Post Your Opinion
Notes on Morality
by Alfred Stein

These notes were composed in the spring of 1995 by Alfred Stein (1930-1995). They were written in long hand, and were almost entirely unedited at the time of his passing way. It doesn't appear that they had been intended for publication. The aphoristic style was chosen for economy's sake. Beside the various entries, labels were attached to indicate priority for some future organization. We are publishing them as they were written. This set of notes consists of about 200 pages of original material. The notes will be serialized in the next few editions of Books in Canada. We thank Nancy Fischer for her patient editing and assistance.

A 1 There is no logical basis for morality.
A 1-2 The only basis for morality is aesthetic;
Wittgenstein equates aesthetics and morality.
A 1-2-1 Parsimony is the most convenient basis for selecting moral principles and is as appropriate as any other.
A 1-2-2 From a small set of moral principles an elaborate ethical (behavioral) code can be methodically derived (basis vectors in a vector space; orthogonality and independence conditions also exist).
A 1-2-3 In principle it should be possible to respond to any moral query (perhaps after subjecting it to a formal rephrasing procedure) by providing an explicit procedure revealing the extent to which the response accords with or violates the basic principles. It is by no means absurd to postulate a device for performing this procedure.
B 1 A provisional set of basic principles are set forth below; the ordering does not indicate priority. (The question of priority must be postponed and subjected to considerations which are analogous to initial and boundary conditions in mathematics)
a) In no instance should an individual be intentionally humiliated or deprived of dignity.
b) In no instance should pain be intentionally inflicted on a sentient creature.
c) In no instance should a conscious creature be involuntarily deprived of consciousness (consciousness is employed here as a physiologically verifiable condition).
C 1 Myths and Metaphors: (prejudices)
a) That the perpetuation of the human race is a good; arguably the greatest good.
b) The perpetuation of all life forms is a good and a duty incumbent on humanity.
c) Humanity is a process; history is the emerging consciousness of the race in process (Hegel's odyssey of mind).
d) That salvation is synonymous with awe; Awe is our highest and most profound intuition of the godhead.
D 1 Personal freedom is a good which should be unrestricted to the extent that it neither infringes on the freedom of others nor violates the morals and myths that constitute the consensual basis for the human project.
E 1 Arrow's (K.J. ArrowłSocial Choice and Individual Values) five conditions essential for democracy tell us that it is, a system of government in which decisions are based upon ranked and transitive preferences of the majority. In such a system, any voting system will violate at least one of these conditions. Preference scales and transitivity are implicit in any electoral decision in which platforms rather than personalities are involved. The necessity of arbitration by an upper house becomes apparent though the election of this upper house does not avoid Arrow's impossibility theorem; it can bypass the deadlocks inherent in situations involving "social menus"
E 1-2 The upper house represents the interests of future generations on the basis of the obligation of the present generation to all past generations. The upper house guards civilization against the expediency and prodigality of the present generation.
F 1 The world is in the throes of a terminal disorder which cannot be cured because it cannot be diagnosed.
G 1 Subjectivity is implicit in the syntax of scientific laws [laws=expedient and economic (in the Chaitin-Solomonoff sense) descriptions of the world (parsimonious mathematical elegance)]
G 1-2 "Self" is the spectre at the feast of the sciences.
G 1-3-1 The View from NowherełThomas Nagel's bookłThe best way of characterizing "objectivity."
H 1 Computers can't think; they can't even compute any more than rulers can measure or clocks tell the time.
I 1 Logical necessity versus logical compulsion; following a rule means recognizing a pattern of symbols called the rule and knowing how this pattern is to be applied. The use of the rule is not derived from some pre-existing rule (infinite regress). A problem arises in explaining how the steps in reasoning can be regarded as the result of applying logical rules when the rules themselves (or alone) do not determine the results of applying them (they must be applied to something) and citing the rule does not justify the steps taken. A rule neither determines nor justifies a step in reasoningłWittgenstein, as I understand him on this most crucial of subjects.
T I-2 Logical laws are not inexorable; we are inexorable in applying them.
I 1-3 What does it mean to derive, validly, a conclusion from a set of premises? It means for one thing that we have abdicated the right to reject the conclusion (on any rational basis at least).
I 1-3-1 "Truth" is the designation of a proposition in a binary calculus.
I 1-3-2 "Truth" is not a relationship between language and the world.
I 1-3-3 When we say of something that it is "true" we are affirming, agreeing, or even praising. To say of something that it is true is not to affirm its objective reality, that it is procedurally correct or that it has supplanted some reigning error. It is much like saying "good" or "terrific."
I 1-3-4 A scientific law is neither true nor false. It is a parsimonious description of some aspect of the world and implicit with it is the (procedure) means for confirming for oneself that this description prevails.
I 1-3-5 Mathematics is the domain of tautologies and identities. Mathematics is concerned with proof not truth.
J 1 Laughter can be cruel or kind. It expresses the best and worst qualities. It is an expression of the sheer pleasure derived from surprise and discovery when we appreciate a joke. A serious man will find many occasions for laughter. A wise man will always be between laughter and tears. The laughter will be at himself and the tears will be for others.
J 1-2 Rorty describes "mind" (by which I think he means man) as a web of beliefs and desires, with the beliefs arising from a pragmatic attempt to satisfy desires. Science is one such belief which is notoriously successful in predicting and controlling events.
J 1-3 Science is of great utility and of little (no?) consolation.
J 1-4 The world consists of facts according to science. Values can't be derived from facts hence; the world is without values and science is without value. Indeed a mad pursuit.
G 1-2.1 The picture of me looking at a table and the table that I look at are scientifically irreconcilable. Wittgenstein says in Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus that what we see can't be represented in such a diagram. The eye has everything and nothing to do with what is seen.
G 1-2.2 Consciousness is ontologically subjective (Searle). It is a distinct (intrinsic) irreducible property of self. This is of course substance dualism. The statement that neural activity causes consciousness (Hume) does nothing to advance our understanding of the phenomenon. "Thunder accompanies lightning" provides the blind with about as much help.
H 2 Syntax and Semantics. Searle argues that semantics is not derivable from syntax. He believes that language is much simpler than it really is, hence the absurd notion in the "Chinese room" argument. In fact the execution of the program would yield "understanding."

Home First Novel Award Past Winners Subscription Back Issues Timescroll Advertizing Rates
Amazon.ca/Books in Canada Bestsellers List Books in Issue Books in Department About Us