Thought Notes 7/25/2014

I was reading Nussbaum’s ‘Therapy of Desire’, and it occurred to me that Epicurus might well be the first eliminativist (whether or not this is a novel insight I don’t know). Epicurus holds that our senses are completely reliable faculties in terms of giving us true knowledge (contra Plato) – all our errors (specifically moral/ethical) come from belief. He effectively distrusts people’s natural reason, noting that reason can easily be twisted, corrupted, ignored and otherwise rendered ineffective and even harmful – hence why he directs us to our senses. Epicurus’ method involves a theraputic dialectic designed to show how we can remove these false beliefs – a surgery, if you will.

This started me thinking: do beliefs play the large role in ethics that they are usually assumed to do? Ethical approaches are typically ‘intellectualist’ or ‘cognitive’ – our doing the good depends on our knowing the good. I’ve wondered if this is the case, though, especially after reading James K.A. Smith’s ‘Imagining the Kingdom’, where he points out that the intellectual/cognitive aspects of our ‘acting’ in the world (whether moral, ethical, or whatever) are pretty much the last aspect of our actions.

Bonhoeffer spends a fair amount of time in his book ‘Ethics’ deconstructing the idea that ethics is a matter of knowing good, or knowing the good, via dialectic or deduction. He considers the idea that ‘the good’ being an objbect of human knowledge the devil’s first lie – this knowledge must be invalidated for any true ethic to be formulated. The ‘good’ isn’t derived from natural knowledge via dialectic or deduction but from the the presence of the Truth itself. I’ll spend some more time thinking on this, because I actually think there are some intersections between his thought and the classical ethical tradition.

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