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Cage, The

Must, Should, and Ought from Is

David Weissman

Publication Year: 2006

Hume argued that is does not entail ought; that we cannot infer necessity or obligation from any description of actual states of affairs. His philosophical heirs continue to argue that nothing outside ourselves constrains us. The Cage maintains, contrary to Humean tradition, that reality is a set of nested contexts, each distinguished by intrinsic norms. Author David Weissman offers an innovative exploration of these norms intrinsic to human life, including practical affairs, morals, aesthetics, and culture. In this critical examination of character formation and the conditions for freedom, Weissman suggests that eliminating context (because of regarding it as an impediment to freedom) impoverishes character and reduces freedom. He concludes that positive freedom—the freedom to choose and to act—has no leverage apart from the contexts where character forms and circumstances provide opportunities to express one’s thoughts, tastes, or talents.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 1-8

Natural order is everywhere apparent. There are kinds, processes, sequences, and cycles. Yet, many thinkers regard nature as a collage, its elements bound by spatial and temporal relations only. Must, should, and ought cannot derive from is if this is so, because no thing constrains another if each might be joined to any other. This has material and practical...

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CHAPTER ONE: Categorial Form

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pp. 9-24

Philosophic inquiry was once dominated by two linked questions: What are the categorial features of reality? What moral difference do they make? Plato, Aristotle, Spinoza, Hobbes, Marx, and social Darwinists believed that answering the second question presupposes an answer to the first: human character, actions, laws, and virtues are properly sensitive...

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pp. 25-60

Nature is often conceived in Humean terms as an aggregate. Think of marbles mixed and remixed in a drum that turns forever. There is sequence and conjunction, but no constraint except the contrariety enforced when every thing holds its ground, defending its identity by excluding every other. Nietzsche argued that freedom is maximized, constraint...

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CHAPTER THREE: Practical Norms

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pp. 61-72

The phrase practical values is often used to imply effective solutions to problematic situations: we are hungry, lonely, or embarrassed; what's to be done? We assume that problems come and go: we solve a current predicament, then turn aside before the next one. This account is misleading, because problem solving is not sporadic. Every system--including...

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pp. 73-200

This chapter is a study in ethics, meaning theories or interpretations of morality. Ethics is contentious: there are several ways to construe it. Should it formulate principles that prescribe an ideal moral order, whatever changes of habit and conduct they decree? Or is ethics an empirical science, one--like sociology or psychology--that makes testable...

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CHAPTER FIVE: Aesthetic Norms

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pp. 201-220

Systems established by the causal relations of their parts are dynamic: motion is routed through the reciprocities, but not stopped. Most of the systems emphasized in this chapter are static rather than dynamic: there is no interaction between or among their ordered parts. Static systems are complementarities: the fit of their terms replaces the causal reciprocities...

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CHAPTER SIX: Cultural Variation

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pp. 221-230

Needs and interests are generic and determinable. Hunger is a need, and satisfying it is a value, though cultures differ in the means they prescribe: their rice, our wheat. This chapter describes both the variability of norms across societies and cultures and the generic constraints that limit these differences. It locates norms in two considerations...

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pp. 231-264

Freedom is our sacred word. It awes, intoxicates, and defends us. We praise it as a sanctuary and timeless right. This teleology ignores the historical changes that created our sense of entitlement. Six are critical: i. We say that God created us with free will so we might voluntarily observe his commandments. Yet, belief in a creator God is no longer the...

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pp. 265-268

The tools and methods of contemporary conceptual analysis come from Descartes: separate whatever is distinguishable; discern the essential form of an idea. Examining a notion used casually, conceptual analysts strip the dross to expose the unembellished core. Hume was Descartes' best student. Ideas of cause and effect are not clear and distinct, until we...


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pp. 269-286


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pp. 287-298

E-ISBN-13: 9780791481196
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791468791
Print-ISBN-10: 0791468798

Page Count: 308
Publication Year: 2006