• Congau
    28

    There is no greater principle of the good other than what you might want to put into. This is not to say that the good is relative or that you can’t be wrong about it, it just means that whenever you make an honest assessment about you think you should do, you are at the same time deciding what you think is good. If you say: I should rather take care of my family than some random starving children in Africa, that means you think taking care of your family would be good and sacrificing them for the benefit of strangers would be bad. It’s not like you think it’s a bad thing to do, but you are doing it anyway out of some vicious urge that you have.

    If you recognize that you are not as good as you could have been, that only implies that you realize you have shortcomings not that you act contrary to your own perception of the good.

    There is no tightrope to walk. The good man never has to sacrifice good for safety, because a reasonable amount of safety would naturally be included in the good. It would be bad to take crazy risks.
  • Pfhorrest
    159
    If you recognize that you are not as good as you could have been, that only implies that you realize you have shortcomings not that you act contrary to your own perception of the good.Congau

    I mostly agree with everything you said, but in this one bit I'm not sure I do, though I might. There is such a thing as weakness of will, where you think that you ought to do something, make up your mind to do it, and then find that you do not actually follow through on that decision even though you think you should. In that case you are "acting contrary to your own perception of the good"; but, maybe you mean to include that among "shortcomings", and there's no real disagreement here.
  • Valentinus
    558

    Your response is helpful to me. I don't mean to say that being virtuous means seeking out circumstances that will assuredly kill a person, especially me.

    On the other hand, I did say no to a lot of stuff and that has shaped my life. Those choices could be presented as a matter of principle in the Kantian register or just personal reactions to barely understood circumstances. I think it has been some of both. And my kids will live with some of that. An inheritance, if you will. Just like the one I got.
  • tim wood
    3.2k
    Not now, not in the past either.ssu
    Review your Old Testament and almost any ancient Greek lit. Then maybe ancient history of almost anywhere. By "a long time ago" I did not mean 1954.
  • tim wood
    3.2k
    I've found interesting ideas in this thread that have informed my own. That is to say,I agree with almost everything posted.

    Let's see if I can put it together. Credit to everyone posting except the OP (that's me); I'm the learner here.

    Good appears in itself to be undefinable - there's no such "thing" as good or the good. Approachable, describable, but not rigorously definable, except in terms so general that they may be indices of good, but not good in itself.

    To be good, though, requires a decision as to an action. The good, then, is context, situation, circumstance dependent. Within the situation, the good can be known as a practical matter.

    With this it's necessary to separate the good man (hereinafter understood inclusively) for the moral/ethical man - which surprises me! The good man meets the needs of the moment - however long the moment may be and whatever it is. The moral/ethical man first complies with his rule or code, whatever that might be. That is, they may not think the same way and need not arrive together at the same conclusions or decisions. And not a fault with either; they're just different things. But probably both the good and the moral/ethical man should agree, and also probably should inform each other, as possible.

    The good concerns things and beings, usually by name. This person here, that thing there. A devolution to particulars. Morality/ethics operates by abstraction and rule: the "you should" and the "you should not" - opposed to the I will or I will not.

    Reason is used with both, but herein a distinction is to be made, that is almost never made because the need for it goes unrecognized. The Greeks knew it, but we've forgot, or never learned in the first place.

    With respect to particulars, it's relatively difficult to argue them in categorical terms. Part of the reason is that the categories are already given. What's left are matters of degree. Bigger/smaller, greater/lesser, stronger/weaker, better/worse, more/less likely, and so on. All matters concerning accidents; the substances already given and accepted. As such, the critical matter is persuasion. Is an action called for? What action is called for? What kind of action is it? And will we or won't we? Reasoning in this form of argumentation/consideration, has the essential characteristics of balance, rightness, appropriateness, for situation at hand.

    Morality/ethics proceeds on a level of abstraction from particulars. Words themselves are no longer the names of things and beings - this one here, that one there, in this particular situation - but instead become abstract signs representing abstract concepts. Principles/rules are divined that apply to general
    situations. Conclusions are demonstrated; reason in this case being essentially a matter of logic. Persuasion does not come in to play. One "sees" the demonstration and assents - the matter is proved, whatever following meeting the standard of the demonstration.

    These distinctions in action can lead to radically different consequences. but can the two be reconciled?
    I answer, it depends. Considerations of the good are based in time. the good action has a stale date. The right rule, on the other hand, is timeless. Perhaps there are circumstances in which sufficient time allows for a resolution as to the right being also the good: in that case reconciliation is possible. In lots of other situations, that time is not available. A decision is needed, in which case its the best, not necessarily the correct or right by rule, that is the ground of the decision. The corollary being that the best is best by some standard, usually best-for, best-to, with respect to the purpose of the action.

    Plenty of room to develop these ideas....
  • Mww
    1k
    Credit to everyone posting except the OP (that's me)tim wood

    Ok, fine then. I’ll credit you for putting forward a worthwhile subject for discussion. Seems to be a dearth of them, if anyone were to ask me. Which I have no reason to suspect anyone will, but anyway.......
  • Congau
    28
    Your response is helpful to meValentinus
    Thank you. I'm happy to hear that.

    In that case you are "acting contrary to your own perception of the good"; but, maybe you mean to include that among "shortcomings", and there's no real disagreement here.Pfhorrest
    That's right. I call that a shortcoming.
  • Congau
    28

    There’s no real reason to distinguish between the good man and the moral man. The meaning of moral (or ethical) is whatever is good human conduct. A good man is moral, and whenever he acts well, he acts morally.

    Your definition of a moral man seems to be “someone who follows moral rules” or “a follower of rule or duty ethics”. In my opinion such a person is neither good nor moral. When blindly following rules, a lot of the time one knowingly ends up hurting people and doing more bad than good, and that must necessarily be the opposite of good conduct.

    In utilitarian ethics there are no rules and no abstract “you should”. A successful follower of this system would be a moral man, in my opinion.

    But if you insist on making a distinction between the good and the moral man, one could maybe say the good man doesn’t necessarily have to think about morality in a systematic way. He could be naturally good (and virtuous) without needing to explain what he does.

    Another possible distinction could be to equate a good man with a virtuous man and demand he should have his emotions attached to his good conduct, whereas a moral man simply does the right thing. But this distinction also seems somewhat forced.
  • tim wood
    3.2k
    There’s no real reason to distinguish between the good man and the moral man.Congau
    A few scenarios. 1) Torture. By any rule I know of, torture is wrong, bad, indefensible, unconscionable, and useless and worse than useless. (If you're thinking to argue against this sentence, please read it again before you do.) Or, that is, it is immoral and unethical to torture (at least!). But in your custody is the man who planted a bomb that unless disarmed will kill lots of people. The argument here is easy to express: it may be both good and a good to torture him until he reveals its location to be disarmed.

    2) Shooting prisoners of war. All the above and a war-crime as well. But again, depending on the circumstance it may be good and a good, and necessary.

    3) Capital punishment. Is it moral? Is it good?

    These three, and I am sure many more could be adduced, tend to separate the moral and the good man. And again, it would seem to me that in the case of the luxury of having plenty of time, the moral demonstration/proof, it would seem, should rule. But without limitless time, what to do?

    In utilitarian ethics there are no rules and no abstract “you should”.Congau
    Really? No rules? No "you should"? Then how do you secure the benefit that Utilitarianism is supposed to be all about?

    quote="Congau;340496"]There is no tightrope to walk. The good man never has to sacrifice good for safety, because a reasonable amount of safety would naturally be included in the good. It would be bad to take crazy risks.[/quote]Define crazy risk. And why take any risk? Why does the "crazy" matter if the risk itself is acceptable?

    ....that person, for Kant, is the ultimately good man. I find this idea repulsive.Congau
    Nope. That man is simply acting in accordance with Kant's rule, which gives his action moral worth. Kant is exhaustively (and exhaustingly) careful to define his terms and be clear about what he's saying. From what you wrote it appears you don't have a clear understanding of that.

    The Aristotelian good man enjoys doing what is good, and he has trained himself to feel pleasure when seeing other people pleased. The more he loves mankind, the more he feels the urge to act righteously and make people happy.Congau
    Nope. The virtue of this man is achieving balance between extremes, including extremes of virtue! In any case, certainly he would not choose to make 100 enemies happy at the expense of even two of his compatriots - or do you think he would?

    I stick with my distinction between the good and the moral. They may indeed overlap, but they seem to to be not coterminous at all points, the differences making differences that matter.
  • tim wood
    3.2k
    The will is the ideal good, yes. Good without expectation of return.Mww
    You docked "good will" of its good. Probably a typo, but the revised idea seems to infect the rest of your post. It's not the will by itself, but the good will.

    There is an argument, or maybe just an interpretation, that if morality presupposes a will, and all wills are good, then every man who is a moral agent possesses a good will. If true, the good mark of a man can’t be that which is presupposed in him.Mww

    I don't understand. If by some presumption I'm tall (or anything else) does that mean that I cannot be tall (or that anything else)?

    Sense, for sure, but not much to do with the predicates of pure moral philosophy. The statement “one who chooses....(x)....is good” in order to give “a meaning of good in each case” can only apply to empirical circumstance and responds to a hypothetical imperative for its precepts, for the presence of the very act of choice has already negated the mandatory obligation of law, which we know offers no choice at all. It is nonsense, on the other hand, to expect an imperative grounded in a mere precept, or inclination, to be the foundation of a moral constitution.Mww

    What, maybe a hundred or so words and a whole book's worth of sense and comprehension! But I observe that you acknowledge differences, thereby acknowledging distinctions. The good is indeed (I argue) just the good in each case, and intrinsically, then, different from compliance with law. I'd add this qualification for clarity's sake: obligation under the law may well be mandatory, but determining that law may involve some art. And where laws may compete, justice, wisdom, and mercy as well in the application of the law that rules.
  • Mww
    1k
    There is an argument, or maybe just an interpretation, that if morality presupposes a will, and all wills are good, then every man who is a moral agent possesses a good will. If true, the good mark of a man can’t be that which is presupposed in him.
    — Mww

    I don't understand.
    tim wood

    I guess I was thinking the possession of a good will does not predict with certainty a man will act in accordance with its volitions. He ought to, sure, but that in itself is no guarantee. Therefore, the good mark of a man, is that he actually does so act in such accordance, which must depend for its reality on empirical conditions, and not the rational conditions which ground the origin of the volition in the first place.

    And partly I might have been thinking with a certain degree of semantic dislocation, insofar as the good mark of a man, is very far from the mark of a good man. The former cannot be from a mere presupposition, for it is entirely empirically discovered, but the latter can find its theoretical validity by no other means than that presupposition, which is pure a priori speculation.

    And partly I might have been thinking a kind of syllogistic dislocation, because it does not necessarily follow from the analytically certain first minor (every man possesses a good will), that we are allowed a synthetic, hence merely possible, conclusion (the good mark of a man is his possession of a good will).

    Take your pick? Dump ‘em all in the circular filing cabinet?
    ————————

    obligation under the law may well be mandatory, but determining that law may involve some art.tim wood

    Oh HELL yeah!!!! The ol’ be careful what you wish for thing. I might think the greater saving grace for moral artistry is the availability of such transcendental hypotheticals as innate values (beneficence, respect, etc), and natural dignity (humility, forebearance, etc), that by which the instillation of one’s moral laws arises, and where one’s obligation to them resides. It’s also that artistry’s greatest stumbling block: how does one think laws for himself and immediately think himself obligated by them.

    The answer is so simple, it escapes attention thus casting the whole moral theory in doubt.
  • Congau
    28

    I still don’t know why you insist on calling the man who follows rules a moral man. I want to contest the notion that morality is about rules.

    Your own examples illustrate that perfectly. There can be no rule against torture for the very reason you mention. Torture might conceivably be defensible if it could save a lot of lives. A rule has the form “never do x!”, but we seem to agree that it’s not possible to say “never torture!” If we allow for exceptions to the rule, it is strictly speaking not a rule anymore. It may be a rule of thumb, a general guidance that makes ethical decisions easier because it would be inconvenient to go through a detailed weighing of alternatives every time we act. But the ultimate judgment whether something is right or wrong, doesn’t rest on rules - just like in the torture example.

    Your moral man, who follows rules, does something immoral if he in your example indirectly causes the death of a lot of people.

    Define crazy risk. And why take any risk? Why does the "crazy" matter if the risk itself is acceptable?tim wood
    You should act so that the outcome of the action is LIKELY to produce a good result (more good than bad). "Not likely" means that the risk is too high.

    Quotes from Kant’s “Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals”:
    “Nothing (…) can be called good, without qualification, except a good will”
    “the notion of duty, which includes that of a good will”
    “he tears himself out of this dead insensibility, and performs the action without any inclination to it, but simply from duty, then first has his action its genuine moral worth”
    From which this follows:
    moral worth = action simply from duty = good will = good.
    That is, the ultimately good man acts simply from duty and he doesn’t enjoy his good action

    The virtue of this man is achieving balance between extremes, including extremes of virtue! In any case, certainly he would not choose to make 100 enemies happy at the expense of even two of his compatriots - or do you think he would?tim wood
    The virtuous man achieves balance between extremes, not too much and not too little, as in courage being the balance between cowardice and foolhardiness. Since virtue IS the balance, there can be no exaggerated extreme of virtue itself.
    I didn’t say Aristotle is a utilitarian (although he’s certainly not a deontologist). Whatever he would choose in that example would be what he thought would be the most virtuous thing to do.
  • tim wood
    3.2k
    If this post seems too long, then re-read this paragraph by Mww.

    "Sense, for sure, but not much to do with the predicates of pure moral philosophy. The statement “one who chooses....(x)....is good” in order to give “a meaning of good in each case” can only apply to empirical circumstance and responds to a hypothetical imperative for its precepts, for the presence of the very act of choice has already negated the mandatory obligation of law, which we know offers no choice at all. It is nonsense, on the other hand, to expect an imperative grounded in a mere precept, or inclination, to be the foundation of a moral constitution."
    — Mww

    When you go to the grocery store to buy a pound of, say, rice or hamburger, how do you know it's a pound?

    Answer: someone weighed it (and you trust that weighing). What does it mean to weigh something? It means to access a preexisting set of already-worked-out criteria and appropriate equipment, use it, and deliver a result.

    Now suppose you want to do a good thing. How do you know it's good?

    Back to the hamburger. You have the weights and a balance beam; you're ready to measure anything less then five pounds with considerable accuracy. But, it alone tells you the weight of nothing whatsoever. If you want to know the weight of something, you have to weigh it!

    How do you "weigh" a good action? And there's a trick, here. When you get your hamburger home, you expect to find hamburger in the wrapper and not spinach; that is, you want to know what you're getting before you get it, and have got it when you're home. Similarly, with respect to a good action, you don't just act at random and then look to see if by luck your action was good. And it would be an error in thinking, which I doubt you would make, to confuse the "weighing" with either the criteria or equipment for the weighing.

    The scales that with respect to a prospective action weigh whether it will be good or not are rules. When absolute, they're called rules, or laws. When advisory, and about the goodness or badness of prospective actions, they're called variously, advice, commandments, morals, ethics. Advisory because with respect to the results of the action they're contingent, provisional, either/or: "The best laid plans..." But with respect to the intentions of the action, they can be imperative because both subject and substance of reason, not contingent, not provisional.

    In just a very few words, then, the distinction you appear to deny is that between right reason and its imperatives, and the action taken.

    As Kant makes clear, the outcome of the action cannot be known ahead of time. All you have got ante is your own intention and understanding, and the collective wisdom of a few thousand years of experience, some of which encoded into laws. And an ability, sometimes mistakenly and deceptively called "freedom," to act in any possible way.

    This ability causes a fatal confusion, in being the ground for the greatest folly and error in thinking possible, that people make all the time. Something like this: because I can, I must be able to. Because I am able to, I must know what I am doing. Because I know what I am doing, I must be right. Because I am right, what I do must be right. And thus they squeeze a carnal ability and suppose the fluids they get the nectar of reason - and they drink it! Florid language aside, how many people of your acquaintance this week have done something stupid or bad in the conviction that they were right and knew better than everyone and everything else?

    Now you argue about "following the rules."
    Torture might conceivably be defensible if it could save a lot of lives. But the ultimate judgment whether something is right or wrong, doesn’t rest on rules - just like in the torture example.Congau

    Actually, it does. You confuse reason with results, and you both presume the results and that they - the end - justify the means. Further, you confuse results with intentions. It is the intention that has, or does not have moral worth, not the result.

    Consider the torture. "Conceivably defensible," if it delivers its intended results. But what if it doesn't? You become responsible for what the torture produces, and without defense. And what if you torture the wrong person, or for the wrong reason? And what qualifies you to make that decision, anyway? As to the hoped-for benefit, benefit for whom, and did they consent to be so benefited?

    What by implication we arrive at here is the soldier. He who agrees to the possible annihilation of his self and own being, to a defined goal or purpose. In this sense a denial of his own humanity. Being a soldier is jokingly called the world's second oldest profession, and it may even be true! But I think we might agree that while becoming a soldier might be a moral act, certainly most of the actions of soldiers cannot have moral worth, though in their persons they pay a full moral price for their actions.

    Intention and action. Different things.
  • Congau
    28

    Certainly, good action and good intention are very different. A good action can occur by accident and be performed by a villain - it just requires a good result. It is also true that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”.

    We don’t know the ultimate outcome of our actions and the idea that “the ends justify the means” have frequently led to an end-result that was vastly different from anything that was initially imagined.

    We should not try to predict what is unpredictable, but often we can quite easily predict the immediate outcome of our action, and then it would naïve and even immoral to deny one’s responsibility by sticking to some preconceived rule. The infamous example about the murderer who asks for the whereabouts of your friend is a case in point, but examples don’t need to be that farfetched. If your child is very hungry (but not necessarily dying from hunger) and you don’t have money available at the moment, it may be a moral thing to do to steal a piece of bread. Here there’s no gap between intention and outcome. There is no doubt that the outcome will be what you intended: When the child eats bread, it will for sure not be hungry anymore.

    Sometimes the gap is greater, I admit, but for practical purposes, if it’s overwhelmingly likely that the next result in the causal chain can be predicted, it may be safe to consider intention and outcome to be almost identical. Then the action has moral worth.

    If the outcome is very unpredictable it would certainly be immoral to act only on good intention. For example, killing a lot of people to start a revolution that in your dreams will lead to a glorious society. I agree that the torture example is debatable. We can construct scenarios where the likelihood of the wished-for result to come true will vary.

    Don’t ask me where I want to draw the line for how much risk is acceptable. Even if you could hardly accept any risk at all, there are enough conceivable cases where the risk would be virtually zero, and that’s enough to prove the point: It may be moral to act on good intentions even when they don’t conform to moral rules.
  • tim wood
    3.2k
    A good action can occur by accident and be performed by a villain - it just requires a good result.Congau
    [If] intention and outcome... be almost identical. Then the action has moral worth.Congau
    Language being slippery.

    The action judged by the result. But the action itself is nothing. It cannot have worth or intention. The result can be good - depending on who's saying. But the bad man cannot be good or do good, except from some part of him that isn't itself bad. As to the bad man's action leading accidentally to a good result, that's like calling the landslide or the lightning bolt or the train wreck good. They may be in part providential - for someone, but good they aren't.

    Intention. As a product of reason, is the only one of these that can have worth. (And in this context, just what is "worth"?)
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