Monday, September 30, 2019

Objectivity and the Inhuman

At first glance, the nature of objectivity looks straightforward. Objectivity is the opposite of subjectivity, at least, and taking a subjective view of something means imposing idiosyncratic, personal, or somehow noncognitive elements onto the thing itself. So a subjective representation of a dog, say, would be something like an artistic or otherwise biased statement that expresses how the speaker feels about dogs rather than how dogs really are, regardless of anyone’s attitude towards the animal.

But the philosopher Immanuel Kant showed that this intuitive distinction is incoherent, because even the most so-called unbiased or neutral representation of something requires some cognitive processing which stands apart from the represented thing itself. All we can know or understand is the “phenomenon,” Kant said, the thing as it appears to a creature with our human modes of conceptualization, not the thing as it is independent of any human or nonhuman form of understanding. Indeed, as Kant pointed out, even to speak of the “noumenon,” of how a dog would be even if there were no one else to perceive the dog or to construe the dog’s nature is empty. Perception, understanding, and knowledge all presuppose a mental format brought to the matter by the subject. All cognition, then, has a subjective element. Kant differed from metaphysical idealists such as Berkeley, in denying that knowledge is purely subjective. The nonsubjective part of the world contributes something to the content of our experience. But instead of thinking of objectivity as the absence of subjectivity, Kant argued we should reformulate that distinction as one between the universal and the idiosyncratic. The objective elements of experience are the universal, “transcendental” ones that speak to our human cognitive conditions, those that Kant considered the structures of our mind as far as epistemology is concerned.

Emotions of Objectivity

However, I don’t think this is all there is to objectivity because, contrary to Kant, our conception of the thing in-itself isn’t empty. Where Kant has it right, I think, is in inferring that the more parochial our analysis, the more it speaks only to phenomena, to how things seem subjectively to us. Concepts formulated in natural languages, in particular, are largely metaphorical and anthropocentric. For example, the concept of “objects” itself derives from the Latin word, objectus, which means thrown down towards or thrown down in opposition. Natural things aren’t literally thrown down by any hand, so that initial conception must be analogical or archaic. Presumably, the general idea would be that it’s as if things-as-objects were thrown down before us, because their objective element is that which we have no choice but to address. To have something literally thrown at you is to be forced to deal with it or to have the thing imposed on your perceptual field.

Interestingly, “ob” in “objectus” can mean towards but it can also mean against, as in the Latin root of “oppose.” However, this speaks not to an early cosmicist intuition, but to the role of objectivity in the social practice of disputation. The objective evidence was thrown down not against the initial observer, but an opponent in an argument, so the paradigmatic case of objectivity would be that deployed by the lawyer at trial who dramatically slams the exculpatory piece of evidence on the table before the astonished jury and opposing counsel. Either way, then, objectivity was initially conceived in the West as part of human behaviour, as something done in social interaction, not as whatever speaks more to the nonhuman side of experience, to things as they are independent of how we’re built to think of them.

To return, though, to the criticism of Kant, the point is that if we have in mind anything like that Latin, anthropocentric conception when we claim we’re being objective in thinking of X, we’re likely dealing only with the makings of a phenomenon in Kant’s sense. To get at a more universal, transcultural cognitive element, we’d have to analyze further that practice of throwing down X, to find a more general feature. Notice that such an analysis needn’t be restricted to issues of semantics, categorization, and logic. As phenomenologists have subsequently shown, how things seem to us includes an emotional component which may likewise be idiosyncratic or universal. The real question of objectivity, then, is whether being objective in capturing the noumenon could coherently amount to being indifferent or passive in forming the representation. Kant’s point would be that the notion of any such attempt is incoherent. To form a mental representation is to impose some structure onto the perceived or known thing; otherwise, you’d have just the thing itself, not any cognitive act or representation. Laying aside any such claim to neutrality, though, there’s still the potential for recognizing something’s objective significance with the fitting emotional response. Here we’re talking not about the semantic meaning of arid concepts, but a universal value-laden meaning. 

Thomas Nagel put his finger on these deeper, existential issues of objectivity, in The View from Nowhere. There he points out that objectivity involves abstracting our attention from our personal habits and assumptions, to enter a metalevel of attending to how things are, given that those habits and assumptions are largely insignificant outside our inner, subjective perspective or worldview. Subjectivity is how things seem to us when we’re being ourselves, whereas objectivity requires that we detach from our personality, to take on the wider world’s indifference towards us in our imagining how things would be and would go well enough without us. As Nagel makes clear, this kind of objectivity as the simulation of detachment quickly leads to existential problems of alienation. When we look at the world objectively, by realizing that our personal interests are mostly irrelevant to how other things really are, we discover that we matter mainly to ourselves and to a handful of fellow persons. What follows from that realization isn’t so much a set of esoteric truths about the nature of reality, but an unpleasant sense that we’re castles built on sand. What follows, that is, is the barrage of negative emotional reactions that are central to the philosophies of existentialism, including the reactions of awe, dread, angst, terror, and horror.

For example, to be objective towards a dog isn’t just to recognize the universal features of doghood, by way of conceptual analysis. Instead, objectivity includes the attempt to feel repulsed by the inhuman element in how something comes to be what it is. So in the case of dogs, the objective recognition would involve an appreciation for the history of how dogs were once wild and entered a symbiotic relation with humans, whereupon we domesticated and bred the animals that we call “dogs.” Objectively, we formed that master-slave relationship for evolutionary reasons. Millennia ago, our ancestors used the dog’s olfactory superiority as an early-warning system, and the wolves used us to feed them. The more pertinent point, though, is that the grounds for that relationship had to do with evolution’s impersonality and indifference. Species evolve with different strengths and weaknesses, because natural selection is unguided and partly accidental. Objectively, then, a more intelligent and ruthless species might come along and enslave us as we’ve “domesticated” numerous animal species. So to ask for an objective mindset towards dogs is to ask for some recognition of the most inhuman conditions of something’s nature, development, or relationships; moreover, we indicate that we’ve grasped those conditions by exhibiting the existential signs, when we suffer from the emotional impact. In short, to be objective is to destroy ourselves, since the impact in question is the negating of our preferred interests and attitudes. If you like dogs, objectivity amounts to a counterweight: the objective/inhuman thing to notice about your love of dogs is that most of the world—perhaps even the dog itself—is indifferent towards that appraisal.

That part of our mindset and worldview that matters only to us and to each other is their most subjective part. If that’s so, however, a critical question arises: How could the upsetting existential reactions be more objective than the mundane ones? Doesn’t the world at large care just as little about our alienation, awe, and horror as it does about our personal tastes, since that world’s inhumanity lies in its equal indifference towards everything? But follow the preceding logic to notice that the forgoing difference between objectivity and subjectivity is informational. Objectivity is a widening of scope which causes the negative existential reaction. That reaction therefore carries the meaning of the world’s inhumanity, whereas our mundane interests testify, rather, to how we’ve developed as individuals. We prove we’re being objective in showing emotionally we recognize that we count for little as subjects and that persons and living things generally are unloved accidents on the whole. That emotional or so-called “noncognitive” proof demonstrates not just that we’ve entered Nagel’s view from nowhere, but that we’ve been infected, as it were, by the world as it really is. Awe, alienation, dread, terror, and horror are signs of the real world’s presence in otherwise largely self-interested or narrow-minded human affairs.

Aesthetics of Objectivity

Notice, further, that that emotional side of objectivity is prominent in religious experiences and in the appreciation of art. The existential reaction to reality, which is our self-directed depersonalization, is aesthetic since what we experience fundamentally is some ugliness, an incongruity, a gross mismatch between what there is and what we’d prefer. We prefer to be ourselves, which is why we’re often quick to forget our moments of objectivity and alienation, to enjoy our life while we can. We’re objective when we depart from ourselves to view the world from an unsettling counterfactual standpoint in our imagination: we entertain the question of how something would have been if we’d never been born or if life generally had never emerged, and we entertain such questions because the world’s indifference forces that inhumanity onto us, assuming we’re interested in learning the objective facts.

So, for example, to recognize the objective facts pertaining to dogs, presented above, entails disgust towards natural selection. I hasten to remind the reader there’s no use protesting that we should rather be grateful to the natural processes that created life on this planet. The upshot of behavioural modernity, beginning some forty thousand years ago, is the collective application of disgust in our endeavour to improve on nature, to artificialize the world by way of realizing how the world should have been. If you’re grateful rather than disgusted towards nature, that is, towards the wilderness, be quick to destroy the computer or pages you’re reading this on, strip and surrender all your worldly possessions, and return to the wild to attempt to survive as a savage. Still here with computer or book in hand? That means you accept the wisdom of promethean (satanic, which is to say antinatural) progress.

In any case, in so far as the disgust on which human “progressive” creativity is premised is an aesthetic reaction, objectivity amounts to treating the world as (bad) art. Part of the badness of this art is precisely its naturalness, its lack of intelligent design or direction, but this would be an ethical rather than an aesthetic assessment. The badness here would lie in nature’s trickery, in its simulation of benevolent creativity which gave rise to the world’s religions and to untold suffering as a result of that illusion. This ethical badness of nature is only metaphorical, of course, since there’s no one responsible for the apparent trickery, and so the ethical condemnation of the world is negated by the aesthetic one. The aesthetic badness, again, consists of the more general disharmony between the facts and how things typically seem. The facts are the more or less inhuman elements of events, whereas the appearances are the often flattering illusions required for “healthy” mental or social functioning. Na├»ve self-esteem and happiness, for example, are impossible from the objective standpoint, since objectivity accommodates us to the absurdity of our existential situation. The more objective you are, the more alienated you must be from yourself; that is, the more detached the imagined inhuman, psychopathic, or objective version of you must be from the subjective, socially-adjusted version of you.

But what I’m suggesting is that that alienation is like the disappointment Dorothy feels when she sees the man behind the curtain in The Wizard of Oz. Nature seems at first like the product of a divine, wise, and benevolent creator. In reality there’s no such creator, so behind the curtain of nature isn’t even a fellow, troubled mortal, but some inhuman X responsible for turning quantum chaos or plenitude into the natural order. That inhuman cause is colossally creative, so the aesthetic appraisal of nature is hardly absurd, although natural creations obviously differ from human art since only the latter is a work of intelligence. There’s just no reason why beauty and ugliness should be properties only of art in the strict, cultural sense rather than applying to creations in general. And when aesthetic judgment is applied to nature in objectivity, the honest, informed emotional reaction is negative. We judge that nature has betrayed us, as it were, because of the inhumanity of its creations; thus are we obsessed with building a better world, the so-called heavenly kingdom of God on Earth.

Let’s compare the two kinds of aesthetic reactions. According to the dictionary, aesthetics is “the branch of philosophy dealing with such notions as the beautiful, the ugly, the sublime, the comic, etc., as applicable to the fine arts, with a view to establishing the meaning and validity of critical judgments concerning works of art, and the principles underlying or justifying such judgments.” When we encounter a painting, for example, we respond aesthetically by paying attention to the work’s intrinsic features that make for its beauty and that inspire us as viewers. The fine arts feature objects or performances that are intended to be appreciated for their aesthetic value. We’re meant to be disinterested towards them, as Kant theorized, to use the objective stance towards them for the purpose of pleasing ourselves in the presence of their beauty. To look at the painting with crass self-interest would involve attending only to how much money the painting is worth and whether you could afford to buy it. Aesthetic self-interest would require attending to the painting’s intrinsic features, to see the artwork for what it really is—not, though, in an attempt to be neutral towards the painting, but to allow the painting to provoke in you some transformative feeling, such as a feeling of the painting’s beauty or an appreciation of how the work’s message challenges certain conventional assumptions.

From the short film "Sundays"
Nature isn’t art in that strict sense, since natural products aren’t intended to illicit any such response. Nevertheless, they do so illicit them, and that’s because we can consider nature with the same disinterest as we can a painting or a song or a novel. There should be little surprise that strict artworks that are intended to please the observer tend to provoke just such a positive reaction, whereas natural products of no intelligent design provoke mixed reactions, at best. Nature’s creations, including entire planets and galaxies are awesome and often beautiful, especially if we confine our attention to their intrinsic properties. As the recent photographs of Jupiter indicate, for example, the colourful swirls on that planet’s surface are beautiful and awe-inspiring. The same can be said if you look closely at virtually any product of nature, from a leaf to a beetle to a sunset. When we detach from our personal preoccupations and perceive things as they are, just in terms of their apparent features, we can readily treat them as if they were artworks in the strict sense, just as even evolutionary biologists can treat organisms as if they were intelligently designed.

The negative aesthetic judgment against nature falls into place, though, as we exit that quasi-aesthetic stance towards nature and return to our full subjective standpoint. Whereas strict artworks such as movies and poems are usually meant to uplift the viewer somehow, even if only to serve as warnings to encourage corrective action, as in the case of dystopian narratives, the beauty of natural creations has the opposite philosophical implications. There’s so much beauty in the universe because the universe is astronomically huge and thus wasn’t meant for us, and because the universe has so much more going on than we can imagine, that life’s emergence must be incidental and thus comically insecure. When we understand that mismatch, we can’t be so easily charmed by nature’s surface beauty. The pleasing appearance of Jupiter is tainted by the disgust provoked by the realization that nature’s beauty is a poison pill: Jupiter’s beauty is the result of the alien (headless) process that created the solar system and that’s wholly indifferent to living things.

Clearly, this disgust towards nature depends on scientific knowledge of the facts, which in turn is based on another kind of objectivity. Scientists, as such, detach from their personal biases by following the rules of the institutions of science, such as by testing their hypotheses and following the evidence where it leads. But in so far as science is entangled with the larger project of instrumentalism, of exploiting knowledge to improve earthly living standards, science depends also on the above values of objectivity, that is, on disgust with nature’s inhumanity. We’re so quick to apply scientific understanding in the forms of technology and commerce, because we want a better world than that which living things generally are given. The more we investigate the natures of matter and of how natural mechanisms and forces work, the deeper our understanding of nature’s impersonality, and thus the more profound our emotional recoil. That recoil spurs the enterprise of our artificialization of nature. To eliminate the source of our horror for nature’s mindlessness, we humanize the wilderness by replacing the natural with the artificial, by injecting intelligently-designed purposes and functions into natural systems. There’s hardly any guarantee that this effort can be sustained on a long-term basis, geologically speaking, since we may succeed only in destroying ourselves as the planet reacts harshly in turn to our defenses. Regardless, this is the heart of objectivity—not just neutrality or indifference, but shock and contempt as we learn about what the world really is and isn’t, as well as a plan to correct systematically for the deficits.


  1. Hi, Ben

    I'm not entirely sure I understand how could there be an objective emotional reaction, once it's been established that any emotion or value stems from the individual or the group (the culture) but not from the universe 'in itself' as it were. How could we settle disputes between different system of values (ethical or aesthetical) when we lack an objective criterion?

    One could very well say that cosmic horror and existentialism are more honest than optimism, and that they make better philosophical systems overall, but how can one justify that the emotions these provoke are 'better' than any other emotion, when we know the radical abyss that exists between facts and emotions (values)?

    1. Hi, Kevin. This is what I meant by saying the emotions of objectivity are "informational," the point being that there's a causal relation between the view from nowhere and the negative existential reaction, so the latter's a sign of objective/inhuman reality (like a signal sent by that reality). There's a good scene in The Matrix where Neo learns the shocking truth and is about to puke, and the crew points out that everyone pukes when they learn the truth about the matrix, so there's no sense in betting whether even a hero like Neo could avoid throwing up in response to seeing the "desert of the real."

      Awe, angst, and horror are objective in that they're causally related to the depersonalization of our cognitive faculties, to the wider view of things we can take by detaching from our parochial prejudgments and preoccupations.

      Your question about the relativity of value systems would come up if there were an incommensurable set of values that is likewise reliably produced by the view from nowhere (by philosophy and science). The closest might be the optimystic's claim that knowing reality is blissful. If that's so, it requires destruction of "illusory" parts of the self.

      In any case, I don't think I need to say that the existential emotions are "better" than the inauthentic ones (although I have said as much in earlier writings on aesthetic morality). I can judge enlightened and unenlightened behaviours in ethical terms and show that the latter is due to incoherence in the profane belief systems. The above article is more descriptive than prescriptive, since I'm talking about how the world looks from the enlightened standpoint. We all share in that standpoint, to some extent, since we participate in the project of civilization which presupposes, at least, the recoil against nature.

      The point of the naturalistic fallacy is that the facts alone don't tell us what we should value. All I'm saying above is that certain values are reliably produced by objectivity, so that they act as proofs of enlightenment. That causal relation can be independently evaluated based on various criteria, depending, for example, on whether enlightened folks make themselves useful. The jury's out on that. What I've called omegas aren't automatically heroic, despite their being outsiders and thus their having the opportunity to see what's really going on with society. Jesus might have been enlightened, but his message quickly got co-opted and twisted so badly it's currently being used to justify rank Americanisms. Enlightenment isn't necessarily a good thing, which is why I speak of the "curse of reason."

  2. What if Neo had laugh at the absurdity of the situation, or had cried, etc, etc.? Can we objectively say that his response would have been ‘incorrect’?

    What if someone reacts with joy before cosmicism? I’m not saying I do, or that I know someone who does, but I’m not sure that a priori I can say that it is not possible.

    1. It was logically possible for Neo to laugh, but the point was that people tend to puke instead. My point is there's a causal relationship that makes that so, so the puking would be a sign of the cause. The signal carries information about the state of its sender, as per information theory. The effect teaches us about the nature of its cause, which is what Sherlock Holmes counts on.

      If someone laughs when they learn about death and suffering and they don't believe in gods or an afterlife, that laughter would indicate something peculiar about them rather than the nature of reality. It would be like having a broken antenna that screws up the broadcast of the signal.

      Is angst better than laughing as a sign of natural reality? Again, my main point here is descriptive, since I'm saying angst rather than joy is, as a matter of fact, causally related to nature's inhumanity. (Actually, I say laughter and comedy are strongly related, too, so those would be bad examples to try to make your point. The distinction is between overall negative and positive reactions.)

      I would want to see the philosophical explanation of why we should react positively to nature overall. Again, I think Eastern religions and ancient Greek philosophy supply the best such explanations, and I've criticized them on this blog (including Daoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Aristotelian teleology).

  3. I understand your reasoning. I just want to stretch the point that, when it comes to emotional responses, we don't have such a clear, cut-and-dried, objective pattern to distinguish a verifiable, 'correct' or unique emotional response as causally related to existentialism or cosmicism. I think all we have are probabilities. In that sense, to use a metaphor, we may considerer the matter under a quantum, not a newtonian, physical model.

    To consider your example, saying an antenna is broken is a falsifiable or empirical testable claim, and so we can consider such a proposition to be objective. Saying that a 'positive' reaction in the face of death, a godless universe, etc. is 'peculiar' or wrong, simply stands as a deviation of a norm, or as an unexpected result from a causal relation, that could be the result of a myriad of reasons.

    To infer that such a result is the consequence of something 'broken' in the individual, would require empirical, objective, data that, at least for the moment, we lack. For example, a neuroscientist would have to produce an irrefutable proof that such a reaction is the consequence of a sickness of the brain, or something to that effect, that would causally explain his deficient emotional reaction in the face of cosmicism. Do you see what i mean?

    Of course, that doesn't mean that we ourselves cannot judge those positive emotional responses as 'childish', 'inauthentic', 'deluded', etc. I'm simply stating that we do so following our own values.

    The fact that cosmicism as a philosophy is entirely valid and theism is not is a different matter. Cosmicism in not making any unfounded claims about the nature of reality as theism or religion does, and for that reason alone the former is superior, philosophically speaking.

    But when it comes to 'What cosmicism makes you feel?' I don't think that we have the sufficient evidence to empirically consider a definitive 'right' or 'wrong' answer. Only probabilities. I think that's what makes it exciting for Sherlock, to be proved right, because he, too, ultimately, works with probabilities. If he knew for certain all the facts and variables, his job would be quite boring. Like the study of logic.

    Anyway, thanks very much for your responses and articles as always!

    1. I'm fine with thinking of our knowledge of the causal relation as probabilistic, but the claim, that the emotional reaction to learning the philosophical implications of natural reality is likely negative, is hardly arbitrary. Above I stressed the "inhumanity" of that truth, so think of it this way: we're biologically programmed to pursue human interests, which is why we're afraid especially of that which we can't assimilate to familiar, comforting conceptions. When we learn, then, that we don't belong in the universe, that the world at large is inhuman and so we build, at best, little human-centered refuges, there's an objective mismatch there plus biological, psychological, and social causes of fear and disgust. We're naturally let down when we discover we prefer one kind of world but live in another.

      Perhaps we can transcend those negative emotions by some act of enlightened alchemy, but I think it's pretty clear that whoever has only a positive reaction to understanding the natural truth lacks the normal biological and social programming.

      You're right that the value judgments of these emotional reactions shouldn't be confused with statements of objective fact. Mind you, the negative emotional reaction is highly probable, I think, and so it will be felt as bad (unpleasant, painful, etc). If someone overcomes the negativity and finds a way to be at peace with death and so forth, that could be done, as you say, in questionable or admirable ways. That normative judgment, though, would differ from positing the biological, psychological and social causes of the painful reaction to realizing there's an objective mismatch between our programmed interests and the universe's "disinterest" in those interests.

      We're on our own. That can be exhilarating, as the new atheist or secular humanist says, but to deny the Nietzschean madness entirely, in response to God's death looks like repression. So out the madness will pop in fascist populism, as we're seeing at the moment in the secular world. I suppose we're dealing here, then, with what I called some years ago the "clash of the atheists."

  4. Kevin has a point when he points out that there is more than one authentic emotional response to a cosmicist view of the universe, but I suspect Cain was more concerned with the AESTHETIC basis of that response. To clarify, while both laughter and horror would be equally authentic emotional responses to the the unvarnished facts of existence, it is a sense of disgust that underlies both. Further, I think laughter is most likely a secondary, defensive maneuver against the initial feeling of horror at our predicament, which would make the latter more fundamental than the former in the hierarchy of emotions. We naturally laugh at the absurd, but when absurdity lurks not just in an odd joke, but underlies all of existence, then the only conceivable response to that level absurdity is horror.

    1. There's a question whether the objective mismatch is itself aesthetic. If beauty is harmony and any mismatch is a form of ugliness, then the disgust towards the mismatch (between human interests and nature's inhumanity) is doubly aesthetic. In the article I speak of the disharmony between the inhuman facts and the illusions necessary for happiness, between nature and society, roughly speaking. There are lots of ways of formulating the mismatch, but the objectivity of those mismatches is intriguing, as is the ease with which they're construed as aesthetic.

      Perhaps Kevin's concern, though, is that the aesthetic interpretation isn't the same as a moral one. Whether we should morally praise the unhappy enlightened person or condemn the deluded happy one isn't itself an objective matter. Mind you, I'm interested in whether morality can be reconstructed in purely aesthetic terms, but that's a work in progress.

  5. Cain, I believe that aesthetics is a valid explanation for much of morality. Most sexual prudery is almost certainly a visceral reaction to the ookiness of the sexual act and many a vegetarian will attest to how nauseated they feel at the thought of gnawing on dead flesh.

    But while aesthetics does work as an explanation of morality, I suspect that any attempt to use it as a basis for morality is misguided. The diversity of tastes would prevent any general agreement between moral agents and consequently some tastes would inevitably clash with most people's moral intuitions. If you evaluate atrocities such as torture and murder as ugly, then that's actually a very anthropocentric reaction that not even all humans would share. If you doubt it, I encourage you to google the artwork of Takato Yamamoto (warning: not for the squeemish). I would prefer to live in a world governed by Confucian or Secular Humanist ethics; even if these systems are ultimately incoherent. It's important to embrace the truth no matter how you find it clashes with your deepest values, but that sort of commitment isn't for society at large. I think Leo Strauss had a point there.

    1. Those are helpful points you make there. You suggest a key distinction towards the end, between the actual source of morality and the possibility of establishing a more ideal kind of morality. That is, we can ask how morality actually works and how morality might be reconstructed, and those are different issues.

      Not just Strauss but Nietzsche and perhaps Sade would be realists about morality as it actually operates. Nietzsche said different social classes have different conceptions of good and bad, depending on their upbringing and degree of power over others. That relativity would be consistent with the aesthetic interpretation of moral values: commitments to different lifestyles and norms of social interaction would be due to differences in taste (different relations to beauty and ugliness).

      Whether we could be trained to outgrow our taste in such things and build a society based on non-aesthetic principles, and whether that non-aesthetic morality would be preferable are other matters. Would that preference itself be aesthetic? If not, the reconstruction might be question-begging. For example, if the humanist rejection of Nietzschean relativism about moral values were itself a matter of distaste towards social conflict, the reconstruction of morality would still be grounded in an aesthetic judgment.

    2. People can learn to respect the aesthetic preferences of others and not try to impose their own on them; but I don't think we could ever outgrow them, nor should we. But even this is a tall order since most people are too bound up with their own tribe to appreciate other cultures or even leave them alone.

      I take it that by 'non-aesthetic principles' you mean something based on reason. But as you've said before: reason is instrumental. Reason can tell us how to achieve a goal, but not what goal we should choose. If we want to live in a harmonious society, I would suggest ditching multiculturalism; but 'harmony' is itself an aesthetic choice that some would insist should be sacrificed to higher values.

      One of my more pessimistic philosophical suspicions is that the entire field of ethics might be summed up (rather cynically) as an ad hoc justification for our irrational intuitions of right and wrong and this is why every ethical system has always failed to fully conform to our intuitions: you can't rationalize the irrational.

    3. To speak of the instrumentality of reason, though, is to speak of a rationalist ideology or metanarrative. Reason alone, as in logic or science doesn't tell us what goals to pursue, but in so far as reason is an instrument, it comes prepackaged with an ethos, the main presupposed goal being the human mastery of the earth. When we treat things as objects to be manipulated by tools, we're hardly coming at them in a neutral fashion.

      Not sure if the goal of harmony implies that we should reject multiculturalism. On the contrary, the very concept of social harmony seems to presuppose multiculturalism, since there could be no harmony in something like a totalitarian monoculture, because in that case there would be no cultural variation to speak of.

      Your doubt about ethics is in line with the thinking of Sade, Nietzsche and Hume. I also share that view to some extent. Reason can help eliminate unworkable or absurd options, but it can't tell us how we ought to live at the most general level.