Friday, January 29, 2010

ISW: Interview with Petraeus

Complete video

What is it?

Hoax UFO photo

Protoplanetary disk 1500 light years away

Cloud formation
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A rough and ready exercise in Aristotelian analysis.

Object of analysis: Motivations for moral behavior.

Target: An arrangement or sorting of traditional ethical theories according to the species of motivation they emphasize.


1. Interest - The most obvious example of this is self-interest. I choose to refrain from theft, because I fear punishment. Subdivide this category according to whose interest is key: self, or some group. [The group subdivision is obviously further divisible.] What is of interest for self or group is either acquisition or gain of things of a positive nature or avoidance of negatives. Taking these two groups one at a time:

Things of a negative nature that come from institutions or other people are either punishments or retributions.

Punishments are applications of laws or conventions, meted by institutions, or people playing social or institutional roles, and are more or less uniform over cases. Retributions are spontaneous responses, carried out with little or no regard to institution or despite institutions.
Similarly, exchanges, rewards and recognitions are institutional responses of a positive nature, while gifts are spontaneous positive responses.

2. Respect – Subdivisions in this category answer the question “Respect for who or what?” Answers: Persons, or institutions. Respect is also something that is either expected or earned[inclusive disjunction here].

Institutions include laws/traditions/practices/family, etc..

A certain amount of respect is given persons/humans/or other sentient entities because they are persons etc.., this is an expected respect. Further respect can be earned by individuals, based upon actions they take. People may lose respect due to actions.

A certain amount of respect is given institutions because they are institutions. This is an expected respect. Further respect can be earned by institutions based upon their track records. Institutions may lose respect due to track records.

3. Reverence – Something that is not earned, but expected and is given to a transcendent source of moral grounding or value. Because it grounds the moral, it motivates moral behavior. This is subdivided as to the nature of that transcendent source; personal [God] or impersonal [history, dialectic, an abstract idea like ‘freedom’ (as applied either to individuals or groups), or some such thing]. Revered things cannot earn further reverence, nor can they lose their status as things worthy of reverence. This is not to say that people may stop revering them, but only that if this is the case, it is not because of the nature or ‘acts’ of the revered things, but due to the individuals who have lost reverence.

Now, having done this analysis, look at traditional ethical theories, and ask, where they fall in the taxonomy. There is cross-over, but, a very rough and ready sketch has things falling out like this:

Consequentialist and contractual theories fall under #1. Ethical Egoism, Utilitarianism, Hobbes, Rawls, some interpretations of Kant.

Deontological and Rights based theories fall under #2. This includes standard interpretations of Kant.

Divine Command Theory, Natural Law, some Hegelian/Marxist inspired theories and libertarian theories fall under #3.

Kant is ambiguous between all three. He famously uses the term 'reverence' when he talks about the 'the moral law', and has a discussion about proper motivation coming from that reverence. On the other hand he argues that we must respect the autonomy of rational agents in all circumstances. Add to that the contractual readings, particularly of Rawls, and we see the sage of Konigsberg is fecund and all over the map. Is this a signature of depth or bad writing?