3.803 yes, no, ethics, lipograms (152)

Willard McCarty (MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca)
Wed, 29 Nov 89 19:21:20 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 803. Wednesday, 29 Nov 1989.

(1) Date: Wed, 29 Nov 89 00:57:00 EST (17 lines)
Subject: Re: 3.786 I say "yes", you say "no".... (97)

(2) Date: 29 November 1989, 10:18:08 EST (9 lines)
From: Lloyd Gerson GERSON at UTOREPAS
Subject: Query from Rich Mitchell for help on ethics/positivism

(3) Date: Wed, 29 Nov 89 10:59:55 EST (10 lines)
From: Clarence Brown <CB@PUCC>

(4) Date: Wed, 29 Nov 89 11:40:08 EST (72 lines)
From: Charles Ess <DRU001D@SMSVMA>
Subject: Re: 3.798 Notes and Queries (125)

(5) Date: Wed, 29 Nov 89 08:00 PST (10 lines)
Subject: "No, no" to "Yeah, yeah"

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Wed, 29 Nov 89 00:57:00 EST
Subject: Re: 3.786 I say "yes", you say "no".... (97)

To John Morris@ualtvm: from Kessler.Thanks for the bibliographic
reference and title of the essay by Freud on negation. I think SF was
asking a question in that essay: what is the original source for the
"semantic marker?" He wasnt talking semantics or even philosophy, he
thought, but psychology. However the problem with a mere semantic
marker is profound, I would surmise, and one of its aspects comes up in
1986?). What is ontological status of asserting NOT being? Is that
negation another form of being? Infinite regression in view here....
Freud was not conce rned with ontology but with the sources of language
too, and to call negation merely a semantic marker is to address neither
Freud nor the original query in this BB, as to all the negations and
Yes, I said, Yes Yes Yes...kesslera t UCLA
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------12----
Date: 29 November 1989, 10:18:08 EST
From: Lloyd Gerson 926-1300 ex. 3374 GERSON at UTOREPAS
Subject: Query from Rich Mitchell for help on ethics/positivism

Concerning the passage quoted by Mr. Mitchell, I cannot forbear
commenting on the references to Aristotle and Aquinas. The author of
these remarks is deeply confused about the doctrines of these
philosophers and has nothing useful to contribute on these matters.
Cordially, Lloyd Gerson.
(3) --------------------------------------------------------------18----
Date: Wed, 29 Nov 89 10:59:55 EST
From: Clarence Brown <CB@PUCC>

The members who are pursuing the immensely valuable topic
of literary compositions in which one letter is deliberately avoided might
wish to save a few keystrokes by using the technical name for this
phenomenon: lipogram. Nothing to do with fat, or our President's sacred
vow against taxation. I trust it will have been observed that I am
rigorously suppressing "z" in this communication. Yours for surgical
precision. Clarence Brown CB@PUCC
(4) --------------------------------------------------------------80----
Date: Wed, 29 Nov 89 11:40:08 EST
From: Charles Ess <DRU001D@SMSVMA>
Subject: Re: 3.798 Notes and Queries (125)

I'm not at all clear that a "positivist ethics" predated what gets called
positivism in the 19th ct. For that, the summary matches pretty well
my sense of the history -- with at least one proviso. As the final
question regarding the transition from Aristotle/Aquinas to modernity
regarding the nature of "reason" suggests, to say that the Enlightenment
"brought reason down to earth" begs the question somewhat. That is,
it presupposes that reason as understood in the Aristotelian/Thomistic
traditions was hopelessly removed from "the real world," and thus
rightly rejected by more modern forms. Positivists would like us to
think so -- but I do not find this to be true.

Rather, the use of reason is more pluralistic -- by which I mean that
Aristotle and Aquinas recognize both a theoretical and practical
reason, the one devoted to a comprehensive understanding of the
first principles defining the workings of the universe (including
God), and the other devoted to applying those first principles especially
to the ethical and political life of human beings. Moreover, both
insisted that different sorts of rational knowledge -- e.g., biology and
mathematics -- offer different sorts of certainty -- and that it is
mistaken to insist, for example, that all sorts of knowledge conform
to the assumptions, methodology, and certainty demanded by a particular

Largely because of the influence of such thinkers as Descartes, this
understanding of reason becomes undermined in dramatic ways. Most
briefly, such rational pluralism requires a commitment to a metaphysics
and epistemology which includes a non-material domain -- and the use
of a logic which allows, for example, complementarity, say, between
degrees of truth (e.g., the certainly false, the probably true, and
the certainly true). Descartes shifts the logic to a simple dualism,
so as to insist that knowledge be entirely certain (and the "merely"
probable is then discarded with the false) -- accompanied by a
dualistic metaphysics which intends to enthrone a mathematically-
oriented reason, accompanied by what we now call natural science and
technology, as the "master and possessor of nature." While Kant,
usually taken as the high point of the Enlightenment, manages to
maintain a recognizably Aristotelian sort of reason which can hold
both the natural sciences and ethics together -- Descartes' successors
are eventually forced to turn to a monism in both metaphysics (matter
is the only reality) and epistemology (mathematics is the paradigmatic
knowledge of reason -- and all other claims to knowledge which fail
to achieve its standards of certainty, e.g. philosophical ethics, are
eliminated as false knowledge.)

So on my view, it is more correct to say that the philosophical roots
of a positivist ethic are found in Descartes' revision of the nature
of reason and the relationship between human beings to their world
(a revision, by the way, which would appear blasphemous to a traditional
Christian because it reduces Creation to dead stuff to be mastered without
limit by human beings -- or, in other terms, you can also find the roots
of ecological crisis here).

If all this is correct, then the positivist ethic works (1) as it upholds
only one form of knowledge as legitimate (_contra_ earlier views and
Kant), and (2) if we further assume a monist/materialist metaphysics
and epistemology. I hope that this discursus suggests that these
assumptions can be easily made only by assuming a superficial and
distorted view of earlier philosophical positions.

I would add that the condemnation of positivism provided by the reading
has been, to my understanding, strongly reinforced on an epistemological
level by quantum mechanics, relativity theory, Goedel's theorem, etc. (In
some ways, Kant continues to make good sense!)

Hope this helps.

Charles Ess
Drury College
(5) --------------------------------------------------------------16----
Date: Wed, 29 Nov 89 08:00 PST
Subject: "No, no" to "Yeah, yeah"

Many think the right response to Morganbesser's notorious
"Yeah, yeah" would have been "No, no" -- "No, no" is no
more a case of two negatives making a positive than "Yeah,
yeah" is a case of two positives making a negative.