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Thomas Hurka (University of Toronto), “Value and Friendship: A More Subtle View,” with commentary by David McNaughton and Piers Rawling (Florida State University). The paper and commentary can be found here.
Posted by tnadelhoffer on May 07, 2006 | Permalink
I enjoy and appreciate the thought-provoking arguments of Prof. Hurka. Nevertheless, I disagree with many of the ideas in this paper, both suppositions and arguments.
First the suppositions. Perhaps these are worries treated and answered in Scanlon's works; I know I have read Hurka's take on them. I will comment all the same.
The character of the introduction of this "teleological view" assumes the adequacy of the "impartiality" argument about consequentialism, as if consequentialism could not factor in agent-relative values. It seems to me that this is a mistake, albeit a popular one. The simple objection to this view is correct: namely, that (for instance) if "integrity" were inputted as the sole object of value, then while it would be trivially true that integrity were held constant as a value across all situations, it would be substantially true that agents could morally pursue their own projects.
The paper then assumes (with some justification, by convention) that consequentialism is an optimizing doctrine, always in pursuit of the "best consequences". I would like to suggest that it need not be, if we interpret the word 'consequentialism' more literally: i.e., as a doctrine which holds that the right is exclusively generated by a consideration of an act's consequences.
Second, the argument. I'm surprised that Hurka did not make more in this paper out of the analytic tool of "heirarchical dominance". This idea is explained and used with excellence by Hurka in chapter 9 of his book on Perfectionism to evaluate the quality of goals. Use of it would not have been unwarranted here, it seems to me. For Scanlon's issues with the teleological account of friendship are evidently that it does not permit subgoals which facilitate the larger goal: that no dominance heirarchy can be implied by the meaning of 'friendship'.
If not this, then one wonders what the roadblock could possibly be, given the illustrations provided in this essay on p.2. Here we have the goal, 'promote friendship'; and we have the subgoals, to be loyal, show concern, try to stay in touch, etc. Yet somehow the former and the latter, for Scanlon (in this presentation), are not continuous. But the reality is, a value is promoted among others most strongly when others understand the meaning of the value and observe it in action (or are told of it in testimonies). You cannot spread the value without living it. And what better way to fulfill the general goal, than by being steadfast in commitment to its subgoals? And even aside from promotion, aren't these subgoals simply part and parcel of bringing the object of the value into existence and maintaining it?
So I am confused as to how a pursuit of the goal is not conducive to the pursuit of the subgoals. Though admittedly, a person might have a very shallow view of friendship, and therefore neglect or ignore the subgoals (sending letters, etc). But this is only the state of affairs for children and fools. For particular human activities collect accretions across the lifespan as a result of human social interaction, and which change the understanding of certain values. Values are a form of meaning, and meanings grow with time. The meaning of "friendship" can change over the course of living: one may find new ways of accomplishing old goals. This natural growth process may be amoral/developmental, and (contra Moore) contingent to some extent upon the preferences of the agents involved; but as far as I can discern, it may be fully consistent with the teleological view so far presented in the introduction.
So for example, the idea that the betrayal of a friend would be considered in some way compatible with friendship illustrates that I have a certain understanding of what goals are meaningfully associated with it. It does not occur to me that that would be a kind of "promotion" of friendship in any way to betray a friend in order to gain more. That's not, in and of itself, coherant, at least not to my understanding of the meaning of friendship.
More of a question than a comment: given the emphasis Hurka places on shared history in friendship (p.5), what does he make of the notion of an "instant friend"?
Little has been surmised about the significance of what it means for a thing to be "intrinsic" here. Indeed, the justification presented for the rejection of hedonism does not live up to its aim: no hedonist denies that "there is more to the good life than feeling good"; all hedonists claim is that feeling pleasant is the aim of the pursuit of all goods, and says nothing about 'the good life' in general.
The discussion later in the paper (p.11) seems to arrive at what I think Hurka's intuition may be -- that an object which has intrinsic value creates an unreflective moral action instantaniously, without being consciously mediated by a value. But for my part, anything else just sounds like an amoral reflex action. If I care about my friend, and want to help them, then I must have been aware of the fact that they are my friend, and this must have affected (perhaps even exhausted!) my motive to help. Even if these feelings are socialized and embedded to the point where I barely notice them, they can still be noted if the mind is turned in the right direction.
Malachai M. Nilsai |
May 08, 2006 at 01:11 AM
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