The relation between what’s right and what matters

In the comments to a recent post Albert Borgmann highlights a distinction that seems quite important.  As far as I can tell, it is the distinction between what’s right and what matters.  I hope that Albert will correct me if I’ve misunderstood. I believe the distinction he is making is spelled out in greater detail here.

Although the distinction between what’s right and what matters seems very important to me, it is not at all obvious to me what the relation between these is.  I think I can imagine, for example, someone’s knowing that it is right to do something without also feeling that it matters that he do it.  And likewise, I think I can imagine a case in which it matters a lot to someone that he do something even though, in the end, it turns out not to be right to do it.

You might think that the way to bring these together is to say that the really admirable life is the one in which one manages to recognize as worthwhile and meaningful the things it is right to do.  But whether this really is the best way to think about it will depend upon how one thinks about what it is right to do.  Let me try to spell this out.

Let us suppose, for example, that we can take seriously and admire Jesus’s claim that he fulfills the law.  That’s to say, let us suppose that we can take seriously and admire his claim that he can do things prohibited by the Hebrew law, and therefore in some important sense can do things that are not – at least as considered at the time – right.  One natural way to think about this is to think that Jesus is such a special figure that what matters to him to do is just much more important and admirable than what it is (at the time considered) right to do.  What matters, in other words, trumps what’s right.

But we might think about what is right in a very different way.  We might think, for example, that the Hebrew law doesn’t actually codify what it’s right to do.  The Hebrews thought it did, on this account, but they were wrong.   On this interpretation what matters to Jesus and strikes him as worth doing is actually a better guide to what is right than the Hebrew laws that his actions contradict.  On this account, what matters doesn’t trump what’s right; instead what matters to Jesus just is what’s right.

Someone like Kierkegaard seems to emphasize the first of these interpretations.  On Kierkegaard’s view, in other words, what matters and is worth doing can and sometimes does trump what is right.  When Kierkegaard says the Knight of Faith will sometimes be moved to a “teleological suspension of the ethical”, for example, I think he is claiming that sometimes faith requires one to do what is not right.  In making this claim Kierkegaard is depending upon the idea that our conception of what it is “right” to do must satisfy several constraints.  These are constraints on what is right that he interpreted Hegel as promoting.  According to Kierkegaard’s reading of Hegel right actions, among other things, must be justifiable in some kind of discursive context.  If your action was right, in other words, then you should be able to give the reasons that justify it.  But Kierkegaard thinks that the Knight of Faith cannot always justify or explain his actions.  Had Abraham actually sacrificed Isaac, for example – which he was ready to do – then there would have been no possible justification for the act.  Indeed, he is the father of faith precisely because he was willing to perform this absurd and awful action despite recognizing that there was no possible justification for it.  From the point of view of the right, there is no way to admire such a person.  But from Kierkegaard’s point of view this was precisely what made Abraham the father of faith, and in virtue of this one of the most admirable figures there is.

The second interpretation of what is right, in which what matters can determine what is right, seems to be committed to a very different interpretation of the nature of right action.  In particular, it is willing to give up Kierkegaard’s (and Hegel’s) assumption that for an action to be right it must be justifiable in some discursive context.  After all, Jesus’ own actions seem, in the only discursive context in which he could have given reasons for them, to be totally unjustifiable.  To say nevertheless that his actions fulfill the Law, or determine what it is right to do, therefore must be to commit oneself to a conception of what it is right to do that rests easy with the idea that right actions are sometimes not justifiable.

So it seems to me that the two going options are these:  Either we stick to the idea that what is right is what is justifiable, in which case we must allow for the possibility that what matters trumps what’s right.  Or else we say that what matters (to the relevant person – say, a Jesus-like figure) determines what’s right, in which case we have to give up the idea that what is right is necessarily justifiable in a discursive context.

The other option, of course, is to reject altogether the phenomena that the Jesus and Abraham figures in the Bible are meant to embody.

I’m not at all sure how it’s best to go on this issue.  But I want to thank Albert (and my own student Enoch) for pressing it.

About Sean D. Kelly

Sean Dorrance Kelly is the Teresa G. and Ferdinand F. Martignetti Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University. He is also Faculty Dean at Dunster House, one of the twelve undergraduate Houses at Harvard. He served for six years as chair of Harvard's Department of Philosophy. Kelly earned an Sc.B. in Mathematics and Computer Science and an M.S. in Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences from Brown University in 1989. After three years as a Ph.D. student in Logic and Methodology of Science, he received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of California at Berkeley in 1998. Before arriving at Harvard in 2006, Kelly taught at Stanford and Princeton, and he was a Visiting Professor at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris. Sean Kelly's work focuses on various aspects of the philosophical, phenomenological, and cognitive neuroscientific nature of human experience. He is a world authority on 20th century European Philosophy, specializing in the work of Martin Heidegger and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. He has also done influential work in philosophy of mind and philosophy of perception. Kelly has published articles in numerous journals and anthologies and he has received fellowships or awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the NEH, the NSF and the James S. McDonnell Foundation, among others. Fun fact: He appeared on The Colbert Show in 2011 to talk about All Things Shining. Sean Kelly lives at Dunster House with his wife, the Harvard Philosopher Cheryl Kelly Chen, and their two boys, Benjamin and Nathaniel.
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44 Responses to The relation between what’s right and what matters

  1. Britt Z. says:

    This reminds of Derrida’s distinction between justice and the law, and Levinas’ distinction between the Saying and the Said. Sometimes the Evil is the Good and vice versa; it just depends on the call and the context.

    • dmf says:

      maybe for Levinas (tho I think not) but for Derrida your quasi-transcendental isn’t transcendental enough.

      Click to access Moi_They-Practice-Their-Trades.pdf

      • Britt Z. says:

        That’s exactly the point! The impossible demand of the tout autre can never be completely justified and neither can any rule or law. To combine Levinas & Derrida, the Saying of justice, an example being Christ, interrupts/suspends, as an event, the Said of the Law, hopefully, leading to a new, justified Said, ad infinitum. The quasi-transcendental, a prophetic call, demanding more than we could ever give, is a shock within and to immanence.

        The examples Sean gives reveal two things:
        1).To be responsible, a person needs to work through each singular event to decide what is right and what matters.
        2).To simply apply a social paradigm to every single case is irresponsible.

  2. dmf says:

    certainly much of American philosophy has overvalued the place/role of justification in human relations, as for the Biblical figures either they move us or not, what is important is the being-moved (the theo-poiesis if you will) not the literal image/words.

    Click to access Stokes-Vision.pdf

    • dmf says:

      Sean, if you’re serious about taking a theological turn in your phenomenology Jack Caputo has been doing a lot of work along these lines including a new project on the implications of Christ’s being-in-the-flesh. His website at SU has much of his info or check out his lectures @

  3. Ernst G. Hof says:

    I do not subscribe to your statement, that what Jesus did was not justifiable by Hebrew law. Jesus was crucified for breaking the sabbath (and publication of mysteries in the case of Lazarus) – but in every case he justified (or at least was able to do so) what he did with recourse to a higher law than the written one. In German law we have a similar principle: the courts have to respect “Gesetz und Recht”. Gesetz is the written law, Recht is justice.
    The question is if you define the right thing to do only by social consensus or by an underlying order. Robert M. Pirsig’s (“Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”) “quality” is a candidate for the latter. It rests in a totality that is prior to dualistic arguing and “justification”. What Jesus did had quality.

  4. Charlie says:

    Faith justifies nothing. No extra credit for making the case for absurdity

  5. Charlie says:

    Can I also vote for the 3rd option and remove Jesus and scripture from the equation. How about another suspension of the ethical to see what might be justifiable. How about China’s autocratic, tyrannical top down approach to utility. At a minimum that creates the possibility that what matters might trump what’s right

    • Britt Z. says:

      There’s a difference between victims and those that victimize. Philosophers like Badiou make an objection similar to yours, completely ignoring, or overlooking, this important distinction.

      • terenceblake says:

        Badiou is always and everywhere defending the victims against the victimizers. He doesn’t “overlook” the distinction, it is the basis for his whole philosophy. This is what he calls his “communism”, which he defines as defending the multiplicities against the totality. So “communism” is his word for what Sean calls “polytheism”.

      • Britt Z. says:

        I meant he forgets the distinction when he critiques the ethical positions of Derrida or Levinas. In a blatant misreading, attacking “their” position, he writes “Our suspicions are first aroused when we see that the self-declared apostles of ethics and ‘right to differences’ are clearly horrified by any vigorously sustained difference. For them, African customs are barbaric, Muslims are dreadful, the Chinese are totalitarian, and so on.”
        I didn’t mean he doesn’t have the distinction within his own philosophy.

        I’m not sure how you connect Badiou’s “communism” and Sean’s “polytheism”…. It would seem like Badiou’s procedure of truth would be an almost impossible obstacle to get around!
        Could you explain it further?

  6. Albert Borgmann says:

    To Sean’s insightful and helpful remarks I would add this.
    Perhaps we can recast his relation as the contemporary distinction between the right and the good that emerged with the rise of the modern era. Previously the right and the good had broadly been one. So then to determine the good in a new way as Jesus did was to overthrow the law or the right at the same time. And to determine the right or the law as Aristotle did in his Ethics and Politics was to determine the good as well.
    In contemporary culture the good and the right are still connected by the thin bond of the sacred. How the relation will be worked out more substantively remains to be seen. But I think we can tell now that it will have to be a relation rather than the suppression of one in favor of the other. To try and make the good prevail by an act of the will can most of the time lead only to trouble.
    So the philosophers’ contributions will have to be discursive if they are to be helpful. Rawls’s relation of the right to the good—of justice as fairness to comprehensive doctrines—is most helpful, I think. If it has a shortcoming it would be that in his proposal the outline of the good is all too faint. This is where Bert and Sean’s book shines.
    The Rawlsian proposal is broad, of course, and on occasion the good can trump the right. In his Justice, Sandel gives a wonderful account of such cases, among many other helpful discussions.
    My hope is that once we have learned the lessons of All Things Shining, we’ll be in a position to consider the relation between the right and the good in a new and deeper way.

  7. Charlie says:

    DMF, I’m back at work with my firewall blocking your suggested link. I look forward to reading that at home

    I may have appeared glib. My qualm is with revelatory faith justifying individual actions and the conceit of a single morality. I’m not demeaning faith or the moral argument for god. The fact that there are moralities has ontological significance. But I don’t see how an absurd act, reinforcing the true nature of faith, addresses the question of what is justifiable. For me, what matters is what is right, based on a variety of moralities.

    And I’m not necessarily positing a relativistic “perspectivism”. Some perspectives are better than others. Moreover, continuing the Nietzschean example, conventional virtues can be appropriate – as in the selective role of compassion in his conception of nobility.

    But, back to the point, if there are general goods, my example was meant to isolate whether we can transgress in the pursuit of this morality. If equality matters can the Chinese pursue that good in itself and violate fundamental “rights” in select cases?

    Albert, this does bring us to Rawls (and ultimately to Nietzsche). Perhaps the faintness of the outline is because it’s contextual, we can’t distribute justice exhaustively?

  8. M. Heidegger says:

    Read Aristole on sophia and phronesis.

  9. Kathleen Cramm says:

    This is in response to Sean’s post on ‘the sacred.’
    I’m not sure that humans need to share a common understanding of the sacred. Even if there is room for individuals to have different conceptions of the sacred, is there room for the existence of a quality of experience which transcends the strictly rational?

    Rudolf Otto speaks of the separation of rational and irrational thinking in culture. He says that a unique function of religion is the ability to grasp and value what goes beyond a rational understanding of religious ideas to the awareness of the inexpressible, the ‘numen.’ Religion must be able to be expressed in rational terms, otherwise it is mere emotion. However a rational approach to religion fails ‘to do justice’ to the holy, or sacred, which ‘is a category of interpretation and valuation peculiar to the sphere of religion.” The experience of the sacred is fundamental, akin to the experience of beauty. A grasp of the sacred isn’t taught. A person comes to learn through individual experience and religious guidance to ‘reach the point at which ‘the numinous’ begins to stir, to start into life and into consciousness.’ The grasp of the numinous cannot be specifically taught but ‘can only be evoked, awakened in the mind; as everything that comes ‘of the spirit’ must be awakened.’
    How about this as a touch point for more discussion about ‘the sacred’ in human experience?

  10. Larry says:

    Before Jesus broke the Law, breaking the Law was wrong. After Jesus broke the Law, breaking the Law was right. But at the moment the law was broken, there was neither justification nor incrimination. It seems at that moment he was poised between two opposing measures of the good. Perhaps it’s that in-between-ness that can be thought of as the “teleological suspension of the ethical”.
    As another example, think of Huckleberry Finn when he decides to help Jim escape from slavery. In Huck’s world, helping a runaway slave is a damnable sin, and he’s no abolitionist. Huck’s truly ashamed of what he’s doing, and his commitment wavers. But his personal attachment to Jim matters more than what’s right, and he finally declares, “All right then, I’ll go to hell!”
    From our perspective, Huck’s decision is heroic. But it seems to justify us in a way it cannot justify Huck. For Huck, it’s as though his actions are not only without justification, but are even beyond a certain level of comprehension. After he has made his decision he tells us he simply “shoved the whole thing out of my head,” as if moving forward requires him to abandon all forms of self-justifying introspection.
    In other words, from our perspective as receivers of an act’s transformative power, what matters appears to have trumped what’s right (what mattered was a righter right). But if we place ourselves in the moment of the act, what matters appears to have overtaken and determined what’s right. In any event, must not some new understanding of the right appear to flow from the act in order for the act to make a claim upon us? (Presumably it does Judas no good to have construed himself as a Knight of Faith.)

  11. Albert Borgmann says:

    I agree with Charlie that human rights are inviolable and sacred and that we can’t violate them in the name of some conception of the good. The advocacy of human rights has taken the place of religious mission. We want to bring the good news of human rights to the ends of the world though it’s crucial to be pragmatic in the pursuit of that goal.
    The reaction to Sean’s presentation was interesting. He talked about the good, rather than the right and paid his respect to the sources that the Chinese can draw on to make life meaningful and worthwhile. He endorsed a pluralism of meaningful lives, something you would expect the Chinese to welcome, especially when their great traditions are so well acknowledged as they were by Sean. Why then did the officials intervene so abruptly when the students wanted to extend their contact with Sean? Perhaps they sensed what Charlie mentioned—that the flourishing of the good, a genuine and unforced revival of Chinese traditions, requires the framework of human rights and that the officials are not doing well in securing those.
    This is a case where our insistence on human rights needs to be paired with tact and pragmatism. The Chinese are struggling with several huge challenges all at the same time, and we should wish them well, being mindful of our own challenges.

    • dmf says:

      who decides what those rights are, how they should be afforded, and what happens when they come into conflict? Why not be pragmatists in such matter not just as a matter of tact but out of recognition of the vital plurality of logoi?
      I recently spoke with the head of the truth and reconciliation commission in Liberia and he thought that our European individualistic talk of rights left out group rights, something our Chinese comrades might agree with.
      Not sure what work talk of “sacred” or”inviolable” does in this realm of human affairs beyond being a kind of emphasis or honorific, or are you marking some Divine aspect/role in history? Why this conservative nostalgia for the past, for revival, instead of some faith in the experimental forward looking powers of the imagination?

      • M. Heidegger says:

        Human rights will disappear along with individuality. This is the issue with technology. I am not nostalgic, just saddened that the individual will no longer be able to exist outside of the group.

  12. dmf says:

    “the hard thing consists not only in the difficulty of forming the work of language, but in the difficulty of going over from the saying work of the still covetous vision of things, from the work of the eyes, to the work of the heart…The widest orbit of beings becomes present in the heart’s inner space.” M.H., PLT

  13. david leech says:

    In response to a thread that runs through the 12.5-12.9 blogs (Is there a “sacred” in the modern world? — The need to develop meta-poietic skills to discern the sacred — The distinction between what is right (rightfully sacred) and what matters (gracefully sacred)) I am drawn to Heidegger’s analysis of Sophocles’ Antigone in his lectures, Holderlin’s Hymn ‘The Ister” (McNeill and Davis translation, Indiana University Press, 1996). The culmination of Heidegger’s complex interpretation of Holderlin’s translation of Antigone comes together on pp 116 (bottom)-119.

    I think Heidegger’s analysis of Antigone is part of an answer to Sean’s concern over navigating the relationship between “what’s right” and “what matters.” But the fuller answer, and the one that I think All Things Shining is ultimately addressing, relates Antigone to Holderlin as poet-demigod, Heidegger’s larger project in the lectures.

    Heidegger says, “Antigone herself is [the] supreme risk [i.e.,]…the risk of distinguishing and deciding between the being unhomely that is proper to human beings and a being unhomely that is inappropriate.” (p. 117)

    Heidegger says, “What determines Antigone is that which first bestows ground and necessity …What this is [background practices, I think], Antigone, … leaves without a name.” (p. 117) … thought in the Greek sense, she names being itself. This is the ground of being homely, the hearth. (p. 118)

    So what is “proper being unhomely”? I think its Antigone’s recognition that Creon’s “right” is groundless. What is “inappropriate being unhomely’? I think its Antigone’s refusal to bow to Creon’s groundless right. Antigone’s sister, Ismene, sees that Antigone’s stance is impossible, inappropriate.

    Atigone is stuck between a rock and a hard place. She sees that there is a ground on the basis of which two distinguish what matters (the burying of her brother) from what is right (Creon’s edict that the brother not be buried) but she can’t see that her ground is a groundless ground; that other understandings of being are possible.

    Heidegger says, “[Antigone] is the purest poem itself. … What is to be said poetically is the poetic truth. …Poetizing is a telling finding of being. Such a finding is supreme … because it is that which is already revealed …and is the nearest of all that is near.” (p. 119-20)

    So Antigone is open to the Greek understanding of being, she embodies the risk inherent in this understanding, but she can’t see beyond it. I think that’s where Holderlin comes in, that’s where Sean’s and Albert Borgmann’s two options come into play, where the “Jesus vs. the law” example, have a bearing, and where the meta-poietic skill advocated in All Things Shining have a bearing.

    We can’t see Antigone as representing a new understanding of being. Rather, she is like a prophet, calling the Greek’s back to their ground, the hearth, vis-à-vis Creon’s “right.” But Jesus vs. the law comes down to us as historical, as story about the “revelation” of a new understanding of being. This adds a temporal dimension (or better, perhaps, a historicality dimension) to the problem of “right” and “mattering.”

    Heidegger’s interpretation of Antigone is sandwiched between his analysis of Holderlin’s poem, “The Ister,” in which “the river” as becoming, and the “poet” as the spirit of the river, as a demi-god, a grasper of the thunderbolt , a herald: “What is coming, in its coming is experienced and preserved in poetizing.” (p. 128)

    Jesus was a herald, as it turned out, a “reconfigurer.” Antigone represents an articulation of the given. They both embodied an understanding of being. Both entail, the risk of distinguishing and deciding between proper and inappropriate being unhomely. Antigone’s risk was static, within a single destiny. The risk of the reconfigurer is both static (Jesus was crucified for his “inappropriate being unhomely.”) and dynamic (on Heidegger’s account of the origin of a work of art, the Jesus movement, like so many others of its kind, might have been forgotten in the dust of history).

    The dynamic risk entails a new wrinkle: the “distinction and decision” between the given understanding of being (for us, “technicity” on Heidegger’s account) and a “futural” understanding we will have had to have experienced “the turning” — an appreciation of the history of the West as a history of understanding of beings. (“What is fitting and fittingly destined for them always remains for human beings that which is coming towards them, that which is futural.” (p. 128))

    Antigone didn’t face that risk, a risk is all the more complicated. Not only do we need to navigate the difference between what is right and what matters but we also have to navigate what is right and matters between understandings of being. We have to navigate getting in the right relation to a dawning (maybe) understanding of being and to navigate between where we are and where we aim to be.

    Seen in this light, the meta-poietic skills Bert and Sean advocate cultivating are very tough. Finding and identifying the practices that allow us to cultivate those skills, alone, is hard, let alone getting the balance right between the right and the good. Bert and Sean identify some — great books and sporting events — but there are others too. I found this same kind of nascent attunement in the words of my daughter as she returned from a kayak adventure — St. Augustine, Florida to Virginia Beach, VA. She wrote:

    One of the things that I wasn’t expecting was the relationship that I developed with the water. I have always loved the water but this trip has tuned me into its complexities and power. Being on the water, especially in such a small boat, is a very humbling experience. In everyday life I generally feel very in control. The other day we were driving from Lewes to Bel Air. There was very little doubt that we would make the 120-mile trip. We might get stuck in bad traffic, but barring any tragedy we were going to make it there. In the kayaks we didn’t have that sense of control. All plans were subject to the weather and what the water would let us do. Back in the southern part of our trip the tides dictated our days. As we got more north the winds created such current and chop that our plans were subject to their whims. We learned pretty quickly that plans were just a general idea of what we would like to do, not necessarily what was going to happen. We’d have a plan A and plan B, but frequently had to come up with a plan C when conditions suddenly changed. This type of uncertainty and lack of control makes you feel very small – it’s definitely not all about you. The water is powerful and any arrogance or ignorance can result in death or an embarrassing coast guard rescue call. In today’s “me centered” world I think it is good to be reminded of how small we really are.

    Its important that we identify these experiences that attune us to what Sean calls “the giverless gift.” I also think that’s its important for us to understand how our current understanding of being works — the technicity understanding — and I think that the metaphysical assumptions of “the market” hold a key to grasping much of the sway in which we are held and from which we hope to navigate free. More on that latter.

    • dmf says:

      I was hoping that we might build off of Bert’s phenomenology of moral expertise but we seem to be heading back into a more Romantic age (circa Alan Watts), is there no fear and trembling, anxiety, insomnia? wasn’t Jesus just another mistaken end-times preacher/mystic with a cult of personality? after St.Paul’s conversion event and re-callings of it, if we want to understand the viabilities/afterlives of christianities shouldn’t we look for Kuhnian developments of social institutions (Rorty reading Kuhn/Davidson offers a useful sense of how new/live metaphors 1st shift paradigms and then become normalized/common-sense) and then we seem to head into the work of Foucault/Deleuze, no?

  14. Albert Borgmann says:

    That’s exellent, David.
    And congratulations on having a daughter who is such a fine natural philosopher.

  15. Enoch Lambert says:

    I’m not sure I understand putting the distinction Sean is trying to make in terms of what’s “right” and what “matters”. I would have thought that it is just a simple truism that what is right is one of the things that matters most. If any evidence is really needed for this claim, note that Derek Parfit’s long awaited tome on normative ethics (on what I would have thought Sean would have categorized under the heading of “right”) is entitled On What Matters.

    Whatever the labels used for the distinction, which I think is a useful one to make, I am a bit surprised at Sean’s take on it. It appears to me as though his post here is asking an ahistorical question seeking an ahistorical answer to what the proper relation is between what is right and what matters/is good/(other label?). What I took from Albert Borgmann’s post that prompted Sean’s right vs. matters post, as well as from Albert Borgmann’s longer paper on the issue, was the idea that what might be significantly distinctive about our age/epoch is the very fact that within it the right and the good/worthwhile/meaningful reveal themselves as irreconcilable, without one being more fundamental than the other. So, perhaps Plato, some religious traditions, and others took the good to trump the right. And one might interpret Kant and the Enlightenment project as reversing the priority. But what becomes distinctive of our age is that the good/meaningful and the right refuse to be reduced to, subsumed by, grounded by, trumped by, etc. the other. There may be some specific situations where the right trumps the good/meaningful and others where the reverse is true. But there is no universal answer about whether one, in general, takes priority to the other. Perhaps the “calling” of our age (as All Things Shining might put it) is to poetically balance the irreducible tension between the two.

    • dmf says:

      Perhaps the “calling” of our age (as All Things Shining might put it) is to poetically balance the irreducible tension between the two.

      what does this literally mean (what would it look like)?

      • David Leech says:

        I think it looks kinda like a stripped-down virtue ethics; a complex balancing task. The Ister lectures alluded to above seem like they are on the way to the four-fold balancing earth-sky, divinities-mortal of Building, Dwelling, Thinking (as I recall). If divinities are the portals to past understandings of being (such as great books but it could be less literal artifacts like those that Heidegger struggles to “read” in Sojourns), then mortals are “us” in our finite existence (finite in time and place — situated). And if sky is rationality, then earth is that which can’t be rationalized. So one struggles to lead a life that is balanced between current and past understandings of being (on the Poet as demi-god story that includes getting attuned to a new understanding of being that allows us to get in a free relation to our current understanding) and between what is rational (right?) and what can’t be rationalized (what matters, what we are thrown into?). I think that gets at both the dimensions I was talking about above: balancing what is right and what matters (Antigone) against our current understanding of being and being opened to new attunements (Holderlin/Heidegger, poet/thinker). I read Julian Young (Later Heidegger), Albert Borgmann (Power Failure, Crossing, Real Am Ethics), Charles Taylor (Secular Age), and Dreyfus-Kelly (Highway Bridges, and ATS) to be moving in this direction, more or less.

      • dmf says:

        thanks for the textual references but what I was asking is how does one DO this ‘balancing’ (or even decide that “balance” is the preferred result/status?)

  16. David Leech says:

    Well, I think its like Dreyfus’ skills-development story. How DO you ride a bicycle? Practice until you can stay up. That pushes the question back one: “what does ‘stay up’ mean? I’m not sure. Every once in a while, I feel like the balance is right. I am not sure what it would be like to feel balanced for long stretches of time in various settings. I do find thr sense of balance happens more now that I am older (59); now that I find various “themes” that have recurred over and over in my life getting answered in satisfactory ways. But I don’t know if that is temporary and will give way to doubt or whether they are settled and I’ll move on to new issues. Time will tell.

    Dreyfus talks about the phronemis, the person who lives well. I think Ruspoli’s movie Being There, focuses on some folks who seem to have it right, have learned to ‘stay up’ in their domains. I guess on this account its not something you DO alone. Its probably something you DO with others.

  17. David Leech says:

    I wonder if there are lessons or pointers about the DOing in Patricia Brenner’s book Educating Nurses (2009). Brenner’s work is based on the Dreyfus skill acquisition model. It has a section entitled, Teaching for Moral Imagination. I haven’t read it but thanks to you questions about DOing, its going in the short pile.

    Maybe its time for a conference, following ATS, on “clinical” practices for developing meta-poietic skills. (“Life as clinic” doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch!)

    I wonder, too, if parenting experience doesn’t offer some clues. If one has had a hand in raising children who seem to be living attuned, eudaimonic lives, is there something worth culling from that rich experience and practice? Is it even possible? One the one hand, perhaps successful parenting, in this respect, is over-determined and there is nothing that can be transferred. On the other hand, maybe eudaimonia is purely individual and retrospective, mine, so that all we can do is observe it in others, cull what seems cull-able, and try to fit it into our own puzzle. Maybe family lore could serve the function of transferring attuned, eudaimonic practices inter-generationally. Maybe this is part of the discovery (or rediscovery) of our historicality that Holderlin and Heidegger teach. Maybe cultivating family lore is a practice that aides in meta-poietic skill acquisition. Certainly it’s a practice that is not well-developed in today’s culture.

    Regarding “multiplicity and fluidity,” my intuition tells me either that that is part of the problem or at least that reducing it for important aspects of our lives is a key to getting things to thing. I have a sense that getting clear about the metaphysical commitments of the interchangeability that underlies multiplicity and fluidity are part of getting in a free relation to it.

  18. Albert Borgmann says:

    I agree with Enoch that the division between the right and the good is an epochal event and now a challenge for all of us. And I agree that the right and the good are irreducible to one another, but I wouldn’t say they’re irreconcilable. Rawls in Part V of Justice and Fairness has much to say on how to reconcile them. His account is a little schematic and his illustration is not well-chosen, but, as Enoch suggests, All Things Shining will add to this discussion by way of a poietic phenomenology.
    The book has an interesting and important discussion on how to distinguish salutary from insidious things that shine. It develops the notion of meta-poiesis, the faculty of telling the difference. Analogously we may need the faculty of meta-teleology, the ability to tell which shining things pass the deontological test and are compatible, say, with the Kantian norms of equality, dignity, and self-determination. All the private and communal examples in All Things Shining pass the test, I believe—the “family meal at Thanksgiving,” the baseball game where Lou Gehrig gave his memorable address, and more generally the acquisition of the skills that are equal to things shining.
    Shining things that meet the test of justice are crucial in giving the prosperous countries a rewarding goal to bring their mindless affluence down to and a goal for the poor countries to work up to without propelling the global population to morally and materially disastrous modes of consumption.
    There is much that needs to be considered and sorted out here, and philosophers have been slow in taking up that challenge. My hope is that All Things Shining will help them to bestir themselves.

    • David Leech says:

      Are you saying the division is a sign of an epochal event (of which there have been several in the West) or are you saying that its unique to our epoch? If the latter, what do you make of Abraham’s intention, the Antigone-Creon division, the Jesus-Law division, Dante’s bodily attraction-divine attraction division, Melville’s water-land division, etc.

      Aren’t these like Heidegger’s turning (lightening flash)? Aren’t they evidence of the tension between “what matters” and “what’s right” (an earth-world rift?) bubbling to the surface?

      • david leech says:

        I should have said, “Dante’s romantic attraction” not “bodily attraction.”

      • david leech says:

        I realize this “like Hediegger’s turning” is a confused statement. Its going to take me some time to get it straight and I don’t have the time today.

    • dmf says:

      hmm, from these examples the “test” sounds a lot like personal taste, if not nostalgia, there are contemporary philosophers, like Shusterman, who are taking seriously the idea of philosophy as being directly related to improving the quality of lives, and not just ones’ reading/writing habits, but if one is preaching bedtime for Bonzo stories like William Bennett or selling the care of the soul as following one’s boomer bliss like Thomas Moore than this might lead to Oprah but not much more. Looking forward to seeing which way the book goes.

    • david leech says:

      Let me ask my question of Albert Borgmann (and Enoch Lambert) a little differently: Does the division between what’s right and what matters define ANY epochal event or is this division defining of our epochal event? If the latter, is the division defining of the epochal event we are approaching — the one anticipated in Heidegger’s essay, The Turning — or is it definitive of the epoch we are in, the one we know as the technological understanding of being?

  19. Albert Borgmann says:

    It’s a good question, David, but I’d like to step aside and let Enoch answer it.

  20. M. Heidegger says:

    Having read the posts concerning the distinction between what is right and what is good; the relationship between what is right and what matters; and how these concerns may be involved in living a worthwhile life have convinced me that no one has the slightest understanding of being. To date, what I have read indicates an inadequate and primitive philosophy that, like much of the science of these modern times, appeals to the imagination of the ignorant rather than to the interests of a thinker.

    I am still debating whether or not I will be reading ATS, since all indications have been pointing towards more drivel than reward, and since there is so much that I have to read in my research for my book, I would hate to divert my attention to something that will not expand my understanding of being. It pains me to think that I might discover, through the reading of this book, that Dreyfus is slipping in his scholarship. I still hold the opinion that, amongst all the professors, he holds the most sophisticated understanding of Heidegger’s work. I am hoping that Sean will convince me otherwise on the value of his thinking in this book. I also hope that the level of philosophical thinking is raised in this blog.

  21. Hey there just wanted to give you a quick heads up.
    The text in your post seem to be running off the screen in Ie.
    I’m not sure if this is a format issue or something to do with browser compatibility but I figured I’d post to let you know.
    The design look great though! Hope you get the problem fixed soon.

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