Saturday, March 24, 2007

Is it wrong ...

... to boil babies for fun? I think so, and probably you do as well. Philosophers - at least some of them - have a harder time making up their minds: Knowing Right and Wrong. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

This begins as follows:

Two things,” Immanuel Kant wrote in the late 18th century, “fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we meditate upon them: the starry firmament above and the moral law within.”

Then comes this observation:

The quotation suggests, misleadingly, that the astronomical and moral realms are wholly separate—the former is “above” and the latter is “within.” But they aren’t: as Moby correctly sings, “We are all made of stars.” The heavens and human beings are composed from the same physical stuff, and are governed by same physical principles. The starry firmament isn’t really “above”—it’s everywhere. We, along with lobsters and the rest, are part of it.
Everything, in short, is a natural phenomenon, an aspect of the universe as revealed by the natural sciences. In particular, morality is a natural phenomenon. Moral facts or truths—that boiling babies is wrong, say—are not additions to the natural world, they are already there in the natural world, even if they are not explicitly mentioned in scientific theories.

Interesting to compare this, I think, with this passage from Edmund Wilson's Axel's Castle:

The scientists of the seventeenth century who presented the universe as a mechanism had caused people to draw the conclusion that man was something apart from nature, something introduced into the universe from outside and remaining alien to all that he found. But a romantic poet like Wordsworth has come to feel the falsity of this assumption: he has perceived that world is an organism, that nature includes planets, mountains, vegetation and people alike, that what we are and what we see, what we hear, what we feel and what we smell, are inextricably related, that all are involved in the same great entity. Those who make fun of the Romantics are mistaken in supposing that there is no intimate connection between the landscape and the poet's emotions. There is no real dualism, says Whitehead, between external lakes and hills, on the one hand, and personal feelings, on the other: human feelings and inanimate objects are interdependent and devloping together in some fashion of which our traditional notions of laws of cause and effect, of dualities of mind and matter or of body and soul, can give us no true idea. The Romantic poet, then, with his turbid or opalescent language, his sympathies and passions which cause him to seem to merge with his surroundings, is the prophet of a new insight into nature: he is describing things as they really are: and a revolution in the imagery of poetry is in reality a revolution in metaphysics.

Thanks to Christmas present from a dear friend - of a calendar of the Lake District - I have been inspired to rope off a bit of time every day to re-read Wordsworth's The Prelude. I get it better now that I am old. I think it is worth noting that most contemporary environmentalism (James Lovelock is presumably an exception) seems premissed, not on the Romantic notion, but on the earlier, mechanistic one, that separates man from nature.


  1. Frank, re: "The heavens and human beings are composed from the same physical stuff ..."

    It reminds me of Carl Sagan's assertion (in the old "Cosmos" TV series), that "we are all bits of star stuff."

    It's been years since I saw that series, but I think he reached similar conclusions, regarding our connections.

    Re: an earlier post of yours ... how was the concert? The program sounded wonderful.

  2. Hi Jeff,
    Astronomer Owen Gingerich also makes the same point in God's Universe, an excellent book that I reviewed last year: We are made of stardust.
    As for the concert, Debbie and I and our friends all loved it. The rest of the audience seemed to as well - except for the reviewer, who was less impressed.

  3. Anonymous7:07 PM

    "We are stardust/ we are golden
    And we've got to get ourselves/Back to the garden...."

    Age of Aquarius?

  4. Anonymous8:56 AM

    Man is a part of Nature - Man is born from Nature. There are millions of species in this world which exist without destroying all ecosystems. Human species is the one that has destroyed all ecosystems due to overactivity - overpopulation and overconsumerism.

    In this context I want to post a part from my article which examines the impact of consumerism/ industrialization on our minds and environment. Please read.

    The link between Mind and Social / Environmental-Issues.

    The fast-paced, consumerist lifestyle of Industrial Society is causing exponential rise in psychological problems besides destroying the environment. All issues are interlinked. Our Minds cannot be peaceful when attention-spans are down to nanoseconds, microseconds and milliseconds. Our Minds cannot be peaceful if we destroy Nature.

    Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment.

    Subject : In a fast society slow emotions become extinct.
    Subject : A thinking mind cannot feel.
    Subject : Scientific/ Industrial/ Financial thinking destroys the planet.
    Subject : Environment can never be saved as long as cities exist.

    Emotion is what we experience during gaps in our thinking.

    If there are no gaps there is no emotion.

    Today people are thinking all the time and are mistaking thought (words/ language) for emotion.

    When society switches-over from physical work (agriculture) to mental work (scientific/ industrial/ financial/ fast visuals/ fast words ) the speed of thinking keeps on accelerating and the gaps between thinking go on decreasing.

    There comes a time when there are almost no gaps.

    People become incapable of experiencing/ tolerating gaps.

    Emotion ends.

    Man becomes machine.

    A society that speeds up mentally experiences every mental slowing-down as Depression / Anxiety.

    A ( travelling )society that speeds up physically experiences every physical slowing-down as Depression / Anxiety.

    A society that entertains itself daily experiences every non-entertaining moment as Depression / Anxiety.

    Fast visuals/ words make slow emotions extinct.

    Scientific/ Industrial/ Financial thinking destroys emotional circuits.

    A fast (large) society cannot feel pain / remorse / empathy.

    A fast (large) society will always be cruel to Animals/ Trees/ Air/ Water/ Land and to Itself.

    To read the complete article please follow either of these links :