Monday, December 11, 2006

On an apparently coherent view and how to interpret it maliciously.

Academic philosophy is wonderwul. The most coherent worldview is probably going to win the competition for truth in the long run. For this, we have to thank our (philosopher's) current methodology: reflective equilibrium or something like that. (Maybe, more a sort of intuitionism, than reflective equilibrium.)

I shall now expose a very coherent view of the world which will not appear respectable in a British institution. Then, I shall argue that we shall have doubts about it and fear it; also because of its coherence.

A coherent system of philosophy:

(IN the brackets, I shall refer to what is usually taken to ground the assertion.)
1. Philosophy of Mind:
1.A what is mind?
1.A.I it consist roughly in having intentional states: belief/desires (intuitions/use)
1.A.II it consist in having consciousness (intuitios/use)
1.A.I requires: purposive behavior, or at least behavior (intuitions/philosophical analysis)
1.A.II what does requires? very difficult to say (the hard problem of consciousness) maybe creatures having 1.A.I all have some form of 1.A.II, even if this may be only a contingent truth. (intuitions/philosophical analysis)

1.A.III: what creatures have some form of mind? (intuititions; deduction with 1.A.I: coherence!)
We (humans)
Lizards (?)
Frogs (?)
Plants .... no.
Mountains, rivers... no, come on!

2. Ethical theory
2.A. What is good? Well-being. (intuitions/arguments)

2.B. What is acting right?
2.B.I It means maximizing the good. Or it is at least intimately connected with promoting the good. (within certain limits?) (intuitions)
2.B.II Hence acting right: promoting well-being/ avoiding doing harm/ (respecting well-being?)
2.B.III Respect: respect things that have well-being. Do not harm them!

2.C. What is well-being? Difficult to say.
2.C.I: necessary conditions for well-being: the subject of well-being must have a point of view. Something must be good for him (it) (intuitions)
2.C.II Having a point of view: having desires (or the capacity to have desires). My desires make something good good for me.
2.C III Having consciousness. The world that enters my consciosness becomes my world.
(having a point of view=having some form of "mind"?)
2.C.IV What creatures have well-being?
we humans (we have consciosness and desires, so we have a point of view (2.C.III and IV), so we can have well-being (2.C.I)
monkeys, delphins, dogs (?), bats (?) (they have desires, or at least consciosness, so they can have a point of view (2.C.III and IV), and they can have well-being (2.C.I)
rabbits, lizards, frogs, (?) : they behave/act. Display purposive behavior. So they have desires. Hence a point of view (2.C.III). They can have well-being (2.C.I)
plants? cannot have desires. cannot have a point of view
mountains, rivers: cannot have desires, cannot have well-being

2.B.III + 2.C. The boundaries of morality:
The boundaries of respect:
The following creatures must be respected (i.e. taken into account in our moral calculations:)
we, humans
monkeys, delphis, dogs (?), bats (?)
rabbits, lizards, frogs (??)
plants... not for their own sake.
mountains, rivers: not for their own sake.

2.D.: some historical and contingent facts: we (Europeans, cultures which adopted "western" values) recognize all humans as worthy of respect + some animals (monkeys, delphins, dogs).
We do not take plants as beings to whom moral respect is own: when we respect them, we do it for the sake of the good of some human or non - human animal.
We do not consider mountains, rivers as individual with moral rights: we can use them, unless we violate a right of a person, or cause harm to a human or non human animal.

This is coherent world view. It looks as if every piece of it is independently plausible. The normative conclusions fit wonderfully with our practices!!!

Let us try to look at it from another perspective:
The Hegelian/Wittgensteinian interpretation:
the central concept of ethics is RECOGNITION

2.D, the facts about practices are the starting point. . We, (westeners) as a matter of fact recognize other human beings, some animals, as creatures with a moral standing. We do not recognize plants, mountains or rivers. (Notice that other cultures do.)
We do not do this because of 2A, 2B and 2C. We just do it. Our phisiology, our culture, the way we grow up shape our relations with other animals, plants and natural objects. Probably a certain empathy with mammals is genetically pre-determined. But we share obvious behavioral and superficial traits with them: it could even be approved. Dogs, cuts and cows live with us, etc.... Recognize at least certain animals as creatures with a moral standing took a long way, and there are still a lot of people who do not share this view. We have established practices about how to treat other human beings and certain other animals. We have problems with intermediate cases: we have troubles dealing with embryos and severely mentally handicapped people; which is to say, we have not developed an agreeement how to deal with such cases, and our intincts and practices sometimes point to opposite directions.

We create something like 2.C+2A coherently with 2D: we shape our ethical theories to fit the intuitions we already have about who we shall respect. We formulate its principles as abstraction which sound plausible in themselves.

2A. what look like questions in the philosophy of mind are actually questions of moral and political philosophy, in the following sense. The concept of a mind is strictly connected with the concept of a point of view and the concept of a point of view is strictly connected with the concept of well-being, and intuitions about who is capable of being a well-being recipient are strictly connected to "intuitions" about who we shall respect. We ascribe minds to those creatures belonging to a class of which we respect at least some members. Hence we ascribe it to childrens even if we have no first-person reports of experience by children who are younger of 3 years old, and we ascribe it to cows because we recognize it in our dogs. We have troubles ascribing minds to plants, they do not have "behavior" in the same sense as animals do. We do not feel enough near to them. We have troubles with insects and worms.

The malicious interpretation: on coherence and truth.

Analytic philosophy, celebrated as the most respectable form of philosophy for its methodological analysis with science, prizes coherence.
But coherence has two faces. Aristotle, for example, had a coherent philosophical system in which slavery could be justified.
Coherence is a warm gun, too much of it grounds a suspicion about the truth of the system. For it looks that so much coherence cannot be a coincidence, and that it only represents a rationalization of the dominant ideas in a culture, those ideas that are rarely questioned. But being rarely questioned does not make them more true.
Coherent system of thoughts are important because they represent what we, as free thinkers, have reasons to fear, in a way.

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