Home > Uncategorized > The marginalisation of morality

The marginalisation of morality

from Asad Zaman and the WEA Pedagogical Blog

Harvard professor Julie Reuben has documented an important historical transition in the life of US universities over the period 1880-1930 in her book entitled, The Making of the Modern University: Intellectual Transformation and the Marginalization of Morality. Rueben describes a variety of intellectual and historical developments that led universities to abandon their longstanding tradition of building character as well as imparting education, and makes the argument that universities’ abandonment of morality caused great social damage to Western society.

Most colleges in the US started out as religious seminaries. The concept of the unity of knowledge led them to embrace scientific and technological teaching within their curricula. Since all knowledge illuminates the Divine, in teaching physics, astronomy etc., teachers were expected to attend to the beautiful truths to be read in the works of God. Many difficulties arose in the execution of this educational programme. One source of difficulty was the conflicts among different denominations of Protestant Christianity.    read more

  1. Michael Kowalik
    July 18, 2015 at 12:19 am

    Moral education amounts to very little without being able to individually empathy towards another. It seems that empathic sensitivity has been greatly eroded, especially with respect to the ‘distant other’, to those others who are reduced from actual humans who are ‘of the same kind’ as ourselves to mere news items, to objects of interest or excitement that exists on the same ontological level as functional characters in Hollywood movies or in Disneyland. I suspect that the process of empathic alienation is driven by cultural objectification of others, while our exposure to real other ‘subjects’ is as limited as ever. This weighting of objectified, stereotyped, mediated others to the real others available to our face to face contact that renders us increasingly unable to relate to many as other selves who are of the same kind of Self.

    On the other hand there is hope. Careful logical analysis reveals that all sentient beings make universally common, performatively affirmed ontological commitments, being necessary conditions (or confessions) of being ‘in a world’: being ‘in any world’ necessarily implies recognition of the existence of others. I suggest that these ontological commitments also imply minimal moral valuations, which, by the same token, must be considered universal. The problem with the amoral stance that pervades today’s intellectual and technological reality is that it implicitly contradicts our fundamental ontological commitments that constitute the minimal conditions of being ‘in a world’, and thus assumes a form of what Nietsche described as “active nihilism”, the nihilism of mutual annihilation, which is ultimately also self-nihilation as sentient beings.

    I hope soon to be able to share the bulk of my research in moral ontology.

  2. Ian Murray
    July 18, 2015 at 6:26 am

    It is nothing but a history of rhetorical practice that incites some to assert that empathy is a moral phenomena. The emergence of political economy was a project to escape the discourse of theology-morality. Kant is the tragic figure in the reaction to the project. John Mackie and David Gauthier are the chroniclers of the futility of asserting that morality is something greater than politics.

    It is not amorality that pervades our contemporary technological-intellectual reality; it is intractable disagreement as to whether or not the plurality of moral vocabularies on offer are of any use in helping us adapt to the planet and to reduce the sufferings of human beings and other organisms we include in our empathies. If our current mess was ultimately a moral morass, why are economists, from Schauble to Krugman to Summers yammering on without the slightest hint of understanding what has happened in moral philosophy in the last 30 years? Why aren’t the moral theorists in the headlines of the FT, the NYT and all the other journals and magazines that the so-called “very serious people” read and write every goddam day?

    • Michael Kowalik
      July 18, 2015 at 9:09 am

      It may be helpful to define the chief terms of reference here. I adhere to the term ‘moral’ whenever it is possible to establish a distinction between right/wrong, good/bad (or any determination of the value of action) that cannot be immediately reduced to intentional, utilitarian objectives of the actor. In that sense, if empathy is accepted as a guiding principle of conduct, it is a moral phenomenon; if it is rejected as a guiding principle, it is no longer moral, but, I maintain, it is still ontological insofar as it is experienced. The minimal definition of empathy that I adhere to is the recognition of anything other than myself as another self, which is a self of the same kind as myself.

      In your comment you implicitly affirm that ‘adapting to the planet’ and ‘reduction of sufferings of human beings…’ are a kind of universal or objective ‘good’ (something to be universally preferred over its opposite: misadaptation to the planet, increase of suffering). You do not deem it necessary to defend this value judgement. One plausible explanation of that fact is that it is precisely your empathy or your moral intuition that makes this value judgement obvious; if it were simply a result of rhetorical practice, as you suggest, one ought to defend this valuation with, precisely, some more rhetoric. In lieu of any other explanation being offered it is prudent to assume that your argument is inconsistent, which brings us back to my prior suggestion about our conduct contradicting our implicit ontological commitments. But then ontological commitments are not yet moral.

      It is my objective to distill the minimal ontological commitments that we must all make to ‘be in a world’ (the notion of a ‘world’ has its own consistency criteria that I won’t go into here, other that suggest that the mathematical ontology of Badiou is a viable starting point), and then indetify any moral valuations that are implied by these commitments. That you or I act as if we were communicating in the same world is an example of a performatively affirmed ontological commitment, and you have already provided a performatively affirmation that we make implicit moral valuations with respect our being in a world. And this suggests the possibility of constructing a minimal normative order that reflects our ontological commitments: a kind of skeletal moral realism, if you like.

      I wish I could expand on these ideas in great length but this is not the place to do it. I assure you that as soon as my present project is reviewed and published I will share it here. Meanwhile I accept that we disagree.

  3. July 19, 2015 at 2:02 am

    “I can say without the slightest hesitation, and yet in all humility, that those who say that religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion means”. GANDHI

    “The power of love, as the basis of state, has never been tried… There will always be a government of force where men are selfish…” EMERSON

    One more from Emerson:
    “A chief event of life is the day in which we have encountered a mind that startled us”.

    Imagine a world where professors like Julie Reuben were not the exception but the rule.

  4. July 23, 2015 at 8:00 pm

    Nice! Really nice. It’s refreshing to see the book in print, reviewed here, and discussed here. I recently saw a post somewhere on the more or less deliberate, gradual conditioning of the vast majority of Normals to placidly accept ever more of what was once presumably considered immoral, as the modern way of the world. Heartless plutonomics thinly disguised as economics is a prime example and symptom of humanity’s cultural illness. So, nations of amoral sheep really have become nations ruled by immoral, anti-ethical wolves, the most cunning & psychotic among them anyway. This could explain why economics is still given any credence by anyone, other than the alpha wolves. For a view of an alternative, a new cultural paradigm, supporting biocentric ecometrics for sustaining valid bio-ethics as the guiding basis of society & policy, see the Awareness & Value page @ The Greenbook blogsite > mm-greenbook. via blogspot. com

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