The Inevitable Clash of Domains, Research Time, 16/09/2013

I was reading a little more into straight theories of time derived from contemporary physics this weekend, and came across a couple of interesting examples from the history of science that I might use as anchors for one of the core arguments of the utopias project. It is going to be a little difficult to make the major argument. Violent political change for an ideology devalues the present, so implies an underlying conception of time. So scouring different conceptions of time will let us figure out different ways to understand our current life, our relationships with people around us, before us, and what might come after us.

It’s a difficult idea to wrap your head around, I think. And one of my concerns about the project is that I’ll never get people to take it seriously. One of the central dogmas in the discipline of philosophy is that propositions about the way the world is (The world is X) can never be used to derive a proposition about the way the world should be (The world should be like Y). I think that’s right in terms of propositions. But I think there’s some leeway when we think more broadly about people’s self-definition. 

I think of culture as one example. Propositions about cultural frameworks and the relations among people (People of culture A tend to believe strongly in Z) I think are morally relevant. That is, they should count as a moral proposition. At the same time, it doesn’t have an imperative form, like ‘should’ and ‘ought’ sentences. Actions you take in the course of your life depend on how you understand the world. In a discipline where there has always been a sub-set of people disputing the existence of God, I sometimes think we should be better aware of how subtle this relationship between one’s conception of reality and one’s moral beliefs.

Really, there’s a slight difference between the way I see reality’s relation with morality and how it’s been traditionally conceived in philosophy. Sentences like “The world is X” are taken to be statements of actual fact. Where I’m thinking of this side of the equation rather along the lines of mapping people’s beliefs about the world, and people’s beliefs about what is morally right. When you move to this more abstracted level, I think you can consider relations of morality and reality more flexibly. The conceptions of time in the utopias project will play this role. 

1 comment:

  1. Couldn't this be as simple as saying, when we view ourselves as living in a special, elevated time, our morality is bent and twisted to accommodate the circumstances, but then these same people, when projecting forward in time, may well envision an entirely different moral order.

    Akhil Reed Amar speaks of a similar logic at play in 4/5ths clause of the US Constitution: both Northern and Southern leaders viewed the existence of slavery as an ill of the present, exceptional age that ought to be done away with, just not now. Of course, Southern interests reversed on that point.