• Welkin Rogue
    63
    I'm struggling with Cavell but feel like I'm approaching a clearer understanding of ethics as a result. It strikes me as radically fresh, at least relative to the tradition in analytic philosophy, to the point where I can't even place it within that context. It doesn't seem to fit any of the usual boxes quite right. Part of my motivation in coming here is to ask you to help me think through what impact embracing a Cavellian 'metaethics' might have. Would we go on any differently? And of course: should we embrace this view at all?

    In The Claim of Reason, Cavell argues for what might be conveniently labelled a 'Wittgensteinian' conception of ethics, although this is only in the sense that everything Cavell writes seems to be influenced by his philosophical hero. This is the first thing I've read by him. His argument is convoluted and largely negative in that he spends most of his time attacking mainstream analytic moral philosophy rather than describing an alternative. So I'm just going to try to reconstruct what I have (so far) taken away from it. Take what I present as a view inspired by this book (probably in selective and potentially misleading ways) rather than a rigorous interpretation.

    The rough idea seems to be that ethics is an open-ended form of life with a 'grammar' but no logical structure or set of rules to govern it. This grammar serves to characterize the kind of form of life that it is. After all, ethical discourse is different from religious or political or aesthetic discourse, for example. Not just anything counts as 'doing ethics'.

    Ethics is not a game like chess because there are no rules. There are no formal procedures, umpires or impersonal criteria which one can refer to in order to settle disputes or establish facts. It is not a 'practice' in any conventional sense (only in the loose Wittgensteinian sense).

    It is a practice in the way that singing or child-care is a practice. It is something we do.

    There are no moral facts or moral truths. Not independent of human psychology and culture. Not relative to any psychology or culture. This is not moral relativism. Insofar as the notions of fact and truth have a place in ethical deliberation, reasoning and argument, it is quite different to the place they find in, say, empirical science, mathematics, discussion about fictions, or games.

    Instead, I think we can substitute for the notion of truth the notion of attunement. A moral attitude or judgement may be attuned to one's moral sensibility, or not. And we may be attuned to one another, or in disharmony. This attunement and disharmony consists not just a disposition to affirm certain sentences, but in a whole way of being.

    The dichotomy of reason and emotion is unhelpful here. A way of being involves non-cognitive attitudes, certainly. But it involves much more. It is a way of seeing, thinking and doing.

    Cavell, I think, has a Kantian streak in that he gives reason a central place in ethics. But it is not reason as opposed to emotion. It is not instrumental reason. Or any special faculty conception of reason. It is about the giving and taking of reasons, in a fairly ordinary sense, and this in itself is part of its telos, if you like: it is about the respectful engagement with others at the personal level (he has a lot to say about the dangers of an emotivist metaethics which reduces ethical engagement to manipulation).

    But he is diametrically opposed to Kant in that he thinks that these reasons must be personal, and that we are not aiming to mirror eternal and universal objective truths which are a function of the nature of reason itself (or anything of the kind).

    The personal nature of ethical reasons and judgement is what distinguishes Cavell most, it seems to me.

    It is often imagined that only impersonal reasons have the kind of authority we expect and demand in morality. On this standard view, it is not because I care about and am committed to my religious group that we ought to be allowed to practice our faith. It is because that's what duty requires (or some such thing). That is, I must give you an impersonal reason or criterion. Perhaps the utilitarian reason that a liberal permission of religious practice maximises happiness for the greater number. For Kantians and others, this impersonality ensures the universality and non-contingency of moral imperatives. It doesn't matter what you care about, you ought to do X or Y.

    That's the standard line, I think. But Cavell thinks the personal is essential. Our personal commitments - arising from our way of being in the world, our form of life - are the foundation of our ethics, if anything is (although that metaphor might be misleading: it is not like a fixed platform of axioms from which we deductively or inductively derive certain moral conclusions). A moral reason must issue from our commitments - commitments which are proven as such when we show ourselves to be prepared to take responsibility for them, to defend them and their consequences to others.

    I think this is right and opens up a much more interesting space for reflection in ethical. I think it is right because I think ethics should be practical. We are trying to sort out how to live together. Impersonal reasons, insofar as they are impersonal, therefore lack all traction in what actually matters, ethically. In fact, even if there were such reasons, they wouldn't matter in this respect. And I find that his approach invigorates a spirit of phenomenological (and social, cultural, psychological) curiosity and compassion lacking in much philosophical ethics. While ethics isn't just about coming to understand one another - at times Cavell places enormous emphasis on this aspect - it is surely an important part of moral reasoning, for all sorts of reasons. I take this as a substantive ethical point in itself.

    On the other hand, this view seems to make obscure the notions of moral progress and moral aspiration. More specifically, it invites the question: if we are not trying to work out what is morally true - bring our judgements into closer alignment with the moral facts - what are we doing? What are we aiming at? And further, how are we doing whatever it is that we are doing? What are the 'methods' of ethics?

    He seems to leave these questions quite open. At least the second one. He advocates for the exchange of reasons, yes. But in some way unconstrained by the cannons of logic. Whether a position is 'right' or not is about whether one endorses it or not. And there are no logical rules pertaining to whether one ought to endorse it or not. Nor are there independent criteria for saying whether one should. The exchange of reasons is fundamentally about the articulation of an outlook and way of life - some way of life that is interpenetrated with reason and discourse, but certainly not constituted by that alone. If that's right, we aren't even required to aspire to coherency or consistency (except as a moral stance in itself - wherever that stance might come from. And as such it would itself call out for ethical justification).

    For myself, I can live with this. I think we can dispense with the notion of moral truth and the idea that somehow we 'must' be perfectly rational in forming our ethical judgements.

    What do you think? Why not Cavell (or whatever it is I have tried to articulate) in ethics?
  • Zugzwang
    131

    I like the way you wrote that up. Haven't read Cavell, but I came away with a sense of the gist of the book. Impressions: he seems reasonable, likable, decent. But the cynic in me thinks he's purveying an optional self-image to a particular market. And rearranging furniture on the Titanic maybe too.

    It's as if the game is to be loose, adventurous, daring, iconoclastic, ... while still being responsible and decent. It makes sense that we'd need to update our self-image as we change the world. How to be radical and fluid and adaptable and still be something in particular? And not just a vampire in gaseous form? 'This isn't relativism.' Maybe, maybe not. Could indeed be a new way to be nice and upper middle class on the safe green front lawn, chatting with neighbors.

    AFAIK, we are fairly stupid and simple animals morally. What I note is the punishment of violators and the reward of conformity. What gets one fired? What gets one accepted by an Ivy League school?
    We are trying to sort out how to live together. Impersonal reasons, insofar as they are impersonal, therefore lack all traction in what actually matters, ethically.Welkin Rogue

    But Cavell thinks the personal is essential. Our personal commitments - arising from our way of being in the world, our form of life - are the foundation of our ethics, if anything isWelkin Rogue

    On this standard view, it is not because I care about and am committed to my religious group that we ought to be allowed to practice our faith. It is because that's what duty requires (or some such thing). That is, I must give you an impersonal reason or criterion.Welkin Rogue

    Perhaps 'impersonal' reasons were always about appealing to the other's personal reasons. Since group identity is taken personally indeed (what is personality if not a quilt of transpersonal identities), we are tugging heartstrings when we talk of freedom or truth or fairness. I don't think non-philosophers are metaphysical, so post-metaphysical theatrics often strike me as unnecessary. Or maybe that's not quite right. How about magic words? Maybe I'm greedy in an animal way for rights to some resource but my more abstract enjoyment of a persona is threatened as the price. I can't be against freedom or equality or recycling, etc. I don't want to be seen (or perhaps more importantly) see myself as xenophobic or conformist or greedy. Perhaps you see what I'm getting at, the blurring of the personal and 'impersonal' reasons.
  • StreetlightX
    7.5k
    Cavell singlehandedly demolished almost all the usual philosophical discussion of ethics for me. Like, in comparison with Cavell, most ethical discussion really comes off like toy discussion, like theorizing for the lives of the Sims rather than real, flesh and blood people. It's been a while since I read the Claim of Reason but his 'grounding' of ethics in forms of life is one of those things I've barely seen elsewhere, although I've been meaning to follow up some secondary/elaborative lit on the issue. In any case I would even suggest that your questions about ethics - "what are we doing? What are we aiming at?" ought to be read back into ethics as the sine qua non of ethical practice itself: that the demands that ethics makes on us are demands to grope at finding whatever partial, workable, passable solutions to just those questions. And those are questions of life and practice that cannot be closed off by any theoretical investigation that would provide any kind of ethical guidebook from on high.

    But really, once you've read Cavell, most discussion of ethics - in a philosophical setting anyway - come off as unbearably stilted and artificial. It's great.
  • Welkin Rogue
    63
    Could indeed be a new way to be nice and upper middle class on the safe green front lawn, chatting with neighbors.Zugzwang

    Thanks for your reply Zugzwang. While Cavell's philosophy itself might be a 'nice' and 'optional' activity for a privileged minority of people with a certain disposition, this is probably the case for most philosophy. What is cool about Cavell's picture of ethics itself, however, is that it isn't this expert academic thing for hyper-rational philosophers. So I think your objection here is wide of the mark.

    Perhaps 'impersonal' reasons were always about appealing to the other's personal reasons.Zugzwang

    Yes I think that's often right. One could reinterpret (interpret?) applied philosophical ethics, and to some extent normative ethics (virtue ethics, deontology, consequentialism, etc.), as attempting a weird kind of systematisation of, or at least systematic inquiry into, personal reasons. Philosophers often take themselves to be leaning on intuitions, and pushing other people's intuitions around using rational inferences to derive certain conclusions. If those intuitions are thought of as emerging out of personal commitments, rather than deliverances of some special ethical sense, then the apparently impersonal normative judgements and imperatives they arrive at could also be thought to express a personal practice. It's just that this is not what they think of themselves as doing. And their methodology is, if not somehow 'illegitimate', then overly narrow. Ethics may involve this sort of philosophy, sure. But it is more than that. And the philosophy - the systematic reflection - is secondary to the real action, which is at the level of actual life, with all its contingency, flux and messiness.
  • Welkin Rogue
    63
    In any case I would even suggest that your questions about ethics - "what are we doing? What are we aiming at?" ought to be read back into ethics as the sine qua non of ethical practice itself: that the demands that ethics makes on us are demands to grope at finding whatever partial, workable, passable solutions to just those questions. And those are questions of life and practice that cannot be closed off by any theoretical investigation that would provide any kind of ethical guidebook from on high.StreetlightX

    That's well put.

    I guess the idea of moral progress is just deeply compelling for me. I want to rank forms of life across time and space.

    Rather than claiming that this ranking transcends my particular outlook - that there is objective moral progress - perhaps this thought can be recovered within a Cavellian spirit through the notion of rationality as a kind of sensitivity.

    He writes that the "rationality [of ethics] lies in following the methods which lead to a knowledge of our own position, of where we stand; in short, to a knowledge and definition of ourselves."

    It seems to follow that we can at least 'rank' how rational people are when doing ethics, if we like. To do so is to estimate how muchwhatever it is a person is doing when they do ethics leads to self-knowledge.

    Elsewhere, he says something like “Let your experience of the object teach you how to think about it” (from memory).

    I like that. It makes me think that the methods of ethics as self-knowledge are about sensitivity. Self-knowledge sounds self-oriented. But it needn't be.

    He seems to take a phenomenological approach, in which studying the world - other people, their behaviour, what we make of it, and so on - is to study ourselves. It is both at once. On the one hand we are being genuinely sensitive to others, to the world - to the cares, predicaments and experiences of other beings. On the other, this discipline, if we are rational, will help us to know how think about and deal with those things ("teach us how to think about them"), as well as help us know ourselves (because who we are is in large part about how we think about and relate to the world).

    The idea that there are gradations of sensitivity by which we can rank people or even entire cultures is particularly vague and labile, however. But I can't help thinking there must be some correlation between this sort of sensitivity and (my) judgements of moral sophistication & progress. A correlation which might help put my worry to rest. But I'm not sure.

    But really, once you've read Cavell, most discussion of ethics - in a philosophical setting anyway - come off as unbearably stilted and artificial. It's great.StreetlightX

    Yeah I don't think there is any turning back. I have always felt uneasy doing ethics in the usual way. It's not just artificial; it also seems weirdly interfering, totalising, and archaic. Many philosophers comes across as moralists in the worst sense, i.e., judging everybody in this impersonal way using the grand language of duty, the good and the right, virtues and vices. I am also reminded of Plato, Aristotle and more recently Alasdair Macintyre, who advised that philosophy - but moral philosophy especially, I think - is best left for those with a bit more life experience. Macintyre is particularly scathing about the narrowness of the typical academic life and how it distorts their thinking when it comes to these questions. You can't shortcut a deficit in experience with the sheer power of reason, because reason is not at the root of ethical wisdom.
  • Welkin Rogue
    63
    Impressions: he seems reasonable, likable, decent.Zugzwang

    I thought I'd add some random anecdotes. A former student of his, a professor of mine, said he was as good in conversation as he was on the page (and equally elaborate). An immensely sensitive man, he could be warm, but was also apt to be 'prickly'. Apparently, never got over some rejections and hostile reactions from powerful academic colleagues in his early years. It's a wonder he remained as generous to the discipline as he was. He never took cheap shots and went to considerable lengths to speak the language of his opponents while basically repudiating their whole schtick from the ground up.... His life was one of ceaseless engagement with culture: a musician, serious academic and cinephile, he could never seem to make any time for sleep.
  • Mww
    2.7k
    "rationality [of ethics] lies in following the methods which lead (...) to a knowledge (...) of ourselves."Welkin Rogue

    reason is not at the root of ethical wisdom.Welkin Rogue

    Hmmmm...... Apparently, ethical wisdom begins with knowledge of ourselves, but the method for arriving at such knowledge is not derived from reason, insofar as....

    You can't shortcut a deficit in experience with the sheer power of reasonWelkin Rogue

    According to this....err, rationality, because I’ve never committed an abominable moral act, which is a particular deficit in experience, I lack wisdom with respect to what my judgement should be, given the occasion for the possible commission of such an act. But if I follow a perfectly rational method for obtaining sufficient knowledge of myself, what my act on the occasion of possibly committing an abomination, should already have been determined, which immediately presupposes reason is the root of ethical wisdom.

    Without the sheer power of reason, how do I even know what an abominable moral act is? Do I have to commit one, hence gain wisdom from the experience of it? In other words, I must be immoral, in order to ascertain what the condition of my morality is? But that won’t help at all; if I lack moral wisdom I have no reason to judge my act as immoral in the first place, which then tells me absolutely nothing about my moral constitution.

    The alternative can only be, I must be informed from external sources what an abominable moral act is. If such be the case, it cannot be said I’ve followed a method of rationality, which contradicts the methodological necessity of obtaining ethical wisdom, insofar as mere information about a thing is very far from the understanding of it.

    This isn’t moral philosophy, it’s empirical anthropology. This isn’t where one employs pure practical reason, it’s where he pays $200 an hour to lay on a couch and lament his own unsatisfying subjective conditions.

    Still, it seems to be the current state of intellectualism. As my ol’ buddies James and Lars say.....sad but true.
  • Antony Nickles
    374
    It is about the giving and taking of reasons, in a fairly ordinary sense, and this in itself is part of its telos, if you like: it is about the respectful engagement with others at the personal level... The personal nature of ethical reasons and judgement is what distinguishes Cavell most, it seems to me.Welkin Rogue

    There are just a few comments I can add. To differentiate, this is specifically not about how we feel or some Humian individual moral compass. Also, the point is not for another ethical foundation, only this time, "arising from our way of being in the world, our form of life", which I think was taken back anyway. We "give and take" reasons because Cavell pictures a moral moment, an event where we are lost or conflicted within our culture so our acts carry from our aligned lives into a sort of extension to an unknown with each other.

    A moral reason must issue from our commitments - commitments which are proven as such when we show ourselves to be prepared to take responsibility for them, to defend them and their consequences to others.Welkin Rogue

    And so we define ourselves by what we are willing to accept the implications for, what acts we take as ours, at this time, here, in response to the other, society, etc. And thus knowledge is not our only relation to the world (it is also our act). We do not 'know ' another's pain, we acknowledge it, react to it (or not).

    Cavell, I think, has a Kantian streak in that he gives reason a central place in ethics... Impersonal reasons, insofar as they are impersonal, therefore lack all traction in what actually matters, ethically.Welkin Rogue

    This is not to say we only act from our own interests. He, like Witt, sees that our ordinary criteria for what counts for a particular activity, how we identify a thing, are what matters to society (thus, to us) about that thing (a concept Witt calls it). The interests of our culture are reflected in the way something works the way it does. So these interests and my interest most times align, but when they conflict, they do so reasonably, for reasons and from the everyday logic of each thing we do, or at least possibly, as we may fail to come together. This is the hope, and fear and dissapponment with the moral realm at all.

    While ethics isn't just about coming to understand one another - at times Cavell places enormous emphasis on this aspect - it is surely an important part of moral reasoning, for all sorts of reasons. I take this as a substantive ethical point in itself.Welkin Rogue

    Part of learning the criteria for how things work is we find out what we are getting ourselves into, but, also, because the criteria are for the judgment of our lives, we, in a way, learn about ourselves at the same time.

    On the other hand, this view seems to make obscure the notions of moral progress and moral aspiration. ...And further, how are we doing whatever it is that we are doing? What are the 'methods' of ethics?Welkin Rogue

    Elsewhere he specifically addresses what he calls Moral Perfectionism, but it is each individual, in a sense, doing what they find their duty is to themselves, with the same sense of accepting responsibility. And the methods would be, as well, to learn the makeup of the activity (it's implications, criteria, judgments) that we are involved in.

    We aren't even required to aspire to coherency or consistency (except as a moral stance in itself - wherever that stance might come from... as such it would call out for an ethical justification in this loose sense).Welkin Rogue

    The consistency is our culture, all our lives, and, when it comes down to it, in a moral moment, me, who I am to be.

    The Claim of Reason is pretty hard reading. If you are interested, there is a much more focuses set of short essays that are foundational for his insights. Must We Mean What We Say, especially the one on Later Wittgenstein, Knowing and Acknowledging, Aesthetic Problems, and the title essay, though that's a little dense too.
  • Antony Nickles
    374
    I've been meaning to follow up some secondary/elaborative lit on the issue. In any case I would even suggest that your questions about ethics - "what are we doing? What are we aiming at?" ought to be read back into ethics as the sine qua non of ethical practice itself: that the demands that ethics makes on us are demands to grope at finding whatever partial, workable, passable solutions to just those questions. And those are questions of life and practice that cannot be closed off by any theoretical investigation that would provide any kind of ethical guidebook from on high.StreetlightX

    The other seminal book (other than the one mentioned to @Welkin Rogue) is a book of essays on political philosophy called "Conditions Handsome and Unhandsome", which sets out Cavell's claim that some philosophy points to a moral path for each individual in relation to our society. There is also an essay in that book that I am discussion in another thread about rules and the end of justifications.
  • Antony Nickles
    374
    Elsewhere, he says something like “Let your experience of the object teach you how to think about it” (from memory).Welkin Rogue

    This starts with Socrates, but the modern version is Wittgenstein, in realizing that there is not one over-arching theory, but that each activity and object has its own grammar (everyday logic, rationality) and so in learning the criteria our culture has for judging a thing, we take a more ethical approach to it; understanding a person by walking in their shoes, as it were. Heidegger also tries to get us to let a thing attract us on its terms in What is Called Thinking?.

    "But really, once you've read Cavell, most discussion of ethics - in a philosophical setting anyway - come off as unbearably stilted and artificial. It's great."
    @StreetlightX

    His initial work was reacting, as was Austin and Wittgenstein, to logical positivism and it's desire to solve radical skepticism. The refreshing thing about Cavell is that he treats philosophy as a trail of texts, so it is not just his work, but re-figuring the history of analytical philosophy as contributing to an idea of the betterment of the self. Other than Wittgenstein (and Austin), his work is most similar to Nietzsche, later Heidegger, and Emerson, but also draws from ideas in Kant, Socrates, Marx, James, Kierkegaard, Hegel, Wisdom, Malcolm, etc.
  • Antony Nickles
    374
    Without the sheer power of reason, how do I even know what an abominable moral act is? ...if I lack moral wisdom I have no reason to judge my act as immoral in the first place, which then tells me absolutely nothing about my moral constitution.Mww

    The start of seeing the difference is that, yes, we have a social moral structure (as we have lives with each other), but the desire for a certain answer beforehand to what is right, clouds the truth that we are separate individuals who must act, at times, beyond/apart-from/against that structure, with an understanding that our rational morality does not absolve use from the responsibility to be answerable after our act to ourselves, others, our society. Having that in mind, we learn not what is right, but how an act is judged, what our responsibility here will be, and thus our duty to ourself in relation--in defining our character (over intellect, Emerson says).

    The alternative can only be, I must be informed from external sources what an abominable moral act is. If such be the case, it cannot be said I’ve followed a method of rationality, which contradicts the methodological necessity of obtaining ethical wisdom, insofar as mere information about a thing is very far from the understanding of it. * * * This isn’t moral philosophy, it’s empirical anthropology.Mww

    We are not trying to determine what is right and wrong, but a kind of "information about a thing" that is an "understanding of it"--an ethical epistemology of the nature of our acts. Though this is specifically not empirical anthropology, but Witt's (and Austin)'s method of examining our expressions (or examples of those--even made up ones), not empirically, but to learn what the implications are of what we say (in a context and time). We are learning the criteria that we use to judge what a thing is, what makes a movement a certain action, and, with Witt, what matters to us about something, what (all) our interests are in such a thing, the actual needs of our lives.
  • Mww
    2.7k
    Witt's (and Austin)'s method of examining our expressions (or examples of those--even made up ones)Antony Nickles

    What....method for me examining my own expressions, or methods for another to examine my expressions? If the former, such examination carries the implication of redundancy, in that I must have already at least somewhat examined my manifold of expressions in order to have picked one to express, and if the latter, such examination carries the implication of relevancy, in that it presupposes I care what some arbitrary external examination of my expression reveals, and I find myself right back on that proverbial, albeit figurative, couch, in effect, being reviewed by my peers.

    not empirically, but to learn what the implications are of what we sayAntony Nickles

    How can anything learned of a saying, with respect to its implications, be anything other than empirical knowledge? And given a plethora of possible implications of a saying, what exactly is the benefit of examining them? Can’t un-ring that bell, right?

    As worthy a dialectician as you are, we have a history of opposing paradigmatic metaphysics. Which is fine, kinda cool, actually. I have answers for whatever you say, you reciprocate with equal vigor and justice. And the world is a better place.
  • Antony Nickles
    374
    What....method for me examining my own expressions, or methods for another to examine my expressions?Mww

    Our expressions, as in "I know he is in pain" or "Did you intend to shot your neighbor's donkey?" for the benefit of making explicit the different implications (of knowledge, intention) in different contexts. Witt used it to understand our philosophical motives. A claim about the logic of what makes up, say, an excuse, is for each of us to come to see for ourselves rather than being emperically true. This is not a different solution to the same picture of the need for a foundation for our acts.

    quote="Mww;593286"]As worthy a dialectician as you are, we have a history of opposing paradigmatic metaphysics. Which is fine, kinda cool, actually. I have answers for whatever you say, you reciprocate with equal vigor and justice. And the world is a better place.[/quote]

    I'm only trying to explain not to disagree but so you aren't just dismissing this without understanding.
  • Welkin Rogue
    63
    I appreciate you taking the time, Antony. It's helpful.

    We "give and take" reasons because Cavell pictures a moral moment, an event where we are lost or conflicted within our culture so our acts carry from our aligned lives into a sort of extension to an unknown with each other.Antony Nickles

    I haven't read this part of Cavell, it seems. I took the give and take of reasons to occur when there is a conflict between any two sets of commitments. This can take place even between people in different cultures. Nobody needs to feel lost or conflicting with respect to their own culture. But perhaps I misunderstand you.

    And so we define ourselves by what we are willing to accept the implications for, what acts we take as ours, at this time, here, in response to the other, society, etc. And thus knowledge is not our only relation to the world (it is also our act). We do not 'know ' another's pain, we acknowledge it, react to it (or not).Antony Nickles

    This is a little confusing. I get the first part. But I'm not sure how the second follows. I would have said 'knowledge is thus about our relation to the world, which includes how we act with respect to it.

    So these interests and my interest most times align, but when they conflict, they do so reasonably, for reasons and from the everyday logic of each thing we do, or at least possibly, as we may fail to come together. This is the hope, and fear and dissapponment with the moral realm at all.Antony Nickles

    One thing I got from your post was a reminder about this tantalising idea of the 'logic' belonging to things - to actions, objects, persons, cultures, discourses (just about anything we have a concept for?). I take it this 'logic' is basically the same thing as 'grammar'. And then there's the negotiation of or coordination among our various grammars or logics (I would say 'interpretations' of those things, but that would be to reify that which we are negotiating, as though there is something apart from the interpretation that we are trying to get at - the 'true logic'). Considered broadly enough, this negotiation seems to be the whole of moral conflict. For example, we are negotiating (or affirming different conceptions of) the practice of promising, from our different personal commitments and reasons - when has a promise taken place, what are good excuses for failing to keep a promise, and so on. Not in the abstract, but in relation to some particular case of promising, I take it.

    Elsewhere he specifically addresses what he calls Moral Perfectionism, but it is each individual, in a sense, doing what they find their duty is to themselves, with the same sense of accepting responsibility. And the methods would be, as well, to learn the makeup of the activity (it's implications, criteria, judgments) that we are involved in.Antony Nickles

    But taken as an individual pursuit, it cannot simply be a question of aligning one's behaviour to one's authentic sensibility or some such thing, right? Surely, it is also a question of how to cultivate one's sensibility.

    Could you help me make sense of how Cavell understands this question, given that there is nothing, no ideal, to aspire to which is not independent of the individual? Is it a kind of dialectical unfolding, where we aspire to cultivate new aspirations, which lead us to go after yet newer aspirations, and so on...?

    It's tantilising but I don't feel like I can entirely make peace with it.

    The consistency is our culture, all our lives, and, when it comes down to it, in a moral moment, me, who I am to be.Antony Nickles

    This is just mysterious to me.

    Excellent reading recommendations. Thanks!
  • Welkin Rogue
    63
    According to this....err, rationality, because I’ve never committed an abominable moral act, which is a particular deficit in experience, I lack wisdom with respect to what my judgement should be, given the occasion for the possible commission of such an act. But if I follow a perfectly rational method for obtaining sufficient knowledge of myself, what my act on the occasion of possibly committing an abomination, should already have been determined, which immediately presupposes reason is the root of ethical wisdom.Mww

    My talk about experience was a bit of a polemical tangent. I wasn't trying to represent Cavell's own view. Even so, I think you've been uncharitable. I can say that we form better judgements about some action A the more experience we have, without making it a necessary condition that we have experience of doing action A.

    I think Antony has made some really nice points about why Cavell is not just doing moral anthropology. It's exactly the emphasis on the personal that gives it away. It's not like you 'discover what is right' by doing a survey of members of your culture.

    It through experience participating in a form of life that you begin to develop a moral sensibility, a way of seeing and sense of self (inseparably). This sensibility is ours alone. It is what we come to embrace as that which we could feel proud to take responsibility for (to 'own').
  • Mww
    2.7k
    I can say that we form better judgements about some action A the more experience we have, without making it a necessary condition that we have experience of doing action A.Welkin Rogue

    Right, and the only possible way to do that, is by means of pure practical reason. So, yes, I’m admittedly uncharitable, but only with respect to....

    reason is not at the root of ethical wisdom.Welkin Rogue

    ....which is the entire explanation for my participation herein. I may even be generally uncharitable towards your chosen representation of moral/ethical philosophy, but only because I disagree with its fundamental grounds, while not intentionally disrespecting either it or yourself.
  • Joshs
    1.9k
    the only possible way to do that, is by means of pure practical reason.Mww

    Do you ever critique any aspect of Kantianism from the vantage of more recent philosophers, like Hegel, Kierkegaard or Schopenhauer? For instance, do you buy lock stock and barrel Kant’s metaphysics of moral reasoning?
  • tim wood
    7.7k
    For instance, do you buy lock stock and barrel Kant’s metaphysics of moral reasoning?Joshs

    I do, though I make no claim in the direction of complete or entire understanding. Where exactly would you fault me for my purchase?

    And in what way, for example, is Churchyard an improvement. With Kant we get surety, but with him we get a leap.

    The thing about leaps is that for the while that you don't see the ground rushing up at you, you can suppose you're flying. Be assured, though, that's an illusion with an inevitable bad end.
  • Mww
    2.7k
    do you buy lock stock and barrel Kant’s metaphysics of moral reasoning?Joshs

    Yep, absolutely. Not because I think he’s right, which can never be proved, but because his theories make sense to me. Hell, we could both be blowin’ smoke, but until something better comes along.....

    Lock, stock and barrel because of its logical consistency, its being completely self-contained, and it is entirely possible. What more does one need, in a purely metaphysical dynamic?

    Of course, there are those that will inform me something better has come along but I’m blinded to it because of my better than half century’s worth of entrenched cognitive prejudices. To which I say, well, sure, but that’s a judgement call, judgements being thoroughly covered in its own treatise by....you know who.

    I have, nonetheless, maintained a familiarity with both his contemporaries and his successors. Just in case....
  • Joshs
    1.9k
    For instance, do you buy lock stock and barrel Kant’s metaphysics of moral reasoning?
    — Joshs

    I do, though I make no claim in the direction of complete or entire understanding. Where exactly would you fault me for my purchase?
    tim wood

    What I dont like about Kant’s moral imperative is that it makes a problem of something that isnt one. Specifically, he presumes goals of the self are split off from the greater good and require a method to transcend selfish desire in the direction of moral duty to selfless social goals. But much of recent philosophy and psychology points toward an inability to tease out the selfish from the selfless , due to the fact that personal
    desire is inextricably associated with, shaped by and dependent on social aims. The problems with our culture are not the result of selfishness and narcissism , but selflessness oriented around social goals that fail to grasp the ways of thinking of outsiders within and outside of that culture. This failure is tied up with a notion of the rational that is tone deaf to changes in senses of meaning.
  • tim wood
    7.7k
    An engineer, piqued at being told that 2+2=4, responded that 2+2 could approach six, for large values of two. That wasn't you, was it?

    And there are the cannibals, eating people. But if all we have got is a Nietzschean recurrence, then you will go from having your lunch eaten, to being the lunch itself.

    Reason is the universal community. Those outside of it the unreasonable. As the term might suggest, no reasoning with the unreasonable, nor any reason for the reasonable themselves to be unreasonable.

    But as I am wise as well as reasonable, I yield to @Mww's wisdom on his topic, both wrt substance and style, there being degrees of both and his the greater.
  • Joshs
    1.9k
    An engineer, piqued at being told that 2+2=4, responded that 2+2 could approach six, for large values of two.tim wood

    You won’t find any postmodern philosopher worth their salt denying that 2+2=4. They would instead point out that mathematical facts are empty without the qualitative relationships they apply to. The way we understand the genesis and nature of these relationships is the determinant of what reason is , how it functiona, and what it’s limits are. This was Kant’s argument also , and so in this sense all philosophers alter Kant are Kantians.

    Kant was content to show that particular facts get their meaning only in relation to larger wholes, and these in relation to even larger wholes. The rationality of the details of the empirical world can only be grounded absolutely by knowledge of the total frame, which must be approached as an asymptotic limit. Hegel agreed with Kant that the rationality of particulars only emerge from knowledge of their role in larger relational schemes, but wondered why Kant settled for a static total frame rather than setting that frame into motion. Is the world of reality something that statically IS ( exemplified by physicists making time superfluous to physical
    processes) or is its essence it’s being-in-transformation?
    Why not rationality as the logic of a dialectical evolution of becoming rather than a single schematic Being?

    Nietzsche pushed Hegel’s took of being as becoming even farther by asking why a single dialectic logic had to be assumed. Why couldn’t there be a becoming of dialectical logic, an evolution not totalized in advance by some declared scheme of development?

    The interesting thing is that as philosophy moved farther and farther away from Kant’s one-dimensional
    model of rationality , it was able to reveal more and more intricate orders of relationships hidden within the confines of Kant’s schematics.
  • tim wood
    7.7k
    They would instead point out that mathematical facts are empty without the qualitative relationships they apply to. The way we understand the genesis and nature of these relationships is the determinant of what reason is , how it functions, and what it’s limits are. This was Kant’s argument also , and so in this sense all philosophers alter Kant are Kantians.Joshs

    May I ask where you got your understanding of Kant? I assure you it's upside down and backwards.

    What I think your understanding might apply to is natural science, but it - your understanding - scants noumena, what they are, and how that all works in Kant's thinking.

    Perhaps you're not distinguishing between reason and rationality, reason as a priori, rationality as a posteriori. Reason that from which, rationality that by which.

    Further, for around 240 years and counting there's been a cottage industry of people trying to make a name and a living out of nay-saying Kant. And while some, to be sure, have made some money out of it, no one has either displaced or replaced him. Or even, far as I know, thought any of his thoughts better than him. But many, not understanding him, have straw-manned their ideas of his ideas and claiming to have negated his, have only negated their own, his not even present for the battle. Unfortunately, this can be found in college lecture halls, no small shock to the student who nails it down.

    And some have simply taken a different path from a different starting point. Hegel an example of that.
  • Joshs
    1.9k


    May I ask where you got your understanding of Kant? I assure you it's upside down and backwards.tim wood

    These were my main points:

    1) Kant asserts ideal categories of mind that make it possible to experience space , time ,causality and other features.
    Hegel and those after Hegel agreed that the participation of subjective form is necessary for the possibility of what we call empirical objectivity, but Kant’s categories are not metaphysical a priori as he thought, but empirical psychological phenomena.

    2)Kant believed that even thought the thing-in-itself was out of reach , empirical reality could be understood progressively more effectively through trial and error. Popper was greatly influenced by Kant when he proposed his falsificationism, the asymptotic achievement of complete understanding of empirical reality. This model of science has been rejected by those who follow Kuhn, who was greatly influenced by Hegel. They reject it because it implies that even though Kant said we only have indirect access to reality through our categories of understanding, nevertheless he believed that our models are an attempt to correspond with an external world whose particulars are not affected by our efforts at understanding. In this sense, it is a static world in a formal sense.

    Am I getting these points wrong?

    some have simply taken a different path from a different starting point. Hegel an example of that.tim wood

    By that reasoning , Marx, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Heidegger were also simply taking a different path from a different starting point. But all of them offered direct
    critiques of Kant, so I would have to say that their different starting points were, by their own acknowledgement, built upon Kant while leaving him behind at a certain point.

    no one has either displaced or replaced him. Or even, far as I know, thought any of his thoughts better than him. But many, not understanding him, have straw-manned their ideas of his ideas and claiming to have negated his, have only negated their own, his not even present for the battle.tim wood

    For the philosophers I mentioned , and certainly for those following after Nietzsche , it’s not a question of ‘negating’ Kant’s thoughts, but of burrowing beneath their presuppositions to unearth a more primordial
    ground. This bot leaves intact his claims and makes them derivative of something more originary that he couldn’t articulate.
    Have they thought his thoughts better than he? Why should they? They were his thoughts. These philosophers stand i. the same relation to Kant as Kant did to Descartes, Aquinas Aristotle and Plato. They stand on his shoulders. As for displacing him, I would simply say that the most exciting things I see happening in psychology today would not have been possible without his groundbreaking thinking, but they also would not have been possible if they had remained strictly within the orbit of his thinking, any more than Kant’s groundbreaking ideas would have been possible if he had remained within the orbit of Descartes.
  • Mww
    2.7k
    These philosophers stand i. the same relation to Kant as Kant did to Descartes, Aquinas Aristotle and Plato.Joshs

    I shall take exception here. Each and every properly recognized philosopher before Kant, from British empiricists to continental rationalists, in addition to the ancients, reduced his epistemic philosophy to theocracy in one form or another. Kant never once mentions any deity in any form, as the irreducible ground of either empirical or a priori human knowledge. As such, Kant stands in relation to his predecessors as a complete and utter paradigm shift, as his successors did not stand to him. The very primitive tenets of the brand new self-determinant transcendental philosophy epitomizes the human cognitive system as a self-contained whole in and of itself.

    In addition, this same transcendental philosophy doesn’t care about the ontology of things, but only concerns itself with a logical method by which it is possible for them....whatever they really are.....to be known as something to us, because of us.

    Now, even granting that every recognized philosopher after Kant accepted this paradigm shift in general, didn’t prevent a few of them from attempting to expand on it, because there existed a feeling Kant didn’t complete some task or other with respect to it. Truth is, if Kant didn’t expand on a thing, it was because he didn’t think such expansion necessary, the theory being sufficient as he stated it. I mean....if you’re trying to show all grass, as such, is green, to talk about winter is superfluous.

    Kant’s only speculative stumbling block gains some authority from advances in natural science, answerable by two separate and distinct rejoinders. One, he can’t be blamed for that which he had no reason to conceptualize, and two, he wasn’t concerned with future experiences of humans, be them as they may, but human experience in general, which is always predicated under the exact same conditions. In other words, it matters not what we know, but rather, how knowledge is possible to begin with.

    Anyway.....two, or maybe a couple, thalers, for your consideration.
  • Joshs
    1.9k
    Kant stands in relation to his predecessors as a complete and utter paradigm shift, as his successors did not stand to himMww
    Do you mean to say that if we trace a history of philosophy, figure by figure , leading from the ancient Greeks to today, the only ‘paradigm shift’ to be found would be from Kant’s predecessors to him? I do agree that within the lineage of Western philosophy , certain figures achieved greater leaps of thought than others, but I certainly don’t think that what Kant accomplished in relation to what preceded him was any more profound that what Descartes achieved in relation to medieval thinkers( or Nietzsche or Heidegger, for that matter). He almost single-handedly launched us into the modern world.

    Now, even granting that every recognized philosopher after Kant accepted this paradigm shift in general, didn’t prevent a few of them from attempting to expand on it, because there existed a feeling Kant didn’t complete some task or other with respect to it.Mww

    What would it look like to inaugurate a paradigm shift away from Kant?

    Kant believed , along with his predecessors, that there was a world whose existence was independent of the subject , despite the fact that we only have access to that world via innate categories( even Berkeley’s idealism ends up supporting such a split). Nietzsche rejected the idea of a world independent of the subject’s valuations. He was among the first to upend the idea that scientific truth is correspondence between thought and an independent reality.
    Whether you agree with this or not, would you say this constitutes a new paradigm?

    Nietzsche also dumped Kant’s moral imperative , denying that there is any universal moral truth, only culturally contingent value systems ceaselessly changing. Is this not also a paradigm shift?

    Why would you expect to see paradigm shifts in the sciences on a regular basis but not in philosophy? How could it be that a 240 year old philosophy could still be deemed the cutting edge of thinking in 2021 while in the past 240 years the sciences have experienced a multitude of major paradigm shifts?
    Perhaps it’s because in order to understand what Kuhn meant by the term ‘paradigm shift’ one needs to move beyond a Kantian understanding of empirical and metaphysical truth
  • Mww
    2.7k
    He almost single-handedly launched us into the modern world.Joshs

    That’s pretty near the definitive characterization of a paradigm shift. Has anyone else done that? Even though Descartes shifted from an object only ontology to a mind/object duality, he maintained a theocratic ground for both. The times simply did not allow him to conceive the possibility of doing otherwise. Hence, a philosophical progression, but still not a complete paradigm shift.
    ————

    Why would you expect to see paradigm shifts in the sciences on a regular basis but not in philosophy?Joshs

    Further paradigm shifts in philosophy certainly cannot be said to be impossible. Paradigm shifts in natural science, on the other hand, are a given. There haven’t been any paradigm shifts in epistemic philosophy since Kant for the simple reason he did something within which no one has yet been able to encompass a greater domain, in the same manner in which Einstein’s theories encompassed a greater domain than Newton’s.

    I don’t expect another paradigm shift, given the current epistemological conditions, without some sort of theory which shows the human cognitive system is something other than primarily logical, which in turn answers the question.....what would the next paradigm shift look like.

    Going to be mighty difficult to release a human from the necessity of his logical truths, wouldn’t you agree?
    ———-

    Kant believed , along with his predecessors, that there was a world whose existence was independent of the subject (...) Nietzsche rejected the idea of a world independent of the subject’s valuations. Whether you agree with this or not, would you say this constitutes a new paradigm?Joshs

    No, because Nietzsche never promoted a self-consistent logical theory to support his assertions. Besides, rejecting an idea carries very little implication compared to proving the impossibility of knowledge.
  • Antony Nickles
    374
    I appreciate you taking the time, Antony. It's helpful.Welkin Rogue

    It's what I studied but no one takes him seriously, especially as an analytical philosopher.

    I took the give and take of reasons to occur when there is a conflict between any two sets of commitments. This can take place even between people in different cultures. Nobody needs to feel lost or conflicting with respect to their own culture.Welkin Rogue

    I would say commitments is the wrong word, as if they are personal or chosen. My main point was that we are dealing with a moral moment, event, in time, with a context, not clashing ideals, as if to answer, say: "what's more right?" Because it is a moment, of crisis, Cavell is saying: we don't know what to do, how to find our way forward, which, as you say, may be between us and someone who does not share our culture, but we may be lost in our concepts, our words may be empty, we may be in a new context, etc.

    knowledge is not our only relation to the world (it is also our act). We do not 'know ' another's pain, we acknowledge it, react to it (or not).
    — Antony Nickles

    I would have said 'knowledge is thus about our relation to the world, which includes how we act with respect to it.
    Welkin Rogue

    This is hard to draw out briefly, but the point is that there is a truth to skepticism, that, as part of our human condition, we are separate. Knowledge (or philosophical theory) itself can not bridge that gap. For example, we do not 'know' another's pain, we acknowledge it, react to it (or not). We do not judge our acts so much as take responsibility for them; my moral reasoning is what I am willing to stand behind.

    I take it this 'logic' is basically the same thing as 'grammar'. And then there's the negotiation of or coordination among our various grammars or logics. Considered broadly enough, this negotiation seems to be the whole of moral conflict. For example, we are negotiating (or affirmingdifferent conceptions of) the practice of promising, from our different personal commitments and reasons - when has a promise taken place, what are good excuses for failing to keep a promise, and so on. Not in the abstract, but in relation to some particular case of promising, I take it.Welkin Rogue

    Yes, Cavell uses the same idea as Witt's term grammar, which is the kind of ordinary "logic" each of our concepts have (another Witt term)--these are not individual (mine). The words negotiate or coordinate make it seem like we decide, say, what an apology is, but that is of course already just a part of our lives, like choosing. We may have reasons for promising, but we individually don't conceive of what promising is (with reasons ). This is Witt's method, but, for example, when we don't know how a concept applies to a new context, we could provide examples and make claims about the grammar of the concept in this unforeseen situation, drawing out the implications of what we say or do in this case. The grammatical claims are made to apply to everyone, to be accepted or clarified by anyone, but it is remembering those implications, not justifying them. I would consider this a philosophical enterprise more than a practical one. We are not deciding between morals, but simply learning more about intention, understanding, knowing, seeing, thinking, etc. I'm not sure grammar helps with what a good excuse is, as that seems political. Austin spent a lot of time examining the grammar of excuses, but that was to learn about action.

    But taken as an individual pursuit, [Moral Perfectionism] cannot simply be a question of aligning one's behaviour to one's authentic sensibility or some such thing, right? Surely, it is also a question of how to cultivate one's sensibility.

    Could you help me make sense of how Cavell understands this question, given that there is nothing, no ideal, to aspire to which is not independent of the individual? Is it a kind of dialectical unfolding, where we aspire to cultivate new aspirations, which lead us to go after yet newer aspirations, and so on...?
    Welkin Rogue

    The first paragraph makes it seem like we are just changing ourselves to meet some ideal we have picked, and then: what is the right ideal? It is just the realization that we are (and will be) what we say and do. Emerson changes Descartes to read "I think! I am!" As you say in the second paragraph, it is becoming the next version of yourself, to each their own, but answerable for it. This is, of course, broad strokes, possibly misremembered. You'd have to read the preface of Conditions Handsome and Unhandsome to get your questions answered correctly.
  • Antony Nickles
    374
    Do you ever critique any aspect of Kantianism from the vantage of more recent philosophers, like Hegel, Kierkegaard or Schopenhauer?Joshs
    @mmw@tim wood

    @Welkin Rogue How did this thread get Kant-jacked?

    Cavell does reference a few of Kant's ideas. He points out that Wittgenstein's idea of the grammar of a concept are categorical as Kant would say, that the criteria of a concept are how we judge the identity of a thing being what it is compared to another, as if this applies to every word.

    Also, he takes Wittgenstein's reference to penetrating a phenomenon as a reference to Kant's line drawn between us and the thing-in-itself, and that what Witt is doing is investigating the possibilities of phenomenon (#90), which is to say, the Kantian conditions of a thing's possibilities. Thus, why Witt says Grammar expresses essence (#371) because identity and possibility and conditions show what is essential, as in important, to us about a thing.

    Cavell also borrows from Kant's Critique of Judgment as a way to explain Austin and Wittgenstein's philosophical method. We speak in Kant's "Universal Voice", positing a grammatical claim about a concept (its implications, identity, categorical criteria, etc.) based on an example of an expression in a context: When we say X, we imply ___. As with aesthetics, you must see for yourself.
  • Welkin Rogue
    63
    The words negotiate or coordinate make it seem like we decide, say, what an apology is, but that is of course already just a part of our lives, like choosing. We may have reasons for promising, but we individually don't conceive of what promising is (with reasons ).Antony Nickles

    Well yes, in a sense. Cavell seems to agree that there are facts about what a promise is. It is part of the grammar of 'promise', for example, that to promise is something like: to express a commitment to stick to plan unless there is a very good reason not to (i.e., some adequate excuse) or some reason why it is was not possible (a cancelling condition). It also seems to be part of the grammar of 'promise' (for Cavell) that certain things count as very good reasons and others don't (e.g., 'because I felt like it' isn't a good reason). These are facts about a practice; in any given case, an individual does not have control over this practice. If an individual thinks a promise is something else, or that personal whim is a good reason to get out of keeping a promise, they are simply "incompetent" (that's the word he uses) in the relevant practice or form of life.

    But it seems to me that it is possible to try to change the practice. One might call this inventing a new practice, depending on the degree of continuity. But in any case, there will be a kind of negotiation. I don't see how this is inconsistent with the above view. Would you agree? Does this fall under the "politics" you refer to?

    In any case, my main thing I was trying to get at was the way in which we may argue - negotiate, if you will - over things like whether one has promised, or simply expressed an intention, or something like that.
  • Welkin Rogue
    63
    Of course, the boundaries around what counts as a good excuse are vague, but it seems like there is a spectrum between things it is simply unreasonable (according to the prevailing grammar) to count as good excuses, and things which it is reasonable to argue over in the ethical register. It depends on what our personal commitments are whether in any given case the excuse offered by someone who has broken a promise is sufficient.
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