Goodness: Major Contentions

What Do We Mean by “Good”?

  • Coherentists enjoy two advantages in making truth claims: they can use emotions as warrant and they do not face the problem of specifying conceptual goods for intersubjective judgment.
  • Contemporary culture views finding goodness as a purely subjective appraisal.
  • Some correspondentists claim all moral goodness is based on sentiment, but this fails to resolve the problems of subjectivity and dooms nearly all public morality.
  • Romantic thinkers argued goodness to be an intimation delivered by a pantheist deity, which would allow intersubjectivity, but this position was eventually altered to retain the means while rejecting its source, producing nihilism.
  • The hermetic options have fostered subjectivism that in its strongest articulations devolves into emotivism.
  • Conceptually, goodness can be sought in three kinds of experience: utility, quality, and morality.
  • Utility is invariably hypothetical and contextual.
  • Determinations of truth have utility in structuring the goodness choices that follow, so even entirely subjective utility depends upon an accurate analysis of experience; this imposes some limitations on pragmatic choices that pragmatism fails to recognize.
  • This connection can prompt either premature closure or an act of severance so as to minimize the is/ought
  • Broadening contextual considerations and the necessity for the act of severance may produce a publicly defensible utility of furthest ends but only if modernist axioms are engaged.
  • Contemporary appraisals of objective quality face three problems: temptations to substitute judgments of utility, the problem of conceptual specification, and the dominance of subjectivism.
  • Judgments of quality are possible using consensual standards of quality or expertise.
  • Morality is the most difficult of goods to examine because it inevitably requires an end of choosing and a systematic means to obtain it; these difficulties pose particular problems for public morality, but also challenge private schemas.

Is Goodness Real?

  • Contemporary cultures consider goodness either entirely subjective or an imposition of power by institutional authority.
  • Premodernists consider goodness to have Platonic dimensions and therefore to be real, but their beliefs cannot be justified.
  • Postmodernists celebrate their tolerance and view even the law as a pragmatic expedient or an arbitrary imposition of power.
  • A pure nominalism on the existence of goodness is self-contradictory since it judges conceptual nominalism to be a better position than the alternatives.
  • Conceptualist judgments of goodness are possible so long as valid categorizations of experience are abstracted modestly and with an eye to revision.
  • Morality is a kind of conceptual judgment of goodness.
  • Any effort to conceptualize goodness standards faces problems of subjectivity, belief, and the perceptual wall as a filter of experience.
  • Expertise attests to the existence of defensible public conceptions of goodness-as-utility as do standards of quality.
  • Objectivity may be too high a standard for judgments of goodness, but intersubjectivity clears a somewhat lower bar and suits conceptual categories of goodness.
  • This position conduces to moral universalism or moral absolutism.
  • Neurological science finds categorical structures in the brain that guide consensual pursuit of human needs that qualify as universal goods.

What Do We Mean by “Morality”?

  • Our endless satisfaction of preferences in experience places goodness choices at the center of our concerns.
  • Hypothetical utility is the most common goal of preference.
  • Morality may be defined as “a system of principles of conduct to guide preference to desired ends.”
  • Accepting this definition sets up guardrails of reason and finality to morality and distinguishes it definitionally from lesser or more immediate goals of quality or utility.
  • Employing a morality imposes additional limitations involving motivation, practicality, and conflict resolution.
  • Morality implies categorical duty just as truth implies categorical reasoning.
  • Cultures, beliefs, and legal systems are wrongly considered sources of morality, but they do not satisfy the definitional requirements of the term.
  • True moral systems may be universalist or absolutist.
  • The failure of religious authority has eroded absolutist moral systems in Western cultures.
  • Since a definitional requirement of morality is that it arbitrate dispute, utilitarianist and legal positivist systems must be rejected.
  • The erosion of institutional authority and the rise of the virtual circle have complicated the search for a public morality, though they have not diminished its necessity.
  • Empirical science, our most reliable source of truth, cannot provide moral guidance, nor can expertise.
  • Just as individuals must act with moral integrity, so too must nations, so a universalist and public moral system is necessary to resolve conflicts among societies just as communal morality is necessary to resolve conflicts among persons.

Truth and Goodness Do a Dance

  • Truth is a mental grasp of what is, but that might imply either discovery or creation.
  • We can not distill what is for value until we adequately grasp its truth.
  • If the thinker creates truth, she may create it out of whatever mental stuff she wishes to, and this tempts a valuation that occurs simultaneously with her determination of truth, producing the problem of premature closure.
  • Because beliefs are marked by desire, they invariably combine determinations of truth and of value, but when properly applied, they cannot be considered premature closure because better reasoning cannot produce a more comprehensive judgment.
  • Theoretically, these alloys of created truth and value imply the necessity of tolerance for disagreement, but this rational necessity is seldom honored.
  • Discovering truth requires a dispassionate mental operation reliant on one of the five correspondence proofs of judgment.
  • Persons’ experiences are varied enough to require both kinds of operations aptly applied.
  • Authority relies upon a single act of trust to reveal truth and goodness in one mental act, making authority a very strong means of warranting an absolute morality; however, it cannot resolve dispute between authorities nor resolve the loss of trust that these disputes foster.
  • Empiricism, expertise, and undistilled experience each offer insurmountable obstacles to public morality.
  • Only competence can warrant public morality based upon correspondence warrants for the truths it discovers.
  • Such a public concept qualifies as a universalist moral system.
  • Persons embrace all manners of public conceptual knowledge, for example, of justice, empirical theories, math, or expertise; all concepts rely upon a distillation of varied experiences filtered through universal reasoning.
  • Categorical universal morality faces the is/ought
  • Virtue ethics and functional natural law rely upon a self-evident hypothetical judgment that bridges the is/ought disjunction.

Cultural Consensus

  • It is a deep mistake to think the cumulative wisdom of a culture superior to the undistilled, individual judgment of its members, a conclusion confirmed by history and epistemological theory.
  • On the other hand, in the face of individuated experience, universal reason as a corrective is challenging to defend because it relies on intersubjectivity, which is susceptible to groupthink.
  • Three contentions dispute the existence of moral consensus in contemporary life: conflicts about the nature of morality produce a recourse to contextual utility, about which the vast numbers of cultures in contemporary life nevertheless disagree.
  • A culture can be defined as “any aggregate of individuals seeking any common good,” in which case each of us is flooded with conflicting influences that we must still find a way to arbitrate as we engage our preferential freedom.
  • Pop cultures more resemble fads or distractions than moral influences, but this is not to deny their power to affect preference.
  • Our axiomatic disagreements, pragmatic interests, and materialist distractions ensure that pop cultures will never provide moral consensus.
  • Positive law is the “morality of last resort” in Western societies.
  • Institutional authority, once a powerful force for acculturation, is now regarded as a threat to autonomy and is generally resisted as coercive.
  • The failures of authority have prompted premodernists to attempt to revive it so that it might attempt to establish a cultural consensus, but that will not happen in the foreseeable future.
  • If those who understand the present moral crisis do not pin their hopes on authority, they may seek consensus from empiricism or expertise, but these sources will also not succeed.
  • Because postmodernism has saturated popular culture, the postmodern theorists who once advised heroic resistance to “the culture” now opine that it cannot fail to form identity, but this simplistic analysis fails to account sufficiently for preferential agency, the source of human rights.

The Moral Bullseye

  • All moral choices rely on desire or duty involving ourselves and other persons.
  • We can view morality as a systematic bullseye specifying our duties and desires to ourselves and others.
  • An ethic of total desire will have two rings with all those in the outer ring serving the desires of the egotist at the center.
  • An ethic of total duty will have the moral agent establishing a duty to all those in the second ring.
  • Neither of these ethics is possible if one uses the principle of non-contradiction as a simple test, which most impacts pragmatism and Christian ethics.
  • Non-contradiction requires a recognition of
  • It is natural for persons to favor those they love, which will require a third ring of the moral bullseye: one for self, one for loved ones, and an outer ring for strangers.
  • This bullseye faces serious problems of equity, for it establishes a tension between the principle of equity and our inclination toward tribal favoritism.
  • The three-ring moral bullseye is not fair, but it is just because we give all moral agents their due; we give our intimates more than their due.
  • Because animals evidentially lack moral agency, they cannot be considered moral agents worthy of radical respect.
  • Only virtue ethics recognizes a difference in duty and desire between strangers and those we love, and since this distinction is so deeply rooted as to be ineradicable in human nature, a complete moral system must honor it despite the protestations of utilitarianists and duty ethicists.
  • We must distinguish two categories of stranger: individuals and the stranger-writ-large that is community and government.
  • Duty and desire are emulsified in relations of love, and in a just state, would be similarly emulsified in relations based upon justice, since the moral agent benefits from both kinds of relations and also has a duty, though a differing one, to either ring of the moral bullseye.

 The Axioms of Moral Systems

  • Moral judgments always rely on a foundationalist set of axioms the moral agent may not be aware of.
  • Settling disputes involves more than clearly establishing the conflicting issue; it also requires that persons respect the warrants persons bring to their attempts to resolve it, but that respect requires that persons agree to the axioms of commitment that allow the warrants to have force.
  • The very existence of these factors is disputed by determinism, so a felt freedom to decide must be a unifying axiom that initiates conflict resolution.
  • Postmodernism employs an axiom of phenomenalist uniqueness that assumes persons’ experiences are completely determinative of identity, part of which is their reasoning.
  • Postmodernists assume as a consequence that morality is personalized or acculturated and is therefore subjective or relative to culture.
  • This privatization of morality privileges no objective stance and views any axiom that privileges one to be coercive.
  • This coercion is thought by postmodernists to be perpetuated through institutional authority, which postmodernists axiomatically resist in performative displays of preferential independence.
  • Postmodernists’ axioms of commitment drive them toward pragmatist and virtual circle
  • Premodernists axiomatically trust what postmodernists axiomatically reject.
  • Premodernists view traditions and institutions as formative of their identity and surrender their moral agency to the authorities and traditions they implicitly rely upon.
  • Because their trust suppresses their agency, they are resistant to criticisms of their axiomatic commitments and reject disputes founded upon not only other axioms but also upon other authorities using the same axiom of commitment.
  • Premodernists are often committed to specific religious authority; their trust must refuse consideration of competing religion and cannot tolerate its potential to erode their trust.
  • Premodernists’ axioms of commitment have been eroded by the historical failures of institutional authority since the Protestant Reformation.
  • Consequently, premodernists assume two distortive stances: first, they wish to reenergize trust in authority, which is a near impossibility in diverse societies with many competing authorities; secondly, they are influenced by the prevailing atmosphere of distrust, so their “trust” is often composed of an impossible effort to combine their own beliefs with the dictates of authority.
  • Modernists stand between premodernists and postmodernists in their axioms of commitment, regarding institutions as informative in their efforts to mold their moral identity.
  • Though modernists assume the privacy of experience and the density of the perceptual wall in processing it, they axiomatically assume that universal reason is capable of common understandings of diverse experience.
  • Modernists therefore rely upon science, expertise, and competence as warrants acceptable to their axioms of commitment; their sanction of institutional authorities and of undistilled experience is inconsistent or guarded.
  • Modernists’ assumptions operative through failing institutional authorities have contributed to social upheaval, producing contradictions and hypocrisies postmodernists are eager to point out to them.
  • Two unfortunate results of modernists’ axioms have been social contract theory and a too-eager endorsement of the human sciences.
  • In today’s cultures one can interrogate one’s own and others’ axioms of commitment by asking a series of questions that will bring unnoticed assumptions to conscious attention.

The Death of Character

  • Contemporary society mistakenly identifies character as
  • The essential difference is that personality is formed and character is molded: the first is the happenstance of experience and the second is the conscious direction to an intended end, tying character to morality.
  • The classical cultures that produced virtue ethics assumed the existence of character, whereas Christian society saw human nature deeply disjointed by original sin and therefore resistant to self-formation.
  • The failures of authority in the Reformation restored universalist moral theories: Kant’s duty ethic emulated Stoicism while Mill’s utilitarianism mimicked some aspects of Epicureanism.
  • First Romanticism and then the human sciences restored the medieval notion of gnostic external influence while Victorianism sought an impossible synthesis of reason and emotion.
  • Phenomenalism emphasized the formative nature of experience and the impermeability of the perceptual wall, a view reinforced by psychological pseudo-science that stressed the power of the unconscious.
  • Natural science dominated the twentieth century, discrediting commonsense reasoning and the moral choices it directs.
  • Postmodernism first taught a radical existential freedom as the desirable response to conformism but as its theoretical basis saturated Western societies, it began to argue for a sociological determinism beginning in the 1980’s.
  • Today, values are to morality what personality is to character, a pastiche of formative pressures.
  • The postmodern performative stance inevitably produces pragmatism and cannot settle conflict except through imposition of power.
  • Character development today is seen as veiled imposition of power on autonomy or an arbitrary lifestyle choice, not as an essential process of self-formation.
  • Only a habitual disposition to moral virtue can direct character to moral ends while still respecting all three rings of the moral bullseye.

Three Moral Systems

  • To be prescriptive, moral systems must resolve the is/ought
  • No empirical effort can resolve the is/ought problem, meaning science cannot prescribe morality.
  • The nature of moral judgment implies rationality and finality as essential elements of morality.
  • Additionally, a workable moral system must not be so unwieldy so as to be cumbersome nor so idealistic as to be unhelpful in context, nor can it be private but must work to resolve public conflict.
  • Only absolutist systems based upon religious authority or universalist ones based upon intersubjective reasoning meet these requirements.
  • Though absolutist systems have been historically predominant, their failure in the Reformation and after it was so catastrophic as to have eliminated them as options.
  • Coherentist positions privilege moral agency but cannot resolve conflict except through coercion.
  • Only three universalist moral systems resolve the is/ought problem: duty ethics, utilitarianism, and virtue ethics.
  • Of these, duty ethics fails to provide sufficient motivation to compel a duty in defiance of self-interest while utilitarianism degenerates into pragmatism.
  • Only virtue ethics provides the end, means, motivation, and method to meet the ends of moral judgment; when affecting the third ring of the moral bullseye, it becomes functional natural law.

Needs Anchor Morality

  • The injunctions of morality are valuable to guide one’s actions and settle conflicts with others.
  • While a subjective morality is personalized and doable, it cannot settle conflicts.
  • A universalist morality might be capable of resolving conflict, but it must prove convincing to oneself and others to succeed.
  • A major obstacle in objectivizing morality is the problem of specification of the concepts used to employ it.
  • The simplest means to overcome this problem is to employ an absolutist morality defined and warranted by an authority reliant on trust, but since authority cannot resolve challenges to trust that will erode it, it is unlikely to be revived as a viable moral warrant today.
  • The only other putatively objective options available are virtue ethics, duty ethics, and
  • Of the three, only virtue ethics is a complete system, but it relies on the shaky foundation of the duty to satisfy universal human needs.
  • Its effort to catalogue those needs faces cultural opposition from psychology, cultural variance, and postmodernists jealous of individual agency and suspicious of imposition of values.
  • It also faces axiomatic opposition from premodernists seeking a revival of religious authority or traditional values.
  • The task of identifying human needs need not seek cultural consensus that resolves all opposition but must satisfy the definitional requirements of morality while also proving itself convincing to a dispassionate observer.
  • The first task must be to remind that observer of the deficiencies of the axioms of premodernism and postmodernism to make space for the positive argument to follow.
  • One can seek the existence of universal human needs in two kinds of investigation: an historical one focused on widely disparate eras and a comparative one of contemporary cultures focused on widely disparate lifestyles.
  • All adult human persons engage their freedoms to pursue whatever they consider good, making each of us a choice-making machine.
  • A key means to achieve a utility of furthest ends is to avoid having one’s preferences self-conflict or so conflict with others that the preferences are frustrated, and this requires a rationally directed pursuit of identified ends.
  • This implies that some desires are more worthy of pursuing than others, though that is difficult to see because of the variability of experience.
  • Though experience is unique, reasoning is potentially universal and can be made more competent by the act of separation that makes truth determinations prior to engaging preference.
  • The summum bonum of virtue ethics is human flourishing: the acquisition of those goods that are worthy ends of preference.
  • An illustrative example would be the species-specific human need for healthful nutrition: with very minor variations for gender, the countless cultural variances of selection, preparation, and consumption of food all service the single end of healthful nutrition, and so they can be judged by their service to that end.
  • These kinds of health needs are instinctually knowable and pressing, yet the same rational process that mediates them can discover other universal human practices served by an immense cultural variety such as the universal need for education.
  • One way to test these candidates is by their service as ends in themselves: good health and education are good for their own sakes.
  • As a catalogue of needs is constructed, it becomes apparent that these self-evident goods must be balanced and responsive to circumstance, though any failure to satisfy all of them diminishes flourishing.
  • Competent arbitration among true needs and gatekeeping them against the press of desire require plentiful experiences to be distilled by increasingly competent preference.
  • A few guideposts: needs are incommensurable, timeless, universal, and trans-cultural, and can be found by employing a golden mean between extremes.
  • One phrasing of needs might identify bodily, sharing, intellectual, character, and political needs.
  • Functional natural law theory enlarges virtue ethics to the political and communal sphere wherein justice rules; it regards human rights as products of radical respect for all persons’ preferential freedom and governs the just distributions of societal goods and their arbitration.
  • The development of good habits is essential to virtue ethics; this process is moral virtue (as opposed to the intellectual virtue of identifying needs) and its correct employment leads to wisdom.

A Virtue Ethics Primer

  • One can observe the difficulties of employing an objective morality in the efforts of utilitarianism to reveal “the greatest good for the greatest number” and of duty ethics to discount the vagaries of circumstance.
  • The decisive and universal commonality is our species-specific nature as choice-making machines rather than anything more restrictive.
  • Virtue ethics relies upon a judgment of preference to distill experience so as to satisfy a catalogue of human needs; using this constant human activity as a standard will allow each preference to be judged as good, bad, or neutral.
  • But virtue ethics focuses less on individual evaluations than on their cumulative effects on character and so its methodology and motivation lean heavily on the cultivation of good habits.
  • Prominent among our needs are the goods of character that allow the cultivation of moral virtue; chief among them are temperance, courage, and prudence.
  • In terms of how we ought to treat ourselves and others, virtue ethics sets up a moral bullseye of duties to self, intimates, and strangers.
  • Central to such a moral structure is a clear understanding of the nature of justice.
  • No other moral system reconciles equitable desires and duties to loved ones and to strangers.
  • Human needs are human rights and establish what persons in polities are due.

The Problem of Moral Pragmatism

  • The most common “moral system” practiced in Western societies is moral pragmatism.
  • Fans say it is fast and dirty, easy and personal, and suited to a materialist society; all this is true, but pragmatism’s liabilities make it a very poor substitute for morality.
  • Pragmatism began as a truth theory in the U.S. at the turn of the twentieth century.
  • Its premise was that immediate, personalized utility must be the test of a truth claim.
  • As a truth theory, it fails abjectly to establish an act of separation between determinations of truth and goodness, biasing both by a preliminary deference to desire.
  • It also fails to consider consequences beyond immediate ones, which will doom any quest for integrity.
  • Its pseudo-scientific warrant attempts to make ordinary experience a kind of experiment in violation of the strict limitations on experiences actually imposed by empirical practice.
  • In deriving from utilitarianism, pragmatism utterly fails to resolve conflict between persons, cultures, or even a single individual’s desires.
  • For all its opposition to religious authority, pragmatism suffers from the same emulsion of truth and goodness calculations, eliminating the act of separation that allows dispassionate judgment.
  • Pragmatists are unclear about whether pragmatism is a psychological necessity or a desirable moral guide, but if they assume the former contention, they have no need of the latter one.
  • Pragmatism makes no concession to equity or justice, favoring expedience in all preferences.
  • Its ease and quickness disguise its insufficiencies in Western cultures overflowing with available options to individual preference.

The Utility of Furthest Ends

  • Nearly all of our preferences are judgments of immediate utility.
  • Moral choosing is definitionally not hypothetical because it is made without regard to present experience; it is categorical and intended to guide future experience to some preselected end.
  • When made in experience, competent judgments are governed by an act of severance in which the truth of a moment is processed before being distilled by reason to provide options for preference.
  • Both categoricality and the act of severance require rational self-discipline.
  • Historical circumstance has made that self-discipline very difficult to employ and when it is unavoidable, it is often resented, as in the case of obedience to law.
  • Most persons see no alternative to enlarging whatever private system of preference they employ to the public sphere, but that attempt faces crippling obstacles.
  • Until World War I, private belief was often subsumed to public institutional authority, but no such sublimation is possible today because of a collapse of trust in institutions as well as a postmodern interpretation of the uses of power.
  • While a premodernist public orientation is unlikely to function, a modernist one appealing to universal reasoning in diverse experience may be revived simply because private schemas provide no means to resolve conflict short of coercion or surrender.
  • No appeal to cultural consensus can succeed because such concurrences are invariably not moral ones.
  • Laws establish a minimal utility of furthest ends and may be used as models for further efforts.
  • A utility of furthest ends will extend the consequential horizon of pragmatism and reject the interjection of belief as a source of public comity.
  • “Furthest ends” means those that intentionality can judge in advance as public moral goals germane to the moment; their consequential horizon must be consistent with the importance of the experience.
  • Universal reason may grow competent in such efforts through employing prudence, temperance and courage.

A Preface to the Determinism Problem

  • The contingent determinism of science seems contradicted by our felt human freedom, and there seems no way to reconcile these two central truths.
  • Philosophers have failed to resolve the contradiction by means of limiting human freedom or finding some means to make it compatible with a predictable universe.
  • Medical science is attempting to resolve it by neurological research on brain science to prove that felt freedom is a delusion.
  • If research on neuro-transmitters is predictive, an empirical explanation will make no difference to our commitment to our own felt freedom.
  • One minor empirical effort attempts to prove indeterminism as the grounds for our freedom, but the Uncertainty Principle is also unlikely to ground our natural freedom.
  • Religious apologists make a strong case that human freedom is proof that persons are not things; this stance assaults the claims of the human sciences most clearly.
  • Religious “proofs” of the roots of human freedom are properly seen as beliefs rather than knowledge; all rely upon our felt sense of freedom, which is indisputable yet inexplicable.
  • The question is clarified by a closer examination of what we mean by “freedom.”
  • Epistemologists offer an intriguing case for a compatibilism based upon a distinction between our ontological and phenomenological state reliant upon the Kantian categories.
  • It is surprising that the question is infrequently faced squarely if only because the great mass movements of our age have been rooted in human determinism based on conflicting theories.
  • Postmodernism prizes existential freedom, partially as a response to empirical determinism.
  • The human science origins of postmodernism by the 1980’s shifted theories toward various kinds of cultural determinism.
  • Despite the theoretical difficulties, we all act as though our freedom is indubitable.

The Determinism Problem

  • Both coherentism and correspondence reject the antinomy of human determinism.
  • The anomaly inspires a search for a compatibilist solution.
  • To ignore such a foundational anomaly is a blunder comparable to the attempt to reconcile agency and authority in the centuries after the Reformation, the increasing complexity of natural science and common sense in the Victorian era, or the sophistication of the human sciences with the depravity of the twentieth century.
  • A belief in the special quality of the human person would reconcile the problem, but it suffers from permissibility problems if it seeks universal acceptance.
  • A secular argument for human dignity can be made on the same general principles as religious ones founding natural law upon the possible existence of a soul.
  • If one substitutes human preferential freedom as the species-specific trait that confers rights to persons, one can find evidential support in the deterministic nature of the rest of reality that allows reason to make predictive preferences with some hope of success.
  • This tentative claim is strengthened if one accepts the Kantian categories as the means to transform sense data into a reasoning synthesis; one such capacity may be the intersubjectivity of causality, with preference being an incomplete cause-effect linkage that makes our freedom as obvious to our judgment as causality.
  • Hume demonstrated causality to be an inescapable element of experience, and Kant attempted to demonstrate that another inescapable element was natural freedom; these are phenomenological convictions rather than ontological realities and as such are intersubjectively known rather than objectively proved.
  • The effect is to locate felt human freedom in our operating system instead of in the reality it navigates in the same way that causality is found in reasoning rather than nature.
  • This effect produces a dualism that allows for a compatibilist view of determinism and freedom: we take preferential freedom seriously because the cause/effect linkage is incomplete at the moment of choosing.
  • Although this view of compatibilism reconciles our sense of freedom, it does not resolve the challenges determinists pose to its acceptance in ameliorating responsibility.
  • A more subtle issue concerns the degree of freedom persons can claim, for to avoid determinism, it is only necessary to show the least amount of natural freedom.
  • When we ponder how persons would respond to this very limited degree by posing hypothetical predictions of behavior, we find that even in the face of predominant determinism, persons will still seek to proclaim the largest degree of preferential freedom consistent with circumstance.
  • This often-convoluted proclamation of freedom implies that it is necessary in some sense to find that we have some preferential freedom, and so one wonders why.
  • This tendency reinforces the view that our sense of freedom is more epistemological than ontological and is necessary to experience.
  • Three conclusions emerge: first, that natural freedom accompanies any comprehension of an experience and imparts both the duty to choose and the responsibility for having chosen as inescapable human functions; second, that the complexity of the three degrees of human freedom implies an even deeper ontological determinism than might be imagined by a casual examination of experience; and third, that in the face of this continuing tension, we are likely to seek empirical explanations that obscure the universality of our felt freedom and the connections it implies for rights and responsibilities.

 Empathy: A Moral Hazard

  • “Empathy” is a recent term founded upon deeply flawed axioms of the human sciences.
  • During the twentieth century, its meaning evolved and flattened, but its present use traces to a completely different source and implies a visceral sense of knowledge of another person’s experience that imposes a moral duty.
  • This current view is contradictory to neurology and epistemology, and its moral implications are impossible to reconcile with the principle of “ought-implies-can.”
  • The term has replaced “sympathy,” which has both a long history and a close connection with ethical theory as a purely emotional sense of compassion.
  • Empathy seems to impose a moral duty based upon a phantom identification with another person, but it fails as a moral imperative because it is dependent upon one’s degree of attention and capacity for sympathy, and these are obviously variable.
  • Empathy is partially founded upon Romanticized notions of pantheism and intuition.
  • Although empathy is a central tenet of postmodernism, it is contradicted by identity theory that argues identity to be a pure product of individual environements.
  • Despite these impediments, most persons today will defend empathy as desirable, but that does nothing to salvage it as a moral foundation.
  • It is too little because it suggests moral worth to be imposed by our attention and too much because equity would demand that we extend our empathy to all persons in similar circumstance, and that would leave little time or energy to live our own lives.
  • The proper moral question equity provides is what our duty must be rather than what our attention happens to notice.
  • Empathy activates our aspirations while suppressing our involvement.
  • Nothing about empathy defines the moral duty which follows the putative identification with another’s misfortune.
  • Rather than rely on accidents of attention and disposition, we ought to prefer a moral stance built upon more solid axioms of commitment than empathy.