Autumn general human welfare. However, what if everyone

Autumn
Pavao

Professor
Riggle

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Ethical
Theory

12/20/17

Wolfs Critique

   
Wolf’s critique points to how our lives should have a moral component and
a non-moral component, in Frankfurt’s terms, it’s acceptable to have
second-order desires and volitions about things besides ethical behavior toward
other people (Frankfurt 9-13), like taking care for one’s soul (an aspect of
ethical life upon which many ancient Greeks focused, and which Foucault
described and updated in some ways, see Foucault 1988). Being a moral saint might be
ethical, but also rather pathological, and if itself were generalized or
universalized as how we should live, it is not even too clear if collectively
that would realize an increase in welfare or not. That is a much more radical
claim than Wolf makes – she is explicit about how if you or I drop our current
life’s project for refugee relief, that one person shifting over lifestyles has
a and would have a huge impact on increased total utility and general human
welfare. However, what if everyone began transferring their lives to completely
altruistic activity, even if voluntarily? So much art, culture, friendship,
fun, etc. would be lost. Would it collectively be worth it, or would lost
non-moral values be such that it could even be worse than the current state of
affairs?  Should people take account of their own characters and their
limitations in making moral choices? In point of fact, they do just that all
the time, and that has some basis (and ethical value) in people protecting
their own well-being. This essay will explore some of the implications,
consequences, and objections to the status of moral sainthood as Wolf describes
that way and manner of human being.

 
The thesis here is that Wolf’s point is not only well-taken, but correct – a
world of all (or even mostly) moral saints would be impoverished, would lack
many kinds of values and realizations of values as goods and in good human
lives (which goes further than moral lives). Wolf strikes a nerve by touching
on our ambivalence about the worth of such a single-purpose focused life. This
feeling that she is on to something significant but neglected before she wrote
“Moral Saints” has much to do with the multiple sources of justification in the
history of philosophy about what it is to live a moral life and do morally
praiseworthy things; Aristotle, Kant, and Mill will all disagree about how such
a life should be framed, and how actions and one’s life course should be chosen
and revised. How would a world made up of moral saints deliberate among themselves
about what principles to follow, anyway? We have not decided conclusively or
even nearly, in favor of perfectionism, or for a deontological approach, or
utilitarianism. If we imagine a world of moral saints, such a world would
paradoxically be one where everyone is striving for others’ happiness, but few
can be truly happy and fulfilled even if the world’s overall happiness in terms
of plain utility is maximized. In Kantian terms, everyone is treated as merely
a means – by themselves, and all are the poorer for it in a certain sense, if
we take it this far. If we view Kant as advocating that we always choose and
act so as to further the realization of other peoples’ ends, we have to do that
kind of moral consideration and deliberation in not just a careful but also in
something like an anticipatory way. We have to think about other people’s ends
in advance of choosing how to live, how to spend our time before we think about
what is personally desirable or preferable to just us alone. Wolf says that for
a moral saint, if there exists some more effective way to promote others’
welfare, then I must shift from more enjoyable helpful activities to ones more
which are more generally utility-maximizing, or which fulfill the duty of
treating people more like ends in themselves. I am obliged to sometimes or even
usually be a martyr, since my happiness counts for only me, whereas if I can
increase others’ welfare by more than my additional misery, I should do that
instead to live morally to maximum effect. The lie of a moral saint will
probably be also that of a martyr, unless one is one of those temperamentally
altruistic people she speaks of at the start of “Moral Saints” (Wolf 420-421).

For a moral saint, one’s whole life, even in school, should follow ethical rules
about how to develop and deploy one’s talents in the service of some
generalizable goal or how to best increase human welfare. Wolf’s thought is
well-taken an obviously operative here, As I develop and use my skills and
aptitudes to aid humanity or just pursue a common end seen as good, I shall be
second-guessing the whole project (or projects) all the time, i.e., again, one
thought too many, Wolf quotes from Bernard Williams (Wolf 430). A Kantian
deontological commitment could be even be less difficult than a broad
utilitarian commitment, that is, I might just resolve to not break
generalizable or universalizable moral principles as I go about my life and
have encounters with my fellow humans, even as I go about my personally
fulfilling life as a musician, a teacher, or police officer, just adhering to
the rule of never suing another as a means (Wolf 430-431). Yet, that means
never telling a “white lie,” even to a malevolent person (as in Kant’s famous
example). How one would function professionally given such a commitment is a
daunting question – can I compromise to keep my job and ability to do good
through its influence? Kant would say no. while doing so I may not ever use
others as means to my own ends. That would seem to make one’s life livable and
human, that is, in the sense of being able to enjoy activities without
justifying that decision before all of humanity.

However,
if I choose a life centered around business or culture or what-have-you, most
would feel that is less of a commitment to treating others as ends (or utility
maximization) than humanitarian and service work (e.g., social work, hunger and
refugee relief, etc.). Wolf confirms this intuition when she says that: “gain
in happiness that would accrue to oneself and one’s neighbors by a more
well-rounded, richer life than that of the moral saint would be pathetically
small in comparison to the amount by which one could increase the general
happiness if one devoted oneself explicitly to the care of the sick, the
downtrodden, the starving, and the homeless” (Wolf 428), presumably with no
vacations or frivolities. Furthermore, a claim that devotion might be less
valuable is obviously false when one looks around at how that “gain in
happiness that would accrue to oneself and one’s neighbors by a more
well-rounded, richer life than that of the moral saint would be pathetically
small in comparison to the amount by which one could increase the general
happiness” (Wolf 428). Wolf makes a careful distinction between so-called
“loving saints” and “rational saints,” with loving saints deriving pleasure
themselves from helping others, with that actually something of a utilitarian
motivation (it gives them positive utility, or as an economist would say, that
is just part of their preference function and consequent utility curve) and the
rational saints as agents with duty as their motive in just the way Kant
thought was uniquely ethical, much more admirable than a natural benevolence
founded in personality. Rational saints give up their selfish happiness so
other people can realize a much greater offsetting gain in utility (or because
they see not just an individual ethical choice as something in the moment, but
as a life decision which can also follow as a moral imperative from being more
universalizable than a self-centered life, as a law governing what people ought
to do in the broadest sense.

 
Recall how Kant formulates the categorical imperative: select your action as
though the maxim which it follows will in turn become a universal law that
everyone will use to guide moral choice and action; deliberate what you will do
as if personal moral choice were simultaneously legislating for the world. He
has different versions of this prescription, like always choosing and carrying
out that choice, acting so that one treats other human beings as ends in
themselves rather than as merel means to accomplish our own ends. actions. Kant
also has a maxim of beneficence – I should observe to ensure whether I act to
further the welfare of other people. He does not say we can monitor and correct
ourselves like this, or do this all day long. In fact he cautions against such
constant self-policing. Kant states that there should be limits on our thinking
and acting in such a way from beneficence: “not to the point where he would
?nally need the bene?cence of others” (“The Metaphysics of Morals” in Ethical
Philosophy 118). But where really is the limit where I invoke an ethic
of self-care, if Kant has told us all our choices and actions should follow
from duty.” Indeed, these should be motivated by duty deep down, so that we can
have the only good thing in the world (according to him), which is a good will,
that jewel which he says shines and sparkles in its own light.

 Should
I arrange my own personal maintenance, the time for sleeping (and the time and
energy for eating, brushing, flossing, etc.)  in such a way as to maximize
not just the time but the total productivity of how I follow and live out the
maxim of beneficence? From the brief quote above, we see that Kant does recognize
a limit, but it seems like there is a gray area for how much self-care he
specifies.

It
all recalls a line from the old Peanuts cartoon strip:

(apologies
to Charles Schultz for copyright infringement and for using him as a mere
means)

If
moral sainthood itself were universalizable as a maxim, would that not
eliminate all non-moral sources of value in human life? While one would think
that my treating others as means in themselves would sometimes allow me acting
so as to add joy from non-moral sources to their lives, on a universalized
maxim of moral sainthood, they should not accept my beneficence by receiving
and enjoying such a gift. They should themselves be acting so as to be
beneficent to others. It is not a reductio ad absurdum to push
this line thinking further, and state that to universalize the maxim of
sainthood further, I should act so as to push them in the direction of moral
sainthood, since that is how they realize and maximize their own moral impact,
which seems to be the whole point and value of human life for Kant. Once that
happens (and we are all policemen and pests to one another), no one realizes or
enjoys the non-moral sources of value which Wolf says are absent in the lies of
moral saints. Since the universalizability criterion specifies we must frame
our moral maxims by how life would be if everyone followed that maxim, can the
rational kind of moral saint really consider the imperative of moral sainthood
truly so desirable to adopt if universalized?

 Another
way to view the desirability of rational moral sainthood done from duty is to
start by considering what Wolf says after saying that it is obvious that giving
up a mainstream bourgeois life in favor of 14-hour a day famine relief results
in marginally much more welfare for humanity in terms of increased utility from
alleviated misery. She writes that “of course, there may be psychological
limits to the extent to which a person can devote himself to such things
without going crazy. But the utilitarian’s individual limitations would not
thereby become a positive feature of his personal ideal” (Wolf 428). However,
once we universalize moral sainthood as a rationally adopted maxim, why would
not the social consequences of no more pleasure at pursuing different kinds of
excellence or just having fun, not be relevant? On a marginal level, yes, one
person choosing a life course on a calculus of total utility maximization
cannot be held back from the required course of total altruism. But a Kantian
pondering the consequences of universalizing sainthood can be. That the
utilitarian cannot cast his or her limitations at realizing more total human
utility as an ideal should also make us scrutinize the whole criterion of
utility more closely. If it is just a question of maximizing the total number
of moments of pleasure felt by everyone and minimizing the amount of miserable
moments, is that what is really important and valuable in our lives? Pleasure
maximized as a source of moral value has something paradoxical about it that
way. Think also of Robert Nozick’s Experience Machine, which can provide us
with fully realistic simulations of pleasurable
experiences once we are plugged into it, such that as we experience those
moments of artificially induced pleasure, we cannot tell any difference from if
we were experiencing those in external reality (Nozick 42-45). As an intuition
pump against ethical hedonism, Nozick’s example is meant to jar us into
realizing that pleasure is not our only preferred source of value in our lives.

 While Nozick meant his Experience Machine to question
the kind of ethical hedonism put forward by Bentham, where all moments of
pleasure are of equal value and thus of equal utility, John Stuart Mill thought
some pleasurable moments were of “higher” value than others, such as aesthetic
moments of pleasure derived from music, art, etc. Yet, whether pleasurable
moments in our lives derive from higher or lower experience (with
correspondingly higher or lower valuations of those moments), the value for
Mill is still in the experience as felt (Mill 78-82). Someone choosing
permanent sweet surrender to the Experience Machine could just pre-program
Mozart, philosophy, and Picasso for the rest of their life.

 That idea in turn sparks the intuition that there are
indeed non-moral sources of value in our lives. Kant never said that the
rational moral saint was supposed to help others maximize pleasure as
experienced, of whatever kind. But how is a Kantian rational moral saint
supposed to assess the good for other people? If being a rational moral saint
is so worthy as to be the general maxim guiding the rational moral saint, why
should promoting that capacity in others, and only that capacity, not be what
specifically guides the rational moral saint in helping others toward realizing
their full value as human beings? The rational moral saint has decided that is
what matters; why not universalize that as the best for others if that is the
preferable source of value in human lives?

  Perhaps the answer is that it is just because we are
not wired that way (except for the loving moral saint). We may need to assess
our limitations and what our characters are like before we deliberate about
becoming a moral saint.  When Wolf says that there both moral and
non-moral sources of value in our lives, why is ethical behavior not maximizing
all sources of value? That seems to be the motivation behind utilitarian moral
theories as objections to Kant, especially as seen in how Mill wants to
distinguish between higher and lower pleasures. What is the reason why ethics
is about moral choice and action, as opposed to other sources of value? Is it
because it is simpler to calculate the effect of following moral rules or
performing utilitarian calculations about utility and welfare, while non-moral
values and their promotion are incommensurable to that kind of thinking,
reasoning, or calculation? Yet we do think it can be morally good to help
others realize and enjoy non-moral sources of value. The promotion and
realization of non-moral values is indeed relevant for questions about how to
behave morally.

Would
Kant or a utilitarian moral saint advocate a career for some people in private
equity management or hedge funds, so while one makes middle to high six figures
year, one can live modestly, and pay to hire many more relief workers than just
oneself? In the zero-sum game of those marketplaces where my gain is from the
loss I make you bear, one is not then acting from beneficence, or is one if one
does it to save lives? A deontologist will have to disagree, but what moral
saints would be compelled to agree

What
Wolf seems to be aiming at is to expand the dialogue about moral action to
sometimes let us act from non-moral reasons. This is desirable because
“striving toward achieving any of a great variety of forms of personal
excellence are character traits it is valuable and desirable for people to
have. In advocating the development of these varieties of excellence, we
advocate nonmoral reasons for acting” (Wolf 434).

 Can
her conception here be universalized so that not only do we all get “me time,”
but that our own life and projects can possibly have as much or more weight
than other people? What if I am gifted with a nearly unique talent that can be
such a source of non-moral value it overrides the pursuit of specifically moral
action, that is, more ultimate value is realized?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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