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Thursday, June 03, 2010

Bernard Bosanquet on Morality

"And we must have read Plato's Philebus and Aristotle's Ethics to very little purpose if we do not understand that, in principle, the fullest universal of character and consciousness will embody itself in the finest and most specialized and unrepeatable responses to environment; and that life, and especially its intensified forms as morality or knowledge, does not consist in observing general rules, but in reacting adequately, with logical, that is, with fine and creative adjustment to the ever-varying complexities of situations. Precision, measurableness, and universal law, these are in the moral act, but they are features of the solution of problems by constructive organization, and not of obedience to abstract rule, and the same thing is relatively true of the adjustments and arrangements of a highly unified society." (Principle of Individuality and Value, 105-106)

62 comments:

  1. "Precision, measurableness, and universal law, these are in the moral act, but they are features of the solution of problems by constructive organization..."

    What a pity that he did not construct this unintelligible phrase using the rules of English grammar so that one
    might discern whatever point he intended to make.

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  2. What a pity bestquest cannot understand thoughts more complex than "You the aggressor!"

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  3. Your tactic failed. I'm still unwilling to pretend that this king is wearing any clothes.

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  4. Bestquest, as a professional writer for the last 20 years, I can say that sentence is certainly grammatically fine, and it makes perfect sense to me. And of the author in question, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy writes: 'At the time of his death, Bosanquet was arguably “the most popular and the most influential of the English idealists” (J.H. Randall). He was the author or editor of more than 20 books and some 150 articles.'

    So isn't this kind of like a little league basketball player (you) telling a good college player (me) that my opinion is wrong, and in fact Kobe Bryant (Bosanquet) can't play ball?

    And who cares what you are "willing to pretend"?

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  5. "...morality . . . does not consist in observing general rules, but in reacting adequately, with logical . . . adjustment to the ever-varying complexities of situations."

    This is the Code of the Bully. It is the philosophy of the Mafia godfather.

    He adjusts his reactions to the complexities of situations in order to get what he wants, using as much brutality or fraud as he deems logically necessary, without regard for rules, and he labels his behavior "morality."

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  6. The sentence is fine. I guess this would work better, though:

    "Precision, measurableness, and universal law—these are in the moral act, but they are features of solving problems by constructive organization . . . ."

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  7. So, bestquest, you could understand what he was saying!

    Yes, Bosanquest was such a bully, spending his whole life writing philosophy and working to improve social conditions!

    "He adjusts his reactions to the complexities of situations in order to get what he wants, using as much brutality or fraud as he deems logically necessary..."

    Yes, just what Bosanquet was saying -- you're not inserting your own strawman version of him here at all.

    PSH, just so.

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  8. "Bosanquest . . . spending his whole life . . . working to improve social conditions!"

    What are "social conditions", precisely?

    Should one observe the general, abstract rule that it tends to be morally "good" to improve "social conditions" and morally bad to degrade them? If so, why?

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  9. 'Should one observe the general, abstract rule that it tends to be morally "good" to improve "social conditions" and morally bad to degrade them?'

    Generally speaking, yes.

    'If so, why?'

    Because, generally speaking, it would be the moral thing to do.

    Bestquest, think of the difference between a beginning musician and a master. The beginning musician merely follows rules, of harmony, rhythm, melodic progression, etc. The master usually follows them, but he knows when to break them, and not because he is a "bully" or in order to "get what he wants", but because breaking them sometimes produces better music.

    It is the same for morality. If a moral person breaks the rules, it is to produce a more moral, not a less moral, outcome. (In fact, that was precisely what Jesus was crucified for and Socrates was executed for -- not following the rules!)

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  10. "If a moral person breaks the rules, it is to produce a more moral, not a less moral, outcome."

    That seems pretty circular.

    How do you know that breaking the rules is moral? And how do you know that person doing the breaking in moral?

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  11. Sorry, typos : "And how do you know that person doing the breaking in moral?" should read :

    "And how do you know that +the person doing the breaking *is moral?"

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  12. "That seems pretty circular."

    Do you know what that means? Because I don't think it means what you think it means.

    "How do you know that breaking the rules is moral? And how do you know that person doing the breaking in moral?"

    How do you know that, when Kobe Bryant breaks the "rules" of how to play basketball, he's any good? How do you know when Shakespeare breaks the rules of drama he's any good?

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  13. "If a moral person breaks the rules, it is to produce a more moral, not a less moral, outcome."

    To break a rule of morality is to do something "bad." So what you are saying is that it can be "good" to be "bad."

    That is self-contradictory, and all self-contradictory statements are false.

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  14. 'To break a rule of morality is to do something "bad." So what you are saying is that it can be "good" to be "bad."'

    Well, bestquest, you are becoming rather tedious and boring here -- I am saying it is NOT always wrong to break the rules -- sometimes you HAVE to do so to be moral. Of course, if you first assume that I am wrong, then to reach the conclusion that I am wrong is pretty easy, isn't it?

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  15. Think of it this way, bestquest: what we are arguing about is WHETHER morality is always a matter of following rules. I say it isn't; here you are responding by saying, "Because morality is a matter of following the rules, it is a matter of following the rules."

    Think of Abraham and Isaac.

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  16. "I am saying it is NOT always wrong to break the rules -- sometimes you HAVE to do so to be moral."

    By definition, breaking the rules OF MORALITY is "bad", otherwise they are not rules of morality.

    However - I do not necessarily agree that there ARE rules of morality.

    What I know is that every person treats other people in certain ways -- and they avoid treating people in certain other ways. I make it a practice to study how each person treats others, and I aspire to treat each person exactly the same way he has decided to treat other people.

    Thus, for example, if I meet a child abuser, I hope I will have the opportunity and the courage to beat the snot out of him/her. Because that, to me, is the essence of morality.

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  17. "By definition, breaking the rules OF MORALITY is "bad", otherwise they are not rules of morality."

    Only if you define rules so that breaking them must be bad!

    There are rules of music composition, but great composers break them all the time. Why is it impossible for me to define the rules of morality as being of the same type?

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  18. "There are rules of music composition, but great composers break them all the time. Why is it impossible for me to define the rules of morality as being of the same type?"

    Sure, you can use the word "moral" in one of its watered-down meanings such as "chaste." Is that what you intend? The definition of "chaste" does not particularly interest me.

    I am using the word "moral" to mean "righteous", and the opposite of "evil" or "wicked." If you did not intend to discuss such things I will withdraw from the conversation.

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  19. Using it the same way you are, buddy.

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  20. Is it always bad to do something wicked and evil?

    If not, would you provide an example?

    If you agree it is always bad, then you cannot treat the rules of morality as though they are analogous to the rules of music. It is never wicked to disobey a rule of music.

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  21. "Is it always bad to do something wicked and evil?"

    Yes.

    But sometimes it is not wicked or evil to break a moral rule.

    I think I'd better offer another example.

    Rule: Do not steal (take the things of someone else without permission).

    Situation: You are hiking in the woods. You come upon a hiker bitten by a poisonous snake. Close at hand is a cabin, and through its window you can see a first aid kit, which, knowing the area, will definitely have material for treating snake bites. The closest help of any other sort is miles away, and the hiker will most likely die by the time you fetch that help.

    The Right Thing to Do: Break into the cabin and use what supplies you need to help the hiker. Leave a note explaining the situation and offering to pay for what was taken and any damage. (I would think the bite victim would offer to cover the bill, but it is your responsibility.)

    Conclusion: It is sometimes right to break moral rules; in fact, not breaking them may be the "evil and wicked" thing under some circumstances.

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  22. Stealing means taking something without paying for it. I don't see that any stealing happened in your story.

    The moral rule does not demand that we pay in advance.

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  23. "Stealing means taking something without paying for it. I don't see that any stealing happened in your story. "

    Sigh. I don't care if we call it "stealing" or not -- in general, you are NOT allowed to break into someone's house, take their stuff, and then leave an offer to pay for it. You would be guilty of both breaking and entering and theft.

    Now, I'm starting to feel you are just deliberate being obtuse here. See upcoming post on why I blog and what I will tolerate in comments.

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  24. A couple of points...First, I don't think your analogies are helpful. I see no point in comparing arts or sports with morality.

    Second, your cabin example doesn't prove much. You are committing a lesser evil in order to avoid a greater evil. You are still stuck with "following the rules".

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  25. "You would be guilty of both breaking and entering and theft."

    True, it would be illegal. But would it be evil and wicked, and therefore immoral, in the context of your story?

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  26. "But would it be evil and wicked, and therefore immoral, in the context of your story?"

    Well, no -- and that's why I'm saying breaking the rules is not always "evil and wicked"!

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  27. I certainly agree that it's not always wicked to disobey a rule such as a law, a club rule, a religious rule, a cultural norm, a grammatical rule, etc.

    But do you think there might be a certain class of rules that it is ALWAYS purely evil to break intentionally, in EVERY conceivable circumstance?

    Here are a couple of rules that might possibly fit this definition. What's your reaction?

    (1) It is always indescribably evil to crucify a person who has never committed any sin or moral transgression in his entire life.

    (2) It is utterly wicked to rape a toddler.

    It might be useful to give this special class of rules a name, in order to distinguish it from the types of rules that can sometimes be broken justifiably. I propose that we refer to this class as "the Rules of Morality." Could you go along with that? Or would you propose an alternative name?

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  28. "It is always indescribably evil to crucify a person who has never committed any sin or moral transgression in his entire life."

    Unless, of course, it's necessary for the salvation of the human race!

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  29. So Pontius Pilate did nothing wrong?

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  30. Not being him, and never having been in his situation, I have no idea.

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  31. You also (I hope) have never been a toddler-rapist, nor have you been in such a person's situation. Does that make it impossible for you to call toddler-raping "evil"?

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  32. To you-know-who: Because you're a nitwit?

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  33. 'Does that make it impossible for you to call toddler-raping "evil"?'

    Nope.

    OK, I thought about your hypotheticals for a day. What I am disputing is "Morality is a matter of following rules." Now, you have come up with scenarios that are so extreme it is hard to think of exceptions. But THESE cannot be the rules of morality, if morality is to be a matter of rule-following, because than morality only excludes the absolute worst behaviours possible. For most of us, the "rules" in question will be things like "do not steal" or "do not lie" -- and it is easy to come up with exceptions where those ARE the right things to do. (E.g., the Nazis are at the door, and you tell them you are not hiding any Jews.)

    So I think my basic point stands, but these examples are making me ponder.

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  34. Maybe the rules of morality can only be descriptive rather than prescriptive.

    Even young children have an excellent understanding of what constitutes "fairness." They don't play fair and demand that others do likewise simply because somebody told them "that's the rule." They have internalized the concept of fairness and they strongly prefer it.

    We can describe the moral rules children seem to follow (when they are playing nicely) but we can also see that their good behavior is not generally guided by a conscious adherence to explicitly articulated moral rules.

    Which came first - the moral behavior or the moral rule? I suspect you and I would give the same answer to this question.

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  35. Yes, moral rules are an abridgment of moral behaviour.

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  36. Can you think of any plausible exceptions to this rule?

    "It is never immoral to treat a person the same way he treats others, especially those over whom he has power."

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  37. Whoa, bestquest, that one doesn't seem like a moral rule to me at all! Are you saying because someone raped someone else, it is OK to rape him?

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  38. Yes, that's what I'm suggesting.

    A person who rapes people has signaled to the world that he does not consider rape to be immoral. What would be wrong with taking him at his word?

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  39. So, we should take the "word" of the immoral as to what is moral? See Socrates in The Republic as to why it is wrong to do wrong even to our enemies.

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  40. There either is some kind of 'logic' to morality and moral rules exist, or else morality is just personal nonsense.

    The idea that a few 'morally enlightened' people can break the rules of morality to achieve something that is better* than common morality is either contradictory, or circular.

    *better according to what standard?

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  41. There either is some kind of 'logic' to painting and artistic rules exist, or else art is just personal nonsense.

    The idea that a few 'artistically enlightened' people can break the rules of art to achieve something that is better* than common art is either contradictory, or circular.

    The above is obviously nonsense. So, too, I claim, is what 'xx' wrote.

    "*better according to what standard?"

    Moral standards?

    And note: I never said that only a few people can break moral rules and be moral in the process. I think almost everyone not deluded by moral rationalism realizes it is good to lie to the Nazi when he asks you if you are hiding Jews (given that you are).

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  42. OK, xx, you see no point in my comparisons, but I do. What now?

    (I think the analogies work because all three areas involve practical, not theoretical, judgment -- see Aristotle.)

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  43. "So, we should take the "word" of the immoral as to what is moral? See Socrates..."

    Isn't it morally wrong for me to impose my moral standards on others? Thank goodness Socrates is not able to do this to me -- he saw nothing morally wrong with slavery!

    I simply want people to impose the rapist's own moral standards on the rapist. He is certainly free to modify his standards if he discovers he no longer likes them ( but he must signal that he is sincere by lavishly compensating his victims).

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  44. "OK, xx, you see no point in my comparisons, but I do. What now?"

    Well, you are trying to prove something using analogies that are invalid IMO. That approach is not likely to work with me. I'm not sure what you can do then - except trying a different tactic? =]


    ""better according to what standard?""
    "Moral standards?"

    Are you assuming that there are valid moral standards? To know if action X is right we still need rules (which can sometimes be broken) o else we need general standards...which can't really be broken...without contradiction or circularity?


    "I never said that only a few people can break moral rules and be moral in the process. "

    But your analogies kind of implied it IMO. There's only one Shakespeare...

    "I think almost everyone not deluded by moral rationalism realizes it is good to lie to the Nazi when he asks you if you are hiding Jews"

    I think that moral rationalism means that you should indeed lie in that case...So maybe we have different definitions for moral rationalism...

    If my moral principle is "do no harm" and telling the truth, in this case, causes a lot of harm, then telling this particular truth is not OK.

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  45. "Well, you are trying to prove something using analogies that are invalid IMO."

    You are mistaken -- I am not trying to "prove" anything.

    "That approach is not likely to work with me."

    But I have no interest in whether it works with you or not -- see newest post on this blog.

    "Are you assuming that there are valid moral standards? To know if action X is right we still need rules (which can sometimes be broken) o else we need general standards...which can't really be broken...without contradiction or circularity?"

    No, I mean as in how Kobe Bryant is judged a great basketball player by basketball standards.

    "I never said that only a few people can break moral rules and be moral in the process. "

    "But your analogies kind of implied it IMO. There's only one Shakespeare..."

    But that is just a particularly notable example.

    "I think that moral rationalism means that you should indeed lie in that case...So maybe we have different definitions for moral rationalism..."

    To understand 'rationalism' as I am using it, see: this. In particular, note that rationalism is irrational!

    And I did not say every rationalist will analyze that case that way -- Kant would, Bentham would not.

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  46. "Isn't it morally wrong for me to impose my moral standards on others?"

    No!

    "Thank goodness Socrates is not able to do this to me -- he saw nothing morally wrong with slavery!"

    When I Google Socrates and slavery, the first quote I find is, "Slavery is a system of outrage and robbery." Perhaps you are thinking of Aristotle? In any case, the fact that someone was wrong about X says nothing about whether they were right about Y.

    "I simply want people to impose the rapist's own moral standards on the rapist."

    A) That is sick.
    B) It won't work -- what if he declares his moral standard to be "It is OK for men to rape women, but not for anyone to rape men." What are you going to "impose" on him?

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  47. Let me try using your Shakespeare example...

    Shakespeare comes up with a different plot/style/subject/whatever

    How do you know if the innovation is artistically good?

    1) you say : I personally like it - that's all that matters.
    2) or you say : It comes from Shakespeare - it must be good.
    3) or you use your artistic judgment and see if the innovation is in line with 'artistic rules' 'artistic principles' 'standards' etc.

    I don't think 1) is a serious argument. 2) seems to be a circular appeal to authority. 3) is the most sensible position IMO.

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  48. "Slavery is a system of outrage and robbery."

    I see that a number of pamphlets and lectures have attributed this comment to Socrates, but I have not found any that provide a source for it.

    Who recorded this supposed statement? Socrates never wrote anything (though several of the authors who use the quote claim that "Socrates wrote" it). I cannot find any such statement in the works of Plato, Xenophon or Aristophanes. But I only did a cursory search; can you locate it?

    If Socrates had any moral outrage about slavery one would think someone would have recorded more than this one dubious, apocryphal, probably made-up quotation.

    About one of every three residents in his city were slaves. If Socrates felt anything other than moral complacence about this abominable situation, he was strangely silent.

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  49. But the given is that Shakespeare was breaking the "rules" -- which he often did. So 3) cannot work either. The answer is, by using our knowledge of artistic production, which can sometimes be abstracted as "rules", sometimes not. The knowledge of how to produce good art comes first, and the rules, standards, and principles are derivative of that knowledge.

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  50. "I see that a number of pamphlets and lectures have attributed this comment to Socrates, but I have not found any that provide a source for it."

    Maybe he didn't say it -- I searched Google too, because I was unaware of Socrates approving slavery either. But this is really beside the point we are discussing.

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  51. "A) That is sick."

    I don't view it as sick; I view it as the epitome of moral justice. But you apparently view it as morally reprehensible.

    So my first question is, should one of us impose his moral standard on the other in this situation? You have stated that it is not immoral to do so. Would you be willing to use deadly violence (if necessary) to forcibly impose your moral standard on me in order to protect the rapist? Would it be equally good for me to violently impose the opposite standard on you?

    Secondly, I am surprised at the resolute moral certainty you expressed by your statement "That is sick." It sounds like you have the makings of an inviolable moral rule here. If so, how would you phrase it? Would you say that rape is a moral evil in all conceivable situations?

    What if it were proven that raping rapists has an exceptionally strong deterrent effect? Would it then be permissible to violate your moral rule in order to achieve the more-moral result of preventing the rapes of innocent young girls?

    "B) It won't work"
    First of all, I consider the efficacy of the rule to be irrelevant; I am not a utilitarian. Are you?

    Second, if a person rapes another, his action tells us, louder than any of his words, that he considers rape to be morally acceptable, provided one can get away with it. In other words, he obviously believes "might makes right." Why should any of us lift a finger to protect him if somebody mightier than he is decides to rape him?

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  52. "I don't view it as sick; I view it as the epitome of moral justice."

    You are seriously messed up.

    "Would you be willing to use deadly violence (if necessary) to forcibly impose your moral standard on me in order to protect the rapist?"

    Yes, absolutely. So would every single police officer in any country where the rule of law holds.

    "It sounds like you have the makings of an inviolable moral rule here."

    You believe judgments stem from rules -- but the opposite is true. Any moral rules we may generate are by-products of our judgments, not the generator of them. (Rules are abstract, judgments are concrete, and the abstract is parasitic on the concrete.)

    "First of all, I consider the efficacy of the rule to be irrelevant; I am not a utilitarian. Are you?"

    No -- I mean that logically your rule doesn't even get you the results you want. You say you just want to apply the rapists moral standard back on him -- but, in fact, you didn't even address the case I provided you with: Let's say the rapists moral standard is "It's OK for men to rape women, because that is the relationship between the sexes that nature intended, but it's not OK for anyone to rape men, because that's unnatural."

    I'm not asking you to admit that is a sensible moral standard, only a possible one. In which case, by your own principle, he is immune to your preferred punishment. What he has "shown" is that he thinks it's OK for men to rape women -- if you're not going to "impose" a moral standard on him, what can you do?

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  53. "Would it be equally good for me to violently impose the opposite standard on you?"

    Oh, and no, it wouldn't.

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  54. If John violently beats Mary with a bat would you agree that it would be morally acceptable for Mary to beat John with a bat if she gets the chance? If not, why not?

    What if John violently inserts a foreign object into one of Mary's orifices - would it be morally OK for Mary to respond by shoving an object into one of John' orifices? Does this situation differ in a fundamental way from the beating example above? If so, how?

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  55. "The knowledge of how to produce good art comes first, and the rules, standards, and principles are derivative of that knowledge."


    Well, the problem I see is that "rules, standards and principles" *are* artistic knowledge. The term artistic-knowledge is short hand for rules, standards and principles in the realm of art. Just like "morality" is rules and principles in the realm of personal interactions. So to me, what you are saying is that knowledge comes first, and then comes...knowledge. We are either quibbling, or your position is kinda...circular? Or something else?


    Also consider this : Shakespeare has (intuitive?) knowledge about what constitutes 'better art', BUT if ordinary people are to recognize his productions as 'better', then ordinary people must have similar intuitions. I still don't see how invoking an actor with better understanding of a subject changes the overall picture much.

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  56. "If John violently beats Mary with a bat would you agree that it would be morally acceptable for Mary to beat John with a bat if she gets the chance?"

    Of course not.

    "If not, why not?"

    Because it's barbaric.

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  57. "Well, the problem I see is that "rules, standards and principles" *are* artistic knowledge."

    Yes, the fact that you think that IS the problem! But don't worry, you are in good company.

    "The term artistic-knowledge is short hand for rules, standards and principles in the realm of art."

    Nonsense. This implies that we first have a set of "principles" or "rules" of art, and from these we figure out how to paint, etc. But that is exactly backwards.

    Think of knowing how to walk. No one first understands "principles" or "rules" of walking, and then uses them in order to walk. In fact, most people have no idea what the principles involved are, ever, and yet they still know how to walk. The rules and principles are possible abstractions *from* the knowing-how to do something, that may arise afterwards, when reflecting upon the activity.

    The problem is that we get so used to living in a world of abstractions, and so rewarded with high SAT scores and scholarships, etc. for focusing on abstractions, that we start to believe the impossible: the abstractions are prior, and that concrete knowing is a "short-hand" for abstractions!

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  58. "Because it's barbaric."

    If Mary is being raped by John and she can only free herself by stabbing him with a sharp pencil would you morally condemn her for committing this barbaric act? If not, then you are not opposed to barbaric acts, and it no answer to state that you oppose something "because it's barbaric."

    If that's the case, what is the real reason you oppose beating a person who has battered you?

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  59. "If Mary is being raped by John and she can only free herself by stabbing him with a sharp pencil would you morally condemn her for committing this barbaric act? If not, then you are not opposed to barbaric acts..."

    No, that's NOT barbaric -- that's self-defense.

    Bestquest, this has been fun, but I think we've reached the point of vanishing returns, don't you?

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  60. "No, that's NOT barbaric -- that's self-defense."

    Okay, let me try to get this straight.

    Thrusting a hard object into another person's body is not immoral if the other person is currently thrusting something hard into your body. But thrusting something hard into the same person's body is barbaric if he has already finished thrusting something hard into you, and is fully satisfied and happy about it.

    I don't get it.

    Let's try this. Is it barbaric to lock a human in a cage, even if he is not currently in the act of harming someone?

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  61. "Okay, let me try to get this straight.

    "Thrusting a hard object into another person's body is not immoral if the other person is currently thrusting something hard into your body. But thrusting something hard into the same person's body is barbaric if at some time in the future he JUST MIGHT be thrusting something hard into you?"

    OK, so isn't i obvious that the time these things happen is relevant?

    I really think we are done here, bestquest.

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  62. If you like Bosanquet, you would probably also like R.L. Nettleship, Lectures on the Republic of Plato.

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