Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Must We Always Stand By Our Convictions?

Just a short note: I've made some substantive revisions, particularly to the end, of Must We Always Stand by Our Convictions? (The revised document is on Scribd, too, and should show up on the original post below.)

Integrity and Virtue(s)

Here's a draft of another bit of my summer research project, this one dealing with the nature of integrity. (A pretty schematic account of integrity as a substantive virtue, though I hope to add helpfully to the literature on integrity with the notion of integrity as an "umbrella virtue.")

Comments appreciated!

This should be it for the onslaught of short papers. The project now will be to weave all of it back together.) I've posted these three papers roughly in reverse order (sorry for any confusion--though this paper stands a bit more apart from the other two, which are more of a unit).

Friday, June 25, 2010

New Issue of Philosophy Now...

...on Law, Tolerance and Society includes my essay, "In Defense of Intolerance." You need a subscription to access the article (sorry, and I have permission to put a copy of it up in the future), but you can get a nice intro to the article (and the issue) in Rick Lewis' introduction to the issue:
Matthew Pianalto argues that although intolerance gets a bad press, in some situations it is actually our duty to be intolerant. He describes an interesting distinction between toleration, which has to do with actions, and tolerance, which has to do with attitudes. He points out that Gandhi and Martin Luther King refused to tolerate unjust laws, but that their actions opposing those laws were non-violent. This for Pianalto is a crucial distinction between good and bad actions in the face of something we would find it wrong to tolerate. Above all though, the impressive thing about Gandhi’s and King’s intolerance was that it was always directed at laws rather than at people.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Is Small-Scale Slaughter Better?

In Eating Animals, Jonathan Safran Foer documents the decline of small-scale slaughterhouses, focusing (if I recall correctly) on a facility in Missouri. I was surprised, then, to find a not insignificant listing of slaughterhouses and processing facilities in Kentucky, most of which look small scale. (Caveats: the directory is a bit old, and I'm guessing some of the facilities that don't list their "weekly capacity" are big.) Eat Wild lists several Kentucky farms which use local processing facilities. Of course, this isn't what you get in the store, and it turns out that even "Kentucky Proud" meats aren't necessarily processed locally. However, the Lone Tree Cattle Co., which supplies the Better Beef store in Berea, does claim to use local slaughterhouses. Of course, "smaller operation" does not entail "more humane slaughter," but if it's true that industrial processing facilities are slaughtering up to 400 cows per hour (how is that possible?!), I'm willing to bet that the animals who take their last steps into the small-scale slaughterhouse get a bit more undivided attention (before being divided).

I haven't eaten a terrestrial animal in about a year--that is, I still eat fish and shrimp once or twice about every (roughly) two weeks, but no beef, pork, chicken, etc. I know that the seafood we get is probably unsustainable, and so I've been thinking that if I am going to eat some meat, I'd be better off with better beef. (There's also a local fruit and vegetable vendor in Richmond which, I've been told, sells local chickens, but I'm not a big fan of chicken anyways.) I've been thinking, however, about why I don't get off my duff and head down to Berea. Eating meat just isn't a priority anymore. (I guess in the back of my head I'm worried about setting myself on a slippery slope: if I eat a grass-fed better beef burger, will I be more inclined to get a cheeseburger at McDonald's one night on the road?)

Perhaps equally pressing--from something like the perspective of consistency--is the amount of milk my family consumes, and the ugly truth about "industrial" milk (even if the cows are hormone-free). I just found some information about Real Milk, so I guess I'd better go explore.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Standing by One's Convictions

Here's a draft of another part of my summer project on conviction and integrity. This piece actually precedes, "Must We Always Stand by Our Convictions?"

Again, comments appreciated!

(I anticipate working one last part of the overall project into a smaller paper, concerning something I've already discussed here about what kind of virtue integrity is.)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Must We Always Stand By Our Convictions?

Here is a draft of a paper excerpted from my larger summer project on conviction and integrity.
Comments appreciated!

NOTE: Revised version posted 6/29/10.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Online Wittgenstein Resource

I just discovered that the website of the North American Wittgenstein Society has an incredible listing of links to online texts by Wittgenstein, as well as a good deal of secondary literature. Check it out!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Lawncare Interventions

Scotts 2000-20 20-Inch Classic Push Reel Lawn MowerAs you know if you stop by the HEP Spot regularly, I recently bought a house. We finally moved in over the weekend (after an exhausting week of improvements--if you ever want to lay laminate flooring, ask me for advice!). I haven't been responsible for a lawn since I was a kid--though I did some mowing with a push mower as a grad student. I grew up in the country on about an acre, and we had a riding lawnmower. (However, my dad did push mow the acre for some time before he could afford the tractor.) Since the good ol' days, apparently riding lawnmowers have become the status quo even in residential neighborhoods. My house is somewhat in the country, but we live in a small single-loop division of houses just outside of the city limits. Our backyard meets up with a pasture with a nice line of trees along the fence. The lot is just under a half-acre. We have two beautiful mature trees in the backyard (perhaps I'll post pictures soon) and thus tons of shade.

Anyhow, a riding lawnmower was just out of the question for me, both because of the cost, and because my country frame of reference led me to conclude that a riding mower simply wasn't necessary. I assumed I'd buy a gas-powered push mower. Then I started looking into reel mowers (which is what the Scotts Classic 20" pictured above is called). I was concerned about whether this gadget would do the job, but after reading many  reviews and watching some videos of it in action, I decided to go for it. It weighs thirty pounds (much less than a push mower, and much less than your grandpa's old school reel mower), makes a delightful, comparatively quiet sound when cutting, and if you overlap your rows appropriately does a fine job cutting--unless you aspire to practice putting on your lawn. The Scotts Classic has a 20" cutting width, which is just an inch less than standard gas-powered push mowers--it's the widest one you can get, which was important for me given the size of our lot. It's also the best for thicker grass because it's heavier than some of the smaller reel mowers. It requires minimal adjustment, and just a squirt of WD-40 to keep the blades clean and sharp. We've used it twice, and the second time, it took my wife about 30 minutes to do the front yard (which is smaller but has thicker grass), and about an hour to do the back (which is bigger, but the trees keep the grass lower). It's decent exercise, too, which is something my wife and I could both use. I bought a Black & Decker cordless electric trimmer--on sale at ACE for $50--which has just enough life to do all the trimming  (and again, no gas, oil, etc.).

Anyhow, here's the funny part. In just shy of a week, we've already had two "interventions." The day we pulled out the reel mower to give it a first spin, one of our next door neighbors offered (to my wife--poor woman, I guess) to mow our lawn, on the grounds that it would "take forever" to do it with the reel mower. That was last week. Yesterday, a different neighbor, a few houses down, rode his mower to our house, parked it in the driveway, and said (I paraphrase), "have at it." I thanked him many times over, and said I'd just bought the reel mower and wanted to figure it out, give it a shot. When I finished mowing (with the reel mower), I rode his back over to his house. (Noting to myself that I could push the reel mower about as fast as the rider could go.) I'm sure it looked bizarre to have the rider parked in the driveway while I buzzed along with the reel mower.

What I'm trying to figure out is whether our neighbors think we're terribly foolish, or if they feel threatened by the reel mower. Perhaps they can't figure out how to square the sound of the table saw that blared from my garage for two days with the sight of the reel mower? Do I contradict myself? Very well then.

(Another aspect of the impetus to try the reel mower was reading an excellent paper by one of my environmental ethics students on just how much CO2 pollution is caused by lawncare. Gas mowers and trimmers emit something like 8-10 times as much CO2 per gallon of gas than cars, and there's also the nitrogen fertilizer and other chemicals used to create that "perfect" lawn to take into consideration.)

So if you have a push mower and it breaks, buy a reel mower. Or just buy a reel mower, and save the gas mower for the times when you go on vacation and the grass goes out of control while you're gone. You'll love it, I promise.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

The Purpose of Morality?

I recently came across a book called Morality and Purpose by an interesting British moral philosopher, J.L. Stocks (1889-1937), via a reference to his work in Peter Winch's "Moral Integrity" (in his (1972) Ethics and Action). I was re-reading Winch as I plan to incorporate some of his ideas into a paper I'm now working on on moral conviction and integrity.

Stocks is an interesting figure for me because the general drift of his ideas resembles what some would now call "anti-theory" in ethics--often (though not exclusively) associated with "Wittgensteinian" moral philosophers, such as Winch (and also including Rush Rhees, D.Z. Phillips, and Cora Diamond). The value of Stocks' thought is that it predates the Wittgensteinian turn, as it were, and Stocks has some striking arguments to the effect that morality is not properly conceived as "purposive." Reading his essays "The Limits of Purpose" and "Is There a Moral End?" have helped me better understand what Winch is after in claiming that morality is not properly conceived of as a guide to action (in "Moral Integrity"). Winch does not deny that morality provides guidance, but what he does deny--which is expressed quite lucidly by Stocks--is the thought that morality has some grand, unified purpose, such as the greatest happiness for the greatest number, self-realization (human flourishing), or even the achievement of moral purity or perfection (to the extent that we might distinguish these from flourishing, as a Kantian might).

For Stocks, the problem with conceiving of morality as aiming at a purpose is that this divides action into means and end. That is, there is the goal of action, and if the goal is the purpose of morality, then the most efficient means to that end will be thereby justified. Most students of ethics will be familiar with the objections to the utilitarian conception of morality as purposive: if the only thing that matters is the greatest happiness, then we would be justified in doing terrible things to individuals if that turned out to produce the greatest overall happiness. Slightly more opaque is the objection to the Kantian conception of morality as guiding the production of a good will. The problem here is that overmuch concern for "doing one's duty" can itself lead to moral corruption; the person who visits a sick friend for the sake of duty itself is a less good friend than the person who visits because he cares about the welfare of his friend and wants to cheer him up! In that case, the proper end of the action (the visit) is the friend's welfare, not one's own moral perfection (by upholding one's duty). What about self-realization, or human flourishing? Same sort of problem. If the moral purpose of all action is the ultimate realization of one's "true self" (say), this end can pervert the nature of specific actions. Consider again the visit to the sick friend. It seems silly to say that the moral goodness of this action ultimately reduces to how it conduces to one's own flourishing.

There is no one purpose of morality. But what's interesting is that Stocks does not say there are many purposes. Rather, morality, like art, subjects purposive action to a different sort of evaluation, and seeks to assess the whole particular action--both its means and its end--to determine whether the whole thing is "in all its stages a fit expression of the human will" ("Is There a Moral End?" p. 80). So, the particular purpose of a particular action is an important part of moral evaluation, but moral evaluation is not a matter of determining whether the action properly serves some (or the) moral end because there is no moral end.

In "The Limits of Purpose" Stocks draws a careful comparison between art and morality and argues that the distinctive concerns of both involve something beyond mere concern with purpose. Art is not simply representation; the manner of style, intention, process, and so on are integral to an artistic evaluation of a work. Similarly, morality is not simply a matter of achieving some end. It is tempting to gloss Stocks' ideas by suggesting that morality is a concern with the human decency of one's actions. But either "human decency" is just a synonym for "morality" or human decency is set up as yet another end of human action, and one could provide a counterexample which shows that someone's obsessive concern with acting decently led them into a form of moral corruption. At the same time, I don't think this synonym is completely unhelpful, because it draws attention to the kind of concern Stocks thinks is distinctive of the moral attitude. A person refuses to take some profitable course of action on the perhaps hard to articulate grounds that it just seems indecent (or worse) to go down that road. (Think of the Father and Son in Cormac McCarthy's The Road, or the recent film adaptation. No pun intended.) The point of such a judgment, however, wouldn't be that taking that route would taint one's moral purity, or make one less happy, or conduce to less overall happiness, but rather, and simply, that it would be wrong to do it. This isn't to make morality out to be merely prohibitive, insofar as we might also judge that certain things ought to be done simply because it's the right thing to do (say, helping another person).

Stocks seems to be something of an intuitionist about moral judgments, insofar as he argues that there can be no arguing about the judgments themselves. But Stocks also acknowledges the essential role of our conceptions of ideal interpersonal relations and "spiritual" ideals in our conceptions of right action (in addition to our views about productive action and social development). (So, I don't see him as suggesting that our intuitive judgments necessarily reflect universal ideals or truths.) Any particular one of those conceptions and ideals may of course be subjected to philosophical scrutiny, but taken as a whole, the balance of our moral conceptions and ideals comprise our moral field and are (as the Wittgensteinians would say) our bedrock. What all of this comes to is an interesting response to the question, "Why be moral?" which is often interpreted as a demand that morality have a purpose. For Stocks, morality (like art) has no purpose; it is rather a texture embroidered into the many purposes we set out with in life, and to reject the significance of that texture is simply to reject (again, to put it in a Wittgensteinian idiom) our form of life. If that seems opaque, consider again the comparison to art: why care about art? Does anyone challenge art by asking, why be artistic (or, why seek to imbue one's activities with a certain artfulness)? Perhaps, but so much the worse for them!