Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Is ethics a subject, part II

Here are a couple more passages from the Cora Diamond paper that I mentioned here. The first is the full paragraph from which I quoted, the second is a related footnote.

The paper is "Realism and Resolution: Reply to Warren Goldfarb and Sabina Lovibond" in the Journal of Philosophical Research, Volume XXII, 1997, pp. 75-86.


  1. ... isn't the first question we have to answer is whether any answer, yes or no, is just a way of speaking? It seems to me totally irrelevant to ask whether ethics is a subject or not, because the same exact things go on with either vernacular.

    Wittgenstein reserved a large sphere of what others talk about in ethics for what most people would say is "spirituality." He thought certain considerations to be gargantuan -- larger than life. Those sort of gripping things he put in another box.

    Are we discussing where we are filing things?

  2. Roughly speaking, no. Although all applications of concepts could be thought of as filing things in one way rather than another. If someone calls me a bastard I won't just shrug it off as an eccentric choice of filing and/or designation.

    For moral philosophers there is the added question of how you are going to spend your time. If ethics includes this but not that then one had better not spend time on that. If ethics includes everything, then it could be a mistake to focus too narrowly.

  3. ... in my field there is the question of what is politics. This game seems strikingly similar to what ethics is. There are uses that productively ensnare everything and uses that don't. All that changes is the sense of "ethics." When we say everything involves politics, we don't mean to say anything other than our training is socially paramount.

    Some people today do "philosophy" by gathering data or doing social experimentation. It's fine to say this isn't "philosophy"; but it nonetheless remains what it does: an insurgent disciplinary adaptation within the field so named. And so, speaking of it only ever has the use that it does.

    Are we really asking whether x is the paradigm case?

    It strikes me that this is the best way to curate. When one does something called x, is he or she doing something different from anything else so named? This at least curates natural behavior and affords technical differentiation.

    Wittgenstein would call much of the professional works of philosophers "journalism." He thought mathematics was computation. And he thought ethics, strictly speaking, was aesthetics. This is because his curated based upon natural behaviors.

    I'm inclined to think he has the best intellectual map here.

    1. Yes, I agree that ethics and aesthetics are interestingly similar/related. But if you say they are the same then some people take you to be saying that opposition to injustice is like not caring for spicy food. One way to avoid this misunderstanding is not to say that ethics is aesthetics. Another is to give lengthy explanations of what you do and don't mean when you say this. Either is OK with me, as long as confusion (and error) is avoided.

  4. ... i think this is only about venture logic. In many academic pursuits, there emerges a philosophy of venture. Anthropology recently wanted to resist being called a science. The field of politics, by contrast, desperately wanted that. A crusader myself, I would proclaim to my students that politics wasn't a science; it was only a concern. Everything we did was taken from some other field with more proximate ownership (law, statistics, history, psychology, etc).

    But the ultimate confusion here is to think that this has anything to do with what x is. Rather, it is merely about the philosophy of its venture. The difference is between whether something is called (or constitutes) x versus how the things so named should be seen in enterprise logics.

    And I think it is this language game that has bitten us all.