T Nation

More Philosophy Questions!

What makes a good philosophy, especially an ethics?

(1) READABILITY — if most people can’t fathom what’s being said, then what’s the point? Anyone who has ever read Hegel’s ‘Phenomenology of the Spirit’ or Nietzsche’s ‘Zarathustra’ knows what I mean.

(2) PRACTICALITY — if a philosophy told you to throw your first-born into a fire pit, most would never do it. If it said to give away all your wealth to the poor, most would never do that. It has to be such that most people would do so naturally.

(3) CONSEQUENCES — as much as possible, the philosophy has to avoid disasterous results. Someone spouts on about the Superman (Nietzsche) and soon the ‘superman’ is herding the ‘subhumans’ into Auschwitz. Someone else spouts ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs’ and you get the Soviet Gulag Archepelago.

I’m sure there are other requirements for a good ethics, and I know there are folks here conversant with this. Thoughts, anyone?

Readability is where most of them falter. Hence the reason that I hate people like Spinoza, Hegel, and Kant.

Why write the fucking book if no one can read it? Trudging through any German philosopher besides Nietzsche is a task.

Thus Spoke Zarathustra was good shit, although I liked “Twilight of the Idols” a lot better.

Practicality and consequences are things that the philosopher doesn’t dictate, the people who implement it into a governmental system do, such as Marx and the Communist Revolutions or Nietzsche and the Nazis.

To some, Rousseau and Paine’s philosophies have huge consequences, but to me they sound great. So that’s all in the way you look at it I guess.

[quote]FightinIrish26 wrote:
Readability is where most of them falter. Hence the reason that I hate people like Spinoza, Hegel, and Kant.

Why write the fucking book if no one can read it? Trudging through any German philosopher besides Nietzsche is a task.
[/quote]

Then Spinoza, Hegel, and Kant were not writing for you. Philosophical works must be esoteric to restrict their audiences and to protect their authors.

As far as implementation in everyday life, the best Philosophers understood the problem. Works have an exoteric meaning so that the common man can understand a meaning crafted especially for him. Such a meaning may mean that he abandons the work, or that if he follows its teachings, he confines himself to narrow, beneficial paths. The men who truly understand Philosophy (other Philosophers) are only themselves capable of innovating and inspiring forms through which the best of man can be seen.

There are differences between classical and modern understandings of this responsibility, of course.

[quote]Headhunter wrote:
What makes a good philosophy, especially an ethics?
[/quote]

Revealing with simplicity a direct comprehension of the nature of reality.

Just a quick philosophical question for you…

Does anybody ask that works in quantum mechanics be “readable”? If not, then why is it a requirement for ethics?

Ethics is a complex subject, therefore theories of ethics should make difficult reading. One caveat: saying that ethics is a complex subject doesn’t imply that all moral judgements are complex. It does imply that a comprehensive theory of ethics that aims to reveal the prinicples underlying those ethical judgements will be complex.

Compare the difference between being able to drive a car, and being able to explain the physics underlying how the car works.

My list:

  • Logical consistency of the system
  • Clearly defined starting axioms
  • An at least decent degree of compatibility with real-world situation
  • A level of complexity which is sufficiently downtuneable so that the work can be utilized to impress pseudo-intellectual girls

I very much doubt the idea of devicing a set of rules that define what is good philosophy, or ethics. It’s an axiom in itself. To be able to demand readability and practicality one must have a more or less defined view on things to start with. To define what is good philosophy, one much already know what is good. I find the question ‘why we find a philosophy good’ more fruitful than asking ‘what makes a good philosophy’.

A huge problem in the world is that, since the ethics we are taught is either incomprehensible or impractical, the world then has NO ethics.

If people can’t understand it, they won’t do it. If it appears outlandish, they won’t do it.

Has anyone devised an ethics that is clearcut, understandable, and we’d do naturally? I’d like to think of a moral choice as: “Well, of course! Why would I do anything else?”

I agree with FightingIrish: Why someone would try to influence the world, but write books which no one can understand just makes no sense.

Marx, after attending a meeting of the Communist Internationale comes out of the meeting and says: “I am not a Marxist!” That’s a clue right there.

[quote]FightinIrish26 wrote:

Thus Spoke Zarathustra was good shit, …[/quote]

Ric Flair likes it too.

[quote]nephorm wrote:
FightinIrish26 wrote:
Readability is where most of them falter. Hence the reason that I hate people like Spinoza, Hegel, and Kant.

Why write the fucking book if no one can read it? Trudging through any German philosopher besides Nietzsche is a task.

Then Spinoza, Hegel, and Kant were not writing for you. Philosophical works must be esoteric to restrict their audiences and to protect their authors.

As far as implementation in everyday life, the best Philosophers understood the problem. Works have an exoteric meaning so that the common man can understand a meaning crafted especially for him. Such a meaning may mean that he abandons the work, or that if he follows its teachings, he confines himself to narrow, beneficial paths. The men who truly understand Philosophy (other Philosophers) are only themselves capable of innovating and inspiring forms through which the best of man can be seen.

There are differences between classical and modern understandings of this responsibility, of course.[/quote]

A Leo Strauss fan?

[quote]Headhunter wrote:
A huge problem in the world is that, since the ethics we are taught is either incomprehensible or impractical, the world then has NO ethics.

If people can’t understand it, they won’t do it. If it appears outlandish, they won’t do it.

Has anyone devised an ethics that is clearcut, understandable, and we’d do naturally? I’d like to think of a moral choice as: “Well, of course! Why would I do anything else?”

I agree with FightingIrish: Why someone would try to influence the world, but write books which no one can understand just makes no sense.

Marx, after attending a meeting of the Communist Internationale comes out of the meeting and says: “I am not a Marxist!” That’s a clue right there.[/quote]

For a very long time there haven’t been many philosophers who are writing huge treatises that try and explain everything. You don’t have a Hume or Kant writing today.

Ethicists for the most part don’t bother telling people what is ethical.

They are looking at making a conherent system out of the things we consider ethical. Depending on their system you may get some surprising results, but for the most part, they see their job at deriving the rules behind ethics and just take what is ethical for granted.

The problem with philosophy, is like Nietzsche’s critique of Kant, I believe in Beyond Good and Evil, where he said: “Maybe”.

[quote]Headhunter wrote:
A huge problem in the world is that, since the ethics we are taught is either incomprehensible or impractical, the world then has NO ethics.

If people can’t understand it, they won’t do it. If it appears outlandish, they won’t do it.

Has anyone devised an ethics that is clearcut, understandable, and we’d do naturally? I’d like to think of a moral choice as: “Well, of course! Why would I do anything else?”[/quote]

Probably the closest thing to what you are asking for is religion, and there’s even argumentation there.

The reason we have “no ethics” isn’t because classical Philosophy is too hard to understand; it is because we are taught to be relativists from a young age.

One can appeal to the nature of God or the nature of man himself to establish an ethics. It isn’t derived ex nihilo.
Atheism and secularism deny the existence of God, relativism denies that there is anything fundamental to man - a best way to live - from which we could establish a new ethics. Relativism also denies that there are anything other than social benefits to following the custom. As such, “ethics” amount to a cost-benefit calculation.

[quote]Headhunter wrote:
What makes a good philosophy, especially an ethics?

[/quote]

I have found that color pictures are a must. Photos are ok, but ideally, they should be cartoons.

DB

[quote]nephorm wrote:
Headhunter wrote:
A huge problem in the world is that, since the ethics we are taught is either incomprehensible or impractical, the world then has NO ethics.

If people can’t understand it, they won’t do it. If it appears outlandish, they won’t do it.

Has anyone devised an ethics that is clearcut, understandable, and we’d do naturally? I’d like to think of a moral choice as: “Well, of course! Why would I do anything else?”

Probably the closest thing to what you are asking for is religion, and there’s even argumentation there.

The reason we have “no ethics” isn’t because classical Philosophy is too hard to understand; it is because we are taught to be relativists from a young age.

One can appeal to the nature of God or the nature of man himself to establish an ethics. It isn’t derived ex nihilo.
Atheism and secularism deny the existence of God, relativism denies that there is anything fundamental to man - a best way to live - from which we could establish a new ethics. Relativism also denies that there are anything other than social benefits to following the custom. As such, “ethics” amount to a cost-benefit calculation.[/quote]

In Plato’s Republic, he finally defines justice as being everyone doing what they are most suited for. Following that, can we define an ethics based on human nature? All living things have a definite nature. Wouldn’t THE GOOD be us doing what preserves or enhances ourselves as humans?

I know that sounds relativist, but its relative to what we are. Do we have a common defining characteristic that makes us who we are? EX: If we are ‘the rational animal’, the GOOD would be what preserves or enhances me as a rational animal.

[quote]Headhunter wrote:
In Plato’s Republic, he finally defines justice as being everyone doing what they are most suited for. Following that, can we define an ethics based on human nature? All living things have a definite nature. Wouldn’t THE GOOD be us doing what preserves or enhances ourselves as humans?

I know that sounds relativist, but its relative to what we are. Do we have a common defining characteristic that makes us who we are? EX: If we are ‘the rational animal’, the GOOD would be what preserves or enhances me as a rational animal.
[/quote]

No, you are exactly right. Human beings aren’t carbon copies of one another. The analogy is a doctor and two patients: the good for both of them is health, but the paths are different for each. The goal, again, is the same: the good. That isn’t relativism; relativism denies that there is any absolute good, or that any outcome is preferred to another for any reason more concrete than convention.

[quote]Headhunter wrote:
A huge problem in the world is that, since the ethics we are taught is either incomprehensible or impractical, the world then has NO ethics.

If people can’t understand it, they won’t do it. If it appears outlandish, they won’t do it.

Has anyone devised an ethics that is clearcut, understandable, and we’d do naturally? I’d like to think of a moral choice as: “Well, of course! Why would I do anything else?”

I agree with FightingIrish: Why someone would try to influence the world, but write books which no one can understand just makes no sense.

Marx, after attending a meeting of the Communist Internationale comes out of the meeting and says: “I am not a Marxist!” That’s a clue right there.[/quote]

I think you are confusing an “understanding” of ethics with an ability to behave appropriate to that understanding.

However, I posit that most people have trouble seeing beyond the surface of an issue to understand the real impact of their actions on society.

Another sticking point…

Why “an ethics”? Why is it assumed necessary that one single self-contained philosophy will provide all the answers to all situations because it is somehow perfect?

I can see why an author would attempt to create such a situation, a self-contained construct, but I’m not sure we, those who read these works, should buy into that.

It’s the old adage about having only one tool. If all you have is a hammer, then all your solutions will involve nails.

[quote]nephorm wrote:
Headhunter wrote:
In Plato’s Republic, he finally defines justice as being everyone doing what they are most suited for. Following that, can we define an ethics based on human nature? All living things have a definite nature. Wouldn’t THE GOOD be us doing what preserves or enhances ourselves as humans?

I know that sounds relativist, but its relative to what we are. Do we have a common defining characteristic that makes us who we are? EX: If we are ‘the rational animal’, the GOOD would be what preserves or enhances me as a rational animal.

No, you are exactly right. Human beings aren’t carbon copies of one another. The analogy is a doctor and two patients: the good for both of them is health, but the paths are different for each. The goal, again, is the same: the good. That isn’t relativism; relativism denies that there is any absolute good, or that any outcome is preferred to another for any reason more concrete than convention. [/quote]

I can see why the issue is quite a bit deeper than one might suppose. If I point at one person and say, ‘human being’, point at another and say the same thing, what is it that allows me to use the same phrase to describe two different entities? They must have something in common or I could not use a common phrase for each. So we’re into the essential attributes and accidental attributes arena.

I think THE GOOD is whatever serves to preserve or enhance that common element within each of us, the essential attribute (which I think is the ability to think in terms of concepts).

[quote]vroom wrote:
Another sticking point…

Why “an ethics”? Why is it assumed necessary that one single self-contained philosophy will provide all the answers to all situations because it is somehow perfect?

I can see why an author would attempt to create such a situation, a self-contained construct, but I’m not sure we, those who read these works, should buy into that.

It’s the old adage about having only one tool. If all you have is a hammer, then all your solutions will involve nails.[/quote]

Ethics is, to me, like a guidebook of how to react (act) in situations. If I find a wallet on the ground, for ex, I do…what? You see? The goal is to set up a system of guidelines which would bring about the most just society possible. We have to assume that humans have at least one element in common and that THE GOOD is what serves or enhances that element.

Kant’s solution was to treat each person as an end-in-themselves, never as a means. Plato’s was to set up a sort of meritocracy where each person does what they were designed for, kind of like a beehive. These are good ideas but the problem is that the people who are supposed to follow such doctrines can’t get the message — it’s either too cryptic or irrational.

Seriously, if someone told you to give away all your worldly possessions, would you do that? That’s a big problem for Christianity — some of it is simply outlandish. That’s why I mentioned that an ethics has to be practical.

Since religion’s solution is untenable and philosophers are too enamored of writing obscure tomes, the world is in a very poor ethical state.

Ethical philosophy is really a just a nasty quagmire of behavior theories based on how “good” and “evil” behavior are defined on a given day. Really just defining ?good? and ?evil? in general. Really, that?s what people argue about when they discuss the various theories, like Utilitarianism or Categorical Imperative. The problem really is a meta-ethical question. People do make up their minds on “good” and “evil” even though they do not realize it. There thoughts on what is good and what is evil are manifested by their belief systems. Some people think the good of the many out weighs the good of the few. Some people think “right is right” despite the circumstances. You defined “good” and “evil” by what the action is perceived to be, it?s “practicality” (whatever that is supposed to mean), and subsequent consequences. Just like every other theory it has flaws, but it depends on what side of “good” and “evil” you stand on.

That’s why I don not care for ethical philosophy. It has no clear definitions and is the bastard child of philosophy, because deductive reasoning is almost impossible.