B.A. in Philosophy by University of Sao Paulo (USP), Brazil, and technical analyst at a Brazilian railway lab.


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Which texts is Hegel responding too? Is it ultimately rooted in Aristotle/Plato/Socretes? How much work does one have to do to get up to speed?

I'm not well versed in Hegel's philosophy, but I know he does three things (and probably more).

First, he builds upon Kant, who himself is moving against all philosophy that came before him and refunding the entire thing so as to be compatible with modern scientific inquiry.

Second, he changes the concept of truth, from static to dynamic, not in the sense that what we think is true may be wrong and so we fix our knowledge until it becomes actually true, but in the sense that the very notion of "truth" itself changes over time, and hence a knowledge that was true once becomes false not because it was incorrect, but because it's aligned with a notion of truth that isn't valid anymore. This comes on the heels of a new analysis methodology he invented for this purpose, and that you need to master before seeing it in use.

Third, he tries to integrate notions of justice, rights etc. that are still grounded on pre-Kantian notion with all the above.

That paragraph quoted touches on all of the above, so it takes a knowledge of classic metaphysics, plus Kantian anti-metaphysics, plus classic political philosophy, plus Hegel's own take on words such as "truth", "rights" etc. actually refer to.

It's an extremely ambitious project, and on top of that he has to deal with the potential censorship of rulers and church, so even in parts in which he could be clearer he has to deliberately obfuscate things so that censors don't catch up with what he's actually trying to say (this was a usual procedure for many philosophers, and continues being among some).

(...) when I read Bostrom, Parfait, or Focault or listen to Amanda Askill or Agnes Callard or Amia Srinivasan I don't get the sense that they're necessarily trying to bring fundamentally new objects into our ontology or metaphysics, but rather that they're trying to clarify and tease apart distinctions and think through implications;

I don't know the last three, but the first two basically go in the opposite direction. They take all these complex novel notions of the genius philosophers and distillate them down into useable bits by applying them to specific problems, with some small insights of theirs sprinkled here and there. Foucault in particular also did some of the "big insight" thing, but on a more limited fashion and with a narrower focus, so it isn't as earth-shattering as what the major philosophers did.

Besides, there are movements among professional academic philosophers that propose developing philosophy in small bits, one tiny problem at a time worked to exhaustion. Much of what they do is in fact this. But how that's seen varies. When I was majoring in Philosophy in the 2000's, for example, there was an opinion shared by all professors and teachers in the Philosophy Department that from all of them who worked there since it was founded in the 1930's until that date, only one single professor has been seen as a real philosopher. Everyone else were historians of philosophy, which indeed was how they described what we were learning how to do. :-)

is that a project that tends to lend itself to a really different, "clearer" way of using language?

Yes, undoubtedly. On the flip side, it doesn't lend itself to noticing large scale structural issues. For instance, from working tiny problem by tiny problem, one after the other, one would never do as Hegel did, stop, look at things from a distance, and perceive the very concept of truth everyone was using is itself full of assumptions that need unpacking and criticizing, in particular the assumption of the atemporality of truth. Rather, they will all tend to keep working from within that very concept of truth, assumed wholesale, doing their 9-to-5 job, accumulating their quotations so as to get a higher pay, and not really looking outside any of it.

A rule of thumb is that major philosophers make you feel ill. They destroy your certainties by showing what you used to consider solid ground were mirages. Minor philosophers and professional philosophers, in contrast, feel safe. At most a little inconvenient here and there, but still safe, since with them the ground is still the same, and still mostly as firm as before.

... this quote ... was used by Scott Alexander in his Nonfiction Writing Advice as an example of entirely unreadable abstract paragraph.

It isn't unreadable. Hegel is arguing with concepts from previous philosophies which he presumes the reader already knows and understands well. If one begins reading him possessing the prerequisite knowledge one can understand him just fine. Besides, this is a point in the middle of a long discussion, so he already presumes the reader understood the previous points and is connecting the dots.

Great philosophers are great because they notice something no one has noticed before and are thus the very first person in History to try and express that. They have no tool for doing so other than everything that was said before, which, by definition, doesn't include what they're trying to say. So, on top of trying to say something utterly, absolutely novel, they must invent the language and semantics with which to say it by repurposing words and concepts that aren't appropriate for the task. Eventually (measured in decades to centuries) students of that philosopher figure out better ways to express the same novel notions he pioneered, and cause the learning curve to become less and less steep. In the extreme this is so well done, and that philosopher's ideas and terminology gain such widespread adoption, that language itself adapts to the way the philosopher used it. And then everyone is talking from within that philosopher's terminology, and wondering, when they read the original work, what was the big deal with someone who was all about stating, and badly at that, mere truisms.

If philosophers wrote presuming their readers have no philosophical knowledge at all, and under the requirement that all words they use must retain their current, commonsensical meaning, every sentence of theirs would balloon into an entire book. The philosopher would die of old age before having presented 1% of what they wanted to say.

Either that, or instead this happens. I guess by this point we're in Schrödinger's Cat territory:

Multitrack drifting

Humans also bottleneck the maritime side of cargo shipments via artificial scarcity in the form of cartels and monopolies. The referred $2k shipments could have costed even less, but there's rent capture in it driving final transportation prices higher than they could be, and payments to on the ground operators lower than those, too, could be, the resulting spread going into the hands of the monopolists who successfully work around legal impositions from as many jurisdictions as possible.

I wouldn't say it's a matter of validity, exactly, but of suitability to different circumstances.

In my own personal ethics I mix a majority of Western virtues with a few Eastern ones, filter them through my own brand of consequentialism in which I give preference to actions that preserve information to actions that destroy it, ignore deontology almost entirely, take into consideration the distribution of moral reasoning stages as well as which of the 20 natural desires may be at play, and leave utilitarian reasoning proper to solve edge cases and gray areas.

The Moriori massacre is precisely one of the references I keep in mind when balancing all of these influences into taking a concrete action.

This analysis shows one advantage virtue ethics has over utilitarianism and deontology with its strong focus on internal states as compared to these and their focus on external reality. And it also shows aspects of the Kohlbergian analysis of the different levels of cognitive complexity possible in the moral reasoning of moral agents. Well done!

One concrete example I like to refer to is the Maori massacre of the Moriori tribe. The Moriori were radical non-violence practitioners who lived in their own island, to the point even Gandhi would be considered too angry of a person to their tastes. The Maori, in contrast, had a culture that valued war. When the Maori invaded the Moriori's island, they announced it by torturing a Moriori girl to death and waited for them to attack, expecting a worthy battle. The Moriori didn't attack, they tried to flee and submit. The Maori were so offended by having their worthy battle denied that they hunted the Moriori to extinction, and not via quick deaths, no. Via days-long torture. This is the one tale that helps me to weight down my own non-violence preferences down into reasonableness, to avoid over-abstracting things.

On the last point, you reminded me of a comedian impersonating different MBTI types. When playing the INTP profile he began acting as a teacher reading a math question from the textbook to his students: "There are 40 bananas on the table. If Suzy eats 32 bananas, how many bananas...", then stops, looks up at the camera while throwing the book away, and asks "Why is Suzy eating 32 bananas? What's wrong with her!?" 😁

Thanks. Now I'm torn between my own take and a possibly improved version of this one. :-)

Thanks for this review. I have done evil in the past due to similar reasons the author points. Not huge evils, smaller evil, but evils nonetheless. Afterwards I learned to be on guard against those small causal chains, but even so, even having began being on guard, I still did evil one more time afterwards. I hope my future rate will go down to zero and stay there. We'll see.

By the way, an additional factor not mentioned in the review, and thus, I suppose, on the book, is the matter of evil governments manipulating the few who are good so they, too, serve evil purposes. This is something major powers do regularly. Their strategists identify some injustice going on in enemy territory, and induce those there who care to seek justice in specific ways calculated to cause the most disruption to the enemy government. Power structures thus destabilized result in social chaos, which can grow, when properly nurtured, into extreme violence, blood feuds, crackdowns, oppression, and generations-long prejudice and hatred. All by manipulating the goodness and sense of justice of the gullible.

To avoid that and do true good one needs to think from the perspective of evil. To imagine the many ways in which one's good impulses could be redirected into evil deeds, and to act one or more layers above that.

"The Worst Mistake in the History of Ethics"

I'm curious what GPT-3 would output for this one. :-)

PS: And I have my own answer for that: Aristotle's development of the concept of eudaimonia, "the good life", meaning the realization of all human potential. For him it was such a desirable outcome, so valuable, that it's existence justified slavery, since those many working allowed a few to realize it. Advance 2,400 years of people also finding it incredibly desirable, and we end up with, among others, Marx and Engels defending revolutionary terror, massacres, and mass political persecution so that it could be realized for all, rather than for a few.

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