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Responses to 'Still Lost'

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  • Charles Vermont
    My thanks to John C. and Jakob for their responses. Both of you have given me pause for thought and I appreciate that - I like to have my ideas challenged
    Message 1 of 2 , Sep 14, 1999
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      My thanks to John C. and Jakob for their responses. Both of you have given me pause for thought and I appreciate that - I like to have my ideas challenged since that is the only way I find out whether they are any good.

      John, I believe strongly that personal responsibility extends to social responsibility. If any of us choose to live in a society with others then, in my view, we must take responsibility for maintaining the social fabric. Otherwise we end up with the situations we have seen recently in Kosovo, East Timor, Ruwanda, Liberia and elsewhere. When a society breaks down it can reduce the freedom of choice of all its members to a simple question of survival. Therefore social responsibility, for me, is choosing to act in such a way that acknowledges that the society I live in can only exist with the consent of most of its members, and therefore I need to choose to give up some of my freedoms in order to maintain it. This, for instance, is the root for me of altruism. Politics is the art of maintaining the consensus on which freedoms to curb and which to allow (apart from the bit where the politicians choose to play God and interfere in the affairs of other societies).

      Jakob, where to start!

      Responsibility

      You asked: '"I am responsible because when I take an action, it is I that take that action." Well, yeah, but is there really any moral philosophy in existence that doesn't also take this stance?' How about the latest one? Genetics. Scientist are looking for genes which lead to homosexuality and heterosexuality, govern intelligence, produce criminals and so forth. If they make their case then someone can easily say 'I took that action because I have that gene. It's not my fault I killed her/him'. So taking responsibility is acknowledging that the consequences of my actions and inactions are caused by my conscious choices, and not by genes, God, my upbringing, or my latest medication. Does this make more sense?

      My Freedom

      You wrote: 'Are you certain that freedom of choice is possible, or is it more often the illusion of freedom and the illusion of choice? Do we have opinions or do the opinions have us? Did we choose them, or were we persuaded into it by training, society, experience, and acquaintances. True Freedom may only be possible when all residual opinions, worldviews, habits, facts, and theories are flushed.'


      Couldn't agree with you more. Freedom of choice could merely be an illusion or a passing phase.

      Others' Freedom

      You wrote: 'Why do you have to take responsibility for the "fact" of another persons freedom? A little vague.'

      On re-reading what I wrote, I agree with you that it was a little vague. What I was struggling to get over was the concept that choosing to deal with another human involves different responsibilities than relating to, say, a banana. That said, it is possible that I am the only human in the world who has full freedom of choice (if indeed I'm not deluding myself over this), and therefore to say that others have it is not a 'fact' as I wrote, but merely a working assumption. If, however, it is a valid one then relating to a banana is different from doing the same to a human being. If I tease the banana then it is unlikely to react. If I tease another human then s/he may become upset, and have nothing more to do with me. Or punch me in the mouth. These are just two ways in which my choosing to have a relationship may differ depending on who or what I choose to have that relationship with.

      Absolute Moral Principles

      You wrote in response to my points about rape, murder, etc.: 'Do you think that, perhaps, measures like these have never been brought on by a set of absolute moral principles, but only in the guise of absolute moral principles? Perhaps?'

      Absolutely! For me this is the nub of the problem. So keen have the forces of authority been to maintain the stability of society (and often the advantages they gained from this) that they have said 'You have no choice. You must obey these rules. They are absolute.' This is usually followed by threats about what God will do to you if you do not obey. The problem usually comes when someone wants to change one of the 'absolute' laws - like slavery - it's rather hard.

      Collective Agreement

      You wrote: 'Do societies every collectively agree? No. A majority of a society agrees and enforces itself upon the whole. I'm not saying that this is a "bad" or "good" thing, only that it is.'

      Was it Churchill who said that democracy is the dictatorship of the majority? Just look at the problems the UK has at the moment in Northern Ireland....


      Thank you for you kind comments at the end, Jakob, and I hope I have managed to go some way in explaining myself rather better.

      Charles Vermont
      London, England
    • Tom
      CV wrote :- Responsibility You asked: I am responsible because when I take an action, it is I that take that action. Well, yeah, but is there really any
      Message 2 of 2 , Sep 15, 1999
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        CV wrote :-

        Responsibility

        You asked: '"I am responsible because when I take an action, it is I that take that action." Well, yeah, but is there really any moral philosophy in existence that doesn't also take this stance?' How about the latest one? Genetics. Scientist are looking for genes which lead to homosexuality and heterosexuality, govern intelligence, produce criminals and so forth. If they make their case then someone can easily say 'I took that action because I have that gene. It's not my fault I killed her/him'. So taking responsibility is acknowledging that the consequences of my actions and inactions are caused by my conscious choices, and not by genes, God, my upbringing, or my latest medication. Does this make more sense?
        What exactly do you mean by "taking responsibly". What is "taking responsibility". How does this manifest itself externally to the individual because surely that's the only thing that's relevant? What difference does it make to anything what you choose to "acknowledge" unless you act on this acknowledgement? What act(s) should therefore follow this acknowledgement?

        Surely genetics is not a moral philosophy? Genetics is merely a science used to determine coding which contributes towards the physical and mental development of a human being. I do not agree that it automatically follows that advocacy of genetics leads to the "my genes made me do it" situation. I would not go to the other extreme however and say that we are totally free individuals able to make completely free choices. Like many others, I see a human being as an amalgam of both pre-determined and "willed" characteristics and behaviour. Choices can only be made on the basis of the input that is given. A large part of this input is surely genetic. Another large part is in learning from past actions. Another is in observation. Another is in the possibility of random thought or guidance by a supernatural force. Decisions can only be made on these inputs. Please point out any I've missed.

        I find the notion of a completely "free" individual to be completely absurd. Can a conscious baby of six months make an ethical choice? Likewise, can a young male, kept in a cupboard all his life (it has happened) be expected to make social ethical decisions or to take responsibility for perceivably "wrong" actions in the society in which he is suddenly thrust into? Can a schizophrenic be held responsible for the hallucinations he/she has which result in criminal acts? These are all extreme cases but the bases behind these extremities are surely evident to varying extents in all mankind.

        The point I'm making is that you are claiming to dismiss absolute principals and yet inflicting extremely harsh notions of responsibility of human beings by assigning all humans certain immovable characteristics. Mutual choice and acknowledgement of the freedom of others is surely only a fraction of any moral philosophy as it cannot be logically assumed that these characteristics are inherent in all human beings.

        You draw a distinction between a human being and a banana. Try applying a similar approach to the following "beings" :-

        - Ape
        - Pentium PC running Windows 95
        - "Data" the android from Star Trek : The Next Generation (existence of qualia neither provable nor disprovable)

        My Freedom

        You wrote: 'Are you certain that freedom of choice is possible, or is it more often the illusion of freedom and the illusion of choice? Do we have opinions or do the opinions have us? Did we choose them, or were we persuaded into it by training, society, experience, and acquaintances. True Freedom may only be possible when all residual opinions, worldviews, habits, facts, and theories are flushed.'


        Couldn't agree with you more. Freedom of choice could merely be an illusion or a passing phase.
        What is "freedom of choice"? Surely there can be no such thing as total freedom unless you are omnipotent being? This does not invalidate the possibility of limited "choice" however.
        Absolute Moral Principles

        You wrote in response to my points about rape, murder, etc.: 'Do you think that, perhaps, measures like these have never been brought on by a set of absolute moral principles, but only in the guise of absolute moral principles? Perhaps?'

        Absolutely! For me this is the nub of the problem. So keen have the forces of authority been to maintain the stability of society (and often the advantages they gained from this) that they have said 'You have no choice. You must obey these rules. They are absolute.' This is usually followed by threats about what God will do to you if you do not obey. The problem usually comes when someone wants to change one of the 'absolute' laws - like slavery - it's rather hard.
        You seem to refer to certain "absolute principals" as if they is the only basis from which all related decisions are made. What do you mean by slavery being an "absolute principal". Surely it is/was applied subjectively? How can it be truly absolute?

        There is the element of obvious relative assessment also in many so-called "absolutes". For example, If found guilty of murder in the UK, imprisonment is not the only possible result. The situation is judged on its individual merits. Take for example, a woman who recently walked free having purposely killed her husband after many years of being abused. Equally slavery was never held as acceptable in all circumstances, it was an objectively applied principle. The "underclass" or "slave class" could not hold the king or similar ruler as a slave for example. Slavery is therefore dependable on many other factors linked only to it through human choice or logical deduction.

        Surely absolute principles arise through underlying principles which themselves arise through underlying principals...ad infinitum; be they conscious or sub-conscious or external to a human but still influential. That's unless you find the ultimate paradigm from which everything is derived. Anyone found it yet? Could it be an omnipotent being?

        Polite disclaimer : I may well be talking bollocks :-)

        Tom
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