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Passions in Poetry

The State of Nature

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Member Ascendant
since 08-20-99
Posts 5896
Jejudo, South Korea

25 posted 01-11-2003 01:24 AM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad


There is no language without the performative dimension of the promise, the minute I open my mouth I am in the dimension of the promise. Even if I say that 'I don't believe in truth' or whatever, the minute I open my mouth there is a 'believe me' at work. Even when I lie, and perhaps especially when I lie, there is a 'believe me' in play. And this 'I promise you that I am speaking the truth' is a messianic apriori, a promise which, even if it is not kept, even if one knows that it cannot be kept, takes place and qua promise is messianic. And from this point of view, I do not see how one can pose the question of ethics if one renounces the motifs of emanicipation and the messianic. Emancipation is once again a vast question today and I must say that I have no tolerance for those who -- deconstructionist or not -- are ironical with regard to the grand discourse of emanicipation. This attitude has always distressed and irritated me. I do not want to renounce this discourse.

From "Remarks" by Jacques Derrida in Deconstruction and Pragmatism p. 82.

Believe it or not, I think we all agree with this. It does seem that everybody, so far, accepts that there is some relationship between the ethical and speaking a language. It seems a matter of which is logically prior.

I have no problems with according women and the problem of paternity a special role (The Big Discovery as at least it used to be called.), but when I picture abstract scenarios like this, I generally picture the beginning of teaching as requiring the necessity of language. Animals learn but do they teach?

Needless to say, I'm biased.

I'm a little confused, however, by Phaedrus's point:

Which seems to infer that ethics may not be required for species that donít group together, so which is it all species require ethics or only those that group together?

I don't think a species which doesn't group together requires anything resembling an ethical system. In fact, I don't think most species we define as gregarious require an ethical system. But I have to ask, what exactly are you talking about when you say ethics?

For me, it has to be something that conflicts with evolutionarily involves characteristics (even though I accept that it was also created evolutionarily). For me, if it didn't, we wouldn't need language, and perhaps we wouldn't even need human consciousness.
Member Rara Avis
since 05-19-99
Posts 9708
Michigan, US

26 posted 01-11-2003 01:29 AM       View Profile for Ron   Email Ron   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Ron's Home Page   View IP for Ron

Animals learn but do they teach?

Brad is obviously not a cat person.
since 01-26-2002
Posts 280

27 posted 01-11-2003 07:30 AM       View Profile for Phaedrus   Email Phaedrus   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Phaedrus


I also think weíre all pretty much in agreement that language expands and enforces human ethics, your question about the interpretation of ethics - what I mean when I say ethics - is very valid to the point I was trying to get across, perhaps I should try to clarify.

Your original post posited the possibility that language separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom, you went even further and suggested that there is a direct correlation between language and infanticide. My point was that while it may be true that humans have the most complex form of language we are not unique when it comes to communication between individuals other species posses, and use, recognisable forms of language. If you accept that language exists in other species that exhibit tendencies towards infanticide a correlation between infanticide and language is untenable.

We then had the introduction of the correlation between ethics and language, this is the biggest sticking point for me, there is a tendency to believe that only humans posses the capacity towards ethical and moral behaviour. This is where the definition of ethics becomes most important; my view is that ethics are nothing more than pragmatic socially expedient acts which are inherent in any social interaction. So can we say that only animals that live in groups posses ethics? Unfortunately I donít think we can, once ethics are reduced to socially expedient acts we are faced with the problem that even those animals that donít live in groups still interact on a social level with others of their species. At that point can they not be said to be displaying pragmatic socially expedient acts? The obvious conclusion is that all animals posses a form of ethics it's just that some display it to a greater degree and in greater degrees of complexity than others. Those animals that employ a language having the most complex, and humans, having the most complex language obviously possessing the most complex ethical system.

Do you need a language to be ethical in this context? Ė No I donít think you do.

Under this definition of ethics itís clear that the possession of ethics precedes language but that language increases the complexity of any existing ethical system.

It also predicts that ethical acts will be more pronounced in species that live in social groups.

I hope that clears up what I was trying to say.

[This message has been edited by Phaedrus (01-12-2003 08:01 AM).]

Local Rebel
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since 12-21-1999
Posts 5742
Southern Abstentia

28 posted 01-11-2003 12:29 PM       View Profile for Local Rebel   Email Local Rebel   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Local Rebel

I think the basic ethic (for survival) is one does not eat one's own species -- which may be why lawyers are often referred to as sharks (no offense to any lawyers out there -- just referencing the correlation).  My favorite comment from pop psychologist Dr. Will Miller is "We're all just cannibals who haven't eaten each other yet -- because there's plenty of food."

So I think it applies to whatever animals it applies to -- whether or not they group.  Sharks don't really group as I understand it -- they are merely attracted by a common prey.

I haven't the time to find a really good web site but this one  at least mentions the correlation between the development of vocal chords and the brain being 'hard wired' for langauge -- I don't think ethics is extra-evolutionary Brad -- common defense is sensical -- the basic ethics are probably as hard wired as the speech that's necessary to support them.

I'm in fundamental agreement with Derrida's remarks Brad -- with the qualifier that I don't think the promise goes as far as to say 'believe me' -- sometimes it's only -- this is what I think.. or this is what I feel... so if that's the only promise -- then it's a correct assumption.

[This message has been edited by Local Rebel (01-11-2003 12:38 PM).]

since 01-26-2002
Posts 280

29 posted 01-12-2003 07:10 AM       View Profile for Phaedrus   Email Phaedrus   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Phaedrus


I keep getting a niggling feeling that Derrida is missing something, I donít think heís entirely wrong I just think he might be missing an opportunity based on scale and an old saying:

Actions speak louder than words

It could be said that Derridaís statement reinforces this saying, actions being the fulfilment of the promise, but if we expand the promissory concept to include actions where complex language isnít used or even available it may move us closer to understanding social interaction at all levels.

An example might be useful at this point, btw Iím picking animals out of the air again here Brad.  

1) Imagine two hunters, letís call them Bob and Bill, they decide to go deer hunting. Once in the woods Bill tells Bob to go left round a clearing that contains a buck and that he will go right, when theyíre both in position Bill rushes towards the buck which runs straight towards the waiting Bob.

Letís play that again, this time with a little more reality, after all the idea is not to spook the deer until both Bob and Bill are in position.

2) Once in the woods Bill signals to Bob that he should go left around the clearing and that Bob will go right, once in position Bill rushes towards the buck which runs straight towards the waiting Bob.

I should mention that the deer escaped on both occasions, Bob in each case is a juvenile, this his first deer hunt, in each scenario Bill isnít too concerned though, recognising the fact that Bob will learn quickly.

If we take Derridaís explanation of language the first example is easily explained, Bill promised that if Bob went left heíd go right and they would catch the deer. In the second the oral communication was missing but the promise still remains. The only other difference is that in the first case Bob and Bill were human, in the second they were lions.


You may have a valid point regarding the nature of the communication, a promise doesnít seem to have enough emphasis on social interaction and the active involvement of the individuals within the social context. Itís too one sided and too easily unfulfilled, all those promises would seem to infer a high level of failure to deliver, positive reinforcement is an important part of social binding if promises are broken on a regular basis wouldnít that act to destabilise the group rather than reinforce it?

If we move the emphasis to the target of the promise and look at the promise as more of a request for belief any negative results become the result of individuals decisions. The group remains untarnished - it isnít the fault of the group that led to the failure itís simply bad judgement of the individuals within the group.

[This message has been edited by Phaedrus (01-12-2003 07:49 AM).]

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