P H I L O S O P H Y P A T H W A Y S ISSN 2043-0728
Issue No. 199
21st January 2016
Memorial issue for Rachel Browne
I. 'The Meta-Psychological Explanation of Morality' by Rachel Browne
II. Rachel Browne: Ask a Philosopher -- Four Answers
III. Rachel Browne: Review of Nick Acocella The Divine Inspiration
of Porn and the Beginning of Sexual Metaphysics
FROM THE LIST MANAGER
This issue 199 of Philosophy Pathways is dedicated to the memory of
Rachel Browne, Board member and one of the co-founders of the
International Society for Philosophers, and also one of the original
group of Pathways to Philosophy mentors, who died on Christmas Day
As I wrote to the Board of the International Society for
Philosophers, 'On the Pathways to Philosophy web site, Rachel
Browne's name occurs more than 800 times -- an indication of the
central role that she has played in all the activities of Pathways
and the ISFP.'
Rachel's answers on Ask a Philosopher -- always knowledgeable,
sometimes very witty, occasionally hilarious -- run to the hundreds
and date back to 2001, when she first contacted me offering her help
to the project.
Rachel was one of the keenest contributors to the ISFP online
conferences, always ready with a new thought or comment to keep the
dialogue going when it looked as if the discussion was beginning to
Rachel was also the main instigator of the launch, in 2003, of our
second e-journal, Philosophy for Business, writing to Company
Directors and CEOs, and badgering potential contributors for articles.
Together in 2005 Rachel and I were invited to visit the London
headquarters of Shell to talk to Robin Aram, Shell's Vice-President
of External Relations and Policy Development, described by the think
tank Sustainability as the 'Darth Vader of the human rights world'
after leading a successful campaign against the original draft of the
UN Human Rights Commission's proposed Norms on Business and Human
Rights the year before. Rachel was in her element. It was a memorable
meeting, with points scored on both sides.
I have personally benefitted from reams of correspondence with Rachel
on my own philosophical work. She took an interest in practically
everything I did, even including my attempts at science fiction
writing and photography. In fact, Rachel was the was the nearest
thing I had to a Muse. I will miss her.
In this special memorial issue, I have selected work that shows the
range of Rachel's philosophical interests, which also testifies to
her fearlessness as an original thinker who was prepared to speak her
mind even at the risk of ruffling feathers -- or worse.
All the pieces below are copyright of the Estate of Rachel Browne.
I. 'THE META-PSYCHOLOGICAL EXPLANATION OF MORALITY' BY RACHEL BROWNE
From 'Ethical Relations', dissertation submitted in 2004 for the
Fellowship Award of the International Society for Philosophers
In this section, I shall leave aside the problem of different types
of criminality. While explaining criminality and a withdrawal from
'normal' human relations is well dealt with by the psychoanalytical
approach, a problem with that approach is that the moral attitude, at
least according to Kleinian theory, seems to amount to no more than
reparative behaviour as a result of guilt arising from destructive
tendencies. Why do we characterise morality as over-riding? Having
rejected the adoption of current folk psychology as adequate for
ethical explanation, and having accepted the possibility that Klein's
theory, though explanatory, is empirically false, I shall adopt the
stance that some things cannot be said but only shown and turn to two
attempts to show what the ethical attitude is.
It is not a matter of principle that we cannot ignore the presence of
other people. As Sartre has pointed out, if I find that someone,
anyone, is watching me looking through a key-hole then my behaviour
comes to me with a new description.
The philosophies of Emmanuel Levinas and Martin Buber have their
roots not in philosophy but in religion. However, both philosophers
produce writings on ethics separately from theology.
Parallels can be drawn between Levinas and Klein in terms of the
metaphorical similarities, most particularly in terms of passivity
and guilt and substitution and reparation. Similarity of metaphor is
not sufficient to claim compatibility between these two approaches to
ethics but it is of interest that it does show that vastly different
starting points towards consideration of the nature of ethical
relations can share characteristics. This contrasts with the ethical
theories of analytical philosophy which give rise to diversity and
argument with no hope of convergence even though the ordinary
language concepts used are shared and the writings come from a common
tradition and background.
The metaphorical parallels between Levinas and Klein are suggestive
of a common way of approaching the ethical and together they can be
taken to constitute quite a comprehensive description of ethical
relations, each with a different emphasis. While Klein sees moral
relations as inter-subjective and liable to distortion of response,
Levinas and Buber give more weight than Klein to the ideal response
to the other person. As mentioned, Kleinian theory might not actually
be evidentially true but it does offer observations which deliver
insights into human behaviour and personal relations. Levinas would
not even claim that what he says is 'true' in an empirical sense.
Nevertheless, his philosophy expresses truths that some people
recognise. Levinas's ethics, as metaphorical, is a non-propositional
showing. Buber's ethics bears a similarity to that of Levinas, but he
holds that the psychotherapeutic relation offers a model for the
My claim is that nothing more is needed to justify ethics than the
nature of man's inter-subjective relations, where these are
irreducible to folk-psychological theory which aims at
generalisations based on interpretations of behaviour, characterising
morality as a practice essentially involving principles, rationality
and normativity, with the implication of moral relativity. Moral
relativity is nothing other than cultural norms which can be crossed
For both Levinas and Buber, the human relationship is essentially an
ethical relationship. Both philosophers refer to this as the 'I-Thou'
relationship, which will be described below. For these philosophers,
there is no internal isolated subjective self, but rather a self that
comes into being on recognition of the otherness of another human, or
the awareness of the reality of others'subjectivity beyond that which
is purely given in perception. The self is not a Cartesian ego, nor is
it a rational plus emotional being. Rather, the self is essentially
and fundamentally related to the subjectivity of other human beings
whose own subjectivity we cannot morally ignore. Insofar as this
description of the self is of an ethical self, it is possible to
claim that for those whose relationships with others does not take
the form of an 'I-Thou' relationship there is not a real 'self'. This
can be expressed in the language of psycho-analysis: To treat a person
as an object, which is to allow psychological dysfunction to colour
one's relations with others, is not to be a fully functioning self
able to discern reality.
Talk of reality here is not a matter of facts which make our
propositions about the world true, and for this reason we do not need
to worry if Klein's theory is 'true' or not. Levinas describes the
ethical relationship as 'non-thematizable' and 'irreducible' to
intentionality. An intentional state is a world directed mental
state, such as a belief or a perception. A belief is true and a
perception is correct if the world is the way it is believed or seen
to be. For meta-psychologists, the ethical state is not an
intentional state such as a belief and it cannot lead to moral
Rather, the ethical is man's relation to the other which is not
reducible to a conceptual empirical description and is 'transcendent'
because man is not a self-contained individual but stands in an
inter-subjective relation, not as distinct objects but as essentially
related in their subjective state as ethical beings. The I-Thou
relation is not a relationship between two particular subjects who
'perceive' each other. Perception is an empirical relation and an
intentional state but the metaphysical I-Thou relation transcends
perception. Otherwise put, we do not just 'see' a face, and we
certainly do not have sense-experience of another's consciousness and
yet our attitude to another is more than a mere awareness of behaviour
The main contribution towards thinking about morality I think Levinas
makes is in continually stressing that ethics is not to be subsumed
under traditional categories of the intentional. The categories of
reason, memory, perception, cannot capture the ethical. For Levinas,
ethical relations are not determined by man's psychological nature as
traditionally described by philosophers. This is not contrary to
Kleinian theory since, for Klein, distortion by means of introjection
and projection are not intentional states or perceptions of real
states of affairs which is why she needs to introduce new ways of
talking about inter-subjective psychological development.
Because the ethical cannot be thematized, the language used by
Levinas is necessarily metaphorical. In language that brings to mind
that of Melanie Klein, the subject in ethical relation to the other
is 'passive', 'guilty', 'persecuted', 'held hostage'.
For Levinas the ethical is a call from beyond rather than a desire
for reparation, although his language does not rule out reparation,
and indeed, sometimes suggests it. For Levinas, the subject is
'responsible' for the other in his vulnerability which brings to mind
Klein's account of the child's fear of destroying the other person.
However, Levinas stresses the importance of other people in our
lives. He also describes the other subject as commanding us from a
'height' and in its nature as commanding, the Other (or the
consciousnesses and subjectivities of other people) has authority.
Others are said to be both vulnerable and commanding. Levinas claims
that there is no inconsistency here. Rather, the Other has a
'contradictory nature. It is all weakness and all authority'.
Without authority, or the command that limits a subject's freedom in
relation to his behaviour to other people, the structure of the
ethical relation would not favour other people.
The use of the terms authority and height are metaphors that express
the irreducible and non-thematizable phenomenon of the ethical
relation. However, it might also be said that others have a power
over us in their vulnerability which is a way of expressing the
'over-ridingness' of morality as it is spoken of in analytical
philosophy. Ethical responsibility is a responsibility that is.
Levinas says that 'it cannot be evaded'. We can fail to meet ethical
responsibility but it is there nevertheless.
Levinas is not oriented towards the particular situation to the same
extent as Buber, but nevertheless he sometimes makes use of concrete
examples. For instance, when we open the door for someone we do not
need to perceive the man's face to respond to him.
Levinas also uses the term 'alterity' to describe the internal
subjective being or 'otherness' of a human being. It is alterity
which commands a moral response. The alterity, or another description
Levinas uses is the 'face', of the other man is beyond the perceptual.
What we perceive is a 'countenance' or a 'pose'. What we respond to
in the man for whom we open the door is his alterity or his face. We
are not, in the example, looking at the man as we open the door. If
we did, we would not perceive anything other than body and behaviour.
We would not perceive alterity. The physical, ie the body and
behaviour, gives us no reason to act morally alone. We do not make an
assumption that another person is conscious on the basis of his
behaviour and then go to treat him as such. Alterity is a given
because we do not emerge as isolated individuals.
The face is a 'signifying that is immediately from beyond the plastic
forms that keep covering it up like a mask with their presence in
perception'. The pose or the countenance, as a perceived state of
another person may provide us with reasons to act in a certain way,
but the face commands an ethical response -- it 'summons me, demands,
requires me'. We can perceive emotions on the countenance and in
the voice. We understand that another is rational through use of
language, but to non-perceived alterity we respond.
For Levinas, immorality is (non-intentionally or metaphorically
speaking) a losing sight of the face, or failing to realise the
subjective otherness of another person. Evil is also non-conceptual,
non-thematized, but it is to be found in the nature of the
description of experiential relations of one man to the other. 'At
the very moment when my power to kill is realised, the other has
escaped'. 'Thou shalt not kill' means you cannot kill because at
the moment you intend to kill the face, the subjectivity and humanity
of the other has disappeared from your awareness. To be able to commit
evil, to be immoral, is to not to recognise the full reality, which
includes the face behind the countenance of the other man. This is
comparable to Kleinian theory. When we project or use defence
mechanisms we are locked in a dysfunctional psychology and not in
real relation with the other, but distorting reality.
Another similarity between the Kleinian emerging subject can be found
in what Levinas calls 'substitution'. The notion of substitution is to
do with the emergence of the self. As mentioned above, for Levinas,
the self is an ethical self prior to consciousness and
intentionality. Subjectivity is a substitution which 'precedes the
will'. The subject emerges in a state of pre-conscious sentience
as one amongst all others before developing individuality and
personal motivation. This is the origin, the condition and
possibility of our being ethical subjects with 'a responsibility with
regard to men we do not even know'. We enter into an ethical world
in which others have authority over us. The subject 'is constituted --
without its knowledge, prior to cognition and recognition' as an
This Levinasian subject emerges as a 'persecuted' subject, a
'hostage' because his responsibility is already assigned. We are
persecuted from the outside by being one amongst others. We are not
only persecuted by the other, because of the responsibility we cannot
evade, but the other is persecuted by us. As with Klein, the subject
is in relation to the other before becoming a self or before emerging
in relation as a whole to another whole subject and prior to the
ability to perceive the external world as objective and not as merely
experiential. A further comparison holds here in terms of shared
metaphor. In the paranoid-schizoid position, there is fear of
spoiling or annihilating the ideal object (ie of persecuting) and the
experience of the bad breast as the persecutory one. This common
language suggests fear and pain rather than virtue and well-being. It
is language that intermingles the good and the bad as aspects of the
human condition. It is an existential description. As with the
psychic states described by psychoanalysis, we do not feel
persecution. It is a condition that exceeds self-aware
sense-experience or intentional relations. It is likewise with Klein.
You cannot be properly projecting if you know you are doing so. To
know that this is what you are doing would not be to distort reality
but to see it in full self-awareness. We can become aware of using
defence mechanisms because these are psychological states but that
amounts to moral self-awareness.
Levinas has claimed that he knows nothing of psychoanalytical theory
and has heavily criticised it. There is, however, only an
incompatibility between Levinas and Klein if Klein's theory is held
to be a science, or a thematised ethics or a theory of
intentionality, but nothing of the sort is being claimed for it here.
Rather, it provides reflection on the depth and complexity of
inter-personal relations. The essence of Levinas's ethics is it's
poignancy and it's affectivity. Klein, too, in making use of terms
normally used to pick out adult illness, such as schizophrenia and
paranoia, to describe the emotional nature of a baby, also has a
powerful affect. It has been said of both Klein and Levinas that
'both frame our attention to guilt as a complex ethical formation
that both involves the subject inescapably in a psychical history and
has metaphysical implications' But there are further comparisons
My own claim is that we are shown something about ethics, and
provided with explanation, by looking at psycho-analysis and
meta-psychology. We are drawn away from considerations of
deliberation, motivation, will, rationality and normativity towards
our responses to others, which we can dwell on but which cannot be
reduced or put in more concrete terms. In writing about metaphor in
ordinary language, William Grey has said that 'Many writers feel
that there is something special about metaphorical expressions that
cannot be captured by any allegedly equivalent literal paraphrase'.
My suggestion is that when we move from metaphorical to more concrete
terms we lose the essence of the ethical and that in reading Klein and
Levinas, while not having to accept that what they say is empirically
'true', we are learning about the ethical. The ethical relation,
being ineffable, can only be captured in metaphorical terms. This is
to disagree with Wittgenstein's famous comment that 'What we cannot
speak about we must pass over in silence'. If, as Levinas claims,
ethics exceeds knowledge, ethical categories and concepts of ordinary
language through which we seek knowledge will -- and do -- fail us.
The other person, Levinas says, 'does not affect us by means of a
concept'. Our relation to the other person is experiential, or
phenomenological, but not reducible to concepts such as love and
respect. Ethics does not collapse into empirical relations of love
and sympathy since the subject emerges as an 'I' in the ethical
relation, prior to such attitudes and relations.
Of course, Levinas doesn't provide tools to answer ethical problems,
such as the career criminal as he speaks of our ethical existential
conditional, whereas psycho-analytical theory provides a way of
reflecting on this.
It is in the philosophy of Martin Buber that we see psycho-analytical
practice as an instance of ethical relations and it is combined with
the metaphysical approach of I-Thou.
Martin Buber speaks not so much of persecution but of isolation and
guilt when man is removed from the realm of the inter-human, the
realm of the dialogical or 'I-Thou' relation. It is natural to
dwell with others as this is how we emerge as a subjects.
'Dialogical' ethics, as the communicative ethics of Buber is known,
takes man as already being in a community. As Rollo May puts it,
Buber's ethics recognises that 'wish, will and decision occur within
a nexus of relationships'.
Again, Buber's concept of a fact is not about empirical truth, but
about human truths. 'The fundamental fact of human existence is man
with man. What is peculiarly characteristic of the human world is
above all that something takes place between one being and another
the like of which can be found nowhere in nature.' The sphere of
man's existence with man is the sphere of 'in-between', which is
not ontological but it is not unreal. The movement towards the
in-between is a movement to becoming less of an individual and more
human by means of an enabling of the other to be confirmed or
responded to in a relationship like the therapeutic one.
In contrast to the meaning of 'normative' in folk-psychology which is
tied to rationality, the normative in the Buberian sense is about
man's essential nature as one man amongst other men. While
metaphorical, if compared with the categories of ordinary
philosophical language, such as the proposition, the subject, the
object and values, it is not abstract. It is less abstract than the
categories of ordinary language because it points to what is natural
and experiential. While Buber's language has less moral height than
that of Levinas, both philosophers agree that the ethical is not an
attitude that resides in an individual subject, nor is it something
objective that requires justification. The ethical already is because
man is born into the community of mankind. If we are to become more
ethical, what is required is healing in the sense of a movement out
of the individual and psychological, with its defences and neuroses,
towards what is common in man.
For Buber, the psychotherapeutic relationship is an example of the
dialogical relationship which is essentially communicative. As with
Levinas, the ethical relation is not perceived, but made present. The
psychoanalyst is present in a Kleinian way, providing a holding
environment which is unthreatening, withholding projection and
introjection, or as Buber would put it 'confirming' the other person.
The dialogical relation is in contrast to the analytical style of the
Freudian couch. The relationship is one in which the analyst 'shares
in a reality which neither belongs to him nor merely lies outside
him' but which is the moral realm of spontaneous inter-relations,
ie the response rather than the psychologically determined reaction.
For Buber, the confirming response shows us what it is to be part of
our moral community of man. But being in the moral realm is
momentary, something we fall in and out of. Sometimes, for
psychological reasons, we cannot enter into the moral realm, and
merely react to people and situations. At other times we respond and
Much has been written both by Buber and others on the therapeutic
relationship as an example of the I-Thou relationship. Buber has once
denied that there can be a true comparison because of the inequality
in the therapeutic relationship. The therapist is always in a
general position of power. However, he is not in a dominant position
throughout a therapeutic dialogue as Buber sees the ethical as
occurring in moments.
If the psychotherapist provides an example of the ethical
relationship it is because he meets the other as a person. While it
is true that a psychoanalyst will possess or come to form a body of
depth psychological theory and that he is in a general position of
power, he is an imperfect person, but has awareness of how to respond.
So for Buber and Klein man does not behave ethically all the time and
does not always heed thEmmanuel Levinasian call. Psychic mechanisms
can come into play at any time. It is not a question of either having
an enabling psychology or not. Our capacities for ethical response or
to psychological reaction constantly shift and alter.
Nevertheless, we are responsible, as Levinas says. Responsibility is
no guide to actual behaviour. To ask what the concrete way is in
which we are responsible is to ask for rules that are not applied. As
John Caputo says, 'When someone turns to us and speaks, the law
dissolves before our eyes, for the law is never anything more than a
schema, a general rule, a universal, while the individual is what
happens. The law can never be cut to fit the singular, or else there
would be as many laws as there are individuals'.
The above rejection of the idea that we either have enabling or
determining psychologies, with the implication that man's
psychological nature is static, such that that a person can become
virtuous by inner work which will show in all their human relations
and actions is not the same as rejecting extreme personalities. There
are singular people inclined to saintliness and others inclined to
I think that the ethics of Levinas and Buber suggest that there is a
reality which we can use to describe ethical personality. Our
susceptibility to the over-riding call of Levinasian responsibility
and our capacity to respond to others differs, normally, from moment
to moment. There are extreme cases, though, which Levinasian ethics
can describe. The saint is not necessarily someone who has a
continuous higher order principle of doing good as the folk
psychologist in the previous section would have to hold: If a saint
was just extremely principled rather than caring we wouldn't call
that person a saint. Rather, the saint is persecuted by the reality
and suffering of others. This is not to say the saint is
psychologically persecuted. He isn't in mental pain. But nor should
we have to posit he that is suffused with love. The saint is not an
essentially over-emotional and unbalanced being. The importance of
the Other, alterity, the in-between is that it provides us with the
idea of a reality towards which we can describe some as highly
susceptible all the time, while most just are some times and in some
I have suggested that the metaphor of the super-ego, simplistically
understood here, allows us to see human beings as responding to
certain aspects of the world. The career criminal, for instance, does
not respond to the expectations of society as a whole. Klein shows us
how a response might distort reality. Levinas, with his emphasis on
responsibility holds that there is a call to respond. Buber contrasts
response with reaction. An ethics of response cannot be made
determinate in current language, but that does not mean that it
cannot be a fundamental part of ethical relations.
The realm of alterity and the in-between is metaphysical.
Psycho-analysis is speculative and perhaps empirically false. But
then perhaps, in words which differ from those of Wittgenstein,
quoted above, ethics 'is a topic on which no man will, wisely,
dogmatise. The veil of mystery will never be lifted. We who the stand
before that veil [which divides knowable facts from mystery] can but
build systems; we cannot see the truth'. We need not dogmatise or
build a system but we can still speak.
The categories used in traditional analytical philosophy have not
solved the question of the nature of ethics, but have given rise to
an enormous amount of discussion and argument. Some theories, which
do not resonate with anyone at all have found their way into
introductory textbooks. Emotivism, introduced by A J Ayer, is an
example. The emotivist's theory that 'X is good' is reducible to 'I
like X' has been heavily criticised for not being able to distinguish
serious moral arguments from non-moral persuasion.
As mentioned, there is no philosophical agreement on what ethics is.
There is the rational ethics of Kant, who held that ethics could not
be grounded in sympathy but that a moral command must have weight for
everyone in the form of the duty of a rational being towards other
rational beings. But it is counter-intuitive to suppose that
sympathy, conscience and remorse are not of moral worth -- but these
can be part of a moral reponse. There is utilitarianism which
explains ethics in non-moral concepts of means and ends and takes it
as a calculation towards happiness. This gives rise to the feeling
that the utilitarian is not talking about ethics at all but reducing
it to something else. We are drawn away from the depth of the
subject-matter. In contrast to this, Klein and Levinas speak in
ethical concepts to show us something that cannot be fully elucidated
in ordinary concepts, much less reduced. Talk in the language of the
subject matter guides us to reflection beyond the restrictions of
Folk psychology is supposed to embody true explanation. As I have
pointed out above it does not have sufficient explanatory tools to
explain immorality, so it needs to move towards depth-psychology.
Depth-psychology is widely held to be false. However, through the
philosophies of Levinas and Buber, and the acceptance of metaphor, we
can come to see that we don't need to be limited to ordinary language
concepts and accept common sense psychological explanations in order
to reflect upon man's elusive ethical condition. We know what Klein,
Levinas and Buber are saying.
In ordinary language, we do have the concepts of value and moral
worth, of virtue, conscience and sympathy. Many philosophers have
written deeply about moral issues, such as wisdom and moral
seriousness, but do not claim that these concepts can be used to
develop a systematic theory of morality without abstracting and
falsifying original human experience.
To increase our understanding of ethics, which is essentially a
relation between human-beings, and perhaps animals, we might be
involved in a movement away from ordinary concepts but this is the
result of the natural distinction between experience and language,
between what is natural, a response, and that which is constructed as
a means of communication for practical purposes.
While it is the occupation of the philosopher to construct theories,
to test them and to criticise them, in doing so he moves further and
further away from the ineffable.
1. Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, p.261
2. E Levinas, Ethics and Infinity, p.32
3. E Levinas, Otherwise than Being, Chapter 4
4. E Levinas Alterity and Transcendence, p.105
5. E Levinas, Alterity and Transcendence,
6. E Levinas, Ethics and Infinty
7. E Levinas, Alterity and Transcendence p.23
8. Op cit p.24
9. E Levinas, Entre Nous, p.9
10. E Levinas, Otherwise than Being p.127
11. Op cit p.100
12. Simon Critchley, 'TheOriginal Traumatism' Questioning Ethics ed R
Kearney and M Dooley
13. Susan Todd, The Journal of the Philosophy of Education of Great
14. Minerva Vol 5
15. L Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, no 7, p.74
16. E Levinas Entre-Nous, p.5
17. Maurice Freidman, Martin Buber: The Life of Dialogue
18. Rollo May, Love and Will p.268
19. Martin Buber Between Man and Man, p.203
20. M Friedman, op cit, p.78
21. For example,'Martin Buber and the Human Sciences' ed. M Friedman
22. The Martin Buber -- Carl Rogers Dialogue, ed by R Anderson and K
N Cissna p.38
23. John D Caputo, Against Ethics, p.112
24. G. H. Lewes 'The Biographical History of Philosophy' quoted in
Margot Waddell's 'On the Ideas of the Good and the Ideal in George
Eliot's Novels and post-Kleinian Psychoanalytic Thought.' In PSYART A
Hyperlink Journal for Psychology Study of the Arts.
25. Iris Murdoch Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals
26. Raimond Gaita Good and Evil: An Absolute Conception
Rachel Browne's ISFP Fellowship dissertation can be found at
Email comments to email@example.com
II. RACHEL BROWNE: ASK A PHILOSOPHER -- FOUR ANSWERS
'I was born a homosexual and now am age 72. I do not have a partner
and all though my autumn years are lonely I find it ok.
'My question is, If God made me this way what was his purpose?
'To be Gay is like living as an alien in this world. For instance
while socializing in everyday life, I have to remain in a defensive
role. I must not reveal that I am gay on first meetings until I am
sure I will be accepted, though I do not purposely ever reveal my
orientation. A women can mix freely with a group of strangers and
even harmlessly flirt with a man not her husband. I can not. I do not
wish to have sex with every man I meet but would like to feel free to
'flirt' and 'communicate' as she does. On going to a dinner party I
am always placed with another woman (people have to have the norm,
alway two) at these occasions. What I am trying to say is I am not
free. I am on guard every second of my life.
'I have no wish to frequent Gay clubs or mix with the Gay fraternity.
I am very masculine in appearance and I know people have no idea I am
a homosexual even now there is no suspicion unless the fact I am not
married may hint at the chance for gossip, but I don't expose my past.
'I find plays, films and literature about heterosexual people
tiresome. It is reading their views, problems and situations that
have nothing to do with me, I am an alien!
'I would loved to have been born normal, had a wife, children and my
own family, with all the trails and tribulations. My life, I feel has
had no purpose there has been no joy or extreme happiness that
straight people have had in some quarters. I would have loved to have
had the chance to do it. I have had a great many relationships with
women but have not married because my life would have been dishonest
and a lie.
'I was born dammed. I can not understand the reason for my existence.'
Answer by Rachel Browne
I cannot say what God's purpose would be since I don't believe in God
or purpose. But perhaps he was testing your honesty and you failed the
test. Perhaps he was testing your strength and you might have passed.
However, perhaps 'coming out' would have shown greater strength.
It is quite funny that you say that if you had married you would have
been living a lie. You have been doing so! Really, nearly everyone
accepts gays and those who don't are people you wouldn't want to know
anyway I'd have thought. Most heterosexuals are against this prejudice
Lots of people feel alienated for many different reasons. That you
might feel more alienated than most doesn't make you an 'alien'. You
are a person with the same desire for love and happiness that we all
have. Many, many people fail to find this. Some find it but go on to
suffer the terrible loss of it.
Joy and happiness have nothing to do with sexual orientation. It is a
matter of personality. I have known very joyous (gay) gays.
You haven't been damned. None of us are 'free'. Everyone struggles in
their different ways. You seem to have your health. You haven't
complained about you working life. Since you are 72 perhaps it is
time to be brave and make up for lost time.
'I am reading Philippa Foot, 1978, 'Morality as a system of
Hypothetical Imperatives', in Virtues and Vices. I have to answer a
question that I have had incredible trouble doing:
''What does Philippa Foot mean when she suggests that Kant's view of
'ought' is relying on an illusion as if trying to give the moral
ought a magical force?'
'Please help me -- I am a business student and have never tackled
anything like this -- I have read the reading at least 20 times and
have an understanding of Kant's Categorical Imperative, but have no
idea what Foot means. Please Help?'
Answer by Rachel Browne
Of course I don't want to answer your essay but this answer isn't
nearly long enough for an essay but I hope it helps you understand.
Foot is analysing what we mean by a moral 'ought' by means of the
function it has in our language. Her argument is based upon
comparisons with other senses/uses of 'ought' and she concludes that
there is no sense to or use of this term such that it can ground a
moral imperative. To suppose that there is to be under an illusion.
When 'ought' is used in a Kantian hypothetical non-moral sense you
can go on to say why you ought. If you can't do this, as in the
Kantian moral case, and there is nothing more to say, the 'ought'
lacks content. The thought that there are unavoidable duties cannot
be elucidated or further understood through language, thought and
reason so Foot argues that we merely 'feel' that there are these
duties and this is the result of our education. If we merely feel
there are moral duties, and this is due to our education, then we are
subject to an illusion. There is no external imperative or command on
Foot makes two specific claims about the failure of the moral ought.
Firstly, she says that if we say that someone 'ought' to do
something, language and thought stops right there. We can give no
further reasons in support of the proposition if the reply is 'why?'
We fail to supply reasons because there are no further reasons which
can give rise to the 'ought', other than we just do happen to make
such claims. If there are no reasons on which the moral ought is
based, then it is easy to reject the moral ought without necessarily
being irrational. If one wants to follow one's own self-interested
reasons, then the person who supports the idea that the moral ought
has hold is left floundering. Foot believes in this paper that
irrationality is acting in such a way as 'to defeat one's own
purpose'. Behaving morally rather than in one's own self-interest may
well do this.
Of course, what is rational or irrational can be defined in other
ways. It could be said that the rational is that which is expected by
society. Though since society is made up of individuals this leads to
Foot's second point is to say that moral judgements or the moral
'ought' might imply necessity and the unavoidability of doing what we
'must' do. We take it that moral demands have binding force. However,
no sense can be given to this in terms of the meaning of moral
language which needs to provide us with a reason why we ought to do
something or be moral. Again there is nothing further to be said. All
we can do is to use synonyms: Unavoidability, necessity, binding
force, inescapability. But we still cannot say WHY.
Because we cannot expand upon the 'ought' with reasons that function
in language, such that we can tell someone WHY they 'ought' then
there is no binding force or inescapability in morality. If we go on
to say it is necessary, this can again be questioned.
'Ought' is empty of content as a term and only SEEMS to be binding,
so it is really an illusion.
'First off, I would just like to point out that I am only 14 and not
a philosopher by any stretch of the imagination. I'm just wondering
if you think I'm being hypocritical with the following:
'I myself am not a vegetarian and quite happily eat meat, but I do
think killing animals is wrong. I have tried to justify my thoughts
by saying 'Well, if I don't eat this meat then that animal has been
killed for no reason,' but in retrospect, if I were given the option
to stop the killing of animals and not eat meat again, I wouldn't
'Reading this again I am now fairly sure that I'm being hypocritical,
so I have answered that question, but is there a way I can justify my
thoughts so I'm not being hypocritical? I'm looking forward to your
Answer by Rachel Browne
Well, I am a vegetarian who has recently started to eat fish as a
doctor suggested it necessary for health reasons. But I would be
prepared to catch a fish and eat it -- should the need arise!
Yes, this seems very hypocritical. All I can say is that most people
are hypocritical in some ways. Also, most people who eat meat
wouldn't do so if they had to kill the animal themselves, and
especially not if they raised the animals themselves. The whole meat
industry is filled with deceit and, in the supermarkets, nice
No-one eats cow, they eat 'beef'. No-one eats pig, they eat 'pork' or
'ham'. If an animal is small and cute like a lamb, you can call a
spade a spade. Although no meat eater thinks of meat as the dead
flesh, which it is -- even when eating lamb. The label 'meat' makes
dead flesh into something edible. Don't worry about it. You're just a
typical meat eater!
What I wonder is why meat eaters tend to say that the thing they
couldn't give up is bacon?
'If philosophy of language tells us that we can only answer those
things that can be put in a coherent question, can we develop or take
advantage of 'special languages' to ask specific questions? How can
poetry, for instance, be useful to answer the 'un-askable' questions
and how would its answer be analysed?'
Answer by Rachel Browne
Well take the question, 'What is a desire for God to take over your
life like?' We cannot easily describe our experiences such as to have
the effect of truly moving others. Poetry does it easily because it
says little and yet inspires imagination and thought.
Take Donne. He doesn't ask, but answers, yet at the same time he
poses this question:
Batter my heart, three person'd God; for, you
As yet but knocke, breathe, shine and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o-erthrow mee, and bend
Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new.'
I am presented not with an ordinary language description or an
assertion, but as I read the words I feel the full force of such a
desire. And the question is implicit in what he says. Ordinary
language can be suggestive but poetry is intensely so.
Of course it is possible to coherently ask what a desire for God to
take over one's life is like, but I doubt that non-metaphorical
language would provide a satisfying answer as it arouses the
understanding rather than the imagination. A reply in ordinary
descriptive language might tell us something that we try to grasp
intellectually, but we won't experience the answer. Poetry allows us
to enter into the emotion expressed.
In this particular sonnet about god, Donne uses sexual language, as
in the words
Except you'entrall mee, never shall be free,
Nor ever chast, except you ravish me.
The use of sexual language to describe the need for God, as well as
the demands for force in 'Batter my heart', 'o-erthrow mee' and 'bend
Your force' bring in metaphorical associations that we don't normally
go with the idea of God and so the effect is to show us something
that we wouldn't get in an ordinary language answer. If you
translated this into ordinary language directly, by summing up
Donne's use of metaphor, as the need for God as 'sexual and
masochistic' it would sound false and perverted, so metaphors can't
be translated in any simple way. But if you want analysis here, you
would need to analyse metaphor so I can't answer fully but surely it
is central to traditional literary theory? Maybe a grasp of metaphor
is intuitive and associational but in some way beyond analysis.
So one way of saying what poetic language is is to say that it makes
use of metaphor in such a way that we can experience something that,
if given in ordinary language, would not have the same impact upon
us. It can answer questions but we don't know precisely how. If we
did there would be no need for poets because computers could ream it
Not all poetry uses metaphor. But the essence of poetry is that the
language is always evocative and the imagination comes into play
leading to us to something more than is precisely said.
There is no metaphor in the following by Philip Larkin:
What are days for?
Days are where we live.
'What are days for?' Would be taken as an incoherent question to a
philosopher. We don't think to pose the question. We don't think
there is an answer so we don't ask (this question hasn't even arisen
yet on Ask a Philosopher! But maybe it's a question of time). There
is nothing about days that make us think they might be FOR something.
But this question can occur in a poem and it focuses our mind on days
in some way that we can't further elucidate. It is an example of the
'un-askable' and doesn't guide you to think of an answer, but just
makes you dwell upon days. The un-askable question is answered by our
merely dwelling on days, and I doubt that this can be analysed at all.
Just a couple of examples, but I think the poet (Larkin) can ask the
'un-askable' and we respond imaginatively, or he can answer questions
more fully (Donne) and in the latter case there might be analysis, but
I doubt philosophy of language has covered it in any detail. Both
require imagination from the reader.
All answers taken from Ask a Philosopher
Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
III. RACHEL BROWNE: REVIEW OF NICK ACOCELLA THE DIVINE INSPIRATION OF
PORN AND THE BEGINNING OF SEXUAL METAPHYSICS
The Divine Inspiration of Porn and the Beginning of Sexual Metaphysics
Available from ISFP Publishing
This book shows more understanding of sex than any other book on
philosophy of sex I have read.
It approaches sex and pornography from a unique angle in which I see
no influence from other philosophy of sex and porn books.
The first section is on the Practical Grounds of Sexual Significance
- A Brief Anatomy of Inference
- A Brief Anatomy of Immorality
- A Brief Anatomy of Stimulation
- The Legend of Gender
- The Nature of Enjoyment
- The Crisis of Beauty
The second section on Sexual Significant in Its Basic Dimensions
- The Sexual Significance of Beauty
- The Sexual Significance of Teleology
- The Sexual Significance of Morality
Then comes the final section on Theological Implications with the
single awesome chapter on The Perfection of Porn.
This book should be made available to a wider audience than those
interested in philosophy. It will not just be of interest to
academics (though much interest has been shown in that quarter) but
is likely to draw general readership and become a cult book. It will
appeal to those who are interested in sex (and who is not?) as well
as those with a love of language and words.
It is poetic, beautiful and very well conceived. It is outrageous but
It is a very timely book. Novels based on the theme of sex are
becoming quite prolific so this is a philosophy book which is tapping
into contemporary literary interests.
It is a difficult book to publish. Academics are showing interest and
the book is worthy of an academic publisher, but it has readability
that also makes it literature. A pro-pornography book is always
slightly pornographic in itself, but this author goes out of his way
to make it so, though in a beautiful and sensitive, and, of course,
The basic argument is outrageous. We would have no idea of sinfulness
without God; without sinfulness we could not appreciate porn which is
essentially sinful. The appreciation of porn is dirty, normal sex is
good. The book quotes Anselm and St Augustine but also describes why
men like nipples. This juxtaposition is previously unheard of.
Although Acocella quotes theologians, this is not a theological book.
It is philosophy. Although he rejects the idea that sex can be
explained in evolutionary terms, he does not seem to be a member of
the religious camp although most of his quotes seem to be
theological. He seems to be stirring things up.
So he rejects evolutionary explanation and largely ignores the
religion/evolution debate, and plumps for the significance of meaning
and thought and how these guide us in sexual acts. There is a thread
of the irreducibility of meaning, but the book manages to be
extremely sensitive to the sexual act. An approach through meaning
and thought is a gentler, more human, and more realistic approach
than starting with God or evolution. Acocella says, for instance,
that sex can be fragile. Interest can dwindle and the mind can wander
but something can get us back into the act. We focus on the meaning of
what we are doing, the teleology of the act, the aim of orgasm. This
is philosophy of mind as well as meaning.
It has been suggested to me that analytical philosophers use pain as
an example of a sensation because they are simply used to unrelenting
mental pain and afraid of orgasms (private e-mail). Properly accused,
perhaps, Wittgenstein. Sex is interesting and pain isn't. As a woman
I don't find pornography interesting but Acocella makes it so. Sex is
good, he says, but porn is profane and it has to be. This makes porn
interesting. Further, there is the ethical aspect to pornography.
Acocella asks What sort of morality is needed to be pornographically
realised (p. 199). He seems to know about looking at porn and takes
it to involve an awareness of sinfulness and the profane but can also
bring feelings of shame and so he urges us to take porn where it must
go (p.121). He argues that since porn is profane (it seems open
whether it is perverse) we must contrast the profane with the sacred
and no morality is sacred without God (p.121).
The argument is radical. He doesn't start from God, but rather from a
self-confessed interest in porn. But he gets to God through profanity.
This is philosophy but it is also a work of art. I have had no sense
from communicating with the author that he is actually religious.
Many like myself, who are not particularly interested in pornography
will be brought to think about it due to this book. Why should we
not? It is a phenomenon which is strange. This book might make people
more sympathetic to those who look at pornography. It may be a sin, or
at least involve feelings of sinfulness, but feelings of sinfulness
can be regarded as moral feelings.
This isn't a moralising book. It is acute on sex and subtle on
meaning. Acocella elucidates the attraction of nipples and the penis,
in rather a psychoanalytical way drawing on childishness and he
captures the sex act to perfection. He is very funny on masturbation,
asking what it is we enjoy. Our resourcefulness? Of course his answer
is the significance, the thought and the fantasy.
The book is brilliant and deserves to be published. A problem is that
Acocella is not an academic and I suspect that academic publishers
don't publish books by non-academics. However, the book itself IS
academic philosophy. Requests for review copies have been made by PhD
students and professors.
My vision for this book is that it will be published by an academic
publishers, while we at the International Society for Philosophers
will continue to make it known outside the world of universities.
Rachel Browne's review of Nick Acocella was first published in the
ISFP Reviewers forum http://flybites.wordpress.com
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