Re: [xmca] Perceptions, Moral Judgements and Dialectics

From: Andy Blunden (
Date: Thu Dec 07 2006 - 04:57:11 PST

Very interesting post David.

I have been reading Vygotsky on "Adolescent Pedology" while this discussion
has unfolded, and I am struck by the parallels that are suggested between
moral development and learning in the narrow sense. Well, obviously more
than 'parallels', since it is self-evident that perception, thinking and
ethics are aspects of one and the same process of personal and social

Michael complains that we approach discussions about ethics only in terms
of moral laws, skipping over the deeper questions of "who am I and what
constitutes a good life anyway". But when you think about it, unless a
person has participated in a course on Moral Philosophy, it is only through
the proscriptions of the State, the Church and other institutions, putting
out laws which tell them what they ought and ought not to do, in writing
usually, that people get to know about ethical and moral **concepts**. I
mean, they develop a body hexis, values, an idea about who they are,
expectations about their life, and aspirations, loyalties, etc., etc.,
without any conscious reflection at all, soaking up parental example,
supermarket activities and TV advertisements - "Concrete thinking" or
"practical logic" in the terms of Vygotsky on "Adolescent Pedology". But in
order to *think* about ethics, this is not enough.

It is altogether a different thing when a person is required to justify
before others, what they do and why. For a start, most people do not
recognise questions of "who am I and what constitutes a good life anyway"
as moral and ethical questions at all, unless they have been taught to at
school or church or somewhere. Public discourse confines morality and
ethics to adherence to written and unwritten laws. Gorging yourself on
hamburgers is never discussed in pubic as a moral question and no-one
passes laws telling people to lead a good life. That is after all exactly
what liberalism is all about, isn't it.

I despair as David does, of a generation which lacks any ability to
regulate their own body functions and guzzle the world's resources bloating
themselves into obesity.

You say David: "I think that moral judgments are restructured by political
beliefs." I think we must all agree with you that ethics and politics are
inextricably linked, but I don't know that I agree entirely with your
ordering of the question. If we understand morality and ethics to be about
"who am I and what constitutes a good life anyway" then ethics in this form
surely *underlies* both politics and how people lead their day-to-day
lives. How on earth do you form a political position except on the basis of
a view of what constitutes a good life and where you see yourself fitting
in the various competing groups on the political stage.

While emotionally I sympathise with your reaction to Gore's limp
prescriptions to solving the problem of climate change, surely one of the
ways in which the Greens have done much better than the Reds is that they
understood that to build a movement, you have to give absolutely everyone
the opportunity to practically participate (eg by sorting their own
garbage), in order that they should go to participate in a movement
actively seeking to constrain others to also act ethically. Isn't that one
of the things we learnt from Vygotsky & Co.?


At 09:53 AM 7/12/2006 +0900, you wrote:
>I'm not sure threads EVER go to bed, David...what appears to happen is
>that occasionally disappear underground for a few miles only to well up in
>a spring somewhere or else they flow into other threads. I am going to try
>to join this thread to another one that appears to be trickling out
>(largely, I think, for lack of concrete examples) namely the one on dialectics.
>First of all, I want to suggest that, as David suggested, there is a
>relationship between perceptions and moral judgments, and that it is not
>dissimilar to the one that Luria noted between visual perception and
>logic. That is, once we begin to make moral judgements, our perceptions
>(even of how people do or do not list) become restructured accordingly,
>and non-morally mediated perception becomes extremely difficult. This is
>what I meant when I said that perception itself is part of adaptation.
>Let me give a specific example. It is not only true that my Hadendowa look
>more graceful than you or I would carrying our weight in cement. They also
>tend to look more graceful than you or I tend to look carrying our own
>weight in our own weight. There is a very low rate of obesity in Sudan, as
>can be imagined. In contrast, obesity has become such an epidemic problem
>in the USA that my little brother regularly makes a small fortune by
>stapling people's stomachs, adding bands around the lower espohagus, and
>even hooking up their upper stomachs to their upper duodenums.
>My little brother looks at obese people and sees a medical condition and
>not a moral one; his solution, therefore, is physiological. I look at the
>same people and see a moral condition rather than a medical one; I see his
>solution as replacing the normal ability of human beings to regulate
>themselves with a kind of prothesis, transforming them into cyborgs who
>are actually deprived of moral will (and many of my little brother's
>patients require a second and even third operation as a result). These
>(highly profitable) interventions are only necessary because in the USA
>the abiilty of people to develop self-regulation has been deliberately
>allowed to wither by the anti-social and pro-individual consumption
>business culture.
>Yet in an important sense we are BOTH wrong: it is neither a medical
>problem nor a moral one, because BOTH medical and moral solutions are
>individualistic. Like many moral problems which we have attempted to
>reduce downwards, to technical, health related problems (e.g. AIDS,
>smoking, reproductive choice) there is a social dimension which will not
>go away, and which can in fact only be dealt with on the political level.
>The culture of obesity was not constructed or even selected individually,
>but rather deliberately devised and imposed, in a fashion that is
>literally and not simply hyperbolically totalitarian, by the American
>ruling class.
>(One of the flabbiest moments in Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" is the
>ending. After convincing us that global warming is real, genuine, and will
>transform the entire planet's destiny in a permanent fashion for many
>lifetimes to come, we are handed a laundry list of pathetic individual
>choices, most of them having to do with buying Brand X and not Brand Y or,
>at the very most, voting for Candidate X and not Candidate Y. But
>Candidate Xs, namely Gore and his boss, were responsible for the
>legislation that created the SUV explosion.In a planned economy where
>decisions that transform the nation's destiny in a permanent fashion for
>many lifetimes to come are subject to rational social will--and even in
>China--SUVs are simply banned.)
>And this is where I join the dialectics discussion. Just as perceptions
>are restructured by judgements, I think that moral judgments are
>restructured by political beliefs, which are necessarily at a higher level
>(quantitative change transformed into a qualitative one). I think where I
>differ with Sasha (although I must confess that I am extremely partial to
>his postings, and his ability with the language--comparing "Kellogg" and
>"Colleague"--never fails to delight me) is that he assumes that the nature
>of dialectical change remains the same for both zoological activity and
>human semiotics (and perhaps even, by analogy, for morality and for
>politics). On some abstract that may be true, but it is not on that level
>that we solve actual problems.
>David Kellogg
>Seoul National University of
>xmca mailing list

  Andy Blunden : tel (H) +61 3 9380 9435, AIM
identity: AndyMarxists mobile 0409 358 651

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