Life Driven Purpose, pg 69

Apr 5, 2016

Morality is not a code. It is a compass. A compass does not tell you where you are or where to go; it only shows you where north is. Think of north as the direction of less harm and south as more harm. If your action are heading more to the north, then you are acting morally. Of course, you can’t always travel directly north – the terrain is often complicated and actions can conflict with each other, and you might have to detour east, west, or even south for a while – but if you intend your general path to go more northerly than southerly, your journey is moral. (No offense to my friends in Australia, Brazil, and South Africa! If you live below the equator, then head south.)

–Dan Barker, Life Driven Purpose


Discuss!

92 comments on “Life Driven Purpose, pg 69

  • Think of north as the direction of less harm and south as more harm.
    (No offense to my friends in Australia, Brazil, and South Africa! If you live below the equator, then head south.)

    Can someone explain to me why this person wants those of us who live in the Southern Hemisphere to live more harmful and less moral lives? How can we not take offence?



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  • Um, the metaphor is annoying but I’m guessing he goes on to explain it in plain terms later on that page. I do agree with the gist of it though. Getting to the good moral position may take some maneuvering and this is a better way to go about it than reading ten commandments and thinking you have the high moral ground. The old sink or swim paradigm is cruel and ineffective. This “compass” strategy is more realistic and will bring everyone up to a more compassionate framework on morality.



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  • Yeah, rather a useless metaphor; moral code comes from the family and society that you were raised in (Religion just muddles the moral codes). How well you are regarded in your society depends on how well you blend in, and generally, if you’re prepared to help others, and not do harm to society, you will be appreciated as a moral person. And these insights/moral codes change over time; just like evolution.



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  • Sounds like a Sam Harris devotee. The only challenge with relativism is that it fails to provide detailed operating instructions so necessary for the religious mindset. Well being is nothing but an interpretation of one’s condition . It is clearly a moral framework for thinkers and leaders not feelers and followers. And is it not the later who obsess about such things?



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  • Craig Domin #8
    Apr 6, 2016 at 4:09 pm

    it fails to provide detailed operating instructions so necessary for the religious mindset.

    This is why I favor teaching schoolchildren Ethics as part of the curriculum. It should be taught from the first grade through the end of public school in age appropriate ways. The conversion from the ten commandments to the ten ethical obligations is not such a stretch as one might think. Difference is that disobey a commandment and you burn in hell, but violate one of the ethical obligations and we’re beholden to ourselves to understand where things went wrong and to impose a correction on oneself by reflection and self criticism. The goal would be to learn from mistakes and avoid their repeat. Ethics embraces the gray area and requires practice on how to manage that gray area with the best competence we can achieve.

    Let’s move people from this:

    The 10 Commandments List, Short Form

    You shall have no other gods before Me.
    You shall not make idols.
    You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
    Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
    Honor your father and your mother.
    You shall not murder.
    You shall not commit adultery.
    You shall not steal.
    You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
    You shall not covet.

    To this:

    Ten Ethical Obligations

    Justice, the double barreled obligation (a) negatively, not to commit injustice and (b) positively, to prevent future injustices and rectify existing ones.

    Non-Injury, The obligation to avoid harming others

    Fidelity, The obligation to keep promises

    Veracity, The obligation to avoid lying (veracity and fidelity constitute kinds of fidelity understood as keeping faith – both 3 and 4 are faithfulness to our word.)

    Reparation: the obligation to make amends for wrong-doing.

    Beneficence: The obligation to do good deeds for others, especially to contribute to their virtue (goodness of character), knowledge, or pleasure.

    Self-Improvement, The obligation to better oneself.

    Gratitude: The obligation to express appreciation for good deeds towards us.

    Liberty, The obligation to preserve and enhance human freedom.

    Respectfulness, The category of obligations of manner (roughly, of respectfulness.)

    Justice, Liberty and Happiness are the three most basic values that such specific ethical principles as the ten in question must uphold.

    The really cool thing about these ethical obligations is that in any given situation, there may be conflicts between them as one sets about deciding on a course of action. It is up to the individual to reconcile this conflict by deciding on the weight in that situation of the conflicting obligations and choosing a course of action that best satisfies the most obligations one can. It may not be a perfect solution but it will at least be based on a solid attempt at utilizing a moral framework.

    This can work for the average Joe. It’s not necessary to be a Philosopher to work this system. I rely on this framework specifically because I was brought up with the ten commandments, and to add insult to injury, I’m a reductionist, materialist, nose to the grindstone person who is not capable of high falutin abstractions of Philosophy. That other thread where the guys are going on about these matters of Philosophy is completely unintelligible to me. 🙁 But this is why I think this simple ethical framework will work best. Works for me!



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  • Nice job LaurieB. I think we can all get behind the Ethical Obligations. Like most of us here I choose not to be commanded by anyone or anything. And while I am of the XY mutation/persuasion (ha ha), I also do not cotton to the Kantian, metaphysical, transcendentally idealistic “thing in itself” stuff either. Just not my wheelhouse or area of interest (no disrespect Dan, Phil, Cat, others).



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  • Biology, environment and experience might tamper your compass settings for less harm, harm and more harm. If the compass were to read; north/south for survive versus perish, west/east for take a chance versus certainty, then you might have a gene’s view of morality. Everyone has his own compass calibrated to his own biological settings that are then offset by the environment and one’s experiences.
    A society, with individuals each set by his own compass, will have its problems when it comes to living together. Good governance and fair laws, that help to point a society’s compass towards an egalitarian civilisation, diminish harmful problems. This environment allows most people to coexist and regard themselves as being moral.
    Religious societies live by a fixed moral compass. If that compass steered its society towards harmful behaviours, such as human sacrifices and demonisation, then it also has the ability to reduce any feelings of empathy for the victims.



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  • Every action has advantages and disadvantages. Perhaps we could do more things that have advantages for human society than do things that have disadvantages. Overpopulation for example, has more disadvantages than advantages.

    There is no right or wrong, just being and doing.



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  • 14
    fadeordraw says:

    So a moral code on a north pointing compass is ridiculous; pls raise the bar on questions for discussions.

    As sapiens are living on the planet the same as other plants and animals, we will have acquired those moral codes that have worked for our survival; in our case, sapiens’ communal psyches are the playing fields for moral codes. So, incredibly, it would appear we need to have “faith” in the evolutionary achievements of our moral codes. Though it might be helpful to understand our faith with evidence-based explanations rather than a north (cold-sterile)/south (hot-fertile) analogy; though you know the mythical does have the story-telling persuasions.

    That evolution has brought us to here
    Our compass to where we might go to where



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  • @Steven007(#10), and others

    Like most of us here I choose not to be commanded by anyone or anything.

    You are commanded by something: motives. You can do what you will, but you cannot will what you will, as Einstein said. You cannot decide to do something and then merely do it. You can only do something if what you do is not outweighed by a stronger counter-motive. Motives are causes. And they act upon you with the same force as other causes or forces in nature, which act upon (or fail to act upon) other things, i.e., the attraction of a magnet to various pieces of iron.— When nothing stronger is opposing the force of a given motive, you act. It then appears that you are acting freely.

    The counter-motive and the motive that prevails may be compared to a balancing scale. The dish that is lighter in weight gives out at the end.

    I would like to say this, and I mean no disrespect to the Mr. Barker or to his admirers; he may have a lot to say; but this is a surprisingly asinine passage. It is superficial and erroneous. It is actually without value and has no intellectual substance at all. He is saying nothing. Nothing at all. Less harm is not morally better, necessarily. Morality is not a compass. There is not a word of truth in this paragraph. “Intend your path.” What does that mean? I intended to write a kinder comment. But my disgust and irritation prevented that from happening. You don’t decide to be moral and then become moral. And what is moral? What is Barker’s conception of morality? Morality is an enormously complex subject.

    It’s just a paragraph, but it does not make me want to read more.

    I’d be interested to know who is selecting these paragraphs and why? So much great stuff out there. Where’s my Nietzsche? Ah, there it is. Excuse me now, please…



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  • Dan. #15

    This is indeed terrible, at least in isolation.

    He has an metaphysical entity with insufficient parts.

    Having read more of Dan Barker, on topics like these I have failed to find better so far.



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  • @ Phil, Bonnie

    Well at least someone’s still telling us to try to do what we think is right (and that is basically all that he’s saying).— But I worry about a future time when the idea of Right and Wrong will no longer have the status, as it were, that it has now. It will have lost all meaning and respectability: a kind of wild west mentality will prevail: survival of the fittest, social Darwinism, will be the order of the day.

    Already, at the present time, we are questioning what goodness is, what kindness is. Harris has expressed concern about this, and it concerns me deeply as well (although I am not a neuroscientist, obviously); it concerns me because all definitions of moral feeling and of conscience, no matter how precise or valid, are all too easy to argue against (with logic and with the aid of an improper use of science), so easy to contest. It follows from that that the feelings themselves (and morality and conscience are feelings) can easily be pushed under from without or pulled under from within. —And history has shown that this happens all too often and easily. And look at all the vile acts of atrociousness taking place today; how else can one explain modern civilized man’s long history of cruelty?

    The power of brute force is, unfortunately, so impressive and overwhelming, and the force of a dictator’s lust for power is so all-consuming and unstoppable at times, and the malleability of “the people” is so well-documented, I wonder how much these sentiments that we still call goodness and conscience, sentiments so, as it were, flimsy, and yet so vital, can withstand.

    If all of the various forces and elements that give rise to fascism were to come together again what would prevent us from losing ourselves once again and becoming willing participants, or at least complicit, in genocide and destruction?

    I worry about Hitler’s mad pronouncement.—Just allow the word compassion to be included under truth:

    “a new and magical understanding of the world is on the rise, one based on will rather than truth. There is no truth, either in the scientific or the moral sense.”



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  • 19
    rocket888 says:

    @LaurieB

    Your ethical obligations are quite compatible with libertarianism.

    Murray Rothbard has written “The Ethics of Liberty”. In this work of the libertarian ethic, there are only 2 rules; nearly all others can be derived from these two:

    See here for Richard Maybury’s distillation of the two rules:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_J._Maybury#Maybury.27s_Two_Laws

    Do not encroach on others or their property.
    Do all you agreed to do.

    The key concept here is that of “force” or encroachment. One should not use force on others, except to defend oneself or one’s property.

    One difference in libertarianism (with your rules) is there are no positive obligations. If there were, then this would negate the Liberty obligation. For example, your positive obligation to prevent future injustices, can be seen in “America the Essential Nation” where the US believes its role is to be the policeman of the world whose values should be forced on others.

    It is also the problem with nanny state laws, i.e. wars against behavior that is viewed as self-destructive (drug laws and more recently the coming war on sugar, fat, etc.). And while self-improvement might be a worthwhile value, it should not be forced on those who are satisfied with their current state.

    George Carlin did a sketch on the 10 commandments, where he reduced them to just 2:

    Be honest
    Try very hard not to kill anyone.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CE8ooMBIyC8

    (plus keep thy religion to thyself)



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  • Libertarianism remains poisonous for as long as it maintains the fiction of the omni-competent individual.

    Libertarianism, built on the economic fantasy that the first economies were immediately reciprocal with careful accounting, fail to note as most economists used to, that personal economic behaviours are complex and often wishful.

    Libertarianism remains un-needed as Hitchens remarked. Selfishness needs no promotion.

    Too often Libertarian’s believe the economic sins of the fathers are properly visited upon their children. Only in the US, epi-centre of libertarian thinking, out of the twenty leading OECD countries is low IQ correlated to the poverty of parents (all factors for poverty like low IQ having been accounted for).

    Acknowledging the profound need for a commons to be maintained, defeats all Libertarian commentators eventually.

    Me? I’m a capitalist.



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  • rocket888

    19

    Apr 8, 2016 at 4:40 pm

    Your ethical obligations are quite compatible with libertarianism.

    That came as quite a surprise to me. Those ethical obligations are complex, challenging and in any given situation, there will be conflicts between them which require me to assign weights of importance to all of them, as I explained above. This requires years of practice to perfect to the degree that we can make this automatic and integrated with our cognitive framework. But honestly, as I’ve mentioned here before, I’m no Philosopher that’s for sure, so when I say that my ten ethical obligations above seem vastly superior to these three guiding statements of Libertarianism that you gave us below, I just want to say that those three statements below seem extremely paltry and mean. They are so simplistic as to be useless as a framework for how an individual decides what is good and bad, right and wrong, and valuable and not valuable.

    Mr. Maybury bases his work on common law, namely
    Do all you have agreed to do
    Do not encroach on other persons or their property.
    One should not use force on others, except to defend oneself or one’s property.

    This below is the kiss of death:

    One difference in libertarianism (with your rules) is there are no positive obligations.

    It’s those positive obligations above that make all the difference in the world! Just the positive obligation of beneficence alone is enough to make a Libertarian seem like a common thug and a beneficent ethicist seem like an angel on high.

    This is why Libertarians piss me off. The sanctimonious selfishness is nothing less than a choking character flaw. As Phil calls them, omni-competent (good word) individuals ought to be careful of what they wish for. This fantasy of rugged individualism is a bunch of bullshit.



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  • I expressed some concerns above in my usual incoherent fashion (18). I’d like to add that that the increasing difficulty of preventing compassion and conscience from being wiped out as we move into the future is aggravated by a pervasive misappropriation of the word “moral.” We just have to look at the IDF (Israel’s defense force), the most moral army in the world, to see how meaningless the word moral becomes.

    Wouldn’t it be better to have a society organized along social lines than one based on private appropriation of the wealth of nations? Private appropriation of the wealth of nations.—Why? To what end?

    Libertarianism, Rocket, is corporate tyranny. No regulations, no accountability. It is a very wicked political philosophy, imho. In the past it meant something else but that is what it amounts to today. (To be fair, there are some good things about laissez-faire, but this is a different time now. Adam Smith would be appalled and disgusted if he were to revisit us.)

    Capitalism without a controlled market. That’s immoral. I know you are opposed to free market capitalism, Phil. So why not just say you are a democratic socialist? It’s like people who say that they would be moral even without religion. Why can’t they just be moral (kind) and renounce their immoral holy books? Why, if you believe in fairness and “betterment,” do you still cling to capitalism and the illusion that this system is good for the human species? It isn’t working, is destructive, cannot be controlled.

    Ayn Rand said that we are selfish; therefore, capitalism is more natural. That’s twisted. It is precisely because we are selfish that we need to abolish capitalism. Look at the environment! That is an offshoot of capitalism. Isn’t capitalism destroying this country (The U.S.)? That is the elephant in the room, is it not? That and religion.



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  • Dan

    Capitalism without a controlled market. That’s immoral.

    Entirely agree.

    You won’t believe how much I want to interfere in the financial markets, too. And as for tax legislation to favour sustainable businesses. All stuff I write about often. And how big a state I think we need…Elsewhere I’m cheesing off Stephen of Wimbledon wanting education taken out of private hands.

    I hope that clears that up.

    FWIW- Denmark is a capitalist country. Its total level of taxation per person averages 78%.

    Capitalism is essential once the parameters are set because we must find the values of things one with another. We must also tease that stolen and hidden 20% of our wealth that was progressively tricked from us since the eighties and get it re-invested in business, creating jobs and properly rewarding folk.

    Any given dogma only has some of the answers.



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  • @ Phil

    “Capitalism is essential once the parameters are set because we must find the values of things one with another.”

    Glad we agree about a controlled market, at the very least. This statement above is to me about as clear as the idea of the moon existing without a subject. The values of things? The values of things under classical capitalism are, according to Marx, determined by the quality and degree of the labor associated with the production of a given commodity. (I am sure I got that wrong.) Are you alluding to this Marxian principle?

    Wealth creates wealth.— Labor and profit are now virtually divorced from each other.

    I think we need a transvaluation of values.



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  • for Dan,

    Whatever a theologian feels to be true must be false: this is almost a criterion of truth. His most basic instinct of self-preservation forbids him to respect reality at any point or even to let it get a word in. Wherever the theologians’ instinct extends, value judgments have been stood on their heads and the concepts of “true” and “false” are of necessity reversed: whatever is most harmful to life is called “true”; whatever elevates it, enhances, affirms, justifies it, and makes it triumphant, is called “false”. When theologians reach out for power through the “conscience” of princes (or of peoples), we need never doubt what really happens at bottom: the will to end, the nihilistic will, wants power.

    -ouch, Nietzsche, The Antichrist



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  • @ Laurie

    9

    “…but violate one of the ethical obligations and we’re beholden to ourselves to understand where things went wrong and to impose a correction on oneself by reflection and self criticism.”

    I like the idea, but in practice I see the long arm of the law come into play. Violating social moral compasses tends to get one thrown in the hoosegow. ‘Forced introspection’, if you will.



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  • Dan,

    Marx is incomplete about value. Value is composed of parts. It is composed of labour, investment, problems solved. For consumers what matters…the only thing of value…is the problem in your life that has been solved. Value is added into human existence with each problem solved.

    Paintings are not sold by the metre except to hotels.

    Only states can provide the hugely extended investment cycle and the stability for the long term accrual of expertise in problem solving needed to provide best value for say education and health services in my view. Problems relate to communities and institutions serving them must match their longevity and track their needs.

    Elsewhere, problem solving and innovation add to human wealth, but is a lawnmower more valuable than, getting my teeth whitened or should I not do the overtime but put in some hours at the homeless shelter? A market economy allows an explicit and democratic expression on the value of things. This or is not a good bit of problem solving for me. Go find better problems….



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  • This or is not a good bit of problem solving for me. Go find better problems….

    This is or is not a good bit of problem solving for me. Go find better problems….

    Result.

    Perceived value drops and the price is dropped. Or the product gets improved. Or they get out of a business they are insufficiently skilled in.

    So how does the moral scheme of transvaluation apply to economies?



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  • Vicki #26
    Apr 9, 2016 at 5:22 am

    I like the idea, but in practice I see the long arm of the law come into play. Violating social moral compasses tends to get one thrown in the hoosegow. ‘Forced introspection’, if you will.

    Yes, in practice that long arm of the law does come into play. Conscientious objectors come to mind. People who protest with the understanding that they may be arrested will suffer a loss of freedom for some amount of time and will spend some amount of money to pay for legal help and court costs and fines. (reparation).

    In matters of beneficence and altruism, ethics recognizes that in helping others, an ethical obligation of beneficence, some harm and/or sacrifice is required. The difficulty here is in judging how much harm is correct and acceptable. This is a tough one! Put simply, we are not required to suffer too much in our attempt to be altruistic. Also, we should not expect others around us to suffer too much for our own acts of altruism and beneficence. That’s not right. Simplistic example – Spending large amounts of money to help someone else while our own children have poor nutritional status.

    Here is a page to read on the obligation of beneficence and the complexity of deciding how much help to give and how much harm is acceptable when doing so.

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/principle-beneficence/#ProOveDemBen

    A paragraph from that page:

    The Problem of Over-Demanding Beneficence
    Some philosophers defend extremely demanding and far-reaching principles of obligatory beneficence. Peter Singer’s theory is the most widely discussed example. In his early work, Singer distinguished between preventing evil and promoting good and contended that persons in affluent nations are morally obligated to prevent something bad or evil from happening if it is in their power to do so without having to sacrifice anything of comparable importance. In the face of preventable disease and poverty, for example, we ought to donate time and resources toward their eradication until we reach a level at which, by giving more, we would cause as much suffering to ourselves as we would relieve through our gift. Singer leaves it open what counts as being of comparable importance and as being an appropriate level of sacrifice, but his argument implies that morality sometimes requires us to invest heavily in rescuing needy persons in the global population, not merely at the level of local communities and political states.



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  • @ Laurie

    Actually, my point was far less lofty. There are those who have perfectly functioning compasses, but choose to ignore them (for any number of reasons). At that point, society steps in via the law dogs, and morality is imposed.

    BTW, I enjoyed reading the link. Section 5 would probably pertain more to what I was getting at. Thanks!



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  • @ Sean 25

    Re Nietzsche’s Antichrist

    Nice one. I remember that passage. Interesting side note. N never refers to Jesus himself in that book. He steers clear of Christ and focuses entirely on Christianity (or Christendom) and its elements – maybe because of his upbringing. Who knows. The great Strindberg (d 1910), who loved the Antichrist, and who corresponded with Nietzsche at one point, and who had a very strict, religious upbringing, felt no compunction about referring to JC, although late in his life, as “a sexless degenerate.”

    I wonder if Dawkins has read Nietzsche.



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  • @ Phil

    I don’t know too much about this. I will say that Das Kapital is a very rich and complex work, and Marx wrote a lot. People spend their whole lives studying Marx. You seem too sure of yourself at times, like: I’ve mastered it, made my decision, time to move on.

    I do that too.

    Wish my father (d 2014) was still around. (Great scholar, professor, writer, academician, and very knowledgeable about Marx and other political thinkers.) Then I could cheat a little and have him funnel some stuff to me here. (Or I could have dictated and used quotes. More honest.)

    Transvaluation. I just meant this: people are always saying that if we had redistribution and more of a ceiling on profit it would remove incentive. Incentive! I say to them: great! why are you here on this earth, schmuck, to acquire wealth for wealth’s sake? Can’t you find something else to value, like honor, or art, or courage, or science –or whatever? You can still live well, but is that all that gives you a sense of worth, having more than other people? I like comfort and nice things too, and live pretty well myself. But I don’t think anyone should be allowed to make as much as Gates. I’ll end there with that simple message because I just don’t know what else to say right now.



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  • Dan 24::

    The values of things under classical capitalism are, according to Marx, determined by the quality and degree of the labor associated with the production of a given commodity. (I am sure I got that wrong.) Are you alluding to this Marxian principle?

    Basically Marx’s labour theory of value says that the more useful labour it requires to produce, ( and reproduce) a commodity, the more value it contains. Marx used the word commodity in a much broader sense than today’s City traders. A toothbrush or hair comb, objects produced with a view to sale on a market are “commodities” in Marx’s view. Indeed it is only human labour that can produce new value, plus the materials that nature provides. In the first volume of Capital, Marx cites the example of the diamonds mined in Brazil, where, because of the horrendous conditions of their production, where many workers simply died in the process, the true “value” of those diamonds was never realised. The labour was cheap and disposable, who gave a shit about “fairness” ? Certainly not capitalism, where profit is the only motivation for production. Diamonds apart from their desirable physical characteristics, beautiful, hard, workable, take a lot of human labour to produce ! Of course coal, made of the same element, carbon, as diamonds has a value much lower than its esteemed cousin diamond, because it requires less socially necessary human labour to produce it !

    It seems to me that that modern apologists for capitalism have lost sight of the fact that wealth doesn’t create itself magically in banks and markets, and wheeler dealer transactions. It takes hard bloody graft to produce new wealth, and only workers do that. Old wealth is consumed like my 8 year old BMW, it will have to be replaced at some point. And of course it takes living labour to build machines that “create wealth” !

    I hope that helps, Dan.



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  • @ Laurie and Vicki, and Phil

    Morality requires us, Laurie?

    Sorry, but that one got my attention. Allow me to interject (although I didn’t read your exchange in its entirety). It doesn’t work that way. We are either moral or we are not. You can present all the good reasons and arguments in the word why one should feel or be required, or be compelled, or be obligated, to sacrifice something in the act of helping others, or why why one should engage in beneficence or altruism. That will not amount to a hill of beans, in most cases. That will not, cannot, make someone do that. That has to arise from compassion itself.

    There is simply no other genuine moral act other than that which arises from compassion itself, which has nothing to do with what we know; knowledge is the medium of motives. That is all. We don’t read about morality, or learn about it, and then decide to be moral. It is a spontaneous act based on the ability to identify with the suffering of others, as though his suffering and ours are one (which in a way it is). This is, again, not something that can be taught!

    Goodness of heart, to use a cliché, is the only basis of true morality. There is no explanation for this that I am aware of (although I do think the moral disposition is inherited) and I am willing to risk being ridiculed and say that this capacity that some of us have, to make no distinction between Self and Other, to break through the principle of individuation (principium individuationis), and to thereby suffer along with the Other, is a mystery.

    In lieu of evidence I will ask you to ask yourself whether you think you are capable of going to a close friend’s home, killing her, and then stealing her money. (According to Dante that it is the worst crime imaginable.) Think about it. Could you ever do this, even if you lived ten thousand centuries? (And you must assume for the sake of argument that you will 1. remain sane and 2. that the society you live in will remain more or less the same as it is now. In other words, you will not be indoctrinated and taught to think that killing and stealing are virtuous acts. All of us are capable of being indoctrinated, but in that case, an act of murder and betrayal and thievery would not be a reflection of what we would ordinarily will. Indoctrination is moral tampering. This is analogous to killing under hypnosis, or to a schizophrenic hearing voices…

    Why won’t you ever do this? Because your character is an inborn moral disposition, permanent and unchangeable.

    You can write books and essays about the history of morality and ethical obligation, but you cannot make someone moral. You can force someone to do this and that, but in that case the act has no moral worth, however praiseworthy it might appear on the surface.

    Vicki, what is a moral compass? You can have a compass and still be a son of a bitch. But I agree that the imposition of morality can never produce a genuine moral act.

    On the flip-side, however, and on a pragmatic level, we must have laws. The importance of this can hardly be overestimated, and we should not delude ourselves. Man does need some authority, needs prohibitions from without. Anarchism implies moral optimism and is therefore an absurdity. Without laws agains killing and stealing life would be impossible. Too many bad people. (Hobbes was not entirely right. Nor was he entirely wrong: man is moral and man is immoral; he is both.)

    Phil, neuroscience has discovered that the decision comes (very shortly) after the act, and not before. That supports my argument that our acts do not follow our decisions; the decisions follow the act. In other words, we do not make a decision to do a truly good and decent thing and then do it. We will something and then we think we have decided to do this. This is a deception, a natural one. (I could be mistaken or confused about this discovery. Please correct me if I am wrong. I think I heard someone say that.)



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  • @ Mr. DArcy # 34

    Thank you very much for that, sir. It did help.
    Do you like Gramsci, by the way?
    (Now does a diamond exist without a . . . Oh forget it.)
    “It takes hard bloody graft to produce…”
    Please tell me what “graft” means in this context. I looked it up,
    can’t figure it out.



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  • Dan;;

    Please tell me what “graft” means in this context. I looked it up,
    can’t figure it out.

    My ‘bad’ as you say. “Graft” means work. I’m not Irish but with with some Irish blood, and in Ireland a graft is a spade, something you have put effort into using. So someone who who ‘grafts’ is working. 🙂



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  • Oh and on the question of commodities , the very first paragraph of Capital is:

    The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails presents itself as “an immense accumulation of commodities“, its unit being a single commodity. Our investigation must therefore begin with the analysis of a commodity.

    In Marx’s view and mine, a commodity is something capable of being reproduced like a hair brush, car, telephone service, transportation, machinery etc. Whilst other things like land, works of art, and a woman’s virtue, can be bought and sold, they are peripheral to the production of commodities with a view to sale at a profit. The very driving force of capitalism.



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  • @ Laurie 9

    May I express my opinion? (Sorry I was so long-winded before (34). Perhaps I get carried away sometimes.)

    This can work for the average Joe. It’s not necessary to be a Philosopher to work this system.

    It can’t work for the average Joe unless the average Joe is forced to do what you think he is obligated to do, and philosophers cannot “work the system” any better than anyone else.

    Obligations produce nothing, unless one is moral to begin with! And what one is taught produces nothing but knowledge! It is important to teach ethics; part of a well-rounded education, but that will not result in producing more ethical people.

    And why such contempt for philosophy? That attitude (not yours alone) is beginning to irritate me. Your straightforward, down-to-earth approach to this matter is itself philosophy, whether you choose to call it that or not. We are all philosophers, as Gramsci said.



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  • Comment 38 continued.

    I could be wrong, but that is what I think.

    Btw, environment and upbringing does play a role, obviously. If a kid is brutalized (or indoctrinated) he will most likely become a brute himself, even if he is basically moral. And loving parents are essential. Not sure if you can really teach love, but you can definitely prevent hate and many other bad qualities from emerging.

    A mind can become poisoned. The natural development of the personality can be thwarted and arrested. Any essential decency that an individual may have can easily get buried and lost forever.

    You can’t teach someone to be moral, as I said, but you can teach someone who is basically moral to become filled with hatred, hatred of himself and others.



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  • Laurie 21

    “This requires years of practice to perfect to the degree that we can make this automatic and integrated with our cognitive framework.”

    What does that mean, Laurie? We practice, do the right things over and over again, fulfill are annoying ethical obligations over and over again, until we are able to integrate it into our cognitive framework? And then we have succeeded in what? conditioning ourselves?

    And why would someone necessarily want to engage in moral altruistic acts repeatedly? What if he doesn’t want to? Most people don’t. What if he would rather lie, cheat and steal, and exploit and oppress other people? Why should we expect people to want to do this?

    An obligation per se is powerless over the will. Try telling someone to do something because he aught to. Good luck.

    I am afraid that what you are saying is easier said than done. Infinitely easier.



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  • Dan #34

    We will something and then we think we have decided to do this. This is a deception, a natural one.

    Are you thinking about the post hoc narrator, perhaps? This is the mooted interpretation of the Libet experiment. (Much more dramatic versions of this have bee done since the advent of fMRI if you are interested.)

    The theory goes that we act automatically in some sense and explain away (justify) our actions to ourselves afterwards. This tells us that ideas of “will” are not the simple idea we have invented for ourselves.

    In any given situation we don’t know what we may do with 100% reliability.

    An interpretation is that will is better seen as a rehearsal and training process carried out in our imagination of what we might do in this or that moral (etc.) situation and how we feel about that. The more we build up positive and negative accounts of the differing outcomes the more we can predict our own automatic behaviours. Our imagined selves lead the life of a superhero and a cad and we like what we see. These self-narratives extend well beyond the pivotal acts and into our imagined futures. Spontaneous action (with luck) sits upon a wealth of introspection upon your own and others imaginings.

    Soap opera, stretching back to Gilgamesh, what we consume and vote for with our consumption, aligns our internal narratives. The current quintessence of Englishness radio soap, The Archers, has run a huge and extended (real time) story line on the hidden horrors of domestic violence. Its effect I suspect has been very useful in providing credible and novel narrative chunks that people (less thoughtful of their own behaviours and their real impacts) may use introspectively.

    This cultural material appears in no spontaneous act but it was certainly there in rehearsal.

    (There are absolutely innate moral heuristics which formed the substrate for our mutual thriving. But that’s for another time.)



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  • Our imagined selves lead the life of a superhero and a cad and we like what we see.

    Our imagined selves lead the life of a superhero and a cad and we like or dislike what we see.



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  • Dan,

    First of all, thank you for prompting me to think more on some of these ideas. You have presented a fair number of issues that I now need to think about and respond to.

    The easiest one to deal with is this:

    And why such contempt for philosophy? That attitude (not yours alone) is beginning to irritate me.

    Uh-oh, that is not what I want to happen here. I can only speak for myself in this but “contempt” is absolutely not what I feel for philosophy. I think I gave you this impression from the phrase I used above -high fallutin, and possibly snarky comments in the past and on reread, I see where you’re coming from.

    For the record, what I really do think about philosophy is that it stands as the most important source I have of how to frame the questions. What are the real and valid questions that we can ask in this life and how should they be correctly stated. The material that I read that comes from the pragmatic philosophers deals with this and then, what is extremely valuable to me is to watch these philosophers work through the creation of these questions and proceed through the process of answering these questions. So as I think is obvious, I have a great admiration for those who write books and articles on the topics of everyday ethics for the common folk.

    Just here on my book shelves, on the bottom shelf (so as to make it more handy) I have two books by A.C. Grayling that I refer to at least a couple times in any given week or sometimes more often than that. They are Life, Sex and Ideas: The Good Life Without God and also by him, Thinking of Answers: Questions in the Philosophy of Everyday Life. These books give a concise treatment of a large number of topics. Both books serve as my “go to” source for an ethically based distilled down view on any topic I could think of. What Grayling does in these books is to frame the question and then efficiently work through the tough thinking on the problem. I am half way through Grayling’s book The Challenge of Things: Thinking Through Troubled Times and I have his new book on my Amazon wishlist. I am also halfway through a book by Ann Neumann titled, The Good Death: An Exploration of Dying in America that I like very much so far. This book has been very valuable at the current time as my Dad is now in hospice care.

    Now Dan, you are capable of abstract philosophical thinking and it’s obvious that you have done years of reading and studying on this topic but as I’ve told you in the past, I have neither of those to claim as my own. I’m not saying that I’m too stupid to understand the material (I hope that’s not true!) but the honest fact of the matter is that in all of my reading history I did not spend any time at all reading the material that you guys are drawing on in your discussions on the other thread. While you were reading the philosophers I was reading other things and there’s no value judgement from me on this at all! More power to you (all) and I’m glad you found others here who can grapple with that material with you.

    Sometimes I wonder if you (all) are enjoying the conversion or are just aggravated half to death and i’m not sure what the answer to that is yet. I wonder if there is a gender thing going on with this actually. Sometimes I watch men wrangle each other in what appears to be an aggressive conversation and I think to myself, “That’s it! They started off as friends but now after this argument they’ll end up hating each other!” But then, they all go off and have a beer and watch the game together.

    In the end, you keep coming back for more Dan, and so I’m going with the conclusion, at least for now, that you’re enjoying the exchange of ideas even when it results in disappointment and even outright aggravation at times. I say this with a smile. 🙂 I once heard a politician say, “You might love me or you might hate me but the worst thing that could happen is if I bore you.” I think this explains why I have stuck around here all of these years.

    Now I must get over to the hospice home but I’m considering the other points you brought up for later.



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  • Phil. (41), and others

    Most of your comment above seemed sensible enough to me. I am pleasantly surprised, given the nature of the issue at hand.

    Just to clarify: yes, we can never predict what we can do. That is obvious. Only after we act are we justified in saying: I did that and that says something about me. (Sounds obvious too, but that doesn’t make it less true.)

    Spontaneous. I used the word spontaneous. That is not to be confused with the word free. No, no! That is my main point. No real freedom of the will. We have freedom of choice but can only will one thing at a time.—And therefore, conscious motives that acts upon our will with greater or lesser force in each given motive where we are forced to decide (act) will, in the end, prevail or give way.

    I heard someone in this field – either a neuroscientist or a cognitive psychologist – say something that supported this conception of willing; he said that what we will and what we decide to do consciously are not simultaneous in the brain; the decision appears (milliseconds) after the decision is made (in some observable way). It was, I believe, Dennett. (Can’t recall.) What I took from that is corroboration of the general point that the will is not something we have any control over; we merely appear to have control over it. (I shouldn’t have brought it up, as I can’t remember anything other than that the comment supported the idea of determinism, which all great thinkers throughout history – with some exceptions – have always favored over the superficial, absurd idea that we can always freely decide to will what we will.)



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  • Laurie #43

    “In the end, you keep coming back for more Dan, and so I’m going with the conclusion, at least for now, that you’re enjoying the exchange of ideas even when it results in disappointment and even outright aggravation at times.”

    I am indeed enjoying the exchange, for the most part. Sometimes I feel frustrated, but that’s good; what doesn’t kill one’s ideas makes them stronger. I hope I have been able to “disappoint” others as well.

    Btw, I woke up this morning feeling like a blowhard, shouting about the will and how it isn’t free and all that. And yet I have been doing very little to help others lately. You are working in a hospice or are you visiting one? In either case, that sounds like a praiseworthy thing to be doing, to use a nice, rather pompous-sounding 19th Century word.

    I don’t claim to have all the answers. Believe me. Nor do I know what kindness is or where it comes from or how (if at all) it can be brought out in others. I do really think, however, that we are what we are, to a large extent, although that does sound tautological, as Wittgenstein would say.

    But you mentioned politicians. Perfect example to use, in order to reiterate my point. Thanks. Why do you suppose people are so distrustful of them? This almost universal distrust is illustrative of the fact that at bottom we all are aware that what we do is not always guided by the pure motives that we would have others believe that we have been guided by. A decision to go into politics should be based on the desire to help others. That would be a moral choice, in my sense. But we all know that there is a great deal of power and many privileges associated with this profession. So it is very difficult to make a judgment about the character of most politicians. They are always trying to convince us of how their motives are pure and that they care, how they have dedicated their lives to service, etc. The more they say that the more suspicious I become. It is I think good to remember that most politicians (and most people in general) are neither self-seeking or altruistic. They are in fact guided by these two opposing motives throughout their professional lives. It is up to us to decide which has been the dominant one. This judgment is often impossible to make.

    Finally, I’d like to just say one more thing. You, or perhaps Vicki, raised the question as to how much one should be willing to sacrifice during the on-going process of fulfilling one’s ethical obligations. I would say that that is something that we have no control over. We just do what we do, and must be prepared to face any and all consequences. Yet on the other hand, harming ourselves unnecessarily is morally wrong too. Going to a dangerous part of the world to help people and risking getting shot in the process, for example, might be the right thing to do and it might not. One has to ask oneself if there aren’t other people more suited for that kind of thing. Reason, a bit of humility, sober reflection, and moral instinct are not always mutually incompatible.



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  • 47 continued @ Vicki, Laurie

    My comment above about politicians was, as is often the case, unfortunately, not quite clear. I was just making the point that everyone understands in concreto that the true basis of genuine moral goodness is dependent upon what has motivated us, as opposed to what one appears to do (or what one says).

    What are we, what we do or what we are? what is the relationship between the two? A loathsome and despicable person can do the right thing every minute of his life. Conversely, a truly good person can choose to do the wrong things (for whatever reasons).

    Fulfilling ethical obligations can never be a moral act unless one is motivated to do so out of a sincere desire to the right thing, i.e. help others.

    You can teach someone, condition someone, to fulfill obligations, or coerce them, and that might be good for society. But it is coercion, and we will be left with a society replete with apparent goodness as opposed to real goodness. I fear that that system cannot be sustained, can easily fall too pieces

    As Oscar Wilde said, we should love our neighbors.—Not for the sake of our neighbors, but for our own sake.

    As I said, pragmatism has its place; we need laws. But what finally is the value of an act that merely has the appearance of being ethical, when in fact there is no real desire behind it? We will have people forced or conditioned to be of service and fulfilling your three obligations, and that will make the world a better place. As I said (twice) it can’t be done without coercion. This is actually what we have now: a society of laws. And just think of the mayhem that would ensue without them.

    As vicki said of your obligations (and I hope I am not misapplying her comment), “I see the long arm of the law come into play [even more].”

    Just some food for thought.

    Conclusion: I would rather be a truly ethical individual than be an automaton doling out food and medical supplies – and thereby alleviating suffering – because I was coerced into fulfilling my obligations.

    But both have their place; pragmatism and the real McCoy. We need “automatons.” But I think the individual, finally, is more important than mankind. Don’t listen to me, however; I am a cynic like Oscar Wilde, an individualist. (Not a libertarian.)

    Just raising some questions and issues. Last one: is it possible to make people WANT to fulfill their obligations? And I don’t mean out of fear of punishment or out of desire for reward. That is what motivates the deluded religious people, and is not what we want. So how do we make people more good – and I mean truly good? Is this possible? Think about it and get back to me (if you can, and wish to).



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  • Dan

    But you mentioned politicians. Perfect example to use, in order to reiterate my point. Thanks. Why do you suppose people are so distrustful of them?

    I’m with you on the politicians as bloviating egomaniacal money grubbers. I’m so jaded from the past two elections that I can’t even hide my scorn and cynicism anymore. Could there be a few lonely jewels twinkling from amongst the fetid lumps of shitballs? I want to believe that our Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is one of them. Oh dear. Think twice before you dissuade me of this small pinpoint of hope. I wonder if New York has any politicians that you can be at least somewhat hopeful for.

    You asked why people are so distrustful of politicians and I’ll tell you a story that pretty much sums it up. Years ago I was visiting with a little old lady who lived down the street from me at that time. The poor thing was housebound due to her ancient frailty brought on by a series of collapsing vertebrae. I used to pop in to help her out with this and that. One day we were taking a break and watching the midday news and there was Bill and Hillary Clinton, in his Presidential days, debarking from airforce one. As usual they were waving and smiling to the press like they were on top of the wonderful perfect world. At this point in the scenario, the little old lady turns to me with a look of astonishment. Now a days we’d call it a WTF expression. Why? Because this took place only a few days after the outrageous discovery of Bill’s affair with Monica L. and the details of the cigar and stained dress had been all over the news as you surely remember. So those sordid details in juxtaposition with the triumphant display of those two politicians standing on the stairs outside of airforce one, beaming with smiles, was too much for my elderly friend to reconcile in her mind.

    I feel this disgust on a regular basis now, (perhaps daily) when I see similar displays. I think to myself that only a true psychopath could pull it off like that. A “normal” person would’t get out of bed for a year after a public humiliation. I’d be crying my eyes out for a decade over a public debacle such as those we’ve seen around here.

    Perhaps some other commenter will come along and give you a good old fashioned pep talk about the glories of the democratic system and how everything is working by the people and for the people, and more power to them, but it won’t be me who launches into it because after hearing Trump sputtering his poison every night for all of these months, I just don’t have it in me to assure you that it will all turn out right in the end. We are all being ground down into the worst sort of populist dirt.



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  • Dan
    A few quick thoughts on the more difficult points (difficult for me) that I am thinking about. Then it’s off to the hospice to visit with Dad.

    the true basis of genuine moral goodness is dependent upon what has motivated us, as opposed to what one appears to do (or what one says).

    This has me confused because when I see someone actively participating in behavior that I judge as good and altruistic (beneficence), I count that as morally good. These good actions start to tally up in my mind as leaning toward an opinion that the altruist is of good moral character. Not that I take them for a saint mind you, but I would proceed with the hope that the altruist is a person who demonstrates good behavior that I can observe and although I expect the altruist to have incidents of behavior that I would judge as less than stellar, at the end of the day, the good far outweighs the bad. It’s only when this conglomeration of actions starts to tip substantially in the opposite direction that I will change my opinion of that person. At some point in this downhill slide I will be forced to conclude that we are not dealing with an altruistic good person. We are dealing with a person of bad character who can’t be trusted and who, to make it simple, has flouted many or most or all of those ethical obligations listed above.

    So what do I care for the motivations of that loathsome person? I can’t know what unfortunate genetics are behind their bad behavior nor can I know what unfortunate environment they’ve been raised in. I care about their statements, their opinions and their behavior. There might be many avenues that lead to good or bad behavior and the ethical obligations are only one of them. I agree that no one can be coerced to follow our obligations. Is it unethical to coerce someone to behave ethically? Maybe it’s for the greater good. Utilitarian approach?

    Are we getting hung up on the word “obligation”? Maybe I shouldn’t use it if that’s true. Perhaps I should use the word “guidelines”. Would that be an improvement? Ethical guidelines – this does sound more accurate in that it is a conscious choice one makes when confronted with a decision to make about the future course of one’s behavior when in a situation that is morally ambiguous. The guidelines are a system that helps us work through the fog in order to come out with the best solution, even though it may not be the perfect solution. Just the best one we can achieve at that time. After that we can get on with dealing with the consequences. I learned to utilize this list of guidelines as an adult. I practice using it every day! It’s never going to be a perfect picture this late in the game but that’s why I want this to be instilled in kids right from the get go. So they have this system as their first response instead of tactics like -I’m not getting my way so I’ll just hit the idiot! Sadly, this is the paradigm that me and many others grew up with. It needs to be deleted from the software and replaced with a better subroutine!

    Dan, thanks for dumbing this down somewhat. I don’t feel bad about asking for that. I dumb down plenty of topics for others who are very obviously smarter than I am. It’s just that everyone can’t be at the top of every field out there, can they?! Moving another person forward in a topic that is not their forte is a gift from one to another.



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  • Hi, Laurie,

    I am not an expert on this topic. I am neither a scientist or an academician, as you know; but I am a student of ideas, with a deep understanding of philosophy. I wish merely to raise questions and perhaps establish a few things. If I can make someone think about something in a different – and dare I say it – better, way then that is a great source of gratification to me. I’ll leave expertise to the neuroscientists who I despise (am fearful of.— Not all of them), and to the believers in free will (who I feel contempt for, frankly). I have my own perspective, and have established my own conception of what constitutes a “true” morally good act. I think it is the correct one, although my conception raises other questions that have yet to be answered, and may not be capable of being answered; to wit: what is the human Self?

    (A quick and partially unfair comment about neuroscience re human behavior; if we are to live in a pragmatic world, then why not tamper with the brain? That would accomplish a lot, wouldn’t it? In stead of a measles shot our children will all undergo, a relatively quick, relatively non-invasive surgical procedure to ensure that the part of the brain responsible for empathy will be in tact. We can’t do this now, but the future! The future? Do you see the horror of this?)

    “Is it unethical to coerce someone to behave ethically? Maybe it’s for the greater good. Utilitarian approach?”

    Nothing is either-or. Of course it isn’t unethical, unless you water-board the bad people en masse, torture them, or operate on their brains (in my dystopian image). it’s a question of methods and tactics, among other things. (By the way, the prison system needs reform, as you know.) But all laws imply coercion in some form or another, don’t they? Left to their own devices there will be those who will prey on each other, revert to savagery. Not that we are all bad. But we will be facing a situation where people, left entirely to themselves, unrestrained by fear of punishment, allowed to give full expression to their egotism and greed, where people who are pathetically indifferent to the suffering of others, indifferent to the rights of others to simply live unmolested, and indifferent to the rights of others to their own property (the only two natural rights that I can think of), will perpetrate one wicked act after another, with impunity. Not the answer. Anarchism is, as I said, an absurdity – at the present time.

    “These good actions start to tally up in my mind as leaning toward an opinion that the altruist is of good moral character.”

    They should. What you’re seeing is the empirical character unfold. You can assume that that person is good. But he or she may not be. He may be doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. Maybe he wants to impress someone, or is seeking public office and wants to create an image that he doesn’t deserve, etc. You have asked why it matters if someone appears to be doing good but isn’t. I don’t think, as I’ve said, that behavior alone can ever give us certainty about either way. Behavior is neither good or bad (as opposed to useful; it can be good in that sense); the former is a manifestation, and can be caused by any number of motives. It could, perhaps should be argued, that if someone is willing to be good (behave well) then fine; we need not concern ourselves with what motivates him or her. From the point of view of pragmatism or utilitarianism, and from the point of view of the world looking from the outside in, let him be. But I don’t think that we should allow ourselves to delude ourselves either. He might betray us, so there are practical considerations.

    Moreover, if we want to gain insight, if we are interested in such things as morality and ethics, then we should look deeper. But that is required of no one. I have a theoretical interest in this which may or may not have practical use, although I suspect it does, but I don’t know how that transition can be made. I will ask this again: is it possible to make people want to fulfill their obligations? And I don’t mean out of fear of punishment or out of desire for reward. So how do we make people more good – and I mean truly good? Is this possible? We can certainly try to eliminate the many factors and conditions that engender mental illness and personality disorders and things of that sort, things which prevent the real person (who may be basically good) from emerging, emerging as a morally whole human being.

    As for the wretched, loathsome man underneath, let loose finally like the wolf-man; you needn’t care about him, I guess. But being the good liberal and social critic that I am (and I think you are), I would in inclined to ask, especially if we start seeing more and more of this, what his parents could have done to him, and more importantly, how we as a society have failed him. If there is more crime now than there was, say, fifty years ago, I don’t think it’s fair to assume that people are just getting worse. If the rich are getting richer, that’s what you’re going to get.

    So it is difficult to condemn and difficult to praise, based on the empirical acts alone. But there is real goodness and real wickedness, independent of environmental factors, in my opinion.

    To establish certainty in relation to another’s basic character based on what they do, is exceedingly difficult, as I said. The latter is a mere manifestation, an act in a literal sense, and sometimes it is an act in the figurative sense.

    To look at ourselves, however, is another matter. After we have been tested, which requires having lived a sufficient amount of time, and can then examine a posteriori the course of our own lives, examine and reflect upon our motives, we can then more easily form a conclusion that we were either more good or more bad (more compassionate or more egotistical). That judgment demands rigorous honesty. I suppose I know less about how to make our societies better, and more about what it means for us as individuals to know ourselves, to realize what we are, in a moral sense. This is revealed, slowly, over time, and we then have to reflect, and then we have, perhaps, arrived at some idea.

    Don’t you think character is important? and to be a little better at the end then you were when you started? I do. But this “being better” is only known through our actions and the examination of the motives, counter-motives, challenges, temptations, that have guided us throughout the journey, and in a sense, formed us –and informed us.

    I’d also like to say that we shouldn’t make too many rules up beforehand. (“I will never hit someone or never do this or never do that.”) That can inhibit one and we can, as Henry Miller said, “slaughter our finest impulses.” We should just do what we do.

    I had no real answers but did want to present my theory of the good character vis-à-vis the motives and counter-motives that we face almost every moment and to raise the very questions that you yourself reiterated, and perfectly, I might add.

    @ Bonnie 49

    Was that okay? a little better?



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  • P.S. I forgot to address your question about raising kids, although I touched on it. I think what you said about kids sounded fine, for what that’s worth. (And it is worth a lot. How could what I say not be worth a lot?) 😉

    Corrected sentence:

    …behavior alone can ever give us certainty. Behavior is neither good or bad (as opposed to useful; it can be good in that sense); behavior is a manifestation…



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  • Dan
    Good points all.

    if we are to live in a pragmatic world, then why not tamper with the brain? That would accomplish a lot, wouldn’t it? In stead of a measles shot our children will all undergo, a relatively quick, relatively non-invasive surgical procedure to ensure that the part of the brain responsible for empathy will be in tact. We can’t do this now, but the future! The future? Do you see the horror of this?)

    Ok, this made me laugh because the mention of brain surgery does sound like horror to me but the rest of the scenario sounded quite acceptable. haha.

    What about psych meds? Isn’t that tampering with the brain – non invasively? We’ve been over this before plenty of times here but in a risk-benefit analysis over whether or not to medicate mentally ill people, I don’t hesitate to say yes to the meds when the quality of life for that patient and their families benefit and if the risks are acceptable. I think you and I both have a view to how much the mentally ill suffer and certainly we have a direct view as to the suffering of their families. Sigh. It’s not easy Dan. Life can really throw some shitty hurdles our way, right?



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  • @Dan

    My late daddy used to say, “Locks keep an honest man honest.” Words of wisdom.

    @Laurie

    I’m sorry to hear of your dad’s hospice care; stressful and difficult to say the least. Let me tell you a story that might make you smile.

    I got divorced many years ago, but I still wear my wedding band. Not because of my ex, but because of the jeweler. When my kids were very young, my sisters and I all pitched in to buy a Lladro figurine for my mother for Xmas. I collected the money, then went to a very high-end jeweler with my two young kids in tow on Christmas Eve. Not my best idea; the place was packed. With REALLY rich people. I found the Lladro case and started figuring which one she would like. In the meantime, my kids were ‘loose’ and unsupervised. My 3-year-old son found a guy and asked him what he could buy for his grandma for $2.00. The guy took him over to a case, found him a $25 glass figurine, then took him over to the cashier and told her to charge him $2, and gift-wrap it. Turned out the ‘guy’ was the owner. The random act of kindness, especially on a day when the store was full of high-paying customers still brings tears to my eyes.



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  • Vicki,

    Just as I wrote the sentence above, you posted an inspiring story. There are random acts of kindness and plenty of them are happening in plain view in the hospice as well. Thank you for that.



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  • @ Vicki, Laurie

    Nice story. But how do we know that that random act of kindness arose from the pure motive of compassion, as opposed to some other hidden motive having nothing to do with kindness? I am kidding! I am sure it was an act of kindness and it is an inspiring story. (Just making a bit of fun of myself.)

    Vicki, your dad’s quote: very witty indeed (if I understand it), but not wise. I am sure your dad had wisdom, but that one strikes me as more cynical (à la Oscar Wilde) than wise. Honesty is not what honesty does.

    Laurie, you have my empathy and support from a distance. I am no amateur, assisted in my late father’s care all through his year long bout with cancer, and finally, during the hospice stage. I look back on that and am thankful and consoled by the fact that I was there for him. I think you will be able to do that too. I got to say everything I needed to say. I strongly suggest you talk to him, if there is anything you feel you haven’t said. Someone suggested that to me and I am glad she did. Now I am passing that suggestion on to you.

    As for meds, I am very pro medication. I kind of wish you hadn’t asked me how that differs from tampering with the brain surgically, because at the moment, I can’t think of an answer, goddamn it. Thanks a lot. I will come up with an answer, and a good one. Give me some time. I really think that many of these neuroscience-obsessed people are deluded. They know nothing about the self or the will. I asked one about the will recently. She said it has to do with the brain and nervous system. I asked her if the brain wills. She said No, it’s the organism that wills. So the self is in the mind, a “generatum” of the brain, and body is what we are wills? End of story? Ha-ha-ha. Laurie, isn’t that funny? (and I want you make you laugh.)—Think about that: the self is literally IN the mind. Where exactly?

    One more thing: I don’t want to give the impression that I am advocating passivity when I suggest nature over nurture (and the environment is certainly a protagonist in all our lives and may interfere with or facilitate the process of self-realization). People can change, can grow and evolve. They can. But it is, I think, more about becoming “the being that one is” (Rilke), as opposed to becoming another person. Self-realization, not self-alteration.

    The reason why Dickens’ Christmas Carol has had the impact that it has had (although it isn’t his best novel) is because Scrooge doesn’t become another person; he becomes who he has always been. His marvelous book Dombey and Son is a far better psychological study; it is the study of a man who does not change, but does emerge. Dickens himself said that of the character: no psychic alteration or upheaval; through adversity his cloak, Dombey’s many cloaks (layers), are shed. (Loosely paraphrasing.) We all need to become what we are (although we are not all good). And we cannot know what we are beforehand; life is a moral voyage of self-discovery, involving risk and danger and action, and, above all, uncertainty.



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  • 58
    bonnie2 says:

    @ #57

    Once upon a time, a certain Mr. Wedgewood made an appearance at high-end store, to put his personal signature on Wedgewood pieces. One old lady was crushed when he callously exclaimed her piece was fake, with a brush-aside.

    shed layers

    I’ve doubts my exampled Grinch became “good” – pearl onion, small and hard. Vidalia, green, red, shallot are we.



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  • Re: life driven purpose / our humanity

    Quote of the century, from a fine yet flawed thinker:

    “Some of the most important aspects of our humanity reside in the hippocampus.” (Reside!)

    (Sentence, from # 57, unclear: “So the self is in the mind, a “generatum” of the brain, and body is what we are wills?” Sorry.)



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  • Dan

    Charming. Take it from its context (and thread) where you were happy to remain ignorant of the the hippocampus.

    Now you seem to know plenty about it to pass judgment and my attempt to tease you (with a little hyperbole) into giving a damn about this stuff becomes yet another ad hom opportunity for you.

    I’m no good at this stuff. I’m sorry. I don’t grok your thinking about what facts or people are flawed.



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  • Phil

    I offer you my apology. I just thought the sentence was funny.

    I spend much of my time trying in vain to defend my arguments and face ad hom remarks by others on a continuous basis. (Not complaining.) Mine are few and far between, although a little ridicule (and I thought the sentence itself warranted it) has its place, as Dawkins often says.

    You deserve better, however. Won’t happen again.

    Grok: from Heinlein?



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  • Re: The thwarting of life driven purpose (and a message to all the twisted and misguided libertarians).

    Some thoughts from my cousin Albert Einstein:

    Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands, partly because of competition among the capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labor encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of the smaller ones. The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organised political society. This is true since the members of legislative bodies are selected by political parties, largely financed or otherwise influenced by private capitalists who, for all practical purposes, separate the electorate from the legislature. The consequence is that the representatives of the people do not in fact sufficiently protect the interests of the underprivileged sections of the population. Moreover, under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights.

    This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism (…)
    (Albert Einstein, 1949)



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  • One more:

    “The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed.” (Albert Einstein, 1931)



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  • to LaurieB #9:

    Here is another revision of the ten “commandments” you might consider:

    Thou shalt not believe in entities or events that have no evidence for existence in the natural universe by means of our senses or extensions of our senses.
    Thou shall question all authorities.
    Thou shalt not believe that different is another word for wrong.
    Thou shalt not kill another human being unless in the case of self defense.
    Thou shall take responsibility for your own actions.
    Thou shall think globally and act locally.
    Thou shalt not believe in any absolute truth.
    Thou shalt not assume you know how another person thinks or feels.
    Thou shall change your ideas if new evidence indicates that your previous ideas are incorrect.
    Thou shalt not attempt to impose your ideas on other people.



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  • cbrown

    That’s a list that I could live with. But I still get creeped out by the “Thou shall and thou shalt…” wording. I’d like to lop that off. Too much historical baggage with all of that. 🙂



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  • 68

    At last, someone gets it. 🙂

    I wouldn’t get rid of the oughts altogether; the ought has it’s place, but I would say I ought to do this and that, and then try to do do it. In other words, if you want to live by a system of maxims then that’s okay, worth a try. (We all do that unconsciously anyway.) But never say you ought to do this or that. Or say it, but expect mixed results, if any. What’s wrong with setting an example, or a gentle suggestion and an explanation?— “I think you should think globally [or whatever]. . . and this is why. These are my reasons. ” The ought won’t work, can’t work, unless you’re a parent holding up a stick and wearing an angry face.



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  • OHooligan

    Thank you for the kind words on the marriage thread.

    We do need authority, and laws. I said that in my comment 52:

    “Left to their own devices there will be those who will prey on each other, revert to savagery. Not that we are all bad. But we will be facing a situation where people, left entirely to themselves, unrestrained by fear of punishment, allowed to give full expression to their egotism and greed, where people who are pathetically indifferent to the suffering of others, indifferent to the rights of others to simply live unmolested, and indifferent to the rights of others to their own property (the only two natural rights that I can think of), will perpetrate one wicked act after another, with impunity. Not the answer. Anarchism is, as I said, an absurdity – at the present time.”

    My general point on this thread and elsewhere, is that you can force people to act according to the law and that is necessary, but real morality as I understand it, is not what we do per se; it is a feeling that we then act upon. I distinguish between behavior arising from coercion (which has its place for sure) and behavior that arises from one’s innermost self.

    I didn’t read your article, and may have misconstrued. What is your point exactly, in your own words?



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  • Dan

    Philosophy, I assert, lies between science and politics. The article is political. I thought it might interest you, as it follows from, and expands on, the words of Einstein you quoted.

    The article describes “neoliberalism”, the doctrine-that-has-no-name, as the social/political model that has thrived in the western world since Thatcher and Reagan, the one that makes the rich richer and the poor poorer, and all the ills that follow from that.

    As you mention “law”, the article reminds us there’s “one law for the rich one for the poor”, to quote Christie Moore.

    The poor are coerced, non-stop. The rich, when they’re not being coerced by each other, may get a few moments now and then to relax and behave as their innermost self wishes. Unfortunately, it almost always seems to involve applying coercion to others.



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  • @Dan

    The philosophy is not my thing, but I have been watching a scientific documentary, Secrets of the Brain, which examines all aspects of our brain. While I don’t comment on your, Phil’s and assorted others in relation to the matters above, a lot of the subjects you address are dealt with from the science perspective in this documentary. The blurb from the first episode as follows:-

    What Is Reality? -Thirty years after Carl Sagan’s ground-breaking series on astronomy the field of neuroscience is finally ready to have its cinematic picture taken. Working with computational neuroscientists and biophysicists, this documentary melds the very latest real-time and computer-generated images of the brain with cutting edge CGI and graphic technology to take viewers on the journey of a lifetime, to the very centre of their brains. Presented by neuroscientist Dr David Eagleman whose polymathic mind, compelling turn-of-phrase and exciting multi-disciplinary approach has earned him respect – and fans – the world over.

    http://www.sbs.com.au/ondemand/video/628370499520/secrets-of-the-brain-what-is-reality

    This link is to an Australian TV station SBS which is currently screening the documentary. I don’t know if it has location restrictions. I’d be interested if you try to play an episode, whether it plays. Professional up to date science on all aspects of the brain.

    If you think you are in control, let me tell you that you are not. Competing areas of the brain battling it out over every decision.



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  • O’Hooligan #70

    Awesome article. It would have been nice to have the space to deal with “The Third Way” espoused by Bliar etc. In my opinion this was an economic philosophy under a credible banner that involved making shit up on the politically expedient spot.

    A third way is indeed needed but it must be composed of solid strategies of, for instance, who gets to invest (private/corporate equity, state, personal/protected/savings equity etc.), over what timescales, when and why. It must roll up a better way of valuing and protecting the commons, seeking always to expand these (returning to common ownership) at their less obvious periphery when under utilised or abused. And managing the democratic input to the nature of the market place. (Alan Sugar…I knew his first and only boss… declared he would sell nuclear weapons over the counter if it were legal….)



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  • To LaurieB #68,

    You’re right about that. I used that terminology on purpose as a takeoff from Biblical “commands” but in another context. Perhaps it’s my way of being sarcastic in a backhanded manner as well as making a point. I think I might remove that wording.



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  • To CBrown, and others

    Remove Thou shall, and write You should. Fine. —But how do you get people to do those things, that is the question. What if they don’t want to? This list may work for you and may work for others who want to follow these guidelines, but it won’t work for people who either disagree with you or who simply don’t want to do what you want them to do. Nothing has been solved. No solution has been established or approached.

    Normative ethics bears no fruit.

    On the other hand, a map of the world that does not include Utopia is hardly worth even glancing at, as Oscar Wilde said. Moreover, we do need a vision, and we do need abstract principles to guide us; without that the ones that would truly want to do some of the things on the various to-do lists of the world, will be left groping – with their good hearts – in the dark.



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  • The longer the list of Commandments, the worse it gets. Ten is pushing it.

    A nice short list of, shall we say “guidelines”, would be better. Guidelines for the smooth running of society, and guidelines for learning how to live a Good Life, not necessarily the same thing.

    On the short lists, I like this one:

    Keep your promises
    Dont make stupid promises

    And this one, as short as a list can get:

    Dont be an asshole

    I once heard an Irish comedian’s guideline on how to live an interesting life:

    Never refuse money or sex

    Then there’s the biological imperative:

    pass on your genes
    promote the continuing survival of your genes

    Which can translate into looking after your nieces and nephews, and not wrecking the planet for your grandchildren.



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  • Find problems and fix them.
    Find friends and keep them.
    Listen and take no offence.
    Speak as much as you know to be true.
    Tidy your bedroom.
    Live and act for yourself like there’s no tomorrow.
    Love and act for others like they will always have tomorrow.
    Tidy your bedroom now,
    and put things back where you found them.



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  • So after David’s timely corrective and just to recompose my poem which is from conscious me to unconscious me….

    Let me…
    Find problems and fix them.
    Find friends and keep them.
    Listen and take no offence.
    Speak as much as I know to be true.
    Tidy my bedroom.
    Live and act for myself like there’s no tomorrow.
    Love and act for others like they will always have tomorrow.
    Tidy my bedroom now,
    and put things back where I found them
    But , first
    Let me do no harm.



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  • “Don’t be an asshole.” (from OHooligan’s list)

    What’s with all the lists?

    OHooligan’s probably being facetious but it still gives me a great opportunity to drive my point home. We’ve all had to deal with assholes, right? Well next time you meet one, tell him not to be one. That’ll work! Telling someone or even ourselves (if we are “assholes” or sociopaths or just plain rotten to the core) not to be that way is analogous to attempting to mold a piece of marble with your bare hands. In order to get someone to relinquish their character defects they have to want to do that (have the willingness and the capability, and not everyone does, period). And again, this is not about behavior modification.

    Well I do have one categorical imperative of my own: you must agree with everything I say. No? Come on! You can at least try, can’t you? The will is free, isn’t it? So exercise your fee will, and prove that it is free, and do something that you don’t want to do!



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  • We do things we don’t want to do all the time e.g. loaning money

    Even accepting free will is an illusion, it does not follow that what we do always aligns perfectly with what we want to do.



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  • @dan #84

    Nice one Dan. Facetious, moi?

    I agree that telling someone not to be an asshole is unlikely to achieve anything. But it’s at least more concise than telling them ten lengthy specific commandments.

    Oh, ok. How about “Don’t be an Obvious Asshole”?

    Agree with you, as an exercise in Free Will? You can bet I’ll try, but you can’t always win. (Shakira, Gypsy)



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  • There’s a rabbinical saying along the lines of “you cannot do good by doing evil”.

    In modern terms, a little less directly, “the ends do not justify the means”.

    Put in terms of Barker’s metaphor, this would be “never head South even if you end up further North than you were before”. Which contradicts what he was saying…



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  • @ MadEnglishman #88

    Put in terms of Barker’s metaphor, this would be “never head South
    even if you end up further North than you were before”. Which
    contradicts what he was saying…

    There is magnetic north and true north. The perception that any old north will do might be the problem?



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  • Sean,

    We do “want” to loan money and we do “want* to pay taxes, etc. I didn’t say that wanting (being willing) to do what we do is the same as enjoying what we “want” to do!

    Wouldn’t you rather pay taxes than pay penalties or worse?



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  • Hi Dan,

    No, we do what we don’t want to do. People usually counter this by pointing out that while we may not want to lend money we do want to be a good friend, so when we lend money we’ve still done what we wanted. Fine.

    But how does that address our desire to not lend money, our initial and I say lasting -in this case- desire? In other words, just because we want to be a good friend, or avoid penalties, our other wants including not wanting to lend money don’t magically disappear when we go against them. Or do they?

    If they don’t then we can be operating with conflicting desires. This seems like a better description of reality to me, and like a good thing to consider when looking at behavior.

    …or it’s a point not worth making 🙂



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  • Hi, Sean,

    You partially answered your own question, provided a good starting-point with this statement:

    “…while we may not want to lend money we do want to be a good friend, so when we lend money we’ve still done what we wanted.”

    Obviously, we don’t like the idea parting with money in itself. But there are other motives that are acting upon us in these situations (and others). The desire not to lose a friend may be one such motive, as you said. Every situation is unique, has its own peculiar elements.

    We most certainly do operate with conflicting desires, and on a continuous basis – and that is the key to the solution of this apparent contradiction. I like the analogy of the balancing scale. On one dish is one motive, on the other dish is the counter-motive. The two dishes are never the same weight and if they were we would be incapable of acting. In real life there are multiple dishes, not just two.

    To continue with the example of lending money, it is not something we want to do; granted. But this is just using the word “want” in the popular sense. I am using it in a different sense. We do “want” to lend our friend the money in so far as that desire (the wanting) is stronger than the opposing desire (the not wanting). Wanting is relative, you see. If we really didn’t want to refuse someone a loan then we would refuse the loan. Sometimes we do. But when you say we do things that we don’t want to do, that is just another way of saying that we don’t enjoy doing it, as I said before, and in that popular sense of the word “wanting” with its implication of pleasure, you are right.

    The confusion has arisen over our different use or understanding of the word “want.” We do what we want and we do what we don’t want. In both cases what is really going on is this: one motive is contending with another. The stronger motive will always prevail, as we can never will two things simultaneously. The will is empirically free, but the motive is a cause just like any other. The motive is no less compelling than any other force in nature. You can do what you don’t want to do, but you cannot do what you will not do. Try throwing all your money down the drain. What! Don’t want to? I would say: you WILL not do it. And if you did it would prove nothing except that you wanted to do it. Why? To prove a point, perhaps, or for some other reason. But my point is that when you think of things that you really are not willing to do or do not want to do (and this has been my point throughout this thread): you will not do it, unless you have a motive that outweighs all the others in the end, or are coerced.

    The aversion to lending money may be permanent. Let’s assume it is, for the sake of argument. As I said, wants and desires are relative. Some are stronger or weaker than others. If you don’t want to do something but prefer that to something you would dislike doing even more, then that is tantamount to saying that you want to do the first thing more than the second thing (even if you would rather do neither).

    I would recommend On the Will in Nature for a more thorough presentation of the concept of the motive as cause and of the deterministic nature of the human will in relation to it, of the strict necessity that governs all of our acts. (This is from an a posteriori perspective, however; the will, again, is empirically free.)



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