Saturday, 26 January 2013

Good People and Going Wrong: Index

In the last year or so I have been wrestling with concerns about ethics, due in part to certain biographical events that I will not bother getting into here and in part to my ongoing intellectual curiosity. I do not feel that I am anywhere close to answering my questions, but maybe I can air some of these ideas out here. Even if no one helps me by posing new questions or offering answers, the mere discipline of writing it out might be helpful long-term.

Specifically, I am wondering about what I suppose people call meta-ethics. The truth, uncomfortable or otherwise, is that we must live in societies which contain people who have different moral beliefs than we do. (In fact, you, my reader, are probably such a person to me, and I to you.) How do we manage this? How do I act in respect to your morality? What can I expect of you? What can I expect you to expect of me? These are very hard questions. I am overwhelmed in my attempt to answer them. I am framing this in exactly the way I'm tempted to frame it: is a person who acts according to incorrect moral principles still a good person? Maybe that framing is wrong, and I'm open to any alternatives.

Something else I've been trying to do lately is stop acting like I'm such an expert on things and start admitting when I don't know what I'm talking about. I'm OK with sounding like an idiot, so that's not why I want to hedge my claims; I want to hedge my claims because I want people to react toward what I'm saying as provisional, as a work in progress. I want input, and I'm starting to realize that my style might prevent people from commenting because they are daunted by this veneer of authority I somehow managed to develop. (This is more of an IRL thing, but it might have migrated to my online personas, too.) The funny thing is that asking questions, rather than giving answers, has been my primary internal mode for quite a few years now, so in a sense this will not be so much a case of changing who I am but of changing how I communicate who I am.

And this time I have no fear of giving a table of contents that I will fail to fulfill because I've already written all of the posts and am just rolling them out over time to make reading it less daunting! So here goes:

1. Which Sense of "Right"?
In which I talk about morality and correctness.

2. I Prefer Honest Hypocrites to Deluded Saints
In which I talk about being a hypocrite and being a self-satisfied jerk, and how those differ.

3. What Kind of Character is a Virtue Ethicist?
In which I show off my philosophy education, probably to my embarrassment. In which I also talk about why I haven't yet discussed deontology, consequentialism, et al.

4. Do I Choose My Ethical Beliefs?
In which I think that psychology is at least as important to this conversation as philosophy is.

5. How Much Tolerance Can We Tolerate?
In which I start out talking about a particular meta-ethical question, then find out that it's actually just a reformulation of the whole problem I'm dealing with, and then get really writerly and meta-fictional on top of meta-ethical.

6. Is Judgement Ethical?
In which I question everything I've done so far and then try to summarize it anyway.

I'll link as the posts come up. I might not be terribly timely.

I'll give you some extra resources to help you get a sense of where I am. The first resource is a post that I wrote following a public lecture by Judith Butler. The second point, on left-right politics, and the final point, on community and conflict, bear on my discussion. The second resource is a novella, Three Worlds Collide, that everyone on the Internet seems to link to when they discuss meta-ethics. It is about space-faring humans encountering alien life for the first time, and having a terrible meta-ethical crisis as a result. I've read the piece and I did not find it helpful. I'm linking it as a preemptive strike, and also so I can tell you what kind of story I would find more helpful: the short story I would like might be about conjoined twins that fundamentally disagreed about ethics, were unable to convince each other, and could not opt out of their necessarily cooperative existence. Deciding whether to blow up aliens with whom I have no emotional engagement, with whom I would not have to cooperate if I chose not to, and with whom I have no shared vulnerability, is not the kind of meta-ethics which applies to my life or to my voting. We're all enmeshed with each other, and that's what makes ethics so difficult.

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