Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Zeitschrift für Ethik und Moralphilosophie

Readers of this blog are likely to enjoy at least some of this new journal. It's open access and contains articles by Roger Teichmann (on Anscombe on ethics), M. J. B. Stokhof (on Wittgenstein on ethics), David Owen, Christine Korsgaard, and others. 


  1. The article by Stokhof was very interesting. Arguing that Wittgenstein's early (Tractarian) take on Ethics reflected an absolutist view while his later (PI) take reflected a relativist (because contextual) view, Stokhof seeks to square the circle by proposing that we can distinguish between "Ethics" on the one hand and "Morality" on the other. The first, according to Stokhof's usage, reflects Wittgenstein's vision of ethics as being rooted in one's relation to one's world, i.e., hinging on recognition of one's self as identified with a transcendental subject (a la Kant?), while the second reflects Wittgenstein's recognition that what we do in the world is intimately connected to what we think and say in the context of practices which we learn and apply in our daily lives.

    Morality, Stokhof suggests, rests on the particular sets of practices we learn or develop in a social context, in relation to others like ourselves while Ethics is about realizing our selfhood as a determinant of our world, i.e., as the "seeing" subject each of us is as standing apart from that world but yet inseparable, through activity, from it.

    I read this approach as an effort to rest moral judgment on the sense of ourselves which arises when we consider our standing as subjects in a world, as beings with feelings, needs, wants, awareness. This, I think, is in effect a spiritual "foundation" (albeit without any necessarily particular spiritual qua religious account as its expression). Thus, the moral (our day-to-day practices vis a vis others in our society) can be driven (even if it is not always driven) by a kind of spiritual awakening in the agent. (Sometimes it's just about following the rules of our particular culture in relating to others in that culture or who come into it from outside.)

    This looks right, as far as it goes, but fails to show us how that connection which links Ethics as intensely personal experience (in a sense solipsistically self-directed) with the moral choices we make in our lives. I don't think Wittgenstein offered much of a bridge here nor has Stokhof identified it either. But if a philosophical inquiry into what enables us to make right or wrong choices, and why they are that, is to succeed, there must be some bridge between the underlying spiritual impulse to be better selves that motivated Wittgenstein and which he alluded to in his early period again and again and the decisions we find ourselves obliged to make vis a vis others in social life. What would that look like?

    I think it would have to be some guiding principle that can be derived from the Ethical as spiritual effort to become a better person and thereby link that self-realization with the choices available to us in society vis a vis other persons.

    What's needed is a reason to choose recognition of others' needs and concerns as important to ourselves, too, when and if there are conflicts between their needs and our own.

  2. thought beyond language?