Being Good

Simon Blackburn's Being Good: A short introduction to ethics is a cute little philosophy book that, not surprisingly, raises more questions than it answers. Along the way it offers a host of interesting thoughts and anecdotes. For example, in section 2 ("Relativism") Blackburn highlights the line between imposing one's moral standards and refusing to support evil:

... [This] counteracts the idea that we are just 'imposing' parochial, western standards when, in the name of universal human rights, we oppose oppressions of people on the grounds of gender, caste, race, or religion. Partly, we can say that it is usually not a question of imposing anything. It is a question of cooperating with the oppressed and supporting their emancipation. More importantly, it is usually not at all certain that the values we are upholding are so very alien to the others (this is one of the places where we are let down by thinking simplistically of hermetically sealed cultures: them and us). After all, it is typically only the oppressors who are spokespersons for theirculture or their ways of doing it. It is not the slaves who value slavery, or the women who value the fact that they may not take employment, or the young girls who value disfigurement. It is the brahmins, mullahs, priests, and elders who hold themselves to be spokesmen for their culture. What the rest think about it all too often goes unrecorded. Just as victors write the history, so it is those on top who write their justification for the top being where it is. THose on the bottom don't get to say anything.

In section 3 ("Egoism") Blackburn talks about knowledge and proof and close-mindedness:

... The philosopher Karl Popper (1902-94) told a story about describing a case to the psychoanalyst Alfred Adler. Adler listened to the description, and unhesitatingly pronounced castration anxiety, father jealousy, desire to sleep with the mother, or whatever it was. When he had finished, Popper asked him how he knew. 'Because of my thousand-fold experience,' came the reply. 'And with this new case,' said Popper, according to his own report, 'I suppose your experience has become a thousand-and-one-fold.' ...

The final paragraph of Being Good offers a guardedly-cheerful view of the state of the world:

But if we reflect on an increased sensitivity to the environment, to sexual difference, to gender, to people different from ourselves in a whole variety of ways, we can see small, hard-won, fragile, but undeniable causes of pride. If we are careful, and mature, and imaginative, and fair, and nice, and lucky, the moral mirror in which we gaze at ourselves may not show us saints. But it need not show us monsters, either.

(cf. HumanNature (1999-12-05), ThinkAgain (2002-08-29), ...) - ^z - 2009-12-08