Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Philippa Foot on Desires, Reasons, and Actions.

November 17, 2010 at 9:51 A.M. My deepest sympathy is extended to Congressman Charles Rangel (for whom I have voted more than once) whose frustrations and concerns at not being confronted with witnesses against him is something understandable. Mr. Rangel appears to be a victim -- along with several other African-American politicians -- of a Right-wing attack machine featuring many Cuban-American political figures that operates "behind-the-scenes." This is entirely apart from the merits or faults in Mr. Rangel's actions.

Mr. Rangel is accused of underpaying his taxes. Rangel then paid the necessary taxes with a penalty. If you wish to see real crime and unethical conduct, see "Law and Ethics in the Soprano State" and "New Jersey is the Home of the Living Dead." Jeffrey Toobin, A Vast Conspiracy (New York: Random House, 1999). (Where do anti-Clinton warriors go after the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal? Miami.)

October 27, 2010 at 11:33 P.M. The General Assembly voted 180 to 2 (U.S. and Israel alone voting against the majority) to end the embargo against Cuba. I believe that this was the correct vote as a matter of human rights and international law. I hope that, some day, the U.S. will join the global community on this issue. I realize that by making this true statement I am risking my life and making further state-protected crimes against me, together with public censorship, inevitable. However, there are times when we must speak truth to power. ("Time to End the Embargo Against Cuba" and "Freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal.")

My support for Israel has not changed. I did not expect Israel to vote against the U.S. I still support sovereignty and peace for the Palestinian people. Although I disagree with the administration on the Cuba issue, I am highly supportive of Obama administration efforts to renew the peace talks in the Middle East. Despite the successes for Republicans in the interim elections there is still no viable alternative to Obama/Biden/Clinton on the Republican side. I wish to make it clear to readers, as I have on many prior occasions, that I have more in common with any Republican than with a nihilist. Violence is never a solution and must always be deplored, especially when the innocent suffer, as they usually do. ("Why I am not an ethical relativist" and "Nihilists in Disneyworld.")

October 26, 2010 at 5:01 P.M. "Errors" inserted since this morning will now be corrected. The goal of repetitive or induced frustrations and constant harassments is to generate an intemperate remark or violent reaction that proponents of these methods can point to in justification of their crimes. While I doubt that such tactics will work with me, I am sure that they have been used effectively against many people in many parts of the country, especially inmates and patients in institutions, in order to "control" persons or enslave "trouble makers." One responsibility of intellectuals in a democracy is to be "trouble makers," gadflies for the powerful who are held to account for their actions. Noam Chomsky, Objectivity and Liberal Scholarship (New York & London: The New Press, 2003), pp. 47-50.

October 25, 2010 at 11:35 P.M. A new "error" mysteriously appeared in this essay which had been left alone for a few days. I have now corrected the inserted "error." On Wednesday (October 27, 2010), the UN will hear arguments concerning the US embargo against Cuba. Cuban-Americans who favor the embargo -- mostly for financial reasons, since many of them make money from the embargo -- will cause the US to be embarassed, again, by a losing vote. My support for ending the embargo may explain the sudden insertions of "errors" in several essays, including this one, together with increased computer crimes committed against me. ("Terry Tuchin, Diana Lisa Riccioli, and New Jersey's Agency of Torture.")

October 22, 2010 at 11:11 A.M. A number of obstacles created, I believe, by Cuban-American opponents of my views with political protection made it difficult for me to reach these blogs today. At any time I may be prevented from accessing the Internet. These writings may be defaced or destroyed. I will continue to struggle against these obstacles in order to write essays and short stories, plays and film scripts. If necessary, I will attempt to reach public computers later today. I have reason to believe that several of these writings are appearing in non-U.S. media. Like the famous "Big Mac," I am being globalized.

October 21, 2010 at 9:00 P.M. "Errors" were inserted in this essay, possibly by Cuban-American racists horrified at the prospect of a lecture by Professor Cornel West that is promoted, by me, here. I will make the necessary corrections. ("Fidel Castro's 'History Will Absolve Me'" and "Freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal.")

October 21, 2010 at 11:56 A.M. Several essays have been altered. I will try to make necessary corrections over the next few days. Among the works in which "errors" were inserted is "Jacques Derrida's Philosophy as Jazz." I believe that I have now corrected the alterations of that work. Professor Derrida was not a Communist. Jacques Derrida called for the release of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Among those echoing that call are Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro.

Friday, October 29, 2010 at 7:00 P.M. at "Harlem Stage - Aaron Davis Hall, 150 Convent Avenue at West 135th Street, Cornel West and Carl Dix in Dialogue: 'What Future for Our Youth?' Please be there. I will certainly be attending this discussion."

Naturally, a conflict now makes it impossible for me to attend this event. I will do my best to be in two places at once. I expect continuing defacements of this text in response to this posted notice. Revolution Books, 146 W. 26th Street, NY, NY and (212) 281-9240. ($20.00 or $10.00 with student i.d.)

October 19, 2010 at 2:08 P.M. As part of the continuing psychological warfare and computer crime, my cable signal was blocked causing my computer to shut down in the midst of a security scan. I will do what I can to update my protection and continue to write despite these censorship and harassment efforts condoned by N.J. authorities. Continuing abuse of government power violates America's Constitution and insults the memory of the men and women who have died for our endangered freedoms. I will try, every day, to run a security scan of my computer. I will correct, every day, the "errors" inserted in my writings by New Jersey's hackers. ("What is it like to be tortured?" and "What is it like to be censored in America?")

Philippa Foot, Virtues and Vices (Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1978), $9.00 at Strand Books.

Recently, I learned of the death of Philippa Foot. I am dismayed by the decline in numbers among first-rate philosophers -- especially women -- in the English-speaking world. Philosophy is in a bad way. There has never been a time when philosophy was not endangered. Philosophers are always predicting the imminent demise of their subject. Also, philosophers are always getting into trouble. We need philosophy to be "rescued" on a regular basis. This will require philosophers to get into trouble.

Why do I say this? Well, philosophy must be concerned to question the shibboleths of society. Philosophers must be skeptical and internationalist in their attitudes. Philosophy is not ideology. Philosophy is not necessarily "patriotic." Like science, philosophy is concerned with truth and ways of knowing truth, regardless of authority or prestige, power or wealth of would-be proponents of truth. Ideas are -- or should be -- examined on their merits, not on the basis of their proponents "influence." ("Why I am not an ethical relativist" and "John Finnis and Ethical Cognitivism.")

Universities today are embarrassed by philosophy. A tiny number of academics in elite universities soldier on, teaching the difficult techniques and scholarship to young persons, or "non-traditional" students, among whom there may be another David Hume or Baruch Spinoza, Mary Wollstonecraft or George Santayana. These brave souls in academia must endure the condescension of their colleagues in lofty areas -- such as industrial studies and marketing -- since colleagues who teach "useful" subjects have little patience for this abstract discipline called "philosophy."

Philosophy, we are told, may be very nice but it is not useful or "practical." I disagree. I am sure that philosophy is among the most useful subjects a person can and should study, especially early in life. From the point of view of an observer, a marginal person in American society more amused than angered by the stupidity and insanity that seem more prevalent today than ever before, this absurd disdain for philosophy is also tragic because it translates into suffering for many people. The importance and meaning of suffering will be relevant to my substantive argument.

Many of our greatest errors today are philosophical blunders. We are going to bring "democracy" to Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, and we will teach people to "move on" from religion. Good luck in those efforts. Democracy is a philosophical concept of government dating from the ancient Greek world which may be impossible without the historical preconditions that societies must develop, usually painfully, that allow democracies to endure.

It is possible to call a government a "democracy" which is really another form of government, like dictatorship. Sadam Hussein called himself "President" and held "elections." I would not classify Hussein's Iraq as a democracy. Religion is an expression of the spiritual component in human nature which will express itself in other areas of life if it is denied in traditional religious forms. One can be a "religious" -- indeed, zealous -- atheist, a "believer" in non-belief and proselytizer, without joining a traditional religious organization of any kind or club of fellow non-believers. (Richard Dawkins?)

"A Spot of Bother."

Philippa R. Foot (1920-2010) may be one of the last members of a British generation that could refer to Hitler and Nazism as a "spot of bother" recalled from her youth. She was related to Grover Cleveland, one of the more obscure American presidents (deservedly, obscure) and Bernard Bosanquet, a distinguished idealist philosopher. Mrs. Foot was related by marriage to Michael Foot, a successful Labour politician and, if I recall correctly, a Prime Minister. I seem to remember that Mr. Foot was a leader in the effort to end the nuclear armaments race and a good socialist. My kind of guy.

Philippa Foot did not marry Michael Foot, as I always thought, but (I believe) she entered into conjugal bliss with Richard Foot, an historian. Bernard Bosanquet, The Philosophical Theory of the State (London: MacMillan, 1951).

David Cameron has decided to cut the British budget in order to cope with a high deficit. Travel vouchers for members of Parliament will not be touched. Unhappily, the BBC fee will be frozen and there will be drastic reductions in programs and "services" offered by the network. I suggest to Brits that a second Civil War may be necessary. Where is today's Oliver Cromwell? Surely, the National Health Service is beyond these "shenanigans"?

Philippa Foot attended Oxford University with a witches' coven of fascinating and, often, beautiful as well as slightly mad British women at the mid-twentieth century high point of English-language philosophizing just before the great catastrophe struck. There is a delightful and charming tradition of British eccentrics, persons who seem to have emerged unscathed from the pages of Evelyn Waugh or Noel Coward. Mr. Coward was a house guest at my family's home in Havana, I am told, many years ago. Think of the dazzling wit and seductive charm of that great eccentric, Gordon Brown. ("A Philosophical Investigation of Ludwig Wittgenstein.")

One expects these women to traipse into a room holding a cigarette in a long filter in one hand and a martini glass in another, wearing an evening gown, a string of pearls, and roller skates -- like Boy George. Perhaps this is only a typical entrance for Kate Winslet or a slow and dull evening for Helena Bonham Carter. Naturally, these women may fit easily into my extended family. All of these women and most British philosophers write very well. Professor Foot (she eventually taught somewhere in California) is best known for defending a form of ethical objectivism and cognitivism:

"Best known for her work in moral philosophy, Professor Foot wrote two highly influential articles in the 1950s arguing against prescriptivism, the analysis of ethical belief and judgment propounded by R.M. Hare. In these papers ('Moral Arguments' (1958), 'Moral Beliefs' (1958), she argues that moral beliefs must concern traits and behaviour that are demonstrably beneficial or harmful to humans, and that what shall be regarded as beneficial or harmful is not a matter for human decision. [emphasis added] Moral beliefs cannot, therefore, be dependent on human decision. ... More recently her work has been concentrated on virtue theory [Aristotle, Aquinas, Elizabeth Anscombe,] and on the limits of utilitarianism. For many years a fellow of Sommerville College, Oxford, she has also held many posts in America."

Ted Hondereich, ed., The Oxford Companion to Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), at pp. 283-284. ("Bernard Williams and Identity.")

I mentioned the beguiling and curious British women who were Mrs. Foot's colleagues at Oxford University and in the philosophical profession. Iris Murdoch, Mary Midgley, later Elizabeth Anscombe and Mary Warnock were among these women. There is a secret and shared experience among these fine ladies which has not been noted by comentators.

All of these brilliant women (with the possible exception of Ms. Anscombe who attended Oxford and mostly taught at a place called "Cambridge University") were tutored by Donald McKinnon at Oxford. All of them read F.H. Bradley's Appearance and Reality under McKinnon's supervision at about the same time. McKinnon guided them through the grand tradition of Western thought as the darkness approached England's shores. Several of the best philosophers in Britain during the post-war period happened to be women. They described these university intellectual experiences with McKinnon as among the most important in their lives. Mary Midgley, The Owl of Minerva: A Memoir (New York & London: Routledge, 2005), pp. 116-117:

"In the autumn of 1940 Iris and I were moved from our boring and cautious essay tutor to be taught philosophy for the rest of our time by that remarkable character Donald McKinnon. This was an enormous stroke of luck, without which I might well have drifted away from academic philosophy altogether. McKinnon is a kind of Oxford legend because of his eccentricity, but he was an amazingly good teacher. This was entirely a matter of his direct response in tutorials, not of his lectures or his writing. It was when he shared a question with a student that he drew on his enormous powers of intellectual digging." ("The Allegory of the Cave" and "Master and Commander.")

Not every Oxford tutor and lecturer wished to teach a difficult subject like philosophy to "ladies." Many of the older dons were still displeased by the presence of women on campus during the twenties and thirties, even the forties. Donald McKinnon relished the prospect of tutorials with students he regarded (correctly) as among the finest at the university. As a result, Mr. McKinnon earned the distinction of having taught several of the best philosophical intellects of the century, women who have made outstanding contributions to philosophy, while also making a fine comment himself on developments in twentieth century ethical theory. D.M. McKinnon, A Study of Ethical Theory (London: Adam & Charles Black, 1957), pp. 61-121. (Yes, I have read works by all of these persons.)

Mrs. Foot felt lonely at Oxford until, during a period of illness, she was nursed back to health by Iris Murdoch who became a close friend for life. The loss of Iris Murdoch's first love, Frank Thompson, in the war is the unexplored and life-altering event in Murdoch's life that fits the pattern shared with so many of the greatest thinkers in the Western tradition. Ben-Ami Sharfstein, The Philosophers: Their Lives and the Nature of Their Thought (Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), at pp. 380-395.

I believe that the best tribute to any philosopher is what philosophers in other parts of the world would describe as a "dialectic," debate or discussion with a thinker's expressed views. This is my way of saying goodbye to Philippa Foot. I will focus on Mrs. Foot's essay "Reasons for Action and Desires." Peter Conradi, Iris Murdoch: A Life (New York & London: W.W. Norton, 2001), at pp. 127-128.

"A Streetcar Named Desire."

Professor Foot's essay appeared as a review of Michael Woods, "Reasons for Actions and Desires," in Proceedings of the Aristotelean Society, Supplemental Volume (1972), no page number is given. Woods, like Philippa Foot, wishes to argue against the view that all reasons for action are reducible to "desires." Mrs. Foot concludes that Mr. Woods' arguments for rejecting this classical empiricist position that is usually associated with utilitarianism are inadequate even as she agrees with his substantive position.

Mr. Woods is closer to the truth than Mrs. Foot realizes when he insists that some actions are motivated by more than desires because they reflect aspects of our natures that have nothing to do with desires or happiness, narrowly understood, since our actions are or must often be concerned with human "flourishing." Mrs. Foot is not a hedonist nor does she define "happiness" as "the maximizing of desires." She is more of an Aristotelean and Bradleyean (teleologist) who regards happiness as concerned with "the full development of our human powers." This general philosophical position is shared with Elizabeth Anscombe.

"Full development" frequently has little to do with "happiness" in vulgar terms. As those unapologetically vulgar Americans say, "it ain't a barrel of laughs." ("John Finnis and Ethical Cognitivism.") What this means should become clearer from what follows.

"Happiness" -- as defined by Aristotle and Aquinas -- amounts to something like "human flourishing" or "self-realization" (F.H. Bradley), as I have noted, and has little to do with the maximizing of desires in the utilitarian tradition. Happiness is not about material possessions, necessarily, beyond the minimum required for human life nor is it, primarily, a result of satisfying strictly material desires or maximizing pleasures. Aristotle has been called, "the first socialist." This observation is sacriligious in America. ("Fidel Castro's 'History Will Absolve Me'" and "'The Constant Gardener': A Movie Review.")

"Eudaimonism teaches that the supreme help a man gives to others," David L. Norton writes, "subsists in his integrity and self-responsibility, and cannot be predicated upon the ruin of these. Thus our preliminary social excursion returns us to stand once again before an intractable personal integrity that constitutes the core of prescriptive eudaimonism."

Personal Destinies: A Philosophy of Ethical Individualism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976), at pp. 14-15. (Communitarian socialism.)

The position that both of these philosophers, Foot and Wood, correctly reject has become conventional wisdom in America -- probably, also in Britain -- as one result of the triumph of social science thinking over what were once called the humanities. With the completion of a university degree in any of the traditional areas of the humanities or social sciences, law and psychology very much included, a young person today develops an attitude that is known in Europe as a "hermeneutic of suspicion." ("Why I am not an ethical relativist" and "Nihilists in Disneyworld.")

Love is really a desire for sex. Religious devotion is concealed will to power or hypocrisy. Politics is the hunger for power among politicians. At the bottom of all of our motivations to action -- post-Sigmund Freud and Friedrich Nietzsche -- is desire or will to power, nothing more. Interestingly, the discussion between scholars and the place for this debate today is among psychologists who usually display a level of ignorance of the classical literature dealing with this controversy that would have been shocking in an unusually stupid undergraduate only a generation ago. Adam Phillips is a rare exception on this point. "On What We Need," in Equals (New York: Perseus, 2007), at pp. 118-143 and Andre Compte-Spontville, "Love," in A Short Treatise on the Virtues: The Uses of Philosophy in Everyday Life (London: Vintage, 2001), pp. 222-290.

The concept of "fidelity" in love is a complex one in Christian and non-Christian thinking within the teleological tradition for a thinker -- like Ms. Anscombe -- who regarded her affection and closeness to Wittgenstein as a kind of non-marital love.

"Prudential reasons seem to provide the most obvious counter-examples to the thesis that all reasons for action depend on the agent's desires. By 'prudential reasons' I mean those having to do with the agent's interests. [emphasis added] There are of course problems about the limits of this class, but these need not concern us here. It will be enough to take some uncontroversial example of a prudential reason." (Foot, p. 149.)

Mrs Foot offers the example of a man who knows he will go hungry tomorrow unless he shops for food today. Under normal circumstances it would be inadequate or absurd to speak of a "desire" not to go hungry tomorrow. Temporal factors slide into the discussion. One may speak of an "interest" in good health and welfare or beliefs concerning the most likely steps necessary to bring about "optimum conditions" at such time as predictable desires arise. Desire and, indeed, interests are concepts twisted and turned to make views concerning what we "ought" to desire fit such ostensibly scientific and rational theories that claim not to be concerned with "oughts."

Much of the philosophical work of the twentieth century, especially in the UK, develops as philosophers struggle to escape the straightjacket of the fact/value distinction and divide, something Iris Murdoch managed to do in the fifties. Iris Murdoch, "Fact and Value," in Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals (London: Penguin, 1992), at pp. 25-57, then Iris Murdoch, "The Idea of Perfection," in The Sovereignty of Good (New York & London: Ark, 1980), at pp. 1-46.

Ideas defended in these works by Ms. Murdoch received their first articulation in works written during the fifties and sixties, such as Iris Murdoch's famous essay on Sartre which was the first in England dealing with this thinker's works. Elizabeth Anscombe also rejected the fact/value distinction from a Thomistic direction and in development of Wittgenstein's late views in his Philosophical Investigations. Discussions in terms of facts or arguments concerning values may be seen, in Wittgenstein's terms, as compatible or overlapping "language games." (Again: "A Philosophical Investigation of Ludwig Wittgenstein.")

All forms of behaviorism are inadequate. Human flourishing is a meaningful term only in light of an understanding of human nature that makes fourishing universal for all persons as distinct from a matter of desire for any individual. The good of humanity is not and cannot be "all relative." What constitutes human flourishing or realization is an "objective" matter instantiated, to some degree, in every human life because it is the realization of our "natures":

"What we want here is a use of 'desire' which indicates a motivational direction and nothing more. ... Can wanting create a reason for acting? It seems that it cannot." (Foot, p. 149.)

We end by attributing a desire to the agent to act in a manner X when (and only when) the agent acts in a manner X. This seems a tiny bit circular. Unlike hampsters or squirrels, persons have "reason" and not only "desires" as that great philosopher William Shakespeare has taught us. Hence, we may desire without acting. Furthermore, we may take actions we deem necessary and good even when we do not desire either the outcome or the action. However, where the consequences of actions are foreseeable, we must be prepared to accept and deal with the likely moral implications of what we say and do. ("What is it like to be censored in America?" and "Manifesto for the Unfinished American Revolution.")

Unless the words "desire" and "interest" are elongated, like used chewing gum, to lose all of their normal meanings and flavors these realities of the human condition are inadequately accounted for in this excessively thin view of persons' motivational options that are reducible to behavior. Desire = action. Every action is only the expression of a desire. The key terms in this paragraph being "human condition" and "persons."

I am about to summarize a very Catholic understanding of these philosophical issues which is explicable in strictly secular terms that are shared with Jews and Muslims as well as ethical atheists. I appreciate the hostility to this insistence on human dignity, but I fail to understand the hatred of all that elevates humanity. Perhaps that hatred is on display in the attacks against these writings.

The phrases "human condition" and "human nature" are forbidden in contemporary academic discussions of these matters. We are animals with biological "desires" and needs, nothing more. In fact, I suggest that we are very special animals with biological needs and desires to be sure -- this is a point granted by Mrs. Foot -- but also with spiritual needs and aesthetic aspirations and, thus, a powerful directedness towards both beauty and goodness. We want both sex and eros. Indeed, these things (beauty and goodness) may be identical fulfilments of our human nature. Compare Mary Midgley, Science and Poetry (New York & London: Routledge, 2001), at pp. 19-69 with Charles Larmore, The Autonomy of Morality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), at pp. 69-129. (A self-proclaimed anti-Kantian whose sub-rosa ideas of human nature seem to come from the Greeks and who is much less of an anti-Kantian than he realizes.)

Elizabeth Schellekens, a gifted young British philosopher and another of those annoyingly brilliant English women that are as common in the UK as the famous "rain in Spain that stays mainly on the plane," anticipates everything that I would say on this subject and several things that I would not have thought to say in a recent book entitled: Aesthetics & Morality (London: Continuum, 2007), at pp. 45-95. (I hate when women do that.)

A classic examination of the human nature controversy is Mary Midgley, Beast and Man (New York & London: Routledge, 1995), at pp. 42-49. ("Aristotelean and Kantian Beasts.")

We do not desire suffering, but we may welcome suffering as the price of remaining human, for example, by loving someone despite the pain involved in that love. We may not seek or want pain, even if we recognize that human dignity may require that we endure and live with pain, for the sake of others, with some forebearance and strength. The word "desire" will not do in this context. I revise this essay today, after defacements and attempts to destroy the work (I think) because it is good, recalling the sadness and strength of a man I knew as an adolescent who experienced what I am enduring now. That man's response to evil was pity. ("Stephen Hawking's Free Will is Determined" and "Pieta.")

Moral suffering and spiritual agony may be conducive to full human development, as persons, in mysterious ways that we do not fully understand, as is commitment to struggle. As Shakespeare has also taught us in King Lear, life probably will require all of us to "take upon us the mystery of things." ("William Shakespeare's Black Prince.")

It is in this sense of abdicating or violating his nature that a wicked or immoral man is irrational, a point missed by Professor Foot in her otherwise shrewd analysis. This profound wisdom is part of the mystery of the crucifix and other religious symbols, such as the Star of David at the Holocaust Museum placed near barbed wire from the camps. What is more, this insight that a wicked person surrenders his or her humanity is, partly, also derived from the Greeks. The idea is constitutive of the Jewish heritage of every person born into our Western civilization:

" ... the judaization of culture is culture's passing through the prism of moral-self-questioning. It can be so construed by virtue of two criteria proposed by the late Steven S. Schwartzchild: first, 'the primacy of Practical Reason,' the idea that human beings are moral agents before they are cognitive subjects [Aristotle, Maimonedes, Aquinas] and that logic, epistemology, and metaphysics are therefore the instruments of ethics; and second, the transcendence of the rational, the hypothesis that the ideal cannot be realized in the world of phenomena and 'that everything in the world is fallible and subject to critique.' ..."

Religious insight says that it is reason which discloses unavoidable mysteries (death, evil) and the need to struggle, eternally, for comprehension of all that may be incomprehensible in ultimate terms. Persons must endure a tragic component in life, according to Miguel Unamuno and Martin Buber because our languages (including the arts) always mean more than they say. We feel more than what we understand. We do much more than what we desire to do, usually with sinister and unintended effects:

" ... for Steiner tragedy is concerned with the blind working of fate alien to the Judaic sense of the world. By contrast, 'the Judaic spirit [exemplified in Job] is vehement in its conviction that the order of the universe and of man's estate is accessible to reason.'" Edith Wyshogrod, "The Mind of a Critical Moralist," in Nathan A. Scott, Jr. & Ronald A. Sharp, eds., Reading George Steiner (Baltimore & London: John Hopkins University Press, 1994), at pp. 154-155. George Steiner, "Our Homeland the Text," in No Passion Spent: Essays 1978-1995 (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1996), at pp. 306-307. ("The sensibility of the Jew is, par excellance, the medium of the bitter struggle between life and thought ...")

Can there be a struggle between life and thought if all action is reducible to desires? Everything I do is a matter of what I want regardless of my nature, as a person, under such theories of desire. Thus, I have no need to "struggle" against my impulses, since such a struggle would also be reducible to my desires, making the theory ultimately incoherent. For a defense of reason as motivating actions, apart from desires, see Thomas Nagel's classic The Possibility of Altruism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970), at pp. 79-143. ("The Wanderer and His Shadow.")

Like it or not, Jewishness is central to Christianity and all Western models of transcendence (psychoanalysis is only one such model) as well as ethics. Irrational is tantamount to inhuman in terms of moral awareness. If a person were to witness the slow dismerberment of a child and then discussed the event dispassionately or clinically -- especially if the child were his own offspring -- we would regard that behavior as evil or irrational in the extreme. Any individual displaying such heartless behavior would be regarded, rightly, as seriously disturbed due to his or her absence of emotional coloring or sense of moral "location." We would say that such a person fails to "appreciate" all that is happening.

In today's newspaper we find an account of David Tarloff whose "reason" for hacking to death a psychologist on the Upper East side is that he desired to be provided with deluxe accomodations in prison. I am sure that the person seeking to destroy my writings has a similar means-and- ends kind of rationale for his or her actions. Here we see a "desire" and selection of means that are highly likely to achieve the desired result or ends. Discussion of ends or the "goodness" of desires is placed beyond consideration by would-be scientific types as "subjective" and therefore not amenable to quantification or scientific discussion. Mr. Tarloff's actions were, arguably, entirely rational given his objectives from this Humean perspective. John Eligion, "In a Schizophrenic's Trial, Both Sides Agree," in The New York Times, October 18, 2010, at p. A31. ("Robot bombs?")

I am reminded by Mr. Tarloff's shrewdness of Britain's publishers who are every bit as clever as this distinguished New Yorker, Mr. Tarloff. I am very interested in Howard Jacobson's Booker Prize-winning novel, The Finkler Question (London: Bloomsbury, 2010). British publishers -- seeking to capitalize on the notoriety received by the novel -- have failed to provide sufficient copies of the book to many Manhattan bookstores where the novel has, mostly, sold out. More brilliantly, these astute business people have failed to provide copies of any of the authors' previous novels to Barnes & Noble bookstores. This is the roar of the British lion in 2010. (I finally managed to purchase the book in a single Barnes & Noble bookstore in exchange for $15.00 and my immortal soul.)

Again, a pure instrumental analysis in behaviorist terms of Mr. Tarloff's interesting project would lead to the conclusion that he acted "rationally" on the basis of his desires. David Hume would be compelled to agree based on his view that reason says nothing about what we should desire. For Hume, we are told, reason can only be concerned with means to desired ends because reason is the "slave of the passions." ("David Hume's Philosophical Romance.")

Immanuel Kant and other philosophers with a fondness for the quaint notion of transcendence and objective features of human nature ("transcendental ego") would object that the "ends" chosen by Mr. Tarloff are in violation of his full humanity and hence, irrational as well as evil. Interpretive rationality examines both means and ends for cogency in terms of proper or natural human life, or flourishing. Stuart Hampshire, Thought and Action (Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1982), at pp. 280-281. (This is the Afterword added to the 1959 original of this classic study of intentionality.)

Rational human agency serves as a constraint on what may be accounted appropriate ends for persons. Accordingly, seeking to destroy the creative works of others would not be considered a moral end for a rational subject quite apart from whether the persons responsible for such evil can "get away with it." I am not a "means" to your political or other "ends." Neither are my family members "means" to your "ends." (Again: "Why I am not an ethical relativist.")

I think the Kantian tradition is right on this issue. Mrs Foot roughly agrees based on the Aristotlean and Thomistic traditions within Christianity. Kantian Critical theory leads to both an acceptance of instrumental rationality in the practical sphere of politics or social life and interpretive rationality primarily in the aesthetic/spiritual spheres of human life because both are concerned with valid aspects of human-being-in-the-world-with-others. Please see one of the greatest essays in philosophy that I have ever read: Iris Murdoch, "On God and Good," in Existentialists and Mystics (London: Penguin, 1999), at pp. 337-362. ("William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft.")

"We readily accept private affection [love] as giving reasons for action without the least hint of self-interest; why should a more extended fellow-feeling not do the same? If a man has that basic sense of identification with others that makes him care whether or not they live wretched lives," -- for example, care that others not be made to suffer by being deprived (unnnecessarily) of the presence of loved-ones in their lives -- "has he not the best possible reason for charitable action? And would it not be misrepresentation to speak of this as a charity dependent on the feelings and inclinations of the moment, since both public and private affections endure through periods of coldness, and lack of inclination never destroys the reason to act?" (Foot, p. 155.)

"Tea and Sympathy."

Mrs. Foot rightly acknowledged the difficulty of resolving the mysterious connection between reasons and actions. There were hints in her writings originating in those magical tutorials, I suspect, under the watchful eye of Professor McKinnon and the spell of F.H. Bradley, when she suggested that our capacity for identification with the other, care and concern as well as other "prudential' considerations -- "tea and sympathy" for those who suffer more than we do -- had something to do with explaining how it is that we can act for good reasons despite our desires.

What leads us to pity and hate genuinely evil conduct is precisely this immediate sense that the evil person has suffered a terrible loss of humanity or feeling, something hideous has come to resemble the ordinary and seemingly pleasant person we thought we knew. Jeffrey Dahmer is a good example of the phenomenon that I describe because Mr. Dahmer's bland unconcern with the effects of his actions was entirely sincere. The ultimate challenge for the Christian or just ethical person is to "love one's way through the darkness in the world." (Cornel West.) This demand for love means that we must feel what Mr. Dahmer will not feel for Mr. Dahmer's sake and for the sake of his victims.

We must be good persons in order to do good in the world. Mrs. Foot's life unfolded at a time when these value words had a powerful meaning in people's lives. They seem to matter much less today. (See the films "Atonement" and "Enigma.")

I once heard a famous British novelist -- who was not so famous then -- respond to a question concerning his placement of characers in a World War II setting. He said: "Things were more important then." There were consequences to every action and every second was freighted with meaning and value because it could well be one's last moment on earth. Yet it was also a time when few people -- despite the enormity of the sacrifice for an entire generation of young men and women -- questioned the need for this sacrifice or the importance of the task at hand. Please see Robert Harris, Enigma (New York: Ivy Books, 1995) and Ian McEwan, Atonement (New York & London: Anchor, 2001).

What many of these amazing people who resisted Hitler (especially when it looked hopeless) and their equally amazing American counterparts did not appreciate at the time -- although Iris Murdoch did come to this insight -- is that the evil they fought against and defeated then will always be with us. 9/11 was a reminder of this truth for everybody in this city. The bombings in the London underground railway system is another reminder of this sad truth.

I experience something like the equivalent of those bombings at these blogs every day. The goal for the persons damaging these writings and me, also for the terrorists killing innocent civilians anywhere is to intimidate law abiding persons into accepting their orders. I doubt that such a tactic will work in Britain or America. I also seriously doubt that anyone will intimidate or prevent me from writing to the best of my ability from some location in the city. Sadly, such criminals may be able to count corrupt officials among their "enablers." ("Time to End the Embargo Against Cuba.")

The experience of evil has a wonderfully cleansing aspect for survivors. When facing evil, we learn what matters. We discover things about ourselves. We appreciate what it means to love and live with dignity. Finally, we learn all that we can and will do without necessarily desiring our actions, but because we recognize that they are morally demanded of us or that there may be no other person who can perform the needed tasks, when life itself is on the line, as it was for so many persons on 9/11. As an example of the courage and dignity that I admire, I include Guillermo Farinas and Mumia Abu-Jamal, Liu Xiaobo and Angela Davis or Noam Chomsky.

This admiration has nothing to do with whether I agree with the opinions of any one of these persons. (For the opposite of what is admirable, see: "American Hypocrisy and Luis Posada Carriles.")

Despite the value found in this moral lesson, and the actions that we take every day because of what we have learned, few of us will "desire" the experience of having to make difficult or ultimate choices between desperate options. We look at our children and at all of those persons we love, then we do what must be done. This is one lesson that I have learned from Philippa Foot and a few other distinguished philosophers of the twentieth century.


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