Humanist Voices
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Humanist Voices

The Positum, Contingential Space, and the Positivist Ethics

A Humanly Center, Humanely Reasoned, for Operators in the Universe to Beam the Good and Avoid the Evil

Christian is a Philosopher that comes from Belgium. What identifies him the most and above all is simplicity, for everything is better with “vanilla flavour.” Perhaps, for this reason, his intellectual passion is criticism and irony, in the sense of trying to reveal what “hides behind the mask,” and give birth to the true. For him, ignorance and knowledge never “cross paths.” What he likes the most in his leisure time, is to go for a walk with his wife.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What would be a good motto or catchphrase for Critical Humanism?

Dr. Christian Sorensen: Man is the center and reason is its limit.

Jacobsen: What would be a good motto or catchphrase for Phenomenological-Existentialist Humanism?

Sorensen: The human experience and the power of now.

Jacobsen: As regards the “positum,” things are taken for granted: assumptions, assertions, working hidden premises, in the ethical view, in the “positivist ethics.” What makes this ethics a functional, workable solution to many problems in a scientific-technological era?

Sorensen: Its objectivity, since according to this ethics, the action would be morally valuable, only if it’s done what I will denominate of putting the fact in between parentheses, that is to say, everything that does not belongs to the fact as such, and therefore anything that cannot be empirically verified is left aside, in consequence, its underlying intentionality, becomes in itself something ethically indifferent, because for being not directly accessible, and being interpretive, this approaching would relativize and subjectivize the ethical behavior, which ultimately regarding this perspective, is equivalent to emptying it of all morality.

Jacobsen: More particularly, why is a positivist ethics more workable within a techno-empiricist society, i.e., advanced industrial societies?

Sorensen: Because I think, that it is properly speaking, a scientific ethics that reaches results, since although constitutes value judgments, these can nevertheless be objectively verified, which would in turn allow, in a techno-empiricist society, to define deontological behaviors, and establish control mechanisms, by means of experimental evaluations regarding them.

Jacobsen: What makes the “assumptions, assertions, working hidden premises, in the ethical view,” troublesome on a deeper analysis, an examination of the positum?

Sorensen: Since everything that underlies subjectively an ethically valuable behavior, to the extent that renders it inaccessible to critical intellectual analysis, and therefore converts it a mystery, gives an obscurantist character to the positum. In consequence the last, feeds the speculation that would ultimately neutralize the empirically objectifiable of conduct as a moral fact.

Jacobsen: What is a proper name for an ethic ignoring the black box?

Sorensen: The positive ethics.

Jacobsen: Why were the concepts of “sin” and “punishment,” in the skeletal-work of theological normativism, invented in the first place?

Sorensen: Because the Roman Catholic Church, knew that it was impossible not to sin, since they’re aware that the fact of escaping from temptation, is not a possibility, due to the reason that if pleasure wasn’t sought as a principle, then the existence of life as such would not be possible either. Therefore, theology, needed to create punishing monstrosities, fueled by the unknown and the fear of them, which are the most powerful sources of fear imaginable, since by doing so, they kept control of their coffers, guaranteeing through the sale of plenary indulgences, salvation to souls tormented and repressed by their worldly sins.

Jacobsen: Thusly, why were 20th-century humanist and secular advancements, when possible, important as moderators and alternatives?

Sorensen: Since by opening up a path of freedom and choice options, they have allowed, to get out of a suffocating system of repression and punishment, where power and destiny were no longer in the hands of oppressive institutions, such as occurs with the Roman Catholic Church, that through fear and the threat of eternal spiritual punishment, believes that will surely found the city of god, by exercising the manipulation of consciousness, and promoting the abuse of power. Instead, power and destiny, would be from now on, properly speaking in the hands of man, who will recognize in itself, and from the subjective relativity of individual existence, the talent of a being that’s capable to discern and manage responsibly, its own ethical good.

Jacobsen: If ‘empirical verification’ is the root of ‘ethical value’ in positivist ethics, and if this, inherently, and rather glaringly, brushes aside the lock, the black box, what is the key point here? What is the point of Alice falling, finding the “key”?

Sorensen: What is the key in this type of ethics, is that only what I will denominate as conducts of the public sphere, that is to say, those ones which are expressible and empirically verifiable, are going to be ethically assessable or judgeable, as individually manifest attitudes or behaviors. Meanwhile those, that are not directly observable, and therefore not empirically verifiable, will form part of what I am going to name as private or intimate sphere, and in consequence, within the context of a positivist ethics, it will not be possible in relation to the last, to pronounce absolutely anything regarding their moral value.

Jacobsen: Does A-nominalism relate to idealism? How does “anominalist ethics” rejection nominalist ethics via absence?

Sorensen: It is rather the opposite, since it is nominalism that is related to idealism. I think that nominalism, is a formalistic ethic, in the sense that represents ideal moral forms, which after merging with a concrete behavior, and depending on the comparison between each other, would allow to formulate a value judgement, while in anominalism, there would not exist any ideal moral forms, because the ethical value regarding behavior, will be subject to the interrelation maintained between the last and the common good, which is contextually defined within a given society. Therefore morality, according to an anominalistic ethics, would be circumscribed to a deontological question, which in turn, is determined by a functional and utilitarian order.

Jacobsen: This non-nameability, lack of significability, and inability to define, the existentialist-phenomenological critical humanist ethics of the future, outside of the three axioms, where can one plant some flags on the periphery for definition of the boundaries and borders of the “black box” mentation-nation?

Sorensen: It is an ethic made up of forms of reason, that in themselves are empty, as if they were molds that act as moral models, and that because they are innate, are then universal and intersubjectively identical. For this reason, these must be filled in, by merging with the individual perceptual experience, that’s captured through the senses, and which subsequently in a second moment, based on a comparative relationship between the form as a moral model, and the experience, should be evaluated by reason, as a matter that completes them, in order to make regarding this union between the two, a value or ethical judgment.

Jacobsen: Axiom one, why is ‘man exclusively an end and never a means’?

Sorensen: Because I think that man, due to its rational and spiritual eternal nature, has a dignity superior to that of all the rest of the existing things, which consequently leads these, in the sense of contributing to the destiny that he has drawn for himself, and not the other way around, to be at its service.

Jacobsen: What circumstances would permit the consideration and acting upon another human being as a means rather than an end?

Sorensen: Those circumstances, where the dignity of man is damaged, which basically refers to when their fundamental rights, that should be universal, that is to say that must be the same for everyone, are not respected.

Jacobsen: Axiom two, if a assessment of the “good” sits in the “ethically good,” what justifies the belief in this “good” for action so as to fulfill the “ethically good” in the world? When is the “ethically good” doing nothing?

Sorensen: Since the consciousness of the ethically good, is fundamentally not given by any process derived from the learning of experience, but is instead innately given to everyone, because they all share the same nature as a species. Therefore it is possible to affirm, that all have been born knowing or being aware of what is good and what is bad, which is not equivalent to know how to base that fact of conscience, because for doing so, it’s needed unlike the ability to discern between good and evil, of a social learning process. For this reason, it is possible to conclude besides, that the ethically good does nothing, not when something it’s not known, since actually is not true that does not knows, but when it’s not wanted to be able of, which is something paradoxical and analogous, to when power is not wanted.

Jacobsen: When does the practice of the good become unsustainable “universally”?

Sorensen: When something with pretensions of good, is perversely presented and imposed as a good.

Jacobsen: Axiom three, the idea of “always treating others with equal proportionality and in the same manner.” Why?

Sorensen: Because I think that the treatment of others, should be proportionally equal and in the same way, to the treatment received from them. In other words I consider that doing good to others, does not mean necessarily with literally doing good, that is to say, turning the other cheek and responding by doing good to the enemies, as the Roman Catholic Church says, for example. I think that this kind of preach, more than an ethic of good, is the inconsistent and deceitful ethic of the masochism. Therefore, the maximum that could translate this ethical proportionality and identity of forms, could be expressed in the following, always treat the others, as the others treat you.

Jacobsen: What about exclusive/unique or extreme situations in which individuals require special consideration, treatment, whether for positive or negative, good or evil reasons?

Sorensen: In those special cases, I think it is necessary to attend to the circumstances, that although I think they should not change the sense of the ethical valence of behavior, they can though, modify the negative or positive charge of it, in this manner it could be affirmed, that the ethical value of behavior, is the ethical value of behavior plus its circumstances.

Jacobsen: With secundum quid et simpliciter, or the failure to distinguish between the rules of thumb, principles, or soft generalizations requiring caveats with the laws or hard generalizations, this leads ethical outcomes astray via the “consequences” as the evidence. What that which comes before the consequence, pre-consequence reasoning or ad hoc justifications for the outcomes after they have occurred in part or in full? What fallacies, formal or informal, connect to those?

Sorensen: I think that neither of the two, is prior to the other, since basically ad-hoc justifications, are nothing more than an explanation of the previous reasoning, that instead of having been done before the results, is done après quo, that is to say, after they begin to appear as such. In this sense, what is meant by reasonings or justifications, is actually the intentionality in terms of explanatory reason, which leads by answering the question of for what, or that justifies certain results, through answering the question of why, to certain consequences. The space between what I will name the external stimulus, as a motive, and the results or consequences, will arise a confrontation between the stimulus as a motive, and the individual interpretation of this, that is going to give rise, to what I will call motivation, which represents the explanatory intention, and globally is what I also going to denominate as contingential space. Due to the fact, that the last depends on the subjective interpretation of the individual, is that the intention to relativize the meanings of the motive and the results or consequences, is going to debut and enter as a premise, since by doing so, besides conditionating also the latter, it will make plausible the formulation of formal explanatory fallacies or not of them.

Jacobsen: While, at the same time, what makes the ‘right to the good’ inalienable and unconditional?

Sorensen: The fact that I think that the most important thing in life for man, is to achieve happiness, and the only way to reaached it, is by accessing good.

Jacobsen: What is this alienable-inalienable and conditional-unconditional two-dimensional representation of the ‘right to the good’ in this view?

Sorensen: It is a form of dualism, classic of Christian thought, in which everything ends up being reduced and polarized into good and bad. Beyond this reductionism and polarization, the difficulty that can be found in this type of dichotomous thinking, is that it loses sight of the fact, that reality is constituted rather on a continuity degradation, than on the basis of absolutes, which within this ethical context, leads to correlate in a necessary nexus, the good with the truth, and the evil with the false, when from the practical and deontological point of view, this does not occurs as something immobile, since what may happens, is that the terms alternate between each other and invert their meanings.

Jacobsen: Is existentialist-phenomenological critical humanist ethics unassailable “forever and always into eternity”? If not, why not? If so, why so?

Sorensen: I think it depends on whether or not, it’s possible to reach other dimensions of consciousness in the future. At this current level of consciousness, I think that it would not be factible, because it is not achievable to define the content of what I name as forms of morality, since they seem to act as only empty molds, nevertheless if they have an ideal content as such, which due to the limitations of consciousness, are not intellectually accessible, then I would presume, that they could only be thought through an intellectual vision. Therefore, if these are not achievable, it should be conscience that would impose limitations on what I will denominate as moral intuition.

Jacobsen: How would existentialist-phenomenological critical humanist ethics be applicable to other operators in the universe, entities who know that they know and know that they exist?

Sorensen: I think that regardless of the use of artificial intelligence, it would only be possible, if these other beings shared with man, in addition to consciousness, the same natural moral law, which concretely would mean to share similar characteristics regarding innate forms of morality, that besides, should be compatible with an ethical imperative that could be expressed as beam good and avoid evil.

Jacobsen: As rooted essential beings who know that they know and know that they exist, while evolving in the middle of the world, of sense, and experience, and life, you count us as ‘God in a certain way.’ Although, in fact, gods who make mistakes and perish, thusly persisting for a finite eternity, because of ‘instantaneously ceasing to be that which they are.’ God, in transcendentalist religious ethics of the past, makes the divine law, inheres in goodness and righteous, is the Good. Existentialist-phenomenological critical humanist ethics of the future would flip the script and place the generation of ethics in each and every individual human being. No governor everywhere. Only a generator in every moment and place there is a person present, so a presence of morality whose source is nowhere ubiquitous and everywhere there is a conscious worldline. “Something immanently unspecific to behavior” emanating from immediate points in a conscious worldline on “command” as a “categorical imperative.” What immediate secondaries or first-derivatives follow from these three aforementioned axioms in reflection on the immanence of ethics? An inevitability of morality in which one cannot ignore it, but, rather, must face the day, even in leaving it to beaver, must make a choice.

Sorensen: According to this ethics, each human being is in fact its own moral model as if it was a law, since this last as such would be indefinable, therefore it is each individual that in practice completes it, although it has a mold, which despite it is subjectively open, because demands an individual interpretation, on the other hand is limited by a symbolic border, that always determines its orientation towards a categorical imperative that I will define as beam good and avoid evil. Therefore I am going to sustain that at the same time man would be the measure of all things, ethically speaking, and would be slave of a structural formalism, which does not allow to think regardless of ethics, since morality is an internal part of its being. Regarding the last, does not even permit to escape from determinism, because if he moves away from the good, the feeling of guilt in this case not as something of religious order, since it does not have an offensive connotation, will remind its conscience as an accusing finger, that something is not working properly in the way of appropriating reality and acting over it.

Jacobsen: Yo, dude, thanks! That was coolio.

Sorensen: You are welcome, it was fun.

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Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. Jacobsen supports science and human rights.