Our Father vs Big Brother

The tape of Mitt Romney speaking to his cohorts in what could be described as a proverbial back-room seems to have had a lasting effect – we’ll see if it turns out to make all the difference, but it certainly brought into focus the image of Romney as oblivious aristocrat.

But even more interesting to me than the specifics of this candidate’s attitudes was the evidence of a change in certain social and technological expectations. Many people responded to Romney’s comments by shaking their heads at the fact that he would say those things out loud, that he would speak so candidly. Sure, he was at a fundraiser with other super-rich political puppeteers, but he must have known the information could get out…

Of course, a couple decades ago, it probably would not have. Even if a member of the staff could afford a hidden camera it would have taken a lot of planning and setting up to get the material, and once it was on tape it would have taken a lot of work to get it nationally aired. It may not seem like that’s that much commitment, but it’s definitely active and organized: hide tiny expensive specialty technology beforehand, and then transfer incriminating material to a standard medium, and try to get a national news outlet’s attention without being dismissed as some kind of conspirator (in fact, many journalists back then might have rejected the tape as unethical just because Romney clearly doesn’t realize he’s being taped).

Today, a person does not even have to really care about the consequences – sometimes people will record things just because they can. In a room with a famous person and some number of non-guests with iPhones, it is not at all surprising that someone recorded Romney speaking and then put a portion of it on YouTube—there did not even need to be intent behind it. The ease of catching a person in the act has increased so monumentally that the very idea of a backroom deal is in trouble.* Anyone can tape the conversation and show it to a potential audience of millions, and they don’t even need to dislike you or want to cause harm. It’s just information sharing—the connotations or potential impact of the information is not always considered (this happens on Facebook all the time: a photo posted in fun in one context is evidence of a promise broken in another, for instance).

The idea that we are losing privacy, and even losing the desire for privacy, has been argued about since technology and the internet especially first began allowing for these new methods of disclosure. An angle I want to focus on is the concurrence this has with a rise in atheism. There are plenty of other reasons that the idea of God is not as popular as it once was, and technology and the internet can contribute to the phenomenon in other ways. But there’s a social, pragmatic level at which God is becoming obsolete that could be a factor.

One of the classic reasons to have a concept of God from society’s point of view is the same as a reason to have Santa: “he knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness’ sake.” From an intellectual standpoint this may not be convincing – Plato, for instance, attempts to show why we can’t use God as a referee when discussing the question of ethics in The Republic. The story of the Ring of Gyges, a ring which allows its wearer to become invisible and thus get away with any sort of immoral behavior she chooses with no repercussions, leads to the argument that even if the wearer is invisible, surely the Gods still know and can still judge. The original argument illustrated by the story of the ring is that people only act ethically when they are being watched, and this comeback says, well, you are always being watched by God so the point is moot. God serves as an external conscience.
But in The Republic, this idea is debunked—God is unreliable, and can be appeased by gifts or pleas for forgiveness. If you do something wrong, you can always get back on His good side. In other words, your conscience may know you were unethical this once, but do something extra-nice next week, and you’ll feel it’s been evened out.

In that way, Big Brother is more effective. If a person wants to steal something in a store, but thinks “No, God will know what I’ve done,” they might stop themselves. But they may also imagine that they can bargain with the big guy and promise to never do something like this ever again. On the other hand, if they believe there is a camera coming at them in every direction it will be harder to make that kind of deal. Our increasingly Panoptic forms of life make it possible to see this particular utility of God being overshadowed, since people with videos are a lot more direct and aggressive.

I am not suggesting that would consciously affect beliefs, but if the fear of moral oversight were to shift realistically toward peers, one of God’s greatest strengths would be made irrelevant. Sure, no video can see into your heart: but if it becomes widely expected that everything that happens in a public or semi-public space could be broadcast, that knowledge could play the part of an external conscience just as well as religion.

It’s true that God was famously described as dead over a century ago by Nietzsche, and he too was concerned with moral issues. However, his focus was on the lack of cohesion or agreement in beliefs, whereas I am addressing the much more mundane but perhaps more convincing issue of the cohesion of facts. That is, Nietzsche thought the concept of God was coextensive with the idea of absolute truth, and as that became untenable, religion would die. It’s arguable to what degree that happened, but the issue here is not what is right, but whether the right thing has to be done. God as an externalized conscience becomes less effective when society is doing the job in a more obvious and graspable way (which doesn’t require that God isn’t real, just that His methods are less convincing).

It could easily be coincidence that secularism is on the rise at the same time as surveillance and general recording become the norm, but I’m suggesting that it is part of larger cultural shift, and that the notion of God just fits less easily into a world where we can already picture a very ordinary kind of “all-seeing, all-knowing” presence. What was once supernatural is now merely artificial.

*I wouldn’t want to imply that therefore people will start being ethical, however. There are always adaptations and ways around – the idea is just that a fear of being seen is becoming much more real.

Leave a comment ?


  1. A while ago I was arguing with my then girl-friend and she told me that she was going to film me and put the video in Facebook so that my friends could see what I am really like, the kind of concerns I really get upset about and the kind of language I really use.

    I calmed down and shut up immediately.

  2. In the article above, you focused primarily on the idea that religion provides a surrogate conscience. You suggested that, in effect, the surveillance state provides a more efficient surrogate. You suggest that the internet in particular ends up providing that service. I think these are good points, and certainly a plausible argument.

    Still, as you suggest, there are many different kinds of psychological impulses that direct people toward religion. It might be interesting to write out a catalogue of the various supposed social and psychological functions of religion, and see which functions are being co-opted by other parts of the society.

    Perhaps we can make headway in making that list, then, by observing another way that the internet is a potential challenge to religion. The internet provides an efficient means of escaping everyday life. Yet escapism is broadly the point of Marx’s quote that religion is the ‘opium of the people’, the sigh of the oppressed masses; the sublimation of certain kinds of stress and hardship into a public form. This is just more turf that the internet is honing in on, and taking away from religion.

    Here’s an interesting illustration which helps to make the point, that the internet is a means of escape. Much to my surprise, I recently learned that Mark Twain was one of the earliest figures on record who articulated the escapist potential of the information superhighway. In his short story, “From the London Times of 1904”, written in the late 1800s, he described a device called the ‘telelectroscope’. This technology has essentially all the features of a web browser, Skype, or (perhaps) Second Life:

    By the governor’s command, Clayton was now allowed every indulgence he might ask for which could interest his mind and soften the hardships of his imprisonment. His wife and child spent the days with him; I was his companion by night. He was removed from the narrow cell which he had occupied during such a dreary stretch of time, and given the chief warden’s roomy and comfortable quarters. His mind was always busy with the catastrophe of his life, and with the slaughtered inventor, and he now took the fancy that he would like to have the telelectroscope and divert his mind with it. He had his wish. The connection was made with the international telephone-station, and day by day, and night by night, he called up one corner of the globe after another, and looked upon its life, and studied its strange sights, and spoke with its people, and realised that by grace of this marvellous instrument he was almost as free as the birds of the air, although a prisoner under locks and bars. He seldom spoke, and I never interrupted him when he was absorbed in this amusement. I sat in his parlour and read, and smoked, and the nights were very quiet and reposefully sociable, and I found them pleasant. Now and then I would her him say ‘Give me Yedo;’ next, ‘Give me Hong-Kong;’ next, ‘Give me Melbourne.’ And I smoked on, and read in comfort, while he wandered about the remote underworld, where the sun was shining in the sky, and the people were at their daily work. Sometimes the talk that came from those far regions through the microphone attachment interested me, and I listened.

    I thought that was a little awesome.

  3. The God image Miranda presents to us is an awfully shallow one- God the cosmic babysitter. The problem is that to disbelieve in a particular image of a transcendent intelligence is not necessarily to disbelieve in the transcendent intelligence that may actually exist.

    For example, I don’t believe in any particular definition of “truth” that has been presented to me during my life. I don’t, however, reject the likelihood that there is truth or an overarching reality. If I were to describe myself and my motivations in great detail I have to admit that it is likely I would get much of that description wrong because human beings are highly motivated to develop personal mythologies with which to frame and contextualize their actions. People use their God images to bolster this personal mythology.

    So, is there no God? It is most accurate to say no human conception of the attributes of a god can be demonstrated as a scientifically provable reality. By that standard, though, there is also no Mitt Romney nor any Barack Obama.

  4. I think there ought to be a distinction made between what society has made use of the concept of God for, and what methods, from a Christian theological perspective, God has been thought to employ for controlling people, if any.

    Does the Bible, for example, ever describe an instance where God instructs people “to be good because I’m watching you”? None that I’m aware of. The Bible indicates that a judgment day is coming for all, but has God ever given explicit reason to think that it is his intention to control by means of that knowledge? To the contrary, good behavior, theologically speaking, has never been sufficient to earn God’s favor. Which means, from God’s perspective, there just isn’t any use in controlling people, whether by means of an omniscient gaze or otherwise.

    I think it has always been the function of a group (society) to collectively control the behavior of individuals within the group. Perhaps religion has used God in the past in this project, when cameras and the means of broadcasting recorded images didn’t exist. Through it all, though, controlling others’ behavior has remained primarily the group’s concern rather than God’s.

    It seems God’s concern lies closer to the ancient Desert Father’s notion of contemplative communion: an ontological state of union between creature and Creator, requiring God to provide a means of overcoming the weakness and fallibility of humanity through an act of grace. Whatever divine commands God has given to guide right behavior, again theologically speaking, are only means to that end.

  5. Hi Aaron,

    Does the Bible, for example, ever describe an instance where God instructs people “to be good because I’m watching you”? None that I’m aware of.

    Out of curiosity, have you looked? Here’s a quote from the first hit on a Google search using the keywords “omniscient god verses”:

    “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” Hebrews 4:13

  6. @BLS Nelson:

    I’m aware of the passages elucidating God’s omniscience, yes. However I’m not aware of any instances indicating that it is God’s intent to control people. There are prudential reasons to obey an omniscient being who has the power to condemn, of course, but there’s no reason to think God possesses or advertises these attributes for the purposes of eliciting that kind of obedience. There can’t be much value in an obedience won by threat of hell-fire anyway. Actions flowing from a genuine love for others and rooted in factual, ethical considerations has to be of far higher value. The quote you provide, in context, reads like prudential advice for those who seek a deeper relationship with God based on grace rather than good behavior. Nowhere do you see God basing his relationship with humanity on a Big Brother-like template, as if control were an end in itself. Such is the machination of society, and in some cases, religion, though otherwise theologically untenable.

  7. What a fascinating article. I really enjoyed it, and the comments too. I particularly like Aaron’s points about God’s surveillance role actually being more important to society than to God or to the believer — although Miranda’s point isn’t about theology, of course, but about “the utility of God” and how the idea of God fits into our contemporary society.
    My guess though is that the internet dropped into a world where the idea that God is dead was already so deeply entrenched that we had already confronted the struggle (and frequent failure) to find alternative sources of moral motivation (and moral reasoning). So perhaps the internet doesn’t so much contribute to God’s redundancy as fill a gap that has already been left?

    What I love about the article is its further development of the idea that Freud speaks of somewhere — that technology makes us prosthetic Gods. He was talking about an earlier generation of technological marvels — industry, production, etc., all of which lessen the need to pray to some entity to give us food, etc. Now with information technology we not only have machines that are prosthetic bodies, we also have prostheses-of-the-mind that give us God-like powers. Google is a prosthetic memory of astonishing reach, and Miranda presents the internet as offering a similarly powerful (and wrathful!) prosthetic conscience.
    All these bolt-on devices remind me of the Feuerbachian critique of god — that in building his omniscience and omnipotence we are denuding and impoverishing ourselves. And in the technological realm just as in the theological realm there is less and less left of our autonomous capacities, especially since as individuals we have no mastery whatsoever over the social use of technology. (That Feuerbachian critique is an important part of the philosophical origins of the Marxist perception of technology of course.)
    We are more and more like the feeble little organisms that live inside the powerful Daleks (if reference to a British children’s TV drama isn’t too obscure on an international website!)

    I’m also really interested in how the theological idea of forgiveness might be brought to bear on one particularly wrathful feature of the internet — its feature of not forgetting. If you, say, engage in racist abuse on the subway and go viral it is there forever. What redemption is there? You can confess, show penance, achieve a partial exoneration, but you still carry your sins along like a chain, in the form of content online that will remain and continue to generate wrath. But God’s grace restores our moral selves to factory settings, all sins deleted wholesale!

  8. @Claire:

    Although it is true that Miranda’s point involves the utility of God in contemporary society rather than in Christian theology, she seemed to blur the distinction between the two on a few occasions. For example, “…if the fear of moral oversight were to shift realistically toward peers, one of God’s greatest strengths would be made irrelevant.” Is this meant to refer to God’s greatest strength as a utility or in general? It isn’t clear. Or, “…that knowledge could play the part of an external conscience just as well as religion.” How is religion defined in this context? Or, “…which doesn’t require that God isn’t real, just that His methods are less convincing.” Are these God’s methods, or the methods of society using God as a utility? It sounds like she’s assuming the former, even though the gist of the article, as you say, is the latter. At the very least it is unclear and it seems a distinction ought to be made in order to avoid confusion.

  9. Hi Aaron, while it’s perfectly true to say that not all allegations regarding omniscience have implications about God acting as a kind of Big Brother, the very specific quote which I selected from Hebrews 4:13 does seem to provide that evidence. Perhaps you might take another look.

  10. Yes, I agree Aaron that yours was a useful clarification.

  11. I realize now that my above comment may seem obnoxious unless I provide additional motivation. Here is the context of 4:13 — Hebrews 4:12:

    “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”

    That’s not just advising grace. If it is advising prudence, then it is a form of prudence is indistinguishable from a threat. The Big Brother reading is quite clear, here: the use of violent imagery has a definite and unmistakable rhetorical effect.

  12. Re:- swallerstein September 26,
    Within the society in which we live we do not wish to be thought of badly. Similarly we do not wish to think badly of ourselves. Different societies, cultures, and ethnic variations, from ours have different mores. Thus the behaviour objected to by your then girl friend could well be approved of outside of the society in which you, and she exist. The word “Then” suggests there may have been irreconcilable differences here.

  13. Don:

    I have never known anyone whose private and public behavior follow the same norms and manifest the same discourse.

    What’s more, most of us distinguish several private and public spheres: for example, I have different private behaviors ( and discourses) with good friends, with family, with my son, with a girl-friend and when I’m alone.

    Romney apparently was not prudent enough to distinguish what he should say in context A and in context B.

    I prefer a president with the prudence to be able to distinguish what he (or she) has to say in each context. I also prefer one who while they say the usual bromides and clichés during their campaign, when they make serious political decisions which affect the nation, refer to other forms of discourse.

    There may be simpler societies and simpler subcultures, within our societies, in which people behave in the same way or almost the same way in public and in private and in which my private behavior would be approved of.

    In my subculture, however, one is publicly expected not to behave in private in ways that everyone knows that everyone behaves in private.

    A complicated game, but those are the rules.

    As to “irreconciliable differences”, I’ve come to the conclusion that I have irreconciliable differences with everyone I’ve met and that everyone has irreconciliable differences with me, but that the art of living together depends on not noticing those irreconciliable differences or on pretending that differences really are not differences.

  14. Aaron makes a useful point. Religion is something people do, invoking God for their own purposes. Discussions of theological ideas often mingle God and religion as though they were the same thing, then inevitably jump to wrong conclusions.

    The ways religion is used to control people are far more subtle than most people realize, though. All cultures (and sub-cultures) develop a web of mythologies that provide the conceptual context in which people function. This context makes some thoughts inevitable and others impossible. The manner in which people think defines what they can do.

    Seen in this light it is easier to understand the bewilderment with which the Christian right and the political left view each other. They live in incompatible cultural contexts.

    Lost in this discussion so far, though, is the notion of how we are using the new omniscience of the Internet to create a supplanting religion- a kind of Internet Reformation. Recall the turmoil in Europe after Luther’s protests. In that period a change in the emphasis on different aspects of religious presentations of the personality of God separated much of Europe from the conceptual control of the church of Rome. So, too, we see a great contest being waged in the Internet over the relative merits and demerits of a variety of world views. The unfading (but highly manipulable) memory of the Internet is used to support some interpretations of the actions of people and erode others. The goal is the same as that of religion: create a new thought environment, and new societal mythology, in which some ways of believing are universally held to be anathema and others are held to be dogma.

  15. doris wrench eisler

    This external, technological replacement for God might work for some but it will never take the place of the individual conscience or the self-consciousness related to the now unpopular concept of self-esteem. Many people for instance would not steal because it would conflict with their own self-image: they wouldn’t demean themselves, in other words. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, many people advocate an assault on the wrongly identified “egos” of children and others – and do so while they contradictorily advocate individualism over collectivism. Egotism is not another word for the self-esteem that holds the individual to human standards, the highest achievable.

  16. First of all lets start with the position of God within society. From my point of view we do not know whether God exists or not. Although a God that allows the holocaust to happen is not one I would ascribe to if indeed God does exist. With respect to Nietzche’s statement as to God being dead. Did he mean God or organised religion is dead or dying. There is a lot of difference as organised religion is not God and has been responsible for so much death and destruction over the ages. In this aspect it can hardly be surprising that many have become secular. Though that being said secularism has caused much death and destruction as well.

    On the point as to the increasing surveilance apparatus along with increasing secularism. There was of cause different forms of surveilance during the times of the Roman Catholic Inquisition. Also I am sure in many strict Muslim states with shia and sunni populations or as individuals there has to much care as to what is said and done.

    With regards to privacy offcourse that has to be observed and respected but political speeches and actions are and should be up for investigation. So to this should be the case for influential people within society. But this should I re-emphasize should be regarding their jobs and not regarding their personal lives unless that involves incidences of crime or double standards with their political personas.

    With regards to Mitt Romney as a US Presidential candidate he must expect much investigation and observation when you consider some frailities, though we all have them, of previous US Preidents.

  17. Re Swallerstein Sept 27th;
    I guess that people in the public eye do have to vary their behaviour to suit the occasion. This is probably important so far as politicians are concerned. They want to be liked and voted for, so publicly they act accordingly, cf Romney’s lack of prudence.
    So far as I am concerned, and I am not in the public eye, I am, and those I have consulted, are unable to detect any difference in my behaviour patterns wherever I am, or whosoever is in my company. With strangers I may restrict my tendency to bad language until I know them better. My topics of conversation are similar with everybody but of course are modified by their views and or subject matter. Other than the bodily functions I cannot think of anything else I would not publicly display. That said I do favour the philosophy of ‘When in Rome do as the Romans do’ but that is just good manners I suppose. So far as irreconcilable differences are concerned I cannot recollect any, and guess people are entitled to their own view, which I could well oppose. I am beginning to wonder now if I am really just some sort of ineffectual freak. Hopefully some others are similar

  18. Don:

    It’s a pleasure to get to know you.

    I’m surely the freak, not you, although I’m not entirely ineffectual when something or someone matters to me.

    I’d say that besides certain fixed personality traits and lots of set habits which never vary, I have a set of core values, which I stick to: for example, I’m polite even if others are not polite and as I see society becoming less and less polite, I become more and more polite, as a gesture of protest, even though I doubt that anyone notices my silent gesture of protest.

    My core values are seemingly arbitrary, that is, not derived from any ethical system, although they have roots in my upbringing, education and biography.

    Other values that matter to most people don’t matter to me at all. For instance, there are certain political issues about which everyone appears to have a definite opinion, either for or against and I just don’t care one way or another. Thus, I feel free to agree with those who are in favor at times and to agree with those who are against on other occasions, depending on my mood, my desire to please or
    my willingness to argue.

    The original post brings up Plato’s brilliant thought experiment, the ring of Gyges.

    Would I change my behavior if I were invisible?

    No, I would not change my core values, but otherwise, I would feel free to do as I please.

    As the song goes, I have a little list and none of them would be missed (by me at least).

    With my magical ring, I’d go to work on my list.

    (Don’t worry, you’re not on the list and anyway, I don’t have a magical ring.)

  19. Re swallerstien. Sept 28th
    You make some interesting points here. Core values it seems govern our behaviour. Their origin as you suggest is found in upbringing education and biography and I would suggest additionally, genetic input. Out of this again I say, it seems, as I do not know, we are scarcely able to change these basic promptings which govern our behaviour. Outside of this core, other promptings of a more transient and insubstantial nature also from time to time are active, but it is far easier to say yes or no to these, especially when they agree or disagree with out core values.
    Personally I am not aware that my behaviour is in accordance with, or or influenced by and moral system. I do have some sympathy with Virtue ethics as per Aristotle. Again it seems to me that the morally right thing to do is that which brings about the best outcome available. However whatever the morally right thing to do in any instance, I do not think can be completely captured in general moral principles.
    Returning to core values once they are fully developed they are probably immutable. For instance all the reasoning and argument in the World, I do not think, would have deterred someone like Adolph Hitler to change his mind and act otherwise. On the other hand we do have cases of reformed criminals; as to whether their core values have changed seems an arguable point.
    I have since a child been fascinated by invisibility. For some perverse reason my greatest desire was to spy on the Monarch of the land when they were about their most private business. I hasten to add I did outgrow that desire as my core values developed. I am by nature a rather inquisitive person so in that connection Invisibility does appeal to me, but again I suspect my core values may not at times permit me full access at what I wish to pry on.

  20. Don Bird:

    The invisibility thought experiment is a powerful one, especially because, unlike most thought experiments, it plays into fantasies of invisibility that many people really have.

    It’s not theoretical or academic or contrived.

    I think that the best way to figure out your core values is to imagine that you are invisible and then to ponder on what values you actually will act on (core values) and what values you currently pay to lip service to and will discard if no one sees what you are up to.

    You’re right: genes determine core values too, as well as the factors, upbringing, education and biography, which I mention.

    I also agree with you that if I had to opt for one of the three major Western ethical theories, I’d choose Aristotle’s, as making the most sense.

  21. swallerstein,
    What are your other two classifications and distinctions of major Western ethical theory?

  22. Hello Dennis:

    The other major ethical theories are consequentialism and deontological ethics.

  23. swallerstein,
    I thought Aristotle’s virtue ethics were deontogical. That is, a deontological ethical decision is monistic. A decision is not unique and there is only one answer — the right answer.

    A consequentialist theory attempts to find a good answer, or the best answer from a selection of alternatives.

  24. Dennis:

    I’m far from an expert on ethical theory, but here is the Wikipedia article on normative ethics, which distinguishes between deontological and virtue ethics.


    It list two more types of ethical theories: ethics of care and pragmatic ethical theories.

  25. swallerstein,
    That is an interesting distinction. Virtue ethics assumes that only the right person can make a decision. There could still be an argument that virtue ethics is a specific interpretation of deontology. Is it necessary to make further classifications of ethics, or are these only more parlour games?

  26. Re:- Dennis Sceviour:-
    “Virtue ethics assumes that only the right person can make a decision.”

    I think this may be better expressed by saying the decisions a person makes determines whether or not that is a virtuous person. Virtuosity is apparently not easily won and I remember reading that even if a virtuous man be deceased his virtuosity may be infringed by any bad behaviour on behalf of his offspring. I can’t give you the reference for this at the moment. The three main ethical systems are 1/ Utilitarianism which is a system of consequences such that the morally right act is that which has the consequence of producing more utility. Classical utilitarians hold that utility is defined as increasing the pleasure and decreasing the pain of as many people as possible. This is often hotly contested. J S Mill and J Bentham are your men here. 2/Deontological ethics. This means doing one’s duty. Kant will be your man here. One can do all sorts of good acts according to Kant which are praiseworthy but the only acts which attract Moral worth are those where one does one’s Duty. It is a bit complex to go into here and on the whole it is not a very satisfactory school of thought, well it might be for some perhaps. Virtue ethics, and Aristotle is your man here, and this concerns living a virtuous life not so much special instances of being good or helpful to everybody but perhaps making the best decisions in life on all occasions. Again it is not possible to develop this further here. There are other moral systems other than the the mentioned above but Ethics is not an aspect of philosophy which I pursue much so I will not enlarge other than to say Moral Particularism does hold some interest for me You can read about that in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy by Jonathan Dancy who on occasions tried to drum in to me some understanding of Moral Philosophy when I was a student. I like your reference to Parlour games, one does wonder at times.

  27. Dennis
    My use of the word Virtuosity is not quite correct here. The noun I want is I think Virtuousness. Virtuosity is exceptional talent in music or other fine art. Of course this could well form part of the composition of the Virtuous man, but we might expect more than that of him. I must give up writing in the early hours of the morning I think.

  28. Dennis Sceviour

    Thank you for the correction on the usage of the word Virtuosity. No doubt you have avoided the wrath and furry of challenges from readers on its usage.

    I favour consequentialism in decision theory; however, I am not a utilitarian. I remember a quotation where Bentham admitted he had a gift for writing legislation. It could be speculated that Bentham invented utilitarianism as an abstract explanation for his excessive legislation. Moral Particularism seems to be a form of consequentialism in that it recognizes each situation and problem solution as unique (particular).

    I have difficulty in distinguishing the difference between deontology and virtue ethics. One can attach the historical names of the proponents, but the basic approach and the final results for problem solving appear the same. That is, the answer is never unique (particular). Is it possible to simply describe how they differ in expected results?

  29. Dennis:
    I am currently in a situation where my behaviour could be described by Kant as doing one’s duty. and my actions have moral worth, I do not like what I am doing, and wish other were the case. I am personally discomforted by what I do but take steps not to divulge all this to the recipient, although the recipient of my actions is very grateful. It appears that my bad feelings in the matter do not detract from the Kantian moral worth involved. So much for Kant. On the other hand in view of all the circumstances it seems what I do is the best solution all round and that is how I view it, I do not give a jot for moral worth.
    As you say there is a “recognition of each each situation and problem solution as unique (particular).” Every difference makes a difference no two similar sets of circumstances are identical in all respects and this for me, conspires against any code of moral conduct in the form of Thou shalt/shalt not.

  30. Dennis Sceviour

    It is perturbing that a conflict exists between your feelings and a commitment to Kantian duty. Conflict is frequently discussed within this web blog, but it is usually limited to contrived dilemmas or situations of extremis. I sense a futility. Philosophy can contribute something to this. Perhaps you may examine the works of Albert Camus – The Myth of Sisyphus or The Plague – as an insight into the subject of futility and absurdity.

  31. Dennis yes I am familiar with both “The Myth of Sisyphus” And “The Plague.” I would not actually describe my feelings as a conflict as I am not a Kantian in this connection of Morals. I was giving an example of how I Think Kant might view my actions in this matter. So far as futility is concerned am not aware of any problem. Philosophically I am of the opinion that we do live a meaningless. Futile, and perhaps absurd existence, but I seem to be able to accept that state of affairs without recourse to Religion or other stories purporting to explain the whys and wherefores of our existence. So far as the action I take in this matter is concerned, it is best described in common language of the street as just a bloody nuisance, which in due course will go away. So far as Kant’s Categorical Imperative is concerned it has, so far as I am aware, little or no influence in decisions I take in life.

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