Amelia Valcárcel

Amelia Valcárcel  (1950-)

I think I heard about Dª Amelia for her article "Ética y feminismo" which is part of "La aventura de la moralidad" (the adventure of morality), a choral book edited by Carlos Gómez and Javier Muguerza in Alianza, 2007. I have noted in the 5th reprint of 2014 that I bought it in Zaragoza on 19.10.2015 and that I finished reading it on 5.1.2016.

I remember that I read the book with great interest because the authors were, in addition to those mentioned, Adela Cortina, Victoria Camps, and four other important philosophers from CSIC and UNED. As it says on the back cover: "This book deals with some of the main questions of the Ethics of our time". As always, my interest was in the grounds and I highlighted quite a bit. But no one had said my ideas, although some came close to me quoting other philosophers.

I only underlined one sentence of Mrs. Amalia because her article was centered on feminism, without entering into the fundamentals. The sentence, on page 477, at the end of her article, says: "...feminism does not have nor should have its own ethics: it is, rather, the basis of all of them". I thought it was very good because a woman is just as much a human being as a man. In some chat on the internet I have heard Mrs. Amelia say, quite rightly, that the woman is as much a man as the man. Therefore, the foundation of ethics, the universal ethical principle, makes no distinction between the sexes. It is equally applicable to all men (man: " animated rational, male or female, being", according to the DRAE). The differences can then lie in the behavior norms that are thought to be best to try the fulfillment of the universal ethical principle. 

I anticipate that our hypotheses and the resulting universal ethical principle are, or may be, an excellent basis for rethinking the role of women in our humanity's attempt to survive by loving. One option is that of "The Happy World " by Huxley. But, in principle it does not seem the best. If I have time I will try to think something but it is a very broad and difficult matter. It is a task for experts (and for experts who would say some and some).

Returning to our history, on March 20, 2017, I sent copies of Survival and Altruism to the authors of the book, except for Ms. Adela and Ms. Victoria, whom I had already sent before and who had acknowledged receipt. Of the seven mailings of the 20th, only Ms. Amelia acknowledged receipt in a precious handwritten letter dated 4.5.2017. On the 9th I thanked her by e-mail and wanted to know more about her. I ordered from Amazon her "Ethics for a Global World" and received it on 12.5.17. The first edition of Planet in "Today's Topics" is from 2002. My copy is from the third reprint of 2011. The book is very interesting, funny and passionate. I read it carefully and I have 32 pages with texts to reread. I'm going to copy and comment on the most significant ones for our hypotheses:

I believe that pages 15 to 21 of the prologue contain, in their elegant and pleasant prose, all the essence of Mrs. Amelia's book. She says:

After the historical: "Down with your neighbor", "Leave your neighbor in peace" and "Long live your neighbor", (...) marked by the category of otherness, ethical in origin, its corresponding aesthetic category, the totality, has yet to be drawn on the horizon. And then: "humanity struggles in all of us for existence".

It seems that Amelia has it clear that humanity, the totality, is the category, the subject to be taken into account, both ethically and aesthetically. I totally agree.

But then she raises the big problem (p.18): "Do we have the ethics that present times need? A universal ethics for a global world? And she replies in 19: "Science and technology become universal while the ideas that organize morality are not universal: they remain partial and depend to a large extent on the religions and communities we call 'nations'.

And referring to multiculturalism, she says: "Every human group, because it is human, has the right to respect and integrity, but not every one of its norms or practices. She defends that there are universal norms that must be respected by all human groups, precisely because they are human. 

The problem is that, in the absence of a universal ethics, it is not clear what these universal norms are, at any given moment or at any given time, applicable to all men and their groups.

It seems that Ms. Amelia's choice is that of universalist and inclusive humanism: "Humanism is much more than a vague benevolent disposition towards one's neighbor (...) It is the new language of human dignity into which must be translated whatever valuable the various humanities produced before becoming One".

Universal ethics seems to be formed by the adaptation of the "valuable" moral norms historically produced by humanity (by its human groups) until the present of each time. As an example, Ms. Amelia gives the declaration of human rights. And I suppose that she considers valuable all the virtues and values of the classical ethical doctrines: that of Aristotelian virtues, that of duty and good will of Kant and the enlightened, and the utilitarian or of maximum welfare.

I believe that before going on, it may be convenient to analyze the foregoing in the light of our hypotheses. As we have already said in many previous writings, the main problem is that we are looking for a universal ethic that serves to try to achieve objectives or ends that have previously been established as universal: the common good, peace, dignity, human rights... What would be good since they are good but partial ends or objectives. And that they have been searched for in groups.

The mistake is to consider Man, men, as beings capable of establishing their basic vital objectives. And from them capable of creating the basis of their ethics. To decide what they should try to achieve vitally. And I think it's a problem of ignorance, not arrogance. Man, men, like any other species of living beings, were born and are born with their basic objectives incorporated. Everything they do afterwards, tasks and partial objectives, is to try to achieve them.

Man, men, have rightly considered that they had the moral law within them, and this has been translated into the natural law of religions, into happiness through the exercise of virtues, into goodwill and Kantian eudaemony, and into the moral sense of the greater welfare of utilitarians. But they have discovered partial objectives and means. Generally good, but partial. And they have tried to achieve them with good but partial values and virtues: justice, benevolence, charity, solidarity, cooperation, sincerity, honesty, industriousness... Which can be encompassed in what we have called broad altruism.

The model works if one goes to the bottom of the interior of each man and discovers, neither invents nor believes, that the vital imperative is survival: that life endures in time, that lives. And that this imperative is translated into the behaviors and norms that each species, its groups and the individual himself, have historically adopted until the moment in which each one "needs" to decide what and how to do the good or the best in each case.

With these bases: survival as an objective and broad altruism as a means, concrete ethical and moral problems can and must be analyzed. Although I have no authority to express an opinion, I believe that starting from the universal ethical principle that "whatever is good/better is good/better for the survival of humanity", universal and group moral norms can be established that are oriented towards trying to achieve the basic objective and the maximum possible well-being in each moment. With the most convenient and possible multiculturality in every circumstance and place.

Multiculturality is dealt in Chapter II. It is very interesting but I do not enter into it because they are operative questions that must be seen in the light of the universal ethical principle.

Chapter III (pp. 49-71) deals with human rights. Very interesting but I think the most remarkable is a quote from Victoria Camps on "moral exigency" and another from Gandhi who said: "From my ignorant but wise mother I learned that the rights that can be deserved and preserved come from a well-performed duty. So, we are only entitled to the right of life when we fulfill the duty of citizens of the world. 

I understand that Ms. Amelia agrees but seems to "limit" this duty of citizenship to respecting the rights of others. In my opinion, the duty is not only passive. In addition to respecting and facilitating the rights of others, each person has the primary obligation to do, with some form of broad altruism, what is best for the survival of humanity. That is, to do something positive that is good for others (and for him). And of course to encourage others to do it too. (see in Things to do. Tasks for all. And in the Abstract: Broad Altruism).

Chapter IV (pp. 105-128) is dedicated to "the virtues and vices" in which the most remarkable thing is the pessimism/realism of our author when she says that three centuries ago, because of enlightened thought, a shared end disappeared and rampant individualism was installed. And then she says that: "however fine it may be, each new foundation is only waiting for failure". And she quotes MacIntyre and Victoria Camps.

On page 115 she quotes Goffman and says: "There is no shared teleology, no community of meaning, no language of virtue, no virtue”. And on page 123 she adds: "there is no shortage of reasons for pessimism: a review of the daily press and everyone can be convinced that the world is out of its mind. Virtues seem hidden and vices are public.

I cannot resist saying here that these days I have been tempted to stop working on this task of contrasting my ideas, thinking that if no one has seen them before, and if no one is enthusiastic and converts when I tell them, it is because they are not true. But then I return to the task when I realize that, if there is a small probability that they are true, it is worth continuing, because their usefulness in that case would be enormous. Even if it took several years to be validated and assumed by someone with moral or practical authority. I continue:

Chapter V (pp. 129-158) is entitled "Current Pessimism and its Reasons" and I have fully underlined it. That is to say that I should copy it in its entirety. But I am only going to emphasize two things:

On page 134, speaking of ends, he says: "Happiness, the fulfillment of reason and justice, the good of the greatest number, the unalterable spirit, the conservation of the species - to give examples of ends of every moral action that some relevant philosophers of the past and of the present have proposed - almost always provoke consensus".

In addition to the background of the paragraph, I was struck by the fact that the conservation of the species is cited as an end already proposed by some philosopher. I've been looking for seventeen years and I haven't seen anyone say that. At least as an end or a priority objective. Perhaps Hans Jonas with his sense of responsibility, but he does not propose it as a basic end and as a universal vital imperative implicit in each individual, but as a "rational" human mandate. If Ms. Amelia reads this note, I would ask her to let me know who and how she proposed the conservation of the species as an end. I ask that I extend it to any other reader.

2 - On pages 154 to 158 he rightly criticizes "sociobiological" naturalism. By the quotations she seems to refer to Dawkins although she may include Wilson and Ruse, who called themselves sociobiologists. She seems to criticize their ability to get rid of the individual subject, their failure to put any strong line between human or animal biological societies, their consideration of species as true individuals, and their use of altruism as a survival strategy.

She opposes all this because he considers that, "at the very least, it is short-sighted and inappropriate to seriously consider ourselves part of the natural world, one species among others, like the others". And that is why she says before: "I deny the greatest: a life without freedom, without effort, without virtues and without reflection is not human”. 

And in the face of "strong and unassailable naturalism in our days", the concept of "individual responsibility" stands out: "recent and difficult human invention" in the face of "a world in which the group, made up of the living and the dead, was the only Lord".

I have stopped here because it seems that my ideas are the same as those that Amalia "sees" in the so-called sociobiologists. 

My ideas have points in common with those of sociobiologists and if they aren’t looked carefully they may look the same. In fact, my first searches to see if someone had discovered my hypotheses led me to Dawkins, Wilson and Ruse (see in Sobrevivir. Ideas para una ética universal). They had not seen them. And both the theory of the selfish gene, and the altruism of Wilson's hymenoptera, as well as the admitted naturalistic fallacy of evolution and Ruse's dubious progress, are far behind. They were partial concepts that had a good initial sale for the part of truth they contain, but they have become obsolete.

And for Mrs Amelia's peace of mind, in my hypothesis I consider Man, men as living beings, but not as other animals. And it is in this living being that they coincide with the rest of living beings. And as a collective of living beings, it can also be said that Homo Sapiens is a species and can be compared with others in some biological and ethological aspects that are sufficient for our hypothesis. Without prejudice to the fact that the individual human organisms are different from any other living beings. On the other hand, although we know that these differences are many, we are not sure how many and which are number and quality. The ability to think about it is one of the differences. And another is the possibility of "seeing" what is our duty and responsibility as living beings/men/persons. Although, to what it seems, we are not clear either.

Chapter VI (pp. 159-188) is dedicated to "The world of sin". And she begins by saying: "Ours is the world of responsibility and freedom, as opposed to the world from which we come, the world of sin". She is right, but the problem is that, with secularization and laicism, morality became dependent on human nature and reason. And we still do not know explicitly what is good and what is bad and therefore what is our responsibility and for what we must use our new and enormous freedom.

She gives the example of La Mettrie who: "assumed that the possibility of morality lay in the very depths of human nature". But according to footnote 4 on page 162 La Mettrie wrote: "Natural law is a feeling that teaches us what we should not do because we would not want to be done to us. The Mettrie like all naturalists does not get to the bottom. It remains in human norms. At the bottom is the vital imperative, the law of survival, common to all living beings.

On this basis, as a "constituent" law, operational laws and regulations have been developed for each and every species. That it is the norms or laws that are operating and that "see" those who look at the different historical "layers" of human nature.

The rest of the chapter, also very interesting, deals, among other questions, with the socialization of sin. Individual and communal sin. It reminded me of the tribes described by Lévy-Bruhl in "The Primitive Soul" (1974,52). In them, "the individual only apprehends himself as a member of his group". It seems that the individualization of human beings is very recent. And the group as subject continues to exist in all cultures. It is the most successful part of the strategy of the social species. The current challenge is that men expressly know what they already intuit: that without losing their individuality and with it, they form part of the great group of humanity. And that they are men before anything else: males, females, whites, blacks, atheists, believers... This implicit and real idea of belonging to partial human groups (families, tribes, races, religions, ...) explains what happened in history. And the collectivization of sin and many other vices and virtues.

Chapter VII (pp. 189-218) deals with "The secularization of sin". The problem of rewards and punishments for good or bad acts in secularized societies. It seems clear that civil laws are not enough. On page 197, Mrs. Amelia rightly says:

"It is necessary to make the voice of conscience strong in each and every one without violating their freedom. The place occupied by sin must be filled by the conscience which judges itself without fainting.

The basic problem, which is dealt with in the following pages, remains the same. The lack of a universal ethical foundation. And it continues to look for it in Diderot, Schopenhauer, Kant and Nietzsche. And then it deals with the attraction of evil, of libertines, of the weak, of the unbelievers and cowards... And he regrets, rightly so, that sin: "... has simply disappeared. There is no responsibility, there is no original guilt (...) It is not bad to commit a crime, the bad thing is to be caught".

In chapter VIII and last (pp. 219-247) she deals with the spirit of the new times. It is a lucid description of our world at the beginning of the century. That serves for now, aggravated by the crisis of 2007. She summarizes it on page 244:

"We have lost the ability to imagine the future and that demonstrates our civilizing exhaustion. In short, all these judgments and more have been issued in the last five years. They are summed up in that we live spiritless times, end times. The "others" are those of the, then, recent attack on the twin towers of New York.

And the chapter ends with a statement that is a program of life, facing the threat of the four horsemen of the apocalypse as a collective atonement:

 "There must be and there is enough moral strength to avoid that terrible ritual, and next to the atavisms that certainly accompany us, and to counterbalance them, we only have the fragile guide to moral reason that with so many trials and difficulties we have achieved articulate."

If our hypotheses are confirmed and assumed, the fragile guide of moral reason would be totally reinforced by the recognition of the universal imperative mandate to do, with love, what is best for the well-being and survival of all men and women, present and future.

The epilogue (pp.249-262) begins by quoting my countryman Luis Buñuel and his "Andalusian dog", one of whose characters carries a pair of grand pianos, two dead donkeys... and Dª Amelia believes that even a pair of Marianist priests.

The idea is that, each one and humanity as a whole: "we carry on our backs, our own and inherited, more than enough sins of the ancient and the modern. And without knowing method of atonement."

In my opinion, these burdens should not worry us. In "Tasks" I recommend to my readers that the first thing they should do is to accept, every day, to be as they are and their environment and circumstances. And from there try, well, to do what they have to do. The mandate is to try. And if one achieves it, the better. But that's another level. Amelia is a living example of a culture of demanding responsibility and success. I say the above to realize what our duty is. Our responsibility is not to save the earth and humanity. Our imperative duty is to try. With joy, knowing the difficulties but without fearing them. In any case, the pessimism of Mrs. Amelia and many other people of good will is understandable. But I can assure you that everything improves when we realize the basic objective and what we are doing about it.

Returning to the book, I quote three sentences from the last three pages:

In 260: "...where many different people live together, only universal norms can make them cohabit. That is why it is imperative to vindicate citizenship once again and to find the means for a world citizenship.

In 261: "...the paradoxes of collective action sometimes lead us to think that we do not know nor can we manage ourselves as a species."

In 262 at the end: “…we urgently need a global morality for a global world. And a just global morality requires a deep bet on the theoretical plane for humanism and on the practical plane for the instances that can make it effective, channels that allow to demand responsibilities from those who violate it".

If, as I believe, my hypotheses are true, you have the answers to these three questions:

1st They are the basis of the universal norms of a world citizenship, (not uniform).

2nd I am glad that Mrs. Amelia recognizes the species as a subject. That with my ideas and their applications (see in Tasks) she could and would know how to manage herself.

3rd My ideas are humanist, in the purest sense of humanism. And in my writings I have summarized the theoretical plane and the practical one.

To Mrs. Amelia as to the other philosophers, scientists and thinking people, I would ask them and I ask them that, at least, they "look at" these hypotheses. And let them try to see, without prejudice, if they have any chance of being true and useful. And let me know your judgment, whether positive or negative. For me, it is enough for only one of these people with academic authority to say that these hypotheses are possible and verifiable. With that opinion, I believe that I have the capacity and the means to try to validate and disseminate them.

Thanks to whoever tries. And I assure you that this attempt will have, like every altruistic act, its reward.

J.C. Madrid, 25.3.2018. 20.42 

Added from 26.3.18 

I have in front of me two books by Mrs. Amelia (see in Bibliography):

The first: "Ethics against aesthetics", published in 1998. I bought it and read it some time ago. It is very underlined and I have notes for rereading and commenting on 27 pages. I'm not going to. I have quoted it in some of my other writings. But it is not a meta-ethical text although the question of what ethics is, and its foundation is present throughout the book. This book is highly recommended for its content and for the intelligent and lively style of its prose.

The second is "Essays on Good and Evil". Very recent. April 2018. I discovered it a few days ago. This is denser and longer to read. It is a treatise on vices and passions. A fine analysis of human sins and weaknesses, done with passionate rigor. Raising the level of the Hispanic philosophy, rising above it, floating outstanding on the level of the water of the already known knowledge. (see page 176 on a course with Ferrater, V. Camps and Giner)

Although it is not a meta-ethical text either, I have noted down 37 pages that would merit comment. I'm not going to. It is enough for me to have verified that my ideas fit in with what Mrs. Amelia says in the text. And that they would be very useful in trying to remedy the evils that afflict men, and women, who suffer and make suffer from the vices and passions so masterfully described in the book.

J.C. Madrid, 26.3.2019. 12,27