Saturday, September 28, 2019

James Klagge

... has a website. There's all sorts of good stuff here about Wittgenstein, etc. For instance, this on Wittgenstein's lectures.

Thursday, September 26, 2019


Some popular philosophy by me is available here.

Morality in a Realistic Spirit

This collection of essays is now out. Here's the publisher's description and the table of contents:
This unique collection of essays has two main purposes. The first is to honour the pioneering work of Cora Diamond, one of the most important living moral philosophers and certainly the most important working in the tradition inspired by Ludwig Wittgenstein. The second is to develop and deepen a picture of moral philosophy by carrying out new work in what Diamond has called the realistic spirit.
The contributors in this book advance a first-order moral attitude that pays close attention to actual moral life and experience. Their essays, inspired by Diamond’s work, take up pressing challenges in Anglo-American moral philosophy, including Diamond’s defence of the concept ‘human being’ in ethics, her defence of literature as a source of moral thought that does not require external sanction from philosophy, her challenge to the standard ‘fact/value’ dichotomy, and her exploration of non-argumentative forms of legitimate moral persuasion. There are also essays that apply this framework to new issues such as the nature of love, the connections of ethics to theology, and the implications of Wittgenstein’s thought for political philosophy.
Finally, the book features a new paper by Diamond in which she contests deep-rooted philosophical assumptions about language that severely limit what philosophers see as the possibilities in ethics. Morality in a Realistic Spirit offers a tribute to a great moral philosopher in the best way possible—by taking up the living ideas in her work and taking them in original and interesting directions.
Andrew Gleeson and Craig Taylor
  1. Ethics and Experience
  2. Cora Diamond
  3. Cora Diamond and the Uselessness of Argument: Distances in Metaphysics and Ethics
  4. Reshef Agam-Segal
  5. The Importance of Being Fully Human: Transformation, Contemplation and Ethics
  6. Sarah Bachelard
  7. How to be somebody else: imaginative identification in ethics and literature
  8. Sophie Chappell
  9. Different themes of love
  10. Christopher Cordner
  11. A Brilliant Perspective: Diamondian Ethics
  12. Alice Crary
  13. The Riddling God
  14. Andrew Gleeson
  15. Shakespeare, Value and Diamond
  16. Simon Haines
  17. The asymmetry of truth and the logical role of thinking guides in ethics
  18. Oskari Kuusela
  19. Difficulties of Reality, Skepticism and Moral Community: Remarks After Diamond on Cavell
  20. David Macarthur
  21. Comparison or Seeing-As? The Holocaust and Factory Farming
  22. Talia Morag
  23. Two conceptions of "community": as defined by what it is not, or as defined by what it is
  24. Rupert Read
  25. Thinking with Animals
  26. Duncan Richter
  27. Diamond on Realism in Moral Philosophy
           Craig Taylor

Saturday, September 7, 2019

"The Ethical and the Political in the Dilemma of Winch's Vere"

The last paper in the collection is by Lynette Reid. Melville's Billy Budd presents a tragic dilemma in which it can seem both that Billy Budd is essentially innocent and that he must be executed (because of the letter of the law and the danger of anything less than strict discipline in time of war). Vere, the captain of his ship, decides that he is to be hanged.

Reid's paper builds on work by Peter Winch, and is written as a response to Lilian Alweiss, who argues that Vere faces, not a moral dilemma, but a clash between a moral and a political duty. Reid explains that:
Winch gives Vere's choice as an example of a contradiction between the inner and the outer as such a contradiction may arise in the complexity of lives lived with the kinds of social concepts that create the possibility of "wearing two hats". Winch very briefly contrasts how he thinks about this kind of contradiction with how the contractarian approach would encompass it, with reference to Hobbes as a philosopher who, he says, attempts to collapse the distinction between the inner and the outer (meaning here, private conscience and political duty) (p. 271)     
Reid argues persuasively that Vere's dilemma is moral or at least normative in way that means Alweiss does not deprive Winch's argument of its force.

Friday, September 6, 2019

"Comments on a Contested Comparison"

Alice Crary takes on the issue of comparing people to animals and our treatment of animals to the Holocaust in her paper "Comments on a Contested Comparison: Race and Animals." Encouraging the thought of certain people as less than fully human is certainly bad, but can we accept this truth while still properly valuing animals? For instance, can we understand, and help others to see, how terrible our treatment of animals often is without comparing industrial slaughter with the Holocaust (a comparison that echoes Nazi propaganda in likening its victims to animals)? Crary's answer is Yes. Much of what she says here builds on her argument in Inside Ethics, on which see this and this. Like Craig Taylor, Crary rejects Jeff McMahan's way of thinking about animals. She also rejects the idea that there can be a neutral metaphysic and instead takes the view, argued for in Inside Ethics, that we can observe the moral qualities of animals.

On her view:
animals of different kinds are taken to be beings who enter moral thought, not as creatures who are in a normative sense "below" humans, but as beings who matter just as the creatures they are. So there is no room for a normative ranking into "higher" and "lower" animals... (p. 250)
I agree, although I'm not sure about the "no room" part. No doubt her view does not include any such ranking, but is it really excluded as fully as the words "no room" suggest? Couldn't someone, that is, value animals and human beings "just as the creatures they are" but also, say, group them into types, and perhaps also consider some types "higher" (who knows what that would mean?) than others? Maybe not. Presumably one could prefer some species to others. Whether that means one could rank some as higher or lower than others would depend a lot on what "higher" and "lower" would mean in this context. So I'm not sure. But if this is a criticism at all, it is about as minor as can be.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

"Our Fellow Creatures"

Craig Taylor focuses on ideas about our moral relations with fellow creatures, both human and non-human, that have been developed by people such as Cora Diamond, Raimond Gaita, Stephen Mulhall, and Stanley Cavell from ideas in Wittgenstein's Investigations and other late writings, especially Zettel. Philosophers such as Jeff McMahan and James Rachels think that what justifies our treatment of an individual in this way or that is the characteristics possessed by that individual. When Wittgensteinians then talk about the importance of something's being a fellow creature or of our sharing a common humanity, McMahan et al. take this to indicate that there is a relational property allegedly held by certain creatures that might justify, or make unjustified, certain types of treatment of those beings. But, Taylor explains:
this way of looking at things, from the perspective of the Wittgensteinian view at issue, gets matters the wrong way around: it is not as if we first recognize some property (relational or otherwise) and take that as a reason for treating all humans differently to all animals. Rather, it is that the way in which we respond prior to any such justification, on the one hand, to human beings, and on the other, to animals, helps determine in the first place our conception of what it is to be a human being and what it is to be an animal. (p. 222)
The difference is that McMahan's kind of view suggests that some disabled people should be treated like animals with similar levels of cognitive ability, whereas the Wittgensteinian view rejects this. It does not offer much in the way of reasons to justify this rejection (there are echoes of Hertzberg and Johnson here), but it does offer a different way of looking at the world. And surely a way that most of us find much more acceptable.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

"Hitting Moral Bedrock"

Jeremy Johnson draws on the work of Avrum Stroll, among others, to argue for an ethical version of Wittgensteinian foundationalism. He says early on in the paper that, "it is clear that Wittgenstein believed our language-games rest on [a bedrock that holds fast] by the time he wrote On Certainty" (p. 197). I think this is far from clear, in fact, but I'll leave this aside for now. Johnson says he is less interested in exegesis than he is in saying "something useful about morality and moral foundations" (p. 198). So whether he does this is the question to focus on.

To be honest, I'm not sure that I understand the paper well enough to be able to answer this question, but I'll try. When Johnson moves from foundationalism more generally to moral foundations in particular, he says that, "Moral bedrock certainties make it possible for moral bipolar [i.e., true or false] assertions to have sense" (p. 210). He uses a mathematical analogy to help explain the idea:
In order for us to say, meaningfully and correctly on some occasion, "there are four cows in the barn", we need such certainties as 1 + 3 = 4 and 4 > 2. These are not claims that might turn out to be wrong. They are the background against which and the foundations upon which meaningful claims can be made which might turn out to be wrong. (p. 211)
I think the idea here is this. Using math depends on the existence of math, and mathematics forms a system, with its own rules and logic. We implicitly rely on this system when we say, e.g., that there are four cows in the barn. Similarly, we rely on the, or a, system of moral thinking when we make an ethical statement. For instance:
In order for us to say, meaningfully and correctly on some occasion, "you ought not to return the sword you borrowed", we need such certainties as "there are things one ought not to do" and "one ought to prevent harm to others whenever feasible". (pp. 210-211)
But "there are things one ought not to do" is obscure in a way that I don't think 1 + 3 = 4 is. Does it mean " matter what"? Does it mean that there are things that are intrinsically not to be done? 1 + 3 = 4 sounds like a familiar rule that one uses when adding. It's the kind of thing one says under one's breath while adding the tip to work out how much to pay at a restaurant. "There are things one ought not to do" sounds like a line from the trailer for a horror movie. It just doesn't have the kind of use that "1 + 3 = 4" has in daily life. Perhaps I'm just being pedantic, but I think this matters.

Can I try to say what Johnson means in other words? Possibly. One thing he might mean is that "You ought not to return the sword you borrowed" does not make sense unless the word "ought" has a meaning. That is true. Another thing he might mean is that it is not enough for the individual words of a sentence to have meanings. The sentence itself must have a use in a language game or form of life, even if this particular sentence has never been used before. That seems true as well. I just wouldn't call any of this foundationalism.

Well, never mind what I would or wouldn't call anything. What is Johnson trying to do? He wants, he says, to resist a certain kind of scepticism. The "sceptic is resisted," he says (p. 216), if I reach what for me is moral bedrock, something for which I am not able to give grounds and for which I do not feel that grounds are needed or even possible. The example he gives is "cheating is always wrong."

This doesn't seem very persuasive though. Imagine a new tax is being collected to pay for some immoral enterprise, such as an unjust war. Imagine also that an illegal but undetectable way to get away with not paying this tax has been discovered and is being circulated on social media by people who oppose the war and want as many people as possible not to pay the tax. In response to such people I might say, "This would be cheating on my taxes, and cheating is always wrong." In what sense have I resisted the sceptic? I have refused to engage with their arguments, but that is all. Is that OK? Well, it's true that explanations have to come to an end somewhere. But surely it's possible to have reasonable doubts in this case. Johnson's final paragraph is this:
Taken together, these points show the way to resist sceptical regress arguments. They do not constitute a proof that we are right to hold to our moral certainties--no such proof is possible--but they serve to reassure us that there is also no proof that holding to such certainties is irrational or unjustified in an objectionable sense. (p. 217) 
Holding to some moral certainties seems absolutely fine. Refusing to commit murder, for instance, seems reasonable to me, and I am not bothered by the apparent impossibility of giving a philosophical justification for taking and standing by this position. Other allegedly moral certainties, though, are not like this. "Miscegenation is always wrong," for instance, surely is irrational and unjustified in an objectionable sense. Appealing to a foundationalist theory (or description of how our language actually works) doesn't seem to help at all here. It doesn't distinguish, as far as I can see, between the good kind of foundation and the bad kind. And so it offers no assurance that what seems good to me really is so. The sceptic is thus not so much resisted as ignored. And I think we can do that without foundationalism.

Johnson's emphasis on the groundlessness of a certain kind of belief gets at something important, though, I think, and he suggests a number of thoughtful qualifications to the foundationalist theory he starts with. So his paper is worth reading and thinking about, even though I don't buy the main argument in the end.