Copyright (C) 2001 by Robert N. Barger

1. Introduction

   1.1. The concept of a system:

A "system" is a unified whole made up of interdependent parts.  A part is
said to be "interdependent" since no single part can perform the total
functions of the whole, but rather must depend on the other parts, and the
other parts in turn must depend on it. Take, for example, a microcomputer
system: In order to use a microcomputer, you need the following parts: 1)
an input device (e.g., a keyboard) to supply data to the computer, 2) a
microprocessor to compare or to change the data (i.e., to process it in
some way), and 3) an output device (e.g., a monitor screen, printer, or
storage disk) to receive the results of the data processing. Notice that
each part of this trio (input device, processor, and output device)
depends on the other parts to do its job. If one of the parts is removed,
no results will be received. It is also worth noting that the parts must
be "compatible." That is, they must interface, or fit together, properly.
You cannot, for example run a Windows software package on a UNIX 
operating system because they are not designed to work together.

   1.2. Philosophic Systems:

There are philosophy systems, just as there are computer systems. There
are essentially four such systems in philosophy. These are Idealism,
Naturalism (often known as Realism), Pragmatism, and Existentialism. A
synopsis of each of these systems will follow. Additional notes on a
non-system called Logical Analysis will also be added. Philsophy systems,
like other kinds of systems, are composed of interdependent parts. The
parts of a philosophy system are: metaphysics (basically indistinguishable
from what is sometimes called ontology), epistemology, and axiology.

   1.2.1 Metaphysics:

Metaphysics is the theory of the ultimate nature of reality. It asks the
question: what is real? Another word for metaphysical "theory" might be
metaphysical "belief," since one's metaphysics, or fundamental worldview,
is basically an assumption - it cannot be proven. It is simply a belief
held by a person as being the best explanation of what reality is and what
it means, in that person's view. 

   1.2.2 Epistemology:

Epistemology is the theory of truth or knowledge. It asks the question:
what is true, and how do we come to know that truth? 

   1.2.3 Axiology:

Axiology is the theory of value or worth. It asks the question: what is
good and bad? Axiology is made up of two sub-parts: ethics, which is the
theory of the goodness or badness of human behavior, and aesthetics, which
is the theory of the goodness or badness of visual appearance or audible
sound (expressed in terms of beauty or ugliness). 

   1.2.4 Compatibility:

The parts of a philosophic system must be compatible with one another,
just as they must be in a computer system. A person's view of reality
(metaphysics) must be consistent with how that person thinks reality is
known (epistemology) and how that person thinks reality is to be valued
(axiology). As will be seen, it would be incompatible for a person with,
for instance, an Idealistic view of reality to adopt, for instance, a
Pragmatic approach to value.

1.2.5 Metaphysics as the fundamental component of philosophy:

Metaphysics (one's explanation of reality) is the fundamental, or
controling, element of philosophy. Metaphysics determines epistemology and
axiology. That is, the way you explains reality will determine your view
of knowledge and of value. In other words, you tell me what your view of
reality is (i.e., what you think is the meaning of life and the universe)
and I can then predict how you think knowledge is to be gained and
what you think is of value. [Note: since this is an ethics course,
we will be concerned mainly with how different metaphysical views
influence different ethical views. We will not be concerned with
epistemology or aesthetics. However, for completeness in describing the
different philosophical systems their epistemological and aesthetic views
will be included here. When we talk about morality though, we are
talking about ethics. If you are asked about the ethicalview of
Idealism, don't throw in what Idealism thinks about epistomology and

2. Idealism

   2.1. Idealistic Metaphysics:

The person with an Idealistic worldview believes that reality is basically
spirit, rather than matter. For the Idealist, the idea is more real than
the thing, since the thing only reflects or represents the idea. The world
of spirit or idea (i.e., the immaterial world) is static and absolute.
Socrates and Plato are perhaps the best known ancient representatives of
this view. See Plato's parable of the Cave for his idea of what reality is. 
Immanuel Kant is a modern Idealist. See the commentary on Kant's 'Grounding 
for the Metaphysics of Morals'.

   2.2. Idealistic Epistemology:

Since reality is spirit, Idealists believe that knowledge results from the
mind grasping reality. Since the mind and the ideas that it knows are
immaterial, the process of knowing is entirely abstract. Right reason is
thus a primary concern for the Idealist.

   2.3. Idealistic Axiology:

      2.3.1. Idealistic Ethics:

For the Idealist, goodness is found in the ideal, that is, in perfection.
It is found on the immaterial level, that is, in the perfect concept, or
notion, or idea, of something. Thus, perfect goodness is never to be found
in the material world.  Evil, for the Idealist, consists of the absence or
distortion of the ideal. It is a breaking of the eternal law. Since ideals
can never change (because they are static and absolute), moral imperatives
concerning them do not admit of exceptions. That is, these imperatives are
stated in terms of "always" or "never." For example: "Always tell the
truth" or (put negatively) "Never tell a lie." Since truth is the
knowledge of ideal reality and a lie is a distortion of that reality,
truth must always be told and lying can never be justified. The Ethical Theory of Emmanual Kant:

      2.3.2. Idealistic Aesthetics:

When an Idealist wants to visually or audibly represent an idea, his or
her approach will be to get that idea across to the viewer or listener.
The Idealist is not overly interested in specific or concrete instances,
since reality is in the general idea of something, and less in a
particular representation of that idea. An Idealist painter, for example,
will therefore try to paint the "perfect" person - to bring out the
person's inner identity. If the person in the painting had cut herself or
himself and had a scar on her/his face, the painter would leave the scar
out (or at least idealize it)  because the scar is an imperfection
-something that should not ideally be there.

3. Naturalism

   3.1. Naturalistic Metaphysics:

The person with a Naturalistic worldview believes that reality is
basically matter, rather than spirit. For the Naturalist, the thing is
more real than the idea. Whatever exists is therefore primarily material,
natural, and physical. "Whatever exists exists in some quantity and
therefore can be measured" (as Edward Lee Thorndike, one of the first
experimental psychologists, said). It exists independently of any mind and
is governed by the laws of nature, primary among which are the laws of
cause and effect. The universe, according to the Naturalist, is one of
natural design and order. Aristotle was an early representative of this
view. B.F. Skinner, the behavioral psychologist, is a more current

   3.2. Naturalistic Epistemology:

For the Naturalist, knowledge is gained through the senses.  Reality
exists in the material object, not in the immaterial mind. Therefore, it
is the mind that must conform to the object - not the object to the mind.
This conformity of the mind to the object is done thru the senses and is
an entirely physical process. Science is thus a primary concern for the

   3.3. Naturalistic Axiology:

      3.3.1. Naturalistic Ethics:

For the Naturalist, the baseline of value is that which is natural - that
is, that which is in conformity with nature.  Nature is good. One need not
look beyond nature to some immaterial ideal for a standard of right and
wrong. Rather, goodness will be found by living in harmony with nature.
Evil, for the Naturalist, is a departure from this natural norm either in
the direction of excess or defect (i.e., having, or doing, too much or too
little of something which is naturally good).  It is a breaking of the
natural law.

      3.3.2. Naturalistic Aesthetics:

In seeking good appearance, or sound, the Naturalist will look to nature
as the standard. Thus, for the Naturalist, art should imitate nature. If a
Naturalist is painting a portrait of a person who has a facial scar, the
Naturalist will paint the scar because reality includes imperfection.

4. Pragmatism

   4.1. Pragmatic Metaphysics:

For the Pragmatist, reality is not so easily pinpointed as it is for the
Idealist and Naturalist. Reality is neither an idea nor is it matter. It
would be a mistake to view reality as either a spiritual or physical
"something." Rather, the Pragmatist believes that reality is a
process. It is a dynamic coming-to-be rather than a static fixed
being. It is change, happening, activity, short,
it is experience.  Reality is more like a verb than a noun. It is
flux and flow where the concentration is not so much on the things as on
the relationship between the things. Since everything changes nothing
can have any permanent essence or identity. An ancient Greek
Pragmatist used to say in this regard: "You can't step in the same river
twice." For the Pragmatist, everything is essentially relative. The only
constant is change. The only absolute is that there are no absolutes! The
Americans William James and John Dewey are representatives of this view.

   4.2. Pragmatic Epistemology:

Given the Pragmatic understanding of reality, the question of knowledge
becomes somewhat problematic. The mind can certainly not be depended on
for knowledge. Even the senses cannot be totally trusted, since things may
not be...or continue to be...what they seem to be. The only sure route to
knowledge in a world of constant change is to test things and see if they
work. There is no fixed and permanent truth. Rather, truth "happens" to a
thing. If it is found to work (i.e., to be useful in achieving some end),
then it becomes true. When it no longer works toward achieving an end,
then it ceases to be true. This testing of knowledge is a "public" test.
That is, it is open to anyone's inspection. It must be able to be
replicated. If it works for you, it must be able to work for me. Thus,
truth is the result of a consensual process. It is an agreement reached by
the group (or at least by a majority of the group). It is also tentative,
because it is only held as long as it proves to be true (i.e., as long as
it is found to be useful). Finally, truth is relative. It is relative to
the end or goal to which it is thought to be useful, and it is relative in
the sense that it is not *always* true, but is true only so long as it is
useful. Society's judgment is thus a primary concern for the Pragmatist.

   4.3. Pragmatic Axiology:

      4.3.1. Pragmatic Ethics:

Much that was said in the discussion above about pragmatic epistemology
could also be said here about pragmatic ethics.  The Pragmatist believes
that value claims must be tested and proven in practice. In the
Pragmatist's view, things are value-neutral in themselves. There is
nothing that is always good, nor is there anything that is always bad.
The value of anything is determined solely in terms of its
usefulness in achieving some end. In answer to the question,
"Is that good?", a Pragmatist would probably reply, "Good for what?"  
Thus, the Pragmatist believes that the end justifies the means. That is,
if something is useful for achieving some end or goal, then it becomes
good. To state this another way, a means gets its positive value from
being an efficient route to the achievement of an end. Thus, a
means is not valued for its own sake, but only in relation to its
usefulness for achieving some end. Results or consequences are the
ultimate measure of goodness for a Pragmatist, since the usefulness of a
means to an end can only be judged after the fact by its effect on the
end. Thus, for the Pragmatist, there can be no assurance that something is
good...until it is tried. Even then, it is only held tentatively as good
since a thing is good only as long as it continues to work. Evil, for the
Pragmatist, is that which is counterproductive. It is (usually) a breaking
of civil or criminal law. There can be a dispute about which means are
more effective for achieving an end. Indeed, there can be a dispute about
which ends should, in fact, be pursued. Thus, the Pragmatist looks for
guidance from the group. The reasons for this are metaphysical:
reality is experience, but it is the experience of the whole. For the
Pragmatist, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This means
that the whole is more valuable than any of its parts. In the field of
value judgments, the group's wisdom is more highly esteemed than the
wisdom of any individual within the group.

      4.3.2. Pragmatic Aesthetics:

In keeping with the Pragmatist value theory, there is no appearance or
sound which is, in itself, good or bad.  Appearances or sounds take their
value from their relationships to group goals. Thus, in the realm of art,
values will be determined by the majority view and in relation to the
social benefit of the art in question.

5. Existentialism

   5.1. Existentialistic Metaphysics:

The Existentialist joins with the Pragmatist in rejecting the belief that
reality is fixed and static. But instead of believing that reality is a
process whose meaning is defined primarily by the controlling group, the
Existentialist believes that reality must be defined by each autonomous
individual. The Existentialist finds both himself/herself and the world
entirely without meaning. In fact, the Existentialist would say that the
world is literally "absurd."  Any meaning that gets into the world must be
put in it by the individual, and that meaning or value will hold only for
that individual. Thus each person's world, as well as each person's own
identity, is the product of that person's own choice.  Thus, each person
can be defined as the sum of that person's choices. A person's world is
what that person chooses it to be. Thus, reality is different for each
individual. We each live in our own world and we are who we choose to
be...what we believe is who we are. Soren Kierkegaard and Jean-Paul
Sartre are frequently associated with this view.

   5.2. Existentialistic Epistemology:

For the Existentialist, knowledge is an individual matter. An individual
must choose his/her own truth. There is no escaping this choice...not to
decide *is* to decide (that is, we have *decided* not to decide). The
individual does not discover ideas, but rather creates them. This results
in multiple truths...even contradictory truths. The Idealist or
Naturalist, and even the Pragmatist, would call this crazy. But since, in
the Existentialist view, each person is the designer of her/his own scheme
of truth there is no problem if your view of truth does not agree with
mine. What is true for you is not necessarily true for me. We each must
*choose* our own truth.  We may, in fact, agree on truth, but this will be
because we have independently arrived at it. However, it is well to
remember that an Existentialist is not *necessarily* disagreeable. For
example, an Idealist, a Naturalist, a Pragmatist, and an Existentialist
may all agree upon a particular truth, but for different reasons: the
Idealist because it conforms to some ideal, the Naturalist because it is
natural, the Pragmatist because it is socially useful, and the
Existentialist because he/she has decided (through whatever personal
process) that it is true. Individual choice and responsibility are thus
primary concerns for the Existentialist.

   5.3. Existentialistic Axiology:

      5.3.1. Existentialistic Ethics:

As with knowledge, the individual must create his/her own value. There is
no escape from the necessity of creating values. Just as the world is
defined by the choices regarding knowledge that an individual makes, so
the individual must express her/his own preferences. In making choices, or
defining values, the individual becomes responsible for those choices. The
individual cannot deflect praise or blame for those choices onto others.
If the choices were freely made, then responsibility for them must be
accepted. While heredity, environment, and society might influence what
choices an individual makes, there is a zone of freedom within each
individual that cannot be conditioned or predetermined. An Existentialist
is not necessarily a non-conformist, but if an Existentialist conforms to
the values of a group it will be because that person has freely chosen to
do so - not because they have been pressured to do so by the group. Evil,
for the Existentialist, is being false to self. It is a breaking of one's
personal law.

      5.3.2. Existentialistic Aesthetics:

The question of what is good in appearance or sound will be determined, in
Existentialist terms, solely by each individual. Value, like reality and
truth, must be created by the person. It is not *found* preexisting, or
determined by group concensus. Thus, how value is portrayed will be a
matter of individual preference. What is good art for you may be bad art
for me, and vice versa.

6. Logical Analysis

   6.1. Introduction to Logical Analysis:

Logical Analysis (also known as Philosophical Analysis and Linguistic
Analysis) is not a philosophic system. It has no interdependent parts. In
fact, it might even be considered an anti-system because it holds that the
only valid consideration in philosophy is epistemology. It does not
believe that metaphysics and axiology can be discussed, for reasons that
will be seen below. The person most often associated with the formulation
of this philosophic view is Ludwig Wittgenstein.

   6.2. Logical Analytic Epistemology:

Knowledge may be determined (i.e., verified) in two ways - and only in two
ways. Those two ways are by the use of logic and by the use of sense
experience. Logical verification is possible when the predicate of a
sentence is contained in the subject of the sentence (e.g., "The black cat
is black.").  This type of verification is also called analytic
verification because the predicate is "analyzed out" of the subject. Sense
experience verification is possible when the predicate has no logical
relationship to the subject, but when sense observation can establish the
truth or falsity of the statement (e.g., "The black cat is wet."). This
type of verification is also called synthetic verification because the
predicate is observed as being "synthesized" or "joined" to the subject
rather than being inherent in it. Logic and sense observation are thus
primary concerns for the logical analyst.

   6.3. Logical Analysis' Dismissal of Axiology:

Questions of right or wrong, or of beauty or ugliness, are not subject to
analysis by logic or by sense verification. Hence these questions are
beyond the bounds of verifiable (logical or sensible) discussion. There
are indeed questions of value, but they simply cannot be talked about in a
logical or sensible way. In this regard, Ludwig Wittgenstein once said
that philosophy leaves the essential problems of human life untouched.
Axiology is important, but it cannot be discussed.  As Wittgenstein has
also said: "Of that which we cannot speak, we must be silent." Analysts
would say that when people speak of something as "good" they are really
just expressing their *feeling* about it. Analysts call these sorts of
statements "emotive" statements.

                                                      1 Feb 2001