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Interpretation, Morality and Truth

Interpretation, Morality and Truth


Note to the Colloquium: This essay is intended to supply one or two chapters to a book I am writing that will tie together topics I have discussed independently in a general interpretive account of value. The essay therefore covers a good deal of material that I have discussed elsewhere, some of it in past presentations to the Colloquium over several years. I apologize to those who are familiar with my views on these topics. The material in this essay will be followed by chapters on democracy and other political values adapted from lectures I gave at Columbia some years ago entitled Justice for Hedgehogs.

I. Background
What I Said Before. In this essay I assume arguments I made in two earlier essays: one published several years ago1 and the other presented to this colloquium last year. In the first of these essays, I distinguished two forms of skepticism about morality and other values. Archimedean or external skepticism purports to base its skeptical conclusions on arguments that contain no evaluative premises: it tries to find wholly factual or metaphysical arguments it points, for example, to the diversity of moral opinions or the metaphysical queerness of alleged moral facts to show that moral propositions cannot sensibly be understood as claims of objective fact, but must instead be understood as expressions or projections of emotion. That is the position of philosophers who call themselves subjectivists, projectivists, emotivists and non-cognitivists. Internal skepticism, on the contrary, bases its skepticism about some part of morality on positive assumptions that are themselves of a moral character. The internally skeptical argument that morality is bunk because God is dead, for example, rests on the evaluative claim that God and only God can be a source of moral obligation or responsibility. I argued that external skepticism cannot succeed, and that the only intelligible form of skepticism is internal. It follows that we cannot be skeptical about morality all the way down: skeptics must leave something of morality standing in order to knock down the rest. In the second essay I made a parallel distinction between Archimedean or external realism about morals and internal realism. Both hold that propositions about moral rights and duties can be objectively true. Internal realism argues for that proposition by supplying ordinary moral arguments for some illustrative concrete moral claim: that it is wrong to

Objectivity and Truth: Youd Better Believe It, Philosophy and Public Affairs. This article is available on the NYU Philosophy Department web site.

Interpretation, Morality and Truth torture people for fun, for example. External realism, on the other hand, hopes to defend the objectivity of morals without itself relying on moral or evaluative premises. It treats moral realism as a claim not about what is right or wrong or good or bad but about what is fundamentally or basically real. I argue, in the second essay, that external realism is also infirm. It depends, as much as external skepticism does, on supposing two distinct philosophical levels a metaphysical level at which we attack questions of fundamental reality and a substantive level at which we confront questions of right and wrong. If my argument is sound, and this distinction between philosophical levels is indefensible, then Archimedean realism is as misconceived as Archimedean skepticism or anti-realism. Moral philosophy is all substantive: no part of it can usefully be split off as meta ethics. This Essays Project Two questions arise, among many others. First, if Archimedean realism and antirealism are both misconceived, if moral philosophy and other departments of the philosophy of value are entirely substantive, why have so many distinguished philosophers assumed the contrary? Why have they wanted or missed external props for morality as a whole? Second, if Archimedean realism and anti-realism are both misconceived, if there is no useful meta ethics, if all philosophical reflection about morality is substantive, then what becomes of moral philosophy? How can it then be different from the ordinary substantive moral debate in which almost everyone sometimes engages, mainly in the middle or on the fringes of politics? Is there anything left to say about moral obligation and virtue that is distinctly philosophical? Any answer to the first of these two questions, about the motives and impulses of centuries of moral philosophers, must of course be speculative and concededly partial. It must also make historical sense. Part of the explanation, I believe, lies in the continuing appeal of an old philosophical idea, which I need a distinction to explain. The case for any proposition of science, or value, or anything else is the strongest set of reasons or arguments that we can supply for accepting that proposition as true. The ground of the proposition, if it is true, is the basic state of the world some entity or inherent property of an entity in virtue of which it is true. The old idea is that the ordinary day-to-day arguments that make up the case for any moral proposition the arguments you and I would make to show why torturing for fun is wrong, for instance cannot by themselves constitute a ground for that proposition, because these statements presuppose rather than confirm that morality has a basis in reality. We need an independent metaphysical or meta-ethical demonstration that morality has a ground. God was once thought to provide all that was needed by way of ground: true moral claims were true in virtue of Gods will or canon which is a matter of the most fundamental reality. But when God was upstaged in the Enlightenment morality needed a different ground,

Interpretation, Morality and Truth and many philosophers accordingly embraced the metaphysical thesis that moral obligations are themselves part of the ultimate nature of reality, and that people sense or intuit those obligations through a special faculty of moral perception. But that moral metaphysics seemed silly to other philosophers, who drew a different conclusion from Gods departure: that morality is not a matter of seeking objective truth at all, but only a matter of subjective expression or projection. The stage was set for the Archimedean wars. In the final Part IV of this essay, I respond to the issues raised in this speculative explanation: I discuss the case/ground distinction and the isolation of morality as a department of value. But in the essays next two parts, partly in preparation for that final discussion, I try to meet the second of the two challenges I mentioned earlier. If Archimedean meta-ethics is misconceived, if all useful moral theory is substantive, then what distinct role remains for moral philosophy? In Part III I argue that moral philosophy is best understood and practiced as a genre of interpretation. But what is interpretation? Is there any such thing as interpretation in general, of which moral philosophy can then be seen to be one genre? If so, what is interpretations character, and how does it differ, in general, from non-interpretive inquiry? These are the questions of Part II. They are of independent philosophical importance, quite apart from their bearing on the role of moral philosophy, and they are relatively understudied. I have written about interpretation before,2 but my discussion here expands and corrects my earlier arguments in several respects.

II. Interpretation in General


Does It Exist? We interpret poems and plays and paintings, statutes and constitutions, and epochs and events in history. Doctors interpret dreams, theologians sacred texts, sociologists social patterns or movements, and philosophers concepts. We interpret each other, in conversation, all day long. Do all these genres of interpretation have anything significant in common? Is there a general intellectual activity of which these different genres are all manifestations? The fact that we use interpretation in describing all these activities does not settle that matter. As Wittgenstein pointed out, though we use game to describe a great variety of activities, from solitaire to school-yard tag, these various activities actually have no single thing in common, and a philosophical theory of games in general would be useless. That might be true of interpretation as well. It is a striking fact, moreover, that there is no such

Most elaborately in Law as Interpretation in my book, A Matter of Principle (1985), and in Laws Empire (1986).

Interpretation, Morality and Truth activity as interpreting in general. Suppose a set of flashing lights now appears on the wall you are facing and someone asks you to interpret that phenomenon, or to describe its meaning. There is no first interpretive step you could take without discovering how the lights come to be on the wall and, if by human design, with what intention. How you even begin depends on whether you take the dancing lights to be a natural phenomenon, or an artists light show, or a coded message. Nevertheless many philosophers, including Willhelm Dilthy and Hans Gadamer, assumed not only that interpretation in its different modes is at bottom the same activity, but that the difference between that activity and other forms of investigation is fundamental. They pointed out one property that all the genres of interpretation seem to share: it is common to report our interpretive opinions as someones or somethings meaning. It would be odd to report the result of some simple observation or scientific theory that way. We would not say, glancing out the window, that the meaning of what we have seen is that it is snowing, or that the universes meaning lies in its expansion. But we do find it natural to put all our interpretive conclusions in that vocabulary. We speak of the meaning of a play or statute or dream or historical epoch, and that suggests that we think that interpretation, in all its forms, reveals or rests on purposes. That linguistic fact is not conclusive either, and so we should not assume, in advance of studying the matter, that there is something useful to be said about interpretation in general. But we should not rule it out either. Interpretation and Truth A general theory would have to explain why most interpreters think that their claims and arguments aim at truth, whether they are right in that assumption, and, if they are, in what the truth of an interpretive claim consists.3 We do normally assume that interpretations can be right or wrong, true or false. We accuse some people of misinterpreting us or Yeats or the Renaissance or the Sherman Act; we suppose that there is truth to be found or missed about the meaning of each of these. We also assume the existence of truth in interpretation in another way: we distinguish between a successful interpretation and something that is admirable in some other way. A musician might find great pleasure in listening to a Glen Gould performance of a Beethoven sonata, but nevertheless think that as an interpretation of the sonata Goulds performance is a travesty. An American lawyer might wish that the Equal Protection Clause had made plain that states are not allowed to spend less per student on

3 A distinctive theory of any particular interpretive genre would have to answer these questions for that genre. The demand on a general theory is to answer them for all genres through an account of interpretation in general.

Interpretation, Morality and Truth schools in poor districts than in rich ones, but nevertheless agree that the correct interpretation of that clause, as it was written, does not include that requirement.4 True, in some contexts it would sound odd for an interpreter to claim unique success. A director who offers a political interpretation of Hamlet need not (and better not) propose that his interpretation is the only correct one and that all other approaches to the play are flatly wrong.5 But it would be equally odd for an historian who has devoted his life to the meaning of the French Revolution to add, in a final paragraph, that his study represents only one interesting approach to that problem, and that other approaches are equally valid. In some circumstances that would seem not only odd but outrageous. Imagine a judge who sent an accused criminal to jail, perhaps to death, or who awarded a huge verdict against a civil defendant, and then conceded in the course of his opinion that other interpretations of the law, which would have required contrary decisions, are equally valid to his own. Or a friend who insists that you keep a promise, though he concedes that a different interpretation of what you said, which contains no promise, would be equally successful. So what we might call the phenomenology of interpretation how it feels to interpreters at least often includes a sense that interpretation aims at some kind of truth. But interpreters are often uncomfortable in making that claim explicitly. Many lawyers, for example, who would be shocked to find the language I imagined in a judges opinion are nevertheless troubled by the general jurisprudential claim that there is always one best interpretation of a legal provision or precedent, and that all the other interpretations are wrong. They prefer locutions that avoid that flat claim: a lawyer might say, for example, that though a particular interpretation of the Equal Protection Clause seems the best to him, he knows that others disagree, and he cannot say that there is only one correct interpretation, that those who disagree with him are simply mistaken. That bizarre form of words makes no sense: if in his opinion one interpretation is best then, also in his opinion, contrary interpretations are inferior, and he contradicts himself when he asserts that some of them are not. But the popularity of statements like these underscores the uncertainty we feel about the truth-seeking status of interpretation. It is not hard to see why we are sometimes troubled in claiming unique truth for our interpretive judgments. We know that other people, who seem at least equally competent at

Reference to Supreme Court decisions.

5 A performance, particularly of a classic, is a distinct sub-genre of interpretation with its own standards, which include originality and freshness, and this provides a reason internal to that sub-genre why claims of unique success are inappropriate.

Interpretation, Morality and Truth the task, have very different views from ours about the meaning of particular poems, historical events and statutes, and we can often find nothing to say that converts them to our opinion. Indeed, we find that different interpretations of the same object appeal to us ourselves at different times. Worse, people disagree widely even about the conditions of interpretive truth. Even when they agree about the hidden motives of a character in a novel, or the force of an allegory in explaining a poem, they might well disagree about what makes their shared views the truth about the meaning of the novel or the poem. Worse still, very few of us can even make plain what our own answer is to that question: what, in our view, makes an interpretation true when it is true. Interpretation often seems ineffable. We sense that some reading of a poem or performance of a piece of music or production of a play is right, that it brings out what is really in the work, but that sense often far outruns our ability to explain why it is right. We must fall back on the idea that what seems or feels right is right. But ineffability is troubling: it doesnt seem to go with truth. If our instincts are right, and one interpretation is better than another, then why cant we explain, all the way down, why it is? One answer to the question what makes an interpretation correct when it is correct is very popular in certain genres of interpretation: this is psychological reductionism, which holds that as a conceptual matter interpretive truth can be achieved, and can only be achieved, by retrieving a mental state of the author or creator of what is being interpreted. The correct answer to the interpretive question whether Shylocks daughter, Jessica, hated him for her Jewishness is fixed by Shakepeares intention or decision as to that matter; if he had no pertinent intention then there is no right answer at all. We may, on this view, have to speculate in deciding what an authors intention was, and we may even be forced to counterfactual speculation. A pianist playing a Mozart sonata might have to consult Mozarts orchestral work in order to imagine how he would have used the additional color and warmth of a piano if it had been available to him. But when the authors intention is divined, there interpretation ends, and since it is an historical, even if sometimes counterfactual, fact what the author intended or would have wanted, interpretation is unproblematically truth-seeking. In some genres of interpretation, psychological reductionism may seem immediately persuasive. You are now trying to retrieve what I intended to say. In other genres it seems wholly ineligible: an historical age or epoch has no intentions, and the meaning of the French Revolution is not a matter of the intentions of any of the actors in that drama. In still other genres in literature and in law, for example psychological reductionism has had powerful defenders. Many literary critics just assume that interpreting a novel means finding a pertinent intention of the author, and many lawyers assume that interpreting a statute means scouring

Interpretation, Morality and Truth history for the intentions of lawmakers. But other critics and lawyers have rejected psychological reductionism as plainly inadequate.6 The arguments against that theory seem very strong in law,7 and also, on reflection, almost equally strong in literature. Would the many critical studies of the relationship between Shylock and Jessica really be shown to be pointless if we discovered that Shakespeare had never turned his mind to that issue? In any case, psychological reductionism cannot explain why so many critics would reject that suggestion but still count what they do as interpretation. We must abandon the idea that interpretation just means identifying an authors intention. We need a more general account that explains why some interpreters believe that seeking the authors intention is the best interpretive method and also explains why rival interpreters think it almost never is. We must identify a more abstract standard of success that the authors intention school and its rivals compete to meet. I shall make a suggestion along those lines, but I must first acknowledge that my assumption, that interpretation is a truth-seeking activity, can be and has been challenged. Skeptics insist that the popular assumption that interpreters can discover the truth about the meaning of some object or event is an illusion: there is finally no difference between interpretation and invention, between understanding a work one way rather than another and preferring one work to another. It is important to remember, however, that any internally skeptical claim must be extremely ambitious: it must itself rest on a general theory of what would count as interpretative truth in order to argue or even to propose that no interpretation can achieve that truth. We can imagine the structure of such a theory: someone might argue, for example, that only retrieving an authors intention could count as success in interpretation, and then also argue that in the nature of the case because of the famous hermeneutical circle, for example an authors intention can never be wholly or unambiguously retrieved. But it would take a very powerful argument to persuade us of either part of that ambitious argument. Any global skepticism about interpretation faces a further formidable obstacle, moreover: in at least some circumstances in which we are unclear about the abstract philosophical question of what counts as interpretive success, we are nevertheless quite

For a fascinating example of interpretive controversy, and of controversy about the role of authorial intention, see Andrew Butterfield's review of Leo Steinberg's book, Leonardo's Incessant Last Supper, The New York Review of Books, July 18, 2000, and the exchange about that review among Butterfield, Steinberg and Helen Vendler in The New York Review of Books, November 7, 2002. (Steinberg argues that the subject of The Last Supper is not the coming betrayal of Christ but the Eucharist.)
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Reference to Chapter 9 of Laws Empire.

Interpretation, Morality and Truth certain that we have achieved it. In an early chapter of Henry James novel, The Wings of the Dove, the rich American heroine, Milly Theale, visiting England is shown a Bronzino portrait by an English aristocrat who claims to see an incredible likeness between her and the woman in the portrait. Milly thinks, But she is dead, dead, dead, and tears come to her eyes as she also thinks I shall never be as I am. There can be no doubt, I believe, that this incident foretells Millys early death, which is the novels organizing event, and I am aware of no interpreter who thinks otherwise. (The Bronzino portrait is on the cover of the Norton Critical Edition of the novel.) Other interpretations might conceivably be constructed: that the American Milly is repelled by the suggestion of a likeness to an aristocrat from a hierarchal society long past, or that she thinks the comparison insulting because the lady in the portrait is dead in the way dull people are, or that she is fearful that she will lose her allure which cannot be preserved as the beauty in a portrait can, or something of the sort. But these are all plainly wrong: we know they are wrong. We cannot say, with anything like the same confidence, why the interpretation we know is true is true. We are confident that James intended the incident to foretell the death, but we may think this only because we know this interpretation to be the right one, not the other way around. I am not aware that James ever explicitly confirmed that interpretation, and though I might well be wrong, the interpretation would still be right even if he hadnt. Even readers who reject the authors intention theory of interpretation must think it right. A Proposal I shall try to defend a general account of interpretation, which I shall first state enigmatically but then try immediately to illustrate. Interpretation is indeed a distinct form of inquiry. Its goal is to display its objects value for some purpose. That purpose is given by the interpretive genre itself. Each genre of interpretation is defined by a collective practice; each of these practices has a history and each is assumed by its practitioners to have a point or purpose. Any concrete interpretive claim begins in an assumption, most often hidden and unacknowledged, about what goal or goals should be attributed to the overall practice that constitutes the interpretive genre in which the concrete claim is placed. These assumptions are themselves interpretive: they aim to display the value in the interpretive practice from which they are drawn. An interpretation of some object succeeds it achieves the truth about that objects meaning when it best realizes, for that object, the purpose properly assigned to the genre. It is often controversial, to a greater or lesser degree, what the purpose of a genre should be taken to be; it is therefore controversial, in parallel degree, what the best interpretation is, in that genre, of any particular object.

Interpretation, Morality and Truth I can illustrate this schematic account most quickly by falling back on my own account of legal interpretation, which I have spelled out in some detail elsewhere.8 The purpose of the practice of statutory interpretation is political: the practice has, as its most general aim and justification, making the governance of the pertinent community fairer, wiser and more just. That conception of the point of the practice fits what lawyers and judges do when they interpret statutes, it justifies that practice, in a general way, and it suggests, also in a very general way, what kind of standards are appropriate for deciding which of various competing interpretations of any particular statute is most successful. But it is very abstract, and lawyers must rely on a more refined statement of the point of the practice actually to decide between competing interpretations: they must decide, for example, what division of political authority among different branches of government and civil society is best all things considered. That question in turn forces upon American lawyers, at least, further and more general questions of democratic theory; they must decide, for example, drawing on assumptions or instincts of that kind, how far unelected judges should assume an authority to decide for themselves which of the semantically available interpretations of a controversial statute would produce the best law. Each of these further questions, in its turn, implicates still further questions that might range far into political and moral theory, and take lawyers further still from the particular statute that is their initial challenge. Disagreements among lawyers about the best interpretation of particular statutes are often best explained as the consequence of disagreements about these extensions and refinements. Lawyers who disagree about the best conception of democracy are likely to disagree, for that reason, about the best interpretation of the Equal Protection Clause or the Sherman Act. Intrinsic and Extrinsic Goals Even that quick illustration suggests a crucial feature of interpretation: it is holistic in tendency. An interpretation weaves together a great variety of different kinds of values, collected through the lens of some presumed purpose of the genre as a whole, in an overall judgment about the meaning of some particular object. The network of value it constructs is intrinsically open-ended and expanding. I will try to illustrate that description in genres of interpretation other than law, but I want first to call attention to the deep difference it supposes between scientific and interpretive inquiry. Whenever we investigate anything black holes or the meaning of the French Revolution or the population of the Cayman Islands or whether the rich have an obligation to share their wealth with the poor or whether Shylocks daughter hated her own Jewishness, our intrinsic goal is to find the truth about the

See Laws Empire, particularly Chapter 9.

Interpretation, Morality and Truth matters in play. If we did not have that goal, we would not be inquiring at all. But we also have extrinsic goals of inquiry: these are the goals or purposes of finding the truth that justify the inquiry. We believe that medical research is justified, for example, because it prevents and cures disease. Many of what we take to be the extrinsic goals of science are practical in that way: we think that research in agricultural biology is justified because it promises to feed more people, and that research in consumer electronics in justified because it will provide improved recreation and prosperity. The extrinsic goals of science are not always that immediately practical. We study cosmology to advance our understanding of the basic structure of our universe. That is not a practical goal, but it is nevertheless an extrinsic one, because it includes not only an ambition for truth but for truth about something we deem of fundamental importance for us to know. We do not try to discover how many rocks weighing two pounds or more there are in Africa. If we did, then the intrinsic goal of the study would be to determine the truth of that matter, but we do not because the study would not serve any justifying extrinsic goal, practical or theoretical. Extrinsic goals play a very important role in determining the course of scientific inquiry. They explain not only which questions scientists attempt to answer, and which studies governments or foundations finance, but also when we think it right to rest content with some claim of truth that falls short, as all significant scientific claims do, of certainty. Nevertheless, in spite of these important effects, we must never confuse the extrinsic and intrinsic goals of science; in particular we must not suppose that extrinsic goals enter into any test of success in achieving the intrinsic goal of truth. The truth of our principles of engineering is quite independent of the benefits we receive by building our bridges in accordance with their formulae. That we want to cross rivers is no part of the case for the truth of the principles that govern when bridges stay up or fall down. To think otherwise would collapse the indispensable distinction between scientific truth and our reasons for wanting the truth. (The strength of the pragmatist tradition is its insistence on the importance of extrinsic goals; its weakness is its tendency to define truth in terms of those extrinsic goals.) It is part of the corpus of our science part of what it is essential to our extrinsic goals to understand that these extrinsic goals have nothing to do with truth. We are part of the physical world and subject to its laws, and this would be true even if, for some unimaginable reason, like a God punishing us for knowledge, we would be better off not knowing it. But if the general theory of interpretation I have now described is correct, none of that is true of interpretation. Our success in finding the true meaning of a poem or a statute or an epoch does depend on our accuracy in identifying the reasons we have for wanting to find it. In interpretation, we might now say, extrinsic and intrinsic goals merge. I do not mean that people who interpret the same object differently are not really disagreeing if their motives for

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Interpretation, Morality and Truth trying to discover what it means are different. The extrinsic purposes that are interwoven with the intrinsic purposes of interpretation are not the individual motives of discrete literary critics, lawyers and historians, who might act as they do to gain fame or win cases. They are the purposes of the interpretive enterprise as a whole: interpreters, as I said, make assumptions and disagree in these assumptions about what the purpose of a particular enterprise should be taken to be. Nor do I assume that interpreters self-consciously reflect about the best purpose to assign to the whole practice in which they are engaged. Our judgments of that kind are patterns of our professional and ordinary lives rather than the subjects of direct reflection. Our interpretive judgments are often indeed, in many genres are almost entirely ineffable: our confidence in their truth or success, as I said, outstrips our ability to argue or even to give reasons for these convictions. This part of my proposal is not meant to capture the phenomenology of interpretation, but to construct a structure that can explain that phenomenology and rationalize the judgments that are part of it. Collaborative, Explanatory and Conceptual Interpretation I shall try to broaden the range of my examples, and I call again upon an ideally selfconscious and articulate interpreter. Hermes, as we might call him, is a perfectly general interpreter who stands ready to take up any interpretive challenge offered to him, in any of the genres I have mentioned.9 He accepts the structure of interpretation I have so far described in schematic terms, and he wishes to prepare himself for his ambitious duties. He must form opinions about what I called the point or purpose of each of these genres, and he will begin by making a crucial threshold classification among groups of them. He will distinguish among collaborative interpretation, explanatory interpretation, and conceptual interpretation. (It is a principal defect of my earlier attempts to explain interpretation not to have noticed the importance of this threshold classification.) Collaborative interpretation, in its different genres, assumes that the object of interpretation has an author or creator, and that the author has begun a project that the interpreter will try to advance. Literary and artistic interpretation, legal interpretation, and conversational interpretation are all instances of this type. Explanatory interpretation presupposes something different: not that interpreters are in partnership with those who created some object or event, but that an event has some particular significance for the audience the interpreter addresses. Historical, sociological and psychodynamic interpretation are examples of this type of genre. An historian who constructs a theory about the meaning of the French Revolution or the holocaust is not in partnership

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Hermes' tasks include but are greater than those of Hercules, a clever and learned judge I invented to carry out only legal interpretation (see Laws Empire), so Hermes bears the name of a full god.

Interpretation, Morality and Truth with Jacobins or Nazis. Instead he tries to find the significance of these epochs for us. Conceptual interpretation, which I shall later argue includes much of substantive moral and political philosophy, is structured by yet a different assumption: that the interpreter seeks the meaning of a concept that is created and recreated not by single authors but by the community whose concept it is. I shall follow Hermes' preparations only for collaborative interpretation now. Literary interpretation, to take that example of this group, aims to expose the meaning of a literary work by showing how its different elements its plot, character, image, diction and style contribute, so far as these can be seen to contribute, to an artistic achievement. This ambition may be realized in a variety of ways and combinations of these ways: by assigning a clarifying overall theme or message to the work, by isolating and emphasizing particular narrative events, or particular metaphors or other symbols, by proposing motives or ambitions for literary characters, or relationships between them beyond what is explicitly declared in the work, by suggesting allegorical or symbolic significance below the surface of the work, by classifying the work in one literary genre rather than another, or in dozens of other ways. Hermes may be called upon for any of these tasks, and so his initial judgment, about the overall point of literary interpretation, must be comprehensive as well as abstract. He has decided that the point of literary interpretation, stated most abstractly, is collaborative: that an interpreter contributes to the realization of artistic value in what an author has at least begun to create. So any more refined statement of the point of the practice that he composes must draw on the full range of his perhaps not already fully articulated convictions about artistic value. He must have opinions on thousands of issues including, just by way of suggestion, about which literary themes are noble and which vulgar or banal, about whether the greatest art is morally revealing or improving, about whether the poetry in a play contributes to its value only so far as its tropes and music resonate in some overall dramatic theme, about how important originality is to art, and, of course, about what is wonderful, beautiful, or exciting, and what is not. Each of these opinions is, moreover, porous to a great many other convictions. If he thinks that great art is morally improving, he must also have opinions about which themes or messages actually do improve morals. If Hermes is correctly to gauge and apply the point of the practice, moreover, he must also confront a very different set of issues: about the correct division of labor between the author of a work of art and himself as its interpreter. Interpretation is different from creation because an interpreter accepts that someone else has begun the process of creation and respects that authors authority in some way. Hermes must ask how far he must defer to the authors artistic judgment, if this can be discovered, and how far he is permitted or required to

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Interpretation, Morality and Truth exercise his own creative judgment. He need not give a monistic answer to these questions; he need not join one of the academic schools of interpretation like the authors intention school I described earlier. He may suppose different divisions of artistic labor for different kinds of literary work, or for literary work with different kinds of expressed ambition, or a different division for older works than contemporary ones, or for classics that are now embedded in a vast literature of criticism or a vast history of performance than for works that lack such a history. Ordinary literary scholars and critics make these distinctions naturally and unreflectively, but Hermes, given his ambitions, must do the best he can to make his opinions transparent. In his answers to these question about the division of labor, moreover, he must respect what seems a defining convention of collaborative interpretation in all its genres, which is that the author of a work has sole authority to dictate what we might call the constitutive elements that individuate the work. He or it is in charge of which words or notes or shapes it contains, their order, and where the work begins and ends. Inventive judges, directors, performers and critical essayists construct interpretations or understandings of a statute or opera or play or poem that it would be fanciful to suppose the author had in mind, and sometimes fanciful to imagine even that he would have approved had they been suggested to him. But these inventive interpreters do not add words or notes even when these would make the work more successful in their view. If Hermes did not take account of that convention in his account of the point of interpreting in collaborative genres he would not have a theory of the point of those institutions at all.10 He cannot take account of it only as an independent side constraint on his interpretive imagination, moreover. because that would make it arbitrary. He must assign some purpose to the convention some explanation, that is, of why it is important to individuate the objects of interpretation in that way and his further opinions about the division of labor between an author and himself must be consistent with accepting that purpose as important. He could not assign all interpretive issues to himself, no matter what the author thought, without explaining how such a division of authority was consistent in principle with assigning the author autonomy over the constitutive form. So Hermes needs more than just a comprehensive statement of his own critical judgments about the value of various works of art to prepare himself for a career in

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10 Some readers might find this claim exaggerated or dictatorial. The German theatrical movement of the 60s called total theatre freely interpolated characters, dialog and even events in the plays they performed. We treat jokes and legends that way: we have no compunction about improving a joke we hear while thinking we are telling the same joke. You might think that the total theatre movement used a kind of interpretive strategy, and that we do interpret jokes. On my present account, these are eccentric of stretched uses of interpretation.

Interpretation, Morality and Truth collaborative interpretation. He needs opinions about why an author controls the constituent elements of a work, and he needs further opinions about the proper division of authority between authors and interpreters that respect his explanation of that feature of interpretation. Of course, such opinions also draw on his artistic convictions and sensibilities. But these convictions and sensibilities must now be deployed differently, because they now implicate authorship as a distinct phenomenon, and may for that reason require more abstract judgments not only about value in art but about the value of art. Suppose Hermes thinks, for example, that a major part of the value of aesthetic experience lies in the appreciation of the full originality and insight of which some human beings are capable; that opinion will dispose him, at least, to greater authority of an author or composer, even of a classic, over his work. But suppose he thinks that the value of art lies not so much in the opportunity it offers for the appreciation of genius as in its power to transform or at least move readers or listeners or viewers. Then he will be disposed to think that the point of interpreting a classic is to make that transforming power available in a very different age, with very different associations and reactions, from that in which it was composed. Hermes' conclusions about these various matters will be controversial. People disagree about the right way to play a Mozart sonata, about the interpretive importance of various events and symbols in The Wings of a Dove, and about the correct reading of the Equal Protection Clause. Hermes fully developed theory of interpretation will take sides in these and all other interpretive controversies, and those who disagree with him will also disagree with the general theory he has constructed, even if they are unable to say how and where. My explanation has emphasized so far only one of the many dimensions of value (albeit a particularly important dimension) on which an interpretation draws. But Hermes completed theory of interpretation is full of values: discrete values interwoven so that each illuminates, reinforces and checks the others. He begins, I said, by finding and refining value in the project of interpretation itself. But that initial step demands identifying and refining further values: in the literary case it demands an integrated theory of literary value and of the proper allocation of responsibility among the agents who collaborate to produce that value. These different values may compete as well as cooperate in an overall judgment of which interpretation of a given object of art best fulfills his collaborative responsibilities. Each of his final concrete interpretive judgments about how to read a particular poem, for example further refines and checks the entire elaborate theory on which it is built because an interpretation that feels right will confirm the values that analysis shows it deploys, and an interpretation that feels wrong will ripple back into and change, to a greater or lesser degree, the structure on which it was based. Integration, we might say, is shot full of value, but values that confirm and check one another like answers to a complex set of simultaneous equations.

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Interpretation, Morality and Truth This general account of interpretation is not only consistent with but explains the fact I noticed earlier: that interpretation is wholly sensitive to genre, so that there is no activity of interpreting in general. If the truth of an interpretative claim depends on the point or purpose of interpretation in its genre, then of course interpretation cannot begin until that genre is specified or assumed. The point of interpreting light flashes as a message is dramatically different from the point of interpreting them as artistic expression. The general account also explains the ambivalent reactions I described to the truth-seeking character of interpretation. If interpreters believe that the practice they have entered has a point, then they must also believe that the point can be identified and better served by one particular interpretation, on any interpretive occasion, than by others, and if one interpretation strikes them as best, then they must also think that that interpretation best serves that point. But interpreters know that they disagree with other interpreters along many dimensions of that complex overall judgment: they can disagree about how best to describe the point of the practice they share, and also and independently disagree about what counts as the best realization of that point on any particular occasion. The disagreement in concrete claims will be evident one lawyer will read the statute to favor the defendant and the other to favor the plaintiff, one critic will see Piero della Francescos painting of The Risen Christ as deeply Christian and another as deeply pagan but the source of that disagreement in more abstract disagreement may be obscure, and those who disagree will often be unable to state the more abstract convictions on which their concrete conviction relies. They will therefore be tempted, as I said, by modesty and a variety of other virtues, to declare that there is no exclusive truth of the matter, that though they see the statute or painting one way others, who see it another, are not making a mistake. These opinions are incoherent, as I also said, but their incoherence is explained by the complexity of the interpretive structure and the variety of judgments, many of them difficult fully to articulate, that it requires.

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III. Morality as Interpretation


Moralitys Point? I proposed this brief discussion of interpretation in general not just for its independent philosophical interest but in hopes that it would help us to claim a role for moral philosophy once we reject the meta-ethical distinction between philosophical study and substantive conviction. Can we explain and conduct moral reasoning as an interpretive enterprise? If so, then we can treat moral philosophy as the abstract, self-conscious and professional edge of that practice, and in that way continue to treat it as special.

Interpretation, Morality and Truth Morality is certainly a practice: we make moral claims of ourselves and one another, both in our personal lives and in politics, and we expect and make certain standard forms of argument in support or denigration of such claims. It might seem surprising to call this an interpretive practice, however, for two reasons. First, in the ordinary, quotidian practice of morality people do not put their claims and convictions in the vocabulary of meaning: you say that I must keep my promise, not that that obligation follows from or is part of the meaning of what I have done or said. We are now particularly interested in the character of moral philosophy, however, which is the professional level of moral practice, and it is not uncommon for moral philosophers to frame their claims as propositions about the very meaning of right and wrong, duty, obligation and the rest. Second, morality, as a practice, is different from the other practices we have been discussing in one dramatic way: participation is not optional as it is in other interpretive practices. We need not speculate about the meaning of poems or novels or even statutes if we do not wish to do so, and may even largely drop out of the practice of conversation. But we cannot drop out of morality: we can stop caring about it, of course, but that does not exempt us from its burdens. That feature of morality does not bar us from treating it as interpretive, however, though it is a feature that any competent interpretation of morality must explain. The crucial question is how to begin. What reasonably abstract purpose or point can we attribute to the practice of criticizing ourselves and others in moral terms, and puzzling over what those terms should be? It is crucial, now, to avoid settling for a causal explanation of some kind. We might or might not be tempted by arguments that the institution of morality had beneficial evolutionary effects for our species, or that the particular rules of any communitys conventional morality promote, in its special economic and other circumstances, its security or prosperity. That is beside the present point. We must now try to provide some account of the institutions point that can play a role in an interpretive argument; that goal requires not a causal explanation but a justification of the practice. Darwinism of some kind might have a place in such a justification some philosophers apparently think it does but only if we suppose not just that we have been shaped by genes and culture to do what is good for the species, or for some community, but that we have a moral responsibility to do so. The difficulty is plain. How can we supply a general justification for morality without presupposing too much by way of controversial claims within the practice? We want an account of morality as an interpretive practice that will allow us to test propositions like the proposition that people should always act to improve the wealth of their community, and we must therefore not build such claims into the defining point of the practice. We must try to find a point or goal for the institution that does not rest on any particular, even very general, substantive moral theory. We must ask, not whether the institution of morality serves some

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Interpretation, Morality and Truth particular moral principle, but what other, not distinctly moral, purpose we can sensibly take the entire practice to have. Putting the matter that way might seem to cast great doubt on the plausibility of the project, however, because morality, many philosophers think, is its own point. We must act as our moral duties require not to gain some other kind of advantage but just because our duties are what they are. This is a crucial challenge to the project of understanding morality as interpretive, and we must take care to consider and respond to it. Integrated and Detached Values We will find another distinction useful for that purpose: between ethically integrated and ethically detached values.11 Our interest in questions of value what a good life is like, what we owe to other people, what is beautiful and admirable, and so forth is of course not simply abstract and theoretical. It is intensely practical, because we want to live well and we think that acting in accordance with wise judgment about these matters is essential to living well. But there are two views we might take, in the case of each of our values, about the connection between the character of the value and the contribution that understanding and respecting its character makes to our lives. We might, first, treat the value as detached from and fixed independently of our concern to live well: we must respect it simply because it is, in itself, something of value and we do wrong or badly not to recognize that value. Or, second, we might treat the value as derivative from our interest in living well: we might suppose that it is a value, and has the character it does, because accepting it as a value with that character enhances our life in some other way. Religions take the first view of the central values of their faith: they treat these as ethically detached. They insist that living well requires devotion to one or more gods, but they deny that the nature of these gods, or their standing as gods, in any way derives from the fact that a good life consists in respecting them, or that we can advance our understanding of their nature by asking how, more precisely, they would have to be in order to make respecting them good or better for us. The gods, they insist, are what they are, and our responsibility is to try to discover that, so far as we can, and to act in the light of what we discover. That is like the view we take of scientific fact: the view I summarized earlier in the distinction I drew between extrinsic and intrinsic goals in science. We think that it is good for us to understand the structure of the universe, but we do not think unless we are pragmatists or mad that that structure depends on what structure would be good for us.

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I made that distinction, in somewhat different terminology, in Lifes Dominion. I used the word "derivative" to describe what I now call ethically integrated values. The former term now seems to me too instrumental in connotation. Much of the discussion of this and the next paragraph repeats what I said in that book.

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Interpretation, Morality and Truth Many people take the same view of the value of art. We are responsible for discovering what is wonderful in art, and respecting its wonder, but we must take care not to commit the fallacy of supposing that something is beautiful because it makes our life better to appreciate it, or that we can identify and analyze its beauty by considering what it would be otherwise good for us to admire in the way we admire art. G. E. Moore held a very strong form of the view that art is ethically detached: he said that art would retain its full value even if all the creatures who could appreciate it perished never to return. We need not go that far to suppose that arts value is detached, however: we can say that a painting would have no value if it could have no meaning for or impact on any sensibility, without also supposing that its value depends on the impact that it actually has, or the independent value of that impact for any creature. If the central moral values are ethically detached in this way, then we would have to take the point of the practice of morality to be wholly internal: simply to identify and enforce the demands of morality, the way religion hopes to identify the commands of a god that we must obey for no reason other than that he has so commanded. Then taking morality to be an interpretive practice would not add to our critical understanding of moral argument. If, on the other hand, moral values are best understood as ethically integrated rather than detached, if we can identify some more general benefit of the practice of morality, then taking that more general benefit to play the role of a defining lens in an interpretive practice might be very helpful. So the question are moral values integrative or detached? is crucial. The question is not whether some people benefit from the practice. Of course they do: the weak, for example, whose lives and property would be at greater risk without moral constraints on what the strong might do. But we cannot take protecting such people to be the point of morality without begging, once again, the question of what morality requires. We need some benefit that can plausibly be claimed for everyone. As I said, many of our instincts about morality suggest that there is no such general benefit. We should be moral, we think, out of concern for others, not ourselves: being moral means subordinating not elevating our own interests and concerns. It seems a matter of plain common sense, moreover, that acting morally is not in everyones interests: justice is not in the interests of the rich, for example, if it requires them to share with the poor. True, ingenious philosophers have tried to show that some familiar moral requirements are indeed in everyones interests if these interests are viewed from a certain perspective: from behind some veil of ignorance, for example. But it does not follow from these hypothetical stories that morality is in everyones interests in real life. If we think that stories about hypothetical or counterfactual agreements play some role in the case for moral claims, we must appeal to additional principles to justify that role, and we can hardly suppose that these further principles are in everyones interests.

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Interpretation, Morality and Truth Nevertheless, on a second look, it seems even odder to suppose that the value of morality is ethically detached, that we must bend to its doom, like climbing Everest, just because it is there. It is too pervasive, demanding and imperative for that: it would be fetishistic to be governed in that imperial way by the rules of some celestial but pointless game. We can think the value of art detached because we can think its objects wonderful in themselves. But the Golden Rule is not wonderful in itself; it can be wonderful only for the impact it makes on the lives of those whose embrace it. We do believe that it demeans morality to paint it as instrumental, but we must take that conviction as a guide to discovering moralitys true extrinsic goals, not to deny that it has any. We must find a point for morality that meets the varied conditions that we have identified, which I shall now summarize. Moralitys most abstract point must be general: it must appeal to some interest that it is plausible to suppose everyone has who is a subject of morality, whether he recognizes it or not; some interest that is in that sense part of human nature. Its abstract point cannot be simply furthering what I just called narrow self-interest: peoples pleasure or wealth or the satisfaction of desires people happen to have. It must therefore lie in ethics more broadly conceived: in some account of what makes peoples lives go better that is not limited to narrow self-interest.12 But it cannot plausibly be all of ethics: it would be implausible to suppose that a fully moral life is always the best life, because we know that morality sometimes requires people to make grave sacrifices in the overall quality of their lives. The abstract point we select must appeal to some dimension of a lifes success that is sufficiently compelling, on its own, to justify the demand for such sacrifices. It must, moreover, promise to confirm at least the most basic structural idea of morality, which is bounded impartiality. Moral principles must not favor any particular class or type of person, but must nevertheless leave agents free each to pay special attention to his own needs and interests, and to those of people with whom he has special connections or for whom he has special responsibilities. That is, of course, only a schematic statement of moralitys basic design: it must be given content by some account of what impartiality means in particular circumstances, and of how impartiality is bounded. If morality is an interpretive practice, that content must be supplied, at least in principal part, by refinement of the point we attribute to the practice. But we know in advance that no supposed point that does not promise some conception of bounded impartiality can govern the practice.

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12 I distinguish between ethics, which is the study of how to live well, and morality, which is the study of right and wrong actions. I believe Bernard Williams was the first to distinguish the two ideas in that way.

Interpretation, Morality and Truth Self-respect We can find the interpretive fulcrum we need in an idea I shall call self-respect. That phrase is not ideal: it has different connotations for different people, and might seem too prissy for the job I have described. But I can think of no better phrase dignity and integrity seem worse and I hope to give the phrase enough content in the discussion that follows. The nerve of self-respect is the conviction that it is important what we do with our own lives. Most people make major plans and decisions out of a sense that their lives, as a whole, go better or worse in one direction rather than another, and they take pride or disappointment, in retrospect, in how their lives have gone. We cannot think that it is important how we live only because we take this to be important, only because, as it happens, we want to lead successful rather than wasted lives. We would then have no reason to want this: we might sensibly want our future to be pleasant rather than unpleasant, but could have no reason for caring otherwise about its shape as a whole, or in retrospect, or in prospect in any other way. We must think that it is important how we live, and that if we didnt recognize this we would be making an important mistake. Self-respect means understanding that importance and acting consistently with it. I do not mean that skepticism about the importance of how we live is impossible: on the contrary it is all too real. But any skeptical challenge must be internal: it must claim, not that our sense that it is important how we live is subjective, but that it is wrong. Most people, even today, think they know why it is important that human lives succeed. It is important because God has made it important; a wasted life is an insult to him. But the Enlightenment humanists thought they had discovered that we do not need him for self-respect. Their declaration of independence made it inevitable that the idea of self-respect would become, as it did in Kant's philosophy, an engine of impartiality. If my life were important only because God created me and had expectations for me, there would be space for the idea that it was more important what I made of my life than what anyone else made of his. God might care more about me than him, or have greater expectations or use for me. There would also, of course, be space for the opposite idea, that all Gods creatures are of equal importance, and the best of religions chose that alternative. But a free-standing assumption of importance is inherently and inescapably egalitarian. It makes no sense to suppose that my life is important because I can make something important of it, or because my ambitions are grand, or because I am famous. If it were not already important whether I make something of or waste my life, then it would not matter whether I had talent or ambition or fame: these would not give me a special reason for anything. The differences among us become pertinent on the assumption that it is important what we do with our life; they are not part of any justification for that assumption.

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Interpretation, Morality and Truth There are many ways in which I can deny or denigrate the importance of my own life or of my assignment to make something of it.13 I can become a drunk, for example, or fritter away my time in what I know to be trivial. But I can also denigrate the importance of my life by indifference toward someone elses life, because that, too, denies the assumption on which my self-respect is premised, which is that a human life, once begun, must not be wasted and that when I accept such a waste with equanimity I show contempt for my own life as well. That might seem an extravagantly academic and pious claim. But people often feel that they would demean themselves if they acted selfishly, cheating on what they know are their obligations, even when no one else would know. I couldnt live with myself, they say, if I did that. They feel cheapened as well as guilty when they ignore the interests of others, and the idea I suggest, that respect for oneself entails respect for others, seems the best available explanation of why. The idea of self-respect, understood in that way, seems at least initially to meet the various conditions we identified for a useful attribution of an external point to morality. Though self-respect is intuitively connected to morality, for the reasons I just suggested, it is not itself a subject within at least that core part of morality that defines, in Scanlons phrase, what we owe to one other. Self-respect is a suitably general interest as well; it expresses a property human beings share we are all self-conscious and all have lives to lead that distinguishes us as a species from other animals. Self-respect is not all that counts as having a good or successful life, so taking self-respect to be of peculiar importance to morality does not require us to claim that morality is always is the agents own interest, even in the broadest sense. We can claim only that morality is what I called, in Sovereign Virtue: a weak parameter of a successful life.14 But self-respect does seem, at least initially, of such importance within ethics as to make it plausible that someone should make great sacrifices in other aspects of his life to protect his self-respect. Two Principles of Ethical Individualism Let us assume, then, as a working hypothesis, that self-respect is at least some major part of the point of the institution of morality. We can try to construct an interpretive account of morality on that foundation. Just as a critics various and diverse judgments of artistic

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13

I recently came across, in Janet Malcolm's book, Reading Checkhov: A Critical Journey, this passage from Checkhovs story, The Lady with the Dog: Gurov thought how in reality everything is beautiful in the world when one reflects: everything except what we think or do ourselves when we forget our human dignity and the higher aims of our existence. Reference to Sovereign Virtue.

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Interpretation, Morality and Truth value play a role in his interpretation of a poem or a painting, and just as a lawyers complex political values play a role in his interpretation of a statute, so our understanding of what selfrespect requires plays a role in our various judgments of moral responsibility. Once again, it bears emphasis that, in morality as in these other theatres of interpretation, this is a two-way process. Our sense of our moral responsibility plays a role in our understanding of selfrespect. Interpretation is, as always, inherently holistic: we work out conceptions of the values in play each in the light of the others. But now we are exploring the direction from self-respect to morality. Self-respect has, as I said, at least for humanists, strong egalitarian implications. But it remains to be seen how it promises to support bounded rather than unlimited impartiality. Morality would be voracious if we understood it only as a scheme through which we recognize the equal importance of the lives of all human beings. That might suggest a life of full benevolence, a life, that is, dominated by the requirement that one show no more concern for his own interests, or those of people in different ways special to him, than he does for strangers. Some philosophers, including utilitarians, do suppose that that requirement is at the heart of morality. John Rawls and others criticize utilitarianism for its demand that peoples interests be aggregated, so that morality requires accepting a large, even catastrophic, injury to a small number of people if the aggregate of small benefits to each of a very large number of people would outweigh that large injury. Rawls says that this claim ignores the difference between people. Utilitarianism is subject to a different objection, however, made by Bernard Williams among others, which is that it ignores the difference between people in a different way. It ignores the special responsibility that each person has for his own life. This, too, is an aspect of self-respect. It is essential to self-respect that we try to make something out of our own lives rather than having something made of them by others, and the proposition that each person has as great an interest in and responsibility for the lives of every other human being, if we took it seriously, would mean the death of individual responsibility. If we are to find an adequate conception of self-respect, we must add to the idea that every human life is equally important the further idea that one person has a special and distinct responsibility for the success of each important human life, and that is the person whose life it is. We can describe the two foundational requirements of self-respect that we have now identified in two principles. It is objectively important, first, that any human life once begun be successful rather than wasted, and it is essential, second, that each person take special responsibility for the success of his own life. These principles may seem competitive, even contradictory, and it is indeed common to say that we must balance our moral responsibilities

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Interpretation, Morality and Truth for the interests of others against our own needs and interests, or, perhaps, our responsibilities to ourselves and those close to us. That would be one way of putting my point, but I want to resist it, not only because the familiar metaphors of balance and compromise are lazy and uninformative, but also because we are trying now to discover, not how respect for the importance of human lives generally might be balanced against some independent and special concern for self, but how the embracing notion of self-respect contains both ideas, so that morality can be seen, not as a compromise between equality and partiality, but as the fulfillment of a more structured and unified ethics. Let us say instead that in order to lead our own lives with the right kind of selfrespect we must find a way to heed both the intrinsic importance of a human life, of which ours is one, and the special responsibility we each have for the life that is ours. We must find attractive and plausible conceptions of each of these two responsibilities that permit them both fully to be realized, if we can, and we must try to see morality as a crucial theatre of that personal drama. Which obligations to others should we acknowledge, and allow to override our own plans and interests, if we are to achieve the self-respect of which we are capable? History Much of Western moral philosophy can fairly be understood as answering that cardinal question. The naturalistic tradition of Hume and Aristotle, for example, takes certain impulses or sensibilities to be central to peoples conceptions of a flourishing and successful life for themselves, and attempts to show how familiar requirements of morality confirm and channel those impulses. Kantian moral philosophy, in its most metaphysical formulation, identifies a conception of freedom as indispensable to genuine self-respect, and then constructs the familiar Kantian formulations of the moral law to show how moral requirements express and protect that freedom. The social contract tradition, at least in most of its manifestations, tries to connect morality to ethics in some parallel way. It imagines people in strange circumstances in a state of nature, or behind a veil of ignorance that force them to identify themselves only through properties they share with everyone else, and therefore to choose principles of governance that treat all lives as of equal importance. However it imagines them choosing principles, in these strange circumstances, that assume that each is responsible for himself in particular. He must decide for himself what would count as success in his life in order to know what contractual principles to accept. He cannot coherently assign that responsibility to the community the contract will create. John Rawls version of the social contract is particularly illuminating of that second feature: the participants in his original position do not know their own ethical convictions, but they protect their responsibility to decide ethical issues for themselves, later, when the veil of

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Interpretation, Morality and Truth ignorance has been lifted. They insist now on a priority of liberty that provides maximal protection for freedoms of choice and conscience and they adopt a resource-based rather than a welfare-based principle of distributive justice, because the latter would require officials rather than they themselves to decide which lives are best to lead, or which dimensions of success in living are the most important.15 The social contract tradition has generally endorsed egalitarian and liberal conceptions of justice not, as is often supposed, because it is somehow grounded in consent or consensus any pretensions to consensus are bogus because hypothetical consent is no consent but because the humanitarian conception of self-respect on which it is based is inherently egalitarian and liberal. Thomas Scanlons form of contractarianism, set out in his recent book What We Owe to Each Other, is more explicit in linking moral to ethical theory and is, in my view if not in his, the best available example of moral reasoning as an interpretive exercise. In an earlier influential article, Scanlon had supposed that people wish to justify their actions to those who are affected by those actions, and then argued that people with that motive would think it right that their conduct be governed by principles that no one could reasonably reject. In his book, he treats that motive as an ethical ambition it is not just a motive that people might have but one that people with the right sense of their own interests do have and he argues for his contractarianism on that basis.16 It is surely an appealing idea that a proper respect for our own humanity requires us to recognize that humanity in others, and to respect it by offering them an adequate justification for acts that damage or disappoint them. Sometimes the interpretive character of moral philosophy is obscured by a distinction that seems to deny that character: between the question of what morality requires and the supposedly different question of why we should care about morality. Christine Korsgaard, for example, in her book The Sources of Normativity,17 assumes that we mainly agree about what morality demands, but must find an explanation of the importance of morality, which she finds by arguing, with Kant, that self-legislation is the ground of morality, and that selflegislation is indispensable to recognizing oneself as truly human. The interpretive approach, on the contrary, fuses Korsgaards two questions: only by reflecting on why morality is important can we ratify or change our sense of what it requires. Nothing important to the arguments of the various philosophers I just mentioned would change, however, if they explicitly adopted that interpretive premise.

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15

See Sovereign Virtue, Chapters 1 and 7. See R. Jay Wallaces contribution to the Ethics symposium on Scanlons book. Citation.

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Interpretation, Morality and Truth Insurance and Morals Our main concern now, however, is not with the history of moral and political philosophy but with the interpretive model of moral reasoning itself. We want, I said, to use the connection between morality and ethics that we have identified to clarify what morality requires, and I shall suggest various strategies for that purpose, using perennial issues of academic moral theory as examples. The first two of these ask how we are permitted to act when we have opportunity to help different groups of people but can help only one such group. First, are we required or permitted to allow numbers to count in our decision: is it permissible, for example, to save many people from significant injury at the cost of failing to save one person from a much greater injury? Second, is there a crucial distinction, in acting to save one group of people, between acts that we can foresee will result in death to others and acts that include killing those others? The third issue I discuss is the more pervasive puzzle with which I introduced this general discussion. How far does morality require us, not just to ignore the interests of some people in helping others, but to ignore our own interests as well? I have elsewhere defended an insurance approach to issues of social justice: we should design welfare programs of different kinds, so far as we can, to provide people with the protection against various risks that they would themselves choose if they had to bear the cost of that insurance.18 That ambition, I argued, is superior to other approaches to social welfare (including both Rawls stringent difference principle and the apparently more reasonable but finally wholly unhelpful advice that we give some more limited priority to the situation of the worst-off) because it better recognizes people's special responsibility for their own lives. We might imagine, as a special form of insurance, a compact among a group each of whom agrees to aid any of the others if they need his help in specified circumstances, in return for the others agreement to aid him in those circumstances. A proposed compact might provide, for example, that any member will come to the aid of any other when the danger to the latter is substantial and the rescue involves no significant risk to the former. Or it might be much more rigorous: it might provide for rescue whenever the discounted cost of rescue to one member is less than the discounted danger to the other. Suppose we assume (in many circumstances this would be a realistic assumption) that no one offered a particular compact has a significantly greater chance, at the time of the compact, of needing the help it specifies than anyone else in the potential group. We can then sensibly ask a variety of questions that have been made familiar by social contract theory.

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Sovereign Virtue, particularly Chapters 2, 8 and 9. See also Sovereign Virtue Revisited in forthcoming Ethics issue about that book

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Interpretation, Morality and Truth How would some particular person who is invited to join a particular compact respond after reflection? His decision would depend, presumably, on what he thought best calculated to improve his own prospects. We might also ask how most people would respond. Or whether everyone would decide the same way if he was rational. Or if he was ignorant of his own circumstances in some way. Or if he had a particular assumed motive, or something else of that sort. Those are the questions, as I said, that different forms of the contractarian tradition would suggest. But there is a different question to ask, and on the interpretive model it is that different question, and not the more traditional ones, that is in point when we ask what our moral responsibilities are to others in trouble or need. What decision would someone make who took the right view about a successful life? What compacts could someone who is reasonable in that sense reject? I shall call that the ethical question. To the degree to which there is a correct answer to the ethical question, that answer fixes the extent of our moral responsibility to others, because it fixes the right way to integrate the two demands of selfrespect. Much of the contractarian tradition, and much other moral philosophy as well, supposes that moral theory should take peoples ethical convictions what Rawls calls their conceptions of the good as given, as facts about them to be taken into account in deciding what justice requires in the same way as facts about their medical history. We note that people differ in these convictions, and we ask what programs or policies or theories of justice are appropriate given those differences. But people do not cannot think about their own ethical convictions in that reportorial way. The ethical questions we face in our lives demand judgment not discovery. People confronted with proposed compacts of the kind I imagined would face ethical issues and on the interpretive model moral issues turn, at least in part, on the judgments they should make. I concede, at least for this discussion, that some ethical questions have no single right answer: which questions these are is an internal question for ethics.19 The interpretive model holds that, if there is no single right answer to a particular ethical question, there is no single right answer to the corresponding moral question either. Since people do differ in their ethical convictions, however, the interpretive model implies that they will also differ in their moral convictions in a corresponding way. Consider the first of the academic perennials I just listed. When should numbers count in deciding whom we should, individually or collectively, help? Let us assume (as most people would) that it would not be in peoples interests to agree to a compact requiring them always to act in whatever way would improve average welfare on some stipulated conception of welfare. Such

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See Youd Better Believe It.

Interpretation, Morality and Truth a compact would indeed improve its members expected welfare on the stipulated conception, but the judgment that people live best when their lives are most packed with any particular conception of welfare is both rare and wrong. So we need not worry about the extreme dangers of counting numbers: we need not worry that an interpretive morality would require people to ignore or cause great pain to a single individual when that would give small pleasure to each of thousands of others. Numbers cannot count in that way. What about the case in which the dangers to different numbers of people are comparable? Should I choose to save the lives of five strangers or of one stranger when I cannot save the lives of all six? The compact/insurance device gives a straightforward answer: it would be irrational for anyone to reject a compact requiring each to save the greater number of members in that situation. But what of the more complex case when the dangers are great for everyone in the story, but greater for the smaller number? Imagine that you are in a position to save a few people from starvation in a particular African village, or a much larger number from serious economic devastation elsewhere. Some philosophers think it would be wrong to save the larger number in this case: for them the magnitude of the threat is decisive. The insurance device makes the case more difficult. Suppose you are offered a compact in which members agree to save a significantly larger number of their fellows from economic ruin rather than a smaller number from death. Ethical judgments would play an obvious role in your decision whether to join. People who thought dying earlier than necessary a great and incomparable tragedy would reject the compact in favor of one that requires saving fewer people from the greater danger. People who thought death not so plainly the worst thing, and dreaded a life under serious privation, would not. The right answer to the moral issue turns on the best answer to the ethical one. Consider the second issue I mentioned: the supposedly crucial distinction between killing and letting die. We have one powerful reason to join a compact that permits members collectively to kill one member when that would spare the lives of two or more other members. That compact increases the life expectancy of each of its members, and is in that way in the interests of all. But we might also think we had powerful reasons not to join. We might think, for example, that it would stain our lives, perhaps irretrievably, to take another human life except, perhaps, in self-defense: certainly many people who have killed, even for apparently good reason, have thought the act spoiled their lives, from Oedipus and Orestes down, and no doubt up as well. We might also think that being killed, even to save others, is a peculiarly horrible injury that also stains a life. How a life ends is important to its overall success, and many people think that a life ends badly if it ends when and because other people

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Interpretation, Morality and Truth find advantage in ending it.20 It is of course open to controversy whether either of these ethical opinions is correct, and whether, if either is, a gain in bare life expectancy is worth running the risk it describes. No judgment on either score is demonstrable and none can be disproved. We can nevertheless ponder these issues, and reach reflective judgments about them. The common opinion, at least among academic philosophers, that killing is much worse than letting die signals one very widespread judgment, and that ethical judgment better explains the common opinion than any distinct moral premise or theorem can. Ethics and Politics Now consider the third and most pervasive of the traditional academic puzzles. I have already tried to explain why an interpretive morality that begins in the two requirements of self-respect would reject any general moral obligation always to act in whatever way would improve average welfare, according to any stipulated account of what welfare is, of the group as a whole. Any such sweeping obligation would extinguish the personal responsibility each person bears, on the right understanding of self-respect, for the success of his own life. That is why people with the right understanding would reject a utilitarian compact however utility is defined, if, indeed, it can be defined. They would certainly accept, however, a much less rigorous compact that requires each of them to come to the aid of any other when the danger to the latter is substantial and the rescue involves no significant risk or significant interference with projects important to the rescuer. Moral philosophy often leaves the matter in that state: it urges only that moral responsibility be identified somewhere in the impossibly ample space between those two jaws. Can an interpretive morality do better? It might try to distinguish among the various interests and projects that people might have to sacrifice in order to help others. Consider this proposed compact: it requires you to aid others whenever this would not substantially impair your opportunity to pursue intrinsically valuable projects, that is, the projects that it would impair your life not to undertake.21 That compact makes what you are required to do for others depend on an objective ethical assessment of the value of different projects. But since we are now concerned with moral not legal responsibility, that is not an objection: we are exploring the claim that moral responsibility does depend on ethical value. So, let us suppose, the compact would require you to give up your hobbies in order to spend time helping those

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20

Reference to Lifes Dominion. In Lifes Dominion I called these your critical interests.

21

Interpretation, Morality and Truth in greater need, but not to abandon or cheat on your career or your relationships with your spouse and children. That compact would give you a strong measure of economic protection: if you fell ill or poor you could count on considerable aid from other members who would otherwise be at golf or their stamp collections. But once again the risk seems too great: a life restricted to unquestionably valuable projects is too demanding and too standardized, and has too little eccentricity and self-design. Some projects are indeed important to you only or mainly because you have taken them up: they mean something to you because you have invested yourself in them. But they do mean something to you, and they do add value to your life. It would be a mistake for you to trade all those sources of interest and color in your life for an insurance policy with a larger indemnity. This suggests a different strategy. An attractive compact would not distinguish among types of interests and projects, but would instead require its members to share resources with one another, ex ante as it were, through some stipulated scheme of taxation or other distributive device, and then leave them free to use the resources that are rightfully theirs under that scheme for themselves, in whatever projects seemed for any reason important to them. If they agreed to an equal initial distribution of resources, they would have recognized the equal importance of other lives in as direct a way as possible, and they would have done so without in any way compromising their responsibility for their own lives. Our personal moral responsibility to others within our own political community is best acquitted through an egalitarian and liberal political system.22 If so, then our interpretive argument, which began by integrating personal morality and ethics, continues by integrating personal and political morality as well. That solution, however, is only partial. It does not help us to decide questions about our moral responsibilities to people outside our own political community, or to people in sudden and special danger, as in the rescue cases that Janos Kis discussed in an earlier colloquium this term. I shall not discuss those issues now, however, but instead turn to a different kind of issue that might be thought more problematic for the general interpretive method I am trying to defend. Consider this outr example: a compact is proposed that people irrevocably consent to allowing their organs to be harvested on their deaths, in return for priority in the competition for organs harvested from others in the scheme. That compact would, once again, improve each of its members lives in one obvious way: it would improve

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I have described such a system in my book, Sovereign Virtue. The present argument suggests a different form of argument for it.

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Interpretation, Morality and Truth expected life and health. But some people would nevertheless refuse to join because they believe that it would desecrate their dignity as persons, or deny their status as created in the image of God, or inflict some other terrible insult on them, to allow their body to be invaded after their death. According to the interpretive thesis, as so far expounded, whether such people have a moral duty to permit their bodies to be eviscerated after death depends on whether their theory, about the damage such an act would do to them or their lives, is correct. That might seem too harsh: we are comfortable in saying that they are wrong not to consent, but not in saying that, believing what they believe, they are acting immorally. Should we not cut such people a little moral slack? We cannot say that their moral responsibilities turn on what they themselves think about such ethical issues, so that their responsibilities are less because of their mistaken beliefs. The interpretive thesis holds that moral obligations turn on the truth, not on what is believed, in ethics. But we must take full account of one such truth: that peoples lives are indeed diminished that their lives lack an important kind of integrity when they act against a certain range of their own convictions, including, conspicuously, their religious convictions broadly understood to include their convictions about why human life is important and what human dignity requires.23 Our moral principles should reflect that special ethical damage: We should say, as a first approximation at least, that they do not act wrongly when they act only in deference to principles of that character and power. That exemption needs further clarification, lest it serve as too great an exit clause from moral responsibility. I mean now only to suggest how an interpretive approach to morality that begins in ethics must be sensitive to a broad range of ethical facts. Genes and Cautions The bestiary of modern moral philosophy is crowded with puzzles of the kind we have so far discussed: about whether we must act to improve welfare overall, or whether it is right to save five people rather than one person, or to kill one person to save five. For most people, however, the most pressing and difficult moral issues are very different from these academic favorites: they are puzzles about life, death and reproduction, about abortion, euthanasia, and genetic intervention. Philosophers who insist on a sharp distinction between morality and ethics, and who insist that morality is only a matter of how people must behave in view of the interests of others, are led in one of two unfortunate directions in confronting such issues. They may declare that these are not properly moral issues at all: that whether we

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23 See the discussion of convictions about abortion and euthanasia as essentially religious in Lifes Dominion.

Interpretation, Morality and Truth should attempt to clone human beings, for example, is only a question of policy, comparing long-term benefits with risks, and not a question of right and wrong. But this withdraws moral philosophers from a crucial theatre of argument and leaves only demagogues on stage. Or they may try to recast these issues into what they take to be genuine issues of morality, by arguing, as Jrgen Habermas did in the Colloquium last year, that genetic manipulation does damage the ordinary interests of the person who grows out of the manipulated fetus.24 But that re-description seems artificial. An interpretive morality recognizes what most people think: that reproductive issues are fundamental moral issues because they implicate both of the two principles of ethical individualism. Does the intrinsic importance of human lives depend on how those lives begin? Does it depend, for example, on its being a god rather than other human beings who determines who is born, and with what physical constitution? Or on this being a matter of chance rather than of human design? Does design undercut the wonder of creation that even people who are not religious in any orthodox way feel? What is the connection between god or chance and the responsibility we believe people should take for their own lives? Would a persons responsibility be challenged or undermined if his genes were manipulated to improve his talents, or to alter his personality? All our convictions about the character and limits of human responsibility depend on boundaries between chance and design that people have taken for granted, as beyond their control to alter, for centuries.25 Does it therefore challenge not only these settled convictions but the very idea of responsibility itself deliberately and radically to alter those boundaries? Until we see how these genetic and other reproductive issues are colored by conceptions of self-respect we will not understand why so many people worry that genetic intervention is not just unwise but morally wrong. (Of course, the line between moral issues that touch the interests of other people and moral issues in the broader sense we are now considering is crucial in political morality: there are good reasons why government should not try to force collective decisions about at least some of the latter on dissenting individuals.26) We might continue to explore such similarities and differences between interpretive and conventional views of the character of moral inquiry. Instead I shall end this section with two cautions. First, there is no reason to think that a shift to a self-consciously interpretive moral philosophy would even encourage let alone ensure public consensus about moral

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24

Refer to Habermass published views on genetic manipulation and cloning. See the Chapter on Genes and Luck in Sovereign Virtue. See Lifes Dominion.

25

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Interpretation, Morality and Truth issues. Some contractarian theories do at least flirt with the ambition of consensus. I do not see the point of that ambition: consensus is unattainable, unnecessary and beside the point. My aim in this section as in the preceding one has been to explain controversy not to dissolve it. My second caution is probably unnecessary, and is certainly tedious, since I have offered it so often before in this essay. I have emphasized in this section, as in the preceding one, a single direction of argument: in this section, from basic ethical assumptions to discrete moral convictions. But interpretation, as I stressed earlier, is a multi-directional enterprise: we not only shape our moral convictions to match our ethics, but shape our ethics refine our sense of how and why it is important how we live in the light of moral convictions we find irresistible. Our conception of self-respect, and of the best way to combine the two dimensions of self-respect I distinguished, is as much hostage to whether we find the political solution I proposed acceptable as the other way around. Interpretation, as I said, is a struggle to pose and solve simultaneous equations bringing the disparate regions of very different values, so far as we can, into a single integrated structure. As people become more and more reflective about their values, they become, more and more, hedgehogs.27

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IV. Case and Ground


In this final section, I return briefly to the metaphysical issues I mentioned at the outset. How far does an interpretive account of moral reasoning and moral philosophy help to resolve the worries that I suggested, speculatively, have contributed to the Archimedian era? These centered, you will remember, on the distinction between the case for some proposition and its ground. I believe that some interpretive judgments that the Bronzino portrait prefigures Milly Theales death and that we owe it to other people to rescue them from harm at little danger to ourselves are objectively true. If challenged I would defend the substance of such claims by constructing a case for them, and then point out, by way of supporting my further claim of objectivity, that my case does not invoke any considerations that are particular to some agent, such as his own tastes or preferences. Philosophers worry that this is not enough: they say that a claim of objective truth requires a ground as well as a case. The distinction between case and ground is plain enough in science. Astronomers have made a strong case that even the stars at the frontier of the expanding universe contain hydrogen. They think that proposition very probably true. But if it is true, it is true not in

Isaiah Berlin popularized the distinction between foxes, who know many discrete things, and hedgehogs who want to build all the things they know into one systemic, integrated theory.

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Interpretation, Morality and Truth virtue of the strength of the astronomers case, but of the actual state of affairs. We might think that no human beings will ever be able to gather evidence that could contradict the case that they have made, that the only kind of evidence that could contradict it could never be obtained. Even so, the proposition might be false, because the state of affairs, which intelligent creatures may never be able to gauge more accurately than we do now, is actually different from what we take it to be. The chemistry of the stars in those galaxies, we might say, is a fact "out there." That spatial metaphor means that the chemistry of the stars is as it is, and always was and will be, quite independently of our ability to construct a case about how it is. Though case and ground are distinct in science, they are related in the following way: we judge the strength of a case for some proposition by asking how likely it is that what the case cites as evidence is the causal consequence of a ground for that proposition. Our scientists observe a variety of phenomena that lead them to think that even the stars at the fringe of the universe have hydrogen; that surmise is predicated on the assumption that the phenomena, and the scientists' observation of them, are in the last analysis provoked by the stars in fact having hydrogen. So the case/ground story in science consists of two presuppositions of inquiry that the ground of a proposition must be independent of the case for that proposition, and that we are not entitled to base a case on any observation unless we find it plausible that the observation has been caused, directly or indirectly, by the state of affairs that is that propositions ground. Are these two presuppositions sensible in other domains of inquiry? We might take one of two views. We might suppose that we have identified, in these two assumptions, general conditions of truth, knowledge, objectivity, or some other cognitive honorific that are met in science, but are problematic in other theatres. Or we might suppose that we have identified only a local phenomenon: a set of requirements that holds in science for reasons particular to that domain, though not necessarily in other kinds of inquiry. The Archimedean philosophers I mentioned earlier take the first of these two views. Archimedean skeptics argue that moral propositions can have no ground, because there is no basic state of the universe, no article of its furniture, in virtue of which any such propositions are true. They therefore conclude that the honorifics must be withheld, and that our practice of producing cases for moral and other judgments of value must be understood in some radically different way: as the projection of our own desires or inclinations onto an inherently indifferent world. Archimedean realists agree that moral propositions need independent grounds if they are to be taken as objectively true. But they think that such grounds exist, and

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Interpretation, Morality and Truth that these grounds, directly or indirectly, cause people to believe the moral propositions that the grounds support. They think that along with black holes and quanta there are morons. These Archimedean realists reconstruct moral reasoning in as close a parallel to empiricist accounts of science as they can manage. They have, they say, moral observations or intuitions when they reflect on a variety of situations, and they set themselves to creating theoretical structures in which these discrete observations can be embedded. Much philosophical energy has been devoted, for example, to what is often called the trolley problem. When we imagine an unstoppable trolley hurtling along a track across which five people have been strapped, and also imagine that we might throw a switch to divert the train to a different track across which only one person is strapped, we intuit that we are morally permitted to throw that switch. But when we consider an alternative story, in which there is no switch to throw but there is, instead, a fat man otherwise in no danger strolling along the tracks, we intuit that we are not morally permitted to throw him across the tracks, killing him but stopping the train and saving five lives. We need to discover the basic moral fact that would explain these two intuitions, much as archeologists reconstruct prehistoric animals from odd bones they find in digs. We need not follow either group of Archimedeans in taking the first of the two views I just distinguished about the range of the case/ground conditions. We do better to take the second view because we can better explain the force of these conditions in science as themselves theorems within science, propositions that form part of the best scientific description of the world and our place as investigators within it. The assumption that we are in causal contact with the physical world through our sense organs and the nervous system organized in our brains is of course very plausible. Philosophers who even say that they doubt this are now rare. But the assumption is nevertheless an empirical judgment that we need other assumptions about physics and neural biology to support, so we cannot regard it as a metaphysically prior and independent condition of any scientific knowledge. The case/ground hypothesis has its place within the structure of our scientific knowledge, not as an independent and prior condition of it. We have no a priori reason to presuppose the two case/ground conditions outside science. It must be a separate question for each domain whether the independence of case and ground, and the requirement of a causal connection between them, holds within that domain. The latter part of the scientific story, at least, does not hold in mathematics. It is not plausible that mathematical entities exercise some causal power over our brain: our convictions about the Pythagorean theorem are not caused by the mathematical facts in virtue of which that theorem is true. We may nevertheless have reason to think that there are independent

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Interpretation, Morality and Truth mathematical entities and that our mathematical convictions are true, when they are, in virtue of matching the actual properties of and relationships among those entities. That is the view, as I understand it, of many philosophers of mathematics and of almost all mathematicians. If that is right, then mathematics shows that we can separate the two parts of the case/ground hypothesis: we can intelligibly hold that there are mathematical entities and that facts about these entities provide the ground for our true mathematical judgments even though that ground plays no causal role in explaining why we accept the arguments we do for and against mathematical theorems. In interpretation, however, both parts of the hypothesis seem to fail. First, there is nothing in the complex case that Hermes might make for a judgment about the right way to play a Beethoven sonata that supposes an independent ground for the judgment. Indeed, it would seem bizarre for a pianist who thinks that his is the only right way to play a particular passage to think that to-be-played-that-way-ness is one of the intrinsic properties of the sonata. And people who think, as many do, that there is no single right way to perform a sonata do not suppose that they have established that claim once they force others to concede that sonatas do not have inherent properties of that sort. When we remember the complex, ramified, sprawling and pervasively controversial argument needed to make the case for an interpretive judgment articulate, it seems both incredible and unnecessary that there could be an entity, or an inherent property of an entity, that such a case points to beyond itself. In these domains of interpretation, the case is the ground. We need accept no weird entities just to think what we do about the Bronzino portrait. If the first part of the case/ground story does not hold in interpretation, then neither does the second part. Our case for a particular interpretive opinion need not cannot include a causal explanation of how we came to hold that opinion. My case for reading the Equal Protection Clause as I do cannot appeal, directly or indirectly, to any causal interaction between me and the interpretive fact that that clause imposes moral conditions on legislation. That I hold the opinion I do must be explained, causally, in some very different way: by exploring my entire biography and perhaps my genetic constitution as well. These general observations about interpretation hold for moral interpretation as well. We need a case for our convictions about how much we owe to others, or about which forms of intervention in reproduction are permissible and which are wrong. But it makes no sense to suppose that these convictions have a ground that is independent of the best case we can make. Or to suppose that the best causal explanation of why we hold these convictions includes some interaction between us and such a ground. Whether our convictions are objectively true depends, as I said, only on whether we have an adequate case for those convictions that does not appeal to subjective phenomena.

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Interpretation, Morality and Truth Does this fact open interpretation to a new kind of worry and doubt? Once I accept that the best causal explanation of why I hold the interpretive opinions I do is to be found in my psychological history rather than in some metaphysical ground for those opinions, then all these opinions may seem objectionably accidental: if I had lived a different life I would now have different opinions. If I had been born into a fundamentalist foreign theocracy my moral convictions would be radically different. If I had been raised in a very conservative American family and attended the Pepperdine Law School, I might well read the Equal Protection Clause differently. Is this a cause for skeptical concern? Just the bare fact that my beliefs would be different if my life had gone differently, even in small ways, cannot itself count as a skeptical argument.28 I do not claim, as part of my case for my opinions about James novel, that I would still have held those opinions even if I had been taught by someone who hated James. So I can concede, without skeptical fear, that my opinions might very well have been different if my history had been different, provided, of course, that I have tested those opinions in self-conscious interpretive reflection. If I have done that, then my belief is not an accident in the worrying sense that it has no basis in the rest of what I think. In some circumstances, however, learning how I came to have an opinion would indeed suggest that the opinion is an accident in that worrying sense. Suppose I become convinced that I would not have the moral convictions I do if I had not been hit on the head by a brick last year. It would then be likely that further reflection would show these convictions to be aliens in my intellectual world. If I could not integrate them with my other values, in Hermes way, I would have to abandon them. Accident is the enemy of knowledge, but interpretation is its friend.

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See You'd Better Believe It.