Hart-Norman on morality


I shared a portion of Hart’s comments re: consciousness. Toward the end of their discussion, Norman asks DBH about the proper grounds for morality, namely, whether some transcendent good is required to intelligibly ground morality. Normal doesn’t think any such transcendent ground is necessary. Hart responds:

“You say that what counts is compassion/charity. Why does it ‘count’? I’m asking this in a formal sense, not in a moral or emotional sense. It counts because in addition to that groundedness in sympathy, without which a moral life is impossible, there’s something else that can translate that into an imperative that goes beyond [recording break], and I’m talking about just the structure of moral desire. I’m not saying the good is necessarily there. I’m just saying how we encounter the world. It’s like the old issue with John Rawls, the political philosopher, his theory of justice—we can achieve a just society if we withdrawal to an original position where we pretend that we don’t know how we’re situated in society and then try [from there] to construct the just society. It’s an eminently sensible approach. The problem is he can’t account from within that system for the moral impulse to make that initial withdrawal. And so the question for me is, What happens in the structure of moral desire? (Just as in the structure of aesthetic desire, the desire for the truth…) And I’m saying you’re not going to be able to give an account of it. It simply rests in the facts on the ground. There will always be that element that’s found nowhere within the ensemble of natural facts, which is a transcendental structure. It’s an ecstatic movement towards that which is not simply concrete but that which allows you to see the concrete. “The light of the good,” is what Plato talks about, and I like that image. It allows you to see it as more than a momentary ebullition of emotion, sense, or impulse. But again, it’s the structure of moral desire that I’m talking about. How we encounter moral desire. How we experience moral desire.”

Objecting to Hart’s complaint that having compassion without any appeal to a transcendental moral ground is ‘not enough’, Norman asks how contemplation of a Platonic ideal helps? Hart responds:

“[W]hen I say it’s ‘not enough’, I mean it’s not enough as an actual phenomenological description of what we’re doing. I’m not recommending contemplation of Platonic ideals as the path to the moral life. I’m saying that horizon is already implicit in our moral desire and our moral action. You point to that when you say we’re trying to construct a more sophisticated and refined ethos on the basis of this experience of sympathy, and [you] talk about justice and honesty. Well, justice and honesty then become other names for obligation that makes itself felt even in at times, in spite of, the absence of sympathy.”

The immorality of ‘passibility’—Part 5

N31-960x727This is Part 5 in our response to Sirvent (responses in Part 3 and Part 4). But I intentionally want to rephrase things and turn Sirvent’s logic on his own thesis. And thus the title “immorality of passibility” pace his “immorality of impassibility.” For on its own terms Sirvent’s thesis devours itself. Once his view is considered in light of the integrity of God’s experience of a world full of diverse aesthetic experiences, some of inexpressible joy and others of unspeakable torment, fatal problems emerge for Sirvent. One absolutely must work any imitatio dei out in light of the competing emotional demands which make up the world’s diverse experiences. Specifically, is God’s experience of such a world to be understood as non-integrated or integrated? And once one does this, one can easily see how, on Sirvent’s own view, a passibilist God is as morally bankrupt as Sirvent thinks an impassibilist God is. Given Sirvent’s own line of argument, no version of a passibilist God is worth imitating either, but to see this you have to ponder the question of the integrity of God’s experience of the world’s diverse experiences. We cannot define whether God is worth imitating based on what God feels in response to an isolated, single individual’s pain. We should assess things in light of God’s experience of the whole.

I thought of posting a short clip from a former post of ours in which I follow the logic out, but I’d rather those interested read the whole post and follow the argument for themselves: What difference can passibilism really make?

Prayer: God, you see all, know all, love all, pursue all, redeem all, invite all and give all yourself to all of us without having to divide yourself among us. We need you so desperately. Teach me to rest my weary and anxious wandering in you.