Thursday, 25 July 2013

Rereading, Not Reading, Is What Counts: My Top 25 Borges Stories

Jorge Luis Borges (Source: Wikipedia.)
Partly in response to a request for Borges recommendations, and partly because it woud make it easier when I recommend Borges in other people's comboxes (which I do with what I'm sure is annoying regularity), I have decided to compile a list of what I feel are Jorge Luis Borges's twenty-five best short stories, "best" here being the totally objective measure of how much I liked remembering them when reading Wikipedia's list of Borges's work. Before I begin, I think it is best to place Borges: you'll likely get a sense of his style just from these selections, but each of his stories appreciates the better you know his style and the different things he writes. For this reason, I suggest you read the Wikipedia page, or a similar source, before diving into his work. (I would have liked to recommend the introductions to some of his collections, but I do not have my copy of Collected Fictions on hand, so I cannot identify which collection has an introduction I would like to recommend. This is a shame, as in one of them he writes some very thoughtful things about translation. And as far as non-fiction goes, I would also like to recommend his The Book of Imaginary Beings, which is a bestiary of imaginary creatures.)

These are ordered roughly as you'd find them in a chronological collection of his work; at any rate, they are ranked as you would find them ordered within his short story collections, and the collections themselves chronologically by publication. In order to make your reading decisions easier, however, I've arranged them again below according to themes.

My summaries are deliberately incomplete because many of them are spoilable and I would never want to diminish a person's experience with Borges. Of course I won't mark which ones are the most incomplete because I don't want you starting the story expecting their to be a twist or something.

1. "The Widow Ching--Pirate" is part of The Book of Iniquities, which is famously half-plagairized. It follows the career of the eponymous women, a real historical figure whose depiction here is as much hagiography as it is biography. At the beginning of his career Borges was writing stories about ne'er-do-wells, outlaws, and thoroughly amoral people, but his interest in such characters remained throughout his life.
2. "On Exactitude in Science" is Borges's take on the map/territory problem. It is about a group of cartographers who make a map that exactly fits the empire. Baudrillard later addressed the story in Simulacra and Simulation. It looks like it is a citation, but Borges actually wrote it himself.
3. "The Approach to Al-Mu'tasim" is a review of a fictional novel of the same name. I consider it a deeply touching story; it involves a young man trying to find an ever-receding spiritual leader. I understand that it meant something different to Borges than it does to me; to be honest, I haven't read enough of Borges's essays on personality to be quite sure what it meant to Borges (or, anyway, to be as sure as one can be).
4. "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote" is also a review of a fictional novel; this time, the novel is Don Quixote, except written by Pierre Menard rather than Cervantes. It is about how to read texts in light of their authors, among other things. Recall that, in the Spanish literary tradition, Cervantes holds much the same role as Shakespeare holds in the English literary tradition, and that Borges loved classical literature.
5. "A Survey of the Works of Herbert Quain" is maybe the least interesting of the reviews of fictional works that I've included, but it is still interesting. As with the others, Borges suggests books that are interesting in conception but might be tedious to read in full, and I am grateful to Borges that I can think about these books without feeling bad about not having read them, since they don't exist.
6. "The Library of Babel" is one of Borges's fantasies. It is about an enormous and self-contained (ie. microcosmic) library that contains all possible books of 410-page books (of a certain format), and the philosophical consequences of this situation. It is one of Borges's many meditations on infinity. (If you like philosophy, I suggest you read the Wikipedia page on this story once you've read the original, as Wikipedia summarizes what philosophers have said about it:
7. "Death and the Compass" is a short detective story, one of Borges's oft-referenced genres. It is not like most mystery stories. It was the first Borges story that I read in full; it was assigned to a class in which I was the TA, and I had to teach it. Expect considerations of mirrors, a labyrinth, and one of the names of God.
8. "Three Versions of Judas" is about a fictional theologian who considers, in three different and increasingly heretical works, what the Incarnation meant and what role Judas played in it.
9. "The Dead Man" is one of Borges's gaucho stories. I have not included many of them and wanted to be sure I had a few. This one is pretty classically Borges.
10. "The Theologians" is about a rivalry between two theologians. It is also about heresy and orthodoxy. It, more than "Pierre Menard," is about how all people are one/the same, or whatever it is that I don't quite grasp about Borges.*
11. "Story of the Warrior and the Captive Maiden" is, in way, about conversions, and about finding things worth sacrificing oneself for, though I don't know if Borges would summarize it in the same way. It is not about damsels in distress at all. Like much of Borges work, it is both neo-classical and concerned with South American history and politics.
12. "The House of Asterion" is about Asterion, who is a shut-in. Don't be put off by the beginning; by the end of the story I felt much more sympathy for the narrator, not because he becomes less oblivious but because his obliviousness becomes more, well, sympathetic.
13. "The Zahir" is another fantasy or magic realist piece. It is about a fictional object, the zahir, which makes anyone who sees it become obsessed with it. Someone somewhere says it is about unrequited love, which I think is a horribly diminishing interpretation. It is in many ways the partner and opposite of "The Aleph," which I actually liked less than "The Zahir" and did not include in this list.
14. "The Maker" is about memory and poetry and what kind of life (and psychology) is necessary for art; to this end, it follows a man whose life at least begins in a way that does not predispose him to poetry. I think it is easily one of Borges's most beautiful stories.
15. "Dreamtigers" is quite short (as is "The Maker," but even that isn't so short as "Dreamtigers"). It deals entirely with Borges's obsession with tigers. It also deals with the limits of art. Borges considered it his most personal piece. Some people consider it a poem.
16. "Argumentum Ornithologicum" is a tongue-in-cheek apologetics for the existence of God based on counting birds. At least, I think it's tongue-in-cheek. It's cute and very very short, but it nearly didn't make this list.
17. "Everything and Nothing" is about identity, and Shakespeare, and art, and maybe God.
18. "Borges and I", maybe one of Borges's most well-read pieces (that's wild speculation, you should likely ignore it), is about what it's like to be an author...or, anyway, an author who strongly believes that personality doesn't exist and that identity isn't as coherent or discrete as well mostly pretend. It is not magic realist at all, by the way; it's strictly realist.
19. "The Intruder" is about a love triangle. If you've read Eve Sedgwick's Between Men, you'll realize how badly this can go. It is most interesting to read in light of Between Men, especially once you know that Borges based it on a true story, but changed two of the characters from friends to brothers specifically to prevent any homoerotic undertones. It is also one of Borges's gaucho stories.
20. "The Duel" is about a rivalry between two society ladies who take up painting. I maybe include it because I share Borges's obsession with rivalries. It's unusual for Borges in that all of the primary characters are women.
21. "The Gospel According to Mark" is a sort of surrealist take on the Gospel of Mark. A man stays with a family of illiterate labourers isolated in the pampas and introduces them to the Bible. Events take an unexpected (but in retrospect unsurprising) turn.
22. "Guayaquil" has Borges, or a near-Borges, as a protagonist. It is about some letters of Bolivar; it is also about Spanish American history, and who writes about it.
23. "There Are More Things" probably would not make this list if it was about merit, but since this list is really about which I like the best, it is here. Borges wrote it as an homage to H. P. Lovecraft, and I think in reading it I learned that Borges would likely have made a better Lovecraft than Lovecraft did. (That's maybe unfair. He'd have made a more eloquent and more patient Lovecraft, but maybe not a better Lovecraft. Unless being a less racist Lovecraft is enough to make him better, in which case...)
24. "The Book of Sand" probably would not make this list if it was about which ones I liked best, but since I am kind of pretending this list is at least sometimes about merit, it is here. Like "The Library of Babel," "The Zahir," "The Aleph," and some others, it is about infinity. It is also magic realist/fantasy.
25. "Blue Tigers" could have exactly the same description as "The Book of Sand." Please note that it is not about tigers at all, actually, but having read "Dreamtigers" is probably a prerequisite to really appreciating this story and why Borges named it "Blue Tigers."

Ones I almost included but did not: "The Cruel Redeemer Lazarus Morell," "The Man on Pink Corner," "The South," and "A Yellow Rose."

Below I have organized the stories thematically. Feel free to ignore all of the headings you find boring.

Magic Realism and Fantasy Stories:
"The Library of Babel," "The Zahir," "There Are More Things," "The Book of Sand," "Blue Tigers."

Iniquity Stories (including guacho stories):
"The Widow Ching--Pirate," "The Approach to Al-Mu'tasim," "Three Versions of Judas," "The Dead Man," "The Intruder."

South and Latin America Stories (including gaucho stories):
"The Dead Man," "Story of the Warrior and the Captive Maiden," "The Intruder," "The Duel," "Guayaquil."

More Personal Stories:
"The Maker," "Dreamtigers," "Borges and I," "Guayaquil."

Stories with Overtly Religious Themes:
"The Approach to Al-Mu'Tasim," "Death and the Compass," "Three Versions of Judas," "The Theologians," "Argumentum Ornithologicum," "The Gospel According to Mark," "The Book of Sand."

Stories with Infinity as a Theme:
"A Survey of the Works of Herbert Quain," "The Library of Babel," "The Zahir," "The Book of Sand," "Blue Tigers."

Stories about Literature:
"The Approach to Al-Mu'tasim," "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote," "A Survey of the Works of Herbert Quain," "Death and the Compass," "The House of Asterion" (perhaps), "The Maker," "The Dreamtigers," "Everything and Nothing," "Borges and I," "There Are More Things," "The Book of Sand." (Huh. I wonder what particular theme interest me the most...)

Stories about Art:
All of those in "Stories about Literature," and "The Duel."

Stories with Mathematics or Science as a Theme:
"On Exactitude in Science," "A Survey of the Works of Herbert Quain" (maybe), "Argumentum Ornithologicum," "Blue Tigers."

Stories with Identity as a Theme:
"The Approach to Al-Mu'tasim," "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote," "Three Versions of Judas," "The Theologians," "Story of the Warrior and the Captive Maiden," "Everything and Nothing," "Borges and I."

Stories that are Quests, especially for Knowledge, kind of but not really:
"The Approach to Al-Mu'tasim," "Death and the Compass," "Story of the Warrior and the Captive Maiden," "There Are More Things," "Blue Tigers."

Stories in which Female Characters Play an Important Role:
"The Widow Ching--Pirate," "Story of the Warrior and the Captive Maiden," "The Intruder," "The Duel." (This is maybe one of Borges's weaknesses; he writes mainly about men. Thank goodness they are not all white, able-bodied men.)

Stories which have a Plot, as Traditionally Conceived, or anyway as Traditionally as Borges will Write:
"The Widow Ching--Pirate," "Death and the Compass," "The Dead Man," "The Theologians," "The Zahir," "The Intruder," "The Gospel According to Mark," "There Are More Things," "The Book of Sand," "Blue Tigers."

Stories which might not even be Stories but Some Unnamed Genre, maybe "Fictional Essay"**:
"On Exactitude in Science," "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote," "A Survey of the Works of Herbert Quain," "Argumentum Ornithologicum," "Borges and I."

Stories, of this list, that are easily my favourites:
"The Approach to Al-Mu'tasim," "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote," "Story of the Warrior and the Captive Maiden," "The Maker," "Dreamtigers."

*The trouble is more that I don't know how to articulate what Borges is getting at than that I don't have any idea. It is much less willowy-sounding than I've made it out to be, though perhaps still less intellectually rigourous than some might care for.
**If you notice that not all of the stories are included in one of "has a traditional plot" and "might not even be a story," be assured that it's because a lot of what Borges writes is on the border between the two. "The Approach to Al-Mu'tasim" contains a story, for instance, but also contains a fictional review of that story. Others have events but not in some sort of linear plot way.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Why Taxpayers and Not Citizens?

I was watching the news yesterday and I noticed that Stephen Harper, my country's Prime Minister, said that his cabinet members would continue "working for Canadian taxpayers," despite recent scandals. It's not the scandals I want to talk about--largely because I think that the current scandals are unsurprising and really not that important compared to the other really disconcerting stuff Harper has been up to (censorship of environmental scientists and national archivists and librarians, for instance)--but about the language of the excerpt. Specifically, I'm wondering why the cabinet members are working for tax payers rather than citizens.

My understanding of government is that it is supposed to represent all of its citizens, not just those who pay taxes. I'm not naive enough to have missed how people de-humanize the unemployed, let alone disenfranchise them, but at least in theory the government represents every Canadian citizen, regardless of their annual income. If you were going to limit who the goverment works for to a group more select than citizens, I would expect it to be the electorate: if I'm voting for you to represent me, you should be representing me regardless of how much I pay each April, right? While I think the switch from all citizens to the electorate is still a mistake, it's one I think I understand. So why the switch to taxpayer?

Does it have to do with the verb "work"? Normally you work for the people paying you. Taxpayers pay for the government, so then bureaucrats and politicians are our employees? I feel like this is probably why taxpayer was chosen over citizen or voter, but I think it makes a poor arguement: again, we don't get votes according to how much we pay in taxes, so the relationship between the electorate/citizenry and the government is not analogous, really, to the relationship between an employer and employee. (Nor has it ever been.)

Why am I worried about this? Well, 1. it suggests that political and bureaucratic authority, representation, etc. resides in money and economic status, not constitutional structure or the electoral system or something (anything) less crass than capital, and 2. this sort of language isn't just Harper's, or the Conservative Party's, but every politician's, and no one seems to have noticed what's wrong with it. I didn't notice until yesterday and I care about this sort of thing.

So, politicians of Canada, here's my ten cents (oh my goodness, the idea that my voice has a financial value has colonized my language more thoroughly than I'd thought): please stop talking like the citizens you represent are only the ones who pay taxes. You are accountable to all of us, even those who don't make enough each year to owe the government any money. (Unless, of course, you decide you aren't accountable to any of us, which would be reprehensible and unsurprising.)

Check out the Ideological Turing Test

Leah Libresco at Unequally Yoked is yet again hosting an Ideological Turing Test, in which participants try to show that they do understand their interlocutors' positions by writing articles pretending to espouse opinions they don't actually espouse, and voters try to distinguish between fakers and the genuine article. (Basically, it's an elaborate Insight vs. Bluff check.) As usual, this Turing Test is divided between Christians and atheists. If this interests you, I suggest you start here: And then here:

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Unnatural Acts and Unnatural Ingredients

or, What Kind of Pure?
A Moral Foundations Theory post

[EDIT 25 July 2012: I feel like this needs a caveat. I do not really believe that the distinction between natural and unnatural acts is a valid one. At best the distinction relies on an ontology that I consider to be erroneous; at worst it is incoherent. So when I talk about people calling acts unnatural, I am trying to mention those claims in the way of anthropology (that is, they are the subject of my consideration) rather than citation (that is, they are not claims I'm using to support my own). I'm not sure if anyone has been reading this differently, but I want to make it clear. But I should also note that I am a pescetarian/selective vegetarian now and I was one when I wrote this post.]

From the outset, I will cite my primary resource for these speculations: Richard Beck's book Unclean, which looks at the psychology of disgust and how it relates to Christian culture, theology, etc. I don't have the book to hand, so I can't block-quote a relevant section, but it deals with the underlying psychological mechanisms of disgust, and how we use disgust metaphors when talking/thinking about morality. One of Beck's claims (one that I think bears up under scrutiny) is that about the only domain in which the purity metaphor controls our conversation about morality is sexuality. Chastity is controlled by a logic of purity (and therefore disgust), but lying or consumerism are not.

Indeed, I noticed that a number of the questions which I suspect contribute to the purity and sanctity measure on the Moral Foundations test dovetailed with Beck's observations (as they would; Beck drew on the theory in his research). There was a question about chastity, there was a question about whether an act's "unnaturalness" was sufficient to make it immoral, and there was a question about whether feeling disgust about an act was an indication of its morality. There was another question about whether pleasing God is relevant to an act's moral status, but I'm going to deal with this concern elsewhere. According to Moral Foundations Theory, purity tends to be the most political conservative of all of the scores; it is here that there is the greatest discrepency between liberal and conservative participants (much to both groups' horror, I'm sure.) I wonder about this, though, because I see purity/disgust governing another ethical realm, one I generally consider more left-leaning, which I touched on in my post on authenticity: environmentalism.

Like last time, I have no systematic evidence for this but instead have a cluttered list of examples. If you've seen the movie Fern Gully, however, you might have some kind of idea: the environment is possessed of a certain purity which pollution (maliciously) defiles. While clear-cutting and poaching are foci of environmental activism, the ones I tend to think of are all concerned with introducing foreign substances into the environment (which is the basis of disgust, cf Unclean): oil spills, CO2 emissions, ground water contamination, garbage in the oceans. Landfills, floating garbage islands, smokestacks, filthy water pouring into rivers: these elicit disgust. For this reason, I think a lot of environmentalist activism, if not theory, operates with an implicit purity logic or rhetoric.

The word "unnatural," so often used these days to describe homosexual activity, comes to mind also in terms of the food we eat. People fear unnatural ingredients (despite the fact that this term has no clearly definable meaning) and unnatural foods (as in genetically modified foods); as far as I can tell, this fear has a viceral more than logical force. Many vegetarians express revulsion at the thought of eating meat, and lots of vegan activism relies on extremely disgusting images of slaughterhouses (which, you know, can hardly be photographed in a non-disgusting way). It makes sense that we would be particularly vulnerable to purity-thinking with regard to our food, because disgust's primary function is to prevent us from ingesting harmful substances.

I don't think either environmentalism, vegetarianism, or the organic food movement (only carbon-based foods!) are especially right-wing these days (though I'm skeptical that political orientations like right-wing or left-wing are historically consistent, and certainly there have been avowed reactionaries, like C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkein, who have been environmentalists). So there seem to be, at least in contemporary Western moral reasoning, two kinds of purity: sexual and biological. One of these is conservative and the other liberal.

I would really like to see empirical studies of this, because if I'm right, then purity/sanctity may not be a strictly conservative measure. Instead, the test's questions pick out a single kind of purity at the expense of another, skewing the results. Of course, we might want to say that sexual purity and biological purity are different moral foundations altogether, but 1) then biological purity should be represented in Moral Foundations Theory and 2) I am skeptical that they are very different, but are instead one moral foundation (purity/disgust) mobilized in different realms (sexual, ritual, environmental, dietary) like authenticty can be mobilized in different realms (truth-telling, existentialism, spontaneity, emotional self-expression).

If one moral foundation can be mobilized in different realms, though, this might call into question certain assumptions that Moral Foundations Theory makes, or at any rate certain assumptions that I made about Moral Foundations Theory and how we can use it, particularly to talk about politics.
I should also note that the description given of purity/sanctity does not really seem to reflect the concept, or at least not as elucidated by Beck. The quiz I took describes this measure as being about abstract religious or philosophical views about morality, which doesn't seem right at all. At the very least, things like utilitarianism and deontology, about as abstractly philosophical as you could get, are not well captured by the questions the quiz uses to detect purity/sanctity. Either that or I'm badly misunderstanding this measure, which I think is possible.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Notes on Depression Index

As of this writing I still have depression, but I'm also certainly getting better. I think it's about time to gather the notes of depression together. There will likely be more of them; if there are, I'll update this index.

This is organized chronologically.

1. A History of My Mood Disorders. As of 2 April 2013. It might be out of date. A decent place to start, though.
2. Why I Do Not Like Telling People I Am Depressed. What it says on the tin. Written during my Wild Iris phase.
3. Not Depressed Enough. In which I talk about the weird feeling I got trying to prove that I had depression. For some reason I wanted this post to be kind of funny, but I don't think that's how it turned out.
4. Being Unable to Value. What it says on the tin.
5. The Freedom of Labels. In which I talk about how using psychological or pseudo-psychological labels has  been helpful to me.
6. Splitting Planarians. In which I geek out about flatworms and talk rather badly about theodicy. (For some reason I forgot to label this a Note on Depression, but I should have.)
7. Hope, Remoras, and The Homeward Bounders. In which I talk about Romans 5:3-5, YA science fantasy, and the trouble with hoping for a better future. Includes a lengthy natural history footnote the topic of which made it into a title.
8. The Graveside Crowd. A much later post, about the death of my father and the social expectations that accompany mourning, or the presumption of mourning.

The following weren't really Notes on Depression, exactly, but they pertain so I'll put them here.

Envy for Sisyphus. In which I indulge quite a bit in angst of the "What can we really know?" variety. But I still stand by everything I said. Also, Camus. Also, a response to Eve Tushnet.
As for Me and My House. In which I talk about self-disclosure and the phrase "coming out as...". Not really so preachy as the title makes it sound.
Death Denial, Death Drive. In which I talk about Richard Beck's theories on death denial, meaning, and the creation of culture, and how those theories don't seem to apply to people who desire death or at least do not fear it; this is relevant to me as someone with depression. [Subsequent addition 19/08/2014]

"That was never a comedy for me."

I have very little introduction for this video. Dustin Hoffman talks about his role in Tootsie and how it changed his way of seeing women.

"Dustin Hoffman Breaks Down Crying Explaining Something That Every Woman Sadly Already Experienced"

Saturday, 6 July 2013

The Polonius Virtue

or, Are These All the Foundations They Could Think of?
A Moral Foundations Post

When I took the test and got my results, I was a little surprised because I thought two concepts were missing: freedom and authenticity.

Freedom's absence was conspicuous because I had expected to have a fairly high ranking in freedom (or whatever concept they had to oppose oppression). Further, freedom--whether articulated as liberation, choice, agency, or anarchy--is a pretty common trope for political speeches and actions, everything from liberation theology to pro-choice advocacy to justifications of foreign and domestic military violence (which is grossly ironic). As it turns out (according to Wikipedia, anyway), liberty/oppression is actually a concept in Moral Foundations Theory, but it hasn't migrated over to any of the tests I have done. Does anyone know why this might be?

What I really want to talk about is a moral foundation that I suspect does exist but is missing from Moral Foundations Theory: authenticity.

Authenticity's absence was also fairly conspicuous to me, but for a different reason: I was expecting to have a low score in this measure. I tend to think of authenticity as the Polonius virtue: "This above all: to thine own self be true, / And it must follow, as the night the day, / Thou canst not then be false to any man." Of course calling it the Polonius virtue isn't really a compliment: I think we have changable and contextually-informed identities and that we have no complete internal identity to which we owe some kind of allegiance. In other words, I think authenticity, naively imagined, is generally meaningless. (As we'll see, I think some people have made it more robust, at which point I become much more sympathetic.) However, I know that a lot of people do have certain sentiments that could be organized under this concept and aren't especially clearly organized under concepts that already exist in the Moral Foundations quiz I took. For this reason, I suspect that a good study would find people operating on this assumption. Let's ennumerate some.

1. Some people--a lot of people--value truth very highly. Including the desire for truth here may well be a sort of equivocation; the dogged pursuit of the truth of the world might not be especially similar to the dogged pursuit of the truth of oneself. Similarly, semantic honesty--never make false claims about the world--is not the same as emotional self-disclosure. Of the examples I'm going to list, truth-seeking and -telling seems least connected to authenticity. But I'm not sure truth fits well under the other concepts, either.

2. Existentialism values authenticity very highly. In fact, this is likely its highest (or only) value, though it would understand the term much more like #1's articulation than Polonius's. Is this a moral sentiment of existentialism's own, though, or an extension of #1's, or a philosophical system entirely disjointed from moral foundations?

3. Somewhat more brutally than existentialism, there are some who seem to think that genetics are destiny. You should act in certain ways (for instance, men should sexually pursue multiple women; women should seek to raise children) because these behaviours are genetically encoded. This might fit here? It seems a recycled version of straw Freudian psychoanalysis, which also seems to value a kind of authenticity.

4. Taoism also values authenticity in much the way Polonius does, but with a metaphysics to support it. In my understanding, Taoism does tend to pair authenticity with freedom, but it's worth pointing out that the Taoist sort of freedom and the Taoist sort of authenticity don't look quite so undisciplined or spontaneous as we might imagine. According to Stephen Prothero, Taoists would say that we've been severed from our true natures; Taoist practises require discipline and, well, practise, but eventually the practitioner would become authentic. (If there's a version of authenticity that I find plausible, it would be this one. Of course, I would be using a different metaphysics.)

5. Taoism might appeal very much to those who Walter Truett Anderson calls neo-romantics (see this post for a definition), though the practices of New Agers and radical environmentalists might not be recognizable to a traditional Taoist. (Though maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it would be recognizable.) There's a certain stereotype of people who talk about being yourself and getting back to nature, an idea that human action should be grounded in a certain human nature. I'd like to see if this stereotype would bear out empirically; are there many people who take such a line seriously? (I'm not being judgemental; I just want to be sure that I'm characterizing this position correctly.) I suspect this bears some relation to the common contemporary exhortation to honest self-expression, to letting people (or friends, anyway) know what you're really feeling. Although this concept bears a striking structural similarity to genetic determinism (truth to an intrinsic nature), I think it's far more innocuous. (I suspect the structural similarity comes from the fact that they share pop psychoanalysis as a common ancestor.)

Could these five (or six, I guess, since I put psychoanalysis in with genetic determinism) groupings constitute an empirically supportable concept, in the way of personality test indicators? My suspicion is that it does represent an existing moral sentiment, but I would like to see the evidence. I would like to hear your opinions on it.

I also notice that the there's a bit of equivocation in the concept of nature under authenticity (especially in #4 and #5): according to the stereotype, environmentalism might sometimes correlate with authenticity (but, again, I'd like empirical studies on this). One must be true to oneself, to maintain ones true self, in much the same way that we wish to keep nature (the environment) true to its nature. And this made me think more about the moral sentiments behind environmentalism. I think there's a lot of harm/care behind environmentalism, at least for me, but on a gut level a lot of people, when they're talking about the environment's authenticity (is this really the wild?) seem to being talking about the environment's purity. And purity is already one of the moral foundations.

I'll save purity for another post and I'll end with the reminder that I'm speculating and that what I really want is empirical evidence for all of this, but I'm also wondering aloud whether authenticity, while paired with freedom sometimes (ie. spontaneity and self-expression) and honesty at other times, might also bear some relation to purity.

Moral Foundations Index

A week or so back I took the Moral Foundations quiz. (I took about half of the quizzes available at this website.) These were my scores:

harm and care - 3.8
fairness and reciprocity - 3
loyalty - 1.8
authority and respect - 1.5
purity and sanctity - 1.3

The order given is fixed; the quiz did not automatically rank them. It is a coincidence that my ranking corresponded to the established order. As far as the rankings go, I am unsurprised.

I rather like this construct because it corresponds with something I had been working with already (I know, I know, that's confirmatin bias): moral action has more to do with particular values, perhaps even personality, than with moral philosophical systems like deontology or utilitarianism. But I think the quiz, in its particular manifestation, has a few problems that I want to wiggle around a bit. I'll do this in a series of shorter posts to break it up.

I. The Polonius Virtue, or, Are These All the Foundations They Could Think of?
In which I suggest that freedom and authenticity might also be moral foundations and discuss the latter at length.
II. Unnatural Acts and Unnatural Ingredients, or, What Kind of Pure?
In which I think about the roles disgust and nature might play in not-so-conservative discourse.
III. Building Your (Axiological) Foundations on Sand, or, Are These Really the Foundations After All?
In which I think about how well these foundations work like they're supposed to, or like I think they're supposed to.
IV. Purity Disgusts Me, or, Are My Results the Right Ones?
In which I wonder whether there's any merit to valuing all of the Moral Foundations rather than concentrating on a few.
V. The Morality of Aliens, Dragons, and Dead Philosophers, or, Disorganized Thoughts on Moral Foundations Theory
In which I think about moral intuition, math, orange and blue moralities, and Dungeons and Dragons moral alignments charts.
VI. Postlude: Eternal Consequences, or, What Kind of Harm?
In which I think about harm/care and purity/sanctity in consequentialist and virtue ethical terms, and in light of typical Christian ideas about salvation.
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