The topic for our December Meetup is inspired by the debate between psychologists Lawrence Kohlberg and Carol Gilligan over the nature of moral development in children. The debate itself is rather specialized, but it raises broader questions -- which will be the focus of our discussion -- about the roles of reason and emotion in determining what's ethical and what's unethical. Consider the very divergent viewpoints represented by two greats in the history of philosophy: the Scottish philosopher and historian David Hume [masked]) and the German thinker Immanuel Kant [masked]). Hume famously declared that "reason is the slave of the passions." It is our "passions" (emotions or feelings) that fundamentally move us to endorse certain certain ends as good and to pursue those ends; reason is relegated to the subsidiary role of instructing us as to the most suitable means to achieve our ends. Kant, on the other hand, believed that the determination of what counts as ethical or unethical had to be based on reason alone. For if we base ethics on emotion or feeling, it's bound to be relativistic, as different people have different feelings about the same kinds of action, character trait, or political policy. Indeed, the feelings of one person about such things may change radically over time. Because Kant was convinced that ethical requirements (for example, prohibiting murder or theft) are universal, he rejected any sort of relativistic basis for them.
Think about some of the ethical views that you hold firmly. Perhaps you have a strong opinion one way or the other on the justice of capital punishment or the United States' most recent war in Iraq. Perhaps you are a moral vegetarian or, on the contrary, are quite convinced that eating meat is ethically unobjectionable. Are your views fundamentally based on reason or emotion? Or some combination of the two?
Next time we'll discuss how reason and emotion should figure in our ethical thinking.
"What is the good life?" "What is love?" "Is beauty in the eye of the beholder?" Do you like to discuss philosophical questions? Come share your ideas with others who like doing the same. The Springfield Socrates Cafe is facilitated by Andy Johnson, a member of the philosophy department at MSU. For more information about the Socrates Cafe, listen to the profile of founder Christoper Phillips on NPR, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.ph..., or go to http://www.philosopher.org and click on the link "Socrates Cafe" in the first paragraph.