[lit-ideas] Re: Malt, Coffee & Chuck Taylor (longish)

  • From: wokshevs@xxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx, Robert Paul <rpaul@xxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Tue, 20 Jun 2006 17:34:01 -0230

RP insists on keeping my mind alert and rationally occupied even throughout
midterm break and the depths of my despair over the outcome of the Stanley Cup
final. Please see below for specific replies. The dialogue has been labelled
"RP" and "W" to protect the innocent.

Quoting Robert Paul <rpaul@xxxxxxxx>:

> Walter wrote:
> > The intention to universalize a maxim is not equivalent to a maxim being
> > universalizable. Whether a case of the former is a case of the latter is a
> > moral (philosophical) question. Why, or how it is that, some people who
> intend
> > their maxims or doctrines to also hold as moral laws manage to inspire
> social
> > and historical movements is an empirical question. I would ask a
> historian,
> > sociologist or a psychologist. 
> R.P. I'm not sure what's being denied in the first sentence. The intention 
>  to ø an x is never the same, I'd have thought, as an x's being ø-able. 
> (The intention to climb a tree isn't the same as?or 'equivalent to'?a 
> tree's being climbable.) So I'm puzzled as to how 'a case of the former 
> [could be] a case of the latter' in any sense, 'moral,' or 'philosophical.'

W: There are two possible replies here. The first is simpler than the second. On
the first, I grant RP the conceptual point and reformulate my claim more
clearly to read: the universalizability of a maxim is not determined or defined
by the intention to act or will on a maxim one deems to be universalizable.
Intention has no epistemic authority in establishing the universalizability of a
maxim. Although an intention is a structural feature of a well-formed maxim.
"Drink scotch" is not a well-formed maxim. (It doesn't even allow for 
differentiation between blended Irish or Canadian whiskies and genuine single

(Btw: "Universalizability," being a moral criterion, does not mean "universally
true" since the latter is an empirical claim. It is certainly not
universally true that all persons always will universalizable maxims. That
empirical fact, however, is of no relevance to the moral question of
universalizability of maxims. If, however, a maxim is universalizable,it is
universally applicABLE to all rational agents. People who have been
instrumental in inaugurating transcendental movements make the latter
philosophical/moral claim: all persons OUGHT to abide by precepts or commands
x,y, and z. They are clearly not making the empirical claim of universality
since they would be out of a job, so to speak. These comments are also relevant
to RP's next paragraph below.)

My second possible reply to RP, the more complex (and admittedly convoluted) one
goes something like this. While the intention to climb a tree is not equivalent
to the tree's being climbable, the nature of maxims in K's account allows one
to say, analogically, that a tree's climbability is (truth functionally)
equivalent to the rational coherence of an intention to climb it. In other
words, the claim that that a tree is climbable is true if and only if a
rational intention to climb it is coherent. Or is "possible," as K. likes to
say. If a tree is not climbable, then the intention to climb it intends an
impossibility. And conversely. If a maxim is not universalizable, then the
intention to universalize it is an intention that seeks an impossibility. (Not
in any psychological sense of "impossibility," of course, but in the sense you
well capture in your reply to L.H. last week or whenever.)
I'll leave this at that for now, and see if anybody is interested in continuing
on that idea. It'll lead to what "the starry heavens above" and "the moral order
within" have in common: structural commonality K. expressed through his idea of
the "typic" of moral judgement - i.e., a competence derived from one's
understanding of the cosmic, law-governed, order of the natural world. An order
that does not permit a conflict in one's moral obligations.

> RP: This paragraph was in response to John McCreery's question about the 
> 'intention' to make universal (not to 'universalize') certain purported 
> moral 'statements.' Let the word 'statements' here be a place-holder for 
> any term or expression that could sensibly follow 'moral' in this 
> context ('judgment,' 'rule,' 'injunction,' etc.). Certainly most who 
> have claimed to tell us the truth about morality believe that they are 
> telling us something that is universally true, i.e., they want to urge 
> that certain 'moral' statements (propositions, injunctions, judgments) 
> are true always and everywhere. Some claim that this is part of what it 
> means to calling something a _moral_ statement.
> I do not find this in Kant, 

W: And for good reason: K. is not interested in "universal truth" in the
empirical sense. 

> RP: and have said why in response to what I took 
> to be Lawrence's misreading of R. M. Hare (sc. that Hare was in the 
> business of setting forth universal moral claims). 

W: I don't disagree outright with most of your claims against LH in your post
June 7th. (Hare is very confusing.)

> R.P: Kant gives no list of 
> moral truths; 

W: Not empirical ones, no. But he does claim to identify certain obligations
rational persons (ought to) have - obligations derived from the pure form of
law as such (which is all pure reason can offer and obligate us to). Remember,
everything in K's moral theory, operates at the transcendental level: he is
trying to identify the absolute, necessary, "universal" and objective
conditions necessary for the possibility of moral willing, judgement and
action. Everything else is anthropological commentary and education. 

I suppose that if you were to ask K.: "Is it true that all rationally
persons have obligations x, y, and z?", he would not
demur from giving an affirmative reply. 

>RP: the Categorical Imperative is, as has been pointed out 
> before, a test, not itself a putative moral judgment, statement, or 
> assertion. It proposes that before acting we engage in a thought 
> experiment to see if our proposed maxims (e.g. 'drink Scotch') could be 
> consistently fitted into a 'universal law' binding on all rational 
> creatures: in short, could one with consistency will that everybody 
> drank Scotch? Clearly, yes. But what about 'make a lying promise'? Here, 
> the notion of consistency becomes clearer: if one willed that everyone 
> make lying promises (that this practice should become a 'universal law') 
> the institution of promising would become not just useless, but 
> conceptually incoherent, as incoherent as the practice of giving 
> directions by always pointing away from the thing sought.

W: We mostly agree.

> RP: Yet in all of this, Kant assumes that the reason why certain things fail 
> the test of the Categorical Imperative is that their being made into a 
> universal law would result in something so untoward that their failure 
> to meet it only reveals but does not bring about their wrongness.

W: Sorry, I'm not really following here. Could you say something about the
difference between "reveals" and "bringing about"? The distinction is an
intriguing one, but I'm not sure that K's moral theory permits that
distinction. (Is the distinction here between some version of moral realism
and, say, Rawls's or Habermas's constructivism?)

Walter C. Okshevsky
Memorial University

> Robert Paul
> Reed College
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