RE: MD Dynamic/static morality

From: David Buchanan (
Date: Sun Dec 26 2004 - 22:10:40 GMT

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    Sam, Dan, msh and all:

    On Saturday Sam Norton said:
    A quickie response - beliefs don't stand alone, they are embedded in forms
    of life. If you attack
    the beliefs without engaging with the underlying forms of life then the
    beliefs will persist,
    because they are sustained by those forms. Similarly, unless you provide a
    different form of life to
    which a person can 'convert' then persuading them intellectually is nowhere
    near enough.

    On Sunday Sam explianed to Dan H:
    I was using the phrase 'form of life' in something like a technical sense,
    that is, as it is used by
    Wittgenstein (as his thinking is what I rely on for questions about
    language, and much else

    dmb says:
    I wondered what Sam meant too. I'm glad Dan asked about it...

    Sam continued:
    Roughly speaking, a form of life is a pattern of behaviour, primarily social
    behaviour, which
    governs the use of language (so a form of life is related to the notion of
    'language-game' in his
    thinking). So, the meaning of a word is (mostly) its use within the language
    game; we can't
    understand what a word means by looking first at dictionary definitions, we
    must first look at the
    social practices etc where the word would most characteristically be used;
    'praxis' gives the words
    their sense.

    dmb replies:
    Yes, the meaning of a word is to be found in its usage. Dictionaries only
    list the various meanings as they are used. Likewise, etemologies give us a
    history of usage. And I think this is very much what Pirsig was getting at
    by putting language at the social level along with myth and ritual. All of
    these things were embedded in a total way of life, were concrete expressions
    of the values that held those things together. But then there is the birth
    of the intellect. This level of quality is not so embedded. It not only
    transcends the social level and takes a broader view, but it also now
    includes the differentiations of Modernity wherein knowledge and language
    are no longer tied to ritual and myth, wherein each domain is allowed the
    dignity to proceed on its own terms. In any case, the intellectual level,
    you may recall, is defined as the skillful manipulation of abstract symbols.
    The powers of abstraction allow a greater range and freedom of knowledge and
    on this level, the meaning of words is not just given that we must accept
    without question, but rather they become the tools of precise
    investigations. They can be used creatively or even invented. (The word
    "quark" that we all know from physics comes from James Joyce's FINNIGAN'S
    WAKE. Apparently, the theorist who first proposed the idea just liked the
    sound of it. Said it just seemed like a good name for such a thing.)

    In any case, the point is, all we can do here is pit one idea against the
    other. We are from different countries, hemispheres, religions, educational
    backgrounds, etc., and so all we can reasonably be expected to do in order
    to communicate is discuss "forms of life" in the abstract, on the
    intellectual level. And on top of that, you seem to be making intellect
    subservient to social values, which is case of putting the higher into
    service of the lower. I don't know if Wittgenstein failed to make such a
    distinction, but it seems you have in this case. I mean, as I understand it,
    it would be like saying that social level values won't change until one
    first changes the biological organism that supports them. Its absurd and
    impossible. All our intellectual descriptions are based on social level
    values, including the one's asserted by Pirsig, Wittgenstein and everyone
    else. Our culture and language is old enough and rich enough to support a
    great many forms of life and a great many more abstract ideas about life.

    When it comes to discussing philosophical ideas, I think intellectual
    persuasion is about the only kind that's worth a damn. And if you're unmoved
    by ideas, then why even bother to discuss them? If you're not persuaded by
    logic, empirical evidence, internal consistancy and the like, and would
    rather believe things that don't meet such standards, then what are you
    doing here? Ironically, you seem to be using abstract ideas to undermine the
    value of abstract ideas. You seem to use postmodern attacks on Modern ideas
    in order to assert preModern views and its all very confused. I mean,
    postmodernity is far more hostile to traditional christian values than I or
    philosophical mysticism will ever be. At least I'm not saying that tradition
    is nothing but a pile of arbitrary social constructions, for example, which
    is where Wittgenstien's views will soon lead them.

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