Now all in one file.
Now all in one file.
So, the theory of Forms has been one of the main topics of my discussion, as Aristotle's version of it is central to Feser's account; I have of course consistently criticized Feser's attempts to insist that it is rationally compulsory. Feser knows, of course, that Aristotle's metaphysics have been rejected in the modern era, and in chapter 5 he tries to explain why this is, attempting, naturally, to do so in such a way as to avoid the conclusion that the reasons why it has been rejected are any good.
One of his crucial moves is his attempt to sharply separate Aristotle's scientific theories from his metaphysical theories. Aristotle himself would have recognized no such sharp separation, and Feser's appeals to Aristotle often bleed over into scientific matters (as with his insistence that there are forms corresponding to biological species, which is incompatible with biological facts). But it is true that the new science didn't refute everything in Aristotle. What the new science did incontrovertibly show is that Aristotle must have been in many cases wrong about which forms exist, and what their natures are. The new mathematical physics did not show that the motion of bodies doesn't involve forms at all, but if forms are involved, they aren't the ones Aristotle thought existed. And Darwin didn't show that there are no forms involved in life, but he did show that there are no forms of biological species.
But that result is already enough to have serious consequences. The form of a human being is one of the things that science has discarded, and it is of course central to Feser's project. Furthermore, the mere fact that Aristotle was so badly wrong about the forms casts serious doubt on the idea that the forms are somehow built into us. One of the more puzzling aspects of Plato for a modern reader is that in a number of dialogues he spends a very long time wrestling with the problem of how it's possible for anybody to be wrong about anything. That's actually a serious problem on Plato's theory; if we have access to the forms, and the forms make the world the way they are, why don't they give us infallible knowledge of the world? Aristotle, as usual shallower than Plato, doesn't think through the consequences of his theory far enough to see why this is such a huge problem, and Feser naturally follows Aristotle in sweeping this problem under the rug of "common sense;" contradictions are fine, apparently, as long as common sense endorses both halves of the contradiction.
One natural way to keep forms and avoid the problem is to abandon the dual role of the forms; say they don't both control our thoughts and the world, in different ways, but that they only control the world. If you insist on keeping some kind of forms, but both grant that Aristotle was largely wrong about which forms there are, and also draw the conclusion that knowledge of the forms can't be acquired by pure reason but must depend on scientific inquiry, you're David Armstrong (one of the modern naturalists that Feser says never actually thinks about the really serious issues). I think it's better to dispense with the forms altogether, but Armstrong's view has a huge advantage over Feser's in that it is at least is not contradicted by firmly established scientific knowledge.
Feser's opium example may help illustrate the issue. Feser criticizes the naturalists for inconsistency in claiming both that the explanation of opium in terms of a "dormitive power" is empty, and claiming that it's false. But one of the central problems with scholastic forms is that they are so vague; interpreted one way, claims about scholastic forms are empty, interpreted another way they are false.
The false doctrine is that there is some single thing, a "dormitive power", which is fairly simple and works the same way in all the various things that cause sleep, and which doesn't do anything else and which is very different from the power of anything else to do anything else. The empty doctrine is that there's something about opium that causes sleep. It is true that the full account of the powers of opium can be described with or without forms; it involves the chemical properties of the compounds that make up opium and the chemical properties of animal life, which of course are themselves determined by the physics of the particles that make up those compounds, and one could go along with Armstrong and say that the properties of the physics particles are forms, or one could say that the story about forms isn't really adding anything useful (as I would) and do without it. And the details of this underlying story make the false doctrine false; the properties of opium are very complicated, and there are things very similar to opium at the chemical level in very many ways which don't cause sleep, and things which cause sleep which are in very many ways very different at the chemical level.
Feser claims that these details, which he admits would have to be settled empirically, make no difference to the metpahysics. Unfortunately, Feser's claims about the form of humanity are much more like the false version of the dormitive power story than they are like the empty version. If he were to grant that we could be very wrong about exactly which forms are involved in human life and how they were connected to other forms, and insist only that forms are involved somehow, that would completely undermine his efforts to derive detailed moral conclusions from the form of humanity.
Feser maintains that the idea of secondary qualities requires dualism, but this is only true of one insists for some reason that, for example, a perception of redness must be red. But that is, of course, absurd. I myself lean toward a dispositional theory of secondary qualities; red is a disposition of surfaces to produce sensations of a certain kind. Feser thinks dispositions require final causes; more on that next chapter, but if we're talking about final causes in the bare logical sense I mentioned at the end of chapter 2, it's not so much that dispositions require final causes as that they are final causes, and so final causes can't explain dispositions because if any explanation is needed, final causes need it to the same extent. Of course, Feser's final causes are supposed to be more than bare logical final causes, but while Feser tries to define them as things which explain more, he actually doesn't have any worthwhile account of how they provide this additional explanatory help. Thus, since explanations can't be conjured up out of nothing by definition, his final causes don't actually have any more explanatory power than the bare logical final causes.
Feser also claims that intentionality cannot be accounted for on materialist grounds; he keeps harping on this throughout his book, but in only one place (in the next chapter) does he make any effort to directly address the best materialist story about intentionality (and his effort is disappointing, to put it mildly). I am greatly annoyed by what appear to be Feser's frequent attempt to appeal to authority, and have tried to avoid such nonsense myself, but I feel I must note that many of the "allies" he cites for his anti-materialist cause think the materialists have won on the intentionality issue; David Chalmers, for example, thinks this, and Frank Jackson not only has long granted that materialism can explain intentionality, he has even recently come around to agreeing that qualia aren't an obstacle to materialism either.
Feser's "solutions" to assorted philosophical problems:
Skepticism: Feser says that the rejection of the Aristotelian view produces skepticism, since without Aristotle's claim that the same forms work on our minds and on the world, there's no guarantee that the world will match up to our thoughts at all. But this is of course nonsense. Skepticism became dominant at Plato's academy shortly after Plato's death, and not because they already anticipated Cartesian views. I suspect it was partly because of Alexander the Great and the return of military autocracy as the default government pattern; if you don't claim to know anything, you are never claiming to know the rulers are wrong about anything, so you're slightly safer from hostile rulers. Still, skepticism seemed to be an available option because all it actually requires is admitting that people can be wrong about anything. Once that obvious fact is granted, it is hard to see how you can completely rule out the possibility that we're wrong about everything
And that's why Aristotle's view doesn't actually solve skeptical problems. After all, we do make mistakes, so even an Aristotelian has to have some account of how such errors are possible. And whatever the account is, it will always be possible to raise the skeptical worry that errors like that could be much more common than we think.
Induction: The problem of induction suffers the same fate; Aristotelianism has a solution to the problem of induction if our knowledge of forms is infallible. But if our knowledge of forms were infallible, we couldn't make a lot of mistakes we quite obviously make. So the Aristotelian view doesn't actually solve the problem of induction, and so arguments like Goodman's can be run against the Aristotelian; how do we know we're not making one of our mistakes about essences in thinking that it's green rather than grue which can genuinely be part of the essences of things? Not that I think an Aristotelian should actually be a skeptic, of course, but Aristotelianism alone is not an answer to the problem; the Aristotelian must join the rest of us in seeking other answers.
Personal identity: Derek Parfit and other contemporary philosophers seem to have been rediscovering Buddha's insight that our concept of ourselves is in many respects deeply misleading, indeed incoherent. Parfit also follows Buddha in thinking that good consequences follow from this insight (as they often do from recognizing the truth); the mistaken notion of the self is deeply implicated in destructive forms of selfishness, so recognizing the flawed notion of the self should help free one from those harmful selfish impulses. Feser will of course have none of this; selfishness is central to the conservative mindset, and must be defended at all costs! Now, of course the objectionable moral implications of Feser's view don't constitute evidence that his view is false (it's false because it involves the same impossible theory of souls that I've criticized all through his discussion), but since he's constantly harping on the supposed immoral consequences of modern naturalism, I couldn't resist giving a nod to the morally appealing consequences of the Buddhist view. Incidentally, Feser insists that skepticism about personal identity originates with Descartes; I find it implausible that Descartes' influence was the source of Buddha's views on this matter.
Free will: A free choice cannot be derived from the world as understood by the chooser; when you freely choose to do something, you don't examine your evidence to determine what choice you are going to make, you make the choice. Hence, it must come from outside of that? Perhaps it must come from outside of everything? Feser says not quite; it must come from outside of everything material, but that's fine, because there's the realm of souls and forms and final causes. But that's actually no help at all, at least so long as we understand the realm of souls and forms and final causes (as Feser insists we do); the problem comes from our understanding of the world, not the material nature of the world. Kant recognized this, and so said free choices comes from an unknowable realm; others since have found the idea of an unknowable realm problematic (how do we know it's a realm? It's unknowable!) and so Heidegger and Sartre and others say free choices comes from nothing. Crazy answers, to be sure (though much depends on how you interpret them), but at least they recognize that there's a serious problem here. Compatibilists also take the problem seriously for the most part. Feser does not take the problem seriously; he gives no explanation of what it is about final causes that is supposed to connect them to freedom, probably because to do so he'd have to say a lot of things that are contrary to the common sense he claims to be respecting.
Natural rights: I of course am a consequentialist, and think doing without natural rights is an improvement. But I would have thought this would be the place to discuss Kant. Since Feser instead uses it as an opportunity to heap scorn on Locke, I have little to say about this part of his discussion; since Feser is unfair to nearly all of his opponents, I expect he is unfair to Locke, but I am not sufficiently a Locke scholar to say how.
Morality in general: I haven't done a lot of quoting of Feser, because he usually buries his points in considerable excess verbage (and ad hominem), but I'll quote this one. He complains that Hume does not "really have anything to say to a group of sociopaths - Nazis, communists, jihadists, pro-choice activists, or whomever - who seek to remake society in their image by social or genetic engineering, say. The Platonist, Aristotelian, or Thomist can say that such people are behaving in an inherently irrational and objectively wicked manner, given human nature. All the Humean can say is 'Gee, I hope they don't succeed.'" Leaving aside the somewhat suspect character of his list of sociopaths, does Feser really think it is of such over-riding importance, or indeed any importance at all, what one says to Nazis? Plato was not so foolish (Socrates himself could not move Callicles, or Meno for that matter, and the conversion of Thrasymachus is presented in such a way as to make its sincerity highly dubious, to say the least), and I hope no Platonist would be. I am less expert on the Aristotelians and Thomists, but I had not heard that they believed in magic spells, for surely it would have to involve magic if a Nazi ever changed his behavior in the slightest upon hearing the incantation "you are behaving in an inherently irrational and objectively wicked manner."
Hume was actually a more practical sort; he favored saying whatever would work best, and employing other means, again whatever accomplishes the most for the least cost, when words fail. I never cease to be astonished at how often people try to argue against consequentialism on the basis that endorses policies with bad consequences; if your argument is that consequentialism is committed to a policy which has bad consequences, that is a sure sign that there's something wrong with your argument, not that there's something wrong with consequentialism. If the policy has bad consequences, consequentialism correctly interpreted will always say do something else.
Now, Feser admits that his opponents may have space for a "pretense" of morality, but he thinks that unless they use the magic spells, that can have no impact. Of course, a consequentialist moral theory is hardly a pretense of morality, but perhaps more to the point, Feser's discussion of this issue suggests that he thinks people behaved more morally in the middle ages than they do at present (elsewhere in the chapter he suggests that they were more devoted to wisdom as well!) I usually don't think much of the incredulous stare as an argument, but I'm not sure where to begin with this aspect of Feser's discussion.
Feser is aware that the modern era has produced non-consequentialist ethics as well; Kant's moral theory is perhaps even more influential than any variety of consequentialism. But Feser's discussion of Kant's moral theory would barely get a passing grade if it came from an undergraduate in an introductory ethics class. Kant's central idea is that ethics is supposed to be both inherently universal, and chosen by humans. So what we can choose is constrained only by the requirement that our choices must be consistent with the requirement of universality. This means I cannot make choices that undermine the rights of others to their choices; I must treat all choices as mattering. I don't want to try to give Kant's full story, but since Feser seems to think the modern worldview means you can't criticize anyone (perhaps the reason he doesn't like it; he loves to criticize!), I should probably at least mention that detail in Kant's approach. One way of putting Kant's version is that we must be tolerant of everything except intolerance; we must treat impartially all perspectives which are not themselves partial. If we respect the choices of others who do not themselves respect the choices of others, we are failing to respect the choices of their victims; if we give equal weight to the biased, we are in part sharing their bias. So we can't fully respect the choices of others like that (of wrongdoers). The closest we can come, Kant thinks, is to respect their choice to be biased by applying their standards to them; being biased against them. Hence proportional retribution as the response to wrongdoers.
Feser only discusses the first form of the categorical imperative, and indeed the first form is very hard to sensibly interpret if one ignores the other two forms. But Feser's criticism of Kant goes from being pathetic to high comedy when he complains that there is no way Kant could possibly derive detailed moral rules from "reason alone," using only his principles. I know that Feser is under the delusion that his own Thomistic principles are clearer and less susceptible to conflicting interpretations than Kant's, but it certainly is nothing more than a delusion.
So, chapter 4 of Feser's book gave me flashbacks to Hubert Schwyzer's Kant seminars. I wonder if Feser ever took those when he was at UCSB; if not, it's unfortunate, as they might have helped him. "Knowing is not like eating," as Schwyzer would say as he tried to explain Kant's struggles with the representational aspect of knowing. Knowing something does not involve taking the objects of knowledge into our minds in the way that eating something involves taking the objects of eating into our bodies. Rather, our minds somehow contain representations of the objects (of course, we may know things about our minds, but even in those cases the knowledge is not the same as what is known). The very name "representation" may be tendentious, but I intend for it to be as content-free as possible; whatever it is in the mind that determines which objects are being thought about is the representation of those objects. The Churchlands may think there are still hidden assumptions buried in this, and perhaps they are right, but leave those worries aside for the moment.
Considerable progress has been made on the nature of representation since Kant's time. In particular, Ruth Millikan provides an extremely interesting account of how thoughts can represent the world in her Language, Thought, and Other Biological Categories. It would take considerable time to go through all of the details, but it is an evolutionary story. Words and thoughts have functions in roughly the sense that biologists speak of things as having functions; the functions are whatever they do that leads to their being favored by natural selection. Millikan argues that a detailed account of these functions can enable us to pick out the objects of thought (in the case of representational thought), because of the way the functions relate to those objects (again, details are lengthy; I highly recommend her book).
The functional story of how my knowledge of the glass of water on my desk is related to the glass of water involves causal relationships between the glass of water and my thought (the functional/evolutionary story picks out which causal relationships are relevant), so the case of knowledge of abstract objects seems to be more difficult, since it will lack such causal relationships. However, while certainly nobody has filled in all the details, I would say this much; a priori knowledge seems to contain a strong conventional component. David Lewis provides a thorough account of conventions in his book Convention, one which connects very naturally to Millikan's theories about thought (Millikan harshly criticizes Lewis, but only on one issue, and I think she misinterprets his theory as being more different from hers than it is; I discuss this in my dissertation). Millikan also has some things of her own to say about a priori knowledge; again, not all the details are filled in, but it all looks very promising to me.
I mention all of this because Feser's argument requires the assumption that there is one and only one way representation could work, and it is nothing like what I've sketched above. Rather, Feser insists on what is surely one of Plato's biggest mistakes, repeated in Aristotle. A Platonic form serves a dual role; it both makes things in the world the way they are, and makes thoughts the way they are, and so one can represent things in the world as being a certain way because the things in the world are made that way by forms that are also present in our thoughts about the world. And so for Feser knowing is like eating after all, in a sense; the object of knowledge, the form, is actually in the mind.
Now, it is a great mystery how something could play such a dual role, especially on Aristotle's version; how can the same thing make a stone heavy and make my thought a thought about heaviness? A thought being about heaviness seems very different from a thing being heavy. The Aristotelian tradition has no explanation beyond that forms are just like that, and have to be like that to play the role that they do. And what about knowledge of the forms? Does that involve forms of forms, or is it some completely different process than ordinary knowledge and representation? Plato already worried about these issues and many others, and scholars of Plato and Aristotle debate them to this day, but Feser sweeps all these controversies and questions under the rug. Really, even if his story wasn't so problematic, it would still be fatal to his argument that it doesn't seem to be the only explanation possible. It shouldn't be necessary to provide an alternative to his account to note that he hasn't proven his is the only possible account, but conveniently we even do have an alternative; the Millikan/Lewis story I allude to above.
Feser "proves" that the mind must be immaterial because the way that, say, the form of the dog works on material things is by making them dogs. It is the form of the dog, on his account, which makes my thought about a dog be about a dog, and if my mind were a material thing, the way it would act on my mind would be by making my mind (well, my thought) a dog. So my mind must be something else. This is not actually valid even given Feser's other assumptions; there doesn't seem to be any logical reason why forms might not operate differently on different kinds of matter, so even given the implausible assumption that knowing is like eating, that the same form must be present in the mind as in the things, it doesn't follow that the mind must be immaterial in contrast to the material things. Some other difference could explain it. And, of course, a more plausible account of representation would completely undermine this argument.
Feser's discussion of mathematical abstractions is if anything even worse, perhaps because he makes the common mistake of identifying the thoughts with the objects of thought in mathematical cases. But even in mathematical cases they are not the same things, and so the triviality that mathematical objects are universal and determinate while nothing material is either universal or determinate is simply irrelevant to whether thoughts of mathematical objects are material; thoughts are not universal either, and even if I didn't already think they were material, I wouldn't have suspected them of being determinate. Fortunately, for thoughts to be about objects it is not required for the thoughts and objects to be identical. This is true even for Feser, of course; the same form must be involved in the thought and the object, but that falls far short of saying that the thought must be the object (the thought of a dog is not a dog, as Feser himself insists). Presumably this is obscured for Feser because he thinks the object of thought is the form in mathematical cases, but that is another unargued assumption, and in any event that would not entail that the thought itself is the form in mathematical cases, as would be needed for his argument to be valid.
Souls and forms:
In other words, Feser's supposed "rational proof" that souls must be a certain kind of thing is anything but. There are further problems with his idea that the soul is the form of a human being. Really, there are endless mysteries and confusions here. The soul is both a special kind of thing which the forms act on to produce knowledge, and it is itself one of the forms; how does it play both of those functions? Feser thought he needed radical metaphysics to explain the dual role of forms in affecting thought and affecting the world, but the dual role of the form of a human being passes without comment. But, more importantly for Feser's subsequent discussion, post-Darwin, biological species are known to be poor candidates for forms.
A Darwinian species is a population united primarily by a certain history; it has related capacities for inter-breeding and similarities in appearance and features, but the history of how selection favored the ancestors of the current members of the population is the decisive element. There is thus no such thing as a "perfect" or "ideal" member of a species, no exact template that members of the species are supposed to match. We may speak of a member of the species as being defective if it lacks one of the traits that selection favored in its ancestors, but this is a somewhat loose way of speaking. A deviation from what is most common among members of the species may be a disadvantage in some sense, or it may be an advantage of some kind (if it's a survival/reproduction advantage, selection will make it more common over time, of course), or it may be of no significance at all; species always display many kinds of variation. This variation makes it impossible to even construct a bare logical form for a species; there may not be any traits which are universal among members of the species while absent from all non-members of the species (unless you include the having of a certain history among those traits, which would produce a very different kind of form than Feser intends).
Feser argues that human life begins at conception because that is when someone acquires the form of humanity (and so the soul). Now, species-membership does plausibly begin with conception, but being a member of a Darwinian species is not like having a soul (as Feser himself would admit). But one does not aquire the form of humanity at conception because there is no such form; "human" is a biological species, and biological species don't work like that. And since the soul is not the form of humanity, it remains an open question when (or perhaps whether, depending on one's theory of souls) it is acquired. So Feser's metaphysical anti-abortion argument fails.
Feser's natural law morality generally relies on their being a form of humanity, so that deviations from the form can be classified as defects, and as immoral if they are under conscious control. Absent such forms, one must have some other standard for identifying moral deficiencies. However, in practice natural law morality tends to (somewhat ironically) identify traits as defects on grounds rather similar to those which lead something to be identified as an evolutionary disadvantage. Notably both natural law theories and evolution see reproduction as central human purposes.
And so Feser classifies homosexual sex as unnatural because of the reproductive function of sex, and so immoral because people can consciously choose whether to engage in it or not. However, one difference between at least most evolutionary biologists and most natural law moralists is that evolutionary biologists recognize that it can be difficult to identify all of the functions and purposes involved in the traits and behaviors of a living thing, while natural law moralists seem to think identifying functions is easy (Feser thinks our bones are somehow involved in our mysterious ability to identify such fuctions).
Another difference is that even a consciously chosen evolutionary disadvantage does not seem to automatically be immoral (nor is an evolutionary advantage always moral), but whether homosexual activity is even an evolutionary disadvantage is unclear. In general, humans have far more sex than they need to for the purposes of reproduction (most mammals have mating seasons to reduce the amount of effort and energy expended on sex). It seems likely that this additional sex serves some purpose or purposes (or there would have been heavy selection pressure against it; the pressures that produce the mating seasons of other mammals), and mostly the evolutionary biologists seem to consider it an unsolved problem what those purposes might be (though they have plenty of guesses).
The natural law moralists also seem to feel the need for such theories, and try to provide them (as I said, they are eerily and ironically similar to the evolutionary theorists in this area); generally the story involves producing bonding in married couples, which are important for raising offspring. Now, this is hardly an absurd theory, but in the context of evolution it would be laughable to pretend that one could rationally prove it was the only possible story. And if that isn't the whole story of the excess human sex (and, in fact, this story doesn't seem to work very well as an evolutionary account; our current evidence doesn't seem to suggest that the family structure implicit here was present in our distant ancestors, so it couldn't have been selected for), the other purposes of sex may include purposes for homosexual sex.
The natural law moralist could claim that this is an area where there theories are different from the evolutionary theories, but in fact they don't seem to have any more evidence for their claims about the purposes of sex than the kind of thing an evolutionary story could give (well, except for evidence gleaned by consulting the bones), so it is unclear how they rule out the possibility of such alternative purposes. Feser mocks Andrew Sullivan for suggesting that the purposes of sex might be more complex than Feser supposes (Feser likes to mock a lot), but he doesn't actually provide any evidence that Sullivan is wrong.
Still, one of my biggest problems with natural law morality is just that its stories sound so much like evolutionary stories, and evolutionary stories don't sound to me like stories of morality. So many horrible things are adaptive in the evolutionary sense. Evolution produced the black death! Admittedly, when something they intuitively judge as bad ("in their bones") seems to serve natural purposes, Feser and his ilk are not likely to call it good; they instead invent convoluted and implausible stories about how it doesn't really serve natural purposes after all. Better to recognize that morality is about purposes humans choose, not purposes given to us by nature; Kant was right to advocate an ethics of autonomy, however inconsistently he may have done so in practice and however many details he might have gotten wrong.
Evil and Miracles:
I mentioned in my discussion of chapter 3 that Feser treats God's attributes as "analogical" when he's in trouble, but most of the time ignores that part of his story. His section on "Faith, reason, and evil" contains particularly egregious examples. The miracles of Jesus are to be considered credible because of the proofs that there's a God who could produce miracles like that. Sorry, Feser, we don't know that about the "analogical" God; miracles seem possible when you're thinking of God as being a person with human-like purposes that could be served by such interventions. As Hume argued, if we think of God as the source of the laws of nature, then God's purposes seem to be clearly given by those, so we should expect God to never produce anything but consequences of those laws of nature.
Similarly, when he discusses the problem of evil, the evil in the world seems unnecessary in the way a parent's punishment can seem like an unnecessary bad thing to a child. Sorry, "analogical" God isn't much like a parent. Really, the problem of evil seems less serious for "analogical" God, but only because we have no way to know what to expect from such a God (and so for the same reason "analogical" God seems a poor basis for any religion, and certainly no help in shoring up Feser's shaky moral conclusions). But here the shuffling back and forth is especially rapid. God might have good reasons for evil which are very much like the good reasons a person might have for causing or enduring some unpleasantness, totally ignoring that for a person causing or tolerating something bad often seems like the best choice precisely because our options are limited, because we're not omnipotent. But Feser hasn't forgotten God's omnipotence; it gives God endless capacity to bring unlimited good out of any evil. And yet Feser's imagination suddenly stops again before the obvious next step, or perhaps God's omnipotence disappears and we're back to non-analogical human-like powerful God, as Feser doesn't even consider that God's omnipotence should surely extend to the capacity to bring all the same good out of no evil. Feser's discussion of the problem of evil is an embarrassment to anybody who has ever seriously examined the issue (from either side).
I've ignored most of his tedious ad hominem attacks in chapter 4, but the chapter is, of course, full of them, like the rest of the book. As usual, I wish he had spent less time on those, and more time trying to fill in a few of the gaps in his arguments.
In a fit of procrastination, I read this paper, and found myself entirely unconvinced, for reasons (oddly enough) related to my increasing sympathy for some elements of the Kantian view of ethics. Enoch's central argument is that disagreements in mere preferences should be handled impartially, but there are moral disputes that should not be handled impartially, so moral disputes can't be disagreements in mere preferences. I can see a major wrinkle he doesn't appear to consider, though. It makes little sense to deal impartially with others who are unwilling to cooperate; everybody needs to be impartial, or it doesn't work. But the very example Enoch gives where someone is morally required to stand their ground and not be impartial is one involving the status of women; presumably he's imagining that an enlightened individual is confronting one who thinks women should be regarded as inferior, and saying (rightly) that the enlightened individual should stand their ground, but obviously the unenlightened individual is precisely guilty of not being impartial. So there is a reason for the enlightened individual not to regard the matter impartially (he can't; trying to treat the other's view as having the same weight as his own involves giving weight to the other's partiality, and so if he tries to be impartial he'll automatically fail), and it doesn't require regarding the disagreement as more than one of mere preferences. I do not think that this is merely an accidental feature of the example Enoch chooses, either, though I'd have to do more procrastinating than I really should to go into that in detail.
Slacktivist has an interesting and from the comment thread controversial analogy. Somebody in the comment thread mentioned that one problem with Le Guin's story is that she never explains why the child's suffering is necessary. I'm not sure that's true, but when I use this story in my ethics class (as part of the discussion of utilitarianism) I pair it with part of Huxley's Brave New World. The savage insists that suffering and evil must be part of the world if there is to be nobility and greatness (students also often say this when discussion of God and the problem of evil comes up). If there is anything to this, then surely that's the reason the child must suffer; without the child, Omelas would have no suffering or evil, and would perhaps become like Mustafa Mond's world.
To speculate further, perhaps the reason Omelas is such a paradise is that people are much better at ignoring widespread suffering and evil than at ignoring it in individual cases, so the fact that in Omelas it is only this one child who suffers such an unfair fate increases the impact of the example on the people of the city, so that they are inspired to greatness far beyond that which the people of our world are capable of.
I've finally obtained a copy of Ed Feser's The Last Superstition, his long-winded defense of superstition and bigotry. I had really hoped it wouldn't be quite this horrible. In particular, I hoped to get some insight into how Feser sees Thomism as relevant to modern science and thought. However, he has so little helpful to say on the subject I almost wonder if he's ever thought about it, and while he does have a lot to say about the naturalistic or scientific worldview, he makes it very clear that he doesn't understand it.
I still have some plans to post more detailed criticisms of such arguments as he does provide, but I will start by giving a brief description of the big picture which is very different from Feser's. It seems to be one with which he is in fact entirely unfamiliar in any form, as he does not bother to mention this account or anything like it, much less explain why he doesn't see things in this way.
The extraordinary success of science in the modern era is largely a result of the widespread recognition, to varying degrees and to be sure usually not consciously, of the fact that unsatisfying explanations are usually better than satisfying ones. They have two primary advantages. First, satisfying explanations tend to be accepted even if they are useless, or outright misleading and harmful. Unsatisfying explanations, on the other hand, are never taken seriously unless they are demonstrably useful. Second, unsatisfying explanations stimulate the further search for knowledge, as due to their unsatisfying nature they leave us always feeling that there is more work to be done.*
Feser argues against the scientific worldview that it is unsatisfying, and defends satisfying explanation. He seems to find Thomistic explanations especially satisfying; of course an additional disadvantage of satisfying explanation is that different people are satisfied by quite different explanations, and there is no apparent way to judge who's right. Feser is mistaken in thinking that the unsatisfying features of the scientific worldview can be separated from its success, as well as in thinking that the scientific worldview has any need of satisfying explanations. Of course he uses other terminology; he generally uses "incoherent" to mean "unsatisfying" and "rational" to mean "satisfying," but this attempt at persuasive definition is consistently unpersuasive.
* It is this second feature of the scientific enthusiasm for unsatisfying explanations that leads Heidegger to identify the scientific worldview with the eternal striving of the Nietzschean will to power. Like Feser, Heidegger was a critic of the scientific worldview and a right wing nut, but unlike Feser, Heidegger seems to have understood what the debate was actually about.
One of the reasons I like to cover the philosophical classics when I teach is that they're usually classics for a reason; even after dozens of readings, I often come to new insights about them. One point that has recently been nagging at me is the presentation of Euthyphro in the dialogue named for him. Most readers and interpreters seem to take a fairly dim view of him (as I've also tended to do in the past). However, it has to be admitted that he's committed to the attractive idea that justice should be impartial, and he's willing to stand up for what he believes is right against public opinion.
Furthermore, and this is the point I hadn't really noticed before, he shows what really has to be considered a fairly impressive level of open-mindedness and commitment to the pursuit of truth. It's made clear at the beginning of the dialogue that he knows who Socrates is, and that he apparently has a high opinion of Socrates. Knowing who Socrates is, Euthyphro shows no reluctance to engage in a discussion with him. Further, after he's run into considerable difficulties (and after Socrates has said some at least borderline blasphemous things), Socrates offers him a chance to back out of the discussion (at 9e), but Euthyphro does not hesitate to insist that the investigation should continue. It is only after another long stretch where no progress is made (with Socrates being, as usual, fairly rude, and throwing in a few more borderline blasphemies), that Euthyphro gives up on the discussion and falls back on conventional answers to Socrates' question (at 14b).
Now, perhaps the conventional answer at the end deserves the abuse that Socrates gives it, but it's not only a bad answer, it also seems quite unworthy of Euthyphro, given what we'd seen of him prior to this point (at the outset he was far more concerned with what was right than with popular, conventional notions). So what's going on here? Has talking with Socrates made Euthyphro worse than he started? What was Plato's intention in presenting the story this way?
One way of characterizing the difference between traditional empiricism and traditional rationalism is that traditional rationalists have been dazzled by the impressive certainty of our a priori knowledge. Logic and mathematics are so remarkable that many rationalists have literally accorded them the status of magic, attributing them to some mystical contact with the divine. It is likely not a mere rhetorical device when Parmenides presents his logical arguments as having been given to him by a goddess. Plato accords his forms a kind of divine status, and says we know them from previous exposure to them when our souls were in a higher realm of existence; Descartes says what may amount to the same thing, that mathematical knowledge and a few other items were implanted in our souls by God.
Those in the rationalist tradition have also almost always classified ethics as a priori. Of course, lots of specific reasons for that could be given, but there are also very general motivations from the rationalist tradition which push that way. First, of course, rationalists have generally been imperialists when it comes to the application of reason; since a priori knowledge is the really good knowledge, the rationalists have sought to reduce everything, or at least as much as possible, to the a priori, to have the best possible knowledge of everything. Further, ethics specifically is about what's valuable, important, and good, and when it comes to knowledge the a priori is, according to the rationalist, the most valuable, important, and good, so while this does not itself amount to a rational argument, there seems to be some affinity between ethics and the a priori. This further connection is no doubt enhanced by the tradition of connecting moral good to the divine; since the rationalists also connected the a priori to the divine, this would further encourage bundling the two together.
Of course, the mainstream of the empiricist tradition has long maintained that the reason logic and mathematics have their apparent infallibility is that they are not actually giving us information about the world; since they don't tell us how things stand with the world, the world cannot refute them. But the empiricists insist that real truth is about the world, so these a priori matters the rationalists regard with such enthusiasm are at best some kind of honorary truth. A priori claims embody useful tools, ways of thinking about the world, but don't report facts. The rationalist project of relying only on the a priori is, from the empiricist perspective, a project of ignoring the real world, of casting aside the only truth worth looking for.
Empiricists have thus traditionally sought to reduce the scope of the a priori, rejecting for example the a priori approaches to science championed by some of the rationalists. It is perhaps for this reason that some empiricists have tried to argue against a priori ethics as well, saying that we need to be more naturalistic in our approach to ethical matters.
However, there seems to be another possible reaction, which I'm surprised hasn't been more common. Many empiricists have also been meta-ethical subjectivists (Hume being probably the most famous example). Such empiricists should find it quite congenial to categorize ethical claims as honorary truths, useful tools which don't reports facts about the world. So why is it so rare for empiricists to treat ethics as a priori, just like logic and mathematics? A good reason does not occur to me. I can think of some bad reasons; perhaps even empiricists are partly under the spell of the apparent certainty of logic and mathematics. Thus, perhaps they ignore the historical controversies in logic and mathematics, and think that the controversies in ethics show that ethics must be something entirely different from our stable logic and mathematics.
Actually, on one interpretation Kant might be an example of the sort of philosophy I think should be more common. Of course, Kant claims to chart a third way, neither empiricist nor rationalist, but it has been very common to be skeptical of this. Many interpreters take him to have simply been either a sneaky rationalist or, less commonly, a sneaky empiricist. If he was a sneaky empiricist, he was an empiricist of the rare kind I've been puzzling about. I wonder if the fact that people generally don't connect a priori ethics to empiricism has contributed to the empiricist interpretation of Kant being the less common reading.
So, a large majority of my ethics students at Rhode Island College said they thought there was nothing wrong with prostitution if it's voluntary. Admittedly, I elicited this result in a potentially suspect way; when nobody said anything about why prostitution would be different from any other job, I told them to raise their hands if they thought it wasn't different, saying I'd call on someone who didn't have their hand raised. It is thus possible that some falsified their responses to avoid being called on (though I'd have thought some might also have lied to avoid admitting to endorsing prostitution).
I went to a friend's dissertation defense today. Jerry Steinhofer, the friend in question, seeks to account for the value of knowledge by proposing that the distinctive feature of knowledge is that it involves true belief which is deserved, and this fitness between the true belief being deserved and its being possessed is what distinguishes knowledge. This enables him to employ analogies with other forms of desert in filling in his details. There has, of course, recently been a great deal of interest in general in the analogies between epistemology and ethics, particularly with the popularity these days of virtue theories in both areas.
While listening to the defense, I thought about this analogy. Suppose one wished to construct a consequentialist epistemology, with true belief playing the role of pleasure in utilitarian ethical theories. Utilitarians do have things to say about desert, especially if they're rule utilitarians, so it's possible that such a theory could endorse Steinhofer's suggestion that desert is the criterion of knowledge. However, there doesn't seem to be an obvious candidate for an analog in ethics to the role that knowledge plays in epistemology. Various possibilities suggest themselves: 1) the absence of such an analog suggests a defect in the utilitarian picture of ethics, 2) knowledge is given too much special attention in epistemology, 3) there is some difference between ethics and epistemology which explains the lack of an ethics analog to knowledge, or 4) I'm not looking hard enough and there is some analog after all.
Plenty of philosophers would enthusiastically take option 1, and option 2 has had some advocates, but I want to look at 3. In the case of utilitarian ethics, it seems that there can be cases where someone deserves something bad (cases where punishment is appropriate). In such cases, if the person gets what they deserve, the fitting between what they deserve and what they get is still good, but what they get itself is bad. On the other hand, it seems that nobody ever deserves to have a false belief, or at least if they do it seems that the kind of desert involved can't be epistemic. In epistemology, it seems you can only deserve true belief or not deserve it, there's no further negative state of deserving something actively bad.
Thus, in epistemology, if someone gets what they deserve, that's always an unmixed good, while in ethics, if someone gets what they deserve, that can involve a component of badness, if what they deserve is something bad. This may explain why epistemology has a highly positive evaluative term for people getting what they deserve (knowledge), while there is no such highly positive evaluative term in ethics. Perhaps on this account the closest ethical analog to knowledge would be justice, an altogether more problematic notion.
J. L. Mackie's classic work on ethics begins by saying "there are no objective values... The statement of this thesis is likely to provoke one of three very different reactions. Some will think it not merely false but pernicious; they will see it as a threat to morality and to everything else that is worthwhile, and they will find the presenting of such a thesis in what purports to be a book on ethics paradoxical or even outrageous. Others will regard it as a trivial truth, almost too obvious to be worth mentioning, and certainly too plain to be worth much argument. Others again will say that it is meaningless or empty, that no real issue is raised by the question whether values are or are not part of the fabric of the world."
I am in Mackie's third class; I do not believe that there is a real issue here. But I do agree with Mackie when he goes on to say "precisely because there can be these three different reactions, much more needs to be said." Those who think that there are real differences do, after all, give arguments. If I am right, there must be some problem with the arguments. So I shall try to explain what's wrong with Richard's argument.
I confess that I can't see how meta-reasons are supposed to become "mere" for the subjectivist in Richard's argument. Why treat meta-reasons any differently than any other reasons? They do, after all, have consequences, just like other reasons. For example, if things are as Richard describes, and I phi, there seems to be a very good chance that I will come to regret my actions later. This is not to say that potential regret is the sole reason not to phi, only to point out that meta-reasons seem to be connected to my interests and values, just like normal reasons; defying them seems to carry the risk of my interests and values not being served, just like normal reasons.
Of course, in Richard's example, exactly how doing phi conflicts with my values is opaque to me. This is unfortunate, no doubt, but hardly unusual. Probably unconscious reasons have more influence on our behavior than conscious reasons, after all, and unconscious reasons are ipso facto also opaque to us. It is clear to me that the subjectivist is committed to thinking it would be better if one could see more clearly, and so that one should, when possible, figure out what one's unconscious motivations are, or in Richard's case figure out what it is that the meta-reasons are pointing to, but I don't see any way in which the subjectivist is committed to saying that if one can't pierce the opacity, one is required to simply ignore those reasons.
I have long wondered just how much Nozick's case shows, and really whether it's very convincing at all (sure, most people say they wouldn't plug in, but look at how many hours they spend playing World of Warcraft, and that's not even as good as the Experience Machine). But for some reason it had not occurred to me to ask the question Felipe De Brigard decided to ask, which he briefly describes here. It didn't occur to me even though I always mention "The Matrix" when I discuss the experience machine, and always mention how strange I find it that anyone would want to leave the matrix given the setup in the movie. The results are what I think I would have expected, though that's what we always think when we see experimental results.
Technorati Tags: ethics, hedonism, utilitarianism, Nozick, Matrix
Nietzsche tells us that our central motivation is to exercise our power. Of course, Nietzsche had a more sophisticated understanding of power than many; generosity can be a display of power. So this interesting study is perfectly comprehensible on a Nietzschean view.
I suppose it may also give some insight into an unusual friend of mine. It is fiercely difficult to get him to split the cost of any shared meal or outing; he will go to great lengths to pay for everyone himself. Clearly he's ruthlessly exploiting his friends for his own pleasure. I wish I had enough money to do that (actually, I do tend to be pretty generous when I'm feeling financially secure, but sadly that hasn't been the case for a while).
On Friday, I attended a talk by Claire Finkelstein on contracts under coercion. I've been trying to attend a lot of colloquia recently, as they can be a source of ideas and it seems to be a good thing to be getting out and talking to other philosophers. Discussion at this one was spirited.
Finkelstein's argument centered around an example; a robber threatens to kill me unless I can pay him, and I have no money on me, so I promise I will get the money and pay him tomorrow. Obviously, this is of no value unless the robber actually believes I will pay, so in order for this move to save my life, I must somehow bring it about that the robber believes this. It would thus be very much in my interest if it were possible for me to call on some external enforcement mechanism, to sign a guarantee of some sort which, say, the state would compel me to honor.
Of course, as the law stands now, I could not do such a thing; contracts entered into under coercion are unenforceable. And so my situation is hopeless; I can't provide the money now, and my promises to do so in the future are not credible, so the robber will shoot me. It seems that I should wish that the law did not take this stance on coerced contracts.
Finkelstein supposes that the reason we do not enforce coerced contracts is that we wish to discourage people from engaging in coercion, by reducing the rewards, but she notes that this not only imposes a cost on the one engaged in coercion (who is denied access to some rewards) but also on the victim (who is denied the possibility of a less bad escape). She considers it quite unfair to impose this further cost on the victim, and so suggests that we really ought to be increasing the penalty to the robber in other ways (since there are always other ways to ramp up punishment), finding ways that don't impose a cost on the victim. So she argues that coerced contracts should be enforced.
Endless complications and debate arose, and my own general reaction was that, as usual, sorting through the strained and tortured logic of consent and voluntary action and rationality reinforced my fondness for utilitarianism. It may be hard to figure out what will produce the best outcome, and sometimes the advice is unpleasant, but other approaches seem to provide even sillier results, when they provide any results at all.
At the dinner after the talk, I was pointed toward a presentation of an extraordinary view. Finkelstein told us that Richard Posner had argued that criminal activity in general could be seen as all involving bypassing of efficient market mechanisms, and so that the interest of the state in enforcing criminal law could be seen as entirely concerned with protecting the market. He actually suggests in one paper that even rape fits this model; it can be seen as bypassing implicit markets in dating.
Posner considers the possibility that the rapist may want non-consensual sex specifically, something in which there is not (and cannot be) a market, and on that issue Finkelstein was actually slightly unfair to him; she reported him as saying that it was too hard to distinguish such cases from other cases of rape, so although the state had no interest in discouraging rapes of that form as such, they should still as a practical matter be punished like other rapes.
In fact, Posner isn't quite that silly in the paper, though I can see where Finkelstein gets that impression. He does suggest the approach Finkelstein reported, but he also allows that there are situations where people's interests are in conflict, where there is no consensual market solution to the conflict. He does not actually say the state has no interest in such cases; he suggests that when leaving it up to the people involved to resolve it without interference produces decreased utility, that also constitutes a form of inefficiency, and he explicitly puts rape in this category. However, this seems to undermine Posner's central point, since it concedes that bypassing market mechanisms isn't really the only way to go wrong. Perhaps Finkelstein was charitably seeking a more consistent interpretation of Posner.
Wow, it has been a long time since I've posted anything. I've been teaching an ethics class this fall, and at the moment I'm discussing ethical egoism with my students. As a result, I've been thinking about why people advocate selfishness. Certainly people can behave selfishly just because they are selfish, but what would make someone advocate everyone being selfish? Surely a truly selfish person wouldn't want others to be selfish.
Part of the reason no doubt is that the selfish person wishes his behavior to appear normal and acceptable, but I think that is not the whole story, or even the most important part of it. Rather, I suspect the major reason is that we have come to associate selfishness with cleverness. Thus, while ordinarily one would have thought a selfish person would want to avoid advertising the fact, in practice people's desire to appear clever, or at least to avoid appearing stupid at all costs, leads many of them to want to be thought of as selfish. Hence, they advocate selfish principles in order to try to signal that they are selfish, and so not stupid, and no doubt in some cases they even try to act more selfish than they actually want to be, again because they expect this to be viewed as sophistication.
I wonder how much of the popularity of libertarian views on the internet owes itself to this phenomenon.
It is apparently International Day Against Homophobia. The day was chosen to commemorate the date, only 17 years ago, when the World Health Organization removed homosexuality from its list of disorders. IDAHO's site talks about the many places in which homosexuality is still a crime, sometimes of course a capital crime. Pam's House Blend alerted me to this occasion. I don't post much on this topic (I could only find two posts), but it is an important issue. While the happiness of the hundreds of millions of gays and lesbians themselves is enough of a reason to care on its own, those like me who are not personally affected should remember that those who favor restricting the rights of gays and lesbians are probably not happy with a lot of things we do in our bedrooms either, and eager to come after us as well. Many of the places that criminalize homosexuality also criminalize adultery, or extra-marital sex in general.
I had to post on this just because I love the terminology. My recent Kant readings, with all the technical terminology of uncertain and sometimes downright dubious meaning and significance, has perhaps left me with a desperate desire for technical words that actually mean what you'd expect them to mean. This one came up in a post on natural law and homosexual activity. Of course, my sympathies for Thomism are fairly limited, but I do make a place for some forms of teleology, since I'm pretty much a teleofunctionalist. However, unsurprisingly, the anti-homosexuality arguments don't work any better on teleofunctionalism than on the natural law model. In Millikan's terminology, I'm quite confident that many homosexual acts are "Normal," as it seems clear that there are proper functions for such acts.
Not that it would matter if there weren't. I suppose an advantage of modern teleofunctionalism over Thomistic natural law is that since the teleology has an evolutionary basis, rather than being grounded in a divine plan, the temptation to derive any moral conclusions from it is much reduced. Plenty of abNormal activities are morally acceptable or even praiseworthy, and some Normal activities are morally unacceptable.
I was glancing at some of the philosophy journals at the Rock not too long ago, and came upon an argument on the issue of torture. I can't remember the journal or the author; I'll fix the cite when I get that info. Recent discussion of further disturbing pro-fascist statements from our Attorney General brought it to mind again, though.
In essence, the argument of the paper was that, of course, in ticking time-bomb scenarios, one ought to torture. I tend to agree with this; I am, after all, a raving consequentialist, as regular readers will know. However, the article went on to argue that it is nonetheless never a good idea for a government to have policies that permit torture. Even if Dirty Harry's actions were, all things considered, the best options available, government policy should punish them, as having strict, exceptionless policies against torture in order to prevent abuses is much more important than rewarding Dirty Harry's heroism. This I also agree with; after all, the world sadly contains a lot more brutal thugs than it contains heroes, and there's no good way to protect a hero's freedom of action without protecting quite a lot of brutal thugs.
Anyway, just another utilitarian response to torture besides the (also correct, of course) pragmatic arguments that it generally proves counter-productive.
I've been thinking further about Carnap, as I've just read Michael Friedman's A Parting of the Ways, and also because I've been thinking about my dissertation, in which I borrow heavily from Carnap. Friedman's discussion of the Kantian influences on Carnap's thinking has led me to return to a thought I've had before. Carnap of course subscribes to what Quine called the "linguistic doctrine of logical truth," logical and mathematical truths for Carnap are established by implicit linguistic conventions. They are prescriptions of language, chosen for pragmatic reasons.
Though Carnap wrote very little about ethics, he shared the general positivist enthusiasm for expressivist meta-ethical views; when he presents his own view of ethics in response to one of the papers in his Schilpp volume, the view is clearly expressivist. In particuar, normative ethical claims generally involve the expression of commands or prescriptions. Naturally, this is not to say that there are no reasons for them; there can of course be pragmatic reasons for expressing particular endorsements.
Though I cannot think of any expressivists who have made this connection explicitly, I see a fascinating parallel here. Many philosophers have, of course, maintained that ethics is an a priori discipline. Sometimes this is claimed because of a feeling that the a priori is more secure, or more universal, or somehow more exalted, but not infrequently another reason that is given is the more prosaic observation that it's hard to think of what could possibly count as empirical evidence for or against basic ethical principles. Certainly with respect to my own normative views (utilitarian, of course, as regular readers of the blog will know), I cannot think of any evidence I could give someone who didn't already find happiness valuable to convince them that they were mistaken.
So, the conventionalist maintains that logic and mathematics are expressions of the norms and prescriptions of our linguistic practices. This is the conventionalist's account of the paradigm cases of a priori knowledge; to the extent that a conventionalist can be said to have a theory of the a priori, that is how the conventionalist thinks a priori knowledge works. The expressivist maintains that moral claims are expressions of the norms and prescriptions of our moral practices. Would that not make ethics a priori, in the conventionalist sense of that notion?
This must have occurred to Carnap, even if it seems to have escaped many of the other positivists. One of the main goals of his efforts to construct ever more sophisticated logical devices was to facilitate mutual understanding; he dreamed of universal languages which would insofar as was possible remove barriers to communication by enabling everyone to express themselves accurately in ways comprehensible to everyone else. I cannot imagine how he could have missed the parallels to the Kantian project of finding a universal morality to remove barriers to cooperative effort. Further, there seems no necessity for imagining Carnap to have been that dense, as despite the silence of his published work on the topic, his letters and other private communications of which I am aware suggest strongly that he did believe that there was just such a connection.
Analytic philosophy is commonly accused of having become immersed in dry technical details and having lost touch with the purpose of philosophy in connecting to life. Carnap no doubt made himself more vulnerable to such charges by his efforts to avoid making any explicit statements about the political or personal consequences of his views in his writings. No doubt this was wise; he was associated with communism anyway, and would likely simply have been dismissed on the basis of his socialist views had he explicitly drawn the connections he believed to obtain between his logical system-building and his socialist ideals. However, he clearly believed such connections to exist, and I tend to agree. As Stephen Colbert says, reality has a well known liberal bias. Getting technical issues and matters of methodology right will have a natural tendency to advance the cause of the good. Further, focusing on such issues, rather than merely engaging in partisan preaching, will help shield one from charges of bias. Perhaps Carnap's approach still has some merit in modern times.
I think I've become a rule utilitarian. I don't know if being a rule utilitarian is any different from being an act utilitarian; I'm still somewhat inclined to think not, but I guess these days more in the sense that I think act utilitarianism may call for us acting like rule utilitarians always said we should, rather than vice versa.
I increasingly feel that not only is there obviously a difference between how we evaluate public policies and how we evaluate individual actions, but that this is entirely appropriate. That would be my reason for my increasing rule orientation; the rules for individuals seem to me like they should be different from the rules for society, even if all rules are justified by the underlying principle of utility.
So, for example, I think most public policy issues should be decided by naked appeal to consequentialist considerations. This is actually a view that many people seem to implicitly accept. I think we should be utilitarians about public policy just because utilitarianism is right, but less controversial motivations seem to often lead others to the same view. Those who are democratic and egalitarian in their political inclinations, as most liberals at least are, are going to tend to think that public policy should take the interests of everyone into account. That there are considerations other than people's interests tends to often be ignored in public policy, even by non-utilitarians, perhaps because they expect people to vote their interests, so satisfying interests seems like the democratic way to go.
On the other hand, as far as my own individual morality, and what I expect from others, there seem to be problems for ideologically pure utilitarianism. The famine relief arguments of Unger and Singer suggest that if our standard for individual action is that we should always do what will maximize utility, then nobody ever lives up to those standards. Nor does it even seem possible. At least, I'm sure I couldn't; perhaps someone could be brainwashed to do so, but I don't even particularly want to so brainwash myself, and as I am now, I'm too selfish to be a saint, and any effort to train myself to follow such heroic standards would be likely to be killed by the resentment I'd develop at the ingratitude of people I'd be trying to help, and at how those people would be blithely making the world a worse place as I was trying to make it better for them.
Unattainable standards are problematic. If people can't be good, then they will have considerable inclination to just turn their back on morality, either actively ignoring it or taking the view that they're evil and there's nothing they can do about it. This is an issue for Christianity, for example; Christianity provides terrible moral guidance both because what it calls for isn't actually all that valuable (most obvious in the case of the stupid rules on sex and the deference to any political authority whatever) and because even though they're not good, the Christian standards are impossibly difficult to follow. Utilitarian standards are at least good, of course, but if they're impossibly difficult to follow, that's no good.
So I advocate a much milder standard. A bare minimum standard, vaguely suggested by some interpretations of the Kantian tradition, would be that I should choose the easiest for me set of moral rules which satisfies the condition that if everybody followed those rules, the world would overall be better off. It is truly depressing how low that standard is, of course. Certainly there's no question of it being impossibly difficult. Indeed, if there's any difficulty following it, it is that the standard is too easy; one is likely to become bored with it, and cease to pay attention and so to accidentally fall short even of this.
Thus, there is reason to go higher than the bare minimum. I suggest that the way to go is to take the bare minimum as a starting point, and try to aim at a target some substantial distance above that starting point, though still not at the absurd Singer/Unger level. We are inclined to judge ourselves too leniently, and others too harshly, so aiming a little higher is probably good to correct for that mistake. Thinking of ourselves as better than others is flattering to our vanity, so raising the aim a little further beyond the correction level is likely to be quite sustainable in practice; if the resentment at ingratitude for heroic effort would be intolerable to me, the resentment at ingratitude for moderate effort is not, since it's easily counter-balanced by my pleasing opportunity to feel superior. Finally, again, people like challenges, if not impossible ones, so raising the standard to a level where it takes some effort to follow is likely to make it more rather than less motivating.
Thus, I think there's a case for setting one's personal target some large, but not absurd, distance above what I identified as the bare minimum. If one sets such a target and lives up to it, of course one also sets a realistic good example for others. Further, if people can be encouraged to set and try to reach such standards, then this is a practical step toward the utopian utilitarian ideal; since the goal here is to be well above the bare minimum standard, and the bare minimum standard is to do what would, if everybody did it, make the world overall better off, if people in general start following standards like this, the standards can't help but raise over time (the world will become better off, so the standards for what would need to be done to improve it further would go up).
So this is probably all just a rationalization for my being lazy and wanting to follow relatively easy moral standards. But I thought I'd put it out there, since writing things down always helps me clarify them in my mind, and since it's always possible somebody will have interesting comments.
This blog post about difficulties obtaining EC has been discussed all over the blogosphere. It of course makes a good argument for making EC non-prescription. Though most of the issues raised have been mentioned by others, I thought I'd weigh in about the class issues involved in all these contraceptive debates. I was at Brown's health services today to have my blood pressure checked, and noted on the table in the waiting room a little poster about emergency contraception. It basically indicated what EC was, listed a 24 hour number to make an appointment if EC was needed, and mentioned that "anticipatory prescriptions" were available. Now, it is hardly surprising that an Ivy League school would take the implied attitudes toward its female students (namely, that their health is important and their sex lives none of the school's business). Still, many in the blogosopher have noted that the various restrictions on reproductive rights which states have squeezed through or which are imposed by self-righteous health care providers or whatever overwhelmingly hurt poor women, which is no doubt why there isn't as much opposition to the various restrictions as there should be. The restrictions don't affect the privileged much or at all, so they don't see any reason to worry about the restrictions, and when the privileged aren't worried about something, politicians rarely do anything about it. This is one more bit of data supporting that observation.
There have been a number of good posts recently on Philosophy, et cetera about utlitiarianism, deontology, and libertarians. The latest is here. The propertarians are, as people might have noted from earlier posts, something of a pet peeve of mine. For those who haven't followed enough anti-libertarian blogs, the propertarians are the people who claim that their position is all about protecting people's fundamental rights, who write as if the only right worth mentioning is the right to property. In other words, most libertarians.
I consulted my philosophically innocent person about another popular issue in philosophy recently. All right, so I suppose I consult her often enough that she probably doesn't count as philosophically innocent any more. She does have some wild intuitions, though, so she's very valuable from the perspective of shaking my complacency about what is or is not really intuitive.
In any event, the issue is that many philosophers have claimed that there is an interesting difference in our ability to imagine the truth of factual claims vs. moral claims. We're easily able to imagine things we know to be false; Nelson losing at Trafalgar, humans having been placed on earth by aliens rather than evolving, time travel, wizards with the ability to alter reality by the force of their wills. It is claimed that we have more difficulty imagining the truth of moral claims we hold to be false; imagining that Hitler was a good person (without changing any of his deeds, obviously), imagining that enslaving those of different skin color is morally right, imagining that suffering is good for its own sake.
My victim was inclined to deny the data. To some extent, that is what I am inclined to do. I am strongly inclined toward consequentialism, so if asked to imagine that some action normally viewed as reprehensible is good, I need only imagine that it increases overall happiness and I'm there. Of course, this won't get me to imagining that suffering is good for its own sake, but I wonder if I should say that claim is conceptually impossible, because badness and suffering are too closely linked, and so imagining it is difficult or impossible for the same reason other conceptual impossibilities are difficult or impossible to imagine.
This does leave two issues, though. My victim didn't think this much work is required; she thought it was unnecessary to specify, even vaguely, the worldly circumstances which would make a strange moral claim true; she thought you could just imagine it as easily as you imagine any other silly thing, with no more need to fill in the details than we have when we imagine time travel or magic. I'm not sure if I agree with that intuition.
Secondly, if I'm right and my victim is wrong, then it should be harder for a deontologist to imagine crazy moral claims being true than for a consequentialist to do so. I wonder if those who have made this claim have indeed been overwhelmingly deontologists.
If I correctly understand Amanda's point, then it seems to me that Thomson's pro-choice arguments (violinists, people seeds, and such) should be more persuasive than Tooley's (the kittens). Does anybody have any thoughts on whether that's actually the case (or on whether I'm applying Amanda's theory correctly, for that matter)?
This is highly recommended.
If I have a disagreement with what Angelica has to say here, it is tiny; I would say that encouraging the notion that wrongdoing will be punished can be justified on utilitarian grounds. Admittedly, if we were all good utilitarians, it wouldn't be necessary to encourage faith in our institutions by such devious means, but then if we we all good utilitarians, then we wouldn't need many of our institutions to begin with. Utilitarianism does not call upon us to ignore what people are really like. Rather, we must try to find ways to come up with good outcomes despite the unfortunate failure of most people to be good utilitarians most of the time.
Given her further commentary, perhaps this was Angelica's point anyway, in which case I don't disagree with her at all.
Mark Kleiman advocates retribution, on the basis of reflection on an extreme case. In general, I am suspicious of conclusions drawn on the basis of extreme cases. Of course, one could question whether Kleiman is right that the punishment of Pinochet would be useless on the grounds of deterrence (he's on better ground in ruling out incapacitation arguments; it seems unlikely that Pinochet will commit further crimes if not locked up); one could argue that such a public case will provide a reminder of the reach of the law and have some benefit in discouraging other criminals, great or petty. But perhaps that is unconvincing.
Of course, on utilitarian grounds (the sort of grounds I like to use), it could also be argued that Pinochet's suffering will make the friends and relatives of his victims happier. Perhaps that's enough justification in this case, since they are so numerous.
Kleiman, however, proposes that making Pinochet suffer is something we owe to his victims, and it sounds like he means the dead ones. I think the idea that we owe anything to the dead is not only false (on utilitarian grounds; we can't benefit or harm them, so we have no moral duties with respect to them), but also dangerous. The idea that retribution for long past wrongs is morally required fuels many a cycle of warfare and oppression. I think we should be trying to break those cycles, starting with the very idea of retribution.
I assign my ethics students both "Famine, Affluence, and Morality" and "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" to read. It is perhaps predictable that they mostly don't think they should be giving money away, but that they do think people should, and in some cases that they would, walk away from Omelas. But how can it be right to sacrifice dozens or hundreds of children to painful deaths to keep one person moderately happy, and not right to subject only one child to a miserable fate to keep a whole society ecstatically happy? I think this combination of views cannot be tenable.
In his discussion of justice in the Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, Hume tries to argue that justice is based entirely on usefulness, partly by arguing that in circumstances where justice is not useful, nobody thinks it should apply.
One of his examples concerns what he calls the laws of war. He claims these, like all rules of justice, are justified by their usefulness, and that they can and should be ignored where they are not useful. As an example of where they are not useful and should be ignored, he presents the case of fighting enemies, barbarians, who do not themselves follow the rules.
Obviously, this seems relevant to current circumstances; many people seem to agree with Hume's reasoning, and favor applying it to our dealings with terrorists. Thus, I thought this passage would be a good one to spend some time on with my students. I was a little disturbed at the result.
One student noted that the laws of war are presumably justified on the basis that following them reduces the damage done by warfare, and that one side following the rules would still reduce the damage somewhat, if not as much as both sides following them. Thus, she said it seemed that only one side following the rules was still useful.
However, she was a lone voice in that cause. Pretty much everyone else who expressed an opinion thought it made no sense to follow the rules if your enemy didn't. Indeed, some seemed to think it made no sense to follow any rules of war at all; that if you're at war, you should do whatever will most quickly and efficiently bring victory.
These are university students, and so to be expected to be liberal-leaning, and they're in deep blue Massachusetts. I did not expect to find such sentiments. I don't know what to think about this.
I'm wondering if I should reinvent myself as a Plato scholar. I find every year that the part of my courses where I'm talking about his writing ends up being my favorite to teach, largely because it's where I'm most likely to discover something myself while preparing to cover the same material yet again.
So, current working theory of Republic, which may not be original but I don't think is completely orthodox either; the point of the book is an extended attack on what Nietzsche called the master morality.
To review, the master morality is the morality of Homer's epics, an invention of a proud aristocratic class. According to the master morality, to be good is to be like the aristocrats, or at least like their self-image; strong, brave, honest, cunning, rich, and good looking. Generally able to succeed in life, to get respect and to get your own way. Badness is everything that is unlike the way of the masters.
So why think this is the target of Republic? Well, here are a couple of interesting bits of evidence. Very early on, of course, Cephalus voices the opinion that only rich people can afford to be honest, one of the central tenets of the master morality. Somewhat later, Socrates says, and Polemarchus agrees, that the theory that justice is the ability to help friends and harm enemies was surely invented by some very powerful man, a Xerxes or the like. Thrasymachus, of course, identifies justice with whatever advances the aims of the ruling class. And the complaint of Glaucon and Adeimantus that justice is not advantageous to the just person seems to be based on thinking that it won't contribute to having the ideal aristocratic life.
Further, there's the whole of book X, which I feel is widely misunderstood. It is commonly taken to be an attack on all art, but Plato picks Homer as his example over and over again in this book. If I'm right about the master morality being the target, this Homer-bashing is of course exactly what we'd expect.
I'm sure there are aspects of the data my theory doesn't fit, but it seems to me at the moment that it works really well. If so, perhaps I should try to write a paper on it, assuming nobody else has already done so.
I've been looking forward to the next post in Elizabeth Anderson's series on freedom, and it is now up. This one stresses the need for the rule of law in order to protect any kind of meaningful political freedom.
While I apparently have some philosophical readers, I expect that my last two substantial posts might have bored any readers who came here for politics. This post will not return to politics directly, but will address an issue often raised in the context of political debates. I want to talk about ethical subjectivism (sometimes people use "relativism" to refer to the same thing) and ethical realism, and eventually connect that to larger philosophical issues.
It seems to me that the view that ethical principles are objective is not nearly as problematic as is often argued. There's a view of how objective ethical principles can be discovered which has long been a part of the utilitarian tradition and which is, so far as I can tell, now held by many in other ethical traditions. We can view our ethical intuitions, our judgments about particular moral cases, as data, and we can try to construct theories which serve to explain and unify those judgments. It is difficult to see anything in such a procedure which is more problematic than the way we proceed in the sciences, by treating our observations as data and constructing theories to explain those observations.
Of course, people don't all agree about the data, but that's true in science as well. Some phenomena are extremely difficult to observe, and some people simply have disfunctional sense organs. Further, treating ethics on a par with science in this way certainly doesn't rule out reform; our scientific theories sometimes lead us to reject some of our observations, and likely a good moral theory will similarly entail some revision of what we count as reliable moral judgments. Similarly, disagreement about what theory really does best explain the data is not much of a disanalogy; there is widespread agreement in some sciences about some issues, but certainly not in all sciences about everything. If ethics is similar to science, it's surely similar to a science in which we haven't made much progress, but that's a far cry from an argument that there's nothing objective in ethics at all.
Still, having said all this in favor of the reasonability of ethical realism, I do not endorse that position myself. It seems to me that everything which might make us think ethics is objective can be adequately handled by some kind of Humean view. If what's right is determined by our individual feelings about things, that does not eliminate the need for ethical investigation and debate; very often, our feelings concern what outcomes we desire, and it can be very difficult to determine how to bring about or avoid particular outcomes. It is unclear that productive ethical debate very often includes much more than that.
Of course, it is philosophers who worry if subjectivism accurately characterizes ethical debate. The more common worry outside the seminar room is that if ethics is just a matter of our feelings, doesn't that mean whatever feels right to someone is right? But surely lots of horrible things we don't want to endorse feel right to all sorts of bad people.
Partly, I think this is already answered by looking at the need to evaluate not only our feelings about outcomes, but the empirical questions of how those outcomes can in fact be brought about. That doesn't resolve the whole issue, though; likely some people act in ways we'd want to condemn because they have fundamentally different feelings, not because they disagree about the methods for bringing about particular outcomes. However, even in those cases, I'm not sure how badly off the subjectivist is.
It is often emphasized by ethicists that ethics is supposed to be a practical endeavor; the goal is to figure out the right way to live, and encourage people to follow it. So I think it is instructive to ask, as a practical matter, what can be done about people with fundamentally different feelings. Hume said sympathy was the most fundamental feeling relevant to morality; consider someone who lacks that, a sociopath. To be consistent, it seems a Humean must say that when such a person engages in theft, say, or murder, they are in a sense not acting wrongly; their feelings don't oppose the actions they are taking. But this sense is not very important to how the rest of us should deal with a sociopath. Surely we need to defend ourselves; that the sociopath considers his actions justified is irrelevant to our concerns. Many possible options are available, such as prison or simply killing the sociopath. I have never been able to determine why anyone would think subjectivism rules out dealing with such problems in the same ways as other moral theories would recommend.
If I can't see where the problem is for the subjectivist view, it should come as no surprise that I equally can't see the advantage for the objectivist view; they are two sides of the same coin. Sure, on the objectivist view the sociopath is just wrong about some moral facts. But as far as the practical matter of how to deal with him, I can't see how that helps in the slightest. Does anyone really think a sociopath could be brought around by being subjected to Kant's proof of the categorical imperative, or Mill's arguments from Utilitarianism? Mill didn't think so; indeed, even for much easier cases he had doubts about how much could be done for the sufficiently morally confused. That was why he emphasized early education so much. And of course Plato, to take another prominent ethical objectivist, clearly believed that there were hopeless cases; part of the point of Gorgias and of book I of Republic is that Callicles and Thrasymachus are just such hopeless cases (and in the case of Thrasymachus, we're also shown how to deal with a hopeless case. Thrasymachus is treated as a wild animal, pretty much how I say a Hume-style subjectivist should view a sociopath). The practically available options are pretty much the same, either way; if someone's moral outlook is just too fundamentally off, you're pretty much left with brainwashing or violence as a response, whether you think that the outlook being off involved factual error or distorted feelings.
Because of this absence of any practical difference, I tend to favor subjectivism simply because it seems to make less extravagant claims. However, the absence of a practical difference means I also don't think this issue is very important, certainly not nearly as important as some of the debates over it might have led one to believe.
I claimed I'd try to link this to larger issues, but I think this post is already pretty long, so I'll do that very briefly. It is my suspicion that objectivity in general, at least in the deep metaphysical sense many philosophers intend, is not of any more value than the objectivity in ethics I discuss here. So, in the end, I agree with Bentham and Mill that ethics is something like science, but not for the same reason.
Thanks to Lindsay Beyerstein's post at American Street, I was directed to a New York Times article of interest. Apparently some Dutch doctors have a proposal for standards for active euthanasia for infants whose circumstances are sufficiently hopeless that allowing them to live a little while longer would only serve to protract suffering. The interesting thing about the article is that it comes off as favoring this proposal; the Dutch doctors are presented as possibly (probably?) representing a step in the direction of moral progress. Being the raving consequentialist that I am, I tend to agree, of course, but I share Beyerstein's surprise that this viewpoint is being presented in a major newspaper in the current climate.
There's an interesting examination of the connection between freedom and property rights on Left2Right. Elizabeth Anderson seems to be developing an argument that even if you consider freedom the ultimate value, libertarian politics will not ensue. So far, her case looks promising, but I would like to try a different line of attack. I would like to ask what version of freedom, if any, could justify libertarian political views.
I am, myself, a considerable fan of freedom, and I certainly agree with the libertarians on a number of issues. I oppose censorship, support the legalization of drugs and prostitution, and so forth. But I do not accept the libertarian elevation of private property to the status of seemingly the highest right there is. Indeed, I don't believe in absolute rights of any kind.
Instead, when I advocate freedom, it is for Millian reasons. Mill, of course, advocated giving people a large amount of control over their own lives in On Liberty, but his arguments were all consequentialist. One theme that runs through much of the essay is that people are generally best placed to determine what will contribute to their own happiness and to determine how to get it, so in most cases they'll be happiest if left to take care of themselves. He has many other arguments, of course, but the important point is that they all view freedom as a means to an end, as a way of increasing the general happiness. As a result, they are also all contingent; if circumstances are such that in a particular kind of case freedom is not contributing to happiness, it ceases to have value. To connect this to concrete policies, I am fairly certain that freedom from taxation does not have sufficient benefits to outweigh the benefits of a well-run democratic government with decent social programs.
Being a compatibilist, I cannot see how freedom could have value as other than a means, so for me the Millian view of freedom is the only one that can make sense. But of course compatibilism is hardly uncontroversial. Does a believer in contra-causal freedom have a better argument for libertarian politics than a compatibilist? Nozick perhaps thought so. Certainly, making freedom a more extraordinary thing might increase the plausibility of assigning it intrinsic value.
However, constructing an account of contra-causal freedom which gives the libertarians what they want is not as easy as might at first appear. If one is a contra-causal extremist, a la Sartre, then it would appear that no political consequences whatever follow. According to Sartre, our freedom is, by its nature, competely unlimited; we always have total freedom, in the sense of being totally responsible for what we make of our lives. This view is, of course, not original with Sartre; Descartes also thought a free will had no limits.
But if freedom is absolute like this, government policies can't take it away. Government policies thus can't be evaluated on the basis of how they affect freedom, because they can't affect freedom at all (well, with one possible exception; killing someone will take away their freedom according to Sartre, though not according to Descartes). Thus, Sartre wasn't in any way compromising his belief in the importance of freedom in his sense when he endorsed communism.
What the libertarian needs, then, is some intermediate kind of freedom, between compatibilist freedom and the extreme freedom of Descartes and Sartre. It must be somehow special, probably contra-causal, but still subject to being restricted by outside forces. There have, of course, been efforts to describe freedom of exactly that kind. I find all such accounts deeply problematic, unsurprisingly, but the important point is that this is where one's metaphysics are required to be if one is to use the intrinsic value of freedom to endorse libertarian politics.
I came across this link recently, and of course being a cold, heartless philosopher, much like Singer, I immediately began to think about the philosophical issues involved. The author claims that Singer's main mistake is in believing that disabilities reduce quality of life. It is not completely clear whether she thinks no evaluation can be made of another person's quality of life, or if she only thinks most people's judgments about disabilities specifically are mistaken.
If she takes the former position, then I find that view quite implausible. Further, I find the implications of the view very troubling. It would seem to leave us without tools for evaluating public policy. Surely the goal of many government programs is to make people better off. And the goal of many laws is to prevent us from making one another worse off. If we have no basis at all for making judgments about whether people are better or worse off, how can we devise these policies and laws?
On the other hand, if she does not wish to make the general point, but only wishes to make this claim about disabilities, then I have a different set of reactions. First, it then strikes me that this is an empirical question. Whatever tools we use to evaluate how well off people are generally, apply them to particular disabilities and see what results we get. Second, the thesis that disabilities do not make people worse off still seems to have some unlikely consequences. It suggests, for example, that there is no reason to put any effort into curing a disability; if there's a line of research which could conceivably repair spinal damage and so cure paralysis, it would seem on this assumption that we have no reason to fund such research, since it wouldn't make anyone better off.
I'm sure Singer presented arguments like this. I wonder if there is any response to them.
This philosoraptor post argues plausibly that Bush should be impeached for having never read Euthyphro.
I'm quite interested in utilitarianism, as to my mind it ranks as one of the most plausible moral theories. There's an interesting discussion here of some technical issues surrounding being an actualist utilitarian, which is to say a utilitarian who only takes into account the interests of actual people, vs. any version of utilitarianism which would take into account the interests of potential people. I'm inclined to think the actualist option is the only option that is tenable, so it's fortunate that the technical issues seem to be mostly resolved.
I assume most of those who are reading this have noticed that while the Republicans accuse any Democrat who speaks on economic issues of class warfare, they have themselves been engaged in an aggressive policy of enriching the already rich at the expense of the poor. This has led me to think a bit about the history of philosophical discussions of the seemingly never ending class war.
One infrequently commented upon place in which the class war is discussed is in the writings of Nietzsche. Nietzsche is famous for presenting his contrast between what he called the master morality and the slave morality. They do end up roughly corresponding to morality as the rich would like the rules to be, and morality as the poor would like the rules to be. But Nietzsche hardly ever mentions money. His tendency to ignore money is a little bit odd, given what I'm sure some of his sources are.
I expect one of the primary sources of the great classical philologist's ideas has to have been Plato. In Republic, we see a sophisticated attack on the master morality. But Plato makes money central to his argument; the first spokesman for the moral theory Plato seeks to undermine, Cephalus, is notable almost exclusively for being wealthy. Further, the theory of Cephalus that money is equivalent to virtue is one of Plato's main targets. The argument Thrasymachus and eventually Glaucon and Adeimantus take up exploits the contradiction between the beliefs of Cephalus that being rich and being honest both are part of being good. It is evident to all that one can become richer by being dishonest under the right circumstances, so since being rich equals being good, Thrasymachus argues that we should really think it is dishonesty that makes us good.
Further, the emphasis on money is not just present in the first book and a half. More than two thousand years before Marx, Plato makes a very big deal of the importance of class struggle. He argues that his ideal republic will effortlessly win in a conflict with any Greek rival, because in every city in Greece apart from his ideal republic, there are really two cities. There are the rich and the poor, and they are ever ready to go to war with one another. So all the republic needs to do to have an overwhelming advantage over any rival city is to make an alliance with one of the perpetually warring factions against the other.
Plato, in what is perhaps an over-reaction, seems to try to resolve the contradiction between saying wealth is good and saying honesty is good by ditching both; his philosopher-kings are supposed to not care about wealth, but are also supposed to freely lie for the good of the state. However, the important point is that money is quite central to the discussion in Plato. Why does it not appear in Nietzsche?
The innocent explanation would be that wealth is only important to the extent that it is a source of power. Nietzsche certainly talks a lot about power, so it could be argued that he is simply concentrating on what is more fundamental.
However, there is another explanation, which reflects less well on Nietzsche. Recognizing the degree to which master morality is morality as the wealthy would have us see it would involve seeing that the master morality is quite widespread in modern times. While Nietzsche does not claim that the master morality has died out, he writes as if the slave morality were dominant in the modern era. Further, while he is not an enthusiast for the master morality, almost all of his most pointed criticisms are directed at the slave morality, perhaps for this very reason that he saw the slave morality as dominant. However, if the master morality is interpreted as morality according to the rich, it becomes apparent that it is still far more powerful than Nietzsche seems to have recognized. It is not clear why Nietzsche didn't recognize this, but it seems to stand as one of his larger mistakes.