Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Saturday, November 21, 2009
Michael Smith’s Realism is a work of remarkable scope and ambition. It addresses an issue which has the potential to question and debunk the entire ethical tradition, something which is, in Smith’s own words, “threatening to make the very idea of morality look altogether incoherent”. What is interesting in his paper is the way in which he takes up this threatening issue, deciphers all its possible entrances and then fills it up so that it no more gives the impression of being a problem of Herculean strength.
One look at the paper and you know that this is exactly what is happening. But as Heraclitus once said that we cannot step twice into the same river, similarly a second reading of the text does an amazing thing. It gives the reader the joint readership of this essay! This is not so difficult to explain when we understand that the first reading changes (even if very minutely) everything that we are and everything that we know. The second reading can never be free from the taint of the first. With a changed lens, we see that the object we were attempting to look at is no longer the same.
The second reading gives the reader an understanding of various dichotomies that Smith tries to reconcile. Along the way, he discusses a battery of ethical/meta-ethical concepts like belief, desire, reason for action, et cetera. It would take immense courage to review a paper of such a class and I cannot begin to do justice to it right from the start. What I shall rather do is summarize the main ideas of the paper along with raising some concerns along the way.
For a humble beginning it would suffice to say that moral realism is the view that in some sense there is an objective moral reality. Realism thus asserts that morality is objective. For a realist, it is also undeniable that morality provides us with reasons for action. But the standard picture of human psychology (as presented by Hume) suggests that to have a reason for action we must have a desire; and desire seems to be subjective. And in this case one person’s desire may not resemble with the desires of another. It is this difficulty for realism which is the theme of this article. In here, Smith claims to having solved the moral problem by giving an account of moral judgments in terms of what one would desire if one were fully rational.
Smith begins the essay with an obvious yet perplexing proposition. He asserts that we take moral appraisal ‘for granted’ and yet worry about ‘getting it right’. It is this proposition which later grows into one of the many dichotomies he discusses, to which we shall return later. Smith thus mentions the two distinct features of moral practice- its objectivity and its practicality, and goes on to show that these two features of moral practice have both metaphysical and psychological implications. These implications are utterly distinct in all possible manners and it is this point where the real issue surfaces.
The first feature of moral practice is its objectivity which, Smith claims, is implicit in getting the answer ‘right’. And why not? If philosophers are after getting the right answer, that surely implies that there are such right answers, i.e. there are distinctive moral facts. Moral practice as being objective has further following implications-
Metaphysical Implications: There are moral facts determined by circumstances, and that, by arguing, we can discover what these facts are. What does this mean? I understand it to mean that Smith, without being explicit, draws a dichotomy of ‘higher order fact’ and ‘lower order fact’ . Lower order fact would limit itself to the phenomenal consequences/ ends of actions (facts about the consequences of an action). And higher order facts would be something not of this or that action but of moral concepts itself (facts about the rightness/ wrongness of actions).
Psychological Implications: By making a moral judgment we express our beliefs about these so called ‘higher order’ moral facts. The objectivity of moral judgments has another psychological implication which is that people who have moral beliefs might/might not desire to act on them, and this is something for which they cannot be rationally criticized.
So much for the objectivity of moral judgment. Next Smith addresses the second feature - practicality- of moral judgments. The practicality of moral judgment is the idea that to have a moral opinion is to have a corresponding reason and hence motivation to act accordingly.
Reason ►motivation ►action (based on moral judgment)
The psychological implication of the ‘practical’ aspect of moral judgment is that when we make a moral judgment it is due to certain desires, and since worldly facts do not/cannot alter the desires, it amounts to saying that our moral judgments are based on/ are expressions of our desires.
The metaphysical implication is that when we make a moral judgment we are not considering any moral facts but only our immediate desires.
Now if we closely look at the pattern of the argument, we get to see crystal clear what is the problem with which Smith has been grappling for quite sometime now. If we notice the psychological implications of both the objective and practical features of moral practice then we notice that they both assert just the opposite of each other (as shown by the underlined part). As Smith writes:
“The objectivity of moral judgment suggests that…our moral judgments express our beliefs about moral facts…And the practicality of moral judgment suggests…that our moral judgments express our desires.”
Before beginning to examine Smith’s proposed solution to this problem, it is worth a mention that before getting into this juncture, Smith also refers to the psychological make up of human beings and then talks about how that is composed again, of two opposing features, desires and beliefs. According to Smith, belief can be rationally criticized while desires cannot be rationally criticized. The significance of these opposing psychological states lies in its impact on human action, which is much apparent when
“A human action is a product of these two forces: a desire representing the way the way the world is to be, and a belief telling us how the world is and thus how it is to be changed, so as to make it that way”.
However, if this is true, then, what is one to comprehend of the conception of an ideal world? For instance, when Gandhi worked towards actuating a Hind Swaraj or when Plato wrote the Republic (his ideal world!), were these ideal worlds beliefs or desires? An ideal world cannot be a belief because as per Smith’s definition a belief is how the world actually is, whereas an ideal world is a world that is not is but ought to be (thus it is called ‘ideal’). However it is befitting, if one is to use Smith’s understanding of desires, that the ideal world then is a desire, representing the way the world is to be. And so, if desires are not to be rationally criticized, then Popper’s entire philosophical enterprise in Open Societies and Its Enemies is a philosophical mistake. Smith’s relation to human action is certainly important, if one is to rely on the arguments presented by William K. Clifford in The Ethics of Belief, where it is asserted that actions are based on beliefs and hence no belief should be accepted uncritically, without a justified reason. And in all fairness, Smith is to be credited for his consideration that desires are reason neutral only when they are based on irrational beliefs ( this, he explains with the spider and the odour example ).
Another point of concern is Smith’s assumption, which he accepts very uncritically, is his idea that there are moral facts which are determined by circumstances, and that, by arguing, we can discover what these objective moral facts are. Now at the very outset, we see that a case of realism is not being argued for, but it is being stated. Many scholars may come to in fact argue against the fact that there exist any moral properties at all! I am unsure what Smith means here when he says, that ‘by arguing, we can discover, what these moral objectives are’ because here he seems to be putting the cart before the horse. If Smith is out there to establish a form of ‘realism’ then shouldn’t he be demonstrating the existences of these moral facts procedurally, rather than only mentioning it?
There is no denying that the genius of Smith lies in his approach to deal with this whole set of nuance created by the trilogy of reason, belief and desire. However, since Smith is dealing with a task so important, so influential that if all goes right, it might just end up the whole debate of moral problems and ethical realities, it is a must that his assertions go well with other theories that are important as his himself. One point which seems a bit critical is where Smith asks us to consider that we did something wrong if we refuse to give famine relief. Giving a justification he says, that “it seems we come to think that we failed to do something for which we had good reason to do”. And this occasions serious puzzlement. That implication surely seems to be correct as it is also raised by Marc Hauser in Moral Minds. However, there seems to be nothing wrong by refusing to give famine relief. The puzzlement really comes across when a person might reflect and think that an injured child might perhaps invoke a stronger urge to help, and than a starving child. Hauser’s answer to the puzzle seems more satisfactory, in comparison to Smith’s assertion of doing something wrong by refusal to give famine relief. According to Hauser:
“In our past, we have only been presented with opportunities to help those in our immediate path…There are no opportunities for altruism at a distance. The psychology of altruism evolved to handle nearby opportunities, within arm’s reach. Although there is no guarantee that we will help others at close proximity, the principles that guide our actions and our omissions are more readily explained by proximity and probability. An injured child lying on the side of the road triggers an immediate emotion and also triggers a psychology of action and consequence that has a high probability of success. We empathize with the child, and see that helping her will most likely relieve her pain and save her leg. Seeing a picture of several starving children triggers an emotion as well, but pictures do not evoke the same kind of emotional intensity as the real thing. And even with the emotions in play, the psychology that links action with consequence is ill prepared.”
Unlike Smith, Hauser is humble to confess that he cannot conclude from such an instance that ‘our intuitions always provide luminary guidance for what is morally right or wrong. He quotes Jonathan Baron and then explains at length that intuitions can lead to unfortunate and even detrimental outcomes. He does assert that reasoning and emotions both play some role in our moral behaviour, but neither can do complete justice to the process leading up to moral judgment. While Hauser’s conclusion is purposefully ambiguous and leaves a lot of scope for investigation, it certainly seems to be more appropriate in comparison to the way Smith presents a brief account of how human psychology functions and lead to actions. This is because Hauser still keeps in mind the complexity of human beings and the concept of morality, whereas Smith on the contrary seems to firmly believe in moral realism and his arguments seem to revolve around a way to explain it, and not really understand alternate possibilities in this essay. There is another essay by Michel Smith, ‘Moral Realism’ where alternative possibilities namely, expressionism and nihilism are discussed. But then there again the agenda is to establish moral realism.
Upto this point was a brief summary of Smith’s formulation of the issue which, if not solved, would make the whole idea of morality incoherent, and some of my observations. Now it is only better that Smith’s proposed solutions is discussed so that we can assess how far he succeeds in his endeavour. For once he defines moral realism as the ‘metaphysical view that there exists moral facts’. And out of Realism (there exists moral facts), Irrealism (there are no moral facts, nor are they required) and Moral Nihilism (there are no moral facts but its not that they are not required) Smith argues for realism. He sees the combination of reason and motive as the main culprit. If only it could be somehow proved that being motivated to do an act and the reasons to do that act are different, it would suffice. And Smith does this by the ‘baby bath analogy’ where he shows that the being fed up of the crying baby you are overcome with a desire to drown it; means you are motivated to drown it; but have no rational reason to do so.
Smith is quick to show that the standard psychological picture fails perfectly in the cases where the subject is ‘cool, calm and collected’. Because if one is cool, calm and collected there is not any kind of emotional outburst. And this, he says, “is the key to reconciling the objectivity with the practicality of moral judgment.” And why not! The objective fact of being calm and collected reconciles with the practical moral judgment of not acting on the basis of emotional outbursts. And the moral facts that smith has been aspiring to establish throughout the essay can be found if desired from a cool and collected state of mind. And with this, Smith redesigns the boundary where now desires can be rationally criticized even when they are not based on any irrational beliefs. The psychologist comes up with another point saying that even under such highly reflective state of being cool, calm and composed, there can be differences in our desires because there is a ‘fundamental relativity’ in the reasons we have. Smith, for his part, doesn’t believe the ‘reasons are relative’ because via forums and discussions we can always alter the beliefs and desires (to some extent) of the other person. And had reason been relative, this would have been impossible.
So, this is how Smith proposes to establish the objectivity of moral facts. This seems to me to as one of the best pieces endorsing moral realism; best in scope; method; and treatment of other related theories, minus few points which struck me as not being in line with the normal flow of arguments. It might be quite possible that Smith has dealt with it in some other of his work but as far as my understanding of this text goes, these points need clarifications.
Though Smith is not explicit about his arguments against externalism about motivation, the text suggests and infact depends upon it for the establishment of many important premises which ultimately led to the conclusion that ‘there are objective moral facts’. As a record, externalists about motivation deny that there is any conceptual or internal connection between making a moral judgment and being motivated to act on it.
Internalists about motivation (Smith being one of them) assert that there is such an internal connection between judgment and motivation.
Smith’s point is that the externalists, in order to get the conceptual truth, have to appeal to motivation which is grounded in a bare concern with what morality prescribes; whereas the internalists can have a direct appeal to motivation grounded in a concern for right-making features. Smith held that moral judgment necessitates motivation, and therefore, unlike the externalists, the internalists so not need to appeal to any pre-existing desire. They can say that moral judgment gives rise to a new desire for the particular thing that has been positively appraised. The externalists lack this resource, and so must instead appeal to a general pre-existing desire that will cover whatever their particular moral judgment might turn out to be.
But the point is, I don’t see how Smith can accommodate anything like a motivational necessity. On the motivational side he is a Humean. Beliefs and desires are distinct existences. This looks perplexing!
In sum, this is a highly ambitious and engaging piece of work which develops a number of novel arguments for what is sure to be a controversial set of mutually supporting and philosophically interesting positions. Despite the philosophically immature critical observations made by me (which is the product of the mind of that of a trainee), the essay is an excellent piece of work. Smith has done more than enough to instigate another round of forums and discussions so that the best minds in the world of ethics can test their higher reflective state (cool, calm and composed, I dare say).
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Believe those who who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it.
The obscure we see eventually. The completely obvious, it seems, takes longer.
-Edward R. Murrow
Think like a man of action; Act like a man of thought.
No matter where you go or what you do, you live your entire life within the confines of your head.
The obstacle is the path.
All are lunatics, but he who can analyze his delusion is called a philosopher.
Those who lack courage, always find some philosophy to justify it.
Friday, September 18, 2009
Recent developments in my family has left me wondering..is it worth taking risks, loving, being loved, making plans for the future et al, considering the fact that you might not exist the next moment! My eldest cousin passed away at a perfect age of 27 in a car accident a week back and I am still not able to process this piece of truth. He HAD plans. Now all is over. why is it that we do not think of this possibility of being dead when we make plans? Can we not imagine ourselves dead? Am sure my brother never did imagine himself as being fully capable of belonging to the world of dead men...nor do i think! I have made alot of plans for my self..my career, my life with my partner...not even thinking ones that I might not life long enough to see any of these materialising.
But life goes on. It has to.
I wish my cousin's soul rests in peace. Amen
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
What is it for the same person to exist over time? This is a question of perennial human concern. The issue of personal identity is one of the most perplexing of all the issues discussed so far and what renders perplexity to the issue is the fact that upon identity is based the distribution and justification of reward and punishment. The failure on the part of just distribution of reward and punishment would lead not only to the breach in moral responsibility that one person has towards other, but would also explicate the impotency of all the philosophical discussions taken so far, on the issue of personal identity. Antony Flew concludes one of his essay with the remark that “The search for the talismanic definition which shall solve all possible problems, and the search for the real essence of personal identity is...a mistake.” For this question, there can be no true or false answer, which we’ll see shortly.
But before that, it should be absolutely clear from the outset, what is it that we are seeking. And the one response which finds favor is, we are aiming at an answer to the question what is it on the basis of which we say that a person on t2 is same as that on t1? The issue with we are concerned here is the numerical identity i.e. the identity of a person over a period of time.
All the thinkers who engage themselves in finding out the answer, put forward viewpoints which, though divergent on various points, agree on at least one, i.e. since we are dealing with ‘persons’ or ‘individuals’, the criteria of personal identity should be such which “individuates”, more precisely, individuates uniquely. This also provides reasons for citing “memory” and “bodily identity” as the possible criterion of Personal Identity. They are the most cited criteria because what we call ‘memory’ and ‘body’ are the things most personal and unique in themselves. This paper would then begin with a historical treatment of the problem of Personal Identity followed by tracing the path taken by “ Bodily Continuity” theorist Bernard William and seeing how dexterously he makes consistent, the take on Personal Identity in historical milieu, at the same time keeping his treatment of the problem totally new and intelligent.
One view endorses the standpoint that bodily death is not the end of one’s personal existence. This dualist view, endorsed by Plato, Descartes, Butler, Reid and many others, is that we are a union of material body and immaterial soul. The body and the soul are different substances, one physical and the other mental, and each can exist without the other. It is the soul which gives us our distinctive identity and it does not perish when the body dies. We continue to exist in some immaterial realm. So, the Dualists hold that I am the same person from birth till now because I have the same soul. This non- reductionist standpoint views that identity consists in spiritual soul. If the soul is same, person is same.
Other views fall into two broad categories, physical and psychological. There are physical theories which identify a person with some biological item- typically the brain or the body. One good reason for preferring the brain version is that there is a possibility that a person would survive if his brain were successfully transplanted into a new body and his old body destroyed. But there are complexities in this too as far as the determination of the personal identities are concerned, which we shall see shortly. But before that it is required that we analyze a third category, i.e. of psychological theorists who refuse to make any identification of “same brain-same person” criteria. Instead, they take the identity of a person over time to be determined by the continuation of his distinctive stream of mental life. Interestingly, this stream could, in principle, continue in some non-biological item, an artificial brain for instance. What matters is that one’s mental life continues; all that is required is that there is psychological continuity/memory. On such a view, a person survives teletransportation, a thought experiment in which there is psychological continuity but no material continuity.
The propounder of this edge was John Locke, who, in “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding” provided the earliest systematic treatment of the problem of Personal Identity in the history of modern philosophy. He advocated Memory or Psychological Continuity as the sole criterion of personal identity which led his theory to be called “memory theory of personal identity”, according to which the identity of persons through time is ‘constituted’ by the memory that the person has of his/her past action.
Vehemently opposing this view were the views of the dualists Thomas Reid and Joseph Butler where Reid argued for the thesis that the relation between memory and identity is simply of an “evidential” nature: memory gives person evidence that he/she is the same person as the person who did something at some previous time.
Butler, for his part, demonstrated the circularity of Locke’s argument and reasoned out that the definition of personal identity in terms of the consciousness of personal identity presupposes the very thing in question. Thus, he writes-
“…one should really think it self evident, that consciousness of personal identity presupposes, and therefore cannot constitute personal identity.”
What I have done so far is to summarize the debates on personal identity in historical parlance. The ambition of the present work is not merely to do so. It, infact, focuses on the larger picture, to try to grasp the true nature of the balancing treatment given by an especially stimulating and insightful philosopher Bernard Williams, whose papers usually are admirably clear and always reward careful and sustained study. The beauty of Bernard Williams’s argument lies in his approach to the problem of Personal Identity where he puts forward two arguments: one in an argument in favor of mentalist criterion of personal identity and the other is an argument in favor of the bodily criterion of personal identity, with the conclusion that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with these arguments individually; the solution to the problem of personal identity can be taken a step further if we synchronize both the approaches together, for we will fall into an inevitable “risk” if we pay heed to only/any one of them.
The crux of Berlin’s argument is that Bodily Identity is always a necessary condition of personal identity; memory and other personal traits being the sufficient condition of the same. William, though insist on the bodily identity as a necessary criterion, defers to the claims of memory as a possible additional criterion, which becomes evident when he writes that we cannot settle the question of personal identity “merely by deciding the identity of a certain physical body…..consideration of personal characteristics and above all memory must be invoked.”
Williams begins his treat with the assertion that there are two special problems about personal identity. First, the fact that man is conscious about his own identity, and second, that the question of personal identity cannot be simply answered by recoursing to the identity of a certain physical body. The identity of the body is not a sufficient condition of personal identity, other factors, viz- memory and personality traits should be taken into account. So, if Williams succeeds in showing that Bodily Identity is not a sufficient condition of personal identity, and that it cannot work without the considerations of memory and other personal traits, then he succeeds to formulate a consistent and working thesis for the task at hand.
His first success comes when he shows, in line with our analysis that, the criteria of personal identity should be such which “individuates” uniquely, which deals with the ‘particular’. Williams shows how memory is involved when we talk of particular personality. So the paradigmatic question of personal identity, instead of being “Is he the same person as he use to be?” is “Is the (particular) personality he has now the same as the one he had before?” An answer to this question would show whether we can make sense of particular personality in terms of memory and whether there can be personal identity without bodily identity. What adds peculiarity to this endeavor is Williams formulation of two ‘obvious’but important features of memory, which are of great worth if we are examining as to whether memory be granted the honor of being the sole criteria of personal identity. The first feature lends equality to remembering and knowing. A remembers X implies that X really happened. Here ‘to remember’ = ‘to know’. Secondly, all claims to remember need not be true. To quote Williams: “not everything one seems to remember is something one really remembers”. This, then, is the shift which renders it impossible that memory be treated as the sole criterion of personal identity; but with the point that memory has to be the constituent of the criterion since it seems to be universally agreed that (if any criterion is required at all) more is required than bodily identity. And this is precisely what William aims to show in his work, that even though bodily identity is the necessary condition of personal identity, we have to defer to the claims of memory as the possible additional criterion.
Clearly, I am often justified in asserting personal identity on the basis of bodily identity, but in these cases it seems, I must be assuming that other requirements ( like, considerations of personal characteristics and memory) have already been satisfied.
We also see that Williams’s explication of ‘event’ and ‘action’ also adds another solid dimension to his project. Suppose there is a man, call him Charles, who has undergone a radical change of character and after getting up he claims to remember those actions and events which he denied doing before or witnessed before. Adding to the complexity, he now denies those actions and events which he previously claimed to have done or witnessed. William asks- Can we now say that he has a different personality? We can say YES but with riders. If Charles claims to remember doing any action then he is definitely the same person since an action is done only by one individual person (William asks us to ignore the joint or co-operative actions), his claim to witness an event might not provide solid help since an event might be witnessed by more than one person.
But if we look back at the second ‘obvious’ but important feature of memory which asserts that not all memory claims are to be taken at face value, we can say that Charles might not be the same person whose actions and events he claims to remember. What does this show but the fact that instead of our trying to put apart mind and the body, the normal operation of one ‘mental’ criterion involves the ‘bodily’ one. But what if whatever Charles claims turns out to be true? Maybe on examination we find that there are other witnesses of the events which Charles claims to have witnessed. What do we do then? Then, instead of saying that Charles had a change of personality, we’ll say that it is a case of, maybe, clairvoyance. But this leads to another ambiguous position. Now that Charles shares the witnessing of the events with number of persons, this would be amounting to say that Charles is identical with anyone who witnessed the event, or some particular person who witnessed it. And it is in the latter of the two cases that we can ascribe “change of identity” to Charles.
This was for events, we’ll now see how ‘actions’ provide better ground for the estimation as to whether there is a change of personality or not. Now, unlike events, actions have only sole doer which individuates some one person. So if Charles is claiming to have done a certain action and if there is any way we can find out who performed the action then surely we can know who he now is. William makes it all the more engrossing by assuming that Charles’s claims ‘actually’ resembles and points toward the life history of some person, say, Guy Fawkes. What do we say now? Is Charles now Guy Fawkes? Or has Guy Fawkes come back to life via Charles? It’s perplexing. But there is a subtle beauty in this perplexity because it pushes rational limits to its end. And we’ll see how William through this example brings to life the whole debate of ‘memory cum bodily identity’ criterion of personal identity.
According to Williams, this is not as easy as it looks. We might be tempted to say that Charles (except for his personality traits, skills and so on) is now Guy Fawkes, since he claims to remember the events and actions from latter’s life. We might say that except the body, Charles has become just like Guy Fawkes. But the response to this is that ‘memory’ was introduced to deal with just this. Williams writes-
“..granted that we need similar personal characteristics. skills, and so on as necessary conditions of the identification, the final-and, granted these others, sufficient condition is provided by memories…and it is these that pick out a particular man."
The thing to note here is William’s assertion that it is logically impossible that two persons should correctly remember being the man who has done the action or the man who saw the event, but it involves no logical impossibility that these two different people claim to remember the effects mentioned above. What this assertion shows is that we are under no obligation to accept whatever Charles is claiming. We need not grant him the identity he seeks because there is a possibility of a third person claiming the identity which Charles does. It is very much of a logical possibility that just as Charles has undergone a radical twist of personality, similar change is experienced by some third person, say, his brother Robert. What now? There can be at most two possibilities-
Both Charles and Robert are Guy Fawkes, which is absurd because it leads to the implication that Guy Fawkes would be in two places at once. Another major absurdity would be that both Charles and Robert are identical with each other since they are identical to Guy Fawkes.
Now that we cannot ascribe identity to both, we can at best say that one of them is Guy Fawkes and the other one is merely identical to him. But this stand too, is vacuous since we have no theory to determine who is same and who would be similar.
If these are the possible but implausible cases, then we might better hold on the plausible thesis that both have somehow become like guy Fawkes and thus if this is the case, taking into account two people, then why should it not hold good for a single person? It doesn’t hold plausible for two people because in that case the Identity question loses its peculiarity. Instead of asking “Is this x the same x as that x which…?” we cannot obviously ask, “Are these two x’s the same (x?) as the x which….?” So we see that we cannot speak of identity in terms of the latter question. Apart from this, one more reason why we cannot grant it identity is the fact about the application of the laws of ‘identity’ and ‘exact similarity’. Though we can draw a distinction between identity and exact similarity as far as material objects are concerned, we cannot do the same for persons and their identity. And this notion of identity is given to us, primarily by the notion of spatio-temporal continuity. The distinction of ‘being identical’ and ‘being exactly similar’ cannot be extended to either a person’s character or to his memory. And this becomes all the more problematic in cases of memory, for if we are going to describe Charles’ relation to Guy Fawkes in terms of exact similarity of everything except the body, we are going to have difficulties in finding terms of reference to his memory claims. For instance, we cannot say that he has the same memories as Guy Fawkes (as this would imply that Charles is, in fact, Guy Fawkes; the very thing we want to repudiate) nor can we say that the memory claims made by Charles are those made by Guy Fawkes (for we don’t know what memory claims were made by Guy Fawkes). All that we know is that Charles’ life fits that of guy Fawkes.
We see, then, the problem with ascribing identity of guy Fawkes to both Charles and Robert. Both cannot be identical. What then? Do we ascribe identity to one of them and deny it to the other? No, we don’t. In fact, we cannot. For the simple reason that we don’t have any logical grounds for this judgment. On what basis do we choose one and abandon the other? The rational course, would then be, that we abandon both. From this argument Williams followed his conclusion that if we cannot ascribe identity of Guy Fawkes with one of them, we can as well do away with both. Williams summarizes this argument in the beginning of his article “Bodily Continuity and Personal Identity” in the best simplest possible manner, as follows:
“Suppose a person A to undergo a sudden change, and to acquire a character exactly like that of some person known to have lived in the past, B. Suppose him further to make sincere memory claims which entirely fits the life of B. We might think these conditions sufficient for us to identify A (as he now is) with B. But they are not. For another contemporary person, C, might undergo an exactly similar change at the same time as A, and if the conditions were sufficient to say that A=B, they would be sufficient to say that C=B as well. But it cannot be the case both that A=B and C=B, for, were it so, it would follow that A=C, which is absurd. One can avoid this absurdity by abandoning one or both of the assertions A=B or C=B. but it would be vacuous to assert one of these and abandon the other, since there is nothing to choose between them; hence the rational course is to abandon both. Therefore, I argued, it would be just as vacuous to make the identification with B even if only one contemporary person were involved.”
“Bodily continuity and personal identity” is not merely a response to the criticisms made by Robert C. Coburn of the arguments which Williams made in order to show that “bodily continuity is a necessary condition of personal identity and the similarity of memory claims and personality traits could not be a sufficient condition of the same”. It renders clarity to some of his ideas which were not explicitly mentioned before, for instance, the stand that if memory and personality traits are granted the place of being the sufficient condition of personal identity then this would be like asserting that there is no difference between identity and exact similarity, which is absolutely fallacious. Another is the point that identity is a one-one relation and that the principles of one-many or many-many relations cannot be a criterion of identity. These are just the glimpses of the contents of William’s thesis which renders the human treatment that he gives to the problem of personal identity.
William shows Coburn’s critique to be problematic by virtue of the ambiguous manner in which he formulated his case. Coburn’s claim that William’s conclusion when applied to his example brings forth “unacceptable results”, rests on the misunderstanding that one of William’s agenda is to make sure that the ‘consequences’ are right. But William makes it clear that his primary concern was not the ‘consequence’ but ‘the grounds of such identification’.
Coburn case consists of a man called George who disappears suddenly and another man coming to the scene ‘a moment later’ who is exactly similar to George. Coburn calls him George*. And claims that, by William’s account, George would not be identical with George* which is fallacious. But William in his response doesn’t allow any liberty to Coburn and shows every possible loophole in his interpretation, rather misinterpretation, of William’s thesis. Williams shows how he is mis-understood on the following three grounds:
When he discussed Charles and Guy Fawkes’s case, he was dealing primarily with finding the grounds of granting identity, and not with the ‘consequences’ that were to follow from this exercise. (Of course, William doesn’t deny that consequences are important. It’s just that, it was not on his agenda in that discussion)
Secondly, William shows how Coburn example is not the same as that to which the same criteria could be applied as that of Williams. Coburn doesn’t explain the ‘peculiarities’, or the details of his example which though look insignificant are of immense importance. For instance, he is not explicit about how much time has passed before the coming into scene of George*. This is important because on it depends the idea of place; if the time-gap is more, it is more probable that George* appeared on a different place than the one from where George disappeared. Whereas if the time lapse was very less, it should have been made clear the reasons for doing so.
These are some of the restrictions which should be implemented to Coburn’s example otherwise it doesn’t fall into the league, which William is following. And if the changes are made then it no more remains eligible to be called as the counter-example to William’s example. The principle of William’s example, as mentioned before, is that identity is a one-one relation. He writes:
“This principle states a necessary condition of anything’s serving as a criterion of identity. It clearly does not state a sufficient condition…”
Coburn’s example doesn’t pass this test in the sense that the ‘appearing somewhere at sometime after the disappearance of the individual...’is a many-one relation.
Apart from these, one other aspect worth the attention is William’s “reduplication” argument discussed in detail in “Are Persons bodies?” where he attempts to answer to four prominent objections, of which “reduplication” founds favor in the fourth and the most ‘forceful’ one. The objection is- “The identity of persons is not the same as the identity of bodies.” What is taken as the bottom line here, is the argument (popularly known as ‘counter-example) given by Shoemaker in his book “Self knowledge and Self Identity”. Shoemaker tells the story of two men, Brown and Robinson, who undergo brain operation. There brains are removed from their bodies and at the end of the operation, by some mistake, Brown’s brain is fitted in Robinson’s head and Robinson’s brain is placed in Brown’s head. The man with Robinson’s brain and Brown’s body dies. The other survives. The resulting person has all the memories of Brown and in the course of time he begins to show all the personality traits and mannerism of Brown. Now what do we call him, the person just like Brown but with Robinson’s body? Though Shoemaker doesn’t immediately give an affirmative answer, he nevertheless, later , writes:
“If, as I believe, it would be reasonable in this case to say that Brownson (the surviving person), remembers events in Brown’s life, it would also be reasonable to conclude that Brownson is Brown….In any event, this seems to be a case in which the question of whether X is the same person as Y ultimately turns, not to whether X is bodily continuous with Y…but on whether X can remember events in Y’s life.”
This example exemplifies the battle between memory and bodily continuity. And William is quick to see that though it is a persuasive counter example, it shows divergence from bodily identity and suggests that what governs the identity of the body is the identity of the brain, i.e. the body which now contains the brain of X must be the same body as the body which earlier contained the brain of Y- which is absolutely absurd. What can be said about Shoemaker’s example is that it avoids the re-duplication problem. As William himself would say- Identity does not allow for any re-duplication, in the sense that there cannot be two persons, not identical with each other, each of who satisfies the principle. That is, it cannot be the case that there be two bodies, each of which contains at the same time precisely X’s brain.
So we see how Williams’s thesis falls into place with an appeal to common sense logic. But despite this, there have been numerous critiques of his viewpoint which is not surprising as it marks the genius of his work. J.A.Brook is one of such critiques who write-
“ Its refutation requires nothing not already at hand…Refuting it removes a preoccupying uneasiness about accepting that personal identity is like other kinds of material object identity.”
William’s argument in question is taken from “The Self and the Future” where he supposes that I am in a tyrant’s prison. The guard comes and tells me that one of the prisoners would be beaten; it might be me or it might not be me. Here I can always guess the outcome of such an announcement. If I get thrashed then I’ll feel pain, if not, then I’ll get hear groans. But suppose the guard comes and tells me that ‘someone’ will be tortured and that person will be connected to me in such a way that it will be undecidable whether to say that person is me. Here I would not know what to imagine of the outcome. By contrast to the previous case I cannot count on any future person. So I cannot anticipate any of the possible alternatives as something which I might go through.
Brook shows that this response will not do. He argues that the subject can certainly anticipate someone being beaten and can do so by imagining the beating from the standpoint of the person receiving it. That would seem to be “projective imaginative thinking”.
Brook further mentions that William seems to have a missed a very crucial point which is that one can anticipate a beating from the standpoint of someone receiving it without making any judgement as to whether the person to be beaten will be one self. The conclusion, then, seems to be that, once we see this, we see that one can guess what would be the case in a situation in which a question of one’s identity with a future person is conceptually undecidable.
“The Self and the Future” finds another critic in the writings of Harold W. Noonan where he shows that “…plausibility of Williams’ argument evaporates…”when one sees that since they are to act selfish, their judgement would reflect the views which are, in fact, not theirs, but of the other person. So for A, B’s viewpoint is wise and for B, A’s is wise.
The two characters of William’s arguments are A-body-person and B-body-person, where A-body-person is someone who has A’s body and brain but the brain has been ‘reprogrammed’ with information from B’s brain such that A’s brain is all clear of his own memories and is filled with those of B’s. Same thing has been done with B’s brain. Now A and B has to make a choice between them, as to who’ll get $1 00 000 and who’ll bear the torture. The peculiar thing is that the choices are made in purely selfish spirit. Now looking at it from a distance the observer rightly conceives that, for all practical purposes, A-body-person is B and B-body-person is A (which clearly shows a bend towards the mentalist criterion of personal identity).
Noonan shows the weakness of this argument by asking the readers to pay attention to the fact that the choices of A and B are bound to reflect their views on personal identity, for each is concerned that he gets the money and the other gets the punishment. But since A’s brain is filled with B’s views and B’s brain is filled with A’s views, so they should share each other’s view on personal identity. This amounts to showing that for A, B’s views are wise and, similarly, for B, A’s views are wise. And how this happens is best expressed in Noonan’s own words as-
“Hence each must regard the choice he ‘recalls’, i.e. the choice made by the person with whom he is psychologically identical, as a wise one, and he must regard his own choice as a wise one if and only if it is a choice in accordance with the views on personal identity he presently holds, i.e. the views which are reflected in the choice he ‘recalls’.
This shows that insofar as the A-body-person and B-body-person are likely to make statements that appear to provide support foe a mentalistic criterion of personal identity, this will only be so if they are themselves believers in such a criterion.
We see, then, how William has been attacked on most of the explanations he caters to the effect that though bodily identity is a necessary condition of personal identity, the mentalistic criterion should be, necessarily, taken into account (though not as the sufficient condition). John Perry, amidst the vast pool of criticisms against William, nevertheless, concludes, quite rightly, that “…Williams’s reflections…achieve something more. They identify and illuminate problems with the concept itself, with which any account must come to grips”
Friday, September 4, 2009
Monday, August 17, 2009
Traditionally, liberals have posited the right to freedom of speech and expression as among the highest ideals of civilized society, and have therefore, objected to censorship as the tool that undermines that right. It must be noted that ‘no censorship’ is a position that becomes difficult to defend, although it is a philosophical stand worth arguing for. Liberals hold that once you agree to ‘some censorship’, then it is difficult to decide between ‘good censorship’ (which might have some justification in the ends it serves) and ‘bad censorship’ (which is a tool of control and convenience under the guise ‘good censorship’). Condemned as we are to this bifurcation of expression, we must now perpetually reside in a state of constant tussle with the state and with opposing parties and with our own changing selves to move towards but avoid the attainment of the ideal case (another paradox in itself).
All societies that guarantee freedom of speech and expression do so with riders. For example, in India, it is qualified by subjection to ‘the integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence’ (Article 19). Proponents of censorship frequently appeal to these exceptions, which seem to be heavily loaded in favor of the status quo. One problem should be obvious by now. Who is to define what constitutes ‘decency or morality’? Who can judge whether an action or expression would have gone on to cause a legally unacceptable action or another action that would have caused a legally unacceptable action? One might say that the courts and judges would. But they work within a constitutional and political framework. Such frameworks have their concomitant pitfalls – they could have been framed to appeal to majority opinion (after all, most governments are elected), they could have been a product of the times and contexts in which they were created (and so, out of place today) or they could be a victim of the difficulty whereby, in failing to find a practicable and integrated equivalent of a philosophical position, we settle for the nearest alternative (for example, we know that ideally, punishment should be commensurate to the gravity of the offence and yet different countries would award different terms for the same offence, say, the theft of a car).
We are going to look at the issue of censorship in a philosophical sense. By such a sense, we mean a quest for something grounded less in the material and more in the perpetual. But censorship must work in the real world, one might object. Yes, it must, but in order to do so, we should try and develop moral and ethical arguments that are not a function of the government that is in power or of the events of the previous week. Censorship works within the larger domain of justice and following Rawls’ cue, it is worth looking for a parallel ‘Principles of Censorship’. Some of the issues that would need to be considered are – the nature of censorship, the relationship of the state and the individual, the legality of the laws of the state, the harm and the offence principles that are used to judge objectionable material, empirical evidence (or the lack of it) to justify causality and the non-state actors that have a say in censorship (the individual and society). Finally, we would see if a ‘maximum’ or ‘minimum’ principle would be best in determining the extent of censorship.
What is censorship?
The word ‘censorship’ is derived from the word ‘censor’, which has its etymological roots in the Latin word censēre, meaning ‘to give as one’s opinion’. A censor was a magistrate of high rank in ancient Rome, whose primary responsibility was to take the ‘census’ or to keep an account of those people who would be entitled to the benefits of citizenship. From this followed the power of regimen morum (keeping the public morals), for,
‘they would, in the first place, be the sole judges of many questions of fact, such as whether a citizen had the qualifications required by law or custom for the rank which he claimed, or whether he had ever incurred any judicial sentence, which rendered him infamous: but from thence the transition was easy, according to Roman notions, to the decisions of questions of right; such as whether a citizen was really worthy of retaining his rank, whether he had not committed some act as justly degrading as those which incurred the sentence of the law.’
Thus, the ideal of a government authority deciding what is to be allowed and what is not is almost as old as civilization itself. In the everyday sense, when we hear the word censor, we think it to be ‘a removal of material considered offensive or harmful’. This sense derives from the fact that censorship makes news only when it has either been actuated or when it has raised the possibility of implementation through public debate. In fact, there are many times when censorship is not noticed because it works more silently. For example, when we are at a workplace, we try and ensure that our language is gender-neutral and does not come across as demeaning to our co-workers. This is an instance of ‘self-imposed’ censorship. And it has been self imposed either because there is a law in place or because there is no law but the fear of social reproach. Thus, censorship is not always ex-post. Hence, we must add ‘prevention’ as one of the key features of censorship.
One may qualify the word ‘removal’ in the definition as well. When we go to watch a movie, we ask about the rating it has received from the censor board. The ratings are a result of give and take between the owners of the film and the censor board. If the board finds certain scenes objectionable, it has three alternatives. It can ban the movie outright because there is no possibility of showing it in a coherent form without inciting major unpleasant consequences. It can keep the movie intact, but rate it for a restrictive audience. Or it can remove the objectionable scenes and allow it for general viewership. The owners of the movie do a cost-benefit analysis and chose the option that best suits them (essentially, they almost never choose the first one). Thus, in the second case, there has not been so much ‘removal’ as ‘limitation’. One could argue that there has been a ‘removal’ in another sense- a part of the intended audience has been removed from potential viewership because of the restrictive rating. But there are two points to be noted here. One, that the integrity of the material has not been compromised. And two, that there is a possibility that everyone can see it, although with a lag now (movies certified ‘adult’ can be seen by people as and when they qualify as ‘adults’).
Finally, a definition of censorship has to accommodate the censoring authority (the Roman magistrate, if you please).
We can now have our workable definition of censorship.
Censorship is the prevention or removal or limitation of material considered offensive or harmful, as determined by a censor.
Censorship happens in a social context. If one merely spoke out objectionable lines within the confines of one’s own room, there would be no need to censor him. However, if the same lines were spoken at a public rally in front of a violent mob, they would require consideration. Thus, it is the impact that is sought to be avoided. The matter can be brought to the notice of the censor by parties that consider it offensive or harmful or the censor can take suo motu action in the light of the laws and precedents.
In ‘Groundwork of the metaphysics of morals’, Kant defines Good to be that which is the product of a ‘rationally guided will’. This, of course, refers to what is good action. What is notable is that according to Kant, nothing can be taken to be good without qualification, except good will. So things like honesty, courage, or altruism that are usually considered universal goods can sometimes produce results that maybe undesirable. They could also arise out of motives that were not very genuine in the first place- for example, a celebrity might donate money in order to be in the spotlight. Thus, good is defined NOT by the effect, or the intended effect, but by the WILL guiding the action. That much is for a morally good action. Good THINGS are those that produce a desirable mental state in self-aware beings. Thus, a movie is ‘good’ because it guides our mental states closer to those of optimism, elation, intellectual validation or whatever we seek in a movie. Similarly, coffee that does not produce the intended mental state can be called ‘not so good’.
I believe that we can again go back to Kant, this time in ‘The Critique of Judgement’, to understand what beauty is. Kant defines beauty as, ‘PURPOSIVE WITHOUT PURPOSE’. This means that when we look at something beautiful we feel that it has been designed with a purpose in mind. Ultimately, however, we find that the thing serves to particular purpose. For example, when we look at a flower, we admire its symmetry, its general location and its form and we think that these attributes were present to either serve a specific use or exemplify a specific perfection. When we discover no such thing, we experience a sense of pleasure that Kant calls “disinterested”. The recognition of beauty PRECEDES the sensation of pleasure that it produces. A sunset is beautiful and therefore, we feel pleased in its presence and not BECAUSE the sunset gives us pleasure, it is beautiful. This distinction id very important because it tells us that Beauty is essentially a simultaneous impression on our senses and feeling. Unlike Good, we do not evaluate beauty. It is not mediated through cognition.
I would define FUSION as ‘a merging of diverse and distinct elements into a whole where the individual elements can still be perceived in their own right’. UNION, on the other hand is the ‘uniting of two or more distinct elements where the elements tend to become indistinguishable’.
On the basis of these definitions, I would now like to state my position on the issue- THAT THE COMING TOGETHER OF BEAUTY AND GOOD IS AN ACT OF FUSION, AS CAN BE DISTINGUISHED BY A REFLECTIVE CONSCIOUSNESS and they sometimes only produce an illusion of unity, which can be systematically proven to be misleading.
Let us now go back to that painting in the art gallery. When I first look at it I find it Beautiful because it appears to have a purpose and yet be purposeless. One can LATER admire the symmetry, harmony of colour, the order of objects depicted et cetera and call it GOOD. When I found it beautiful, I was pleased. That sensation was disinterested. It was a purely aesthetic judgment. I say that this is a case of FUSION because I can break-down the combined sensation of beauty and goodness if I focus on the process of that sensation. At this stage, I find the painting beautiful and it gives me pleasure. Now I notice this desired mental state, that is, the state of pleasure, and I RATIONALIZE purchasing that painting or desiring to own a likeness. That second phase is what gives us an idea of the ‘goodness’ of the painting.
In fact, the process of growth and education is very much a training to be able to analyze the good and the beautiful in a thing separately. A child yearns for a dress that is beautiful to look at and considers it also good. An adult has a better understanding of what part of a shoe is lending it its beauty and what part its goodness. Sometimes, we take this distinction the other way round and tend to find something beautiful ON ACCOUNT OF its goodness. There could be a comfortable and sturdy shoe that has lasted me for a couple of years. Gradually, I may begin to find the simplistic style and the dull colour beautiful. But this is a REASONED beauty, and either it is not really beauty but appreciation or we can still analyze HOW we started finding it beautiful. Either way, it is a case of FUSION where the individual components can be individually identified.
A seemingly anomalous caser is when employers hire prospective employees because they happen to be better looking than other candidates. Similarly, sometimes teachers favor students, voters favor politicians and even the jury favors certain under trials because there is a validation that ‘looks’ provide. This was interestingly analyzed in a 1972 study called “The Beautiful is Good” by Dion, Berscherd and Walster. Does that mean that there is a UNION between the two aspects and the judges could not make it out? It is quite possible that the focus was on the sensation of Good that favoring such a candidate produced IN the employer and not on the Good that another candidate could have done for the company. But we can find out the error in judgment later- showing that the indistinguishability between the two was not due to its OWN nature, but due to a less enlightened consciousness. A simple test to show that it is a case of fusion would be the ability to take out either Beauty or Goodness from an object and STILL have the other property intact. For instance, we can stick election posters all over on a Rolls Royce and still ride it as s good car. Conversely, we can replace the engine of a Rolls Royce with that of a lesser car and still find the car beautiful to look at.- though no longer good in what is expected of a car.
In conclusion, I would like to restate that my position of fusion was grounded on the fact that even when together, Beauty and Goodness arrive to us in two distinct phases, and can be separated one from the other if needed. This, I hope proves the case.
Studies in the male genetic makeup have confirmed that the male of the species is by nature polygamist. There is this eternal subconscious desire to ensure the continuation of the Y chromosome, and hence, the need to increase one's chances of a healthy offspring by mating as diversely as possible. With women, the agnation is different because she is assured of her parenthood of her offspring. Of course, we may point out that people hardly patronize prostitutes to procreate, but we must acknowledge the fact that at one level the need to convince oneself of the continuation of the species is being fulfilled. That is partly why the Kings of yore (who did not have to visit 'prostitutes’ in the conventional sense) made it a point to maintain a harem of concubines.
There is no denying the fact that one of the major drivers to prostitution is the urge for instant physical gratification. Traditionally, it has been males who have been visiting women for paid sexual services. To the man, it is an opportunity to release his urge to copulate. He answers the call of his libido and that makes him feel good about himself. Growing up, a lot of younger men want to explore their sexuality by having their experience with a prostitute. It could be a release mechanism. It could be a tool of boast among peers or it could be a strategy of convincing oneself of finally having become a MAN and of having come of age. Whatever it is, because the pleasures are forbidden, they hold all the more charm. Men who are already into a marriage or relationships might do it just for the DIFFERENCE the experience promises. They have always been fascinated by women who choose to live life the unconventional way. This is not to suggest that they have been game for a woman's emancipation but the attraction of a woman who has broken some rules is always there. She is risqué, she is wild and she will present a facet of womanhood which the "good wife" would not. Men then become souls flirting with their dark sides and the visible product of this journey is the physical pleasure they derive.
Another materialist way of explaining prostitution's longevity is to look at it as an economic arrangement based on the tenets of demand and supply. The men, who have traditionally had the money, are on the lookout for more sexual gratification than what society would permit them. The prostitutes, who have lesser money, are there to fulfill this demand. They often have few other professional skills or services to offer. The idea of a “fallen woman" is intrinsically tied to the idea of a woman who originally came from the poorer section of the society. So, while they have it, they use their bodies to ensure sustenance. In modern times, this has become a little more complicated, with women doing it to flaunt their new - found sexual liberties, and not always for the money.
Another idea that could explain the issue at hand is the power structure that came into play with the origin of prostitution. This power structure could be in the form of a male to male rivalry or in the form of more subtle but more consequentional male - female relationship. A prostitute is a commodity put up in the market, and on the principles of free trade, she is available to the highest bidder. Angelica Bianca, recently released to the general public (after the death of her patronizing general) is a case in point. When such a situation exists, the prostitute becomes the battle ground for rival males (even though this 'rivalry' might co-exist with male bonding). Whoever has the money, the power or the physical charm can try and win over her - thereby, also vanquishing competing males. Not the theory of evolution at work, one might say, but the idea is not totally detached. On the male - female plane, the power play is much more nuanced. A single man courting a prostitute is trying to enforce the domination of his patriarchal forefathers. Very often, he would use the agency of money. He is like the caveman trying to have his needs gratified at will. For a man into an existing relationship, visiting a prostitute is like procuring the physical pleasures without any emotional accountability. Within a relationship, sex might come attached with strings. The distribution of the household income, the say in familial decisions, the balance of conversation and the comfort level with the partner - all of these changes after every physical intercourse. This might become too daunting at times and a man might not wish to upset the status quo and yet have the ' joys’ of a momentary alliance.
Prostitution, then, is here to stay. Any society that has more than three individuals (with necessary gender diversity) would have prostitution. With three individuals, it is unlikely because two of them might just enter an emotional relationship (possibly including a physical side to it), while the third one (also in need of emotional security and continuation of the species) would be in a state of bargaining on grounds of an emotional commitment. Money comes into the picture when another individual is introduced to include the possibility of a simultaneous existence of procreation and recreation.
So, while the books of the Bible never really condoned prostitution, sons of Israel and sons everywhere made sure that a little sin was not totally unheard of.