on SEEIIIIi tHlnliS
Some moral disagreements are more fundamental than others.
This is obvious. In particular, some moral disagreements are
so fundamental that t~ey are to be regarded not simply as
conflicts between particular moral beliefs hut as conflicts
between distinct moralities. This, though less ohvious, has
heen increasingly recognised hy recent writers on ethics.
Two people may disagree across a whole range of moral issues,
because their specific heliefs stem from two incompatible
ideologies, two distinct ‘moral practices,’ two differing
‘moral perspectives,.l In this paper I shall examine a
particular contrast between two radically different moralities.
I shall attempt to characterise the nature of the contrast,
and to consider how a man might come to change his moral
allegiancE’s, to adopt one moral perspective in place of
The humanist attitude, then, emerges in the Renaissance
as “an attitude of acceptance to life”, a new interest in
human possibilities,in human character and personality
The same basic orientation is to he found in
virtually all subsequent ethical and political thought. Its
central feature is
. . . . a refusal to believe any longer in the
radical imperfection of either Man or Nature. This
develops logically into the belief that life is the
source and measure of all values, I’Ind that man is
fundamentally good • . . • This leads to a complete
change in all values. The problem of evil disappears,
the conception of sin loses all meaning . . . . under
ideal conditions, ever!lthinCT of value will spring
spontaneously from free “personali ties”. If nothing
good seems to appear spontaneously now, that is
because of external restrictions and obstacles. Our
ooli tical ideal should be the removal of everything
that checks the “spontaneous growth of personali ty”.
Progress is thus possible, and order is a merely
(Op.cit. p.47 f.).
The particular case I intend to look at is taken from an
essay by T.E. Hulme – a somewhat neglected figure in English
academic philosophy, perhaps hecause his academic career
E’ih!ed when he was sent down from r:amhridge as an undergraduate,
and perhaps also hecause he had only one important philosophical
idea. This idea, however, is worth looking at. It is presented
most directly in an essay entitled Humanism and the Religious
Attitude. 2 The distinction hetween t~e ‘humanist attitude’
and the ‘religious attitude’, according to Hulme, lies at the
root of our more specific ethical, political, and aesthetic
disagreements. In using the term ‘religious’, he is anxious
to emphasise that he is “not concerned so much 14ith religion,
as with the attitude, the ‘way of thinking’, the categories,
from which a religion springs” (op.cit.p.4n).
He does not
discuss traditionally religiOUS beliefs sllch as a belief in
the existence of a god or the immortality of the soul, but
rather a general conception of the nature of man and his
relation to the world; he uses the word ‘religious’ “because
as in the past the attitude has been the source of most
religions, the word remains convenient” (n. 4n f.).
Romanticism, in particular, is a further development of the
humanist tradition, an exploration of the various roads along
which human fulfilment is to be found – the road of political
liberation, or the road of sex as it is treated in literature
(pp. 10 f., 33).
Hulme recognises that this view of the changes in
attitude initiated by the Renaissance is a common – place,
but considers that its significance has been missed. He
himself is not simply interested in presenting and
contrasting the content of the two opposed attitudes. He is
concerned, as I am, with their logical status and relationship to one another. ~lost frequently he refers to them as
‘world-views’ – Weltanschauungen. What are the intended
implications of this term?
In the first place it conveys
the point which I have already mentioned, that such an
attitude is not so much a specific belief or set of beliefs,
but rather a basic orientation from which the specific moral
beliefs get their sense. It is an ‘interpretation of life’,
an’ideology’ from which everything else springs, a ‘central
conception’, a ‘framework’ within which one’s moral beliefs
are situated. Hulme compares it to the ‘categories’ (sic)
of space and time. Like them, a Weltanschauung is not
consciously adopted, hut it is absorbed unconscious ly from
one’s social and cultural environment. The tradition
predominant in a historical epoch moulds the whole apparatus
of one’s thought; the categories in terms of which one’s
thinking is done are embedded in the actual matter of one’s
thought, so that one does not see them but other things
through them (pp.49, 3, 61, 64-70). Consequently, one finds
in a person whose mental apparatus is based on a different
Weltanschauung from one’s own “a certain obstinacy of
intellect, a radical opposition, an incapacity to see things
which to us are simple” (p.66). As examples of the way in
which minds dominated by a different Weltanschauung may
have a different perception of facts Hulme refers to the
influence of totemist categories on primitive man’s
perception of reality, or the way in which early Greek
philosophy is moulded by categories inherited from primitive
Greek re 1 igion. 3
The essence of the religious attitude is the recognition
that the highest value does not reside in life, in either “tan
‘fan is essentially limited and imperfect. He is
endOlved with original sin.
Perfection is to he found along
none of the roads hy which men seek it (political, sexual,
etc.). The religious attitude is thus an attitude of
renunciation, an awareness of the tragic significance of
life, the vanity of desire, the futility of human existence,
as represented by the symbol of the wheel. Such an attitude
lies behind all the great religions, Buddhism in particular.
It enables one to make sense of moral values such as that of
Both in ethics and in politics, it leads to an
emphasis on the importance of discipline, for though man can
never himself be perfect, it is through discipline that he
can occasionally accomplish acts which partake of perfection.
“Order is thus not merely negative, but creative and
liberating. Institutions are necessary.”
The attitude also
has its characteristic aesthetic manifestation, in geometrical
art, which exhibits a “disgust with the trivial and accidental
characteristics of living shapes” and a “searching after an
austerity . . . . which vita(things can never have” (op.cit.
pp. R f., 22, 25, 33 f, 47 f.).
Hulrne takes this attitude to be the prevailing ideology
of Mediaeval Europe – “from Augustine, say, to the
Renaissance”. In contTast, virtually all philosphies since
the Renaissance, despite their obvious diversity, are
ultimately variations of the same fundamentally humanist
attitude. This picture of two contrasted periods has to he
qualified somewhat. “You may get, at any stage in the
history of such a period, isolated individualS, whose whole
attitude and ideology really belong to the opposed period.
The greatest example of such an individual is, of course,
Pascal” (p.56). But in general the antithesis between the
two conceptions of man corresponds to the difference between
the two historical periods.
However, Hulme also wants to make a distinction between
the categories of a Weltanschauung and the ‘categories’ of
space and time. The former are not inevitable in the way
that the latter are.
In this respect the categories of a
Weltanschauung are more properly to be termed ‘pseudocategories’. We tend to regard them, like space and time., as
inevitable constituents of reality, whereas in fact they
simply make up one possible way of ordering our conception
of reality (pp. 3, 67-70). This brings us to a further
implication of the term ‘Weltanschauung’. Hulme attaches
great importance to the distinction between a Weltanschauung
and scientific philosophy. Genuine scientific philosophy,
exemplified by Husserl and Russell, is the impersonal
1. I take these terms respectively from Alan Montefiore: Fact,
Value and Ideology (in Williams and Montefiore: Britis~
Analytical Philosophy); D.Z. Phillips and H.O. Mounce:
Moral Practices; and Peter Winch: Moral Integrity.
2. In T.E. Hulme: Speculations, edited by Herbert Read, pp.3-7l.
3. Op. ci t. p.67 f. Hulme’ s references here are to Levy – Bruhl
and, I presume, to F .M. Cornford: From Religion to Philosophy.
which ‘radically alters our physical perception, so that the
world takes on an entirely different asoect’?
investigation of certain very abstract obj ecti ve categories.
A Weltanschauung, on the other hand, is “concerned with
matters like the nature and destiny of man, his place i~ the
universe, etc.”; though masquerading as impersonal philosophy,
it is in fact only the expression of a personal ‘standpoint’
(pp. 14 f).
An example may enlighten us; consider ther~fore the
f’ollowing experiences which Tolstoy allots to Prince Andrew
Bolk6’r!ski in War and Peace.
Here we run into difficulties. Hulme’s account becomes,
in fact, quite simply inconsistent. He is led to stress the
plurality of possible Weltanschauungen: when a Weltanschauung
is cloaked in the guise of a scientific philosophy, people
are led to “assume automatically that all ideals must be one
ideal”, whereas in fact there are many possible different
ideal s (p. 20) . Burckhardt ‘s work on the Renaissance, for
example, “describes the emergence of the new attitude
towards life, of the new conception of man, as it might
describe the gradual discovery of the concept of gravitation;”
in fact, however, “the new attitude towards man . . . . was
just an attitude, one attitude amongst other possihle ones,
deliberately chosen” (pp. 25, 58 f). This pluralistic
tendency on Hulme’ s part easi ly takes on the form of a
traditional suhjectivism. The pseudo-categories of a
Weltanschauung are “not objective” (p.A7). When they are
presented as impersonal obj ecti ve science, “you get something
perfectly human and arbitrary cloaked in a scientific
vocabulary” (p.18). This is what happens to “a particular
view of the relation of man to existence” when “the people
who are under its influence want to fix it, to make it seem
not so much a particular attitude as a necessary fact . . .
to give it a universal validity” (p.24 f). However, Hulme’s
own allegiances cause him to contradict these suhj ecti vist
statements. We find him declaring:
Prince Andrew is presented as a talented and successful
young man who sees through and despi ses the sU]Jerfici<'l i ty of
aristocratic society and is disillusioned with his recent
marriap:e; he feels that his wife is a part of the same
'enchanted circle' of 'drawing rooms, gossip, halls, v<l.nit.y,
and triviality' which traps him and thwarts him. He leaves
her in order to serve in the war against the French, eager
for glory and for an opportunity to emulate his hero
Nanoleon. Preliminary successes whet his aopetite, but his
enthusiasm is mingled with a distaste for the echoes of court
I ife which he finds even in the army. Refore the Ratt 1 e of
Austerlitz, he feels that his great opportunity must surely
now present itself. The Russians are routed; Andrew seizes
a standard and leads a desperate and futile charge; he falls,
‘What’s this? Am I falling? My legs are G1V1.11g
way,’ thought he, and fell on his back. He opened
his eyes, hoving to see how the struggle of the
Frenchman tvith the gunners pnoeo, ,,,hether the
red-hairpd gunner had been killed or not, and
whether the cannon had been ca ptured or saved. But
he sat” noth.ing. Above him there ,,,as now nothing
but the skl.l – the loft'” sklJ, net clear “et sti 11
iPlI1leasurably 10ftlJ, with great clouds gl.iding
slowly across it.
‘How quiet, pear.eful, and so.IAmn,
not ~t all as I ran,’ thought Prince Andrew – ‘not
as we ran, shouting and fighting, not at all as the
gunner and the Frenchman wi th frightened and anary
faces struggled for the mop: how differ”!1tll.l do those
clouds glide across that lofty infinite skl.l! Hor” was
it I did not see that lofty sky bf”fore? And how happq
I am to have found it at last! Yes! All is vanitl.l,
all falsehood, except that infinite sk,.”
nothing, noth.ing !:·ut L1at. Eut e.fenj t does not:
ex.1st, tllere is nothing hu:: (Tuiet and peace_
Thank God! . . . . . .
I hold, quite coldly and intellectually, as it
were, that the waq of thinking about the world
and man, the conception of sin, and the categories
w-,-lich ultimately make up the religious attitude,
are the true categories and the right way of
til i n;:ing . • . •
The way in which I have explained
the ,ction of the central abstract atti tudes and
waS'” of thinking, and the use of the word pseudoca+egories, might suggest that I hold relativist
vifc”’s about their validitlJ. But I don’t. I hold
the religious conception of ultimate values to be
right, the humanist wrong. From the nature of
things, these categories are not inevitable,
like the categories of time and space, but are
(op. ci t. p. 70)
With the French victorioL;s. A~dreY is lef~ for de”d. Later,
ha’.’ing been taken to the c;ress j ng-station as n Dd s(rn~r. hp
is addressed ~_,y ‘laoo 1 f,on:
I think we can understand these contradictory inclinations. 4
On the one hand, if a Weltanschauung is not itself a set of
beliefs hut a framework, a set of categories underlying one’s
beliefs, and if it is also the case that no one Weltanschauung
is inevitahle but that others are equally possihle, then it
is difficult to see how it could he regarded as objectively
valid, since it is difficult to see how anything could count
as supporting it. On the other hand, one who occupies such
a perspective will not see it simply as an arhitrary commitment to one possible attitude among others, will not feel
that he could just as well have seen things differently. He
will feel it supremely important that he should adhere to
this particular perspective; he will claim that he is aware
of things to which others are blind; he will he inclined to
say that, so far from nothing counting in support of it,
everything supports it.
, ;”10211, and YOll,
man,’ sa.id }:e.
‘ HO!~I d(J
carryjng him, nov wi.th his
fixed stra.ight 0:1 TV”!pc.leon he was s.ilent . . . . Se
insignificant at- that noment seem:;: to him all the
int:erosts that engrossed llaroleon, so mean did his
hero himself “,ith an his paltn; ‘Fmit~· and jOl’ ~n
victory apppar, compa. r:en to the loft’:J, ecuJ table,
;;nd kindl u :ok,! ,,-hich he had seer_ and
that _le could not answer him.
Everything seemed so futile and insignificant in
comparison with the stern and solemn train of thought
that weakness from loss of blood, suffering, and the
nearness of death, aroused in him. Looking into
Napoleon’ 5 eyes Prince Andrew thought of the
insignificance of greatness, the unimportance of
life which n” onE’ cOllld understand, and the sti.ll
Here, then, is what I shall try to clarify – this notion
of a Weltanschauung which is more fundamental than any of
one’s particular moral beliefs, and to which the application
of the traditional obj ecti ve/subj ecti ve distinction seems
peculiarly problematic. At this point I want to consider
one other form of words used by Hulme, since it appears
usefully suggestive. In the final paragraph of the essay,
he states that the religious attitude is
greater unimJX>rtance cl (~t}ath, j-he lIec7Li t~9 :…>f !/h_~c~~ no
one a.2.: ”’e’ cOJl1.d tl’1d-p.rstand or explain ~ (p. jJ..~ f),
Pr ince Andrew’ s fami ly receive no news of him, and fear the
“,orst. When finally he is able to return, he arr·’ ves as his
Iife, against whom he had felt hostility and resentment on
his departure, is dying in giving birth to a son. ~e sees
her before she dies, l)ut is alVare only of his own pOh’erlessness to help or communicate “hen faced with her look of
. . . . perfectly possible for us tOday. To see
this is a kind of conversion. It radically alters
our phqsical perception; so that the world takes on
an entirely different aspect.
Hulme is here echoing previous phrases of his which we
have quoted – “We do not see the categories we employ, hut
see other things through them”; “Minds dominated by
different pseudo-categories may have a very different
perception of fact”; someone whose categories are different
from ours may demonstrate “an incapacity to see things which,
to us, are simple” (pp.66-9). This vocabulary of vision,
implic5.t in the very word ‘l’Ieltanschauung’, is worth following
up. Wnat, ·then, would be the nature of this ‘conversion’
4. My own contradictory inclinations would lead me to assert
a) that both are equally possible attitudes; b) that the
humanist attitude is the right one, the religious attitude
the wrong one. I wish.to emphasise this, since I shall
have to present the religious attitude in a way which may
tend to give the impression that I adhere to it. This is
feel, “,on brave? I 1’houg_1 five minutes b0f()re Pri.nce
Anorew had IJeen abl’J to say a ferv w”rds t(. the
Three days later the little princess was buried, and
Prince Alldre!” went up the steps to ,,,here the coffin
stood, to give her the farewell kiss. And there in
the coffin was the same face, though wi th closed
‘Ah, what have you done to me?’ it still
seemed to sa 1.1 , and Prince Andrew fel t that something
gave tvay in his soul, anc that he was guilty of a sin
he could _nei ther remedy nor forget. He could not
Some months later Andrew is visited by his friend Pierre, “,ho
has become full of enthusiasm for projects of philanthropy as
a result of his encounter with Freemasonry. Andre” reacts
. sceptically to Pierre’s moral self-confidence. He declares
5. War and Peace p.300. All references are to the translation
by Louise and Alymer ~Iaude, London, Macmillan 1967.
, It is not given to
what is wrong. Men
and in nothing more
right and wrong.’
spring, no sun, no happiness! J.ook at those
cramped, dead firs, and at me too, sticking out
my broken and barked fingers just where they have
grown, whether from my back or my sides: as they
have grown so I stand, and I do not believe in your
hopes and your lies.’ .
man to know what is right and
always did and always will err,
than in what they~onsider
To Pierre’s insistence that whatever does harm to others is
wrong, Andrew replies that the only real harms, the only real.
evils in life, are remorse and illness, and these are, by
their very nature, not such as one can inflict on others.
The only ohject of life is to avoid them in oneself. To live
for others, pursuing the ideals of love for one’s neighbour
and self-sacrifice, is sheer pretension; it is enough that
one should live in such a way as to be free of guilt or
remorse. Though he may care for those who are near to him his son, his father, his sister – this is not ‘love of one’s
neighbour’; he lives for them simply because they are a part
of his om life.
‘Yes, the oak is right, a thousand times right’,
thought Prince Andrew .
A whole sequence of
new thoughts, hopeless but mournfully pleasant, rose
in his sould in connexion with that tree.
During this journey he, as it were, considered his
life afresh and arrived at his old conclusion,
restful in its hopelessness: that it was not for
him to begin anything anew -but that he must live
out his life, content to do no harm, and not
disturbing himself or desiring anything. (p.455)
Pierre cannot believe that Andrew sincerely thinks
in this way
‘ . . . . What evil and error is there
in it, i f people were dying of disease without help
while material assistance could so easily be rendered,
and I supplied them wi th a doctor, a hospi tal, and an
asylum for the aged? And is it not a palpable,
unquestionable goon if a pea.sant, or a woman wi th a
baby, has no rest day or night, and I give them rest
and leisure? • . . . I know, and know for certain,
tha t the enjoyment of doing this good is the only
sure happiness in this life.’
While in the district, Andrew has to visit the local ~Iarshal,
Count Rostov; he sees the Count’s young daughter Natasha, and
is struck by her carefree gaiety. He spends that night at
the Count’s, and, heing unable to sleep, opens the shutters,
to discover the garden and the trees brilliantly illuminated
by the silvery moonlight; in the room above he hears the young
Nat&sha rapturously enthusing over the beauty of the night.
On his return journey through t~e forest he looks once mOTe
for the oak-tree, and scarcely recognises it:
The old oak, quite transfigured, spreading out a
canopy of sappy dark-green foliage, stood rapt and
slightly trembling in the rays of the evening sun.
Neither gnarled f.ingers nor old scars nor old doubts
and sorrows were any of them in evidence now . . . .
Andrew retorts that though this may indeed be a genuine
source of happiness for Pierre, the question of moral right
and good is one which neither of them is able to pronounce
upon. Similarly Andrew agrees that the liberation of the
serfs would be admirable, not however because it would do
them good or make them any happier but because it would
rescue their proprietors from the guilt and remorse which
they would otherwise bri ng upon themselves through being in
a position to inflict punishment and cruelty. Pierre may
enthuse about klasonic doctrines of brotherhood and universal
. . . hut it is not that which can convince me,
dear friend – life and death are what r::onvince. What
convinces is when one sees a being dear to one, bound
UP wi th one’s mm life, before whom one was to blame
and had 7loped to make it right’
voice trembled awl he turned aw’l:~) and suddenly that
being is s’9ized <lith pain, sufEer5, and ceases to
,exist • . . . ~"hy?
It cannot be that there is no
ans·,,·er. And I believe there is . . .
convi’lces, that is what has c.~nvinced me.’ (0.419)
it is VIe same oak,’ thought Pr.ince Andrew, and
feeling of joy and renewal. All the hest moments of
his life suddenly rose to his memory. Austerlitz with
the lofty heavens, his w.i fe’s dead reproachful face,
Pierre at the ferry, that girl thrilled by the beauty
of the night, and that night itself and the moon,
and . . . . all this rushed suddenly to his mind.
~ierre takes this to he, after all,
truths which he himself espouses –
all at once he was seized by an unreasoning soring-time
‘NO, life is not over at thirty-one!’ Prince Andrew
suddenly decided finally and decisively.
‘It is not
enough for me to know what I have in me – everyone
must know it:
Pierre, and that young girl who wanted
to flyaway into the sky, everyone must know me, so
that my life may not be lived for myself alone while
others live so aoart from it, but so that it may be
reflected in thp~ all, and they and I may live in
recognition of the
. We mllst live, we must love, and ‘~e must
believe that ~”e live not only todil’l on tlJis scrap
of earth but have Zived and shall live for ever,
there, in the v/hole,’ said pi err” , ami he /JO.inted
to the sky.
One might at first be inclined to regard this sequence
of experiences primarily as a series of changes of mood.
Certainly there is this aspect to it – the process of depression
and emotional renewal. Onc might t1.en suppose that the
appearance of rational argument and decisi on on Andrew’ s part
simply hides the reality of emotional responses. Tolstoy
himself sometimes encourages this extreme emotivist
interpretation; 3.fter the last-quoted incident he comments
Prince Andrew stood leaning on the railing of the raft
listening to Pierre, and he gazed with his eyes fixed on the
red reflection of the sun gleaming on the blue waters. There
~’:as llerfect stillness.
Pierre became silent. The raft had
long’ since stopped, and only the waves of the current heat
soft I;, against it helow. Prince Andrew felt as if the sound
of t 11e waves kept up a refrain to Pierre’s words, whi speri ng:
On reaching home Prince Andrew decided to go to
Pe.tersburg that autumn and found all sorts of
reasons for this decision. A Whole series of
sensible and logical considerations kept springing
UD to hj s mind.
He could not now understand how
h~ could ever even have doubted the necessi ty of
taking an active share in life . . . . It nOk’ seemed
clear to him that all ‘1is experience of life must be
senselessly wasted unless he applied it to some kind
of (“ork and again played an active ,oart in life. He
did not even remember how formerly, on the strenqth
of similar wretched logical arguments, it had seemed
obvious that he ~/ould be degrading himself i f he now,
after the lessons he had had in life, allowed himself
to believe in t’le possibili ty of being useful and in
the possibility of happiness or love. (p.459)
, It is true, believe it’.
. ‘Yes, if only it were so’ said Prince Andrew.
‘However, it is time to get on,’ he added, and
steooing ~ff the raft he looked up at the sky to which
Pierre had pointed, and for the first time since
Austerlitz saw that high everlastinq sky he had seen
while lying on that battlefield; and something that
had lonq been sl umber ing, something tha t was best
wi thin him, suddenl’j awoke, joyful and youthful in
his soul. It vanished as soon as he returned to the
customary condi’:ions of his life, but he knew that
this feeling which he did not know how to develop,
existed within him. His meeting with Pierre formed
an epoch in Prince Andrew’s life. Though outwardly
he continued to live in the same old way, inwardly
he began a new life.
Nevertheless, Andrew’s own sense that on each occasion he had
made a discovery, had acquired a new awareness of something
in the world, cannot be seen as a mere illusion. Through
his vision of the sky on the battlefie Id he discover~ the
futility of martial glory and the insignificance of human
greatness; confronted with the pained and bewildered
expression on his dead wife’s face, he discovers the reality
of human guilt and remorse; with Pierre at the ferry, he
hecomes aware of “that which is hest within him”; tl-trough
his visit to Count Rostov he becomes aware of the honds which
tie him to other human heings. This sense of acquiring new
knowledge is emphasised by Tolstoy when Andrew first recovers
consciousness after being wounded at Austerl i tz:
Andrew does, in spite of himself, carry out philanthropic
reforms of his estates – he frees his serfs, provides medical
and educational facilities, and so on. His attitude to life
nevertheless remains one of resignation. Two years later he
is visiting one of his estates, and is riding through birch forests fresh with the signs of spring; he passes an old oaktree, huge and gnarled and dead-looking, which alone “refused
to yield to the charm of spring” ‘Spring, love, happiness!’ this oak seemed to say.
, Are you not weary of that stupid, meaningless,
constantly repeated fraud? . . • . There is no
‘Where is it, that lofty sky that I did not know till
now, but saw today?’ was his first thought.
did not know this suffering either,’ he thought. ‘Yes,
Hulme’s talk of a ‘conversion’ which ‘radically alters our
physical perception, so that the world takes on an entirely
different aspect.’ In the remainder of this paper I want to
consider how far this analogy wi 11 take us, and how aFjJropriatfO
it is in moral philosophy.
I did not know anything, anything at all till now.’
Here we can begin to make connections with Hulme’ s talk’ of
‘world-views’; for Andrew’s ‘discovery’ is in each case the
acquisition of an enlarged and clearer view of human nature
and of a man’s relation to the world. Tolstoy speaks of
Andrew’s ‘new outlook’ (p.4l3). None of the views which
Andrew comes to adopt coincides precisely with either of
Hulme’s two world-views. Nevertheless it is clear that the
same kinds of question are being raised – questions of the
vanity of human desires, the possibilities of human fulfilment,
the meaning of ‘sin’ and ‘remorse’, the necessity or futility
of positive human relationships.
I:!et us first attempt to establish the relation between
‘ways of seeing the world’ and specifically moral considerations
We found in Hulme the suggestion that the religious attitude
enables one to make sense of notions such as ‘chastity’ and
‘original sin’. Why it may be asked, should there be any
difficulty about ‘making sense of them’? Are they not simply
certain ultimate evaluations which some people just happen to
have made? Think, however, of the way in which writers in the
humanist tradition have talked about the ‘virtues’ of
abstinence, self-denial, asceticism. Think of David Hume on
the ‘monkish virtues’:
We must be aware of distorting and oversimplifying the
situation which Tolstoy describes. He of all novelists deals
least in abstract general types; and he effectively reminds us
of the danger of doing so.6
We have mentioned that the change
of outlook ascribed to Prince Andrew is not exactly a change
from one to the other of Hulme’ s two basic world-views. We
have also mentioned that i t is not simply a change of outlook.
Tolstoy’s hints of self-deception, of the way in which appeals
to logical argument can mask underlying irrationalities, of
the ease with which moral conceptions are exaggerated or
misunderstood, are a constant reminder that he is portraying
the particular struggles and doubts of a single individual
rather than presenting a consistent and easily classifiable
ideal type. For all that, Prince Andrew’ s experiences can,
I think, be seen as examples of a ‘conversion’ experience, and
can throw some light on Hulme’s use of that term.
And as every quality which is useful or agreeable
to ourselves or others is, in common life, allowed
to be a part of personal merit, so no other will
ever be received where men judge of things by their
natural, unprejudiced reason, without the delusive
glosses of superstition and false religion. Celibacy,
fasting, penance, mortification, self-denial,
humility, silence,solitude, and the whole train of
monkish virtues – for what reason are they everyWhere
rejected by men of sense but because theu serve to no
manner of purpose . . . . We justly, therefore, transfer
them to the opposite column and place them in the
catalogue of v.ices; nor has any superstition force
sufficient among men of the world to pervert entirely
these natural sentiments. A gloomy, hair-brained
enthusiast, after his death, may have a place in the
calendar, but will scarcely ever be admitted when
alive into intimacy and society, except by those who
are as delirious and dismal as himself. 8
What, then, entitles us to speak of a ‘conversion’
here? First, and most obvious ly, there is the fact that
Andrew’s way of life is radically changed. But men may change
their behaviour without having undergone any ‘conversion’.
Hore important, then, is the nature of the experience which
leads to the change. In Andrew’s case we might suppose that
the ‘conversion’ is constituted by the suddenness of the
change, the momentary flash of insight – encapsulated in the
vision of the sky, the sight of the oak. But this is not
what is essential.
The development of insight may equally
be a gradual one, and even if it is instantaneous, it may
reflect back on previous thoughts and experiences which have
prepared the ground for it. Thus, on the night before the
battle of Austerlitz, Andrew imagines to himself the glory
which may await him, but these reveries have to struggle
against the half-suppressed awareness that what may equally
await him is his own death, and that this possibility mocks
at all human aspirations after glory and renown.
subsequent vision of the sky is then the moment at which he
admits to himself the truth of this recognition. Similarly,
his discovery of the need for any human life to find an
answering response in others is forced upon him by Natasha’s
exuberance and by the new life of the oak-tree, but the seeds
have already been sown by Pierre’s insistent argument. Thus,
even if t~e experience is a sudden one, the suddenness is
symptomatic of something more important. What is crucial, I
think, is the experience of seeing a whole range of things
wi th which one is familiar, but seeing them in a new light, as
though for the first time. This we have already remarked upon Andrew, we saw, speaks of having “known nothing till now”.
“How was it I did not see that lofty sky before?” he asks.
But in what sense hadn’t he? He had never seen it as something
infini te in comparison with human concerns, as something which
dwarfs human aspirations and reduces them to insignificance in
the light of its own vast serenity.
Thus it is the vocabulary
of ‘seeing as’ that we are driven to use here. The ‘conversion’
experience is one of seeing things in a new light, seeing the
same things and yet seeing them differently – like the wellknown examples used by Gestalt psychologists such as the
swi tch from seeing a picture of a young woman to seeing the same
picture as that of an old woman, or seeing the same lines now
as a duck and now as a hare. 7 This analogy does seem to fit
at least certain aspects of Andrew’s experience. It also
returns us to, and enables us to find an application for,
Hume does not simply present celibacy, fasting and the rest as
odd things to value; he presents them as absurd and irrational.
(One might compare Bentham’s dismissal of asceticism, and J.S.
Mill’s rejection of ‘wasted’ self-renunciation.)
How is it that Hume makes such values appear nonsensical?
What he has done is to detach them from any context that would
render them meaningful. Conversely, by considering them from
the perspective of what Hulme calls the religious
Weltanschauung, or in the light of something like Prince
Andrew’s experience at Austerlitz and after the death of his
wife, that one could begin to do so. If one sees man’s
relation to the world as making human activity essentially
futile, if one is struck by the vanity of all specifically
human satisfactions, one may then come to see human desires
as existing not to be satisfied but to be denied, as fetters
on the soul which tie it to the delusions of the physical
world, imprisoning it and tyrannising over it. The concept of
‘original sin’ may then start to become intelligible; one may
be led to consider worldly desires as by their very nature
corrupt, and the gratification of them as a matte~of
‘yielding’ to them. If a contrast is then made between the
futility and despair of human existence and the purity of
something infinite and eternal which surpasses the human
world, virtue may come to be positively identified with
resistance to the desires. Such virtues as chastity then
become genuinely intelligible. Moreover, they are understood
in their true sense, whereas humanist moralists who have
wanted to retain the concept of chastity have never succeeded
in talking anything but nonsense. (Hume, for example, thinks
that chastity is useful as a guarantee that a man’s children
are his own. 9)
I am not concerned here with the presentation of, still
less with the advocacy of, the aformentioned perspective,
which may seem a common-place or, less disparagingly, a
perennial moral tradition in which such thinkers as Plato,
Augustine, Pascal, Schopenhauer ,Kierkegaard could be
variously situated. I am concerned with its philosophical
significance. What is important here is the notion of a
The ‘way of seeing the world’ does not
necessitate or entail such .moral values as chastity or selfdenial (it might equally lead to an attitude of sheer
pessimism and despair.) But i t does, as I have said, make
them intelligible, give them a sense. And if the ‘ways of
seeing’ which constitute the background of different moral
values are indeed comparable to a visual Gestalt – if we
can speak, in the moral as in the perceptual case, of two
6. A danger which I shall mention later – see the final section
()f this paper.
7. And numerous other examples. For philosophical discussions
of these, see inter alia L. Wittgenstein: Philosophical
Investigations pp. 193 ff.; N.R. Hanson: Patten:s o~ .
Discovery ch. 1; T.S. Kuh~: The St:ucture.of SCIen~lfIc .
Revolutions ch.lO et paSSIm, all wIth a VIew to phIlosophIcal
problems different from those I am concerned with here, but
all, I think, relevant.
‘8. An Inquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals Section IX:
Conclusion (p.9l in ‘Library of Liberal Arts’
9. A Treatise of Human Nature
Book Ill, Part II, Section XII.
10. Cf. Phillipa Foot: When is a Principle a Moral Principle,
in Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume XXVIII (1954).
people confronted with what is in a sense the same object of
experience yet seeing it differently – then this may explain
how someone thinking within a particular perspective may simply
fail to see the sense of some other morality. It will explain
how the monkish virtues can be made to appear irrational, and
how, conversely, when one is thinking within the ‘religious’
tradition one can give no point to any talk of, for example,
‘repression’ or ‘liberation’ in relation to human desires.
do only because they are already viewed from a particular moral
perspective. This way of putting it, however, may suggest one
further means of trying to preserve the fact/value dichotomy.
Should the ‘factual descriptions’ within a Wel tanschauung
perhaps more properly be regarded as evaluatively-Ioaded
interpretations of the facts? The argument might proceed as
follows: “There must be some neutral characterisation of the
facts which are various ly interpreted in one or another
Weltanschauung and this residual neutral suhstratum is alone
‘factual’ in the strict sense; the evaluation interpretations
must accordingly be seen as conforming to the logic of
evaluation in general, the logic of approval and disapproval..”
But why should the analogy of ‘seeing as’ be necessary?
Why should the so-called ‘way of seeing’ or ‘Weltanschauung’
not be regarded just as a set of very general value-judgements
from which are deduced all the more specific moral judgements
going to make up a particular morality? The high-level
judgements, it might be suggested, are in effect judgements of
approval and disapproval such as ‘Human desires are bad’,
‘Freedom from the power of desires is good’, and these,
together with minor premises specifying particular
instantiat ions of ‘desire’, entai 1 various more concrete moral
The question of value-neutrality is a difficult one, and
would properly take us beyond the limits of this paper.
Foregoing a full discussion, let us provisionally admit that
there are innumerable particular facts which are ‘neutral’ in
the sense that they do not in themselves possess any specific
practical significance or demand any specific human response.
But the crucial question is this: is there some general way of
representing man’s relationship to the world and to other human
heings which is ‘neutral’ and is prior to any ethical interpretation? Is there any neutral substratum of which Hulme’ s
‘reI igious attitude’ and ‘humanist atti tude’ are alternative
interpretations? A certain kind of neutrality is indeed possible.
Consider the mode of consciousness exemplified hy Ileursault in
Camus’s L’Etranger – a consciousness of the world as totally
indifferent, totally detached and foreign, lacking all human
significance. Because Heursault is confined within this kind
of consciousness, he is incapable of any attachments or
allegiances, either to persons or to values. It is all one
whether he loves his mistress or does not love her;13 whether
he kills a man or does not kill him, it comes to the same
thing. 14 He commits a murder, but is aware of his doing so
more as an arhi trary event in the world, something which just
happens to him, than as an action which he has performed and
for which he has any motive or any responsibility. His typical
way of experiencing the world is as a series of unrelated
sense- impressions. IS To see the world in this way is, in a
sense, to see it in neutral terms. But it does not follow
that this kind of consciousness has any epistemological
priori ty. It is not the underlying basis of normal human
consciousness; rather it is itself simply one particular,
and in fact highly unusual, mode of consciousness. It is not
more fundamental than any ‘evaluative interpretation’; it is
itself one interpretation among others – which is perhaps to
say that the very term ‘interpretation’ may he misleading
here, since there is nothing further for it to be an interpretation of.
The simple answer is that the judgements in question are
not of this kind. They are judgements about the futility of
human activity, the vanity of human desires, the transitoriness
of human existence, the tyrannical power of wordly satisfactions
– and about other conceptions which are the converse of these.
In other words, they are judglllllents as to the correct
characterisation of certain states of affairs.
At this point, however, we can expect the Humean 11
gt;illotine to be put into operation: “If a Weltanschauung is
not a set of value-judgements, it must he a set of ordinary
statements of fact which can in principle be empirically
‘~rj fied or falsified.”
Our suggestion that a morality is
somehOw grounded in, even if not entailed by, a Weltanschauung
might then be interpreted as an argument for some kind of
ethical naturalism. It might be supposed, for example, that a
claim about the futility of all attempts to satisfy human
desires is just such an empirically verifiable or falsifiable
statement. As such, of course, it would he plainly false. It
would amount to a claim that no one ever gets What he wants;
and yet, in a purely psychological sense, it must surely be
the case that some people are sometimes ~tisfied. Consider
now, however, a riposte of the followirtg kind;
The vanity of existence is revealed in the whole
form exi stence assumes: in the infini teness of time
and space contrasted with the finiteness of the
individual in both; in the fleeting present as the
sole form in which actuality exists; in the contingency
and relativity of all things; in continual becoming
without being; in continual desire without satisfaction,
in the continual frustration of striving of which life
consists . . • . Time is that by virtue of which
everything becomes nothingness in our hands and loses
all real value . • ••
I n . . . . a world where no
stability of any kind, no enduring state is possible,
where everything is involved in restless change and
con[usion and keeps itself on its tightrope only by
continually striding forward – in such a world,
happiness is not so much as to be thought of . .
It is all one whether fa man] has been happy or not in
a life which has consisted merely in a succession of
transientpresent moments and is now at an end. 12
This point is effectively demonstrated by the novel
itself, and by Camus’s essay The Myth of Sisyphus. So far
from possessing a neutral awareness of the facts on which he
can subsequently build an ethical interpretation, Meursault
comes to recognise that his way of experiencing the world is
one which assigns to it its true ethical significance. He
“lays open his heart to the benign indifference of the
universe.”16 He has been brought face to face with what
Camus himself calls the ‘inhuman’, the ‘denseness and
strangeness of the world’ – the ‘absurd’. To assign to it
any different significance would be, in his view, sheer
dishonesty and self-deception.
Schopenhauer is not here denying Cal though he is often
rather inclined to do so) that what we ordinarily call
‘satisfaction’ or ‘happiness’ sometimes occurs. Rather he is
suggesting that what looks :Uke the satisfaction of desires
from one point of view comes to be seen as sheer futility when
set against the inexorahility of time. Within this perspective
the concepts of ‘futility’ and ‘satisfaction’ are transformed.
Th::’ are brought into association with concepts such as ‘vanity’,
‘trail;i toriness’, ‘infiniteness’, all of which, in the senses
in …,hich they are here understood, would simply not be employed
h,’ someone who did not share this perspective. When they are
employed, they give rise to certain ‘descriptions’ of the
‘facts’; hut these descriptions cannot be regarded as straightforwardly open to empirical verification or falsification,
since the question of their truth or falsity would simply not
arise for someone employing a different perspective. Here the
metaphor of vision is quite natural. In challenging
Schopenhauer’s assertions, I should not claim that they are
straightforwardly false; my own response would be ‘I don’t see
the matter that way, I don’t see it in those terms.’ Such a
form of words comes naturally in this context.
The fact/value dichotomy, then, appears singularly
inappropriate when applied to cases of this kind. We are
dealing with questions of ‘fact’, but the facts appear as they
Does our suggested analogy between an ethical world-view
and a visual Gestalt hold good at this point? Certainly,
philosophers have claimed that perception is necessarily
theory-laden, and that the notion of basic perceptual data
prior to any interpretation is an inadmissible one. 17 Of
course, it is not the possibility of value-neutrality that
is in question there. Nevertheless the parallel is important.
If the traditional fact/value dichotomy ohstructs a
proper understanding of moral world-views, we shall not be
surprised to find that the objective/suhjective dichotomy
becomes equally questionable. This, it will be remembered,
was the point on which Hulme appeared confused. We saw that
Hulme wanted to claim obj ecti ve validity for hi s own
allegiances, but was at the same time led into a form of
subjectivism by his emphasis on the plurality of possible
world-views, no one of which is either demonstrably more
correct or inevitable. The ‘seeing-as’ analogy can, I
suggest, help us to remove this confusion. It reveals the
possibility of pluralism without subjectivism. A figure can
13. p.48. All references are to the Penguin edition of the
English translation by Stuart Gilbert.
14. p.62. – but I have been informed by Miss Susan Quick that
the English translation puts this more forcibly than does
the French. text.
11. Or neo-Hulllean. The attribution of the fact/value dichotomy
to Hume has rightly been questioned.
15. p. 27, et passim.
16. p. 120.
12. Schopenhauer: Essays and Aphorisms, translated by R.J.
Hollingdale, pp. 51-2.
17. Cf. Hanson, op.cit., ch.l.
‘evidence’ each gives will be understood in the relevant way
only by one who is already convinced. Nevertheless it is
important that each of them can back up his world-view by
referring to these particular facts which bear it out and give
substance to it. And if one wished to convince someone of the
appropriateness of one’s world-view, one would quite legitimately invoke such facts.
be seen equally as a picture of an old woman and as a picture
of 2. young woman; neither is the correct way of seeing it. But
this does not mean that the two ways of seeing it have the
status of subjective responses. Are they then ‘objecttve’?
The following can at any rate be said:
With regard both to visual ‘seeing-as’ and its moral
anatbgue, the objective/subjective dichotomy is perhaps best
discarded. But if it is retained, the considerations we have
just reviewed entitle us to assert the possibility of a
plurality of world-views which are nevertheless all objective
and equally valid.
It may be thought that, in saying this, we are
contravening in a quite facile way the Law of Non-Contradiction,
To do so explicitly, we should have to be making some claim to
the effect that alternative world-views can be equally true.
So far I have avoided any such claim, and I am inclined to
think that to talk of ‘truth’ and ‘falsitv’ in this context
is out of place. Indeed, I have in effect been arguing that
any idea of ‘the true morality’ ought to be rejected. But
if we are to abandon all claims on ‘truth’ on the part of
different world-views, it is important to insist that a
world-view may nevertheless be perfectly objective;nor do
see any reason to baulk at the conceptual separation of
‘objectivity’ and ‘truth’ ·Ihich is implied.
The figure cannot be seen in just any way. We can see
it as an old woman, and we can see it as a young woman, but
we cannot see it as anything we like. There are strict limits
to the possibilities. The possibilities are made available by
the concepts in our language; what it is possible for us to
see depends upon how it is possible for us to conceptualise our
experience. And any concept obviously carries with it a
distinction between correct and incorrect applications of it.
,Thus the figure can correctly be seen both as an old woman and
as a young woman, but it cannot correctly be seen as a man.
Similarly the possible ways of seeing man’s nature and his
place in the universe are made available by the moral and
intellectual traditions within one’s culture. Thus there are
limits to what can be said. And what is said can be more or
less appropriate. The available traditions do not confine
us once and for all; new ways of seeing can be developed and
extended – but not arbitrarily.
Perhaps, however, this is where the analogy with visual
‘seeing-as’ begins to break down. In the latter case there
appears to be no comparahle prohlem about truth or falsity.
The simplest way of obviating the problem would be to say,
for example: “It’s neither an old woman nor a young \Ioman,
it’s a picture – a picture which can be seen either as a
picture of an old woman’s head or as a picture of a young
woman’s head.” In other words, there is no problem about
the incompatibility of the two statements “It’s an old
woman” and “It’s a young woman”, since neither is asserted. 19
The examples which I have quoted, and which are most often
quoted, have indeed been examples of pictures which can be
seen in different ways. But I do not think that this is
essential. Consider, for example, the possibility of seeing
the sun two-dimensionally as a small flat disc and seeing it
as a huge and very distant hall of fire, or of seeing a
mountain as a kaleidoscope of colours and as a solid towering
mass. What is more to the point is that where something can
‘:le seen both as a and as b,nothing further need be said than
that it is both.
Once we have become aware of the
?ossibili ty of seeing the figure both as a picture of an old
“oman and as a picture of a young woman, there is no further
problem, nothing more to be said. This is just >I’here the
~ase of conflicting moral perspectives is different.
see a thing in two different ways without feeling this as a
tension, but one cannot live on the basis of two incompatible
noral perspectives – or rather, if one finds oneself doing so,
chis presents itself as a moral conflict which demands to be
resolved. This is what constitutes the real importance of the
notion of ‘commitment’ and ‘choice’ in ethics. And we saw
that Hulme’s own theoretical difficulties were created by his
own commitment to a particular moral perspective.
Someone who is unable to see the figure as a picture of
an old (or young) woman is missing something which is there to
be seen. There is something about the picture which he has
failed to see. Similarly, someone who simply cannot see the
force of a particular world-view is missing something which is
there to be seen. (However, there are complications here to
which we shall return).
I cannot ‘choose’ or ‘decide’ to see the figure in a
certain way. If I am able to see it as a picture of an old
woman, this is because that way of seeing it forces itself
upon me. We can speak of the dawning of an aspect, of the
way in which the picture strikes me. 18 Similarly, I do not
‘choose’ or ‘decide’ to adopt a particular world-view. In
the Tolstoy examples, Prince Andrew does not opt for a new way
of seeing things, as though he should say “I’ll try this one
for a change”. The appropriate vocabulary is precisely that
of the ‘dawning’ of an aspect which ‘strikes’ him and ‘forces
itself upon him.’ We can speak of his gaining a new ‘insight.’
If someone is unable to see the figure as a picture of
an old woman, can we give him reasons or grounds for seeing
it as such? Well, at any rate, we can point to all the
elements which go to make up that way of seeing it. We can
tell him that whereas the young woman is turning away and
looking over her shoulder, the old woman is in profile and
looking down towards the bottom left of the picture. We can
point out that the young woman’s chin becomes the old woman’s
nose, and so on. What is interesting is that he will he able
to understand these points only once he has already come to
see the figure as a picture of an old woman. He can accept
the correctness of these assertions only when he has accepted
that for which they are supposed to be reasons. Nevertheless,
it certainly is by saying “This is the nose”, “This is the
chin”, and so on, that we could get him to see it as a picture
of an old woman. And I think it can legitimately be said that
we are thereby supplying ‘grounds’ for seeing it in that way.
Similarly, one who wished to combat the view which sees human
aspirations as essentially corrupt and futile might point to
particular human achievements – artistic creations, the growth
of human knowledge, the development of technological skills
which make .it increasingly possible to eliminate disease and
suffering etc.; and one who wished to support the view in
question. might point to the impassioned and ceaseless strivings
of men’s hearts, the vastness of their ambitions, and contrast
them with the brevity of human life, and the inexorability of
the eternal round of birth, procreation and death. Now of
course, precisely what is in question is whether the things
they point to are to be seen as fulfilment or futility. The
What is it, then, that ultimately determines a man to see
the world one way rather than another, to act from within one
world-view rather than another? If we think back to To1stoy
examples, the answer there must clearly he: “Experience.”
Prince Andrew is led to a new moral perspective by his
experience of the realities of a military campaign, his
confrontation with the possihility of his own death, his
reactions at his wife’s death-bed, and so on. One whose
experience was different would he likely to see things
differently. The question is: can we speak of anything more
than a causal relation between Prince Andrew’s experience and
his commitment to a particular moral perspective? Is the
relation merely comparable to that between, say, a man’s
moroseness and his having slept badly? Or is there some sense
in which Andrew’s experience constitutes a verification or
confirmation of this view of the world?
I think that there is. But we shall not see it if we
look for ‘verification by experience’ in the traditional
empiricist sense. The differences are worth examining.
The experience in question is not the passive recording
of perceptual data, but essentially a matter of activity – the
work one does, the things one has achieved or failed to achieve,
the relationships one has entered into, and so on. In Prince
Andrew’s case, as we saw, the relevant experience includes his
participation in war, his hopes of glory, his coming close to
death, the development of his relationship with his wife, etc.
Since this kind of experience is not the passive awareness
of an object but is primarily activity, that which provides the
18. But if I am already able to see it in more than one way,
then I can subsequently ‘choose’ to see it in one of those
ways, in the sense that I can concentrate my attention on
those features which go to make up that aspect.
19. This point has been made to me by Tony Skillen.
‘verification’ of a world-view is not an object of experience,
but the nature of the experience itself, the relation which it
involves between the self and its world.
The fact that this experience is not an awareness of a
public objective world helps to explain why the kind of
verification it provides is something specific to the individual.
This is why we refer to individuals’ experience to account for
the differences in their ways of seeing the world. Of course
two persons may equally differ in their perceptual awareness
of a public object; but their account of the content of this
perceptual experience will be presented as claims about the
nature of an impersonal, public object of experience. Thus,
perceptual experience, by the manner of its formulation,
presents itself as a way of resolving individual differences
rather than of accounting for them.
The way in which experience in this active sense serves to
‘confirm’ a world-view is not a matter of matching a hypothesis
against the corresponding observation(s). Rather, one finds
that a certain perspective enables one to make sense of and to
render intelliqible the experiences which one has 1i ved through.
Thus Prince Andrew’s vision of the sky enables him to look hack
at his previous experiences and see them for what they were the empty gestures of military heroism, the feverish and
impassioned activity for the sake of trivial rewards, his own
deliherate refusal to face certain aspects of his life. I can
only add that whether er not this kind of ‘verification by
exp~rience’ appears philosophically acceptable, it is what does
happt,n. This just is the form that people’s moral development
One encounters a certain view of
the ,.;orld, and re~lises that one’s past actions, experiences,
emotions and relationships, hopes and fears all fit into place
when seen in this light.
Is the view of nature and of social relations
which shaped Greek imagination and Greek art
possible in the age of automatic machinery and
railways and locomotives and electric telegraphs?
Where coes vulcan come in as against Roberts and
Co.? Jupiter, as against the lightning conductor?
and Herme3, as against the Credi t ~~obi lier? All
mythology masters and dominates and shapes the forces
of nature in and through the imagination; hence it
disappears as soon as man gains mastery over the
forces of nature. 22
In quoting this passage I do not intend to equate Greek
mythology with Hulme’s ‘religiOUS attitude’, but I do consider
that the point which is made here is a relevant one. 1I’e thus
seem driven towards some kind of relativism, such as Hulme
wanted to avoid; but if this is so, it needs to be properly
We have spoken of a ‘world-view’ as a view of men’s
relations to the world and to one another. Now, insofar as
experience is regarded primarily as activity, it is not merely
a means of discovering these relations, hut itself serves to
/-fen create their own relationships to one
another and to the non-human world. The formulation of a
world-view is then an attempt to grasp these relations as human
,,~,~”,’;ity has defined them.
For example, whether the world
:,res-:’nts itself to men as sOl~ething which surpasses and
transcends them and before which they can only bow in submission,
or as the material from which human achievements can he built,
depends upon vlhat r.ten do. But this activity is also the means
by which they are ena’:>led to recognize the nature of the
Since a world-view is an overall view of these relations,
it is confirmed not by particular experiences but by the totality
of one I s experience.
Hence the di fferences from visual ‘seeingas’ . There, one’s different experiences of something enable one
to descr i be it in different ‘-rays. Seeing the figure as a picture
of an old woman and as a picture of a young woman are themselves
two separate experi ences, and nei ther can override the other.
But a world-view has to make sense of one’s experience taken as
a whole, and thus a commitJTlent to one or another view is demanded.
Perhaps ‘”,hat Ive have been saying ahout the relation between
men’s act i ‘i ty and their world-view is part of what ~Iarx means
in passages such as the following: 20
A reference hack to the ‘seeing-as’ analogy may be helpful.
Although differences in the situation of the observers may
account for how they see the figure, this does not entitle us
to say it is one thing for anyone in si tuati on a and another
thing for anyone in situation b. Similarly we cannot say that
a certain world-view is ‘valid’ for one historical e~och but
not for another, for one individual or society but not for
‘-Lnother. This would be to formulate a second-order
philosophical point in the first-order language appropriate to
the expression of one’s own commitments. To assert the validity
of a particular world-view is to express one’s own commitment,
and to do so on the basis of one’s Om experience. Si nce
people’s experience differs, they will be committed to different
world-views. There is no impersonal experience to arbitrate
hetween these differences. One can say that as the characteristic
experience of one epoch or society varies ::rom that of another,
so a different world-view will tend to be predominant in each.
But this is not itself a statement about the ‘validity’ of the
one or the other world-view. Thus, when Hulme says that the
religiolls attitude is “a perfectly possible one for us today”,
in one sense I would agree. Nothing about contemporary society,
as compared with other human societies, entail s the fals i ty of
the reI igious world-view. it may nevertheless be the case that
the kinds of experjence IIhich have been taken as confirming the
religious world- iew are no longer characteristic of contemporary
I conclude with some second-order rernar-ks about what I have
heen doing in this paper.
The ideas which . • . . individuals form are ideas
either about their relation to nature or about their
mutual relations or about their own nature.
evident that in all these cases their ideas are the
conscious expression – real or illusor’l – of their
real relationships and activities, of their production
and intercourse and of their social and political
organisation. . . .
The production of ideas, of
conceptions, of consciousn~ss is directly interwoven
with the material activity and the material relationships of men, the language of actual life • . . .
The same applies to intellectual production as
expressed in the language of poli tics, la~’s, morali ty,
religion, ~etaphysics,·etc. of a people • . .
Consciousness can never be dnything else than
conscious existence, and the existence of men is their
actual 1 ife-proces3.
I must first emphasise that the two world-views I have been
discussing are esser.tially ideal types, and that the contrast
between them will rarely be found in such a simplified form in
actual moral experience. Complexities arise in a number of ways.
The moral beliefs of an individual or of a social group llii11
involve a variety of moral conceptions drawn from
different world-views. It is characteristic of moral experience
that one’s moral standpOint reveals internal tensions. One finds
oneself torn between conflicting moral tendencies, pulled in
different directions by the different moral traditions within
which one’s ideas are located. This is what lies behind the
experience of deep-rooted moral conflicts within oneself.
The relation of different world-views to one another is
not simply one of opposition.
As we came to see in the previous
section, they are also related to one another historically. Thus
in order to understand properly the relation of the humanist
world-view to the religious world-view, we should have to
consider how the one grew out of the other. And in view of
this process of historical development, we shall not be able to
draw a clear line between the one world-view and the other, nor
can particular thinkers be located easily and automatically
within one or the other. If we consider such thinkers as
Spinoza, or Kant, or Blake, we can see how, in varied ways,
religious conceptions and a religious vocabulary have gone into
the making of important elements in humanist morality. We can
see, too, how the religious tradition has itself developed from
a morality of life-denial to a morality of life-affirmation.
My relationship to my surroundings is my
consciousness . .- . .
Consciousness is at first
. . . . consciousness of nature, which first appears
to man as a completely alien, all powerful and
unassailable force . • . • Hence i t is a purely
animal consciousness of nature (natural religion) for the very reason that nature is not yet modified
20. It is certainly not the whole of what he means.
21. Marx and Engels: The German Ideology, translated by Roy
Pascal and Clemens Dutt (Moscow 1964), pp. 37 and 42. I
have also drawn on the translation in Easton and Guddat:
Writings of the young Marx on Philosophy and Society,
pp. 414 and 421.
Passages such as these add a further dimension to, our
discussion. Marx emphasises the aspect of historical and
social development. If active human experience hoth defines
men’s relationship to the world and to one another and ‘
confirms their view of these relationships, it will follow
that, as human activity and experience varies from one age to
another and from one social group to another, so the worldview current in a society or epoch will vary accordingly.
We are reminded of Hulme’s association of the ‘religious’
and ‘humanist’ attitudes with the pre-Renaissance and postRenaissance periods respectively. “Iarx’ s posit ion is
forcefully stated in another well-known passage:
22. David McLellan: Marx’s Grundrisse p. 44 f.
understood on the model of ‘seeing-as’, i.e. that it cannot
be assimilated to one of the other kinds of disagreement
mentioned above. (Thus, for example, it might be argued
instead that the disagreement is really one about the most
effective means of achieving human satisfaction and wellbeing. Or again, taking up the point I have previously made
about the historical relationship between reli~ious and
hum~nist morality, it might be suggested that these are really
different manifestations of the same moral tradition.)
3. The conflict between world-views which I have been discussing is only one particular moral disagreement. I have not been
trying to charact :rise ‘moral disagreement’ in general., There
are certainly other kinds of moral disagreement: cross -cuI tural
differences, where different cultures employ a totally different
moral vocabulary, and where we can perhaps hardly speak of
‘disagreement’ at all, but only of non-communication; disagreements about consequences, strai ghtforwardly empirical disagreements about what will happen and how certain things can be
achieved; disagreements where the disputants are working within
the same moral tradition and are disagreeing about its application when extended to new situations; and so on. Moreover, any
particular case of moral conflict may involve any or all of
these elements. Think, for example, of the present conflict
between those who wish to re-affirm traditional standards of
sexual or other morality and those who challenge them in the
name of liberation. One element in this may well be the clash
between the two world-views I have been discussing;but certainly
many other kinds of disagreement are involved – disagreements
about empirical matters such as the incidence of VD, or the
effects of pornography and of censorship, or, less straightforwardly, about the role of the family in bourgeois society,
or the psychological effects of exclusiveness in personal
relations. Accordingly I would not characterise this particular
conflict simply as one between different ways of seeing man and
the world; on the contrary, I would maintain strongly that the
campaigners against “moral pollution” exhibit a mass of sheer
confus ion and ignorance.
What, then, in positive terms, have
commi tted to the defence of two claims:
Clearly both kinds of question can be settled only by
looking at the content of moral disagre~ments. In other words,
we have to find out what people disagree about.
For it might
turn out to be the case that, although the kind of disagreement
I have outlined is a perfectly possible one, men do not as a
matter of fact disagree in this way. The truth or falsity of
ethical pluralism cannot be decided a priori.
It should also be apparent that the answers we give may be
true of some societies and not of others. If it is the case
that there are fundamental differences of ethical perspective
within contemporary society, then this ethical pluralism is
surely a reflection of the pluralistic nature of our society the high degree of stratification, the radical extent of the
division of labour, the existence of social classes and subcultures, a radical dichotomy between public life and private
Conversely, in a highly cohesive tribal
society ethical pluralism is likely to be false. Thus the
logic of ethical discourse cannot be considered in abstraction
from the concrete nature of human social life and historical
The consideration of these issues will take us
up to, and beyond, the limits of analytical philosophy.*
a) that the particular disagreement which I have been considering
is a fundamental one; i.e. that the difference between the
virtues of self-denial, chastity, etc., and the values of
human fulfilment and achievement does lie behind a great many
particular moral conflicts;
I should like to thank Tony Skillen, Peter Winch and
James Cameron for valuable comments on this paper; I
am also grateful for conversations with students and
friends on the issues presented here.
b) that this difference does involve different views of the
nature of man and his relation to the world, and is properly
Seeing things indifferently ‘1
notes on Ricrnrd Norman’s article
On p.ll Norman notes an objection I made to his use of the
duck-rabbit type case to characterize “alternative moralitIes”.
I had argued that ambiguous pictures were not a good analogy.
Roughly, the obj ection was that whereas a Christian world-view
is incompatible, say, with a Marxist world-view [neo-ecumenicisrr
aside], that “D-R” is a picture of a duck is not incompatible
with its being a picture of a rabbit. Hence picture – pluralisrr
does not support world-view pluralism.
“Here then is what I shall try to clarify – this notion
of a Wel tanschauung which is more fundamental than any
of one’s particular moral beliefs and to which the
application of the traditional objective/subjective
distinction seems peculiarly problematic” (p.7)
Richard Norman concludes that “to talk of ‘truth’ and
‘falsi ty’ in this context is out of place”. Nonetheless,
because of the way “basic orientations” are rooted in experience
they can be “perfectly objective”.
Thus Norman’s position
cuts across the usual positions.
Norman, then, supplies further analogies – seeing the sun,
and seeing a mountain p.ll: The sun, he says, can be seen “two
dimensionally as a small flat disc” or “as a huge and very
distant ball of fire”. The mountain can be seen “as a
kaleidoscope of colours” or as a “solid towering mass”. But
leaving aside the question whether we can see the sun in these
different ways, the trouble here is surely~at the sun simply
is not a small flat disc. Nor is a mountain an immaterial
kaleidoscope of co lours.
I am unhappy about the view that there are “incompatible”
but “equally valid” world-views, about “ethical relativism’.’ I
think this position is false and that it gives aid and comfort
to the enemy. Does Norman’s article, however, show that this
position is forced on us? I do not think so.
The article makes use of two central contrasts.
can be questioned.
In other words, I do not think Norman succeeds in giving
analogues of moral vision which would give independent weight
to his thesis of “objectivist pluralism”.
The two contrasts are:
Naturalism and Pluralism
Between “a morality” (Weltanschauung, perspective,
basic orientation) and “a specific belief” – where the former
gives rise to and enables us to make sense of the latter.
It would be possible to develop a sort of “objectivist
pluralism”, within a quite naturalistic framework, based on a
consciousness of the lack of und”erstanding people have of the
world – a kind of qual ified agnosticism – e. g. to take an
extreme case “if we knew there was no afterlife obviously our
view of earthly existence would be transformed. We cannot
know. There are all sorts of “theories” or “world-views”
conSIstent with human experience. We will never have more
than finite knowledge of this infinitely complex world.
Therefore we have to accept that other moral outlooks ~ be
equally well founded to our own.
Between “seeing-as” and “seeing”
This second contrast plays a central part in Richard
Norman’s discussion of “world-views”, and is important to his
argument against moral “realism”.
It is related to his
contrast between “objectivity” and “truth” p.ll and in his
contrast between the hypothesis/observation relation and the
world-view/experience relation. In general “it reveals the
possibility of pluralism without subjectivism” p.lO
Seeing-as and seeing
I do not want to call this contrast into question in the
abstract. There is no doubt, a difference of kind between
seeing the “duck-rabbit” “$ a duck and seeing a decoy duck as
a real duck. In tne latter case, but not in the former one’s
F~lception is mistaken.
This paradigm hits off the accepted
contrast. It is Norman’s use of it that I find difficulty
This sort of idea, it seems to me applies at all sorts
of levels tolTIoral disagreements. But it does not lead to
Richard Norman’s type of relativism in that it preserves the
hard contrast between what is believed and what is the case,
and allows for genuine growth of knowledge and wisdom. Indeed
it seems to me that although Marx correctly rejects the idea
that knowledge advances all by itself, the passage that Norman
quotes implies that knowledge does really grow – that the areas
about which people are practIcally compelled to be blind do
change. Marx’ s remarks do not have the heavy relativi stic
meaning that Norman attributes to them.
Now it does seem to me that Norman does trade on this
“rationalist” view in his discussion of Tolstoy. For he does
say “Andrew’s ‘discovery’ is in each case”‘the acquisition of
an enlarged and clearer view of human nature and of man’s
relation to the world” (p.9)
“The ‘way of seeing the world’ (the “religious worid-view”)
does not necessitate or entail such moral values as chastity or
self-denial (it might eq~well lead to an attitude of sheer
pessimism and despair”.
Are things as tenuous as this? Surely if a “religious”
person is convinced that humans cannot be saved, or. that God
is indifferent to his misery, then he must be in despair. But
this pessimism is intelligible surely, in the light of some such
articulatable difference between him and an orthodox’ Christian.
And in any case there would be some explanation of this pessimism.
Like Christianity, pessimism doesn’t hang in mid-air.
But, can Norman say this? Can he go beyond the
impression of Andrew himself?
Would not the young Andrew
think these later sort of ideas ridiculous? How can he be
said to have (really) progressed?
MORAL OUTLOOKS and SPECIFIC BELIEFS
So, it seems to me, the seeing-as analogies do not lend
independent support to the central thesis. All the weight,
then, falls on the specific discussion of moral views and
“basic orientations”. Here several problems arise many of
which will only he noted.
Moreover, chastity, discipline (Hobbes, Lenin) pessimism
about the flesh (Freud) are not necessarily religious notions;
they are intelligible in quite specific terms – the world is’
full of strange bedfellows. And this brings out the unclarity
of the notion of “a world-view”. Does the bourgeoisie have ~
Phenomenology and Phenomenalism
As philosopher, the Normanian pluralist, looking down from
the meta-world, sees that there is no validity in the claim of
any moral outlook to be “correct” – there are many “equally
valid” outlooks. As a being-in-the-world, however, as say,
Marxist humanist, he attacks and criticizes religious views as
repressive, even as superstitious. (This is recognised but not
resolved on p. 7) .
Despite the welcome and in the context of academic moral
philosophy unusual concern to treat concrete phenomena seriou’sly
there is I think a certain lack of seriousness about Norman’s
approach, a lack common to all. “phenomenological” writing.
Norman tends to leave things at the phenomenal or
ideological level – take each consciousness (save the critical
consciousness) at its face value, noting that other consciousnesses
exist too. The enquiry is not pushed to the level where we can
speak of ideology, of false consciousness.
If truth is not a property of any “basic orientation” it
is difficult to see how it can he of any “specific” moral
belief, given that this helief only makes sense in terms of the
“basic orientation”. Is not Norman committed to a “true for us
– false for them” idea all down the line?
Radical writers of a phenomenological persuasion e.g. R.D.
Laing have pointed out the stupid incomprehension of straight
society in regard to madness. Their writings have tended to be
couched in relativistic terms (different “realities” or “worlds”).
It seems to me that these terms obscure the main lesson of
Laing’s work: that whole dimensions of experience are repressed
in “ordinary” bourgeois life – and are real lacks; that mental
illness has to be taken seriously to be understood.
It seems to me that Norman tends to hypostatise world-views.
is strange since the chief point and virtue of the article
is to show how we cannot abstract particular moral propositions
for “assessment” without examining their ideological location.
But, rather than speaking in terms of a more or less systematic
structure of bel iefs he speaks of a “world-view” behind all
beliefs “giving rise to them”, “making them intelligible” etc.
Similarly it seems to me that, a real attempt to understand
divergent outlooks often imposes real shortcomings in our own
lives. But this sort of “self-criticism” would not be possible
if it were not also possible to criticize other outlooks. Ice
picks could not cut thin ice if ice picks could not cut thick ice.
This seems to me to connect with the idea that world-views
are heyond rational criticism. The suggestion is that if we
could “understand” another worldAview, (whatever that might
amount to) while we might not “adopt” it, we would see its
validity to be equal to our own.
But if we think in terms of more or less fundamental
“theoretical” beliefs so that, for example, the more fundamental
beliefs “define the terms” of the less fundamental, then although
we needn’t have the simplistic idea of general heliefs transparently entailing concrete judgements we are able to see how
rational assessment say of Schopenhauer’s death – philosophy is
possible – however tortuous and many layered it might be. This
after all is the idea of a cri tique.
Thus, I want to argue, the “religious attitude” can be
examined – the assumptions and experiences behind the “monkish
virtues” rationally assessed. Whether the monk will agree or
not is another matter. Nor is there any reason why the
“realist” has to look for some mythical “neutral” “sense-datum”
as is tendentiously suggested in Camus’ Outsider. Why should
“the facts” be neutral?
I have just finished marking exams. I was struck by the
illiteracy of the answers, and so was my co-examiner.
illiteracy is not confined to bad spelling or grammar, or even
to the lack of structure in sentences or whole essays – it is a
deeper sort of illiteracy: an illiteracy of thought. It seems
that this is no new feature of exam answers; it seems that year
after year examiners are faced with scripts in which it looks
as if students are struggling to express ideas which they do
not understand in a language they cannot use. Why is this?
There is no reason why there should not be contradictions
or at least serious tensions wi thin an outlook, whether it is
an “ideal type” or not. Thus for example there is often said
to be a tension in Christianity between its “other-worldliness”
and its humanism of “the incarnation”. World-views are not
Thus it would be a substantial task to evaluate Norman’s
claims about the “world-views” that he talks about. The issue
needs to be settled in practice, through developing and examining!
serious critiques of religious and other reactionary ideologies. !
Objectivism and Experience
It is another question whether if Norman is right about
“world-views” he ought to think of his position as “ohj ecti vist”. ‘
In my view the links between “beliefs” and “experiences” are
too tenuous in his presentation to allow this. Thus in the
Tolstoy example Andrew thinks in terms of “discoveries” but
Tolstoy tends to write in terms of non-rational changes.
Norman is sensitive to this but gives no indication of how he
would distinguish illusions of discovery from real discovery.
And Norman stresses that experiences could lead “either way”.
What, in his view, would be “subjective”?
The role of the Wel tanschauung
If experiences are tenuously linked to beliefs, so are
“world-views” even though the latter “make sense of” the
There has been surprisingly little thought about this
important question. The most common response among teachers
is to blame the student: ‘They are illiterate, they should
never have been allowed into University, our standards are not
strict enough, anything goes in Universities these days.’
Further questioning reveals the following ‘analysis’: ‘Students
are blowing their minds with drugs and rock music, what else
can you expect?’
This sort of answer may successfully insulate the teacher
from any sel f-doubt and confirm all his prejudices, but it
I am amazed at the complacency with which
teachers regard the exams simply as confirming their intellectual
superiority over the students, and how they pontificate about
the need to re-assert standards and discipline.
Why is it that exam answers are so illiterate? Is it
because students read nothing but the Daily Mirror? Of course
it isn’t. The illiteracy of the answers is not that of the
Daily Mirror, but that of Academic Journals (in comparison with
which the Daily Mirror is lively and well written). Is it because
standards are not strict enough? No it is not; for it is these
standards themselves which produce the illiteracy.
Reprinted from Incant, 23rd June, 1971.