Monday, 30 January 2012

Gier on Matilal on Virtue Ethics

This is Gier on Matilal's 'Epic and Ethics'-
'Matilal finds a caricature of Kantianism in R¹ma, whose inflexibility with regard to duty leads to absurd and/or harsh decisions.  As Matilal quips: "Rama's dharma was rigid; Kant's was flaccid."[35]  Even though he was encouraged to do so by the sage Jabali, Rama was not going to break a promise, even if it meant that he could regain his kingdom and avoid 14 years of exile. One of Rama's lame excuses for shooting Valin in the back was that a person has no duties to animals, Valin being a member of Hanuman's monkey army. (Kant held that mistreatment of animals was blameworthy at least as a reflection of the person's character.) Rama's extreme interpretation of a wife's duty to her husband has led generations of Indian women to conform to an impossible ideal. Following Sati's example, Indian women are required to stay with their husbands no matter what they ask of them and no matter how much they are abused.'
Why is this fucked?
The Ramayana is a widely available text- you might try reading it if you're going to write about it. What was 'Ram's extreme idea of a wife's duty to her husband?'- The answer is that she is free to leave him and then marry anyone or simply fornicate with anyone who takes her fancy.  Ram actually tells Seeta she is free to marry his own brother, Laxman, or the demon King, Vibishina, or the Vanar King, Sugriva (this forecloses the possibility of their appealing against Sita's decision to commit Suttee, because they will immediately be upbraided by that wrathful lady- who, consistent with Universal Dharma- gets the last word and upstages everybody) or that she may just go off on her own wherever she might please, even though Ram had just expended a lot of blood and treasure to get her back. 
Rama is saying a woman whose husband is living can, if he abandons her, marry whom she wills- even his own brother or someone of an enemy race or different status. There is absolutely no evidence that Ram held that a woman's duty is to stay with a husband who mistreats her. Gier, whose personal Virtue Ethic does not include being truthful, says ' , Indian women are required to stay with their husbands no matter what they ask of them and no matter how much they are abused.' I am Indian and though not a woman have a sharp temper and often sing 'main maike chali jaunge, tu dekhte rahiyo' while in the shower to hint at my displeasure with my domestic arrangements. Women are not required to stay with their husbands if they feel someone or other has insulted them or put their nose out of joint or failed to lavish compliments etc. and are constantly traipsing off to their 'maike' for a nice holiday. I recall reading a book by Wendy O'Doniger Flaherty in which she wrote 'The South Indian Brahmin female bites off the penis of her husband before beheading him' - which was the basis of my own refusal to marry within my caste, which was just as well because, ever since the invention of contact lenses, even the vainest of our myopic Iyer girls have been turning up their noses at me. However, Gier's statement that Indian women will stay with their husbands even if they are mistreated is even more misleading- indeed, it is potentially fatal! The husband of that heroine of Hindutva, Rajini Narayan, must have been reading Gier when he called his wife a 'fat, dumb, bitch' when she purified his penis with fire, according to an ancient Hindu custom (invented, presumably, by Wendy O'Doniger) and burnt the fellow to death. 
No doubt, Gier will blame Ram for this and amend his statement to read 'Indian women are required to stay with their husbands no matter how much they are abused because Lord Ram said they have a duty to purify their husband's penis with fire and burn the fellow to ashes- unless, of course, they are South Indian Brahmin females, in which case as Prof. Wendy O'Doniger has pointed out their duty is to bite off their consort's penis before neatly beheading the fellow. This is because Rama had a 'rigid' Virtue Ethics whereas Kant had a 'flaccid' one.'
Gier and Matilal fail to spot that, according to the Ramayana, Rama was God. There was some stuff he had ordained for himself to do, but ordained that he do all unawares, e.g. kill such and such devotee so that devotee might gain immediate union with the Godhead and so on. There is a perfectly coherent philosophical position- Occassionalism- which fully describes the universe of the Ramayana. As for the dramatic portions pertaining to Dharma- this arises from what we may call not just Agency Hazard but Policy Actor Hazard.
But, Matilal and Gier- being philosophers and therefore under occultation w.r.t the text (in Matilal's case) they have read in the original- ignore facts like this and write worthless shite.

Gier is much taken with this 'insight' of his-
 The Buddha once said that "they who know causation know the dharma,"[44] a great example of how dharma, as J. N. Mohanty observes, connects "what one ought and what in fact is."[45] This happy violation of the Humean prohibition of deriving an Ought from an Is demonstrates how virtues are derived from the facts of our personal histories and how this contextualizes all moral decision-making. The famous "mirror of dharma" is not a common one in which individual identities are dissolved, as some later Buddhist believed, but it is actually a myriad of mirrors reflecting individual histories. The truths they discover in their mirrors will be very personal truths, moral and spiritual truths that are, as Aristotle says of moral virtues, "relative to us."
Why is this fucked?
Dharma aint a happy violation of a Humean prohibition on deriving deontics from alethics. Maybe the Professor was thinking of Jack Kerouac's 'Dharma Bums' or something. It does not concern itself with 'the facts of our personal histories' at all. No statement re. dharma or vyavahara takes the form 'reflection on my personal history leads me to hold that such and such is enjoined on me'. On the contrary, we have statements of the order 'the seers have laid down x, y, z' or 'Scripture says x, y, z'  or, as in the story of Yuddishtra and the demon of the pool, a particular question- viz which of the Pandavas is to be brought back to life- is answered by applying a Universal maxim re. 'paro dharma' (the higher duty) such that the King chooses a half-brother rather than a full brother to be brought back to life.
Buddhism is a one period universe- kshanika vada- there isn't any time to discover anything and, no matter how many mirrors are all busy reflecting away, not time to look at them. There's only time enough for an intention to exist-Chetana ham bhikkhave kamam vadami. Chetyitva kammam karoti kaena vacha manasa- nothing else.
Neither an occassionalist not a momentary universe permits the drawing of the sort of conclusions Gier and Matilal arrive at.
The truth is talk of Morality and Ethics is worthless shite and has always been recognised as worthless shite. People who talk it are immediately recognized as fuckwits, frauds or murderous fanatics. The only categorical imperative that isn't fucked is to repay cunt pi-jaw gobshites in their own coin. 
Gier says- Matilal's insights now allows me to do something that I thought that I could not do in my own comparative virtue ethics--namely, to add Krishna to the Buddha, Confucius, and Aristotle. The problem of course is that Krishna appears to be the least virtuous person in this list and can hardly be seen as practitioner of the Middle Way.  Nonetheless, Matilal declares that his "dark Lord" as a "paradigmatic person . . . in the moral field," who "becomes a perspectivist and understands the contingency of the human situation,"[49] both necessary elements of virtue ethics.  He also describes him, as opposed to the rigid Rama or Yudhishtra, as an "imaginative poet" in the moral realm: "He is the poet who accepts the constraints of metres, verses, and metaphors.  But he is also the strong poet who has absolute control over them. . . . He governs from above but does not dictate."  This guarantees that Krishna 's "flexibility never means the 'anything goes' kind of morality."[50]
Why is this fucked?
Krishna spends a lot of time telling us that he is the only efficient cause. His Creation is an Occassionalist Universe but he isn't its 'strong poet'. Rather, as he declares, 
muninam apy aham vyasah
kavinam usana kavih

he is the sort of muni-kavi whose Shukra seeds Shuka who, having gone beyond that other Krishna, Vyasa,  already leaves him  behind, though at the morning of the world,  mourning and bereft. 

What actually happens in the Bhagvad Gita, is a discussion of Agency Hazard because, to preserve symmetry and 'balance the Game', both Krishna and Arjuna are Agents not Principals. Ultimately, Krishna offers himself up as sacrifice. He slays himself. The Mahabharata shows that even if a work is so constructed as to conserve karma and dharma as symmetries of the system, that system can't be purely relationist and must cash out as a substantivalism.
Gier proposes a sort of aesthetic autonomy in which virtue ethics has a domain and therefore some content. The problem here is that it really isn't true that any aesthetic degree of freedom is good or bad by itself. Auerbach, in his Mimesis, shows that the opposite is the case. Rasabhasa- the use of low style for high matter or the reverse- drives precisely the same process that Gier valorizes- viz. self-discovery within a relationist field of interacting reals.
the fine arts, I believe, give us a very rich analogue for the development and performance of the virtues. Most significantly, this analogy allows us to confirm both normativity and creative individuality at the same time.  Even within the most duty bound roles one can easily conceive of a unique "making one's own."  Even though the Confucians must have had a set choreography for their dances, one can imagine each of them having their own distinctive style.  The score for a violin concerto is the same for all who perform it, but each virtuoso will play it in a unique way.  The best judges have the same law before them and yet one can detect the creative marks of judicial craft excellence. Even the younger brother who defers to his elder brother will have his own style of performing this duty, his own dharma (svadharma).
Yes, but the point about playing the fucking violin is that, sooner or later, you evolve into a coke-head Nigel Kennedy type and get jiggy with like Spice Girls or summat. For all Art aspires to the condition of Music and Music aspires to banging groupies in your limo while off your head on coke.
As opposed to a rule based ethics, where the most that we can know is that we always fall short of the norm, virtue ethics is truly a voyage of personal discovery.
So true! Virtue ethics is about Harry Potter discovering his wand really is magic if he rubs it. However, this voyage of personal discovery has to end when he finally works out where to put it so it will do most good (I believe it was in Ron Beezley's sister- yuck-eee!) and engender future generations of young wizards who go off to Hogwarts to play with their wands.
Gier, whose oeuvre, like Simmel, is a manic protestation against the universal ontological dysphoria his own project virtuously discloses, ends on this lapidary note- 
'Virtue ethics is emulative--using the sage or savior as a model for virtue--whereas rule ethics involves conformity and obedience.  The emulative approach engages the imagination and personalizes and thoroughly grounds individual moral action and responsibility.  Such an ethics naturally lends itself to Matilal's moral poets and a virtue aesthetics: the crafting of a good and beautiful soul, a unique gem among other gems.'
This reminds me of a T-shirt I saw in the gym the other day- Idaho? No u da Ho!
Says it all really.


Anonymous said...

You have not mentioned Ram's killing of Vali from behind a tree. It is not the case that Rama gave justification by saying- it is lawful to kill animals. Rather, he countered point made by Vali, whereby he said 'incest rule does not apply to me, due to I am animal. Furthermore I'm not edible nor yielding a wearable pelt thus hunting custom is not applicable.'
This is the great art of Bhagvan Valmik- that Rama says such a heartless thing as
yaanti raajarSayaH ca atra mR^igayaam dharma kovidaaH |
tasmaat tvam nihato yuddhe mayaa baaNena vaanara |
ayudhyan pratiyudhyan vaa yasmaat shaakhaa mR^igo hi asi |
Of which Ralph Griffiths remarks- I cannot understand how Valmiki could put such an excuse as this into Rama's mouth. Rama with all solemn ceremony, has made a league of alliance with Vali's younger brother whom he regards as a dear friend and almost as an equal, and now he winds up his reasons for killing Vali by coolly saying: 'Besides you are only a monkey, you know, after all, and as such I have every right to kill you how, when, and where I like.'
Would it have spoilt the meter for Valmiki to have inserted 'if you are an animal, as asserted by you'? to clarify this point? No. But, Rama would have been adding an additional poison to the arrow- namely showing he was a smarter lawyer than the hero he had slain.
Whether you say 'mrigam' or 'pashu', the fact is, at death, we are all of the type of tethered animal whom the Lord releases. Nature of Man is rationality or eternal, imperishable, soul. Nature of beast is revealed at time of death when Lord delivers from the bondage.

One should look at iconic representation of the Lord aiming from behind tree at the great hero.
That is a more interesting tale. Anyone who confronts Vali loses half his strength to him, so Vali will always be stronger. Ram's excuse is that he is, by vow, a forest dweller with a hunting licence from his younger brother, Bharata, which he has himself exercised on behalf of Vali's younger brother. Vali has rendered himself a wrong-doer by taking his younger brother's wife, though in loco parentis to him.
This can be said as 'attack from behind' which can't give Kingship for that is only legitimate by frontal assault.
So, really, the Lord Rama is not independently acting as like a King but as an AGent or one under one under licence from the King for enforcing a Regulatory Code. Furthermore, the purpose is human and dramatic pertaining to the embodied aspect.
tat alam parit˜pena dharmata× parikalpita× |
vadho v˜naraþ˜rd¨la na vayam sva vaþe sthit˜× || 4-18-35
One should consider this question- Ram shot from behind or sideways or at an angle, but the arrow is received straight in the bosom. Otherwise, in Vali's exhaustive listing of the possible grounds for complaint- this one, pertaining to warrior ethos, would be most biting- 'you kill me in a way so that people may say I was running from battle. The Aged woman, of whom the bards sang of yore, went to the battle-field to look amongst the corpses for the body of her son. Why? Some back-biter told that he was killed while absconding. When the aged mother found her son had wound not in back but straight on his breast, her breasts became full of milk and her heart gave thanks that, indeed, the child she had borne was of male gender only and not of any other quality.'

One may say that arrow of the Lord, that is Illumination, is like the ray of that other Sun whose light shines on the back of all things and the meaning is it gets its power even from the strenght of tamsic, dark, inertial, property of the heart.
Considered in this way, we see also Valmiki is not attacking from in front but using our own tamas and nescience to get power for the personal Illumination.

windwheel said...

Quite agree. Would there be any link or reference to the concept of the light that shines on the back of things in this context?