Monday, 16 July 2012
Ross's paradox & why Ethics Professors are shit
Ross's Paradox (Ross 1941):
1) It is obligatory that the letter is mailed.
(2) It is obligatory that the letter is mailed or the letter is burned.
From the imperative point of view, (2) adds something to (1), it makes it stronger, more urgent, more memorable. It taps into the essential ambiguity of visceral urges. It adds emotional valency to a choice situation in a manner that de-emphasizes the outcome.
The problem is that, in the eagerness deontic logics share with alethic logics to find a concrete model, Ethics is too willing to provide 'proofs' for all ad captum vulgi intuitions and to subsume every illogical norm that exists under its own burgeoning idiocy.
The temptation is to 'deduce' more and more bizarre propositions to make your own mark as an Ethical thinker. Solomon Maimon- though a Rabbinical prodigy himself- fled his native Lithuania because he came to equate the 'Golden Liberties' of the riotous Polish aristocracy, which ruined his country, with the license enjoyed by the scholars of Halachah to display their virtuosity by adding more and more burdensome refinements to the Ark of the Law.
Maimon's own ethical degeneration- he became a drunken sponger- sadly can't be correlated with his interaction with, the monster, Kant. But then he wasn't tenured as a Professor of Ethics.
I recall asking an Iranian scholar whether it was really true that Prof.Zaehner had persuaded Teheran University's Professor of Ethics to invite Mossadegh's Security Chief to dinner only to quietly bump him off. Without answering the question, the scholar drew my attention to Nasirudin Tusi, the author of the Akhlaq-e-Nasiri, the most important book on Ethics in Persia, who was a double dyed traitor- betraying his Spiritual Master to the infidel Mongols. In other words, the Spalding Professor of Ethics & Eastern Religion, R.C. Zaehner had sent the Iranian elites a message which was not just witty but erudite.
The puzzling thing is why Ethics Professors display such 'frontal' behavior. After all, it is in their own professional interest to dissimulate their sociopathy or poor impulse control and wear the mask of rectitude.
Perhaps, the answer is that whereas in other fields one needs good (that is critical) students and colleagues to carry forward the Research Program associated with your name, in Ethics the reverse is the case because imperative logic hypertrophies in a bizarre and cancerous manner unless brought firmly under the control of the personality of its Professor. After all, an imperative statement- unlike an alethic statement- gains force entirely by the answer to the question 'who is saying this?'.
In India, though dharma (Eusebia)becomes the central concern, once both Ontology and Epistemology came to be seen as empty, it is interesting to note how any noble character pre-occupied with Ethics- like Lord Rama or King Yuddhishtra- is depicted as ending up breaking all his own rules and inheriting futility and despair.
Krishna, contrary to Matilal, Sen, et al, is actually a dharmic guy because he performs a humble function at the Kurukshetra War. His elder brother, on the other hand, cries fie upon both parties and goes off to get drunk.
Interestingly, the Sufis who spread Islam in the Indian sub=continent, affirm precisely this antinomian 'Malamati' (blame-worthy) theory whereby the price for professing Ethics is an ironic plunge into infamy.