Steve Fuller’s latest book, Preparing for Life in Humanity 2.0, hits shelves just in time for Halloween. I find the timing of the book’s release interesting, since it introduces the most frightening philosophic character since Nietzsche’s Übermensch — the ‘moral entrepreneur’.
Fuller’s moral entrepreneur is a master of the “fine art of recycling evil into good” (p. 63). A moral entrepreneur is one who takes a crisis (often one of her own making, according to Fuller) and converts it into an opportunity for learning something new. For the moral entrepreneur, the world is ‘reversible’ – losers can become winners, evil can become good. The moral entrepreneur thus embodies — though not in the same way as Nietzsche’s Übermensch, for whom ‘I am my body’ — the spirit of the proactionary principle. In its ethical (ÜberPopperian) formulation, Fuller proposes:
We should aim to increase the world’s reversibility so as to maximise the ‘openness’ of the open society. (p. 79)
Fuller offers three examples of people whom he considers moral entrepreneurs: Robert McNamara, George Soros, and Jeffrey Sachs. But I wonder whether there isn’t a better example: Fuller himself. Consider in this light Fuller’s — largely autobiographical — introductory essay to the forthcoming special issue of Social Epistemology: “Social Epistemology: A Quarter Century Itinerary.” There, Fuller outlines an “image of the knowledge producer”:
In my popular book, The Intellectual, I defended a person who is more concerned with the whole truth than only the truth (Fuller 2005). The intellectual would prefer to utter falsehoods that are subsequently eliminated, attenuated or mitigated than utter truths that turn out to prevent the pursuit of further truths, either by declaring an end to a line of inquiry or threatening that a heterodox line of inquiry would render the inquirer pathological. In short, overstatement invites participation from others—however negative the consequences for the utterer herself—whereas understatement carries what Paul Grice used to call the “implicature” that individuals should worry most of all about their own personal epistemic status. (My recent interest in proactionary vs. precautionary attitudes towards risk—discussed below—is arguably an outgrowth of this awareness.)
Regarding the proactionary attitude toward risk, Fuller appeals to James’ argument against Clifford presented in The Will to Believe. Fuller is an advocate of the Jamesian attitude toward risk:
For the Jamesian voluntary believer, epistemology is about leveraging what we know now into a future we would like to see. For the Cliffordian ethical believer, epistemology is about shoring up what we know so that it remains secure as we move into an uncertain future. The former seeks risks and hence errs on the side of overestimating our knowledge, while the latter avoids risk and hence errs on the side of underestimating our knowledge.
In presenting the moral entrepreneur, Fuller is embodying the spirit of his own ideal. He is, as he says, a ‘realizationist’: “I believe that we increasingly come to turn into reality whatever we conceive” (from the Quarter-Century Itinerary). In conceiving the moral entrepreneur, Fuller seems to aim to bring such a character to life. Or does he? Is he serving here in the role of the Intellectual, for whom ‘overstatement invites participation by others’? Or should we take him seriously, ‘whatever the cost’ to Fuller himself. Must Fuller, the Intellectual, sacrifice himself in order to realize the moral entrepreneur?
“I love those who do not know how to live, except by going under, for they are those who cross over.” — Nietzsche