Ethics Notes

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33 Stuart Hampshire writes in his book Freedom of Mind

“What professor Ryle with the aid of parody dismisses as the ‘silly view of moral philosophers’ – that increasing scientific knowledge diminishes the field within which moral terms are applicable- so far from being a silly philosophical theory is a plainly observable fact about common usage. As knowledge advances, sin, crime and wickedness become maladjustment, delinquency and diseases.”

Is it really the advance of scientific knowledge which brings about this change? Or is it something to do with spiritual currents within modern society which have nothing to do scientific knowledge as such?


119 Hare see utilitarianism.

261 Nazism as reversion to the Hobbesian state of nature. Later critics of Hobbes lived in more settled and peaceful times, where morality presented a different aspect. The state of nature, total war, undesirable and self defeating.
Values. How people live may be expressed in terms of values and ideas.
The lack of fixity in this. Say we see the will to power as fundamental. See a fundamental nihilism here, and its value.
Any explicitly formulated value becomes liable to denial and it is well that it should be denied. Problem with education. All explicit values are tools of the underlying true value, which is power. In denying a value one’s motives may be misunderstood. Delicate variability of symbolism from generation to generation. One object may satisfy two or more different impulses.
The way of truth and the way of opinion.
Opinions, submission to an opinion that is not one’s own. This creates a negative judgement, subjection to such a judgement.
History of ethics. Moral judgement is indeed a habit. It needs to be justified rather than prescribed, in a manner against the will. Hobbes is good, Butler is good. If Butler does not identify morality with egoistic self interest, at least he has not led it astray, like later utilitarianism. After Hobbes people wrote in a time of settled peace. The judgement of and condemnation of natural impulse seemed to come in with the utilitarians. The unhealthy exaltation of benevolence in condemnation of impulse and instinct.

26 there seem to my present frame of mind to be three fundamental political positions, some kind of ethical socialism, Herbert Spencer’s liberalism, and the might is right moral nihilism associated with fascism, or Nazism. Spencer is not justly described as between these other two positions.
Ethical socialism, the foundations of society based on the unlimited malleability of man in respect of the greatest happiness principle. Nazism developing out of the freedom to reject this principle as a political motive.

Spencerism involves denial of the validity of the greatest happiness principle (ghp) substituting something like a maximum freedom of contract principle. Deliberate foundation of political theory on some principle different from ghp where it would be expected to remain.
The aristocratic bohemian has a contempt for the ethical limitation that would be imposed on him, were he a politician serving unquestioningly the ghp. Unless one has some political guide one might well be led into the more or less random exercise of power, as with the Nazis.
If bohemianism becomes a mass movement the masses which make up our middle and working classes impose their own moral ideas upon the movement. The angels, now God has gone, seem to be represented approximately by the GHP.
I have always admired Jeremy Bentham for his intellectual honesty and the clarity of his views. Arguably our world is in danger because of the present poverty of thinking on political and ethical fundamentals

33 One does not mould a perfect life for oneself, one is tossed about within the bounds of what one finds oneself stuck in anyway. The idea of a normal life can only express perfection if it is considered as a kind of Swedenborgian heaven or within a Mencian stream of heaven. And the answer to Swedenborg is Blake, who goes thus far and no further. The idea of a normal life needs the idea of innocence to make it acceptable. The self satisfaction afforded by virtue is but one side of the coin to anyone who knows the other. I will want to turn it over sometimes,

210& What is it to disapprove of, to condemn someone? Is it not perhaps that we cannot handle them, that they represent a kind of threat, and so we employ a new aggressive weapon against them? If they were harmless to us, operating on a level which have no relation to us, we should not bother to disapprove, perhaps we might find them picturesque. Denunciation is an expression of the will, not a representation of a state of affairs, of qualities inhering in things.

To say that eating people is wrong is not to say that it is against some abstract moral law, as some kind of fact, as though a belief in some kind of divinely ordained state of affairs, as in Zoroastrianism.

Disapproval is not the expression of a wish. It is an aggressive act, aimed at stealing moral baraka from some person, attitude, class of actions etc. I allow moral language its full scope, and have no wish to disparage moral judgment.

It is not enough merely to understand things, the quality of understanding has an atmosphere of impotence attaching to it. One must show a way of living, and this means making condemnations, establishing a new dominance hierarchy.

The self-willedness of the lower aeons. One must curb the self assertiveness of certain life forms if the instincts of others are to express themselves satisfactorily. Moral condemnation is a bid for dominance.

A philosophy of amoral egoism simply does not go far enough, though it is a good groundwork. One must liberate oneself from the judgements of others, but will inevitably want to make judgments of one’s own, unless strong enough to be able to achieve one’s entire will without them. But one is unlikely to be so strong, and will soon feel the need not only to make one’s own but also to accede to some that others make even when they are consistently against oneself. And if ever one is very very strong the chances are that one will want to lead others even if like an absolute dictator one would like a morality of complete amorality.

All these things have only a provisional reality, but are no less real for that. Implicit in each moral judgement “I would like the passageways of power to be such and such”.
But how can moral truth change relative to the observer?- well the laws of physics do.
Besides, on different levels of power one’s concerns change, one is not interested in the dominance hierarchies of the lower orders, Who is worried about the detestability of some children except those that have to put up with them?

216 Hare a dry old stick reminiscent of Kant. He claims to be a follower of Mill. Nietzsche called Mill a blockhead, and that seems a fair enough description. But a perfection of rationalism has a certain strange beauty to it. to live according to purely logical principles like Kant, can be a sign of a certain kind of superiority and mastery of nature. But for one who does not have satisfaction in the argument and rationality itself, it can be a sign of stupidity. I think Bentham was better than Mill, because he was one made eccentric by reason. Mill was genuinely blind in some respects, he was not a fanatic but he breathes Victorian moral earnestness, as if one trapped inside his own arguments. For him utilitarianism was not a beautiful set of concepts embraced for their intrinsic excellence, their ingenuity and sufficiency, but a necessity of thought in which he saw genuine difficulties but could not escape.

92 Ethics and Action, by Peter Winch. Macintyre’s point that ethical codes which do not have a clear relation to self interest do not make sense, is a point well made however open to criticism. Winch produces some very strange possibilities, which are certainly forms of life but it does not seem they are fully rational ones. What is rational? What is consistent within the lifestyle? What is the correct carrying out of the rules? In assessing whatever would be irrational in an Azande we would have to take sides. Always there are disputes. Morality b. declares morality a. to be irrational. If we decide that morality a. is irrational we are taking sides. In refuting Glaucon are we merely preaching to the converted? Simone Weil, Kierkegaard, Tolstoy, arguably represent a sick psychological outlook.

Plato’s refutation of Glaucon appeals to self interest and that is a good ground. Winch speaks to those so clearly committed that the argument is meaningless. Early Victorian biologists were not converted by Darwin, all their intellectual capital being invested in the old view. Darwin’s argument was irrelevant to them. And they had a valid form of life, just as did Robert Fludd. ‘But they were committed to a scientific technique’. What about the contradictions in the Azande outlook? We say we must be misunderstanding the nature of the contradiction.

Winch was right to attack sociology, he is very interesting and ingenious when he describes the possible of different forms of life, but wrong in the hope that much order can be saved from all this.
The form of life I live will be affected by my perception of there being so many other forms of life. The prospect of a choice between them may be unreal. I may be bound up in the language games just as part of my condition, but not necessarily. I must say that I found it hard to put his book down.

146 The taboo on murder, obviously necessary in a civilised community, because otherwise we would go in fear of our lives. The taboo on murdering babies has a different motive, it springs from the power of affection we feel towards our children. Guilt is associated with breaking of these taboos. We give our rational assent to a moral principle, and this means we agree to be bound by the taboo laws, the guilt laws. These laws make our observance and our judgements on others considerably easier. To break the taboo induces guilt. In the case of abortion one may on rational grounds have accepted its legitimacy, but unfortunately still be subject to the taboo and the guilt that comes with it. The affection motive becomes transferred, by extension, to the foetus and the inhibition on infanticide becomes an inhibition on abortion. Changing social attitudes, changing conceptions of rationality have not succeeded entirely in producing a changed pattern of felt guilt.

279 Some important observations on ethics. Confusion between morality and taboo. Winch describes some forms of life which can be described as moral behaviours. He claims that they can be described as rational moral behaviour. But perhaps they are not rational in the sense that Socratic or Hobbesian morality was rational, perhaps they are rational in the sense that taboos are rational. Perhaps in some Christian societies morality largely turned into taboo as it largely is for children. Therefore the liberation that is felt to come form crime comes with the violation of taboo. Taboo is a handicap to rational self interested morality. Morality can spring from an aversion to certain practices like KGB spying.

One does not so much condemn a man for doing what he really wants to do, be it murder or whatever. Sadistic killers like Brady, Christie, Kurten, are taboo breakers. I would not morally condemn them, one takes up attitudes of defence against the criminal, but not necessarily contempt. One despises what appear to be certain deformations of character attendant on weakness. The vices that spring from conformity.

76 Politicians not motivated by benevolence, nor should they be. Practical and abstract considerations, not emotional ones, should guide them. To base your whole outlook on life on feelings of benevolence would be disastrous from a political point of view.
Ethics, as s study from a viewpoint like that of professional ethics. Ethics a kind of context for activity. When it claims to be much more than that it is false from top to bottom. If I am moral it is because I have to be and because it is in my interest to be. If I had absolute power I might not be, but that is why we devise systems to prevent anyone acquiring absolute power.

Codes of honour, of chivalry. More satisfying for those with power to serve a great end than a narrowly self seeking one.. but my ethics is the justification for my behaviour only in the sense that it succeeds it. It is not a cause of my behaviour except perhaps for some small matters which it helps to codify.

98 Lecky, the Christianisation of the Empire, that atrocity.
Surely we today of the late twentieth century can arrive at our own view of this phenomenon, an advance on that of the nineteenth century? But who are the representative men of this time?
Utilitarian philosophy seen as providing the foundation for British industrial civilisation, enlightenment doctrine of psychological egoism, yet another proof of the importance of philosophy.
In Rome stoics v epicureans. In England intuitionists v utilitarians.

334 David Hume and his views on ethics. One liked his apparent demolition of the cognitive value of morality. But in giving it an emotional value he gave equal cognitive value to any moral values whatever. None are any better than any others, more rational or whatever.
A standard for criticism of orthodoxy. Hume was against this, His praise of Laud.
The gregarious will supports itself by nihilism. The solitary will by an appeal to truth.
What the will to power does is to legitimise a perverse or wayward will. If there were no will to power there would be no standard of truth.

4 Nietzsche and will to power. Some say he should not have placed so much importance on that. Same as what they say to me. What I attach most importance to is what people say I should forget. This is because what is most important for me is my bid for domination, to shatter the parameters. One wants to take up space occupied by others.
Theoretically people could be left to think exactly as they do. The desire that they should think differently is a desire for mental domination. The desire they should think as I do.
The more explicit this desire to change minds the stronger the impulse to dominate.
The impulse to dominate in Wittgenstein was strongly marked. This was an important part of his philosophical motivation. The urge may be studied in other people, like Crowley.
The conditions for originality, that it is something that comes outside the range of the personality. That is to say that normally such ideas would just be censored out.
The normal English educated personality may have quite a deep extensive range, but it is still clearly limited. There is that outside it, that it will in no way accept, that which it laughs at.
Desire for domination may have a cloak of virtue.
How much personality difference should one tolerate?
Crowley’s ideas may seem preposterous because they are outside a certain range. But it is here that the most exciting source of creativity lies. From domination come new sources of knowledge.
All new knowledge brings an annihilation of previous states of mind. Extend it in the most tactless sense into an assault on old habits.
Where there is no knowledge there is complete licence. the field into which knowledge has made no inroad. In such a field complete tolerance reigns. To put an end to such tolerance is an act of aggression, yet it is a sine qua non of genuine creativity. Only that can open up genuinely new possibilities. Tolerance can bring no progress.
Breaking down the barrier between the personal and legitimate areas of controversy.
De gustibus non disputandum. But this is surely a matter of dispute. And where do we set the boundary that circumscribes personal taste?


168 I read Phillipa Foot’s article ‘Moral Beliefs’ She holds that the naturalistic fallacy is not a fallacy, that a moral eccentric would have to produce arguments in support of his weird behaviour in terms of harm, injury etc to human beings.

The moral eccentric who calls the man who clasps and unclasps hymns hands good ceteris paribus is wrong according to Foot. This ‘ceteris paribus?
‘I’m afraid you’re a wicked man, goodnight.’
Kant’s categorical imperative was, as Schopenhauer explained, a hangover from the Christian God.
Foot’s discussion of ‘temperance’ ‘prudence’ ‘courage’, these are simply not fixed terms.
Temperance compare Blake, road of excess.
Justice cloak to put on.

33 Kitto on Hamlet. Claudius, Gertrude and Polonius all suffer from bad conscience. And even if they did not, their weakness, stupidity and vulnerability would all help to make them evil from Hamlet’s point of view. They obstruct life, especially in view of the power they possess; they are mean and confused.

Egoistic thinking can be quite inhibiting in a way. So where does Stirner stand in the hierarchy of greatness? Quite high, he was a clear thinker. He is simply, shall we say, a bit skeletonal. What is inhibiting is the feeling that we have to admire egoism, naked force, whenever we encounter it. One this principle one is doomed to admire people like Perec Rachman and the property developers that are devastating our cities. Stirner does not tell the egoist that he has to admire other egoists. But naturally enough, he does not tell him how to find his way in the world if ideas. We need ideas to deal with ideas. Ideas are means of organising experiences. Stirner’s egoism must be more than a wholesale condemnation.

125 The idea of sin can be extremely attractive. to commit murder, or some irresponsible crime like Iago and be arraigned for it, must be evil but it is about short circuiting the organism. Pride in being evil is one of the short cuts to a position of spiritual advancement, even if it is only a preliminary to the formation of one’s own personal concept of good, which includes and synthesises old evil. ‘Being on the side of the angels’ conventionally speaking is one of the biggest hang-ups there is. Demiurgic goodness is conventional goodness. Christian goodness so often seems like real goodness. The way to escape it is not to deny that it is, in its own terms, true virtue, but to detest it as virtue, to pursue vice as a preliminary to forming a transcendent concept of one’s own, one which includes the ‘evil’ of the demiurgic set of values.

To be dominated by someone else’s categories of good and evil is to behave as a slave.

57 Plato. Understanding is good. An understanding. Pleasure as such is ephemeral. Genet understood the value of understanding, of understating his situation as, in his terms, good.

Why gnosticism is preferable to Satanism. Russell suggests that Nietzsche had in some ways a similar emotional makeup to Byron but a far better intellect. Pitting oneself against the forces of what one acknowledges to be good, or raising oneself to a higher conception of good that does not limit and restrict as the old one did. I understand Plato’s conception of the good as not particular, as an understanding of an Idea which is purely formal and thus has an inevitable appeal to the individual. A conception of good that might well include in itself what on a lower pane would be evil.

Pseudo-Dionysius had the right approach in refusing to make goodness into an idea which is accepted as ultimate. For there are another patterns apart from those involving goodness, reason and truth. So William Blake joins with the Gnostics. But is there not a feeling that there is something unsatisfactory about this final commitment to good which mars nineteenth century English literature in comparison with French?

The sage is beyond good and evil. To be such he must practice evil, evil that does not itself admit to the possibility of a higher synthesis in which it becomes good.
Within society we need mystics who are not statesmen; we need the apolitical.


75 justice as a means of settling disputes between individuals. With justice on one’s side one can feel a potential leader. Even the Devil is just from his own point of view, while God is a tyrant. Justice, what ought to be irrespective of my own particular desire. If my desire is in tune with it, then it has so much the greater strength and coherence. To cohere my desires into an ought is to move into a far richer sphere than that covered solely by considerations of narrow self interest or egoism. Ultimately my interest and my morality will chime. See how I was always drawn to Bishop Butler, despite the attraction of De Sade.

Thrasymachus, justice is the interest of the stronger. At least that is an advance on the complete absence of morality. Where it is false is that it contradicts the language of justice if it is introduced into any moral system. What about 'morality is the interest of the morally stronger'?

102 The history of ethical theory moved via Hume and Shaftesbury via Stevenson and Ayer to positions more satisfactory to those who want to make ethical judgements. Yet Sidgwick, Ross and the intuitionists are unsatisfactory from other points of view. Intuitionism is unjustifiably dogmatic, and does not allow for the infinity of other perspectives.

Philosophy in general. There are philosophers who simply offer us a set of concepts which they think fruitful. The Scottish school of commonsense. Simply plumping for one side in a controversy without seeking to find common ground.

Intuitionism could work as a repressive restrictive principle, allowing us to make moral judgements but restricting and inhibiting us in other ways. This is not philosophically acceptable. It provides a set of concept s which happen to suit one taste but explicitly excludes another. Why should anyone accept the validity of intuitionist theory if it did not suit his situation?

The Hare school is unsatisfactory with its existentialist type ‘ultimate decision’. What ground could I have for expecting anyone to accept my judgment of his if his ultimate decisions differ from mine?
Thus there are coherence and correspondence theories of ethical truth.

160 Hume’s ethics are conceived from the viewpoint of a consensus society where the natural and social orders are completely taken for granted. This is one manifestation of the aristocratic, perhaps I should say the aristocratic in a process of effeminisation. Nietzsche writes that there are natural values and that ideals are an attempt to subvert those values. But then Nietzsche’s values are still values and they are not necessarily the values of a particular aristocracy. Mediaeval aristocrats could be rough and crude. The self effacing social virtues, politeness, deference, good manners etc that Hume thinks so important are consensus values from a time when life is becoming steadily less meaningful.

13 I would want to preserve people who are beyond morality as such. But these obviously cannot be everybody. Suppose the people just do not care for morality at all? For sexual morality say? I still do not think the abhorrence of the senses will be permanently overcome because it is the weapon of some people, such as the sexually inadequate (by our standards) in coming to terms with self respect. It is also the weapon all of us in our unworldly moods and if these moods were the original invention of the church then the church has contributed yet another something which has greatly enriched human experience.

90 Question of whether Christianity is really an ethical teaching. Or whether a form of ethics is simply generated by the reaction of religion to a certain form of society. How Christianity generated certain values not necessarily benign.

191 Bradley quite lacks Hegel’s offensiveness. This despite the fact that they both work towards a mysterious solution of everything. Even Bradley’s ethics is peculiarly attractive, hardly at all Kantian. Self assertion and self sacrifice both transcend each other. Normally an ethics of self assertion may seem either not ethics at all or even somehow oppressive, some sort of extraneous demand.

111 Idea for book on ethics. Transvaluation underling Nietzschean theme. Christian morality a coercive programme for imposing uncongenial dogmas upon us.

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