Jude Sutton turned up 5 minutes late to the lecture on a windy March afternoon. The lecture room was diagonally opposite his offices and he was obviously not having an easy time making headway against the winds sweeping off the moors. His long coat flailed in the wind and whipped his legs. His hair was completely disheveled upon arrival in the lecture-room. Even his cigarette had gone out and he seemed to have come without matches. He took a long time to decide what to do with the residue of his home -made cigarette. At last the moment for decision came and he crumpled up the cigarette and put it in his coat pocket. Jude Sutton was suffering. He had almost decided not to come to the lecture. Without a cigarette to distract his nervous system it would not be long before his hands would begin shaking with anxiety. It would not be long before his headache made it impossible to talk without it seeming as if his voice was coming from somewhere far away in the distance. He steeled himself for the opening of the lecture:
“What is our relation to the world as a whole? Surely it cannot be what the scientist claims it to be, a relation to physically measurable events related by causal mechanisms obeying laws we cannot formulate accurately. Surely it cannot be, as the idealist would like us to believe ,a matter of mental states and processes obeying laws of thought we cannot formulate, all relating back to the Cartesian Cogito ergo sum, “I think therefore I am”? How have we been led to this impasse? Is it because of what we will take up in our next week’s lecture, namely the influence of epistemology? Or is the problem instead the influence of the so- called theory of knowledge, upon the three central metaphysical issues in Philosophy: 1. of the existence of the world, 2.The nature of our souls, and 3. The being or processes we call God.
Surely our relation to the world is not merely a knowing relation, which always puts us at a kind of psychical distance to reality. Yet we surely know something about the world. What about our relation to our own souls or even more interestingly given our topic today of Ethics, our relation to other souls. Is the mere concept of knowing sufficient to characterise this relation?. This relation to other souls, which is the concern of all ethical theory?
The major enemy of Philosophy or the major disease it suffers from is skepticism that has the mission not just of questioning everything we claim to know, but, in the course of that questioning mission, skepticism dismantles our world, reduces it to primeval dust. And when we are standing there with dust in our hands the skeptic says nihilstically “ See! it was all clouds of thought, castles in the air”. True, philosophers know you can never reduce a cloud to dust, and the forms of the castle and the house are just as real as the primeval dust the skeptic wants everything reduced to. Philosophy has learned from many skeptical attacks in its history that the existence of the world is not a problem of knowledge. The claim to know places us too far away from the core of the problem. The other major disease that Philosophy has suffered from historically is dogmatism. Sometimes one disease is a cure for another but not very often. Dogmatism is the tool of the tyrant and skepticism the tool of his tyrannical subject and the discourse in such a kingdom can only reduce the truth to dust. At funerals we hear “Man, dust thou are, and to dust shalt thou return.” The intention was to humble us but instead the dust blinded us, filled up our ears and mouth, caused deafness and struck us dumb. What we are, could never be returned or reduced to primeval stardust. This is the source of the ancient idea of the immortality of the soul, itself, related to the Platonic forms which exist sub specie aeternitatis: timelessly. In that handful of dust is our human relations, the relation of one soul to another or the relation of a soul to his community. Skeptics are clever. In dismantling the relation we have to each other they will pretend to believe in the certainty of our private consciousness or sentience, which no one by definition could ever publicly define. They will ask what it is we actually know about other people and we will be forced to answer that what we know of others is based on the behavior we see. I infer, on the grounds of their possessing bodies, which seem the same as mine, that their behavior is connected to their consciousness or sentience in the same way as mine. This is the so- called famous argument from analogy. Other people possess consciousness or sentience by analogy. I can never see anyone’s pain only infer it. And here the skeptic makes his match- winning move. Surely he argues, someone can be behaving as if they are in pain and not be in pain at all. That’s how much we know! And surely, he again argues, someone can be in an enormous amount of pain but, being the true Spartan they are, they show the world nothing of the pain. That is how much we know, the skeptic claims, triumphantly.
Well, Ladies and gentlemen we should not be overly impressed with these snippets of philosophical drama. All the argument shows is that the existence of the world and other souls are not to be characterised in epistemological terms. They are not, in other words, problems of knowledge. We do know of the existence of others, and the criteria of us knowing what we do know, is how they behave, what they say etc. Of course the metaphysical status of this physical and linguistic behavior is a critical philosophical problem and it is part of how we know that someone is in pain.
And someone being in pain, the suffering soul, ladies and gentlemen is one of the key phenomena that ethics needs to deal with.
But before we take up this issue let us talk about language. We obviously see something as something when we see certain physical movements of a man’s face and the sound he emits as a wince of pain. Where does this ability come from? One suggestion is that we see something as something because we are language- users, and it is a major function of language in virtue of its possessing a subject predicate structure, to say something about something. This translates eventually into thought and in virtue of this linguistic capacity we can think something about something. The capacity also transforms our animal like perception into the more human form in which see something as something, for example, I see those physical movements and that sound as a wince of pain. And here we have the later Philosophy of Wittgenstein overturning the earlier, and producing what has been referred to as the Wittgensteinian Copernican revolution. All Philosophical problems , Wittgenstein now argues, can be resolved by investigating the philosophical or as he calls it grammatical structure of our language.
Language does not disguise thought, it manifests thought:-If we would only disengage the skeptical and dogmatic voices within us for a moment and understand what there is to understand. When these skeptical and dogmatic voices within us take over, we are bewitched by the language we use and we can even believe things that are impossible to believe, that is, there can even be contradictions dwelling in our belief systems, which become impossible to detect. Wittgenstein urges us in our “Philosophical Investigations” to ask, “Under what circumstances or in what particular cases do we say that someone has winced in pain, or someone loves someone?” His idea here is that we make conceptual judgments for which there are criteria. We make judgments in the same way as does a dance-judge or an ice skating-judge. In their minds is the idea or form of the perfect dance or perfect ice skating program. In our minds we don’t quantify but judge in virtue of the quality of truth. “What is this physical movement I see before me, how shall I conceptualise it?” The sixty four thousand dollar question is “Where do the criteria for our judgments come from?”. I am afraid I only have a thirty-two thousand dollar answer but it is what we have thus far in the middle of a work in progress, The criteria of judgment come from the agreement over what counts as what, in our language. This linguistic agreement is a work in progress that has been formed of tens of thousands of generations of speakers influenced in every generation by the best minds. If we cannot value or have respect for that, then there is not much we can respect. This language we speak has been over these generations interwoven with forms of life that have transformed our animal existence into human being. We learn our language at our mothers knee and when we see everything we see in our modern concrete jungles there is a thread longer than Ariadne’s flowing back all the way to the cave paintings, fire, the first tools and the dusty paths we walked along in bare feet, eons ago. Agreements over what is to count as what form the structure of how we think about the world. This is the starting point of the Wittgenstein’s revolution.
And so we arrive at the criteria for what is ethically good.
Here is an ethical judgment: “Murder is wrong”. How are we to analyse such a statement philosophically. Aristotle thought there are many meanings of Good two of which were “the good action” and “ the good person”. I am going to concern myself with these during the rest of the lecture.
Charles Stevenson in his work “Ethics and Language” claims that there are two kinds of disagreements that people generally have when talking about the good, Disagreement in belief and disagreement in attitude. Disagreement in belief occurs when verification procedures of the facts can resolve the disagreement. Disagreement in attitude occurs when we agree about the facts but one finds the set of facts good and the other does not. According to Stevenson we can do nothing about the latter. No rational procedure will change attitudes.
I want to maintain, ladies and gentlemen that in analysing “Murder is wrong” on Stevenson’s analysis it turns out that if we submit this to the first pattern of his analysis we must analyse the judgment into “I disapprove of murder (an attitude) and you should do so as well(an imperative). On his second pattern of analysis he would claim that we are on the level of principle and that the analysis of “Murder is wrong” should refer to the principle that murder creates a considerable amount of unhappiness in the society in which we live. This amounts to, what we call in philosophy, a non-cognitive analysis of the moral judgment since disagreements in attitude have no logical relation to facts. Well I am sure, ladies and gentlemen, that disagreements in attitude have a conceptual and therefore logical connection to facts. “Murder is wrong” not just because I disapprove of it and urge you to do so, but for good philosophical reasons, and our individual happiness is only marginally involved in the point of the language game we play with ethics. Stevenson is wrong in insisting that a disagreement in attitude occurs when we agree about the facts. True, we might agree that A killed B on the basis of medical criteria relating to the occurrence of the event of death. But some would doubt that we agree with the murderer over the judgment “Murder is wrong” especially in those cases where the murder is premeditated. Aristotle claims that we all aim in our actions at the good. In an instrumental sense the murderer sees his action as the achievement of an instrumentally structured goal. But, for the sake of a complete argument, were this the only structure by which to judge the value of the action of murder we would as a practical consequence be living in a state of nature and living the kind of life Hobbes described as solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. A war of all against all.The difference in the judging procedures in these two cases is that in the first case, we are concerned with the difference between the instrumental value of the achievements of my life-goals and the happiness of my life and in the second case with the categorical value-judgment of the same action. These, when submitted to the practical reasoning process of Kant’s categorical imperative would arrive at the logical consequence that “One ought not to murder”, because the universal law justifies the “Murder is wrong” judgment. I am saying ladies and gentlemen that when we say that “murder is wrong” this is amongst other things a first move in a language game in which we place a responsibility on the hearer to approve, to adopt the correct attitude. We are not inviting our interlocutor to a debate about the concept of murder.
Now it is important to realise the difference between an ethical judgment about what is good in the world of action, and an aesthetic judgment about what is good in the world of fashion and taste, in which the winds of change blow our taste first in one direction and then in another. In the language game of aesthetic judgment we concern ourselves with things such as strawberries and raspberries and how things appear rather than what they are in themselves. Any imperative or ought –judgment in the aesthetic language-game does not relate to our obligations to do something but rather to our desires for pleasure and happiness. Ethical obligations, on the other hand, do not arise from how the world appears to us to be, but rather from how it ought to be for everyone.
The agreement relating to the judgment “Murder is wrong” is mandatory. What that means is that if you do not agree, you are compromising your rationality in the whole sphere of moral value judgment. The advertisement of such a phenomenon of disagreement in a world filled with the noise of advertisements is interpreted by people who understand the workings of practical reason as being indicative of the aimless wanderings of a stranger in the polis of good ethical action. Perhaps, it might be surmised, such a stranger is confusing what is aesthetic with what is ethical. Such a stranger is confusing the appearance with what is real.
But all of this is somewhat obscure unless some account is given of the criteria I have been talking about. What are they? Well, ladies and gentlemen I believe that they are Kantian .The first criterion is conceptual universality, i.e. if something is to be conceptualised as murder it is necessarily wrong. The attitude of disapproval is written into it. Killing, in self defence when no other alternative is available is not, some would claim, murder, although Dr. Glynn Samuels our resident Welsh genius would certainly disagree. For him you should allow yourself to be murdered under the Christian value system whose only real commandment, according to Leo Tolstoy, is “Do not resist evil”.
The second criterion is connected with how we ought to universally treat people. According to Kant we ought to treat everyone as ends-in -themselves—as dignified bearers of ultimate values with a right to everything humans have rights to. The third criterion is connected to the fate of our society. According to Kant there is a kind of law of historical progress operating and we will eventually reach a point in the development of society, which he calls the kingdom of ends, in which everyone who has reached the age of consent or the state of mind of a knowing, consenting being, will fulfil their obligations to each other. In such a society there may not even be any widespread need for legal and justice systems given the fact that all relations and actions in that society would be regulated by Kant’s moral law. This of course would be to the liking of Dr. Samuels and his source of inspiration Mr. Tolstoy.
But it is not only obligation or duty, which is the key idea in Kantian ethics. The practical idea of freedom defines the difference between the theoreticians belief in the spatiotemporal world of deterministic causation and the practical philosophers faith in the freedom from causal determination of the ethical agent when acting ethically: Aristotle’s good person and good action in other words. The ethical subject and the ethical action are striving not to be happy but, rather, to be deemed worthy, on the basis of their actions, of happiness. There are basically four kinds of action in the Kantian practical system and the ethical is the highest and most complex . The second most complex kind of action are instrumental actions which are structured in accordance with the principle of prudence: a principle which aims to strive for the individuals good and the individuals happiness. The next kind of action in Kant’s hierarchy are customary or traditional actions which rely on the wisdom of generations and finally there are expressive actions which are normally positive emotional responses but can even be completely detrimental to the agents well being, even if they are, as Aristotle put it, “aimed” at the agents good. And here again we must cast out the skeptical voice in us which tries to suggest that theoretical knowledge is the standard by which to measure whether a reason is good or not, whether a judgment is good or not, whether a person is good or not. Kant talks of faith in this context: faith in the good processes of the world, promoting and sustaining the good ethical actions of the good agent judging wisely. Here, for Kant, the belief in the Good and the belief in freedom are fundamentally practical concerns. These ideas of the Good and Freedom, according to Kant take us deeply into the world as it ought to be in itself: allow us to glimpse the kingdom of ends which is what some will maintain is the aim of all religion. In this line of reasoning we can see a Kantian modification of Christ’s claim that “The truth will set you free”. It is the truth of the above ideas, which above all will set you free. We may not all be sinners but we all certainly live our lives with an inadequate idea of the structure of the world and inadequate ideas of the structure of our souls”
A mature English major, raised his hand and said:
“The lesson ended some time ago we only have 15 minutes for lunch.”
“Yes doesn’t time fly when one is having fun. Next Fridays unit in the series “Philosophy of Education” will be “Epistemology”—Theory of Knowledge for you non Greek speakers. In this unit we will ask how we know facts such as “The pen is on the table” and “How could I know that you were all hungry?”
Jude Sutton ended the lecture angry at himself for not completing the lecture. One or two students immediately rushed to the canteen next door but I, and a number of others stayed to ask follow up questions. Amongst these, I was surprised to see Sophia, who must have come in after me and sat at the back of the lecture room outside my line of sight
“What implications do these ideas have for the legal institutions of society?” asked the friend I had seen Sophia together with in the library.
“It is a perennial philosophical question whether these institutions of justice are themselves fundamentally just. They are all designed to punish the bad man and the bad action. If one goes back to Socrates’s discussions of justice in the Republic he argues that punishing a bad man will not produce the good, it will only make him worse and that will be worse for everybody. But the Kantian position recognises “the evil” in man, if I can put these words in quotation marks for the moment: that is, these words recognise mans disposition not to look at the world with a good will. Kant also recognises that the work of convincing man to approach the world through his judgments and actions with a good will cannot be done via the traditional biblical means of revelation of the miraculous and a pseudo-inference to an all powerful super-sensible being at the source. So Kant views punishment as, not in the spirit of an “eye for an eye”, but rather in the spirit of depriving the agent of his freedom and waiting for that fundamental condition of approaching the world with a good will to occur, namely seeing the world as a place where the good produces the benefits of a good life and seeing ones actions to be part of the processes which lead to such a good life. So, to answer your question the statues of justice should not just have a sword and scales in their hands, they should try to find some way of carrying a book, perhaps under their arms, and my suggestion for the book concerned would be Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason”. Some humanists believe that the sword should be removed from the hand of the statue of justice but this would be to override an important Kantian intuition about justice, namely that the consequences of murdering someone is that evidence becomes public that a human being has lost his humanity and every murderer must symbolically live with the consequences of that. This of course does not necessarily mean that all murderers should be put to death as useless animals who no one wishes to own are, but it does raise the interesting question of what we should do with murderers.”
Sophia stepped forward, her long golden Swedish hair decorating her shoulders:
“We are sorry but we joined the course late. We were doing Sociology of Education but thought that this elective might be more useful to organize our thoughts about education. I am sorry if I am asking questions you have probably answered earlier in the course but today you talked about the existence of the world and its reality. What do you mean? Is this a silly question?
Jude Sutton gave a little smile and answered:
“Not at all my dear, your question cuts right to the heart of the course which began by asking about the nature of the world. We are , according to Aristotle, the rational animal, and it is our reason that enables us to understand a world rather than live in a segment of it: in an environment. There are other regions of our mind, which help to build up this awareness. Firstly there are our innate intuitions of space and time, which are involved in the perception of the things in the world as we build up our experiences Secondly there is our understanding of the world when we begin to organize these experiences into a coherent whole with for example, the principle of causality and other categorical principles. But Reason is the crowning moment for our minds. It allows us to believe that we can systematically understand the world as systematic whole. When all our principles of experience are laid out in plain sight we still do not have an adequate idea of the world—one that allows the smooth operation of language and logic. Reason makes reasonable assumptions, which may be the consequences of inferences from different regions of the mind. One of these assumptions is a presupposition of reality as a given continually changing infinite continuum out of which the world emerges, as a space for all possible human experience and awareness. In order for this to make sense there is a presupposition of an infinite original being which is just the name of existence as a whole. This grounds the possibility of the experience and awareness of everything, both the possible and the actual. This is why the world cannot merely be the totality of things, because the principles of the experience of objects will never enable us to understand important regions of the world: for example the human regions of the world. Considering man as a network trapped in a deterministic network of causes transforms him into an object and denies the fundamental law of his subjectivity, namely his freedom. But freedom is a recent idea of Reason. The practical idea of reason that took us from our animal existence to our divine humanity was the theoretical idea of God. The reasoning went something like this. The things in the world are different. This difference is a function of the fact that they are not some other thing: things are as they are as a result of the negations attaching to them. The negation is only possible if there is an understanding of a whole of things and their negations. This whole is then conceived to be an original being from which all things are derived. One can immediately see that this is not an objective necessity but is a necessity that arises as a consequence of our thought processes about the world. It is then a natural extension of theoretical reasoning to connect this to causality and regard this being as the first cause of all contingent things which owe their existence and essence to him, if we wish now to anthropomorphize this being- Thus was God born. I have no problem with believing in the Philosopher’s God . For the philosopher the idea of God would have made more sense if God was characterized as the whole from which all processes of change flow”