Victoria Camps

Victoria Camps  (1941-)

It's 10:30 on March 3, 2019. This morning, from 6 to 8 I finished reading and highlighting "The fragility of a liberal ethic" published last year by Ediciones UAB of the Autonomous University of Barcelona.

I bought the book in Marbella, on 31.3.18, I looked over it and the next day I sent an email to Mrs. Victoria informing her of the purchase and my first look. And I took the opportunity to send her the link to the first version of my newly launched website. Dª Victoria answered me very kindly and punctually on day 2.4. thanking my mail and telling me that I was the first person who informed her of the purchase of her new book.

The history of my relations with Dª Victoria begins on March 20, 2017 with the sending by mail of a copy of my “Survival and Altruism" On August 21 of the same year I sent him an email that accompanied the 10-page note I wrote commenting on his excellent “Brief history of ethics" Mrs. Victoria answered me very kindly the same day, acknowledging my booklet. He liked the title and told me that he had it among the books to read.

For my part I had found her "Brief History of Ethics" at the FNAC in Marbella on 18.7.17. I read it in depth and on August 11 I finished the note with the comments I sent her on the 21st and which I then included on the website. The book, excellent, served me to have a summary of the permanent attempts of the philosophers to find the foundation of ethics, from the sophists and Socrates to Rawls and the pragmatists, communitarists and republicans. And ending with the applied ethics of, among others: Weber, Ferrater Mora, Adela Cortina and herself.

In my commentary note I made a general summary of the reasons why all these wise philosophers had not found my basic ideas. And I commented individually to Plato and Aristotle. They were a sufficient sample. On the website I have added in "Context" recent comments to some others.

Nevertheless, from the reading of "A Brief History of Ethics" and the first look at "The Fragility of a Liberal Ethics" in March last year, I considered Ms. Victoria as a "professor of philosophy" rather than a " proper philosopher" according to the distinction she makes on page 156 of "Fragility...". And to my worse effects, because even though I admit that she could be a proper philosopher, I am interested in philosophers who seek or have sought the foundations of ethics or its surroundings, that is to say, the "meta-ethics". Doña Adela Cortina seems more of this kind, but I did not comment on her many writings in which she seeks the foundations of ethics because, until recently, she acted in this field as a professor of meta-ethics, rather than as a meta-ethics proper philosopher.

I think I should quote here, because of its closeness and its authors, the excellent choral book "La aventura de la moralidad" of 2007, which I read in its reprint of 2014, in which important recent Spanish philosophers participate: Carlos Gómez, Dª Victoria Camps, Javier Muguerza, José Mª González, Dª Celia Amorós, Fernando Quesada, Dª Adela Cortina, Jesús Díaz and Dª Amelia Valcárcel. All her texts are very interesting and some of them are very close to our hypothesis but none of them see them with our perspective and usefulness.

Coming back to Ms. Victoria, a few days ago, when I wrote the bibliography for the renovated web page, I again held in my hands "La fragilidad..." (fragility). I began to read the last chapter: Why Philosophy? and today I have finished reading it and delimiting it in its entirety.

I am going to try to comment on what most caught my attention in what I read. I believe that Dª Victoria, acting as an applied philosopher, has had no choice but to act as a meta-ethic, seeking the basis for her applications. Because in her praiseworthy attempt to apply good ethical norms, she realizes, like everyone else, the problem of not having a universal ethical principle that serves as a reference to the virtues, values, duties and utilities of the ethics to be applied. And that it frames the norms with which to educate the citizens of the different cultures.

Scholium: It occurs to me that in the classification of philosophers as professors of philosophy and pure philosophers, we should distinguish "ethical" philosophers. And these, in philosophers of applied ethics who are the ones who have more work in recent years as consultants of politicians, biologists, doctors, businessmen, religions, ... and meta-ethics that now, as Mrs. Adela Cortina, are trying to find the bases and foundations in the brain, in meta-ethical bioethics. Different from the important applied bioethics that gives its opinion on abortion, euthanasia, eugenics, stem cells, biological engineering, the so-called strong artificial intelligence... End of the Scholium. 

After these broad preludes, I will now quote and comment on some of the paragraphs I have underlined from "Fragility..." where Ms. Victoria tries to do applied ethics. And she tries to make up for the lack of foundations of her partial ethics with the classical ethics of virtues, duty and utility and with their most recent applications.

On page 9 of the prologue, she states that: "the theme is to highlight the inadequacies and weaknesses of a moral philosophy, an ethics, the most appropriate for our times, which can only be adjectivized as "liberal". It is a liberal ethics because it is based on the almost absolute value of the freedom or autonomy of the subject".

In reality, Ms. Victoria tries to find the ethical norms that can be applied to political ideas that seem good to her. That is to say, she has an objective or a utilitarian aim to try to achieve: a better life for all. And she looks for the ethics, and their applications, that serve better for this objective. She works as a meta-ethical philosopher because of the need to "ground" the moral norms she already has. This facet of searching for bases and foundations is what has interested me. For it is at this point that she sees the inadequacies and weaknesses of moral philosophy.

Drawing conclusions from the reading of the entire book, Ms. Victoria does not get the universal foundations she seeks and must be content with the adaptation of classical ethics. While "philosophizing" as a user: as an "applicator" of the "classical" rules that seem good for the policies that she believes to be better. But without finding the foundations of those norms. She doesn't even really look for them seriously because she' s already counting on not finding them. Among other reasons because, like the enlightened ones, she does not believe that there are universal ethical principles. And less established by someone external who could only be a God or Nature. And none of these possibilities are contemptible by philosophers.

Another important issue is the relationship between individual and group, between universality and individualism. Here, too, Mrs. Victoria sees that there is a problem that is difficult to solve. I continue reading the excellent and passionate prose of Dª. Victoria and I copy what seems to me the most significant to our ideas.

On page 18 and quoting Kant, they both rightly say: "each person can discover within himself the law that constitutes the core of moral duty". They are right: I think I have discovered it. And although I have not seen that anyone has made explicit this base or nucleus of moral duty, all people have it in their vital genetic information or programming. But as I have said elsewhere, it is different to discover the vital imperative as a constituent law than to use the term "discover" for the updated set of moral norms accumulated by inheritance and acquired in each subject. In addition to the constituent law that would be the universal ethical principle, within each man are the laws of the species, the group regulations and the uses and customs of each subject.

And what presents more doubts is the following sentence. It goes on to say: "The individual can therefore aspire to prescribe the universal. The verb prescribing is very strong. According to the DRAE: "Precept, order, determine something". I dare say that I have discovered the precept, the order, or the determination that, from within us, prescribes a universal ethical principle, consisting in that we must do what is good/best for our survival. And from there it is already possible and easier to apply the classic partial ethics, or others, to try to achieve "a better life for all", present and possible future members of our fraternal humanity. But it is not me who prescribe anything. I have only discovered or seen the prescription and I say this in the form of a universal ethical principle. The norms to be applied are something else. I believe that, at this vital level, the only thing that can be prescribed is the universal ethical principle. 

This universal ethical principle is based on the vital imperative that gives meaning and content to the categorical Kantian imperative emptiness and to all the good classical ethical doctrines that Victoria uses to support her ethical values. Values that seem good to get the good life for all. Good life or well-being that, as we know, facilitates the achievement of the vital objective of surviving. In any case, ethical norms are contingent according to the times, cultures and circumstances. It seems that it is up to the "practical" philosophers to collaborate in the process of "prescribing" these moral norms so that they become individual and group uses, customs and laws. And universal in that which is universalizable.

(See an idea on a possible "Universal Vital Manifesto" on page 339 of Survival. Ideas for a universal ethics).

On page 19, following on from Kant, there is a phrase that I think deserves comment. It says: "...the moral law is inscribed in human reason and dictates to the individual whether or not his behavior conforms to the moral imperative that reason enunciates. Without entering into the concept of reason, Kant's moral law is a "law of freedom", it is not a "law of nature" as he makes clear in the prologue to the "Foundations of the metaphysics of morals". And morality is the rational part of ethics as opposed to the empirical part that would be practical anthropology.

By the above I mean that Kant and the philosophers seek the foundation of morality in the faculty of judging, of discourse, of men, of each man. This is true once man, each man, has discovered the universal ethical principle, the end or objective to be achieved and the means to try it. As far as we know, so far no one has. No one has succeeded in "filling" the categorical imperative in any of its various expressions. In order to find the universal ethical principle, the metaphysics of nature must be applied. That which is in the "empirical philosophy which is rooted in the foundations of experience". The one that Kant leaves aside.

Many things serve us as Kant's basis for ethics, among them his good will and his method for using reason, but the basis of the foundation (the law of survival) and the medium (altruism) are biological and empirical. And neither to Kant nor to the philosophers seems nature serious and rigorous and, even less the biological. Their world is that of reason, essentially human faculty. And they are right, when they use reason to judge the actual and potential morality of human acts. But not when they affirm that moral law is inscribed in human reason. At least the basis of this law is within the purely biological common to all living beings.

The moral law "in force" inscribed in every man at every moment is composed of the primeval vital imperative, plus the laws of the species and of the different genetic and cultural groups or populations to which each man's ancestors belonged. Together with the regulations of the groups to which each man has belonged and belongs at the moment in which he has to behave. And with all this he must judge his behavior according to the moral imperative that his reason enunciates in that moment and circumstance. It seems complex, but it is very simple. It happens at every moment. And it is clear that a positive opinion adjusted to the moral imperative of each individual can justify good or bad behavior, right or wrong. That is the problem of using reason, in addition to other faculties, as a means of deciding and judging moral acts. In addition, the laws and regulations of the species and its groups, past and present, may not be adequate for the time of the decision. But that is the risk and uncertainty of individual and group living.

On page 28, Mrs. Victoria again poses the problem when she says: "neither universalism nor individualism, the two signs of modernity and liberal thought, serve us as the axes of the ethics or political philosophy we need...". And she is right. Kantian and similar universalisms are too abstract and individualism seems pure selfishness in the face of society. It does not seem possible to make an ethical-political basket with these wickers to attend to the problems of our time.

After a few days of interruption in which I read part of "The search for happiness" recently published in February, I continue quoting and commenting on "Fragility...".

With these problems and others that Mrs. Victoria comments quoting Marx, Kant, MacIntyre and Sandel, she prefers Aristotle and his virtues and ends up saying on page 31 that:

"I think there is no other way out of the threat of relativism than the one proposed by Norberto Bobbio years ago: the foundation of human rights is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A historical and real milestone. History, the accumulated and consolidated knowledge through the development of thought gives us a base, weak to a certain extent, but sufficient to move forward.

And after saying that not everything is debatable or negotiable, she quotes Isaiah Berlin with whom she seems to agree when she says (Berlin): "The preferable thing is, as a general rule, to maintain a precarious balance that prevents the appearance of desperate situations, of unbearable alternatives.

Pages 35 to 52 are devoted to "Ethics and Politics: Justice". In them, it is touching the effort of Mrs. Victoria to try to reconcile subjectivity with universality, freedom with justice, abstract principles with the operative… To Habermas with Rawls. Naturally, wanting to satisfy everyone's possible rights is impossible. 

At the end she quotes Mulgan when she says: "Politics should have to move beyond the imperative of emancipation, the common basis of socialism and liberalism, towards more difficult questions about how to live, questions about being and the end of life that cannot be resolved by the isolated individual". Victoria adds: "Indeed, however free the choices of a good life must be, common life demands common dispositions and attitudes". Eureka! Eureka! The key word is "demands", the demand, the duty, the obligation before the right. And life in common.

She finishes: “Changes and progress must be aimed at transforming people's behaviour and attitudes and instilling in them a sense of citizenship”. She’s right. But she still thinks of directing by tasks, by what must be done. She still wants to instill attitudes. It is good, but it is insufficient, especially when it comes to the common life of all humanity.

This morning I happened to have in my hands again a book by Octavio Gelinier on direction by objectives. I think it was in the mid-1960s when I was in charge of systems in the Organization Department of the Banco de Vizcaya. The change from directing by tasks to directing by objectives was transcendental. In a decade, the Vizcaya, with the Popular, were the most efficient and profitable banks in the world.

People now behave quite well working by tasks. But they lack to have explicit the objective that they have implicit in their genetic programming. They lack express knowledge of what they should try to achieve and how. Each one being as he is, he and his circumstance... Knowing that what they have, from birth, is the obligation to seek the common good. And that they have the right to try and to be happy with it. They have an obligation, on their own account, to be good citizens. And they have the right that the wise and those who rule allow them and make it easier for them to live and help others to live. (See on the Web "Tasks for all- and "Some ideas to be good and happy").

Now it's 6:00 in the morning of 19.3.19. I wrote that yesterday afternoon. Today I woke up early and since five I have been re-reading the chapter dedicated to the new citizenship. It occupies from page 53 to 70 and was completely underlined and with notes and scholium from my previous reading. My problem now is to write something brief and rigorous that synthesizes a global commentary. The other option is to quote the thirty underlined paragraphs and comment on them one by one. I am also in a field that is not mine. My ideas are at the base and Dª Victoria works, I think passionately, looking for a way to fit the pieces of the complex puzzle that makes up real life. And the wonderful thing is that in the end she gets it right. But she doesn't stay calm.

The most summarized thing I can think of is telling Dª Victoria that her conclusions are good. Partial but good. They are partial because she works, knowing it, for a complex and multicultural society, with predetermined objectives and values: democracy, justice, well-being, human rights, freedom, ... I say that it’s partial because even if she solves the political problems of this society or of some of its groups, she would be left out of the many peripheral societies and transversal groups that function with partial values and objectives different from hers. And she knows it and says it, but she does not have a concrete universal solution. Although she is right to say that the global solution is that men, all men (and all women) are good citizens. From any society, country or homeland.

And he is right when she says on page 55 that: "The citizen himself has a series of essential obligations not only for a peaceful and friendly coexistence, but for the same rights to reach effectively all individuals". We had written it before.

I believe that the work of philosophers should have been, and should be, to tell men (and women) that, as living social beings that they are, they have a duty or obligation to do, with good will, what is best for the survival and well-being of their fellow human beings. And that for this they have the right to live, at the same time, the best possible. But first they have the obligation and then the right. In addition, all citizens can and should be happy trying to fulfill their obligations (see Tasks and Things to do).

This is the work of meta-ethical philosophers. Once this idea is clear and assumed, implementation does not seem difficult. Mrs. Victoria collects several recipes from other philosophers and her own. If the applications are thought with the basic objective as end and with the broad altruism as means, I believe that in a short time the world would be reasonably ordered. With methods and policies adapted to different cultures and collectives. (See Tasks and Applications).

I believe that the problem, as always, is in the elites. In the people who think and direct. Who until now have worked and work with partial and group objectives and virtues. Their obligation is now to see and assume the vital objective (survival) and the priority means to try it (broad altruism). Citizens do and will do what the elites tell them in this sense. They all carry within their mandate. The duty of thinkers and leaders is to make it globally operational. If you like it, it doesn't seem difficult. It may take four or five generations to implement it all over the world. But progress can be made faster in specific societies and groups. There is already a great demand: ecologists, humanists, Christians, some nations and groups... (see the Presentation of Tasks)

The following chapters are also very interesting. And I would encourage my readers to read the entire book as it is an up-to-date and passionate summary of political ethics. Or ethical politics. It only has a few technical shortcomings about economic policy, or how to balance the demand and production of the goods to be distributed. But this is a problem of specialists that must also be solved in the light of the universal ethical principle.

My thanks to Mrs. Victoria for her work and her good will. And for replying to my emails. I hope that my ideas will serve her purpose of improving the life of our uncircumcised humanity.

J.C. Madrid, 19.3.19. Revised 22.3.19. Translated 11.10.19