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To what Extent can we Consider Kierkegaard’s Ethics to be a Synthesis of Aristotle’s and Kant’s?

Kierkegaard formed a system of ethics based upon the notion that we ought to hold a teleological suspension of the ethical in order to enter a higher realm of morality, referred to as the religious life. The purpose of this essay to determine whether we can consider this to be a synthesis of Kant’s and Aristotle’s moral philosophy, to which I shall argue we can but only as a partial synthesis since Kierkegaard omits elements of both Kant and Aristotle.

In Fear and Trembling Kierkegaard draws out a system of ethics where we ought to move towards what he considers to be the highest virtue, faith, by means of a teleological suspension of the ethical. Before I go on further it would be best if I point out that by virtue Kierkegaard does not mean an excellence of character in the sense Aristotle does, instead the term virtue is implemented to mean something more along the lines of what we ought to have in order to be considered noble. So To avoid confusion between these two terms I shall use the term arête when referring to virtue in the Aristotelian sense.

One of the fundamentals to Kierkegaard’s ethics is that man has three modes of living; the aesthetic, the ethical and the religious. The aesthetic life is one in which we pursue a hedonistic lifestyle constantly chasing pleasure, consequently never staying with any one thing for too long. The ethical life is sometimes referred to as living in accordance with the Universal (this is done within Fear and Trembling), by which it is meant living in accordance with some form of universal moral law, such as Kant’s Categorical Imperative. Finally the religious life is one in which we have removed any sense of duty to the ethical life and become a self-legislating body which obeys only the law it gives itself in such a way that allows us to become “a relation that relates itself to itself” [Kierkegaard, SD, XI:127], by which it is meant that we become capable of reflecting upon ourselves in order to receive autonomy making us free from universal maxims as we become able to decide our own path. It is by deciding what path to take and sticking to it ‘religiously’ that Kierkegaard argues that we acquire faith, thus faith does not necessarily mean belief in a deity (although it can), but instead sticking to a decision without doubt, as Rudd states “for Kierkegaard, morality is a product of commitment” [Rudd, pg:71].

The idea of faith being the highest virtue is demonstrated through what is known as the four sub-Abrahams within Fear and Trembling [Kierkegaard, FT, pp:8-13], and later on where he states “but he who strove with God is greater than all [Kierkegaard, FT, pg:16], but it is within the third sub-Abraham that Kierkegaard reveals to us a second theme vital to the overall system…the virtue of love…we briefly see this virtue within the following passage: “when the child is to be weaned the mother is not without sorrow, that she and the child grow more…apart” [Kierkegaard, FT, pg:12], it is possible to read this passage in a way which means that love is bittersweet for even though the mother loves her baby and draws the warmth from that bond, there will be times when the same love will cause pain. Yet we ought not to abandon love because of this possibility of pain, but embrace it as it is through sacrifice that we are able to move from the ethical to the religious, via a teleological suspension of the ethical, which Rudd explains as “refusing simply to take his standards of good and evil from his society” [Rudd, pg:121].

This notion of love now needs to be explained in more detail for Kierkegaard uses love in a very specific way, one in which could be synonymous with the Confucianist virtue ren or the Greek term agape, both of which mean a universal, unconditional form of love. The notion of love is described in Works of Love where the importance of love is made explicit in the passage: “to cheat oneself out of love is the most terrible deception, it is an eternal loss for which there is no reparation, either in time or in eternity…one who is self-deceived has locked himself out and continues to lock himself out of love” [Kierkegaard, WL, pp:23-24]. Later on a description of what love is comes to us as Kierkegaard says “by its fruits one recognises the tree …in the same way love also is known by its own fruit” [Kierkegaard, WL, pg:25] meaning that we do not know love in any other way than through the acts of love made by others, but more specifically it is the acts of Christian love which Kierkegaard is referring to for he states “the love of which Christianity speaks is known by its own fruit- revealing that it has within itself the truth of the eternal” [Kierkegaard, WL, pg:25].

This is why it could be argued that Kierkegaard’s view of love is synonymous with ren and agape for Christian love, according to Kierkegaard, is universal “the Christian teaching is to love one’s neighbour , to love all mankind, all men, even enemies, and not to make exceptions, neither in favouritism nor in aversion” [Kierkegaard, WL, pg:36] and unconditional “God you are to love in unconditional obedience, even if what he demands of you may seem to you to be your own harm” [Kierkegaard, WL, pg:36]. Hence the leap from ethical to religious is made by abandoning any universal moral laws, and/or conformities to social norms, in order to serve our own moral maxims (God, the eternal) with unconditional obedience whilst also treating all others equally for if we “love a human being more than God…this is a mockery to God – the same holds true of friendship and erotic love” [Kierkegaard, WL, Pg.36]. Therefore once we have entered the religious life we ought to show respect to every element of mankind equal to the unwavering respect we show to our self-made moral maxims otherwise we risk slipping back into the ethical or aesthetic life.

To summarise Kierkegaard’s ethics is not one of universal maxims, or a system devised to tell us how to act (unlike Kant’s), but one which tells us to choose our own path and stick by it just like we would stick to our religious faith in a deity. This does sound similar to Nietzsche’s concept of divorcing ourselves from the herd morality in order to determine our own path through life, a concept which I argue is fundamentally Aristotelian (I shall return to this later). But in order to make this movement from ethical to religious we ought to learn to love ourselves and others in equal measure for if we did not we would see no reason to unconditionally obey our moral maxims, or care for the society around us which brings us the things necessary for a life of contentment (food, water, shelter, companionship and so on). Now I shall move on to demonstrate how this model of ethics is similar to, and different from Aristotle’s in order to show how close the two systems are.

Aristotle argues that the moral hero is one who pursues happiness as happiness is the end goal in itself, “happiness on the other hand, no one chooses for the sake of these, nor…for anything other than itself” [Aristotle, 1097b], which bears some semblance with Kierkegaard who in part two of Either-Or writes “the beautiful was that which has its teleology within itself” [Kierkegaard, E-II, II:245], so the ‘beautiful’ or noble agent is one who has the end goal within themselves. Kierkegaard later adds that happiness can be found within his work, his calling, for “our hero works for a living; this work is also his delight; he carries out his calling” [Kierkegaard, E-II, II:266], hence Kierkegaard, like Aristotle, believes that each agent has a function and it is by working within your function that we become heroic for “all things have a function…the good and the well is thought to reside in the function” [Aristotle, 1097b]. This claim is strengthened further when we consider Rudd’s claim that “one can only avoid the necessity of judging one’s life in moral terms by evading long-term commitments. But to live such a life is to be in despair, for a life without commitments is one without purpose” [Rudd, pg.69] . Therefore the moral agent is one who follows his commitment to his function.

However where Kierkegaard and Aristotle deviate is at the point where Aristotle holds that man has no choice over his function within society, whereas (as demonstrated above) Kierkegaard argues that we are able to decide for ourselves what function it is we are to commit to. I speak of functions, in regard to Kierkegaard, here not just as jobs but also roles and relationships following on from Rudd who states “for Kierkegaard, morality is a product of commitment to roles and relationships”. So when I talk about functions in relation to Kierkegaard I use the term is a broader sense than when in relation to Aristotle who specifically means a role within society. As a result of this we can consider the agent’s function, for Kierkegaard, is to commit to his role within the workplace (following E-II, II:266) and to commit to his relationships with his neighbours (following WL, pg.36),

Although Rudd argues that there is a more important end goal and it is this which separates the religious from the ethical, “an absolute telos…is the primary overriding task for each individual to bring him-or herself into the right relationship with God” [Rudd, pg.134]. But if we take Kierkegaard from a non-Christian perspective and equate God with the absolute good then we Rudd’s statement becomes one which means the primary end goal to bring himself into the right relationship with their own moral maxims and not a set of universal laws or socially constructed ethical code.

To summarise Kierkegaard’s system follows Aristotle in the sense that both accept that the good can be found in pursue your social roles, as this is part of the love for one’s neighbour as by fulfilling your social role you help society as a whole progress. Also by living in accordance with a self-devised system of morality we can find similarities between Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, who as I stated earlier is arguably Aristotelian in essence within his moral system. Although Kierkegaard is not completely Aristotelian as there is no mention of habituating virtues, and Kierkegaard believes that social roles are not pre-ordained but freely chosen and this is where the two thinkers differ within their systems. I shall now go on to discuss Kierkegaard in relation to Kant.

Pattison argues that Kierkegaard’s system contains some links with Kant’s since “figures who remove themselves from the moral accountability of their contemporaries and act as if they are beyond good and evil…would seem to be anti-Kantian, they also, in another way give expression to another Kantian theme, the pursuit of maximum autonomy” [Pattison, pg.106], and for Kant autonomy is “the property of the will by which it is a law to itself” [Kant, 4:440]. Pattison also adds “If one sees the argument of The Critique of Practical Reason as a genuine attempt to establish the requirement of belief in God via the concept of the supreme good…the Kantian analogy is strengthened still further” [Pattison, pg. 101]. Thus Kierkegaard’s concept of moving from the ethical to the religious if seen as a notion which brings us closer to God, and since the religious life is the ultimate good for Kierkegaard, then it does show Kierkegaard to be Kantian.

However Pattison does recognise that there are also differences between the two systems as he acknowledges the faults within Kant’s categorical imperative. The example he gives us is based upon the idea that to do only what is universalisable can result in situations which undermine the maxim which has been universalised, such as “in feeding the cat I am neglecting all the cats who may be dying even now of malnutrition” [Pattison. Pg.113], therefore ‘I ought to feed the cat’ as an universalisable maxim would be ‘I ought to feed every cat’ or ‘Everyone ought to feed the cat’. The former results in an impossible maxim since no single person could feed every cat on the planet (especially if we count every species of cat such as lions and tigers). The latter on the other hand results in everyone feeding the single cat you own which would result in the cat becoming ill through overfeeding. Thus this is why Kant’s system fails and why Kierkegaard argues that the ultimate good lies beyond the ethical and in the religious, based upon just the one imperative “helping the neighbour to love God, rather than ameliorate any concrete worldly problems” [Pattison, pg.118].

Another difference between the two systems is that Kierkegaard does not tell how to act or which rules to follow, but instead tells us that we ought to break away from the ethical systems of the herd, move beyond good and evil, and become a law onto ourselves in a movement that brings us closer to maximum autonomy. Whereas Kant explicitly tells us how to act for he says “act that use humanity always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means” [Kant, 4:429] and “I ought never to act except in such a way that I could also will that my maxim should become a universal law” [Kant, 4:402].

To conclude Kierkegaard’s system of ethics can be seen as a partial synthesis of kant’s and Aristotle’s as it contains Kant’s notion of pursuing maximum autonomy, and Aristotle’s concept of fulfilling your social roles as a way of loving your neighbour whilst being a law only unto ourselves. However Kierkegaard has not made a complete synthesis of the two as he omits the categorical imperative from Kant and the notion of habituating arête in order to pursue happiness. Arguably this would a deliberate omission since the two concepts are incompatible as Kant classes any pursuit of happiness as a hypothetical imperative as he says “the imperative that refers to the choice of means to one’s own happiness…is still always hypothetical” [Kant, 4:416].

Abbreviations
• E-II – Either-Or Part II
• FT – Fear and Trembling
• SD – Sickness Unto Death



• WL – Works of Love

References

• Aristotle, (1995), ‘The Nicomachean Ethics’, in Barnes. J, The Complete Works of Aristotle (Sixth Reprint), Chichester: Princeton University Press
• Kant. I, (1998), Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (translate by Gregor.M), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
• Kierkegaard. S, (1983), Sickness unto Death (translated by Hong. E and Hong. H), Princeton: Princeton University Press
• Kierkegaard. S, (1987), Either-Or Part II (translated by Hong. E and Hong. H), New Jersey: Princeton University Press
• Kierkegaard. S, (2005), Fear and Trembling (translated by Hannay. A), London: Penguin Books
• Kierkegaard. S, (2009), Works of Love (translated by Hong. E and Hong. H), New York: Harper-Collins
• Pattison. G, (2005), The Philosophy of Kierkegaard, Chesham: Acumen
• Rudd. A, (1993), Kierkegaard and the Limits of the Ethical, New York: Oxford University Press
• The Holy Bible (King James Version), (2000), Michigan: Zondervan

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The Implications of Freudian Theory Within Moral Philosophy

Freud is one of the key thinkers of modernity within philosophy of mind after he introduced a theory of mind, known as the psychodynamic model, based upon a divided self made up of unconscious, preconscious and conscious. This was later built upon to produce a topography of mind consisting of an unconscious Id, unconscious Ego, preconscious Ego, conscious Ego and a Superego which interacts with the other parts but is not specifically located within any of the earlier divisions of the mind. The model is usually referred to as the (human) psyche, although Freud sometimes refers to it as the psychic apparatus. The purpose of this essay is three-fold; first to explain Freud’s psychodynamic theory of mind, secondly to highlight the implications this has on the notion of free will and to determine whether or not free will is compatible with Freud’s theory. Finally to demonstrate the implications the compatibility of free will within Freud’s theory and has on moral philosophy in order to show that if Freud’s psychodynamic theory is found to be true then any feasible ethical model would have to fall upon the concepts I shall show throughout this essay. From this I shall conclude that free will is compatible with Freud’s psychodynamic and can support ethical systems based upon free will.

Before I begin with my explanation of Freud’s psychodynamic theory of mind I would like to point out that this essay is not intended to prove whether Freud is correct or not, nor is it intended to highlight any flaws within the model, although some flaws may become apparent throughout the following sections.

Freud’s earlier topography of the mind consisted of unconscious, preconscious and conscious, where “the nucleus of the unconscious consists of instinctual representatives which seek to discharge their cathexis; that is to say, it consists of wishful impulses” [Freud, UC, pg:582]. The term cathexis plays a vital part in Freud’s theory and can be used to mean psychic energy. Thus the unconscious exists as a collection of impulses, each of which has a cathexis of its own and interacts by discharging the cathexis around the topography of the mind. The unconscious is also the first point of call for external stimuli once it passes through the perceptive faculties for “in the first phase the psychical act is unconscious” [Freud, UC, pg:578].

Cathexis, as stated above, can be considered as a psychic energy which allows the parts of the mind to interact with each other by discharging quantities of cathexis. Therefore Freud’s psychodynamic model can be seen as a system of sinks and flows with the unconscious, preconscious and conscious being the passive parts of the system (the sinks). And the cathexis, in its multiple forms, acting as the flows hence the dynamic part of the psychodynamic model. Cathexis can manifest as sexual impulses towards certain erogenous zones, such as the mouth or anus, which Freud argues is part of the psychosexual development of the psyche.

Once external stimulus has passed into the unconscious it then undergoes a screening process to determine whether the discharge of cathexis is safe. “if, on testing, it is rejected by the censorship it is not allowed to pass onto the second phase…if, however, it passes this testing, it enters the second phase and thenceforth belongs to the second system…the preconscious” [Freud, UC, pg:578]. The preconscious then acts as a memory bank holding any latent impulses which may be recalled by the conscious at any given point, in a way it is both conscious and unconscious as it not fully conscious but not blocked by the defence mechanism of repression, which is another vital concept for Freud. Essentially is the bridge between the unconscious-conscious schism.

Freud argues “under certain conditions…the impulse then passes into the state of repression…for the ego cannot escape from itself” [Freud, RP, pg:569], therefore repression acts as the defence mechanism which blocks the impulses which, having failed the screening process of the unconscious, prove harmful to our conscious psyche. There are also two types of repression, or at least two stages to it, “there is a primal repression…which consists in the psychical representation of the instinct being denied entrance into the conscious” [Freud, RP, pg:569], in other words the primary censorship of impulses. Then “the second stage of repression…affects mental derivatives of the repressed…or such trains of thought as originating elsewhere” [Freud, RP, pg:569], this latter act of repression censors impulses which bear some resemblance with the impulse originally censored to avoid any harm coming to the conscious.

Conscious is the remaining part of the psyche. It acts the system which contains the impulses we are aware of at a given moment in time. When we become aware of an impulse it means the impulse has discharged its cathexis from the preconscious system to the conscious. However the conscious only has a small capacity, due to the limited range of focus we possess, consequently when we become aware of another impulse the cathexis of the former is discharged back into the preconscious allowing the cathexis of the latter to be discharged into the conscious. This tripartite model of the psyche later gave way to a new topography, although still carrying these three systems, the new model had three new systems which acted as an extra layer on top of what Freud had already established.

One of these three systems is the Id which is entirely unconscious and is responsible for many of our impulses which come from two drives; Eros and Thanatos . The Id is completely egotistical as its only purpose is to achieve the actualisation of its impulses regardless of all other entities (both physical and psychical). The Id’s impulses are centred around obtaining pleasure and self-preservation for “the pleasure principle is proper to a primary method of working on the part of the mental apparatus…from the point of view of the self-preservation of the organism” [Freud, BP, pg:596].

The Eros and Thanatos drives were a late revision to Freud’s model where they replace the pleasure principle. The Eros drive takes the role of self-preservation, reproduction and directing the person towards higher states of existence. On the other hand the Thanatos drive takes the role of destroying unnecessary components of the entity and external entities which threaten the existence of itself. Or as Freud puts it “we put forward the hypothesis of a death instinct, the task of which is to lead organic life back into the inanimate states; on the other hand, we suppose that Eros…aims at complicating life and at the same time, of course, at preserving it” [Freud, EI, pg:645]. Hence the two drives often come into conflict as one tries to destroy the self whilst the other preserves it.

In order to keep the Id under control the psyche has another system known as the Ego which spans across all three regions of the old division, “the ego is not sharply separated from the id; its lower portion merges into it. The repressed is only cut off sharply from the ego by the resistances of repression” [Freud, EI, pg:635]. The Ego, like the Id, also has a drive known as the reality principle. The reality principle acts as a balance between the external world and the discharges of cathexis from the Id, the role of this principle is to resolves conflicts between incompatible impulses by way of a compromise which is acceptable within the external world for “when two wishful impulses…appear to us incompatible…they combine to form an intermediate aim, a compromise” [Freud, UC, pg:582].

Finally there is the Superego which develops later on as a consequence of the Oedipus complex. During the Oedipus complex the Id discharges its cathexis in hope of mating with the parent/guardian of the opposite gender. The Ego denies this as the reality principle deems it inappropriate but allows a compromise by taking on the essence of the same gender parent/guardian in order to win the affections of the source of desire. This becomes the Superego which represents the moral standpoint and social beliefs of the same gender parent/guardian. The role of the Superego is to act as a further level of censorship alongside the reality principle and repression to ensure that the Id never actualises its most destructive impulses within the external world.

Now Freud’s topography of the human psyche has been explained I can begin to address the question of whether free will is compatible with the psyche. Beforehand a definition of what is meant by free will is necessary since free will is a notion which has been a matter of debate for some time, with each thinker providing his/her own definition of the term along the way. I, however, shall take free will to mean what Spinoza defines it as, “that thing is called free which exists from the necessity of its nature alone, and is determined to act by itself alone” [Spinoza, pg.2]. By this what is meant is something possesses free will if it is self-driven, as opposed to being driven by a causal nexus. In this sense we can consider the Id to be free since Freud does not offer any explanation as to why it discharges its cathexis towards objects, it simply does, and hence it appears as if the Id does so by its own free will. Following this the Ego cannot be free as it acts only in response to the Id, therefore its actions are caused by the Id and so not caused by itself and consequently not by the Ego’s free will. Then there is the Superego which constantly behaves in such a way as to get the Ego to permit the discharges of cathexis that our parent/guardian of the same gender would permit without any consideration for the other two systems, thus the Superego could also be considered to possess free will. If this is true then the greater part of the human psyche is free but our conscious choices are not, meaning we are only free to choose what we do not know we want to choose as a portion of our free choice has been repressed. However so far this has been mere speculation to determine whether this is the case or not further evidence needs to be considered.

O’Shaughnessy argues that the Ego does possess free will as “the will, in the romantic sense of mental force, is the manifestation of an ego” [O’Shaughnessy, pg.110], he also believes the Id and Superego to possess free will as “those subordinate mental processes have a life of their own, and while they move only because we set them in motion they are not mere instruments of our purposes. They do our bidding but go their own way” [O’Shaughnessy, pg.111]. This is also supported by Thalberg who says that “when we perform an erroneous action…control over the body passes from one’s ego, and its will, to an opposing counter-will” [Thalberg, pg.243], this both the Id and the Ego possess free will but they also oppose each other. This gives rise to a further problem…if our psyche consists of separate systems each capable of free choice but disagree then which system can truly be called the self? It would seem absurd to argue that I, that is my ‘self’, wants X yet simultaneously wants not-X as this goes against the law of non-contradiction, which states “it is impossible for the same thing at the same time both to be and not to be” [Aristotle, 1005b]. So in order to answer the problem of free will within Freud’s model we need to clear up the problem of the self.

Kierkegaard was puzzled by the problem of the self but gave a explanation of it within Sickness Unto Death in which it is argued that “the self is a relation that relates itself to itself or is the relations relating itself to itself…a human being is a synthesis…of freedom and necessity” [Kierkegaard, XI:127]. By this it may be possible to see how we can resolve the problem with regard to Freud. If we replace the term itself with the names of parts of the mental apparatus then Kierkegaard reads as follows: ‘the self is a relation that relates Id to Ego or is the relations relating Id to Ego’. In the first part the self can be equated to cathexis as it is this which relates the Id to the Ego via its being discharged between the two systems. In the second part the self can be equated to Superego as it is creating out of the individual’s relations, as demonstrated above, and the Superego relates the Id to the Ego by means of a secondary screening process for the discharges of cathexis. Therefore the self is the Superego and the psychic energy which interacts between the Id and the Ego, and since the impulses originate in both the Id (from the Eros and Thanatos drives) and the Ego (from the reality principle) then by extension the self is also the Id and the Ego making the self as Kierkegaard stated ‘a synthesis’. Yet it appears that the problem of the law of non-contradiction still remains if this is the case. This is not necessarily the case as it was previously stated that “when two wishful impulses whose aims must appear to us incompatible…they combine to form an intermediate aim, a compromise” [Freud, UC, pg:582], this allows the Id and Ego to have their own free will without breaking the law of non-contradiction. It also solves the last piece of Kierkegaard’s claim that the self is a synthesis of freedom and necessity, the freedom comes from the free will of each part of the system in conflict but the necessity comes from its necessary adherence to the law of non-contradiction. And so the self can be considered the human psyche in its entirety capable of freely choosing a number of desires yet bound by the law of non-contradiction so only the desires which are compatible with each other are permitting, whilst the others become repressed.

To sum up what has just been said the self is a synthesis of Id, Ego and Superego relating to each other via the psychic energy of cathexis. Secondly each of the three systems contains its own free will but is bound by the law of non-contradiction so are determined to compromise whenever two opposing wills come into conflict. To put it another way we are free to do as we please so long as we do not contradict the actions and choices which have gone before, hence Freud’s model is compatible with soft determinism, also known as compatibilism.

But what is compatibilism? Compatibilism can be described as a solution to the free will problem as it allows free will to be compatible with determinism, thus enabling us to be held morally responsible for our actions even they we had no actual choice over what action we were to take [SP]. By actual choice I mean one that is chosen freely without any constraints on our choosing, as opposed to a perceived choice which is freely chosen from within a range of options from within a set of constraints. The former would be the exercise of total free will, libertarianism. The latter is the exercise of free will bound by pre-determined criteria, compatibilism. For example an actual choice is being able to choose between a cup of tea or a glass of fizzy pop whereas a perceived choice is being able to choose between the two but only being able to choose the cup of tea as every time this choice has occurred before you have desired the tea over the fizzy pop. Now it has been established what compatibilism is it can be discussed at which ethical systems work alongside Freud’s model.

Socratic ethics is built upon the notion that no man freely does evil they only do evil acts through ignorance, thus cannot be held morally responsible as it is stated within the Apology “you have discovered that bad people always have a bad effect…upon their nearest neighbours. Am I so hopelessly ignorant as not even to realize that…because nothing else would make me commit this grave offense intentionally” [Plato, 25e] and because the evil act was not committed intentionally Socrates claims “I cannot fairly be held responsible, since I have never promised” [Plato, 33b]. This would appear, at first, to be acceptable since evil desires are repressed into the unconscious, as demonstrated above, therefore become unknown to us so if we do act in an evil way it is because our unconscious has overpowered the Ego making us act in a way in which we were not aware of.

This view has been supported by some thinkers such as Sagan who argued “If reason were not fused with libidinal energy- the desires to love and create order- it would remain impotent against the destructive drive…without Eros, reason has as much commitment to morality and an orderly social life as a stick of dynamite” [Sagan, pg:139]. What Sagan refers to here when she uses the term reason could arguably be the Ego as it follows the reality principle, hence can be seen as the rational agent within the system ensuring the Id’s selfish desires are compatible with the external world. This would mean that the Ego and the Eros drive work in tandem to subdue our inner evil derived from the Thanatos drive. However there may be a hidden layer to the dynamite metaphor used by Sagan suggesting something beyond the initial reading which argues that an Ego without the Eros drive to support it cannot be adequate enough to stop the destructive desires of the Id. Dynamite can be used as a tool for good, as well as bad, as it can destroy objects with explosive force yet with that same destructive force act as a means to a greater end. For example when dynamite is employed within quarries so that marble (or some other mineral) can be excavated and used to construct monuments elsewhere. Therefore by using dynamite in her analogy there may be an implicit claim that an Ego working on its own can freely choose to work with the Thanatos drive or work against it. Only when combined with the Eros drive does the Ego lose this actual choice and replaces it with a perceived choice. Further supporting the notion that the psyche is one designed upon compatibilism. And because every psyche comes with the Eros drive, it is not something created later on as opposed to the Superego, and then the Ego can only ever be capable of actual choice if there is some fault within the psyche weakening the Eros drive, or strengthening the Thanatos drive. In either case evil can only be freely and intentionally committed by the psychologically abnormal as they are the only ones capable of being aware of their actions, following what was said above about Socratic ethics.

This idea is strengthened further by the idea that the Superego is the basis for morality within in the psyche as “he (Freud) consistently used the designation superego for the large psychical entity and assign it three basic functions: self-observation, conscience and maintaining the ego” [Sagan, pg:5], and it is conscience which makes us feel guilt when we have evil desires or act in a way which is socially perceived as evil. Consequently it is the conscience which aims at directing our choices towards the morally good, thus we are free to choose how to act but will only act in such a way as our conscience allows again feeding back into the notion of a psyche built upon compatibility.

Furthermore if we have a damaged psyche, one in which we failed to move beyond the Oedipus complex, thus not being able to construct a fully functioning Superego, then we become psychologically abnormal and therefore incapable of guilt and remorse which removes the limitations of our actions giving us the capacity of actual choice, or at least a wider range of options within our perceived choice. Hence evil can only intentionally be done through psychological abnormality for no normal psyche would permit the destructive desires of the Id to get through; a compromise would always be made. This is supported by Pears who argues “someone has reasons for judging a particular course of action best and yet he yields to the temptation to do something else. If he yields intentionally and freely, this counts as akrasia; not being in command of oneself” [Pears, pg:264] and if one is not in control of oneself then society commonly deems them as possessing some form of psychological abnormality.

In conclusion Freud’s psychodynamic model of the human psyche is one built upon compatibilism, when the psyche is functioning normally, in which case the agent will only ever act in such a way as is socially perceived as being morally good, for the Superego was created out of the social norms held by the parents during the time of Oedipus complex as demonstrated above. However should the psyche become damaged in any of the three ways mention, that is a weakening of the Eros drive, a strengthening of the Thanatos drive, or an absence/weakening of the Superego, then the psyche becomes imbalanced and therefore abnormal in which case the psyche becomes built upon libertarianism, hence capable of actual choice and perceived choice. Only then is the agent capable of evil which they can be held morally responsible for.

Abbreviations
• BP- Beyond the Pleasure Principle
• EI- The Ego and the Id
• RP- Repression
• SP- Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy Online
• UC- The Unconscious

Bibliography
• Aristotle, (2004), Metaphysics (translated by Lawson-Tancred. H), London: Penguin Classics
• Freud. S, (1995), ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’, in Gay. P, The Freud Reader, London: Vintage
• Freud. S, (1995), ‘Repression’, in Gay. P, The Freud Reader, London: Vintage
• Freud. S, (1995), ‘The Ego and the Id’, in Gay. P, The Freud Reader, London: Vintage
• Freud. S, (1995), ‘Unconscious, in Gay. P, The Freud Reader, London: Vintage
• Kierkegaard. S, (1983), The Sickness unto Death (translated by Hong. E and Hong. H), Princeton: Princeton University Press
• O’Shaughnessy. B, (1982), ‘The Id and the Thinking Process’, in Hopkins. J and Wollheim. R, Philosophical Essays on Freud, Bath: Cambridge University Press
• Pears. D, (1982), ‘Motivated Irrationality, Freudian Theory and Cognitive Dissonance’, in Hopkins. J and Wollheim. R, Philosophical Essays on Freud, Bath: Cambridge University Press
• Plato, (1954), The Last Days of Socrates the Apology; Crito; Phaedo (translated by Tredennick. H), London: Penguin Books
• Sagan. E, (1977), Freud, Women and Morality: The Psychology of Good and Evil, New York: Basic Books
• Spinoza. B, (1996), Ethics (translated by Curley. E), London: Penguin Books
• Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy Online, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/compatibilism (accessed at 12:55 03/04/11)
• Thalberg. I, (1982), ‘Freud’s Anatomies of the Self’, in Hopkins. J and Wollheim. R, Philosophical Essays on Freud, Bath: Cambridge University Press

The Ethical Dilemmas of Time Travel … Relationships

Given that time travel is an actual possibility for the sake of this argument I would like to broach the subject of relationships.

Lets imagine that our time-traveller; Mr.X; embarks on a relationship witha stunning young blonde; Miss.Y;  from London in the month of May 2013, now it turns out things didn’t exactly work out between them (insert whichever reason you want here).

After some travelling around in the 15th century to get over the breakup he returns to May 2013 and finds himself in a London bar where he meets a brunette in her thirties; lets call her Miss.Z; and tries again at having a relationship believing the time is right to let go and move on after the Miss.Y incident.

Unfortunatly whilst Mr. X is out of town…and in fact of the time zone…Miss.Y and Miss. Z happen to meet up and discuss their new boyfriends…turns out they work together in the same office block and decided to lunch together that day. They soon come to realise that Mr.X is in fact seeing both Miss. Y and Miss. Z simultaneously. But is he two-timing?

Well to answer this we must first realise that what we are talking about is a problem involving three seperate time streams. First is Mr.X’s where he has gone from being single, in a monogonous realtionship with Miss. Y, break up wtih Miss. Y, single again, in a monogonous realtionship with Miss. Z. In his time stream at no point has in been with both Miss. Y and Miss Z simultaneously so within his time stream he has not cheated on either of them.

Let’s now examine Miss.Y’s perspective she has gone from single to in a realtionship with Mr.X, find out he is in a relationship with Miss. Z, break up with Mr.X, single. So it seems to her he has wronged her by seeing her workmate whilst seeing her.

Finally there is the viewpoint of Miss.Z to take into account. Miss.Z’s time stream shows her going from single, in a relationship with Mr.X, discovery of Mr.X dating Miss.Y. Again Miss.Z has every reason to believe Mr.X has not been as faithful as he thinks he has.

So has Mr.X really been two-timing? Or does the fact that his time stream proves he has never dated both simultaneously let him off the hook?

It would appear that Mr.X is both two-timing and not two-timing simultaneously. Yet even taking this stance proves its own problems, the most obvious of which being that it breaks Aristotle’s famous law…that of non-contradiction. The law of non-contradiction states in its third form (its logical form as opposed to its ontological or psychological forms) “The most secure of all beliefs is that mutually contradictory statements cannot be jointly true” [Aristotle, ‘Metaphysics’, 1011b]. So in order to resolve this problem we must accept one of the following:

  1. Mr.X is two-timing
  2. Mr.X is not two-timing

Seeing as we cannot hold both the primary problem rears its head once more. Has Mr.X really been two-timing? Or did Aristotle, in devising his law, fail to realise that there could be some examples where it is necessary to hold contradictory statements can both be true simultaneously?

 

Is Rawls’ Theory of Social Justice Feasible?

Justice is one of the most contested principles in political theory; however the theory of justice proposed by the American political philosopher John Rawls has come to be one of the most influential theories of the present day. By first explaining the ideas behind the theory, such as the initial position and the difference principle, then putting Rawlsian justice under scrutiny we shall come to discover an understanding of Rawlsian justice as well as realise that despite being a desirable theory for the modern political era it is undesirable and unfeasible for a post-modern political era.

Rawls begins his theory by first pointing out what role justice has to play within the political sphere, his posits justice with the role as “a set of principles…required for choosing among the various social arrangements which determine this division of…distributive shares. These principles are the principles of social justice…they define the appropriate distribution of the benefits and burdens of social cooperation”[1].  Or in short Rawls sees (social) justice as the underlying system for deciding how best society should be arranged so that resources can be distributed in a fair manner. Miller adds another dimension to this by claiming “justice is more than simply a virtue…it is fundamental to the institutions of a mass of individuals into a political community”[2]. By combining the two we can say that the role of justice is to turn individuals into a community by establishing a system whereby resources and burdens are shared out fairly amongst all members of the community.

Before Rawls then goes on to explain his theory of justice he firsts argues that for such a system to be completely fair to all involved it must be devised from what he calls the ‘initial position’ as “the principles of justice for the basic structure of society…are the principles that free and rational persons…would accept in an initial position”[3]. The initial position is something which cannot be actualised in reality a point Rawls acknowledges as he refers to it as “a purely hypothetical situation”[4], in which we each must imagine ourselves as being in a blank state so that “no one knows his place in society, his class…or social status, nor…his fortune in the distribution of natural assets”[5] to ensure “the principles are chosen behind a veil of ignorance.”[6] Once we have placed ourselves behind this veil of ignorance and are imagining ourselves as featureless, talentless shadows moving within a system yet to be implemented we can then begin devising the set of principles and laws which will keep the system fully functioning without being unduly unfair to any particular individuals or group within the whole community, the principles Rawls argues we would all decide upon boil down to two main concepts.

The first of these of these two principles is often referred to as ‘the principle of basic freedoms’ in this principle, which Rawls posits as being the most important and therefore should not yield to the other principle under any circumstance, “the basic liberties…are political…these liberties are to be equal by the first principle”[7]. These basic freedoms, as already mentioned, are political freedoms such as freedom of speech, freedom to vote in a system where each vote is counted as one and no more than one, amongst others. At first it may seem like Rawls has become side-tracked by establishing a principle of political justice in what is meant to be a system of social justice, however Rawls is justified in doing so as he argues “it seems…acceptable that no one should be advantaged or disadvantaged by natural fortune”[8], hence in order for any theory of social justice to work it must first secure that all individuals are covered by an equal distribution of political freedoms so that those of higher social status are able to manipulate and exploit those lowering down the ladder.

The second principle is broken into tow parts with the first being referred to as ‘the principle of equality of opportunity’ which means that the “positions of authority and responsibility must be accessible to all”[9], although this comes in as a second part to the second principle it is often taken to be prior to the second, known as ‘the difference principle’ which goes as thus; “the distribution of wealth and income need not be equal, it must be to everyone’s advantage”[10]. These two principles go together forming one basic notion, that all positions are to be made open to everyone and we each have an equal opportunity to obtain these positions followed by any differences in the distribution of resources which emerge over time must be to the advantage of all otherwise they are unjust and must be rectified. Not only does this then fairly distribute wealth and income but also power, authority and reasonability (in Rawls’ opinion), devising a theory of social justice which offers political justice a fair distribution of all social resources not just wealth and income.

In a number of the systems currently in place in today’s world Rawls’ principle of equality of opportunity is in effect as Kymlicka points out “the prevailing justification for economic distribution…is based on…’equality of opportunity’…it is acceptable to pay someone $100,000 when the national average is $20,000 if there was fair equality of opportunity.”[11] Where Rawlsian justice differs from the current model is the fact that the model in place supports a meritocratic society based upon a principle of just deserts in which “it is fair for individuals to have unequal shares of social goods if…inequalities are earned and deserved by the individual”[12], however we can see that the current model doesn’t always work, one example being those who have worked hard to obtain high grades at school are still not always able to obtain placements in universities because of their background; an attribute assigned by luck not merit; thus the idea of equal opportunity is not as stable as first appears. Rawls argues against systems working upon this unfair principle of equal opportunity as he claims that unequal distribution of wealth can only be fair if the benefits given to those higher up the ladder benefit those lower down the ladder, but which system is better? We cannot simply say the current one must be otherwise another would have be implemented by now without sufficient evidence to back the claim as this would be a logical fallacy. However by looking at Kohlberg’s theory of moral development we may be able to find a way of arguing which of the systems is more desirable.

Kohlberg originally devised his theory to map out the moral development of individuals throughout their lives, but it can be used to chart the moral development of societies and political communities over time as a way of determining which systems are most desirable in terms of morality. Kohlberg came to realise that many of the systems in place today are grounded upon stage four moralities with some elements of stage five moralities[13]. Thus modern society is grounded upon what Kohlberg calls ‘conventional morality’[14]. It can be argued that since politics is now moving into an age of post-modernism then we should be moving into ‘post-conventional morality’ grounded upon stage five and stage six moralities. By looking at Rawls’ theory of justice it seems to be one that is to be implemented on a universal level as it effects all peoples equally without exception which suggests Rawlsian justice is a stage six model of morality, exceeding the current stage of morality we are currently in, this being the case then Rawlsian justice is a very desirable theory but we are not yet able to achieve it until we have made further progress with our development as rational, moral agents. Hence despite being desirable it is, at present, not a feasible theory.

Miller accepts that “one principle of just distribution…is equality”[15] but also acknowledges “there is a long tradition that holds that helping the needy is a matter of charity”[16]. It is often accepted that Rawlsian justice is a justice according to needs theory where those worse off (the needy) require more then the better off for equality to prevail as “a ‘need’ is a necessity; it demands satisfaction…for this reason, needs are often regarded as ‘basic’ to human beings”[17] but should these basic needs be satisfied out of duty or through charity? “The need criterion thus implies that those in the prosperous West have a moral obligation to relieve suffering and starvation in other parts of the world”[18] as “to allow people…to be hungry, thirsty, homeless, sick or to live in fear, when the resources exist to make them otherwise is immoral”[19], therefore it is implied that justice according to need is a stage six morality according to Kohlberg[20]. However in the United Kingdom (UK) this duty is implemented by taxation of its citizens to fund a National Health Service (NHS) so that wealth is passed from the better off to the worse off allowing an equal amount of medical care to be available to each individual. Although the theory behind the NHS is commendable in practise it does fall down as certain groups such as smokers, the clinically obese and elderly tend to use up more than their ‘fair share’ of medical resources whilst contributing less than their ‘fair share’ of tax towards its costs, thus to have a system according to needs is not feasible as needs become a “kind of black hole into which all of society’s resources are likely to disappear”[21] in the name of equality.

Another reason as to why justice according to needs, and therefore, Rawlsian justice is not feasible is because needs are not an objective ground to base a theory of justice upon since “needs…depend on what is expected in the society someone inhabits”[22], by this argument then Rawls’ theory despite being seen as stage six morality theory in actuality falls short making it a level five morality theory at best, hardly any better than the current level four/five [23]sphere we currently move in nonetheless it still ranks higher on the scale and therefore is still desirable. Yet “if needs exist they are in fact conditioned by the historical, social and cultural context in which they arise” [24]so that what is a need in one part of the world will not be a need in another part of the world, for example in the UK’s maritime climate the citizens ‘needs’ require protection from a rapidly changing condition of the atmosphere whereas in Siberia’s sub-arctic climate the citizens ‘needs’ require protection from freezing temperatures. Therefore it can be argued that justice according to needs is feasible for the modern era of politics where focus was on the national level but as politics shifts into a post-modern era where the global supersedes the national justice according to needs ought to be replaced with an alternative theory. Otherwise justice will fail as an objective ground for what counts as a ‘need’ can not be achieved on a global scale.

To conclude Rawls’ interpretation of justice according to needs is one which appeals to the modern political era as being a desirable theory but as it has been shown it is not one that is feasible. Furthermore as politics shifts into a post-modern era justice according to needs is not only unfeasible but it also becomes undesirable as it contains no objective grounding making the concept of ‘needs’ completely arbitrary, allowing inequality to spread unduly as some nation-states harvest more social resources than others, in a way which can already be seen in today’s world where the developed countries own half of the world’s wealth[25] at the expense of developing countries.

 Appendix I

Fig 1: Kohlberg’s scale of moral development based upon information from http://faculty.plts.edu/gpence/html/kohlberg.htm and http://psychology.about.com/od/developmentalpsychology/a/kohlberg.htm

  • Stage 1 – Hedonistic Morality (what is right = what serves your base instincts)
  • Stage 2 – Egotistic Morality (what is right = looking after oneself)
  • Stage 3 – Teleological morality (what is right = excelling within one’s social  function)
  • Stage 4 – Utilitarian Morality (what is right = what serves the greater good)
  • Stage 5 – Social Contract Morality (what is right = protecting social cohesion and peace)
  • Stage 6 – Universal Morality (what is right = protecting & obeying an objective code of conduct)
  • Stage 7 – Trancendental Morality (what is right = moving beyond an established objective code of conduct)

Bibliography


[1] Rawls. J, A Theory of Justice, 1999, pg.4

[2] Miller. D, Political Philosophy a Very Short Introduction, 2003, pg.74

[3] Rawls. J, A Theory of Justice, 1999, pg.10

[4] Ibid, pg.11

[5] Ibid, pg.11

[6] Ibid, pg.11

[7] Ibid, pg.53

[8] Ibid, pg.16

[9] Ibid, pg.53

[10] Ibid, pg.53

[11] Kymlicka. W, Contemporary Political Philosophy (2nd Edition), 2002, pg.57

[12] Ibid, pg. 58

[14] Ibid

[15] Miller. D, Political Philosophy a Very Short Introduction, 2003, pg.80

[16] Ibid, pg.81

[17] Heywood. A, Political Theory (3rd Edition), 2004, pg.295

[18] Ibid, pg.296

[19] Ibid, pg.296

[20] See appendix I

[21] Miller. D, Political Philosophy a Very Short Introduction, 2003, pg.81

[22] Ibid, pg.82

[24] Heywood. A, Political Philosophy (3rd Edition), 2004, pg.297

Thoughts of a Bus Journey Home

Whilst sitting on the bus home today after a tiring day at work trying to avoid looking out at the wet and dreary scences t’other side of the window by diving into the musings of Milton a strange thought crossed my mind…It wasn’t until Adam and Eve consumed from the forbidden tree that they came to understand and know good, evil, guilt and repentence meaning before that point they had no concept of morallity thus being creatures of amorality.

Therefore God created good and evil but created man beyond good and evil, hence amoral, yet with free will and it was by our own free will (with a little nudge from a third party) that man choose to become immoral by going against God’s will and eating from the forbidden tree. A act Adam and Eve then felt ashamed of. Question. Why then if man was born amoral do we choose to be immoral? Why step inside the complexities of right and wrong when we had a simple life free from that?

This lead to a second, but not altogether distant, train of thought. New borns are brought into the world with no understanding of right or wrong, thus are born amoral. It is only as they get older that they develop a sense of good and evil through the mind-set imposed upon them by experience, society and parental guidance. So not only do we freely choose to make oursleves slaves to morality but we ensure that others of our kind follow suit. Another question arises. Why then are we not content we living are own lives within morallity? Why must we feel a need to drag others in with us? One possible answer I can come up with which throws some sense to this dilemma is that living within morallity makes us somehow superior, but then how does making our lives complicated in this fashion make us superior to beings of amorality?

So many questions and so few answers…any ideas guys?

the beauty of being immoral

By doing a virtuous action once and only once you are not a moral agent but merely virtuous by accident. in order for your virtue to shine through you must first suffer for it. Take the example of the brave man who acts upon the virtue of courage in order to jump in front of a bike in order to save a toddler from harm, the man is accidently brave as it would be an act of spontinuity and not habit; he would also end up with some disfigurement to his face as the reward for his courage.
In order to become moral there must be some consistantcy in your virtuous actions in order to habituate your virtue, this requires suffering and would put off most people who fall under the category of psychological hedonists. Let us return now to our brave man illustration; the brave man (to be fully brave and hold the virtue of courage in perfect balance) he would have learned to jump in front of every oncoming bike in order to save anyone in its path, not just the one off event of the toddler. by repeating this act several times he has come to become brave however during this period of habituation he would have suffered a number of disfigurements to his once unblemished face.
I doubt anyone out there would disagree with me if I was to say that the disfigured face holds beauty within itself (beauty within the person is another matter) yet the face would still hold the virtue of courage as it shares the same virtous faculties as the agent it belongs to. Instead beuaty remains in the unblemished face of the unvirtuous coward. Therefore beauty lies in being immoral.
Furthermore being moral requires us to endure pain and suffering which would require us to go against our nature as psychological hedonists, hence morallity requires us to act against human nature, show endurance, be motivated, suffer for out viirtue and abstain from earthly pleasures.
To conclude it is much harder to be moral than in it be inactive and remain beautiful but immoral.
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