From: MATTHEW PAUL KUNDERT (email@example.com)
Date: Tue May 20 2003 - 00:57:10 BST
Is the improvement you're talking about merely your perspective of what
would be better or something real? I'm wondering how you can talk about
growth and deny hierarchies.
I don't choose to forward a distinction between "merely my perspective" and "something real" and I suggest you to not either because that distinction seems to me a formulation of the subject/object distinction or the appearance/reality distinction, both of which I don't think are helpful in this case. The improvement I'm talking about is real and it is from my perspective, or lights. I wouldn't be able to acknowledge growth as real if it weren't from my perspective. Part of the moral growth I'm talking about is a growth in perspective, the taking on of other people's ways of talking and thinking, but they are assimilated into "my perspective."
And for the record, I never denied hierarchies. I just went back and checked. I had to check because I thought it might have been p
ossible that I said something provacative like that, and that I hadn't qualified myself yet (as in, "Well, actually what I deny are a particular kind of hierarchy, namely the ahistorical, metaphysical kind."), but no, I never in fact said I denied them.
You sometimes talk about cruelty and it seems strange coming from you. I
know you wouldn't use it as an absolute, so what do you mean by it? Do you
see progress as fleeing an absolute wrong while rejecting moving toward an
absolute good? Is progress in anyway distinguished from changing tastes in
As use cruelty the same way that I use "good" and "true." All the three terms are vague and flexible. As I'm coming to see it, following Rorty, cruelty is one of the most important terms in our moral delibrative vocabulary, if not these most important. Moral growth, from the liberal Shklarian definition of "cruelty is the worst one can do," is the growing awareness of the ways in which we are
cruel to a wider and wider cross-section of phenomena. That's why I can say "Slavery is bad" with no small measure of certainty. I'm not sure we can ever reach an absolute state of no cruelty. I not sure the idea is even coherent. What I do know is that we can try to alleviate as much cruelty as we can without positing an end-state, ala Hegel or Pierce or Habermas.
Steve said perceptively:
When you use deciding between a Pepsi and a Coke as an example to disprove
your arbitrary relativism you prove the point. Moral decisions seem to be
just a matter of taste to you. Some people like chocolate, others like to
sacrifice virgins to the volcano god.
Well, it doesn't prove your point, but it does strike up your insight. Following a Humean line, moral decisions are a "matter of taste." Pragmatists don't make a discrete, metaphysical distinction in kind between morals and taste, between morality and prudence. They put them on a continuum. When deliberating over wh
at kind of soda we should drink, nobody's life is on the line. The distinction is a pragmatic one between taste and morality: tastes are uncontroversial, it doesn't matter if no one agrees; morals are controversial because it does matter if no one agrees, or rather, if people do disagree. And, after all, some people have better taste than others.
As I see it, Pirsig makes this exact point with Quality. In Pirsig's philosophy, morality is the same as matters of taste because Quality is made ubiquitous. But this also means that matters of taste are the same as morality. The equal sign goes both ways.
The reason this doesn't make me arbitrary is because I can say that I'm morally better than those who sacrifice virgins to the volcano god. Of course, I can also say that I'm morally better than those who drink Coke. People, however, don't get excited about this last declaration because nobody cares that much what people think. The people who care are Pepsi and Coke empl
oyees. The only thing people might think is that I'm kind of a egocentrist for thinking I'm a better person than those who drink Coke.
It seems strange that I should have to try to convince you that your
perspective is better than many others.
Oh, I already know that ;-) You're the one who doesn't think I'm convinced.
And I make decisions just like everybody else. I think about options, alternatives, consequences, possible outcomes, etc. and I weigh and reason my way through them. But I don't think there's anything metaphysical about it.
To say there is nothing metaphysical about it is a metaphysical claim. I
assume your were just not being careful in your wording and haven't revealed
an inconsistency. You really mean that you've decided not to talk about it
in metaphysical terms because your study of philosophy has shown that it
hasn't gotten anyone anywhere, right?
Actually, I don't think there was anything wrong wit
h what I said. I didn't say that metaphysics doesn't really exist. I said that the way I reason isn't metaphysical, which means that it doesn't enter into the Platonic conversation, which is to say what you said.
Has postmodernism gotten you anywhere? You've said before that pragmatists
feel that we should stop talking about metaphysics to further the
conversation. On the contrary, it's seemed like a conversation stopper to
me. You keep having to say that you pragmatist types don't like to talk
Sure it has. What pragmatists want to do is to move on to better conversations, rather than continue the degenerate metaphysical ones. We think that metaphysics mires people in a swamp that just as effectively stops the conversation because the conversation never goes anywhere. We want to stop talking about metaphysics so we move along and start talking about other things, like the ways in which people are cruel to each other and the ways in which
literature can help us identify that cruelty.
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