December 2007 Archives

I really have to wonder whether Justice and Care (reduced to simple labels) are really two separate things, or whether they might be two aspects of the same thing. That is, the use of the term “Justice” when contrasted to “Care” seems narrower than in other applications of the term “Justice”. Now there seems to be a bit of a paradox in reasoning about the differences between Justice and Care, since the Care perspective seems to hold the activity as largely irrelevant (rather than ratiocinating about the differences, I could be considering how my writing and opinions connect or distance me from others). So already the approach runs the danger of being unfair to the Care perspective, but here goes…

First let us consider what is higher, justice, virtue, or morality? (Yes, hierarchical thinking.) Is justice the overarching principle from which morality and virtue are derived? Or is morality the overarching principle from which Justice is derived? This may seem irrelevant, but it addresses the question of how Justice and Care differ. In Carol Gillian's "Moral Orientation and Development", morality – doing the right thing – can be determined in practice in two different ways: by moral reasoning or by a “care perspective”. Subsequently, for Gilligan Justice – being fair – is a subcategory of moral actions. This is a result of her attempt to integrate Justice and Care on equal terms. In her words: “The justice perspective, often equated with moral reasoning, is recast as one way of seeing moral problems and a care perspective is brought forward as an alternate vision or frame” (Gilligan 32). This narrowed-down definition of Justice as that which is derived by reasoning can then stand on equal footing with a Care perspective which often arrives at the same or similar conclusions by alternative routes. (It would be very interesting to survey the instances where the outcomes of Justice and Care reasoning differs, and then examine why.) An alternative is to understand Justice more broadly as “that which is fair” regardless of how this is determined. Then morality – doing the right thing – is a subset of Justice, and the so-called Care and “Justice” perspectives are simply different ways of determining what is Just. In this way they are really just two aspects of the same thing, also called “Justice” (just to confuse everyone).

Gilligan, Carol. "Moral Orientation and Development."  Justice and Care: Essential Readings in Feminist Ethics. Ed. Virginia Held. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1995.

Kant, Okin, and Universals

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Considering Kant's morality brings up the question of what is universal, and the implications that result from whether something is or isn't universal. Kant was strongly oriented towards the universal, and in his Groundwork for the Metaphic of Morals sought to establish a universal principle. Susan Moller Okin claims he has invalidated himself (see my last two postings), ostensibly by the neglect of one factor she feels is highly important. But has he? Kant claims his morals can be applied by “all rational beings as such". Okin objects that Kant didn't include women in that category. That is a strike against Kant, but not necessarily his theory. Should we expand the circle of rational beings to include women, Kant would maintain that his theory applies just as well to the expanded circle as to the smaller circle he had imagined for it. This strikes me as similar to the issue of the universalist principles of the U.S. Constitution and how they were narrowly applied initially. The fact that "all men are created equal" in practice excluded not only all women but also a great number of men was a human failure of those alive at the time, and not an automatic failure of the principles that they articulated. The solution was to include the excluded in the circle of those who were treated equal, not throw out the entire principle. Getting back to Kant, a framework of morality that includes "all rational beings as such" can easily include women. I realize Okin made a substantial number of additional points, and her argument doesn't rest on this one alone. But it is something worth considering.
Another thing occurs to me as I consider Okin’s paper. Okin may be idealizing the family relationship and before using that idealized relationship as the basis for criticizing both Kant and Rawls. For example, I described in an earlier posting how the mother love bond may be a fundamental form of love, but it is not the only type of love. Why should this type of love, and only this type of love, invalidate Kant? Okin answers that mother love has a special place in the moral development and each individual human. But mother-love has not prevented hundreds of thousands of mothers from abusing their children in one form or another. And it is not clear that this abuse is exclusively a result or consequence of patriarchal dominance within a society. Families are functional or dysfunctional to the degree that their individual members are virtuous or not virtuous. These autonomous individuals influence each other, and influences most strong in the case of parents in influencing their children. However, influences have to include both positive and negative, and the negative must be capable of being transcended by individual choice. Were this not the case then society would be subject to some form of moral entropy, whereby over the course of generations individuals gradually devolve into complete immorality as each generation is further degraded by the generation that precedes it and gains nothing on the positive side. But since individuals are capable of transcending negative moral influence in their environment, whether from parents, peers or from larger society - regardless of how common this may or may not be - then a certain amount of individual moral responsibility has to be added to environmental influence. Were we to deny this individual moral responsibility - this individual choice - then we would be left with a very deterministic view of society.

All this is not to say that Okin does not make some very valid points. But in as much as she does this off the assumption that maternal love is an unequivocal good and that "to separate reason from feelings" (230) must fundamentally and negatively affect social justice, I'm not sure I agree with her.

One further point: Issues like caring and empathy are human capacities, not specifically female ones. Their socially accepted preponderance in one group (females) rather than another (males) may simply be a cultural bias in our time. But regardless of whether they are more common in men than women, I feel that they should be cultivated in both.

Kant, Immanual. "Groundwork for the Metaphic of Morals".  2006. PDF. Ed. Jonathan Bennett. (Nov. 2006). 20 Aug. 2007 <http://www.earlymoderntexts.com/pdf/kantgw.pdf>.

Okin, Susan Moller. "Reason and Feeling in Thinking about Justice." Ethics 99.2 (1989): 229-49.

Okin makes a very interesting point when she criticizes John Rawls through Kant for neglecting empathy in determining morality and justice. “The Kantian connection, I suggest, made it extremely difficult for Rawls to acknowledge any role for empathy or benevolence in the formulation of his principles of justice, instead, impelled him in the direction of rational choice” (Okin 231). She sees the root of the problem as Kant's division of love into the "benevolent" and "pathological", and his deprecation of the "pathological". Kant stated: “There are two sorts of love: practical love that lies in the will and in principles of action, and pathological love that lies in the direction the person’s feelings and tender sympathies take” (Kant 9). On this point Kant is weakest, because his compression of the range of human affections into these two categories feels forced. Not that there's anything wrong with the categories as such, and logically his division does work. But it makes Kant appear heartless. Kant was doubtless familiar with Aristotle's classification the types of love, but he appears to have wanted to condense it. In using these categories, Kant probably intended to include specific types of love, such as mother love, brotherly love, platonic love, as well as the many affections which are arguably gradations of love, but towards which the English word is too strong: the friendship of soldiers, colleagues, as well as non-self-interested charity (a Christian ideal). The last would qualify as practical love, the remainder as pathological love, under Kant. Okin picks just one, the mother-child bond, as being so wholly special as to break Kant’s categories entirely, and then uses it as the basis for invalidating Kant's entire system. Kant would doubtless argue this is logically invalid. And logically invalid it may be, though this fact does not invalidate Okin's argument either.

Kant, Immanual. "Groundwork for the Metaphic of Morals".  2006. PDF. Ed. Jonathan Bennett. (Nov. 2006). 20 Aug. 2007 <http://www.earlymoderntexts.com/pdf/kantgw.pdf>.

Okin, Susan Moller. "Reason and Feeling in Thinking about Justice." Ethics 99.2 (1989): 229-49.

Kant and Okin

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I want to examine the question Susan Moller Okin raises in "Reason and Feeling in Thinking about Justice" of whether Kant made a fundamental error. In terms of Okin's theory, “The love of parents for their children, coming to be reciprocated in turn by the child, is important in [John Rawls’] account of the development of a sense of self-worth.” (236) But what if a child is deprived of his parental love and fails to get it in any other form? We know the expected outcome is that the child will lack self-worth and moral orientation, but if this is inevitable, then the outlook for civilization is dim indeed. The alternative, that a child - whether male or female - deprived of parental love can nonetheless from individual choice acquire morality and act in a socially just way with other human beings - including their own subsequent family, implies a certain degree of validity to Kant’s reasoning about morality. Kant may certainly have been misogynistic in his personal views (Okin has some nice eye-opening quotes, such as “[Kant] says of women that their “philosophy is not to reason, but to sense” page 233), but this alone should not be enough to invalidate his approach of placing reason above feeling.

If reason is a valid method for determining right and wrong, and an individual whose life is deprived of all the benefits of feminine nurturing that Okin uses to point out what Kant overlooked, is nonetheless able to reason their way past their feelings toward moral action, then Kant's emphasis on reason has some validity.

Even if Kant can be shown to have been in every way in error in his understanding of the role and place of feeling in human relationships, this still does not suddenly elevate feeling over reason as the source of moral virtue. Put another way, Kant does not have be wrong in his reasoning just because he held views that today we look down upon. We should consider the possibility that Kant reasoned correctly despite being misogynistic. Fundamentally, Okin and Kant come from two opposed approaches. Okin holds that Kant’s reasoning cannot be separated from Kant’s personal views, and that Kant’s logic, or its outcome, is necessarily influenced by his feelings (and opinions about women), while Kant maintains that reason only functions correctly separated from feeling. The two are thus quite far apart.

Okin, Susan Moller. "Reason and Feeling in Thinking about Justice." Ethics 99.2 (1989): 229-49.

It's interesting to read John Stewart Mill. He is very direct and very clear, a refreshing contrast to Kant. Mill had the advantage of writing well after Kant, and being familiar with his work. Mill appears philosophically and temperamentally opposed to Kant. Where Kant wanted to discard all practical and outer considerations and reason his way directly to morality, Mill quickly discards the very approach and goes at the essence of morality from completely the other direction. Kant claimed that,

[A metaphysic of morals] must be carefully cleansed of everything empirical, that we can know how much pure reason can achieve…, and from what sources creates its a priori teaching. The metaphysic of morals must be cleansed in this way… … Isn’t it utterly necessary to construct a pure moral philosophy that is completely freed from everything that may be only empirical…? (Kant 2).

Mill, on the other hand, writes that,

“It is evident that [a proof of  the Utilitarian or Happiness theory] cannot be proof in the ordinary and popular meaning of the term. Questions of ultimate ends are not amenable to direct proof. Whatever can be proved to be good, must be so by being shown to be a means to something admitted to be good without proof. … Considerations may be presented capable of determining the intellect either to give or withhold its assent to the doctrine; and this is equivalent to proof.” (Mill 134-35)

That is, Mill will not even try to prove his theory by Kantian standards. He rejects the very method. Rather, if he can convince your ordinary reason that the Utility principle is the best basis for morality then he feels he has succeeded. The two aren't even playing in the same ballpark.

Kant proceeds along a tortured path of abstract concepts, settling on a duty to an abstract “goodness” as the source of all morality. “Since I have robbed the will of any impulses that could come to it from obeying any law, nothing remains to serve as a principle of the will except conduct’s universally conforming to law as such”(Kant 11). Mill fences in the issue, ruling out possibilities until it becomes logically clear that the best system is the one that produces the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. Determining first that, “A test of right and wrong must be the means… of ascertaining what is right or wrong, and not a consequence of having already ascertained it (Mill 132) – a clear swipe at Kant – Mill then over many pages systematically surveys all the way Utility would work and the possible objections, concluding:  “Difference of opinion on moral questions was not first introduced into the world by utilitarianism, while that doctrine does supply, if not always an easy, at all events a tangible and intelligible mode of deciding such differences”(Mill 153) . That is, it must be right because it works. In all, very different approaches, and probably irreconcilable.

Kant, Immanual. "Groundwork for the Metaphic of Morals".  2006. PDF. Ed. Jonathan Bennett. (Nov. 2006). 20 Aug. 2007 <http://www.earlymoderntexts.com/pdf/kantgw.pdf>.
Mill, John Stuart. "Utilitarianism."  On Liberty and Other Essays. 1863. Ed. John Gray. New York: Oxford UP, 1991.

To answer this question it is helpful to distinguish between Steiner's written works and his lectures, and among the lectures between those given to a general audience, and those given to Theosophists. The public lectures are actually the easiest to read. The books are difficult because of the philospical language (think Hegel or Kant, both of whom Steiner read extensively). The Theosophical lectures have their own special problems: Theosophy.

An important aspect to critical examination of Rudolf Steiner's Theosophical lectures includes the fact that, as Steiner himself noted, most of these were members-only lectures which presuppose an extensive familiarity with Steiner's vocabulary, conceptual framework, and mode of thought. Initial distribution of the printed copies of Steiner's private lectures was limited to card-carrying members of the Theosophical (later Anthroposophical) Society. This indicates Steiner was quite aware that a superficial and uninformed reading of these volumes would likely result in confusion and misunderstanding, as well as mischaracterization of their contents. In the early 1920s in the interests of openness, and in response to the fact that the volumes were already circulating widely beyond the membership of the Anthroposophical Society, Steiner proposed dropping the members only restriction, but inserting a disclaimer which reads in part,

“The right to judge [these private lectures] can, of course, be granted only to those who have the prerequisite foundation for such a judgment. And in terms of most of that material, this would mean at least knowing that the human being and the cosmos of it as they have been presented in the light of anthroposophy." (Steiner Autobiography)

This was done, and about 150 different volumes of private lectures have been sold to the public since then. Steiner remains obscure in part because of how impenetrable these volumes are to those not as thoroughly familiar with his basic thought as was the audience at the time they were given, despite their often fascinating titles. The same barrier exists for a thorough and critical academic examination of Steiner's thought and its development. An examination of random phrases and sentences pulled out of context is insufficient material for understanding his views on complex subjects. A more comprehensive reading as well as a contextual background is necessary before claiming a complete understanding of his position. This is particularly the case in trying to understand the relationship of race and ‘Root Race’ in Steiner's work.

The historical sources for analyzing the development of Rudolf Steiner's thought have been collected by the Rudolf Steiner Archive in Dornach, Switzerland, and have been published in the 330 volumes of complete works. Additional documents continue to be issued every year, and several important volumes from this time period were first published as recently as 2006. From accounts we have from his listeners, Rudolf Steiner's lectures were complex, riveting, and each one unique. Almost from the beginning a number of his listeners took notes. Many people of this point received training in stenography in the course of their ordinary education, so there are also fragmentary stenographic records of the early lectures from the period of roughly 1902 to 1906. By 1906 a sufficient number of his audience felt that Steiner's lectures were so valuable and unique that each one should be stenographically recorded. Steiner himself was ambivalent about the project, feeling on the one hand that no written record could re-create the experience of those who had an opportunity to listen in person. On the other hand, already in 1906 incomplete and, many feared, incorrect editions of notes of his lectures were being circulated, translated, and even published in foreign languages. So Steiner conceded in the interests of accuracy to having professional stenographers record his every lecture, a practice that was consistent by 1908 up to his last lecture in 1924. It is the published versions of these stenographic recordings which make up the vast bulk of the 330 volumes of Steiner's collected works; his collected writings, including books, articles, fragments, verses, and poetry constitute less than 50 volumes.
I really don’t think virtue can be applied to individual dogs, the key reason being their lack of self-consciousness. While non-human species may have certain rights (a question I don’t really want to get too far into here) I will agree with most traditional thinkers that virtue and morality are not possible to them (Aristotle took this as almost self-evident, going past it rapidly in Book 1, Chapter 13 of his Nicomachean Ethics.). Ironically it is the anthropomorphic principle that causes us to so readily find human traits in other species, dogs being the working example here. Let us consider the example of the watch dog. What makes for excellence in a watch dog? In the end, it is training that differentiates the mediocre watch dog from the excellent one, and the training is really just a self-conscious human guiding the instincts of the dog to serve an end other than the dog’s own inclinations. In that sense, all domestic species are tainted by their dependence on humans. As for the famous loyalty in dogs, how much of that is instinct or habit, and how much is truly what we generally understand as loyalty? What would a moral dilemma look like in the life of a dog? For these reasons I see the animal kingdom as exempt from morality, but also thereby exempt from virtue.

Stenography and Steiner

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As source material the stenographic records of Rudolf Steiner's early lectures are both invaluable and problematic. Stenographic notes are a system of shorthand markings that allow the stenographer to write as fast as people speak. These stenographic notes must then be reconstructed into conventional written sentences. For many of Rudolf Steiner's early works we have the reconstruction but not the original stenogram. If and when things appear unclear or researchers suspected the reconstruction is possibly incorrect, there is no original to check it against. In cases where the Rudolf Steiner Archive does possess the original stenogram, and especially when the stenographer was not a professional, the stenographic record is often fragmentary and incomplete. In this case extensive reconstruction is then necessary. Sometimes the reconstruction was done by the original stenographer, and sometimes decades after the fact. This was the case with the volumes 93, 93a, and 94, for example, which were reconstructed in the 1970s from several sets of notes taken between 1904 and 1906 by the editors at the Rudolf Steiner Archive. The notes were woven into a coherent narrative which is then presumed to be conceptually accurate, but cannot claim to be word-for-word accurate. Other reconstructed volumes include volume 300, assembled in 1975, volume 88 assembled in 1999, and volume 89 assembled in 2001. There are several more. Such source material is rightly attributed to Rudolf Steiner, but the conscientious researcher cannot accept isolated phrases from such sources uncritically.

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