Posts Tagged ‘morality’

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On Cruelty | Judith Butler

July 13, 2014

‘Whence comes this bizarre, bizarre idea,’ Jacques Derrida asks, reading Nietzsche on debt in On the Genealogy of Morals, ‘this ancient, archaic (uralte) idea, this so very deeply rooted, perhaps indestructible idea, of a possible equivalence between injury and pain (Schaden und Schmerz)? Whence comes this strange hypothesis or presumption of an equivalence between two such incommensurable things? What can a wrong and a suffering have in common?’ By way of an answer, he points out that ‘the origin of the legal subject, and notably of penal law, is commercial law; it is the law of commerce, debt, the market, the exchange between things, bodies and monetary signs, with their general equivalent and their surplus value, their interest.’

In the first volume of The Death Penalty, Derrida considers the jus talionis, the principle of equivalence according to which a relation is set up ‘between the crime and the punishment, between the injury and the price to be paid’. Debt, in On the Genealogy of Morals, gives Nietzsche a way of understanding how ‘the “consciousness of guilt”, “bad conscience”’ came into the world. Earlier he laments ‘that whole sombre thing called reflection’, in which the self becomes its own object of relentless scrutiny and self-punishment. If one wants to keep a promise, one must burn memory into the will, submit to – or submit oneself to – a reign of terror in the name of morality, administer pain to oneself in order to ensure one’s continuity and calculability through time. If I am to be moral and keep my promises, I will remember what I promised and remain the same ‘I’ who first uttered that promise, resisting any circumstances that might alter its continuity through time, never dozing when wakefulness is needed. The promise takes on another meaning in Nietzsche when what I have promised is precisely to repay a debt, a promise by which I enter into, and become bound by, a certain kind of contract. What I have apparently burned into the will, or had burned there, is a promise to remember and repay that debt, to realise the promise within a calculable period of time, and so to become a calculable creature. I can be counted on to count the time and count up the money to make the repayment: that accountability is the promise. I can count on myself, and others can count on me. If I prove capable of making a contract, I can receive a loan and be relied on to pay it back with interest, so that the lender can accumulate wealth from my debt in a predictable way. And if I default, the law will intervene to protect his interest in the interest he exacts from me.

Read full text at London Review of Books

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On Animal Morality

September 4, 2013

Kindness and patience seem to have a clear moral dimension. They are forms of what we might call ‘concern’ — emotional states that have as their focus the wellbeing of another — and concern for the welfare of others lies at the heart of morality. If Nina and Tess were concerned for the welfare of my son then, perhaps, they were acting morally: their behaviour had, at least in part, a moral motivation. And so, in those foggy, sleepless nights of early fatherhood, a puzzle was born inside of me, one that has been gnawing away at me ever since. If there is one thing on which most philosophers and scientists have always been in agreement it is the subject of human moral exceptionalism: humans, and humans alone, are capable of acting morally. Yet, this didn’t seem to tally with the way I came to think of Nina and Tess.

Many scientists (and more than a few philosophers) would have no hesitation in accusing perhaps several billion people of such delusional anthropomorphism. A growing number of animal scientists, however, are going over to the dark side, and at least flirting with the idea that animals can act morally. In his book Primates and Philosophers (2006), the Dutch primatologist Frans de Waal has argued that animals are at least capable of proto-moral behaviour: they possess the rudiments of morality even if they are not moral beings in precisely the way that we are. This was, in fact, Charles Darwin’s view, as developed in The Descent of Man. In a similar vein, the American biologist Marc Bekoff has being arguing for years that animals can act morally, and his book Wild Justice (2009) provides a useful summary of the evidence for this claim. Perhaps scientists such as Darwin, de Waal and Bekoff are also guilty of anthropomorphism? The evidence, however, would suggest otherwise.

Excerpt from an article written by Mark Rowlands at AEON. Read it THERE

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Killing Babies

April 5, 2012

“Is there no moral distinction between killing a newborn baby and aborting a fetus? And should an academic paper that seemingly advocated the killing of newborns have ever been published?

Those are the questions at the heart of a controversy that has erupted after the publication of a paper entitled ‘After-birth abortion: Why should the baby live?’ in the Journal of Medical Ethics. Two Australian academics, Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva, argued that the moral status of a newborn baby was identical to that of a fetus. Given that most people view abortion as morally acceptable so, they argued, there is no reason not to see infanticide as morally acceptable, too, even in ‘cases where the newborn has the potential to have an (at least) acceptable life, but the well-being of the family is at risk’. Indeed, Giubilini and Minerva reject the term ‘infanticide’, preferring to talk of ‘after-birth abortion’.

The paper, which would normally have been read only by a handful of moral philosophers, was picked by newspapers and websites and caused outrage worldwide. ‘Slaughter newborn kids, say academics’, read the headline in one British tabloid. Australian commentators, American chat show hosts and Catholic bishops weighed in, many claiming that infanticide was the logical consequence of the legalization of abortion. The two authors say that they have received death threats.”

Excerpt of an essay written by Kenan Malik. Continue HERE

Kenan Malik (born 1960) is an Indian-born English writer, lecturer and broadcaster, trained in neurobiology and the history of science. As a scientific author, his focus is on the philosophy of biology, and contemporary theories of multiculturalism, pluralism and race. These topics are core concerns in The Meaning of Race (1996), Man, Beast and Zombie (2000) and Strange Fruit: Why both sides are wrong in the race debate (2008).

His work contains a forthright defense of the values of the 18th-century Enlightenment, which he sees as having been distorted and misunderstood in more recent political and scientific thought. Wiki

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Unreasonable Atheist? Robert Wright on Richard Dawkins

April 5, 2012

Robert Wright : “…But is Dawkins really pursuing our common goal in a reasonable way? At the Reason Rally he encouraged people not just to take issue with religious teachings, but to “ridicule” religious belief and show “contempt” for it.”

Read at The Atlantic

Part 1

Part 2

Of course, they didn’t even touch any of the muffins and pastries.

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Nature, nurture and liberal values

April 1, 2012

Human beings are diverse and live in diverse ways. Should we accept that we are diverse by nature, having followed separate evolutionary paths? Or should we suppose that we share our biological inheritance, but develop differently according to environment and culture? Over recent years scientific research has reshaped this familiar “nature-nurture” debate, which remains central to our understanding of human nature and morality.

For much of the 20th century social scientists held that human life is a single biological phenomenon, which flows through the channels made by culture, so as to acquire separate and often mutually inaccessible forms. Each society passes on the culture that defines it, much as it passes on its language. And the most important aspects of culture—religion, rites of passage and law—both unify the people who adhere to them and divide those people from everyone else. Such was implied by what John Tooby and Leda Cosmides called the “standard social science model,” made fundamental to anthropology by Franz Boas and to sociology by Émile Durkheim.

More recently evolutionary psychologists have begun to question that approach. Although you can explain the culture of a tribe as an inherited possession, they suggested, this does not explain how culture came to be in the first place. What is it that endows culture with its stability and function? In response to that question the opinion began to grow that culture does not provide the ultimate explanation of any significant human trait, not even the trait of cultural diversity. It is not simply that there are extraordinary constants among cultures: gender roles, incest taboos, festivals, warfare, religious beliefs, moral scruples, aesthetic interests. Culture is also a part of human nature: it is our way of being. We do not live in herds or packs; our hierarchies are not based merely on strength or sexual dominance. We relate to one another through language, morality and law; we sing, dance and worship together, and spend as much time in festivals and storytelling as in seeking our food. Our hierarchies involve offices, responsibilities, gift-giving and ceremonial recognition. Our meals are shared, and food for us is not merely nourishment but an occasion for hospitality, affection and dressing up. All these things are comprehended in the idea of culture—and culture, so understood, is observed in all and only human communities. Why is this?

Excerpt of an essay by Roger Scruton at Prospect. Continue HERE

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Is Free Will an Illusion?

March 28, 2012

Free will has long been a fraught concept among philosophers and theologians. Now neuroscience is entering the fray.

For centuries, the idea that we are the authors of our own actions, beliefs, and desires has remained central to our sense of self. We choose whom to love, what thoughts to think, which impulses to resist. Or do we?

Neuroscience suggests something else. We are biochemical puppets, swayed by forces beyond our conscious control. So says Sam Harris, author of the new book, Free Will (Simon & Schuster), a broadside against the notion that we are in control of our own thoughts and actions. Harris’s polemic arrives on the heels of Michael S. Gazzaniga’s Who’s In Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain (HarperCollins), and David Eagleman’s Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain (Pantheon), both provocative forays into a debate that has in recent months spilled out onto op-ed and magazine pages, and countless blogs.

What’s at stake? Just about everything: morality, law, religion, our understanding of accountability and personal accomplishment, even what it means to be human. Harris predicts that a declaration by the scientific community that free will is an illusion would set off “a culture war far more belligerent than the one that has been waged on the subject of evolution.”

The Chronicle Review brought together some key thinkers to discuss what science can and cannot tell us about free will, and where our conclusions might take us.

You Don’t Have Free Will

Jerry A. Coyne

The Case Against the Case Against Free Will
Alfred R. Mele

Free Will Is an Illusion, but You’re Still Responsible for Your Actions
Michael S. Gazzaniga

Want to Understand Free Will? Don’t Look to Neuroscience
Hilary Bok

The End of (Discussing) Free Will
Owen D. Jones

Free Will Does Not Exist. So What?
Paul Bloom

Text by The Chronicle Review
Image via Wired’s earlier article on Free Will

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The Morality Pill

January 30, 2012

Writing in the New York Times, Peter Singer and Agata Sagan ask “Are We Ready for a ‘Morality Pill’?” I dunno. Why?

The infamous Milgram and Stanford Prison experiments showed that given the right circumstances, most of us act monstrously. Indeed, given pretty mundane circumstances, most of us will act pretty callously, hustling past people in urgent need in simply to avoid the hassle. But not all of us do this. Some folks do the right thing anyway, even when it’s not easy. Singer and Sagan speculate that something special must be going on in those peoples’ brains. So maybe we can figure out what that is and put it in a pill!

If continuing brain research does in fact show biochemical differences between the brains of those who help others and the brains of those who do not, could this lead to a “morality pill” — a drug that makes us more likely to help?

The answer is: no. And I think the question invites confusion. Morality is not exhausted by helping. Anyway, help do what?

Singer is perhaps the world’s most famous utilitarian, so maybe he’s got “help people feel more pleasure and less pain” in mind. Since utilitarianism is monomaniacally focused on how people feel, it can be tempting for utilitarians to see sympathy and the drive to ease suffering as the principal moral sentiments. But utilitarianism does not actually prescribe that we should be motivated to minimize suffering and maximize happiness. It tells us to do whatever minimizes suffering and maximizes happiness. It’s possible that wanting to help and trying to help doesn’t much help in this sense.

Written by Will Wilkinson, Big Think. Continue HERE