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pathways (letters)

27 August 1997

Dear Barry,

Thank you for your letter of 17 August, with your notes on unit 9 of the moral philosophy programme. I do hope you have a thoroughly enjoyable and relaxing holiday. Mine has been to look after the three girls for a fortnight while my wife writes an essay for her art therapy course. — You know what they say, a change is as good as a rest! Actually, its been fun, though I see its raining today, so Cleethorpes is out!

I shall pursue the matter of the subscription. I seem to recall that I already raised a question about your name not appearing in the list of new members, but thought it had been dealt with. Not to worry!

166-168 Kant's principle You raise a quite legitimate question here as to how one can know about the values, interests of others, or indeed their personal priorities. The answer is that I must make a judgement about these, as I must about any other matter that calls for my concern. So far as moral considerations apply at this point, I cannot be blamed for failing to take account of interests I was ignorant of (offering the alcoholic a glass of wine, embarrassing a house guest by revealing a piece of information I believed to be quite innocent), but I can be blamed if my ignorance is negligent. The main question, however, is given any level of knowledge of the other's interests, why I necessarily ought to care.

169-173 the two-worlds theory Deliberately not telling the truth is a classic case of using the other as a 'mere means'. My words become nothing more than ways of moving the right 'levers' to get the other to do what I want, or prevent them from doing what I don't want. As Kant recognised, problems arise when lying appears to be morally justified (I tell the crazed axe man, 'He went that-a-way.') His own solution — that lying is never justified — seems less than satisfactory. (There is an excellent book on this subject: Sissela Bok Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life Harvester 1978.)

At this point, I am merely setting up the problem. But the issue has nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not I feel gratitude for being 'corrected'. It is rather a matter of the difference between treating another as a genuine subject and treating them as a mere 'measuring instrument'.

You are right to raise the question of the 'interests' of others which I do not wish to support or endorse. It is a measure of the distance of the two-world view from a 'disinterested' account of moral motivation that I am not required to give equal weight to all putative 'interests'. But this has yet to be fleshed out at the present stage of the inquiry.

174-178 relative concern At this point, the question is whether there could be a 'morality' which licensed cut-off points between those who 'count' and those who 'do not count'. In the two-worlds theory, i.e. the ethics of dialogue, the task is to show that as a matter of necessity everyone 'counts'. But there is no reason to suppose that everyone should be given equal consideration. In the example of Nazi 'morality', I am claiming that there is a logical incoherence in the idea that there could be an empirical basis for circumscribing the circle of 'persons who count'. (As I make clear in the text, this was not Nietszche's view. He simply rejects the idea that there could be such a thing as a 'theory of conduct' in the sense of a morality.)

179-182 the amoralist's behaviour You seem to have missed the crux of the argument here. What the other's interests are is a factual question. This is something the successful amoralist would need to know in order to be successful in manipulating the other to the amoralist's own ends. Considered purely as attitudes, moreover, caring or not caring about another's interests is equally 'rational'. So where does morality get a rational foothold? My answer is to be found in the following four stage argument:

1. Solipsism is incoherent.

2. The rejection of solipsism entails recognition of the 'transcendent world of the other'.

3. Recognition of the transcendent world of the other cannot be equated with recognising the truth of a statement. It is not a piece of theoretical knowledge.

4. The only alternative possibility for making sense of such recognition is in my actions towards the other. It is essentially a matter of practical knowledge.

181-183 transcendent reality One may hypothesise a future time where pleasures and pains can be precisely measured and described using a brain scanner. I could, in principle, know as much about your head- ache as you do. Even so, you would be the only one feeling it. (As Wittgenstein noted, my feeling a headache 'located' in your head would not be the same as my feeling your headache.) The 'existence of the transcendent reality of the other' is therefore not an object of 'knowledge' in this sense; i.e. it is not empirical knowledge. If you want to talk of knowledge, it is metaphysical knowledge. But nor is it enough to merely 'hold the right metaphysical theory'. Such a metaphysical conviction has no content in the absence of the appropriate behaviour towards the other.

184-186 values and action Good. As you will discover, the idea of dialogue now assumes a central role in the inquiry. Practical deliberation is no longer something that each person must, or indeed can do on his or her own; it is something we do together.

— Send us a post card!

Yours sincerely,

Geoffrey Klempner