Plato was concerned that there be an objective truth to values,
that the absolute Good could be known with objective certainty to
distinguish what is right from what is wrong. While the Sophists,
the relativists, spoke of values in a conventional way, a way made
up by the social body agreement. But for Plato, the Good was an
objective knowing, and not merely what is believed and accepted.
The Truth is a greater idea (or ideal) than truth as merely socially
accepted belief. There appeared to be a presumption in that school
that absolute standards for truth and goodness could be comprehended
or defined.
Yet, a different interpretation of the absolutist doctrine could
be that Truth and Goodness are ideals to approach, that is, ideals
of knowledge. These primary concepts were thought to be forms of
questions and knowing, forms forming the essential structure of the
human psyche, much like the gods and goddesses. and these higher
forms of knowing were pre-inherent in the soul or psyche, and so
attainable by the philosopher, the lover of wisdom. So, in the final
analysis, such forms of wisdom were intuitively realized, through
re-collecting the psyche.
For Plato, truth and knowledge exists before minds discover it.
And this true knowledge can be comprehended directly, because we are
in and of the truth. Truth is the ideal to which the mind strives,
and this truth is essentially of the mind and not necessarily found
in the world, though truth is potentially in the world. So the mind
can comprehend the truth because the mind is essentially formed of
the truth. Truth is the ideal form of mind, the ideal knowing.
There may be some question in Plato whether he placed more emphasis
on intuition or reason. I think he found reason to be a guide to
truth, since truth must be reasonable, and reason can find the
faults of misconceptions, but the truth must finally be known
If reasoning could not derive the absolute Good, then all that
we are left with, it would seem, would be our instinct for knowing
the Good, and this `instinct' could either be a direct intuition or
mere cultural conditioning. Plato thought that man could directly
intuit, or recollect, the Truth and the Good, and what propelled
man to such heights of wisdom was the spirited desire for knowing
the Truth, in this case moral truth. So the necessary virtue for
acquiring moral knowledge is, first of all, the desire for such
wisdom, presupposing, of course, the existence of such objective
In order to act ethically, or make ethical decisions, and in
order to be a moral being, moral knowledge is necessary. Right
knowledge makes right character and right action. Right knowledge is
the necessary precondition. Since this knowledge is already perfect
and formed within the human psyche, and since this knowledge is
essentially tied to the development of good moral character, the
person is potentially and essentially a good moral character. The
development, or actualization, of this good character will require
self-contemplation, `recollection', or `remembrance', following the
prescription of `know thyself'. Goodness is deep in the heart of
each person, according to Plato, and all we need is to desire it and
come to know or `recollect' it. The good man has knowledge of the
Good, or knowledge of his true nature. Therefore, Plato's ethics is
essentially a virtue ethic, whereby good moral decision proceeds
from the character possessing the ability, or `virtue', to know what
is right, which is a direct knowing, a special form of knowing, a
moral kind of knowledge.
Yet, how do we know the difference between true intuition of the
good and false opinion of the good? Somehow, the objective knowing
of the good through direct insight needs to distinguish itself from
mere cultural conditioning. Only the wise can know what is true
knowledge, and yet one needs true knowledge in order to be wise. An
epistemological problem arises because one could not recognize what
is true knowledge unless one already knew it; but then, one would
have needed to know that he already knew it.
Also, the acquisition, or recollection, of knowledge requires
the desire for it. That desire is a moral virtue. But to have this
desire presupposes that I have the insight that true knowledge is
inherent (or available to comprehend), and that insight is a
knowledge in itself. This problem is partially solved by the theory
that each person is born with some degree of inherent desire for
true knowledge, which propels them in their life-time to the
comprehension of that universal knowledge.
Being good depends on knowledge of the good; yet, knowledge of
the good depends on a good-will to know the good. A good-will is
necessary to find knowledge of the good which is necessary to be
good. This is not completely circular, though, since the desire for
knowing and being good is the first step, even though this desire
presupposes being good, to some extent. Yet, this does not
presuppose the ability to DO good, but only the virtue of
good-desire or good-will or the intention to know and be good. Being
`morally good' is a general notion having different stages of
virtue. First is having good desire or intent. The second is the
virtue of being able to know and distinguish the good which is
required for good moral decisions. And the third stage is the
ability to act good, which requires the second stage that requires
the first.
Is there some property or properties which are essential to all
good knowledge or good acts? When asked what is good one can give
various examples of what is good, but these each carry with them
their own unique contexts. Yet, if we cannot recognize what is
essentially common to these various examples, then how are we to
recognize them as good? How do these examples fall into the
categorical (or logical) form of `good'? This was Plato's query.
There are basically three possible answers to this question. Either
we recognize in these examples the essential or a sufficient
property of the good, or we just directly intuit them to be good,
or we just assume them to be good because of our cultural moral
education or because we believe some authority.
Now, how can we know an essential property of the good? If we
discover this in `good people', or discover good from the good in
the world, then we might ask how we assumed those people or facts to
be `good'. We cannot ground knowledge of the good in discovered
facts about the world or people, because the good is an ideal to
approach and cannot be limited to facts. Facts are meant to
approach the ideal, from the moral view, so facts cannot define the
ideal. How, then, is this ideal derived or discovered? Either
intuitively or by reason. One could claim that the recognition of
goodness is immediate and intuitive by the moral man, that the "good
man" is the man possessing such intuitive powers for recognizing the
good. Another view could be that some essential conditions of the
good can be determined in some logically set manner, and so give
justification to moral claims.
Either way, knowledge of the good is thought to be objective.
This objectivity does not necessarily mean that the Good is some
substantial property in actual things or actions. The property may
be relationally dependent on the agent's intent, or on the action's
consequences, or on how the action harmonizes (or coheres) with
other actions. Of course, there would be `something' within or
about a particular thing or act that is of the Good, or which is
recognized as "good".
Plato considered goodness as a `form' of knowing or as the ideal
value of which things and events participate in to some degree. The
form of goodness is a form of knowing, or a form of recognition.
Plato's forms are not material substances found in the world or in
events. Things and events are known as being of the form of good.
So, the good is not a material essence; it's an essential form of
objective knowledge. Another interpretation in this vein is that the
form of the good is form of being itself, that is, a form of being
man, a form of virtue, an actualized ability to comprehend and
recognize the good.
Value is not objective in the sense that it does not depend upon
the mind. We cannot say that value exists independently of the mind,
as we might say of trees, but this does not mean value is `merely'
or `just' subjective. Value is a valuation `made' by the mind or
agent, but this doesn't mean it is just "made up" because there
could be a sense of it being `found', or even `recollected'. Also,
value could depend on the person but it doesn't have to follow that
value is merely relative to each person. Even if different people
were to value differently, there could still be objective
truth-value. People could be value wrongly. The epistemological
problem is that we would need to have some criteria for knowing who
is right and who is wrong, or who holds (or has found) the true
value. But how would we arrive at this criteria? How can the
criteria be justified? We still need a criteria or definition of

The naturalistic move is to claim that whatever most healthy and
`normal' people consider as good is good, assuming
there are at least some general agreements. This is the empirical
appeal, which reduces the epistemological problem to questions of
social science. Kant was one who fought against such moves and
claimed that what `ought' to be, or what is ideal, cannot be merely
derived from what `is'. We can't just claim that the good is
realized by looking at good people, or at the majority of people.
The majority could very well be wrong and we cannot find "good
people" without first knowing the good that justifies their claim at
being good. Plato believed we cannot merely look about in the world
for our ideals, since the world presents us with mere attempts at
ideals, or with incomplete actualizations of this ideal-potential.
Other philosophers tried to logically arrive at the necessary
conditions for knowing or intuiting or feeling what is truly good.
These are conditions of attitude, such as "disinterestedness" and
"sympathy" (or engrossment), which are two main notions that I will
call "impartial concern". Maybe there is no way to find the essence
of the good, or maybe the essence cannot be stated but only
recognized. Maybe all this depends on already having the capacity to
know the good, like a moral sense. So maybe the best we can do is
to define the necessary subjective conditions for it being known,
instead of the necessary objective conditions for something being
Impartial concern could be a necessary subjective condition for
realizing what is good, but there appears to be, given empirical
fact, no guarantee that such preconditions necessarily lead to good
action, so such preconditions, or attitudes, are not sufficient for
good action. Impartial concern may be the essence of good intent,
but Kant claimed that good moral intent required good moral
reasoning as well. Whether we need some special moral reasoning, or
if special moral concern is sufficient for the qualification of
`moral intent', is a modern debate, and I'll consider the reasoning
of the debate in just a bit.

Aristotle logically presupposed an ultimate ideal of "happiness"
or "well-being" or "fulfillment". However we wish to name this
ultimate Goal in life, it is not limited to what "feels good", or
even to being healthy, or even to be very knowledgeable. For
Aristotle, the ultimate Good is a final, end-in-itself ideal, as the
logical purpose for man, the ideal possible actualization of man's
potential, which requires sufficient intention and effort. This is
a logical concept, so Aristotle does not need to commit to any
particular condition or occurrence as being the ultimate Goal. He
just says it is logically necessary that there be an ideal state of
man's being, not as a predetermined substance or eternal form, but
as the ultimate potential of man, the ultimate of what man is
capable. All good desires and good aims of man must be instrumental
to this final aim, according to this logical relation. But not all
desires and aims are equal in their instrumental value. Some
succeed better than others, and the ultimate Ideal may require a bit
of balancing and reconciling various instrumental activities.
A problem then arises with such a logical Ideal that cannot be
empirically pinned down. That is, any name or psychological state
attributed to it could not be a sufficient condition for the
definition. And since no one kind of action or condition is ever
enough to ultimately `satisfy' or `fulfill' the whole man, not even
the highest action which is contemplation; we are left with the aim
to be all we can be, forever suspicious that there might be more to
one's ultimate fulfillment. And there is also a problem here with
judging the instrumental value of various activities when the Aim to
which they ought to be instrumental is insufficiently defined. How
can I know what activities are good if I have yet to know the end to
which they are supposed to be good for? So the question remains as
to how we can know what is good.
In order to make any value judgements we first need to make some
defined commitments as to what is necessary for my `well-being', or
what constitutes `well-being', or what IS `well-being'. Is it a
healthy body, an alert and witty mind, a peaceful but courageous
temperament? Is it being wise, feeling pleasure, being in caring
relations? It may be all of these and more, but don't I need to
know what is necessary and if there is some combination or
integration which can be said to be sufficient for well-being? And
how will I know this well-being? Through a feeling or a
contemplation or reasoning? Maybe all we can say is that we have a
plurality of primary goals which are realized in various ways, in
which some have something in common while others appear to be
contradictory or in conflict.
Aristotle would say that in spite of these arguments there must
logically be one ultimate aim to which all these meaningful goals
lead. But this is merely a logical relation between the final end
and all other ends which must be means to that final end. It does
not give us any empirical clues or references for judging what
exactly are good ends, or how to know if one fulfilled the final
end. This final end does not help us know what is good, for it is
merely claiming that there must be some final good or an ideal end
to which good action fulfills. I still need to decide somehow what
are the most valuable aims in my life, and if I experience
incompatible desires I need to figure how to reconcile or balance
Aristotle thinks we need to use reason to solve these problems.
Practical reason is the rational ability to efficiently fulfill the
ultimate aim. It is useful in organizing, ordering and calculating
the instrumental means toward some end. Here, reason is used to
find the best proportions and combinations of virtues/capacities for
the final Aim. But as I have shown, this final aim has no empirical
reference. It cannot be formally defined (or at least decided
upon). Yet, we need to define one or some of the aims in order for
us to know what we are calculating and proportioning toward, and
reason cannot define this, except logically. Practical reason can
only link causes, instrumental values and consequences. It can only
find How-to and Why, but cannot tell us What-for. It cannot tell us
the instrinsic value to which instrumental values might lead. Reason
cannot tell me what is most important as an end-in-itself.
Aristotle believes the rational desire must dominate or organize
the other desires. In fact, this is the function of the rational -
to organize the other functions or virtues, noting that all virtues
are functional toward some greater end. Desires are mechanical and
the only "reasoning" in them is the practical knowledge of how to
actualize itself. So `higher reason' is needed to reconcile,
balance and organize the various "narrow-minded" desires, which
would otherwise `think only for themselves'. The practical reason
helps find pathways to ideal happiness, which is assumed to require
a balance of the desires and natural dispositions. The ultimate (and
logical) balance would be between indulgence and suppression of all
desires, a kind of temperance where no one desire can completely
eliminate or dominate the others. The well-being of man would be
the well-balanced life. The good life would be actualization of all
potentials, though without excess, to be un-attached to any desire
but at the same time not indifferent, to somehow preserve the
passion(s) while not letting them tyrannize the whole being, to
maximize freedom of desires and virtues while minimizing the harm
they might do to oneself and others.
Aristotle also believed that good action, and a good moral
character, depended on good or bad habits. This doesn't solve the
logical need to define and ground the `good' in good habits, but it
is a psychological recognition that goodness of character and action
does not just depend on a sufficient moral knowledge. Knowledge,
especially practical knowledge, is needed in actualizing good
decision and action, and yet psychological or behavioral habits are
inertic forces that must be reckoned with. Knowing what is good [to
do] is not necessarily enough! Not enough for the knowledge to
transfer to action. Habits may be in the way. Behavior may be more
inertic than thought. Actual behavior is different from thinking
about it, and it may require intermediate abilities or properties.
Habits of the various desires (passions) must be reconciled
with, not only within practical thought, but in doing as well. And
when action gains consistency in being directed by reason, then this
becomes good habit, since such repeated and developed behavior has
good reason behind it, practical reason in that it is justified by
how practical the behavior serves an intrinsic good or teleological
aim. Good [moral] behavioral habits are developed by consistent
practice, and they are noted from other habits by their practical
efficient means to the goals we seek, primarily the goal of
happiness. Whether such a hedonistic ideal is logically a moral
ideal as well is a matter of moral debate. It would seem that the
aim to which good moral practice serves, and which justifies the
qualification of good, in this sense, ought to be essentially a
moral aim, one which is defined not merely by one's [hedonistic]
Yet, such an apparent hedonism is tempered with an expanded view
of self happiness, which necessarily involves others or a social
body. Aristotle sees cooperation and social justice as positive
values for self-happiness. Whereas Hobbes saw social cooperation in
a negative way, where humans would need cooperation, social contract
and obligation in order to protect themselves from the self-hedonism
of others. For Hobbes, social obligation is a necessary constraint
that all must agree with, so that man's natural instincts for
pleasure and acquisition do not lead to violence. One is not
considering the pleasures, happiness, or justice of others, except
as a rational means to the overall preservation of a society of
But Aristotle sees justice as grounded in man's sympathetic
nature and his need to cooperate justly with those participating in
a similar social body. I think he also could view justice, or
social good, as a practical necessity to self happiness. This
practicality could then be viewed either in Hobbes' negative manner
or in Aristotle's better, more positive view of man. Both Hobbes and
Aristotle see cooperation and justice in terms of individual
prosperity, as instrumental to individual happiness; but for Hobbes
this is a rational constraint on human instinct, while for Aristotle
these are efficient means to enhancing the field-possibilities for
That `self' is not an isolated abstract from some world-at-hand,
or from a social and physical environmental context. The
individual`s life is a life lived within and concerning some world
or environment. The individual self either takes unreciprocaly from
that world or it gives according to need, or it is nurtured from its
relation there in. The classical ideal was a harmonious and
prosperous world of harmonious and prosperous people. The world and
the people re-making that world are intimately related. They are
intrinsically related because person and world both need the other
in their respective definition and understanding. Person is
person-in-world (the question is `what world?') and world (or
environment) is the context made of that collection of persons and
The individual is primary over society, and society is thought
to be instrumental to the individual's well-being. Even though
instrinsic value is individualistic, the value of the individual is
intimately connected with the value of society and other people. The
Aristotelian man is not merely hedonistic and self-concerned,
because his actualization and completion is dependent on other
people and the whole of the social environment. Man is, by nature,
social and political, and our virtues are fulfilled in society or in
interaction with others, so `happiness' has to include others.
Yet, this claim of social dependence does not necessarily
convince me that I ought to care for all others or even care that
others fulfill anything other than what I need them to do for my
happiness. My own self-happiness is still primary in this ethic, so
the value of social concern and justice depends on the benefit to
the primary concern which is me. Only that social cooperation which
serves my happiness is given value. If a certain act is expected to
serve the society but not myself, then does it have ethical value?
Not if any value depends on its worth to the primary goal of
Is there, then, a logical relation between my self-happiness and
the well-being of society? The relation is not logical, because a
society could prosper at the expense of myself, while I could
prosper at the expense of others. But the ideal ethical relation
between self and society would necessarily tie together. That is
the ideal, but not necessarily the actual. In actuality, the
individual identity and happiness is often tied to society's, and
vice versa, but not always or necessarily. It may be true that I am
tied to some social context, as the social reality I actualize
within, but I'm not essentially tied to all the people within a
large social context since many could die without eliminating some
`necessary' social context. Even those people who are part of my
social concern, my particular social world, might become mere
instruments to my wishes and self-happiness. Aristotle does say,
though, that we Need friendship which is an equal relation and not a
slave-master relation, and that we expand our own happiness through
an empathy for other's happiness. This sounds convincing but only
up to a point, since I could indeed care deeply for a few friends
(and how many can you practically have?) while neglecting everyone
I accept my own intrinsic worth and ultimately value my own
fulfillment, but there are no binding reasons for me to value others
equally as I value myself. To believe, as Aristotle, that social
justice is intimately tied to my own well-being may be true up to a
point, but this "necessary connection" does not appear too strong,
since the community might flourish as a whole while I still suffer,
and my self-sacrifice for the community might not necessarily pay
off for me (except maybe karmicaly or in heaven), and it is
certainly possible for me to personally flourish, albeit with a few
friends, while depleting community resources.
We could logically move from the intuition of my-self intrinsic
worth to the intrinsic worth of all selves. Since my self-happiness
is primary, so then is the happiness of others. And then one might
weigh the worth of all selves, including my-self. Thus, the ethical
decision would depend on a calculation of self-happiness, though not
exclusively, nor primarily, my own. From here, we could hypothesize
two philosophical routes. Either we add together all the values of
self-happiness, including my own, to determine an ethical value, or
we give special worth to greater values of self-happiness, such that
higher, more worthy experiences of happiness are primary over lesser
fulfillments. The first route is egalitarian and based on equal
individual happiness worth. The second route could be aristocratic,
because it is based on a hierarchy of happiness value, so that an
elite group actualizing their fulfillment, at higher or more complete
levels, would have greater value than a larger majority group being
fulfilled on lesser, more primitive levels.

Hume argued that reason could not discover moral value, and that
reason cannot persuade one of ultimate, intrinsic values. Values
are founded on feeling, specifically moral feelings, in answer to
the question of "How do we know what is good?" Reasoning has no
foundation for deriving intrinsic value or the ethical base value.
Reasoning is only essentially instrumental in making hypothetical
causal connections or teleological connections, and reasoning can
determine the coherency of logical or analytical connections. For
Hume, what is essential to moral decision, and what defines it, is
not a moral reasoning but a moral sensibility. But what is this
sensibility? It doesn't tell us what is morally `good' or `right',
in the sense of an objective property or objective truth, for it is
the resulting response of a kind of sympathetic sensitivity. So,
moral `good' is re-defined from being a property, proposition, or
law, to being an ability or response of a natural [moral]
Hume's `moral sense', a dispositional concept already vaguely
used by previous moral philosophers, is more than just a good-will
or a desire to be good. It is a faculty of moral judgement, a
natural sense for knowing what is right and good. Though for Hume,
this is not an intuitive faculty for comprehending the notions of
objective good, nor for recognizing what can legitimately fit in
such a category of `the good', because the moral sense is a
non-rational sympathetic nature. So, this moral sense is not
identical to Plato's intuition of objective, true Good. It is
not a recognition of the Idea or Ideal of Good, nor is it a
recognition of the essential objective property of goodness. `The
good' is being re-defined here in a distinctly empirical fashion, in
that the exercise of this sympathetic nature is all that can be
expected of ethical rightness. Rational justifications for ethical
truth are ungrounded, so all we can morally do is to listen and
exercise this sympathetic sense. In the final analysis, this
sympathetic sense, and not reason, will define what is morally good.
Hume believed that moral knowledge consisted just of a feeling
of either attraction or repulsion, of pleasure or pain, of + or -,
and this feeling is then comprehended as a `good' or `bad' moral
feeling. And thus, the concept of `good' is essentially tied to the
positive feeling of one's sympathetic nature. We have this feeling
that something or an action is good or bad, which is essentially a
good feeling about something. From this sympathetic sense, `X'
feels good or not. And we naturally desire more of the good [moral]
feeling rather than the bad (painful or repulsive) feelings, so this
moral sense also motivates us to seek out that good feeling by good
ethical action and supporting others doing likewise. Since moral
action gives us this `moral pleasure' it follows that we would want
to behave morally in order to feel more of this.
The next question is, then, what kinds of action or consequences
promote those good feelings when in the sympathetic attitude or from
sympathetic sensing. And the answer to this question of `what kind'
would be discovered by the empiricist through psychological studies,
and not reason and not intuition. A problem with such a study,
though, is to find people with healthy and well developed moral
sensitivities, and the other problem is in distinguishing `moral'
feelings/pleasures from other kinds. The philosophical problems of
kinds and definitions/criterias do not disappear in the empirical
What is this good feeling? How is this distinguished from other
kinds of good feeling? Moral pleasure is not the same as other
pleasures. One does not `need' to feel tingly sensual all over in
order to identity what is good, and such sensual pleasure is not
sufficient for the moral qualification. This moral pleasure, this
feeling is of a distinct type, that is, of the `moral' type. It is
a moral sense, a moral feeling, a moral pleasure, as distinct from
other kinds of pleasure. Yet, simple naming does not help us
identify the distinction between moral and non-moral pleasures (or
good feelings). Many kinds of emotion can be experienced as
pleasurable or positive. And the qualification of the `moral'
distinction requires justification.
One proposed solution is that we acquire a better and better
`sense' of what is a moral feeling from what is a hedonistic
feeling, or that we `learn' to know the difference. But this either
adds another problematic `sense' to an already questionable one, or
it is begging the question of how to know the difference between
moral affinity and any other kind of affinity. For to know the
difference, one would need to test the feeling with some presupposed
standard of goodness. How could I know the difference of senses, or
resulting feelings, if I did not already know or assume what is
morally good or just selfish? A similar problem arises with
following God's Will, or religious authority, or one's own
`conscience' (which is moral sense); that is, one can't for certain
know if this IS God's Will, or a true authority of God, or true
conscience, without first having a standard of judgement as to what
is good. The arguments become circular.
The problem with a moral sense is that one is forced to have
faith in it, since there is no way to verify the truth of it or know
if it is being exercised. And even with faith in a moral sense, we
would need to know the difference between a moral feeling and other
feelings that could contradict the judgement of true moral sense. A
major argument against such a simple faith in this `moral sense' is
that many people just don't seem to have it or are confused about
it, since there is so much moral disagreement in our world. All my
friends think they are right. I think I'm right. It is usually
someone else who is wrong. Unless this moral sense is morally
relative, many people who think they posses or exercise the moral
sense probably don't, unless those who have completely different
views on morality do not posses it. If the moral sense is not just
subjectively relative, then some folks must be wrong or misguided,
since there exist many opposing and contradictory senses of what is
morally good. Either a number of humans are wrong, or morality is
merely relative. If people can morally judge only according to
their supposedly moral feelings, those feelings could be deceiving
or we might be confusing `moral' good with some other feeling.
The most significant problem with the moral sense, according to
its general theory, is that it can become either perverted or
distorted, or defeated by more powerful passions or dispositions
having different aims and consequences than that of the moral sense.
Once this possibility is admitted, and I think one has to admit it,
moral judgements via a feeling-faculty of moral sense becomes
questionable since feelings can so easily be mis-read or distorted
by hedonistically based self-deceptions (i.e., trying to appear
moral or good in the eyes of the social conscience), and we may have
to doubt that we could even know when this occurs. So, is there any
way to check on this possibility?
Many people have conflicting moral views. Does this mean that
their `moral sense' is different? I mean it could be working well
but just different for different people. This may be the argument
for gay/lesbian ethics, that they are mentally healthy and sexually
functioning well but their "well functioning" is different, and I
suppose any deviant or abnormal behavior could be justified in this
way, including my own. I don't mean that gays are deviants; just
that a relativity or plurality of normality is defeating to ethical
norms. Another explanation for differing judgements is that
everyone has the same moral sense, which would derive the same
results, given common ideal circumstances, but some have decided (or
are conditioned) to not use it or to ignore it. In other words the
faculty for moral knowledge is alive and well, and objectively the
same for all of us as well, but many suppress it or intentionally
violate it.
Even if the moral sense were inherent in human beings there is
no certainty that it would function properly, or rule over habits of
judgement and action. In effect, one needs a certain amount of
right moral sense to recognize the moral sense as distinct from
other `senses', and to recognize moral thoughts from other kinds of
thoughts, or to recognize the moral whatever from the non-moral.
What distinguishes the moral sense from being merely what one thinks
is moral? If there is something that gives this distinction, then
these are reasons for believing what is moral from what is not. And
these reasons are, then, ethical criteria and propositions. If no
reasons are given for believing that a decision comes out of the
moral sense (or caring sense), as distinct from the immoral or
non-moral (apathetic) senses, then we are left to surmise that this
belief in what is a moral feeling is based on intuition, that is, a
moral-knowing intuition. Thus, an intuition substantiating an
And those who do not acknowledge this inherent problem but
believe whole-heartedly in the working-power of their moral sense,
may be those susceptible, by their lack of suspicion, of
self-deception. Those who would never doubt their `moral sense', or
question the rightness of their judgements and action, are those we
might need fear the most for their possible arrogance. And yet,
doubting the moral sense may be cause for its dis-function or
defeat. Nonetheless, those believing in the (their) moral sense
have no real foundation for judging moral judgements except the
moral sense itself. And the only means to question and confirm the
moral sense from other senses would be a criteria for its right
functioning. This criteria must be something other than the moral
intuition itself. It must be a rational criteria or principle, or it
could be `functional criteria', as in the proposition that the moral
sense is at work whenever some other disposition is at work,
supposing that some apparent quality, such as sympathy or care, has
a lawful causal relation to the moral sense.

A different argument is that the moral sense might not be
developed enough, or maybe it got distorted due to poor conditioning
or education. If the moral sense needs development, then we are left
with two major questions: How do we develop it? How can we know if
it is developed? If we need right `moral' education to develop it,
then the educator or educative system must be rightly moral, and
capable of rightly developing the moral sense. We then need to
determine what is right (or best) education and development. How
are we to do this, or who shall be given the authoritarian
privilege? Some argue that it can only be developed by exercising
it. This feels to be true, but knowing how to exercise it rightly
presupposes its development. To exercise the moral sense (or
practice moral sensing) is to judge in a morally right manner and
act in a moral way, which presupposes the moral ability that is
needing more development. To know when or if the moral sense is
sufficiently developed is to presuppose that very moral sense, since
only the moral sense itself could correctly judge if moral
judgements are correct, as the test of sufficient development. So
all this is grounded in circular reasoning.
We can, though, state the logical necessary conditions for the
moral sense to work. These conditions might also be the only test
of its proper functioning. One major necessary condition would be
impartiality. Another would be concern for others. For one would
need to not exhibit partiality and self-interest in the moral
judgement, since such priority of self-concern would be the mark of
primarily hedonistic and egoistic thoughts, feelings and actions. A
priority of self-concern or self-interest would contradict a moral
attitude, since such self priorities are the `a priori' inclinations
of the amoral man. The moral sense must presuppose some kind of
attitude that is not merely a hedonistic concern. And having an
attitude of impartiality might also insure that my good feelings are
moral feelings and not just feeling good about self gains. Also, if
I'm in an attitude of self-interest, then the moral sense is less
likely to be heard or felt or exercised. I need to first posses a
concerned sense for others, and not just my own preferences or my
own desires and egoistic projects, in order for the moral sense to
Yet, this pre-conditional attitude of impartiality is, itself,
an ethical supposition and a condition of ethical reasoning. It
doesn't have any substantiating grounds, though Kant derived it from
a logical necessity for universality in philosophical claims, that
any true ethical claim must be true for all people and all similar
circumstances. In other words, it would be logically contradictory
to say that deceiving some people is fine while deceiving others is
not, or that serving the needs of some (or just myself) is good
while neglecting the needs of others is not not-good. Kant's
substantiation for the empirical condition of an impartial attitude
is grounded in its logical necessity and its tie to the logical
meaning of morality itself. He is answering the question of why
impartiality is essential to ethical judgement. Likewise, `concern
for others', as a moral ought, would need substantiation; unless it
is not a moral prescription at all, but is instead a psychological
descriptive fact of `human nature' or part of the essence of what it
is to be human. Humans, by definition, or by study of this `kind of
being', either Are sympathetic by nature and Are concerned for
others, or they Ought to be by moral and reasoned prescription.

There may also be a distinct feeling that necessarily goes with
impartial moral judgements, which can act as a test, though not a
sufficient test. This is a feeling of being impartial or what has
been called "disinterest", meaning my interest here is not
essentially for myself or for my self-ends. When I feel
"dis-interested" (meaning impartial interest or diminished
self-interest vs. no interest at all) I know that my self-appetite
is not steering my decisions which is the necessary condition
(though maybe not sufficient) for the moral sense to function. In
other words, by definition of moral sense and moral action, the
egoic interests and appetites need to be "dis-interested" or
"impartial". There can be an interest in moral action, or in moral
pleasure/feeling, but not in sensuous or egoic pleasure or in
primarily serving my own ends (interests).
Yet, if one acquires a pleasure or good feeling from moral
action, this is still my pleasure and my interest, even if it is not
caused by goods merely serving myself. The traditionally assumed
attitude of dis-interest does not account for a simultaneous serving
of self and others. It seems to forget the possibility of desiring
and being self-interested in helping others and also denies the
possibility of mutual interest between myself and another.
One might feel very interested in doing a particular action,
like caring for another or making love, and that interest may be
self serving as well as other serving. All that I'm aware of know
here is that I'm interested in doing X-action with Y-person, and the
full motive for that interest may be complex and also hidden from
view. There may be some self-pleasurable payoff in this action
which is primarily intended for the good or happiness of the other
person, and such would not discount the act from being moral. Just
because an action is pleasurable to me, or even of interest to me,
does not necessarily entail that it is just selfish or not helpful
or not moral. If moral actions are those which help others and
which do not prioritize my own self-interest or merely expedite my
own goals, then it is possible that such actions help others and are
in my self-interest too.
So it would seem that moral action is not so much out of self
dis-interest but IS Necessarily out of an interest for the other, as
an "end-in-herself" or as possessing intrinsic worth, and not
`merely' using the other instrumentally to reach one's own goals or
desires. I can still desire her, and have interest in her pleasures,
and I can still desire that she be instrumental to my pleasure, and
as long as I'm not Merely using her but considerate of her needs and
intending to fulfill them; then there is no reason to deny this as
moral action since it possess the essence of moral intent.
Unfortunately, though, Kant appeared to imply that any intent for
self happiness was a disclaimer of moral decision. Our social life
is more interdependent and interconnected than Kant's simplicity of
duty vs. self-interest. If only he had made love, more or at all,
he would have noted the obvious fact that loving is enjoyable for
the other and oneself, such that duty and self happiness are not
logically opposed.

Another essential subjective condition for moral judgement,
rather than impartiality, could be the attitude or feeling of
`sympathy', as that emotional quality which identifies with
another's experience, with their needs and feelings. Like
impartiality, this attitude of sympathy can be posited as both a
necessary empirical precondition and a logical presupposition of the
moral sense. It could also be considered a necessary test of a
developed moral sense. Sympathy can be understood as either an
empirical condition and an analytic condition. The empirical
condition is the feeling or attitude of sympathy. It is in reference
to a certain subjective state. And this state is sometimes
volitional and sometimes imperative, as in "I will be sympathetic"
or "Be sympathetic!" The analytic condition of sympathy is its tie
to the definition of morality itself, since `moral sense' and `moral
action' is, by one kind of conditional definition, `a sympathetic
response to others'.
Moral sense and action presupposes a sympathetic (or `moral')
attention to others that does not just view them as objects or
instruments for one's own pleasure. Though, again, we may still
acquire pleasure from them. One could also view sympathy as
motivating the moral sense and developing it. But if the moral
sense is, essentially, a sympathetic sense, then this last
`empirical' claim reduces to an analytical tautology. It does seem,
though, that sympathy, like "disinterest" or "impartiality",
actually brings us out of our self-absorbtion and self-concern. In
fact, sympathy, or some empirical emotion or attitude like it, seems
to be the primary motivator and empirically necessary condition for
helping others.
Sympathy, as a prime virtue, of which care and concern for
others are sister concepts, seems to be the power behind moral
action and capable of overcoming the powerful inclination of
striving for one's own happiness and self-success. That great
striving for one's own success and the fulfillment of one's needs
and desires can become fanatically egoistic/hedonistic and sometimes
tyrannizing to others, unless it is balanced or overcome by this
sympathy for others. And some spiritual philosophers ask us,
morally, to predominantly nurture sympathy and care over
self-indulgence, to serve others before oneself, and allow sympathy
to be the primary guide in one's life actions.
Again, this is not to say that sympathy or care for others is
necessarily at odds with one's self-interests and striving for
success, but we could not claim that these poles are necessarily or
easily in harmony. Much of what moral sense and moral obligation is
about are just those circumstances where the conflict is unresolved,
so moral theory, by definition, should be an attempt to resolve
conflicts of interest, or conflicts between self-concern and
sympathy (or other concern). And if a theory doesn't commit itself
to offering any suggestions here, at least it should show us how to
know the difference when there is a difference.
Is the attitude of sympathy necessary or sufficient for good
moral decision and/or action? Sympathy, being like a natural caring
for the well-being of another or others, may be sufficient for a
sympathetic or caring response, but there is no necessary guarantee
that such an attitude and response would result in good moral
decision and action. Though, is this attitude necessary for that
result? That is, could the moral result be realized without
sympathy or caring? It would seem that at least some sympathy and
caring is presupposed in moral decisions, if those decisions
logically and empirically require some attention transferred from
purely hedonistic concerns to considering others as well. Maybe some
other attitude could serve this displacement of self-engrossment, in
which case sympathy would not be necessary but sufficient for the
displacement. Or maybe impartiality of ethical reasoning is
sufficient for good moral decision and action, in which case
sympathy would not be necessary but could still be sufficient in the
above sense.
Still, neither sympathy nor impartiality seem to be sufficient
for good moral decision and action, since these also require
knowledge of what is good or best, a knowledge which is practical
and concerned with efficient and successful means to fulfill what is
best (good) for the person in question. Yet, one could argue that
sympathy is indirectly sufficient, if sympathy is the primary source
for that practical knowledge, in that I know what is best for
another through my sympathy or empathic response, or that the
knowledge of another's good [interest] derives from an empathetic
reflection of my own needs and interests.
One could also claim that sympathy is necessary and sufficient
for actualizing a necessary stage of moral decision, which is a
stage of intention; while some practical knowledge must be added for
the criteria successfully completing a moral action. I can
sympathize with another's pain, and thus desire to heal the pain,
but I may need special knowledge to successfully heal that pain. If
I act to help [instinctively] out of the attitude of sympathy or
caring, but lack the appropriate knowledge and thus injure the
person even more, we might ask if this helping was moral. One could
call it an unintentional mistake, if the intent was moral and the
attitude was moral, but the act itself may not be moral since the
agent should have realized the risk of acting without sufficient
practical knowledge.
A relatively sufficient degree of practical knowledge might be
demanded of the agent before she should act, without which we could
claim moral irresponsibility. Still, as Kant held, morality and
moral character can only logically be a judgement of intent and not
of action, for we can only hold a person accountable for their moral
attempts and not base judgement on consequences or success. Yet, we
might question the morality of someone who consistently blunders the
interests of others, even though their feelings and intentions are
of a helpful and caring nature. In cases like this I would assume
that their knowledge is insufficient, and the moral prescription for
them would be to attain the necessary knowledge before jumping in to
help. As neo-platonistic Christians and Muslims would say, "the
road to hell is paved with good intentions."

What many have suggested is that since something like
disinterest/impartiality and/or sympathy/caring are at the heart of
moral sense and moral action as necessary conditions, at least at a
necessary stage, then it follows that we should nurture these
attitudes in order to develop and actualize the moral
sense/intuition. This imperative, then, becomes the primary moral
obligation, and stated directly would say, "Be impartial and
sympathetic!", that is, if you desire to be moral, because those
attitudes positively lead to good moral decision and action, though
not guaranteeing complete success, and those attitudes help develop
moral sensibility. Of course, if you don't want to be moral then
you won't want to be sympathetic as well. We find, I think, that the
condition of sympathy must be a-priori necessary, a synthetic
a-priori condition for moral sense, moral attention, and even moral
debate. If moral sense can be reduced to sympathy, that is, if the
posited moral sense is essentially a sympathetic sense, and nothing
more, then it stands as an analytical condition. But if sympathy is
a pre-condition or stage of an actualized moral sense, then it
stands as a synthetic `a priori' condition for realization.
As far as developing this quality, or intent or feeling or
attitude, one doesn't "develop" sympathy by any other means than
just being it. Basically, it is developed just by exercising the
feeling or attitude. So the imperative is, "Be Sympathetic!" Just
as caring is developed by practice, the imperative being "Be
We should distinguish a sympathy that is essentially instinctive
or spontaneous, from a volitional sympathy. The volitional
sympathy, like the development of this quality, would need some
[sufficient] reason or justification for that volition. But if it
is instinctive, then it just happens. Hume believed that humans had
an instinctive sympathetic sense because of being social animals,
but this is a Cause of the sensibility and not a reason for
exercising it. Likewise, the sympathetic attitude may be
instrumentally necessary for the sustained welfare of human groups,
but this does not make that social goal a `reason' for being
sympathetic, unless one acts in response to that reason, or
is motivated by it.
There could be many good reasons for intentionally developing or
practicing sympathy. A set of reasons may each be sufficient,
though none necessary. One possible reason, or motivation for
practice, could be the realization that life is interconnected and
that all life counts in the diversity, which gives each life in the
whole a contributory value. Another possible motivation for
sympathy could be in its functional usefulness for a society or
group. The society, or dominating group, conditions or behaviorally
educates dispositional emotions, such as sympathy, for the success
of the group-community. Another possible motivation would be in its
instrumental usefulness for self-fulfillment, when we assume that
socialness and friendship are necessary to self-fulfillment,
and that
sympathy is necessary to good, fulfilling relations and friendships.
Another reason, based on its own kind of realization, is that
others deserve to be treated as well as myself. I could recognize
others as beings like myself, so that all others Should be treated
with the same sympathy and care I give myself and would like others
to give me. Since I am intrinsically important, an end-in-myself,
and my feelings and needs have a value which doesn't need
justification or shown to be useful to a greater society of people,
and since I am not just a useful tool of society or for any one
person, and since I claim this for myself I must, by reason of
non-contradiction, claim the same for all people, which also
universalizes my belief, my valuation, my truth, a truth true for
all. Others are ends-in-themselves, like me, so I give the same
[sympathetic] caring attention to others as I would to myself. Each
is a reflection of the essential human being; reason holds every
being of the same essences with the same [impartial] thought.
Impartiality and consideration for others could be reduced to
the same. To be impartial in moral reasoning means that everyone,
including oneself, is subject to the same rule. This could be the
same as considering others with the same respect as oneself. What
is consideration in the moral context? It is considering the needs
and interests of others, and acting with respect toward these.
Implied in the understanding of `considering others' is this
consideration of their interests as one would consider one's own
interests. But of course it doesn't mean the interests are the same;
only the intensity of consideration is close to the same. The
feeling of interconnectiveness, similarity or empathy with that
other being would positively lead to a consideration of the other as
a mirror of oneself, which is essentially an impartial or
egalitarian attitude. Of course, there may be different degrees of
impartiality and consideration-of-other,, whereby impartiality
stands as the ideal-to-approach, and consideration-of-other may
range from a causal attention to intense inspection and commitment
to their interests.

Recent feminist philosophers and the philosophers of care have
argued against Kantian impartiality, either because it seems cold
and indifferent or because such an attitude is unrealistic for human
beings. I'm sure one could make some convincing social
instrumentalist arguments for the value of partial and provincial
prejudice of care, that is, reasons why non-impartiality is good
(for social or individual well-being). I won't speculate on these
arguments. But opposite arguments, from traditional ethics, might
be just as convincing. I don't think impartiality is necessarily
cold or uncaring. This is a mis-interpretation of impartiality.
Caring is presupposed in the impartial ethic; the ethic is
essentially impartial caring or concern, vs. an attitude of not
caring (or less caring) about those who are not so intimately
related or those who we don't expect to reciprocate our care. But
if such [provincial] caring concern is dependent on what the other
is expected to do for us, then this seems to ground morality on
hedonistic concerns or "what's in it for me."
Lastly, the argument that impartial concern is unrealistic for
humans only has force if such an attitude is empirically impossible,
for if it is possible then one could morally prescribe it. There is
no empirical reason to believe that impartiality is impossible. One
could make a convincing argument that "perfect" impartiality is
impossible; but then one could counter this with the prescription to
practice impartiality as best one can, that is, to intentionally
approach this ideal attitude or condition of moral reasoning.
Impartiality might seem "unrealistic" just because most humans don't
give it enough intentional effort. Also, basing an argument on the
moral ineptitude and moral apathy of the average social animal is
not a forceful argument, as one cannot defeat moral prescriptions by
proving how corrupt are the Romans. So again, the only good argument
would be in showing how provincial caring is better (for who?!) than
impartial caring. And what is meant by better? Maybe we naturally
feel better and more loved when receiving biased care, instead of
merely being equal like everyone else in the eyes of our care-giver.
Or, maybe one could prove that impartiality breeds a lack of the
necessary intensity in caring for other's welfare.
The new care ethic proposed is primarily an ethic of good moral
intent or a sympathetic-caring attitude. Whatever the exact
relation of this care attitude (or feeling, or intent) to the
sympathetic attitude or something else like it, the new literature
maintains most often that caring attention tends to focus on
particulars, particular people in particular places and times.
Though, caring attention could also be focussed on masses and
groups. Mothering is a good example of individually focussed caring
attention. If there is conflict between caring for masses and caring
for my close family and friends, there is no doubt that our natural
tendency is to value close ones over strangers. This may be out of
convenience, or habit, or it may be due to sympathy being stronger
in closer proximity to the other, or it may be due to an instinctual
reasoning that those close to me have more value to my
self-fulfillment. Yet, a description of what people tend to do
cannot justify an obligation to be that way or an ethic committed to
parochial focus of caring. Such a partial moral attitude or
reasoning may be the better moral ethic, but it cannot be justified
by the tendency of mothers and family clans to act in this manner,
however wonderful we all respect the mother.
The best justification for such non-impartial caring or ethical
obligation is that I need for my well-being a caring social group,
or at least some one(s) to care about me, and so this [local]
care-group has ethical priority, from my relative perspective of
need, over other people or groups who are not directly in my
reciprocating care-group. So, this justification is also a reason
for being sympathetic and giving caring attention to others, even if
not all others. Thus, we can look for the causes or motivations for
`sympathy'. Does the attitude of sympathy have some reason behind
it, and if so could the right reasons motivate one to be
sympathetic? Does sympathy require some reasons and justifications
for one to voluntarily take this stance? Or is sympathy just
instinctually spontaneous in healthy people?

Hume thought that reason could not by itself prove what are good
moral decisions, and neither could it motivate us to moral action.
So, the only foundation of good moral judgement, and the only power
that could motivate us to moral acts, would have to be a
moral passion. When Hume said that reason is the slave of the
passions he wasn't attempting a normative statement that reason
should be the slave of the passions, though prescription may be
subtly inherent in his descriptive psychology. He meant that,
empirically, humans are motivated by passion and not reason, that
reason cannot by itself motivate action. Passion is the motivator,
while reason can be used to calculate how to fulfill passions and/or
to justify them in some partial way.
Yet, reason could also be a `passion', as the passion to
comprehend moral good through some kind of moral reasoning, and this
reasoning could be powerful in motivating or overpowering emotional
inclinations. Kant believed that reason could motivate action,
though this presumes that one first has a passion to consider moral
reasons and act according to reason. Kant might even say there are
good reasons for acting according to reason, so once we realize
these reasons we will be passionately motivated to act by reason.
Kant's argument is that reason Can not only determine and motivate
action, but that it Ought to. But, it seems, the only way it
could motivate us is if we do accept that reason Ought to motivate
us, so reason can tell us what we ought to do if we somehow accept
that we ought to act by reason, and the way we would accept this
imperative is if either we are governed by a natural passion to
consider and act by reason or if we find some greater reason for
considering and acting by reason.
If we are motivated by a sense of `ought', then this `ought'
could either be an `ought to be motivated by moral reasoning' or
`ought to be motivated by a moral feeling or sensitivity.' But Hume
believed that reason cannot make a moral man. Even if it could
supposedly derive the `right' moral decision, it could not cause us
to do this, unless one already possessed a moral passion, giving one
the desire or commitment to act in a sensitive way toward others. I
think that some kind of `moral' passion has to be presupposed in
moral decisions and acts; yet, any kind of `moral' reasoning would
also presuppose such a moral passion, in order that such an effort
of consideration take place.
Reason is not the servant of the passions, for Kant, because
reason has to dictate order and constraint to the passions. Though,
the passion-to-reason would be apriori to reason. Reason is for
Kant, as it was for Plato and Aristotle, the necessary ruler and
organizer of the passions. The function of reason is to comprehend
truth and calculate right action and guide life decisions. Man is a
rational creature because he is able to, and ought to, be guided by
reasoning what is right and good, and not merely act by passions and
instinctual drives. Reasons must control the passions because the
passions have no control over themselves. Passions are automatic
and habitual. But only reason can question the passions, and
question what is true and good. Reason can control the passions.
It is capable of this. And if reason can also determine what is
good, what is good decision, then our human destiny, or fulfillment,
is for reason to direct the passions, or to direct our lives,
according to the truth discovered, the truth of what is
intrinsically good and what is efficiently good for fulfilling
intrinsic ends.

Kant believed that reason, must be universal and categorical,
according to the nature and definition of reason. Of course, reason
could still be contexual-specific or hypothetical to the
circumstance, but it must be universal in the sense that if
circumstances are identical then reason should not derive different
conclusions. Logic tells us that if circumstance X is sufficiently
like circumstance Y, then any moral solution to X must be the same
for Y. Yet, this reasoning cannot guarantee that such circumstances
can be sufficiently similar, or that one could distinguish which
circumstances are sufficiently similar from those not. What is the
criteria for similarity? Or how is similarity recognized? In other
words, a counter argument to this kantian reasoning could be an
impossibility of applying such reasoning due to the epistemological
impossibility of realizing what is sufficiently similar.
Reason is impartial to personal opinions, but not impartial to
complex, different circumstances and contexts, the facts of life
about which we reason. In other words, reason is concerned with
particulars as well as generalities, because it has to deal with
real [particular] facts, in all there uniqueness, in order to know
how to apply general principles or rules, and also how to correctly
generalize (or categorize) these particulars. Generalizations are
needed to converse about and compare particulars, and particulars
are needed in the practical application of generalities (which are
rules), as well as in the induction of generalities (or rules).
Kant believed that moral propositions had to be imperative
assertions applying to everyone, that is, if I say such or such is
good and another action is bad, I'm not stating what I think is just
"good for me but not necessarily for you" [in similar
circumstances], nor am I stating what my `personal morals' are, nor
`what makes me feel good'. I'm claiming something, or an action, as
good for everyone [to do], that is if our circumstances are
sufficiently identical enough to warrant the generalization that
"what is good in my circumstance is also good in yours." But one
does not include as `circumstance' the peculiar perversities of the
subject's behavior, nor the [past] circumstances thought to have
caused or contributed to that unique behavior, because this would
make moral claims relative to subjective conditions, while moral
claims should only be relative to objective conditions.
Yet, any universal claim concerning people interacting with
others would logically depend on some essential subjective
condition, which is that `people' are sufficiently similar. If I
say that all people ought to behave under a certain general
principle, then I'm using a generalization of `people', and only
those who possess the essential conditions of my concept of `person'
would be bound by this moral rule. Therefore, people with severe
mental or physical handicaps, that is, people without sufficient
abilities to act according to my rule, would be exempt from it,
because their condition would not be sufficiently similar to my
generalization of `people'.
So, Kant had to presuppose a general subjective condition of
people, that those bound by his moral principles have similar
dispositions or capabilities for understanding and applying the
principles. His universal ethical propositions necessarily
presuppose a universal condition of people. All people must be
perceived as having the capacity to reason correctly and behave
correctly, which is Kant's empirical (or metaphysical)
presupposition that all people have the same universal capacities to
reason what is morally good. Also implied in Kant's ethic is the
presupposition that the principles of his reasoning or logic is
right and good.
A morality following reason has an inherent moral prescription
to follow the logic of this reason. Such a morality is based on an
intellectual ability. The moral ability is essentially an ability
to reason. Of course, this moral ability may require more than just
good reasoning. This depends how one defines that moral ability. If
it i