[lit-ideas] Re: Justifying Moral Principles?

  • From: John McCreery <john.mccreery@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx" <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sat, 28 Feb 2015 08:37:33 +0900

Omar,

When you write "proponents of ethical culturalism" I don't know who you are 
talking about. What I imagine is that you have in mind a fervent believer in 
the Romantic notion that (1) tribes and nations are clearly bounded wholes, 
similar in this respect to works of art and human individuals conceived as 
autonomous monads and (2) that  these monadic entities can, as the common 
cliché puts it, only be understood "in their own terms." Opposed to this is the 
Enlightenment notion that careful thinkers can discover universal principles 
that apply with the same clarity to social life as Newtonian mechanics do to 
simple machines. If there is one thing that every philosophically inclined 
anthropologist learns through doing fieldwork outside his native tribe, it is 
that neither of these views stands up to empirical fact. Yes, people may say, 
do, and eat things that others find abominable. But without the common ground 
provided by the observable reality that all H. sapiens are featherless bipeds 
with binocular vision and opposable thumbs who eat, shit, bleed and have sex in 
a limited number of ways and the ability to learn to understand each other's 
languages, social interaction with them would be impossible. There is a huge 
amount of overlap with occasional striking differences. Large areas of 
agreement are found "thou shall not kill one of us," for example, along 
important questions of scope, "Who counts as us?" for example.

"Who counts as us?" is always a critical issue, since culture is, in practice, 
an assemblage of customs, habits and artifacts associated with some human 
group. The group may be as small as a husband and wife or a pair of siblings or 
as large as humanity, but at every level culture will both stay largely the 
same and take on distinctive features.

How, then, should we think about culture. Personally, I think of the wedding 
dress whose description runs as follows,

Something old
Something new
Something borrowed
And something blue

The first three lines are self-explanatory. Every culture on earth combines 
elements handed down from the past, elements acquired or invented in the 
present, and elements borrowed from others. In Yokohama, I live in a 
neighborhood with a 900 year-old shrine built along what was once the old 
Tokaido. I live in a condo that was the height of modernity when it was built 
in the early 1970s and is now showing its age, as I am. My friends wear jeans, 
shirts, and tennis shoes, own iPads and automobiles. 

In the last line, I read "blue" as described in "the blues." Every culture on 
earth has people unhappy with it, who want to see parts of it changed. 

The notion that "the culture" has rules that I must follow, where "must" is 
taken in an absolute sense seems as palpably absurd to me as the notion that 
philosophers, now several thousand years since the start of their quest, will 
be able to determine the Truth of any matter. I accept the fact that I have 
things I believe in that seem consistent with my life's experience. But what I 
appear to have learned is that things can change very rapidly and unexpectedly. 
Learning how to live with that and get along with the people I encounter along 
the way is important to me. Do I think I know it all. I am not a fool.

John

Sent from my iPad

> On 2015/02/28, at 3:37, Omar Kusturica <omarkusto@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:
> 
> On a certain interpretation of the word 'culture,' it is of course a truism 
> to say that all morality is culture. That is, if we understand anything 
> mental as culture, then what else could morality be ? This is even compatible 
> with a fundamentalist view that the moral laws are from God because, as soon 
> as God gives us the laws, they become 'ćulture'. But presumably the 
> proponents of ethical culturalism do not mean to say such a banality, so they 
> probably have some specific concept of 'culture' in mind. It might be helpful 
> at some point to be told what that is.
> 
> O.K.
> 
> On Fri, Feb 27, 2015 at 3:51 PM, Adriano Palma <Palma@xxxxxxxxxx> wrote:
>> See, supra, farting white males pontificate about philosophy of which they 
>> know nothing and worse, they do nothing of
>> 
>>  
>> 
>> From: lit-ideas-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx [mailto:lit-ideas-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx] 
>> On Behalf Of John McCreery
>> Sent: 27 February 2015 16:36
>> To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
>> 
>> 
>> Subject: [lit-ideas] Re: Justifying Moral Principles?
>>  
>> 
>> As in the case of Omar's remarks, true but irrelevant. No serious pragmatist 
>> with a scientific bent will deny that "explanations" based on ethnic 
>> stereotypes are normally worthless. The same is usually explanations 
>> supported by sweeping generalizations in what is visibly a highly chaotic 
>> and variegated and only at times orderly world. 
>> 
>>  
>> 
>> In any case, no "philosopher" whose usual form of argument is vulgar ad 
>> hominem need be taken seriously.
>> 
>>  
>> 
>> John
>> 
>> Sent from my iPad
>> 
>> 
>> On 2015/02/27, at 20:59, palma <palmaadriano@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:
>> 
>> as it has been shown by a variety of cases, the so called "ethnic" 
>> explanations of anything (the jewish culture "explains" einstein, but the 
>> Georgian culture explains Stalin) are utter bullshit. in fact in order to 
>> run the bogus narrative they change the notion of explanation (it is not 
>> explaining but exposing, inventing stories etc. in short nohting but 
>> propaganda)
>> 
>> it is most notably a form of inquiry that goes nowhen and nowhere, blocking 
>> innovation (as Kusturica observes) and dissent, as everyone knows all the 
>> time (since the culture is 'christian' homosexuals are not to be married 
>> since saint Paul said... blah, blah, insert the random rant by Zizek on 
>> saint Paul)
>> 
>>  
>> 
>>  
>> 
>> On Fri, Feb 27, 2015 at 12:45 PM, Omar Kusturica <omarkusto@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:
>> 
>> Another problem with cultural ethnocentrism is that it fails to explain how 
>> people like Buddha or Socrates or Jesus came to hold moral beliefs that had 
>> not been previously widely shared in their respective cultures, and how 
>> their views proved persuasive to others. In other words, the view of culture 
>> that is held in the age of air travel and telecommunications is, amazingly, 
>> one of a closed, uniform, and unchanging system. Go figure.
>> 
>>  
>> 
>> O.K.
>> 
>>  
>> 
>> On Fri, Feb 27, 2015 at 10:02 AM, palma <palmaadriano@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:
>> 
>> this has nothing to do with anything moral. confused idiots like 
>> propaganda/advertising and so forth. thereby they out high premium on the 
>> spin they put on the wares they peddle. it the same for the lawyers, the 
>> sophist, the clowns, the thespians.'
>> 
>>  
>> 
>>  
>> 
>> it is a conceptual truth that persuasion has nothing to do with morals, in 
>> either the public or the private sphere. once c manson convinced & persuaded 
>> shitheads that sharon tate had to be slaughtered, the persuasion has nothing 
>> to do with the morality of the speeches he gave or the acts he fostered
>> 
>>  
>> 
>> On Fri, Feb 27, 2015 at 10:52 AM, Omar Kusturica <omarkusto@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:
>> 
>> All kinds of discourses can be persuasive. Hitler's speeches were persuasive 
>> to an audience that had some predisposition to be persuaded by them, the 
>> Germans of the 1930s. You and I might not find them so persuasive today, but 
>> that is because we are not their intended audience. Persuasion need not have 
>> much to do with reasoning.
>> 
>>  
>> 
>> O.K.
>> 
>>  
>> 
>> On Fri, Feb 27, 2015 at 9:00 AM, John McCreery <john.mccreery@xxxxxxxxx> 
>> wrote:
>> 
>> Persuasive perhaps. But a reasoner? The only one I know is fiction, a very 
>> smart gun, indeed, in a science fiction novel The Star Faction by Ken 
>> Macleod.
>> 
>>  
>> 
>> John
>> 
>>  
>> 
>> On Fri, Feb 27, 2015 at 4:23 PM, Omar Kusturica <omarkusto@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:
>> 
>> A pointed gun is a persuasive reasoner. 
>> 
>>  
>> 
>> On Fri, Feb 27, 2015 at 6:47 AM, John McCreery <john.mccreery@xxxxxxxxx> 
>> wrote:
>> 
>> http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/rorty/
>> 
>>  
>> 
>> Readily available to anyone who can use a Google or other search engine.
>> 
>>  
>> 
>> John
>> 
>>  
>> 
>> On Fri, Feb 27, 2015 at 2:28 PM, Adriano Palma <Palma@xxxxxxxxxx> wrote:
>> 
>> Rorty who?
>> 
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: lit-ideas-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx [mailto:lit-ideas-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx] 
>> On Behalf Of Walter C. Okshevsky
>> 
>> Sent: 26 February 2015 23:43
>> To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx; Omar Kusturica
>> Subject: [lit-ideas] Re: Justifying Moral Principles?
>> 
>> Rorty didn't express any optimism or pessimism re the possibilities or 
>> future of his "ethnocentrism." His claim, pace the realists, 
>> constructivists, Kantians, emotivists, etc was that this is all we've got as 
>> a justification strategy.
>> 
>> Remembering fondly the forests of Opatsia, the slivovitz in Slovenia, and 
>> Katya in Lyublyana.
>> 
>> Dovijenya, Valodsya
>> 
>> 
>> Quoting Omar Kusturica <omarkusto@xxxxxxxxx>:
>> 
>> > The idea that people should be as ethnocentric and partisan as
>> > possible and that the clash of radically defined opposing interests
>> > will somehow work out for the best was rather widespread in the former
>> > Yugoslavia some time around 1990. The things did work out eventually,
>> > but arguably not for the best.
>> >
>> > O.K.
>> >
>> > On Sat, Feb 21, 2015 at 3:42 PM, Phil Enns <phil.enns@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:
>> >
>> > > Walter O. wrote:
>> > >
>> > > "We justify our judgements and actions through the giving and
>> > > assessing of reasons.  In doing so, we appeal to one or more moral
>> > > principles for purposes of securing satisfactory levels of impartiality 
>> > > and objectivity.
>> > > But can the principles themselves be justified? Could Rorty"s
>> > > "ethnocentrism" really be the last word on the subject?  On that
>> > > meta-ethical view, any attempt to justify a moral scheme or "vocabulary"
>> > > would prove to be question-begging since the justification would
>> > > have to appeal to principles, norms and criteria internal to its own 
>> > > vocabulary.
>> > So
>> > > how then do we justify the Categorical Imperative, Principle of
>> > > Equal Respect for Persons, The Original Position, Principle of 
>> > > Discourse, etc..
>> > > Are these really but articles of political faith?"
>> > >
>> > >
>> > > I don't find Rorty's position as problematic as Walter does, for two
>> > > different reasons. First, for Rorty, the ethnocentrism really kicks
>> > > in
>> > only
>> > > when public debate reaches an impasse, and we are only left with
>> > > acknowledging that these are the beliefs that 'we' hold. It seems to
>> > > me that this is similar to the situation that leads Kant to
>> > > acknowledge the fundamental asocial sociability of human beings, in
>> > > 'Idea for a Universal History', or that nature separates people, in
>> > > 'Perpetual Peace'. In the end, there can be no Utopia or World
>> > > government because there are just too many differences for there to
>> > > be a single set of laws. For Rorty, ultimately, we are bound to our
>> > > particular histories, but falling back on this particularity is what
>> > > should happen only when public reasoning has gone as far as it can.
>> > >
>> > > Second, the list that Walter gives, i.e. Categorical Imperative,
>> > > Principle of Equal Respect for Persons, etc., require judgment, and
>> > > I would prefer that judgment ultimately come under politics. For
>> > > Kant, judgment is the activity of putting experience under universal
>> > > rules or laws, so with the CI, we evaluate specific activities by
>> > > deriving maxims of action from them and attempting to make them
>> > > universal laws. Because this activity always requires judgment, that
>> > > is, how the particular comes under the universal, there will always
>> > > be the problem of how to overcome differences. Kant recognizes that
>> > > nature divides people, and the one way nature divides is
>> > in
>> > > giving people different interests and goals. So, while in a very
>> > > Hobbesian fashion, Kant urges people to pursue their interests in as
>> > > selfish, in other words rational, manner as possible, the
>> > > reconciliation of
>> > differences
>> > > between people will require a political solution. This political
>> > > solution will bring about an equilibrium of competing forces and
>> > > interests, most likely established through a 'spirit of commerce',
>> > > and most likely in the formation of a Republic. I realize that
>> > > Walter will not be happy with
>> > this,
>> > > but what comes to mind is a quote from Stanley Fish: 'Politics,
>> > > interest, partisan conviction, and belief are the locations of
>> > > morality. It is in
>> > and
>> > > through them that one's sense of justice and the good lives and is
>> > > put
>> > into
>> > > action.'
>> > >
>> > > In short, yes, I am quite happy with Walter's list being articles of
>> > > political faith and I see this as very much being within the vision
>> > > Kant outlines for his hope for a peaceful future.
>> > >
>> > >
>> > > Sincerely,
>> > >
>> > > Phil
>> > >
>> > >
>> >
>> 
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>> 
>> 
>>  
>> 
>> --
>> 
>> John McCreery
>> The Word Works, Ltd., Yokohama, JAPAN
>> Tel. +81-45-314-9324
>> jlm@xxxxxxxxxxxx
>> http://www.wordworks.jp/
>> 
>>  
>> 
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>> --
>> 
>> John McCreery
>> The Word Works, Ltd., Yokohama, JAPAN
>> Tel. +81-45-314-9324
>> jlm@xxxxxxxxxxxx
>> http://www.wordworks.jp/
>> 
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>> palma,   etheKwini, KZN
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>> cell phone is 0762362391
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>> *only when in Europe*:
>> inst. J. Nicod
>> 29 rue d'Ulm
>> f-75005 paris france
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>> palma,   etheKwini, KZN
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>> cell phone is 0762362391
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>> *only when in Europe*:
>> inst. J. Nicod
>> 29 rue d'Ulm
>> f-75005 paris france
>>  
> 

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