Vol 2, Issue 1
Artwork by David Alexander Smith
Table of Contents
Kierkegaard’s appropriation of Socrates in his work is a well trodden area of inquiry for the Kierkegaard scholar. It is often assumed that Kierkegaard’s earlier work The Concept of Irony does not share the same attitude towards Socrates as the later texts; thus the dissertation is regularly overlooked. This paper challenges this orthodoxy through a close reading of The Concept of Irony. While Kierkegaard’s emulative orientation to Socrates is usually associated with the authorship proper, I will endeavour to locate such emulation in Kierkegaard’s dissertation. I will attempt to show that Kierkegaard presents Socrates as totally consumed by irony yet deliberately undermines the method employed to reach this reading of Socrates. This ironic method of investigation, I claim, mimics a characteristic that both the early and the later Kierkegaard associate with Socrates: the effect of Socratic irony that induces a transformation in an interlocutor’s subjective orientation toward a phenomenon. The author of the The Concept emulates Socratic irony in the hope that his readers will alter how they see Socrates rather than what they see; I will argue that this aspect of The Concept’s style is a significant point of similarity between this early work and the later authorship.
Metaethical relativists sometimes use an interesting analogy with relativism in physics to defend their view. In this article I comment on Erler’s discussion of this analogy and take the discussion further into methodological matters that it raises. I argue that Erler misplaces the analogy in the dialectic between relativists and absolutists: the analogy cannot be dismissed by simply pointing to the fact that we have absolutist intuitions – this is exactly the kind of objection the analogy is supposed to be a defence against. To decide if the analogy works we need to answer the following two questions: (i) Why does it work to say that people refer to relative physical properties (like simultaneity, mass and motion) even though they intend to speak about absolute physical properties? And (ii) does the answer carry over to the moral case? I argue for a specific answer to (i), and argue that it gives us reason to answer (ii) in the negative – so the analogy does not hold. However, looking at the issue more closely also raises questions about a fundamental assumption in metaethical discussion: perhaps we cannot assume that one single analysis holds for everyone’s moral judgments.
This paper sets out asking what is to be gained from grounding the pursuit of a cosmopolitan morality in the evolutionary history of our morals, namely, by ascertaining some of the natural constraints under which normative ethical theory must operate. In Section II, I review two major forms of altruism: kin-based and reciprocal altruism. Experimental evidence is cited to support the view that biological altruism involves a carefully self-interested calculation to enhance adaptive fitness to the social environment. In Section III, I explain that, in natural selection, these self-interested calculations about relatedness and reciprocation don’t happen consciously, but rather, almost instantaneously, as heuristics. These heuristics are advantageous to the organism and thus, over time, hardwired to its ‘emotional framework’. Emotional contagion, guilt, envy, and inequity aversion are covered as examples of the emotions at work in altruistic behavior. What can ethical deliberation on cosmopolitan morality adopt from a naturalistic examination of the evolution of altruism? According to situationists, what we do is best explained by inherent tendencies to respond to features of our situation. The pursuit of cosmopolitan morality via the evolutionary history of altruism reiterates this situationist conclusion, and seems to carry a recommendation for polity: to adjust our environment in response to findings about human nature as to better correspond with our proposed moral ends.
One way to rebut the standard evidential problem of evil is to develop a sceptical form of theism. The resulting position – sceptical theism – is a sophisticated philosophical elaboration on the traditional claim that God works in mysterious ways. Yet sceptical theism is contentious because it has a quite natural tendency to entail a degree of scepticism in other areas of discourse that is normally taken to be unacceptable. To curb this tendency a moderately sceptical theism can be developed that nevertheless retains the benefit of rebutting the standard evidential problem of evil – the moderately sceptical theist attempts to steer a middle course between the Charybdis of mysticism and the Scylla of evil. However, a new evidential problem can be developed and reworked in a formal Bayesian framework. There are various ways to mitigate the new evidential problem and my reworked version, but none of these ways is open to the moderately sceptical theist – her particular ship, I argue, sails too close to Scylla. The moral is quite intuitive: if evil matters at all, then the sheer quantity of evil ensures that it matters a lot.