International Society for Philosophers

International Society for Philosophers

Wisdom begins with wonder

PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS                   ISSN 2043-0728


Issue No. 199 21st January 2016


Memorial issue for Rachel Browne

I. 'The Meta-Psychological Explanation of Morality' by Rachel Browne

II. Rachel Browne: Ask a Philosopher -- Four Answers

III. Rachel Browne: Review of Nick Acocella The Divine Inspiration of Porn and the Beginning of Sexual Metaphysics



This issue 199 of Philosophy Pathways is dedicated to the memory of Rachel Browne, Board member and one of the co-founders of the International Society for Philosophers, and also one of the original group of Pathways to Philosophy mentors, who died on Christmas Day 2015.

As I wrote to the Board of the International Society for Philosophers, 'On the Pathways to Philosophy web site, Rachel Browne's name occurs more than 800 times -- an indication of the central role that she has played in all the activities of Pathways and the ISFP.'

Rachel's answers on Ask a Philosopher -- always knowledgeable, sometimes very witty, occasionally hilarious -- run to the hundreds and date back to 2001, when she first contacted me offering her help to the project.

Rachel was one of the keenest contributors to the ISFP online conferences, always ready with a new thought or comment to keep the dialogue going when it looked as if the discussion was beginning to flag.

Rachel was also the main instigator of the launch, in 2003, of our second e-journal, Philosophy for Business, writing to Company Directors and CEOs, and badgering potential contributors for articles.

Together in 2005 Rachel and I were invited to visit the London headquarters of Shell to talk to Robin Aram, Shell's Vice-President of External Relations and Policy Development, described by the think tank Sustainability as the 'Darth Vader of the human rights world' after leading a successful campaign against the original draft of the UN Human Rights Commission's proposed Norms on Business and Human Rights the year before. Rachel was in her element. It was a memorable meeting, with points scored on both sides.

I have personally benefitted from reams of correspondence with Rachel on my own philosophical work. She took an interest in practically everything I did, even including my attempts at science fiction writing and photography. In fact, Rachel was the was the nearest thing I had to a Muse. I will miss her.

In this special memorial issue, I have selected work that shows the range of Rachel's philosophical interests, which also testifies to her fearlessness as an original thinker who was prepared to speak her mind even at the risk of ruffling feathers -- or worse.

All the pieces below are copyright of the Estate of Rachel Browne.

Geoffrey Klempner




From 'Ethical Relations', dissertation submitted in 2004 for the Fellowship Award of the International Society for Philosophers

In this section, I shall leave aside the problem of different types of criminality. While explaining criminality and a withdrawal from 'normal' human relations is well dealt with by the psychoanalytical approach, a problem with that approach is that the moral attitude, at least according to Kleinian theory, seems to amount to no more than reparative behaviour as a result of guilt arising from destructive tendencies. Why do we characterise morality as over-riding? Having rejected the adoption of current folk psychology as adequate for ethical explanation, and having accepted the possibility that Klein's theory, though explanatory, is empirically false, I shall adopt the stance that some things cannot be said but only shown and turn to two attempts to show what the ethical attitude is.

It is not a matter of principle that we cannot ignore the presence of other people. As Sartre[1] has pointed out, if I find that someone, anyone, is watching me looking through a key-hole then my behaviour comes to me with a new description.

The philosophies of Emmanuel Levinas and Martin Buber have their roots not in philosophy but in religion. However, both philosophers produce writings on ethics separately from theology.

Parallels can be drawn between Levinas and Klein in terms of the metaphorical similarities, most particularly in terms of passivity and guilt and substitution and reparation. Similarity of metaphor is not sufficient to claim compatibility between these two approaches to ethics but it is of interest that it does show that vastly different starting points towards consideration of the nature of ethical relations can share characteristics. This contrasts with the ethical theories of analytical philosophy which give rise to diversity and argument with no hope of convergence even though the ordinary language concepts used are shared and the writings come from a common tradition and background.

The metaphorical parallels between Levinas and Klein are suggestive of a common way of approaching the ethical and together they can be taken to constitute quite a comprehensive description of ethical relations, each with a different emphasis. While Klein sees moral relations as inter-subjective and liable to distortion of response, Levinas and Buber give more weight than Klein to the ideal response to the other person. As mentioned, Kleinian theory might not actually be evidentially true but it does offer observations which deliver insights into human behaviour and personal relations. Levinas would not even claim that what he says is 'true' in an empirical sense. Nevertheless, his philosophy expresses truths that some people recognise. Levinas's ethics, as metaphorical, is a non-propositional showing. Buber's ethics bears a similarity to that of Levinas, but he holds that the psychotherapeutic relation offers a model for the ethical relation.

My claim is that nothing more is needed to justify ethics than the nature of man's inter-subjective relations, where these are irreducible to folk-psychological theory which aims at generalisations based on interpretations of behaviour, characterising morality as a practice essentially involving principles, rationality and normativity, with the implication of moral relativity. Moral relativity is nothing other than cultural norms which can be crossed quite easily.

For both Levinas and Buber, the human relationship is essentially an ethical relationship. Both philosophers refer to this as the 'I-Thou' relationship, which will be described below. For these philosophers, there is no internal isolated subjective self, but rather a self that comes into being on recognition of the otherness of another human, or the awareness of the reality of others'subjectivity beyond that which is purely given in perception. The self is not a Cartesian ego, nor is it a rational plus emotional being. Rather, the self is essentially and fundamentally related to the subjectivity of other human beings whose own subjectivity we cannot morally ignore. Insofar as this description of the self is of an ethical self, it is possible to claim that for those whose relationships with others does not take the form of an 'I-Thou' relationship there is not a real 'self'. This can be expressed in the language of psycho-analysis: To treat a person as an object, which is to allow psychological dysfunction to colour one's relations with others, is not to be a fully functioning self able to discern reality.

Talk of reality here is not a matter of facts which make our propositions about the world true, and for this reason we do not need to worry if Klein's theory is 'true' or not. Levinas describes the ethical relationship as 'non-thematizable' and 'irreducible' to intentionality.[2] An intentional state is a world directed mental state, such as a belief or a perception. A belief is true and a perception is correct if the world is the way it is believed or seen to be. For meta-psychologists, the ethical state is not an intentional state such as a belief and it cannot lead to moral 'knowledge'.

Rather, the ethical is man's relation to the other which is not reducible to a conceptual empirical description and is 'transcendent' because man is not a self-contained individual but stands in an inter-subjective relation, not as distinct objects but as essentially related in their subjective state as ethical beings. The I-Thou relation is not a relationship between two particular subjects who 'perceive' each other. Perception is an empirical relation and an intentional state but the metaphysical I-Thou relation transcends perception. Otherwise put, we do not just 'see' a face, and we certainly do not have sense-experience of another's consciousness and yet our attitude to another is more than a mere awareness of behaviour and physique.

The main contribution towards thinking about morality I think Levinas makes is in continually stressing that ethics is not to be subsumed under traditional categories of the intentional. The categories of reason, memory, perception, cannot capture the ethical. For Levinas, ethical relations are not determined by man's psychological nature as traditionally described by philosophers. This is not contrary to Kleinian theory since, for Klein, distortion by means of introjection and projection are not intentional states or perceptions of real states of affairs which is why she needs to introduce new ways of talking about inter-subjective psychological development.

Because the ethical cannot be thematized, the language used by Levinas is necessarily metaphorical. In language that brings to mind that of Melanie Klein, the subject in ethical relation to the other is 'passive', 'guilty', 'persecuted', 'held hostage'.[3]

For Levinas the ethical is a call from beyond rather than a desire for reparation, although his language does not rule out reparation, and indeed, sometimes suggests it. For Levinas, the subject is 'responsible' for the other in his vulnerability which brings to mind Klein's account of the child's fear of destroying the other person. However, Levinas stresses the importance of other people in our lives. He also describes the other subject as commanding us from a 'height' and in its nature as commanding, the Other (or the consciousnesses and subjectivities of other people) has authority. Others are said to be both vulnerable and commanding. Levinas claims that there is no inconsistency here. Rather, the Other has a 'contradictory nature. It is all weakness and all authority'.[4] Without authority, or the command that limits a subject's freedom in relation to his behaviour to other people, the structure of the ethical relation would not favour other people.

The use of the terms authority and height are metaphors that express the irreducible and non-thematizable phenomenon of the ethical relation. However, it might also be said that others have a power over us in their vulnerability which is a way of expressing the 'over-ridingness' of morality as it is spoken of in analytical philosophy. Ethical responsibility is a responsibility that is. Levinas says that 'it cannot be evaded'. We can fail to meet ethical responsibility but it is there nevertheless.

Levinas is not oriented towards the particular situation to the same extent as Buber, but nevertheless he sometimes makes use of concrete examples. For instance, when we open the door for someone we do not need to perceive the man's face to respond to him.

Levinas also uses the term 'alterity'[5] to describe the internal subjective being or 'otherness' of a human being. It is alterity which commands a moral response. The alterity, or another description Levinas uses is the 'face', of the other man is beyond the perceptual. What we perceive is a 'countenance' or a 'pose'.[6] What we respond to in the man for whom we open the door is his alterity or his face. We are not, in the example, looking at the man as we open the door. If we did, we would not perceive anything other than body and behaviour. We would not perceive alterity. The physical, ie the body and behaviour, gives us no reason to act morally alone. We do not make an assumption that another person is conscious on the basis of his behaviour and then go to treat him as such. Alterity is a given because we do not emerge as isolated individuals.

The face is a 'signifying that is immediately from beyond the plastic forms that keep covering it up like a mask with their presence in perception'.[7] The pose or the countenance, as a perceived state of another person may provide us with reasons to act in a certain way, but the face commands an ethical response -- it 'summons me, demands, requires me'[8]. We can perceive emotions on the countenance and in the voice. We understand that another is rational through use of language, but to non-perceived alterity we respond.

For Levinas, immorality is (non-intentionally or metaphorically speaking) a losing sight of the face, or failing to realise the subjective otherness of another person. Evil is also non-conceptual, non-thematized, but it is to be found in the nature of the description of experiential relations of one man to the other. 'At the very moment when my power to kill is realised, the other has escaped'.[9] 'Thou shalt not kill' means you cannot kill because at the moment you intend to kill the face, the subjectivity and humanity of the other has disappeared from your awareness. To be able to commit evil, to be immoral, is to not to recognise the full reality, which includes the face behind the countenance of the other man. This is comparable to Kleinian theory. When we project or use defence mechanisms we are locked in a dysfunctional psychology and not in real relation with the other, but distorting reality.

Another similarity between the Kleinian emerging subject can be found in what Levinas calls 'substitution'. The notion of substitution is to do with the emergence of the self. As mentioned above, for Levinas, the self is an ethical self prior to consciousness and intentionality. Subjectivity is a substitution which 'precedes the will'.[10] The subject emerges in a state of pre-conscious sentience as one amongst all others before developing individuality and personal motivation. This is the origin, the condition and possibility of our being ethical subjects with 'a responsibility with regard to men we do not even know'.[11] We enter into an ethical world in which others have authority over us. The subject 'is constituted -- without its knowledge, prior to cognition and recognition' as an ethical being.[12]

This Levinasian subject emerges as a 'persecuted' subject, a 'hostage' because his responsibility is already assigned. We are persecuted from the outside by being one amongst others. We are not only persecuted by the other, because of the responsibility we cannot evade, but the other is persecuted by us. As with Klein, the subject is in relation to the other before becoming a self or before emerging in relation as a whole to another whole subject and prior to the ability to perceive the external world as objective and not as merely experiential. A further comparison holds here in terms of shared metaphor. In the paranoid-schizoid position, there is fear of spoiling or annihilating the ideal object (ie of persecuting) and the experience of the bad breast as the persecutory one. This common language suggests fear and pain rather than virtue and well-being. It is language that intermingles the good and the bad as aspects of the human condition. It is an existential description. As with the psychic states described by psychoanalysis, we do not feel persecution. It is a condition that exceeds self-aware sense-experience or intentional relations. It is likewise with Klein. You cannot be properly projecting if you know you are doing so. To know that this is what you are doing would not be to distort reality but to see it in full self-awareness. We can become aware of using defence mechanisms because these are psychological states but that amounts to moral self-awareness.

Levinas has claimed that he knows nothing of psychoanalytical theory and has heavily criticised it. There is, however, only an incompatibility between Levinas and Klein if Klein's theory is held to be a science, or a thematised ethics or a theory of intentionality, but nothing of the sort is being claimed for it here. Rather, it provides reflection on the depth and complexity of inter-personal relations. The essence of Levinas's ethics is it's poignancy and it's affectivity. Klein, too, in making use of terms normally used to pick out adult illness, such as schizophrenia and paranoia, to describe the emotional nature of a baby, also has a powerful affect. It has been said of both Klein and Levinas that 'both frame our attention to guilt as a complex ethical formation that both involves the subject inescapably in a psychical history and has metaphysical implications'[13] But there are further comparisons beyond guilt.

My own claim is that we are shown something about ethics, and provided with explanation, by looking at psycho-analysis and meta-psychology. We are drawn away from considerations of deliberation, motivation, will, rationality and normativity towards our responses to others, which we can dwell on but which cannot be reduced or put in more concrete terms. In writing about metaphor in ordinary language, William Grey[14] has said that 'Many writers feel that there is something special about metaphorical expressions that cannot be captured by any allegedly equivalent literal paraphrase'. My suggestion is that when we move from metaphorical to more concrete terms we lose the essence of the ethical and that in reading Klein and Levinas, while not having to accept that what they say is empirically 'true', we are learning about the ethical. The ethical relation, being ineffable, can only be captured in metaphorical terms. This is to disagree with Wittgenstein's famous comment that 'What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence'.[15] If, as Levinas claims, ethics exceeds knowledge, ethical categories and concepts of ordinary language through which we seek knowledge will -- and do -- fail us. The other person, Levinas says, 'does not affect us by means of a concept'.[16] Our relation to the other person is experiential, or phenomenological, but not reducible to concepts such as love and respect. Ethics does not collapse into empirical relations of love and sympathy since the subject emerges as an 'I' in the ethical relation, prior to such attitudes and relations.

Of course, Levinas doesn't provide tools to answer ethical problems, such as the career criminal as he speaks of our ethical existential conditional, whereas psycho-analytical theory provides a way of reflecting on this.

It is in the philosophy of Martin Buber that we see psycho-analytical practice as an instance of ethical relations and it is combined with the metaphysical approach of I-Thou.

Martin Buber speaks not so much of persecution but of isolation and guilt when man is removed from the realm of the inter-human, the realm of the dialogical or 'I-Thou' relation.[17] It is natural to dwell with others as this is how we emerge as a subjects. 'Dialogical' ethics, as the communicative ethics of Buber is known, takes man as already being in a community. As Rollo May puts it, Buber's ethics recognises that 'wish, will and decision occur within a nexus of relationships'.[18]

Again, Buber's concept of a fact is not about empirical truth, but about human truths. 'The fundamental fact of human existence is man with man. What is peculiarly characteristic of the human world is above all that something takes place between one being and another the like of which can be found nowhere in nature.' The sphere of man's existence with man is the sphere of 'in-between'[19], which is not ontological but it is not unreal. The movement towards the in-between is a movement to becoming less of an individual and more human by means of an enabling of the other to be confirmed or responded to in a relationship like the therapeutic one.

In contrast to the meaning of 'normative' in folk-psychology which is tied to rationality, the normative in the Buberian sense is about man's essential nature as one man amongst other men. While metaphorical, if compared with the categories of ordinary philosophical language, such as the proposition, the subject, the object and values, it is not abstract. It is less abstract than the categories of ordinary language because it points to what is natural and experiential. While Buber's language has less moral height than that of Levinas, both philosophers agree that the ethical is not an attitude that resides in an individual subject, nor is it something objective that requires justification. The ethical already is because man is born into the community of mankind. If we are to become more ethical, what is required is healing in the sense of a movement out of the individual and psychological, with its defences and neuroses, towards what is common in man.

For Buber, the psychotherapeutic relationship is an example of the dialogical relationship which is essentially communicative. As with Levinas, the ethical relation is not perceived, but made present. The psychoanalyst is present in a Kleinian way, providing a holding environment which is unthreatening, withholding projection and introjection, or as Buber would put it 'confirming' the other person. The dialogical relation is in contrast to the analytical style of the Freudian couch. The relationship is one in which the analyst 'shares in a reality which neither belongs to him nor merely lies outside him'[20] but which is the moral realm of spontaneous inter-relations, ie the response rather than the psychologically determined reaction. For Buber, the confirming response shows us what it is to be part of our moral community of man. But being in the moral realm is momentary, something we fall in and out of. Sometimes, for psychological reasons, we cannot enter into the moral realm, and merely react to people and situations. At other times we respond and confirm.

Much has been written both by Buber and others[21] on the therapeutic relationship as an example of the I-Thou relationship. Buber has once denied that there can be a true comparison because of the inequality in the therapeutic relationship.[22] The therapist is always in a general position of power. However, he is not in a dominant position throughout a therapeutic dialogue as Buber sees the ethical as occurring in moments.

If the psychotherapist provides an example of the ethical relationship it is because he meets the other as a person. While it is true that a psychoanalyst will possess or come to form a body of depth psychological theory and that he is in a general position of power, he is an imperfect person, but has awareness of how to respond.

So for Buber and Klein man does not behave ethically all the time and does not always heed thEmmanuel Levinasian call. Psychic mechanisms can come into play at any time. It is not a question of either having an enabling psychology or not. Our capacities for ethical response or to psychological reaction constantly shift and alter.

Nevertheless, we are responsible, as Levinas says. Responsibility is no guide to actual behaviour. To ask what the concrete way is in which we are responsible is to ask for rules that are not applied. As John Caputo[13] says, 'When someone turns to us and speaks, the law dissolves before our eyes, for the law is never anything more than a schema, a general rule, a universal, while the individual is what happens. The law can never be cut to fit the singular, or else there would be as many laws as there are individuals'.

The above rejection of the idea that we either have enabling or determining psychologies, with the implication that man's psychological nature is static, such that that a person can become virtuous by inner work which will show in all their human relations and actions is not the same as rejecting extreme personalities. There are singular people inclined to saintliness and others inclined to evil.

I think that the ethics of Levinas and Buber suggest that there is a reality which we can use to describe ethical personality. Our susceptibility to the over-riding call of Levinasian responsibility and our capacity to respond to others differs, normally, from moment to moment. There are extreme cases, though, which Levinasian ethics can describe. The saint is not necessarily someone who has a continuous higher order principle of doing good as the folk psychologist in the previous section would have to hold: If a saint was just extremely principled rather than caring we wouldn't call that person a saint. Rather, the saint is persecuted by the reality and suffering of others. This is not to say the saint is psychologically persecuted. He isn't in mental pain. But nor should we have to posit he that is suffused with love. The saint is not an essentially over-emotional and unbalanced being. The importance of the Other, alterity, the in-between is that it provides us with the idea of a reality towards which we can describe some as highly susceptible all the time, while most just are some times and in some respects.

I have suggested that the metaphor of the super-ego, simplistically understood here, allows us to see human beings as responding to certain aspects of the world. The career criminal, for instance, does not respond to the expectations of society as a whole. Klein shows us how a response might distort reality. Levinas, with his emphasis on responsibility holds that there is a call to respond. Buber contrasts response with reaction. An ethics of response cannot be made determinate in current language, but that does not mean that it cannot be a fundamental part of ethical relations.

The realm of alterity and the in-between is metaphysical. Psycho-analysis is speculative and perhaps empirically false. But then perhaps, in words which differ from those of Wittgenstein, quoted above, ethics 'is a topic on which no man will, wisely, dogmatise. The veil of mystery will never be lifted. We who the stand before that veil [which divides knowable facts from mystery] can but build systems; we cannot see the truth'.[24] We need not dogmatise or build a system but we can still speak.


The categories used in traditional analytical philosophy have not solved the question of the nature of ethics, but have given rise to an enormous amount of discussion and argument. Some theories, which do not resonate with anyone at all have found their way into introductory textbooks. Emotivism, introduced by A J Ayer, is an example. The emotivist's theory that 'X is good' is reducible to 'I like X' has been heavily criticised for not being able to distinguish serious moral arguments from non-moral persuasion.

As mentioned, there is no philosophical agreement on what ethics is. There is the rational ethics of Kant, who held that ethics could not be grounded in sympathy but that a moral command must have weight for everyone in the form of the duty of a rational being towards other rational beings. But it is counter-intuitive to suppose that sympathy, conscience and remorse are not of moral worth -- but these can be part of a moral reponse. There is utilitarianism which explains ethics in non-moral concepts of means and ends and takes it as a calculation towards happiness. This gives rise to the feeling that the utilitarian is not talking about ethics at all but reducing it to something else. We are drawn away from the depth of the subject-matter. In contrast to this, Klein and Levinas speak in ethical concepts to show us something that cannot be fully elucidated in ordinary concepts, much less reduced. Talk in the language of the subject matter guides us to reflection beyond the restrictions of ordinary language.

Folk psychology is supposed to embody true explanation. As I have pointed out above it does not have sufficient explanatory tools to explain immorality, so it needs to move towards depth-psychology. Depth-psychology is widely held to be false. However, through the philosophies of Levinas and Buber, and the acceptance of metaphor, we can come to see that we don't need to be limited to ordinary language concepts and accept common sense psychological explanations in order to reflect upon man's elusive ethical condition. We know what Klein, Levinas and Buber are saying.

In ordinary language, we do have the concepts of value and moral worth, of virtue, conscience and sympathy. Many philosophers have written deeply about moral issues, such as wisdom[25] and moral seriousness[26], but do not claim that these concepts can be used to develop a systematic theory of morality without abstracting and falsifying original human experience.

To increase our understanding of ethics, which is essentially a relation between human-beings, and perhaps animals, we might be involved in a movement away from ordinary concepts but this is the result of the natural distinction between experience and language, between what is natural, a response, and that which is constructed as a means of communication for practical purposes.

While it is the occupation of the philosopher to construct theories, to test them and to criticise them, in doing so he moves further and further away from the ineffable.


1. Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, p.261

2. E Levinas, Ethics and Infinity, p.32

3. E Levinas, Otherwise than Being, Chapter 4

4. E Levinas Alterity and Transcendence, p.105

5. E Levinas, Alterity and Transcendence,

6. E Levinas, Ethics and Infinty

7. E Levinas, Alterity and Transcendence p.23

8. Op cit p.24

9. E Levinas, Entre Nous, p.9

10. E Levinas, Otherwise than Being p.127

11. Op cit p.100

12. Simon Critchley, 'TheOriginal Traumatism' Questioning Ethics ed R Kearney and M Dooley

13. Susan Todd, The Journal of the Philosophy of Education of Great Britain 2001

14. Minerva Vol 5

15. L Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, no 7, p.74

16. E Levinas Entre-Nous, p.5

17. Maurice Freidman, Martin Buber: The Life of Dialogue

18. Rollo May, Love and Will p.268

19. Martin Buber Between Man and Man, p.203

20. M Friedman, op cit, p.78

21. For example,'Martin Buber and the Human Sciences' ed. M Friedman

22. The Martin Buber -- Carl Rogers Dialogue, ed by R Anderson and K N Cissna p.38

23. John D Caputo, Against Ethics, p.112

24. G. H. Lewes 'The Biographical History of Philosophy' quoted in Margot Waddell's 'On the Ideas of the Good and the Ideal in George Eliot's Novels and post-Kleinian Psychoanalytic Thought.' In PSYART A Hyperlink Journal for Psychology Study of the Arts.

25. Iris Murdoch Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals

26. Raimond Gaita Good and Evil: An Absolute Conception

Rachel Browne's ISFP Fellowship dissertation can be found at https:---/

Email comments to



David asked:

'I was born a homosexual and now am age 72. I do not have a partner and all though my autumn years are lonely I find it ok.

'My question is, If God made me this way what was his purpose?

'To be Gay is like living as an alien in this world. For instance while socializing in everyday life, I have to remain in a defensive role. I must not reveal that I am gay on first meetings until I am sure I will be accepted, though I do not purposely ever reveal my orientation. A women can mix freely with a group of strangers and even harmlessly flirt with a man not her husband. I can not. I do not wish to have sex with every man I meet but would like to feel free to 'flirt' and 'communicate' as she does. On going to a dinner party I am always placed with another woman (people have to have the norm, alway two) at these occasions. What I am trying to say is I am not free. I am on guard every second of my life.

'I have no wish to frequent Gay clubs or mix with the Gay fraternity. I am very masculine in appearance and I know people have no idea I am a homosexual even now there is no suspicion unless the fact I am not married may hint at the chance for gossip, but I don't expose my past.

'I find plays, films and literature about heterosexual people tiresome. It is reading their views, problems and situations that have nothing to do with me, I am an alien!

'I would loved to have been born normal, had a wife, children and my own family, with all the trails and tribulations. My life, I feel has had no purpose there has been no joy or extreme happiness that straight people have had in some quarters. I would have loved to have had the chance to do it. I have had a great many relationships with women but have not married because my life would have been dishonest and a lie.

'I was born dammed. I can not understand the reason for my existence.'

Answer by Rachel Browne

I cannot say what God's purpose would be since I don't believe in God or purpose. But perhaps he was testing your honesty and you failed the test. Perhaps he was testing your strength and you might have passed. However, perhaps 'coming out' would have shown greater strength.

It is quite funny that you say that if you had married you would have been living a lie. You have been doing so! Really, nearly everyone accepts gays and those who don't are people you wouldn't want to know anyway I'd have thought. Most heterosexuals are against this prejudice too.

Lots of people feel alienated for many different reasons. That you might feel more alienated than most doesn't make you an 'alien'. You are a person with the same desire for love and happiness that we all have. Many, many people fail to find this. Some find it but go on to suffer the terrible loss of it.

Joy and happiness have nothing to do with sexual orientation. It is a matter of personality. I have known very joyous (gay) gays.

You haven't been damned. None of us are 'free'. Everyone struggles in their different ways. You seem to have your health. You haven't complained about you working life. Since you are 72 perhaps it is time to be brave and make up for lost time.


Natalie asked:

'I am reading Philippa Foot, 1978, 'Morality as a system of Hypothetical Imperatives', in Virtues and Vices. I have to answer a question that I have had incredible trouble doing:

''What does Philippa Foot mean when she suggests that Kant's view of 'ought' is relying on an illusion as if trying to give the moral ought a magical force?'

'Please help me -- I am a business student and have never tackled anything like this -- I have read the reading at least 20 times and have an understanding of Kant's Categorical Imperative, but have no idea what Foot means. Please Help?'

Answer by Rachel Browne

Of course I don't want to answer your essay but this answer isn't nearly long enough for an essay but I hope it helps you understand.

Foot is analysing what we mean by a moral 'ought' by means of the function it has in our language. Her argument is based upon comparisons with other senses/uses of 'ought' and she concludes that there is no sense to or use of this term such that it can ground a moral imperative. To suppose that there is to be under an illusion.

When 'ought' is used in a Kantian hypothetical non-moral sense you can go on to say why you ought. If you can't do this, as in the Kantian moral case, and there is nothing more to say, the 'ought' lacks content. The thought that there are unavoidable duties cannot be elucidated or further understood through language, thought and reason so Foot argues that we merely 'feel' that there are these duties and this is the result of our education. If we merely feel there are moral duties, and this is due to our education, then we are subject to an illusion. There is no external imperative or command on us.

Foot makes two specific claims about the failure of the moral ought. Firstly, she says that if we say that someone 'ought' to do something, language and thought stops right there. We can give no further reasons in support of the proposition if the reply is 'why?' We fail to supply reasons because there are no further reasons which can give rise to the 'ought', other than we just do happen to make such claims. If there are no reasons on which the moral ought is based, then it is easy to reject the moral ought without necessarily being irrational. If one wants to follow one's own self-interested reasons, then the person who supports the idea that the moral ought has hold is left floundering. Foot believes in this paper that irrationality is acting in such a way as 'to defeat one's own purpose'. Behaving morally rather than in one's own self-interest may well do this.

Of course, what is rational or irrational can be defined in other ways. It could be said that the rational is that which is expected by society. Though since society is made up of individuals this leads to problems.

Foot's second point is to say that moral judgements or the moral 'ought' might imply necessity and the unavoidability of doing what we 'must' do. We take it that moral demands have binding force. However, no sense can be given to this in terms of the meaning of moral language which needs to provide us with a reason why we ought to do something or be moral. Again there is nothing further to be said. All we can do is to use synonyms: Unavoidability, necessity, binding force, inescapability. But we still cannot say WHY.

Because we cannot expand upon the 'ought' with reasons that function in language, such that we can tell someone WHY they 'ought' then there is no binding force or inescapability in morality. If we go on to say it is necessary, this can again be questioned.

'Ought' is empty of content as a term and only SEEMS to be binding, so it is really an illusion.


Colin asked:

'First off, I would just like to point out that I am only 14 and not a philosopher by any stretch of the imagination. I'm just wondering if you think I'm being hypocritical with the following:

'I myself am not a vegetarian and quite happily eat meat, but I do think killing animals is wrong. I have tried to justify my thoughts by saying 'Well, if I don't eat this meat then that animal has been killed for no reason,' but in retrospect, if I were given the option to stop the killing of animals and not eat meat again, I wouldn't stop.

'Reading this again I am now fairly sure that I'm being hypocritical, so I have answered that question, but is there a way I can justify my thoughts so I'm not being hypocritical? I'm looking forward to your replies.'

Answer by Rachel Browne

Well, I am a vegetarian who has recently started to eat fish as a doctor suggested it necessary for health reasons. But I would be prepared to catch a fish and eat it -- should the need arise!

Yes, this seems very hypocritical. All I can say is that most people are hypocritical in some ways. Also, most people who eat meat wouldn't do so if they had to kill the animal themselves, and especially not if they raised the animals themselves. The whole meat industry is filled with deceit and, in the supermarkets, nice packaging.

No-one eats cow, they eat 'beef'. No-one eats pig, they eat 'pork' or 'ham'. If an animal is small and cute like a lamb, you can call a spade a spade. Although no meat eater thinks of meat as the dead flesh, which it is -- even when eating lamb. The label 'meat' makes dead flesh into something edible. Don't worry about it. You're just a typical meat eater!

What I wonder is why meat eaters tend to say that the thing they couldn't give up is bacon?


Nuno asked:

'If philosophy of language tells us that we can only answer those things that can be put in a coherent question, can we develop or take advantage of 'special languages' to ask specific questions? How can poetry, for instance, be useful to answer the 'un-askable' questions and how would its answer be analysed?'

Answer by Rachel Browne

Well take the question, 'What is a desire for God to take over your life like?' We cannot easily describe our experiences such as to have the effect of truly moving others. Poetry does it easily because it says little and yet inspires imagination and thought.

Take Donne. He doesn't ask, but answers, yet at the same time he poses this question:

     Batter my heart, three person'd God; for, you
     As yet but knocke, breathe, shine and seek to mend;
     That I may rise, and stand, o-erthrow mee, and bend
     Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new.'

I am presented not with an ordinary language description or an assertion, but as I read the words I feel the full force of such a desire. And the question is implicit in what he says. Ordinary language can be suggestive but poetry is intensely so.

Of course it is possible to coherently ask what a desire for God to take over one's life is like, but I doubt that non-metaphorical language would provide a satisfying answer as it arouses the understanding rather than the imagination. A reply in ordinary descriptive language might tell us something that we try to grasp intellectually, but we won't experience the answer. Poetry allows us to enter into the emotion expressed.

In this particular sonnet about god, Donne uses sexual language, as in the words

     Except you'entrall mee, never shall be free,
     Nor ever chast, except you ravish me.

The use of sexual language to describe the need for God, as well as the demands for force in 'Batter my heart', 'o-erthrow mee' and 'bend Your force' bring in metaphorical associations that we don't normally go with the idea of God and so the effect is to show us something that we wouldn't get in an ordinary language answer. If you translated this into ordinary language directly, by summing up Donne's use of metaphor, as the need for God as 'sexual and masochistic' it would sound false and perverted, so metaphors can't be translated in any simple way. But if you want analysis here, you would need to analyse metaphor so I can't answer fully but surely it is central to traditional literary theory? Maybe a grasp of metaphor is intuitive and associational but in some way beyond analysis.

So one way of saying what poetic language is is to say that it makes use of metaphor in such a way that we can experience something that, if given in ordinary language, would not have the same impact upon us. It can answer questions but we don't know precisely how. If we did there would be no need for poets because computers could ream it off.

Not all poetry uses metaphor. But the essence of poetry is that the language is always evocative and the imagination comes into play leading to us to something more than is precisely said.

There is no metaphor in the following by Philip Larkin:

     What are days for?
     Days are where we live.

'What are days for?' Would be taken as an incoherent question to a philosopher. We don't think to pose the question. We don't think there is an answer so we don't ask (this question hasn't even arisen yet on Ask a Philosopher! But maybe it's a question of time). There is nothing about days that make us think they might be FOR something. But this question can occur in a poem and it focuses our mind on days in some way that we can't further elucidate. It is an example of the 'un-askable' and doesn't guide you to think of an answer, but just makes you dwell upon days. The un-askable question is answered by our merely dwelling on days, and I doubt that this can be analysed at all.

Just a couple of examples, but I think the poet (Larkin) can ask the 'un-askable' and we respond imaginatively, or he can answer questions more fully (Donne) and in the latter case there might be analysis, but I doubt philosophy of language has covered it in any detail. Both require imagination from the reader.

All answers taken from Ask a Philosopher https:---

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Nick Acocella The Divine Inspiration of Porn and the Beginning of Sexual Metaphysics Available from ISFP Publishing https:---

This book shows more understanding of sex than any other book on philosophy of sex I have read.

It approaches sex and pornography from a unique angle in which I see no influence from other philosophy of sex and porn books.

The first section is on the Practical Grounds of Sexual Significance which includes:

- A Brief Anatomy of Inference

- A Brief Anatomy of Immorality

- A Brief Anatomy of Stimulation

- The Legend of Gender

- The Nature of Enjoyment

- The Crisis of Beauty

The second section on Sexual Significant in Its Basic Dimensions includes:

- The Sexual Significance of Beauty

- The Sexual Significance of Teleology

- The Sexual Significance of Morality

Then comes the final section on Theological Implications with the single awesome chapter on The Perfection of Porn.

This book should be made available to a wider audience than those interested in philosophy. It will not just be of interest to academics (though much interest has been shown in that quarter) but is likely to draw general readership and become a cult book. It will appeal to those who are interested in sex (and who is not?) as well as those with a love of language and words.

It is poetic, beautiful and very well conceived. It is outrageous but strangely convincing.

It is a very timely book. Novels based on the theme of sex are becoming quite prolific so this is a philosophy book which is tapping into contemporary literary interests.

It is a difficult book to publish. Academics are showing interest and the book is worthy of an academic publisher, but it has readability that also makes it literature. A pro-pornography book is always slightly pornographic in itself, but this author goes out of his way to make it so, though in a beautiful and sensitive, and, of course, literary way.

The basic argument is outrageous. We would have no idea of sinfulness without God; without sinfulness we could not appreciate porn which is essentially sinful. The appreciation of porn is dirty, normal sex is good. The book quotes Anselm and St Augustine but also describes why men like nipples. This juxtaposition is previously unheard of.

Although Acocella quotes theologians, this is not a theological book. It is philosophy. Although he rejects the idea that sex can be explained in evolutionary terms, he does not seem to be a member of the religious camp although most of his quotes seem to be theological. He seems to be stirring things up.

So he rejects evolutionary explanation and largely ignores the religion/evolution debate, and plumps for the significance of meaning and thought and how these guide us in sexual acts. There is a thread of the irreducibility of meaning, but the book manages to be extremely sensitive to the sexual act. An approach through meaning and thought is a gentler, more human, and more realistic approach than starting with God or evolution. Acocella says, for instance, that sex can be fragile. Interest can dwindle and the mind can wander but something can get us back into the act. We focus on the meaning of what we are doing, the teleology of the act, the aim of orgasm. This is philosophy of mind as well as meaning.

It has been suggested to me that analytical philosophers use pain as an example of a sensation because they are simply used to unrelenting mental pain and afraid of orgasms (private e-mail). Properly accused, perhaps, Wittgenstein. Sex is interesting and pain isn't. As a woman I don't find pornography interesting but Acocella makes it so. Sex is good, he says, but porn is profane and it has to be. This makes porn interesting. Further, there is the ethical aspect to pornography. Acocella asks What sort of morality is needed to be pornographically realised (p. 199). He seems to know about looking at porn and takes it to involve an awareness of sinfulness and the profane but can also bring feelings of shame and so he urges us to take porn where it must go (p.121). He argues that since porn is profane (it seems open whether it is perverse) we must contrast the profane with the sacred and no morality is sacred without God (p.121).

The argument is radical. He doesn't start from God, but rather from a self-confessed interest in porn. But he gets to God through profanity. This is philosophy but it is also a work of art. I have had no sense from communicating with the author that he is actually religious.

Many like myself, who are not particularly interested in pornography will be brought to think about it due to this book. Why should we not? It is a phenomenon which is strange. This book might make people more sympathetic to those who look at pornography. It may be a sin, or at least involve feelings of sinfulness, but feelings of sinfulness can be regarded as moral feelings.

This isn't a moralising book. It is acute on sex and subtle on meaning. Acocella elucidates the attraction of nipples and the penis, in rather a psychoanalytical way drawing on childishness and he captures the sex act to perfection. He is very funny on masturbation, asking what it is we enjoy. Our resourcefulness? Of course his answer is the significance, the thought and the fantasy.

The book is brilliant and deserves to be published. A problem is that Acocella is not an academic and I suspect that academic publishers don't publish books by non-academics. However, the book itself IS academic philosophy. Requests for review copies have been made by PhD students and professors.

My vision for this book is that it will be published by an academic publishers, while we at the International Society for Philosophers will continue to make it known outside the world of universities.

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