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C H A P T E R E I G H T E E N The Inescapability of Ethics G E R A R D C A S E Y As a philosophical theory, as contrasted with a theological view or an assumption of popular science or an emotional intuition about fate, determinism fails because it is unstateable. However far we impinge (for instance for legal or moral purposes) upon the area of free will we cannot philosophically exhibit a situation in which, instead of shifting, it vanishes. The phenomena of rationality and morality are involved in the very attempt to banish them. —Iris Murdoch, Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals In the Fawlty Towers episode “Gourmet Night” we find the hapless hotel owner Basil Fawlty treating his chronically malfunctioning car as if it were yet another person conspiring with the rest of the world to make him fail once again. In what must surely be one of the most achingly funny illustrations of the archetypal love/hate relationship between man and machine , Basil, when the car refuses to start, leaving him stranded with the duck for which his dinner guests are waiting in vain, reacts as follows: Come on, start, will you? Start, you vicious bastard! Come on! Oh, my God! I’m warning you—if you don’t start . . . I’ll count to three: One . . . two . . . 460 three! Right! That’s it! I’ve had enough. [Jumps out of the car and addresses the vehicle] You’ve tried it on just once too often! Right! Well, don’t say I haven’t warned you! I’ve laid it on the line to you time and time again! Right! Well . . . this is it—I’m going to give you a damn good thrashing! [Disappears from shot, reappearing moments later with a branch of tree with which he proceeds, futilely, to beat the car]. It’s difficult, even when appreciating the fundamental absurdity of Fawlty’s action, not to sympathize with him. Who hasn’t been frustrated and rendered semiparanoid by sundry misbehaving mechanical devices, persuaded , at least for a moment, that they were out to get us? The humor in the Fawlty Towers episode arises, in large part, from our instinctive fellow feeling with Fawlty’s hostile reaction to the inert machine and, simultaneously , our realization of the supremely inappropriate nature of that reaction . Emotionally, Basil (and we) regard the malfunctioning mechanical device as malign and evil; rationally, we (perhaps not Basil) understand that it is nothing of the kind. In a similar way, if bitten by a dog or scratched by a cat, we don’t blame the dog for biting or the cat for scratching, at least once we’ve overcome our momentary annoyance, but we would blame other people if they bit or scratched us, and, unless we’re philosophers of a particular persuasion or even when we are philosophers of a particular persuasion “after hours,” we believe that our rebuke of the biting or scratching human being is rationally warranted and is not merely an idiosyncratic irritable reaction, as it would be in the case of the cat or dog. Explanatory Pluralism To regard the nonhuman animate world or the completely inanimate world as intentional and purposeful and, more often than not, malignant is a deeply rooted, perhaps even atavistic, human tendency to which the writings of anthropologists abundantly attest. We understand from the “inside ,” as it were, how the human world works, and we have an innate tendency to export this understanding into regions where it has little (the animate world) or no (the inanimate world) purchase. The intellectual history of mankind bears eloquent testimony to the struggle to expel The Inescapability of Ethics 461 intentional explanations from the nonhuman world to make room for physically causal explanations. More recently, the intellectual history of mankind bears witness to a movement to expel such intentional explanations even from the world of human affairs and to provide physicalist explanations and only such explanations for all phenomena. We find a discussion of a very early example of anti-intentional explanatory schemes in the Phaedo, where Socrates reflects on his early life and remarks how excited he became when he heard of Anaxagoras, who, it was said, claimed that it is the mind that produces order and is the cause of everything. Eagerly, he obtained Anaxagoras’s writings, only to be severely disappointed. When it came to the crunch, Anaxagoras made no use of causation by...


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