Players and dogs


0747 |  [ Continuing a study of Scanlon’s book, What We Owe To Each Other… ]

I know that it takes me a lot longer to read books this way — it took me over a week to finish 70 pages. But this way has its own rewards as well. A cool, refreshing drink tastes best when one is hot and thirsty. Desire is the ultimate flavor of life.

Scanlon says these three things, which puts to rest some of the worries that I had these past few days, while confirming some important things. He writes:

“…the ground we have for continuing to accept particular judgments is a matter of the substantive case for those judgments.” (p.71)

“We have to consider the possibility that the error is ours; but if reexamination of our own reactions gives no grounds for doubt, then we are justified in remaining true to our own judgments and regarding the others as strangely different.” (p.72)

“…it is unclear what significance a world of reasons beyond those we can recognize would have.” (p.72)

“Suppose that you regard yourself as a being with moral standing, defined by rights which limit how you may be treated. If you then learn that others with whom you generally associate see no reason to care about you or to give your interests any weight in their decisions unless it is to their advantage to do so, or that they regard you as having standing only insofar as you, like them, are a member of the elect group of true believers, this has a pervasive effect on your relations with them. This may make no difference to your personal safety or to the likelihood that you will be treated well by them; but even if it does not, it changes your standing and puts your relations with them on an entirely different footing. Because this difference matters, you have reason to care about the reasons others take themselves to be governed by in deciding how to treat you.” (p.76)

“If I am a member of an artistic or religious community, for example, the bond with the other members that comes from a recognition of the same values, and the shared life that this makes possible, may be of central importance to me. So if our opinions on crucial questions begin to diverge… this affects me deeply. This is so not only because one or the other of us may be wrong but also because the continuation of our common life may be threatened. We may no longer be able to regard one another as fellow believers… I can no longer participate wholeheartedly in our activities if I no longer see them as important…” (p.75-76)

This last passage especially, makes me realize how much Scanlon loves this country and what it was founded upon, and what it represents.

Why do philosophers write?

Presumably, it’s not simply a matter of expressing oneself. Perhaps there is a small hope that the writing will persuade someone to some action or a belief. If this is true, then the agents, believers — ie, those who are willing to be players of the game — are the philosopher’s children, and should be the most lovable in their eyes; for it is they who make the writing have value; it is they who are the fruit of their work.

If Scanlon had not retired, I think that I would have liked for him to be a mentor. There’s a lot of Plato in what he says.

I want Harvard to admit me into their grad program. I want to study here officially, and to be someone to whom Harvard has an obligation so that I can be someone to whom sincere and truthful answers are due. As someone with unofficial status, my questions and concerns are often ignored because perhaps they seem obvious, or even, silly. I have even been asked to refrain from voicing my suggestions, comments, or questions. Presumably, one need not consciously ignore a comment, if it is not heard in the first place. And so, I feel like a stray dog that has wandered into someone’s great estate, living off of the scraps that drop from the owner’s table; I am even chased away.

But what do the Latins say? CAVE CANEM. Can I take this to be the Cynic motto, or something else? One could take this to mean: beware the person who has nothing to lose but her truth and her freedom. It’s true that the stray dog is accustomed to her freedom to love and to see; but I am sure that in choosing such a freedom, she is not thereby choosing to be hungry, miserable, homeless, and friendless — or even, to die. One does not choose these things. It is a curious person indeed, who accuses the stray for choosing such things.