Monday, March 25, 2013

On Behalf of our Cultivating a More Complete Moral Outlook

(This is a continued reflection on a-moral situations.)

   In the fourth meditation Descartes writes, "When no reason inclines me in one direction rather than another, I have a feeling of indifference—that is, of its not mattering which way I go—and that is the poorest kind of freedom. What it displays is freedom, considered not as a perfection but rather as a lack of knowledge—a kind of negation.  If I always saw clearly what was true and good, I should never have to spend time thinking about what to believe or do; and then I would be wholly free although I was never in a state of indifference."
   If we consider, with Kant, that our freedom is recognized as a postulate whenever we are cognizing our duty, then the passage just quoted from the Meditations can be thought in terms of a life lived where we are always cognizing some duty and so constantly engaged as free beings.  This state of constant and complete moral determination doesn't imply that we are always acting out of duty, but that we always have something moral to be doing in every case.  If we consider this to be a positive direction to move towards, as Descartes does, it may be helpful to understand why, as well as what pursuit brings us closer to this state.
   Ultimately, the reason to engage ourselves in developing a complete moral outlook will need to be moral, and so something we discover on our own, so I will need to discuss how this duty may emerge.  But first, we may find this ideal of a completely morally determined orientation to the world attractive to us by repeating what Descartes says: "I would be wholly free although I was never in a state of indifference."  You would always experience yourself in action, and interested.  Also, you would be potentially attaining to higher levels of self-esteem; you would feel closer to having attained the goal of perfect virtue, since you would see it tested at all moments.
   (Recognition of a completely determined moral orientation as an ideal provides a new challenge to the validity of Schopenhauer's virtue of denial of the will to live, since Schopenhauer's argument arises out of thinking that we must necessarily find ourselves in a position of boredom when we are idle.)
   In considering how such a practical ideal for our moral outlook could emerge, we can consider how different understandings of nature and degrees of worldliness must always result in differences in moral judgments.  From this alone I assert that bringing humanity to a unity in moral matters depends upon agreement on our study and interpretation of nature (I will develop this topic elsewhere).  Our  fallibility  in interpreting our situation can call all our moral judgments into question, and so there seems to be a potential demand we could come to recognize morally (which I have come to feel) that clarifying the situations we are in to our utmost is important, but this duty right away conflicts with many other duties which may overrule it, particularly where we have special knowledge such as situations where we are inclined to lie.
   While I know that no theoretical argument can be given to support a moral judgment, I can at least hope to continue to articulate an interpretation of the situation that can heighten a concern with our understanding of the situation, and will hopefully foster this sense of duty to understand for ourselves in others.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Concerning A-Moral Situations

   Most situations in life lack a clear moral imperative.  Do you feel a moral compulsion regarding the manner with which you walk down the street, or is it clear what you ought to do with yourself during an elevator ride?  These a-moral situations can be easily overlooked concerning the possibility of their acquiring a moral character, and perhaps this is a problem.  I want to simply reflect on this and draw some implications that I think are interesting.
   It is possible for any situation to acquire a moral character.  We cannot predict what filling the gaps in our understanding will do to how we see situations.  However, granting that any situation may eventually be understood as moral, is there some reason why we should seek to uncover the moral character of every situation?  Before considering this more, I would like to consider just the matter of a situation acquiring a different moral character.
   My most often used example of a sudden shift in the moral character of situation is as follows: imagine a murder in progress which you feel you feel compelled to prevent by a sense of duty (we can ignore whether or not you decide to take action).  Now, imagine you hear, "Cut, cut, cut! What do you think you're doing here?  We're in the middle of a shoot!"  Clearly, you will have realized that the situation was not what you originally supposed, and while you will still feel that you should help people out when an injustice is being done to them, this was not actually a case of injustice, but acting.
   For a long time, situations like this have led me to consider some possible implications concerning the relationship between our theoretical and practical characters.  The moral character of a situation is not discovered like theoretical characters which appear, but emerge as a moral feeling in relation to the understanding of the situation (in a manner well described by Kant's Categorical Imperative).  Our duty itself is never questionable, but our understanding of the situation necessarily is unless we grant ourselves omniscience; because of this, we must ask: does a recognition of our theoretical limitations throw our determinations of duty into doubt, not because we judge incorrectly from a moral standpoint, but because we do not understand the world well enough?  Does this lead to a requirement to understand the world better?
   From the perspective of Kant's critical philosophy, this practical-theoretical feedback loop, which we are all familiar with from experience, can help us to illustrate some of Kant's picture of the relationship between our judgments more acutely.  However, from the perspective of our lives there are different difficulties we face, since we cannot wait until we omniscient before acting from fear of doing something wrong - even pursuing knowledge requires action.  
   When we expand our consideration from shifts in our moral understanding to cases that are currently without a moral determination, we have a question if we should be trying to find out the moral implications involved, and in what order and with what procedure we should go about it (if we should take any special action at all).  
   There are places in the history of philosophy that may be able to be cleared up by considering this further: Plato's determination (and Aristotle's agreement) that all things go towards the good; Descartes, in the Fourth Meditation, discussing how it would be best for every situation to be morally determined; Leibniz' determination of everything actual as being brought into its actuality by the ultimate determination of Goodness.  These things won't all be clarified in the same way, and to the same end, but considering what possible moral determination everything may potentially have, and seeing if we are constrained to feel they all do and why can shed a lot of light here.

Friday, March 15, 2013

A Guide for Interpreting Kant Through Events

   Because Kant attempts to show the positive limits of all human cognition, it can appear that what Kant must be analyzing would be too complex.  We may wonder how we can be sure that we already have all of human cognition in view? However, the most complex 'thing' (figuratively speaking) analyzed in any of the critiques is limited to a single event.  Fully understanding this can help to avoid misleading interpretations,  and generally improve your confidence while reading Kant's three critiques.
   Critique abstracts from all empirical content in order to consider forms of experience generally.  If we extend our analysis over anything more than a single event, then this additional thing will also be an event.  Each event has a specific empirical determination, and the critique abstracts from this empirical determination to the structure of the event.  If we have two related events, we cannot consider them together while also abstracting the empirical content, since then they would be identical (qua event).
   To get a good sense of what an event consists in for Kant, the central topic is the category of cause and effect described in the second analogy in the following formula (in the A edition): everything that happens, that is, begins to be, presupposes something upon which it follows according to a rule.  The "something upon which" the event follows (the cause) is not itself present (in the sense of currently appearing) in the event, but the experience of the event contains an understanding of its sequential emergence from something prior that is different.  The manner in which we think the emergence of the event becomes possibly the most important distinction in Kant's critical philosophy: if the 'cause' is thought as a prior event, then it is considered as a natural event (a prior appearance); if the event is thought as occurring spontaneously, then the cause is thought in terms of something we can only think, but not experience.  The difference here is what leads ultimately to the distinction between the order of nature (the theoretical) and the order of freedom (the practical).
   It is crucial in reading Kant that whenever he is dealing with thought critically, we restrict ourselves to the scope of single events from which we abstract empirical content.  In this way, it can become much easier to use our every day experience as a guide for understanding the critique, and to perform a similar analysis ourselves.
   We may think that there are certain parts of Kant's critical thought that go far beyond a single event, but if we consider these I think that we can understand them better by keeping them still tied to the simplicity of the single event.  For example, the moral proof of God may seem far to complex to get out of analyzing a single event, but if you restrict yourself to the event as an interpretive guide, then it becomes clearer that the moral proof of God depends solely upon the experience of our compulsion to pursue the Highest Good (perfect virtue in unity with happiness).

   How long is a event? Events are as basic as anything that happens, and our measure of time, since we must take that measure, is an event.  This does not mean that we can't measure times shorter than we can notice, but that by the time we notice the measurement is when it is a measurement for us - a measurement is an event.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Philosophizing Without Resistance

   There is a common assumption about philosophical discourse that our attention should be oriented toward detecting parts of an argument that can be confuted.  Philosophy is not concerned with right or wrong arguments, and when philosophical interactions are reduced to a game of counter examples they break down.  I propose that those who are philosophically inclined take up a practice of philosophizing without resistance.  Allow me to explain what I mean.
   When someone is expositing something you are struck as philosophical try to just accept it as something true that is yet misunderstood.  It is no matter if you think you understand what has been said, you can still understand it better; take yourself to not have understood it entirely, and attempt to draw out in discussion this lurking truth that may not yet be apparent from the exposition itself.  Don't resist any explanation given, but only seek to draw out the truth of it.  The results of this cannot guarantee any new doctrine will be revealed, or that whatever is developed is trivial, but it may contribute to something more important.
   I would be very surprised to find that anything someone says genuinely will be found to be entirely false (in fact, I think it is impossible).  Developing the element of truth, and even letting the rest of what may be misguided stand in the light of this truth, can be helpful for guiding both people towards something that both should desire - understanding.  Develop an actual relationship to someone else through such a pursuit of the same thing.  This human connection is much more important to practice in our philosophizing than any particular doctrine or argument.
   Now, while you are not putting up any resistance to your interlocutor, you may need to put up a great deal of resistance to yourself.  At first, this practice may be incredibly disorienting, and you may wonder what it is that you are to talk about without refutation.  Eventually you will find yourself laughing at this reaction.  It can be hard not to react to something that seems wrong, and so is offensive in some way, but we are too quick to make our discourses about what is wrong or offensive.  It would be preferable to have discussions that contribute to something positive, and develop what is right; even better than this is if we develop our discussions them in terms of forming a genuine common pursuit between each other and a mutual respect.