Consequentialism

I assert my morality is mainly consequentialist, with a tincture of rules-based and virtue-ethics. Perhaps I should read up on what that means. So I turned to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Moral philosophy consists of people putting up theories, and people picking holes in them. When the theorists try to defend, that can be like a Ptolemaic astronomer finding ever more tiny epicycles to fit the data.

Stanford is better than “allaboutphilosophy.com”. There I read of Situational ethics: the idea that a moral response depends on all the circumstances of a situation, and not on any fixed law. I agree: but the site’s killer argument is that Situational ethics “contradicts the Bible”. Yet still Stanford felt like a series of straw men.

Most people could live on less, and give more to charity. That charity might save lives. Consequentialism might seem to put an obligation on us to save lives, and socialise at home rather than in the pub. However much you do for others, most people could find ways to make more sacrifices, and do more. I could see the greater sacrifice as morally preferable, but not obligatory. Or I could attempt to use Aristotle’s golden mean, a virtue ethics argument, to say that too great sacrifice is a fault. Or a Quaker line: “A simple lifestyle freely chosen is a source of strength.” JS Mill would argue that an act is only morally wrong if liable to punishment: it does not maximise utility to punish people for not being absolutely as moral as they might.

Philosophers refer to agent-neutral and agent-relative views. The theorist of agent-neutrality says that an act which is right for anyone is equally right for everyone. The agent-relative theorist might say here that a parent has a particular obligation to their family. This starts to look like argument after the fact: one can rationalise any decision. How to balance competing claims?

The article expresses it differently, but considers the Trolley problem. Imagine a train is coming down the tracks towards five workers. Points could divert it to another line where there is only one worker. Do you pull the lever, to save five lives at the cost of one?

Such problems have to be unreal. No, you cannot warn the driver or slow the trolley. No, you cannot warn the workers, and they cannot jump out of the way. Perhaps they are tied there- one damsel in distress on one line, five on the other. The argument for not pulling the lever is that my action will have directly caused the death of the One, even though saving the five, so I will not. What if the death would be my fault, asks Stanford: the workers were in danger because I had told them to work there, and had not known the trolley was coming because I had not bothered to check. In that case, I might collapse into a fugue of terror and do nothing.

I come away from the article with more questions than answers, and perhaps better able only to rationalise after a decision, rather than decide morally before.

Article on Consequentialism.

woman tied to railroad tracks

An Existentialist

-When I was working at the prison, I was teaching a man who had murdered his father. He had nearly served his sentence. So one day there was a group of us chatting, and I told them about following this man in a wheelchair along Railway Street the previous evening. He had gone over the kerb, his wheelchair had toppled over and he had gone sprawling out. I helped him get back into his wheelchair, and then he’d carried on one side of the road, I walked on the other. I did not do it to gain anything, simply to help. Maybe he could have crawled to his wheelchair eventually, even pulled himself in. He was in the road, cars would have had to drive round him.

And this man said I should not have done it. When I helped him, I was patronising him, and lessening him with my pity. He was an existentialist, he told me. That was not how people should behave to each other.

And I could not persuade him otherwise.

-No. Because he would not be arguing fairly. He would be seeking to win the argument, not caring about the truth or respect for you. He’s not an existentialist, he is a murderer. Lots of teenagers love caMoo and don’t murder their fathers. He is rationalising. He has done this thing, and he needs to live with himself. He has a Philosophy of Life!

-Or- he really does not understand. Any contact between human beings, even one as necessary to the person helped, from someone not seeking any reward, is an attack. All people are, at all times, in a state of nature with one another, without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal, in continual fear and danger of violent death. But he is a Philosopher, forsooth, and other people are fools and dupes. He can survive because the others are less ruthless and clear-sighted than he.

Paul Signac, In the time of harmony. the Golden Age is not passed, it is still to come

Right-wing fear

To the library to read the Spectator. It is good to know how weak the arguments of the enemy are, frightening to see it fomenting hatred of immigrants. Roger Scruton, whose column “bad philosophy” is better named than he knows, claims the majority of sexual assaults in Sweden are carried out by Muslims, and claims there is a left-wing cover-up of this.

If you step out of line, and suggest that the culture of an immigrant community might in fact contribute to criminal behaviour, you will be branded a racist — a fault for which accusation is proof of guilt. And if you express outrage at crimes committed by Muslims against women, and hint that Islam might have something to do with it, you will be accused of ‘Islamophobia’.

What is the truth?

If someone commits a crime, it may be reported if it is particularly shocking, but personal characteristics are rarely relevant. That Harold Shipman, a GP, murdered hundreds of his patients should not increase our fear of doctors; if a man is cross-dressed when he sexually assaults a woman I dare to hope that will not increase your fear of me, and one Muslim rapist does not make all Muslim men rapists. In 2014, 6,700 rapes were reported to Swedish police, and there were around 190 convictions. This is shocking, but should not result in a pogrom. There are about 250-350,000 Muslims in Sweden; even if all the rapes were by Muslims, for every rapist there would be about twenty innocent men.

Reporting that Muslims are responsible for the rapes foments hatred for immigrants, including those innocent of any crime. Should anyone need to spell this out?

I googled, and got the predictable far-right fear-mongering. While the rest of Europe struggles to absorb the flood of young male immigrants from Muslim-majority countries, countries may be well advised to look at Sweden for a terrifying glimpse of the future.

Scrotum argues, ordinary people oppose the immigration of other communities when those communities arrive with strange customs and strange gods… This fear is felt by people on the left just as much as by those on the right. ..The left turns against us, whereas the right believes that… we are not to blame for wanting to hold on to our way of life.

We saw this in the days when everyone was afraid of nuclear war. The left insisted that we were to blame by arming ourselves against the threat and that the Soviet Union was simply responding to our aggressive gestures… The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament was an expression of fear — fear of the unknown, translated into aggression against the known. 

Perhaps he does not understand, or perhaps he wants his readers not to. Fear leads to violence. Misdirected fear leads to random violence at scapegoats. On the left, when we feel fear we practise calm, rational responses to reduce tension and mitigate violence. The US’s 7000 nuclear weapons are terrifying. We could not directly reduce the USSR’s stockpile; the only way to influence it was to reduce our own.

Hammershoi, moonlight

Master/ Slave

I know myself only if you recognise me. Or, as Hegel put it, Self-consciousness exists in itself and for itself, in that, and by the fact that it exists for another self-consciousness; that is to say, it is only by being acknowledged or “recognized”. Humanity is an infinite spiritual unity, and individuals are part of that unity.

Do you know, really know, anyone else? Do you “sublate” them, negating them as other individuals and assimilating them into your understanding of yourself? I have struggled through pure Hegel, and Eric Steinhart’s commentary on it, not understanding. I need to know my own truth before I can judge theirs.

You mentioned this, and I do not know why. Is it because in your radical feminism, man is always destined by Patriarchy to be Master, woman to be slave? Then it would be for me to do the work of knowing myself without your service; and I could never be a woman, because I had never been so enslaved.

My experience is that I did not know myself because I was always looking to others to learn what I ought to be. I knew that was Manliness, which in part I learned from parents, yet I remember cack-handed attempts to fit in with my peers.

(I was delighted to borrow the denim jacket, because I wanted to be “cool”. Dancing in it made me hot and sweaty. “Well, take it off then!” he said, as if that was obvious, not seeing my perplexity.)

There is not enough research on us trans, but some say we have autistic-like characteristics. Which may or may not be like Asperger’s, I read or heard somewhere that the theoretical links between those might be false. Onywye, if autists have “an inability to read the emotional signs of others” (or not) they might like me have a desperation to see from others’ behaviour what is normal behaviour- without being able to relate it to their own emotional states.

If I’m cold I need some heat
If I’m hungry then I eat
I’m not responsible

sang Deep Purple, on their first reunion album in the 1980s. I know because I had that album- see what I mean about trying to be cool, or to understand? And, not? (Does anyone?)

If it rains I stay inside
If I’m scared I run and hide

moving from power to weakness. Is this more profound than I thought?

It seems to me that my mother formed me to be the low status one, deferring to others, at the bottom of the pecking order. Is love, slavery? Christ was crucified, after all, power in powerlessness-

If I want you as a replacement mother, to value me into existence, you will refuse. If I am hurled from “women’s space” into the darkness, rather than weep and gnash my teeth I must value myself. If I depend on another’s perception or valuing I will always be a slave.

Does this help me see you, as paradoxical as I am? I glimpse, but when I try to make sense of it I am grasping at air. Did Hegel do any better? Do you?

Degas Young Spartans exercising

Developing gender dysphoria

If transvestic fetishism develops into autogynephilia then gender dysphoria, that would only be a bad thing if being a trans woman is a bad thing. Why on Earth would one ever imagine that? It is good for me. It enables me to be, to express myself, to interact with others, more authentically as me- whether that “me” is “male” or “female”, masculine or feminine, whatever.

That the process was intensely painful does not mean that it was a bad thing. The pain came from guilt and shame, and from unknowing and feeling not in control. Not trusting. But first I like feminine clothes, then I imagine a feminine lifestyle, then I realise my feminine self. All people undergo this growth into being the mature self, a process of being and becoming, like egg, caterpillar, pupa, butterfly. All the stages are necessary, and each stage is the real me.

I recall the pain, and it has echoes now, for I am still in pain. My pain is at the strength of the cultural forces pushing me into the false path of conventional masculinity, which still enrage me, which necessitate the strength of my NO!, my refusal, leaving so little strength left for my yes, my desire.

It involved masturbation, then feeling guilty. Why should sexual release be “bad”? It is a natural physical function. I felt guilt about it, because of the guilt about cross-dressing- which was rejecting the role mapped out for me, the conventional concept of manhood which did not fit me. It seemed to me that society pushed me into the wrong shaped hole, and I felt guilt at resisting. Though I thought Oldham CAB would find a reason to dismiss me, and they supported me: society was more liberal than I had thought.

Was the desire reinforced or fomented by the masturbation? I don’t think it could be instigated by masturbation, and I think presenting female would create gender dysphoria, the intense discomfort of the male in the female role, if it was merely a sexual fantasy. But yeah, theorists disagree, and say of me, s/he would say that, wouldn’t s/he? Sod ’em.

The process involves removal of male physical sex characteristics, and as far as possible creation of female ones. My facial hair was removed, and some have FFS. Does this mean I assert that my femininity means that I am a woman, or that women ought to be “feminine”? No, just that from whatever cause which I do not know, that is what I wanted. Possibly the cause is the Patriarchy, which almost tolerates me if I pretend to be a woman. I don’t know what the world without patriarchy would be like- yet I subvert Patriarchy, by rejecting male privilege.

Oh, come on Roughseas, I know you read this! So many pageviews from Gibraltar, the simplest explanation is they’re you. This tense paradox of freedom and unfreedom, in that being free- authentic- means having no choice- here I am, I can be no other. Say you forgive me! Another paradox: I am myself, and I am in the world.

I have been back with Prof Eric Steinhart, and today learn his pages are designed to be read with die Phänomenologie des Geistes, which I may yet read, though I might prefer an internet summary to an undergraduate module. And a line from Jonathan Franzen The Corrections, that Alfred blamed Enid for his confusion, for witnessing it into existence. I wrestle with this, as I have for the last four years, and take what I may from the thought of others, to push my own forward.

life is like a roller coaster

I am still screaming; but enjoying slightly more.

Afterlife II

I do not expect to be resurrected, but I will live on in the memories and love of those who survive me. Samuel Scheffler, the philosopher, proposes thought-experiments to show how this affects everyone:

How would it affect your life if you knew that humanity would end thirty days after you died?

Would it be different if everyone was aware of this?

Then, from The Children of Men by PD James, what if no-one ever gave birth again? Humanity might continue another ninety years, but our ending would be inevitable.

Does it matter when humanity will end? In Annie Hall, a child despairs- and stops doing his homework- because the heat-death of the Universe in however many billion years means that everything is pointless. When the Sun becomes a red giant it will envelop Earth, and before then its increased heat will cause global warming. But then global warming may do for us by the end of the century.

For Scheffler, many activities would no longer have meaning: why research on cures for cancer, or any long term project? Why should he write his paper? I would transfer my loyalty to the biosphere: humanity would die, but Earthly life would continue. If all life on Earth would die, right now there are human beings with whom I might relate: my acts would have meaning now even if never after. An instantaneous cube exists for an instant, and most things we do have little meaning even a day later.

Knowing that the lives of others after our death, whether our descendants or not, give meaning to our own lives changes how we consider problems now. Rather than imagining that we should make sacrifices to mitigate climate change for the good of those who come after, we would realise that we make those changes for our own good, to give our own lives meaning.

I wonder if this applies most to altruists. Each person’s comfort matters to that person, and there are some for whom nothing else matters.

Manet, the dead Christ with angels

The Soul of the World

File:Eduard Veith Andacht in der Kirche.jpgRoger Scruton, in his Stanton lectures, seeks to “make room for the religious worldview”. Though he does not seek to “vindicate the doctrine or practice of any particular faith”, he asserts that Religion can have value. How?

Religion is not a theory to be refuted by the evidence, but a reflection of the human need for obedience and self-sacrifice, to be part of something greater than myself, which can be found in all communities not just religious ones. This gives meaning to life.

Scruton rejects evolutionary psychology. I find this difficult: if something did not evolve, how else did it come to be? Dawkins calls religion a “meme”, a set of ideas which grows and changes like a virus, existing because it has the power to infect our minds rather than because it has value. Scruton addresses arguments that religion makes us more likely to reproduce successfully, for example by condemning adultery. He says evolutionary psychology explanations overlook the aspect of our mental states that is most important to us, and through which we understand and act upon each other’s motives, namely, their intentionality or “aboutness”. Where I disagree, I must take most care to ensure I understand.

He argues that Mathematics is an abstract truth, and our knowledge of it reaches far beyond the requirements of a hunter-gatherer, or even a modern architect. I say, as we survive and reproduce better, the larger and more complex File:A Prayer for those at Sea by Frederick Daniel Hardy.jpgour societies are, so matters which support that complexity have reproductive value. Nevertheless he is right to argue that we gain understanding through symbols which relate to reality but are not real in themselves- mathematics, language, morality.

Theology posits one only God, creator and sustainer of the world, but also outside space and time. This means that God cannot be part of the system of causes, or cause our thoughts about him[/her]. Mathematical objects, such as numbers and sets, also are outside reality and have no part in cause and effect. We cannot prove God’s existence, so should not bear the onus of proof.

The Real Presence of God in the Bible is a mystery. God reveals self by concealing Godself: No-one shall behold my face and live. We see through a glass darkly- only when we ourselves leave time and space does Paul say “we shall see face to face”. Religion is not about belief, but about practices- prayer, submission- and experiences of certain things as sacred. Blaise Pascal experienced total certainty one night that he was in the presence of God, that he knew God whom the world cannot know.

Stoics

File:Bust of Zeno-MGR Lyon-IMG 9752.jpgReading Marcus Aurelius, I see the Stoics as finding a way of accepting the vicissitudes of the world, keeping calm and carrying on- the writer of Ecclesiastes seems stoic in parts- but Bertrand Russell explains their mystical doctrines.

The course of nature was designed by beneficent Providence- Zeus, or God- to secure the good of humanity by natural means. Some animals are good to eat, some animals are a test of courage, even bed-bugs serve the purpose of preventing us lying in bed too long. Zeno, a Phoenician who admired Socrates’ courage in the face of death, valued virtue before all, and took a common-sense view of matter: it is real, solid, and has an existence apart from my perception of it. The world is in an endless series of cycles- formed of fire, it will end in conflagration, only to be reformed. Everything that has happened before will happen again, endlessly.

God is the soul of the World, and each of us contains a part of the divine fire. This idea which Quakers are so proud of, “That of God in every one”, also appears in Ancient Egyptian thought, netjer imi.k, the God who is in you.

Stoicism is a doctrine of acceptance of all circumstances. As Virtue is the only good, a Will aligned with natural law or God’s plan, external File:Marcus Aurelius (Hermitage).jpgcircumstances do not matter: the virtuous man in prison is free, the wicked follow God’s law involuntarily, like a dog tied to a cart. Health, happiness and possessions are of no account- vanity, and a chasing after wind.

It could be seen as a counsel of despair. Of course I seek control over my circumstances, my possessions and relationships, but for the stoic these desires miss the point: I can only be the Master of my Fate if I value virtue before everything, as nothing can deprive me of it, but circumstances can deprive me of anything else. Last night Quakers discussed how accumulated possessions can be a burden rather than a blessing, just stuff to store or carry around: the thought I might use it in the future is an illusion. Learn to enjoy things without owning them, writes Richard J Foster.

As with Christian doctrine, this makes sense to me when I judge myself and my own actions, but none when I apply it to others. If virtue is the only Good, if God were beneficent, God would seek to make all people virtuous. Yet it appears that many people are not virtuous. However it points to what I might do, which is good for me: accept all situations, and try to do right in them, for self-respect is the only thing I might possess.

I go back to that bed-bug. The stoic values it for getting him out of bed even if its bite is painful. But when his child dies, he accepts his loss. He rejects the passions, because feeling gets in the way of virtue. But for me, feeling is the well-spring of my virtue: fellow-feeling for others, and a desire to make the world better.

Taken almost entirely from Bertrand Russell, History of Western Philosophy.

Figments

File:L'Automne E Manet Nancy 2718.jpgYou do not exist. You are a figment of my imagination.

Toddlers learn, often traumatically, that other people have different desires than they; but only my experience matters to me. A plum just now exploded in my mouth in extreme sweetness, delighting me and consuming all my attention, but if it could be miraculously reconstituted I would not recognise it among a dozen others. Often I learn more from forcing my own inchoate ideas into words than from listening to other people. Their perspective is too alien for me to take it in. Sometimes a hint from what you say may take root and germinate in me, coming to consciousness months or years later. I was embarrassed as well as flattered to hear from my friend that she could remember our conversations from years before: I cannot.

An ancient example of how our senses deceive us is that an arrow half in water appears to be bent, though it is straight. I can explain this from high school physics as the refraction of light in water. The arrow is straight: my senses deceive me in an explicable and predictable way.

Descartes said “je pense donc je suis” in considering how science works. He doubted that human beings could usefully learn and generalise from our environment. How can we know that our understanding does not fit reality simply by accident? He doubted that it could, and realised that those doubts came from somewhere, a self he called I. Helleu- Alice GuérinCicero said “There is no statement so absurd that no philosopher will make it” but, rather, philosophers explore what we all take for granted, apparently ridiculously but eventually increasing understanding. Bertrand Russell wrote a book proving that 1+1=2.

If there is an external world, my understanding of it has to be constructed from my sense-impressions. So says David Hume. I did not understand this: of course the tree falling in a forest makes a noise even if there is no-one to hear it; but it depends what you mean by “tree”, “forest” and “noise”. The event is different from my experience of it and my understanding of it, so the event itself is unknowable.

Hume doubted the external world, then went out and played Backgammon with Edinburgh friends. He said it is human nature to believe in that world and interact in it, but Rationalist philosophy cannot prove it: we act on our programming, not on the World as it Is.

You might respond that this has nothing to do with human experience: we know things with varying levels of certainty, and correct our mistakes or drift deeper into delusion but rub along well enough. Philosophers themselves addressed that: Thomas Reid argued that philosophical theory must relate to the life you live in the real world. Centuries later, my understanding is enriched by both Hume and Reid, on how I can be wrong, and how I can be right enough.

Most of this comes from In Our Time. I have played a lot of In Our Time, mostly at night: before Melvyn Bragg says “With me to discuss” it has normally put me to sleep.