To enjoy life is to be pleased, delighted, and satisfied with it; to live with relish, to savour and take pleasure especially in parts of it we regard as important, and to want the life to continue by and large in the way it has been going. The most important thing we can do is live in a way that reflects what we most deeply care about.
Most of us are more or less dissatisfied with some aspect of our present self and want to change it to a better future self. This makes us divided beings. The beliefs, emotions, and motives of our present self prompt us to act in one way and our desired future and better self often prompts us to act in another way. This makes us ambivalent. One of the shibboleths of the present age is that the key to overcoming our ambivalence (...) is to cultivate autonomy. This Kantian ideal is defended, developed, and somewhat revised by Christine Korsgaard, who constructs an ideal theory of self-constitution. This theory is untenable. Its very nature makes it incapable of addressing the concrete problems ambivalence presents to us in our very different individual circumstances. It unreasonably claims that either we meet arbitrary, unrealistic, and mind-bogglingly complex requirements, or disqualify ourselves from being rational and moral agents. And it optimistically assumes that by becoming more autonomous, we become more rational and moral, rather than merely continue to act in the ways we have been acting before. The failure of this latest ideal theory does not show that there is something wrong with autonomy. It shows that the extravagant claims Korsgaard makes for autonomy are groundless. The way to cope with our ambivalence is not to follow a theory, but to think better and harder about what we — individuals in individual circumstances — are, and want to be. (shrink)
The ideal of autonomy has a positive and a negative aim. Its positive aim is to create the conditions in which more and more people can be more and more autonomous. Its negative aim is to prevent actions that cause serious harm and are normally both immoral and criminal. These two aims are incompatible. Increasing autonomy increases the frequency of crimes and decreasing the frequency of crimes requires decreasing autonomy. The incompatibility of these two aims has radical implications for much (...) current thinking about criminal justice. (shrink)
The Human Condition is a response to the growing disenchantment in the Western world with contemporary life. John Kekes provides rationally justified answers to questions about the meaning of life, the basis of morality, the contingencies of human lives, the prevalence of evil, the nature and extent of human responsibility, and the sources of values we prize. He offers a realistic view of the human condition that rejects both facile optimism and gloomy pessimism; acknowledges that we are vulnerable to contingencies (...) we cannot fully control; defends a humanistic understanding of our condition; recognizes that the values worth pursuing are plural, often conflicting, and that there are many reasonable conceptions of well-being. Kekes emphasizes the importance of facing the fact that man's inhumanity to man is widespread. He rejects as simple-minded both the view that human nature is basically good and that it is basically bad, and argues that our well-being depends on coping with the complex truth that human nature is basically complicated. Finally, Kekes argues that the scheme of things is indifferent to our fortunes and that we can rely only on our own resources to make what we can of our lives. (shrink)
This article is an explanation of the causes of war. It shows the inadequacy of existing explanations in terms of competition for scarce resources, aggressiveness as a trait inherent in human nature, and struggle for power. It constructs a new explanation that combines the defensible elements of the inadequate explanations and adds to them conflicts between systems of value on which the identity of the warring parties depends as the most important of the causes of war. It concludes that since (...) values are plural and conflicting, conflicts between systems of value are ineliminable. This has the consequence that war is a permanent adversity that is an unavoidable obstacle to the improvement of the human condition. (shrink)
We do not have to choose between belief in a divinely ordained cosmic moral order and the arbitrariness of our moral commitments. The alternative is a secular view that accepts that there is a natural cosmic order, denies that the order is moral, and relies on the values of the human world to provide a moral order by which we can reasonably live. These values are human constructions. Reliance on them is reasonable if they have passed the test of critical (...) reflection. Our well-being depends on living according to the values that passed that test. Natural necessities, the contingencies of life, and our fallibility, however, limit the extent to which we can control how we live. We cannot free ourselves from necessities, but we can reduce the extent to which we are vulnerable to contingencies, and we can, within limits, increase the control we have by correcting mistakes we make when we are insufficiently critical of our attitudes, commitments, and values. (shrink)
In this book John Kekes examines the indispensable role enjoyment plays in a good life. The key to it is the development of a style of life that combines an attitude and a manner of living and acting that jointly express one's deepest concerns. Since such styles vary with characters and circumstances, a reasonable understanding of them requires attending to the particular and concrete details of individual lives. Reflection on works of literature is a better guide to this kind of (...) understanding than the futile search for general theories and principles that preoccupies much of contemporary moral thought. -/- Enjoyment proceeds by the detailed examination of particular cases, shows how this kind of reflection can be reasonably conducted, and how the quest for universality and impartiality is misguided in this context. Central to the argument is a practical, particular, pluralistic, and yet objective conception of reason that rejects the pervasive contemporary tendency to regard reasons as good only if they are binding on all who aspire to live reasonably and morally. Reason in morality is neither theoretical nor general. Reasons for living and acting in particular ways are individually variable and none the worse for that. -/- Kekes aims to reorient moral thought from deontological, contractarian, and consequentialist preoccupations toward a reasonable but pluralistic reflection on what individuals can do to make their lives better. (shrink)
According to the conservative view defended in this paper, justice holds when people have what they deserve and do not have what they do not deserve. Some of the questions considered are: how to tell what people deserve, why people should get what they deserve, how mistakes in the distribution of good and bad things can be corrected, why all egalitarian theories of justice are fundamentally mistaken, what makes the conservative view of justice practical, and what implications the conservative view (...) has for taxation and prosperity. Familiar objections to the conservative view of justice are also considered and shown to be readily answerable. (shrink)
‘Reply to Horton’ gives four reasons why Horton's attack on Kekes' earlier article fails. In particular Horton fails to make the case that we have a moral obligation to do more than we already do towards relieving poverty through the taxes we already pay.
In an influential paper, Peter Singer claims that affluent people have a strong obligation to relieve famine. If they fail, they allow others to die, and makes them murderers. In responding to this outrageous claim, which has given uneasy conscience to many, I show that Singer is engaged in indefensible moralizing that substitutes bullying for reasoned argument and gives a bad name to morality.
Introduction : At a turning point -- Everyday life -- Modes of reflection -- Philosophical problems -- The pluralistic approach -- The meaning of life -- The possibility of free action -- The place of morality in good lives -- The art of life -- The nature of human self-understanding --Conclusion : The human world.
The paper examines one implication of pluralism, the view that all values are conditional and none are overriding. This implication is that since scientific knowledge is one of the conditional values, there are circumstances in which the pursuit of even the most basic scientific knowledge is legitimately curtailed. These circumstances occur when the pursuit of scientific knowledge conflicts with moral and political values which, in that context, are more important than it. The argument focuses on the case for and against (...) space exploration in search of intelligent extraterrestrial life. The widely held supposition that search for pure scientific knowledge cannot be reasonably curtailed is identified as the fallacy of overriding values. (shrink)
All moral traditions have some deep conventions. In sound moral traditions, Deep conventions protect universal and necessary conditions of human welfare. One type of moral horror occurs when moral agents realize that they have performed characteristic actions by which they have unknowingly and unintentionally violated deep conventions of their moral tradition. This type of moral horror has a dual significance for morality. Its occurrence shows that morality is wider than the domain of human autonomy. Also, The experience of moral horror (...) signifies that morality is at least partly objective. The discussion is conducted in terms of a classic case of moral horror: sophocles' oedipus. (shrink)