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Re: [stoics] Sorting out the issues related to rights and moral progress

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  • Blackhame
    I appreciate yiur thoughtful response, Dr. Garrett, but I still beg to differ. I believe, as a matter of both correct thinking and effective pedagogy,that the
    Message 1 of 3 , Nov 1, 2001
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      I appreciate yiur thoughtful response, Dr. Garrett,
      but I still beg to differ. I believe, as a matter of
      both correct thinking and effective pedagogy,that the
      issue is not whether or not another has a "right" to
      this or that but how is it proper for one to behave.
      Part of such proper and becoming behavior is to treat
      people decently. But if the discourse is about
      "rights" it rather quickly tends to become "my rights"
      rather than "my duties" or "my cultuvation of virtue."
      This, it seems to me, is the experience of the West
      from the Enlightenment onwards. I think it would be
      wise to learn from it.
      --- Jan E Garrett <jangarrett@...> wrote:
      > I suspect you are confusing rights with what are
      > technically called
      > non-interference or negative rights (rights not to
      > be killed or
      > assualted, rights not to be enslaved, rights not to
      > have one's
      > legitiimately acquired property taken without
      > consent, etc.). Now,
      > technically, one could construct a notion of virtue
      > as a disposition to
      > respect other persons' "private space" and thus you
      > would have a notion
      > of virtue entirely corresponding to negative rights.
      >
      >
      > I myself would find this a pretty lame conception of
      > virtue, as I find
      > the ethics of negative rights to be woefully
      > inadequate. Nonetheless,
      > there are other, richer conceptions of rights, such
      > that our duties to
      > respect and promote those rights bring us much
      > closer to what the
      > ancients would have called the complete and
      > harmonious system of
      > appropriate actions, consistent respect for which
      > constituted Stoic
      > virtue. I have in mind a notion of "substantial
      > freedom rights," which
      > you could also call "real opportunity" or
      > "capability" or even
      > "empowerment" rights.
      >
      > The notion of substantial freedom or capability
      > comes from Amartya Sen
      > (in his book Development as Freedom) and the notion
      > of substantial
      > freedom rights is my interpretation of Martha C.
      > Nussbaum's idea (from
      > her book Women and Human Development: A Capabilities
      > Approach) that there
      > should be a threshold in substantial freedom (real
      > opportunities) below
      > which, so far as possible, no human being should
      > fall. (See
      > http://www.wku.edu/~garreje/senethic.htm.)
      >
      > One problems of rights talk in the modern world is
      > that the rights about
      > which many talk are defined in such a way that only
      > weak duties,
      > non-interference duties, correspond to them. From
      > such weak duties it is
      > probably impossible to generate any very demanding
      > or "noble" order or
      > consistency of appropriate actions.
      >
      > A second problem with rights talk is that defenders
      > of the purely
      > negative rights approach to ethics (normally called
      > libertarianism or
      > sometimes neoliberalism) often rhetorically assault
      > any more demanding
      > conception of rights as "rights to a handout"--which
      > is linked to the
      > (often racist and sexist) image of the "welfare
      > mother" taking from the
      > state (and the labor of others) and not contributing
      > anything in return,
      > in general, not taking responsibility for herself
      > (the libertarian
      > substitute for sin). This rhetorical strategy, on
      > the one hand, gives
      > non-negative rights a bad name, and on the other
      > hand, it reinforces the
      > position of libertarianism (or neoliberalism) as the
      > only rights-based
      > show in town.
      >
      > But substantial freedom rights, or capability
      > thresholds, if you like,
      > would cut across such simplistic dichotomies. They
      > insist that we are our
      > brothers' and sisters' keeper in some respects; we
      > are not required to
      > *make them happy* (which would be impossible anyway,
      > for reasons that any
      > good Stoic could explain), but as citizens we are
      > morally required, to
      > the extent possible consistent with material, social
      > and political
      > assets, to see to it that they have certain real
      > opportunities (e.g.,
      > access to education, health care, etc.). It is still
      > "up to them" what
      > they make of these opportunities, but our duties
      > amount to more than
      > "just leaving them alone."
      >
      > In other words, I do not think that we can fully
      > solve the problem of
      > what is missing in the dominant rights discourse
      > today merely by
      > reverting to ethical theories of the distant past.
      > Surely the latter have
      > much to teach us, but perhaps they lost their
      > influence for good reason.
      > Not of course meaning any disrespect for the old
      > Stoics, whose relevance
      > I have spent and expect to spend much effort
      > defending. My point in that
      > provocative phrase is simply that one reason that
      > Stoicism has not been
      > able to regain the intellectual position it once
      > held among literate and
      > reasonable people may be this: the complexities of
      > life in a more truly
      > cosmopolitan and much more rapidly changing world
      > demand intellectual
      > tools for reasoning, say, about distributive justice
      > that were not
      > needed, or were much less pressing, in the world
      > before 300 C.E. In
      > addition to, not as a substitute for, the insights
      > of the old Stoics
      > regarding moral development, the passions, the
      > classification of values,
      > etc.
      >
      > On Wed, 31 Oct 2001 06:01:53 -0800 (PST) Blackhame
      > <blackhame@...>
      > writes:
      > > It seems to me that the notion of human rights has
      > > not, in fact, proven to be an effective padagogy
      > in
      > > virtue, whatever its theoretical possibilities
      > (and I
      > > a far from conceding any, acrually). Societies
      > that
      > > (and I am not idealizing them) more consciously,
      > > consistently, and effectively emphasize the
      > importance
      > > of the attainment of moral excellence (e.g.
      > orthodox
      > > Judaism) are not rights-based at all, so far as I
      > am
      > > aware. I think that the debasement of the
      > > contemporary West is, to a good extent, due to its
      > > focus on rights which often makes any discussion
      > of
      > > virtue suspect because of its supposed threat to
      > > "freedom." As I said before,the tone is all
      > wrong:
      > > my rights as opposed to my cultivation of virtue
      > that
      > > is a pattern of exellence for homo sapiens, not
      > simply
      > > my idiosyncratic choices.
      >


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    • gmvick32@uswest.net
      Forgive me, I have to jump in here, though I won t be as learned as Dr. Garrett and I m not sure I m sticking to a stoical agenda. It seems to me that the
      Message 2 of 3 , Nov 1, 2001
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        Forgive me, I have to jump in here, though I won't be as
        learned as Dr. Garrett and I'm not sure I'm sticking to a
        stoical agenda.

        It seems to me that the experience of the West from the
        Enlightenment onwards has been a continual widening of the
        sphere of people who could realistically participate in the
        discussion on rights, duties, virtues, etc. For instance, I
        may be wrong, but if I recall the notion of universal access
        to basic levels of education for a country's people is a
        modern phenomenon that did not occur prior to the 1700s or
        1800s. For example, in the U.S., policies of levels of
        universal access (though still not universal to all) started
        as a measure to make all citizens as defined at the time
        informed enough to participate in the exercise of civic
        rights and responsibilities.

        Where the weakness comes in, I think, is that as that sphere
        of people grows wider, it gets more difficult to justify at
        a higher level a blanket explanation of moral behavior. The
        orthodox Jews, for example, may well be able to continue an
        emphasis on their moral code to the extent that they tend to
        remain isolationist. When they, or any group, interacts
        with a different group, the need for their moral code to
        remain intact is still valid, but so is the next group's.
        When orthodox Jews attend private schools run by orthodox
        Jews, they are free to receive thorough grounding in their
        moral code. When the same person is placed in a public-run
        school, they cannot expect to get the same levels of
        education about their moral code from the school. It is
        then left to the parents and their orthodox Jewish
        communities to provide informal (and hopefully thorough)
        education about rights, duties, virtues. I think you can
        take the orthodox Jews out of this situation, replace any
        instance of an educational institution where the students
        and teachers result from a more uniformly homogenous group,
        and still observe that they tend to come out of it more
        firmly grounded in a sense of what their moral behavior
        ought to be -- not to say that it's the moral behavior I
        would wish them to have.

        At a basic level, the problem is too many people receiving a
        public school-style education that has had to increasingly
        accomodate diverse groups as well as legal challenges to
        what can and cannot be taught, and as a consequence has been
        watering down civics education and diversifying other
        curriculum. It is easy to give a thorough grounding of one
        point of view of history, for example, but when there is a
        (REAL) need to give history from multiple viewpoints, the
        time in which teachers have to do it does not change, and so
        shallower treatments arise. This to me is akin to where Dr.
        Garrett notes that the level at which many people are
        talking only about weak rights or non-interference rights.
        Thus I think you get large groups of people with a good
        grasp of a shallow concept of rights, which seems to be the
        level of rights that Blackhame is unhappy with. And if you
        want to put the onus for moral instruction on the parents, I
        say that parents in any time in history have only been as
        good and able to provide that instruction as the training
        which they themselves received allows them to provide.

        (As an aside, so that I'm not taken to be attacking public
        school systems or universal access to education (which isn't
        my intent), I'd say what I'd like to see is more of the
        phenomenon of "teaching philosophy to children" occuring in
        schools. I don't know that this would fix anything, but it
        might raise the bar as far as thinking about the tough
        issues while sidestepping the imposition of any "right"
        answers.)

        At certain levels such as in academic circles and within the
        public policy arena, the discussion of rights vs. duties has
        been more thorough -- i.e., more inclusive and universally
        applicable -- to my thinking since the Enlightenment than
        prior to it. I think it's in error to look back and see a
        sort of "Golden Age" of moral behavior, (where it in the
        past seemed to be limited to defining rules for a select
        group) and it discredits the enormous strides made in modern
        thinking towards having an understanding of ethics that can
        both include humans qua humans and respect societal
        differences. Furthermore, I have to second Dr. Garrett's
        observations here:

        > In other words, I do not think that we can fully
        > solve the problem of
        > what is missing in the dominant rights discourse
        > today merely by
        > reverting to ethical theories of the distant past.
        > Surely the latter have
        > much to teach us, but perhaps they lost their
        > influence for good reason.
        > Not of course meaning any disrespect for the old
        > Stoics, whose relevance
        > I have spent and expect to spend much effort
        > defending. My point in that
        > provocative phrase is simply that one reason that
        > Stoicism has not been
        > able to regain the intellectual position it once
        > held among literate and
        > reasonable people may be this: the complexities of
        > life in a more truly
        > cosmopolitan and much more rapidly changing world
        > demand intellectual
        > tools for reasoning, say, about distributive justice
        > that were not
        > needed, or were much less pressing, in the world
        > before 300 C.E. In
        > addition to, not as a substitute for, the insights
        > of the old Stoics
        > regarding moral development, the passions, the
        > classification of values,
        > etc.
        >


        Blackhame wrote:

        > I appreciate yiur thoughtful response, Dr. Garrett,
        > but I still beg to differ. I believe, as a matter of
        > both correct thinking and effective pedagogy,that the
        > issue is not whether or not another has a "right" to
        > this or that but how is it proper for one to behave.
        > Part of such proper and becoming behavior is to treat
        > people decently. But if the discourse is about
        > "rights" it rather quickly tends to become "my rights"
        > rather than "my duties" or "my cultuvation of virtue."
        > This, it seems to me, is the experience of the West
        > from the Enlightenment onwards. I think it would be
        > wise to learn from it.
        > >
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