[lit-ideas] Re: On Names and Respect

  • From: "Walter C. Okshevsky" <wokshevs@xxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx, Eric Yost <mr.eric.yost@xxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 15 Apr 2009 17:42:18 -0230

Specific replies follow:

Quoting Eric Yost <mr.eric.yost@xxxxxxxxx>:

>  >>What would YOU do as her professor?
> Avoid the temptation to apply maximim to her, and 
> thereby refuse to presume sufficient knowledge to 
> assess that which confers maximum benefit on anyone.

Not sure what this means. The Utilitarian Principle of Benefit Maximization is
not Rawls's Maximin Principle. The latter attempts to combine that Principle
with Kant's Principle of Equal Respect for Persons. The resulting norm is that
the decision to pursue any course of action or maxim that maximizes benefit for
the greatest number (i.e., average utility) is justifiable only if the least
advantaged also benefit beyond an application of Benefit Maximization. 

And, if I may, this is a fine principle for the CEOs of
General Electric and other companies listed on the New York Scotch Exchange to
abide by in determining the value of quarterly dividends for
shareholders. Fortunately, those CEOs possess a significant number of company
shares themselves, so it is in their own interest to ensure that shareholders
not lose out big time. It's not Kant's Categorical Imperative but here the
Golden Rule may suffice, god help us. Das heisst: if every rational agent
pursued her own interests, all benefit to the greatest avergae utility as a
result. Who would have thunk that Adam Smith's theory of the moral sentiments
would yield the construct of the
"invisible hand" as an ert feature of natural selection in the social/moral

> * Call the student to my office.
> * Offer the student three choices and get the 
> student's written agreement to abide by the 
> consequences of their choice:
>       1. the minimum passing grade; or
>       2. a coin toss to decide
>               a. HEADS: retake the written test the next day 
> with results to reflect -5 percent for failing to 
> answer the proper question;
>               b. TAILS: an immediate, impromptu oral 
> examination of all the key points covered by the 
> test, without the 5 percent demerit but subject to 
> the vagaries of my more subjective evaluation of 
> the student's spoken defense.

I opted for #1 above. Gambling practices are not kosher at my institution. Were
I in service in the area of Hull or Montreal, things may be different. 

>       3. indicate that my professorial salary is 
> minuscule and invite the student to risk 
> attempting to bribe me to get a higher than 
> minimal passing grade.

My salary is well above anything I deserve or am entitled to. Nothing that a
student can offer me by way of a bribe can sufficiently augment my salary or
contribute to my cache of single malt. Surely Eric Y contemplates no other
species of bribery in this academic context. 

> * After the student has made their choice, shred 
> the written agreement, explain that it was merely 
> a ruse, and give the student a 65 because that's 
> what Volodya did. 

Arguments appealing to authority have no epistemic worth. Even those appealing
to the authority of Valodsya. As well, Eric's maxim exhibits both
self-contradiction and illegitimate self-exemption. As such, it is not
universalizable and cannot be legislated as a law by a rational legislator. 

> Briefly exult in the cruel sense 
> of power that came from negating the student's 
> choice. Hope that the episode (employing the 
> pre-Enlightenment option of recourse to authority 
> by doing what Volodya did) has taught the student 
> something about the elusive nature of justice and 
> personal motives.

The exultation here is morally impermissible, as well as downright disgusting.
Moreover, justice does not possess an "elusive" nature. Justice as meted out in
any particular case may bear that characteristic, but validity claims to the
moral rightness or justice of a norm or judgement are subject to critical
examination within discourse under conditions of symmetry and reciprocity. 

> * Resign from the university and pursue a new 
> career in landscaping or landscape architecture, 
> enjoying fresh air, healthy exercise, and the 
> incomparable satisfaction of watching plants take 
> root in earth as they aim at the sky.

Here on the Rock we have a plenitude of fresh air. It wafts in from the North
Atlantic almost every hour. 

I watch "plants take root" repeatedly as I observe my students being
acculturated into the "space of reasons" through philosophical dialogue. The
"sky" here is of course the ideals of truth, justice, beauty and the ideal
speech community. You got a problem with that? 

> * or not.


Walter O.

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