2006/04/18

Further Reconstruction

More from John Dewey:
Just in the degree in which a physician is an artist in his work he uses his science, no matter how extensive and accurate, to furnish him with tools of inquiry into the individual case, and with methods of forecasting a method of dealing with it. Just in the degree in which, no matter how great his learning, he subordinates the individual case to some classification of diseases and some generic rule of tratment, he sinks to the level of the routine mechanic. His intelligence and his action become rigid, dogmatic, instead of free and flexible.
So, indeed, with the various arts of living. And ethics, that is to say behavior in a (social) context, is an art like this. It is an art of problem-solving.
Morals is not a catalogue of acts nor a set of rules to be applied like drugstore prescriptions... the pragmatic import of the logic of individualized situations, each having its own irreplaceable good and principle, is to transfer the attention of theory from preoccupation with general conceptions to the problem of developing effective methods of inquiry.

Two ethical consequences of great memoment should be remarked... So-called intrinsic goods, whether religious or esthetic, are divorced from those interests of daily life which because of their constancy and urgency form the proccupation of the great mass... This withdrawal [of men of ideal interests from baser goods], in the name of higher ends, has left, for mankind at large an despecially for energetic "practical" people the lower activities in complete command. ...

The other generic change lies in doing away once for all with the traditional distinciton between moral goods, like the virtues, and natural goods like health, economic security, art, science and the like... Natural science loses its divorce from humanity; it becomes itself humanistic in quality.
These ideas overlap into the passages from a previous post of Dewey excerpts. The idea comes out in further reading that any moral end (i.e. an end sought in action that overcomes an obstacle) is intrinsically valuable--or none are, equally. This at least I take to be correct: practical rationality is instrumental reasoning. Additional "good ends" to be sought, to be inculcated intot he young, and cetera considerations of moral philosophers (though not, perhaps, some philosophers of ethics) have to be grounded somewhere else. "Rationality" is not any sort of font of normative force, either in idea or in fact. Rationality requires premises (to speak figuratively), and itself is not constitutive of enough of these to reach the conclusions so often wanted by moralists. Kantians, especially, are prone to believe that rationality has some sort of "internal" constraint, for instance a "consistency" requirement. But even if this were the case, which it obviously isn't for non-idealized "rationality," there would still be additional requirements needed to justify the central point of a moral theory. The categorical imperative is merely the most egregious example of wishful thinking and suppressed assumptions modern moral theory has managed to produce. (Let us not speak of the so-called theories of Objectivists.) Practical rationality is a problem-solving faculty, and by itself lends only ability to the character of a person. What we ought to worry about, if this is the concern (i.e. what ends people have), is how to educate the young so as to allow them to confront certain sorts of problems. Not to put the point to platitudinally, the story of a person's struggles is the story of their person, character, life.

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