The experience of morality (Notes on Nic. Eth. ii)

The experience of morality requires a narrative of both chosen, habitual, and emotional elements. Say a guy walks into his kitchen and sees that his kid has melted a marshmallow into the toaster. Responses admitting of a moral evaluation might include the following:

1.) Filled with anger, he beats his kid senseless, feels no guilt over doing so.

2.) Filled with anger, he beats the kid senseless, feels awful about it.

3.) Filled with anger, he is overwhelmed by a desire to beat his kid senseless but runs out of the room to avoid doing so, remains confused in the other room.

4.) After many occasions of similar things happening followed by running out of the room and confusion, his brain has found a shortcut to calmness in the face of anger that allows him to experience anger in such a way that it doesn’t cloud his judgment.

5.) Seeing the marshmallow, the man feels nothing. What’s the point of anger or discipline? None of it works.

6.) After becoming convinced that all critical evaluations of a child’s behavior are harmful and degrading, the parent calmly tries to Socratically reason with the five-year-old child to get them to appreciate the moral significance of their actions. Parent feels sense of fulfillment and superiority from doing this.

Obviously, there is an indefinite number of such descriptions. On Aristotle’s account of it, the point is to respond in such a way as to have a happiness. This involves two things:

a.) There needs to be an agreement among any deliberative, habitual, and emotional motives of the action. For example, when habits clash against our deliberative power, we’ll be conflicted and confused no matter if we act on the deliberative element or the habitual one, and so with any other conflict.

b.) The harmony that we strike among the elements has to be one that is actually good. A man who beats his kids senseless, enjoys doing so, and brags about it to impress his friends might not experience any emotional, habitual or deliberative conflict, but he should experience it.

Notice that these two elements are analogous to a true syllogism, where (a.) corresponds to the the fact that the syllogism must be valid, with all the elements in a harmony and consistent with each other and where (b.)  corresponds to the premises of the syllogism needing to be true.

But it is just as important to divide this moral experience from syllogizing as it is to make the comparison. Syllogizing or scientific discourse don’t have our emotional life as an integral element. The correctness of science does not need to take into account how we feel about doing it, nor how habitually we practice it.

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