larvatus: (rock)
A debate about Kant ended with a shooting in Rostov



Rostov-on-Don, September 16:
    Police detained a resident of Rostov, who in the course of arguing about the works of the German philosopher Immanuel Kant and their merits, shot his interlocutor in the head with a traumatic weapon, reported the Office of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Rostov-on-Don on Monday.
    According to the police, the suspect entered a kiosk to shop, striking a conversation with the victim.
    “They began to argue about the works of Immanuel Kant and their merits. A tempestuous debate turned into hand-to-hand combat, whereupon the instigator of the fight drew a traumatic handgun from his pocket and fired several shots at his opponent, then fled the scene,” — reported the statement.
    The police seized a traumatic gun “Wasp” from the detainee. The victim is currently hospitalized, his life is not in danger.
— Dimitri Buyanin, RIA News, 16 September 2013
larvatus: (rock)
From: larvatus
Date: December 9th, 2012 12:27 pm (local)
I deny both the premiss, that liberal societies attribute an equal and unexchangeable value to each person, and the conclusion, that the figure of a hero is categorically improper therein. The former is belied by utilitarian reasoning that undergirds every public policy in modern democracies. As to the latter, we live in a country that made a secular saint of MLK after elevating Ike to its highest elected office. More recent examples can be found here.

From: aptsvet
Date: December 9th, 2012 12:43 pm (local)
The problem actually is more complicated than that. One has to defend a deontological position in a world of limited resources. So whether one wishes it or not, one has to recourse to utilitarian methods. Which does not change the validity of the principle. Even morals is not a suicide pact. Perhaps I will make an additional argument in my next essay.
As to the hero worship, examples do not matter, they are simply a way of pandering — could you direct me to a theoretical work? We live in a society subscribing to liberal principles, it does not mean we live in a liberal society.

From: larvatus
Date: December 9th, 2012 04:21 pm (local)
There is no duty to be a deontologist. Aristotelian virtue ethics is but one viable alternative that leaves plenty of room for heroics of all sorts in a society of your choosing. For Hellenic theory of our common ancestry, you might look into the Bernards: Knox and Williams. Likewise religious ethics, both within and without the Abrahamic lineage. On the moral importance of examples, please see Kant’s kasuistische Fragen.

From: aptsvet
Date: December 10th, 2012 07:13 am (local)
Actually, I do feel a duty to be a deontologist, it does not work any other way. At least where interpersonal relations are concerned. And I don’t believe one can treat ethics as a menu: utility today, virtue tomorrow.
Re heroes: personal moral example is something else; traditionally hero is somebody defending strictly parochial values, hardly compatible with the universalist aspirations of ethics.

From: larvatus
Date: December 10th, 2012 07:39 am (local)
I think some positions of social responsibility morally require a shift in deliberative criteria. The interrogator in charge of a “ticking bomb” scenario would fail his fellow citizens if he were to forgo otherwise blameworthy means of extracting information about defusing it from the terrorist in his custody. This is an instance of the common law doctrine of necessity that depending on circumstances can excuse acts both unlawful and immoral under normal conditions.
The notion that “strictly parochial values” are incompatible with the universalist aspirations of ethics highlights the necessity of Kantian casuistry. Thus: “Vedete come muore un italiano!” Generally speaking, a broad range of preferential treatments for members of one’s tribe, family, nation, or confession can readily pass the law of nature criterion. In this context, Bernard Williams took issue with the impersonal nature of moral systems. According to him, the idea of fairness and impartiality must have a limit, and in justifying one’s partiality in terms of impartial principles, one is in a sense removing the justification one already has — ‘she is my wife’. To specify some principle as to why and when is is permissible to show such partiality is to undermine the reality of oneself as a related and so moral being.

From: aptsvet
Date: December 10th, 2012 08:14 am (local)
On the “ticking bomb” issue: I find Nagel’s argument (in Mortal Questions) more convincing. Whoever tortures another human being and for whatever reason, should not pretend that he acts morally — even though the state ordering such a treatment may have used the best utilitarian logic.
On the second issue I would not dispute your point, I simply would like to emphasize again the term “strictly”. “She is my wife” is a passable argument; “she is my wife and perish the world” isn’t. Samson slaughtering the Philistines with an ass’s mandible doesn’t take their interests into account altogether.

From: larvatus
Date: December 10th, 2012 08:46 am (local)
As Saul Kripke might have retorted, whoever tortures another human being for reasons of necessity is acting schmorally. It bears notice that Kant interpreted “fiat iustitia, pereat mundus” as “es herrsche Gerechtigkeit, die Schelme in der Welt mögen auch insgesamt darüber zu Grunde gehen” [let justice reign even if it wipes out all the villains in the world]. Along these lines, slaughtering the Philistines in a just war serves their best legitimate interests in the best possible way.
larvatus: (Default)
Joel Marks is concerned with the sort of desire that we would want if we were absolutely convinced that there was no such thing as moral right and wrong. He thinks that the most likely form of this desire unbridled by moral scruple would be pretty much the same as what we want now. Considering just one dimension of desire, Jim Harrison’s observation serves as a fitting complement to this surmise: “they say a hard dick has no conscience, but a scholar’s dick is a shy item full of question marks, guilt, ironies.” Mr Marks’ conscientious cock must fall well short of unschooled tumescence. For my part, the man claiming that none of his sexual urges are held in check by morality is a rapist, a eunuch, or a liar. And likewise for the remaining six deadly sins.
larvatus: (Default)
As Heinrich Himmler helpfully pointed out, each one of the 80 million good Germans has his decent Jew. Correlatively, each one of the 307 million good Americans has his special candidate for being better off dead. Under these circumstances, it takes a special kind of moral obtuseness to join Ronald Dworkin in claiming nearly universal acceptance of the proposition that human life is sacred.
Likewise, given the record of faith-based reasons for the abolition of slavery, it takes a special kind of historical ignorance to join Anat Biletzki in her “reluctance to admit religion as a legitimate player in the human rights game”.
larvatus: (Default)
Logical positivist Alfred Jules Ayer was renowned both as a fierce debater and an audacious womanizer. As his stepdaughter Gully Wells told his biographer Ben Rogers, in 1987, shortly after his seventy-seventh birthday party, Ayer cleverly conjoined these competitive qualities in an unexpectedly philanthropic encounter with a besotted raper wannabe:
It was at another party, given a little later in the year by the highly fashionable clothes designer, Fernando Sanchez, that he had a widely reported encounter. Ayer had always had an ability to pick up unlikely people and at yet another party had befriended Sanchez. Ayer was now standing near the entrance to the great white living-room of Sanchez’s West 57th Street apartment, chatting to a group of young models and designers, when a woman rushed in saying that a friend was being assaulted in a bedroom. Ayer went to investigate and found Mike Tyson forcing himself on a young south London model called Naomi Campbell, then just beginning her career. Ayer warned Tyson to desist. Tyson: ‘Do you know who the fuck I am? I’m the heavyweight champion of the world.’ Ayer stood his ground: ‘And I am the former Wykeham Professor of Logic. We are both pre-eminent men in our held; I suggest that we talk about this like rational men.’ Ayer and Tyson began to talk. Naomi Campbell slipped out.
In the following year, a no less competitive confrontation with a more formidable adversity left Ayer bested in a far less festive setting. In the articles reproduced and glossed below, he recounts and analyzes a near-death experience, which pitted him against a bright and painful red light that governed the universe, and the guardians of space and time. Some time later Jonathan Miller commented to Dee Wells, Ayer’s final and antepenultimate wife: “Freddie is in spectacularly good form!” To which she replied: “He’s so much nicer since he died.” A character-building opportunity of this sort would improve almost all of us.
What I Saw When I Was Dead
A.J. Ayer

A.J. Ayer post mortem, London, 5 October 1988, photo by Steve Pyke
My first attack of pneumonia occurred in the United States. I was in hospital for ten days in New York, after which the doctors said that I was well enough to leave. A final X-ray, however, which I underwent on the last morning, revealed that one of my lungs was not yet free from infection. This caused the most sympathetic of my doctors to suggest that it would be good for me to spend a few more days in hospital. I respected his opinion but since I was already dressed and psychologically disposed to put my illness behind me, I decided to take the risk. I spent the next few days in my stepdaughter’s apartment, and then made arrangements to fly back to England. When I arrived I believed myself to be cured and incontinently plunged into an even more hectic social round than that to which I had become habituated before I went to America.
    Retribution struck me on Sunday, May 30. Read more... )
Postscript to a Postmortem
A.J. Ayer
My purpose in writing a postscript to the article about my ‘death’, which I contributed to the 28 August issue of the Sunday Telegraph, is not primarily to retract anything that I wrote or to express my regret that my Shakespearian title for the article, ‘That undiscovered country’, was not retained, but to correct a misunderstanding to which the article appears to have given rise.
    I say “not primarily to retract” because one of my sentences was written so carelessly that it is literally false as it stands. In the final paragraph, I wrote, “My recent experiences have slightly weakened my conviction that my genuine death … will be the end of me.” They have not and never did weaken that conviction. What I should have said and would have said, had I not been anxious to appear undogmatic, is that my experiences have weakened, not my belief that there is no life after death, but my inflexible attitude towards that belief. Read more... )
Did Atheist Philosopher See God When He ‘Died’?
William Cash
“I haven’t told this to anybody before,” said Dr. Jeremy George, senior consultant in the Department of Thoracic Medicine at London University’s Middlesex Hospital. On the table in front of him were the official hospital notes of “Sir Alfred Ayer, date of birth 29/10/10, of 51 York Street, London, W1.”
    We were discussing the incident of June, 1988, when the eminent 77-year-old British philosopher, arguably the most influential 20th century rationalist after Bertrand Russell, famously “died” in London University Hospital. His heart stopped for four minutes when he apparently choked on a slice of smoked salmon smuggled in by a former mistress. Read more... )
larvatus: (Default)
All of Plato and the Other Companions of Sokrates is now available online.


Portrait of George Grote by Thomas Stewardson, 1824

It was necessary to create in the multitude, and through them to force upon the leading ambitious men, that rare and difficult sentiment which we may term a constitutional morality; a paramount reverence for the forms of the constitution, enforcing obedience to the authorities acting under and within those forms, yet combined with the habit of open speech, of action subject only to definite legal control, and unrestrained censure of those very authorities as to all their public acts—combined too with a perfect confidence in the bosom of every citizen, amidst the bitterness of party contest, that the forms of the constitution will be not less sacred in the eyes of his opponents than in his own. This co-existence of freedom and self-imposed restraint—of obedience to authority with unmeasured censure of the persons exercising it—may be found in the aristocracy of England (since about 1688) as well as in the democracy of the American United States: and because we are familiar with it, we are apt to suppose it a natural sentiment; though there seem to be few sentiments more difficult to establish and diffuse among a community, judging by the experience of history. We may see how imperfectly it exists at this day in the Swiss Cantons; and the many violences of the first French revolution illustrate, among various other lessons, the fatal effects arising from its absence, even among a people high in the scale of intelligence. Yet the diffusion of such constitutional morality, not merely among the majority of any community, but throughout the whole, is the indispensable condition of a government at once free and peaceable; since even any powerful and obstinate minority may render the working of free institutions impracticable, without being strong enough to conquer ascendency for themselves. Nothing less than unanimity, or so overwhelming a majority as to be tantamount to unanimity, on the cardinal point of respecting constitutional forms, even by those who do not wholly approve of them, can render the excitement of political passion bloodless, and yet expose all the authorities in the state to the full licence of pacific criticism.
George Grote, History of Greece, Volume 4, London, 1847
larvatus: (Default)
Message-ID: <6010@husc6.harvard.edu>
Date: 15 Mar 91 22:59:27 GMT
I believe in the objective existence of the True, the Good, and the Beautiful.[1] […] I believe that in the realm of politics, there is no place for moral judgements. Morality neither can (in practice), nor should (morally) be legislated. The best that a government can hope for is to guide its laws in accordance with some standard of common Good.
    A corollary of the above: homosexuals, drug users, gun owners, in short everyone who deviates from that, which by any statistical standard may be accepted as the Norm, have absolutely the same rights as everyone else, provided that they, as individuals, do not injure or coerce anybody else. “Setting a bad example” does not count as coersion.
    This is the old “consenting adults cannot do anything legally wrong to each other” thesis. Note that children are automatically excluded, until they reach legal majority.[2]
    Concerning the main issue: death is the price we, as a species, pay for the privilege of having sex. While, as Sade among many others very clearly understood, the degree of erotic excitement increases with any increase in the distance between recreation and procreation, some measure of restraint must be imposed on this distance out of moral considerations. Where to draw the line is subject to many questions. Personally, I believe that many organized religions go to far in their proscription of “spilling the seed on the ground”, birth control, and so on. On the other hand, it is equally clear to me that, until and unless homosexual reproduction has been invented, homosexual intercourse will remain morally wrong. tl:dr )
larvatus: (Default)
Royce’s excursion to Europe and the eastern U.S. fixed in his mind a decided hatred of his native state. California’s provinciality, its ruthless economics, its blind and selfish politics—everything, in fact, but its exquisite natural beauty—filled him with loathing. Compared with the cultural centers that Royce had just left, California had little to offer besides stock speculation, wheat ranching, political charades, racial warfare, and agitation. “Foundation for higher growth we sadly lack. Ideals we have none. Philistines we are in soul most thoroughly. And when we do talk, our topics of discussion are so insufferably finite!’ As a place for philosophical thought, it was execrable. “There is no philosophy in California—from Siskiyou to Ft. Yuma, and from the Golden Gate to the Summit of the Sierras, there could not be found brains enough [to] accomplish the formation of a single respectable idea that was not a manifest plagiarism. Hence the atmosphere for the study of metaphysics is bad, and I wish I were out of it.”
—John Clendenning, The Life and Thought of Josiah Royce, Revised and Expanded Edition, Vanderbilt University Press, 1999, p. 74

The word “logic”, fortunately or unfortunately, rings with varied overtones not all of which are in harmony. One ear may be deaf to what excites another, and great care must be taken in claiming that the “logic” of a subject has been found or revised. As one of my undergraduate professors once told me, “When you question a man’s logic you question his taste,” which may explain the contempt of some mathematicians for logical studies. Now that there seems to be a chance for formal logic to have a wider audience, all the more care is required. Easy victories waste too much time in celebration. Formal methods should only be applied when the subject is ready for them, when conceptual clarification is sufficiently advanced. This is not to discourage experimentation—only the party giving. Modal Logic is a good example: colorful axioms have been strung up all over, but few couples are dancing. Maybe Quantum Logic is another example, but at least the mathematics being served at that party is vastly more sophisticated than the Coca-Cola of the modal logicians. Besides, those who study the foundations of quantum physics readily agree that the fight has only just begun.2 [2 A general reference is J. M. Jauch, Foundations of Quantum Mechanics (Addison-Wesley, Reading, Mass. 1968). A related discussion and some interesting new ideas have been initiated in C.H. Randall and D.J. Foulis, “An Approach to Empirical Logic”, in American Mathematical Monthly 77 (1970) pp. 363-374.] Whether, then, the claim of a carry-over for modal logic is going to be justified is to my mind a very moot point and is one of the main motivations for attempting this essay.3 [3 Reservations about modal logic, mingled with some optimism, have been expressed by George Lakoff, “Linguistics and Natural Logic”, in Semantics of Natural Language, ed. by D. Davidson and G. Harman (D. Reidel Publishing Company, Dordrecht, Holland 1972) pp. 545-665. Note especially the final section of Concluding Remarks. The point about presuppositions and three-valued logic does not seem to be entirely well-taken, however, in view of van Fraassen’s well-known analysis in terms of supervaluations. This does not mean that the connections between “natural” and “formal” logic are all that clear.]
—“Background to Formalization”, Dana S. Scott, in Truth, Syntax and Modality, edited by H. Leblanc, Studies in Logic and the Foundations of Mathematics, Volume 68, 1973, pp. 244-273, at p. 245

In what important and often neglected sense are there many worlds? Let it be clear that the question here is not of the possible worlds that many of my contemporaries, especially those living near Disneyland, are busy making and manipulating. We are not speaking in terms of multiple possible alternatives to a single actual world but of multiple actual worlds. How to interpret such terms as “real”, “unreal”, “fictive”, and “possible” is a subsequent question.
—Nelson Goodman, “Words, Works, Worlds”, Erkenntnis, Volume 9 (1975), Number 1, pp. 57-73, at pp. 57-58; reprinted in Ways of Worldmaking, Hackett, 1978, p. 4


Richard Montague was a small, very dapper, compact, cufflink of a character. He was dressed in a neat blue suit, a snowy white shirt, and a matching crimson tie. We had met for drinks in mid-town Manhattan—he, Daniel Gallin, and I. His hands, I noticed, were square, the fingernails manicured and covered with a clear polish. A logician by profession, Montague had a reputation for great technical brilliance. His papers were adroit, carefully written, biting, and completely beyond the intellectual grasp of all but a handful of analytic philosophers.
    For some reason he was ill at ease that afternoon, and looked fitfully around the hotel’s bar, as if he suspected somehow that nothing was going to turn out properly. Beyond the bar, in the lobby of the hotel, there was an absurd canary cage in which a pair of yellowish birds were cheeping nervously, complaining, I am sure, about the price of drinks or room service.
    We talked of taxes and politics and How on Earth do you survive in this place—meaning New York. Then the discussion turned to mathematics and Montague cheered up. He had just commenced his research program into formal grammars and had published a series of papers of truly monstrous technicality. He liked to imagine that he and Chomsky were rivals. “There are,” he said, “two great frauds in the history of twentieth-century science. One of them is Chomsky.”
    I reached for the peanuts.
    “And the other?”
    “Albert Einstein,” Montague said decisively, glad that I had asked.
    —David Berlinski, Black Mischief: Language, Life, Logic, Luck, Mariner Books, Second Edition, 1988, pp. 139-140

Bonus links: Richard Montague’s obituary signed by Montgomery Furth, C.C. Chang, and Alonzo Church; reviews by Sacha Arnold of more or less improper treatments of Richard Montague in literary fiction, Less Than Meets the Eye by David Berlinski and The Mad Man by Samuel R. Delany, and The Semantics of Murder by Aifric Campbell.

no respect

Sep. 22nd, 2010 11:44 pm
larvatus: (Default)
Kwame Anthony Appiah derives his honor code from a universal right to respect wherein he presupposes all normal human beings to vest:
Some people think only hierarchical forms of the right to respect should be called “honor.” There’s a reason for this, beyond the insistence of a committed defender of social hierarchy like Edmund Burke: many of the most noticeable forms of honor from the Iliad to the Pashtunwali are, indeed, hierarchical. The issue here is not just a matter of a terminological stipulation, though: I think that much is to be gained by thinking about hierarchical and non-hierarchical codes that assign the right to respect together. The argument for that view is this book.
    What is democratic about our current culture, then, is that we now presuppose all normal human beings, not just those who are especially elevated, to be entitled to respect. But granting everyone recognition respect is perfectly consistent with granting greater appraisal respect to some than to others, because these are different forms of respect. From now, I’ll reserve the term dignity for one species of honor, namely, the right to recognition respect. So now we can say: Honoring some especially is consistent with recognizing the dignity of everyone else. Such dignity does not require the comparative forms of appraisal that go with more competitive forms of honor. It’s not something you earn, and the appropriate response to your dignity is not pride so much as self-respect; after all, if your humanity entitles you to respect, then it entitles you to respect even from yourself!
—Kwame Anthony Appiah, The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen, W.W. Norton & Company, 2010, p. 130
A fundamental problem with this approach to honor stems from the fact that honoring rational beings entails a recognition of their beliefs about God and life, right and wrong, good and bad. In our current democratic culture, this recognition involves an accommodation of what John Rawls calls the citizen’s comprehensive moral doctrine. One such doctrine subsumes the Christian articles of faith spelled out by Paul of Tarsus in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, which counts homosexuals amongst the unrighteous (adikoi), debarred from inheriting the Kingdom of God. Elsewhere Appiah boasts of having reconciled with his homosexuality as a Christian before he eventually stopped being a Christian. But a Pauline Christian needs must discount this reconciliation of an arsenokoites with the Christian doctrine, as proceeding pursuant to a honor code of a congenital contortionist. Notably, Appiah makes an effort to acknowledge some congenital attributes as “relevant bases for partiality”, while altogether disclaiming their suitability as grounds for moral and social superiority:
The struggle to break the tight connection between honor and birth is nearly as old as the connection itself. Recall Horace—son of a freed slave—addressing Maecenas, the richest and noblest of the private patrons of the arts in Augustan Rome, some two millennia ago. Maecenas “says it’s no matter who your parents are, so long as you’re worthy,” but Horace complains that most Romans take the opposite view.6[6. Horace, Sermones, I.6, II.7-8.] Anyone who offers himself for public office, the poet grumbles, gets asked “from what father he may be descended, whether he is dishonorable because of the obscurity of his mother.”7[7. Ibid., II.34-37.] This is the feature of the old system of honor that we have rejected, as we have grown suspicious of the idea that some people deserve better (or worse) treatment on account of identities they did not choose. Social status—class, if you like—should grant you no moral rights, people think; nor should your race or gender or sexual orientation.8[8. Ascriptive identities to which one is assigned by birth, such as family membership, can, I should insist, be relevant bases for partiality. You are entitled (indeed, sometimes required) to treat A better than B solely because A is your sister and B is unrelated to you. But recognizing something as a form of partiality is recognizing that there is nothing intrinsically superior about those to whom one is partial: if there were, one's reasons for favoring them could be impartial. See Appiah, The Ethics of Identity, Chapter 6.]
Op. cit., pp. 185, 245
For the purposes of Appiah’s argument, his moral gerrymandering is impotent in its extravagance. It is extravagant because rejecting the old system of honor based on the idea that some people deserve better (or worse) treatment on account of identities they did not choose, would leave our society with no means of legitimately honoring the fast runner or the brilliant mathematician. It is impotent in virtue of leaving room for the Christian pastoral policy of requiring that “homosexuals must certainly be treated with understanding and sustained in the hope of overcoming their personal difficulties and their inability to fit into society”, while asserting “the fact that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered and can in no case be approved of”. And notwithstanding Appiah’s insistence on “granting everyone recognition respect” irrespectively of their sexual orientation, no such granting can take place between himself and and his fellow citizens of the Pauline Christian persuasion. Within the liberal bounds of Rawlsian reasonable pluralism, these latter cannot advocate the use of coercive political power to impose conformity with their views upon non-believers. But they have every right, not only to withhold respect from their fellow citizens whom they find morally wanting, but also to subject them to public displays of contempt.
    To those who object to the incorporation of religion into the range of doctrines subject to recognition by a democratic culture, let it be pointed out that moral objections to homosexual behavior can be and have been made on rational secular grounds, from Plato and Aristotle, to Immanuel Kant and Jean-Paul Sartre. And to those who would carve out sexual orientation from the purview of moral discourse capable of grounding human entitlements to respect, let it be pointed out that secular objections of comparable gravity attach, within comprehensive moral doctrines recognized as legitimate by our democratic society, to a spectrum of divisive issues ranging from abortion to welfare. While a democratic society may warrant the security of abortionists and welfare recipients, it cannot ensure their freedom from disparagement by reasonable citizens whose moral views equate welfare with theft and abortion with murder. That is why any reasonable pluralistic society whose citizens uniformly presuppose all normal human beings to be entitled to respect, is bound to harbor no end of disagreement on the scope of this presupposition, depending on the disparate construals of normalcy within its citizens’ comprehensive moral doctrines. In short, no democratic entitlement to respect can emerge from the mere fact of humanity. Democracy is the right to shame and shun the unrighteous through faith and reason.

Crossposted to [info]larvatus and [info]philosophy.
larvatus: (Default)
[info]ivan_ghandhi:
Вот я не верю, что все эти люди, которые “превзошли программирование”, на самом деле даже поняли вообще, что это такое было. “Как ебаться” — рассказывал чукча сородичам про вкус апельсина. А им, наверное, лимон попался. Или я не знаю.
    Не верю я им. Не верю. Я думаю, у них просто не получилось ни хера. Вот и пошли в критики, раз поэзия не идёт.

[info]larvatus:
«Или Вы не знаете.» Я Вам давеча рекомендовал Вейзенбаума. Порекомендую опять. Нищета программирования сводится к диалектической неполноценности. Программист делает компьютеру то, что он не может делать людям. А все настоящие достижения совершаются вне формального заповедника конечного автомата.

[info]ivan_ghandhi:
Не знаю, как у Вас, а у меня не получается пока что именно понять, что, собственно, делается, и почему. Каким образом вот программист выбирает вот такой-то код. Каков глубинный смысл? Да и вообще, как передать этот, в общем-то, малопознаваемый мир в виде штучек в компьютере? Тот факт, что у каждой собаки и у каждой мухи в голове есть какая-то модель мира (точнее, конечно, теория), не отменяет загадочности самого процесса моделирования (точнее, конечно, теоретизирования).
    Да та же математика… с точки зрения Вейценбаума она, наверное, состоит в нахождении и доказательстве остроумных теорем, вытекающих из самоочевидных (т.е. истинных) аксиом — т.е. как бы объективна и всеобъемлюща. А ведь в некотором смысле мы, для гипотетических существ полмиллиарда лет после нас, такие же мухи.

[info]larvatus:
Загадочность можно найти в чём угодно. Но не все объекты созерцания равнозначны, да и само созерцание полноценно только в меру своей независимости от желаний и склонностей. В отличие от математики, программирование ничем подобным не обладает. В рамках «Никомаховой Этики», оно является омфалоскопической пародией политической жизни.

[info]ivan_ghandhi:
Я совершенно не знаком с “Никомаховой Этикой”, но не вижу, почему бы это оно было пародией политической жизни. У нас, конечно, разный опыт и разные взгляды; для меня написание иного кода может быть ничем не хуже исследований в теории конечных групп или полей. Конечные группы тоже омфалоскопичны? (Мне раньше казалось, что да; то ли дело какие-нть спектральные последовательности).
    Но и конечность в нашей области довольно, имхо, условна.

[info]ivan_ghandhi:
О, да я неправ был. Конечно, нечего программирование с математикой сравнивать. Я отупел просто за все эти годы; алгебру уже не осилить, так вот с программированием разобраться пытаюсь.

[info]larvatus:
Я думаю, что Вы путаете божий дар с яичницей. Профессия математика созерцательна, в смысле принадлежности к чистой теории. Напротив, профессии юриста и страхового агента находятся в сфере политики, связанной с неудачами или неопределённостью. Обоим при случае приходится использовать математику, но это употребление никоим образом не делает их ремесло созерцательным. Точно так же, программист решает практические задачи, подчиняя компьютер нуждам своего работодателя. Если он считает себя математиком на основании своей профессиональной зависимости от математических результатов, с таким же успехом можно было бы объявить математиком парикмахера на основании его профессиональной зависимости от теоремы о причёсывании ежа.
    Насчёт программирования как пародии, господство над компьютером не более, чем симулякр господства над природой или господства над обществом, к которым стремятся действующие лица политической жизни.

[info]ivan_ghandhi:
Парикмахер-то, кстати, причёсывает не ежа — клиент, даже топологически — не сфера.
    Нет, радовать клиента — это не то, о чём я. Меня сейчас больше занимает вопрос “а почему так” — и вовсе не с практической точки зрения; поэтому и “практическая” конечность меня совершенно не бацает, всегда можно вообразить идеальную машину, о которой и речь. В этом смысле, программирование очень далеко от физики. Меня вот сейчас занимает, как “практически” коммутировать монады, которые у всех программирующих сидят в бессознательном; “практически” означает нахождение какого-нибудь конструктивного и легкопонятного решения. Много вопросов, которые никакого отношения к заявкам заказчика не имеют. Ну ту же теорию типов взять и, скажем,иерархия чтобы включала факт перечислимости.
    Много факторов в степи, как говорил Копёнкин.

[info]larvatus:
Платонов и монады, это конечно замечательно, но я ведь не о том. Математика бывает немного прикладной, только в том смысле, что женщина бывает немного блядовитой. А коли мы уж подались в бляди, достойнее блядовать в обществе или на природе, чем через компьютер.
larvatus: (Default)
[info]mike67:
Исчезновение веры в идеалы — часть общемирового процесса…

[info]larvatus:
В моей стране скорее наблюдается обратный процесс. Почти вся наша повседневная политика основана на непоколебимой вере в право на жизнь, свободу, и поиски счастья. Сухой остаток выражает бесхитростную веру в общественный прогресс.

[info]once_for_all:
Простите, а в какой это стране? Я серьезно спрашиваю.

[info]larvatus:
В США.

[info]mike67:
Я понимаю. Но это немного другие идеалы. То есть проще сказать, что сохранились представления о добре и зле. Но тут же выяснится, что сохранились они и в России, но в другой форме. А вот при попытке описать разницу начнется такая путаница, что лучше туда не лезть.

[info]larvatus:
Непоколебимая вера в право на жизнь, свободу, и поиски счастья, это не просто представление о добре и зле, а ещё вдобавок гражданский идеал. Какие гражданские идеалы сохранились в России?

[info]mike67:
Мне кажется, Вы сейчас распространяете декларируемый гражданский идеал на все общество. Нет, в России с гражданскими идеалами плохо, это известно.

[info]larvatus:
Дело в том, что наши декларируемые гражданские идеалы именно так распространяются в нашем обществе. Я понимаю, что из старого мира это выглядит очень странно, но тем не менее, так оно и есть.

[info]mike67:
Дело в другом. Гражданский идеал есть средство, а не цель. То есть существование гражданских идеалов, которое выгодно отличает США от России (кто б спорил, проблему диалога народа с властью в РФ до сих пор решить невозможно) относится только к гражданской сфере, и мне кажется неправильным распространять его на все прочие сферы, заполняя вакуум, образовавшийся после произошедшего в XX веке краха главной основы гуманистического идеала — веры в неограниченность возможностей человека. Грубо говоря, американская конституция и американский образ жизни, равно как в СССР — советский, считались залогом успехов в науке, спорте и искусстве, но не самоцелью.

[info]larvatus:
Вы будете смеяться, но гражданский идеал воплощённый в нашей Конституции является формальной и содержательной целью нашего общества.

[info]mike67:
Гражданского общества. Но общество не может сводиться к гражданской общине.

[info]larvatus:
Как не может, так и не должно. Но мы ведь обсуждаем предполагаемое Вами исчезновение веры в идеалы, якобы являющееся частью общемирового процесса.

[info]mike67:
Так я и объясняю, что идеалы общества шире идеалов общества гражданского.

[info]larvatus:
Что же именно исчезает в общемировом порядке?

[info]mike67:
Как я уже говорил, идеалы-цели, то есть идеалы, связанные с развитием человека. Исчезают вместе с верой в перспективы его развития. С верой в прогресс.

[info]larvatus:
Вы считаете, что либеральная вера в право на жизнь, свободу, и поиски счастья не является идеалом, связанным с развитием человека?

[info]mike67:
Конечно, не является. Так же как вера в семейные ценности, например. В строительство справедливого общества — уже другое.

[info]larvatus:
Вы считаете, что развитие человека возможно вне зависимости от его права на жизнь, свободу, и поиски счастья?

[info]mike67:
Не считаю (хотя есть люди, которые так считают)! Но именно поэтому я и говорю: средство, а не цель.
    Только вот про поиски счастья я уже третий раз забываю спросить, и теперь спрошу: у них-то какая специфическая связь с западной (или конкретно американской) системой ценностей?

[info]larvatus:
Простите, я совсем запутался. Вы сказали, что исчезновение веры в идеалы является частью общемирового процесса. Теперь Вы согласились, что что право на жизнь, свободу, и поиски счастья необходимо для развития человека. Соответственно, либеральная вера в это право является верой в идеал, никоим образом не исчезающей из американского общества. Не так ли?
    Что касается поисков счастья, это понятие принадлежит Джефферсону, унаследовавшему его от Локка. Локк утверждал право на “life, liberty, and estate” или “lives, liberties, and fortunes”. Его последователи востребовали право на “life, liberty, and property”. Джефферсон же написал “the pursuit of happiness” вместо “property” в декларации о независимости. Следует отметить что понятие собственности в государственных трактатах Локка включает в себя все гражданские средства для поисков счастья, за исключением того, о чём заботится Мишель Уэльбек.

[info]mike67:
Да, я уже догадался, что это из Декларации независимости. Но слово выглядит сейчас таким же случайным и несвязанным со всеми остальными частями формулы, каким оно оказалось в сочиненной Джефферсоном парафразе.
    Что касается основной темы, то схема такова: права человека необходимы для развития человека, следовательно могут рассматриваться не как идеал, а как средство его достижения. В качестве же самостоятельных идеалов в последние века фигурировал комплекс, связанный с совершенствованием человека, с его торжеством над мощью природы, с верой в прогресс, то есть с тот гуманистический комплекс, который породил, в том числе, и понятие прав человека. Вот весь этот проект, составивший специфику нового времени, теперь закрыт.

[info]larvatus:
Вот тут я с Вами мог бы согласиться на основаниях тюремной культуры. Скажем так: тот гуманистический комплекс, который породил, в том числе, и понятие прав человека, начинается с рьяной гомофобии, к примеру в «Государстве» 403a и в «Законах» 636c и 838e. Напротив, либеральное общество рано или поздно приходит к заключению, что каждый гражданин имеет право злоупотреблять распоряжаться своей жопой так, как он хочет, причём это заключение выстрадано путём криминалистических расследований и судебных попыток пресечения. На этом этапе любой здравомыслящий гуманист захотел бы свою собственную жопу поднимать и уёбывать. Но было бы куда. Поскольку на настоящий день гражданский идеал гуманизма согласовывается с гражданскими вольностями жопы. Время от времени эта согласованность приводит к массовым кровопролитиям. К примеру, сторонники санкций против гомосексуализма проиграли вторую мировую войну и продолжают проигрывать многие войны поменьше. С другой стороны, англо-американское общество не испытывает недостатка в добровольцах, фактически защищающих право малых народов распоряжаться своей жопой так, как они хотят. К сему и прилагается тезис о праве на поиски счастья, воплощённый в нашей Конституции в качестве формальной и содержательной цели нашего общества.
    Я всё это к тому, что граждане моей страны неоднократно проявляли, и продолжают проявлять, готовность к самопожертвованию во имя того гуманистического комплекса, который породил понятие прав человека. И это при том, что сами права они рассматривают неоднозначно. К примеру, наша армия не признаёт право военнослужащих на злоупотребление своими жопами.
larvatus: (Default)
Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piatelli-Palmarini propound the following analogy in their letter to the TLS Editor:
Our difficulty with Darwin is very like our difficulty with our stockbroker. He says the way to succeed on the market is to buy low and sell high, and we believe him. But since he won’t tell us how to buy low and sell high, his advice does us no good. Likewise, Darwin thinks that the traits that are selected-for are the ones that cause fitness; but he doesn’t say how the kinds of variables that his theory envisages as selectors could interact with phenotypes in ways that distinguish causes of fitness from their confounds. This problem can’t be solved by just stipulating that the traits that are selected for are the fitness-enhancing traits; that, as one said in the 1960s, isn’t the solution; it’s the problem.
Matthew Cobb, a contributor to the evolutionist advocacy blog owned and operated by Jerry A. Coyne, Ph.D and a Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, fancies himself to have made short work of this argument. But misunderstanding the analogy between evolving through natural selection and succeeding on the market by buying low and selling high is a clear symptom of being out of one’s mind in the following, precisely defined sense:
  1. Natural selection is said to be responsible for evolving all functions of living organisms.
  2. The mind counts among the functions of some living organisms.
  3. The mind of some living organisms is capable of making intensional distinctions such as the one between being renate and being cordate, or the one between being an even prime number and being equal to the positive square root of four.
  4. Natural selection is incapable of making intensional distinctions.
  5. Natural selection cannot evolve the capacity to make intensional distinctions.
  6. Some minds have functions that cannot have evolved through natural selection.
  7. Some functions of living organisms cannot have evolved through natural selection.
At this point, to echo Sir Winston Churchill, we know exactly what you are as a living organism; we are just haggling about something that determines your price.

Crossposted to [info]larvatus, [info]philosophy, and [info]real_philosophy.
larvatus: (Default)
Agreeing with John Rawls to define civil disobedience as “a public, nonviolent conscientious yet political act contrary to law usually done with the aim of bringing about a change in the law or policies of the government” is not self-interested and is always performed in public, nowise implies that smashing a fleeing intruder’s head cannot qualify as such. If and when the man accused of taking the law into his own hands comes forward to face the consequences of his actions in a court of law, its public proceedings suffice to ground the common interest in the effective means of self-defense, vested in his ostensible infringement of refusal to defer to the state monopoly on the legitimate use of violence.



Sesquipedalian persiflage ahead! )
larvatus: (Default)
A problem for libertarians:

Following Aristotle and Aquinas, it is customary to distinguish commutative justice, which deals with the relations that arise between individuals, between individuals and groups, and between groups that comprise any given community, from distributive justice, which deals with the overarching relation of that community as a whole to all of its constituent individuals and groups. Read more... )

Some inadvertent long range prognostications:

MZ:
Suppose that Lefty the hedge fund manager is a compulsive gambler who has been rescued from the brink of ruin by a bunch of wealthy arsehole buddies in the investment banking industry, owing to their government connections. Suppose further that Lefty, bloodied but unbowed, and certainly none the wiser, is continuing to make leveraged bets to the tune of 80% of your government’s budget. Suppose finally that there are some 100,000,000 Righties encumbered with the usual variable rate credit obligations. What does Lefty owe to the Righties at the point of his financial collapse precipitating a global credit crunch?

PMJ:
I can’t see that Lefty owes the Righties anything. If a credit crunch is a relative unwillingness (compared to the status quo ante) of credit vendors to extend credit at the previous rates, then to consider the occurrence of this a compensatable cost is tantamount to saying that the Righties somehow had a right to the continuance of the credit vendors’ willingness to offer credit at the previous rates, which notion seems to me to be absurd on its face.
    It is a commonplace that bad consequences can result from people acting entirely within their rights. Often, A’s coming to terms with B forecloses C’s dearly cherished hope. This is called “bad fortune“.

MZ:
But if Lefty trades in legal tender, i.e. goods backed by fictitious mortgages upon public properties, his trades perforce manipulate very real mortgages that bind millions of Righties. Such manipulation can warrant commutative compensation even before you decide how you feel about property taxes.
    Consider another example: Soros shorting the pound sterling and the ringgit to enrich himself and precipitate economic turmoil in Great Britain and Malaysia.
    “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.”

larvatus: (Default)
     „Niemals geboren zu werden wäre das beste für die sterblichen Menschenkinder“, „Aber“, setzen die Weisen der „Fliegenden Blätter“ hinzu, „unter hunderttausend Menschen passiert dies kaum einem.“
    Der moderne Zusatz zum alten Weisheitsspruch ist ein klarer Unsinn, der durch das anscheinend vorsichtige „kaum“ noch dümmer wird. Aber er knüpft als unbestreitbar richtige Einschränkung an den ersten Satz an, kann uns also die Augen darüber öffnen, daß jene mit Ehrfurcht vernommene Weisheit auch nicht viel besser als ein Unsinn ist. Wer nie geboren worden ist, ist überhaupt kein Menschenkind; für den gibt es kein Gutes und kein Bestes. Der Unsinn im Witz dient also hier zur Aufdeckung und Darstellung eines anderen Unsinns wie im Beispiel vom Artilleristen Itzig.
Never to be born would be the best thing for mortal men.’ ‘But’, adds the philosophical comment in Fliegende Blätter, ‘this happens to scarcely one person in a hundred thousand.’
    This modern addition to an ancient saw is an evident piece of nonsense, made sillier by the ostensibly cautious ‘scarcely’. But the addition is attached to the original statement as an indisputably correct limitation, and is thus able to open our eyes to the fact that this solemnly accepted piece of wisdom is itself not much better than a piece of nonsense. Anyone who is not born is not a mortal man at all, and there is no good and no best for him. Thus the nonsense in the joke serves to uncover and demonstrate another piece of nonsense, just as in the example of Artilleryman Itzig.
—Sigmund Freud,
Der Witz und seine Beziehung zum Unbewussten‎, Deuticke, 1912, p. 45
Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious, translated by James Strachey, Norton, 1990, pp. 65-66

I got a real depressing letter from my folks about two weeks ago, because I haven’t been taking real good care of my money. They said, ‘Sam, we can’t send you any more money. You’re out of control, and you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing with your cash. And… you’re old enough to be on your own.’ I said, ‘Oh, okay’… and I called them. I said, ‘Mom, get dad on the phone too, wake him up, I know it’s late, but I want you both to hear this. You know, before I was your little son—before I was your baby—before I was your loan—I was a free spirit in the next stage of life. I walked in the cosmos, not imprisoned by a body of flesh, but free, in a pure body of light. There were no questions, only answers. No weaknesses, only strengths. I was light, I was truth, I was a spiritual being, I was a God!!! But you had to FUCK and bring my ass down HERE! I didn’t ask to be born! I didn’t call and say: ‘Hey, please have me so I could work in a fuckin’ Winchell’s someday!’ Now you want me to pay my own way? FUCK YOU! PICK UP THE FUCKIN’ CHECK, MOM! PICK IT UP!
This year’s winner of the Bookseller/Diagram prize for the oddest title of the year is Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification. Other finalists included How Green were the Nazis?, Tattooed Mountain Women and Spoon Boxes of Daghestan, and the book I’m reviewing here. The title is indeed odd. But it isn’t intended merely to be catchy, another one of those volumes appealing on the cover but deadly dull within. Benatar appears genuinely to believe that we are all harmed, and fairly seriously harmed, by being brought into existence and that it would really be better, and better for us, had we never been born. There are two important and immediate objections: how can something that odd, that strange, possibly be true? And, if it is true, why don’t we all, or at least those who believe it, go and put an end to things now? Why is Benatar still with us? Is he still with us? He is, and he thinks he has an answer to these objections. I’ll come to these below.
[…]
So, give Benatar a charitable reading and there are still objections to be made. Give him what may in the end be a fairer reading, and the objections are stronger. Both in the paper and the book he argues thus: suppose you have to choose between two packages. The first contains something good and something bad, while the second contains something good and something neutral. The second package is to be preferred. But the first package is one in which we exist, and where our lives involve both goods and bads, or pleasures and pains. The second is one in which we don’t exist, and so there are no pains—something good, and no pleasures—something not bad, or neutral. So, on balance, existence is worse than non-existence. This is a dreadful argument. It’s most obviously dreadful in taking no account of the quantities of pleasure and pain involved. You might think that Benatar must at least anticipate this objection. Certainly in the paper he doesn’t. Not so in the book. There (pp. 45-47) he does attempt to address this challenge. But as he appears almost altogether to misunderstand it, there is just no force in his reply.
Reviewed by Christopher Belshaw, The Open University
Let us follow David Benatar, Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence, Oxford University Press, 2006, pp. 45-47:

[…]


Quadrant (1) must be negative, because it is bad, and quadrants (2) and (3) must be positive because they are good. (I assume that (3) must be as good as (1) is bad. That is, if (1)=−n, then (3)=+n.) Since (4) is not bad (and not good either), it should be neither positive nor negative but rather neutral.

Employing the value assignments of Figure 2.4 we add (1) and (2) in order to determine the value of A, and then compare this with the sum of (3) and (4), which is the value of B. Doing this, we find that A is preferable to B where (2) is more than twice the value of (1).35 [Where (2) is only twice the value of (1), A and B have equal value and thus neither coming into existence nor never coming into existence is preferable.] There are numerous problems with this. For instance, as I shall show in the first section of the next chapter, it is not only the ratio of pleasure to pain that determines the quality of a life, but also the sheer quantity of pain. Once a certain threshold of pain is passed, no amount of pleasure can compensate for it.

But the best way to show that Figure 2.4 is mistaken is to apply the reasoning behind Figure 2.4 to the analogy of H (Healthy) and S (Sick) mentioned earlier.



Following Figure 2.5, it would be better to be S than H if the value of (2) were more than twice the value of (1). (This presumably would be the case where the amount of suffering that (2) saves S is more than twice the amount S actually suffers.) But this cannot be right, for surely it is always better to be H (a person who never gets sick and is thus not disadvantaged by lacking the capacity for quick recovery). The whole point is that (2) is good for S but does not constitute an advantage over H. By assigning a positive charge to (2) and a ‘0’ to (4), Figure 2.5 suggests that (2) is an advantage over (4), but it quite clearly is not. The assignment of values in Figure 2.5, and hence also in Figure 2.4, must be mistaken. 36 [To take the implications of the value assignments in Fig. 2.5 for Fig. 2.4 as evidence that the analogy between the two cases must be inapt is another instance of treating the avoidance of my conclusion as axiomatic.]
To recap, David Benatar argues that uncontroversial symmetry between the presence of pain being bad and the presence of pleasure being good does not seem to apply to the absence of pain and pleasure. On the contrary, it strikes him as true that the absence of pain is good even if that good is not enjoyed by anyone, whereas the absence of pleasure is not bad unless there is somebody for whom that absence is a deprivation. Consequently, the absence of any possible subject of pain and pleasure would amount to an overall good in the balance of his absent pains and pleasures.

It is equally uncontroversial, and uncontested by Benatar, that absence of pleasure in an extant subject does add up to a deprivation, whence the traditional recognition of acedia, a condition of sloth or torpor leading to listlessness and want of interest in life, as one of the seven deadly sins. It might be argued that the absence of any possible subject of pain and pleasure would amount to a deprivation to his potential creators. Thus within the same framework of sin and salvation, potential parents may suffer from a lack of progeny required to honor them pursuant to the Fifth Commandment, just as God may suffer from a lack of humans required to honor Him pursuant to its predecessors. But this teleological account preempts the utilitarian reckoning of the presence and absence of pain and pleasure. Likewise the human duty recognized by Socrates in the Phaedo at 62b-c, to live as a ward (κτῆμα) of the gods, consigned to their care (ἐπιμελέομαι). The key consideration here is that utilitarianism arises as an exclusive alternative to imputations of human duties or purposes and narratological construals of human lives not lending themselves to a scalar summation of pleasures and pains. It is therefore pointless to bring up such imputations and construals as conclusive rebuttals of Benatar’s utilitarian argument. There are good reasons for rejecting utilitarianism, but the spirit of charity requires the philosopher to set them aside in assessing the merits of arguments made within its tradition.

In this context belongs a critical response to a passage from John Bunyan cited in an earlier discussion of Benatar on Crooked Timber:
The figure in the Sermon on the Mount, contrasting the straight and narrow way to salvation with the broad highway to destruction, has been the basis of a number of sustained allegories, the best known being Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. To keep the figure of a way going for a whole book, the course pursued has to be a very labourious one: this is theologically defensible for Bunyan, even though we can see that the difficulty of the journey is a technical as well as a religious requirement. Toward the end of the second book Bunyan says:
Some also have wished that the next way to their Father’s house were here, that they might be troubled no more with either hills or mountains to go over; but the way is the way, and there is an end. [fn. 41 See John Bunyan, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners and The Pilgrim’s Progress from this World to that which is to come, ed. Roger Sharrock (London: Oxford University Press, 1966), 355 (pt. 2).]
One wonders if there is not a suppressed voice also in Bunyan’s mind asking why we have to be stuck with this spiteful and malicious God who puts so incredibly difficult an obstacle course between ourselves and himself. In the great danse macabre with which the second book concludes, the dying Valiant-for-Truth says, “Though with great difficulty I am got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been at to arrive where I am,” [fn. 42 Pilgrim’s Progress, 397 (pt. 2).] where the suppressed voice is almost audible. When there are dissenting voices like this murmuring in the subtext, one wonders if the author does not feel some difficulty about his choice of metaphor.
—Northrop Frye, Words With Power: Being a Second Study of ’The Bible and Literature,
The Collected Works of Northrop Frye, Vol. 26, University of Toronto Press, 2008, pp. 90-91
Northrop Frye’s apprehension of a suppressed voice in Bunyan’s mind belongs to the spectrum of legitimate reasons for purging ethical thought of duties and purposes along with narratives that give rise thereto, reducing it to a dispassionate calculus of scalar values. As a famous philosopher pointed out, there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. Accordingly, saying that an argument is bad without a thought to back it up, amounts to nothing. Likewise gainsaying a premiss in the calculus of utility, in so far as it amounts to its thoughtless contradiction. The utilitarian project may be a failure, but it begins and ends in rational thought, and deserves to be addressed by rational means.

Insisting in response to Benatar, that some pleasures are worth the pains, let alone recognizing the existence of masochists taking pleasure in pain, gets us nowhere near an argument as an intellectual process comprising a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition. The correct utilitarian response to invocations of sadomasochism is reflected in Harsanyi’s distinction between self-regarding and other-regarding utility functions and preferences. Benatar’s argument would stand after discounting all social and empathetic factors. All such factors ought to be discounted in considering, of an individual life, whether or not it is worth being brought into existence. After all, the masochist patient does not take pleasure in any old pain, but revels in being inflicted pain by another agent. So the pain of natural suffering, as distinct from the social kind, suffices to motivate the top half of Benatar’s Figure 2.4. Pain is bad and pleasure is good; whereas lack of pain is bad, but lack of pleasure is indifferent, unless it is a privation. In the balance, better not to create a potential subject for such privation.

It might be objected that a masochist before God could take pleasure in the pain of cancer, as a means of proving himself equal to the challenges raised by his heavenly Father. This is the position of John Bunyan’s Valiant-for-Truth, shored up by many modern luminaries. Thus George Bernard Shaw:
All that you miss in Shakespeare you find in Bunyan, to whom the true heroic came quite obviously and naturally. The world was to him a more terrible place than it was to Shakespeare; but he saw through it a path at the end of which a man might look not only forward to the Celestial City, but back on his life and say: “Tho’ with great difficulty I am got hither,—yet now I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been at to arrive where I am. My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill to him that can get them.” The heart vibrates like a bell to such an utterance as this: to turn from it to “ Out, out, brief candle,” and “ The rest is silence,” and “We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded by a sleep” is to turn from life, strength, resolution, morning air and eternal youth, to the terrors of a drunken nightmare.
—“Better than Shakespeare”, in Dramatic Opinions and Essays with an Apology by G. Bernard Shaw, New York, Brentano, 1906, Vol. 2, p. 147
And thus Robert Louis Stevenson:
Last and most remarkable, ‘My sword,’ says the dying Valiant-for-Truth, he in whom Great-heart delighted, ‘my sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill to him that can get it.’ And after this boast, more arrogantly unorthodox than was ever dreamed of by the rejected Ignorance, we are told that ‘all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side.’
—Robert Louis Stevenson, “Bagster’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’”, in Sketches, Criticisms, etc., New York: Charles Scribner’s, 1898, p. 215
The anticipation of trumpets sounding on the other side may well inspire the faithful to withstand the pains of earthly existence. But merely pointing out that the ultimate pleasure of reuniting with God, or some interim ersatz thereof, would be worth the pains that precede it, is irrelevant in the setting of Benatar’s decision matrix. For this point amounts to a postulation that foreclosing the possibility of future pleasure in an as yet unrealized subject always already amounts to a privation. While this postulate is well suited to a hopeful narrative of posthumous salvation, it is less apt for a pure spiritual being about to be imprisoned by a body of flesh, and bears no relevance to a reckoning of worldly utility in prospective lives.

While social and empathetic factors are essential constituents in a worthwhile life, their role in evaluating whether an ongoing life is worthwhile does not find any counterparts in deciding whether a prospective life is worth being brought into existence. There may be no grounds for disputing that all social and empathetic factors ought to be discounted in considering, of an individual life, whether or not it is worth being brought into existence, just as there may be no actual lives having been brought into existence in complete disregard of these factors. In other words, while people invariably have children for selfish reasons, the only good reason to have a child is for its own sake. Some variety of methodological solipsism is indispensable as the correct framework for such deliberation. It may be impossible to understand a person in separation from other people or in separation from his environment. But there is a crucial difference between understanding an actual person in his connection with other people and his environment, and deliberating on the merits of bringing into existence a potential person with merely conjectural interpersonal and environmental connections.

In this regard, Benatar’s observation has devastating consequences for the utilitarian assessment of the choice to bring a new life into existence. If there is nothing bad about never coming into existence, whereas there is something bad about coming into existence, it is always preferable to choose a scenario that involves nothing bad. The same conclusion extends to the voluntary acceptance of bad pains in order to achieve greater pleasures, pursuant to Benatar’s analogy between existence versus non-existence and sickness versus health, as reproduced above.

—Reproduced for, and summarized from, a discussion on CHORA; also see an earlier discussion on Crooked Timber.
larvatus: (MZ)
Welcher Mensch wird sich vermessen, die Ethik der Bergpredigt, etwa den Satz: „Widerstehe nicht dem Übel“ oder das Bild von der einen und der anderen Backe, „wissenschaftlich widerlegen“ zu wollen? Und doch ist klar: es ist, innerweltlich angesehen, eine Ethik der Würdelosigkeit, die hier gepredigt wird: man hat zu wählen zwischen der religiösen Würde, die diese Ethik bringt, und der Manneswürde, die etwas ganz anderes predigt: „Widerstehe dem Übel,—sonst bist du für seine Übergewalt mitverantwortlich.“ Je nach der letzten Stellungnahme ist für den Einzelnen das eine der Teufel und das andere der Gott, und der Einzelne hat sich zu entscheiden, welches für ihn der Gott und welches der Teufel ist. Und so geht es durch alle Ordnungen des Lebens hindurch.

What man will take upon himself the attempt to “refute scientifically” the ethic of the Sermon on the Mount? For instance, the proposition, “Resist no evil” or the image of turning the other cheek? And yet it is clear, from a worldly perspective, that an ethic of indignity is being preached here; one has to choose between the religious dignity that this ethic confers and the dignity of manly conduct that preaches something quite different: “Resist evil, lest you be jointly responsible for its empire.” According to our ultimate standpoint, the one is of the devil and the other of God, and the individual has to decide, which for him is God, and which is the devil. And so it goes through all the orders of life.

        —Max Weber, Wissenschaft als Beruf / Science as a Vocation, 7 November 1917


Befreien wir es aber zunächst von einer ganz trivialen Verfälschung. Es kann nämlich zunächst die Ethik auftreten in einer sittlich höchst fatalen Rolle. Nehmen wir Beispiele. Sie werden selten finden, daß ein Mann, dessen Liebe sich von einer Frau ab- und einer andern zuwendet, nicht das Bedürfnis empfindet, dies dadurch vor sich selbst zu legitimieren, daß er sagt: sie war meiner Liebe nicht wert, oder sie hat mich enttäuscht, oder was dergleichen „Gründe“ mehr sind. Eine Unritterlichkeit, die zu dem schlichten Schicksal: daß er sie nicht mehr liebt, und daß die Frau das tragen muß, in tiefer Unritterlichkeit sich eine „Legitimität“ hinzudichtet, kraft deren er für sich ein Recht in Anspruch nimmt und zu dem Unglück noch das Unrecht auf sie zu wälzen trachtet. Ganz ebenso verfährt der erfolgreiche erotische Konkurrent: der Gegner muß der wertlosere sein, sonst wäre er nicht unterlegen. Nichts anderes ist es aber selbstverständlich, wenn nach irgendeinem siegreichen Krieg der Sieger in würdeloser Rechthaberei beansprucht: ich siegte, denn ich hatte recht. Oder, wenn jemand unter den Fürchterlichkeiten des Krieges seelisch zusammenbricht und nun, anstatt schlicht zu sagen: es war eben zu viel, jetzt das Bedürfnis empfindet, seine Kriegsmüdigkeit vor sich selbst zu legitimieren, indem er die Empfindung substituiert: ich konnte das deshalb nicht ertragen, weil ich für eine sittlich schlechte Sache fechten mußte. Und ebenso bei dem im Kriege Besiegten. Statt nach alter Weiber Art nach einem Kriege nach dem „Schuldigen“ zu suchen,—wo doch die Struktur der Gesellschaft den Krieg erzeugte—, wird jede männliche und herbe Haltung dem Feinde sagen: „Wir verloren den Krieg—ihr habt ihn gewonnen. Das ist nun erledigt: nun laßt uns darüber reden, welche Konsequenzen zu ziehen sind entsprechend den sachlichen Interessen, die im Spiel waren, und—die Hauptsache—angesichts der Verantwortung vor der Zukunft, die vor allem den Sieger belastet.“ Alles andere ist würdelos und rächt sich. Verletzung ihrer Interessen verzeiht eine Nation, nicht aber Verletzung ihrer Ehre, am wenigsten eine solche durch pfäffische Rechthaberei. Jedes neue Dokument, das nach Jahrzehnten ans Licht kommt, läßt das würdelose Gezeter, den Haß und Zorn wieder aufleben, statt daß der Krieg mit seinem Ende wenigstens sittlich begraben würde. Das ist nur durch Sachlichkeit und Ritterlichkeit, vor allem nur: durch Würde möglich. Nie aber durch eine „Ethik“, die in Wahrheit eine Würdelosigkeit beider Seiten bedeutet. Anstatt sich um das zu kümmern, was den Politiker angeht: die Zukunft und die Verantwortung vor ihr, befaßt sie sich mit politisch sterilen, weil unaustragbaren Fragen der Schuld in der Vergangenheit. Dies zu tun, ist politische Schuld, wenn es irgendeine gibt. Und dabei wird überdies die unvermeidliche Verfälschung des ganzen Problems durch sehr materielle Interessen übersehen: Interessen des Siegers am höchstmöglichen Gewinn—moralischen und materiellen—, Hoffnungen des Besiegten darauf, durch Schuldbekenntnisse Vorteile einzuhandeln: wenn es irgend etwas gibt, was „gemein“ ist, dann dies, und das ist die Folge dieser Art von Benutzung der „Ethik“ als Mittel des „Rechthabens“.

First, let us free ourselves from a quite trivial falsification, that ethics may first arise in a role that is highly compromised morally. Let us consider examples. Rarely will you find that a man whose love turns from one woman to another feels no need to legitimate this before himself by saying: she was not worthy of my love, or, she has disappointed me, or whatever other like “reasons” exist. This is an attitude that, with a profound lack of chivalry, adds a fancied “legitimacy” to the plain fact that he no longer loves her and that the woman has to bear it. By virtue of this “legitimation”, the man claims a right for himself and besides causing the misfortune seeks to put her in the wrong. Likewise, for the successful amatory competitor, the adversary must be less worthy, otherwise he would not have lost out. It is no different, of course, if after a victorious war the victor in undignified self-righteousness claims, “I have won because I was right”. Or, if somebody under the frightfulness of war collapses psychologically, and instead of simply saying it was just too much, he feels the need of legitimizing his war weariness to himself by substituting the feeling, “I could not bear it because I had to fight for a morally bad cause”. And likewise with the defeated in war. Instead of searching like old women for the “guilty one” after the war—given a situation wherein the structure of society produced the war—everyone with a manly and controlled attitude would tell the enemy: “We lost the war. You have won it. That is now all over. Now let us discuss what conclusions must be drawn according to the objective interests that came into play, and what is the main thing in view of the responsibility towards the future that above all burdens the victor.” Anything else is undignified and will rebound. A nation forgives if its interests have been damaged, but no nation forgives if its honor has been offended, especially by a bigoted self-righteousness. Every new document that comes to light after decades revives the undignified lamentations, the hatred and scorn, instead of allowing the war at its end to be buried, at least morally. This is possible only through objectivity and chivalry and above all only through dignity. But never is it possible through an “ethic”, which in truth signifies a lack of dignity on both sides. Instead of being concerned with what the politician is interested in, the future and the responsibility towards the future, this ethic is concerned with politically sterile questions of past guilt, which are not to be settled politically. To act in this way is politically guilty, if such guilt exists at all. And it overlooks the unavoidable falsification of the whole problem, through very material interests: namely, the victor's interest in the greatest possible moral and material gain; the hopes of the defeated to trade in advantages through confessions of guilt. If anything is “vulgar”, then, this is, and it is the result of this fashion of exploiting “ethics” as a means of “being in the right”.

larvatus: (Default)
     Ἡράκλειτος τὸ ἀντίξουν συμφέρον καὶ ἐκ τῶν διαφερόντων καλλίστην ἁρμονίαν καὶ πάντα κατ᾽ ἔριν γίνεσθαι: ἐξ ἐναντίας δὲ τούτοις ἄλλοι
Heracleitus says, ‘Opposition unites,’ and ‘The fairest harmony springs from difference,’ and ‘'Tis strife that makes the world go on.’
—Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1155b1-6, translated by J. Bywater
Thirty-three years ago the author of these screeds walked free after serving a fifteen day sentence for petty hooliganism with twenty-two codefendants, counting among the first Soviet political protesters to get away with a slap on the wrist. The Berlin Wall came down thirteen years later, to the day. Coincidence? You decide.

Meanwhile, the philosophy of freedom is making giant strides in Russia. On 18 April 2009, Vadim Karastelev, head of the local Human Rights Committee, protested the curfew forbidding anyone under 18 years of age from appearing in the streets of Krasnodar region by displaying a sign with the slogan “Freedom is not given, it is taken”, a paraphrase of an analogous quotation about rights taken from a play by Maxim Gorky:
Прав—не дают, права—берут… Человек должен сам себе завоевать права, если не хочет быть раздавленным грудой обязанностей…
Rights aren’t given, rights are taken… Man must fight to win his rights if he doesn’t want to be crushed by a mountain of duties…
Herewith the expert philosophical analysis rendered in connection with his public display: Read more... ) Vadim Karastelev’s slogan echoes the combative demon of Charles Baudelaire:
Celui-là seul est l’égal d’un autre, qui le prouve, et celui-là seul est digne de la liberté, qui sait la conquérir.
Only he is the equal of another, who proves it, and only he is worthy of liberty, who can conquer it.
In his turn, Baudelaire drew upon Goethe’s Faust calling for free humanity jointly creating universal welfare in a free society:
Ja! diesem Sinne bin ich ganz ergeben, 
das ist der Weisheit letzter Schluß: 
Nur der verdient sich Freiheit wie das Leben,
der täglich sie erobern muß.
This is the final product of my strife,
The greatest wisdom mankind ever knew:
He only earns his freedom and his life, 
Who boldly conquers them each day anew.
The Faustian maxim is infinitely malleable, lending itself as the populist motto for the National Socialism of Alfred Rosenberg, the Marxism of Ernst Thälmann, and the dissident humanism of Andrei Sakharov. May it serve as the battle cry for the advent of freedom in Russia.

March 2014

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