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Can ethics be taught?

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Robert Tulip

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Re: Can ethics be taught?

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This conversation is very relevant to the current Booktalk non-fiction selection, The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck, which is quite an entertaining and easy short read.
Harry Marks wrote: Thu Mar 07, 2024 12:27 pm Theirs was a much more violent age, with Marius and Sulla taking the pernicious problem of "faction" (as the Federalist Papers called it) to the extreme of slaughtering their competitors. That kind of horror show can make an Emperor look pretty good.
Modern violence has been concealed in some ways but the numbers killed in war are much higher than in the past. History is tectonic, with pressures gradually building up until an explosive event. Long periods of peace can allow differences to fester that generate polarisation and eventual conflict.
Harry Marks wrote: Thu Mar 07, 2024 12:27 pm Today's imperialists (such as the Dulles brothers in the Eisenhower administration) have a short-sighted view of interests. They tend to see the expediency of maneuvering to maintain power and amass fortunes as more "real" than the principles by which social harmony is maintained.
So true. Getting elites to have a long term understanding of interests requires a coherent analysis of strategy as distinct from tactics. If the whole of politics is consumed by tactical manoeuvre the risks of collapse are crowded out of view. That is certainly the case for climate policy.
Harry Marks wrote: Thu Mar 07, 2024 12:27 pm hypocrisy is the tribute paid to virtue by vice, and for a while virtue controlled the agenda of interests as well as that of principles.
I’m not sure virtue has ever been in a controlling position. There has always been a concealing duplicity within politics, aiming to present corrupt interests under the guise of principle.
Harry Marks wrote: Thu Mar 07, 2024 12:27 pm Society does matter. People tend to take on board areas of discussion that give them a rewarding chance to use brain and courage in pursuing the better. For a large part of the population this mainly means cars or clothes, with endless discussions of the many and varied virtues of these relatively meaningless accoutrements of life. In particular times, such as the Roman Republic and the U.S. Civil Rights struggle, the truly meaningful issues become matters of common discussion and the distinctions of virtue provide an exercise that strengthens philosophical inquiry and internal examination.
I think you are right that occasional windows of long term thinking emerge into broader public debate, but this seems quite rare, and to require exceptional coherence and lucidity of leadership.
Harry Marks wrote: Thu Mar 07, 2024 12:27 pm I see this "taint" [of science by politics] (which probably owes more to the loathsome process of going to school than to the politics of "woke" and "I've got mine") as less important than the simple "marshmallow problem" of getting people to set aside the urgencies of the moment for engagement with the question of what is important.
We had a conversation in the discussion on the book The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck that draws on this distinction between immediate desires and long term interests, how to live under the eye of eternity. The marshmallow problem classically distinguishes between caring about sensory instinct and using our rational faculties to override temptation in favour of long term interest. It shows how easily our capacity for logic is undermined by emotion, with reason as the slave of passion, as Hume put it.
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Re: Can ethics be taught?

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Yes, the straightforward response to the question "Can you teach ethics?" is affirmative. The challenge lies in the implementation and enforcement mechanisms.
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Harry Marks
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Re: Can ethics be taught?

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Robert Tulip wrote: Thu Mar 14, 2024 2:20 am This conversation is very relevant to the current Booktalk non-fiction selection, The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck, which is quite an entertaining and easy short read.
I have long resisted the book, but the main problem now is time. I will be doing well if I manage to read some of the discussion.
Robert Tulip wrote:Modern violence has been concealed in some ways but the numbers killed in war are much higher than in the past. History is tectonic, with pressures gradually building up until an explosive event. Long periods of peace can allow differences to fester that generate polarisation and eventual conflict.
I appreciate the mention of a mechanism, since I have trouble convincing myself on the face of it that violence is a release of pressures. The old anthropological story, that population pressure builds (or resources undergo stress) so that conflict just cuts down on population, well that made some sense but doesn't really match today's reality.

There's a sort of corollary these days when internal conflict builds to the point at which only external conflict can relieve the internal stress. Something like that seems to be happening in India, with the imbalance of young men relative to young women causing unbearable internal stress.

However, the underlying problem with such a mechanism is that violence is lose-lose, that is, the critical resource is now capital, and war destroys it (that does not happen with land). If I can restate that more carefully, it may seem emotionally that attacking one's competitors will loosen one's resource constraint, but the cost of carrying on a war and the destruction that results make it nearly impossible for a win to actually improve the situation of the group initiating conflict.

Rather I think the good image is of tremendous chaos going on in ordinary lives, and the more this chaos is managed by reason the better off everyone is. Ethics are crucial to building a system of management by reason, starting with the motivation they give people to resist the chaotic urge to violence.
Robert Tulip wrote: Getting elites to have a long term understanding of interests requires a coherent analysis of strategy as distinct from tactics. If the whole of politics is consumed by tactical manoeuvre the risks of collapse are crowded out of view. That is certainly the case for climate policy.
Indeed. There used to be a healthy focus on "soft power," but the natural appeal of libertarian ideology to the rich in the West and of imperialism to the petrorulers of Russia and the Middle East have undermined that discussion. And with both sets of elites heavily invested in fossil fuels, the long run is losing its grip on the policy.
Robert Tulip wrote:I’m not sure virtue has ever been in a controlling position. There has always been a concealing duplicity within politics, aiming to present corrupt interests under the guise of principle.
Well, that's the issue I'm trying to raise here: how do we push the corrupt interests to participate in a good-faith way in the discussion about what is right and just?

As a simple example, the typical right-wing talking points about global warming (looking at you, Nikki Haley) argue for sacrifices from poor countries, where the sacrifices literally cost multitudes of lives, as a condition for willingness to sacrifice by rich countries, where the sacrifices are merely irritating. Not what I would call good faith.
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Re: Can ethics be taught?

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Johnathan34 wrote: Mon Apr 15, 2024 4:09 am Yes, the straightforward response to the question "Can you teach ethics?" is affirmative. The challenge lies in the implementation and enforcement mechanisms.
Do you really think so? I mean, yes, enforcement is important, but when it comes to reasoning about ethics, it is critical to be able to leave behind the issue of what will get one in trouble, so as to focus on what is actually right.

I am interested to hear more about implementation. I think you are on to something.
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