• Mongrel
    If a lost group of neanderthals emerged from the forests of Siberia, how would we react? Are they Homo sapiens neanderthalensis or homo neanderthalensis? Apparently some of 'our' ancestors and some of 'their' ancestors fucked, so are 'they' 'us'? Or am I misunderstanding the boundary of a form of life?mcdoodle

    If you say we find the answer to this empirically, you're a natural kind realist (you're a realist about universals.) A naturalist might want to be allergic to natural kind realism (what is the ontological status of a kind?) But what happens to naturalism if we're antirealist about kinds?
  • csalisbury
    Perhaps you could quote where he's arguing that 'we can discover moral truths through self-examination alone', or explain the steps from his words to your summary.mcdoodle

    Sure. The crux of Thompson's argument is that, in addition to possessing an a priori ( & universal) concept 'life-form,' we are also able to form an a priori conception of own particular life-form. We are able to this do this because we have a non-empirical representation of ourself - namely, our "I". Since the I refers to our self and since our thoughts are expressions of the life-form which thinks them, we have, says Thompson, immediate, non-empirical, understanding of the form 'human.' Thompson isn't seeking to furnish any particular ethical truths in this essay, but he's clearly suggesting that this first-person awareness is what would serve as a ground for such truths.

    This strikes me as being an inside->out way of looking at things, even if its quite different from Levinas (who by the way I'd say is equally outside->in, with the enormous emphasis he places on the traumatic encounter with an unknowable other)
  • jamalrob
    The problem here is that the intent of ethics is not to maintain the status quo. It is not to maintain the human form. Ethics is all about improvement, that's why it is concerned with what ought to be, rather than what is. Therefore any such naturalist ethics, which derives what one ought to do, from a principle of what the human form is, misses the mark, and should be rejected because it has no provisions for improvement of the human species. And when we move to produce the premise of what the human form ought to be, there is an issue of objectivity.Metaphysician Undercover

    I agree this looks like a problem, but as we're in the realm of virtue ethics here, we probably shouldn't ignore the basic distinctions in Aristotle between potential and actual, and between man-as-he-happens-to-be and man-as-he-should-be. In a nutshell, the telos. What the human happens to be and what the human can become can conceivably be contained in the concept of the human form of life. That is, the what is can be either statically and mechanistically conceived, or conceived more holistically--in that oughts are not cast out of the realm of is's--and thus teleologically.

    Of course, that probably just shifts the problem by a step, because the question may come back: what about a distinction between human-telos-as-it-is and human-telos-as-it-should-or-could-be? My feeling is that insofar as human is a legitimate category, and insofar as humanism is the right attitude, and insofar as some sort of humanist naturalism accommodates the endless creativity of history, you can draw a line somewhere without thereby foreclosing on future change.

    Having said that, it takes some work to get all this from virtue ethics. There's no doubt that Aristotle's normative ethics are concerned with maintaining the status quo in important ways. And I'm not sure how contemporary ethical naturalism like Thompson's fares against these objections.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    What the human happens to be and what the human can become can conceivably be contained in the concept of the human form of life.jamalrob

    But it's not a case of what the human form can become, it's a case of what it should become. And this produces the problem of subjectivity. There are possibilities, potentialities, to choose from, and all these potentialities must be apprehended to be conceived of. There may not be the empirical evidence required to apprehend the possibilities. The direction that the intellect turns, must also be a part of this description of what should be. That's why Plato turned to a transcendent "good", which is beyond intelligibility. This leaves the form which should become, indeterminate, something which we may not even be able to conceive of in our present state of intelligence.

    Aristotle positioned contemplation as a highest virtue, but he left a degree of ambiguity as to whether contemplation is properly an activity. This question has repercussions with respect to the issue of free-thinking. If thinking is properly a human activity, then it need be controlled by moral principles, such that the defined "human form", describes the proper way of thinking for a human being. But if thinking is simply a potential for action, and not activity itself, then freedom of thought is required in order that all of the possible actualities may be apprehended.
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