Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Fountain


I wonder whether anyone has ever connected Marcel Duchamp's Fountain with Schopenhauer or Kraus, Schopenhauer writes (in The World as Will and Representation) that:
when 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 willless knowledge, and as such they are both taken out of the stream [255] of time and all other relations. It is then all one whether we see the sun set from the prison or from the palace.
Inward disposition, the predominance of knowing over willing, can produce this state under any circumstances. This is shown by those admirable Dutch artists who directed this purely objective perception to the most insignificant objects, and established a lasting monument of their objectivity and spiritual peace in their pictures of still life, which the √¶sthetic beholder does not look on without emotion; for they present to him the peaceful, still, frame of mind of the artist, free from will, which was needed to contemplate such insignificant things so objectively, to observe them so attentively, and to repeat this perception so intelligently; and as the picture enables the onlooker to participate in this state, his emotion is often increased by the contrast between it and the unquiet frame of mind, disturbed by vehement willing, in which he finds himself. In the same spirit, landscape-painters, and particularly Ruisdael, have often painted very insignificant country scenes, which produce the same effect even more agreeably.
He has in mind natural objects and scenes, but one might either mock or try to confirm Schopenhauer's ideas about the objective perception of insignificant objects by presenting a urinal as a work of art.

Then there's Kraus (writing in 1913):
Adolf Loos and I – he literally and I grammatically – have done nothing more than show that there is a difference between an urn and a chamber pot and that it is this distinction above all that provides culture with elbow room. 
I don't know how much Duchamp would have known about either Schopenhauer or Kraus, but Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven might have. 

Even if there is no causal chain from Schopenhauer and/or Kraus to Duchamp (or Freytag-Loringhoven or whoever submitted Fountain), one still might wonder what, if anything, Fountain says or shows about Schopenhauer's philosophy.

OK, back to grading papers.

19 comments:

  1. "In the same spirit, landscape-painters, and particularly Ruisdael, have often painted very insignificant country scenes, which produce the same effect even more agreeably."

    Agreeable to whom?

    How can anything be "agreeable" if there is no one who finds it so?

    If the point of the aesthetic experience (or the spiritual one, since this is Schopenhauer) is to cancel the will as a force that drives us and so forms the self, then how can agreeableness matter at all? Indeed, how can anything matter without selves and selfhood?

    We think that here we are reaching beyond the mundane, getting hold of something beyond ourselves, and yet how can we even imagine that? So is art, great or merely the satisfying kind, really just about satisfying certain aspects of the creatures we are? Maybe there's nothing transcendent in art itself, only certain kinds of feelings which are psychologically perfectly normal in creatures like us?

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    1. I think we read Schopenhauer differently, but I'll attempt quick answers to your questions.

      Agreeable to whom?

      The viewer

      How can anything be "agreeable" if there is no one who finds it so?

      Perhaps it can't, but Schopenhauer does not say that there is no one who finds it so

      If the point of the aesthetic experience (or the spiritual one, since this is Schopenhauer) is to cancel the will as a force that drives us and so forms the self, then how can agreeableness matter at all?

      I'm not sure I understand this. Will is the fundamental reality, as he sees it, so it cannot be canceled. So far as the self, or anything else, is really real it is will. But that will is not individual or personal. My own personal will is a kind of lie. It is also grasping and never satisfied. Good art has the power to shut it up. When the craving dies down, however temporarily, this feels good. Like, perhaps, taking off an uncomfortable shoe.

      Indeed, how can anything matter without selves and selfhood?

      There speaks the evil self! If you have loved anything--the flapping shines that make up a flock of birds in distant sunlight, say--then you know that other things matter.

      We think that here we are reaching beyond the mundane, getting hold of something beyond ourselves, and yet how can we even imagine that?

      If the question how asks for a mechanism then of course I don't know. The person to ask would be a psychologist. If you mean something more like, "Surely we cannot..." then the answer is, on the contrary, we can and do all the time. We are surrounded all the time by things beyond ourselves, things that are very far from mundane. People, for instance, bushes, the sky. We cannot get hold of them fully, comprehend them completely, but we can certainly, at least, imagine getting hold of them somewhat.

      So is art, great or merely the satisfying kind, really just about satisfying certain aspects of the creatures we are?

      Certainly not. Or, to the extent that the answer is Yes, what fine creatures we must be! If a jigsaw piece satisfies another by fitting into it, and great art satisfies me, I must myself be somewhat great.

      Maybe there's nothing transcendent in art itself, only certain kinds of feelings which are psychologically perfectly normal in creatures like us?

      Maybe. But this seems like a very outside view to take, like someone saying maybe love is just chemicals in the brain. Maybe it is, but then what wonderful things brains and their chemicals are. It's the words 'only' and 'normal' that seem most wrong here. Although surely art is transcendent, if only metaphorically so. (And the emphasis there needs to be on 'transcendent' and definitely not on 'only'.)

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    2. I do believe we read him differently. My reading is informed by the similarity between his thinking and Buddhism/Hinduism, a similarity he acknowledges though coming at it in his own way. For Buddhists and Hindus the world we live in is illusion and living in it makes us part of the illusion. Different strains of Buddhism and Hinduism explain this differently, leading to different metaphysical pictures but all are vague enough to share similarities. Being identified as outside the world, the real reality cannot be pictured or described. Schopenhauer embraces this while identifying it as "the Will."

      But there is a fundamental contradiction in his account, reflecting his western emphasis on making affirmative claims. Classic Buddhism, for instance, embraces the self-contradictions entailed by attempting to speak affirmatively of the real reality. Hence the idea that it's more religion than philosophy, more ritual and practice than doctrinal and descriptive. Schopenhauer reduces all being to manifestations of a deep, irrepressible Will which he identifies as the true noumenon. His solution is to find ways to disconnect from it. Cut off desire and need and the self as a manifestation of the ever-striving and never satisfied Will is quieted. We silence it by silencing the things that make it a self, the connections to the world that in effect make it us.

      There's a deep self-contradiction here and the point I wanted to make, perhaps inadequately, is that by invoking the idea of great art as a road to suppression of the Will, Schopenhauer's self-contradiction is made manifest.

      If wants and needs are functions of selfhood, as Schopenhauer and the eastern belief systems maintain, then turning to aesthetic experience cannot solve the problem because such experience implies a self. If the Buddhist solution is abnegation of the self as a self and Schopenhauer's is the suppression of the Will that manifests through and as the self, then an appeal to art is really only an appeal to another aspect of selfhood, the self as appreciator, as finding satisfaction through certain experiences we encounter.

      Now perhaps the real answer to all this is only that intellect must finally fail us in this domain. Certainly many schools of Buddhism and Hinduism revel in beauty (though at least, some like Zen Buddhism, revel in an austerity as an experience of emptiness that feels like freeing oneself, joining with something beyond our individual selves.

      But even that must affirm selfhood, just a different kind.

      The point I was trying to make, perhaps badly, is only this: That Schopenhauer's solution of turning to art (though he also favors religious mysticism as an even more thoroughgoing path to liberation from the Will) is finally a contradiction in terms and that, as such, it cannot help us find better behaviors in a moral sense.

      The experience of art is just that and not a road to ethical excellence from a Schopenhauerian perspective, precisely because we cannot release ourselves from selfhood except through death and then moral issues don't matter anymore. The ethical is for living creatures possessed of a certain kind of capacity, the kind that enables them to see a world and their place in it alongside others who share it with them.

      Schopenhauer's solution would take us out of the world and, if fully realized, out of ourselves. But there can be no ethics without selfness and no world, as such, without the selves who see and describe it.

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    3. I'm sure Schopenhauer deviates from the thought of various Buddhist and Hindu thinkers, but that doesn't concern me all that much. Nor, perhaps oddly, does any deep contradiction in his theory. If I ever get around to writing something substantial on his work I will have to address the question whether he's right or wrong, but in the meantime I prefer to take from him whatever I find good and helpful. And there's a lot of that. (Or, perhaps I should say, I find one or two ideas of his very helpful.)

      You say: "If wants and needs are functions of selfhood, as Schopenhauer and the eastern belief systems maintain, then turning to aesthetic experience cannot solve the problem because such experience implies a self."

      But I'm not sure how much I buy this. I don't think he sees art as a permanent or total solution to our problems. But one thing it does (or at least can do) is to make clear to us that there are things beyond the self that have value. Art can 'take you out of yourself', which I think he sees as revealing something important. J.S. Mill has a similar idea, although his version is expressed in more sensible, British terms. I think they are both right to think that egoism is bad and art is good. And to think that the goodness of one is related to the badness of the other.

      You also say that: The experience of art is just that and not a road to ethical excellence from a Schopenhauerian perspective, precisely because we cannot release ourselves from selfhood except through death and then moral issues don't matter anymore.

      But doesn't Schopenhauer think that his philosophy can somehow release us from selfhood (or whatever we want to call the cause of our problems)? We don't necessarily have to wait till death.

      It would be nice to think that aesthetic appreciation could make us selfless enough to sacrifice ourselves for others, but that rarely, if ever, seems to be the case. Still, perhaps it can make us less egoistic than we would be otherwise. And from the point of view of ethics, that can't be a bad thing.

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  2. But doesn't Schopenhauer think that his philosophy can somehow release us from selfhood (or whatever we want to call the cause of our problems)? We don't necessarily have to wait till death.

    Right, he doesn't embrace the metaphysical account of belief systems like Buddhism or Hinduism, an account which presumes multiple levels of existence and a cyclical passage through these levels, involving reincarnation and karmic causes and effects (where doing X leads to result Y so you do, or do not do, X based on the desirability of Y).

    Schopenhauer's is a more western view which sees existence in its manifest forms in this life as the problem; the solution being to find a way to get through it without being entrapped by its features while we're in it. Not for him a tale of levels of existence and recycled souls.

    In fairness, this is also how the more spartan forms of Buddhism cast their account, treating their inherited myths as part of the illusion to be rejected. But your mileage will vary, depending on the sect we're talking about. Some forms of Buddhism are more dependent on myths and doctrine than others.

    The problem, at least as I see it, is that Schopenhauer's account is ultimately pitched to the ethical, i.e., the idea that this metaphysical picture is the only real basis for genuinely ethical behavior because it, alone, offers a basis for true (as opposed to feigned or merely useful) acts of concern for others. His argument is that the only true ethical choice must be the one that expresses compassion although no possible reason can ever be adduced that's sufficient to prompt us to choose compassion because of some non-rational cause (training, natural sympathy, self-interest) if we don't already feel that way. We either feel compassion or we don't, although we can be taught it by training or acculturation. We can also, he argues, develop it spontaneously through appreciation of great art (which can temporarily sever us from the Will that is manifested in the feeling of individual selfhood that defines us).

    For a more long lasting effect, and therefore one that's more satisfactory than the merely aesthetic, we must adopt a view of the world in accord with his metaphysical account, a view that recognizes a primordial Will as cause of all things and of the ceaseless striving that's part of the package. The Will, as the cause of all suffering, must thus be shut down while we live. (Unlike Buddhists he has no concern for subsequent lives or other realms of attachment.) We must thus achieve the world-rejecting experience characteristic of the mystic spirit seen in the religious systems of India and farther East and in some of the mystical traditions found in the Western traditions.

    The problem with his ethical account lies in the fact that ethics is a species of valuation and that always implies selfhood, for valuing only happens when things matter to someone. Valuing implies selves.

    Abnegation of the self, as Schopenhauer imagines it, has, as its corollary, the spontaneous and fullest possible occurrence of compassion but moving from a world of selfhood to a world without it discards the possibility of compassion, too, for without selves there is nothing that cares or to care about.

    The Buddhists' picture is more consistent than Schopenhauer's for they hold that, if we really shed the illusion, we also shed notions like good and bad, right and wrong. While Buddhist teaching does include moral tenets, they are justified as a means toward the metaphysical goal of enlightenment which, in Buddhist and Hindu metaphysics, is not limited by death.

    Schopenhauer doesn't embrace that metaphysic, therefore, for him ethical goodness must arise as a corollary of ceasing to identify ourselves with the Will. But doing that also erases all interests and concerns and thus any reason to care.

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    1. no possible reason can ever be adduced that's sufficient to prompt us to choose compassion because of some non-rational cause

      is this quite right? Doesn't he think that death shows that egoism is an error? Doesn't he also think that Kant's philosophy, rightly understood, shows that there is no real difference between me and other people? So that selfishness would be irrational?

      Valuing implies selves.

      I suppose so, in the sense that the act of valuing must be done by someone or something. But things can have value without being valuable to anyone in particular. The sun, e.g., is valuable, and will be so even if no animals, including us, exist.

      moving from a world of selfhood to a world without it discards the possibility of compassion, too, for without selves there is nothing that cares or to care about.

      I'm not so sure. I can take care of my teeth without thinking of them as selves. Couldn't I also take care of an animal or human being without thinking of them as anything more than a fellow (part of) being that needs my help?

      Perhaps it's important to think of individuals as individuals, to look who we help in the eye and treat them not just as a thing that needs help. But Schopenhauer's altruistic view of the other as 'another me' is clearly far better than the unfriendly (merely) 'not me' view that he also describes.

      In other words, maybe he goes too far, but that does not mean that there is no reason to travel with him for any of the journey. Can a coherent position be found in this vicinity? I don't know. It would take a lot of work to arrive at a satisfactory answer. But it's more important to value the clearly valuable than to suspend any such valuing pending a rigorous philosophical project.

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  3. "Doesn't he think that death shows that egoism is an error? Doesn't he also think that Kant's philosophy, rightly understood, shows that there is no real difference between me and other people? So that selfishness would be irrational?

    Yes to both. The question lies in the implications for the choices we make. He thinks, if we genuinely see the futility of striving as he does, we will choose not to strive and that means not to fight for things, to cling, to attach ourselves to aspects of the world. But you can't do that as long as you are a self-involved being so to do it right you have to jettison the self, along with selfishness. If you do that you naturally feel compassion on his view and this is the true source of the moral qua compassion as seen in the world's great spiritual teachers.

    Yet it is arguable that such dissociation from the striving world of selfhood leaves one indifferent rather than compassionate. While we may lose the desire to harm others or to satisfy ourselves at another's expense, selflessness need not be manifested as compassion if you follow the logic through. If I don't care about my own interests because they are false, illusory, why should I care if another's interests go unmet since they are equally false and illusory?

    Schopenhauer attempted to ground morality or ethics in the spiritual experience he identified as losing the sense of our own distinctness but if we do that we also lose the ground for any sort of valuing at all. If compassion should be achieved then it is to be valued but if there is no self to aim to achieve it there can be no one for whom it has value.

    "things can have value without being valuable to anyone in particular. The sun, e.g., is valuable, and will be so even if no animals, including us, exist."

    Can they? The sun may have value for a planet without humans but can it have value for a planet without any creatures at all who could benefit from its warming rays? More, can a creature that derives benefit from those rays do more than take such benefit from it? It may seek out the sunlight for its effects but can it be said to value it? Does the lizard value the sun that warms it on a cool day on a flat rock? Or does it just go there to warm up? I think we have to say valuing is something more than just providing value to some creatures (as in something needed for its comfort or survival). Valuation is a step up from simply preferring and if there are no observers capable of taking that step in the world (including theoretical observers like ourselves imagining such a world) can we say valuing has occurred at all? But if not, if there is no one to value, then does value as such exist, or is it only the effects which warm the lizard there on the rock?

    "Schopenhauer's altruistic view of the other as 'another me' is clearly far better than the unfriendly (merely) 'not me' view that he also describes. "

    Yes, but why do we think it better except that we have already decided such a condition has value? What does that value consist of other than our ascription of it for some reason we can cite if asked?

    " . . . it's more important to value the clearly valuable than to suspend any such valuing pending a rigorous philosophical project."

    I think I agree on that one! But how we come to think something has value and why still matter in any discussion about what's the right thing to do. I have looked closely at Schopenhauer's answer and I think he was on a good track (it has value!) but I don't think he quite gets us there. The problem with his approach, in the end, lies in his conflation of selflessness in a moral sense with the idea of self-abnegation in the metaphysical sense, I think.

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    1. it is arguable that such dissociation from the striving world of selfhood leaves one indifferent rather than compassionate

      Is indifference possible if our innermost nature is will?

      if there is no one to value, then does value as such exist

      Yes. Things that have value are often said to have either instrumental value or intrinsic value. Instrumentally valuable things are valuable because they help us get something else that is valuable. But for this to make sense there must be something that is intrinsically valuable. And an intrinsically valuable thing, being good in itself, is valuable whether anything else exists or not. Put another way: you cannot love someone or something and regard them as merely instrumentally valuable.

      What does that value consist of other than our ascription of it for some reason we can cite if asked?

      Value and the ascription of value cannot be the same thing (otherwise 'the ascription of value' would mean 'the ascription of the ascription of value'). Why we think one thing better than another is a different question from the question whether it is better. If the question is what makes it better then there might not be much answer to this, because there are limits to how far intrinsic value can be explained or demonstrated.

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    2. "Is indifference possible if our innermost nature is will?"

      If the point is to suppress the Will (whether realizable in full or not) why not? In fact it's precisely what we would expect if we could suppress it.

      "Things that have value are often said to have either instrumental value or intrinsic value. Instrumentally valuable things are valuable because they help us get something else that is valuable. But for this to make sense there must be something that is intrinsically valuable. And an intrinsically valuable thing, being good in itself, is valuable whether anything else exists or not. Put another way: you cannot love someone or something and regard them as merely instrumentally valuable."

      I would argue that "intrinsic" value is only that in context, as a way of speaking. What is intrinsic and what is not depends on the situation.

      A hammer has instrumental value because it's good for driving the nail. The nail? Instrumental because it's good for fastening the board. The fastened board? Good for supporting the structure. The structure? Good for keeping out the elements, holding in the heat. Those things? Good for keeping us comfortable, healthy, alive.

      And are THEY good for? Staying alive is not a means but an end, we want to say, but it CAN be a means if I'd rather end it all but don't so I can finish one more task or look after those I care about. Nothing forces me to choose life over death or physical comfort or health over illness, etc., even if, generally speaking, I am so constructed to want these most of the time.


      Caring about, as in loving someone, then is surely intrinsic. But why? Don't I also have  reasons which involve wanting other things? I want companionship I've or have come to feel an identity of my life with another's. Well isn't THAT intrinsic? Or isn't it just that the instrumental aspect is so far down the chain of reasons as to cease to be visible.

      Love for another is, itself, a function of something I want (or believe consistent with my needs) and could articulate if I needed to. Like a great circle in which reasons point to other reasons, where we draw the line is largely a function of how far we feel we need to go in reporting our justifications. I don't need to explain my love for wife or children but if a Martian asked might I not draw the line in a different place?

      We call "intrinsic" the place we're prepared to stop in seeking further justification but this doesn't mean we don't recognize the intrinsic-extrinsic distinction. Is a universe in which no "we" is present possessed of any value? I don't see how we could say so even if, from the outside looking in, in the course of imagining it, we can't help "seeing" it in a valuational way.

      "Value and the ascription of value cannot be the same thing (otherwise 'the ascription of value' would mean 'the ascription of the ascription of value')."

      But that is only so if ascribing value establishes it and I don't mean to say that. Of course, we can be mistaken about whether something has value because what we mean by "value" is not its ascription, a statement of belief about X. Where is the goodness we believe X to have? It's the place X occupies in relation to us, determined by certain facts about it which affect us in a way that makes them something we take as a reason to obtain, pursue, or do X. So there's no actual regress because "ascription" is just reporting.

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    3. If the point is to suppress the Will (whether realizable in full or not) why not?

      I don't think that is, or can be, the point, as Schopenhauer sees it. It's the individual, egoistic will that needs to be suppressed, surely.

      The fact that what has intrinsic value can also have instrumental value does not mean that there is no such thing as intrinsic value. It seems to me just a matter of logic that is everything is not to be ultimately pointless (or valueless) then there has to be some thing or things that has/have intrinsic value. Whether they 'really' have it or just have to be seen by us as having it doesn't make any difference that I can see.

      Is a universe in which no "we" is present possessed of any value? I don't see how we could say so

      Whereas I don't see how we could fail to say so. That is, if I value some thing that is not me and that does not benefit me in any way, e.g., the sunrise, then it is inconceivable to me that I could think that a universe in which that very sunrise occurred but I was not there to see it would have no value.

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    4. Isn't the "egoistic will" what it is because it expresses the universal Will? It becomes individual as it seeks to manifest to express itself. So we turn it off by suppressing that expression. Yet how does that lead to compassion since the latter is as individual as any other motive, including self-interestedness and malevolence (the other two parts of Schopenhauer's motivational triad). Indifference would seem to be the more natural outcome of shutting down the expression of the Will than compassion which reflects our feelings, our attachments.

      I agree with you that we do recognize the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic goodness but it's a situational distinction, a function of the context, not of the thing we value. G. E. Moore relied on the wrong analogy.

      He rightly saw that goodness could not be identified with the qualities or properties of good things but he wrongly assumed goodness must therefore be a non-natural (whatever that means) intuited quality of some things. But perhaps goodness is better understood in relational terms, i.e., in the way we think about something being "here" or "there," a function of placement rather than a property like being yellow or red, soft or hard, level or pitched, flat or concave, etc. Goodness, I think, is better explained as a status or condition, reflecting the relation of a thing to ourselves.

      Using that picture, goodness can be seen to be no less cognitively contentful then any other referent we can pick out by talking about it. Thus we don't lose the idea that value has something objective about it as we do when we embrace an expressivist account (like emotivism) or the subjectivist status we get when we use Moore's formulation.

      On the question of aesthetic valuation, if we value a sunrise isn't it because we are there, seeing it, or imagine being so? How could a universe in which no one was there to see beauty in it be good in an aesthetic sense?

      Aesthetic value seems (at least to me) to be just a special type of value, a type that hinges on the sort of appeal it has for us. A fire may keep us warm and comfortable on a cold night and it may also be a thing of beauty against a dark night sky.

      It rates our choosing to make it and sit close to it when the night is cold. But it commands our awe (expressed through an unwillingness to look away) when we see it lighting up the darkness or in the first blaze of the sun's orb in a dull gray morning sky.

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    5. Isn't the "egoistic will" what it is because it expresses the universal Will? It becomes individual as it seeks to manifest to express itself. So we turn it off by suppressing that expression. Yet how does that lead to compassion

      Well, it's been a while since I read Schopenhauer, but I think the idea is this. Will wants, is greedy. That's its nature. The egoistic will, my will, wants stuff for me, treats getting stuff for me as important. But this is false, because I am not important. I am just one of billions of human beings. If I overcome my egoism I will identify with humanity generally, indeed with the universe generally, wanting what is best for it. Wanting itself cannot be turned off, but the subject of desire can be changed.

      I'm not sure whether wanting on behalf of the universe is either possible or desirable, but I do think that wanting on behalf of, say, all living beings, is much better than wanting just selfishly.

      Goodness, I think, is better explained as a status or condition, reflecting the relation of a thing to ourselves.

      I don't agree with Moore about goodness as a non-natural property, but i don't agree with this either.

      if we value a sunrise isn't it because we are there, seeing it, or imagine being so?

      It's true that we might well not value it if we did not see it, and perhaps valuing it involves imagining (seeing) it. But it is perfectly possible to care whether there are sunrises after I am dead, even if I do not believe I will see them. I think it would be both evil and bizarre to really not care what happens after I am dead because, whatever it is, it will have no relation to me.

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  4. I wrote: Goodness, I think, is better explained as a status or condition, reflecting the relation of a thing to ourselves.

    DR: I don't agree with Moore about goodness as a non-natural property, but I don't agree with this either.

    Well, if it's not a non-natural intuited property a la Moore and it's not a relation between a subject and a thing "observed" as I suggest, then what?

    As I recall, Duncan (correct me if I have misstated), your view is that there are just some things that ARE good because that's how we're made, i.e., to find them appealing, satisfying, etc. I think you've said that good things are whatever conduces to well-being, i.e., human flourishing or however we want to describe it (and there may be a finite number of ways we can and do define it based on how we are made but also it could be open ended).

    but isn't it also the case that anything we can identify as appealing to us (for whatever reason) can also be dis-valued under certain conditions? Even life, itself, health, feeling loved (or "absolutely safe" perhaps) can be dis-valued. If our response is to reject THOSE things as bad, however, then how has this idea, that there just are some naturally good states or qualities, resolved the question of what's good? Hasn't it just bucked the question back another step? And isn't saying the good is whatever is most conducive to human flourishing just to reiterate that "what's good is whatever I believe is consistent with what I think is good for humans generally"? And then we're back where we started, trying to say why the things we take to be good are good.

    But on my account, being in a position to say why is occasioned by the fact that the good thing just does appeal to us because we have the capacity to invoke the appealing characteristics as reasons to act to secure it. That is, to be good is just to be the sort of thing that presents us with a reason to act in an affirmative way towards it.

    Being good is different from being appealing (in whatever sense), in which case the goodness does not reside in the feature but in the fact of its being selectable by us on consideration. That is, "goodness" means we think we have a reason to act to secure or do it.

    Consider the sun in a sky in an empty universe with no one capable of seeing and appreciating it. How can that be good or otherwise with no one around to take some features about it as reason to look at it or pray for its occurrence? Indeed, how can it even be a "sunrise" without a perspective, and that requires an observing creature to take account of it!

    Perhaps all your view entails is that it's a sunrise for creatures like us and if we're there to see it or feel its warmth we will care about it and that's just how things are. And I would agree with that. But I would suggest that caring is not valuing. It's just the start of valuation.

    Value, itself, is a rational concept, inexplicable otherwise. Valuing requires a discursive framework within which to occur. Without that, it's just "noise."

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    1. Well, if it's not a non-natural intuited property a la Moore and it's not a relation between a subject and a thing "observed" as I suggest, then what?

      Must we assume that goodness is anything? Might it not be better to remind ourselves of how we use words like 'good', 'goodness', etc.? At least, that is, if we are tempted to go looking for what goodness is.

      As I recall, Duncan (correct me if I have misstated), your view is that there are just some things that ARE good because that's how we're made, i.e., to find them appealing, satisfying, etc. I think you've said that good things are whatever conduces to well-being

      I hope I haven't said that. I don't think it makes much sense to say that a thing is good because we are such as to find it appealing. That sounds more like a reason why we might think something good despite its not being so. But I do think some things are good. I also think we naturally find some things good and others bad.

      What conduces to well-being is, other things being equal, good, but I wouldn't say that this exhausts all that is good.

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    2. "I also think we naturally find some things good and others bad."

      So what does it mean to "find some things good and others bad"? Is thinking X good just to like or prefer it or "find it appealing"? What does applying a value word like "good" amount to? Is it to do something more than to assert a preference or is it the same thing? How do we use words like "good" in ways that differentiate them from "like" or "prefer" if we do use them differently?

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    3. So what does it mean to "find some things good and others bad"?

      I think instead of saying "It means this:..." it would be better to try to give examples of how we talk about such things. I've been trying to do that, but not very successfully,I think.

      Is thinking X good just to like or prefer it or "find it appealing"?

      No.

      What does applying a value word like "good" amount to?

      I think either examples should answer this question or else nothing will.

      Is it to do something more than to assert a preference or is it the same thing?

      No, "justice is good" does not mean merely "I like justice"

      How do we use words like "good" in ways that differentiate them from "like" or "prefer" if we do use them differently?

      I feel as though you know the answer to this. I don't know how to answer without simply stating the obvious.

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    4. "How do we use words like 'good' in ways that differentiate them from 'like' or 'prefer' if we do use them differently?"

      I feel as though you know the answer to this. I don't know how to answer without simply stating the obvious.

      Well yes, we all do know the answer if we can speak the language adequately. But we can't always say what the difference is and, at least to my mind, saying what the difference is is the philosophical question.

      Language rests on usage and for some things, speaking and doing, that's all you need. But philosophy if it is to be that, is about something else, or so it seems to me.

      I obviously do think I've found an answer to the question I posed (which is just to say a way of explaining the difference in words rather than just by giving examples), but I think we aren't going to agree, given our discussions so far! Perhaps it just reflects our different approaches to answering questions like this. I look for a way of saying in explicit terms what our words commit us to (or at least what we think they commit us to) and how they do that and why.

      I think you're more prepared than I to leave things as they are, unexplained -- and perhaps that isn't wrong. Perhaps some things really can only be shown, not said or explained, and there's an end of it. But that whole strategy runs counter to my every philosophical instinct (which, perhaps, is why I have always made such a poor Wittgensteinian).

      Perhaps we cannot explain everything but surely we can explain some things and sometimes doing that is helpful. Or so it seems to me.

      For me ethics offers an area in which explanations can be given and can prove useful (if they're good ones) by making it possible to make important distinctions and by showing us a basis for doing or saying this rather than that.

      Understanding what makes an action or judgment morally sound can, I would say, help us make better moral judgments. So I look at the metaethical (perhaps metavaluistic is a better way of putting this) issue of what words like "good" mean when we use them, doubting that examples alone are enough to clarify things.

      On the question of what "good" means, I think Moore was right to ask the question though wrong in the answer he formulated.

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    5. Perhaps we cannot explain everything but surely we can explain some things and sometimes doing that is helpful.

      I agree. Otherwise, as you say, I don't think we are going to reach much of an agreement.

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  5. In a sense you're right about not caring what we leave behind. That seems morally culpable but only in the context of human life. When we're dead, if there's no afterlife, no continuation with the lives that remain after we're dead in any way, then nothing really does matter for us because there is no us. While we're alive and a part of the fabric of family, friends, kindred, humanity, things matter because mattering is part of what it means to be part of a living world. But in death there's neither good nor evil, only the absence of perspective.

    If we're not on the planet, then where is the goodness in the sunrise? There's just a particular kind of physical reaction going on in a certain part of the expanse that is the space where the star in question appears to be moving in relation to one of its planetary satellites.

    Nothing to appreciate here because no one is there to appreciate it. Or to recognize that anything is going on at all.

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