Monday, December 27, 2010

The Rise of the Virtuous Man

In the last posts I have reached the conclusions that passions can't be justified. Passions don't only include those biological drives of survival but they include values as well. Each human being has an over driving force to act. We don't have a choice when it comes to our well but to act according to our motives. Biological motives and the more socially constructed values have an equal footing when it comes to driving our actions. I think understanding that values are of no less importance in driving our actions has a significant impact on our choices. I will show why by the end of this series of posts.

Before going on through my line of thought, I would like to write a little bit more about values. Human beings are born with a set of biological drives of motives. Those motives have been shaped through years of evolution to ensure better chances of survival. Motives have an over driving force over our minds. They constitute the essence of our well. Humans are not only equipped with the basic biological drives of survival, but they are equipped in addition with fascinating abilities. Our abilities include various physical and mental abilities. Among those abilities are our abilities to perceive, conceptualize and even more importantly to imagine and innovate. Our unique abilities, allowed us to start our very own process of cultural evolution which goes much faster than biological evolution. Humans have managed to construct bigger societies. In those societies, more innovative practices have been developed to further our over all well being and survival. Each one was assigned particular roles in those practices. Those practices had specific rules of action that would again ensure better chances of survival. As societies got even bigger, humans managed to figure out alternative ways to fulfill their roles. Those alternative ways represented ways to break from the conventional rules of actions. Some of those ways were more successful and some were worse. Long before the development of big societies, humans have managed to develop the practice of language communication. Language allowed humans to further increase their abilities to conceptualize. It made them not only able to conceptualize about the objects of their perceptual experience but to conceptualize about their practices. As humans practices became so diverse, and with the expansion of the alternative ways of managing their rules of actions, humans had to conceptualize about the goals of those practices or of the various ways to fulfill a particular role within those practices. Through years of cultural evolution, humans were able to conceptualize those ends or goals of their various practices into more and more abstract concepts. However, just as wide as our imagination can go, the practices human societies invented became so diverse and so are the goals of those practices. Again some practices were more successful than others in improving the chances of our survival. This lead to a conflict between the goals of those practices. Some goals were thought to be so essential. Human societies had to make those goals important. Through reciprocal sanctions and human sympathy, the concepts of those ends or goals were transmitted from one generation to the other. And those ends through time became not only mere goals but they became important in conceptualizing our life as good. In other terms they became values.

Values are concepts of what makes life good to us. They are raised in our minds as we grow up. They are now not only essential for having a good life but they constitute the meaning of a good life. We can't understand any goodness about life except through them. As we grow up we face sanctions when we behave in a way that is in conflict with the common social practices. And as we grow up, we learn to conceptualize and rationalize between those concepts. Once, we are grown we found our selves we find that we have attained concepts which don't only explain the meaning of a good life but that have an over riding forces in directing our actions. Humans born in today's world don't only have biological motives of survival but they have values constructed through years of cultural evolution. Those values as I have mentioned before can never be distinguished in their importance from those basic biological motives. Again, as I have mentioned over and over, even though you might be aware of the causal process involved in the construction of those motives, you are not justified rationally in holding them. It is just something that constitutes your nature and you simply have nothing but to follow them.

So, values such as love, friendship, or mercy are just culturally innovated concepts. This view runs against a common view that conceives values as entities existing independently of the human experience. Some might argue that love is good, even if there were no human beings to experience it or act according to it. Such an objectivist view is not consistent and it has limited power of explanation. I will not argue against this view here. There are arguments against this view raised by so many philosophers and there is no enough space here to manage this matter.

However, this relativistic view of our values opens the door for so many problems. I will get into the heart of the matter. There are values held by human beings which are conceived by other as bad or even evil. Nazis and terrorists provide a clear example. It would be naïve to think that such people are moved by any thing else other than values. They behave in such a manner sincerely believing that they are at least making their own lives better or even the lives of others as well. If we allowed it that such people have nothing in their choice but to follow their values just as all humans have to follow their values, we would loose the significance of morality. It seems that we must have the ability to judge actions as either wrong or right. Judging some actions as right or wrong is not simply because of holding different values between us from one side and others on the other hand. It might seem that if we accepted the idea that values lack any justification in holding them, then our judgments of right and wrong are only subjective and lack any power of compelling others to behave in a particular way as long as they don't share our own values.

However, things are not like this. Even though, reason can't justify the values we hold or drop, it can investigate and judge the conceptual links between them. Humans might hold values different from each other, but they all agree in conceptualizing them as being essential to a good life. Now, think of a rational being that holds all the values that has ever been developed through the human culture. Such a rational being to be considered as understanding the meaning of those values must be able to provide the conditions required for them to develop a good life. In other words, he must be able to explain how a particular value can be realized without losing another one and so on. Let's call this rational being the virtuous man. The virtuous man will certainly find lots of contradictions between those many different values. However, following rules of reason, those contradictions can be solved. Guided by knowledge of how those values came to exist in the first place and by knowledge that they are not any supreme to our existence as humans' beings, it can be concluded that some value can be reduced to others, and that some need to be qualified into a different concept. We might even find that the problem lays in the kind of practice we are following to realize a particular value and that this practice while may be realizing one value is demolishing another.

The virtuous man first conceived by Aristotle many centuries ago can solve the problem of contradiction between our values. Reason might never be able to justify why we became to hold some values but it can direct us in better understanding of those values. Through better conceptualization of our values we would be able to construct a moral theory that explains the meaning of a good life depending upon a consistent explanation of our various values. The virtuous man exists in many among us. It whispers to us through our intuitions to direct us to what is good and what is right. Through clear thinking, we can become more aware of him inside us and his judgments would become more than ungrounded intuitions. Appeal to him would construct a moral theory that we might all agree upon. Morality can thus be developed through being open minded, communication with others, and understanding of the meaning of our values.

Anyway, the virtuous man or the virtue theory of morality might still face problems. There are situations which might prove challenging for the success of such a theory in guiding our actions. I will consider this theory, its implications in our life, and objections that can be raised against it later.

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