Freedom and Limits

Freedom and Limits

JOHN LACHS
Edited by Patrick Shade
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 520
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt13x07m8
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  • Book Info
    Freedom and Limits
    Book Description:

    Freedom and Limits is a defense of the value of freedom in the context of human finitude. A contribution to the American tradition of philosophy, it focuses attention on moral problems as we encounter them in daily life, where the search for perfection and the incessant drive to meet obligations make it difficult to attain satisfaction. The book argues that uniformity is unproductive: Human natures are varied and changeable, making the effort to impose a unitary good on everyone futile. Moreover, we don't need to strive for more than what is good enough: Finite achievements should be adequate to satisfy finite people. The ultimate aim of the book is to reclaim the role of philosophy as a guide to life. In doing so, it presents discussions of such important philosophers as Fichte, Hegel, Peirce, Dewey, James, and, above all, Santayana.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-5676-1
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  5. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-16)
    Patrick Shade

    Since publishing his first article, “Consciousness and Weiss’ Mind,” in 1959, John Lachs has worked with determination and distinction to advance the philosophical discussion not only within the discipline but also in the public arena. He has published consistently and widely in both professional and public venues for over fifty years. In addition to more than 160 articles, Lachs has written ten books, with three additional volumes now in preparation. He has also collaborated with other thinkers throughout his career, translating Fichte’sWissenschaftslehrewith Peter Heath; coediting and writing a book and two articles with his wife, Shirley; and writing...

  6. PROLOGUE: The Personal Value and Social Usefulness of Philosophy
    (pp. 17-32)

    I was born on July 17, 1934, in Budapest, Hungary. There was little in my family background to suggest a future in philosophy: my father was a lumberman, and my mother, though a cultured woman, occupied herself primarily with taking care of our home. No one on either side of my family had gone to college.

    Enduring daily bombings in the Second World War, the long Soviet siege of Budapest, and the subsequent Russian occupation provided ample opportunities for the development of latent reflective tendencies: nothing jolts one into thinking about life as effectively as the sight of gratuitous violence...

  7. Part I: Mind and Reality
    • ONE THE IMPOTENT MIND
      (pp. 35-46)

      My task in this chapter is to show that epiphenomenalism cannot be disposed of in a “conclusive fashion.”¹ Epiphenomenalism is a theory that consists of two universal propositions: one about the origin of mental events and another about their causal efficacy. They are (1) every mental event has as its total cause one or a set of physical processes; and (2) no mental event is a total or a partial cause of any physical process. I leave the question of the precise distinction between the mental and the physical for another time. For our present purposes, it will suffice to...

    • TWO SANTAYANA’S PHILOSOPHY OF MIND
      (pp. 47-68)

      The history of philosophy resembles a convention of deaf-mutes. Each participant attempts to communicate the secrets of his private imagination through a swirl of silent gestures. Intent on disclosing his own insight, each is confined in his own world: He has no ear for the language of others and often little knowledge of how to make them understand his. The carnival of controversy that ensues is grotesque in the eyes of the outsider but tragic for the thoughtful participant. For in the history of philosophy, many more messages are sent than are received, and the ones that are received come...

    • THREE FICHTE’S IDEALISM
      (pp. 69-84)

      Fichte is usually classified as an idealist, yet the precise nature of his idealism is rarely examined. Idealism is frequently taken as the view that only minds and their states are real. The temper of our times is such that this theory appears to need no refutation. The suggestion that the Ohio Turnpike is nothing but a state of your mind or mine, or even of some supermind, no less than the Leibnizian idea that it consists of an infinite collection of harmonized souls, seem to us to be manifestly absurd and to warrant serious examination only of the persons...

    • FOUR PEIRCE, SANTAYANA, AND THE LARGE FACTS
      (pp. 85-96)

      Some earnest scholar will someday produce a study of the remarkable similarities between the thought of Santayana and of Peirce.¹ This is rich lode to mine. Imagine demonstrating that two major philosophers, frequently supposed as distant from one another as Ryle from relevance, share assumptions, theories, and approaches! The topic does not lend itself to an easy dissertation: any adequate treatment would require mastery of the material and the keen skill of dissecting to find matching parts. Perhaps some analytic philosopher who had tired of “could have done otherwise” and turned to the subtleties of the ontological argument will now...

    • FIVE THE TRANSCENDENCE OF MATERIALISM AND IDEALISM IN AMERICAN THOUGHT
      (pp. 97-112)

      What is unique about American philosophy? Is there anything beyond the nationality of the authors that justifies us in grouping a broad range of philosophical books as works of “American philosophy”? We shy away from talking about Afghanistani philosophy, Armenian philosophy, and even Spanish philosophy. Many would argue that, similarly, it is appropriate to talk of philosophy in America or philosophy done by Americans, but not of philosophy that is in any important way American in character.

      Yet we do not hesitate to speak of German philosophy, and when we do our minds are not empty. We understand in some...

    • SIX PRIMITIVE NATURALISM
      (pp. 113-122)

      Experience, even of a primitive sort, even the experience of primitive, untutored people, reveals a world continuous with our bodies. The hunted beast is vulnerable to our weapons; when it turns in anger, however, we are the ones endangered. The symmetry of causal influence, known to all as mutual endangerment, serves as the foundation and curse of animal life; we seek food and are food, in turn. This is the primitive naturalism of ordinary people who know, unreflectively, that they live in the same world as is populated by everybody and everything.

      This world may have surprising regions, accessible only...

  8. Part II: Self and Society
    • SEVEN TWO VIEWS OF HAPPINESS IN MILL
      (pp. 125-130)

      The enterprise of reexamining John Stuart Mill’s view of happiness may appear abortive. What, after all, is there to say? Anyone who remembers an introductory course in ethics among the blessings obtained from four years of tuition can tell you that Mill has an official view of the nature of happiness. It is a view he embraces with a loving pride reminiscent of the way in which old men talk of their diseases. There is simply no mistaking what he thinks. “By happiness is intended plea sure and the absence of pain,” he says, and “by unhappiness, pain and privation...

    • EIGHT QUESTIONS OF LIFE AND DEATH
      (pp. 131-138)

      On a cold night in February, our bitch—part black Labrador, part husky, part German shepherd—gave birth to eleven puppies. The litter showed the eclectic taste of our dog: in addition to nine predominantly black pups, we had one beige and one off-white. Eight of the nine black dogs were fine; the ninth seemed smaller, slower, weaker. Within twelve hours, it was also colder than the others, and the bitch rejected it.

      Almost automatically, we swung into action. We placed the pup in a heated box, fed it milk from a bottle, listened with concern to its every moan....

    • NINE ON SELLING ORGANS
      (pp. 139-144)

      To those with a diagnostic ear, the question “Should a person be allowed to sell his kidney?” is oddly reminiscent of questions like “Should a ten-year-old girl be allowed to wear lipstick?” Questions of this latter sort, it is good to remind ourselves, used to be asked and debated seriously not so many years ago. Paternalism in government and paternalism in the home are intimately connected. In fact, the growth of parental permissiveness may well be a result of the growing dominance of the public sector: If we let government set our goals and provide our education, why should we...

    • TEN A COMMUNITY OF PSYCHES: Santayana on Society
      (pp. 145-158)

      Readers of Santayana know frustration and delight. To the literate among us, little gives greater joy than to be borne by a rich current of words to insights that burst on us like the morning light. Yet, much in Santayana’s fabric of thought dissatisfies. Some think him too poetic, others too deeply devoted to reason and to science. Positivists find him too metaphysical, metaphysicians too positivistic. Stern moralists condemn him for having embraced an aesthetic or spiritual life; religious people bemoan that he is not spiritual enough.

      Perhaps one could explain these frustrations as due mainly to our natural hope...

    • ELEVEN THE COST OF COMMUNITY
      (pp. 159-172)

      After the shipwreck, Robinson Crusoe lived alone on his Island of Despair for twenty-five years. He built his own house, made his own clothes, hunted, raised corn, and milked his goats; he did everything necessary to sustain life and to satisfy it by himself. He had to make his own decisions concerning safety and the future; having made them, he had to carry them out. Even the luxury of a comfortable adopted theology was denied him. His interpretation of the Bible and of his own condition, though conventional from the standpoint of the society that bred him, was spun with...

    • TWELVE PUBLIC BENEFIT, PRIVATE COST
      (pp. 173-200)

      We live in a broken world and know not how to mend it. People downtown approach in fear; neighbors view each other with suspicion. Parents see their children as strangers in the house, and we are isolated in human company. The sources of power are hidden from almost everyone, and we feel drawn to symbolic, defiant, single acts. The daily life of the nation appears to consist of disconnected events without purpose and lasting issue. No one understands how our efforts unite to make a greater whole and why our best hopes are abandoned or else dashed. In prior years...

    • THIRTEEN LEAVING OTHERS ALONE
      (pp. 201-216)

      Imagine a world in which there is only one sort of fruit, say, apples. There are, of course, several types of apples, yellow and red delicious, Jonathan and Granny Smith; occasionally, one even encounters a bad apple. The people in this world learn to appreciate apples, eating them raw and baking them, flavoring them, juicing them, turning them into sauce and making them into filling for wonderful pies. As a result of their cultivation, apples become available in a surprising variety of flavors and as ingredients in a bewildering array of dishes.

      What should we say of these people? First,...

  9. Part III: Pluralism and Choice-Inclusive Facts
    • FOURTEEN RELATIVISM AND ITS BENEFITS
      (pp. 219-230)

      Perhaps it is our animal urge for security that turns us into dogmatists in manners and morals. As dogmatists, we live in glorious and safe ignorance of alternatives; we find it not unlikely but actually inconceivable that a style of life and a form of behavior—perhaps even a mode of dress and a fashion of wearing hair—different from ours could have any legitimacy or value. Being essentially insecure, the dogmatist pounces with fury upon each innocent change and contrary current; he senses danger, opposition, or conspiracy everywhere, and fights each deviation from his norms as if his life...

    • FIFTEEN THE ELEMENT OF CHOICE IN CRITERIA OF DEATH
      (pp. 231-250)

      Death is easier to undergo than to understand. It comes unbidden, or we can attain it with minimal effort. Yet, the willfulness of human nature makes it difficult for us to settle for the easy; we want understanding of it, not the experience.

      Thought begins with the silent assumption that words reveal the world; the unitary noun “death” must, therefore, be the name of a single phenomenon. Since we can readily distinguish living persons from decomposing bodies, it is natural to suppose that death is something interposed between these two, a happening that rends the smile of life and reduces...

    • SIXTEEN HUMAN NATURES
      (pp. 251-266)

      If I drive south from Nashville, Tennessee, in less than ten hours I will run upon a large body of water. The existence of this sea is an objective fact: It was there before the first human being swam in it, it is there when no one beholds it, it will likely be there when we evacuate the earth and move on to pollute other planets. Even if, following some bizarre conception, a mad dictatorship denied its existence, its waves would continue to wash its shores, its fish would still frolic over oyster beds. I offer no comprehensive theory of...

    • SEVENTEEN PERSONS AND DIFFERENT KINDS OF PERSONS
      (pp. 267-276)

      Among the neglected treasures of American philosophy, Borden Parker Bowne shines with the regal color of the amethyst. The color mix is rich, pulling hues from divergent parts of the spectrum, but always warm, favoring humane, even spiritual, interests. It was not by accident that amethyst became the symbol of spiritual authority and found its way into the rings of bishops. Its message is that the ordinary world of physical existence and a deeper, personal, moral reality intersect. We live at the crossroads and must choose. Even if we reject full ecclesiastical hierarchy, as Bowne was apt to do, the...

    • EIGHTEEN GRAND DREAMS OF PERFECT PEOPLE
      (pp. 277-286)

      Male cats mate happily with any female in heat in the neighborhood. Something similar occurs in colleges as nearness and availability overwhelm all other considerations. So we see young men and women marry people who happen to be at hand when the time is ripe.

      Yet, there is an important difference between cats and humans. Even young people in a hurry to mate select those they view as the best among available partners. This suggests that they take an interest in their future and often even in that of their offspring. The standard by which they measure what is best...

    • NINETEEN PHILOSOPHICAL PLURALISM
      (pp. 287-300)

      Philosophy is the only human enterprise that has created a field of study out of puzzlement over its method of operation. Nearly from the time of the earliest practitioners, philosophers wondered about how they could do what they were doing and frequently even about what they were doing in the first place. Of course, there always were unselfconscious souls who pursued what was of interest to them without concern for method or the arbitrary limits of fields of study. But such people tended to be labeled amateurs and dismissed as lacking technical sophistication. This left philosophy in the hands of...

  10. Part IV: Meaningful Living
    • TWENTY TO HAVE AND TO BE
      (pp. 303-312)

      In an incident Aesop did not record, three animals were lamenting their fate. “If only I had more to eat,” said the pig, and he imagined himself buried under an avalanche of fragrant victuals. “If only I had shorter hours and less work,” complained the ass as he rubbed his aching back. “If only people had more things and I greater skill to steal them,” whispered the fox, for he did not want to be found out.

      The God Zeus, known for his cruel sense of humor, heard their complaints and decided to grant the animals what they desired. The...

    • TWENTY-ONE DRUGS: THE FALLACY OF AVOIDABLE CONSEQUENCES
      (pp. 313-318)

      Why not use drugs? If mescaline makes life more interesting or more bearable, if marijuana gives please and enhances personal relations, if even a tiny amount of LSD opens new vistas for the mind and creates undreamed intensities of awareness, why should we refrain from their judicious and controlled use?

      There is a growing consensus that, our hysterical laws on the subject notwithstanding, we have a right to use drugs, even if they are lethal, so long as this results in no harm to others. In a pluralistic society, each man must be allowed to determine his own good and...

    • TWENTY-TWO LOVING LIFE
      (pp. 319-330)

      Young dogs, sniffing and tumbling at the entrance of a mall, quickly attract a crowd. Full of energy but uncoordinated, they crash into shoes, lick the fingers that scratch them, stumble off the curb. Dignified businessmen catch a glimpse of the delight and smile as they move on. Young girls stop to hug the balls of fur; salesclerks watch the squirming puppies and the girls. The dogs are so alive that their vibrancy transfixes everyone. Seeing such innocent, unreflective bliss blots out all worries and fills us with joy in life.

      Up and down the street, throughout the city, everywhere...

    • TWENTY-THREE ARISTOTLE AND DEWEY ON THE RAT RACE
      (pp. 331-346)

      Aristotle put his stamp on the history of Western thought by inventing the concepts of activity and process. That is not the only way in which he exercised a formative influence over much subsequent philosophy nor are these the only novel concepts that flowed from his fertile mind. But these ideas became cornerstones of a distinguished series of metaphysical systems. They also came to articulate a vision of the good life or the life proper for humans.

      The observation underlying the distinction between activity and process is that some actions appear to be complete while others seem to point beyond...

    • TWENTY-FOUR IMPROVING LIFE
      (pp. 347-362)

      In an otherwise astonishingly abstract and tedious essay, Harry Frankfurt argues for the interesting thesis that the unidirectional relation between means and ends is insupportable.¹ He points out that Aristotle, the father of the Western tradition of thought concerning means and ends, maintained that means are valuable only for their tendency to bring about desirable ends, while ends are valuable in and of themselves. The relation is asymmetrical because means derive their value from the ends to which they lead, but ends gain no benefit from the relationship.

      Frankfurt argues, by contrast, that even if ends do not profit from...

    • TWENTY-FIVE STOIC PRAGMATISM
      (pp. 363-376)

      Whatever specific beliefs pragmatists share concerning experience, knowledge, value, and meaning, they generally agree that a central part of the business of life is to make life better. James speaks of the ideal of meeting all needs, Royce of defeating evil, and Dewey of making experience richer and more secure. They are at one in thinking that human intelligence can make a vast difference to how well we live, and they extol the possibility of improving our circumstances. They tend to be dissatisfied with the status quo and see indefinitely sustained amelioration as the solution to our problems.

      Stoics, in...

    • TWENTY-SIX PRAGMATISM AND DEATH
      (pp. 377-386)

      The ameliorative strategy to life that is the hallmark of pragmatism fails, critics say, because it cannot deal with the ultimate fact of death. It is not altogether clear what “dealing with death” means, that is, what critics expect pragmatists to do about the termination of life. Stoics supposedly know what to do about death, namely accept it without complaint. Deeply believing Christians also know what to do when it comes time to die: they make a last confession, commend their souls to God and pass away in the faith that they will meet their maker face to face.

      Neither...

  11. Part V: Human Advance and Finite Obligation
    • TWENTY-SEVEN THE RELEVANCE OF PHILOSOPHY TO LIFE
      (pp. 389-398)

      When the time came for our children to receive their oral polio vaccine, we took them to their pediatrician. Surprisingly, the first question the doctor asked was whether the parents themselves had had their medicine-soaked sugar cubes. Noting the puzzlement in our eyes, he explained that he viewed his job not as the narrow one of taking care of a few children, but as a broader mandate to promote public health. He was convinced, he said, that the well-being of young people is inseparable from the quality of their environment and that it is difficult, therefore, if not impossible, to...

    • TWENTY-EIGHT BOTH BETTER OFF AND BETTER: Moral Progress Amid Continuing Carnage
      (pp. 399-412)

      To victims of twentieth-century atrocities, my argument may seem sinister and hollow. To intellectuals who equate sophistication with cynicism, it will appear naive and perhaps shallow. To seekers after perfection who find each number wanting because it falls shy of the infinite, it will be a lesson in futility. But to the rest of us, what I have to say may serve as a useful reminder of how fortunate we are to live today and not even just a few hundred years ago. It may also evoke reasonable hopes for the future and establish a standard by which to measure...

    • TWENTY-NINE EDUCATION IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
      (pp. 413-424)
      Shirley M. Lachs

      The fast pace of the modern world has at last defeated the risk-aversive conservatism of the human soul. We have come to accept, to expect, and even to welcome change. For a while, sound business practice was described as “management of change” and periodic alterations in product line, advertising, and the appearance of things have become standard, though by no means always effective, marketing techniques.

      Surprisingly, the conversion of universities to primarily business institutions has not imbued them with this veneration of change. The marketing efforts of institutions of higher education have moved in line with the state of the...

    • THIRTY LEARNING ABOUT POSSIBILITY
      (pp. 425-434)

      The physical world is a vastly complex place; human institutions, history, and traditional practices make it even more involuted. It takes the young many years to learn to operate in this environment. They get everything they know from others and from personal experience, but much more from the former because the latter is slow and limited in scope. Every human being we meet is in one way or another our teacher, conveying valuable information about the forces that surround us. But some humans educate us systematically or as a matter of their profession: their job is to teach us about...

    • THIRTY-ONE MORAL HOLIDAYS
      (pp. 435-448)

      Let me begin with what may well be fighting words. Josiah Royce’s intellect was doggedly one-directional; William James’s mind, by contrast, showed signs of playful creativity. His relentless focus on evil places Royce among the most serious of philosophers; one can imagine him thinking with gritted teeth. James, on the other hand, displays moments of winking fun, such as when he invents the idea of moral holidays.

      In his usual fashion, James does not spend much time explaining what moral holidays are. Aiming his comments at Royce, he assails the role of the Absolute in the moral life: if our...

    • THIRTY-TWO GOOD ENOUGH
      (pp. 449-458)

      No matter how well things go for us, we tend to dream of ways in which they could go better. Our love affair with the perfect may be an expression of Western restlessness or, more generally, the result of human desires in overdrive, but it unquestionably structures much of what we hope for and work to achieve. We want not onlymoreof everything, but alsomore perfect versionsof the goods we have and the experiences we enjoy. We seem to think that the world falls short of the ideal and that therefore everything needs to be improved.

      This...

  12. EPILOGUE: Physician Assisted Suicide
    (pp. 459-474)

    A persistent weakness of bioethics discussions is their abstraction. A nameless individual or someone designated by a capitalized letter, without personal background and value commitments, is supposed to have drifted into the emergency room and presents us with a thorny moral problem. The age and gender of the individual are indicated, and his/her condition is described in a neat paragraph. That is all we know of the “case,” and that is supposed to be enough to come to a medically defensible and morally conscientious decision.

    Physicians in emergency rooms may encounter such cases, but this way of presenting moral problems...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 475-484)
  14. Further Reading
    (pp. 485-494)
  15. Index
    (pp. 495-500)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 501-502)