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March 06, 2008


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Maureen Ward Doyle

I think it's a question of interests. Is xxxx investment in my best interest?

The answer to that question always depends -- depends on the particular instance, its context and the values of the agent. Galatians is an example of one kind of guiding light. Seneca, Cicero, Boethius are another, but similar. In all of these cases, the burden of responsibilities lays with the individual, whether it is for the good of their soul or their virtue.

In today's world, arguments to act our to goodness, virtue, for the enrichment of one's character doesn't get much traction. Not because nobody cares about whether or not they are "good" or perceived of as good, but because the concept of acting for the good and what constitutes a "good life" has changed.

Since the Roman Empire, a body of social theory and political practice -- have emerged which have displaced the locus of agency for the good from the individual to the system. Consider theoretical developments in economics, sociology, political science and education and practical developments under Thatcher, Regan, Bush, Castro, Stalin.

Of course, there have been notable exceptions to this trend, including inspirational leaders who have stemmed the tide of the dominant practices and values: individuals such as Gandhi, Kundera, Martin Luther King, Mandela, Aun Sung Suu Kyi. Which is why I hope you keep on preaching personal integrity, social values and global, historical consciousness over personal gains, optimization of single concerns and near-sited provincialism (whether its corporate, regional or national). from the dumpster.

Phil Cubeta

Interesting, Maureen, how your summary of intellectual history turns on this phrase, "have emerged." Yes, much has emerged. The question is, for good or ill? We are still left with the question, not whether Thatcher, Regan, Bush, Castro, Stalin "emerged," but how we ourselves will live. Your life is remarkable, your theory very much second and third hand. To be postmodern in a postmodern age seems a terrible waste of a good education. The question I would ask you not as theorist but as parent, "Are you indifferent as to how your children turn out? Are you convinced that whatever character they develop is just fine? Or do you do all you can to cultivate what is best - and unique - in each child, his or her own gift and giftedness? And at the same time, do you not restrain or rebuke what is misquided or vicious in them?" If so, our practices coincide, but I believe my theory better suits your actual actions. Beyond that, we owe one another as adults no less than wha we owe children. We are all still in the state of flux, soul formation, or character formation, of development of talents, can go on right up to the moment of death. We owe, I think, one another more than a shrug, the indifferent shrug of postmodern tolerance. To risk oneself in that kind of committed conversation, where both parties put their core self at risk in the hopes of growing, is not common, but it very much part of a certain tradition, that of the Dumpster. Is it a reasoned conversation? Yes, if parables and satire and koans and slaps the the head and brutal spankings are reasoned. The test is whether we can cure ourselves and others. Mostly we spit the medicine from our mouths and raven down our proper poisons. "Addicted? Me? No just a personal preference," says the Rummy, between blackouts.

JJ Commoner

The "Win-lose Prayer", as derived from postmodern theism in the United States-of-Grace of America ?

JJ Commoner

... or is it the United States-of-Self-Interest of America ?

JJ Commoner

Consider theoretical developments in economics, sociology, political science and education and practical developments under Thatcher, Regan, Bush, Castro, Stalin.

Beyond theory, there is currently an exceptional, absolutely outstanding exhibition at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts titled "Cuba Art and History from 1868 to Today" that takes the viewer though a very interesting arc of economic, sociological, political, educational and practical development as represented by the gyrations and evolution of Cuba as a society and nation over the past 140 years.

It left me lost deep in thought and reflection, I am still pondering, and I intend to go back and spend more time with it.

It's in my opinion definitely worth the trip and a couple of nights in a hotel.


Thanks, JJ, the post was meant to embody the Gospel message and then seque into an an imitation of the dsyfunctional reading of the Gospels so characteristic of win/lose capitalism. God is the judge in some reality show, in which the winner is Trump's Apprentice.

Maureen Ward Doyle


I see that I didn't make my point.

Second, third hand theory? Nah.
An unpalatable point of view to many?Yes.
Not well made? No doubt.
Let me try again.

As you may have guessed, I am not an essentialist thinker. I am an epistemological relativist, which is not to say a moral relativist. On the contrary, I'm a moral foundationalist.

I find it straightforward to tell my children what I consider "good form" (virtuous if you will) and what is not.
I don't, however, make a recourse to epistemological foundationalism to explain my preferences for their behavior. Those preferences are far too complex to be explained by any cause or causes. They are no more transparent to me than why I am afraid of snakes or love to play soccer (although I could tell you a tale or two or three... that wove together many explanations and even made "sense").

What do I mean by epistemological foundationalism? I mean a web of "meaning" comprised of concepts like consciousness, intentionality and the self which give meaning. I consider this list, a list of working concepts, myths at hand, and metaphors we live with. In many socially constructed contexts, such as the law and college admissions, these concepts have become imperative to the smooth functioning of society. Their usefulness, however, does not make them exist in any essential way.

Don't get me wrong. I believe in examining "one's life", and take great relish in reading other people's rational attempts (how can you beat the Meditations by Descartes and Husserl). But I don't think a full sense of "adequacy" comes through applying reason. No matter how hard we try, we can't know thy self any more than we can know the fish. Over and over, even the most rational of rationalists, such as Kant and Freud, have ended up showing us the limits of our reason. And a slew of others (Schelling, Bergson, Heidegger ... )have escorted back into the realm of our rational wandering into the a-rational world of poetry.

One of the most stellar examples of the epistemological relativist and moral foundationalist is the zen master.

Freud, among others, showed us that humans can't trust the knowledge we "glean" through reason, the senses, or common sense. By failing to come to terms with the limits of knowledge, we can commit a sin of omission. Much of the evil that has been done in the world has been done with nothing less than the best intentions.


You seem quite confident, all the same, Maureen. The mind shuttles through its web, the same movements coming ready to hand. These are very familiar moves. You could and do tie them out to familiar figures. Kuhn, Quine, etc. But why not Sterne? Why not the Swift of the Tale of the Tub, or the Diderot of Rameau's Nephew? That is, what makes the style you write, the untroubled prose, answer to void over which it moves? Have the lessons of anti-foundationalism gone to the foundation of your speech act? I don't read it that way. It seems to me you, like a cartoon character, have walked blithely off a cliff into thin air and continue forward in space, untroubled, until you look down. Derrida, by contrast, or even Freud, wrote prose answerable to the theory. I don't believe you can be a consistent (aesthetically, much less intellectually) anti-foundationalist and write the prose of Dryden or E.B White without being inconsistent in the most important of ways: the answering of word to deed. At least, having reached the points you make in my own life, I found myself silenced by them for many years, and could only write again, when I became an incorrigible eccentric. I will only write the prose you take for granted from behind the mask of a Dick Minim, to flag my recognition of its obsolescence. You are writing as if the Enlightenment were in full swing: plain, reasoned, perspicuous, moderate, teacherly, courteous, etc. Hardly irrationalist. Look down! And falling into that void, let your arms and feet windmill. That would be the recognition that the foundations of your way of life, your way of writing, persona, are gone. You write from behind the mask of reason, without realizing it to be a mask.

Maureen Ward Doyle

Enlightenment thinker? Phil I am speaking of the limits of reason. Of course, by using a discursive strategies to debunk reason, I am doomed to fail. Perhaps it would be more intelligible if I were to quote Ginsberg:

For the world is a mountain
of shit: it it's going to be moved at all, it's go
to be taken by handfuls.

I said in the last comment that I could be described as an epistemological relativist but moral foundationalist. Pragmatism -- à la William James -- with its nod to both Virtue (traditionally espoused in foundationalisms of various forms) AND to the limits of human agency, including reason, (as traditionally represented by the social sciences) would perhaps best capture the perspective from which I speak.

Phil, are we coming from such different places? If so, show me.


No, Maureen, same places - same schools, schools of thoughts, reading list. Different "turn" in the same maze. When reason devours itself, what is her expression? Existential dread? The horror of Nietzsche at the image of the snake devouring her own tail? Juissance? The smile of the student who has learned a lesson well? I found my own answer in the madness of the age of reason. (Swift, Goya) That madness (of the satirical mode) expresses a commitment to ethics that are not established by sermon nor by reason, and are always out of season, untimely, and even embarassing, Foolish, in fact, and a rebuke to both reason and unreason. Ethics in the abyss, but where the emotional valence is not pathos, but the inclusive laughter of Rabelais and his children. But I am being too preachy and didactic myself. I should ask Dr. Chadwallah to chime in, since he really is the expert on all this stuff. I am just trying to Tutor a few wealthy people in whatever morality they like best, from the many available to us.

Maureen Ward Doyle

Too preachy and didactic? Well, that's the negative way of putting it. I believe the world is potentially a better place for free and frank expression among peers. So "preach" away.

More than ever before, because of the Internet, we function in a society of peers -- with all the potential for good and evil that implies. I'd welcome some words from so-called "experts" but I'll remind you that this is a world in which there are no "experts". That doesn't mean that there aren't different levels of knowledge about different areas of human inquiry. But the designated "experts" no longer hold a corner on the market of influence. People these days, read the Bible for themselves, so to speak, and respond to a much wider number of influential people, groups and trends. Even the tightest of mind-control regimes -- government administrations, the press, the communist party, the Pope -- can't change the fact that the Internet -- among other "emerging" developments -- has blown the lid off society. This blog is one of a gazillion examples.

If you don't first acknowledge the way in which the world has been connected, the inquiry "What to do in a world dominated by MBA think?" risks running over the same rut of favorite old greats. By all means the oldies have much to say to us. But so do some newcomers, many of whom speak from a different cultural perspective -- whether the culture is economic, linguistic, religious, ethnic. The world has changed and the "reading list" expanded since you and I were in school.

There is no stuffing society back into the box that was pre-Internet world.

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