Spring 2010 Senior Seminar Course Notes

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Sub-topics and references within Chapter 1

How does one ask the question of the meaningfulness of life?

What is eudaimonism? Cameron Faller

“Eudaimonia” comes from the Greek word meaning “flourishing,” and therefore Owen Flanagan proposes that “eudaimonics” is the “systematic theorizing about the nature, causes, and constituents of human flourishing”. This search can be done within or outside of a naturalistic framework, but it is obvious from the first few pages of this book that the author attempts to define human flourishing only within the context of a naturalistic world view. Flanagan believes that this project is accomplished through understanding that people find meaning through six different spaces of meaning: art, technology, spirituality, science, politics, and ethics. Flanagan asserts that while people may find their meaning through various combinations of these six spaces, people are drawn to these spaces for meaning because all people desire the true, the good, and the beautiful. While Flanagan seems to make a valid point about the way we obtain meaning in the world, why doesn’t he ask the question of why people desire the true, the good, and the beautiful? He acknowledges that these are the foundation for the six spaces of meaning, but why are people drawn to these three aspects of reality to begin with. It seems as though Flanagan only wants to ask questions to the point where he can still comfortably maintain his presupposed naturalistic world view. Also, Flanagan mentions that each individual finds their own individual meaning and personal flourishing through their own combination of the six spaces of meaning. Some many find meaning in science and technology while another may find meaning through ethics and politics. However, if we all share the same nature as rational animals shouldn’t there be some fundamental “space” through which all find meaning. Sure, we might differentiate when it comes to the six spaces of meaning, but on a more basic level there must be some basic thing that leads to human flourishing. I think Aristotle attempts to partially answer this question in his Nicomachean Ethics when he declares that living a virtuous life is the fundamental space through which all rational animals find meaning. Flanagan acknowledges a singular source to meaning when he declares that all humans strive after the true, the good, and the beautiful. But what is the source of the true, the good, and the beautiful and why do we strive after it? Cfaller 02:05, 18 January 2010 (UTC)

Eudaimonism and Spaces of Meaning Brandon Yost

I think Cameron raises some excellent questions regarding Eudaimonism, which I think lend themselves to Flanagan's six spaces of meaning. The issue seems very difficult to even talk about, for it is very metaphysical to ask what the foundation upon which the pursuit of "the good" rests. However, there does seem to be something odd, to say the least, about Flanagan's launching point. There is a key presupposition here, a value statement about "flourishing" that his Naturalism depends on. Cameron is essentially getting at, what does the "flourishing" for which Eudaimonism seeks, even mean? In what context do fully material beings flourish by understanding what more or less satisfies...something?--whatever meaning satisfies. This isn't to suggest a Cartesian dualism is correct, or that there must be a non-material aspect to self-hood in order to account for meaning in the world. It's more to say that Flanagan doesn't seem to address a very old and central question in relation to meaning or the good, that is, Whether or not one can merely give examples of the good, the meaningful, or actually say what meaning is and how it is. To an extent, if the six spaces of meaning are basically examples of ways in which we express ourselves in a "meaningful" way, the materialist could easily account for that meaning or satisfaction, that isn't meaningful. JL Mackie once made a point, basically saying that spirituality has a very material result, that is to say chemically we as organic beings, react a certain way to spiritual activity. Isolating this psychological phenomena, couldn't one lead the fulfilling life, the meaningful life as Flanagan puts it, by simply popping a happy pill? Eudaimonism seems to rely on the notion that this flourishing is a good thing, which seems to be a statement or space of meaning in itself, which is to say that philosophy in a "foundational" sense, seems to be yet another space that Flanagan privileges or treats as superseding art, science, technology, ethics, politics and spirituality. I'm not at all sure it makes sense to talk about these avenues in this way, since it would seem that the source of meaning and flourishing is yet still prior to these spaces. It's difficult to say what exactly that foundational space is, but there is something odd about Flanagan's orientation given his materialism. Flourishing as a value to material beings and the spaces of meaning seem to be somewhat unclear, if they are meant to be foundational "spaces" of meaning. Byost 22:11, 18 January 2010 (UTC)

What are the differences among the original, manifest, and scientific images of man? Eric H.

Original Image The original image of man is to imagine a time in history when our cognitive schemes were only rich enough to enable us to achieve biological fitness. Biological fitness is achieved by skills such as building tools for tasks, when and where to forage and hunt and other shared skills. We imagine that our language and other cognitive skills were immature so questions such as "who are we?" and "how are we situated in the cosmos"? most likely were not asked or theorized. Rule-governed ways of getting around and interacting constituted the original image of us and the world.

Manifest Image As the original image develops and becomes more complex, we become more articulate at conceiving our nature and place in the world. The original image, through collective memory and narrative becomes shaped and conveyed through art, poetry, religion, and music etc. This is what is known as the manifest image. It is important to note here, according to Flanagan, becoming more complex does not mean becoming more truthful. The manifest image is a work in progress. Flanagan says when we talk about how "people see things" we are usually referring to the manifest image.

Scientific Image According to Flanagan, early on in the development of the manifest image, scientific thinking enters and it is either absorbed(medicine and anatomy) or smashed because it is a threat to how the human being is imagined (Galileo and Darwin.) Eventually the scientific image develops autonomy from the manifest image and a high degree of independent authority. Thus, there seems to be serious competition between these two images.

Flanagan, quoting Sellars, states "the refinement of the original image into the manifest image is the gradual depersonalization of objects other than persons." This is evident by how we now describe Thunder today (the sound of air exploding as lightening heats it up) compared to how it was conceived in ancient times (Zeus being angry.) However, according to Flanagan, critics say the scientific image is depersonalizing persons themselves. Flanagan denies this, by pointing out that the scientific image, like the manifest image both treats the concept of "person" as fundamental and ineliminable. The difference is the manifest image holds views the person through Cartesian lenses. That is, persons as composite beings made of up of an independent mind and body. Again quoting Sellars, Flanagan points out the essential dualism isn't the mind/body dualism, but rather "two radically different ways the human individual is related to the world." The scientific image then is not a denial of persons, but a denial of dualism.

I find myself in partial agreement with Flanagan on this subject. With regards to the "original image” we have seen that ancient cultures tended to anthropomorphize phenomenon that they couldn't explain. I also agree with his rejection of the mind/body dualism of the "manifest image." I particularly liked Flanagan’s description (actually Sellars) of the manifest image dualism being described as two radically different ways the human individual is related to the world. I think that nicely illustrates the problem with viewing the concept of persons through a Cartesian lens. However, what I am picking up from this (and I may be wrong) is that Flanagan sees this progression of the original through the scientific images as a progression where we start with anthropomorphic gods as explanations (Original), move to Monotheism (Manifest) and finally we are now at a point where we are progressing past supernatural explanations and everything can be explained through Naturalism (Scientific.) It seems that Flanagan views this tension between manifest and scientific image not just as a tension between an idea of personhood but as part of the conflict between science and religion as well. If this is the case, then I find myself at odds with the narrative Flanagan has put forth.

Does it make sense to talk about "spaces of meaning"? Clint White

After laying out the importance of eudaimonics in the naturalist position, Flannigan sets out to explain just how to achieve this. In his own words, he is setting out to build, “an empirical framework for thinking about human flourishing.” (3) Borrowing from Wilfrid Sellars, Flannigan asserts that it is the goal of the philosopher to understand things (namely humanity) in terms of the whole. To do this, he proposes that philosophers need to see humanity in terms of the “original”, “manifest” and “scientific” images of man-in-the world.

The original image is simply the starting-point of humanity; Flannigan notes that as humanity grew, it developed more complex, manifest view of the world. The manifest image seems to be a fancy way of naming a snapshot of “how people see things” at a given time for a human being. The scientific image of man-in-the-world is centrally connected to scientific progress. Sometimes, this progress is warmly welcomed, as in cases like medicine. Other times, the manifest image has a hard time accepting progress, as in cases like understanding evolution. Flannigan again quotes Sellars by saying that when the manifest and scientific images seem to be incompatible, it is the philosopher’s job to understand and explain the relationship between these two views.

So here is where spaces of meaning come in: Flannigan accepts Sellar’s notion that philosophers need to understand the relationship between the manifest and scientific views in order to understand meaning and humanity, but he believes that in order to do so, these two views need un-packing. Flannigan un-packs these into six “spaces of meaning”: art, science, technology, ethics, politics and spirituality. He believes that, “in order to understand how any group or individual self-conceives, what their practices of self-location, self-understanding, and their ideals for human development are, and how they work, one must give concrete values to these six variables” (7)

Flannigan gives three main reasons for expanding these spaces from two to six:

(1) “The places in which people find dis-ease among the spaces of meaning involve more than just science and religion” (2) “When we humans conceptualize who we are and how we are doing, we do so in terms of narrative structures that have their homes in more than just two expansive spaces named by religion and science.” (3) “we humans show persistent signs of relishing the adventure of trying to track down what is good, what is true and what is beautiful. My six spaces of meaning connect up with these three forms in telling ways.”

So, then, to get back to the question of whether it makes sense or not to talk about “spaces of meaning”, I found myself having mixed feelings. On the one hand, I can really see where Flannigan is coming from. In the search for finding meaning one will likely get the closest (concretely) if they look at humanity through lenses of issues that most people find important. On the other hand, I feel an overwhelming draw to the thought experiment that we discussed last week about the megasoft guy that shot his sperm into space. The search for meaning seems fundamentally a fruitless one when facing the naturalist position because of the lack of a fundamental starting point. That large point aside, I would also like to provide an additional idea in the form of a question to the class:

(1) Are Flannigan’s six spaces of meaning too specific to use as a tool for developing a wide enough framework to understand meaning for humanity?

I say yes: It seems to me that Flannigan’s introduction of specific spaces of meaning came with a fundamental issue: in choosing six specific lenses by which to measure meaning and humanity, doesn’t that admit to the sheer amount of variables that can possibly exist throughout the whole of humanity? Note, that nearly every time Flannigan refers to Space of meaning, he attaches “21st century” as a sort of asterisk to point out that meaning, and thus, that these six spaces are, by nature, a variable. In recognizing that these six views are specific to a certain kind of culture (he points out in pg 12 that 20% of the world is unable to participate in these six views fully due to poverty) in a specific time (he also points out on pg 12 that at certain times in history, views such as science were missing), it seems to me that these six spaces of meaning are far too specific. Rather than calling these spaces a tool for measuring meaning, it seems more of a broad answer to the question of what is meaningful to some people living within the 21st century. The spaces are simply too specific and timely to offer an adequate account of meaning in humanity Thus, I am in favor of taking a step back to the more broad analysis between the manifest and scientific images of man-in-the-world. Cwhite 04:32, 19 January 2010 (UTC)

Connection: p. 11 Nelson Goodman, Ways of World Making
What is the philosophical concept of the Lebenswelt?

What is scientism? A. Vallandry

[Wiki entry in progress on Scientism]

What is neurophysicalism?

Neurophysicalism is the view that for every experience there is an objective explanation that assumes a subjective experience, but it completely explainable in physical terms. Thus, the difference between the objective event and the subjective event it merely where it is viewed from – for the objective view is from the third-person and the subjective from the first-person. The first-person view experiences the event as something such as, “I see red,” while the third-person view gets the physical explanation of the person being in state Þ, which is producing the subjective experience of “I see red” in the person who is in state Þ. Objective realism is a term Flanagan (from now on refereed to as “TheFlanMan”) to describe this type of description of nuerophysicalism.

TheFlanMan points out a distinction between “Token” and “Type” Nuerophysicalism. “Token” insists that each mental event is some physical event, while “Type” holds that each type or kind of experience is realized in pretty much the same way for each member of the same species that has the same experience (this sentence is almost verbatim from page 26). It seems that “Type” therefore allows a bit more play than does “Token” - it is less reductive, allowing for similar/same experiences to be physically different , but pretty much the same. This allows for more variety and cohesiveness in experiences – two of us can relate our experiences being on the same roller coaster as having pretty much the same subjective effect, while they are actually different (but similar) events.--DTuckerman

What is OF's preliminary position on free will?

Owen Flanagan’s position is what is called “compatibilism” which is the idea that both free will and determinism are compatible with one another. Flanagan is very much against the idea of libertarianism, which is the view that humans posses a free will in the sense that our egos are unmoved movers in the same sense that a Thomist conceives of God. There is a very deep problem with libertarianism, and Flanagan is keen to recognize its irreconcilable flaws. Surely it is a foolish position to hold that we are agents that cause things but we are uncaused ourselves. After all, if I choose to attack somebody after they have physically threatened me my consequent actions cannot be said to be uncaused. Compatibilism, however, is also hard to defend in application. Often compatibilists, as Flanagan points out, make a distinction between voluntary and involuntary choices. If we are constrained physically or out of ignorance we are not able to make a free choice, and if on the other hand we are not constrained in the aforementioned ways we are able to exercise our free will. Notice that this kind of free will is not the same sort of freedom that the libertarian will defend. I think this new way of framing free will (as involuntary or voluntary actions) is the general position that Owen Flanagan wishes to defend and he goes through Dewey’s how people operate in choice-making processes (p. 34). It seems that “Following Peirce’s belief-doubt-inquiry continuum, opposed tendencies create a tension, evoking an affective phase in which emotions come to the fore. The tension spurs deliberation…” so on and so on (p. 34). So when we are making a choice there seems to be a degree of chaos or “tension” that we experience and it is this moment we deliberate and use our agency force to cause something to happen. I find this theory appealing since it can allow for a libertarian freedom. But if you are a compatibilist (like I think Flanagan is) you still must accept determinism. This means that the moment before, and during the moment of tension is causally determined and therefore the moment after is necessarily causally determined. So the compatibilst’s desire to fuse determinism and free will to preserve responsibility fails as far as I see it. There still would be no moral responsibility. There is a way to remedy this, and it is the brainchild of the Philosopher Robert Kane. Surprisingly it is the same sort of thing that Flanagan chose as his position (originally by Dewey and Peirce), but with one difference: in that moment of tension Kane proposes that a true libertarian free will can be said to exist free of a deterministic causal chain. Yet it is true that it is determined in a sense that a chain of events brought you up to that position of tension, but where agency occurs is devoid of any causation except of the self-causing sort. I wrote a paper on determinism and Kane’s theory (which I have learned just now that should also include Dewey and Peirce at least to some degree). The link to that paper is provided below. Twilkinson 07:18, 18 January 2010 (UTC)

Link to paper

Respond critically to anything in the chapter. Use a section divider for your material or link it to another page. For example, you could keep a page for your material and create a link to it.


2nd Thoughts on Last Week's Seminar

I wasn't going to post this, since I was obviously so out of it last week and this chapter so quickly took up my question, but since it still kinda bugs me:

Considering the flux with which it seems TheFlanMan's 'spaces of meaning' have over time, space, and even definition, I left the discussion last Tuesday wondering if the concept of eudaimonea has any meaning at all. Certainly these 'spaces of meaning' have a of relation to human flourishing, but what is human flourishing? From what we have read it may seem that it would be 'having meaning.' However, I was also left wondering what is “having meaning?” Is having meaning just some kind of feeling? TheFlanMan seems to be saying that it is more than that, but it seems to me that any kind of definition that we can make (so far) out of 'flourishing' is: whatever makes a certain person flourish in their particular circumstances. But the very word in question (or a synonym) seems necessary in the definition, making for a circular relation.

I suppose my question was this: How can we have any clue what it is we are talking about without some sort of concrete definition of what flourishing is?

This is of course what he focused on in this chapter. However, while he covered a wide breadth of topics that contribute towards flourishing, the substance beneath seemed to keep coming back to Darwinism. While I understand that as a naturalist he is committed to mainly scientific explanations of things, it lends a sinister feel to the whole argument – like a reminder that at the end of the day it's still just about the propagation of the species. It's not that I disagree with evolution/natural selection, but even with his work to try and make it plausible, it just doesn't seem to be able to capture the complexity of human life to try and reduce everything (beauty, truth, and goodness) to fitness/propigation. --DTuckerman

A Closer Look at Compatibilism Katie Infantine

I know we already talked about this in class last time, but since I couldn't post it before, here is is:

Upon finishing class on Tuesday night I was incredibly unsatisfied and unconvinced with the compatibilist viewpoint. I simply could not see how the compatibilist would even begin to tie together these seemingly contradictory notions into a cohesive concept. Hence, I turned to the Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy for a better description of Classical Compatibilism.

It is helpful, first to have a definition of both ‘free will’ and ‘determinism’ which the SEP defines as follows:

“free will can be defined as the unique ability of persons to exercise control over their conduct in the fullest manner necessary for moral responsibility.”

“Within this essay, we shall define determinism as the metaphysical thesis that the facts of the past, in conjunction with the laws of nature, entail every truth about the future. According to this characterization, if determinism is true, then, given the actual past, and holding fixed the laws of nature, only one future is possible at any moment in time.”

So how do Classical Compatibilists make free will and determinism work together?

There were a couple of examples, but I will offer just one for now. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, it depends on “a strikingly austere account of freedom.”

“Classical compatibilism is often associated with the thesis that the word freedom in the expression freedom of will modifies a condition of action and not will.”

According to the Classical compatibilists, “Free will is the unencumbered ability of an agent to do what she wants.” Note how different this is from the original notion of free will that was given above. There is no mention here of persons exercising control, per se, or moral responsibility. It is much closer to a Hobbesian notion of free will. According to this definition of free will, “It is plausible to assume that free will, so understood, is compatible with determinism since the truth of determinism does not entail that no agents ever do what they wish to do unencumbered.” The objection raised in the article comes from an opposing notion of free will: “A person acts of her own free will only if she is its ultimate source. No doubt, for one to be an ultimate source of her action, no explanation for her action can trace back to factors prior to her. This the compatibilist cannot have since it requires the falsity of determinism. But according to the classical compatibilist account of free will, so long as one's action arises from one's unencumbered desires, she is a genuine source of her action.” Ultimately, I am still confused to a large extent about compatibilism. Perhaps I have just missed the point or failed to connect ideas, but it seems to me that it is really only through word-tricks and flimsy definitions that compatibilists are able to hold on to this theory in a way that sounds cohesive. For a much more extensive explanation of both Classical Compatibilism and other forms of compatibilism, see http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/compatibilism/

Sub-topics and references within Chapter 2

Background on the is - ought distinction. Cameron Faller

In the 16th century, David Hume famously made the distinction between “is” and “ought” propositions. He declared that “is” propositions are descriptive statements while “ought” propositions are normative, or value, statements. Based on this distinction, Hume argued against moral rationalism, which invalidly, according to Hume, deduces normative conclusions from descriptive premises. So, basically, Hume was declaring that it is not possible to derive moral conclusions from factual premises. Hume believed that this deduction, which all previous systems of moral philosophy have made, is a logical fallacy. Consequently, according to Hume, moral conclusions based on this system should be ignored and are practically meaningless, and thus morality should be tied much more closely with subjective emotions than with objective reason.

G.E Moore proposed a very similar argument in the 20th century with his “open question argument.” In this argument, Moore basically declared that a value term cannot be described by or reduced to natural properties. Therefore, the question, “what is good,” is an “open question” because no natural property can be used to completely define the value term ‘good.’ Therefore, ethical theories that propose to know “what the good is” are invalid, and are committing the naturalistic fallacy.

In this chapter, Flanagan acknowledges that some of his commentaries may feel that he is falling into the naturalistic fallacy. Flanagan is trying to make normative statements about the essence of “human flourishing,” which is to say “what is the human good” or “what is of value to humans.” However, Flanagan is also a naturalist, so it appears at first that he is simply committing the naturalistic fallacy by trying to define value terms through natural facts. However, Flanagan believes he is avoiding a logical fallacy because he believes that one can validly assert normative conclusions based on empirical evidence. He believes that through philosophical investigation of human beings, we can discover what things have and will lead humans to obtain eudemonia. However, I think David Hume would argue that sure one can look at past empirical evidence, but does this in turn allow one to make objective and normative statements for all of humanity.Cfaller 00:32, 27 January 2010 (UTC)

What is "platonic space" and how does OF use it in his argument?

Flanagan uses "platonic spaces" to further articulate what he means by Spaces of Meaning and I think I understand what he means by this, though I may be wrong. I think he makes a vital distinction, one any of us should have immediately thought of the second he used the term. He makes clear that by "platonic spaces," he means natural categories and not transcendental forms. This is to say that the "good, true and beautiful" all exist naturally, which I think is akin to Aristotelian thought (that forms exist in things rather than above them). I think one possible way to understand what Flanagan is trying to do, is to acknowledge that he means these categories are what we naturally orient ourselves towards if we are to flourish universally. I think this may be similar to Kant's a priori cognitive structures in the categories[If you need a refresh just read section 1 or 2.3[1]]. Basically that humans universally access these same natural categories, even if we do it in different ways; that these categories are part of the human psyche. When he says we "judge" (40) our lives as well lived, I think this is what he means. Not that we relativistically judge our lives in approval, but rather that we measure whether or not we have accessed these natural categories, or forms of good, beauty and truth. The means by which we can make that judgment, at least I think he argues, are natural and empirically based. He gives examples of physical symmetry(beauty) ensuring health, or sunrises(also beauty) ensuring more work or livelihood. Flanagan also makes important note that the intersection of the categories is what actually yields eudaimonia. He goes even further to say that each of those categories are related directly to a Darwinian human quality, which is to say that they all contribute to our being humans effectively in our environment. It's possible that there's more Aristotle here, in that it sounds similar to formal and final causes and the actualization of a thing's nature. The way Flanagan ultimately uses "platonic spaces," I think results in the treatment of the "good, true and beautiful" as being just as much a part of being human as any other aspect of our anatomy.

I'm not sure this is exactly what he is saying, especially since he uses the term "worldmaking." It makes me think the way these natural categories function is more constructed than I interpreted and would perhaps fall prey to the same kind of conclusion that Kant's separation between the phenomena and the noumena does. But Flanagan clearly states the complication that he refutes, that society's "good" is based purely on prudence and agreement between people...so this troubles me. Byost 04:52, 25 January 2010 (UTC)

How does Darwin represent a compromise between the Humean and Hobbesian pictures of man?

In explaining how Darwin represents a compromise between the Humean and Hobbesian pictures of man it is best to first distinguish between the Humean and Hobbseian human picture. Hobbes' picture of man is one which portrays man as selfish who acts predominately out of self-interest. For example, in his "Social Contract Theory" man enters into a social contract because it is the only way in which a world of egoistic humans motivated by self-interest can live peacefully. Nature is a state of war in which humans wish to consume all resources for themselves. However, in the interest of self-preservation they must agree to enter into a society governed by a social contract.

Hume on the other hand being a hard-nosed empiricist points out there is no proof whatsoever that such a state of nature exists. According to Flanagan Hume holds Homo sapiens display "fellow-feeling" in addition to our selfish feeling. Hume gives a "plastic" view of human nature. Whatever side grows depends on things like material scarcity or lack thereof. Whereas Hobbes gives a rigid, egoistic view of man Hume, gives a more fluid or plastic view of man in which he displays "fellow-feeling" as well. For Hume, moral reasoning is essentially tied to the emotions. Hobbes, on the other hand seems to have morality tied more closely with reason.

The compromise Darwin (who is a Humean) represents is what Flanagan refers to as a "mixed bag" view. We have egoistic traits and social virtue traits such as benevolence, sympathy and compassion. These social virtues, as well as experience, and reason all play into our moral sense. The supporting evidence to this is the research consensus in psychology that finds people who lack emotions interacting with reason are deficient at moral thinking, feeling, and action. Rather than choosing between the Hobbsian and Humean view we can have both, explained by a gradual evolution by natural selection. For example a virtue such as altruism can be described by evolutionary biology as pertaining to fitness, but because of the plasticity of the mind/brain and transforming effects of culture altruism and other social virtues can be explained.

Flanagan here is giving a naturalistic explanatory account of human nature through biological evolution, psychology and neuroscience. It seems to me while he is working on the eudemonic project he is giving naturalistic accounts of human nature as well as using neuro-physicalism in explaining the "Scientific Man" in relation to the world. One of the observations Flanagan makes in this "Darwinian Compromise" is how we have cognitive-affective conative economy passed on from our ancestors with moral dispositions from the start. He notes that insects organize themselves without feelings but most mammals and all primates organize themselves through feelings of selfishness and well-being. With these examples of insects, primates and mammals it shows animals by sense perception organize into social groups for fitness reasons, but how this cognitive-affective conative economy goes from sense perception to self-understanding is still a question left to be asked. I would guess Flanagan would say it happened in an extremely long, drawn out, incremental evolutionary process. However, exactly what happened within that process to give Homo sapiens self-realization is still something we don't know. My point here is that it seems this account renders our morality arbitrary and dictated by human convention giving us a sort of Sophism. If I am correct on this assumption I find it quite ironic that Flanagan would be pushing a kind of Sophism while at the same time referring to Plato and Aristotle in finding meaning. Eric Hanson

Reconstruct and evaluate the view of altruism at/around p. 47. A. Vallandry

I am still working through this, but thought I should start off with the normal or broad definition of altruism as it is simple/to the point, and drill down from there. Per Random House, "The principle or practice of unselfish concern for, or devotion to the welfare of others, as opposed to egoism.

Flanagan, naturally seeks to delve deeper into meaning and fully explore the concepts behind altruism and why rational beings (that would be us) react the way we do. He describes altruism as a sort of "hard problem", in the same vein as the problem of conciousness and its causes that hang over the entire work. There does not appear to be any reason for giving unto another, without directly benefitting oneself. Think of return on investment in the business sense, why spend foolishly, without knowing if any positive gains will come rolling back in? Here altruism is a uniquely compassionate human endeavour, with little rhyme or reason on the surface.

Flanagan argues that the known "truths" of genuine psychological altruism -- that is, doing good for goodness sake, no repayment, and gene-based altruism (helping your sibling) are rather false from an evolutionary perspective. Rather, both are the result of societal pressures and implied guidelines, not from the brain firing off and coming up with this of it's own accord.

I find that I am still having a little trouble with Flanagan's description of the brain as "plastic". I want to believe that I sort of get what he's saying, but cannot say with certainty that I do, any feedback here would be greatly appreciated before I move in the wrong direction.

I suppose altruism is a gamble that ideally all should partake in, not for the gamble itself, but out of love, though it has no basis in evolutionary design whatsoever. But note that each culture approaches this differently. Here is a micro example -- my neighborhood is rather friendly. The guys on my block think nothing of calling on a Saturday for help unloading a large item and moving it down a rickety flight of stairs. Usually hot, hard, dangerous work in which I might score a free beer. Consequently, I have lived in neighborhoods where after three years, I still did not know my next door neighbor's name or even a hint of their occupation. We lacked the altruistic urge in that sense and blatantly ignored one another. All of this I want to explore further as I examine the author's points and counterpoints and the root basis for this design. Vallandry 05:21, 22 January 2010 (UTC)

How does positive psychology bear on eudaimonics?

Positive psychology, in a way is the study of eudaimonics. Just as TheFlanMan is working to develop a picture of naturalistic flourishing by examining what it is that people do and say that makes them flourish, positive psychology “is the scientific study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive” (as defined by the Positive Psychology Center at Penn State [2]). Thus, positive psychology is researching what exactly eudaimonia is.

TheFlanMan specifically in this chapter uses a study to show that the agreements between cross-cultural wisdom literature from the last 3000 years track quite closely to his “own list of universal virtues” (51). These virtues (justice, humanness, temperance, wisdom, and courage) seem to be oriented toward the “good, true, and beautiful.”

It of course bears comment that he spends quite a bit of effort to reject “transcendence” from the list of virtues in the Peterson and Seligman. I can only assume that he includes the 'transcendence' in his list merely to forestall any arguments that may arise from those that know the study - otherwise, why include it in the first place? As TheFlanMan points out his reasons for excluding transcendence (because it is not a virtue), it remains a mystery why in fact Peterson and Seligman would include such an ambiguous, 'implicit' idea in what is supposed to be a list of “normative” ideas. Because of the universal nature of this idea, it would seem to me to bear more investigation[3]. Perhaps the orientation of these virtues towards the transcendent will prevent this otherwise naturalistic account from doing what W.V. Quine's attempts to naturalize epistemology did - reduce the question of “why” to “what” and expects it to be a sufficient answer to the original “why” question. By doing this, Quine was jettisoning the higher-order epistemic questions, which are the reason we do epistemology (in my opinion).

I would indeed argue that questions of meaning do not usually start with “what must I do or think to have meaning in my life?” but rather, “why am I here?” Although this may be followed up with a “what” question such as , “what am I made for?” ultimately this just a permutation of the original “why” question: “why am I here?” By answering the why question, we get not only insight into the “what” question, but a deeper understanding of the answer to the “what” questions when we receive the “what” questions' answers. Just such a failure to answer the original “why” question is, I believe, why epistemology has not gone away, replaced by nuero-psychology (as Quine called for) – we want to know why we think we know things!

So far it seems that TheFlanMan doesn't want to go into the “why” question – everything that has even hinted at answering such a question has gotten a parenthetical quote in the text about how it has never actually existed. I am interested to see how everything fits together – will he try and remove the need for the “why” question, making any answer (which cannot be scientific for him) one that is simply a choice of optional spheres of meaning? --DTuckerman

Background on Damasio and Nussbaum in connection with this chapter. Carmen Mitchell

Antonio Damasio is an American behavioral neurologist and neuroscientist that teaches at USC and leads USC’s creative brain institute. He has written several bestselling books such as Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain, The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness, and Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and Feeling Brain. Specifically, Damasio is interested in the relationship between emotions and decision-making. His theory about this relationship (the somatic-marker hypothesis) states that people who suffered a specific kind of brain damage (for example a brain tumor or stroke) in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex experience a disturbance of emotion, but still contain the rest of their intellect. Damasio’s research shows that this emotional disturbance severely impacts decision-making skills. For example, Damasio describes an instance in which a patient is asked to choose a restaurant to eat at. The patient continually struggles over the decision, listing reason after reason why he should or should not go to one specific restaurant. Damasio explains that his inability to associate emotions with a decision prevents him from making seamlessly inconsequential decisions. The significant experiment that helped develop this theory was the “gambling task.” Here is an interesting interview of Damasio in which he not only describes emotions, how they affect decision-making, but also the gambling task experiment. [4]

Martha Nussbaum is an American philosopher who specializes in Ancient Greek philosophy. Some of her considerable works include The Fragility of Goodness, Cultivating Humanity, Sex and Social Justice, and Hiding from Humanity. In one of her major works, The Fragility of Goodness, Nussbaum argues that human goodness is a fragile thing. She explores factors that contribute to a “well lived life” and how uncontrollable factors may actually work against human flourishing. She argues against Platonic views, stating that human goodness cannot protect a human from threats or danger.

Both Damasio and Nussbaum suggest a new view of how we observe human nature. Damasio’s research suggests that emotions are much more fundamental than previously thought. Subconsciously, emotions control and dictate a significant part of human life and the human experience. Flanagan mentions Damasio to scientifically backup his claim that humans are “fully embodied thinking feeling animals” (61). Similarly, Flanagan refers to Nussbaum, because she also supports one of his arguments. She argues that human flourishing is vulnerable to external factors that are out of their control. Flanagan states that humans act free, however we do not poses a free-will that defies “natural law” (61). Overall, Flanagan uses both of these revolutionary thinkers to support is answer to the question of the chapter: Is there anything substantive that can be said about how best to find meaning and to live a purposefully?

As always, post critical responses on any topic that comes up in connection with your thinking about this work.


2nd Thoughts on Last Week's Seminar

Clint White's 2nd thoughts

I know that it is fairly misleading to propose an analogy for a philosophical discussion, but I can not help doing so: When we got onto the topic of knowledge with a big K versus a little k in last nights discussion, I was reminded of what it is like looking at a website. Though we commonly do it, we rarely remind ourselves that websites, and for that matter, computers, work in a practical way, but do so through code. When I am browsing, say, the news online or shopping for camera equipment on eBay, I am rarely thinking about, but am actively participating in a sort of dual perspective. On the one hand, I am clicking on icons or images and reading descriptions on a practical level of interface. On the other hand, I am scientifically aware that when I am looking at an image or reading a description, I am not looking directly at the object, I am reading a representation of computer jargon linked to some server where there is code that represents an image that represents an actual object. Thus, I know scientifically that I am looking at something that is very far removed from what it is representing, but I am still surfing the internet. I am still living in the practical world despite the scientific background of what I am doing.

Similarly, I want to say that OF regards scientific reality and practical reality in a similar way. Meaning is something that may be hard to find amongst the technical jargon that we call science in the same way that I would find it hard to find meaning if I read the code that depicted the image of a child being pulled from the rubble in Haiti. In that sense, I can recognize that we need these practical, phenomenal constructions in order to find meaning.

On the flipside, however, I think that OF deserves defense for saying something like “Hey, don’t forget that your practical, phenomenal constructions that provide meaning are still rooted in the science that runs the physical”.

It doesn’t help to find meaning if we think of love from a purely scientific sense, but I am somewhat convinced by empirical induction that we are dependant upon the scientific jargon (code) in order to find meaning. To OF’s credit, I think that it is important do develop this distinction of dualist perspectives of the same reality in order to get at the core of meaning in a material world. Cwhite 20:27, 27 January 2010 (UTC)

Do we need to back up and talk about Human Nature? Katie Infantine

Regarding our discussion about Chapter 2, I though it maybe helpful to bring up a, possibly obvious, but vital and foundational starting point for talking about eudaimonia and human flourishing - namely the fact that in order to decide what constitutes eudaimonia or what true flourishing is, we must first be grounded in an agreement about human nature. The danger here is that if we disagree about the very nature of what it means to be human, especially whether or not teleology is involved, it seems that we cannot agree upon how to talk about human flourishing.

This thought was sparked by OF’s comment, “This [Menicus’s sprout analogy] suggests to me two interpretive possibilities. One is that Menicus thinks there are some not-so-good sprouts in our nature and just fails to make this clear. The other is that he thinks that bad seeds can blow in from the outside and take root in us. This would require an explanation for how, say, a corrupt culture could germinate seeds that are not in the natures of the individuals it comprises.” (pg. 49)

The basic question is: are humans inherently good or inherently bad?

One teleological problem, which I thought was a great addition to our class discussion about human flourishing, goes something like this: What are we to make of the Christian philosophy that advocates that to be poor, or suffering, is more consistent with living a meaningful life than almost any other philosophy about human flourishing would allow?

Question two, then, is: Do humans have a higher purpose, and if so, what is that purpose?

Hence, it seems that OF, and we in our class discussions, are already getting ahead of ourselves, in a sense, when we attempt to discover the meaning of eudaimonia or human flourishing before we agree upon the very nature of human beings - who will need drastically different things to flourish, depending upon both the nature of human beings and what they are designed for (or whether they are designed for anything at all). --Kinfantine 00:46, 3 February 2010 (UTC)

Sub-topics and references within Chapter 3

What's wrong with epiphenomenalism?

Epiphenomenonalism is the idea that the mind has no causal efficacy of the physical, but rather is only some kind of byproduct of the physical processes of the brain. This means that our desires and intentions are not the causes of our actions, but rather are merely like the whistle on a steam engine – indicators of other processes.

The problem with this, is that the mind seems to become irrelevant – reasons are no longer to be seen as determinants of our actions (or even to have any effect on them). For a type-neurophysicalist like Flanagan, this would mean that neural states are actually just indicators of causal events, thus rendering any kind of search for meaning irrelevant – we are just along for the ride, firmly attached to the externally caused tracks of the roller coaster of consciousness. It seems that Flanagan claims that all mental states are physical are in fact so that mental states can have causal efficacy.

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy makes a good point, however: “If mental events cause their effects only in virtue of their physical properties, then their being mental events is causally irrelevant and mental properties are, in a certain sense, epiphenomena” [5] This would seem to apply to Flanagan's neurophysicalist view, so perhaps while trying to avoid epiphenomenalism by definition, he has already stepped into it de facto. --DTuckerman

You are on to something, but I do not think that the mental events are always causally "irrelevant". Suppose the universe is mildly but not completely deterministic -- it is already planned that I will buy a car on a certain date without my pre-knowledge that this is definitely the case. But the color or tire size of the vehicle is in limbo and entirely random allowing for a bit of completely free will, the small picture choice lies with me while the big picture has led to this event. Thus the mental event has a mild dash of "accidental" thrown in for too many small variables are present. From here it follows that the mind creates a picture and the physical may or may not act upon it, if so the byproduct would be knowledge at worst and understanding at best. Rather than indicators, the byproduct becomes an entirely new being, born of the root search for meaning.

From the Stanford Encyclopedia, "Epiphenomenalism is absurd; it is just plain obvious that our pains, our thoughts, and our feelings make a difference to our (evidently physical) behavior; it is impossible to believe that all our behavior could be just as it is even if there were no pains, thoughts, or feelings." Vallandry 07:06, 2 February 2010 (UTC)

What's the difference between tame and untame scientific materialism? Evaluate

Evolution and Buddhism

The term “sentient being” is a Buddhist term to refer to creatures with the ability to have subjective experiences. Many disagree as to what kind of creatures can have subjective experiences, but the emergence of the laws of “karmic causality” is concerned with those sentient beings that have evolved with the ability to act intentionally. Flanagan argues that his own brand of “tame” karmic causality” is a natural process and uncontroversial to natural philosophers.

The Dalai Lama explains the points at which Buddhism and the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution would agree about the forces that cause life in the universe to change over time. Both, of course, would first and foremost agree on the observable data of changes in species, and both would agree that this observable data that the theory of evolution would point out can be explained through natural causation. The Dalai Lama then points out another emergence of these natural laws, and that is karma: “When the universe has evolved to a stage where it can support the life of sentient beings, its fate becomes entangled with the karma of the beings who will inhabit it” (74). Even though karmic causality is not consistent with the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology, it is still natural. As Flanagan points out, from inorganic arose organic. From the intentional acts of sentient beings arose karmic causation. The tame karmic causation that Flanagan argues for is a natural process in which creatures that are conscious of their actions (physical, verbal, and mental) have effects on their environment. The human sciences emerged in order to understand the intentions of human beings and the effects that they have on the other sentient beings and objects around them.

The ultimate controversy here comes into play when Flanagan talks about the “untamed” karmic causation, interestingly named for the problems it throws in the way of naturalists. Of course, sentience must have evolved from non-sentience, but how and why are the important questions. Neo-Darwinians would suggest that is was from a being, maybe a species of bacteria, a “bacteria for whom ‘there was nothing it is/ was like to be them…’” (76), which I think, sounds ironically poetic. The Dalai Lama would suggest that there is maybe a mysterious and perhaps teleological explanation. A naturalist would, indeed find this problematic.--Jangello 06:48, 8 February 2010 (UTC)

Neuronal Correlates of Consciouness View (NCC)

Appendix 1: Buddhism and rebirth

Appendix 2: Evolution and Catholicism

Cameron Faller

At the end of the chapter three, Owen Flanagan asserts that Roman Catholics cannot both believe in the teachings of the Church and at the same time believe in evolution. Flanagan believes that the Church’s teaching on God and the human soul both directly contradict the theory of evolution. He believes that “divine intervention, immaterial entities, and incoherent views on mental causation” all contradict the theory of evolution (100). More than anything else, Flanagan’s biggest problem is with how an immaterial being can interact with a physical world. He believes that a devout Catholic evolutionist is basically an oxymoron, and the only way to reconcile the two opposing view points is to choose one view other the other.

However, I believe that if evolution is understood in the strict sense, where as it is understood as a theory that proposes the development of the human body and Homo sapiens species, then there is no contradiction between Catholicism and evolution. The contradiction occurs when scientists attempt to make theological or metaphysical claims which are outside of their field. Flanagan first asserts that Catholicism’s idea of Adam and Eve is the first issue that may be a contradiction. However, Flanagan himself admits that “as regards the evolution of sentience, we are pretty much, at this time, left with “just so” stories,” and they same could easily be said with the evolution of the human intellect. Therefore, the story of Adam and Eve is just a story among many. Scientists cannot deny that there may have been only two “pre-humans” that first became humans. At some point, humans became “intellectual creatures,” so who’s to say there wasn’t just two at first.

Flanagan also sees the direct implementation of a soul in humans by God as being contrary to evolution. However, the theory of evolution deals specifically with the development of the physical body. And therefore, there is no contradiction by saying that God implants a soul into each human being. Flanagan doesn’t understand how a immaterial being could be a cause in a physical world but just because we don’t currently understand how this is a possibility doesn’t mean it is automatically false. Many devout Catholics have held that evolution and Catholicism can be reconciled. What they don’t think Catholics can hold is the neo-Darwinist approach to evolution which is what Cardinal Schondorn is arguing against in his article mentioned in chapter three. The neo-Darwinist belief that evolution is completely unguided and unplanned is what is contradictory to Catholicism. However, this belief is not synonymous with evolution in general. By making this claim, a neo-Darwinist is stepping outside of science by making a metaphysical claim about the nature of the world. However, if scientists are only concerned with the physical then it is inappropriate for them to make these types of claims. As previously mentioned, the biggest issue for Flanagan seems to be how an immaterial being can interact with a physical world. However, it seems as though Flanagan is conceiving of God as like an immaterial human being that interacts with the physical world when in reality God would have to interact with the world in a radically different way. How can we possibly understand how an immaterial being which exists outside of time interacts in a physical world that exists in time? Sure you’re free to believe that this is not possible or that this belief is irrational, but no scientific or evolutionary theory could possibly prove that this is not possible. Therefore, even though Flanagan may not like it, Catholics are logically free to believe in an evolutionary theory that stays within the bounds of science.

Cardinal Schonborn's full article [6] Cardinal Schonborn’s response to criticism [7]

Steven Barr’s article regarding the proper relationship between Darwinism and Catholicism [8]

Cfaller 01:52, 1 February 2010 (UTC)

Response to Cameron

Katie Infantine

To add to your comments Cameron, I think that OF would have to agree with your statements that, “Scientists cannot deny that there may have been only two “pre-humans” that first became humans,” namely Adam and Eve, or that, “Flanagan doesn’t understand how a immaterial being could be a cause in a physical world but just because we don’t currently understand how this is a possibility doesn’t mean it is automatically false.”

In fact, OF brings up several times Jinpa’s (“the Dalai Lama’s close collaborator and English interpreter”) statement that there should be a distinction between “what is negated through scientific method and what has not been observed through such a method. In other words, he reminds us not to conflate the two processes of not finding something and finding its nonexistence.”

I am, however, concerned with your claim that scientists, or evolutionists to be specific, are concerned only with the evolution of the physical body. I believe they are concerned with the evolution of the totality of species, which is why OF spends so much time in Chapter 2 attempting to understand and explain the evolution of altruism and claims it as a based primarily in the biological evolution of the human species as a whole. Correct me if I am wrong, but it seems to me that evolutionists are concerned with explaining the evolution and the long-term history of what we find now, which includes seemingly unphysical phenomena, like altruism and souls.

--Kinfantine 01:06, 3 February 2010 (UTC)

Religious Scripture and Scientific Texts

The Dalai Lama asserts that the biggest difference between Science and Buddhism is their respective texts. I found this tid bit of argumentation on page 70 interesting. Flanagan claims that the Dalai Lama underestimates “the status and the frequency of appeals to authoritative ‘scriptures’ in science” (70). Perhaps I am being nitpicky, but I find myself agreeing with the Dalai Lama that religious scriptures are really not as related to scientific authorities as Flanagan wants them to be; albeit I am not very familiar with Buddhist texts. The difference, I think, is that religious scripture tends to be fundamentally unchanged (I would avoid the term stagnant) throughout time—though the interpretations might change from time to time or person to person. A scientific paper, however, sets out to expand, explain, or eradicate earlier held theories. In other words, there really is no unchanged text that Science appeals to. For example, many people of the scientific community before Watson and Crick's discovery held that protein was the vehicle for heredity; since 20 amino acids has a greater degree of structural diversity than the 4 nucleic acid bases of DNA; but we all know that it was DNA that won out. Indeed Flanagan recognizes this when he rightly states that “Science requires that the accumulated wisdom of its own past be intersubjectively re-testable” (71). But, I do not believe that religious scripture is falsifiable and testable in the same way that scientific literature is. Perhaps the closest thing that Science has to religious scripture is the scientific method itself; after all that is quite unchangeable to the Scientist. Twilkinson


2nd Thoughts on Last Week's Seminar

When spaces of meaning conflict

After our discussion last night, I was left with a question regarding the spaces of meaning. Flanagan’s goal in this book is to show how human flourishing can be accomplished through various combinations of the six spaces of meaning. I think we established last night that Flanagan obviously privileges science as a source of knowledge over the five other spaces of meaning. My question is in regards to how Flanagan handles the occasion when separate spaces of meaning disagree concerning human flourishing. For example, in the case brought up in class about the legislation in England, it is apparent that Catholicism and politics are disagreeing in regards to accomplishing human flourishing. There are also several other examples in which people’s religious beliefs apparently do or may conflict with aspects derived from the other spaces of meaning. So when spaces of meaning conflict, does Flanagan believe that both sides are right because people on both sides are finding meaning in their particular space of meaning or would Flanagan use some criteria in order to judge which space was more “in tuned” with human flourishing? Since he gives science a priority among the spaces of meaning, maybe he would use scientific investigation as his criteria. I guess the greater question though is whether Flanagan believes that there is an objective and universal standard for evaluating human flourishing or whether as long as someone is finding meaning in some combination of the six spaces then human flourishing is accomplished. If Flanagan wants to choose the first option, which I assume he does, there must be some way of discerning the truth when spaces of meaning conflict. Flanagan may want to use science, but I feel like this would undermine his project if he were to give one of the spaces of meaning priority in validating claims of the other spaces. Cfaller 03:53, 4 February 2010 (UTC)

Conflict Response Eric Hanson You bring up a good point about conflict within the spaces. I think Flanagan might say that when there is conflict between spaces, the sciences, (human or natural science) can serve to resolve the conflict. For example, when he attempts to reconcile Buddhism with natural science, he uses neurophysicalism as a vehicle in which to bring the two together by thinking of karma in terms of effects of mind causality. With this issue going on in England regarding the Catholic Church I think the political science or political philosophy could shed some light on the issue. Unpacking questions such as: "is it just for the state to impose its authority on religion?" "Is separation of church and state good or bad?" or "is religious freedom a good thing?" can be helpful. Right now it seems to me that when spaces of meaning come into conflict whatever ones get priority is going to depend on ones worldview. For Flanagan as a committed Naturalist, any worldview subscribing to the belief of an immaterial reality is not going to be beneficial for flourishing unless it's naturalized. Likewise, as a committed Catholic, I'm going to say not getting beyond the natural is not going to be beneficial for flourishing. Like Flanagan, I think its useful using the sciences to support my worldview. People are going to have different worldviews and thus give different spaces of meaning different priorities.

More on Conflict To recap for the purpose of note taking, the six spaces of meaning are: Art, Technology, Spirituality, Science, Politics, and Ethics. I hold the odds of conflict are perhaps less than what we have worried about thus far. If we attempt to rank these in a poll like fashion we have 720 possible combinations. {6}x{5}x{4}x{3}x{2}x{1} = 720. But, these six can really be divided into two camps; that of Philosophy or that of Theology. Philosophy: Is concerned primarily in no specific order; Art, Technology, Science, and Politics. Theology: Is concerned primarily in no specific order; Spirituality, and Ethics.

This is debateable, but the only overlap or conflict I see where both Philosophy and Theology could stake a claim is that of Art and Ethics. Art being a minor concern and Ethics as the major. See Eric's comments about unpacking questions, "Is it just for the state to..." While something in the Philosophy camp may occasionally appear on the radar of Theology, say "is it ok to use Facebook to...", this appears to be more of an Ethics question that happens to use Technology as a vehicle.

Additionally most of these are subjective, while a Democratic-Republic may be flawed, it appears to work better in the United States over a Dictator/Monarchy based system. Whereas in some countries, the roles of politics may be reversed. As we work in Chapter 4 and take a look at Moral Sciences, I too would like to find the best methodology for establishing a universal objective standard, especially for ethical dilemmas if this is at all possible. Vallandry 03:06, 8 February 2010 (UTC)

Sub-topics and references within Chapter 4

More Thoughts on Normative Mind Science

Flanagan's two criteria for evaluating eudemonia are:

(1) It is a necessary condition of subjective flourishing that virtues an individual displays and the norms she avows and abides pass tests for reflective equilibrium (143)

(2) It is a necessary condition of objective flourishing that the virtues an individual displays and the norms she avows and abides pass tests for wide reflective equilibrium. (146)

Brandon and Cameron mentioned the problem of going form the subjective RE to the objective WRE. I think the best way to understand where Flanagan is coming from in this regard is his combination of the social intuitionist and connectionist model. The connectionist model is a moral neural network theory explaining how we acquire moral knowledge. It basically states that our moral capacities are instantiated as skills by a complexly configured matrix of synaptic connections. (134) According to the connectionist model the acquisition of moral knowledge has to do with structures, connections, and relationships between neural units. The way we acquire this knowledge or learn depends on our initial settings. Flanagan describes the initial settings as the activation of basic emotions (disgust, fear, anger, etc.) to their environmental triggers. These emotions are neural networks that go off when they come into contact with their environmental triggers. Flanagan uses the example that is highly improbable for a human female that human females will adapt norms like a black widow or praying mantas that decapitate their mates after impregnation. The practice would be too disgusting to catch on. (135) From here I think it would be safe to interpret Flanagan as agreeing with there not being a universal moral truth saying its wrong to eat your mate, it just has to do with the initial setting of the species. After explaining the connectionist model, Flanagan expresses the same concern Brandon and Cameron have about progressing from our initial setting. The answer he gives us his KMN (key meta norm.) This is the norm states we should engage in the process of WRE. In supporting this, OF gives an example of how even within our initial settings we engage in the process of RE. The example he gives is a conventional norm that says marriage is good and forever. While everyone might agree with this you can look around and see awful marital situations, perhaps infidelity or abuse. In those cases there can be an exception to divorce. (138). He then goes from this small space competition to the other example of business transactions in which external pressures were used to make internal normative adjustments. The scenario had to do with two isolated businesses that had their own business practices but in dealing with each other had to establish norms that were needed in dealing with each other and in turn these norms affected the way each individual business goes about their respective practices. (139) This seemed to support the idea of objective flourishing involving cross-cultural WRE. These examples support his assertion for asserting the KMN in arguing for the moral progress that he sees as more or less absent from the connectionist model. With this said, I don't think Flanagan needs any universal norms to adhere to for objective flourishing. He says everything is in the dialectic. Engaging in the WRE process seems to be a matter of looking cross-culturally and rationally choose, with all the options we have at our disposal, the best way to flourish. Ehanson 04:46, 9 February 2010 (UTC)

“The Reflective equilibrium vs. wide reflective equilibrium”

In this chapter, Flanagan is trying to find a scientific method by which judge which types of lives will lead to human flourishing. He believes that “eudaimonics,” which is a system based on empirical evidence, can be used to discover the nature of human flourishing. He states that there is subjective human flourishing, which is human flourishing relative to one’s culture, and there is objective human flourishing, which involves human flourishing based on universal standards. Reflective equilibrium (RE), according to Flanagan, is accomplished when one’s moral conceptions are considered good based on the moral standards of one’s culture. On the other hand, one’s moral conceptions pass the test of wide reflective equilibrium (WRE) if these conceptions are viewed as good by inter-cultural comparisons. Both tests conclude whether one is experiencing flourishing, but the WRE test concludes whether one is experiencing the highest level of human flourishing. The problem comes when trying to step outside the RE test in order to perform the WRE test, which allows for moral progress to occur. Since we are all conditioned by our culture’s own moral standards, we see all issues of morality through this moral framework. The RE test is even narrower than Flanagan suggests when we consider that within a particular culture different political groups or religions will have their own specific moral standards which may or may not agree with each other. Therefore, a Christian American is not only viewing the world through American moral values but also through Christian moral values. This is essentially why Rawls “veil of ignorance test” fails. The test is meant to reveal that if all rational creatures assumed that they could be put in anyone else’s “shoes” then all people would endorse the same types of justice. This may work for a particular culture, but since we are all conditioned by the moral norms of our own culture, this test can not work on a universal or objective level. But the question still remains of how or if one can step out of their own world view, in order to judge the standards for universal and objective flourishing. Flanagan believes that we can learn and use “meta-norms” to discern the factors of objective human flourishing. Therefore, we must establish certain universal norms or virtues to act as a foundation for judging the criteria of objective human flourishing. I think Flanagan is trying to say that we should look to the virtues that transcend all cultures and then base the universal conditions for human flourishing off of these virtues. For example, we empirically judge that multiple cultures express justice as a virtue, therefore we can use justice as a foundational virtue to judge which moral norms lead to objective human flourishing. From this, we could judge that in the category of justice the U.S is better at allowing for objective human flourishing than Nazi Germany because the U.S more properly employs the virtue of justice. Thus, we are able to perform the WRE test by looking to underlying and universal virtues rather than to specific actions themselves. Conveniently, this chapter answers my second thought from last week. When spaces of meaning conflict or when there is a conflict within a space of meaning, I think Flanagan would argue that one has to look to the “meta-norms,” or underlying virtues, in order to judge which conflicting party’s stance better leads to human flourishing. Therefore, when say spirituality and politics conflict, one should look to how each applies the universal virtues in order to discern which stance better accomplishes human flourishing.Cfaller 00:00, 8 February 2010 (UTC)

RE vs. WRE cont. I think Flanagan would also respond by asking, whether or not such conflicts were actual local knowledge or not. He may make the distinction between background cultural norms which are taken for granted and those that are...more empirically based I suppose. I think this chapter really does some heavy lifting for Flanagan, especially pages 118-125. Reading this chapter, I also kept in mind something he says early on: "We are biological beings living in a material world that we have constructed" (107). I think this may be one of the most clear statements he's made about how he treats the different kinds of "knowledge" between the six spaces of meaning, that is to say all of it is constructed. I think how he treats knowledge that is "real and meaningful," vs. knowledge that is "meaningful" is going to greatly affect how we can accomplish any kind of normative science. On page 121, Flanagan is very clear that this normative science is less precise more complicated than "normal science," but is still the same process given its empirical basis. In fact, in keeping with his statement about our constructed world, he says that both science and "eudaimonics" are based upon inductive reasoning, probabilities and statistics. If this is admitted, I think it does a good job of avoiding Humean criticisms of the causal principle and the ought/is fallacy. It actually seems rather true of what we do.

What seems suspect, is firstly how empirical observation grants objective knowledge, meaning highly probable aspects of humanity; secondly, I think Cameron's question of if we can step out of our own "narrow cultural lens" or the level of reflective equilibrium to access the wide reflective equilibrium still stands; and thirdly even if we access that broader universal of normative science, is it used or treated as fallible? Is science treated as fallible? I know it admits to it readily, Flanagan admits this clearly, but how is the knowledge used? What I mean to say is, it is treat as a "best practice," which perhaps is the only "objective" knowledge we can really get, but is it treated as such? Or is it treated as Hard, solid and absolute...until proven wrong? Given Cameron's example of U.S. culture vs. German Nazism, I think one is inclined to say we have a very persuasive inductive argument showing that concentration camps rail against human flourishing. But take another example like communism, does the same hold true and more importantly, how is it treated? I would argue that the distinction between communism and capitalism, being economic models necessitate certain governmental models that allow for different "levels" of freedom. Further I would suspect that such a distinction would, from our cultural lens, lead us to think that freedom is a universal good or aspect that leads to human flourishing and thus we can use WRE to see that one over the other accomplishes this goal better (the goal or purpose of flourishing). However, this overlooks the aspect of community accomplishing human flourishing over alienation, which I would argue happens in a capitalistic nation (Clearly a Marxist claim, nothing new). I draw this example to show, that there is still a distinction here that isn't simply local normative knowledge. I know Flanagan addresses this, but I think he dismisses it too quickly, relying too heavily on the dependability of empirical observation into normative knowledge. More importantly, this kind of "objectification" of what is now normative knowledge seems possibly dangerous. Not acknowledging the extent to which our access to WRE is limited, could be extremely detrimental, intolerant and ultimately violent...maybe. I think we still would want to use the process outlined by Flanagan, as I think he is more or less correct, but the extent to which that normative knowledge can be useful, universal and absolute seems less so than he treats it; similarly to his treatment of science for that matter. (What I refer to in this last claim is the reliability of empirical scientific investigation yielding true, useful claims. Such as lobotomies...If you guys have time, please check out this link. It's not the end all be all, but it has some interesting points as well as some outright awful points, kind of long but it's somewhat relevant to our discussion. [9]Byost 20:27, 8 February 2010 (UTC)

Flanagan Is Cheating

Cameron and Brandon brought up the point that there is a question as to whether or not stepping fully out of the RE realm into the WRE realm is possible– that we are too embedded in subjectivity by our very nature. Assuming, however, that we can step into the WRE realm and compare different cultural morals and values to acquire a more accurate and universal understanding of eudaimonia, OF’s argument seems to be biased and exclusive once again.

At the end of Chapter 4, Flanagan answers the question he posed at the beginning of Chapter 1, “whether normative mind science (in particular, eudaimonistic scientia – eudaimonics) is possible. My answer is Yes” (p 145). This hardly comes as a surprise, considering his insistent claims throughout Chapter 4 specifically that eudaimonics is rightly understood empirically:

“Morality is a natural phenomenon to be studied naturalistically.” (134)

“This is getting us closer to the idea that there is a legitimate conception of objective flourishing and that it involves using some sort of cross-cultural standard of wide reflective equilibrium.” (139)

OF even states that:

“The method of wide reflective equilibrium plays an important role, perhaps the main role, in advancing moral knowledge.” (145)

While OF, in his explanation of WRE, so forcefully emphasizes the need to take into account, empirically, all possible methods and forms of flourishing in order to come to this universal understanding, he fails to do this himself. In his discussion of ‘meta-norms’ on page 139, Flanagan blatantly states that “Meta-norms insofar as they are divined and abided constitute some from of external perspective. They can be political, ethical, epistemic, or (most often) mixed. But they are not external in various all-to-familiar senses that invoke ideas of God’s will or His favoritism toward some chosen people.”

If we are to take a wide empirical view of the values and morals that are believed to constitute human flourishing and consider all possibilities, how can we cut out a source of meaning that most of the known world holds to be of highest importance?

Flanagan states, “Eudaimonics, if it is possible as a kind of empirical inquiry, must allow empirical evidence to support its conclusions…WRE is a normative test that says we ought to test our ideas about life by bringing them into the widest space of reasons possible. The test, in order to be psychologically realizable, involves taking as genuine all credible contending options available in the Space of Meaning Early 21st Century” (141).

I know we said we would steer the conversation away from the religion/science conflict, but how are we to proceed with Flanagan’s proposals regarding a mind science, if he does not even follow his own rules and cuts out one of the most viable and popularly held notions (namely, that of a divine source from which morality comes) right from the outset with no further explanation?

--Kinfantine 00:05, 9 February 2010 (UTC)

Response/Expansion to "Flanagan Is Cheating"

I agree with Katie that it is nearly impossible to completely ignore religion (particularly theistic ones). Flanagan does indeed brush it aside too quickly. Perhaps one of these reasons is because of the extensive literature on the Science/Religion debate (many of which deal with ethics), and it would be running over a road frequently trod upon. Then again, like Katie points out, how can it be ignored so quickly and dismissively? I feel OF’s refusal to allow religion to enter into the discussion is a weakness. It does not, however, completely impair his project. Let me try to defend, in a way, Flanagan’s choice to exclude theistic religion from chapter 4…at least for the sake of discussion. As a Christian myself, I believe that it is possible to live a moral life with or without belief in God. I believe many of us would agree with this next point (or perhaps I am wrong?): The Dahli Lama is a morally/ethically sound person. Dare I say, much more so than I at times. Yet he is not Christian, and I certainly am...of course I may not be as good of a Christian as say the Pope-but even still we could say that both the Pope and the Dahli Lama are morally/ethically sound and one is a Theist where the other isn't. So what absolute need is there to include religion? It is possible, I believe, to discuss morality and ethics without even mentioning God. It is a weakness, but the project is most certainly not lost. Where I stand in my comprehension of Christianity, I feel it is safe to say that an understanding of the life of Christ will provide me (and others) with the best way to build moral/ethical excellence. But I do not say that it is the only way. You can take Flanagan’s route or the Buddhist’s, and so on. But I am compelled, and indeed inspired by my faith to assert that through an understanding of Christ I am choosing the best way to achieve moral excellence (if I am sincere in my endeavor). And here is where Flanagan really fails in not including religion: it seems obvious that he completely rules out religion in the RE and WRE tests. I think we should include Christianity in OF’s ethical scientific method. And this was exactly Katie’s point. To conclude, I believe it is very much possible to discuss morality/ethics without religion, but it would be a more fruitful discussion if it did. I am excited to see if others agree or not. Twilkinson

Science/Religion Response

If I am slightly off of the main thought of the science/religion issue with Flanagan’s argument, feel free to send me back to remedial philosophy-

The first bit is a possible clarification to our discussion vs. Flanagan’s central goal, specifically in response to the reduced weight of Religion and the emphasis that he puts on Science: To start at the very beginning, the subtitle of the book outlines the big goal- meaning in a material world. Though this is a Catholic school and God is first and foremost on many of our minds, for the sake of the book, it is only fair that we accept the premise during our reading that Flanagan wants to take God and anything else metaphysical out of the picture. Just as we do the opposite (grant the assumption of God’s existence) when we read philosophical works of the medieval and some of the modern era for the sake of argument; we should, at least for the sake of discussion, grant Flanagan a pass on the assumption that Theistic religion is not part of the material world aside from being a space of meaning.

Of course, that said, the fact that Theistic Religion is such a hot topic in the Senior seminar can play into Flanagan’s model of the spaces of meaning perfectly.

Another way to describe my understanding of ‘the Flan-man’s’ construction of meaning and reality could be this:
                     |   s  p  a  c  e  s            o f           m  e  a  n  i  n  g   |
                     |-     -            -       -           -            -             -|
                     |Ethics| Technology |  Art  | Religion  |  Science   |	Politics |
                     |  (k) |    (k)     |  (k)  |   (k)     |   (K)      |      (k)     |
                     |      |            |       |           |            |              |
                     |   S       C        I         E	      N	       C        E        |
                                           (Material Foundation)

This is (at least as I see it) the reason that Flanagan gives so much emphasis to science. Now, this may not be the underlying consensus of the room, but I think that for the purposes of discussion, this may help to bury the hatchet: We know enough about the world to say that (to put it in Alfino’s term) that the ‘smart money’ on science considering that this is only a material world. Because of this, I think that Flanagan sees science as not only occupying a space of meaning, but also a occupying a foundation for all of the spaces of meaning. I had said before that in our Chapter two discussion that I could see a similarity between the way that Science works in terms of human experience and the way that the actual code of a web-page or computer platform and the visual side of a web-page or the visual side of a computer platform. I think that this idea is key if we are to understand Flanagan’s framework for how we must look at the spaces of meaning in terms of a material world.

Science, it seems, to Flanagan, is two different things. On the one hand, it is the code of the website of reality that we construct. On the other hand, the reflection of science in our lives (or spaces of meaning) has another effect, somewhat similar to technology, art, (and yes) religion.

Yes, it is true Katie and Taylor, Religion is something that would be an absolute atrocity on Flanagan’s part to exclude from spaces of meaning, but is he really doing that? As an artist, I would like to say that he has spent very little effort talking about art as a space of meaning. In my opinion, it is a central element of the human experience, but I think that, so far as the framework that he has selected for the book, neither religion nor art have to do with the inner workings (science) that run the spaces of meaning.

Like I said, I may way be off base here. I welcome any and all criticisms or clarifications if I am. Cwhite 17:27, 9 February 2010 (UTC) Oh, and I swear I had this ready to put up hours ago but through a series of unlucky events, it comes to post a bit late... I apologize

Response to Clint

I would indeed conclude that OF is indeed excluding religion (particularly those that are Theistic) as "childish" as Carmen points out in the quote she took from page 126. It seems clear that this is excluding religion as a space of meaning. Or if OF does agree it is a space of meaning, it is one of very little to no real importance. Yet I also agree with you that his main objective is to find meaning in a material world as you say, and this may (for OF) not include religion. I just wish he would be consistent...if he does have religion as a space of meaning then do not regard it as "childish" and "epistemically unwarranted" or to "believe none of the theology or metaphysics...drop all the hocus-pocus stuff". I would rather OF just drop religion from his list of spaces of meaning for consistency's sake. Twilkinson

The Buddhist Abhidhamma

In the beginning of this chapter, Flanagan questions whether “normative mind science” can exist. More specifically he asks, “Can there be a mind-science [. . .] that empirically studies what is statistically abnormal, but nonetheless, good, of great value—namely, the causes and constituents of eudaimonia?” (108). Flanagan promptly answers yes, citing the ancient text of Buddhists Abhidhamma, as historical proof. The Abhidhamma deals with four different types of realities: citta (the mind or consciousness), cetasika (mental factors that occur with the citta), rupa (physical phenomenon), and nirvana (the unconditional state of bliss which is the ultimate goal). According to Flanagan, the Abhidhamma classifies mental states into “wholesome” and “unwholesome” categories. Specifically, there are three poisons (which give way to six main mental afflictions) and four divine abodes (such as loving-kindness and compassion). However, these three poisons are not necessarily bad nor are the four divine abodes necessarily good. Therefore, this psychology must pay close attention to causes of mental states. Flanagan gives the example of a person feeling happy about a friend’s success. However, that friend might not have achieved that success in an honestly. Flanagan’s point is, “certain epistemic deficiencies can undermine the warrant, and thus the sublimity, of being in an (otherwise) divine state of mind” (244).

Something that did bother me about Flanagan’s description of the Abhidhamma was that he failed to mention the other five chapters which specifically discuss the process of rebirth, and emphasize the importance of nirvana (http://www.abhidhamma.com/index.html). According Buddhist traditions, nirvana is a state of enlightenment that frees oneself from all worldly concerns and cannot fully be explained. Although not mentioning these spiritual chapters does not necessarily contradict Flanagan’s quick dismissal of morality from a divine source, it definitely feels purposefully misleading.

After first reading this chapter I was bothered, like Katie and Taylor, with Flanagan’s quick dismissal of morality coming from a divine source. I think that Katie and Taylor make two interesting points regarding religion. Personally, I agree that a discussion of morality can be enriched including the context of religion and that these ideas are not “childish” as Flanagan suggests (126). Cmitchell

How Compelling is This Account?

First of all, Clint, your post is very helpful. You are right, we do have to follow Flanagan’s argument from the premise that this is a material world, and scientific knowledge is the foundation. And I also apologize for the lateness of my post. I just want to be very picky about Flanagan’s language when he states that, “We are biological beings living in a material world that we have constructed.” If we are biological organisms, existing in a material world, then what is this constructed part? What is it made of? Is it material? How do morals get constructed in a material world? Flanagan answers with moral networks and synaptic connections. This chapter, however, has given me many more questions than answers, which is probably a good thing.

Is religion really in conflict with science, according to Flanagan? It shouldn’t be, if we accept that this is a material world and that our beliefs are informed through knowledge of the natural world. How compelling do I personally find this account of mind science? Let me admit, that I don’t think I am being fair, in my reading, to Flanagan. I feel very biased and dismissive to his arguments right away. Yes, I do accept that I am a certain kind of animal in an environment in which moral intuition has emerged, a creature capable of consciousness, complex neural connections, and all that jazz, but I, so far, find none of this very moving. I wouldn’t say that I have a better understanding of my own flourishing by reading this book, despite the scientific knowledge I am gaining by delving into the natural account of eudaimonics. And maybe that isn’t Flanagan’s problem, even though it appears to be a dilemma to me.

Last semester, I took a philosophy course that discussed the writing of Walker Percy, whose essays have contributed to my thinking. One thing I want to point out is that, as the non-scientific “spheres of meaning” are influenced by science, I will (and I welcome criticism) go so far as to suggest that science sometimes receives help from the other spheres. For example, scientists are comfortable with the scientific method in their studies and research, but they are lost when it comes to communicating this research. Some institutes hire writers in order to make their research comprehensible to the community and to laymen. And yes, there is probably something like a science to writing well, but science depends on people who have a good grasp on language, which, I believe has to do with more than a “methodological” understanding of language. Science depends on good writers. Sure, good writing depends on science and the study of language, but something would be lost if one was trying to write a thought provoking paper using what they learned through statistics and measurements. I think all papers would end up sounding the same.

This brings me to this idea reflective of Walker Percy’s sympathies that science fails at narrative. A natural account of flourishing and morals will lose something particular that, for example, a novel might give. Reading about Flanagan’s study of natural morality may add something to my life (trying not to speak too soon), but it gives me nothing of Flanagan’s own struggle to find meaning in his life, which is probably none of my business. Which book is more likely to change my life, this one, or say, The Sirens of Titan? That is my bias. --Jangello 23:57, 9 February 2010 (UTC)


2nd Thoughts on Last Week's Seminar

I think Flanagan still has a point

After our discussion the other night, I am still left thinking that the way Flanagan wants to establish a foundation for human flourishing is by looking at the virtues that underlie various spaces of meaning. I think this is why he used Aristotelian philosophy and Buddhism as examples of eudaimonics because both use virtue as a means for achieving human flourishing. We discussed in class whether groups with competing views could even discuss the notion of human flourishing because from the get go their world views would be in conflict. For example, how is a Buddhist and a Catholic going to discuss human flourishing when they disagree on the fundamental belief of whether God exists? However, I don’t think Flanagan sees any use in comparing the social or religious practices of groups, but rather I think he seeks to establish objective criteria for human flourishing by looking at the virtues that underlie these various practices. By looking at a wide variety of groups in a wide variety of time periods(WRE) and by looking at the empirical evidence of virtues that seem to produce human flourishing, Flanagan hopes to establish which virtues, regardless of the practices, lead to human flourishing. For example, if we look at Aristotelian philosophy, Buddhism, and Christianity we could see that all three groups propose that temperance is a virtue that leads to flourishing. Therefore, the empirical evidence indicates that temperance should be incorporated into the idea of human flourishing. Therefore, once again, we are not looking at which practices seem to lead to flourishing, but rather what virtues lead to flourishing. This is the level at which comparative dialogue can take place because every space of meaning has underlying virtues. The problem occurs when trying to discover which social or religious practices best incorporate the virtues that lead to human flourishing. For instance, both the Unitarian church and the Catholic Church believe in expressing the virtue of justice, but when it comes to same-sex marriage they are in radical opposition of how this virtue of justice is best applied. So, this is where Flanagan may be stuck. Yes, we can have dialogue about which virtues lead to human flourishing, but the dialogue might cease when it comes to incorporating these virtues into specific practices. However, maybe we could continue to use the same rationale and empirical evidence that we used in finding the essential virtues of human flourishing, in order to find which practices best incorporate these virtues.Cfaller 04:12, 11 February 2010 (UTC)

Flanagan certainly does have a point...

Cameron, I think you hit the issue right on the head. I think Flanagan presents a good model of how we treat human flourishing, as we already do or should. The key difference and his contribution, at as far as I see it, is the weight to which we give empirical data. You answer your own question, in saying that we would address whether or not different practices are more effective at producing the "objective" set of virtues, based on empirical observation. Before I lay out more clearly what I think is the problem, especially after having had a few days to think about it, I want to more clearly talk about the merits of Flanagan's philosophy, as you do.

I have to agree that for the different spaces of meaning, there has to be some common medium through which they can arrive at common conclusions. Otherwise, I think we end up with a late Wittgenstein model, where honestly we'd best just be silent, if knowledge is our aim. You refer to this space as the virtues, aspects of human life that we all adhere to or value in some manner or form. Things like courage, love, honesty, justice and so on. Not only does this make sense, but we already do this. The only way by which people with different beliefs communicate in a tolerant or better yet, accepting manner, is when they find overlap or commonality between their beliefs. The counter-example being something intolerant, like religious wars, wars on terrorism, insularity and so on. We do seem to come to a consensus on certain things, and thus we coexist.

Now, I don't think we should say the whole model is awful, that the baby should go out with the bath water; though I do think there are some issues. I realize I'm not the only one on here, but I'm just throwing out the criticism I've been developing. The concern should lie in how this common space of meaning is treated. Clint's diagram from the other week, I actually think is accurate to how Flanagan treats scientific knowledge, which is to say empirically based theory. I say treats, because it is not what he says he does, which I feel is the important distinction and the heart of my criticism. Flanagan spends time distinguishing "Scientism" from science, as well as pointing to the modesty science should have in itself, for it is fallible knowledge. Any scientific theory purports to be no more, as the fallibility of empirical observation is built into the scientific method. Revision is in fact a key component to science, aiming at the highest plausibility possible. This is what Flanagan says he means to do, in regards to the virtues, or human flourishing. However, given the "Ouch 1" on page 126, which we talked about last week, there arises a problem. The common ground, (empirical observation) upon which all spheres of meaning communicate through, is in fact another space of meaning. Though it be our best method of understanding, it is still fallible. "Ouch 1" implies that believing in anything but that center space, in fact in believing in anything beyond that center space can warrant, is childish and foolish. Here in lies the danger, if Flanagan does not treat that common space of empirical observation and science as fallible, then he may be committing to a kind of positivism, which is really just his "Scientism." Though his account is a good one, I would argue we must treat this common space of meaning as our best practice, not the only practice. Or better put, that we should recognize that it is the more reliable way for us to understand our existence, but that it is a way of our understanding, not absolutely true. He may say he doesn't do this, but he rules out a lot outside of it, when it itself isn't as reliable as he treats it, though it's the best we've got.

This concern isn't only pointing to what may be a poor philosophical move, but also the sociological implications it has. If one takes fallible knowledge and treats it as infallible, it creates the perfect recipe for corruption. That is to say, one can smuggle practices, as you put it Cameron, under the radar as virtues. Which, under his model, I don't even know what the distinction would rightly be, other than virtues perhaps being formed under WRE, and practices under RE. Presumably however, you could have more "mature" practices after WRE. That seems to be the real danger however, in that couldn't one say that based on empirical observation and WRE, that my notion of "freedom" as a democratic American, in regards to human flourishing, is more mature and more effective than that of say...a Cuban communist? Most acutely put, my criticism could be read as: What counts as empirical data and who gets to decide what counts as that data? I feel the answer would and should conflict with the kind of assertion and the implications thereof, of "Ouch 1." Byost 06:00, 15 February 2010 (UTC)

Sub-topics and references within Chapter 5

Is a science of happiness possible?

I am a little concerned about Flanagan’s goal of trying to establish objective criteria for happiness because it seems as though happiness, as we consider it, is so dependent on pre-established beliefs and social conditions. I like Flanagan’s distinction between "American happiness" and other forms of happiness because it seems impossible to set up criteria for happiness based on the “American model.” We tend to conceive happiness as simply an emotional state, in which case it is improbable to have an objective set up criteria that leads to this emotion. Emotions are so dependent on pre-established beliefs and expectations that they are very subjective to the individual. For example, most people believe that avoiding pain leads to happiness, but for those that believe in severe self-mortification, pain is seen as a way to achieve happiness in the next life. The point is that our view of whether were happy or not is so dependent on social conditions and/or our own personal world view that simply asking certain people if they’re happy does not give us a good indication of what leads to “true happiness.” This is why I believe both Hedonics and subjective well being tests fail to give us a good indication of the source of happiness. Both tests rely on receiving subjective data in order to form objective criteria which does not work. If this did work then, according to data table 5.1, I would be happier being a sex worker in Calcutta than being homeless in the United States, which I believe is highly unlikely. I believe the homeless person is less happy because he/she knows that there are so many people in this country living better lives than himself/herself while the Calcutta sex worker sees his/her life as better than many of the poor living around him/her.

However, that being said, I wonder if there is a set of objective criteria for happiness based on our nature as human beings. Are there certain things that all humans could do that would bring about some level of happiness? I think Flanagan attempts to answer this question through trying to measure Eudaimonstic well-being (EWB). In this system, one begins with a set of conditions that one believes lead to a good life and then sees whether happiness occurs when these conditions are fulfilled. I think this approach has much more promise because it is not based on the subjectivity of emotions. Through Flanagan’s example of the meditating monk, I think he is starting to set up some objective criteria for happiness. By seeing humans as "intellectual beings,” we can discover that some level of deep reflection or contemplation is going to be good for our nature. This notion is verified through tests that have shown that mediating monks have strong leftward activity in their brains. However, these monks believe that mediation leads to happiness, and therefore it is not surprising that they experience happiness while mediating. I wonder though if someone that believed that mediation was a waste of time would discover happiness in meditation. I believe that it is possible to have an objective criteria for happiness, but it must be based on human nature and separated from the idea of happiness as an emotion. I also don’t know how these criteria could ever be implemented due to people’s personal world views and conditioned beliefs.Cfaller 05:28, 15 February 2010 (UTC)

No objective version of Happiness in sight

I liked this chapter as I am somewhat of a numbers guy. The hedonometer is decent as a measure of average subjective well being, using Flanagan's general social survey data to establish metrics of overall happiness. The results show which groups (not individuals) are most likely to experience happiness and at what level compared to another, but I wish it showed what elements or variables made up their happiness set.

Also still no sign of an objective happiness definition through the chapters. We can perhaps break this down to an American version or a 18-24 year old demographic setup, but not one in totality. As such thus far, looking at the table on p. 153 we can make guesses:

    Forbes = sense of security and maximized leisure time.
    Massai = family, quality of lifestyle.
    Nuns = sense of belonging to something larger, love.

Perhaps from this we can draw commonalities and work toward an objective. Using the metric to find what is lacking for the prisoners or Detroit callgirls that isn't instantly obvious. I'd also like to explore my happiness index and was intrigued by the quote on p. 164, "...a normal undergraduate population approximately 18 percent fall into the 'very happy' group, then a finding that 25-30 percent i that group for a representative sample of Buddhist practioners would be statistically astounding."

A review of Flanagan's book on Amazon said, "Let me say up front that I did not finish this book - and that's my point. I found it completely impossible to read, and I read a lot of popular science type books. It was not worth my time to slog through" I wonder if the reviewer became frustrated halfway through and gave up with no concrete definition of happiness and objective qualities?

Finally going back to p.154, I don't buy Flanagan's example of the Calcutta sex working taking classes to improve her low happiness index. While enrichment can be found in education, her vocation and family life remains constant. The grip of illusion isn't applicable in this instance.

Vallandry 18:08, 15 February 2010 (UTC)


2nd Thoughts on Last Week's Seminar

Looking back at the end of chapter 5 it seems apparent that it ended ambivalent at best. Reading it the first time I really thought The Flan-Man was defending the view that our natural platonic orientation must be in harmony in order to fully flourish. This would mean upholding true good and beautiful, rather than dropping true for good or beautiful or both. However, towards the end of the chapter he said the task for eudaimonics is find out what it is about people who live outside the shadow of positive illusions and discover to see what trade-offs if any there are for those individuals regarding subjective happiness (179.) This led to our closing discussion on the new and improved generous theory which would uphold false beliefs as being valuable to our SWB. I'm still skeptical of the view that this theory helps out the Flan-man. If eudaimonic science is to get us from the Goodman set to the harmonious platonic orientation we naturally tend towards, I don't see how holding false beliefs can be valuable to eudaimonia. I'm sure it could be great for SWB but I see dropping truth as detrimental to the eudaimonic project at the expense of SWB. Ehanson

A few thoughts on the other night

First off, I do believe in the Greater Happiness Hypothesis, and its assertion that an individual can change himself/herself through contemplative practices. For example, in Hinduism, believers think that by limiting one’s expectations one can achieve greater happiness. According to Hinduism, if we can create a mental habit of not expecting things, we will be less likely to be angry or disappointed if we don’t receive them, and thus we will generally be happier. While I don’t know if I agree with this principle, I do agree that we can create mental habits in order to bring about happiness. I believe that in many ways this is what virtue entails. For example, temperance, or moderation, is a habitual virtue that can be gained through reflective practices and actions. Consequently, the contemplative monk is less likely to “lose his cool” or be controlled by unnecessary desires, in which case, he is freer and maybe more happy. The point I’m trying to make is that as intellectual beings, we have the ability to alter how we perceive things based on our own mental state, which, in turn, if done correctly, can allow us to be happier in some instances. Secondly, I do think OF (generous) is a sounder philosophical stance because it doesn’t have the same problems that we have exposed in Flanagan’s actual theory. Like many said in class, I don’t think Flanagan would be willing to accept the OF (generous) point of view because, as a naturalists, he probably would be unwilling to accept certain positive illusions. This is why I think he refrains from saying anything at the end of chapter 5. He sees that studies have shown that positive illusions can be beneficial and bring about happiness, but, at the same time, he does not want to grant validity to certain illusions that he believes are “delusional”(154).Consequently, he is left at the end of the chapter with basically nothing to say. While I do think the OF (generous) theory is a better model for comparative dialogue, I really don’t know what it accomplishes in the end. I agree with Eric in that I think this almost destroys the eudaimonics project. Sure we could realize through this practice that various illusions and beliefs bring about happiness and meaning, but this system can never lead to a set of objective criteria for the practices that lead to human flourishing. Yes, we can realize that various beliefs and practices accomplish the same effects that lead to happiness or meaning. The problem is that people within these various practices, which most the time are religious, would most likely be unwilling to grant that their religion is just one among many that accesses the truth. Most religious believers hold that their religious beliefs are the Truth, and therefore the OF (generous) model fails in this respect. While various religions do agree on certain moral truths and practices, they are not going to accept that their beliefs are just subjective to their own religion and are not necessary and universal truths. For example, Unitarians and Catholics might agree in the benefits of prayer and the practice of certain virtues, but a Unitarian and a Catholic are not going to be willing to compromise on the morality of homosexuality. They both may agree on the virtues and beliefs that give meaning to life, but how these virtues and beliefs are implemented would be a point of disagreement. So, once again, this system could shed light on underlying virtues or beliefs that lead to happiness, but this system would fail to show how these virtues or beliefs are properly expressed in actions.Cfaller 18:18, 19 February 2010 (UTC)

False Beliefs

I am going to attempt to give reasoning/defend Flanagan’s reasoning for calling false beliefs a benefit in the pursuit of eudemonia. It will go like the opposite of a good night of philosophy at the bar: That is to say that it will end with a genuine philosophical question and start with a reference to an episode of The Simpsons.

In the 7th season of The Simpsons, an episode called “Lisa The Iconoclast” aired. I took the liberty of copying the plot line from wikipedia:


As Springfield celebrates its bicentennial, Lisa's class at Springfield Elementary School are assigned essays. Lisa goes to the historical society to research about Jebediah Springfield, the founder of Springfield. While trying to play Jebediah Springfield's fife, she makes the shocking discovery that the town's founder was actually a villainous pirate and enemy of George Washington who kept his dark past hidden. He had written his confession on the back side of a portrait of Washington and hidden it in his fife. Meanwhile, upon Lisa's suggestion, Homer is elected the town crier after he demonstrated that he was a better town crier than Ned Flanders. Lisa conducts further research about Jebediah Springfield, and finds out that he was actually a pirate named Hans Sprungfeld who, having lost his tongue, had replaced it with a prosthetic silver tongue. The town does not agree with Lisa's revelations, resulting in an "F" on a report about Springfield while Ms. Hoover deems her to be a "PC Thug." She also receives a ban from the Historical Society. Lisa tries to convince the town her claims are true, but the only person who believes her is Homer. However, she convinces the municipal government to disinter Mr. Springfield's body to search for evidence of a legendary silver tongue. Despite Lisa's suspicions, when they open the coffin, the skeleton possesses no silver tongue. Lisa is forced into admitting she was wrong and Mayor Quimby strips Homer of the role of town crier and reassigns it to Flanders.

That night, Lisa has a dream wherein the ghosts of Jebediah Springfield and George Washington appear. After seeing the incomplete portrait of George Washington in her classroom, Lisa soon figures out that the piece of paper upon which the confession is written is the bottom half of the portrait. She confronts town historian, Hollis Hurlbut, with this piece of evidence. Hurlbut confesses that he stole the tongue while the dust cleared seconds after the coffin was opened and hid it in a cowboy maquette in the museum. He explained that he had done so to protect his career and the myth of Jebediah Springfield. After realizing the mistake of celebrating a pirate, the two decide to go public with their discovery. Just as Lisa is about to expose the "real Jebediah" to the parading townspeople, she realizes that Jebediah Springfield's good image means too much to the town, and decides to keep the truth a secret, knowing that town will lose hope and morale if the truth is revealed to the public. She says she was mistaken in her research of Jebediah Springfield and that he was actually a great man. At the parade Homer takes the tri-cornered hat and bell from Flanders and replaces him, marching through the parade with Lisa on piggyback.

Here is a perfect application to deliberate whether positive false beliefs helped or harmed a culture’s pursuit towards Eudaimonics. One would easily say, as Lisa originally did, that a false belief, whether it caused positive or negative outcome, is still false. As a false belief, the pursuit of the platonic sense of the true is violated. I think that this violation is what Eric is getting at. To that, I would have to agree, but is Flanagan first and foremost a Platonist, or is he a believer of Platonism as a function of humanity? I think that if he were to be seeing it as the former, that positive false beliefs would be counterintuitive to his position. As a person pushing a material world that humans try to make sense of through spaces of meaning, however, the good the true and the beautiful to Flanagan are still all about perception.

So how can we talk about perception now? How about truth? Reality? As humans in a material world, we tried to draw what we can really know. By the time we hit the late 1800s, the notion that we could understand anything outside of our perceptions was virtually abandoned. Truth and perception, as it stands, are somewhat entangled. So to that, I ask, how different is a false belief from a true one? Time? We have held beliefs that we thought were true in the past that we found to be false. I guarantee that we all hold beliefs that, to the best of our knowledge are true, but will some day be proven false. Does that make their content and the good that comes from that belief incongruent with eudaimonics?

I once idolized a photographer by the name of Steve McCurry. To this day, he is an excellent portrait photographer. His imagery moved me to believe that there is far more to photography than vocation. Thus, his persona inspired me to think that I could make a difference through imagery, service, etc. I found out a couple of years ago through one of his interns that, although he is a world-renown photographer that does a lot of good, the rest of him is complete shambles. He lacks the ability to hold friendships, relationships and he manipulates people. In short, everything about him on a personal level is not the person that I idolized. When I learned that I had a false belief, but that false belief inspired me. That inspiration, no doubt, helped me to shape my identity and, I would like to think, to flourish.

From an evolutionary standpoint, positive false belief works. It wouldn’t be a huge stretch to say that having a positive, confident view of things, although inaccurate, yielded fruitful selection in the EEA.

In the grand scheme, I would have to think that the blindered (like a horse with blinders on, I know its not a real word) pursuit of truth would be the big counterproductive move. At its core, one could actually say that the pursuit of truth in a material world would undermine meaning entirely. As far as we know (according to OF), we are perceptive beings in a material reality that is run by science. This naked reality, I think that OF is trying to depict, is void of meaning for humans. Thus the ultimate pursuit of truth comes at the price of realizing that everything meaningful that we as humans construct (spaces of meaning) is ultimately meaningless.

Armed with that, I want to ask the genuine philosophical question:

Is positive false belief the source of meaning in a material world?

Cwhite 06:20, 19 February 2010 (UTC)

Sub-topics and references within Chapter 6

Well, I guess that's it. Interesting ending by Flanagan. We jump straight from Neurosciences in Chapter 5 to an autobiographical account of how O.F. became an atheist while going through the motions of a good Catholic boy in the late 50s and early 60s. His heart was apparently never in it, which is fine, but the transition phase as he describes it for our benefit in writing, is awkward and disjointed. I think he's trying to describe a mindless rebellion while finding himself in college, but seems to be more of a "you had to be there" type story, despite the readers having a similar undergraduate philosophy background.

One thing I liked about the sudden and unexpected look at O.F.'s life is that it is lighthearted and upbeat, a stark contrast to the sad, lonely, poorly written semi-autobiographical pieces by Robert Pirsig, especially "Lila". O.F. comes off as a likeable enough guy, someone you'd go to coffee with.

But after this chapter, I'm left feeling empty, hoping for a part two. We gain the six spaces of meaning -- art, science, technology, ethics, politics, religion; plus we began to unravel proper questions to ask in pursuit of eudaimonia. But in the end, little gets answered to satisfaction.

On page two hundred and two, he asks questions such as, "How shall I live?" but blatantly says he doesn't seek to share answers. All in all, this book comes off as meditative device using as I mentioned, tools to learn how to pursue questions, but doesn't toss up enough crumbs. Amen.

Vallandry 06:06, 20 February 2010 (UTC)


In chapter six, Flanagan nonchalantly coins the term “Jesusism” as a major world tradition that "correctly" follows the teachings of Jesus Christ. He claims that he doesn’t want to refer to it as Christianity because he does not think all Christian churches truly follow Christ’s message. His idea of “Jesusism” is basically his desire to use some of Christ’s teachings but not others. He obviously wants to only accept those teachings which fit into his naturalistic stance. Therefore, the “Golden rule” is a perfect teaching for Flanagan because it endorses unselfish love and at the same time doesn’t challenge his naturalistic agenda. I just find it interesting that Flanagan is using a biblical message to get his point across because, according to Flanagan, how could we verify that Christ ever gave this teaching. And, if we can establish that Christ said this, why not accept Christ’s others teachings; like when he declared that “The Son of Man will be raised (from the dead) on the third day (Matthew 20:18-19),” or when He says, “I am the bread that came down from heaven (John 6:41),” or how about His teaching that His disciples must “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy spirit” (Matthew 26:19). Obviously, based on Flanagan’s previous comments in the book, he would view these other teachings as preposterous or delusional. However, if Flanagan is going to cite the Bible, as a responsible academic, he must accept it all. Sure, his idea of “Jesusism” is not necessary for his overall project, but his usage of this term just once again shows his continual tendency to trivialize and misunderstand religion. He goes on to say in the chapter that “Jesusism, or a.k.a a set of teachings of Christ that serve Owen Flanagan’s objective” does not need to be conceived theistically, or supernaturally. I really do not understand how this makes any sense considering once again that Christ claimed to be the Son of God from another world (John 8:21-30). So, how exactly can “the Son of God and another world” be conceived non-supernaturally. At the beginning of this chapter, he gives Christians the ability to believe in certain theological beliefs, but they must realize that these are only positive illusions and feel-good stories. However, these Christians can rightly hold true beliefs that serve Flanagan’s objective, like the commandment to love our neighbor. What Flanagan does not seem to realize is that religions contain a unified set of beliefs; one cannot just choose to accept some and not others. Because by choosing to accept some, one is indirectly giving their support to the others considering all the teachings come from the same source(the Bible in the case of Christianity). He finishes his “compassionate” treatment of religious beliefs by stating that they are akin to a belief in Santa Clause; they make us feel good and that’s about it. I am just disappointed that a prominent academic, like Mr. Flanagan, couldn’t have been more respectful and intellectually responsible in his treatment of religion. Cfaller 04:35, 21 February 2010 (UTC)

Chapter 6

Wow. Just wow. First of all, thanks for the biography Owen. Second of all, Ouch Mega Prime has been packed, shipped and delivered by overnight Ouch Express.

First of all though, I have to disagree with you Cameron. Specifically with the claim "If Flanagan is going to cite the Bible, as a responsible academic, he must accept it all." This quite simply is not true. This would only be the case for someone who believes, that the bible in it's entirety is true, which is to say this would be the case for those who treat it as doctrine. As a responsible academic, we most certainly take aspects, parts or concepts from philosophies, theologies, theories or any other collection of wisdom and treat them as accurate or true. Whether it is Newton's physics, Theory of General Relativity, Democracy from Republics, Lutheranism from Roman Catholicism, we at least hope to take what we see as true and good from an idea and hold on to it. This, is all Flanagan is doing. He sees overlap between Buddhism, Christianity and consequentialism by way of altruism. He is picking up on Altruism, not the religion itself, in the bible. With that being said, he does it in a way that is totally degrading Christianity... But that is a matter of how he is doing it, not a matter of whether or not what he does, in principle, is wrong headed or irresponsible. I actually think, at least abstractly, he is merely being consistent with his search for overlap between different worldviews, which gives plausibility to the accuracy of that overlap.

However, even given these overlapping ideas that he/we find, there are clearly ideas that do not necessarily overlap that are still beneficial to our flourishing. I can't agree more with Clint's post on false beliefs (except that I think the answer to his ending question is that they are not the only basis upon which flourishing happens, but they certainly are a part.) and with OF's account for that matter. Using his OWN naturalistic account, I think he makes a strong case for positive false beliefs as evolutionary advantages to human flourishing. I even understand what I think, given the space (Too much space for him I think) he gives to positive false beliefs and the overlap in ideas, OF's goal actually is. More or less, he is trying to stamp out dogmatism, evangelism and intolerance. Which sounds pretty good to me... except for this huge ouch of a list he gives on 195.

Flanagan might as well have this section titled, "All religious people please sit down on your kiddy stools, and put on your dunce hats." I want to say that OF-generous's mission is to make for a more common, inclusive space of meaning. Perhaps this is merely an issue in rhetoric, but I find it insightful into how these spaces of meaning are actually related in a naturalistically based philosophy. The list, the list is intolerant. Very much so intolerant, of the very same (I think they're the same, if not examples of the most successful positive false beliefs to human flourishing; false given the naturalistic point of view or requirement of evidence) positive false beliefs he has made room for... Honestly, I don't necessarily disagree with him, but he needs to change how he is saying this in order to be consistent with his own philosophy. You can't make space for these beliefs that have demonstrably beneficial affects and then follow up by saying you can't have them. On what basis? At the bare minimum, all you can say is that they aren't beliefs we can actually and objectively argue about; or objectively reach proofs, conclusions and hypotheses through empirical experience. In other words, yes, they can say those things Owen, and even believe them further than just as a warm fuzzy, they just shouldn't force them upon anyone as the undisputed truth. Promote tolerance with tolerance, not intolerance by way of an infantilizing and condescending list...Jus sayin. Byost 04:08, 22 February 2010 (UTC)

A Few Thoughts

1. Numerous times OF refers to theism (especially assertive theism), as well as fundamentalism as dangerous. Indeed, “The belief in authoritative texts that contain God’s word…is supported by an unsupportable, predictably dangerous, epistemology” (194). There is no doubt that religion has the great potential of being quite dangerous, especially in the fundamentalist extremist groups—groups found in the middle east, as well as our own country. There is potential danger in religion. I argue, and I don’t think that OF would deny, that if one were to take an uncorrupted look at what Jesus (for example) preaches there is room for great benefit across humanity. To say that theism is dangerous simply because it is epistemically unwarranted (according to the naturalistic-scientific outlook) is a major oversight...I also would like to argue that it isn't epistemically unwarranted but that's another discussion. There is and has been great benefit from religion, even if the dangers are still prominent by those corrupted individuals. Indeed, one can easily say that Science can lead to great tragedy and destruction, look to the Manhattan Project. That is not to say that science is bad, look to the great leaps and bounds we have taken in the medical world. It would just be nice to see OF realize the potential dangers that Science, or even Naturalism could have. Certainly there might (though I am quite positive OF isn’t) some very bad morally-misguided Naturalists. But they aren’t looking at the Naturalistic project in the right way, much like the Christian Fundamentalist holds a corrupted view of his religion.

2. To simplify religion to a “triplet of theories about creation, miracles, and the afterlife” (198) is a major oversimplification and a mistake. I think OF overlooks the real meat of Christianity, which is a religion preaching love to God and love to humanity. Christians show love to God through love of His creatures. I see great merit in this.

3. HADD is an interesting theory. I remember hearing about it briefly in Psychology class. It does make sense, since we do tend to anthropomorphize our experiences/surroundings/occurances. In my understanding of religious experience we indeed anthropomorphize things that we really shouldn’t be anthropomorphizing (to think of God as a person is a faulty idea to have, though I often slip into that bad habit). HADD could be the answer to this phenomenon.


What are we to make of Flanagan's Jesusism?

Flanagan in this chapter makes a lot of unfounded claims regarding Christianity. Cameron has already pointed out what Flanagan means by the term "Jesusism". Flanagan does not however, say why he is the judge and arbiter of what Christianity truly teaches. I think this is the crux Cameron was getting at. It is academically irresponsible to arbitrarily say what constitutes Christianity, throw everything else to the wind without further explanation and then take Bible quotes in isolation and incorporate that into your theory. It would be one thing if Flanagan was finding common ground with his "spiritual" naturalism and Christianity using altruism as a starting point for dialogue between the two world views but this isn't what he does. Instead, he flushes everything out he doesn't like from Christianity, calls it Jesusism and then finds the overlap of altruism with Buddhism and Consequentialism.

I think what Flanagan failed to do in his book is explain why Christianity is unreasonable. It seems as if he just assumes the readers will be sympathetic to his views and doesn't have to explain a whole lot. He talks about discovering the logical preposterousness of the cosmological argument at age 13 but doesn't go on to say what he means by that. He acts as if it is self-evident that Christian beliefs are unreasonable. Furthermore, he seems insistant that it must have some sort of Cartesian certainty... since it doesn't it must be absurd. His other arguments talk of the predictable danger of authoritative texts. Again, he didn't really elaborate on that either. It seemed he was just throwing jabs throughout and using them to defend his view of Jesusism that he could incorporate into the religious space of meaning.

I will end this post on a positive note. Throughout our time reading this book the tension between the religious and science space of meaning always seemed to be in tension. He would add religion as a space of meaning but at times was condescending of it. It seemed puzzling why he would include them and how he would reconcile the two. In this chapter he seemed to answer how he sees both to be included for meaning and flourishing. His reasons I think are shallow but it should make for an interesting discussion. Ehanson

Meaning and Moral Glue

I found Flanagan’s discussion of “moral glue” very interesting. He raises the question of what came first, ethics or theology. Not surprisingly Flanagan believes that ethics or morality came before theology. He states that because humans are selfish creatures, normative societies must have needed to place regulations for the good of the community. Flanagan states these rules were major items such as murder and only taking what is needed (e.g. conserving resources). In addition, he states that spirituality can provide explanations for a society, although Flanagan thinks these explanations are wrong. In fact he states that bind spirituality with morality can be very helpful for religious communities so it is easy to see why communities utilize it. However, Flanagan makes it extremely clear that he believes that theology can and should be isolated from morality. In fact he argues that “although it is common to use theistic supernatural glue, it is not necessary” (207).

While I think that this subject had hope for a fruitful discussion, Flanagan seemed to approach the topic with an agenda from the beginning. Obviously, I did not think that Flanagan would embrace the powerful impact of spiritual beliefs combined with morality, but I did hope that if religion/spirituality really is a space of meaning that Flanagan would assign it some significance. Instead, before even explaining his “superglue hypothesis” Flanagan reflects in his end notes that his real aim is to prove that morality is separable from theology. In addition, although some of his arguments held truth they were quickly undermined by his insensitive approach. For example, Flanagan sites how spiritual traditions moralize death through karmic eschatology or an afterlife (this encourages people to live a moral lives). However, on the next page he equates God to Santa. Insensitive comparisons such as this one cloud the reader from making an informed decision and only highlight Flanagan’s specific agenda. Cmitchell

Ch. 6: False Beliefs, Mythology, and the Ingredients of Meaningful Lives

We begin this chapter with a very charming biography, and end the chapter, and the book with the declaration “Amen.” I found both of these obnoxious, but Flanagan obviously thought that these touches were appropriate, and that they wrapped up the book suitably.

I did find useful his discussion of “assertive theism” and “expressive theism” The mythology of expressive theism knows its own limitations, unlike the problematic and authoritative mythology of assertive theism. Yet, expressive theism lends itself to the search for meaning beautifully, “in an artful, expressivist manner” (192). And the best thing about the helpful sort of mythology that Flanagan discusses is the humility in which the stories do express themselves. You are right, Brandon. Flanagan needs to follow his own rules for humility and tolerance. His attack against religion comes off as intolerant and packed with the bitterness he has felt towards it since his youth. But he wants to make clear why many who turned away from religion feel wronged by it. He explains the advantages of positive false beliefs and mythology, so that he may distinguish religious beliefs that are helpful from those that promote intolerance in certain religious organizations – things such as the “in-group/out-group structure” he discusses on page 205. Flanagan wants to create a space that is inclusive rather than exclusive, where all are welcome to critically discuss the ingredients that make up a fulfilling life under the one commonality of our human nature. He does have the one condition that we do not bring our mythologies along. We can, however, bring to the discussion what these other spaces of meaning have taught us about our nature. And that is why Flanagan wants to save the expressive mythology – because it does have something to say about our nature.

And, as Taylor said, it’s not the religion or the mythology that causes the problems; it is the people behind them. Science is not exempt. Any sphere of meaning could contain corruption and moral bankruptcy. This is why the inclusive space that gives room for evaluation is critical.

Flanagan’s project whether we think it worked or not, is to use universal love and compassion to “bind an expansive moral conception that is also naturalistic” (219). This is his natural spirituality – something that still includes the practice of prayer as an ingredient for a meaningful life. Hence the pretty little ending. --Jangello 18:11, 23 February 2010 (UTC)