Monday, February 23, 2009

New Husserlian Themes 1: Encountering Farber's Discussion

Marvin Farber has an article entitled 'The Phenomenological View of Values' in Philosophy & Phenomenological Research Vol/Issue: 24 (4), Date: 1964, Page: 552. My discussion of Husserl opens with a careful perusal of this article. Just a note before beginning, the article is on JSTOR. You could also reference it here.

Farber opens up what Husserl regarded as the central concern of ethics qua normative science must precede every technology and must as a normative science (Farber translates Husserl) "survey human purposes in a universal manner and judges them from a normative point of view, in other words, investigates whether they are actually as they ought to be" (p. 553, from Husserlian Manuscript). First, I think Husserl is wrong, and lacking here. Being ethical not only involves evaluating normative levels of actions as the deontologist or consequentialist would have us believe. Instead, there are further questions that while associated with action cut deeper, these ethical determinations are agential, what you might call aretaic. As such, I would include in a phenomenological analysis of values directed towards expanding Husserl's notion of "purpose" in the above quote to include virtue ethical considerations. Eudaimonia considerations in virtue ethics concern cultivating agential characteristics (virtues) that lead to state of human flourishing (eudaimonia).

Now, a moral phenomenology in a Husserlian sense is highly influenced by the Husserl in Logical Investigations. Farber informs us that an analogy can be drawn here. Just as formal logic has "the principle of contradiction is the highest law, there is the axiological principle that something to which value is ascribed in some respect, cannot be valueless in the same respect." (Farber, p. 553, taken, I think from LI, p. 79). Let's put this into an example. This principle states that the reasons we value X cannot in principle be reasons that count against reasons for not-valuing X. Hence, the reasons I give for enjoying Star Wars fiction books cannot be reason that count against me finding them valueless. Moreover, when we give reasons for our valuations of X, those valuations find agreement in both willing and reason (Farber, p. 553).

Rationally grounded reasons provide the basis for ideal abstraction of ethics in Husserl. In general, this is also a truth of ethics. Formulated normative theories instruct us, that is, they provide action-guidance only because such action-guidance is grounded in cognitive judgments about which we can be right and wrong about. Practical wisdom comes about only because we can be right or wrong about how certain actions will go, or that something wasn't relevant when we thought it was in our moral acting. Ethics gets its substance from the ideality such practical wisdom takes on, and the ideality of practical action coheres with the body of reasons constituting such ideality.

Farber worries about the level of abstractionism in Husserl's ethics. One can easily be skeptical that there is a "harmonious social life" that remains ideal. Such a thing has never existed, nor ever will. Perhaps, agreement isn't even possible as to what the "harmonious social life" would entail (Farber, p. 554). Yet, this only is a concern if we think the harmonious social life requires strong conditions of moral agreement. I think I'm reaching an impasse here. For one, if we are ethical pluralists (as I am slowly becoming in the Rossian sense), there might be more than one way to achieve moral agreement. We need not be value monists in thinking that different goods cannot be counted in our moral considerations. Virtue, knowledge, pleasantness and consequences are the four goods Ross counts, and I'm uncertain we need more (let's be open about that for a bit).

As I continue, I'm thinking that a moral phenomenology might have to abandon the systematicity of a cohering set of value grounded moral reasons that resemble a formal eidetic science of a purely ideal nature. I'll continue moving in this article with additions to this post.

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