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Tuesday, December 06, 2016


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Suppose that God and the soul exist, and that the ultimate goal of human life is happiness with God. Now suppose that the goal of the life of monks and nuns is not only their own happiness in union with God, but in bringing as many people as they can to Him. They offer their lives in prayer, fasting, and celibacy for the entire world so that God will offer grace to the world on account of the supplications and penance of these same monks and nuns. It seems to me that in such a case the lives of these monks and nuns would be morally good lives on Foot's terms. Now, if God and the soul did not exist then these lives would be pointless and on Foot's view most likely bad lives. But, if God and the soul didn't exist we wouldn't need Foot's analysis to tell us that these aforementioned lives are pointless and most likely morally bad.

Dear BV,

I think your point about racism and master races/ slaves is really off point. All human beings share in the same nature. There may be different people groups but they are of one nature. There's no way you can glean racism from such an account. If someone wants to come along and say 'we are a superior race' etc. then that's a problem, but it does not follow as a consequence from Foot's naturalism.

I still find your characterization of this dualism or dichotomy, between an individual and the species to which it belongs a bit puzzling. I take a very Aristotelian interpretation of Foot here. A thing's nature, or species, is not something separate from the individual. On the contrary, a thing's nature or essence simply is what that thing is, for Aristotle. There's no dichotomy or dualism here. All individuals under the same species share that same nature, but that nature is not something apart from the individuals themselves. Whether you find Aristotle's moderate realist position coherent or not is beside the point.

It seems like your beef with Foot is really a beef with Aristotle. Or maybe the problem is Foot is not Aristotelian enough!

As far as I can see this just takes the case for fitness as an objective observable and levies as some sort of objective basis of moral value. But it really looks a lot more like fitness, anyway. An oak tree that can force its roots down further is simply more fit for survival. There can be little doubt that fitness has *value*, but can it sustain any other implications beyond what we understand from mere fitness?

It's ironic that this takes us no further than the Greek "arete" which stood for a pragmatic sort of good for the Greeks as well, and can be equally be translated "the Good" as "expedient". Whether or not it can support "high moral value" seems always to have been a matter of opinion.

It's interesting, but the harder epiphenomenalist in me sees it as pretty much the same effect as hand-waving.

Thank you for introducing me to Gattungswesen. ‘Gattung’ seems to be more ‘genus’ than ‘species’, although that distinction is murky. ‘Wesen’ is (a?) being, thus ‘species’ being’ or ‘genus’ being’. Does this originate with Marx? According to Wikipedia, with Feuerbach. There is also this interesting quote from Capital:

A spider conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality. At the end of every labour-process, we get a result that already existed in the imagination of the labourer at its commencement. He not only effects a change of form in the material on which he works, but he also realises a purpose of his own that gives the law to his modus operandi, and to which he must subordinate his will. And this subordination is no mere momentary act.


Gattungswesen is usually translated as 'species-being.'

Here is how Marx defined species being in the 1844 Manuscripts: "To say that man is a species being, is, therefore, to say that man raises himself above his own subjective individuality, that he recognizes in himself the objective universal, and thereby transcends himself as a finite being. Put another way, he is individually the representative of mankind." "Man is a species-being, not only because he practically and theoretically makes the species – both his own and those of other things – his object, but also – and this is simply another way of saying the same thing – because he looks upon himself as the present, living species, because he looks upon himself as a universal and therefore free being." (2) "The animal is immediately one with its life activity; it is that activity. Man makes his life activity itself an object of his will and consciousness. He has conscious life activity. It is not a determination with which he directly merges. Conscious life activity directly distinguishes man from animal life activity. Only because of that is he a species-being."(3) "It is therefore in his fashioning of the objective that man really proves himself to be a species-being. Such production is his active species-life. Through it nature appears as his work and his reality. The object of labour is therefore the objectification of the species-life of man: for man reproduces himself not only intellectually, in his consciousness, but actively and actually, and he can therefore contemplate himself in a world he himself has created. In tearing away the object of his production from man, estranged labour therefore tears away from him his species-life, his true species-objectivity, and transforms his advantage over animals into the disadvantage that his inorganic body, nature, is taken from him."(4)

Source: http://internationalist-perspective.org/IP/ip-archive/ip_43_species-being.html

Hi Bill,

Another consequence of Foot's view would seem to be that anyone disabled or in the alphabet brigade (lgbqt...) would be defective and therefore bad in some moral sense. This seems to be more extreme than Swinburne's view since I think he does not take the step from disability to bad in a moral sense.

Whether this consequence of her view is an advantage to her theory is another question.

John Cassidy,

Well said. Your concerns are my concerns. 'Virtue' blends the factual and the normative, when the Moorean in me resists the blending. If one identifies the good with pleasure or power or any empirically detectable property, one can always, and apparently sensibly, ask: But is pleasure good? Is power good?

Thanks for the response, Thomas. Your challenge is a reasonable one; I don't know if I can meet it. But my thought was that if life is taken as the ultimate standard, then in our case that will be human life. But human beings come in different races. One cannot be a human being but not be a Caucasian or an Asian or a black or. . . If I try to buy fruit I find that I cannot buy fruit: I can buy only apples, or oranges or kumquats or . . . While racial classifications and theories are social constructs, what they attempt to classify, correctly or incorrectly, are not social constructs but biological realities.

So that makes me a race realist. So if you assimilate human goodness to fitness for survival, dominance, and propagation, then this will specify down to white fitness for survival, dominance, and propagation, etc. or Asian fitness, etc. Again, this is because one cannot be a human being in general. In my case I am Caucasian of Italian extraction and of course I am a particular biological individual, not a Caucasion of Italian extraction in general.

So I think an Aristotelian approach like that of Foot may give aid and comfort to a a from of racism that could justify slavery.

So yes, my beef is ultimately with Aristotle. His phil. anthropology is objectivistic, mine is personalist.

I also think my personalism aligns better with Judeo-Christianity according to which man alone is made in the image of God: man alone is a spiritual being. It also aligns with certain strains in existentialism. For Aristotle man is a rational animal, an animal with a difference. For Heidegger, man is Da-Sein.

But this is a very long story.

Kant too is on my side against Aristotle. Each individual human has a dignity and worth apart from all empirical differences. But then Kant was influenced by Xianity.

I'll give it a try.

It's in our species nature to cognize and the like. But actual acquired knowledge, truths, etc., are something that one has as an individual, or a community has as an individual community, on the basis of actual experience. If biological evolution itself is analogous to a trial-and-error learning process, it depends on individuals' heritable changes analogous to possible learnings, hopeful monsters, etc., tested by selective pressures, under sometimes changing conditions; the organism's functions or culminal goods (exploitation, reproduction, homeostasis) are shaped by evolution to promote a lineage, a species, an ecosystem, or the like - some bigger or longer-term good confirmed over time at least till conditions change. This goes one's beyond being merely a specimen of a kind (or, for that matter, a portion of a total population, or an instance of a physical or mechanical law). A person or community of people, as if they were evolution enhanced by intelligence, can go even farther beyond culminative ends or effects (associated with pleasure in higher animals), to imagine, anticipate, notice, or remember final states or entelechies, in terms of unintended outcomes, outcomes better or worse than intended, conflicts of values, questions of what really is good in the bigger or longer-term view, and the like, in cognized structures of checks and balances in which to adjust both means and ends. Here the question is not just of what is good but of what is true, sound, wise, etc., which in philosophy are generically questions not of axiology but of logic, epistemology, philosophy of science, and probably more. If the true, sound, wise, etc., are accounted as kinds of good, they are still not the generic good and they complicate any purely species- or kind-based axiology of intelligent, self-controlled, self-modifiable individuals and communities. I think that what I'm saying is that personalism as opposed to species-ism or kind-ism, in order to see an individual as no mere specimen of a species, needs to look also to one's relation to truth and entelechy rather than only to one's relation to good and (culminal) ends. What individuals and individual communities learn and discover can modify their whole kind and kind's ends (well, not completely, but somewhat). Scholastics such as Aquinas saw the intellect as related to truth, the appetite as related to good, so what I'm saying doesn't seem too radical, although my paralleling that to a distinction between entelechy and culminative end seems unusual.

First, as light entertainment, I am updating Marx’s sexist and politically incorrect language to some thing more less inappropriate.

Such production is her active species-life. Through it nature appears as her work and her reality. The object of labour is therefore the objectification of the species-life of woman: for woman reproduces herself not only intellectually, in her consciousness, but actively and actually, and she can therefore contemplate herself in a world she herself has created. In tearing away the object of her production from woman, estranged labour therefore tears away from her her species-life, her true species-objectivity, and transforms her advantage over animals into the disadvantage that her inorganic body, nature, is taken from her.
More seriously, and hopefully on topic, I wonder if we should agree with Marx’s main point, which is that the division of labour estranges man from his own being.

Modern consumerism is built on division of labour and the incredible benefits it in brings in terms of efficiency. The cost is (1) that each person makes only a small part of the goods they are producing. Think of the person on the production line making radiators for cars, and (2) they might not even want or like the goods they are making. Perhaps the person on the production line doesn’t drive, and hates cars. Marx sees this as a sort of alienation from one’s own being. I am particularly tempted by his view at Christmas. If I do watch television I am distracted by a series of adverts for things that I cannot believe people want, but clearly do. Is this stuff our species-being?

So if the goodness of a human action, i.e. mass production, ‘simply a fact about a given feature of a certain kind of living thing’, and if this mass production itself is the fact in question, then I must look on the stuff on TV, which is basically sh*t, as intrinsically good. Indeed, if it is a form of alienation from our own being, how can it be good. Alternatively, we could view mass production and consumerism as intrinsically evil, so if Foot is correct, something has gone badly wrong: there is some natural defect in consumerism. But how do we make sense of that?

Perhaps I have misunderstood Foot – I am writing this in haste.

On the individual/species distinction, here is some more unPC stuff from Arthur.

Nature has made it the calling of the young, strong, and handsome men to look after the propagation of the human race; so that the species may not degenerate. This is the firm will of Nature, and it finds its expression in the passions of women. This law surpasses all others in both age and power. Woe then to the man who sets up rights and interests in such a way as to make them stand in the way of it; for whatever he may do or say, they will, at the first significant onset, be unmercifully annihilated. For the secret, unformulated, nay, unconscious but innate moral of woman is: We are justified in deceiving those who, because they care a little for us,—that is to say for the individual,—imagine they have obtained rights over the species. The constitution, and consequently the welfare of the species, have been put into our hands and entrusted to our care through the medium of the next generation which proceeds from us; let us fulfil our duties conscientiously.
But women are by no means conscious of this leading principle in abstracto, they are only conscious of it in concreto, and have no other way of expressing it than in the manner in which they act when the opportunity arrives. So that their conscience does not trouble them so much as we imagine, for in the darkest depths of their hearts they are conscious that in violating their duty towards the individual they have all the better fulfilled it towards the species, whose claim upon them is infinitely greater. (A fuller explanation of this matter may be found in vol. ii., ch. 44, in my chief work, Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung.)
The point that an individual may be completely unconscious of their species-being is interesting.

The elusive chapter 44 is to be found here, and is rewarding.

The ultimate aim of all love-affairs, whether they be of a tragic or comic nature, is really more important than all other aims in human life, and therefore is perfectly deserving of that profound seriousness with which it is pursued.
This explains my puzzlement with Christmas television and the advertisements which consist almost entirely in selling perfume, the purpose of which is to make a woman desire the man who has bought it for her, and at the same time use the perfume to make other men desire her. The perfume is very expensive, 99% of the cost of which is marketing. So the perfume is our species-being. Which is as it should be, if Schopenhauer is correct.

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