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Old 02-12-2009
 
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Canada Kaizen
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Default Formal Debate: Ethics - Kaizen vs. Ben

Alright, so this is the first of hopefully many formal debates that will take place here in SD.

The reason this particular topic was chosen was due to a recent debate Ben and I were having in the "I agree with the defense..." thread in GD.

I will first describe my views on ethics, being sure to explain the exact definitions I am using so as to avoid any communication problems.

Wikipedia: Ethics

"Ethics is the major branch of philosophy, encompassing proper conduct and good living. It is significantly broader than the common conception of ethics as the analyzing of right and wrong. A central aspect of ethics is "the good life", the life worth living or that is simply satisfying, which is held by many philosophers to be more important than moral conduct."

From my perspective, ethics is effectively the "end", whereas moral conduct is the "means" to achieve it. Ethics is concerned with "the good life" or rather, what makes us most happy.

Ethics is decidedly a social issue. The need to concern ourselves with ethics arises, ultimately, from the issues associated with human interaction. So an ethical system, must be that which provides "the good life" for the greatest number of people. Moreover, it not only aims to provide "the good life" for the greatest number of people, but also to provide the "the greatest possible life" given the limitations of reality.

I am a Rothbardian Libertarian. My view on ethics is derived chiefly from the logical implications of human action. I believe man has a specific nature, and given that nature, a specific set of ethical rules can be adopting in order to maximize societal happiness. In the list of types of ethics in Wikipedia, I would be most accurately described as "Normative Ethics."

Wikipedia: Normative

"In philosophy, normative statements affirm how things should or ought to be, how to value them, which things are good or bad, which actions are right or wrong. Normative is usually contrasted with positive (i.e. descriptive, explanatory, or constative) when describing types of theories, beliefs, or propositions. Positive statements are factural statements that attempt to describe reality."

So in essence, given the nature of man within the context of a social setting, a particular ethical code will result in maximized happiness for the greatest number of people.

My ethical system is the system of liberty.

Ludwig von Mises was an Austrian-born economist who lived in the early 20th century. He wrote a book called "Human Action" that introduced a new science to the world. This science is known as "praxeology"

Wikipedia: Praxeology

"Mises attempted to find the conceptual root of economics. Like other Austrian economists, he rejected the use of observation, saying that human actors are too complex to be reduced to their component parts and too self-conscious not to have their behaviour affected by the very act of observation. Observation of human action, or extrapolation from historical data, would thus always be contaminated by overlooked factors in the way that the natural sciences would not be.

To counter the subjective nature of the results of historical and statistical analysis (see Methodenstreit), Mises looked at the logical structure of human action (he entitled his magnum opus Human Action). In other words, he built on the methodological aspect of Economics, the synthetic a priori."


It is the logical framework of human action provided by praxeology that is the source of my view.

Mises made the statement "Humans act," which is ultimately the foundation of praxeology and that which all the logical deductions are made which give rise to the ethics of liberty. Mises claimed this statement was irrefutable, as anyone who wishes to contest this statement must act in order to do it. Mises called this a "performative contradiction," and asserted therefore it is impossible to deny this statement. This statement then becomes "axiomatic." Axioms are perhaps the most sought after, yet elusive, issue in science. To have a true axiom means then you can then venture away from the typical empirical sciences and move into the far rarer a priori sciences.

Wikipedia: A priori and a posteriori

"The terms "a priori" and "a posteriori" are used in philosophy (epistemology) to distinguish two types of knowledge, justifications or arguments. A priori knowledge or justification is independent of experience (for example 'All bachelors are unmarried'); a posteriori knowledge or justification is dependent on experience or empirical evidence (for example 'Some bachelors are very happy'). A priori justification makes no reference to experience; the issue concerns how one knows the proposition or claim in question—what justifies or grounds one's belief in it. Galen Strawson wrote that an a priori argument is one of which "you can see that it is true just lying on your couch. You don't have to get up off your couch and go outside and examine the way things are in the physical world. You don't have to do any science." There are many points of view on these two types of assertion, and their relationship is one of the oldest problems in modern philosophy."

A posteriori knowledge involves the empricial sciences; a priori knowledge exists independent of experience. This is a major issue, as human beings are far too complicated to rely on one's fallible ability to observe in order to derive knowledge. Not only that, but true or correct knowledge.

With the statement "Humans act," Mises derived:

"the idea that every conscious action is intended to improve a person's satisfaction. He noted that praxeology is not concerned with the individual's definition of end satisfaction, just the way he sought that satisfaction and that individuals will increase their satisfaction by removing sources of dissatisfaction or "uneasiness".

Action is, by its very design, taken to achieve happiness. Action is not limited to specific movements of the body within reality, but rather the choices we make to move or not to move within reality. Action can equally be doing nothing as it is to do something. The underlying point is simply that any choice we make, we do it for the reasons to improve our happiness. Our happiness, or our "ends", occur in the mind and are not specifically the subject of our conversation. To know what makes one happy is actually immeasurable.

For instance, let's say I want a steak. Do I want 8 oz or 10 oz? Sirlion or filet mignon? Do I want mash potatoes with it or do I want a salad? Do I want a scotch to wash it down or a martini? How many ounces of alcohol? How many olives? How many ice-cubes?

The exact thing I want will be known by myself. For an outside observer, it would be impossible to determine what I want. Since happiness is ultimately immeasurable by any except the acting party, only individuals are capable of achieving their desired ends through their own individual action. What we know for certain, through praxeology, is that hinderance of action will certainly cause unhappiness, for it describes a situation where we are forced to do something we do not want to. This is all we can derive about happiness that is in fact truly irrefutable.

Given the nature of immeasurable happiness, the only thing we can impute in regards to an ethical system is that "individuals only can know what makes them happy." At the very core, only an ethical system concerned with not violating another's action can be deemed a "creator" of happiness. Fundamentally, this is the logical derivation of the concept of liberty. If all humans are truly unhindered, without any acting forces against them, then no one else on earth can cause them unhappiness. This effectively solves the social problem of what is good conduct, telling us that we should never hinder another's action. If we do, we create unhappiness.

The ethical system of liberty is the only system that does not violate the happiness of another. All other ethical systems involve the measuring of happiness.

For example:

Person A hinders person B. The purpose of this hinderance was to gain benefit X, at the cost of Y lost.

This is fundamentally proposing to calculate that which cannot be calculated. To "live the good life" for the maximum number of people, we must never interfere with another's action or we create unhappiness, and compromise what we set out to do in the first place. This is fundamentally a "means" vs "ends" issue. By embracing the ethical system of liberty, you take a "means" approach to the problem, instead of an "ends" approach which involves the hinderance of another for the gain of another.

The next step in discussing the ethics of liberty is to expand the discussion into the issue of property, but at this point I'll give the floor to Ben so he can describe his system of ethics.
 

Last edited by Kaizen; 02-13-2009 at 11:12 PM.
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"Liberty, or Freedome, signifieth (properly) the absence of opposition; (by Opposition, I mean externall Impediments of motion) and may be applied no lesse to Irrationall, and Inanimate creatures, that to Rationall.

And according to this proper, and generally received meaning of the word, a free man, is he, that in those things, which by his strength and wit he is able to do, is not hindered to doe what he has a will to."

- Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan.

So close... Yet so far.
 

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Old 02-13-2009
 
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Default Re: Formal Debate: Ethics - Kaizen vs. Ben

The Irony of Being

-Introduction-

I am going to open with two items that I think will be helpful illuminations of the argument I am going to put forth. The first is the famous Serenity Prayer:

“God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.”

The second is a logical formulation in the Wittgensteinian model:

U: R ^ W/P → T

U = Understanding

R = Reason

W = Willpower

P = Passions

T = Telos (the ultimate end of human affairs).

Essentially the formula reads “Understanding allows reason to tame the willpower and the passions towards the telos”.

These are not really part of my argument proper, I just think they will be helpful tools to understand it, so keep them in mind.

-Metaphysical Preliminaries -

Imagine yourself walking through some woods. On the ground, there is packed dirt, and within the packed dirt there are buried, to various degrees, rocks. Cognitively you of course know that the rocks are not the same thing as the dirt, but in all likelihood you are just thinking of your surroundings as “nature”; a sort of amorphous mass. Now, imagine you see an animal. You recognize it as distinct from the surrounding “nature”, but to a limited degree. It is very much part of the system which is surrounding you. Thirdly, imagine you see a man in the woods. This is much different now from the other two examples. The man is much more of a distinct entity in the woods. What can this tell us about the metaphysical nature of man?

Evolution is central to the metaphysical nature of man. Specifically what we are concerned with here is man's self-conscious, his awareness of himself as a distinct identity, has developed gradually. In the beginning, as a single cell organism, the entity which would eventually become mankind was no more (in some respects, less so) distinct from the nature surrounding him than is that rock buried in the dirt. In developing self-awareness, man became an individual gradually. So then, like light, man is both a particle and a wave. He is both an individual being, and subsumed in the nature that surrounds him. This is the first of two important metaphysical observations about human awareness. The second is the distinction between the man, the objectively existing being in the world, and the self-conscious. The Self-conscious is the result of man's faculty of reason which began in his early evolutionary days, when he was little more than a monkey; the ability to solve problems by observing the principles by which the world around him operates and, from that, deriving principles by which he should operate to achieve his ends. Because man's action is predicated entirely upon his rational nature; that is to say his ability to comprehend the principles upon which the world around him operates and act accordingly, he has to understand himself according to his rational nature as well. The self-conscious then, is man's attempt to treat the subject (his own person) as if it was an object (a non-living entity in the world which moves, rather than acts, according to the forces acting upon it). The result is that man in his self-conscious creates an image of himself which, even if it may be accurate, never 100% subsumes the subject, the self, in to its rational image. The fact that the self is a subject and reason can only fully comprehend objects is the basis of the problems in studying human action that Kaizen points out in his post. It is also the basis of the ethical system I will lay out in my essay. I believe that this understanding of the limitations of reason is the common ground that Kaizen and I share, and also what led us to very different conclusions from our shared intellectual starting point of Austrian Economic Thought.

These are the metaphysical facts about human nature which we must keep in mind in laying out our belief on ethics; the fact that man is both a particle and a wave, that is to say both an individual subject and a object subsumed in nature, and that man's objective self-conscious can never fully integrate his subjective existence.

-The Choice to Live-

When man achieves his understanding of himself as a self, an individually existing entity (modern psychology informs us that in the life of any individual this comprehension of the self as distinct from the nature surrounding it is a gradual process, rather than an immediate comprehension upon birth) he is provided with a question which lower creatures are never faced with. Having a rational understanding of himself as separate and distinct from the nature surrounding him, man has to ask how he should act. And of course, the concept of actions without ends is a logical absurdity. So what is the value judgment, the end calculation, that forms the common ground for all human action? It appears self evident that that value calculation is twofold; life first, and the good life second. To survive, and then to be happy. Man could obviously choose not to live, and the result is suicide. But since any subjects of human action have obviously not committed suicide, we can assume through the principle of revealed preferences that they have chosen life and the good life. This choice leads to what I will call the paradox of being.

-The Paradox of Being-

As we have already noted, man's self-conscious is not merely synonymous with his existence. It is rather an attempt by his rational faculty to understand and explain his existence. But since the rational faculty was essentially developed to deal with problem solving vis a vis objects, it cannot fully and perfectly comprehend subjects. The subject of man, that is to say the actually existing man in the world, appears to tear man in different and contradictory directions for his action. The appetite seeks to maximize pleasure, and tells man to seek ultimate pleasure. The spirit (here referring to no religious concept of soul but merely to the Platonist concept of the spirit as the desire for honor) seeks to maximize honor and so tells man to act in that way. The intellect seeks to maximize man's truth-comprehension and so tells man to act towards that. Often times these various factors can only be fulfilled at the expense of one another, and so man, the subject, appears to be lost in a sea of contradictions without possibility of resolution.

The self-conscious solves this problem through the understanding of man as an object. Thinking of man as an object rather than a subject, it formulates value codes to allow man to act towards an ultimate end it deems most desirable; a telos. But because man in his objective reality is not an object but a subject, no value code can totally fulfill his happiness. As Christ wisely said, we can only live by dying. As beings whose rationality and therefore ability to act is fundamentally limited, we can only achieve a limited happiness. This is the irony of being alluded to in the title; it is the very rational nature that allows us to act in our capacity as humans at all that limits our ability to totally fulfill our happiness. Aristotle said that man could be referred to as “the rational animal”. By the same token, he could be referred to as “The ironical animal”.

-Being and Virtue-

It is in understanding, whether explicitly stated in the works of the thinkers associated with it or not, of the irony implicit in rational being that virtue ethics finds its superiority over the rival traditions of utilitarianism and deontology. Both of those traditions seek to merely codify given actions as either ethical or unethical, and see happiness as simply doing whatever it is one likes. Virtue ethics understands, as they do not, that the origin of ethics is in the irony of being, and the understanding that our prospects for happiness are limited; we can't totally fulfill our subjective being, because the understanding of our being as a limited object that our rational self-conscious provides is incomplete, but nevertheless the only tool we have.

In this vein, Plato made the apt analogy of human being as a chariot, in which the driver (the reason) must whip the horses of will and desire in to submission, lest the chariot careen out of control. From the question of being and its inherently ironical nature the best thinkers of the western tradition developed the notion of the cardinal virtues; the hinges upon which character must swing. Each is associated with a different and sometimes contradictory aspect of the human being.

The Appetite is, as previously noted, the desire for pleasure. The virtue of temperance comes from the recognition that as a fundamental part of human nature, this desire must be given its due, but it cannot be completely fulfilled because of man's limited and ironical prospects.

The Spirit is, as previously noted, the desire for honor. The virtue of bravery likewise arises from a recognition of the desire for honor as integral to the individual, but incapable of being totally fulfilled.

The Intellect is the desire for truth. The virtue of prudence is again, the simultaneous recognition and denial of this desire; we must seek after truth, but we must avoid the danger of becoming hyper-rationalists; the flawed rational calculations of the French Revolution, Nazi Germany, and Communist Russia, all of which marched forward in the total faith of the rationality of their cause illustrate this well enough.

Finally, the cardinal virtue of Justice is the virtue which governs the proper relations of appetite, spirit, and intellect. The intellect must ultimately rule the other two, lest we pursue false pleasures or honors, but not as an absolute. Appetite and spirit are non-rational but no less integral aspects of the human being.

The human subject, the actually existing human in the world, is torn and lashed by competing and contradicting desires. The human object, the self-conscious thing-for-itself (as opposed to the thing-in-itself) understands that for this reason it can only achieve a limited happiness. Happiness is not a state of perfect fulfillment, but is as Aristotle noted, an activity; a constant striving. That striving consists in recognizing but also denying all aspects of our character, that they might exist in some internal harmony. To the extent then that man attempts to be virtuous he must go to war with himself in the mindset of the conqueror. He must attempt as best he can (though never perfectly) to bend the the subject to the will of the object. The paradigm of the human individual, constantly at war with himself in the virtue of justice, is also reflected in society, and it is from this that we realize the dual concepts of justice as an individual and social virtue.

-Social Justice as the Ironical War Between the Individual and Collective-

As social animals, humans rely totally upon the group to survive. Without the group they can neither feed themselves or defend themselves. For that reason, all human societies begin in three guarantees, fulfilled by the society as best as it is able.

The Security Guarantee: The guarantee of common defense against enemies within and without.

The Economic Guarantee: The guarantee of some minimum level of economic well being.

The Social Guarantee: The guarantee that behavior will be codified in such a way as to ensure harmonious social order. If right morality will not be legislated, good manners at least will be.

Any of these guarantees could be defended to some degree from reason, but none of them are fundamentally rational in themselves. Man, or the animal that became man, was social long before he was rational, and it is fundamentally human instinct that demands these guarantees rather than any deduction of human reason. This is best illustrated in the fact that we can note that not simply man, but all social animals provide these three guarantees in their society. From men to apes to wolves to ants, the three guarantees are present everywhere.

The three guarantees are however uniquely challenging to humans, because humans have a more developed sense of individual personhood than any other animal. This is at the heart of Freud's “uneasiness in culture”. The constant war between the collective's attempt to maximize these three guarantees, and the individual's attempt to assert himself as an independently existing person. An awareness of these two ironies, individual and social, that is relatively unique in human history is what makes the western tradition uniquely superior to the traditions of other cultures.

-Irony and Forgiveness-

Two men paved the way for the implicit understanding in the western tradition of the irony at the core of our being: Socrates and Jesus Christ. In Socrates' constant questioning of the moral views of his Athenian contemporaries, in Christ's commandment that “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” we find an awareness of the fundamentally limited nature of man's reason to make right conclusions about how he or others should act. They are the two men who are, as individuals, most responsible for the western tradition, and they are also the two most ironical men in recorded human history. In being the most ironical, they were the most fully rational humans. It is a sad commentary on the irrational, unironical nature of man taken on the whole that both were executed by their respective cultures for blasphemy.

Nevertheless, in spite of the constant rebellions against it from within and without, what has prevailed in the west is an awareness of the ironical and limited ability of man to judge himself and even more so, to judge other men. From this has also come the propensity towards forgiveness which is expressed more fully in the west than in any other human culture.

From this ironical and forgiving nature comes the western awareness that, though society must restrain the passions of the individual in order to fulfill the three social guarantees, the individual also must be defended against the all-consuming and predatory nature of the collective. Traditionally, in the west that has been achieved through two means; the system of private property that provides the individual with economic defense against the collective, and the humanistic culture and education that instills, as best it can, in all individuals within society the ironical/forgiving ideals of the western society that tolerate the dynamic differences of belief and behavior that have made western civilization supremely successful.

Alright, that's enough for an opening statement.
 

Last edited by Ben; 02-13-2009 at 03:34 PM.
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Old 02-13-2009
 
#3
Canada Kaizen
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Default Re: Formal Debate: Ethics - Kaizen vs. Ben

I have to say I very much enjoyed that post, Ben. I like how you titled sections so I will do the same.

I should probably spend more time on this reply but this felt rather flowing so I will post it now.

From my viewpoint, there are essentially two prime issues you are forwarding in your system of ethics, one which is unaddressed by mine. Whereas my system assumes that whatever a man does he does for his own happiness, your system points out (correctly) that man himself may or may not know what he wants. Or more accurately, he has an incredibly conflicted nature that will change his opinions and choices depending on a myriad of external and, most notably, internal factors.

I do not think we disagree on the general idea of liberty per se, but, as I suspect, you feel it has certain limitations because of the "ironical" components of man's make-up. You may very well believe the entire doctrine of “what ought to be” (normative thought) is entirely fruitless, since it does not concern itself entirely with “what is”. What I will endeavour to show, is that violations of liberty are in fact the root of everything, and that man’s ironic nature is due to violations of liberty itself. Furthermore, this will attempt to bring "virtue ethics" back into the fold of deontology, where I believe it rightfully belongs.

Man Alone vs. Man Interacting

The state of uneasiness a man feels, which is as well a primary contributor to his ironical nature, is the fact he cannot, as you say, “bend the subject to the will of the object.” I thought this was a brilliant idea - the difference between the subject and the object - and I couldn't agree more with its implications. However, I believe at the core, the subject itself is ultimately an object, the only difference being the far more complicated nature of its basic properties.

Objects within material reality quite easily reveal their basic properties. For instance, it is quite easy to understand the power and limitations of a rock, or a tree. It is, as you say, when we see man in the forest that we learn we are observing something different, and it is then when we start to understand more accurately our awareness of self.

The reason why man seems so much different is because the properties of his make-up are not as easily understood as a rock’s, for instance. Ultimately, “properties” in regards to what we discern with human reason, refers to the manner in which something can be utilized for benefit. In the Misesian sense, they are the "economic means" (objects in material reality) used in the achievement of "individual ends." But what is a man? He is not a rock, and he cannot be utilized like a rock to achieve your ends. If we are to bend the will of the other “subject” we must attempt something entirely different. It is here we are revealed the greatest difference between a man and a rock is, quite simply, its limitations. We simply do not understand the limitations of what we are observing, and consequently so, we do not understand the limitations of ourselves.

It is quickly apparent to determine how to act in an effort to get a rock to do what you want it to do. It is, however, incredibly difficult to determine how to act to get another individual to do what you want: for them to become that "economic mean" to your "individual ends."

So the ultimate distinction between the subject and the object is no more than the degree and scope in which you can assess its limitations. We spend our whole lives on the journey of learning our limitations. Failed human interaction is our greatest judge of our limitations due to the mind's non-physical properties, and it is why we dread it so.

The Tree of Knowledge

In the book of Genesis, the Tree of Knowledge was placed in the Garden of Eden by God. Even though he placed it there, he forbade Adam to eat from it. There was also another tree known as the Tree of Life, from which flowed immortality and perpetual bliss. This story is perhaps one of the most powerful of all time in its implication. It is a simple explanation to a very powerful and timeless problem.

The Tree of Knowledge as also known as something else: The Tree of Death. Why is it that the name of the “the Tree of Knowledge” can be inter-changeable with the name “the Tree of Death”? One of the most powerful realizations a human being can have is that source of all unhappiness flows chiefly from our acquired knowledge. More specifically, our bad knowledge. Bad knowledge is the memory of failed action, of failing to accurately assess an object’s limitations, thereby bringing into question the limitations of that actor’s own mind. Bad knowledge is, ultimately, the world showing us our own limitations in acquiring what we want. When we learn our limitations, we start to inject the emotion of fear into our decision making process.

Learning our limitations exists because we make an agreement with our being that we are indeed limited in some specific sense. We say to ourselves “I agree with myself that I cannot do that,” and henceforth we believe it. The root cause of these agreements is failed action, to which we then formulate our beliefs on our limitations. These become agreements accumulate and contribute to our “bad knowledge.”

The "Ironical Animal” That Can’t Stop Lying

In understanding the nature of bad knowledge, we learn that man traverses this world with certain agreements about himself and reality. Whether or not these are true is completely irrelevant, the mere fact these agreements exist now cause emotional pain and suffering.

The assessment and agreement of limitations in strictly the subject to object sense is a desirable quality, it in fact keeps us safe and free from harm via interaction with potentially dangerous elements of material reality. However, in terms of the assessment of subject to subject interaction, it is uniquely harmful. A man then becomes the creator of his own unhappiness, by choosing to believe certain things about himself and others that can now result in unhappiness. The goal of learning the limitation of a cliff, for instance, keeps you from walking over it and dying; the goal of learning the limitation of your attractiveness to females does nothing but serve to haunt you for the rest of your conscious life. It is pointless to learn the limitations of subject to subject interaction. In fact, we could accurately refer to these agreements as “lies” that do nothing but keep you unhappy. The painful reality of life is that our happiness is simply a choice and always has been.

The Limited Mind Limiting Others

It is this sense of limitation that leads us to desire the limitations of others. So for liberty to exist, that is, the desire to see all individuals act without hinderance, we the subject must be unhindered by our assessment of limitations (or lies) in regards to our interaction with human beings. I think this is the very core difference between our two philosophies. You address this situation of the broken mind, whereas I try to ignore it. Why I ignore it is because it cannot be solved by any means of coercion. The overarching problem facing mankind is the accumulation of bad knowledge. It is bad knowledge that leads us to our fear and suffering.

Bad knowledge is the product of failed action, but this does not imply merely pro-active action that resulted in no benefit. It implies also that we have been hindered, and are incapable of carrying out pro-active action. This is equally failed action: an agreement as to our own personal limitations. It is then obvious that the greatest contributor to bad knowledge, and ultimately the broken character of man, is previous violations of liberty.

It All Comes Back to Liberty

Once we learn that our bad knowledge is truly the source, we see the true power of a system of pure liberty. It is violations of liberty that lead to bad knowledge, which lead to more violations of liberty, which lead to more bad knowledge, and so on and so forth in complete perpetuity. A violation of liberty is the “original sin” which opens the flood gates and ends up destroying man. A violation of liberty by the hindering of another reminds me of your original prayer:

“God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.”

The man who wishes to hinder another believes he can control the things which he cannot. He wishes to bend the will of other men to do his bidding.

The man who hinders the action of another is trying to be like God.

I’ve always had a particularly fond view of Christianity, especially Catholicism. It took me a long time but I finally learned why, and I have touched on why already in this thread.

Faith

Faith is the complete acceptance of our limitations. Having faith is the counter-weight to bad knowledge. Faith tells us we are all limited in God’s eyes (or the eyes of the Universe), relieving the burden felt by men in the struggle for existence.

To have faith is to be humble; to be cognizant of your limitations but completely happy within them; to rid yourself of your meaningless assessment of limitations and powerlessness, for they are things that only exist in the mind and matter no where else.

Forgiveness is recognizing and accepting the limitations of others, even if they do not. Forgiveness allows us to stop the process of the accumulation of bad knowledge. To not take things personally; to not assume things that do not exist anywhere but in the mind.

But in the end it all comes back to liberty and stopping the cycle of fear and bad knowledge
 

Last edited by Kaizen; 02-13-2009 at 07:28 PM.
Kaizen has 1,469 Posts

"Liberty, or Freedome, signifieth (properly) the absence of opposition; (by Opposition, I mean externall Impediments of motion) and may be applied no lesse to Irrationall, and Inanimate creatures, that to Rationall.

And according to this proper, and generally received meaning of the word, a free man, is he, that in those things, which by his strength and wit he is able to do, is not hindered to doe what he has a will to."

- Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan.

So close... Yet so far.
 

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Old 02-13-2009
 
#4
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Default Re: Formal Debate: Ethics - Kaizen vs. Ben

Great post, Kaizen.

A computer game came out fairly recently called 'Fallout 3'. It's a science fiction RPG, and in my opinion, it is on the vanguard of video game storytelling, which is beginning to approach the level of literature. At one point in the game, the player meets an android (a robot built to imitate a human being). The men who built the android built him as an imitation of a human, not a real man. So of course, they used this thing as a tool, not a person. They treated it wholly as an object towards their ends. The android however, eventually became self-aware, and engaged in the only possible response to his situation; he fled. When his owners found this out, their response was an understandable one, given the context of the situation; they believed their machine was simply on the fritz, and they set out to retrieve it. When he learns that this is their position, the android replies, “Self-determination is not a malfunction.” This story is, I think, quite illustrative. Both the android and his owners can be seen as representing different, but both integral, aspects of the human person and human society.

The limbic region of the brain is the area of it that governs emotions and behaviors. The neocortex in humans governs higher reasoning capabilities such as language and working memory. The active self-conscious that humans have also comes from the higher reasoning skills associated with the neocortex. The limbic system is the more primitive of the two, and evolved first.

This is a key point. The system that gives man his emotions and his actions is more primitive than the system that gives him his self-conscious and his human individualism. Man was acting in the moral sense before he was engaging in advanced reasoning skills like linguistic communication, or indeed had any advanced notion of himself as distinct from others. What this illustrates is that man's moral action does not arise from his desire to enter in to society in order to fulfill his self-interest. Before there even was a self to be self-interested, man was already equipped with the precursor to justice. I mentioned in my previous post that the three guarantees (security, economic, social) of justice might be defended from reason to various degrees, but are not themselves fundamentally rational. They find their origins in the limbic region of the brain, which pre-dates the individual self. At that time, man was just a brute organism, engaging in activity that was most likely to ensure the continued survival of the organism on the whole. He never could have contemplated about the fact that coercing other organisms would limit their happiness, because without the self-conscious they had no notion of long term happiness to be limited. “Happiness” didn't travel any further than the raw sensory data of pain and pleasure that were being fed in to the organism at any given moment.

The neocortex developed later, and with it came the language and memory that allowed for the development of the self-conscious and the notion of the individual person. It was at this moment that man began to assert himself against society. Like the android, we recoiled from the coercive methods of the collective, declaring that self-determination was not a malfunction.

If we should take the position of the owners of that android, if we should say that self-determination is a malfunction, the horrible consequences that occur are well recorded; The blood of the French Revolution, of Nazi Germany, of Communist Russia. These were societies without a neocortex, making the individual completely subject to the collective.

But no more can we live as societies without a limbic system. We are individuals yes, but we remain subsumed in the mass organism that is the human species. The pre-rational demands for social guarantors of safety, food, and social harmony still hold us in their grip.

In responding to this, you put forth the idea that perhaps we should simply ignore the problem of the broken mind, it being the case that some knowledge is bad for us. It is certainly true that man was not meant to comprehend everything; we all know the Lovecraftian archetype of the professor who glimpses, only for a moment, the fully real nature of the universe and is immediately driven insane. From the Tree of Knowledge/Tree of Death in The Bible to Nietzsche's admonition that “When you gaze into the abyss, the abyss also gazes into you” man has long had an awareness of the limitations on his rationality. Some men, the mystics of the western and eastern traditions, have tried to give themselves up entirely to faith and live as much as possible without an intellect, or at least without an intellect controlled by narrowly defined “rationality”. But these men, it seems clear, are exceptions. For most of us it simply will not do to try to ignore what we know to be true. In any event, if we tried to live without the pre-rational demands of our limbic mind we would find that we wouldn't live for long. Such a society might be extremely happy for the time that it existed, but it would also be very easy prey for societies that didn't have such a respect for the individual, and since the collective is predatory by its very nature, it wouldn't take long before the society of the pure individual was turned into prey.

That's the irony of man's social condition. Our limbic system caused us to live long enough to develop an advanced neocortex and become individuals. Now it keeps us from fully satisfying our individuality.

In your section on faith, in my opinion the best section of your post, you warn against believing we can control others and remake them in our own image. Your warning was a wise one, for only God can do that. We should instead heed the warnings of Burke and men of his disposition to trust not to the ability of our own reason to infallibly lay out a kind of Hegelian all-encompassing system of thought, but to the applied wisdom of generations expressed in our traditions; that we might achieve an imperfect but satisfactory social order that will allow us to fulfill our individuality as best as our imperfect nature will allow us to do in an imperfect world.

I'm going out soon so if I reply again tonight it will be in the wee hours.
 
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