The Polynomic Theory of Value

after Immanuel Kant, Friedrich von Schiller, & Leonard Nelson

Miranda  There's nothing ill can dwell in such a temple.
      If the ill spirit have so fair a house,
      Good things will strive to dwell with't.

The Tempest, William Shakespeare, Act 1, Scene 2:459-462


But welfare has no principle, neither for him who receives it, nor for him who distributes it (one places it here, another there); because it depends on the material of the will, which is empirical, and therefore is incapable of the generality of a rule.

Wohlfahrt aber hat kein Prinzip, weder für den, der sie empfängt, noch der sie austeilt (der eine setzt sie hierin, der andere darin); weil es dabei auf das Materiale des Willens ankommt, welches empirisch, und so der Allgemeinheit einer Regel unfähig ist.

Immanuel Kant, "Der Streit der Fakultäten," Zweiter Abschnitt, 6, note *(2nd), A146-147, Schcriften zur Anthropologie, Geschichtsphilosophie, Politik und Pädagogik 1, Werkausgabe XI, Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Mein, 1964, 1977, p.360; translation after F.A. Hayek, The Fatal Conceit, The Errors of Socialism, University of Chicago Press, 1988, 1991, p.73


Living a good life means realizing those excellences in our lives as best we can. Put another way, we are under a moral obligation [!] to do our best to realize the best that human beings can be. To neglect that obligation is to waste our lives.

Charles Murray, The Curmudgeon's Guide to Getting Ahead, Dos and Don'ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life [Crown Business, 2014, p.105], noteworthy as Aristotelian moralism.

The diagram displays the polynomic ("many laws") or polynomological ("reckoning many laws") theory of value. In each domain of value, positive and negative value (e.g. good and bad) can vary independently of other domains. Morally right action can lead to bad consequences; morally wrong action can lead to good consequences; the beautiful can be produced through morally wrong action or be itself bad in a non-moral sense; and the ugly can be produced through morally right action or be itself good in a non-moral sense. This sort of theory, at first of "ideal" non-moral ethics, was originally suggested by Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805), as a correction to Kant's ethics, and was more recently advocated and developed by Leonard Nelson (1882-1927), in his System der Ethik, 1932 [System of Ethics, Yale, 1956].

Some commentators, especially conservative culture warriors, don't like the contemporary use of the term "value." They apparently think that it is introduced, especially in education, to replace stronger terminology like "right and wrong" and to promote Relativism. They may even be right about that, but this does not mean that the term "value" is actually without, well, value. Its Latinate derviation does not give it the same punch as words from Old English; but its source, the verb valeô (valêre, valuî, valitus/valutus), has an impressive range of meanings, to be "strong, powerful, worth, healthy," etc. We also get valêtûdo and validus, which are familiar from other English derivatives, and the name of the Emperor Valens, "Strong," who, unfortunately, wasn't strong enough to win at the Battle of Adrianople (378 AD). The Anglo-Saxon cognate, "worth" (German Wert), is a perfectly useful alternative word in its own right. Things have worth; but it is the general meaning of "value" and "worth" that is appropriate for the Polynomic Theory. Shoes have value and worth; but, without tortured formulations, they do not have moral value or worth. If we are among the modern nihilists who do not believe that morality exists, this is a useful circumstance. But even if morality exists, not all value is moral value -- although this is the issue to be addressed here. In Greek, "value" or "worth" would be , axíos (e.g. "axiom"), which figures in the modern neologism , axiología, i.e. "axiology," the theory of value, which is generally understood to embrace ethics, aesthetics, meta-ethics, and perhaps jurisprudence.

THE GOOD
ETHICSAesthetics, the beautiful and the ugly: theory of art & beauty, the worth of things independent of human purposes, "disinterested" value, the worth of nature, the relation of value and being, things good-in-themselves:  Optatives -- wishes
MORALITYIdeal or Euergetic Ethics, the good and the bad(/evil): non-moral worth in human life, the good of teleological ethics, the worth and meaning of life -- happiness, fulfillment, etc. -- things good-for-us: Hortatives -- exhortations
Morality, right and wrong: ethics of obligation and virtue; justice, the freedom and dignity of persons, the balance between self and others, moral goodness: Imperatives -- commands

right

good

beauty
Right Good Beauty
veracious, honest, upright righteous, good good, beautiful, pretty
true, right, just good, beautiful, happy

Graphic Version of Table

The wrap-around feature of the diagram indicates the generality of the term "good." The morally right is an ethical good, and both moral and non-moral ethical goodness are good and beautiful. Moral goodness concerns right and wrong actions; ethical goodness concerns what is good for human life, including right actions; and aesthetic goodness concerns what is simply good-in-itself, whether morally, in human life, or quite generally. The distinction between morality and ideal, or euergetic, ethics is motivated by "The Generalized Structure of Ethical Dilemmas," which demonstrates that the different categories of value are free and independent variables. For teleological ethics and for moralistic (see below) deontological ethics, there would be no dilemmas -- the goodness of the ends or the rightness of the means would be all that counts. The existence of a sense of dilemma is therefore evidence for the distinction between the two domains of value and so for the basic thesis that value is polynomic. Meanwhile, one might hope, as does Miranda in the passage from The Tempest quoted above, that the morally good and the beautiful would necessarily be found together, as Miranda thinks they are in the person of the young Ferdinand of Naples; but experience contradicts this hope with distressing regularity, even as Oscar Wilde meditated on their separation in The Picture of Dorian Gray [1890/1891], where the protagonist becomes more wicked precisely in proportion to the unnatural prolongation of his beauty.

Aesthetic valuation in general is pluralistic, latitudinarian (relatively relativistic -- see below), and not systematizable. The aesthetic valuation of individual objects cannot be completely reduced to rules or definitions, for the concrete individual contains more than any rule can encompass and cannot be defined qua individual by finite predication. This is the aesthetic uniqueness and dignity of individual objects, endowing them with a specific non-relativistic value as goods-in-themselves, regardless of whether they appear beautiful or ugly.

Ideal ethical evaluation (which can also be called "euergetic ethics," from euergeteô, "to do good" -- roughly the equivalent of "beneficient" from Latin) shares in aesthetic variety and pluralism, although in relation to the purposes of persons. This was called "ideal" ethics by Nelson, but that implies too narrow a range for it. As everyone does good in their own estimation, and this is actually suitable in terms of what is (innocently) pleasing to themselves, so ideal (or hortative) valuation is relative to everyone's own purposes and desires. Kant expresses this circumstance by saying, as quoted above, "Welfare has no principle" (Wohlfahrt aber hat kein Prinzip), by which he means that the material good for individuals cannot be expressed as a general rule that would apply to all. This poses a difficulty for teleological systems of morality (such as Utilitarianism), which must prejudge and predetermine goods for others. Such goods cannot be prejudged. [note]

Although the principle of St. Thomas Aquinas is that the "The good is to be done" -- as we see in the statement by Charles Murray, for which he invokes Aristotle but not St. Thomas, in the epigraph -- this collapses morality with ideals, creating moralistic fallacies [note]. The principle is properly reduced from a moral imperative to an exhortation:  Hortatives represent a form of aesthetic valuation in the sense that persons and their purposes form independent aesthetic wholes which are goods-in-themselves. The attainment of the "good life" or "happiness" is a condition that is both pleasurable and aesthetically satisfying to persons. How we can benevolently provide for the happiness for others when we cannot predetermine what they will find good or pleasurable makes for a general problem for hortative value -- as it is often a problem when trying to buy birthday or Christmas presents, but has much more serious consequences in paternalistic politics based on moralistic altruism. The moral framework of capitalism in the free market, as we will see, provides the answer to that problem.

It is awkward to call hortative or aesthetic value "relativistic," since this would seem to be saying that moral relativism is true, when actually moral relativism, just because of the existence of some moral absolutes, is false. It is therefore better to call hortative and aesthetic value "latitudinarian," since it allows a "latitude" of goods and denies that there is a best life or a supreme good across a range of goods for human life. That range is not unlimited as in strict relativism, and we might therefore say it is "relatively relativistic," which is a more honest relativism anyway. The term "latitudinarian" appropriately hearkens back to the progress of Toleration in the 17th century, when the legal enforcement of religious belief and public morality came to be restrained and moderated, especially in the Netherlands and England. The opposite of "latitudinarianism" is "rigorism," which is appropriate for morality as such, i.e. that there is no "latitude" or exceptions to the true moral rule. Although we may be restrained in practice because of our sense of ignorance in Socratic absolutism and Socratic situationism, morality as such admits of no exceptions.

Moral evaluation is a case of a non-relative good-in-itself embedded in aesthetic and ideal value: it is absolute and systematizable, reducible to the system of respect for the autonomy of persons. Morality fundamentally concerns the acceptable means towards the ends of action. Ideal ethics is the evaluation of ends, purposes, and consequences of action. Morality itself is a subcase of such ends. The force of evaluation of means and ends may become roughly balanced in that the force of obligation of morality, which is the only true obligation, stands over and against the existence of the consequences of action. The existence of bad consequences may be regarded as of significance comparable to the force of moral obligation to do what is right, creating moral dilemmas.

Ideal ethics contains not just goods as ends but also goods as non-moral virtues of character. These "hortative virtues" are often traditionally called moral virtues, but they really are not because they are not duties -- they are not commanded by morality. Hortative virtues may be goods for the self or goods for others. As goods for the self they are virtues of prudence. As goods for others they are virtues of manners or virtues of humanity. Virtues of prudence include all qualities, over and above moral virtues, that contribute to one's success in life with respect to one's own self-interest: thriftiness, sobriety, frugality, providence, reliability, forethought, industriousness, punctuality, enterprise, etc. [note]. Virtues of manners generally involve some consideration for others, especially for the feelings of others, over and above what is morally required: politeness, courtesy, kindness, etiquette, propriety, i.e. good manners. Virtues of humanity involve more substantial consideration for others, bestowing supererogatory benefits through compassion, charity, liberality, etc. Virtues of humanity are often thought of, not as hortative virtues, but as proper moral or legal obligations. This issue will be considered elsewhere in relation to non-contractual obligations of commission and moralistic altruism [note].

Good manners were an enormously important part of Confucian ethics (the virtue of , "propriety, etiquette, the rites") and previously of all proper upbringing. Politeness, however, took a direct hit in the 60's, where authenticity became the ideal, no matter how rude or crude. All sympathies then were in effect with the claim of the Tao Te Ching, the fundamental text of Taoism, that those who act on the basis of Confucian "propriety" are ready to resort to force if they cannot get their way.

A man of highest benevolence [] acts, but from no ulterior motive. A man of the highest justice [] acts, but from ulterior motive. A man most conversant in etiquette [] acts, but when no one responds, rolls up his sleeves and resorts to persuasion by force. Hence when the way [, the Tao] was lost, there was virtue [Te , ]; when virtue was lost, there was benevolence []; when benevolence was lost, there was justice []; when justice was lost, there was etiquette []. Etiquette is the wearing thin of conscientiousness [] and sincerity [] and the beginning of disorder []. [Chapter 38:82-83, trans. after D.C. Lau]

Note well that this is a criticism, not a statement, of Confucianism. Now it turns out that rude and crude people cause a lot of unnecessary friction and conflict. One response has been attempts to make lack of consideration for the feelings of others where racial or sexual relationships are concerned a moral or even a legal wrong ("hate speech"). This actually confirms the fears that Confucians are ready to resort to force (the coercion of law). Nevertheless, hortative virtues of good manners are real and important enough: neither insignificant as many thought in the 60's nor the proper matter of moral or legal sanction. Striking the balance may seem too subtle, but there is a real difference between what is merely, but actually, offensive and what is a moral wrong. It helps to appreciate that they are in polynomically distinct domains of value. The great traditional remedy to the rude and the crude was that they do not belong in polite company: we do not associate with them. If they persist in associating with us, against our wishes (coercion through harassment, stalking, etc.), then that is a moral and properly a legal wrong.

In my classes, anyone should feel that a relevant, sincere belief can be expressed about any matter, however offensive it may seem to some; but for there to be orderly discussion a certain level of civility must be maintained. That requires a certain exercise of good manners, without insults, personal hostility, etc. Otherwise, there may not be a moral or political crime, but there is a failure to have a viable forum for discussion or disputation; and I can ask anyone to leave who is not able to maintain decorum.

The independence of manners from moral goodness is revealed in life and in literature by people who have good manners but are morally evil, and by those with very bad manners who are morally good. An example of the former, now even the paradigmatic example, would be the cannibalistic murderer Hannibal Lecter of the 1988 novel, by Thomas Harris, and the 1991 movie, Silence of the Lambs. As played by Anthony Hopkins, Lecter is polite himself and expects it of others (or he kills and eats them). When he escapes from custody, the FBI agent who had been dealing with him, Clarice Starling, played by Jody Foster, is warned that he might come after her. She knows he won't, because "he would consider that rude." That line is actually not in the book, but it fits with what we might expect from Lecter [note].

A classic example of the opposite is Mr. Darcy in Jane Austin's immortal Pride and Prejudice. First encountering him at a dance, Elizabeth Bennett overhears him talking to his friend, Mr. Bingley. Darcy refuses to dance because, "there is not another woman in the room [besides Bingley's sisters], whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with" -- this within hearing of Elizabeth, who has sat out two dances for lack of a partner. When Bingley indicates Elizabeth herself, Darcy says:

'Which do you mean?' and turning round, he looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till catching her eye, he withdrew his own and coldly said, 'She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men....'

Darcy thus brutally offends the very woman with whom he will later fall in love, and who rejects his own proposal for marriage, a proposal so undiplomatically offered that Elizabeth responds,

'I might as well enquire,' replied she, 'why with so evident a design of offending and insulting me, you chose to tell me that you liked me against your will, against your reason, and even against your character?'

Darcy is shaken by this sudden revelation of how others could see him. Elizabeth also had gotten the impression that Darcy behaved badly in more substantial ways. This turned out to be wrong, and when Elizabeth came to discover that Darcy was, despite his manners, actually a very good man, she came to regret the haste and decidedness with which she had judged and rejected him. Meanwhile, however, Darcy took Elizabeth's view of his manner seriously and wished to redeem himself. Darcy learns to be more of a gentleman, and Elizabeth learns to wish that his attentions might be renewed, which, happily, they are. It is then Elizabeth's father who is astonished at the revolution, and Elizabeth must inform him, "He is perfectly amiable. You do not know what he really is..."

It always makes for interesting characters in fiction, or sometimes even in life, when they are other than they seem, and manners are how people first appear to and affect others. What this reveals here is the independent variability of polynomically independent categories of evaluation.

Pleasure

An important feature of the Polynomic Theory, not covered above, concerns pleasure. An early suggestion in Greek philosophy was that pleasure is the good. As the Greek word for pleasure is , hêdoné, this theory has come to be called "Hedonism." While today "hedonism" generally means the often careless, callous, and self-destructive personal pursuit of pleasure, the philosophical doctrine is simply the axiological postulate that pleasure is the good, or the only intrinsic good. From the eponymous Greek Hedonists, the doctrine was continued by Epicurus and survives in the significant modern school of Utilitarianism, with agreement that pleasure is the only intrinsic good.

However, before this history had barely gotten off the ground, Plato had already succinctly refuted the theory in The Republic. Having disposed of those who say that knowledge is the good, because, when pressed, they must admit that the knowledge that is good must be knowledge of the good, Plato has Socrates continue:

Well, are those who define the good as pleasure infected with any less confusion of thought than the others? Or are not they in like manner compelled to admit that there are bad pleasures [, hêdonàs eînai kakás, i.e. admit "pleasures to be bad"]? (Plato VI, Republic II, Book VI, 505c, translated by Paul Shorey, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard U. Press, 1935, 1970, pp.88-89)

If there are bad pleasures, we should now be prepared to see this as evidence of the polynomic independence of pleasure. As such, pleasure is properly part of the system presented above. It does not occur there, however, because pleasure and pain are essentially subjective, where such cognitive or objective elements as they may have figure in the categories we have already seen -- right and wrong, good and evil, and the beautiful and the ugly. Pleasure is not an additional element within the system, but it corresponds to the whole system, just as every form of value may be generally characterized as a "good." This is one of the things that motivates a Hedonistic doctrine. Why this should be so, we will see in turn.

Pleasure as good may be a good, and an intrinsic good; but it will neither be the only good nor will it be free from varying independently and producing dilemmas with other goods, a characteristic of polynomic value. This becomes evident with examples. The pleasure of a heroin addiction has the consequences of the destruction of health, the disruption of personal and professional relationships, and the dangers of possible criminal activity. In the same way, the pain of visiting the dentist has the consequence that tooth decay and other evils can be avoided -- recently we have learned that the Egyptian Queen Hatshepsut died of a dental abscess.

Now, Epicurus would argue that each of these examples still allows for a Hedonistic explanation, since the heroin addiction produces great pain in the future, in all the areas considered, while the visit to the dentist enables a great deal of potential pain to be avoided thanks to proper dental hygene. This is the Epicurean modification of Hedonism, that we may accept less pleasure or more pain in the present in order that pleasure can be maximized and pain minimized in the future. Drunkenness may be enjoyable for the time being, but tomorrow we will endure much suffering from our indulgence; and continuing this as a way of life will produce a great deal of pain and unhappiness in the destruction of our health and the disruption of every other part of our lives. The good Epicurean thus enjoys moderate pleasures and avoids anything more extreme that will produce pain in the future.

Similarly, the modern Hedonist, apart from the Utilitarian who simply continues the principles of Epicureanism, may argue that even the satisfaction of having done something morally good is itself a kind of pleasure, which means that moral goodness is itself a kind of Hedonism. Without the pleasure of moral satisfaction, all of ethics would simply be empty, and pleasure is consequently the only positive reason to ever do anything.

While the strength of the argument of Epicurus is that health is expected to be pleasurable, and disease or injury certainly to be painful, the introduction of moral considerations upsets rather than confirms the line of reasoning. For, just because someone takes moral satisfaction from some action, this does not mean that the action was in fact morally correct. People may be confused, make mistakes, or positively enjoy doing evil. We see a striking example of this in Nietzsche, which I will present with William Hogarth's print, the "First Stage of Cruelty" (1751):

The delicacy -- even more, the tartufferie -- of domestic animals like ourselves shrinks from imagining clearly to what extent cruelty constituted the collective delight of older mankind, how much it was an ingredient of all their joys, or how naïvely they manifested their cruelty, how they considered disinterested malevolence (Spinoza's sympathia malevolens) a normal trait, something to which one's conscience could assent heartily.... To behold suffering gives pleasure, but to cause another to suffer affords an even greater pleasure [Leiden-sehn thut wohl, Leiden-machen noch wohler]. ["The Genealogy of Morals," in The Birth of Tragedy and The Genealogy of Morals, translated by Francis Golffing, Doubleday Anchor Books, 1956, pp.197-198, boldface added]

The persons who discover that they enjoy watching cruelty or suffering, and not just in fiction, should very properly be alarmed, as those around them are likely to be. They have developed a perverse affect. If they then act on that enjoyment by causing suffering, they have become morally vicious -- the fear of which probably being the reason for the alarm of people around them -- and they have been improperly motivated by their feelings into wrongful action. Of course, that was precisely Nietzsche's point, that "wrongful action" and "vice" are themselves meaningless characterizations, and not because Nietzsche was any kind of Hedonist:  "Man does not strive for pleasure, only the Englishman does." Not pleasure, or even happiness, but power, was the Nietzschean goal, unlimited by any moral inhibitions over the rights or feelings of others, especially the miserable and pathetic weak ones, whose condition cries out for selfish use and exploitation by the strong.

Pleasure or satisfaction in the wrong and the evil simply reveals the independence of the objective good from our experience of pleasure and pain. Since there are bad pleasures, right and wrong, good and bad, and the beautiful and the ugly must be judged on their own merits and in their own terms. Even the beautiful, much of whose value would appear to consist in the pleasure that it affords, nevertheless enjoys the characteristic that, the greater its value, the more that value is independent of the transient beings who may encounter it. Beauty is a supreme good-in-itself; and its intrinsic value increases as its appreciation becomes more refined. Thus, while the vandal derives enjoyment from the thrill of destruction, the severity of their actions as crime is different in kind when they move from damage to fungible chattels to objects that are irreplaceably valuable in their own right. The more perverse vandals, of course, derive particular pleasure from destroying the latter.

While the polynomic independence of pleasure can produce conflicts that look like dilemmas, they are rarely real moral dilemmas because personal pleasure rarely has anything like the moral force needed to outweigh moral duty. Thus, if I consider doing wrong for the sake of my own pleasure, this is not an objectively good end but precisely the kind of egoistic self-interest that generally motivates wrongful action in the first place. It is not like weighing the survival of all against some in a life-boat dilemma. A more innocent conflict may occur, not between pleasure and duty, but between pleasure and other kinds of hortative goods. Thus, I may decide to buy a more expensive car because it will give me greater pleasure than a cheaper economy car. This may involve a genuine moral conflict if, for instance, I have taken on the obligations of parenthood to spend the money on clothes or food for my children, or it may merely reflect my preference, that I prefer the pleasure of motoring over that of a more expensive house, a better sound system, high maintenance girl friends, or gambling in Las Vegas. Or I may contribute this disposable income to charity, which has a more laudable overtone, if I am assured that the charities I patronize are actually doing some good.

Two features, at least, distinguish pleasure and pain from all other forms of value:  (1) they are intuitive, and (2) they are caused. Thus, as pleasure or pain arise, they are identified and distinguished by careful attention to the sensation or the feeling -- the response in us -- which, of course, may be so forceful that the sensations intrude themselves on our attention, regardless of our intentions or predisposition. We do not experience pleasure or pain in external objects, detached from our own existence, whether corporeal or, as representations or abstract objects, mental. The character of the external objects, however, is responsible for the reaction that we experience. Of course, the kind of reaction we have, does not depend entirely on the object, but the mechanism of our response, physical or mental, contributes to the character of what we experience. So, people do not experience pleasure or pain in the same ways from the same objects. The music of Barbra Streisand that strikes many people as enjoyable may be insufferable, or positively painful, to others -- there has been an episode of South Park devoted to this. The Japanese enjoy squid on pizza, even though foreigners may find the consistency of the seafood no different from, and no tastier than, rubber.

Pleasure varies across a spectrum from the most concrete and physically localized to the most abstract and mental. At the one end are thus pleasures or pains with specific locations in the body, as we experience with food and sex, or with the pain of bodily injury or disease. These are so paradigmatic that we imagine the common practical hedonist as pursuing his values by eating and copulating, preferable in the midst of something like a Roman orgy, whose decadent attraction is precisely the combination of uninhibited eating, drinking, nudity, and sex. A wild party is one thing, but it isn't a proper orgy without promiscuous sex and nudity. The rigors and follies of such a life-style were explored by Hogarth (16971764) in his series on "A Rake's Progress" (1735).

With the physical localization of pain, a noteworthy feature is the often involuntary response of the body. If you are burned or cut, there is likely to be a "knee-jerk," instinctive recoil of the affected body part or limb away from the source of the injury. You don't need to think about it. This is comparable to instinctive reactions like the mouth watering or sexual arousal, although those responses require recognition of particular kinds of objects for the reaction to occur (unless the former results from the smell of food or its directly being introduced into the mouth, or the latter from direct stimulation of the genitals). Burning oneself on something that has not even been recognized as being hot, however, sets off an often dramatic recoil that doesn't need any conscious intention or understanding.

As pleasure may be derived from detached and even remote external objects, the cognitive element, as in the emotions, increases. The first stage with this concerns senses whose effect is more intimate and direct on the body. The pleasant scent, or the disgust of an unpleasant smell, act almost as immediately on the body as the sensations of taste or responses to actual touch. With sounds, we get into a larger domain. Lound noises, like bright lights, can themselves be painful as much as more corporeal assaults on the body. Pleasant sounds begin to sound musical, and then become music. This is one of the most mysterious phenomena of human experience. Music can produce pleasure or pain to the extent that it is able to evoke pleasant or painful emotions. Even relatively painful emotions may be enjoyed in the sense that they can be cathartic. Yet the sounds of music as such convey no cognitive content whatsoever, while the emotions are heavy with cognitive associations. Indeed, what particular music means to one will depend on one's prior emotional state and history, not an insignificant part of which will have been the experiential context of particular pieces of music. Yet an entirely new piece of music, just written, can set off intense reactions, evoking associations whose forms may lie deep in the unconscious [note].

Sight is the most detached and objective of the senses and involves the largest cognitive element in the recognition of its objects. The beautiful landscape, in person or in various representations, may evoke a very quiet kind of pleasure, but, of course, this would serve as a recommendation rather than a criticism to a Hedonist like Epicurus. As the beautiful shades over into the sublime, awe and wonder, if not a cathartic or numinous kind of fear, begin to infuse the pleasant experience. In performing arts, to the visual spectacle of the theater there is added the display of action, emotion, language, and story, perhaps with the addition of music. Modern movies are able to increase the vividness of all this, although perhaps with more emphasis on image and music than on language. On the other hand, pure literature takes the word alone and uses it to feed the imagination, from which comes a whole internal theater of images, sounds, and perhaps even music -- not to mention sensual reactions in taste, scent, and sexual arousal -- although all of these will depend idiosyncratically on the experience, memory, and imaginative capacity of the reader.

And what is the pleasure of seeing the "good guys" win or the lovers at long last united in any story? This involves an element of moral and euergetic satisfaction, which reaches a moral culmination in the satisfaction of seeing justice done, or the good accomplished, whether in fiction or in reality. The "moral" of a story, by which the whole purpose of a fictional work is manifest, is an aesthetic, moral, and cognitive unity. The enjoyment of the story hinges on how well that is done, both in the culmination in and in the manner the story builds towards it.

The pleasure, satisfaction, or enjoyment that we experience in life and in art provide a clue about the metaphysical status of pleasure. Pleasure is to subjective and internal existence as the good itself is to objective and external existence. Experiencing, observing, or contemplating the realization of the good properly corresponds to an internal state of pleasure. Polynomic independence, of course, means, as Plato said, that there are bad pleasures; but just as the good person who is forced, by evil circumstances, to do wrong in order to effect the good, the good person, discovering that he derives pleasure from evils, endeavors by reflection and discipline to correct his affections.

The theory of the "Lecture on the Good" is that the good is existence, from whose simple identity we have been alienated by the structure of consciousness. Pleasure in turn is thus our internal experience of the good, instantiated in our own existence, even as the cognitive and objective good is a quality that can subsist in objects detached, remote, and unrelated to us. As with all of the categories of value, we would like to see all goods line up and coincide, with the beautiful, the right, and pleasure all together without dilemma, conflict, or contradiction. Life, of course, is characteristically not that simple, and much of our activity consists in trying to keep the positive together without compromise by the negative.

A historic challenge to this endeavor comes from those whose sense is that pleasure itself is wrongful or vicious. This is the moral fallacy of anhedonia, which is examined in detail elsewhere. Anhedonia is often the motivation for anaesthesia, which denies independent value to beauty, along with condemning its enjoyment. As I understand the ontology of pleasure here, anhedonia functions essentially as the condemnation and denial of the value of our own existence. It is not surprising then to discover anhedonia in religions that deny the value of the world and look to a proper mode of human existence only in an afterlife. The variations in this are instructive. Thus, while anhedonic moral condemnations of pleasure may be found in both Christianity and Islam, this does not prevent Islamic representations of the afterlife from picturing it in sensuous and even carnal terms, where marriages will continue and there will even be the supernatural equivalent of concubines, the "houris," , h.ûrîyât (singular , h.ûrîyah). Christianity, on the other hand, has a Biblical denial that there will be marriage in heaven and tends to interpret this to mean that carnal pleasures will not exist, replaced by a Beatific Vision more like the mystical transport of earthy Saints -- although Bernini's rendering of "The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa" (of Avila) makes this state look positively orgasmic -- something to keep in mind when encountering those who condemn the Islamic Paradise for its apparent sensuality (!). On the other hand, Buddhism, which in origin was no less denying of the value of earthly existence, rarely displays moral condemnation or hostility towards the pleasures of ordinary life. One might get the sense that Buddhism, which features belief in reincarnation, expects that people will simply tire of the endless repetitions of Samsara, where the pleasures of life, however attractive and even morally innocent, unavoidably are coupled with pain, evils, and suffering.

In all this pleasure is owed a certain pride of place in any theory of value. The judgment of Epicurus in one sense may be well taken. However, there is considerably more to it than the simple principles of the Hedonists, Epicureans, or Utilitarians. Pleasure is indeed the Good in a certain metaphysical sense, but it is not the Good with a cognitive identity that is a reliable guide in moral or even aesthetic judgment. The Polynomic Theory of Value allows us to make sense of this, as all forms of value, including pleasure, can vary independently of each other. If we remember that there are bad pleasures, , we will have a care that we exercise our moral, euergetive, and prudential judgment about our pleasures. We don't want our "guilty" pleasures to constitute genuine moral or legal guilt, or to degrade our health. Otherwise, we should remember Aristotle:

Men erring on the side of deficiency as regards pleasures [hêdonás], and taking less than a proper amount of enjoyment [khaírontes, "enjoying"] in them, scarcely occur; for such insensibility [, anaisthêsía] is not human [ouk anthrôpiké]. (Nicomachean Ethics, Book III, xi, 7, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard U. Press, 1926-1982, pp.180-183)

Since we know from much of subsequent history, not only that such men do exist, but that their inhumane "insensibility" (anaesthesia) has been built into various religions and political ideologies, we must also be conscious that pleasures are goods and that it is natural, indeed salutary, to enjoy them. We should want our company to be agreeable if we join Epicurus, or Voltaire, in his Garden.

The Origin of Value in a Transcendent Function, "Caused Value"

Continued in: The Fallacies of Moralism and Moral Aestheticism

The Six Modes of Value:

Chinese Virtues

Typology of Chinese Virtues

Ethics

Value Theory

Home Page

Copyright (c) 1996, 1997, 2001, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved

The Polynomic Theory of Value, Note 1

The Friesian theory of "ideal ethics" is not to be confused with "ideal theory" as it may now be found in academic philosophy. Among some other things, "ideal theory" is an artifact of A Theory of Justice by John Rawls, where Rawls chose to consider an "ideal" case where everyone in society would obey the rules of justice that he was formulating. Since it is obvious that not everyone would obey, and do not obey, the rules of justice, whether formulated by John Rawls or not, he realized that a "nonideal" theory would need to adjust things to reality.

Thus, in the first place, such "ideal theory" has nothing to do with ideal ethics in the Friesian sense. Ethical ideals, like all of hortative value, are not moral commands (i.e. imperatives) and so actually do not need to be obeyed by moral agents. Indeed, ideal ethics, because of its aesthetic variety and plurality, contains a range of possible acitivities that cannot be simultaneously obeyed, as a practical matter, by any agent. It encompasses all possible worthy ends of human acitivity and so is more than any individual can do. The "ideal" is therefore not a case of everyone obeying justice, but of the possible goals and ideals of human action.

In the second place, "ideal" is not even the best term for the Friesian conception. Schiller's response to Kant was to posit ideal goals other that the moral "kingdom of ends" that was envisioned by Kant. After all, Kant's ideal was simply moral perfection, which he did not think we could achieve in this lifetime (and so required immortality as a "Postulate of Practical Reason"). Schiller rightly objected that there were other ideals, as of art, that were not commanded by morality.

But Schiller overlooked the more humble forms of non-moral value in ethics. Good shoes or a good dinner, which in their own ways may be forms of art, nevertheless may not seem to rise quite to the level of "ideals," although anyone is free to imagine their ideal restaurant serving their ideal meal. But this beyond the stuff of daily life; and the merely good, but not "ideal," shoes or dinners already falsify the exclusiveness of moral value in Kantian ethics. The narrowness, in its own way, of Schiller's theory is reflected, I think, in the term optative used for the ideals. An "optative" is a wish. But a "wish" implies that, in a sense, we are spectators to things beyond our control, just hoping for a positive outcome, while in ethics we are agents who can actually effect the outcome by our actions. I have thus thought that "hortative" was the more appropriate term, as expressing an exhortation to action. This is neither a command nor merely a wish.

With Rawls, I would wonder at the point of his "ideal" conception. The characteristic of value in general is that it need not obtain in reality. And the corresponding characteristic of moral and ethical value is that free agents will chose whether to observe it or not. It is therefore not just counterfactual and unrealistic to imagine a society where everyone obeys justice, but it is absurd. There is no point in an "ideal theory" which contradicts the realities of freedom and of human nature. And this is especially egregious with a "social contract" theory like that of Rawls, which, from the day of the publication of his book, was criticized as providing no explanation of why anyone would be obliged to obey the rules of justice formulated by him in the first place. I do not think it is a good sign that academic philosophers should still be preoccupied with Rawls, but it must mean that there is a lack of more sensible theories for everyone to talk about.

This touches a sore point in contemporary politics and law. The politicians and judges who take oaths to "preserve, protect, and defend" the Constitution of the United States, nevertheless expect citizens to obey their tendentious and sophistical intepretations of the Constitution, which coincidentally give them far more power than the mere citizens might think from reading the document. And if the citizen refuses to obey, or objects to the interpretations, he might be asked, as I was once asked by a judge, "Have you been to law school?" In other words, shut up and obey your betters. They know more than you; and your freedom and your fortune, such as is left of them, are properly disposed of by their hands. The paradox of "social contract" theories is that they do not consider the rent-seeking and despotic proclivities of those ostenstively charged with enforcing them.

At the same time, here may be a use for Rawls' "ideal theory" as a reductio ad absurdum thought experiment. If the hypothesis is that everyone obeys Rawls' rules of justice, or those of any other theory, what is this going to look like and what is it going to mean? If it obviously generates absurdities, then it is a kind of Kantian universalization test that falsifies the theory. But the absurdities may be less obvious. After all, the idea of a communist "new man" was popular in the 20th century, and some reporters visiting China with President Nixon thought that maybe it had actually happened there -- the development of people whose every action was disinterested and who only worked for the good of others and of all. Indeed, the ambition of totalitarian projects is always to change human nature, not believing that such a thing even exists in a fixed form.

Rawls had no such ambition, and so perhaps he has less excuse for a theory detached from the realities of moral and economic motivation. For, as it happens, both communism and Rawls' "original position" suffer from one of the same drawbacks, that goods are detached from those who produce them. Under both communism and Rawlsian "justice," the fruit of one's own labor can be snatched away by the state, simply on the principle that someone else needs it more. While there may be many willing, out of the goodness of their hearts, to help the needy, it also starts becoming obvious that the minions of the state, who are neither productive nor indigent, always do very well off the transaction also, much more so than the needy ever do. Then they start lecturing the productive about their selfishness. It is soon obvious that their actions are more self-serving that those of almost anyone in productive business.

The "ideal" of either the workers' paradise or the welfare state thus crumbles into a sordid racket of looting the public in order the enrich the well connected -- people who also have the arrogance to exhibit considerable self-righteousness about their status and motives. They can't just rob us and leave us alone. They have to tell us how much good they are doing. And some people, hat in hand, tugging their forelock, believe them and vote for them.

Return to text

The Polynomic Theory of Value, Note 2

Noteworthy in Murray's treatment of these matters is a bit of misinformation. Thus, Murray says:

The development of a certain kind of mature judgment is hard to rush. The Greeks called it phronesis, usually translated as practical wisdom (the concept will reappear in tip #27). An essential part of phronesis is not just the acquisition of chunks of knowledge, but life experience. [The Curmudgeon's Guide to Getting Ahead, Dos and Don'ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life, Crown Business, 2014, pp.89-90, "tip" #21]

Actually, by the "Greeks" Murray means Aristotle, as he otherwise acknowledges. And while phronesis can be and is often translated "practical wisdom," the more natural translation is from the Latinate equivalent, "prudence" (prudentia), which we will see shortly.

In tip #27 we get some of the misinformation. First is this:

The four cardinal virtues were originated by the Greeks. They subsequently got their label from the Latin cardo, meaning "hinge," beause they are pivotal: All the other virtues, and the living of a virtuous life, depend on them. If you took an introductory philosophy course in college, they were probably translated from the Greek as courage, justice, temperance, and prudence. [p.115]

First of all, the cardinal virtues were not originated by "the Greeks," but by Plato, in the Republic. Murray evades this perhaps because of his Aristotelian bias. But it is a small thing in comparison to what comes next, for the virtues were not "probably" translated "courage, justice, temperance, and prudence," but "courage, justice, temperance, and wisdom." The Greek word in the end there is (sophía), not, as we might expect from Murray's earlier account, (phrónêsis), "practical wisdom." This misrepresenation here is due to the Aristotelian bias of Murray'a account, which is unpacked as he explains "prudence":

That leaves prudence, the cardinal virtue that requires the most work and time for you to acquire. it is also the virtue with the most unappealing label of all, with its connotation of timidity. The idea of other people saying of me, "Charles is very prudent," is mortifying. But this is a function of evolving langauge. Prudence has acquired negative connotations that it did not formerly possess. Let's go back to the original Greek word for this cardinal virtue, phronesis, which I introduced in tip #21. [p.116]

This now makes explicit the error implicit in the earlier quote. Phrónêsis is not the cardinal virtue, sophía is. And we see why Murray perpetrates this confusion in the following paragraph:

Aristotle talks about wo kinds of wisdom. One is the ability to apprehend reality and make the pieces fit together -- roughly, the kind of wisdom that underlies science. Phronesis is the word Aristotle used for the other kind of wisdom, better translated in the twenty-first century as practical wisdom. Phronesis is harder to come by than scientific knowledge. Studying reality is not enough. [ibid.]

Murray evades the fact that the first "kind of wisdom" is what Aristotle actually calls sophía, whose most natural and traditional translations are sapientia in Latin and "wisdom" in English. Since Murray himself then calls phrónêsis "practical wisdom," we might ask him what "wisdom" would mean without the "practical" part. We don't get an answer to that in his book. The reason for that is the reason that Murray avoids mentioning Plato. For Socrates and Plato sophía itself is practical, but in a way explicitly rejected by Aristotle -- who thinks that phrónêsis comes from custom, habit, and experience, not from answering the kinds of questions about the right and the good that were asked by Socrates. Aristotle did not think that the answers Socrates was looking for even existed.

As it happens, we can find in Plato a sort of pre-critique of Aristotle's view that ethics is a matter of habits (etc.). I have considered this elsewhere, but the matter merits revisiting. This is in the "Myth of Er" in the Republic, where we find one of the dead, emerging from his reward in heaven for a good life, is required to choose the nature of the next life he will live. He choses badly (like the villain in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, q.v.), foolishly attracted to the life of a tyrant, who unfortunately is fated "to eat his children and suffer other horrors" [Republic, 619b-c]. The judgment of this person fails because, Plato says, he had "some share of virtue which came by habit without philosophy." Plato had elsewhere, in the Meno, considered the case of persons who were good out of habit, i.e. opinion [, dóxa], and not out of knowledge or wisdom. Without knowledge, they will be unable to judge the right and the good in circumstances incommensurate with their previous experience and habits. Thus, Socrates explains to Euthyphro that he wants a definition of piety so that "using it as a model [parádeigma]..." he can correctly judge "any actions of yours or another's that is of that kind..." [Euthyphro, 6e]. Without the "model," we may not know what we are looking at, regardless of our previous experience.

Aristotle and Charles Murray are blind to these considerations. The reason for such bias may come from a branch of libertarian thinking, inspired at least partially by Ayn Rand, that Aristotle is the appropriate philosopher upon whom to found libertarian ideology -- although there is actually precious little of Aristotle that Rand actually uses. This was always a bad idea, but it is also understandable given the association of Classical Liberal philosophy with British Empiricism (which can be favorably compared to Aristotle's epistemology), beginning with Locke, the preference of Plato for a dictatorial government by an elite of self-perpetuating expert "philosophers," which will offend and alarm libertarians, and then by a relative neglect, or distaste (because of Rand again), for a more correct treatment of the epistemology and metaphysics of ethics (i.e. meta-ethics) in Kant. There is a lot of work to be done there, and so it is not that surprising that Murray looks a bit lazy in his customary invocation of Aristotle. Less forgivable is the misinformation.

Prudence, Goodness, and Wisdom

Return to text

The Polynomic Theory of Value, Note 3;
The Virtues of Franklin and Wooden

1TemperanceEat not to Dullness; Drink not to Elevation
2SilenceSpeak not but what may benefit others or yourself;
Avoid trifling Conversation
3OrderLet all your Things have their Places;
Let each Part of your Business have its Time.
4ResolutionResolve to perform what you ought;
Perform without fail what you resolve.
5FrugalityMake no Expense but to do good
to others or yourself: i.e. Waste nothing.
6IndustryLose no Time. Be always employ'd in something useful.
Cut off all unncessary Actions.
7SincerityUse no hurtful Deceit. Think innocently and justly;
and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
8JusticeWrong none, by doing Injuries or omitting
the Benefits that are your Duty.
9ModerationAvoid Extremes. Forbear resenting Injuries
so much as you think they deserve.
10CleanlinessTolerate no Uncleanness in Body, Clothes or Habitation
11TranquilityBe not disturbed by Trifles,
or at Accidents common or unavoidable.
12ChastityRarely use Venery but for Health or Offspring;
Never to Dullness, Weakness, or the Injury of your
own or another's Peace or Reputation.
13HumilityImitate Jesus and Socrates.
The
Boy Scout Law and the Seven Cardinal Virtues, given elsewhere, are examples of virtues that are both moral virtues and virtues of prudence. A list that is largely virtues of prudence is one made up by Benjamin Franklin, given at left, with Franklin's descriptions of what the virtues are about. The two Cardinal virtues that figure here are given in color. "Temperance" already has much of its purely modern meaning, about drinking, and so "Moderation" is highlighted as more like the traditional meaning.

Franklin's intention was to concentrate on each virtue a week at a time to try and perfect himself. Originally there were twelve in the table, but Franklin added "humility" when friends pointed out that it had been omitted, and that there was nothing specifically Christian about his list. The virtue with the longest description, Chastity, may be the one with which Franklin had the most trouble -- he had an illegitimate child just before his marriage. Later, Franklin lived many years in England without his wife but not without, it seems, female companionship (the Benjamin Franklin House in London has been restored, at 36 Craven Street, quite close to Charing Cross Station). Franklin later became famous (or infamous) for his flirtations while he was the American representative in France during the Revolutionary War (which scandalized John Adams, to a degree that Franklin found bizarre). But Franklin's later interest in women now mostly seems harmless, merely gallant, and teasing, since he was too old and ill, and his lovers too diffident, for matters to go very far. Although there is sometimes talk along such lines, there is no credible evidence, or even serious claims, that Franklin ever had any other illegitimate children.

John Wooden's Pyramid of Success

John Wooden (1910-2010) was the basketball coach at UCLA from 1948 to 1975. While Wooden quickly made UCLA basketball a successful program, beginning in 1964 the teams began to enjoy stratospheric success, winning 10 NCAA national championships until Wooden's retirement in 1975, including four seasons without a loss and a winning streak of 88 straight games. He never asked for a raise and so never made more than $35,000 a year for his actual coaching job -- when in short order the coach of UCLA football would be the highest paid employee of the State of California, beating out the President of the University of California and the Governor of the State. Although Wooden's teams were distinguished by extraordinary players, like Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar -- although Wooden continued to call him "Lewis"), 1966-1969, and Bill Walton, 1971-1974, Wooden won championships with teams that did not have either star on them -- and failed to win one in Walton's last season.

Like Benjamin Franklin, Wooden compiled a list of virtues and moral precepts. Unlike Franklin, he did this as a teacher for use in a pedagogic context. Also, instead of just a list, Wooden organized his ideas systematically in a visual format. This was Wooden's "Pyramid of Success," which was often mentioned in the course of his coaching career, but I never saw any formal presentation of it. The testimony of his former players is that they often didn't appreciate it until later in life. I have not heard how Wooden introduced it in the course of his coaching activities. The "success" of this system, however, rested on an idiosyncratic definition:  "Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming." This is not what most athletic coaches, or sports fans, would think of as "success" in sports; and, indeed, Wooden rarely or never talked to his teams about actually winning their games. This is "success" almost precisely as the form of karmayoga described by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gîta, . Wooden may as well have told his players, as Krishna tells Arjuna, "In death thy glory in heaven, in victory thy glory on earth" [2:37, Juan Mascaró translation, Penguin Books, 1962]. Indeed, this appears to reflect Wooden's own Christian piety, certainly much more serious than Franklin's, although there was just never any public expression of it in his coaching career (no "Tebowing"), and there is only one small reference to "faith" in the Pyramid. We find a mix here of a few moral virtues (e.g. honesty), many prudential ones (e.g. industriousness), and the sort of athletic attributes (e.g. condition, skill, team spirit) that we would expect.

Faith
(through prayer)
Patience
(good things take time)
Fight
(determined effort)
Competitive Greatness
Be at your best when your best is needed. Enjoyment of a difficult challenge.
Integrity
(purity of intention)
Resourceful- ness
(proper judgment)
Poise
Just being yourself. Being at ease in any situation. Never fighting yourself.
Confidence
Respect without fear. May come from being prepared and keeping all things in proper perspective.
Reliability
(creates respect)
Adaptability
(to any situation)
Condition
Mental-Moral- Physical. Rest, exercise and diet must be considered. Moderation must be practiced. Dissipation must be eliminated.
Skill
A knowledge of and the ability to properly and quickly execute the fundamentals. Be prepared and cover every little detail.
Team Spirit
A genuine consideration for others. An eagerness to sacrifice personal interests of glory for the welfare of all.
Honesty
(in thought and action)
Ambition
(for noble goals)
Self-Control
Practice self-discipline and keep emotions under control. Good judgment and common sense are essential.
Alterness
Be observing constantly. Stay open-minded. Be eager to learn and improve.
Initiative
Cultivate the ability to make decisions an think alone. Do not be afraid of failure, but learn from it.
Intentness
Set a realistic goal. Concentrate on its achievement by resisting all temptations and being determined and persistent.
Sincerity
(keeps friends)
Industrious- ness
There is no substitution for work. Worthwhile results come from hard work and careful planning
Friendship
Comes from mutual esteem, respect and devotion. Like marriage it must not be taken for granted but requires a join effort.
Loyalty
To yourself and to all those depending upon you. Keep your self-respect.
Cooperation
With all levels of your co-workers. Listen if you want to be heard. Be interested in finding the best way, not in having your own way
Enthusiasm
Brushes off upon those with whom you come in contact. You must truly enjoy what you are doing

Return to text

Ethics

The Polynomic Theory of Value, Note 4;
The Motive for the Right and the Good

Many people still believe that they ought to do something simply because it is right, or refrain from doing it simply because it is wrong, not because they are terrified by the spectre of the police, judges, prison or execution. My naive question is:  could mankind survive without such people? And my answer is no.

Leszek Koakowski (1927-2009), "Crime and Punishment," Is God Happy? Selected Essays [Basic Books, 2013, p.239]

The Chinese virtues shown in this diagram match up nicely not only with the categories of virtues shown (including virtues of moral intention) but with a typology that can be constructed around Chinese and Kantian ethics.

Here I might address the issue treated by Plato in the Republic:  Why be just? In other words, what reason have we got to be good and do the right? Or, in the morality of intentions, why should we mean well, be of good faith and good will, and try to do the right thing? What purpose does it serve?

Plato's own answer is actually one of Prudence:  To be happy. The just man is the happy man, or "virtue is its own reward," as the Stoics would subsequently assert. Perhaps feeling that not everyone would believe this, Plato added, to gain reward and avoid punishment in the afterlife. This becomes a popular reason to motivate morality, as we find Jesus saying, "But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou has shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly" [Matthew 6:6]. A reward in life or in Heaven is the promise of Christianity and other religions, as we also see through the doctrine of karma.

The answer we find in Kant and in Confucius is rather different, that We do what is right for its own sake, just because it is right. Kant's calls this the "categorical imperative," a command without ulterior motive or self-interested purpose. Confucius expressed it nicely as, "The superior man thinks of what is right; the mean man thinks of profit," , . We also see something similar expressed in the Bhagavad Gita, where Krishna says, "Set thy heart upon thy work, but never on its reward. Work not for a reward; but never cease to do thy work" [2:47]. The idea that goodness earns a Reward in Heaven Krishna dismisses with, "...their heaven is a selfish desire...the reward of which is earthly rebirth" [2:43].

A third motive for right action might be Embarrassment. Propriety is about appearances. You avoid wrongful action because you might not want people to think ill of your family, your parents, or perhaps your origins. There is a saying in Japanese, that when you are away from home, the neighbors do not know what you are doing. This is often said to express the standards of a culture of shame rather than of guilt. What you may have done is of no concern, as long as people think well of you. You have your honor to uphold, which means that an insult may be more objectionable than substantive harm to person or property. Insult, by you or to you, is avoided through good manners. It is noteworthy that in American gang culture, which has seeped into general popular culture, being "dissed," or disrespected, is an offense to one's honor that is liable to lead to violence, as much as for any Spanish Hidalgo or other European aristocrat.

A fourth motive for right action is Sympathy. This is eloquently stated by Schopenhauer, who says, "All love (agápê, caritas) is compassion or sympathy" [The World as Will and Representation, Volume I, §66, Dover Publications, 1966, E.F.J. Payne translation, p.374]:

...such a man, recognizing in all beings his own true and innermost self, must also regard the endless sufferings of all that lives as his own, and thus take upon himself the pain of the whole world. No suffering is any longer strange or foreign to him. [ibid., §68, p.379]

This is not unfamiliar from Confucius, who says that is to "Love others," [Analects 12:22], or Jesus, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" [Matthew 19:19]. Now, one cannot choose how to feel, so love as a feeling cannot be morally commanded. While love may motivate moral action, it is not a duty and is not choice, so, as Kant says, "this by itself cannot be reckoned as a particular merit of the person." It is just the way they are. If, however, one does feel sympathy for others, then the motive for moral action is obvious:  to avoid inflicting pain.

The basic answer to Plato's question is that one does what is right just because it is right. The other motives, prudence, propriety, and sympathy, are indeed goods, but they are not duties and are not morally laudable. Since they are not duties, someone may not think that there are good reasons why they should even care about them. Prudence is an appeal to self-interest, and that may actually strike many as a motivation contrary to morality, which limits self-interest. Propriety means worrying about what other people think, but the judgments and perhaps the bigotries of others are no sure guide to value. As Richard Feynman's wife told him, "What do you care what other people think?" Finally, sympathy, while it seems the humane accompaniment to moral action, which might seem rather cold otherwise, is not necessary to it and may actually lead one astray with an indulgent attitude towards the moral weaknesses of others. The naively sympathetic person can be manipulated by others who have learned to avoid responsibility by appearing helpless. The proper response to that may appear distinctly unsympathetic, i.e. "tough love." One would certainly be accused of being uncaring.

However, all of these motivations are valuable to an extent and in their own right. They can all function as a system of checks and balances when, as Kant himself at one point admitted, someone acting on principle has chosen the wrong principle and only causes harm (damnum). Thus, the Communist Party agent who sets out to seize food from Ukrainians, on the principle that they are "Kulaks" and are hoarding food, may realize that they are thereby leaving them to starve to death. Properly governed by the Party Line, the agent may not care, or may think that they deserve it; but the humanity () of the agent, with some feeling for the victims, may nevertheless be given pause. That so few of them questioned their actions was no tribute to Marxist and Soviet ideology, or to human nature in general.

Crime and Punishment, Repentance, Restitution, and Atonement

Return to text

The Polynomic Theory of Value, Note 5

Something that is noteworthy about the series of books of which Silence of the Lambs was a part, which began with Red Dragon (1981), is the triumph of a moral aestheticism in the third book, Hannibal (1999). Hannibal goes from being the anti-hero of the first two books, contrasted with the goodness of the agents who had to deal with him, to being the out and out hero of the third, to the extent of converting agent Clarice Starling to his way of life. Because of this development, Foster and the director of Silence of the Lambs, Jonathan Demme, passed on participation in the production of the movie Hannibal (2001), which was then directed by Ridley Scott.

They need not have worried. The makers of Hannibal themselves recoiled from the direction of the story and released an ending in which Hannibal simply gets away again -- selflessly sacrificing his hand for Clarice! This was absurd. Harris had obviously lost it and been won over by the daemonic attraction of his fictional villain; but if this is what has happened, it is ridiculous to try and patch it up in Hollywood -- though such cosmetics are not without precedent.

Will Tommy Lee Jones, the U.S. Marshall from The Fugitive (1993), now pursue the "one-handed" rather than the "one-armed" man?

The Italian episode within Hannibal is nicely done and contains interesting references to the Pazzi family in the history of Florence.

Return to text

The Polynomic Theory of Value, Note 6

I cannot account for the phenomenon of being all but transfixed by a newly encountered piece of music. In 2012 this happened to me twice. The first example came from listening to different excerpts of the Terpsichore collection by Michael Praetorius (1571-1621). There are 300 some dances in Terpsichore, named after the Muse of Dance. Performances and CD's thus rely on a few favorites and other random selections. Owning a number of Terpsichore CD's, I had never gotten around to listening to all of them even after many years. One disk I had neglected was the Arabesque Recordings collection conducted by Sally Logemann [Z6531, 1985]. Finally playing the whole thing through, and liking all the music just fine, there was one in particular that absolutely gripped me and stood out, as Schopenhauer says, "preserved like a meteorite, sprung from an order of things different from that which prevails here" [The World as Will and Representation, Volume I, 59, Dover Publications, 1966, E.F.J. Payne translation, p.324]. This was the 10th cut on the CD, listed by Logemann in the "Suite No.2 in G Major," and called the Bransle de montirande [the modern spelling of bransle, "shaking, dance, brawl," is branle, which is actually pronounced /brãl/]. I don't know what it is about this piece. In dignity, majesty, and seriousness it seems altogether different from any other selections I have heard from Terpsichore. It is truly sublime, limited only by its brevity and its restricted range of variation, which perhaps are characteristic of the era and style. But it is the sort of thing that I am almost compelled to play over and over again, until I am exhausted with it, like the first weeks with a new lover.

A similar experience occurred in a recent movie, the quite necessary remake of Total Recall [2012]. Unlike the original movie [1990], a piece of piano music is the key to our hero (Colin Farrell) discovering his original identity. Very little of the piece is heard in the movie. I did not recognize it, but it was sufficiently attractive that I watched the credits carefully to learn its identity. It was the third movement, Allegretto, from Beethoven's Sonata No. 17 in F Minor (Op.31 No.2), "La Tempesta," named after the fact for Shakespeare's The Tempest. This music alone was worth the price of admission to the movie. Now, I am familiar enough with Beethoven's symphonies, which I have actually played in their entirety while driving across the country, but I have never made a systematic study of the rest of his music. I was not familiar at all with Sonata No. 17. In fact, I still have not listened carefully to the first two movements. It is the third that I found gripping and sublime and that had this transfixing effect. It is still hard to say what it is about it; but it is truly extraordinary, which makes me wonder why for decades I had not heard it someplace already. I think it is one of the truly great moments in the Beethoven opera. If it then pops up in a movie that is largely a mediocre remake, perhaps the world is not too decadent after all.

In 2011 there was also a movie, The Tree of Life, that featured a particularly striking piece of music. The movie was director Terrence Malick's (b.1943) meditation on the death of his brother and their childhood together in Texas, although it is a little difficult to tell what the background was from the internal evidence of the movie alone. There was a great deal of classical music in the movie, which apparently was substituted for most of the score that was actually written for the film. One of the most conspicuous items was of classical form but of recent provenance. This was used early in the movie for a section of striking images, called "Creation" on the DVD, which featured photos of galaxies, nebulae, and other forms suggestive of the universe, or of the early universe. The music for this was from Polish composer Zbigniew Preisner's (b.1955) Requiem for My Friend (1998), Requiem Dla Mojego Przyjaciela.
Lacrimosa dies illa,
Qua resurget ex favilla
Judicandus homo reus.

Huic ergo parce, Deus:
Pie Jesu Domine,
Dona eis requiem.

Tearful that day,
As from the ashes returns
Accused man to be judged.

Therefore God spare him:
Merciful Jesus Lord,
Give them rest.

Since this is a Catholic requiem mass, the words are familiar from that ritual. "Creation" uses the Lacrimosa, "Most Tearful," part of the mass.

Apart from the considerable beauty of the music, which had an effect on me such as I have been describing, there is the considerable irony of its use in this context. As we see the images of the beauty of the universe, with the suggestion of the beauty of God's Creation, we are nevertheless hearing words that describe the trauma, grief, and danger of the Judgment Day, when there will be a reckoning for our sins, which of course occurs, not at the time of Creation, but at the end of the universe. This contrast will likely be lost on the casual moviegoer, who probably will not recognize the meaning of the words in Latin. Indeed, at first viewing, I don't think I even realized that the often repeated refrain was lacrimosa, familiar as the word "lacrimose" in English. Once we do realize that the words form a counterpoint to the images, it is hard not to understand that Malick's assertion is that suffering is inherent in the world right from the beginning. This is not quite orthodox Catholic doctrine, which would only be that this is the case after the Fall, but it is close. As such it puts the whole movie in perspective. Why is there death and loss, as of Malick's brother? It is unavoidable. While this creates a theological problem for Christianity, whose God is responsible for this circumstance, especially if we back-date it to the Creation, the sentiment will be no different from that of Buddhism, where the proximate blame is on us, for our own ignorance and desire, but where the ultimate responsibility for the natue of things is unknown. The suffering of the world is simply a given.

Thus, experiencing great beauty by sight and music, we are driven to reflect on the imperfection and impermanence of life. This is a rare thing for Hollywood, and ideologically opposed to most of the moral and political messages that are to be found, often in the crudest forms, in its work -- although not too suprising in an idiosyncratic director like Terrence Malick, who has always been an outsider to the Hollywood system and its culture (although one of the actors in The Tree of Life, Sean Penn, is one of the worst offenders when it comes to grotesque political commitments). The seriousness of the Lacrimosa and its use thus contrasts with the incidental use of Beethoven in Total Recall, or of the secular and courtly provenance of Praetorius's Bransle de montirande.

Note on Tears

Return to text