Virtue: some ad hoc thoughts.

One of my previous posts concerned ‘Socrates’ question’. To repeat it, it basically is phrased as ‘How do I live?’ or ‘What is the good life?’ Socrates considered that to be the criterion of philosophy, I consider it to be the criterion of ethics. A lot of people, with good reason, consider it the most important question, or if not that, the answer of that question to be most important; be that answer money, or love or power.

I shall consider the oldest response to that question. Virtue. Let me state the different schools that give a kind of answer to Socrates’ question:

Virtue: Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, Foot, Anscombe, Quinn

Duty: Kant, Korsgaard,

Happiness: Epicurus, Bentham, Mill, Singer

I am Kantian in frame, but not completely. I shall consider today the most intuitive of answers; virtue.

How does virtue answer Socrates’ question? The insight is very simple, if you are virtuous, you become happy/fullfilled (Eudaimonia).

There are so many different kinds of virtue ethics, and I am not an expert on them. Since it is the oldest tradition, it goes through thousands of years of literature.

Let me concentrate on the nature of virtue. Virtue is an eminent quality in a person, a courageous person, a chaste person, a brave person, and so on. It is through these eminences that one achieves a good life. It almost seems too easy to refute.

Another point, virtue ethics was best formulated by Aristotle, and it has a lot of problems like teleological metaphysics being presupposed. Many recent writers try to save Aristotle from himself in many ways.

The virtues of one period have changed in others. Back in the day it was virtuous to be a chaste until marriage, nowadays it is virtuous to be sexual. Before it was virtuous to be pious to the Gods, now it is almost irrelevant. This frivolous nature of normative virtues worries me, a life seems less meaningful if it were based on transitive norms (or transitive facts, for that matter).

Some good things to read about virtues are virtually all of Plato’s dialogues (each concerns themselves with a particular virtue), Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, and Anscombe’s ‘Modern Moral Philosophy’, which blew open a hole in western ethics that philosophers are trying to fix.

Reducing facts to norms

I came up with a couple of ideas over the weekend, one of them was creating a logical system based on intentions and actions, possibly accounting for Socrates’ akrasia. The other idea is the subject of my post. I shall try to put these thoughts in as organised a manner as possible.

This idea came to me as a synthesis between various fields of philosophy: Berkelian idealism, mixed with anti-realism about natural properties, reductionism relating to normativity and a strange twist to the deflationist account of truth, it is in essense, a deflationist account of facts which are anti-realist about facts, and perhaps ontologically realist about norms. This thesis when I first thought of it seemed amazingly queer (Mackie reference), in that norms are extremely queer in a naturalistic ontology.


I. Facts relate to naturalistic properties

II. Naturalistic properties are empirical/phenomenal

III. Phenomena relates to the world of experience

IV. A norm is a judgement which favours one view over another


I. A fact presupposes ‘it is right/proper to believe that x’

II. A given fact (such as ‘snow is white’) presupposes a norm (such as ‘it is right to believe that snow is white’)

III. Because a fact presupposes a norm, a fact is reducible to a norm

C: Facts can be removed from our ontology reduced to an ontology of underlying norms, in the same way that chemistry can be reduced to more fundamental precepts of physics, or physics reduced to mathematical mechanics.

I think i’ll need to work on this idea a bit more, but that is my initial formulation

Do I beleive facts are reducible to norms? Probably not, as norms lead to an even more queer ontology, and this thought leads to uncertainty about objective truth, since all ‘truths’ are reducible to norms.

What about regress? Is a norm reducible to a norm? (a normnorm), and is a normnorm reducible to a norm about a normnorm? I’m not sure about that either. But maybe these are necessary problems, maybe I’ve opened a can of worms.

Also, is this Popper’s ‘death of a thousand qualifications’, or Sober’s idea of a ‘flexible thesis’.

I’d like to hear your responses

Folk psychology and its dogmas

This is something that would have concerned me if I were a sociologist alone. Can we trust our intuitions? No, I’m not talking about phenomenal intuitions, but insights we can have (gnostic and noetic, as opposed to epistemic). This post will be primarily exegetical, for this issue is something I am still not fully decided on.

I. Definition of folk psychology

Folk psychology is the set of background assumptions, convictions and conditioned prejudices that we have of the behaviour of others and their ascriptions of their mental states. Folk mentality (such as folk physics) is what we use pre-scientifically or pre-philosophically in judging phenomena.

Conponents of folk psychology include belief, fear, desire and hope.

II. Question – methodological and epistemological

Should we presuppose these given preferences or tenets in our judgement or reality or question them?

III. Question – meta-ethical and normative ethical

Should we presuppose our moral intuitions given by folk psychology or question them?

IV. Philosophical dogmas of folk psychology

Aristotelian teleology – ‘everything has a purpose and order’

Modus ponens – the logical inference formally expressed as P –> Q. Instantiated as ‘If John doesn’t stop fixing the radiator, we will be flooded’ (Also include modus tollens)

Law of excluded middle – logical inference expressed as P : P v ¬P

Law of noncontradiction – logical inference expressed as ¬(P&¬P)

Double negation elimination – Logical inference expressed as ¬¬P=P

Occam’s razor – the simplest explanation is the most true

Quine’s challenged second dogma – experience is uninterpreted

Criterion of morality – actions are judged as right or wrong

Basic empiricism – knowledge comes from phenomenal experience

V. III and IV revisited

If we challenge these dogmas, we might have reason to not believe them

Aristotelian teleology – ‘everything has a purpose and order’ (Refuted piecemeal by rationalist metaphysics, refuted whole by cosmology and natural selection)

Modus ponens – the logical inference formally expressed as P –> Q. Instantiated as ‘If John doesn’t stop fixing the radiator, we will be flooded’ (Also include modus tollens) (Modus ponens inferences are queer to understand, but not so much as to deny them)

Law of excluded middle – logical inference expressed as P : P v ¬P (The Copenhagen interpretation of Quantum Mechanics denies this)

Double negation elimination – Logical inference expressed as ¬¬P=P (Denied by intuitionalistic logic)

Occam’s razor – the simplest explanation is the most true (questioned by philosophers of science, but is held as a desiderata of scientists)

Quine’s challenged second dogma – experience is uninterpreted (challenged by Quine in ‘Two Dogmas of Empiricism)

Criterion of morality – actions are judged as right or wrong (Challenged on many fronts, see various perspectives on the realism debate; error-theory, expressivism, prescriptivism, fictionalism and reductionism)

Basic empiricism – knowledge comes from phenomenal experience (Challenged by psychological nativism, Transcendental Idealism (my favoured position) and German Idealism)

I don’t personally want to challenge folk psychology, but I am curious as what its role should be, should we accept it and get on with exploring it, or should we question it and look for truth with the capital T?

I’d like to note that many sociological discourses find that our folk psychological assumptions are mostly socially constructed. Quite a Marxian thought.

P.S. I have also put these posts on my myspace.

Argument against dogmatism

I’ve formulated a simple argument against dogmatism, I don’t necessarily agree with it, but these are the propositions which lead to a conclusion against dogmatic belief.

1. Dogmatism is unquestioning belief

2. Dogmatism can lead to actions putatively considered as transgressive

3. Transgressions are morally wrong

4. If dogmatism leads to transgression and transgressions are wrong, then dogmatism is leads to wrong actions

5. A belief that leads to wrong action is an untrue belief

6. Since dogmatism leads to wrong action, it is untrue belief

2 years on

Cut back two years ago. A gang of friends hopeful for the future arrive at their school for one last time on an official capacity. All of them hopeful and fearful for what they may learn about themselves. Each one of them, different, unique, yet bounded by a few things in common, namely, the gift of laughter and friendship. Those men were, and still are, the Yeah Crew. Named so in our shared appreciation of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The day before our results, we spent in Richard White’s house. We had a barbeque, we met with familiar and not-so familiar faces, we looked through Richard’s brother’s porno stash and we saw Commando and the feature length pilot of Thunder in Paradise. We laughed very much, some highlights include

  • ‘Jessie’, the giant russian
  • The bit where it showed a closeup of the missile firing
  • Hulk pushing those two wooden poles underwater
  • The trailer for Cyborg Cop 2
  • The fight between Bennett and Matrix in Commando

It was in many ways the first day of the Yeah Crew, and perhaps its last. What we had represented an epoch, a snapshot of that current time. On the day of our results, our futures were determined, opening us to new oppurtunities. We bid adieu to our past, and send greetings to the unknown.

Some of us were very pleased with how we achieved, after much work and personal loss, we achieved more than we expected. After the failure of the year before, we finally had something to smile about. We were made men by that fine institution.

The focus of my piece is not where we were two years ago, but where we are now. Where are we now? We were formed from young boys into young men, yet to experience the war of adulthood, but nonetheless equipped to deal with it.

Sometimes when we go through events in life we ask ‘what will happen after this?’ or ‘where will I be a year after this?’. In my free time, may I ponder that. We have moved far from what we used to be. Since then, some of us have found love, some in the most unexpected of places. Some of you are very happy in your relationships. Come to think of it, nearly all of you have found someone since then. Some of you are wage-earners! Of the world we were brought up in we engage with. A couple of you are to going on to masters degrees.

What a world you guys have set up for yourselves, as if your future is already set for you. YOu have set in the roots for the life you will live for many years to come.

(paragraph omitted – 18/08/06)

(paragraph omitted – 18/08/06)

Where are the yeah crew today? Some of you are at work, with your families, in strange cities, with your romantic interests, (remainder of paragraph omitted – 18/08/06)

I wonder what will happen next year.

And with that I end, bon anniversaire, to the birth and crystallisation of the Yeah Crew.


(This post is heavily edited from original, due to being too pessimistic)