[lit-ideas] Morality, epistemology and trust

  • From: Walter Okshevsky <wokshevs@xxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sun, 27 Jun 2004 22:19:06 -0230 (NDT)

There is much of interest that Eric writes in his thoughtful post below,
but I'm not quite clear on how much of it relates to my question (on
either of its two formulations.) Those passages that I find do relate, I
disagree with. Specifically:

I am not convinced that "what they [ the epistemic and the moral] have in
common is the subject matter, human beings." And because everything that
Eric writes subsequent to this claim presupposes that claim, my doubts
remain right through to what I take is the conclusion of Eric's account:
"[M]orality and epistemology are inextricably entwined when one is asking
about oneself ..."

Since I do not believe that the "subject matter" of the common root of the
epistemic and the moral rests in being human, I cannot accept that it is
necessarily or originally a matter of one's self-knowledge. While I don't
think I can flesh this out at this late hour, 2 seminal ideas are
involved, as I see it, both of which are found in Kant's moral theory. The
first is that morality cannot be derived from the realm of human being and
is not restricted to that realm. The other is the very intriguing fact
that Kant's first formulation of the moral law makes reference neither to
persons, nor to communities of persons, nor to any form of respect for
dignity of humanity. The first formulation simply commands the
universalizability of one's policies of action or willing.

Memorial U

Eric Dean writes (June 17, 2004)

> Robert Paul writes:
> "Could we all be deceived--that is, could I be mistaken in thinking that
> children love me, and they mistaken in thinking that I love them? Of
> This is the 'of course' of the epistemologist, or the logician (or the
> sceptic): it is _possible_ that we are each of us deceived about who loves
> whom, possible up to the point at which each of us has the relevant set of
> justified true beliefs that take us all the way to knowledge."
> There is another 'of course', not just the 'of course' of the logician,
> the 'of course' of someone who has seen enough of the endless and
> all-too-often appalling variety of things people are capable of.  And
> perhaps there is another 'of course', the 'of course' of someone who
> it is impossible to have 'the relevant set of justified true beliefs'
> because the selves or souls or consciousnesses or whatever about whom we
> wonder when we wonder about love simply aren't the sorts of being about
> which there is a comprehensive truth to be known.
> <snip> "I say 'in such a case.' What do I mean by this? I confess I'm not
> quite sure. The cases I have in mind are those in which human relations
> depend on such things as trust, loyalty, acceptance, and something for
> I have no name, but which is captured by the notion that there are persons
> will stand by one, even in desperate circumstances, and whom one will
> by in return. This is a terribly thin account of what I'm concerned with,
> but in trying to spell it out more completely, I found that I was telling
> such a complicated story that there were nothing but details and no plot."
> I think the cases Robert has in mind are exactly the ones at which the
> questions Walter Okshevsky asks come to a head:
> "You're claiming that when it comes to our beliefs, we are BOTH morally
> epistemically responsible for our believings. One would be "not merely
> or wrong" epistemically, but ALSO morally culpable (untrustworthy). My
> question is about whether the different obligations ("oughts") involved in
> our ascriptions of moral and epistemic virtue and vice to persons (we'll
> keep dogs out of it for the time being) are based in something that these
> two have in common."
> I think that what they have in common is the subject matter, human beings.
> I believe that we human beings are such that we cannot know the full
> nor even a reasonably comprehensive version of the full truth, about
> ourselves.  We can only, in large measure, make it up as we go along.
> means that inevitably knowledge and acting are fused, if not confused,
> the subject is ourselves.  We cannot simply observe ourselves, learn who
> are, and then decide how to act.  We can only find out about ourselves as
> act.
> The example Phil Enns raises, the question of whether the child-abusing
> parent can be said to love their children, is a very pointed one.  Child
> abusers often protest that in fact they do love their children.  And,
> notoriously, standards of what counts as child abuse vary across time and
> place.  If we humans can't allow ourselves to find out things we don't
> to know about ourselves, we condemn ourselves to repeating whatever is
> abusive in what we do.  Those of us who don't beat our children may feel
> complacent in the face of such an example, but we shouldn't.  We're all
> vulnerable to learning things we don't want to know about ourselves, and
> even to learning things we *do* want to know but don't realize...
> The result is that morality and epistemology are inextricably entwined
> one is asking about oneself, i.e. when the knowledge relevant to the moral
> question is knowledge of oneself or correspondingly deep knowledge about
> other.  I don't mean this to sound quite as absolute as I've made it.
> not that we cannot know *anything* about ourselves, it's that we cannot
> *everything* (i.e. that we need to maintain a healthy respect for the
> potential depth of our inevitable ignorance of ourselves).
> <snip> "I'd like some way to support the intuition that in certain cases,
> such as the case of trust between parent and child, what I've called the
> epistemologist's obsession is not only misplaced, but is destructive of
> other human virtue, and yet avoid the obvious reply that there is trust
> _trust_ and that not to bother to inform oneself is as destructive as a
> desire to know completely, once-and-for-all. (To say that 'trust' just
> rule out any further investigation will not solve my problem.) Perhaps
> is a mean between gullibility and refuting the sceptic; but in any case, I
> think there's more to be said about where and when we ought to make use of
> our epistemic virtues, if we have them."
> The notion of trust, of there being those who stand by us and by whom we
> stand, has to do, I think, not only with the uncertainty of the future
> evolution of circumstances but with our inevitable ignorance about
> ourselves.  Love is made over time, it's not just a state we're in now
> determines the future for us.  To say today "I love you" is in part to
> an assertion about the future, that I expect that as I find out more about
> you I will continue to feel about you something that in an important sense
> continues to be the same as I feel today.  I cannot *know* that I will
> continue to feel that way, both because I cannot know who you will
become --
> or turn out to have been, and note that the distinction is deeply
> --  and I cannot know who I will become.  But I can commit that I want
> to learn who we both will become and that I believe and hope and promise
> try to let who I become continue to be the sort of person who will love
> you become.
> It's that fact about the future and about our uncertainties about all of
> including who we each will become, that is why, I believe, trust is such a
> crucial element in love and in frankly just about any other substantive
> human relationship.  It's why knowledge is of such limited value in such
> matters, why Robert's question about where knowledge leaves off and trust
> begins is so pointed.  It's also why judgment, as Phil Enns points out, is
> so crucial.  Judgment, in this view, is about being able to make choices
> that stand the test of time, to love someone as we change and they change,
> to stay friends, even to stay in a business partnership.
> One last note.  I don't think trust today rules out any further
> investigation.  For me to trust you is in part for me to believe that as I
> learn more I will find further reason to continue trusting you, and to
> that you are willing for me to learn more, even if it is uncomfortable for
> you to do so.  And I believe that for me to trust you I have to be
> trustworthy, that is it's important for you to be able to trust me on the
> same terms as I trust you, at least to a large extent.  If I cannot be
> trustworthy it can only be because in some sense I do not trust myself.
> Both of us, in other words, have to be commited to the on-going revelation
> of who we are becoming, and to the recognition that we can never have had
> enough information to have refuted the skeptic.  That last point is in
> why trust can be self perpetuating.  We can each celebrate the fact that
> despite our ignorance of ourselves and each other, ignorance the skeptic
> mock us for ignoring, we have in fact sustained our trust for however long
> we've been ableto do so.
> OK, on that hopelessly new-age sounding note I'm going to stop...
> Regards to one and all,
> Eric Dean
> Rockford, IL (formerly from Chicago...)
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