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Notes on Moral/Political Philosophy

 

 

 

Notes on Moral/Political Philosophy

 

   Categorical Imperative?

    In his construction of pure moral philosophy, Kant differentiates two kinds of imperatives. The Hypothetical, being a rational guideline by which a desired end requires a specific means of attainment; and the Categorical, being a guiding principle without need of justification or specified self-interest. Kant argues that it is only within a culture that has the idea of "ought" that true morality exists since it is only there that behavior can reach beyond mere fulfillment of inclinations.
Kant presents a strong case that seems to pinpoint the exact instance of altruism in which morality steps into human consciousness and behavior. However, in a close inspection of practical examples he discusses towards the conclusion of his arguments some holes in the argument begin to emerge. In his second example he describes a man in dire economical need, pushed to the brink of making a promise he cannot keep by his personal deprivation. In this case Kant insists that a decision to go ahead and lie would place its perpetrator in contradiction once he tries to universalize his imperative.
The following move creates a strange twist for the purely Categorical imperative Kant started with. That is, it implies that the decision to lie, if universalized, would deprive humanity of the faculty of making promises since they would become void from their conception under the unlawful practice. In other words, if you do not wish that people at large would abandon their obligation to keep a promise, therefore making the world a treacherous place to live in, do not lie. This move of the consideration of universalization in ones own actions can be seen as a mere anchor of sensitivity allowing people to judge their own actions outside their own skin. Yet a harsher implication lies beneath this transition; once a Categorical imperative is coupled with the question of universalization and its implications, it becomes an elaborate Hypothetical imperative.
In this sense people can act exactly as Kant would describe a moral person would act yet adhere to nothing more then rational Hypothetical imperatives rooted in reason and self-interest, not in duty. In this case people would be acting prudently by adhering to so called ought principles simply as a contract amongst individual assuring that their Hypothetical interest is maintained. It is in that instance that any Categorical imperative breaks down to its Hypothetical components. "Do not kill" becomes: I would not kill randomly since if that course of action were to be universalized I could be killed randomly.
To conclude, I agree with Kant as to the formulation of a pure theoretical morality. Yet I maintain that in its practical manifestation the will behind a moral action is more often that of prudent behavior and self-interest rather than duty. This is not to say that human moral principles do not exist, but that if and where they do they arise out of sensitivity and empathy at best, not out of a Categorical duty. The flaw in Kants argument is therefore the postulation of a Categorical imperative as a principle beyond self-interest while its required consideration of contradiction in universalization makes it another rational Hypothetical imperative.



    Why Realistically Morality is Relative to Human nature, not Human Cultures.

    Aristotle bases his claim for a mean of moral virtue as residing between the excess and deficiency of human behavior. Yet this does not insinuate a relativity of virtue as actually calculated by finding the mean for each culture or group. He regards human behavior, based on rationality, to be the moral standard according to which we all act, and judge. Yet this human nature is stable and consistent as aspiring towards a rational end: happiness, and not as relative as to show different moral systems according to differing cultural tastes. This does not entail that if a group of patients from a mental asylum broke free, they would find true moral virtue by casting votes and calculating the mean; they may be severely off. The same goes for whole nations and cultures gone mad.
I agree with Aristotles position as far as happiness being the end to which human life aspires. Yet my point would be that happiness is not a virtue that needs to be fulfilled, but simply the state in which a human is by far better off. Instead of dividing human virtue in regards to happiness attainment potential as rational and moral, I would argue that a lower denominator holds for all. That is, at a minimal level a human being desires to avert pain, keep loved ones safe, and have the freedom to choose their vocation or path. If the above three types of wills or inclinations are acceptable as the crux of basic human needs, theyre preservation and violation can respectively be taken to be the "good" and "bad" of a rational moral system. That is, basic human needs give rise to norms that


   respectively hold the violation and preservation of the origin (human needs) as morally wrongs or rights.
That moral system, though "relative" to humans, is viable across all human platforms or cultures since the source of human morality, namely, basic human needs, remain the same. While there are many different logical fallacies and often pure cases of ignorance that would prevent two cultures from reaching agreement, at least one of the two would be morally wrong if they found a twisted way of justifying the violation of their peoples basic need.
A last note is in order on the seemingly perplexing mention of "relative to us" that Aristotle attaches to moral behavior. Though many modern relativists might cling to that quote as self-evident relativism, it is not. All that is being claimed there is that human morality is relative to humans- not to stones, or planets, or black-widow spiders. This does not create a leeway in which cultural relativity steps in but an over-arching claim as to the constitution of human, qua-human.


   Political Philosophy:

   [The following were prepared along the lines of David Sydorsky's break down of Hobbes and Locke]

   Authority:
- Power, though necessary for maintaining it, is not authority. Power may grant obedience yet strictly by its threat-strength rather than by accepted authority.
- Reason, though helpful for authority, is not necessary or synonymous since authority can be irrational.
- Authority would be any group of people bound together by rules. Those rules must be backed by sanctions; otherwise they are no stronger than recommendations.
Any political society.
Hobbes:
Secularist: Holds vein glory, "word" (religion), and competition as sources of war and strife. An addition to the former two is a restless and perpetual search for power in the state-of-nature, since in nature all are roughly equal in strength.
Theorems:
- State of Nature: Individuals with a natural right (and desire) to life; no rules, no arbiters, no gardens, no safety.
- Equality of nature: Even the strongest must sometimes go to sleep
- Restless and perpetual search for power: Even without vainglory, "word", or competition, simply for the sake of safety defendant (?) people must secure their safety by a perpetual strive for power.
- Lack of power that holds all in check: by nature there is no such power that holds all in awe.
*Hobbes turn of events: (why should we have a political society)
Act I: There is a state of nature where equal (as far as strength) individuals with natural right for life roam the land
- A restless pursue of power for safety follows.
Act II: Since no power holds all in check, human being exist in a perpetual readiness in a perpetual state of war of every man against every man.
Act III: In a perpetual state of war a prudent person sees that a restless pursue of power and lack of central power is no good.
Act IV: All check their weapons with the sheriff, give up the equality of nature to a centralized power => the social contract.
- Transition from state-of-nature to a political society entails giving up equality of nature, restless pursuit, and lack of centralized power; all for the sake of maxim I: the natural right to life.
Act V: - Upper state: The sheriff uses his power rightfully; all are kept safe; only shoots bad guys; our natural right to life is secured; the social-contract works.
- Lower state: Monopoly of power used unfairly; an abusing lord: if we secure our natural right to life and fight, were back in Act I.
**Authority as Leviathan: The sea-monster underneath the earth that holds all stable, or not
***Anarchism: claims that "matured" humans can get-over competition, vainglory and "word" causes for war and live peacefully in a state-of-nature without centralized power.
Yet the diffidence remains. Therefore anarchism is incoherent (Peters) as long as humans are human. That is, without sanctions tied to rules, rules would not be followed.
*Lockes Natural Rights:
- For Locke the State-of-Nature is a society with natural laws inscribed in the heart of man.
- Justifies political society, similar to Hobbes, by comparison to state of nature.
- In Lockes "SoN" the offended must execute the punishment.
** Law of nature implies natural rights:
- Do not kill Right to life.
- Do not imprison Right to freedom.
- Do not steal Right for possessions.
*** In entering a social contract individuals must give-up right of self-defense to the sovereign power.
- The political authority is only valid and legitimate as long as it secures its subjects natural rights.
- Social contract requires the consent of the governed (even if only Tacit consent).
Lockes scenario:
Act I: families or clans in SoN conduct themselves according to natural laws. Natural law implies natural rights. Not as brutish as Hobbes SoN.
Act II: A limit on property is set by spoilage until currency is invented.
Act III: (the problem) No independent or disinterested arbiter. Offended must execute justice themselves; potentially a wild-west of never ending strife.
Act IV: Social Contract; replace natural law with positive law.
Here consent is needed in order to receive an independent peace-keeping judiciary authority.
Act V: a. All is well as long as authority secures the natural rights of the governed.
b. All is not well; Abusive authority forfeits the rights of its governed.
A revolution and return to SoN id justified.

   Criticism of Natural Rights:
Philosophical: - Semantic: nature grants rights?
- Logical: Turning "is" to "ought".
- Epistemological: Self-evident?
Pragmatic: What is the point of declaring a right if a government has a right to break it?
Historical: "Natural Rights" do not exist prior to 14th Century, therefore, an achievement relative to time and place.
Response to criticism:
Philosophical: - Semantic: Call it "human" rights.
- Logical: Not "is" to "ought" but defining a property of "Qua-Human."
- Epistemological: Abandon self-evidence and establish convention.
Pragmatic: Rights are kept unless an overriding reason requires otherwise.
Rights, therefore, mean that a relevant and valid reason must be given in order to break those rights. Any kind of right carries a correlative duty.
Historical-Relativistic: Any society that has the concept of "I" has an understanding that a reason must be given to hurt this "I". Denial of Natural (or "Human") rights entails that no reason must be given in order to deny an individual from its rights.
** If a strong sense of "reason" is required, rights are strongly held. If a weak sense is sufficient, rights are weakly held.
Three Concepts of Equality:
Substantive equality (Spartan Egalitarianism):
All owned and shared by all Gross product divided by number of members.
Pro:
- Intuition of fairness.
- Institutionally feasible, says the Egalitarian.
- Social cohesion requires fair distribution.
Con:
- Unfair to ignore individual differences; Aristotles Unjust to treat unequal people equally.
- Complex and large societies cannot give the same to all.
- For social cohesion there exists the potential equality.
- The mere cost of abolishing individual differences is staggering: So much of human nature wants to be distinct that leveling all must exult to great a price.
Necessary to acknowledge individual differences.
Equality Vs. Freedom or Excellence.
Formal Equality (Equality before the Law):
Similar cases must be treated equally.
No discrimination for irrelevant reasons Discrimination for relevant reasons only!
Here Williams insists that an egalitarian formal equality can exist only when the reasons are truly relevant: Need => for health. Attention to underlying relevant causes: Family support and/or education if SATs are taken as relevant
Hierarchy and Excellence created by discrimination for relevant reasons.
Hierarchy necessary for order by Platonic idea of degree, priority, and place.
Usually relevant reason would be talent, though from a moral point of view that would be arbitrary since a person is not responsible for birth-given talent.
Merit? If a person develops its talent they are more responsible for it.
Market performance? Yes, in a capitalist society.
Which brings us to the third concept of equality:
Marxist Equality:
All economic value comes out of labor.
All stock and executive earnings are therefore exploitation of labor.
Historical perspective:
Ancient society Rulers over slaves.
Feudal society Lords over serfs.
Capitalist society Owners over workers.
Inequality has always been there; But now, if the proletarian revolt, there would be a society where the vast majority would own (nationalize) the means of production.
A classless society as a definition of equality.
Problems:
Some sort of organizational structure of authority is inevitable (commissar of agriculture, etc..)
In practice, when the market is not an open one, even greater power falls in the hands of few.
- Answer: The utopian "educating out of greed and capitalist values"
- Counter: Incompatible with human nature,
Or, "Unloose that string, and hark what discord follows.
Marxist: Value of any product is the work that went into it, any profit is abuse.
Capitalist: Profit is the signal that youre output is greater than youre input.


Ohad Maiman