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THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY


VOLUME XC, NO. 6,JUNE

1993

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ON SOME ALLEGED LIMITATIONS TO MORAL ENDEAVOR*


T

HE problem of affluence is neatly summarizedby Thomas


Nagel.' "The bill for two," he observes, in a moderatelyexpensive New York restaurantequals the annual per capita income of Bangladesh.Everytime I eat out, not because I have to but just because I feel like it, the same money could do noticeably more good if contributed to famine relief. The same could be said of many purchases of clothing, wine, theater tickets, vacations, gifts,
books, records, furniture, stemware, etc. It adds up both to a form of

life and to quite a lot of money (ibid., p. 190).


Nagel, who has long been concerned with the problem of altruism,

confesses that he does not know quite what to make of this observation. He does not believe that his current manner of life can really be justified, and he does not think it is immune from criticism. Yet he also does not think it is obvious that he should not engage in this form of life, or that certain kinds of moral argument have shown that he is in the wrong insofar as he does. Perhaps, he says, he might be converted to another way of living "by a leap of self-transcendence." But because the life after the event would be so different from the life before, it is not, strictly speaking, to be envisioned from his present point of view (ibid., pp. 206 ff).2 Alternatively, he says, one might aim for or hope for a political rather than a personal solution to the problem of unequal distribution of goods.
* This paper was first presented as a Presidential Address at the Northwest Conference on Philosophy in 1991. I am grateful for the help of Alasdair MacIntyre, Don S. Levi, and Cheyney Ryan, who suggested extensive revisions to earlier versions. 1 The View from Nowhere (New York: Oxford, 1986). 2 Ibid., p. 206 if. His position is reflective and nuanced, but this is where his reflections come to rest. 0022-362X/93/9006/275-89 (?) 1993 The Journal of Philosophy, Inc.

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Although he formulates the problem as an urgent and troubling one, the effect of Nagel's text-in the context of the book of which it is a part-is to diminish its urgency. For Nagel shows himself ready in this book to treat the problem of affluence and responsibility as a particular case of a general nonconvergence between subjective views of the world and an objective view, a nonconvergence to which he assigns a positive rather than a negative value. And here we meet with an extraordinary feature of contemporary moral philosophy: one so striking that it deserves discussion, namely, its thoroughgoing rejection of the idea that philosophical enlightenment entails a detachment from worldly goods and worldly pleasures. I propose in this paper to consider this development in two ways: first as a form of philosophical progress in which a descriptively adequate account of moral life replaces what Peter Strawson would term a "revisionary" metaphysics of morals; second, however, as a form of socio-political regress. I shall then go on to argue that the aim of providing a descriptively adequate account of moral life contains this bias toward the politically actual rather than the politically desirable intrinsically rather than accidentally. And I shall conclude by trying to determine whether this is a lesser or a greater evil than the revisionary evident failure-in a sense yet to be determined-of systems of ethics. There will be some who find the brush I am painting with unforgivably broad, who will resist the suggestion that contemporary moral philosophy can be so easily and summarily characterized. In response I can only express the hope that some readers will find this essay other than facile.
I. SOME CONTEMPORARYTRENDS

The Viewfrom Nowhere is one of a wider class of works published in the last ten to fifteen years which argue that value is to be attached to the personal and the private, that individual projects cannot be evaluated from any neutral, objective, or overarching point of view.3 The name of Aristotle is sometimes invoked in connection with this attempt to reform moral philosophy: the cultivation of a full, yet moderate and virtuous life is regarded as a more appropriate conception of morality than the performance of utilitarian calculations or the activation of noumenal wills in accord with general maxims. In addition to "virtue," some of the key terms of this general movement are "partiality," "loyalty," "solidarity," and even "passion."
3 See, for example, Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (New York: Cambridge, 1989); Martha Nussbaum, The Fragility of Goodness (New York: Oxford, 1986); Bernard Williams, Moral Luck (New York: Cambridge, 1981); D. Z. Phillips's "Some Limits to Moral Endeavor," in Through a Darkening Glass (Notre Dame: University Press, 1982), pp. 30-50, is by contrast a study of moral helplessness which is at the same time critical of worldly notions of success.

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This development is welcome on general dialectical grounds, for its existence proves that moral theory and moral psychology had lost touch with experience. Ethical theory, as its critics complained, was no longer a guide for conduct which took into account basic features of our motivational structure, but only an array of systems, in which some problems of entailment relations could be raised and studied. And the picture of a good and decent life which has emerged has been both comforting and exciting. It has been comforting because its search for descriptive accuracy has, not surprisingly, resulted in its endorsement of what we actually care about as deserving to be cared about. Behind the rejection of systematicity looms the argument produced by Strawson in his profound and influential paper, "Freedom and Resentment"4: there are limits as to what changes in our basic commitments and practices we can make for purely theoretical reasons. But the rejection of systems in favor of attention to what people feel they want and need has also been exciting because it holds out the promise of liberation and personal fulfillment. In place of the harsh techniques of selfmanagement advocated, e.g., by Kant, it denies the necessity for the continuous checking of one's individual desires by reference to global or "objective" aims. Nevertheless, one reads passages such as the one quoted from Nagel with a sense of unease. It takes only a few degrees of philosophical distance to ask oneself in this connection whether the objects and pursuits deemed meritorious in what Thorstein Veblen5 referred to almost a century ago as "pecuniary society" really are so; whether the codes of this society correspond to actual meanings? What about those wineglasses and theater tickets? And what are we to say when it is philosophers themselves who implicitly endorse the right to these things and the way of life of which they are part by finding an irreconcilable difference between subjective and objective points of view? Following Karl Mannheim,6 the founder of the sociology of knowledge, we may well suppose that the intelligentsia of a society, especially its philosophers, are the people whose task it is to produce an interpretation of life for that society, and that what the new moral philosophers are doing is producing such an interpretation. Now, according to Mannheim, an ideology is produced when a "ruling group becomes so interest-bound that they cannot
4 In Freedom and Resentment (London: Methuen, 1974), pp. 1-25. Theory of the Leisure Class (New York: Macmillan, 1899; repr. New American Library, 1953). 6 Ideology and Utopia, L. Worth and E. Shils, trans. (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1936).
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see facts which would undermine their sense of domination; they obscure the real condition of society to themselves and others and thereby stabilize it" (ibid., p. 6). We have thus to ask whether the designation of certain spheres of activity and experience as protected regions which are above, beyond, and perhaps beneath the reach of impersonal theories ofjustice might not constitute an ideology of academicians who are now, in a way they have never been before, part of a materially favored class.
II. THE DECLINE OF IMPERSONAL THEORIES

The earlier trends in ethics to which the work we have been considering may be seen as a response were socio-legal in tenor, broad in scale, and redistributionist in their slant: John Rawls dominated the former era with A Theory ofJustice, published in 1971. To show the endpoints of the scale between impartial justice ethics and the ethos of private pursuits which Nagel's passage invokes, we may consider the positions taken by Peter Singer in an article published almost twenty years ago and by Susan Wolf in 1982. In "Famine, Affluence and Morality," Singer7 argued that the affluence of the richer nations and their unwillingness to devote more than a fraction of their gross national product-about 1%-to aid to other countries, in which people were suffering from hunger, cold, climactic catastrophes, and overpopulation was wrong. It was also wrong for individuals, not just nations, to devote so little of their own income to charity. The right thing to do, he said, was, in effect, to forgo the glassware, the theater tickets, the new outfits, the vacation, and just give the money one would have spent on those things to a relief organization. It was both possible and morally obligatory to compare the percentage of one's income spent on the non-necessities of life with the percentage spent to provide these necessities for others who do not have them. Psychologically, he admitted, it is difficult to care about people on the other side of the world experiencing a famine or another catastrophe, but it is morally wrong nevertheless to ignore them. A position orthogonal to this one was adopted by Wolf, who spoke out daringly in favor of private and even wasteful activities. Wolf did not even try to redefine morality in such a way as to make it accord better with experience; she rejected the pursuit of moral perfection in any terms. In "Moral Saints,"8 she considered the appearance of wrongness produced by affluence and argued that it was illusory.
7
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Philosophy and Public Affairs, i (1972): 229-43. This JOURNAL, LXXIX, 8 (August 1982): 419-39.

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She willingly conceded that "no plausible argument can justify the use of human resources involved in producing pate de canard en croute against possible beneficent ends to which these resources might be put" (ibid., p. 422). Yet, she said, it is not right to reproach the diner on pate de canard, and this diner need not maintain a defensive posture with respect to this pleasure. For morality-in the sense in which it would require us to sacrifice ourselves for othersis not the only value, the one to which every other good must be sacrificed. And she went on to describe other projects, which consume time and money, the participation in which precludes the exercise of charity, which are worthy and appropriate for human beings. We need to recognize the value, she insisted, of "the normal person's direct and specific desires for objects, activities, and events that conflict with the attainment of moral perfection" (ibid., p. 424). The unrestrained pursuit of moral excellence would, Wolf said, even make it impossible to be excellent in the broader sense. There were accordingly both positive and negative sides to her paper. Part of it was spent painting sainthood, which she interpreted as the dedication of all one's resources and energies to helping others, in an undesirable light.9 Saints were portrayed as overly focused, selfrighteous, and narrow. The suggestion was that the whole-hearted giving oneself over to projects of relieving other people's suffering would have a strangely dehumanizing effect; we should be in awe of people who managed to do this but it would be unpleasant to be forced into social intimacy with them, for we nonsaints would have no common ground with them. The rest of the article was spent painting a picture of a good or wonderful life. This life is characterized by variety, enjoyment, and the improvement of abilities and talents; the author mentions reading Victorian novels, playing the oboe, improving one's backhand, gourmet cooking, watching old comedies, eating caviar, and cello playing, as its possible constituents. The emphasis here is on pursuits and activities, rather than, as in Nagel's chapter, the accumulation of personal possessions and transitory experiences; however, in both cases, one is not being pejorative in pointing out that some typical enjoyments of uppermiddle class people furnish the domain. The difficulty with Singer's paper, which left it vulnerable to challenges such as Wolf's, was that it seemed to bring us up against the
9 Robert Adams shows that Wolf actually operates with nonequivalent and rival conceptions of sainthood: see his "Saints," this JOURNAL, LXXXI, 7 Uuly 1984): 393-400.

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limits of philosophy as a discursive mode.10 It could not bring about the effect in the reader that its content mandated. Even in the context of the early 1970s concern with social justice, it seemed prophetic, utopian. The reaction of the reader was to concede that there was a great deal to what Singer had said, that the good arguments were all on his side, but one felt that Singer had claimed the moral high ground and issued an ultimatum, though one without threats or enticements. The paper was, as a text, unpersuasive, for Singer did not even acknowledge our pre-existing local and partialist concerns. In ignoring what people actually care about-the protection of their children and themselves from the more brutal aspects of existence; the cultivation of their talents and interests; and the beautification of themselves, their houses, their environments-he succeeded in portraying only a system of redistribution that could be imposed by a philosopher king. And, like Rawls, he regarded the private emotions of pity and shame as irrelevant to the question of public justice. Singer's response would have been at the time to say that the philosopher's role is just to point out contradictions and entailments, such as the obligation to charity necessitated by impartialist concepts ofjustice, which he took for granted. Rhetoric and psychology belong to a different department. Such are the limits of philosophy. Interestingly, Wolf too believes in the limits to philosophy: she does not believe that philosophy can justify selfish or inconsequential pursuits, and she claims that justifying them is not what she is doing. Rather, she is taking a meta-ethical stance, and making a meta-ethical claim, viz., that "the posture we take in response to the recognition that our lives are not as morally good as possible need not be defensive" (op. cit., pp. 435-6). According to Wolf, no philosophical theory can tell us how important moral goodness is as against other forms of goodness, or how much time, effort, and money we ought to devote to other-directed moral pursuits as against selfish, pleasurable pursuits. Thus, where Singer failed to take into account some obvious limits of philosophical argument, Wolf seems to be positing and even welcoming the limits to argument.
III. THE FACT OF DIVIDED LOYALTIES

One may be convinced by what Wolf says and convinced as a result that Singer's conclusions about what we ought to do are erroneous.
10 Singer subsequently modified his position in The Expanding Circle: Ethics and Sociobiology (New York: Oxford, 1983), for reasons taken account of below; my concern with the older paper is with a fait accompli of the literature.

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In such a case one may nevertheless be dissatisfied with "Moral Saints" for reasons other than the cogency of its argument: one may, for example, believe that asceticism is part of the philosopher's role, and that, whatever she does as a private person, it is wrong for a philosopher to abandon her role in this way. Such disapproval would, however, tend to lend strength to Wolf's implicit contention that the way in which philosophers have often wanted to talk about morality makes them guilty of hypocrisy. Alternatively, however, one might believe that Wolf's claim to be able to speak from outside a moral perspective, from a perspective which recognizes morality as merely one human good among others, is unjustified. If, as I shall try to show, this is in fact the case, then Singer and other philosophers who insist on the need for sweeping revisions to ordinary life in the name of morality have not been answered. First, though, a word on benign and necessary hypocrisies. In the historian Paul Veyne's illuminating and increasingly cited study of the psychology of divided loyalties-Did the GreeksBelieve in Their Myths? '-he argued that the Greeks did, in some sense, believe in their myths, but that they left off using them where their interest in believing them ended. This pattern of partial allegiance is, he thinks, universal. We live, Veyne argues, in a number of different worlds at once, or rather we live lives that are characterized by various programs-aesthetic, moral, religious, practical, social. Normally, the question of the consistency or inconsistency of these programs does not arise, but sometimes a convulsive effort at consistency is made. (Religious cults provide an obvious example: for the Massachusetts Puritans, for example, constant surveillance and proofing of the thoughts, language, dress, behavior, etc., of oneself, one's children, one' s servants, and one's neighbors for their conformity to religious prescripts was an obligation.) But in most places and at most times, life is not like this: our minds are Balkanized but peaceful. morality, art, and politics-on Every special subject-religion, Veyne's account, has its proponents who claim that it is the alpha and omega of human existence. They argue that it constitutes the highest reality, or the deepest level of analysis, or the most urgent spring of conduct. The moralist says that every human action must be assigned to the category of the morally permitted, obligatory, or proscribed; the theologian says that everything serves and glorifies a god or disobeys his rules. The politician says that all actions are important in so far as they maintain or threaten political ideals and
P Wissing, trans. (Chicago: University Press, 1988). p.

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institutions. The aesthete says that only the fascinating, the marvellous, the complicated, or the unfathomable, have enduring value. But whatever these spokespeople say, real life is not like this. At any given moment, each special subject is relatively unimportant; each occupies only a narrow band in the quotidian spectrum. So it may be that an ethics of the impersonal sort is a cultural icon that serves for cultural orientation without being fully operational at every moment. On parade days-in moments of great indignation or conflict-morality might come, in full dress as it were, into play, and permit the subject to articulate his opposition or think his situation through in a way he could not otherwise. If this is how things are, then the unease prompted by "Moral Saints" is perhaps a function of the fact that, for these worthy cultural icons to serve us well, they cannot be positively identified as such. A second point that lends credibility to Wolf's protest against the ideal of sainthood is that there seems to be a certain exaggeration and grandiosity, an overestimation of one's own importance, in the picture of morality as concerned with heroic acts of last-minute saving intervention or world-renewal. Is our obligation to others really indefinite in scope? How far would it extend? To sufferers on other planets, if such existed, and prima facie to beings inhabiting universes causally isolated from ours? Who am I to decide how it all should look in the end? Might not my goodness depend less on what great changes I can accomplish in far away countries, with people in extreme and nearly hopeless situations, than on my sensitivity to those immediately near me, or my ability to notice and relieve the local sufferings of everyday with the right word or gesture? A third reason for thinking that impersonal concerns must play a more circumscribed role than axiologists have thought is that personal concerns can seemingly organize a life as impersonal ones cannot. As John Cottingham12 says, "If each day I was to consider how each moment could be spent furthering, for example, global utility, without assigning any special priority to the fact that certain projects are the ones in which I am involved, it seems clear that I would disintegrate as an individual.... To be engaged in the sort of continuous review and evaluation of one's life that would make it necessary to drop projects when ones of greater objective worth appeared would be to destroy any pattern to life" (ibid., p. 365). This criticism might seem unjust in view of the fact that a person
12 "Partiality, Favoritism, and Morality," Philosophical Quarterly, xxxvi (1986): 357-73.

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could have as her goal, and as a primary and personal concern that gave a focus to life, some abstract idea of justice, without being in a state of continual stopping and starting. Still, Cottingham is right to suggest that the species is perhaps cognitively and affectively organized so as to be at its best when engaged in personal projects-developing, protecting, beautifying. A fourth reason for thinking that morality can only occupy part of our allegiance is that it involves a sort of constitutive illusion: the illusion that the moral law is more powerful than the instinctual life that it is designed to regulate. This suspicion lay at the heart of Sigrnund Freud's13 pessimism. Of course, this position is easily caricatured as an excuse for libertinage and thereby trivialized and subverted. But we should keep in mind Derek Parfit's claim that most of our sense of well-being comes from acting on strong desires in work and love, and that to sacrifice strong desires, special attachments, and the subjective life is to inflict a certain amount of pain and even damage on the self. Perhaps morality provides social cohesion, productivity, and peace of mind, but this does not mean that it is able to promote our happiness. A fifth and final reason for thinking that Wolf is right to limit the scope of morality is more difficult to set out because it too is easily parodied in banal talk about self-realization. But the idea is this: people as constituted by nature delight in sensory, social, and intellectual complexity, which explains why they are drawn to elaborate cooking, high-technology music reproduction, and finery and ornamentation. Even if these propensities could be suppressed, our do13 In, e.g., "Civilization and Its Discontents," (1937). Max Weber calls attention to the way in which the moralist both defines values by opposition to impulses and feelings and tries to invest them with a force that it denies to the latter. The phrase 'only a passion', with Kant's emphasis on the 'only', Weber says, "can be regarded as a degradation of what is most genuine and appropriate in life, of the only, or, at any rate, the royal road away from the impersonal or supra-personal 'value' mechanisms which are hostile to life. . . At any rate it is possible to imagine a conception of this standpoint which-although scorning the use of the term 'value' for the concrete facts of experience to which it refers-would constitute a sphere claiming its own 'immanent' dignity. Its claim to this dignity would not be invalidated by its hostility or indifference to everything sacred or good, to every ethical or aesthetic law, and to every evaluation of cultural phenomena or personality. Rather, its dignity might be claimed just because of this hostility or indifference." "The Meaning of 'Ethical Neutrality' in Sociology and Politics," in The Methodology of the Social Sciences, E. A. Shils and H. A. French, trans. (Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1949), p. 17. We are in the realm here of so-called "personal" morality; but the personal and the social may be said to model each other insofar as the self may be considered vis-a-vis the family, or the tribe vis-a-vis the wider community.

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ing so would seem to be a sacrifice in favor of only one other human ability, that of thinking abstractly about rights and justice. In that case, the argument of "Moral Saints" might have been strengthened by the author's taking more time to provide her amoral accomplishments with a more solid basis in a theory of human nature, but it is hardly vitiated by this omission. To give them such a grounding would be consistent with arguing that moral values are simply values inter alia: in both cases one would be pointing to states of affairs which actually obtain, including people's tendency to override or ignore moral considerations from time to time.
IV. IMMANENCE AS A VALUE

These then are all the reasons why one may feel that Wolf has said something right, stood up for a point of view for which someone needed to stand up. By reminding us what we do care about and what the effect of not caring about these things would probably be on our lives, they show that we do not and cannot in fact subject every action to moral scrutiny, and suggest that the question whether we should do so is otiose. But it is one thing to take exception to "Moral Saints" because the author has exposed morality as an idol, thereby producing a general relief, but also a certain discomfort, while failing to give a better foundation for the idea of a wonderful life. It is quite another to take exception to it on the grounds that the literature of partiality and personal projects really constitutes a defense of a life of leisure and privilege, and that part of its constituting such a defense involves the inclusion of a specific statement to the effect that it is not a defense. If it really is a defense posing as a proof that some things need no defense, then, I suggest, it belongs to the category of ideology. For it then shows, even if it does not say that they have them, the rights of the haves against the have-nots, and, by what it excludes, it projects a state of affairs in which the good life described really is an innocent, as opposed to an innocuous life. I call attention in this connection to the prominence of notions of immanence and contingency in the emerging ethics corpus and their conservative significance.14 The acceptance of the determining role

14 The connection has long been recognized and criticized, but its temptations are obviously being re-experienced by a generation politically educated to be suspicious of ideology critique. Mannheim discusses, in Ideology and Utopia, his contemporary Stahl, the conservative legal theorist. "The fact of the mere existence of a thing endows it with a higher value, be it, as in the case of Hegel, because of the higher rationality embodied in it, or in the case of Stahl because of

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of "luck" and "contingency" in Bernard Williams"5 and Richard Rorty16 raises particular questions. Williams argues that the outcome, which is of course contingent, may retrospectively validate a course of action that initially conflicted with a Kantian-type moral principle; the outcome can also invalidate a course of action that was initially compatible with such a principle: moral obstinacy can produce empirical disaster (op. cit., p. 23). We have to judge a life as a whole, to see what a particular decision came to eventually, what the consequences of living it out were. For Kant, one might live a life full of strain and conflict, accomplishing nothing useful, failing to add to the total of human happiness or even diminishing it, and yet be good, be living a good life: contingency cannot break in on morality. And the conviction that this position of Kant's is absurd is what pushes people to maintain the opposite, that it is the empirical character of a life that we are really judging. "Any seemingly random constellation of things can set the tone of a life," Rorty remarks in turn. "Any such constellation can set up an unconditional commandment to whose service a life may be devoted" (op. cit., p. 37). Rorty does not say that it is deplorable or at least a matter for concern that people's lives are governed by-to use his own examples-the possessions they accumulate in their houses, the music they listen to, the trees they pass on their way home from work; he is interested in what is in fact the case and he goes on to try to establish that it is absurd to imagine that philosophy could make a difference to this state of affairs. He rejects as fraudulent or pious the idea that people's lives might be oriented or shaped by concepts transcending individual experience. The terms of the old moralists-"good," "just," "right," etc.-are just wornout tag words for demagogues, the implication is, and even for them these words do not do much work. The real work ofjustifying, Rorty thinks, is done by parochial terms such as "Christ," "England," "professional standards," "decency," and so on (op. cit., p. 73), which are given their significance through the accidental circum-

the mystifying and fascinating effects of its very irrationality. There is something marvellous [says Stahl] about experiencing something of which it may be said 'it is!'-'This is your father, this is your friend, and through them you have arrived at this position.' . . . conservative quietism tends to justify, by irrational means, everything that exists at all" (p. 211). '5 "Moral Luck," in Moral Luck, pp. 20-39. 16 Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity.

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stances of having been born in this society, to these parents, and having received this education, at the hands of so-and-so.'7 Regarded in the value-neutral terms of descriptive sociology, the philosophers we have mentioned can be seen to write without exception from a perspective of choice, plenty, and leisure.'8 The activities and adventures-dining adventures, theatrical adventures, even romantic adventures-which they mention or discuss are plainly bound to a economic context and a milieu that is established in the large or middle-sized cities of the Western industrial democracies. Now, it might be said that it does not matter if the Nagel-Wolf vision of the good life is determined by the culture in which we happen to live; it only matters that other people at other times and in other places should have been allowed to have their particularist ideas of the good life as well. The world of the Thai peasant contains its sensory delights, its music, tastes, colors, and fictions. But the concern here is not that the conception of a good life is narrowly defined or restricted. It is rather that a defense of immanence offered by one who, objectively speaking, enjoys a situation of privilege, is itself an ideology, or, if it is not, nothing has been said to block the charge that it is. Nagel was troubled by this question: Could a life that is not obviously exploitative and egotistical by the standards of the immediate community nevertheless be criticized from some more detached perspective? His answer, as I read it, is that it could be criticized, but that the incommensurability of subjective and objective points of view makes it impossible that this criticism could take the form of a slow, deliberate, willed comparison of one's mode of life with traditional philosophical conceptions of justice: rather, one would have to experience an inner revolution or revelation. The theological motif is further developed by Wolf, who concedes the existence of "saints" who reject the standards of the community. But she assumes the appropriateness of these standards and presents examples of pursuits that are not, in light of those standards, particularly contestable. If an author were to defend the excellence of driving large motorboats, collecting state-of-the-art electronics, and vacationing in resort condominiums, which, in our professional classes,
17 It is not obvious-especially given that 'irony' is part of the title of the book in which these claims appear-that Rorty is really arguing here as a sort of Burkean conservative. In exposing the ubiquity of particularist justifications, he may be taken rather to be engaged in a demystifying exercise. This is not an option with the other philosophers cited who demand to be read "straight." 18 Nussbaum's recent turn toward global causes marks her out as the exception.

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are the primary objects of desire, rather than books and musical instruments, we would have been immediately aware that a certain "lifestyle" was being endorsed. But Wolf's version of the wonderful life is relatively noninvasive and nonaggrandizing. What is hidden, nevertheless, is the underlying excess, waste, and unfairness of the present system of production and distribution which make it possible to live a life of choice and plenty. How could there be a conflict between my playing the oboe and children surviving in droughtstricken Ethiopia when there is not even the slightest hint of a connection between the two? But might it not be the case that the apparent lack of any need for a defense of my oboe playing is a function only of the presentation, not a function of any distinction between public and private life which can be philosophically established? The tendency in the new morality of private pursuits then is to make goodness more accessible, to relax the standards a person needs to meet to be good, so that a general innocuousness or minimal decency will suffice, so long as the person is achieving something worthwhile in his chosen areas of endeavor. But must we call people who excel at music, gardening, entertaining, the appreciation of literature, or at study, or writing good? It is often said or implied that Aristotle would have called them good. And Wolf says that the life she is representing as an ideal is Aristotelian and perhaps even Nietzschean. But it is possible to respond that Aristotle was not dealing with morality as such, and I would call on Nietzsche, who knew that the ancients were dealing with an ethos-an ethos of rank-that they were essentially articulating an idea about what it is to be a noble kind of person-to confirm this. Nietzsche's moral antinomianism and his call for a transvaluation of values bear in turn only a superficial relationship to the defense of the sort of life we are considering."
V. CONCLUSIONS

One comes away from the best contemporary moral philosophy with three strong impressions. First, one is struck by its desire to replace old-fashioned moral prescriptivism, with its unpleasant tendency to harangue the readership to little avail, with descriptive accounts of
19 Williams, by contrast, does seem to have the Nietzschean view that to achieve something really worthwhile you will have to put your morality in the usual sense at risk, as he thinks Gaugin and Anna Karenina did, experiencing respectively moral success and moral failure. This idea, along with his interpretation of Gaugin, is effectively questioned by Don S. Levi, "What's Luck Got to Do With It?" Philosophical Investigations, xii (1989): 1-13.

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what we do care about, and how we in fact establish individual hierarchies of values. Second, one is struck by its perception that, not only is moral theory impoverished by failing to take contingency and partiality into account, but that the value of life is reduced when an effort is made to suppress or exclude them. Third, one is struck by the point that morality cannot, logically, do what it would like to do: draw a sphere around the whole of life and evaluate everything within that sphere in terms of its own requirements. For we have the option, always, simply to pay morality no mind. We may therefore expose ourselves to the condemnation of others; again, however, we have the option, always, to pay those judgments no mind. The question that has to be faced is whether the resulting award of a philosophically protected status to life as it is lived by a percentage of the population in North America and Britain is not as or more objectionable than the faults ascribed to those impersonal theories of ethics that we are forced to recognize, following Strawson, as revisionary. Revisionary ethics-ethics which is associated with the fervent wish that people would live differently than they do-is subject to attack on three fronts: on the grounds that the task of philosophy is not to present a utopian state of affairs and urge its realization but to produce an analysis of moral phenomena as they are actually experienced by us; on the grounds that the ideals it holds up are inhuman; and, finally, on the grounds that the binding character of the moral law of revisionary ethics lies itself in the realm of the imaginary. It is impossible not to feel the force of these criticisms, even when one comes as a nonspecialist to the field. Any honest person must recognize the existence of conflicts in herself, between impartial ideals of justice and the love of ease and luxury; between the desire for purity and integrity and the desire for experience and multiplicity. The world as I found it-as I stumbled into it-and its particular arrangements are not my fault. And though anyone may intone morality to us in the most solemn of accents, it is still up to us to reply that we do not care, or that we care about something else more. Thus, it is absurd to speak of an obligation on our part to be saints. It is even absurd to speak of an obligation to care about morality which philosophy can prove or reveal. But implicit in the practice of philosophy is the recognition of an obligation to criticize that which one is naturally inclined to believe and to do. This applies to the values of immanence as well as to the now more commonly targeted values of abstraction and impersonality.

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The contemporary philosophical defense of the plurality of goods, immanence, and contingency contrasts with the historical tendency of moral philosophers to establish a distance between themselves and the values of their culture. The establishment of this distance should not be confused, however, with the establishment of a revisionary moral philosophy that is itself distanced from life and practice. The scrutiny of one's own life for adherence to pecuniary and other culturally determined canons of taste can become but need not be a manifestation of Veyne's neurotic scrupulousness which insists on a perfect obedience to impossible regulations. And the study of the relations between plenitude and choice in an economically dominant society and hardship and confinement in others evinces no hint of an incommensurability between subjective and objective views, no hint of practices or desires so deeply entrenched in our way of life that it is impossible to imagine altering them. Rather, it is by painting a picture of a life in which no re-orientation will occur-unless by a magical act of conversion-because of the very fullness and excellence of that life, that one contributes to occluding the connections that bind the public to the private. Correspondingly, it is by letting the lives of people who do not shop, or travel, or enjoy professional entertainment, make their own impression on us that the perception of a gulf between the private and the public sphere is altered and the superstition that one's own good fortune is either morally deserved, or a highly improbable but lucky accident, undermined. To the extent that our ordinary way of life does appear immune from criticism and is not perceived as the outcome of those forces which sustain, transmit, and defend privilege, it is, I have suggested, due to the desire that it be made to appear so. When it is suggested that no reconciliation between happiness and charitable practice can be found without a leap into the unknown, or that objective perception will result in the fragmentation of personal integrity, or the loss of one's humanity, or that philosophy, for metatheoretical reasons cannot speak to these issues at all, one can only wonder whether, under the impression that he is showing the hollowness of some cultural icons, the philosopher is not under the spell of some others.
CATHERINE WILSON

University of Alberta