25 July 2006

Ethics + Common Sense

As was pointed out by Blender, this thoughtful backpack rapper had to change his name from Common Sense to Common back in 95. He dropped the sense and remained common. I would do the opposite, I suppose, and drop the common and retain the sense. I trust everything else will stay the same.

A few days ago the Executioners Thong had this post about ethics and common sense. The great symphony of text comprised of different fonts, sizes and colors made the post quite entertaining to read; but I don't know if it all quite sunk in. In any case, I think I disagree or I think the author is not thinking well about what's at issue.

What is at issue, I think (those pink links are, like, blistered onto my fucking eyes now) is whether people deliberate about their moral actions or whether we use common sense. Assuming the latter, what is common sense? Common sense is actually "psychological essentialism" by which I mean we have psychological categories into which we sort very quickly all data that are presented to us. If I see an apple I might think "good" if I see a knife-wielding fellow I might think "bad". Or sort into said relevant category. OK. From the post,

If it gets any attention at all, my suggestion that "good and right" is a kind from the psychological essentialist viewpoint will probably be shredded or at least get marked down for sloppiness. What I find most appealing about it as a model of mental processing is that it fits with the way we either deemphasize the negatives or the positives about many things that require our judgment, particularly as the those negatives and positives impact us personally. Nobody, well, nobody I know, intentionally works to do wrong but lots of us have to deal with gray areas. The ease with which we binarize to black or white ought to give us pause. To avoid coming into the grip of harmful or selfish decision making, if indeed we operate on the basis of some self-interest essence, is to teach ourselves to draw the largest possible circle of beings and cultures with which we can identify.

with which, well, I just don't agree. I especially disagree with the last line. I think that everything we need we have before us. More data and more analyses offer us what? Machiavelli’s vaguely diachronic analysis of Italian politics lay before us only a few good examples from which to extrapolate the necessary ruling maneuvers. I would say, though, that Machiavelli doesn't engage in heavy analysis--and most people would agree with him (or disagree on a moral ground).

One more point about analysis that will link back up to the sense, which is common. In their recent book, The Wages of Wins, the authors say that Allen Iverson was not as good a basketball player as 90 other players during the season in which he won the MVP award. No one that follows basketball would seriously consider that statement. It would be a piece of nonsense. If I came up to you and said that I'd analyzed all the data, considered all the facts and I've proved that you're standing on thin air (which most people are--there aren't many atoms per volume under us) or that you're the most morally reprehensible person whom I've ever seen--well, what are you going to say? Isn't such a claim to further analyzed data much like a claim to idealism? That there's a noumenal data world behind the apparent phenomenal world, and the scientists/economists/mathematicians are going to pear behind the edges of the everyday world to bring us a report, to enlighten us?

Not to resist science. Science underlies our actions and certainties, certainly. But in what sense does science refute intelligent design? If you thought it really did, then the only evidence that I would accept for there to be no more people believing in intelligent design. That has not happened. In what sense can you affirm one language-game over another while the two are at war? I think it may be best to be neutral in some cases--or at least not expect too much. (However, we play a language-game [some of us] that involves the Constitution; and this language game clearly stipulates the supremacy of certain other language-games within it; and one of those language games, whose claim to supremacy it seems to deny, is a religious or faith-based language-game; so I'm not saying that intelligent design should be taught to sixth graders or anything.)

Our everyday actions may be analyzed into discrete psychological concepts. But to think that our everyday actions must then fit these psychological concepts would be a great fallacy. And if they don't have to fit them, then what's the point of the psychological concepts?