Cynicism, Stoicism, Neo-Platonism, Rationalism, Empiricism, Kantian Ethics

Notes from Greg Bahnsen’s lecture, Cynicism, Stoicism, Neo-Platonism, Rationalism.

Cynicism and Stoicism
Cynicism and Stoics share a common philosophical outlook in that we should react to the adversities of life with passive indifference. The difference between the Cynics and the Stoics is that Cynic’s value independence from society, but the Stoics added indifference to all pain and passion. The Cynics believed in order for man to gain independence from the desire of pleasure, he must develop self-discipline by renouncing civilization. They gave up on family life, renounced social mores and they advocated repudiating social codes. The Stoics developed out of Cynicism. The indifference that they practiced was indifference to all pain and passion. They believed that everything was material, even the soul. Although they agreed that there was a fire that permeated all of reality, they believed that his was all part of a material reality. Even God was a material substance. This Logos/God controlled the processes of reality in a deterministic way. Yet, their ethic called for them to practice self-determination. They believed that there was one universal reason and therefore one universal society. They held to the brotherhood of all men. All men are universally under obligation to submit to the dictates of the world soul. The laws that are discerned in nature are normative patterns for humans. Logos/God permeates all things and the workings of nature are normative for us. We must live according to reason, which means to live in harmony with natural law.

1. We are to live according to reason, but what is it?
2. We are told that everything is materialistic and deterministic, but if everything is materialistic, then what is duty, the Logos and the natural law. If everything is deterministic, then how do we make any choice to follow reason? This doesn’t seem to be possible because choice has been removed.

Plotinus said that God was the Parmenedian One. He is devoid of all plurality, from this one, reality shines forth necessarily. There is an overflowing of the world from God. Man is nothing more than the overflowing of God, so man is essentially divine. At one time man was oriented toward God and contemplated about the One, but man turned from the One toward his physical body and redirected his attention toward himself. Salvation is found by returning toward his origin by redirecting his thoughts toward God. This process comes through three stages. Firstly, purification, where we moderate our impulses. Secondly, contemplation of God, where we seek intuitive contact with him. Thirdly, ecstasy, where we transcend the self and are united with the One. The motif of Neo-Platonism is the immaterial being good and the material being evil.

1. If seeking a good which goes beyond all distinctions, how can we know it? Why should we all anything evil today?
2. Good is beyond all being, but being must be good because to the extent that anything is distinct from God is unreal for Plotinus. If all being is good, then how do you account for sin and evil? If sin and evil are illusion, then we don’t have to worry about them. If they are real, then they must be part of God.

According to Leibnez, the world consists of many indivisible monads that were similiar to minds. However, these minds were developing and they would develop according to internal laws. These monads have to influence upon one another and develop according to their own patterns. An organism is organized around one queen monad. God becomes the supreme monad of the universe, however, his relationship is not clearly defined. He says that you must understand that his configuration of the world is the best of all possible worlds. God and all the other monads are bound by moral principles that are innate to them. There is an innate natural law within the monads. Reason enables us to be conscious of these laws and to follow them so that we overcome the corruption of our ethical life. We know these monads by intuiting them. Since each monad is autonomous, they are said to have free will. Each monad determines it’s own nature, however, there is a pre-established harmony between all of the monads. It appears that Leibez was attempting to reconcile free-will and determinism. His emphasis is upon rationalism to know one’s duty and autonomy to submit to the natural law that they discern. Sin is failure to understand one’s inner principle of development or it is conflict between man’s appetite and reason–not allowing reason to dominate.

Thomas Hobbes
He was an empiricist and committed to using one’s senses rather than one’s reason. Knowledge begins in the senses as we seek the causes for all things. Everything in the world amounts to body and space in motion. There are various kinds of motions, and all of the bodies are made up of these motions. Man’s nature is materialistic and he naturally lives in a condition of war. Men are competing with one another and they seek to preserve themselves. It might be to everyone’s advantage if they relinquish their autonomy for the sake of self-preservation. This comes from Protagoras. All men living in the condition of nature should make covenant with one another, a covenant enforced with punishment, in order to live in common wealth. To do this, they must give over their sovereignty to a Levianthan, who will punishment them if they fail to live in harmony.

1. How can an ethic develop from materialism?
2. If it is a natural law that man seek his own self-preservation, why do men have to observe them to seek for self-preservation and to join up with the common wealth and give up their autonomy.
3. Autonomous man recognizes no obligation but an obligation that is self-imposed that doesn’t have to submit to the social code unless he imposes it upon himself.
4. You see that anarchy is answered by totalitarianism, so you see a bounce between the One and the Many.

John Locke
He was an empiricist who believed that man’s mind knows no innate truth. He is a tabula rasa at birth. Only experience gives many any knowledge whatsoever. All knowledge is probablistic and we cannot know anything for sure because everything is based upon sensation. Although he believed that man was free of external constraint, he did not believe in free will. He believed that man lived in a deterministic system. Since there are no innate truths, how do you know the difference between right and wrong? You know morality through experience. Virtuous conduct brings pleasure and evil conduct brings pain. Man by nature follows the natural law of self-preservation. Man is obliged to preserve other’s lives as well to the degree that they preserve his own. Man ought to punish violators is self-preservation because if he doesn’t then others might defy him. Self-preservation leads to social theory and uniformity. The state of nature can be peaceful, however, it does lack a universal law that is universally acknowledge and applied. Therefore, we need a social contract for our society. The power of the society should extend nor further than advancing life, liberty and property. For this reason, rulers should gain to more power than that which is given to them from the consent of the governed. Locke was lead to argue against absolute monarchy.

1. We see the autonomy of the Many from Locke. Where we see the autonomy of the Leviathan in Hobbes, we have the autonomy of the Many in Locke.
2. How can he know through his senses that there is a universal duty. How can he know anything about ethics on the basis of sensation?

Joseph Butler
His writings are part of the effort to account for morals apart from God. He believed that nature and revelation complement one another, so he wanted to find morality in nature. According to Butler there are two possibilities for finding morality in nature. Firstly, you can look at the aspect relationship of things and hope that they will tell you something about moral duty. However, he believed that a better approach was to look at man as a matter of fact to find moral duties. Hobbes and Mandeville looked at man’s nature to find laws to govern man’s behavior. They looked at man’s drive toward self-love as the central concept of ethics. Shaftesbury looked the instinct of benevolence to be the central guiding principle of man. Butler thought of these two approaches offered only partial analysis of human nature. Butler wanted to show that both self-love and benevolence are part of a larger duty that governs human nature. Man is neither self-regarding in the extreme so that he sacrifices benevolence, nor is he so exceptionally benevolent as to exclude self-interest. Man is both benevolence and self love, and these two reinforce one another. What goes beyond self-love and benevolence is the faculty of conscience. He says that it is the faculty that pronounces some actions to be good and others to be evil.

1. What is conscience?
2. By distinguishing conscience from other sorts of tendencies in human nature and other faculties, Butler is clearly using a faculty psychology as though man is made of a bunch of individual elements interacting with one another.
3. Butler is not very clear how conscience makes its judgments. He says “conscience approves of that which contributes to the good of the whole man and condemns whatever places some part of man over the whole.” If you want to engage in adultery, Butler would point out while that act favors physical sensation, it favors it over purity of soul. Conscience will condemn this because things are out of proportion, but how does it assess these matters of proportion? Butler would have to likely resort to God, but then he’d have to resort to special revelation, but that is the very opposite of his project.
4. Butler reduces normative ethics to subjectivism, because conscience doesn’t have a standard. My conscience tells me one thing and another person’s conscience tells him another thing.
5. Butler has an ethical duty, but it is not universalizable.

Immanuel Kant
Kant wanted to find a way to reconcile Rationalism and Empiricism. Kant created a dualism of the phenomenal and noumenal distinction; the world of appearances and the world of as it really is. The upper level is the unknowable level of genuine reality. We can only know things through sensation as they appear to us, therefore we don’t know reality, we only know things as they appear to us. The reason why the realm of appearance is knowable is because man’s mind has organization categories that it imposes on the sensations that come in to his knowing device. Mathematics and science are salvaged because their principles are implicit in the human mind in its organizing structure. Ethics is salvaged by deriving moral truths from the subjective inner self. He points out that if you look at all of the good in the world, all of them could be considered evil in some circumstances. The only thing that is good in an unqualified way is a good will. Man’s will when it is good is good at all times and places. What is it that makes man’s will good? A good will does its duty simply for the sake of duty itself. We should do our duty regardless of the consequences. Objectively right behavior is behavior that follows duty without qualification simply because we should do things for duty itself. This is the only true moral motive. Considerations based on the concern of well-being or the well-being of others indicates a course of action that is at odds with that course of action dictated by the moral law itself. Ethics must not take into exceptions, it must take into account consequences of actions, and moral rules must be universally valid. He said there is no such thing as a legitimate lie. If a moral law tells us to tell the truth, then we must tell the truth. It is never justifiable to tell a lie. The good will does its duty for the sake of duty. What is the duty? Our reason tells us it is our duty to follow the Categorical Imperative. A Categorical Imperative is not hypothetical. A hypothetical imperative would state “if you want to get along well in society, don’t rob others.” A categorical imperative does not have an “If, then” structure. It is a imperative what is true no matter the circumstances and binding on all people. You cannot derive duty from experience because experience can only give you at best an understanding of cause and effect relationships. Duty must be derived through the use of reason as it reflects on a priori judgments. How do you know by using your reason whether a duty is categorical or hypothetical? You must use the test of the Categorical Imperative and that is to ask whether meaningfully whether this duty can be universally applied. You must ask, “What if everyone were to do this?” If you universalize the practice of making promises that are never kept, clearly this would be meaningless. There would be no point in making a promise in the first place. The opposite would be our duty–keeping promises. We must act in such a way that what we do could become a universal law for mankind. The law we must follow must be a rationally self-imposed law. Kant said that free-will was essential to ethics. We must legislate for ourselves the dictation of reason. He said that free-will presupposes the ability to do what is right and wrong. Since ethical self is autonomous and since the ethical self implies ability, then we may assume that the moral self is free. The nature of morality causes is to posit man’s freedom in the noumenal realm. How does God come into the question of morality? Reason tells us that the good-will deserves happiness. Since virtue and happiness are not always linked in this life, that is, you cannot prove that you should be good based on the happiness of all good people, Kant felt he had to posit the idea that God will distribute rewards and punishments in a future life.

1. Kant’s ethic is salvaged by ad hoc rescuing devices. Why should we think of man as free given his conception of the phenomenal world? If our bodies are part of the mechanistic cause and effect machinery of the universe, why should we think that we are free at all? To save morality, but why save morality since everything is materialistic and mechanistic there is no morality?
2. There are strong differences between Kant’s teaching and the Bible. He taught that man is free, able to do what is good, and that man must impose his own law on himself. Ethics is essentially free from God, because God is nothing more than a limiting concept. We posit him in order to get around difficulties.
3. Kant has a mixture of rationalism and irrationalism. He has a realm that is wholly known (phenomenal) and a realm that is the real realm that can’t be known (noumenal). How do we know that the noumenal realm even exists? How do we know that there is a relationship between the two?
4. Why should we assume that all men’s minds are uniform in their categorizing techniques? Why should we assume that there is any unity to science?
5. Since the mind of man affects how appearances come across to him, doesn’t man’s mind distort reality? Are we then behind the veil of illusion? We only know what our mind tells us what the world is like.
6. What does it mean to do duty for duty’s sake? Are we under duty to do duty for duties sake? If so, then why am I under this duty? For duties sake obviously, but then we get an infinite regress?
7. There is a question of whether the Categorical Imperative is even helpful in testing the genuineness of one’s duty. There are a number of things that could pass the test of the Categorical Imperative that we wouldn’t feel to be morally obligatory. There is no absurdity about saying that everybody in the world must wear blue socks on Monday. We can universalize this maxim, without running into philosophical difficulty. Since this passes the test of the Categorical Imperative, we must do this duty for duty’s sake. It seems arbitrary that just because we can universalize maxim that that makes it a universal duty.
8. Just about anything you want to do can pass the Categorical Imperative. Let’s say that I am robbing a bank, and I want to act on a maxim and make sure that everybody else should rob a bank. I only need to say that anybody with the same fingerprints as mine, can rob this particular bank.
9. Even if the Categorical Imperative was a good test of moral maxims, we have the difficulty that the Categorical Imperative does not supply us the data for ethics or ethical judgments. It only tests claims to moral duties. Kant has only given a test for what should be our duty.


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