What should I be reading to expand my mind?
What should I be reading to expand my mind?
Just had a lecture on Kant, specifically dealing with his Formula of Universal Law (FUL).
Now, in the philosophy faculty library working on my essay on Kant’s concept of the “good will.”
What do I think of Kant?
His concept of universalizability of moral actions is indeed very appealing, yet I believe there are some problems with it. Must every action be universalizable? Are all actions even moral actions? For instance, if I decide to take a break from writing my paper, is that a moral action? I don’t think so. But this is more of an addendum to Kant rather than a refutation.
Next week, the lecture I am attending will be talking about the Formula for Humanity, which is Kant’s assertion that we should treat every human being as an end, rather than merely as a means. This, I believe, is a much stronger basis for a moral code. If we treat others as an end, we will inherently seem to abide by the proscriptive duties of the categorical imperative, and yet at the same time avoid the problems with it, such as the Problem of Beneficence (which maybe ought to be delved into in another post.)
I am currently writing my essay on whether the good will is the only thing that is good without qualification. Essentially, Kant posits that nothing else is good without qualification. Virtues such as courage, magnificence, and others are only good when tied to a good will, for otherwise they could be corrupted and turned into morally wrong characteristics. Also, material happiness is not good without qualification, for wealth and abundant health, among other things, can lead to a sense of selfishness or other wrong moral habits. Therefore, it is only the good will that is truly good.
While Kant makes some interesting points, I do not believe that he is right to assert that the virtues are “corruptible.” There seem to be problems with reducing morality to the good will, for there are some virtues, such as honesty or prudence, that even when taken in conjunction with a “bad will,” will not become corrupted without changing from the virtue. For example, let us say that person A is involved in a transaction with person B. Person A operates from a virtuous position of honesty, making sure every act she does is honest, among other virtues, if she has a good will. If she has a bad will, she will merely consider the best outcomes for herself. However, it is preposterous to say that A was operating from honesty when she had a bad will in the first place. Perhaps virtue is also good without qualification, and virtuous action is indicative of a “good will,” or as Aristotle would say, “a soul functioning in accordance with virtue.”
Kant obsessively pursues some first principle of morality, and moves ethical considerations from discussions on how to live the good life, to some sort of salvatory principle governing human life. I think that this shift is erroneous, and that virtue ought to be a fundamental ground upon which morality should be based.
Within the work I have read of Kant, he asserts a very innovative and appealing moral foundation, yet I am not satisfied. I am currently reading through Alastair McIntyre’s “After Virtue,” and I think that the moral concepts of virtue ethics within this book, and from what I have found in my studies of Aristotle, best govern my ethical enquiries.
On Friday, I had the opportunity to meet with my political theory tutor and discuss the concept of rights. For starters, my tutor, Dr. Elford, is an extremely intelligent guy, but also so laid back and chill. He is who I want to be, when I get my Ph.D. He has got to only be in his late 20s/early 30s.
Anyways, we started off the conversation discussing what exactly rights are. Essentially, what I had found through my reading and writing my paper, rights are something that constrains the conduct of someone else, whether it is through a duty or an immunity. We discussed Hohfield’s four types of rights: claim, liberty, power, and immunity. We discussed choice theory v. interest theory, and the problems with both theories.
What I found most interesting in our discussion was conversation on the waivability of rights and the idea of an “onerous duty.”
When we were discussing choice theory, we looked at the “right to life” and the “right to not be enslaved.” Under choice theory, a right only exists when it can be exercised. So, technically, choice theory would say that we could waive our right to life and our right to not be enslaved. The slavery issues causes some considerable problems, however, because as my tutor said:
It seems that according to the waivability of the right against slavery, choice theory contains the seeds of its own destruction.
Essentially, by being able to waive your right to not be enslaved, you waive your rights to rights. Similar case with your right to life, because if you waive it you would be dead. So the question remains, can you waive your ability to hold rights? It seems to be an important question for choice theory to answer.
The second issue I found extremely interesting was when we were discussing interest theory, the idea that rights exist when we have an interest that entails that we can hold others to a duty. So, Dr. Elford gave me the following example:
Let’s say you are walking down the road, and you see a man drowning, lying face down in a puddle and he can’t get up. Does he have a right that you help him?
I replied that, yes, I believe he has a right to my help, because he has an interest in his life being saved, and if I pass him by and someone else helps him, he could theoretically bring me to court for not performing my duty to rescue him. Many Good Samaritan laws are established along these grounds. Dr. Elford agreed, but then presented another example:
There is another man, and this man is drowning in shark infested waters. Does he have a right to your assistance?
This is where an issue lies. Can we say that someone has a right to an interest of his, if my fulfilling of that interest could cost me dearly? In this example, it could cost me my life. Is it right to say that this man has a right to my assistance? My tutor pointed out that oftentimes there are different levels of severity when it comes to duties, and there are some duties that are more onerous than others.
I thought this was extremely profound in the study of rights and duties, and it will impact my thesis I am doing for this semester. I am writing about whether the rich have an obligation to the global poor, and this idea of onerous duties could profoundly impact the direction of my paper.
Overall, I love my tutorials here at Oxford, and I am finding that political theory is more and more an area of significant interest. Perhaps I will get my Ph.D in political theory in the future!
But now, I am switching gears to focus on libertarianism & property. Nozick, here I come.
“Libertarianism without Inequality” by Michael Otsuka: A defense of left-libertarianism, and the idea that liberty should be highly valued but not at the cost of equality.
“Practical Ethics” by Peter Singer: An overview of various ethical topics, such as euthanasia, animal rights, abortion, and poverty. I am focusing on the section of poverty for my Oxford thesis.
“A Treatise on Good Works” by Martin Luther: Luther’s ethical theology on the role of good works in a moral understanding. I am comparing the role of faith and good works in morality to the virtue ethics and eudaimonia of Aristotle.
So far, I am really enjoying Otsuka, disagreeing in parts with Singer, and somewhat unattracted to Luther’s thought. Should be an interesting journey.
I seek a philosophical idea that would combine both modernity and postmodernity in a way that bridges the gap between normalizing, oppressive meta-narratives within modern thought and the potentially chaotic and destructive desires of postmodernism. One thought I have had in my readings of postmodernism is a theory of the autonomous rationality of the individual. I would define this idea as one which embraces localized reason in order to master one’s will and combine it with others in free and open encounters. This autonomous rationality would avoid the normalizing affects of modern reason, and would instead stand as a part of individual’s final vocabulary. In the same way as Galileo and Yeats’ final vocabulary, autonomous rationality would have to prove sufficient to become a part of societal final vocabularies in order to affect change. An individual who embraces autonomous rationality will look into his subconscious, seeking out his own desires and wills. The individual would seek to create for himself an identity and a truth that would allow him to further his own goals and desires. In this way, the individual would be able to self-create to the best of his ability. In addition, the individual would use his own reason in order to identify those desires and wills that would best fit with the wills and desires he has discovered through free and open encounters. By reasoning through his own self-creation, the individual would be able to free himself from an overarching meta-narrative, while still forming lines of connection with other individuals. What is often lacking in postmodern thought is a relational element. Autonomous rationality allows for relationships, even encouraging them.
I would like to demonstrate autonomous rationality through a hypothetical example. Suppose an individual has become freed of the shackles of normalization, of slave morality. Suppose he has undergone the schizophrenic process and unlocked his subconscious. Through the exercise of autonomous rationality, the individual is able to sort through his desires and wills. Suppose this particular individual desires prestige within his community (which may stem from, at its root, the will to power). Then suppose another individual, who may or may not have undergone the same radical freeing process of postmodernism, but who also has a desire to help the poor in the community. Together, through free and open encounters, and the dissemination of information that modern technology grants almost all individuals, these individuals are able to connect, form a relationship, and ultimate, perhaps, form a charitable organization to help the community’s poor. Through autonomous rationality, the radical individual is able to exercise his will to power and fulfill his desire for prestige by rationalizing which desire of his is most achievable, and how he can fulfill his desire. In this way, the radical individual is also helping to fulfill the desires of his fellow man.
Perhaps a significant opposition to autonomous rationality is the question, why follow something that creates barriers to fulfillment of desires through rationality? This question is answered simply through the nature of human society. The fulfillment of desires is already placed in a box by rule of law. Not all methods are obtainable to the radical individual. However, autonomous rationality seeks to allow the exercise of the will and the exercise of self-creation in ways that will fulfill the individual. Furthermore, this theory also allows others, others who may or may not be freed from normalizing constraints—who may or may not be ironists—to recognize their desires and act upon them. While Nietzsche might cringe at the thought of working with others to fulfill desires, Nietzsche was also never one for relationships. Through this relational self-creation, autonomous rationality allows for one of postmodernism’s main goals, radical individualism, to be progressed. Not only that, but autonomous rationality of the individual has the potential to further human society through the realization of desires and goals within a community setting. Rorty says that we are all we have, thus we should avoid cruelty amongst one another. I say something similar, but much different: We are all we have, thus we should work together towards self-creation.
While this introduction to autonomous rationality of the individual is in no means sufficient for a coherent system of thought, it is an interesting concept for me to think about as I continue to read more and more postmodern theory. I hope to form a more coherent and robust theory as I learn and expand my final vocabulary. Seeking knowledge is essential to my own self-creation, and forming a coherent theory will be a significant part of my rationalizing my desire for knowledge. Ultimately, while I do agree that self-creation is extremely important for each individual, I also agree with Foucault that we should look to moderation and self-mastery in order to not alienate our fellow man. While it is important that we avoid systems that repress desire and will, it is equally important that desire and will are still subjected to their master, the individual.
This article attempts to describe religion as contingency because of the multitude of belief systems and “gods” that are created by man.
I tend to agree that our individual (and even institutional) beliefs are as much influenced by culturally accepted norms as they are by any sort of revelation. However, I think that the anthropomorphization of gods speaks more to the inexplicable spiritual nature to many human experiences that do not suffice to be explained by reason or empirical observation so we instead create a god in our own image.
Rather than being contingency, perhaps widespread anthropomorphism within religion instead reflects a larger acknowledgement of the mysticism within various human experiences. Perhaps this will allow us to realize where we all encounter unknowns, rather than merely carte blanche rejecting a variety of human religious/spiritual experiences.
Apparently, Niebuhr is someone I need to read. How he has managed to become influential in so many circles is very interesting… and something that few theologians or even Christian philosophers have or will be able to achieve.
Although I disagree with his concept of imperfectability, it is necessary to retain a skepticism towards utopian aspirations of various ideologies. It is quite unfortunate that such a prominent Christian thinker would be neglected in the circles where I go to school. Perhaps he would enlighten some.
Christian philosophy still seems oxymoronic to me, however.
Found one of my new favorite Tumblr blogs: PoliticalProf.
Read through the most recent page of postings and already learned about SOF and how mixed up the GOP nomination race is. So much learning!
Any other similar blogs I should be aware of, with professors tumbling about politics or philosophy, preferably?