not is a different question and then it might be answered in a number of ways: Because it's a sociable thing to do, or we have played before and enjoy it, or I just feel like a game now (even if you don't and so perhaps I press you or another unwillingly into it). Relations between people are rule-governed in the same way relations between chess players are, only they are different level rules and different games.

      As you point out, in the moral sphere, the question (or one of the questions) we want to answer is which rules to follow and moral questions arise here. Should I kill that guy who pisses me off, keep the money I found if I know who it belongs to, take what I want if no one can ever discover my having done it, tell a lie to gain an advantage, etc.? Should I behead or burn infidels? Sacrifice people to my deity? Kill the unborn or newly born? Different cultures have offered different answers and still do in many cases so just being what is done in a culture can't be the whole story.

      The moral game, and in the Wittgensteinian sense I think we should call it that, involves not just making the decisions at issue and acting but reflecting on them, choosing one course of action instead of another. We make our choices for lots of reasons and most boil down to what can doing X get me? Maybe they all do in some sense. But surely there are some actions, the ones we typically think of as moral, where that sort of consideration seems woefully out of place or just beside the point.

      The man raised a Nazi or jihadi will have certain beliefs about the world but also about what he should do and when those apply to other people, he may have a very different set of beliefs which he invokes as his reason(s) for acting. The moral game must address those, i.e., treat him as a deliberative agent with the capacity to think about and choose what he does. That means we must give him reasons.

      If the moral game is to have any traction it must be able to invoke reasons that even someone who is blinkered by another belief system might be brought to see. Otherwise there's no point in arguing with him. Now, given the obduracy of human beings, there may be no point in arguing anyway. (Can we argue a Trump supporter into rejecting Trump?) But moral activity, the situation in which we question another's justifications for doing what he does, or urge some particular action upon him requires, that at least there be a possibility of reaching the other with our reasons, a least a possibility that our reasons will resonate and, thus, move him.

      So a moral claim demands some reference to the nature of the action under consideration, that it is either right or wrong, good or bad, and it can only be that for a reason.

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    6. A little more, if you can bear with me:

      I know you think (with Anscombe I believe) that there are some things that are just good or bad in themselves, that there is such a thing as intrinsic goodness or badness. This assumes some kind of intuitionism, I think, though I'm not sure if you'd agree with that. But if goodness is just there in a thing and we can't pick it out as an actual referent, if we are just going to say I I know it when I see it (a la Moore?) how could it be described as anything else but some kind of intuition?

      I also don't agree that the idea of being "bad" or "irrational" are built into the concepts of, say, "Nazi" or "ISIS." If they were then it could be shown that these ideas are part of the meaning of the terms in question but neither Nazis nor ISIS jihadis could ever be moved on that basis because no one (in his right mind at least) does something which he thinks is bad or irrational (though irrationality might be a little harder to clarify).

      You can argue, well then that's the answer, convince them of the real meaning of the terms by which they self-describe. But how do we ever do that without also changing their view of the behaviors they are engaging in?

      The moral issue is to show them the error of their ways not their semantics! And how do we do it? We have to have some standard which stands outside the belief system they subscribe to which they can be convinced to recognize as overruling their belief system. That is, there must be some transcending way of thinking about their actions which has an inherent appeal to them as human beings.

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    7. A few scattered replies:

      I don't think there is such a thing as the moral game. Some questions are more obviously ethical than others, but ethics isn't a thing that shuts off or becomes irrelevant at certain times. At least it doesn't seem to do so.

      I don't think there is much point in arguing with a Nazi/terrorist. Not that they can never be brought to think or see things differently. But I don't think there's a remotely simple argument you could use that would work as long as they were rational.

      if goodness is just there in a thing and we can't pick it out as an actual referent, if we are just going to say I I know it when I see it (a la Moore?) how could it be described as anything else but some kind of intuition?

      Here's the kind of thing I think. There are things I like that I do not think of in instrumental terms, e.g. my children. I realize that I am likely to value them more than most other people do, but I also genuinely think they are great. I wouldn't express this by saying that goodness is just there in them. I don't know what that would mean. But I do think they have intrinsic, non-instrumental value. And I don't think I 'intuit' this--I don't know what that would mean either. I am making no metaphysical claims about either what I know or how I know it.

      I also don't agree that the idea of being "bad" or "irrational" are built into the concepts of, say, "Nazi" or "ISIS."

      Perhaps there is no such thing as the concept of, say, Nazi. I grew up in a culture that regarded the Nazis as a paradigm of evil. It was unthinkable that one might take their side. For me, "Nazis are bad" was (and still is) what you might call a hinge-proposition. Viewed more dispassionately of course the members of a particular political party are not evil by definition. But I don't view this particular party dispassionately (and I have been raised not to do so). I don't mean that I was raised this way therefore it is right, of course. But I'm not going to pretend to set aside the (moral) lens through which I see the world.

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  9. I agree with you that we do a lot of things with moral claims, from citing proper ways to dress, what to eat, and so forth. To a large extent our moral judgments are driven by cultural conventions we pick up through exposure. I guess what I'm driving at is that one particular aspect of moral judgment, namely claims which hinge on the needs and wants of others, i.e., why we should take these into account in deciding on the things we will do, seem to go beyond mere convention however strongly imposed on us by our culures.

    This particular dimension of the moral game is the problematic one I think and it is so because of examples like Nazis, ISIS, Aztec human sacrifice, etc., and, closer to home, the choices we are often confronted with re: whether we should keep our promises, refrain from underhanded dealings and so forth.

    It's not that these latter choices aren't baked into the concepts that describe them but that endorsing those concepts, if we are not prone to do so due to our enculturation or our genetic predispositions (and both are factors) is not a given. Endorsing or rejecting means making a deliberative choice and deliberating involves having and acknowledging reasons.

    Of course you have an affinity for your children, as I have for mine and as most of us have for ours across the board. That makes some decisions relatively easy when we are called on to make them.

    You express that affinity in your behavior. But the moral question that, I think, matters, is what to do when it's about someone we don't know and have no pre-existing reason to care about? Isn't that the real issue in ethics, the real moral concern? (At least it seems so to me.)

    Does intuitionism depend on embracing a concept of "intuition"? Just because Moore explicitly did so doesn't mean we must. But what we call the idea that some things are just intrinsically good doesn't matter. If we say they are intrinsically good but there is nothing in them to point at as their goodness, then it's in us, not them. And in that case it's a kind of intuition, isn't it, whether magically implanted, built into the concept (as Michael Huemer seems to think) or some kind of category that is intrinsic to human knowledge a la Kant.

    Whatever we decide to take intuition to be, and there are a number of options, supposing that we know a thing just because we know it when we see it (Anscombe?) can't be anything else. Moore imagined we could simply posit it in the observed but gave no account of that and Wittgenstein rightly, I think, saw the absurdity in that. Supposing goodness is somehow inherent in some concepts may reflect a truth about our language but it cannot give us reason to act.

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    1. As you already know, I think goodness is a status not a property, so there's no sense looking for it in the things we call good. This status reflects a relation (of thing to observer). It's characterized by the occurrence of reasons to act which the observed thing presents to the observer. In this sense, the relation depends on the interest of the observer in the thing. If so, then any claim of goodness, including the moral sort, must hinge on the nature of observer as much as on thing, i.e., the inclination of the observer to take the observed as a reason to do something.

      Just having made a promise is not sufficient reason to keep it. You must, of course, have a particular understanding of what promising means but also of what it means to you and the other to whom the promise was made in the particular case. Then we can decide whether keeping our word is the right thing to do or not.

      I agree with what I take your point to be about concepts like "Nazi." They do unpack in our particular linguistic usage into something we happen to think bad. But a concept is never one particular set of beliefs or associations but a locus on a web of ideas, all the thoughts we associate with the word as it's used in our language. We speak of concepts and, of course, that's useful, but concepts are not fixed phenomena. They are part of the flow of our mental lives. Thus they are invariably fluid, changing, part of an ongoing flow of thoughts we have. That's part of the reason I think supposing (as Huemer and Searle have done) that our moral decisions are grounded in the meanings of our terms can't be right. While there are points of familiarity in speakers of a common language re: this or that term, their full meanings are not, and probably never can be, precisely the same.

      So are Nazis bad? In terms of their ideology and tendency to act on it, you and I are in agreement. I have the same tendency in my background to grimace at the thought of Nazism as you do. And it's true moral discourse is rarely (though not never) a useful way of changing Nazis into non-Nazis. Still, if Nazism is bad, it has to be that for a reason beyond the fact that we don't like it or it is targeted at us (as it is against me since I'm of Jewish extraction).

      If it's not bad then we can say, 'well it's not what they do that's bad but against whom they do it,' in which case why shouldn't we do the same against some other group? If Nazism is wrong for more than merely practical reasons (who it is directed at which can change with the situation) then it must be wrong for some reason that is compelling to anyone looking at it from without. If a child (or adult) finds him or herself with an opportunity to choose his or her affiliation (to be a Nazi or not to be) there must be a reason beyond mere self-interestedness to reject the Nazi model.

      I think that's where the real moral issue alights. At any moment in our lives we, as deliberative creatures, have choices which non-deliberative creatures simply do not. The moral dimension defines those choices for us. When not acting from enculturation, when we find ourselves with the option of being or not being that kind of person, then we must be able to find reasons to support our choices.

      Of course, not all our choices are of this sort and caring about our children are often among those that aren't, though even they may be, if we find ourselves in certain situations (it's them or me . . . or maybe I happen to have lost my feeling for the child, etc.) and then the deliberative model of our thought processes demands reasons.

      Moral judgments are invariably about giving ourselves and others reasons.

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    2. Endorsing or rejecting means making a deliberative choice and deliberating involves having and acknowledging reasons.

      Yes. But "because I promised" is a reason. Whether it's a good reason in a particular situation might call for judgment, but it is a reason to do the thing you promised to do. The fact that sometimes it might not be a sufficient reason does not mean that it never is a reason. Accepting x as a reason to do y seems to me to be to playing a certain game. And it's possible to ask whether that game is worth playing or whether some other might be better. But we don't play these games in a vacuum. Deciding not to play the promise-keeping game means, in effect, becoming a promise-breaker. And there are reasons, moral and non-moral, to want to avoid becoming such a person. But I feel as though I'm repeating myself.

      Perhaps another way to approach the question is in terms of the chain of reasons. Reasons come to an end somewhere, as Wittgenstein says. Why not at, "That would be murder," or "That would be breaking my promise," or "Because I'm not a Nazi"?

      what to do when it's about someone we don't know and have no pre-existing reason to care about?

      But what makes something a pre-existing reason to care about someone? Why can't being a fellow mortal be such a reason? Or a fellow human being? Or a fellow sufferer?

      If we say they are intrinsically good but there is nothing in them to point at as their goodness,

      I don't think I said this. There is plenty to point at as the goodness of my children (and yours too, no doubt). But what there is to point out in this way is not simply things they do for me. If something pleases you, it pleases because you see it as good, not the other way around. Or so it seems to me in most cases. To value something us to see it as intrinsically (but not necessarily ineffably) valuable, or else as a means to something intrinsically valuable.

      if Nazism is bad, it has to be that for a reason beyond the fact that we don't like it

      It's mostly because they murder so many people. We don't simply dislike murder. But if you ask why murder is wrong, or what is wrong about murder, then I think you are very close to asking a question that cannot be answered. Reasons come to an end here or hereabouts. The Bible and Hamlet talk a bit about how great human beings are, but they don't give reasons that absolutely any rational being would have to be moved/persuaded by.

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  10. Yes, "because I promised" is a reason. But is it reason enough? If no one ever wonders, ever questions, then it seems to be. But we do sometimes wonder, don't we, we do sometimes think we have a reason to question. What if keeping our word may have bad consequences in our view? Do we stick with a rule like "always keep your promises" no matter what or do we make some exceptions? When and why?

    We do sometimes have reason to ask this kind of question and then the meaning of "promise" strikes me as an insufficient guide. But here we are repeating ourselves, as you say. Still I would argue that the semantic aspect (using "promise" correctly) doesn't help us at the moral level, i.e., that here we have two are very different games.

    We do have reasons that are intrinsic to what we are, of course, part of what it means to be human. We want to live, be free of pain and discomfort and we care for others close to us. These are all built into us and elaborated in us through pur training. Sometimes they conflict though. Sometimes we have to choose among competing wants and needs or competing things we have been taught or trained to accept. We have to do more, that us, than just want or feel need and respond to those sensations. We have to evaluate and prioritize.

    Some of this involves prudential considerations, some aesthetic, and some, I would say, judgments about which claims are true. (Truth claims are valuational, too.) But none of these forms of valuing, it seems to me, give us a basis for choosing behaviors which show concern for the needs and wants of others if and when that concern is not already there and is not consistent with our own wants and needs.

    It seems to me this is the core moral problem and why the meanings of morally loaded terms is not sufficient to oblige us to choose actions that are consistent with such meanings.

    Everything we do we see as good or we wouldn't do it. Surely the Nazi thinks he's doing the right thing. He doesn't say to himself I will act badly, be evil today. He thinks what he does is right even if we don't. So the question cannot be how do we know doing X is good or right but how do we know doing certain kinds of things is right or wrong? And the kinds of things that are relevant here have to do with the treatment we accord to others. It's not just valuing per se but a special category of valuing, that's at issue herd.

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    1. To avoid or minimize repetition I'll try to keep this brief.

      Sometimes we have to choose among competing wants and needs

      Agreed

      the meanings of morally loaded terms is not sufficient to oblige us to choose actions that are consistent with such meanings.

      I agree with this too. I don't think the meanings of words ever oblige us to do anything.

      none of these forms of valuing, it seems to me, give us a basis for choosing behaviors which show concern for the needs and wants of others if and when that concern is not already there and is not consistent with our own wants and needs

      This sounds either trivially true or else false. If "already there" includes what is already in the values, etc. in question then of course values, etc. won't give us a reason to do something that is not already implicit in those values, etc. (Right? Am I missing something?) On the other hand, if you mean that neither prudence nor aesthetic concerns nor judgments about what is true give us any reason to treat others well then this is surely false. It is not prudent to make enemies. Dead bodies are not pretty. And it is not true that other people don't matter.

      I think what you are saying is not this, though, but rather that there seems to be no non-moral reason to treat others morally when this is not in our prudential/aesthetic interests. I (think I) agree, but this also seems trivial. How could a reason to behave morally not be a moral reason? (Unlike a reason to behave as if one were moral.)

      Being ethical involves being motivated by certain concerns, including concern for others. There are some non-moral reasons to try to become the kind of person who is motivated by ethical concerns. But there won't be any non-moral reasons to be moral. Roughly speaking, being ethical means doing the right thing for the right reason. And the right reason is a moral one. So there can't be non-moral reasons for being ethical. (I'm using 'ethical' and 'moral' interchangeably here.)

      If your question is, "How can we ever convert Nazis?" then the answer is perhaps we can't, but patience and love go a long way. (See Daryl Davis.)

      If your question is, "How can I be sure I am not living completely the wrong way?" then fair enough. A little humility is probably good.

      If your question is, "What if the Nazis are right?" then you are probably not being serious. Perhaps you think, for sophisticated (though perhaps misguided) reasons, that you ought to wonder such a thing. But I don't believe that you actually do wonder any such thing. And I think it's a mistake (morally and philosophically) to try to make yourself wonder seriously about this.

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    2. Out of town so probably unable to do justice to your comments above just now. Still . . . the point I want to make is that sometimes we wonder what's the right thing to do when by "right" we mean whether others' interests ought to matter to us or not. Yes, there are plenty of prudential reasons for thinking that others' interests should matter at times but those kinds of reasons aren't about others' interests but our own.

      It's true that we sometimes do feel concern for the other but the moral question is whether we should if and when we don't, i.e., whether to act as if we have such feelings or to cultivate them when we lack them.

      I don't think prudential or even aesthetic reasons support such a choice and certainly truth value claims don't. What does?

      I would argue that we have to find the answer in what we typically think of as the "spiritual," but without ascribing truth or certainty to any particular metaphysical content or belief system (perhaps contra Schopenhauer). That is, I think there is a spiritual dimension, in the non-supernatural sense of the term, to our thinking and behavior and that the motivation to care about others rests on that and in this way underlies moral reasoning and the claims it supports.

      Alas no time for more, but maybe that's a good thing at this point, eh?

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    3. the moral question is whether we should if and when we don't, i.e., whether to act as if we have such feelings or to cultivate them when we lack them

      And the moral answer is that we should. I take it your concern is why?, or what supports this answer? But I don't see that it needs (or can have) any support. Such support would be circular if moral and beside the point if non-moral. (As I see it.) But I'm repeating myself again.

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    4. Yes, we both are. I guess my point is that all value questions ask for reasons and that includes the moral.

      I have come to think of claims like "X is good" (a value claim) as saying something to the effect of "There is something about X that is also a reason to do it, get it, aim for it, etc." That is, a word like "good" does not denote any sort of quality in whatever it is we call "good" but a status we take the thing to have, a certain relation to the ascriber (i.e., possession of some feature or features which have the potential to satisfy a want or need in the ascriber and so provide the ascriber with a reason to act).

      Moral valuing presumably works the same way as all other types of valuing, in this sense, so the moral question must be what counts as a reason for someone to do those acts we think of as morally good and refrain from those we call morally bad? We pretty much know what we think of as morally good so the issue is not so much about telling us what to do but helping us understand why we take something to be morally right and thus help, if only a bit, in some of the more difficult cases we are likely to encounter.

      If ascriptions of value are just to assert a reason to do some things and refrain from other things, then ascriptions of moral goodness must also rest on some reason or reasons to act. I see determining what kinds of claims serve as reasons support the types of behavior we think of as moral (morally good) as the province of moral philosophy (Ethics).

      If, on the other hand, we answer the question of whether we should care about the interests of others in the affirmative (i.e., "we should") we are making a moral claim but not necessarily a philosophical one.

      I would agree that the two kinds of questions often bleed into one another for knowing what is morally right may well be affected by what we think underlies our moral claims. If we think they're about prudential considerations re: what serves us best, or if we think value claims lack cognitive content, we will certainly arrive at different moral conclusions than if we follow certain traditional moral practices or look for some other sort of justification (moral intuition, naturalism, certain religious doctrines, utilitarianism, etc.)

      I would argue that the point of moral philosophy is not to say what is morally good or bad but why anything is that and on what basis we come to think so.

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    5. I don't think I have anything new to say, but thanks for the discussion.

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  11. I never could leave well enough alone, not even on vacation:

    If "already there" includes what is already in the values, etc. in question then of course values, etc. won't give us a reason to do something that is not already implicit in those values, etc. (Right? Am I missing something?) On the other hand, if you mean that neither prudence nor aesthetic concerns nor judgments about what is true give us any reason to treat others well then this is surely false. It is not prudent to make enemies. Dead bodies are not pretty. And it is not true that other people don't matter.

    I think this comes down to what we mean by "values". Do we just mean what we feel? In that case you would be right, above, when you write that our reason that justifies doing X is "already in the values." But I don't think "our values" just means our feelings and so It's not about just having certain feelings however we come by them. Valuing is not merely about expressing feelings but about choosing which ones to cultivate in ourselves.

    Valuing is different from having feelings, or certain kinds of feelings and expressing them. I think valuing is something only creatures with discursive capacity can do because it amounts to representing relations between the representers and the represented, i.e., recognizing when something about whatever we happen to observe and refer to also gives us a reason (as in satisfying a want or need we have) to secure or pursue it. This is, perhaps, a cumbersome way of saying that valuing is about having reasons to act where reasons exert a logical rather than causal force on us.

    Feelings are causal. They are not nothing nor can we function without them (the "Vulcans" of Star Trek notwithstanding). But they are not just the same as values. They are necessary for values but not sufficient. What is also needed is discursivity, the ability to differentiate things descriptively, i.e., language that involves having concepts. Dogs can want and need things but they don't value things nor can they have values as such, anymore than they can be expecting their master on Wednesday.

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    1. I don't think "our values" just means our feelings

      I agree

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