Morality, ethics, virtue, etc. imply a struggle for control -- at least within 
oneself, but often more widely. If morality had a set of obvious axioms, such as to 
lead to firm & reliable answers to all moral questions in practice, it would be 
know-how, not morality. For everything there is a season & a time, according to 
Ecclesiastes, but neither Ecclesiastes nor anything else always tells us just when 
those times & seasons are.

opportunity _ _ _ _ _ _ risk
safeness _ _ _ _ _ _ _ futility

***For everything***

hope _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ fear
confidence _ _ _ _ _ _ despair

***there is a season***

courage _ _ _ _ _ _ _ prudence
due confidence _ _ _ _ realism

***and an out-of-season***

rashness _ _ _ _ _ _ _ cowardice
complacency _ _ _ _ _ defeatism

(Note: the above structure entails that Aristotle's doctrine of virtue as a 'mean' 
between two extremes is at best a sloppy heuristic that captures a sense of 
maintaining some sort of poise or grace under pressure.)

Even when we agree on what the evil is -- a forest fire approaching the town for 
example -- still to fight it, may require the moral virtues of courage & due 
confidence, lest in one's heart one succumb to cowardly or defeatist thoughts about 
the fire. To refuse to fight it & instead to flee in one's car may require the moral 
virtues of prudence & realism -- lest one succumb to rash or complacent thoughts about 
the fire. Sometimes boldness is good, sometimes caution is good. Courage is 
appropriately hopeful action despite pressure not to be hopeful. Pressure -- a 
struggle, as I said. Most traditional virtues can be defined in such manner. Why would 
one be under such pressure but through conflict among one's own values? The moral 
value system is not independent & self-contained but depends on non-entirely-moral 
values -- the value of the town, the trees, etc. -- & on knowledge & on understanding 
things about oneself & others. The moral value of the town is based on consideration!
s of which many are themselves not moral or not directly moral. Morality cannot 
provide easy answers when easy answers cannot be provided for many relevant non-moral 
or not purely moral questions -- e.g, what are the stakes? what are the threats? what 
are the opportunities? Applying our axiomatic moral/ethical mathematic will probably 
land us in still more moral/ethical quandaries. We are left asking, when, 
specifically, singularly, are these "seasons & times" of which Ecclesiastes speaks? Of 
course we're left asking. How could it be otherwise?

Furthermore, from a risk-management perspective, opportunity equals risk. Safeness 
equals futility. As Freud said, life presents a choice not between pleasure & pain, 
but between both & neither. Any moral system will set up opportunity/risk situations 
where the risk is that of violating the morality. If we're talking not just about 
morality in the usual narrow sense, but in the sense of excellence, the virtues of 
character, then morality guarantees trials & tests for those who would be moral. (That 
doesn't make morality bad -- a bad morality is one that tends to assure that those who 
seek to be moral shall lose.) And to the extent that we disagree about human nature, 
disagreements about morality may run corespondingly deep.

- Ben Udell
----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Wei Dai" <[EMAIL PROTECTED]>
To: "Stathis Papaioannou" <[EMAIL PROTECTED]>
Cc: <[EMAIL PROTECTED]>
Sent: Saturday, January 24, 2004 9:00 PM
Subject: Re: Modern Physical theory as a basis for Ethical and Existential Nihilism


Stathis Papaioannou wrote:
> If I stop with (a) above, I am simply saying that this is how I feel about 
> suffering, and this feeling is not contingent on the state of affairs in any actual 
> or possible world [there, I got it in!]

Wei Dai responded:
(a) as stated is ill defined. In order to actually reason with it in practice, you'd 
have to define what "activity", "cause", "net", "human", and "suffering" mean, but 
then it's hard to see how one can just have a "feeling" that statement (a), by now 
highly technical, is true. What about a slightly different variation of (a), where the 
definition of "human" or "suffering" is given a small tweak? How do you decide which 
of them reflects your true feelings? The mere presense of many similar but 
contradictory moral statements might give you a feeling of arbitrariness that causes 
you to reject all of them.

Difficulties like this lead to the desire for a set of basic moral axioms that can be 
defined precisely and still be seen by everyone as obvious and non-arbitrary. Again, 
maybe it doesn't exist, but we can't know for sure unless we're much smarter than we 
actually are.

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