Ideas of Gordon Graham, by Theme

[British, b.1949, At St Andrews University, then Professor at Aberdeen.]

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13. Knowledge Criteria / E. Relativism / 3. Subjectivism
'Subjectivism' is an extension of relativism from the social group to the individual
     Full Idea: What is called 'subjectivism' is really just an extension of relativism from the level of the social group to the level of the individual.
     From: Gordon Graham (Eight Theories of Ethics [2004], Ch.1)
     A reaction: Personally I prefer to stick with 'relativism', at any level. 'Relative' is a two-place predicate, so we should always specify what is relative to what, unless it is obvious from context. Morality might be relative to God, for example.
22. Metaethics / B. The Good / 1. Goodness / g. Consequentialism
Negative consequences are very hard (and possibly impossible) to assess
     Full Idea: Negative consequences make the extension of the consequences of our actions indefinite, and this means that it is difficult to assess them; it may make it impossible, since there is now no clear sense to the idea of THE consequences of an action at all.
     From: Gordon Graham (Eight Theories of Ethics [2004], Ch.7)
     A reaction: The general slogan of 'Do your best' covers most objections to the calculation of consequences. It is no excuse for stealing a wallet that 'at least I wasn't committing genocide'. How easy were the alternative actions to do?
22. Metaethics / B. The Good / 1. Goodness / i. Moral luck
We can't criticise people because of unforeseeable consequences
     Full Idea: It is unreasonable to say that people have acted badly because of consequences which were not merely unforeseen but unforeseeable.
     From: Gordon Graham (Eight Theories of Ethics [2004], Ch.7)
     A reaction: Interesting, and it sounds right. A key question in moral philosophy is how much effort people should make to assess the consequences of their actions. We must surely absolve them of the truly 'unforeseeable' consequence.
22. Metaethics / C. Ethics Foundations / 1. Nature of Ethics / g. Moral responsibility
The chain of consequences may not be the same as the chain of responsibility
     Full Idea: From a utilitarian point of view, the error of Archduke Ferdinand's driver (he turned up a cul-de-sac) was the worst in history, ...but the chain of consequences may not be the same as the chain of responsibility.
     From: Gordon Graham (Eight Theories of Ethics [2004], Ch.7)
     A reaction: Can you cause something, and yet not be responsible for it? The driver was presumably fully conscious, rational and deliberate. He must share the responsibility for catastrophe, just as he shares in the causing of all the consequences.
23. Ethics / A. Egoism / 1. Ethical Egoism
Egoism submits to desires, but cannot help form them
     Full Idea: Egoism is inadequate as a guide to good living. Though it tells us what to do, given pre-existent desires, it cannot help us critically form those desires.
     From: Gordon Graham (Eight Theories of Ethics [2004], Ch.9)
     A reaction: A crucial point in morality. It also applies to utilitarianism (should I change my capacity for pleasure?), and virtue theory (how should I genetically engineer 'human nature'?). I think these problems push us towards Platonism. See Idea 4840.
23. Ethics / C. Virtue Theory / 2. Elements of Virtue Theory / h. Right feelings
Rescue operations need spontaneous benevolence, not careful thought
     Full Idea: If more lives are to be saved in natural disasters, what is needed is spontaneity on the part of the rescuers, a willingness not to stop and think but to act spontaneously.
     From: Gordon Graham (Eight Theories of Ethics [2004], Ch.7)
     A reaction: This seems right, but must obviously be applied with caution, as when people are drowned attempting hopeless rescues. The most valuable person in an earthquake may be the thinker, not the digger.
23. Ethics / D. Deontological Ethics / 4. Categorical Imperative
'What if everybody did that?' rather misses the point as an objection to cheating
     Full Idea: I can object to your walking on the grass by asking 'What if everybody did that?', but the advantages of cheating depend upon the fact that most people don't cheat, so justifying my own cheating must involve special pleading.
     From: Gordon Graham (Eight Theories of Ethics [2004], Ch.6)
     A reaction: It is, of course, reasonable to ask 'What if everybody cheated?', but it is also reasonable to reply that 'the whole point of cheating is that it exploits the honesty of others'. This shows that Kant cannot simply demolish the 'free rider'.
23. Ethics / F. Existentialism / 1. Existentialism
It is more plausible to say people can choose between values, than that they can create them
     Full Idea: To say that individuals are free to choose their own values is more naturally interpreted as meaning that they are free to choose between pre-existent values.
     From: Gordon Graham (Eight Theories of Ethics [2004], Ch.5)
     A reaction: Existentialism seems absurdly individualistic in its morality. Nietzsche was the best existentialist, who saw that most people have to be sheep. Strong personalities can promote or demote the old values on the great scale of what is good.
23. Ethics / F. Existentialism / 2. Nihilism
Life is only absurd if you expected an explanation and none turns up
     Full Idea: If 'life is absurd' just means 'there is no logical explanation for human existence', we have no reason for anguish, unless we think there should be such an explanation.
     From: Gordon Graham (Eight Theories of Ethics [2004], Ch.5)
     A reaction: This is aimed at Kierkegaard and Camus. 'Absurd' certainly seems to be a relative notion, and we have nothing to compare life with. However, life does strike us as a bit odd sometimes, don't you think?
23. Ethics / F. Existentialism / 5. Existence-Essence
Existentialism may transcend our nature, unlike eudaimonism
     Full Idea: It is the freedom to transcend our nature which eudaimonism seems to ignore and existentialism brings to the fore.
     From: Gordon Graham (Eight Theories of Ethics [2004], Ch.9)
     A reaction: It is wildly exciting to 'transcend our nature', and very dreary to polish up the nature which is given to us. In this I am a bit conservative. We should not go against the grain, but we shouldn't assume current living is the correct line of the grain.
23. Ethics / F. Existentialism / 6. Authentic Self
A standard problem for existentialism is the 'sincere Nazi'
     Full Idea: A standard problem for existentialism is the 'sincere Nazi'; there were undoubtedly some true believers, who saw in Nazism a creed that they wanted to believe, and who freely chose to endorse it.
     From: Gordon Graham (Eight Theories of Ethics [2004], Ch.5)
     A reaction: The failing of Nazis was that they were not good citizens. They might have been good members of a faction, but they were (in my opinion) poor citizens of Germany, and (obviously) appalling citizens of Europe. The objection to existentialism is good.
23. Ethics / F. Existentialism / 7. Existential Action
The key to existentialism: the way you make choices is more important than what you choose
     Full Idea: The chief implication of existentialism is this: what you choose to do, how you choose to spend your life, is not as important as the way you choose it.
     From: Gordon Graham (Eight Theories of Ethics [2004], Ch.5)
     A reaction: While existentialists place emphasis on some notion of 'pure' choice, this is very close to the virtue theory idea that in a dilemma there may be several different choices which could all be rightly made by virtuous people. Integrity is a central virtue.
29. Religion / D. Religious Issues / 1. Religious Commitment / a. Religious Belief
The great religions are much more concerned with the religious life than with ethics
     Full Idea: The fact is that the great religions of the world are not principally concerned with ethics at all, but with the religious life for its own sake. ..The Sermon on the Mount, for example, is mainly concerned with how to pray and worship.
     From: Gordon Graham (Eight Theories of Ethics [2004], Ch.9)
     A reaction: This seems to me a highly significant point, given that most people nowadays seem to endorse religion precisely because they wish to endorse morality, and think religion is its essential underpinning. See Idea 336 for the core problem ('Euthyphro').
29. Religion / D. Religious Issues / 2. Immortality / a. Immortality
Western religion saves us from death; Eastern religion saves us from immortality
     Full Idea: For Western minds, religion entails the belief and hope that we will be saved from death and live forever, but the belief of Eastern religions is that we do live forever, and it is from this dreadful fate that we must look to spirituality to save us.
     From: Gordon Graham (Eight Theories of Ethics [2004], Ch.9)
     A reaction: Nice. I have certainly come to prefer the Eastern view, simply on the grounds that human beings have a limited capacity. I quite fancy three hundred years of healthy life, but after that I am sure that any potential I have will be used up.