PHILOMADRID

PhiloMadrid - Pub Philosophy Meetings in Madrid

Friday, January 21, 2005

Virtues and Vices

Virtues and Vices

The little matter of virtues and vices is standard stock in trade for philosophy. In fact virtues and vices can keep most philosophers, of most persuasions, happy and busy for quite a long time.

This is not difficult to see why. We can approach the subject by asking ourselves two questions: what is a virtue and what is a vice? And, what do we mean by virtue and vice? Alternatively, we can indulge in a bit of stamp collecting and catalogue all the virtues and vices we can think of. Once we've done that we can then spend some time explaining why something in our list is a virtue or a vice.

The first option of investigation is philosophy, but the second option could by far be more entertaining. And with a bit of luck, besides entertaining ourselves, we might even put it to use by amusing ourselves with that ancient past time of domination and the exercise of power over others.

It seems to me, and probably to many others, that a virtue or a vice has three important component parts: a public behaviour, an outcome of a behaviour that is beneficial or good, in the case of virtues, and an authority, ideally an objective authority, to tell us or confirm for us what is a virtue or a vice.

A virtue or a vice can affect and apply to the individual or to other people. For example, charity is usually a virtuous act that we do but affects others; that is, others enjoy the benefit of this virtue. Alcoholism, which on the nomenclature of list making, is considered a vice only affects, at least physically, the individual.

Again, when we examine these two concepts, what stands out is not the 'good' or 'bad' associated with virtues and vices but rather the intention and behaviour. I use behaviour to suggest the idea of an action repeated over time and to imply the idea of 'second nature'. The concept of 'second nature' is important here because we want to distinguish between an act done by a reasonable person on the Clapham Omnibus and compulsive behaviour done because of some brain disease or malfunction. An act done from second nature is still attributable to the conscious rational self. Such a second nature act is not to be understood as an unconscious reflex action; i.e. a knee jerk reaction. I also use reasonable to emphasise the associated legal nature of these second nature acts. Vices can easily get us into trouble with the law.

In the same way that a swallow doesn't make a summer, neither does a single good deed make a virtuous person. Hence the time period seems to be a necessary condition. A virtue or a vice must be a type of act that is a regular behaviour for the person. In other words, a type of act that the person repeats over time.

Since we are talking about actions and behaviour we are by implication talking about people. This might be obvious, but it might be necessary to distinguish people from a group or even society. Can we ascribe virtues or vices to groups? Can the state display acts of virtue?

Like all moral acts, virtues and vices, must be associated with a free will. In particular we are looking at the intentional content of a virtue or vice. Earlier I excluded acts done as a result of a diseased brain or compulsion. As a side remark, have you noticed how we don't usually ascribe benevolent acts to a diseased mind. We never try to explain, for example, acts of charity as defects of the brain, unlike for example gambling!

If virtues and vices depend on a normal healthy person acting intentionally, then we surely need to take a closer look at intention. But looking at intentions might not be that easy, especially if we want to keep the language of virtues and vices coherent and the integrity of institutions that promote virtues intact. Why is this?

We cannot look at intention without taking into consideration consciousness and determinism. We cannot look at intention without seriously looking at what is free will and how this functions? And this is why virtues and vices are the stock in trade of philosophy; free will and determinism are basic issues in philosophy.

Very few of us would find it a problem to see the hand of determinism operating in vices, but what about virtues? Can we allow determinism to manipulate virtues? What if charity, I know, I keep using the same example, but it's a good one, was equally determined as compulsive gambling? What if virtues were equally determined as vices?

Maybe, we can even live with determinism. Maybe what really matters is the outcome and not the cause. This would be all for the better, except for one little thing. Virtues are very much promoted by institutions and organizations. And if the intentions of individuals are not always clear the 'intentions' of institutions and organisations are certainly not always transparent.

Being charitable, for example, might be okay for the recipient, but it also happens to be promoted by most religions. And in Britain, at least, there is a whole legal structure governing charities and charity giving. Furthermore, being a hard working employee is not only promoted by corporations but also by governments. Could it be that the promotion of virtues is a way of determining our intentions? And if that was not bad enough, could it possibly be that virtues are just another way for us to be utilitarian?

There is a good historical example when the utilitarian principle was used by a government. The Defence of the Realm Act 1914, enacted at the beginning of the first world war, introduced, amongst many things, the licensing laws which are still in force today in the UK. The idea was to limit the opening hours of pubs to make sure that workers were fit for work in the morning and to limit the consequences of heavy alcohol consumption.


In a way, utilitarianism is more problematic because we can interpret utilitarianism in a neutral fashion. A hundred Euro charitable contribution is no less virtuous than a ten Euro contribution. However, utilitarianism tells us that the one hundred Euro contribution is always preferable. But this is an objective test and in some cases it also applies on the subjective basis; reading philosophy instead of reading a cheap paperback is always desirable (?). But staying up late partying the night away is probably more enjoyable than getting up at 6.30 in the morning to go to work. There is no doubt which option the ration passenger on the Clapham omnibus would choose. You can see where and how we could possibly have a problem with utilitarianism. This means that we cannot just dismiss vices as the manipulation of determinism.

Could it possibly be that both virtues and vices are competing for our attention, so to speak, with the same motivating force? But if utilitarianism is that motivating force for virtues and vices then are we also being utilitarian when we do follow virtues supported by some organisation in authority? Surely it is one thing to follow the categorical imperative, to give an example, because it is an a priori moral law and another because it suites me well to do so?

Maybe, after all, list building might not be all that easy, not forgetting the implied reduction in the entertainment value of such activity. Could it be that virtues are not all that virtuous and vices are not all that horrible?

Take care

Lawrence

Jan 21, 2005


Virtues and Vices

Virtues and Vices



Jan 21, 2005


Dear Friends,



First of all a word about the proposed visit to Segovia next weekend 29/30

January.



If you remember the idea is to go for a walk along the aqueduct to or from where

it starts; or at least a reasonable distance. Maybe next Sunday we can discuss

this outing especially the following points:



1) Shall we go on Saturday the 29th or Sunday the 30th. The consensus seem to be

for Sunday. This means that the meeting for that Sunday will have to be

cancelled.


2) An other request is that we go by car. This is fine for those who have a car,

but not all of us have private transport. If we do this we will need volunteers

who can give others a ride to Segovia and back.


3) What time shall we meet and where?


4) Where do we exactly go in Segovia?


5) Will it be a picnic lunch or find a restaurant?



Let's talk about it next Sunday.



This fits well with next Sunday's topic: virtues and vices. We can feel virtuous

for being culture minded and we can indulge in some vices by enjoying the good

fare (wine and gastronomy) of Segovia.



Please, share you comments and ideas about all this.



Thanks



Take care



See you Sunday



Lawrence



SUNDAY 6.30pm START at Molly Malone's Pub, probably downstairs, but just in case

there is no football on go to the very back of the pub, then turn left and left

again!



philomadrid@yahoo.co.uk



Subscribe yahoo group send an email to:

philomadridgroup-subscribe@yahoogroups.co.uk



tel 606081813



www.geocities.com/philomadrid



Pub Molly Malone, c/ Manuela Malasaña, 11, Madrid 28004

metro: <Bilbao> : buses: 21, 149, 147









Virtues and Vices



The little matter of virtues and vices is standard stock in trade for

philosophy. In fact virtues and vices can keep most philosophers, of most

persuasions, happy and busy for quite a long time.



This is not difficult to see why. We can approach the subject by asking

ourselves two questions: what is a virtue and what is a vice? And, what do we

mean by virtue and vice? Alternatively, we can indulge in a bit of stamp

collecting and catalogue all the virtues and vices we can think of. Once we've

done that we can then spend some time explaining why something in our list is a

virtue or a vice.



The first option of investigation is philosophy, but the second option could

by far be more entertaining. And with a bit of luck, besides entertaining

ourselves, we might even put it to use by amusing ourselves with that ancient

past time of domination and the exercise of power over others.



It seems to me, and probably to many others, that a virtue or a vice has three

important component parts: a public behaviour, an outcome of a behaviour that is

beneficial or good, in the case of virtues, and an authority, ideally an

objective authority, to tell us or confirm for us what is a virtue or a vice.



A virtue or a vice can affect and apply to the individual or to other people.

For example, charity is usually a virtuous act that we do but affects others;

that is, others enjoy the benefit of this virtue. Alcoholism, which on the

nomenclature of list making, is considered a vice only affects, at least

physically, the individual.



Again, when we examine these two concepts, what stands out is not the 'good' or

'bad' associated with virtues and vices but rather the intention and behaviour.

I use behaviour to suggest the idea of an action repeated over time and to imply

the idea of 'second nature'. The concept of 'second nature' is important here

because we want to distinguish between an act done by a reasonable person on the

Clapham Omnibus and compulsive behaviour done because of some brain disease or

malfunction. An act done from second nature is still attributable to the

conscious rational self. Such a second nature act is not to be understood as an

unconscious reflex action; i.e. a knee jerk reaction. I also use reasonable to

emphasise the associated legal nature of these second nature acts. Vices can

easily get us into trouble with the law.



In the same way that a swallow doesn't make a summer, neither does a single good

deed make a virtuous person. Hence the time period seems to be a necessary

condition. A virtue or a vice must be a type of act that is a regular behaviour

for the person. In other words, a type of act that the person repeats over time.



Since we are talking about actions and behaviour we are by implication talking

about people. This might be obvious, but it might be necessary to distinguish

people from a group or even society. Can we ascribe virtues or vices to groups?

Can the state display acts of virtue?



Like all moral acts, virtues and vices, must be associated with a free will. In

particular we are looking at the intentional content of a virtue or vice.

Earlier I excluded acts done as a result of a diseased brain or compulsion. As a

side remark, have you noticed how we don't usually ascribe benevolent acts to a

diseased mind. We never try to explain, for example, acts of charity as defects

of the brain, unlike for example gambling!



If virtues and vices depend on a normal healthy person acting intentionally,

then we surely need to take a closer look at intention. But looking at

intentions might not be that easy, especially if we want to keep the language of

virtues and vices coherent and the integrity of institutions that promote

virtues intact. Why is this?



We cannot look at intention without taking into consideration consciousness and

determinism. We cannot look at intention without seriously looking at what is

free will and how this functions? And this is why virtues and vices are the

stock in trade of philosophy; free will and determinism are basic issues in

philosophy.



Very few of us would find it a problem to see the hand of determinism operating

in vices, but what about virtues? Can we allow determinism to manipulate

virtues? What if charity, I know, I keep using the same example, but it's a good

one, was equally determined as compulsive gambling? What if virtues were

equally determined as vices?



Maybe, we can even live with determinism. Maybe what really matters is the

outcome and not the cause. This would be all for the better, except for one

little thing. Virtues are very much promoted by institutions and organizations.

And if the intentions of individuals are not always clear the 'intentions' of

institutions and organisations are certainly not always transparent.



Being charitable, for example, might be okay for the recipient, but it also

happens to be promoted by most religions. And in Britain, at least, there is a

whole legal structure governing charities and charity giving. Furthermore, being

a hard working employee is not only promoted by corporations but also by

governments. Could it be that the promotion of virtues is a way of determining

our intentions? And if that was not bad enough, could it possibly be that

virtues are just another way for us to be utilitarian?



There is a good historical example when the utilitarian principle was used by a

government. The Defence of the Realm Act 1914, enacted at the beginning of the

first world war, introduced, amongst many things, the licensing laws which are

still in force today in the UK. The idea was to limit the opening hours of pubs

to make sure that workers were fit for work in the morning and to limit the

consequences of heavy alcohol consumption.




In a way, utilitarianism is more problematic because we can interpret

utilitarianism in a neutral fashion. A hundred Euro charitable contribution is

no less virtuous than a ten Euro contribution. However, utilitarianism tells us

that the one hundred Euro contribution is always preferable. But this is an

objective test and in some cases it also applies on the subjective basis;

reading philosophy instead of reading a cheap paperback is always desirable (?).

But staying up late partying the night away is probably more enjoyable than

getting up at 6.30 in the morning to go to work. There is no doubt which option

the ration passenger on the Clapham omnibus would choose. You can see where and

how we could possibly have a problem with utilitarianism. This means that we

cannot just dismiss vices as the manipulation of determinism.



Could it possibly be that both virtues and vices are competing for our

attention, so to speak, with the same motivating force? But if utilitarianism is

that motivating force for virtues and vices then are we also being utilitarian

when we do follow virtues supported by some organisation in authority? Surely it

is one thing to follow the categorical imperative, to give an example, because

it is an a priori moral law and another because it suites me well to do so?



Maybe, after all, list building might not be all that easy, not forgetting the

implied reduction in the entertainment value of such activity. Could it be that

virtues are not all that virtuous and vices are not all that horrible?



Take care



Lawrence


Friday, January 14, 2005

Should there be limits to science?

Should there be limits to science?

Jan 14, 2005

Dear Friends,



Next Sunday's meeting is about the limitations on science. I'm sure this will

prove to be an interesting meeting now that the Christmas hangover is over.



In the meantime during last Saturday's hike to the mountains, i.e. Cercedilla, a

number of possible activities were suggested, including a visit to the source of

the aqueduct in Segovia. Anyone knows a way to the beginning of the aqueduct?

Any suggestions for other activities?



See you Sunday



Take care



Lawrence



SUNDAY 6.30pm START at Molly Malone's Pub, probably downstairs, but just in case

there is no football on go to the very back of the pub, then turn left and left

again!



philomadrid@yahoo.co.uk



Subscribe yahoo group send an email to:

philomadridgroup-subscribe@yahoogroups.co.uk



tel 606081813



www.geocities.com/philomadrid



Pub Molly Malone, c/ Manuela Malasaña, 11, Madrid 28004

metro: <Bilbao> : buses: 21, 149, 147


------------------------------------------------------




Should there be limits to science?



This is a wide ranging question which can take us into the realms of

methodology, human endeavour, ethics, political philosophy, economics,

philosophy of business and of nature itself. Furthermore, today we use the word

science to cover a multitude of sins!



In effect we really must take a look at the question: what is science? But since

this question might take us longer than what we would like let's look at another

question: What is the difference between science and technology?



Technology is much easier to identify: it's the stuff we employ and use to get

things done for us. The computer I'm using is technology, understanding how

electrons behave is science. This, at least, ought to get rid of questions like:

should science be used to build nuclear bombs?



A legitimate question we should ask is: should science always lead to better

technology? For example, whenever we read an account on astronomy we are always

assured that this is important to help us understand the universe and our

creation. I mean, does it matter; isn't it enough that astronomers do what

astronomers have to do, and discover things that they have to discover? Why

should astronomers justify their existence, so to speak? And as for medicine.

The feeling one gets with medicine is that any science done in medicine must

lead to some cure or treatment. Then there is the matter of profit and

commercial exploitation, but I don't want to complicate matters at this point.



It has been a long time since science was done by amateur gentlemen (at the time

things were like that) for the sake of knowledge and curiosity. There was a time

when the order of the day was 'science for science's sake.'



There are at least two arguments to link science with technology; understanding

technology to mean machines with functionality. The first is that today's

science is complex and involves people with different intellectual backgrounds

to get anywhere. This means that if the best brains are to be used for the

benefit of science then there ought to be some sort of social payback. There is

also the little matter that even scientists wish to maximise their income.

Secondly, given the competing interests for public and private money any

scientific activity must be accounted for. And in our society, utilitarianism is

a good indicator.



But should accountability tell us what kind of science we do? Take the following

two cases. While a lot of time and money is used to research anti-matter should

scientists research where human beings have souls? There is also another type of

accountability: moral accountability. Let's take DNA research for example. While

no one will object to research done on the connection between DNA and diseases,

should science be concerned with artificially creating lethal micro organisms?



The issue here is who decides what the economic and moral limits ought to be.

Taking moral issues first, should different interests groups, such as religions

or for that matter, football clubs, influence what science should and/or ought

to do? Maybe economic limits are less controversial; much as we don't like it,

money does limit what we can and cannot do. We can all understand this

limitation, but should the profit motive be the main or only criteria when doing

science?



Limiting science for moral or economic reasons it not such a difficult task. And

the issue whether to link science to a technological pay back could well be an

academic question. There is, however an other source that can limit science and

this is science itself.



Surely, the science that is done today will limit or develop the science that is

done tomorrow. If we don't understand how the Earth's environment functions

today, how are we expected to understand the weather changes that we seem to

experience? And if we accept the inevitable link between science and the

technology payback, how are we expected to solve issues of limited energy

resources that will face the generations that come after us.



Even here, the limitations are of value judgements. We, maybe through our

political and commercial systems, chose what research to carry out with our

resources and efforts. But how do we cope with limitations that are imposed on

us by nature and by the process of discovery. There are too many examples to

illustrate this point. Maybe the whole of science is like this; today's little

bit of knowledge will lead to tomorrow's big discovery. The very nature of black

holes limits the type of knowledge and science that can be done on black holes.

We can safely say that scientists will not be conducting field studies on black

holes in the very near future. Before the discovery of calculus, by Newton or

Leibniz, you take your pick, a lot of science was just difficult if not

impossible. The third form of limitation is one that is limited by the evolution

of things. I'm thinking here of the evolution of the personal computer. There

are those of us who still remember the Sinclair Spectrum computer, things have

moved on since the early eighties!



When we address ourselves to questions like 'should there be limits to science?'

we are surely thinking of Frankenstein sort of creations. Some would also

mention armaments, others question the ethics of certain scientific research

such as stem cell technology. There are, however, more serious things closer to

home that help limit science and these are our own intelligence, our limitations

in understanding, our limitations in learning, our inability to identify

opportunities, our lack of foresight, our capacity to have a herd mentality, our

prejudices, our foibles, our superstitions, our inertia, our indifference, our

lack of interest and so on. In other words our own limitations!



Take care



Lawrence

Friday, January 07, 2005

What is philosophy these days?

What is philosophy these days?



Jan 7, 2005

Dear Friends,



I was/am having problems with my emails as you would have realised by now; or

rather your email inbox has!!



The problem is this, I'm using Outlook Express connected to an ADSL line

(Telefonica). However, when I prepare the emails from MS Word, it sometimes does

not send copies to the out box in Outlook Express and when it does it refuses

to send them on the philomadrid@yahoo.co.uk email account; so I have to use my

Wanadoo account. I know it is complicated and what I have read about it does not

make it easy. Oh! Yes, to really complicate life I switched to Mozilla's

Thunderbird email program (read old Netscape) for a while; you don't want to

know the rest even if it is a good program……..



Anyway, I think I have solved the problem: go back to the old technology! Which

of course brings me straight to next Sunday's topic: What is philosophy these

days?



Does ADSL technology qualify as a philosophical question?



Take care,



See you Sunday



Lawrence



SUNDAY 6.30pm START at Molly Malone's Pub, probably downstairs, but just in case

there is no football on go to the very back of the pub, then turn left and

left again!



philomadrid@yahoo.co.uk



Subscribe yahoo group send an email to:

philomadridgroup-subscribe@yahoogroups.co.uk



tel 606081813



www.geocities.com/philomadrid



Pub Molly Malone, c/ Manuela Malasaña, 11, Madrid 28004

metro: <Bilbao> : buses: 21, 149, 147







What is philosophy these days?



Maybe philosophy has always been the same? In the same way that mathematics or

architecture has always been the same. What has changed are: what people

philosophise about and how they do philosophy.



Today, we have more opportunities to do philosophy. We still have the

traditional venues such as journals, conferences, books, maybe an article or two

in a newspaper and of course universities. Other venues for philosophy have been

from the Paris salons to the coffee shops of central Europe. Today, the

participants might not be as exclusive as in the past, but they, or should that

be 'we,' are still full of vision and passion. Today, we also meet in cafés and

pubs, and then there is the internet. The internet is probably the single most

important thing that has happened to philosophy and which is also different from

what took place in the past. Today we can reach more people in more exotic

locations, at the same time, to share our philosophy with. We can meet with

people who have varied interests and of course we have close to limitless access

to information. And this is where the state of philosophy today takes it's cue.



Could it be that all these new opportunities to do philosophy change the state

of philosophy and what is philosophy? We have first to distinguish between what

is labelled as philosophy and what people are philosophising about. However,

what's in and what's out might still at the end be a matter of fashion and needs

of the day. Identifying fashion from philosophy might itself be a challenge for

philosophy today. Furthermore, there is no reason to suppose that information

overload does not apply to philosophy. This means that the task of identifying

real philosophy is that much more difficult.



Of course, one must point out that what is labelled as philosophy by

professional philosophers, what is regarded as science by those who prefer other

name tags and what actually is philosophy will always remain a challenge is the

quest for knowledge. However, I would identify the following areas as being some

of the prime interests to philosophy today.



> Issues concerning consciousness especially the brain and how it works. An

interesting debate concerns the role quantum mechanical phenomena play in the

brain and their implications to consciousness. Linked to these issues are the

implications of DNA research including cloning, genetic engineering and

evolution.



> Issues in medical ethics and bioethics, especially isssues relating to the

development of new treatments, caring for terminally ill people, globalisation

of health and models of health services. An issue that needs debating is who

sets the ethical standards in medicine. Can we assume that the practitioners of

medicine are the best people to set the ethical standards? The problem here is

that real life cannot usually wait for people to come up, in real time, with a

philosophical conclusion. Another issue is, how much do we need to know about

medicine to contribute intelligently to a philosophical debate about medical

ethics?



> Philosophy of language especially the development of concepts, theories of

meaning and science, philosophy of mind and language are still issues that need

looking at. As with many other discipline, what is philosophy of language, what

is linguistics and what is psychology is a blurred territory. Applied philosophy

can look at language and political philosophy. Politicians use concepts today

that need a modern definition. Another practical issue is making science

accessible to non scientists. The argument is something like this: since part of

science depend on public money then the public ought to have access to that body

of knowledge. The philosophical question then arises, how can a body of

knowledge based on mathematic be translated into a body of language based on a

mix of emotions and culture?



> A new branch of applied philosophy is philosophy of business. Here we are

concerned with issues such as ethical policies and practices of companies,

globalisation, state-company relationship and issues arising from company/stake

holders interests. Is the profit motive a valid proposition today as it were a

hundred years ago or, lets face it, a thousand years ago? And if competition is

the best guiding force in modern business, who or what are its competitors

today? It seems a bit incongruous that competition needs to be the only option

in the market place for it to succeed.



> Philosophy of science is always an exciting source for philosophical

investigation. The subjects are wide and varied, for example: the scientific

methods, especially issues relating to confirmation, statistics and probability.

Quantum mechanics still provides fertile ground for philosophical research and

when linked with astronomy, we are looking at questions relating to the creation

of the universe itself. And questions relating to the universe take us straight

into questions about God and creation. Artificial intelligence and information

theory are also good candidates for philosophy today.



Maybe issues that are closer to our times would come under the banners of theory

of the state, theory of justice and philosophy of economics.



Starting with economics, there are new developments in economics and psychology

especially consumer behaviour, economic issues in sociology and social

responsibility. The ethics of labour, the use of rare resources and pollution

also affect the models of economics we are used to.



A theory of justice today will take us back in a theory of rights. Maybe more

needs to be said about duties of individuals and also collective duties. But

equally a valid argument is whether a theory of justice ought to tell us

something about how individual rights are guaranteed. What powers do individuals

have to pursue their rights? Is there a conflict between the state and

individual rights? And on the business front, how does a theory of justice cope

with globalisation, multinational companies, and organisations such as the

European Union, the WTO and the IMF?



This is perhaps the point where we clearly depart from tradition and move into

our times: 21st century philosophy. High on the list of issues is the theory of

the state. And for us we have to look again at what is democracy? Except now we

have the added question of whether democracy should and ought to be exported to

other nation states? Another issue is the theory of war. What is the

philosophical and political debate on the principle of the pre-emptive strike?

And what do we mean by defence of the realm, today? But it is difficult to

forget old questions and a really old question is the relationship between state

and religion. For example, Is there a place for a religion with political power

today?



I would be the last one to argue that the above list is a representation of the

state of philosophy today. It's probably more a subconscious list of what I'm

interested in; but there again subjectivism was never killed nor buried by the

old philosophy.



Modern philosophy was started with a rather good catch phrase which survived the

test of time: cogito ergo sum or I think therefore I am. The philosophy behind

this catch phrase was equally challenging at the time: What guarantees the

existence of the thinker? Today, this question is as valid as ever. At the time

Descartes did not have the benefit of psychology, neuroscience, Magnetic

Resonance Imaging, quantum mechanics, information theory and the rest of the

knowledge we take for granted. Maybe today we ought to go back to basics: what

is a thinker? What am I?



Take care



Lawrence

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