Book III: Of Morals - Conclusion

"The interest, on which justice is founded, is the greatest imaginable, and extends to all times and places. It cannot be possibly serv'd by any other invention. It is obvious, and discovers itself on the very first formation of society." David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Penguin Classics, 1985, p. 669.

Call it the Roddenberry-principle: you can't imagine, can't conceive of, a society that is composed of intelligent individuals in which there's not a basic notion of justice, & fairness. So much so that even the biggest bands of thieves have some code of law internal to them and that any perturbation of the current laws is invariably justified - with recourse to some 'higher' principle of justice.

That much I consider obvious although it is certainly not obvious that the justice that prevails in any such a conception is just or the fairness so conceived, even remotely, fair. The latter will be my concession to those that like to call their adversaries naïve but it will be a concession made only for the purposes of the argument induced by a reading of Hume which is more particularly my reading. A reading that considers that quite a lot is entailed by Hume's treatment of morals & that consequently lots of the merely contingent human inventions are, in fact, not only just but, also, unavoidable long term consequences of any society where civility is sustained through sufficiently long periods of time (i.e. where no breakdowns are experienced on account of some majority perception that whatever a game life is it basically is a negative sum one in which at least some others need to outright loose before anybody at all can win).

To illustrate my premise:

  • do not say: "despite everything mankind has achieved it still degrades into beastly behaviour";
  • but say: "despite all of those things we do not have yet, doing what is good is still the most common motivator of human action".

When resources are scarce life is a struggle for life and hence a non-zero sum game where this non-zero sum is negative (i.e. necessity knows no law). The denial of this is the essence of the modern political spinning of win-win scenarios that, necessarily, can only be win-win by abstracting the loss to others as irrelevant or unavoidable - & hence the marriage in modern politics between 'realism', 'common sense' & 'win-win' in an attempt to subvert an intuitive longing for cosiness into a blatant disregard for those that loose out 'because they didn't try hard enough'.

But insofar as human invention succeeds in alleviating this struggle for life (to retain only the form of the struggle & the form of the game, where the essence still is non-zero negative sum but where the sum is not expressed in life or death) we'll see, as Hume observes, that we all can gain (at least life-wise) if we focus our energy on the increase of human inventivity and, hence, if we cooperate. So much so that a 'weak' society will, in circumstances of non-scarcity, will tend to win over time from what is a belligerent society (more often than not by inducing internal revolts, within this latter society). Let me say in passing that one of the crucial human inventions that's often forgotten is the invention of reducing the human population by other means than by war, famine or other destruction (and that any cosy politics that avoids 'engineering' the population growth cannot but be unjust and unfair - to be explicit: people without the means for children should first get the means and only then the children - most opting after even the most basic education that they don't want to have children if it means not having a life of their own).

Coming back to the premise illustrated by the above two bullets - the reason why we still have so much problems of injustice and unfairness is because we did not have a sufficient amount of time under which to develop justice and fairness and/or (but for the moment the following is still the most important) because there still is too much scarcity and hence too much struggle by humans to live for us to be able to take the moral high ground. That being as it may it is self-evident that once what will emerge once both conditions are being met with progressively more perfection: the justice of the type argued by Rawls to be fair (but without the artificial reasoning to establish it as it will establish itself as reasonable once scarcity has been suppressed and all the human energy will be dedicated to the struggle for being inventive where individuals will continue to loose but where the whole cannot but win).

More than this: all of this justice as fairness is entailed by the very first justice in the Humean sense. The progress is not one of content (because there is only form to it, and no content, see elsewhere) but one of increasing applicability both class-wise (in a first movement) and geography-wise (in a second movement). This progress can't but be accompanied by an at least perceived loss of some individuals (that are used to winning at the expense of others in a condition of scarcity). The latter is what war, essentially, is made of. The solution does not lie solely - and not even primarily - in coercing the individuals that stand to loose into their loss. Doing this is as stupid (in most - but not all! - contexts) as coercing an unjust and unfair society to adopt what is the established practice of jusice and fairness in more evolved societies (Iraq and Afghanistan spring to mind). Maybe I'll be able to draw out this comparison another time (maybe piggybacking on something in Rawls' Law of Peoples) but suffice to say here that in line with the conception of justice outlined the coercion is in the realm of non-zero negative sum games whilst the patience for evolution counting on the just and the fair being contagious principles is the one that will prove most effective (and just these exceptions where war certainly is justified as an ultimate threat: a lack of education - specifically for women - and a clear breakdown into a less just and more unfair society because of an onset of new scarcity - whatever and whomever is finally the cause of such an onset, the justification of war is independent of who is guilty in bringing about the scarcity - see WWII).

In the end maybe this is the thought: we don't need to engineer people nor society but we do need to engineer away any scarcity of life-threatening tangible goods and if necessary (contra Roddenberry this time) by decreasing the competition for these goods on the demand side (whenever we feel a restriction on the supply side).

(And now I will trun back to language and intention!, for those that were worrying)

Whilst writing this I was listening to Sonny Rollins, soneymoon, Get Back 2007.

15:48 Gepost door Guido Nius in Actualiteit | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: hume, optimism, imagination, dynamics, universals |  Facebook |


Of the influence of belief

"But tho' education be disclaim'd by philosophy, as a fallacious ground of assent to any opinion, it prevails nevertheless in the world, and is the cause why all systems are apt to be rejected at first as new and unusual." David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, p. 167, Penguin Books, 1969.

Look-a-here: I do not exist! Or more accurately (& more boringly non-provocative): the 'I' does not exist. This claim would be the closest to summing up my system, if there were such a thing as philosophical 'systems' remaining after Hume & Kant. As one was tempted to sum up Hume's system in Hume's day as "This world does not exist" in preparation of a smug chuckle with which to discard the details of what was said by him; I'm sure one would be tempted to Laugh Out Loud reading how I sum up my thotoughly individualistic thought.

If we have been educated in one thing throughout our life (and, indeed, throughout the history of women & men) it is that the self is the cornerstone of everything (like the family is the cornerstone of the state). It is the Cartesian premise that survived despite all attacks. A dogma deeper than any other. The last stronghold of religion, because what to do with a self that is the center of everything, and can disappear in an instant? Modernity has not created the self but it has enforced the myth of souls and their immateriality; an immaterality that's fully focused on the material. This is the time of character, personality, ethos, passion, ... anything dispassionate is of a suspect nature (even altruism, not being self-centered, is only acceptable if done in an all-consuming personal passion and with unbeatable commitment).

Hume came close (not very many pages after the page from which the above quote is taken) but could not completely give up the self after giving up the certainty, and the necessities, of the external world. The personal was primary. It's the most basic dogma of empricism that everything starts from what we perceive, from sensations - up to and including Carnap (see post on Eigenpsychisches & Fremdpsychisches) the subjective was solidified as the primary from which to construct all the rest.

It is a fallacy. You do not exist. If you think you're sure you exist 'because you feel things', think again! How could you express feeling something if there was not prior to that feeling the notion of what it is to feel something. The self (in any commonly meaningful sense) comes after the linguification of the species denoted 'humans' - linguification of the species is only possible based on complex social interaction and complex social interaction is only possible based on, many, non-verbalized concepts & instincts that are highly standardized by the commonality of a species living in the highly uniform conditions that we call the visible (tactible, audible, edible) world. It's nature that was first and Hume was wrong that we can't conclude anything on it with certainty because of the falibility of our senses and our understanding. We can't but avoid concluding that it was there first and that our notion of selves (&, further than that, our notion of perception) is but an unintended effect of that Cause of which it is impossible for us to ever determine a first cause. 

Common sense has it right therefore: the objective is primary, & the subjective only derivative, even if a derivative with its own direct interests. As we make plastics from crude oil that can be used for things crude oil as such can never be used; words and thoughts & selves & personalities &c & so on create their own applications that are in a way independent on the original principles that have formed their substratum. But one restriction will always apply - the word will cease to exist if one denies this basis on which it has been formed (& our personalities will dissolve if there are no words to share with other instances of a 'word-species').

That's morality, the whole of it. Not that it's impossible to destroy any previous step that was necessary to get to this level of civilization; all of that is possible to various extents as, alas, demonstrated repeatedly and as we speak. But there are things, if destroyed, cannot but destroy this shaky, derived but magnificent notion of the self; or diminish the potential for further evolution, further expressiveness of individuals - which is the same. Morality is unavoidable, not as mere codex or dogma but, as our common sense always had it, as an integral part of what we are. Maybe it's too little for the moralizers that want to control other individuals - but it's invariably too much for the same moralizers when they need to restrain themselves, in their control over their neighbours.

Education is what drives us forward as mankind; it is also what holds us back as the creative individuals that we, essentially, are. But that conclusion will have to wait for yet another time.

There's more to this than the above quasi-poetry. You'll find an early & amateuristic attempt at a reasoned underpinning of the above here:


Unfortunately at that time I didn't have the benefit of Davidson, Quine, Carnap, and Huma to name just a few. Tthe basis is there but the conclusions are foggy at best - which is one of the reasons outside of pedantry to write this.

As you were!

Whilst writing this I was listening to The Klezmatics, Rhythm & Jews, from iTunes.

21:55 Gepost door Guido Nius in Muziek | Permalink | Commentaren (2) | Tags: self, hume, tones, boldness, learning, mind-mind dualism |  Facebook |