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Telling You What You Already Know

Aesthetic arguments in philosophy: Giving someone an idea with an aesthetic powerful enough that they decide to make it part of their world-outlook. I believe this is similar to another basic tack in philosophy:

  • Identifying someone's existing intuitions on a topic (perhaps the intuitions of one's dominant culture, or theoretically universal intuitions)
  • Providing a new framework that explains their intuitions, largely agreeing with what they already believe
  • and saying things about tricky topics on which they lack firm conclusions (or have conclusions that might be overturned by a sufficiently neat framework)
Utilitarianism - often criticised by the thought experiment of one healthy person and nine that need new organs of various kinds - is it appropriate to dice them up to serve the greater number?

Easy response: People need dignity and reasonable security in their person to live comfortable lives. Without providing expectations of treatment, one harms the mental welfare of society as a whole as surely as tossing them all in prison does.

I think I can say that the utilitarian/principled divide is not a useful one. As ill-defined as utilitarianism is, and as the principled style is so diverse (how do you make principles? What is your utility function?), both can be considered special cases of a value_theory to value_framework layering. The style of discourse in moral/ethical reasoning practically ensures this - people will have values and they'll order and weave them into practical intuitions for living. Whether utilitarianism is a refusal to discuss the process or an inclination to try to weave something more sparse and leave more to situational reasoning, they will still have broad intuitions. Likewise, the principled thinker will construct their principles out of values and likely have some situations that act as exceptions to their normal judgement (that show up at the time rather than pre-figured).

I am amused at the fuss over horoscopes and constellations. It reminds me a bit of the redesignation of Pluto - people have taken a bit of knowledge out of the context of science, made it cultural, and become upset when science continues to churn in a way that disrupts that cultural meaning they've built. On one hand, I'd say this is a big sign that they've missed the point - scientific knowledge is not compatible with fetishisation of past conclusions in the same way that cultures value traditions. It should not be emotionally important to people how Pluto is designated, or how the stars are designated. Yet on the other hand, the role of culture involves giving life meaning - dissenting definitions undermine the ability of culture to inspire (in the same way that academic history might disrupt myths of the nation that help a people be proud of their identity).

It is probably possible to re-base culture in a way that it either does not depend on truth-claims (X was "the good war" that lives on in our memory, Y is a fact isn't that cool!, etc) or so it holds these claims loosely enough that science(/history) and culture do not conflict - history and science would be given a free reign to use their own methods of truth discovery/mediation/consensus-building. This cultural adjustment is a major effort, and will disrupt a lot of existing culture. I hold that it is worth doing, and that only such a transformed culture would be worthy of us in the long term.

Perhaps the founding fathers of our nations were (mostly) great people. Perhaps Kemal Ataturk was very good for the world. Perhaps some monarchs were particularly wise. Yet, they were only human, and we can surpass them. We don't need to cling to past theories or definitions as sacred, even when they were great advances for the time. We don't need statues; we need dreams, boldness, wisdom and knowledge to build a future.


It reminds me a bit of the redesignation of Pluto ...

interesting analysis.

but i think fetishising (as you say, which is a good word for it) things that are not necessarily set in stone makes for good entertainment - mysticism and magic sure are popular, after all. when scientific frameworks change, there are big fusses over re-evaluating the surrounding theories. is it so different to re-evaluate superstitions too?