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        love of enhancing humanity
gary e. davis
September 7, 2009

There’s a resonance to the notion of fitness, a term “owned” by evolutionary biology, health professions, and theorists of practical reason—a venue extending through deep time to your novel situation requiring a good fit of capability—a fitness of capability.

Capability: Constitutive for doing anything in the flowering manifold of what one might do, it’s the proximal genesis in ontogeny.

I think the importance of ontogeny is too-little appreciated for understanding the “reality,” the presence, of values and norms—and, as some would have it, for understanding “moral absolutes” (which is supposed to undermine virtue ethics).

I annoyed Donald Davidson on this, in a seminar on truth many years ago. He thought little of notions of developmental relativity related to the very idea of a conceptual schema or for the cogency of ordinary notions of truth. Now, epistemic reliabilism is common discursive fare (his colleague Bernard Williams thought well of ordinary intuitions on truth: an ambiguity of accuracy and sincerity), and the developmentality of concepts is integral to cognitive science (and to some philosophers of conceptuality, e.g,. inquirers in biosemiotically-inspired “teleosemantics”).

But that’s a long way from a wholehearted sense of growing up. (Harry Frankfurt likes to talk about “wholehearted” understanding in his ethics). In growing up, we may come to fully inhabit our kind of world, a fullness of flowering presence.

Growing up should be seen to never end, as striving for self-efficacy doesn’t complete itself, just changes register with each era of life. Insatiable love of learning, play, and constructiveness deserves to belong to every era of one’s life. Valuing attentiveness across the decades (and across the full hierarchy of desires)—sustaining engagement with the world—wins you reliable intuition as light of one’s personal history of attentive preference.

Valuing idealization wins you more progress than otherwise; it’s not imprudent. Prudence is about the balance of idealization and “realism”; prudence deserves idealization. In the venturing, it may seem imprudent to not know where you’re going. But that’s the only way discovery happens. A sure path to frustration is to need a secure map, a given story of how the project (or life) is supposed to go. And frustration is a virus in unhappiness. Happiness is parented, gardened by engagement and audacity.

I’m in a didactic mood.... “The well-growing life, the good individuation comes to appreciate its humanity, as background and as moral light. The resonance of ‘one’s humanity’ is vital, as one’s shared humanity is integral to identity that others care about and for. Finding shared singularity in this is an agenda that’s never fulfilled, but generative in the endeavor. Yet, seeking admiration for this is not admirable. Just do what’s good and right; the admiration will come in good time (if you’re reliably good and right).”

Yet, overtly seeking excellence is natural for persons who are easily admired. We admire the overtness of that because we so easily identify with the virtue of actualizing potential—especially by one’s doing so humbly through just doing It well without pretense. By enacting deeply shared values without seeking to be seen as virtuous, but enjoying one’s aim of excellence, one’s overtness expresses something potentially belonging to all of us that’s not vain to see esteemed by the seeker. Exemplary kindness, for example, seems hardly aware of its virtue because it’s so about the kindness overtly displayed. (I may not have this quite right. It would be easier if I had excellent grasp of virtue.)

Concern for the ethicality of one’s character gets lots of attention because ethical life deserves that. But admirable character isn’t primarily an ethical notion. It includes ethical character traits, but making a good life is about the life, more than about the inestimably important interpersonal relations that are part of the life. Good sense is highly admirable, but it pertains to the whole of one’s life. Valuing “realism” (the pragmatic sense associated with prudence) is a sense of the world, not just ethical life. Showing care reliably pertains to all that deserves care (gardens and careers, as well as partnerships and community). Living in good health, having ample self-efficacy, persisting in curiosity, standing for reasonability and holism, and loving truth might be rightly called virtues, but for the virtuous life itself, that’s for others to say. The life goes its own way.

The appeal of philosophical worries about “practical reason” in theory are based in the appeal of a well-growing life, living well, which gives ethicality its purpose. Well-informed and authentic deliberations about ethical conflict are superior to ill-informed and reflexive opinions due to the intrinsic value of knowledge and capability belonging to the long term of a life. When we’re rightly dwelling with the character of good convictions, it’s the character and humanity of the life that backgrounds the admirability of the dwelling (i.e., deliberating in good conscience).

“Moral” theory (about what’s allegedly right, vs. ethics’ care) isn’t especially positioned to appreciate caring, let alone flourishing (as morality’s externalist concern for what’s right is ethically minimalist and originates in concerns about authority to compel).

I’m nearly always not didactic. I’m easily considered too permissive, too non-directive, and I’m glad. My prevailing disposition is to want to see life enhancing itself, so the above is a matter of balance: conviction in relation to (I hate ‘vis-à-vis’) my love of Openness.

Open-ended, intelligent growth is intrinsically good. Diversity of endeavoring is what we are. The nature of “our kind” (as Foot says, an appeal to genus begging the topic of natural kinds) is intelligent growth, however it goes in one’s ownmost way: the flourishing unto its humanity, unto itself in a historized flourishing of humanity. There’s no chance of originality without ecstatic self-possession in the world as if there were no history.

Yet, too, there’s no chance of important insight without appreciation of precedent and history, which exists only because it’s kept alive by individual minds. Its institutionality is no more than the individual minds keeping the institution alive. All the sociality of legacy has no existence other than the individual minds keeping it alive.

Nature, intelligence, humanity, history—keeping these kindred, even intimate, might be an intrinsically good discursive value backing claims about the nature of moral insight.

But, of course, nothing is accomplished by noting that. “What sense of nature, etc., would that be?” One philosopher notes that saying “realism” in philosophy is only a kind of clearing one’s throat (“Moral Realism,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). So, too, for “natural,” “intelligence,” and moral-anthropological “humanity.”

What is the deep-seated anthropological nature of durable traditional evidencies, such as not doing harm? Is it that good families embody a legacy of emotional intelligence in their caring practices that is traceable to our hominid emergence from primate life? “Mothers and others,” says Sarah Hrdy and others. Women were the original gods. Again, caring is integral to ethical life, an essential aspect of love. And it has no existence apart from actual chains of intergenerational individuals keeping it alive, largely a lineage of women.

It might seem odd to claim that love belongs to our nature, when lived with self-interested fidelity to one’s humanity, but I think that the more one knows oneself truly the more that one appreciates one’s belonging as integral condition for one’s individuated freedom, having belonged in order to benefit from aspiring for further belonging. An inspiration of moral imagination about the humanity of one’s belonging is self-esteeming, even when unknown to others who would admire this. One’s ownmost humanity informs the inspiration (and post facto admiration just adds to what you are).

We are so abundantly diverse, the news is neverending, in our planetary ecology (albeit too careless—but reparable!). I’m so glad to be alive. To the Good of the Order! (But make it unprecedentedly better—quick.)

Meanwhile, I’ve paid my dues. I need more fun, writing life through sundry means: diverse oddities of mental gardening, sensuality of indwelling—that generative mirrorplay of self-assembling coherences: frames, figures, models, modes—eros of bricolagic synergy, hybridity in self-designing topographies, vines gravitating to high flights of bioglobality—yet life with no end of graciousness.

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    Be fair. © 2014, g. e. davis.