Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Quarrel

The Quarrel, a Canadian film from ’91 sure seems to have been a play first. But, according to THIS it was in fact a film based upon a short story, before it was finally adapted for stage, in its latest incarnation.

  The film presents an afternoon’s dialogue between two Jewish men who were close friends once, had a falling out, and have accidentally met again. In the interregnum they both survived the Holocaust, and are now in Montreal, circa 1947. One (a Rabbi) lives there, the other (a writer) is in town from New York. They were both students at a yeshiva before the falling out. We learn early on, that the break had to do with the writer’s (Chaim) intention to leave the school. When he opened up to Hersh (the Rabbi) about this, Hersh attempted to intervene with Chaim’s family in order to prevent it. This created hard feelings and a rift, not only within Chaim’s family, but, not surprisingly, between the two young men. The war intervened; both boys lost their families to the Nazis, and have sense moved to North America. They run into each other in a park in Montreal, and wander the park catching up, arguing and giving vent to deep guilt, both about each other, and their families, now gone. Old wounds are opened up, and along the way, some very interesting philosophical topics are touched upon. Here are two good clips from the film, unfortunately, embedding is disabled. They give a brief taste of the film:



There is quite a lot going on in the film, and even in these two clips. To focus on one thing, notice that in the second clip Hersh argues that reason alone cannot be the basis of morality, because it is a value neutral tool, which can be used for good or ill. He presents an example of non-Jewish Germans being able to rationalize their looking the other way when Nazis arrested Jews. No, he argues, despite its being an exercise in self-interested reasoning, such inaction is wrong. He contends that such moral judgments can only have objective status if there is a God.

Chaim responds that it is not necessary in order to have motivation to act morally, that one believes in God. He cites as evidence, a story of an atheist Lithuanian woman who helped Jews avoid the Nazis. He argues that she behaved the way she did because she held to a faith in humanity, while others behave morally or heroically because they hold to faith in God. It is by reason of various such faiths that people behave morally and heroically. Some are religious faiths, others are not.

You’ll notice that this does not really address Hersh’s contention. His contention did not have to do with motivations to behavior, but with whether or not moral judgments reflect objective realities, whether or not there are obligations that exist ‘out there’ so to speak, and bind us regardless of how we feel, or what we believe, or to put things in another form, he contended that, minus God’s existence, such talk of objective moral values merely is the result of subjective feelings or opinions, which, via that talk, become dressed up in ‘fact stating’ clothes. But such statements state no objective facts, only facts about our subjective reactions to things, our subjective preferences.

Sanka freeze-dried version of the two positions: Only if there is a God, can obligations as full blown objective entities exist, according to Hersh. Faith, Chaim responds, motivates moral behavior. The two positions lead to some interesting follow-on questions:

What exactly is it that connects the existence of a supreme being to objectivity of moral obligations, assuming that Hersh is correct in saying such a being exists?

If there is no such being, what else could constitute the basis for objective moral obligations?

Even if Hersh is right that reason in itself cannot generate morality, does it follow that reason has no bearing on morality or relation to it?

How will Chaim’s “faith based” account of motivation be applicable to Hitler’s faith?

Is there any basis upon which he can draw distinctions between faiths that are immoral and faiths that are not?

Will that account of his have any status other than subjective?

Will such an account be nothing more than a statement of personal preferences dressed up in the linguistic clothing of objectivity.

A two-fer of Christmas OTR from 1949

First up, Mason Adams in Grand Central Station's "A Christmas Miracle" a story of a hard-bitten and bitter ambulance driver in New York. Who is the mysterious intern he's carting around in his 'crate'?

Grand Central Station 12-24-49

Next up, some comedy: Phil, Alice and Remley decide to go to the mountains and cut a Christmas Tree for city hall.  The best line in this one belongs to the Mayor who they first chastise for not having a tree: 

Mayor: "Just because I'm the only Republican in the country in office, everyone picks on me! I'm so unhappy!" Sobs.

Phil:  Mr. Mayor, control yerself, control yerself. Stop cryin' yer wettin' your Dewey button.'

From the 1949 season, the high water mark of the series.

Phil Harris Alice Faye Show 12-18-49