All posts by Robert H. Kane

4: The Fourth Dimension

1. Inclusion and Transcendence

To many moderns, the first three dimensions of value exhaust the dimensions of human value—as the three familiar dimensions of ordinary experience exhaust the dimensions of space. What might be meant by a fourth dimension of value is not so easily described; and many thinkers would deny it exists at all. But, while the existence of a fourth dimension of value may be controversial, it seems to be presupposed by much of what humans have had to say about the good and the right.

Without such a dimension, for instance, what we call ethical or moral value would not be what most people take it to be. To say this is not to say that all value people call ethical lies in the fourth dimension. The virtues and excellences that comprise third-dimensional value (loyalty, honesty, courage, and the like) are an important part of many ancient and modern views of ethics.

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3: The Third Dimension

1. Practices, Traditions, and Ways of Life

 When we turn to a third dimension of value, we find that it includes the other two dimensions, but transcends and can override both. In this third dimension, activities and experiences are not merely viewed practically in terms of what we get from them. They are also, more importantly, viewed in terms of how they define what we are.

 In this dimension, the hunter in a primitive society does not merely hunt for food (a second-dimensional concern). He also takes pride in his skill with the bow because of what it says about his standing as a human being. The activity signi­fies that he is an excellent archer, a good provider for his family and a loyal member of his tribe. It defines what he is and his status in the world and in the community of which he is a part.

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2: The Second Dimension: Value Experiments

1. The Second Dimension of Value

In what we may call a second dimension of value, value expands outward from mere subjective experience into the realm of action and practical engagements with the world, including activities in the pursuit of purposes or interests and attachments to things and persons we care about. Some basic value experiences may be momentary, while others, such as enjoying a horseback ride, will be stretched out over time. Experience stretched out in this way is sentient life; and when this life involves purposive activity with practical goals and attachments to things cared about that go beyond mere enjoyment or pleasure, we arrive at a second dimension of value.

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1: Dimensions of Value and the First Dimension

1. The Good has Multiple Dimensions

The moral sphere theory of the previous section on Ethics is only a part of a theory of value or the good. It concerns how we should treat others in the process of living our own lives and seeking our own good. But it does not tell us beyond this what sorts of lives we should live and what other values we should strive for. It is therefore not a complete account of the good or of “how we should live.”

In seeking that more complete account, we may take a cue from the ancient Greek philosophers who meant by the study of ethics something broader than merely how we should treat others. The study of ethics meant for them a wider inquiry into the nature of the good and the good life in general. The questions for these anci­ents were not only “What obligations or duties do we have to each other?” but also “How should we live?” “What should we strive for?” “What is the best form of life?” “What ends or goals are ultimately worth pur­suing?”

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3: The Retreat

1. Another Look

The argument of the previous part can be further developed by considering an interesting thought experi­ment that throws additional light on its meaning. Suppose we’ve organized a retreat at some remote site—say a monastery in the foothills of the Himalayas—inviting people from all over the world representing different cultures, reli­gions, ideologies, and points of view about values and ways of life. Those attending are given the collective task of coming to some kind of understanding before the retreat is over about which point of view or way of life is the right one—or which are the right ones, should there be more than one.

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2: The Moral Sphere and the Search for Wisdom

1. Openness and the Search for Wisdom

One natural reaction to the challenge of pluralism and uncertainty of Part I that is com­mon in modern democratic and pluralist societies is the following. People may think to themselves that since it seems impossible to demonstrate that their view is right from their point of view (be­cause of the circularity problem mentioned) and since everyone else is in the same condi­tion, the only proper stance to take in the presence of pluralism and uncertainty is an attitude of “openness” or tole­rance toward other points of view.

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1. Pluralism and Uncertainty: The “Modern Fall”

 1. Pluralism and the Global Village

There is consi­de­rable doubt and confusion in the modern world about the existence of objec­tive values and ethi­cal standards and about how we can find them if they do exist. And many people point to these doubts and confusions about values as the source of misun­der­standing and strife in the “clash of civilizations” seen throughout the world today, often erupting into violence and terrorism, as well as in the polarization of our politics within and between na­tions.

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4. Questions, Objections and Responses

1. Objections and Responses (I): Indeterminism, Causation and Chance

You might find the preceding view of free will interesting and yet still find it hard to shake the intuition that if choices are undetermined, they must happen merely by chance—and so must be “random,” “capricious,” “uncontrolled,” “irrational,” and all the other things usually charged. Such intuitions are deeply rooted in our thinking and difficult to shake. But if we are going to understand free will, I think we have to break old habits of thought supporting such intuitions and learn to think in new ways.

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3. The Intelligibility Question

1. Modernity and Its Challenges to Free Will

Can one make sense of a nondeterminist or libertarian free will described in the preceding section without reducing it to mere chance or my­stery, and can such a free will be reconciled with modern scientific views of the world?

Many modern skeptics about such a free will think not. They believe that the traditional idea of being the ultimate source or ground of one’s will and actions is an incoherent and impos­sible ideal. And they argue that such an idea of free will is out­dated and cannot be fitted to modern images of human beings in the natural and human sciences. As one of the more famous of these modern skeptics, Friedrich Nietzsche, put it in his inimi­table prose:

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2. The Compatibility Question

1. Ultimate Responsibility and Free Will

The first question about free will that I believe requires a thorough rethinking is the Compa­tibility Question: “Is free will com­pa­tible or incompatible with determinism?”

Most historical and modern debates about this question have focused on the requirement that free agents must have “open” alternatives or alternative possibilities for action (as in the garden of forking paths). Free agents, it is said, must have the ability or power to act and the ability or power to act other­wise. So when they do act, we can say that they “could have done otherwise.” This “could have done otherwise” condition is now often referred to as the “condition of alternative possibili­ties,” or AP, for short.

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