Excerpts, with minimal modification, from Mark Johnson, Moral Imagination: Implications of Cognitive Science for Ethics (University of Chicago, 1993)
This page revised 20 November 2009
Mark Johnson outlines here two "folk theories" that were part of a widely shared cultural unconscious—at least they were not fully conscious—during the enlightenment period. Philosophers as diverse as Descartes and Kant were familiar with them and used them as starting points for working out their philosophical systems. A fuller discussion of these notions is contained in Lakoff and Johnson, Philosophy in the Flesh, chapters 19 and 20.
The Metaphorical Folk Theory of Faculty Psychology (p. 15)
-- There is a mental realm.
-- This mental realm contains a "society of mind" with at least four members (the faculties): Perception, passion, will, reason.
-- Perception receives sense impressions from the body and passes them on to reason and/or passion. Therefore, perception can be metaphorically either a person or a machine.
-- Passions become active through bodily experience, either directly (from perception) or indirectly (from memories or from inferences made by reason on the basis of earlier perceptions).
-- Passions become active through bodily experience, either directly (from perception) or indirectly (from memories or inferences made by reason on the basis of earlier perceptions).
-- Will is capable of freely making decisions to act. Therefore, it must be understood metaphorically as a person.
-- Reason calculates; it analyzes sense data and passes the information on to will. It also formulates principles, either theoretical descriptions of the world or practical imperatives telling us how we ought to act. Therefore it must [metaphorically] be either a person or a machine.
-- Passions exert force on the will, are unpredictable, and are difficult to control. Therefore, they are [metaphorically] either people, wild animals, or forces of nature (e.g., floods, fires, storms)
-- Will can exert force on the body, causing it to act.
-- Reason can exert force on will and can thus guide action.
-- Will is always able to resist the force of reason, and it may choose to do so or not. It can at least sometimes resist the force of passion. The stronger will is, the better it can resist the force of passion.
-- Commonly, passion and reason exert opposite forces on will, placing them in a struggle for control over will. This folk theory of Faculty Psychology is shared by virtually everyone in Western culture today …
The Moral Folk Law Theory (pp. 16-17)
-- Faculty Psychology: The folk theory of Faculty Psychology is assumed.
-- Our dual nature: Humans thus have a mental (or spiritual) dimension and a physical (bodily) dimension. We are drive by our bodily passions to pursue pleasure (i.e., satisfaction of our needs and desires) and to avoid pain and harm to ourselves.
Therefore, since our passions and desires are not intrinsically rational, our bodily and rational parts will tend to exist in tension.
-- The problem of morality…arises from the fact that people can help or harm other people, depending on how they act. Unlike animals…only people can be moral or immoral, because only people have free will. Humans alone can use their reason to formulate principles concerning how they ought to act. And they alone can then decide freely whether or not to obey those principles. This raises the fundamental question of whether reason can give general guidelines to will about how to act when issues of help or harm (i.e., issues of well-being) arise.
-- Moral laws. The answer … is that there…are…general laws given by universal human reason concerning which acts we must do…which acts we must not do…and which acts we may do…Reason both generates these laws and tells us how they ought to be applied to particular cases. It does this by analyzes situations to see how they fall under concepts contained in moral laws.
-- Moral motivation. Reason is what separates people from animals. Lacking reason, animals have passion alone to determine their actions. What makes people better than animals is that reason can guide their actions. What we most essentially are, then, is rational animals. Therefore, it is better in general to be guided by reason than to be guided merely by passion. When will chooses to go against reason and with passion, it is seen as being immoral, since it is better to be guided by reason whenever it conflicts with passion. When will lacks the power to resist passion, it is seen as being weak. Acting morally requires building a strong will that can resist passion. And we have a moral duty to do so, since it is better to be guided by reason than by passion alone.