“Morality Everywhere” and the Humanities on Strike

by Daniel A. Kaufman

My dialogue with Robert Gresis on the “morality everywhere” problem, and my discussion with Nathan Eckstrand on his essay suggesting humanities professors should go on strike.


60 thoughts on ““Morality Everywhere” and the Humanities on Strike

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  1. I already saw the one with Professor Gressis. It’s excellent as was your previous conversation with him. I hope that you can continue conversing with him on Sophia TV. Thanks.

  2. Christian Smith – Moral Believing Animals

    Human culture, I have suggested, is always moral order, and human cultures are everywhere moral orders. Human persons, I have claimed, are nearly inescapably moral agents, human actions necessarily morally constituted and propelled practices, and human institutions inevitably morally infused configurations of rules and resources.
    Building on this model, in the foregoing pages I have suggested that one of the central and fundamental motivations for human action is to act out and sustain moral order, which constitutes, directs, and makes significant human life itself. This book has argued that human persons nearly universally live in social worlds that are thickly webbed with moral assumptions, beliefs, commitments, and obligations. The relational ties that hold human lives together, the conversations that occupy people’s mental lives, the routines and intentions that shape their actions, the institutions within which they live and work, the emotions they feel every day—I have suggested that all of these and more are drenched in, patterned by, glued together with moral premises, convictions, and obligations. There is thus nowhere a human can go to escape moral order, no way to be human except through moral order.

  3. Sorry, but weakness of will is a credible explanation for Gressis to fail to do all he thinks he should and the dieting analogy is valid. Robert Gressis’ arguments are weak but you have failed to put your finger on their weakness.

    1. I disagree. Giving in to the desire for the immediate bodily pleasure of food is nothing like choosing to engage in mentally taxing intellectual discussion. The latter necessarily involves a more reflective valuing of the activity at hand. The food analogy would be more apt if it were someone who regularly spent hours at a time preparing Michelin quality, but quite unhealthy food for himself despite claiming to value health overridingly.

      1. I think Gressis used the dieting example to compare someone who thinks something like “I should probably not eat this candy bar” and then eats it anyway, with someone else who thinks “I should probably be doing something else than the job I’m doing now” and then continues doing the same job — in that sense I understand the comparison.

        1. Yeah, that was the point. When you find yourself on a particular path, inertia sets in. It can be hard to dislodge yourself — you have set up so much of your life around where you are now; overturning everything, besides being difficult, is also scary. What if everything goes wrong? So, there’s not only weakness of will, there are also things like fear, not to mention that, since we’re social creatures, we find it easier or harder to make certain decisions depending on our social context.

  4. Incidentally, and I realize people dislike my discussion of my own psychology, one thing that posting and doing diavlogs for the Electric Agora has done is make me thicker-skinned. I’m very pleased by that.

    1. “Incidentally, and I realize people dislike my discussion of my own psychology”

      I’m with s. wallerstein, I don’t dislike your discussing your own psychology at all. I should probably be more open about mine.

      Like I usually feel at least a bit uncomfortable when people, myself included, bring up *another’s* psychology.

  5. Robert,

    one thing that posting and doing diavlogs for the Electric Agora has done is make me thicker-skinned. I’m very pleased by that.

    Seneca and Epictetus would be proud of you.
    Seneca said

    It is the part of a great mind to despise wrongs done to it; the most contemptuous form of revenge is not to deem one’s adversary worth taking vengeance upon. Many have taken small injuries much more seriously to heart than they need, by revenging them: that man is great and noble who like a large wild animal hears unmoved the tiny curs that bark at him

    Epictetus famously said

    Stand by a stone and slander it. What effect will you produce? If a man then listens like a stone, what advantage has the slanderer? … I have done you an outrage. May it turn out to your good.

    When someone repeats these words to me I am tempted to pick up the stone at throw it back at him. Then he will discover the effect that it produces. And I speak from painful experience, having been nearly stoned to death. Stoning is a most efficacious way of putting someone to death!

    We are deeply and irremediably social animals whose place and meaning in life is determined by reputation. When someone insults us they threaten our reputation and more than anything else, we defend our reputation. But there is a wrong and a right way to defend reputation, emotional and rational. The emotional defence is satisfying but harmful since it further damages our reputation. The rational defence requires us to sacrifice emotional satisfaction for the uncertain knowledge that a rational defence reaches further, touches the silent majority, is more persuasive to the uninvolved and further builds our reputation.

    I watched your reaction closely when Dan accused you of being disingenuous when you replied to the question about the soup kitchen. This is really quite a painful insult and I thought it was undeserved, even though I disagreed with your main argument. I could see you were taken aback and paused briefly to consider how you should react. To your great credit you handled this calmly and gracefully. Seneca and Epictetus would approve.

    And yet, when you are in positions of power, as Seneca, Cicero and Marcus Aurelius were, it is easy to give this advice since you protected by virtue of your power. The rest of us have to work harder at the rational defence since we lack the shield of power and the emotional defence is no defence.

    1. Thanks for the compliment, but here’s a confession: when Dan asked me why I was sitting at my chair, I felt a strong inclination to close the computer and end our diavlog. Not because I was mad at Dan (or rather: not *just* because I was mad at Dan), but rather because in the moment, I thought he was right. But I didn’t do that, not because I was worried about my reputation (at least: that wasn’t my conscious thinking), but rather because I thought it would have been extremely rude of me to do that!

      I probably wouldn’t have gone to a soup kitchen anyway.

      1. I don’t dislike your discussing your own psychology at all. It aids a note of authenticity to your arguments.

    2. It was a provocation, to push Robert on the analogy with difficulty losing weight. It should be more than apparent that I like him very much and take him quite seriously, intellectually speaking.

      1. Ah yes, it should have been apparent to me from the genial way you addressed the question to Robert.

  6. The willpower question is an interesting one. A common definition of will power is effortful self-regulation. In other words there is some state in our lives that we desire, but achieving that state requires self-regulation and this self-regulation requires cognitive effort.

    Looking a little deeper, we are concerned with moving from one state to another. Moving from the first state to the second state has a cost that we are reluctant to pay.

    The first state may require less cognitive, physical or emotional effort. And this state may be more immediately rewarding or desirable for emotional or hedonistic reasons. The combination of less effort and greater immediate desirability makes the first state the default one we fall into naturally.

    Then we become aware that there is a second state that is objectively more desirable or even necessary for a variety of reasons. But getting to this second state requires determination and effort. Moreover, maintaining this second state requires effort and persistence. This effortful determination and persistence required to move from one state to another and maintain it we call the exercise of willpower.

    Turning now to Robert and the soup kitchen. I can imagine the first, default state as follows. He likes relaxing at home, reading, watching Netflix and some sport. When he is not doing that he is socialising with family and friends. And when he is not doing that he is walking with his dogs. This is the default, first state and it is a pleasant state.

    However he understands that there is great suffering among the homeless and destitute. He believes that soup kitchens are one way of alleviating this problem and, being an ethical, compassionate and empathetic person, thinks he should help at one because there is always a shortage of volunteers.

    However leaving the first state with its attractions is an act of sacrifice and induces feelings of loss. This is the first step in an act of willpower, to embrace the sacrifice and overcome the feelings of loss so that one can move into the second state. The second state brings its own set of problems. It may be a long drive to get there. Once there, the conditions are wet, cold and uncomfortable. The organisers may be brusque and unfriendly. The work is hard and tedious and your arm soon becomes tired. The recipients themselves are less than grateful, they can be demanding and downright unreasonable. You begin to feel you are dealing with the unattractive dregs of humanity and wonder why you are helping them.

    These obstacles impose a high cognitive cost, both to move from the default state to the new state and also to persist in the new state. Doing this requires willpower. And so when Robert explains that his failure to help in soup kitchens is explained by not possessing sufficient willpower, I can believe him.

  7. In Moral Cognition and Moral Action, a theoretical perspective[1], Augusto Blasi proposes the Self Model which describes the movement from moral cognition to moral action. It consists of seven propositions, listed below. I think that these propositions are useful for understanding the debate between Dan and Robert. See especially P3 to P6. They are relevant to the question of why we fail to perform what we ought to do. The article covers more ground than I can deal with in a comment so I have appended a link to the article. It is well worth reading.

    Proposition 1:
    Moral actions are responses to situations, as defined by and as interpreted according to moral reasoning structures, i.e., to a set of criteria determining the morally good.

    Proposition 2:
    Moral action directly depends on the moral choice, i.e., on the content of moral judgement. The structures or the criteria of moral reasoning may be indirectly related to the probability that certain specific behaviours will or still not occur.

    Proposition 3:
    Moral judgements, before leading to action, are at times processed through a second set of rules or criteria, the criteria of responsibility. The function of a responsibility judgement is to determine to what extent that which is morally good is also strictly necessary for oneself.

    Proposition 4:
    The general criteria used to arrive at responsibility judgements differ from person to person and are related to one’s self-definition or to the organisation of the self.

    Proposition 5:
    The transition from a judgement of responsibility to action is supported dynamically by the tendency toward self-consistency, a central tendency in personality organisation.

    Proposition 6:
    Consistency between moral judgement will be higher in the degree that the individual has attitudes and strategies to deal with interferences from conflicting needs.

    Proposition 7:
    Following an action inconsistent with one’s judgement of responsibility, guilt is experienced as an emotional response to the inconsistency within the self.

    1. Moral Cognition and Moral Action, Augusto Blasi – https://drive.google.com/open?id=169dNotojr2CRlBAS7enMU7aaOxglvtBw

  8. Dan,
    Early in the video you express your detestation of what you call “morality everywhere”. I am having trouble understanding what you mean by this term. To help me out can you please give me your pithy definition of the term, in one paragraph or less?

  9. On watching again I think I see what Dan means but I think his view is a narrow, biased one, I think he is criticising a strawman caricature of morality. He makes much of Susan Wolfe’s paper, which I think quite simply does not get it, which is why it is ignored by so many. He puts Robert under a lot of pressure, trying to push his point across and Robert struggles manfully to cope with the pressure. These are good debating tactics but not good discussion tactics. I admire the graceful way Robert handled the pressure. I congratulate Robert on his handling of the debate. I live in a third world country, cheek and jowl with terrible suffering and I find it exceptionally disconcerting to see comfortable, wealthy, white academics discussing what we want. Every day I see desperation,suffering, want and need. Every day I live in fear of the violence which is the inevitable outcome of these conditions. It is an absurd disconnect and I think Robert has a better conception than Dan.

    1. Sorry you feel this way, but I disagree entirely. I explained why in my essay, “Morality Everywhere,” and also in my dialogue with Dan Tippens on the subject.



      As for Wolf’s paper, I don’t know where you got that impression. It is very well-known, much read, and quite influential.

      That there are moral catastrophes occurring around the globe is not a reason to morally catastrophize a kid’s tuna sandwich or family BBQ. And it is not a reason to fail to pursue other human goods, which of course, is the reason, ultimately, why solving the real moral catastrophes is so important, as I indicated to Robert in the dialogue. He did not seem to disagree.

      1. not a reason to morally catastrophize a kid’s tuna sandwich or family BBQ
        to fail to pursue other human goods

        Your reply baffles me. I cannot see the relevance. Please explain. And of course other human goods must be pursued. They create the society that sustains us and create the surpluses we can use for the less fortunate.

        It is almost as if you have failed to read my comment, below, where I make the case that it is indeed a case of morality everywhere, permeating our lives, but of a good kind. However this appears not to resemble the kind of morality you are talking about.

        Introducing clarity and precision into arguments is the stock-in-trade of philosophers(I hope!). This is why I asked you earlier “you please give me your pithy definition of the term[morality everywhere], in one paragraph or less?” I repeat that appeal so that we can avoid talking at cross purposes about nebulous terms.

      2. And you have simply ignored my argument for morality everywhere. Why should that be? I suggest it is an important argument that deserves serious consideration.

      3. Peter said Wolf’s paper was ignored. You replied, “I don’t know where you got that impression. It is very well-known, much read, and quite influential.”

        He probably got that impression from you! I don’t have time to go through the video to find the exact quote, but if memory serves, you said that when a philosopher writes a great paper that significantly challenges business as usual, often the response of philosophers is to ignore it because they can’t respond to it.

  10. An alternative model for morality is epitomised by Pope St. Francis. He has called on us to be the ‘artisans of the common good’. He says that the common folks influence society “through their normal, everyday gestures being kind in public places, attentive to the elderly.”[for example] He has called for a revolution in tenderness. This kind of thinking permeates Pope Francis’ teaching and underlies Catholic teaching.

    We are enveloped by society. Our society is made up of a dense web of connections between people and we resonate in sympathy with the connections to the people around us. The quality of our lives and the quality of our society depends on the quality of the connections between people. The quality of the connection is primarily a moral one. It is a reciprocal expectation of love, tenderness, appreciation, affirmation, gratitude, trust, respect, loyalty, responsibility, discharge of duty and promises, etc, etc, etc. These connections are not purely transactional.

    Every time we interact with someone we make a moral connection and we receive a moral connection. It may be as simple as friendly smile, a word of thanks, a gesture of appreciation or an act of courtesy. It may be the prompt discharge of my promise or duty, an act of support for an injured friend, or my sustained loyalty to friendship. In these ways we become, as Pope Francis said, the artisans of the common good. We can be the agents for the revolution in tenderness that Pope Francis calls for. Is this not the kind of society we all desire?

    We are deeply immersed, embedded in a network of moral connection that touches every aspect of our lives. This is the point that Christian Smith makes in his book Moral, Believing Animals, and it is the point that Dan has failed to answer.

    Seen in this way it is the inescapable conclusion that morality is indeed everywhere. But more than that, it is the kind of morality we need and desire. Dan instead talks about the dead, stultifying hand of obligation. This is a mis-characterisation. Morality is much, much more than that. Nor is morality the distant, uninvolved gestures of giving 20% to charity. That is the evasion practised by people with money.

    1. I don’t think Dan would really disagree with this comment. As I see it, this statement, “Every time we interact with someone we make a moral connection and we receive a moral connection” is not what Dan means by “morality everywhere”.

      I think, rather, that the best examples of the morality everywhere problem are things like moralizing every single consumer choice an individual makes. Are their eggs free range? Are their vegetables organic? Am I biking to work, rather than driving to work? Do I recycle properly? Does one reduce and reuse enough? Do I watch or listen to “problematic” artists/performers?

      Rather than focusing on systems that determine our range of choices, we focus on the specific choices themselves. Significant moral improvement would mean changing those systems that define the choices that face us.

      1. Or, as the Bearded One put it, ‘Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please’

  11. Pope St. Francis.

    Oh dear, I see I have prematurely promoted Pope Francis.

  12. Of course what I am talking about in my earlier comment is virtue ethics. Virtue ethics is the foundational element of the ethical practices advocated by the Catholic Church. This statement surprises some who think that it is instead deontolical ethics. They have read neither the Church’s philosophical literature, nor the New Testament. The New Testament is suffused, permeated and infused with virtue ethics terms. Early Church philosophers integrated them into an analytical form by borrowing the Aristotlean scheme.

    But they made a crucial adaptation to incorporate the key emphasis of Jesus Christ’s teachings, the importance of the ‘other’. Aristotlean virtue ethics is primarily concerned with developing the flourishing of the individual agent with the implicit assumption that the flourishing individual results in a flourishing society. Except that it doesn’t.

    Catholic teachings made love the primary virtue. This changes the focus from the self to the other. It promotes, in the first place, the flourishing of society and this in turn enables and provides space for the flourishing of the individual. This is the key difference between the two virtue ethics systems which closely resemble each other in other respects.

    Which brings us to the question of ‘saints’, a term that Dan finds particularly aggravating, but for us in the Church, is a source of great admiration. Pope Francis has called on us to be saints in our daily lives by the quality of our interactions with others and the quality of our own actions. This closely aligns with the Aristotlean concept of pursuing excellence.

    There is a deep practicality in this. We cannot all become aid workers or donate large portions of our income to charities for the simple reason that our economic system would collapse. But some feel deeply called to do charitable work and we will do what we can to support them by doing our own work, and this work in turn generates the surpluses that feed charitable work. And so each of us does the little things that we can. These in turn make possible the big things that change society. This is what Pope Francis means when he call on each of us to be saints. Aristotle would recognise this as a call to excellence. Just as Aristotle calls for us to seek balance through the exercise of phronesis. or wisdom, so too does the Church, which venerates wisdom, though its language differs.

    1. Ugh, sorry. I’m indisposed at the moment. Here’s what happened: (1) we decided to get a new air conditioner; that took two days to install; (2) while that was being installed, the fridge broke, and we have to get a new fridge; (3) while the fridge broke, the garbage disposal and the dish washer lost power, so we had to get an electrician to redo the wiring; (4) while the garbage disposal and the dish washer lost power, the hot water on one side of the house went out, so we have to fix our gas line to the hot water heater; (5) the air conditioning broke after it was installed, so we had to fix that again; (6) I lost the key to our mailbox; (7) my wife got a parking ticket.

      I’m half-Jewish, you know. That half is a schlemiel.

      1. Oh my gosh, that is a veritable tsunami of misfortune. So sorry to hear that. Hope you recover soon.

  13. Dan,
    As for Wolf’s paper, I don’t know where you got that impression. It is very well-known, much read, and quite influential.

    In that case I would be most grateful, indeed delighted, if you would publish an essay, here on EA, analysing her paper and giving your reasons for supporting her position.

    I would be happy to engage you in a careful discussion of the subject. You will in all probability not agree with my view but you will find that I have a carefully thought out point of view.

    So how about it? Let’s discuss it since that thinking seems to be at the core of your moral thinking.

    And while I am about it, I really would like you to give a short, pithy definition of what you mean by “morality everywhere” so that we can avoid the misunderstandings introduced by nebulous terms.

    1. https://theelectricagora.com/2019/02/08/course-notes-susan-wolf-moral-saints/

      As for “morality everywhere,” this passage from my essay on the subject summarizes it as well as I can:

      “An intense, aggressive moral scrutiny directed at the minutiae of everyday life – what one eats and drinks and wears and watches and listens to; what sort of car one drives to work (or even that one drives to work); what sort of job one has; how one spends one’s spending money; what sort of apartment or house or neighborhood one lives in; whether one uses gendered pronouns or words like ‘brother’, ‘sister’, ‘uncle’, and the like in one’s ordinary conversations; even what one thinks to oneself, entirely separate from one’s behavior. (3) The sorts of things that would never have received even a moment’s moral notice just several decades ago are now at the front and center of much of our public moral conversation and increasingly, our philosophical one as well.”

      1. Thanks Dan, that clarifies it nicely and what you have described I oppose as much as you do. This overreaching and overprescriptive behaviour masquerades as morality but is in reality duty ethics gone mad. My complaint becomes that you have used a dangerously misleading title. The problem is not morality everywhere. It has after all always been everywhere, as I have described.

        The problem rather is that a malignant form of duty ethics has taken hold in society. This deserves a different title to draw attention to its diseased nature and avoid conflating it with the well known ethical systems that have until now held sway in society.

        In summary then, I think your broad brush title is dangerously misleading.

        1. As virtue ethics do not straightforwardly entail moral obligation, “morality everywhere” seems good enough to me. The usage is consistent with that which Anscombe sets out in “Modern Moral Philosophy.”

          1. Hmm, there is a whole new debate contained in that statement. I will leave that for another time and just note that I don’t ‘straightforwardly’ agree with you. 🙂

          2. You really should have a dialogue discussing Anscombe’s argument in depth, as it’s something that keeps popping up in discussion at the EA. I have to say that I’m indebted to you for introducing me to that piece, since it was ended up being quite important for my undergraduate dissertation.

        2. “In summary then, I think your broad brush title is dangerously misleading.”

          I wouldn’t say dangerous, well maybe it could be, but I agree it’s easily misleading.

          1. “I don’t think it’s misleading at all”

            I understand and I don’t think your trying to mislead people, but compared to you I think I’m pretty much on the fence when it comes to things like evaluating overall treat levels, pervasiveness or how severely we need to respond to the more radical actors and their extremist positions.

  14. Peter Do Smith – Your last post sounds to me very much like an Iris Murdoch view. Good is the ultimate virtue which envelops all the others, and one which we should attempt to orient our life towards. This orientation, per Murdoch,requires imagination and an attentiveness to the pitfalls of self consolation which can be pervasive. A self image of moral sainthood would certainly be among those pitfalls. We can limit our capacity to move in the direction of the good by erring on either side of the equation. We can avoid doing good though all sorts of self-serving excuses: ‘I am an artist pursuing my aesthetic destiny’, ‘I’m not being mean I am just being honest’, etc…. We can be imprisoned by continually giving in to impulse, or on the other hand by always attempting to keep to a rigid self-imposed code. Self consolation can impede our capacity to be good whether we adhere to a morality everywhere or a morality only when I feel like it approach.

    1. I am a big Iris Murdoch fan. Peter, if you haven’t read “The Sovereignty of Good” or “Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals,” I strongly recommend them. I also recommend her novels. Murdoch was as accomplished a novelist as she was a philosopher.



      = = = =

      Her best novels:

      The Sea, The Sea (Winner of the Booker Prize)

      The Black Prince

      The Bell

      Bryan Magee did a fascinating discussion with Murdoch on philosophy and literature:

      1. It’s staggering that the BBC used to produce stuff like this. It’s sadly a shadow of its former self in this respect.

      2. Dan, thanks for those recommendations. Iris Murdoch is a fascinating figure. I saw the film Iris, based on the book by her husband. It describes her tragic premature descent into dementia.

      1. Peter, I recommended her, because her views are much closer to yours than mine. I love her as a novelist and think she is an excellent philosopher, but I largely disagree with her view. She is as close to you as an essentially secular person can be. And she is a genius. You’ll get a lot out of her.

        1. Dan,
          and think she is an excellent philosopher, but I largely disagree with her view.

          I think that is so admirable, to be able to generously recognise excellence even while disagreeing with its content.

  15. Truth is only one value of many.

    Dan, how delightfully Nietszechean of you!

  16. The subject of excellence has come up in the discussion. We all intuitively recognise and value it but usually fail to recognise what an extraordinary, what a remarkable property it is of our species. No other animal species has any awareness of excellence. It is unique to us. But what is so interesting is that it is not part of our cognition. It is instead deeply embedded in our psyche and is only accessed as an intuition. Another interesting thing is the power of this intuition. It can arouse strong feelings in us, of like or dislike, according to whether excellence is present or absent. Ordinarily we value it greatly. The third aspect of this intuition is its pervasiveness. We recognise the presence of excellence in almost everything, from the obvious like great art or great music, to the minor in the way the carpenter prepares a block of wood, making it perfectly rectangular, with clean, well defined, parallel edges and a smoothly prepared surface.

    Exactly why this property, or ability, to recognise, value and pursue excellence is present and embedded in our psyche as an intuition is not at all obvious. It could hardly have contributed to survival in early hunter/gatherer bands when our present genetic structure was laid down. But this property is present in all of us, is pervasive and transformative. We find the fullest realisation of ourselves through excellence, whether it be applied to cooking, art, dance, music, child rearing or rock climbing. My neighbour, who owns and runs a guesthouse, finds fulfilment and realisation of excellence in his small, well equipped mechanical workshop, where he creates beautiful miniature steam engines from blocks of metal. Incredible. My friend down the road has converted his garage into a cavern and climbing wall where he and other rock climbers perfect their skills. This is where he pursues excellence. On the beachfront black craftsmen display their wares. They are beautifully done and they are rightly proud of their work.

    We also desire excellence in the way we interact with each other and we call that virtue ethics. We never fail to value this form of excellence in others even if we often fail to live up to this standard ourselves.

    The realisation of excellence in ourselves is the final step in the development of a mature identity. It says who we truly are and marks us as worthy of recognition and affirmation. It anchors us in the stormy conflict of society and gives us worth. This is paired with the recognition and valuing of excellence in others. The mature person is open to, and willing to recognise excellence in others.

    As I described above, we find excellence in many ways, whether as thinker, artist or craftsman. But there is a commonality to all of this and that is the way we relate to one another. This is the most basic form of excellence that underpins everything else.

    Now here’s the thing. You cannot pursue excellence in whatever your endeavour is, without paying close attention to your mistakes and faults. You must detect and correct these on your path towards excellence. You must develop resilience and a willingness to learn when either you or others detect your deviations on the path towards excellence.

    This openness to be informed, guided and corrected is also one of the hallmarks of excellence. We Catholics have a ritual for doing this and we call it ‘Confession’. Those of us in the Catholic fold who practise Ignatian spirituality call it the ‘Daily Examen’.

    Finally, excellence is a destination, albeit it a difficult destination, and we never quite get there.

    But excellence has one great enemy, and that is the surfeit of self indulgent consumerism. It moves the centre of one’s attention entirely to the immediate rewards experienced by the self. The powerful immediacy of these rewards supplants the longer term rewards of excellence.

    Material self satisfaction also displaces concern for moral connections with others because others become valued only for their instrumental value in the way they contribute to your own material self satisfaction. Moral concerns now become the rules that you expect others to conform to in the way they supply your needs. And this really is what lies at the heart of what Dan incorrectly calls the morality everywhere problem. It is a deformed concept of morality which is the outcome of the surfeit of self indulgent consumerism.

  17. Note to Dan. I hope you can now begin to understand why I object to what I consider to be Susan Wolfe’s excessively narrow and distorted concept of moral sainthood. My views are derived from those of Pope Francis.

  18. I’m not sure we have a “morality everywhere” problem in contemporary society. That implies that people actually care about being or doing good, and I am not sure many do (either in the form of a loving saint or in the form of a rational saint or to any other conceivable end). We live in a world where a significant amount of experience is mediated by images, and a lot of what people choose to project is objectively fake. What does it mean to care about doing good in a world mediated by images? I know people who chatter non-stop about morality and justice, but they care about doing good in the same way they care about looking good (looking good on the Internet). It’s not about moral obligation, but about avoiding shame and stigma. Their concern for taking the right public position on the homeless and camping bans is akin to not wanting to post vacation pictures on Instagram where a giant zit is visible on their nose. The ubiquity of “moral” chatter and contrived moral problems is a function of the shallowness of the commitment involved, both intellectually and as a practical matter. In a world where substantially all experience is mediated by images, there is an insatiable need for content of all sorts and moral chatter offers seemingly endless potential content. It’s like virtue mad libs. [Random object, practice, association] is [insert offense here]. You know it’s not genuinely sinister or compelling because folks have stopped caring if the basis for their arguments is even true or if their arguments are contradictory. Folks now will argue that late-term abortion is okay but boiling a lobster is not in the same breath. That’s not because they care about moral truths, but a measure of their confidence in how those statements will be received by their tribe of shared fantasies.

    1. As an after-thought, I would say that moral chatter has become a form of play. If you want to convert people in this landscape (say to a virtue ethics worldview where people genuinely want to flourish or to build a strong community with shared ideals), you have to show them that moral problems are richer than walking on eggshells around other avatars (that being good is more than chatter and residing in a state of perpetual, but shallow, judgment).

  19. https://local.theonion.com/liberal-relieved-he-never-has-to-introspect-again-after-1834720785

    Being a member of the liberal tribe is a wonderful thing. All you have to do is adopt the identifying markers of the liberal tribe and display them prominently. Hey presto, acceptance, affirmation and the satisfaction of knowing you are better than the competing tribes.

    I suggest that this is what really lies behind this so-called “morality everywhere“. It is toxic liberal tribalism. The behaviours that Dan describes are some of the identifying markers that aspirant tribe members musts adopt to gain admission to the tribe. This is not about morality at all. It is an attempt to seize high ground by waving a holier-than-thou flag to rally tribe members.

    We could tolerate this empty posturing and puffery were it not for the fact that it directs attention away from the real moral failures in the nation. Consider that six million people were the victims of violent crime and that 17 million people were victims of property crime. The people trapped in low paying jobs are the victims of corporate greed, one of the great moral failures of the nation. The millions trapped in dire poverty is another such moral failure(39.7 million people). The rapes and sexual assaults are all examples of dire moral failure. The high suicide rate is a tragic marker of the moral failures in the nation. The rampant student cheating and the academic cheating are more such markers. The list goes on and on and on. 2.3 million people are in prison in the USA. They are markers of pervasive moral failure.

    Let’s stop objecting to morality everywhere since that is exactly what we need. You need only once be the victim of violent crime to begin to vividly understand this truth. The six millions victims per annum of violent crime would all agree with me.

    When we conflate the petty tribal behaviours of liberalism with real morality we trivialise something that is vital to the health of a society. And this is why I called Dan’s ill-chosen label a dangerous mistake.

    MADISON, WI—Taking a moment to reflect on his hard-won personal accomplishment, area liberal Tom Hudson expressed relief Monday that he would never again have to engage in self-examination after finally assembling all the correct opinions. “It definitely wasn’t easy, but now that I have all the proper perspectives on the world all perfectly arranged inside of my head, I know I’ll never need to question my own thoughts, beliefs, or opinions ever again,” said Hudson, proudly recounting his previous efforts at researching all necessary sociopolitical issues, conducting a rigorous self-exploration to determine which of his behaviors were problematic or harmful, and finally achieving the proper balance of beliefs to ensure once and for all that he is an indisputably good person. “It’s such a huge weight off my shoulders. I never have to consider my place in society or my impact on the issues ever again now that I know exactly how to present myself as one of the good guys. This feels amazing.” Hudson was then immediately and savagely attacked by his fellow liberals, who insist that his current views are nowhere near progressive enough.

  20. End of rant 🙂 Now a little more seriously.

    Of course I understand what Dan means by ‘everywhere’. He means unnecessarily infusing all actions with a moral quality whereas I am arguing instead that ‘everywhere’ should mean all people should possess
    1) moral sensitivity,
    2) moral judgement,
    3) moral motivation,
    4) moral commitment,
    applying this to all interpersonal interactions.
    These are the four elements of James Rest’s Four Component Model of Morality.

    Using this framework, the cases that Dan refer to exhibit
    1) defective moral sensitivity
    They have reduced sensitivity to real moral failures but heightened sensitivity to pseudo-moral problems

    2) poor moral judgement.
    They direct their moral choices at unsuitable targets.

    Proper moral sensitivity, judgement, motivation and commitment require a proper formation process that develops these aspects of moral character. We are seeing today the failure of the moral formation process.

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