A democracy made up entirely of aristoi


0153 | [ Continuing my study of Scanlon’s book, What We Owe To Each Other… ]

Scanlon writes:

“The idea of justifiability to others provides a substantive account of the basis of moral motivation, and I would argue that this idea must be recognized in, and shape, any morally defensible way of life.” (p. 338)

Is this the same thing as saying that social convention is what determines moral rights and wrongs? If so, then I disagree. The practices and habits of the majority are not always healthy or correct — though, I’ll certainly allow that they could be. On my view, the “majority” could only have healthy practices if that group is made up of sovereign individuals who each have sufficient respect for the truth that is within each individual; and so each member of the group would have cultivated a sensitivity to it, and would be responsive to it. This is the only way that the “wisdom of the masses” can work correctly.

But, I don’t think that Scanlon means what I would disagree with. He only uses the language that sounds as though he might mean this.

I suspect that what he really means is something like what I’ve written about in my own paper on “sensitivity”. But according to my views on sensitivity, the aim of sensitivity is “correct judgment.” And this can only be attained when decision-making processes take raw data as guiding and factive. And raw data can only be factive and function as “guiding” if the raw data is based on truth.

I suppose that my worry is that the sort of statement that Scanlon makes can be misconstrued and abused, because by itself it leaves out something important. Without that important element, what we get is a kind of “parasitic behavior” characteristic of mobs, rather than Socratic harmony…

Imagine a democracy made up entirely of aristoi. That is what Plato’s vision was. In short, it was the finishing touch to what Solon had started in Athens, so long ago.

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1148 | [ Continuing my study of Scanlon’s book, What We Owe To Each Other… ]

Last night at the train station, I was trying to make sense of what he wrote here:

“A relativism that fails to take these reasons seriously may be put forward as broad-minded and tolerant, but it in fact shows a lack of respect for the people in question. The view I am defending allows for this counterargument, because what it takes as fundamental is not what people actually think or want, but what they have reason to want.” (p.341)

And the last sentence is followed with a note:

“This is not to say that it would be permissible to intervene, against their wishes, in the name of their true interests. Since, as I noted in Chapter 6, one of the things people have reason to want is to be able to control their lives in certain ways, what people actually want makes a difference to how they may be treated. But this is compatible with the fact that actual wishes are not what is fundamental: what people have reason to want determines how and when what they actually want makes a moral difference.” (p.407)

I was trying to figure out what he meant by differentiating between “what people actually want” vs. “what people have reason to want.” And also what it means for Scanlon to say that something makes a “moral difference.” And while I was wondering these things, I discovered something important.

To answer these two questions, I must first differentiate between two kinds of “wanting.” There are wants that are “preferences,” and there are wants that are “oughts.” (In the latter case, it may help clarify things to note that “oughts” and “shoulds” are essentially “ideals.” And “ideals” are fundamentally “wants.”)

Next, I must say something about the two kinds of wanting. Preferences don’t make a “moral” difference. On the other hand, oughts do make a “moral” difference. This is tautologically true for me — but I realize that it may not be so intuitively self-evident for everyone. It’s only so obvious to me because I have a key: the meaning of “morality.” Now, “morality” simply means “rules,” because it takes its meaning from the Latin root mos, which just means “rules”; it does not mean “custom” or “convention”. And for me, the proper domain of morality is the “self.” And so “morality” is essentially about one’s own rules for one’s self. And now to bring it all together, basically the reason why “oughts” make a “moral difference” is because the notion of “rules” by definition imply the strong urge of necessity, and this forceful urge of necessity is applied to all things pertaining to self-government. (For some reason, I feel like I’ve uncovered a huge mystery that’s been confounding people for centuries with this “discovery.”)

This said, just because something is necessary does not mean that it therefore must be unpleasant or otherwise undesirable. When the world is just, and all the people in it are healthy, necessity is not unpleasant or otherwise undesirable. It is natural and fine.

I think that this is very important.

It might also be helpful in a response to Prof. Weiss comments about Plato’s repeated use of “ananke” in the part in the Republic which talks about the philosophers being compelled by force to return to the cave.

Hmm. The force of logical argument. Plato’s Timaeus. Intellect + Necessity = Persuasion.

Parmenides. The way of “discovery.” Persuasion.

Philosopher kings. Return to the cave by force, a force of necessity. By means of persuasion.

Philosopher kings return to the cave by means of persuasion.