Seattle Analytic Philosophy Club Message Board › Particularism and Principlism

Particularism and Principlism

Victor M.
user 12752879
Seattle, WA
Post #: 183
Gene,

...Debates about God do not in general involve the use of taxpayer money, and in general , people are not paying to hear them, or paying the debaters to do something else, like mow their lawn. So it is not clear how time could be "wasted"...
But moral theories do claim to have something normative to say about everything we do. Even time spent on activities at one's own expense and with little discernible impact on others incurs judgment from moral theories. The consequentialist obviously is never neutral about such activities. Everything we do has consequences. As such, any activity can be judged a "waste" depending on the alternatives it is pitted against. Even when a theory finds room for such activity as "permissible" it reserves the right to judge it as such (as, in fact, deontology does). Deontologists claim we have self-developing or self-perfecting duties (including epistemic obligations to seek out the truth and settle for nothing less) closely tied to a picture we ought to have of ourselves apart from what may or may not be somebody else's business or concern.

Even the judgment that there are realms of human activity which are immune to moral judgment would itself have to come from some normative theory. Ethical egoism (such as Ayn Rand's) seems to be of this sort.

It is easy to see how any activity may be a "waste" by the lights of some moral theory or other.


I agree that if analytic philosophy models itself on the sciences, which indeed has been the strong trend, it could be in trouble. There are some who think economics is a failed science. But at least economics has had some limited success. Eventually one might start to wonder if the emperor has any clothes.

Interestingly, when I first joined this club I engaged in a long debate with Alex over whether philosophy made progress. He was committed to the idea that it did; I remain skeptical.

I'm inclined to agree with you on the lack of "progress" in philosophy---not even sure of the intelligibility of associating "progress" with philosophy (unless one is importing the specifically scientific understanding of the term which is what I think naturalists do). But I would question how much "progress" even science itself has made except by assuming a very specialized conception of "progress." In other words, science has made "progress" by its own understanding of what progress means, but is this the same notion used outside science? I have serious questions about that, but that's a topic for another day...



If intelligent design is religion its public teaching is unconstitutional. However, if intelligent design is a type of science, even just bad science, there is no legal barrier to it being taught. There is a libertarian argument that if the majority believes in ID, it should be taught. You mention truth, but ID advocates might think ID is uncontrovertibly true. Assuming that ID is by far the majority belief, should ID advocates pay taxes to have their children taught something which they believe is false?
Assuming ID is the majority belief and assuming some notion of majority rule, then ID advocates have a point: why should they pay to have taught what they believe to be false? But the assumption of majority rule here is a political one, and only by some very long dubious stretch of argument a moral one. Morally, only what is true to the best of our knowledge should be taught---no matter what the majority thinks.
Victor M.
user 12752879
Seattle, WA
Post #: 184
Gene,


Note that Peter Singer and Joshua Greene explicitly identify deontology with non-rational processes, on the basis of functional neuroimaging experiments. This was discussed in a prior meetup, and is also discussed in Joshua Greene's recent book Moral Tribes, which I previously mentioned and recommend.
My take on those experiments is that one can't conclude anything about the relation between emotional/non-rational processes happening in the brain and a particular moral theory as a whole. Instead, we get a picture of what is happening in the brain at decision time between emotional/non-rational processes and a philosophical predisposition.

Deontology, given its emphasis on in-the-moment deliberation and making sure the correct emotions are winning out (namely, respect for principle over more organic emotions arising from animal states) is bound to make for emotional turmoil at decision time. That's the plan. Otherwise, we get automatic pilot behavior which is ruled out as unbecoming of a rational agent.

Someone with consequentialist predispositions has front-loaded the emotions involved leading up to their decision. The general principle or command is simple and clear: maximize pleasure, satisfaction, utility, etc. The person whose rational/non-rational states are being measured is like someone further down in a chain of command. The really hard, emotionally fraught, decisions are made at an earlier time (by someone who might as well have been a different person for all the difference it makes) when the decision to accept this principle was first made. Hook up the brain of a person with utilitarian predispositions when they are asked to react to someone who says to them, "I'm sorry but pleasure and pain, let alone a calculus based on them, has nothing whatsoever to do with morality."---and we may see serious indication of non-rational turmoil in the emotional centers of their brain.

The experiences of pleasure or pain are themselves not rational experiences. The initial step in founding a morality on them is not rational either. After that step, of course, it makes sense we might move smoothly on rational rails.

The bottom line (or my bottom line) is that the fountain of normativity gushes from a non-rational source. Deontology and consequentialism hide the nut under a different shell but they both have a nut to hide.
Gene L
user 19640341
Group Organizer
Seattle, WA
Post #: 630
Victor,

I won't be able to post much, if at all, to the message boards in the future, but I can briefly reemphasize and elaborate on some general issues.. Please note that I will not be able to address anything below further.

I'm not aware that a shared goal of "knowing the knowable" is a common reason to study and engage in philosophy. If that is the goal, then philosophy isn't anywhere near the top of the list of activities one should engage in. In fact, quite a few very intelligent people aren't interested in philosophy precisely because they think it doesn't result in "knowing the knowable".

Of course, a consequentialist could claim that most of our activities do not maximize welfare. I know of no argument where philosophy could be considered an optimal maximizing activity in the consequentalist sense. Of course, one could ask why the consequentialist does not pay attention to his or her own activities, rather than those of others.

I can see no reason why “debates about God” could be a waste of time and resources that does not also apply to philosophy in general. In fact, the case is much more applicable to philosophy, because some people are actually getting paid to do the latter.

I see no need to justify any voluntary activities in the personal sphere that do not harm others to anyone. There is no other reason needed to pursue philosophy – or anything else - other than one wants to. There may be people who are interested in passing judgment on the beliefs or activities of others, but I would suggest they first pass judgment on themselves first.

On the other hand, activities that use public funds, like the academic philosophy, may need to be justified.

I am highly skeptical (as some others in philosophy are) about the notion of epistemic obligation. I don’t have the time to elaborate on this, but as a practical matter, and ignoring the fact that there are different approaches to “truth” in philosophy to begin with, I would suggest that those who claim to pursing “truth” in general, aren’t.

If one has an epistemic obligation to pursue truth, I’d suggest that one acquire as much knowledge as possible. Of course, this requires a lot of hard work, maybe thousands if not tens of thousands of hours. Those who do have this knowledge, in my experience, don’t go around proclaiming they have the “truth”, they are just very effective in the real world.

On the other hand, if someone declaims loudly about the “truth”, one could ask whether that person is a generally recognized expert in the area. If not, then perhaps epistemic obligation requires that they spend another 10,000 hours studying the topic at hand, and in the meantime, not say anything at all. But that isn’t very fun is it? But who said epistemic obligation should be fun, it is very hard work.

If philosophy is serious important work, then it could be pursued as such, which includes careful study which could pass muster at the highest levels, and which is not accesible to those who have not also put in the time. So in this sense, we hold philosophy to the same standards as fields where lives are at stake, such as medicine, professional piloting, and so on, where everyone has to meet the standard or not do it at all.

On the other hand, if one can do philosophy without having an extensive formal background in it, then what is the nature of the field? Analytic philosophy at least, does not in general require creative brilliance in the sense that that arts do. Or is it just a fun diversion, sort of an intellectual flag football? If so, isn't talking about "truth" to begin with not relevant, since if it is about the truth, it should only be pursued in most serious manner possible?
Victor M.
user 12752879
Seattle, WA
Post #: 187
Gene,

I'm not aware that a shared goal of "knowing the knowable" is a common reason to study and engage in philosophy. If that is the goal, then philosophy isn't anywhere near the top of the list of activities one should engage in. In fact, quite a few very intelligent people aren't interested in philosophy precisely because they think it doesn't result in "knowing the knowable".
I certainly don't claim that "knowing the knowable" is a good way to characterize the pursuit of philosophy. Since obviously what "knowledge" is has always been a point of major contention in philosophy, knowing it---whatever it is---can't easily be its pursuit. An analogy here might be: philosophy is about feeling out the shape of the container of knowledge. The content itself of the container is the object of the empirical and phenomenological sciences. Making sure we don't mistakenly pronounce about things outside that container is all I meant by "knowing the knowable."



... activities that use public funds, like the academic philosophy, may need to be justified.

I am highly skeptical (as some others in philosophy are) about the notion of epistemic obligation. I don’t have the time to elaborate on this, but as a practical matter, and ignoring the fact that there are different approaches to “truth” in philosophy to begin with, I would suggest that those who claim to pursue “truth” in general, aren’t.

If one has an epistemic obligation to pursue truth, I’d suggest that one acquire as much knowledge as possible. Of course, this requires a lot of hard work, maybe thousands if not tens of thousands of hours. Those who do have this knowledge, in my experience, don’t go around proclaiming they have the “truth”, they are just very effective in the real world.

On the other hand, if someone declaims loudly about the “truth”, one could ask whether that person is a generally recognized expert in the area. If not, then perhaps epistemic obligation requires that they spend another 10,000 hours studying the topic at hand, and in the meantime, not say anything at all. But that isn’t very fun is it? But who said epistemic obligation should be fun, it is very hard work.

If philosophy is serious important work, then it could be pursued as such, which includes careful study which could pass muster at the highest levels, and which is not accessible to those who have not also put in the time. So in this sense, we hold philosophy to the same standards as fields where lives are at stake, such as medicine, professional piloting, and so on, where everyone has to meet the standard or not do it at all.

On the other hand, if one can do philosophy without having an extensive formal background in it, then what is the nature of the field? Analytic philosophy at least, does not in general require creative brilliance in the sense that that arts do. Or is it just a fun diversion, sort of an intellectual flag football? If so, isn't talking about "truth" to begin with not relevant, since if it is about the truth, it should only be pursued in the most serious manner possible?
Implicit in much of what you say above is a naturalistic view of philosophy, that the only legitimate standard it should measure itself by is one that resembles those used in science and technology. The only justification for that view is that it is conducive to survival of a sort. Ought we to spend more of our resources on survival than on pursuits that do not---except perhaps indirectly---promote survival? Among the latter pursuits, I would say philosophy is about as indirectly useful as any field could be.

Far from being useful to survival, philosophy may even pit itself against practical survival---if that way lies some picture it has convinced itself is how it should be. The point is: even survival is not a foregone conclusion.

Your argument goes:

If philosophy is after truth, it should amass expertise in some specific area (the examples you gave were practical ones, medicine, piloting, etc.) and set about solving problems in that space.

If philosophy does not require specialized skills and expertise to practice, then it can't claim to be after any rigorous notion of truth---not one that wouldn't be open to anyone on the street anyway.

If it claims to be after some kind of serious truth and it requires specialized skills, then it is legitimate to see how it compares with the natural sciences in terms of widely useful results.

It doesn't seem to compare well.

Therefore, it can't be up to anything of great general relevance. It is the idle pursuit of a privileged few and probably shouldn't be a paid profession.

That or something like that, I take to be your conclusion.

I somewhat agree with the conclusion but not because of this argument. I don't take the naturalist position for granted. It is a philosophical position like any other and not a very convincing one (and a planned future meetup topic). Science does not offer a monolithic standard of useful truth or knowledge. To claim otherwise sounds like scientism, a variety of religion.

My argument for the same conclusion is that the peculiar nature of philosophy is one that cannot be pursued with the highest level of integrity where money is involved.

There is a sense in which philosophy is the quintessential amateur pursuit. It cannot literally be professionalized without that fact being a drag on it's mission. Assuming one has an interest in it, it ought to be pursued by the rich (because they have the time), the poor (because they have a reason) and those who also do something else for a living (because they would be bored otherwise).

That said, paid academic philosophers do serve a purpose in my view similar to those with PhDs in art history who work in museums. Someone needs to preserve, polish up and transmit accumulated cultural knowledge (in philosophy, that would be fundamental questions and attempted answers) from one generation to the next so that philosophy, at the very least, doesn't regress if not quite progress. But I don't take museum curators to necessarily have artistic talent simply in virtue of knowing a lot about art. Starving artists in garrets mostly don't have earth shattering amounts either. But, on top of talent, love of creation at all costs, which some of them have, is what makes for the greatness that can emerge from their practice. Talent and know how, alone, don't cut it at the highest level. I think that's true in philosophy, too.

The specific virtue of analytic philosophy is its penchant for crashing test ideas and systems of thought by slamming them as hard as possible against a wall to see what sticks. The reason anything like "progress" in philosophy is elusive is because so little does stick. This is little boy philosophy, I admit. But toys get tested good that way. This is meant to be both criticism and praise of analytic philosophy.
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