Tag Archives: ethics

Russia and the Emails as an Ethical Dilemma

Consider the following argument:
(1) Information is provided that appears to be evidence that someone has committed a crime or otherwise acted inappropriately in ways that are very significant. It may also provide evidence that exposes systematic corruption.
(2) But the information was provided by a source that is disreputable and possibly even hostile.
(3) Therefore the information should be ignored.

Some might say that the information itself and who is providing it are two separate issues. If you take the present actors out of the situation and look at it as a question of ethical norms, it does appear that a case could be made for either side and that there might actually be cases where you might agree with (3) for the good of the country. I think it poses an interesting ethical dilemma and not one easily resolved for or against (3).
In the case of the present election, I think it turns out that the further a Trump presidency fades from reality, the more it begins to look as if the Russians have actually done us a service by exposing possible corruption. It will hopefully make our political processes less suspect by exposing corruption where it exists and make us into less of a country where elites who are able to manipulate the system are able to get the upper hand. If there is a flaw it really is that Trump’s side is the side presenting the information and for that reason it will likely be ignored for partisan reasons. But it will be interesting to see what happens after the election.

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Filed under politics

An Application of the Taoist/Confucian Idea of “The Process.”

Pound’s translation of The Unwobbling Pivot, No. 5 reads as follows: “The Philosopher said: they do not proceed according to the process. No, people do not use the main open road.”
Some have written that Chinese philosophy and culture is very practical. Others have noticed that works like the Tao Te Ching seem anything but practical. This particular quote and illustration shows how the two fit together.   Many people, and especially young people today feel alienated from American capitalism.  The following is meant as an exposition of a Confucian viewpoint that might be taken of things.
First, “The Process” 
What is mean by “the process”? Its simply the way of things, the way things are, and the way things come to be. Talking about it seems to have such an air of generality that it appears to lack much practical application. However, there is a way in which it can usefully be applied to some of today’s cultural problems.
Use the Open Road! What open road?
Our society is a capitalistic one. This means that if you want a decent living you are going to have to sell things or compete with others for employment. This is the way of things in our society. Going against that way would make things difficult. Not necessarily impossible and not necessarily not to one’s benefit, but certainly difficult.
The practical thing for most people to do, with the exception of all but a very small few (we’re being practical about this), is to embrace the way of things to whatever extent works to your benefit and to the benefit of your society. Embracing competition, or simply an ethos of bettering oneself in a way that is economically advantageous, is a turn of mind that can make your life go more smoothly. It is a very, very strong tide that would be very difficult to go against. This dynamic is at the core of our society.
It is not suggested that adhering to this process or way should become the core or center of one’s being-that is not the center but what whirls about the center. It is change, not stillness, not rest. And yet we need change as individuals just as nature does. It should also be emphasized that embracing the way of things need not involve doing so without a sense of how to make things better.
How does this help solve cultural problems?
This answer is: by helping people to better come to terms with the society they live in and to help them see what is advantageous for them while they are living in it. It hopefully shows how it might be possible to do what is advantageous, work for whatever changes might be needed, and find their place in the process-and even shape it and guiding it. One should not simply live for oneself without compromise; one must also live for and even make sacrifices for the betterment of one’s society.
Of course, there may be those who reject this process altogether. In that case, it seems that there are two options: reject capitalism and leave this society or reject capitalism and remain in society. But on a practical level, be advised that this won’t be easy. The worst option of all would seem to be to go against the process, remain in society, and do nothing to change it. Practically speaking, that would be to no one’s benefit.
This is a very practical way of looking at things. It is also tied to seemingly airy metaphysical way of looking at things at a high level of generality. It illustrates how the two fit together to guide decision making.
I welcome your comments.

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Filed under Eastern Philosophy

An Awakening from a Dogmatic Slumber?


It is sometimes said that Aristotle’s answer to weakness of will is building good habits. Socrates said that to know the good is to do the good. Aristotle objected that people might fail to do the good simply out of weakness of will (laziness, cowardice, etc.). Building good habits, says Aristotle is the key to overcoming weakness of will.  But I wonder if building good habits really is a prescription that works.
Imagine a couch potato who doesn’t have a very strong will. Suppose the couch potato knows that he ought to get off the couch and that its in his best interest to do so. Presumably, Aristotle would advise such a person to start building good habits in order to overcome the problem. He might start by getting up early, turning off the television, creating a schedule and working with a day planner, etc. He might even get off the couch and exercise in his living room. Over time, these habits would become more and more a part of his routine and over time he would become more productive.
But there is what Quine would call “an air of circularity” about this: doesn’t he need more strength of will to start a day planner and exercise and get up early in the first place? If the problem was weakness of will to begin with, won’t that become an obstacle to developing good habits? In short, Aristotle seems to be assuming the the solution to the problem lies in the premises that were introduced to solve it.
How then do you deal with weakness of will itself? Is there any one prescription that actually would work as the core to any w.o.w. problem? We could try pressing further with Aristotle’s solution: perhaps one could engage in will-building exercises. Perhaps one could chart one’s progress in incremental steps. Something tells me this wouldn’t get very far with an entrenched couch potato. But is Aristotle nevertheless right?


Filed under Aristotle's Ethics