Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The One and Only Ivan

I just learned about The One and Only Ivan (from a school book order ad announcing it as this year's Newberry Award winner). Quite the coincidence since I just recently read an allusion to a gorilla living in a mall in a paper by Dale Jamieson, but had not been aware of the real story of the real Ivan. This looks like something I must read (kid's book or not; who's counting?). From page 3 (thanks Amazon preview):
I've learned to understand human words over the years, but understanding human speech is not the same as understanding humans.

Humans speak too much. They chatter like chimps, crowding the world with their noise even when they have nothing to say.

It took me some time to recognize all those humans sounds, to weave words into things. But I was patient.

Patient is a useful way to be when you're an ape.

Gorillas are as patient as stones. Humans, not so much.
Apparently it's on backorder at Amazon. Guess I'll have to be ordering books off my daughter's book order for myself!

Animals and Morality: What Is the Question?

"Can animals be moral?" Well, can they be immoral? Is the question: can other animals emulate some of our standards of goodness? (Can animals be utilitarians? Kantians?) Or is it whether they have their own standards on which they can succeed or fail? Do animals have standards? (Certainly, many animals seem to have expectations.) Remember: human morality is not one thing. (At least at the level of anthropological description.) And much within our moral thinking is essentially contestable. (Do other animals have moral disagreements?)

On the study of animals in order to understand "the origins of morality": Which morality? Whose values?

(Thinking about this stuff and reading josh blog has put me in an aphoristic mood...)

Monday, January 28, 2013

Patience: How Far Can We Go?

Here's a draft of a paper that, as it were, wraps around the paper on patience I took on tour (ha ha) last fall. (The idea is that ultimately these two will be combined into a larger study.) In this new paper, I try at the end to do battle with the temptation to cliché. In case you don't want (or need--you know my spiel) to read the whole paper, perhaps you might have some thoughts about what I try to do at the end? There is really more to say than this, and I hope to press hard in this direction in the last chapter of the book I'm working on.

From the end of the paper:

I began by asking how far we could go in accepting Gregory’s claim that, “patience is the root and guardian of all the virtues,” if we do not share Gregory’s theological orientation. MacIntyre notes that the value of patience in the context of particular practices will be clear enough—parents, teachers, athletes, etc., will benefit in their practices from an ability to act (and wait) patiently. MacIntyre then asks:
But what if the material is just too refractory, the pupil too slow, the negotiations too frustrating? Ought we always at a certain point just to give up in the interests of the practice itself? The medieval exponents of the virtue of patience claimed that there are certain types of situation in which the virtue of patience requires that I do not ever give up on some person or task, situations in which, as they would have put it, I am required to embody in my attitude to that person or task something of the patient attitude of God towards his creation. But this could only be so if patience served some overriding good, some telos which warranted putting other goods in a subordinate place. (After Virtue, 188-9)
For Gregory, as well as al-Ghazālī and Justus Lipsius, patience is tied to faith in a well-ordered universe, in which everything happens for a divinely sanctioned reason, and thus can fruitfully be borne with patience (and constancy). Faith enables the hope that one’s patience will not turn out to have been pointless.

How far can we go in patience without that divine hope? Patience will remain instrumentally valuable across many practices and domains, and may retain its connection to other virtues. But there will seem to be limits to patience that are not present in the theistic traditions. For example, suicide perhaps can no longer be universally forbidden, or regarded always as a failure of patience. (Consider even ancient Stoic attitudes about suicide, in contrast with the Christian tradition.) Even so, I suspect that MacIntyre’s remark above is a red herring.

Eamonn Callan writes that, “in patience anger and despair are the things to be controlled if we are to cleave to the good against the temptations of impatience or a dejected passivity” ("Patience and Courage," Philosophy 68, 1993, p. 526). Callan suggests that where the possibility of a good life remains, patience makes it possible to persevere in the “moral task” of “re-creat[ing] a good life,” when various forms of adversity have derailed the life we have lived up to that point. But again, it seems that patience itself must be supported by some kind of hope. It might be hopelessly cliché, and thus insufficiently serious, to suggest that, “where there is life there is hope.” Perhaps instead: in general, we cannot say in advance when hope must run out. In patience, we make room (and time) for the attention and imagination necessary for envisioning how we might go on or begin things anew. Such patient—and perhaps also humble—activity thus serves as a “root and guardian” of the other virtues by enabling us to adapt to the changing circumstances of our lives, relationships, and world. Of course, such adaptations may also require courage, or be guided by love, but we have seen already how these virtues themselves rely upon patience.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Animals Who...

"One of the things that sets humans apart from other animals is our perennial efforts to establish our distinctiveness from them." -Lori Gruen, "The Morals of Animal Minds," in Bekoff, Allen, & Burghardt, The Cognitive Animal (MIT Press, 2002), 438 (p. 3 in link).

Friday, January 11, 2013

Virtues & "The Right Sort of Description"

"Ordinary language is not a philosopher.
     "We might, however, set out from an ordinary language situation by reflecting upon the virtues. The concepts of the virtues and the familiar words which name them, are important since they help to make certain potentially nebulous areas of experience more open to inspection. If we reflect upon the nature of the virtues we are constantly led to consider their relation to each other. The idea of an 'order' of virtues suggests itself, although it might of course be difficult to state this in any systematic form. For instance, if we reflect upon courage and ask why we think it to be a virtue, what kind of courage is the highest, what distinguishes courage from rashness, ferocity, self-assertion, and so on, we are bound, in our explanation, to use the names of other virtues. The best kind of courage (that which would make a man act unselfishly in a concentration camp) is steadfast, calm, temperate, intelligent, loving.... This may not in fact be exactly the right description, but it is the right sort of description."

     --Iris Murdoch, from "On 'God' and 'Good'" in The Sovereignty of Good, p. 56 (Routledge, 2001)