Final Paper for my Moral Philosophy Class
It is vain to object that life and reality are not logical. Life and reality are neither logical nor illogical; they are simply given.
— Ludwig von Mises, Human Action
If moral foundations are inconsistent with reality, it isn’t reality that will buckle.
— Nick Land, Outsideness
It is my conviction that any form of ethics in correspondence with reality will be an ethics based in reality. This amounts to a formal rejection of the is-ought gap and its supposed distinction between fact and value. There is no difference between what is and what ought to be precisely because there is no difference between fact and value. We must all recognize that ought is a fundamentally deontological concept in that it is the prescription of a morally imperative course of action, of some duty. All real imperatives, which is to say, all real duties are going to be determined by reality. Duties are not set by subjects themselves, but by something above them, something that transcends them. Nothing is higher than reality. Reality in this sense is a transcendental concept. By transcendental, all I mean is the quality of not being able to be surpassed, transcended, overcome, and so on. All things are immanent within the very infrastructure of the real, and therefore neither things nor nothings can transcend it — all things within it, all things divisible by it. Neither existence nor nonexistence is privileged over the other, thus neither is transcendental. God, for example, is supra-existential. But God is not at all above reality in that God must be truth “incarnate,” which following the correspondence theory of truth, means God must be in correspondence with reality. If God falls out of correspondence with reality, even for a second, God is no longer true. Thus, reality is above God in that if God falls out of line with reality, God is no longer God, rather God is just another false prophet of reality. Realism, then, is the transcendental metaphysic par excellence in that anti-realism bears no real weight. The anti-realist’s understanding of correspondence is nothing less than a strawman, as I will demonstrate in a moment. The basic analytic philosopher’s understanding of correspondence too is fundamentally impoverished. Correspondence isn’t empirical, as that can not be verified by itself. Only through transcendental judgment can correspondence be validated. Correspondence has nothing to do with correspondence with something beyond the subject either (this is the main strawman propagated by anti-realists). Empirical perception has nothing to do with transcendental truth, which is exactly why immanent correspondence is possible. In fact, reality is in infinite correspondence with itself in that it subordinates all that is real (which it itself is) to itself. In this sense, only reality overcomes itself, and from this, we can recognize that the infrastructure of the real is intrinsically teleological and deontological. Competition is therefore also baked into the infrastructure as competition is itself a transcendental concept, as if something overcame it, i.e., outcompeted it, then competition would then be instituted. Therefore, the infrastructure of reality is teleological in that it has an identifiable telos of self-overcoming, and therefore an identifiably Nietzschean element appears: “if it be a living and not a dying organization … it will have to be the incarnated Will to Power, it will endeavour to grow, to gain around, attract to itself and acquire ascendancy — not owing to any morality or immorality, but because it lives, and because life is precisely Will to Power” (“Beyond Good and Evil” 125). From this, we can easily understand Nietzche’s pronouncement that “What is good? — All that enhances the feeling of power, the Will to Power, and the power itself in man” (“Beyond Good and Evil” 130). What we can conclude from this is that reality is about self-cultivation because the will to power is about “endless self-development, [and the] eternal overcoming of oneself” (Lawler 188). When it comes to James Lawler(’s Nietzsche), the only area where I disagree is when it comes to evolution in relation to the will to power. In “Beyond Good and Evil Places,” Lawler says, “Living beings do not evolve because outside forces compel them to evolve, as deterministic science argues, but because they sense an inner chaos and choose to follow an inner urge to expand their power over themselves” (Lawler 185). Now, I only partly disagree with Lawler in that fundamentally he is right, we do have an inherent drive toward self-cultivation, but he is wrong in denying that outside forces compel us to self-cultivate as well. The only “thing” that is outside of external forces is reality itself, but everything within reality is already pressured by the duties that reality imposes upon us. The fact that duties are imposed on us by reality is exactly why my ethics are fundamentally deontological. To further, it is because self-cultivation is teleological that my ethics are more “deontological” in that self-cultivation is teleologically special in that it is itself a means-end reversal. In other words, it is because the end of self-cultivation can only be reached through cultivating the self that the means and the end become reversible. To will the means is to will the end and vice versa. Thus, with my virtue ethics, one isn’t employing the means because the consequence of them is the achievement of some moral outcome (end) that is different from the means as that is fundamentally utilitarian (specifically consequentialist), rather my virtue ethics are more deontological in that one is employing their end (self-cultivation) as their means (cultivating the self). So, if there is a consequence at all, it is one immanent to the cause. The cause is the effect and the effect is the cause. In this sense, my virtue ethics are ultimately self-affirming and take the format of what is called in cybernetics a positive feedback loop. The original input of self-cultivation generates the output of self-cultivation which is greater than the original input. This greater output then itself becomes an input of self-cultivation that generates an even greater output of self-cultivation, and this process continues ad infinitum unless there is an inhibition. We can also, therefore, conclude that the infrastructure of the real is fundamentally cybernetic.
“What cultivates the self?” is a fundamental question that needs to be answered. Ultimately, it rests on each entity’s intellectual intuition or 智的直觉 (zhi de zhijue) or, in the original German, intellektuelle Anschauung. Ultimately, an intellectual intuition is the form of intuition that Kant reserved for God alone, believing that humans could not have access to such a thing as, for Kant, human beings could not have intuitions without sensibility and an intellectual intuition is essentially a “non-sensible intuition” (Critique of Pure Reason 259). It was the neo-Confucian philosopher Mou Zongsan who intimately studied Kant’s three Critques, and believed that without humans being able to have intellectual intuitions, Chinese philosophy, such as Confucianism, would have no basis. Zongsan held that human beings could in fact have intellectual intuitions. Within his neo-Confucian teachings, Zongsan taught that “intellectual intuition is said to ‘morally create’ the cosmos in the sense that it gives order to chaos by making moral judgments and thereby endowing everything in existence with moral significance” (Clower). For me, for example, self-cultivation would come about in the form of me accumulating knowledge that I deem useful, as well as becoming a more compassionate, understanding, and patient person — that is my intellectual intuition, if you will. Another example is the show The Good Place itself. Each character has their own deficiencies which they recognize through their own intellectual intuitions. Nevertheless, one could argue that reality itself, through (social) Darwinian pressures, will determine which things are the most self-cultivating, but I digress.
Now, Judge, you may wonder “What is the relevance of all of this?” I understand that you have consistently slammed your gavel while remarking that justifying one’s metaphysics is not a part of the trial, and I understand that it may be tiring to read through everything, and I apologize that it took “several Jeremy Bearimys” to get through the “philosophical babblings” of all my other cases (Clinkman). Nevertheless, metaphysics is always entailed in the very subject of moral philosophy, and to say otherwise is to deny moral philosophy itself. As Kant correctly says, “pure philosophy (metaphysics) must precede [moral philosophy]; without it there can be no moral philosophy at all. That philosophy which mixes pure principles with empirical ones does not deserve the name of philosophy” (“The Foundations of Ethics” 219). In this sense, when you, the Judge, ask me to “introduce the new moral system itself qualitatively,” I must therefore introduce the metaphysic behind it per Kant (Clinkman). Anyone who fails to do so, only causes their case to lose in trial. Now, I hope to have this time provided exactly why the metaphysical aspect is relevant to my ethics, and if I have not made it clear, let me. Reality, the object of study of metaphysics itself, is the criterion for what is moral or immoral. Now, let me also clarify my usage of “real” as a qualifier. If I say, for example, “any real morality,” I do not mean to imply that there are moralities which don’t exist conceptually, rather, what I mean by “real” is that which works in tandem with reality, which is to say, that which has self-cultivation as its end. Or, in other words, that which is real is that which follows the duty of self-cultivation reality imposes upon us. Now, you may believe this to be semantical, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Because of the fundamentally transcendental and thus unsurpassable nature of competition, those entities which do not self-cultivate will quite literally be outcompeted and then killed off, therefore meaning they will stop existing. Nietzsche puts it succinctly: “the great cultivating idea: the races unable to bear it are doomed; the races which consider it the greatest blessing are destined to rule” (The Will to Power 579).
To move away from quasi-supplicative apologies, let us quote Kant once more, “morals themselves are liable to all kinds of corruption as long as the guide and supreme norm for correctly estimating them are missing” (“The Foundations of Ethics” 219). Our supreme guide for correctly estimating morals is reality, and this is why I spent so long setting up my realist metaphysic in the first paragraph. Thus, because any real moral truth is going to have the same infrastructure as reality, it is therefore going to have a teleological infrastructure just as reality does. This takes us to Aristotle and virtue ethics. Within Aristotle’s virtue ethics, teleology has prime importance. He says, “Every craft and every investigation, and likewise every action and decision, seems to aim at some good; hence the good has been well described as that at which everything aims” (Aristotle 301). Now, the end at which something aims can be an activity. Thus, what must be identified is the end at which we ought to pursue, i.e., what must be identified is virtue itself. What I am here to claim is that Confucius was right. 修养 (xiū yǎng) or self-cultivation is the only virtue, though on the level of action (the praxeological level), how self-cultivation manifests itself is completely relative to the specific self that is cultivating itself.
Ultimately, the realist ethic I have thus far put forward is a deontological virtue ethics with self-cultivation as the highest (and, technically, only) virtue. But I must also clarify that it is also structurally like natural law and divine command theory in that there is a transcendental arbiter (for natural law, the transcendental arbiter is Nature, and for divine command theory, the transcendental arbiter is God) which determines what is and isn’t moral. Obviously, reality’s determination materializes in the form of deontological duties. And that duty then has to do with virtue ethics in that the duty itself is to pursue the virtue that is self-cultivation. So, the only school of ethics left out that we learned about this year is utilitarianism. And that is for a specific reason: the translation of the grand synthesis of ethical schools I have just put forward qualitatively into the quantitative can only be done through utilitarianism.
What we must do though is understand that utilitarianism will be the solution to this problem of translating the qualitative to the quantitative. We can say that, in the instance of myself, reading Kant gives me more knowledge than reading Hegel (and it does). In this instance, both are moral and thus give me a positive amount of points. And we can know a priori that reading Kant will give me more points because it helps cultivate myself further than reading Hegel does. Thus, what we ought to do first is employ those means which are capable of attaining the end of self-cultivation. Now that we have identified all those means which are capable of attaining the end of self-cultivation, we ought to secondly employ those means which attain the end of self-cultivation to a higher degree than the other employable means. This is a fundamentally utilitarian framework of maximization.
Now that I have lined out my neo-Confucian virtue ethics of 修养 (self-cultivation), I must argue for a way to translate this into the category of the quantitative, which is to say, I am to create a new Point System. Let us go from pure philosophy to practical philosophy as Kant would say. Firstly, I will say that the original Point System of The Good Place was sort of ridiculous in the way it penalized people. For example, people that ate meat products were getting negative points because they were “indirectly supporting” climate change through “indirectly supporting” the animal-industrial complex. Now, this doesn’t just work negatively. It also works positively. So, if an actor does something that benefits all of humanity like, for example, creating the cure for cancer, and I donated to their project let’s say the same amount I bought that meat with, $35, then would I get positive points.
Ultimately, this all comes back to praxeology. “Human action is purposeful behavior” (Mises 11). Thus, I can only be penalized by those actions which I take in themselves. I can only be said to be buying meat. What I am not doing is maintaining the corporations that contribute to climate change. The reason I am not maintaining them is that it is not within my means to do otherwise. I cannot, by abstaining from buying a burger, collapse every single massive corporation that contributes to climate change. Thus, if it is not within my ability to not maintain climate change corporations then, praxeologically, I cannot be faulted for it. To fault me for it, would be the same as faulting someone for simply being born poor. They in no way determined such a state of affairs and did not act to achieve it, and if they don’t have the means to escape it, they too cannot be faulted.
Now, we have thus far determined our ethics as a neo-Confucian virtue ethics, and then we have just now determined that because of the nature of human action, actors can only be penalized for those actions that they purposefully take in themselves. But, how does the point system specifically work? Well, those actions which, in themselves, destroy the self are going to lead to a negative balance of points assuming we are starting with a balance of zero, whereas doing self-cultivating things would lead to a positive balance of points assuming we are starting with a balance of zero. What is hard to determine is how much an individual action will yield in terms of a specific quantity, e.g., +5 points. One could either argue that it is up to intellectual intuition or that each action is fundamentally equal in its yield. But there is a third way. Because self-cultivation is an ongoing process, one could argue that amount of points accrued is exponential. Let me formulaically express this (see the footnote for the key): SC1 → SC2 … SC2 → SC3 … SC3 → SC4 … and so on. Now, if the feedback loop is interrupted then the exponent resets to 1 and then increases by 1 each time an output is generated. When the process is interrupted that means one has committed a self-destructive action and the way they will be penalized is then based on intellectual intuition, and it is specifically the intellectual intuition of the person acting. So, to my intellectual intuition it is not at all bad to do eat meat, and not reading something for a few minutes yields only an infinitesimal deduction from the total balance of points. Whereas, my intellectual intuition sees killing as a much greater deduction of points. But, for a murderous sociopath such as Patrick Bateman from the movie American Psycho, murder is not bad for him, and should someone who cannot control themselves on a psychological level (though he refrained from killing his secretary) be punished? I don’t think so.
Thus, on a qualitative level, we have realism and on the quantitative level, we have exponential curves. The bridge between the qualitative and the quantitative is intuitionism which is required for moral reality to even come to be as Mou Zongsan explains. Looking at what The Good Place was all about in the face of Michael and the gang’s restructuring of the Good and Bad Place by adding the Medium Place, my virtue ethics of self-cultivation are the most fitting in that the very purpose of the show was self-cultivation. It was all about how Elanor, Tahani, Chidi, Jason, Michael, and others could all cultivate themselves to achieve virtue.
: This is a typical conclusion of Christian theology for example.
: See section 4.6 of Nick Land’s Crypto-Current for more on this.
: Do note that all Chinese is in its traditional instead of simplified form.
: To clarify if it wasn’t clear, and I apologize for breaking the 4th wall here, by the trial, I really mean the assignment.
: This whole paragraph is really just to say, “This is a metaphysics paper, but only because it is a moral philosophy paper.
: Praxeology is the study of human action. For more on the basics of praxeology see Ludwig von Mises’ Human Action. If you want to understand praxeology in its entirety I not only suggest reading Human Action but also Mises’ book titled The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science.
: SC stands for the points derived from self-cultivation.
Aristotle. “Virtue Ethics.” Moral Philosophy: A Reader, 4th ed, Edited by Louis P. Pojman and Peter Tramel, Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2009, pp. 301–311.
Clinkman, Dan. “Final Assignment: A New Points System.” Indian Springs School, 9 December 2021, https://indiansprings.myschoolapp.com/app/student#assignmentdetail/14756519/24894887/0/studentmyday--assignment-center.
Clower, Jason. “Mou Zongsan.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, https://iep.utm.edu/zongsan/.
Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Pure Reason. Translated and edited by Marcus Weigelt, Penguin Group, 2007.
— -. “The Foundations of Ethics.” Moral Philosophy: A Reader, 4th ed, Edited by Louis P. Pojman and Peter Tramel, Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2009, pp. 218–237.
Land, Nick. “Outsideness on Twitter.” Twitter, 30 May 2015, https://twitter.com/Outsideness/status/604870344386609152.
Lawler, James. “Beyond Good and Evil Place: Eternal Return of the Superman.” The Good Place and Philosophy, edited by Kimberly S. Engels, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2021, pp. 178–188.
Mises, Ludwig von. Human Action: A Treatise on Economics. Scholar’s ed. Ludwig von Mises Institute, 1998.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. “Beyond Good and Evil.” Moral Philosophy: A Reader, 4th ed, Edited by Louis P. Pojman and Peter Tramel, Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2009, pp. 123–130.
— -. The Will to Power: Selections from the Notebooks of the 1880s. Translated by R. Kevin Hill and Michael A. Scarpitti, edited by R. Kevin Hill, Penguin Books, 2017.