Werner Herzog’s ‘Into the Abyss’

Conversations with death row inmate Michael Perry and those affected by his crime serve as an examination of why people – and the state – kill (IMDB).

In class we talked about Werner Herzog’s Into the Abyss. The discussion questions are below if you click on the image.

into the abyss

For your review it would be great if you engage with the big questions the film poses rather than just critique the methods/techniques used in its production. In your answer you might like to include:

  • Your opinion(s) about the legitimacy of capital punishment
  • Your reasons for it
  • Some arguments and points made by different philosophers (especially Bentham and Kant)
  • Some mention of the case of Carla Faye that Captain Allan mentions
  • Some religious view points
  • A detailed and reasoned explanation as to which opinions you agree/disagree with and exactly why

The following might help:

Screen shot 2015-06-12 at 10.04.58

Screen shot 2015-06-12 at 10.07.20

 

MacIntyre on Nietzsche ( vs Aristotle)

Hello, I promised the other day that I would have a look at this for you… I’ve just managed to find a few hours just now so I’ll stick down some quick ideas useful for the exam and try to find time to organise properly later….

Firstly I thought I would start with a strength… IB exam answers sometimes miss out the massive positives and evidence for a position and forget that these are key in making an informed and careful evaluation (which, of course, you get good marks for)…

As you know, MacIntyre’s argument in After Virtue* claims that all modern ‘moral discourse’ is broken as it tries to make sense of fragments of a lost language; and it is this, according to MacIntyre, that Nietzsche observed and took great issue with. Nietzsche correctly observed the problematic use and nature of moral language at play in the world around him. MacIntyre claims he ‘disposes of [recent attempts] to discover rational foundations for an objective morality’. And in only five paragraphs! (*113)

This said, however, MacIntyre is by no means a champion of Nietzsche. Nietzsche, he writes,

‘illegitimately generalised from the condition of moral judgement in his own day to the nature of morality as such…but it is worth noting that [he] began from a genuine insight.’ (*113 emphasis mine)
MacIntyre’s argument against Nietzsche is that if the original rejection of Aristotle was in fact a mistake, then it follows that each of the following philosophies based upon this rejection would be ill informed and unnecessary. And if these philosophies were indeed mistaken, then their logical conclusion (which Nietzsche ably voices) could be seen to be unnecessary also. Put another way, MacIntyre states clearly that if Nietzsche is correct that all moral philosophies are faulty then his position is inescapable. MacIntyre, of course, believes that it is possible to verbalise a coherent ‘virtue ethics’ account and so believes that this makes Nietzsche’s account not just unnecessary but incorrect (117). Nietzsche was right to call ‘Enlightenment’ moral philosophy a failure but, according to MacIntyre, it was only a failure because it left virtue ethics behind. MacIntyre is claiming that the vast majority of moral philosophy you have studied was ‘not only mistaken, but should never have been commenced in the first place’ (118).
In class we discussed that what sets virtue ethics apart from other normative accounts is that it is primarily concerned about a human telos. Of course there may be discussions about what to do in a certain situation, there may even be talk of prohibitions, but these are never the essential focus. In a claim very similar to Nietzsche’s, MacIntyre feels able to reject the entire of what he calls the ‘enlightenment project’ of moral philosophy. He points out that even Rawls understood virtues as tendencies that keeping the rules led to, the very same mistake that was made with the banishment of Aristotle. To see why I feel able to say this criticism has a Nietzschean ‘feel’, go back through your notes on Nietzsche’s ‘frustration’ with Kant.
Interestingly, Nietzsche and Aristotle are agreeing that the correct subject matter of this question of living well should be character. And both are rejecting the primacy of rules or legislation. Indeed a number of recent writers (eg Fraser above) understand Nietzsche as intimately concerned with flourishing and character. Following MacIntyre, we might agree that those virtues described by the German as ‘noble’ are the very same described in the Iliad.

Following this claim, MacIntyre traces the development of virtue ethics. You could look at Vardy’s description for a brief summary. In his conclusion he seeks to adjudicate on the question he posed midway through the book: Nietzsche or Aristotle?

Even more interestingly, MacIntyre asserts that a thoughtful Nietzschean would have just as much difficulty with the emotivism apparent in our society as a serious Aristotlean would. In making his case for the mistake rejection of Aristotle, MacIntyre has two key premises. The first is that contemporary moral vocabulary is composed of fragments and ‘left-overs’ from Aristotle’s teleological approach. The second is that Aristotle’s account of virtues, and the tradition to which it leads is rational and ultimately invulnerable to the Nietzschean attacks. To further make his case, MacIntyre attacks Nietzsche’s notion of the Ubermensch. This solitary individual finds no ‘good’ in the world of others and, according to MacIntyre, is necessarily deceptive (258). For this individual the congratulation or rebuke of another is empty for it does not originate in his or her own will.
MacIntyre believes that, in his defence of the virtues, he has shown that the human person is not individual by nature. And it is because Nietzsche assumes this that he understood all moral discourse as an articulation of the individual’s will – for what else could the latter be if the former is the case? The rather ironic claim is that it is Nietzsche, in addition to Kant et al., who assumes his conclusion on his way to arguing for it. In one sense you might hold us to be at a stalemate. For how are we to adjudicate on such a basic question? For MacIntyre the answer is clear. One has to be a member of a community in order to gain the skills required to condemn it. The absolute individual is an illusion, and it is only by assuming this radical individualism that one is led to see all community conceptions of ‘good’ as expressions of ‘will’. Of course, MacIntyre believes he has given a good account of virtue ethics which has the community conception of good as its foundation. For this reason he believes Nietzsche’s base assumption is false, as are the conclusions it necessitates.

MacIntyre reads Nietzsche as the closing prophet of the doomed enlightenment project of moral philosophy. Though Nietzsche mistakenly saw himself to be outside this period, condemning it completely, his entire position stemmed from the mistake that was hidden deep beneath Kantianism, Utilitarianism and Emotivism. He saw that there was a problem, a failure, but he mistook Aristotle’s tradition for part of the problem rather than its solution.

 

Sorry I realise my ‘quick ideas’ have been less than quick. In summary for analysing and evaluating Nietzsche’s Genealogy:

STRENGTH: Even scholars who certainly would not see themselves as Nietzscheans see that Nietzsche was the first to see the brokenness of much of our moral discourse.

CRITICISM: Nietzsche ‘illegitimately generalised from the condition of moral judgement in his own day to the nature of morality as such…”

CRITICISM: If Aristotle is right, then Nietzsche is wrong.

CRITICISM: Nietzsche’s ideal, his Ubermensch is based upon the assumption that the human person is radically isolated. MacIntyre reads the vast majority of FN’s writings as proceeding from this premise, one which AM finds faulty.

EVALUATION: I think your evaluation of each of these will be intertwined. You might mention Wittgenstein really quickly (arguments against private language), as well as having an opinion on MacIntyre’s argument as well as his reading of Nietzsche.

Good luck for Philosophy from Torridon


Good luck for tomorrow’s exam I’m sure you’re all going to do great… Remember to answer the question precisely and to evidence everything you say. Every time you see AE marks you are expected to analyse and evaluate which usually means strengths and weaknesses and “is it real?” sort of answers… Explain around everything you say an stick to to your timings… Good Luck 🙂

Useful Explanation of Preference Utilitarianism

Hopefully this will be helpful to those of you revising Moral Philosophy when considering Peter Singer:

A related position rests on the claim that what is good is desire satisfaction or the fulfillment of preferences; and what is bad is the frustration of desires or preferences. What is desired or preferred is usually not a sensation but is, rather, a state of affairs, such as having a friend or accomplishing a goal. If a person desires or prefers to have true friends and true accomplishments and not to be deluded, then hooking this person up to the experience machine need not maximize desire satisfaction. Utilitarians who adopt this theory of value can then claim that an agent morally ought to do an act if and only if that act maximizes desire satisfaction or preference fulfillment, regardless of whether the act causes sensations of pleasure. This position is usually described as preference utilitarianism.

Preference utilitarianism is often criticized on the grounds that some preferences are misinformed, crazy, horrendous, or trivial. I might prefer to drink the liquid in a glass because I think that it is beer, though it really is acid. Or I might prefer to die merely because I am clinically depressed. Or I might prefer to torture children. Or I might prefer to spend my life learning to write as small as possible. In all such cases, opponents of preference utilitarianism can deny that what I prefer is really good. Preference utilitarians can respond by limiting the preferences that make something good, such as by referring to informed desires that do not disappear after therapy (Brandt 1979). However, it is not clear that such qualifications can solve all of the problems for a preference theory of value without making the theory circular by depending on substantive assumptions about which preferences are for good things.

continue reading at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/consequentialism/

Help with difficult Kant Readings…

Updated: Even more detail….

This is really a bit of an experiment, and it’s not finished… It’s basically the specified Kant readings with some commentary for anyone that’s finding it all a bit hard to follow… please comment if it’s useful.

If I get enough positive feedback I’ll go through and do the Nozick and Utilitarianism readings too…

Click on the image to download the pdf file.