Zu theoremen der Motivationskrise

"Eine prinzipielle Moral ist mithin ein System, das nur allgemeine Normen zulässt (d.h. Normen ohne Ausnahmen, ohne Privilegierungen und ohne Einschränkung des Geltungsbereichs). (..) Formalität heisst, dass keine konkreten Verpflichtungen (wie im traditionellen Naturrecht oder in der Ethik), sondern nur abstrakte Erlaubnisse rechtlich normierbar sind (Handlungen dürfen nicht geboten, sondern nur freigestellt oder verboten werden)."  Jürgen Habermas, Legitimationsprobleme im Spätkapitalismus, edition suhrkamp, 1973.

(amateuristic English translation below)


Not what I wanted to quote; I would have preferred something in English, something non-political & preferably something linguistic. But this is what I came across, &  my old fascination with the subject outweighs the less-than-lyrical Habermasian style. So, here goes: morality and ethics or, cross-wise, content and form.

I have long been obsessed with the difference between morality and ethics. It still strikes me that in ethics we have something less, something merely instrumental & rather contingent whilst morality is, or more fitting: should be, more universal & basic. I associate ethics with lots of paper, back & forth on interpretations, codifications, ... It's not just that we need something more stable and pure than that but, essentially, we would not be our human selves without it. Maybe it's mere contingent wish to want to be our human selves but you'll agree that the level of contingency is qualitatively distinct from all that instrumentally needs to be put in the body of law (& its many derivatives in group rules and the like).

The argument for this is Habermasian, I guess. It is essential for us to communicate (take a linguistic quought from here, it will probably be about that). Communication can only be achieved if there is a common shared thing that can be discussed, however imperfectly. Human progress is such that one is bound to engage, potentially, in discussion with anybody else whether we like it or not (& it is yet another truth that most of us most of time instinctively do not like it at all). Hence, universality can't be avoided & the positive expression of it is morality (the negative is fear from it - commonly known as xenophobia). The distinction with contingent legal codes & ethics is very marked in principle as in the latter stability is the prime goal, not progress (not that it's bad; it's practical - practicality should not be brushed away too rapidly).

The turn of phrase 'to moralize' and its associated gut reaction of wanting to vomit could well be the reflection of all of this. People react negatively to moralizing on this view not so much because they want less morality but because something as essential as morality is put in the everyday dirt & made to do work as a slave to the benefit of something or someone particular. My favourite example of it would be the 20th century myth that 'one needs to work hard to earn one's way' - this is moralizing, it may well have been true in the 20th century and for some time to come but it still is contingent. It is not essential to work, it is essential to communicate. It may be unethical to be a lazy bastard, but it is not by definition immoral.

Morality can only consist in very few claims; claims which are indeed formal, not in a legalistic sense but in a logical/dynamical sense (the same logic/dynamic one will find in natural languages to make a little bridge to linguistics). Obviously this does not mean that morality allows you to be unethical as in most cases the unethical or illegal (and maybe there is something between ethical and legal as there is between moral and ethical) will be the best practical way to make moral sense of specific cases (at least when the ethics and the laws have evolved in a moral way i.e. via due process preserving the due process). But just like etiquette does not translate into ethics, we should not take a moralizing & maximizing approach of having ethics translate into morality because morality needs to be light - and not burdened with all the things that happen to be important here & now to keep the beasts in all of us from breaking out.

I believe (but have time nor motivation) that taking the details of the quote, with a lot of hard work, one can make logical connections between my quought and this quote.

Oh well, another time. Maybe ...

" A principled morality is therefore a system that only allows general norms (i.e. norms without any exceptions, privileges or limts on its applicability). (..) Formalness means that there are no concrete obligations (like in natural law or in ethics) but only abstract permissions which are rightfully put as norms (actions cannot be ordered but only allowed or forbidden)."

Whilst writing this I was listening to Ozric Tentacles, Swirly Termination.

22:48 Gepost door Guido Nius in Liefde | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: habermas, convergence, form-content, universals |  Facebook |


Erläuterungen zur Diskursethik

"Die(se) Differenzierung zwischen einem modernen und einem traditionalen Weltverständnis ist nur möglich, wenn konkurrierende Weltauslegungen nicht überhaupt inkomensurabel sind, wenn wir (..) die Übersetzungen von einem Kontext in in den anderen überhaupt zulassen. Genau das bestreitet der starke Kontextualismus. Ihm zufolge gibt es keine 'Rationalität' in der Einzahl. Nach dieser Auffassung wohnen verschiedene Kulturen, Weltbildern, Traditionen oder Lebensformen je besondere 'Rationalitäten' inne. Jede von ihnen soll mit dem Kontext eines besonderen Weltverständnisses intern verschränkt sein." J. Habermas, Erläuterungen zur Diskursethik, suhrkamp taschenbuch (1991), p. 208.

Amateuristic English translation below.

There are those who believe having a 'strong' moral view lies in strongly holding - a great many - moral views to be absolutely true. But nothing can be farther from the truth;  the more moral absolutes sneak into one's position the less one is open to a discussion with others - & the ultimate moral view is that one should be open to this discussion with others. Better & more concise: any moral view is about openness. To other's point of view but also to what might transpire in the future based on facts we do not know yet or on forms of living not discovered yet.

The problem people strongly collecting a great many moral absolutes see in this can be summed up in their exclamationary reply cry 'Moral Relativist!', or, a bit further in the debate 'You're so hopelessly naïve!". The former reply can serve as symptom to diagnose this type of immoral view, named by Rawls 'comprehensive doctrine', as it will be shouted regardless of the adversary merely by virtue of someone being seen as an adversary of one of the many moral absolutes held. When someone accuses you of moral relativism despite the fact you have given examples of situations that can only be seen one way, universally, she/he is on his/her way to radicalize her/his comprehensive doctrine into a stagnant pool of being right regardless of argument. Discussion will cease, pushed sufficiently the argument will become violent.

At that time, more or less, the insult of naïveté will be thrown in the arena. After all, if discussion has to go on, "what defense against totalitarianism or fundamentalism remains?" Here is a fundamental error: it is not because the potential for discussion is seen as the highest value that there are only cases in which discussion is the only possible response. This is obvious: if the other refuses to discuss (either literally or de facto, by reverting to rhetoric devices) there is no discussion & hence the answer cannot be to discuss. Whether the answer is violence is another matter alltogether - but one thing is clear: it can be violence if violence is the only way to restore value, i.e. open discussion.

In a nuclear metaphor: first strike is illegal but retaliation a no-brainer. It is a main characteristic of moral absolutists to buy into the right of first strike when facing the assumed moral adversary. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy that fulfills itself as well for those who vehemently (& rightly so) oppose the notion of prophecy.

So yes, there is a moral absolute or better, a moral universal: rational discussion - we should not be tricked by the fact its discovery is relatively recent & hence it's not yet very widespread or well understood by many to believe it's naïve to restrict moral truth to discussion as the highest value. In fact, the opposite can only lead to moral relativism because it will presuppose that sometimes the value of debate is trumped by geographically and/or historically coincidental rationalities.

The convergence between linguistic philosophy (Davidson et al.) and moral/political philosophy (Rawls, Habermas, et al.) is where we can discover new creative ground - as is clear from the recent future, rational discussion may seem naïve but has rather a lot of force in overcoming coincidental roadblocks. The reason is simple: to live as a human is to talk with other humans - & to talk with other humans lis only possible in triangulating what they intend.

(to be improved, a lot)

"This distinction between a modern and a traditional world view is only then possible, when competing interpretations of the world are not simply incompatible, (..) when we admit at all translations from one context into another. That's precisely what strong contextualism denies. Following strong contextualism there is no 'rationality' in singular. According to this point of view different 'rationalitues' are inherent in different cultures, conceptions of the world, traditions or life forms. Each of these would be inherently locked up in the context of a specific world view."

Whilst writing this I was listening to Beethoven, Piano Sonatas (complete), Friedrich Gulda, Brilliant Classics - "Pastoral" & "Sturm".

21:06 Gepost door Guido Nius in Muziek | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: language, habermas, convergence, universals |  Facebook |