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PersonsPartialityandLoyaltyfinalpaper

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PersonsPartialityandLoyaltyfinalpaper

  1. 1. Persons, Partiality and Loyalty-Ethical Theory-Briane Chanelle Knight-Dec. 17, 2008 In “Persons, Character and Morality,” Bernard Williams highlights a dilemma of modern moral theory wherein he states: Somewhere …one reaches the necessity that such things as deep attachments to other persons will express themselves in the world in ways which cannot at the same time embody the impartial view, and that they also run the risk of offending against it. They run that risk if they exist at all; yet unless such things exist, there will not be enough substance or conviction in a man’s life to compel his allegiance to life itself (18). For Williams, respecting the importance of one’s character is completely incompatible with impartial moral theories, like Kantianism and Utilitarianism. Given this dilemma, Williams insinuates that if morality itself is also impartial then any spe cial consideration of duties posed by morality will be wavered; the authority of morality shall trump one’s commitments and personal relationships. Williams posits morality in a bind wherein the ultimatum suggests that either morality is impartial and wrong or it encompasses the importance of personal relationships. In her essay, “Moral Saints,” Susan Wolf adds to Williams’ discussion of the limitations of a moral endeavor; she too advances an argument in opposition to the significance ascribed to stringent and und esirable moral theories. Like Williams, she purports that some situations lie beyond moral justification; they are unjustified because of the pervasive and dominating nature of moral theories like Kantianism and Utilitarianism. She states that moral virtues “crowd ou t the non-moral virtues, as well as many of the interests and personal characteristics that we generally think contribute to a healthy, well- rounded, richly developed character” (80). These claims are unjustified. In that her critique of the moral Saint is actually more applicable to personal concerns and partiality. In this essay I will explore the contentions Williams’ makes regarding morality and how a code of ethics might be adverse to one’s character. Granted, impartiality may serve to the detriment of the significance of character. This however, should not lead one to conclude that morality and character are incompatible. Furthermore, I would like to suggest that morality, as an impartial theory, has distinctive requirements, as compared to Kantianism and Utilitarianism. Moreover, my intuition suggests that morality acknowledges the importance of personal relationships and ground projects. Morality, however, does not give credence to groun d projects and personal relationships solely because of the overt bias of one’s personal commitments and relations. Morality gives one a floor-plan and the tools for which one is to construct their own good life or good character; thus partiality cannot be entirely obliterated from one’s motivations or even one’s actions. Morality holds that duty and obligation must not be eliminated , obliterated or negotiated Bernard Williams argues that morality, like Kantianism and Utilitarianism, probably demands that an agent give more importance to impartiality and duty over one’s own character. Impartial theories are to be distinguished fromself-interested concerns that constitute one’s character. For Williams, character entails one’s commitments. One’s commitments may create a moral conflict wherein ground projects (that give meaning to one’s life) and categorical desires (as those which are worth living for) stand in opposition to the impartial nature associated with moral theories. In addition, these moral theories purport an authorial pos ition, wherein an agent must act out of duty or out of utility (Kantianism and Utilitarianism, respectively) and be indifferent to one’s own personal relationships and other aspects of one’s character. He claims that the indifference required of the agent invalidate s the importance one may ascribe to their personal relationships and commitments. Herein lies W illiam’s main criticism of Kantianism and Utilitarianism as moral theories; he states that, “The deeply disparate character of moral and of non-moral motivation, together with the special dignity of supremacy attached to the moral, make it very difficult to assign to those other relations and motivations the significance or structural importance in life which some of them are capable of possessing” (2).
  2. 2. Williams and Wolf both purport that given the individuality of any human being, the impartiality that is required of moral theories, like Kantianism, can be adverse to one’s character. Where does this conflict stem from? A moral theory may purport that we ought to live our life consistent with moral codes, a formof proper conduct or a set of standards. Williams’ objections, while valid, are not completely applicable to morality, since Kantianism and Utilitarianism are not representative of every moral theory or ev en of morality, in actuality. There will be circumstances in which morality and personal projects cannot both be satisfied. These possible projects could be the exceptional ones that provide non-moral motivation to an individual. These types of projects or categorical desires and ground projects seem to promote responsibility by acknowledging the autonomy of one’s motivations and actions; thus responsibility comes with individuality when one takes ownership over the consequences of their actions. Individuality, howev er, does not propel one into immorality because it is not the case that individuality is opposed to morality. Why are some hesitant to be immoral? One could easily lead a pleasurable life by objecting to any authority and significance ascribed to morality. One do es not even have to give any weight to those who attempt to enforce duty and the obligation of morality on another individual (Wilson, 288). Nevertheless, agents may hesitate to just opt out of morality because they fear the stigma of being both irrational and immoral. Practical reason suggests an agent should value one’s rationality over one’s inclinations because one’s rationality (under a moral theory and devoid of inclinations) will lead to the benefits of a moral agent. My intuition tells me that some of these benefits would include, as mentioned above, dodging criticism when one wants to challenge one’s moral duty. Those who are immoral are considered irrational, especially in regards to theories that include an emphasis on practical reasoning. The association between irrationality and immorality seems to be the focus or underlying issue for those who propose that there are limitations to the moral endeavor. For example, in the introduction to Susan Wolf’s discussion of those who have moral worth, she states: I don’t know whether there are any moral saints. But if there are, I amglad that neither I nor those about whomI care most are among them. By moral saint I mean a person whose every action is as morally good as possible, a person, that is, who is as morally worth as can be (79) Here, the moral saint seems akin to an outcast wherein the stigma ascribed to this pariah is that of both irrationality and morality. Her description is based on William’s assertion that something is wrong with morality if it excludes or disqualifies one’s commit ments, personal relations and personal partiality. Wolf concludes that intuition could lead one to a rational non-moral, yet worthy formof the good life that is not based on an impersonal moral theory. In other words, one’s character and personal relations could provide the good life for an individual. However, I would like to suggest that an appeal to character will not lead to what Wolf and Williams’ propose. My issue with an appeal to one’s character stems from the problematic way in which both impartiality and individuality are conveyed. These two concepts, as referenced in Williams’ article, are described as unrelenting, pervasive and uncomplimentary forces that are diametrically opposed to each other. There is space for individuality in an impartial moral theory, which Williams chooses to not address or intentionally excludes. First, there is a gap between one’s motives and one’s character. One’s characte r is self-regulating in that it is fluid enough for a rational being, through practical reasoning, to extend their sense of self to encompass certain motives and not others. For example, an individual can act in a way that is bad or hurtful and then be genuinely disg usted or horrified by one’s actions without the ridicule or judgment of others (Stocker, 66). Moreover, I think Williams underemphasizes exactly what is important about individuality and maintaining a character. Williams attempts to focus on how non -moral motivations, that are not consistent with one’s duties, can have sufficient weight to influence one’s practical reasonin g. I see no probably in granting that individuals can be influenced by non-moral motivations. He further suggests that categorical desires, or specifically ground projects, propel one into the future; he states “one’s pattern of interests, desires and projects not only provide the reason for an interest in what happens within the horizon of one’s future, but also constitute the conditions of their being such a future at all” (11). Williams believes that agency itself is not sufficient enough to propel one into the future. For the purpose of my argument, I will
  3. 3. concede that some internal desires, projects or interests are successful in engaging some individuals. Williams, however, ov erstates this claim when he suggests that one “might as well have died” in response to a circumstance wherein an individual is not able to pursue and satisfy his/her ground projects (13). Granted, things may shatter one’s world. But it is not one’s character that is shattered. Character and individuality are elastic given that we have present selves. One may lose confidence in their future selves or the desire for the future, but one does not have to lose trust in their ability to revive projects that lead to what they desire or alter their behavior to pursue other desires. Would this be a threat to one’s character and individuality? I amnot convinced that it is. Damage to one’s character would entail expecting someone to just change at will based on other individuals. But as much as we may be su rprised when individuals alter their projects and desires, we are not shocked. We do not assume that their new projects are less important than their previous projects (and vis versa). I think many would be worried or curious if someone they knew tried to create an ent irely distinct character. We, as humans, (this may only be applicable to the society I live in) respect individuals for what their character may motivate them to do. But, for example, people will shun or criticize someone who is trying to be different just for the poin t of highlighting their individuality; individuality for the sake of a distinct character is not desirable. We value genuine charact er that is representative of the individual at present. An example of an exaggerated attempt at individuality would be if one sugg ested that a distance from morality was necessary for their individuality. This seems like so much work for someone trying to be themselve s. Individuality and a distinct character may well even be intrinsic to the individual solely because everyone’s perception of life stems from their particular and distinctive experiences. I don’t see how one’s character could not be distinct. However, distinctiv eness is not sufficient to suggest that one’s character does not change. Both one’s character and personal relations (relationships) serve as an expression of one’s agency. Williams states that the significance of both these commitments, especially personal relations, “give substance to the idea that individuals are not inter- substitutable” (15). I agree. But, Williams seems to overlook the fact that one cannot be sure if one’s character is a reflection of one’s projects or if one’s projects are a reflection of one’s character. My intuition tells me that character develops both ways; one’s character is self- regulating and also self-preserving. In order to maintain integrity, one’s character is self-preserving. For example, like Williams suggests, future selves are different selves. Future selves may be psychologically different as compared to oneself but future selves are still an extrapolation based on an autobiographical-like view of oneself. In this regard, character also entails self-regulation wherein one is able to distance themselves from previous qualities, attitudes and actions without damage or harm to th eir perception of their self. Character construction can be a mechanism by which one acknowledges, specifically, one’s own person as separate fromot hers. It is not the case that the self-preserving nature of character is always opposed to the self-regulatory response to one’s character. Self- preservation and self-regulation, in some circumstances, can be diametrically opposed to each other; this seems to explain why Williams’ article places particular significance on one’s present self. However, what both Williams and Wolf deemphasize is the act, moreover, frequency of non-moral concerns and motivations overriding moral ones. Consider the “flip-a-coin” situation, wherein one has to decide whether to save one’s wife or to save a randomstranger. Williams concedes that someone who occupies a specific role in society may be required to approach the situation different fromsomeone who is just the husband of a wife in peril. Williams suggests that in this situation, wherein he would undoubtedly save his wife, moral theories would demand that he be impartial. In his case, impartiality is detrimental to his personal relationship with his wife and thus, also to his character and commitments. However, I would like to argue that personal relationships are role-constituted relationships that demand more of the individual than morality requires. In addition, it may also be the case that personal projects are ro le- constituted projects. Williams may not disagree with this. It would seem, however, like the desire of a personal and partial form of duty and obligation stems from benefits and satisfactions that an agent receives fromtheir personal relations and commitment s. Thus the non-moral motivations are direct forms of altruism and other salient benefits (love, company and compassion).
  4. 4. Williams purports that the moral conflict originates out of justifiable need for one’s the personal relationships to be taken seriously. Intuition also tells us that our personal relationships are invaluable to use. But in regards to morality, a system of moral conduct for everyone, I would assume that one’s intuition would tell them that their personal relationships are nothing but b ias; that bias is what makes their personal relationships invaluable. Bias is what we find to be so special about our personal relationships. We have our own bias and our own preferences to others for own particular reasons. Our bias is a direct expression of our agency . Contrary to what Williams would claim, morality would not require that this bias or preference cease to exist. Morality would require that moral worth, in regards to one’s novel interactions with others and new qualities or interests, be ascribed to those act ions that do not include bias. Thus, morality is also conducive to agency and individuality. One can “play favorites” with their character, commitments and personal relations; they just can’t “play favorites” at the expense of following the duty or obligation of th e moral theory they ascribe to. Roles like the husband, wife, son and friend are extremely biased because they purport a duty that is superior to that required of morality. This is obviously the case in our society where one does not come into contact with every other individual. More over, there is no guarantee that encounter will be repeated in case one needs to be generous or punish someone for their previous a ctions; Agency unlikely to motivate one to build trust relationships with strangers. On the other hand, personal relationships e ntail reciprocal altruism. More importantly, personal relationships entail punishment and pleasure. They are contingent on one’s actions; thus they are controlled by one’s own agency. Most importantly, based on Wolfe’s description, husbands and friends seem to be more like the “rational saint” and “loving saint” she describes, as compared to someone who is following an impersonal moral theory (79). They are caring and focused on the well-being of others like the “loving saint.” They are committed to putting aside their self-interest and selfish motivations if that will succeed in strengthening the relationship or assist the other individual in some way; this is similar to the selfless nature of the “rational saint.” Thus, personal relationships demand much more accountability, as compared to morality. What does morality entail? It requires that we encourage good attributes, encourage humane behavior and encourage one use their knowledge of moral worth and their own motivations, through practical reason, to s upport rational agency in their future endeavors. Morality is not a question of the frequency and intensity of pleasure and/or benefit; one’s personal relations giv e one the opportunity to act on selfish and selfless pleasure. But in regards to morality, based on the moral theory one agrees with, one follows what is purported as the proper moral conduct. So, when one is searching for the good life, which does not require qualification, one should take the opportunity to step away fromtheir bias.

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