Stephen Granville O’Kane, writer born right in the middle of the 20th century on 26th April 1951.
- In my case the 1960s and 1970s were a matter of battling through the education system. Not hugely romantic, but university study allowed me, to some degree, to control the hours I worked. After 1979 life turned into a mix of learning new ways to manage my health – diet, allergy treatment, rest periods – alongside finding ways to write. For developing my ideas the surest guides proved to be people who infuriated me: politicians like Norman Tebbitt complaining about our lack of moral standards while ensuring that anyone outside the political campaign team would be frightened off the moral standards anyway.
I never planned it, but from the Nineties on I found myself doing a mix of continental and Anglo-American varieties of philosophy. I am not unhappy with that, but just because my main focus is moral philosophy I am chiefly interested in ‘applied’ philosophy and social aspects. Anglo-American analytic philosophy aims to define when and how we can accept something as true and as making sense to our reasoning mind, or how it follows from what is held to be true. Continental philosophies are more likely to be looking for the basis of authentic experience (especially existentialism), or warning about how our thinking can be perverted by power, a thread running through from Marxism to Foucault. But these different threads carry profound links. If we reflect that ‘authenticity’ is connected with sincerity, honesty, and courage; virtues themselves commonly connected to pursuit of, and witness to, truth then we begin to see the links. Analysis of language is central to both, even if in different ways. Perhaps we should identify George Orwell as the godfather of all modern philosophy, especially since his strictures on perversion of language apply to advertising and markets as well as dictatorship.
- My writing often focuses on topics which scare people. If I succeed in making people a little less scared of them than before, so that they search for wisdom rather than a blind pretence of authority, I shall be happy.
- My author tally includes: Politics and Morality under Conflict, Pentland Press, (1994), and `What Right to Private Property?’, Economy and Society, (November 1997). A second book entitled Ethics and Radical Freedom published (by Melrose Books, Imprint Melrose Press Ltd) in 2006. Through the Noughties my main concession to the technological age – besides buying a digital television – has been developing my website, which includes a set of essays at Stephen’s Moral Philosophy Site essays, as well as shorter samples of my ideas, including epigrams and two philosophical dialogues.
- Following a recommendation (I have no idea who from!) I have now acquired an entry in the Dictionary of International Biography (first in 2003 edn.).1
1. Produced by the International Biographical Centre, Cambridge CB2 3QP, England. Telephone (44) 01353 646600 Fax (44) 01353 646601. Please place any orders or queries with that address.
Experiences and Adventures
Other hobbies include:
- (a) weather and climate (many of us are more likely to be fighting over land than flooded out)
- (b) music – almost anything except rap (sorry!). Sadly, market button holes don’t seem to allow us to have someone like Pytor Tchaikovsky who had no trouble doing anything from cutie fantasies for the ballet to modelling the Apocalypse. Whether it’s Mary Poppins or Syrian civil war and most in between; Tchaikovsky would be your man.
- (c) exploring ways of doing things with health restrictions: A journey which ended in 2009 with an official diagnosis of high functioning autism. I am a member of Assert (Brighton and Hove). Two of its members have morphed from support, including over applying to become a deputy for my ailing mother in 2019 until her death at the end of 2021, into friends.
Summary of Politics and Morality under Conflict
My book cover plus myself
- At first unwittingly, I stumbled into taking a sharply different approach to the relation between politics and ethics from that in older literature. Nowadays comparatively few people care what the moral basis of the state is – most of them just assume there isn’t one. (That is especially since only academics and rightwing polemicists are used to counting patriotism amongst moral imperatives.) At the same time moral issues, ranging from justifiable warfare to family cohesion, form differing parts of the political battleground. This includes the unofficial politics of pressure groups and ideological tribes, as well as the official stratum of politics comprising policy programmes and legislation.
- The book involves a mixture of historical discussion and contemporary issues like abortion and nuclear weapons. I argue that politicisation of morals (and moralisation of politics) is a process with a long history which those who complain about disintegration of unified moral culture cannot expect to reverse. Indeed, such complainants often sink into being identified with a ‘conservative’ ideology.
- The latter part of the book considers the importance of this for ethics. No ethical philosophy which fails to take political divisions into account – for instance, through assuming that all good and informed people will agree on essential issues of value – stands a chance in these conditions.
Summary of Ethics and Radical Freedom
- The way my writing focuses on application of philosophy (and of ethics) is illustrated again by my second book Ethics and Radical Freedom, which takes up the theme that existentialism can serve as a model for political democracy. (Eh?) That does mean treating existentialist philosophy in a fundamentally different way from past formulations. Instead of arguing that human life cannot be understood without the concept of freedom I argue that freedom is now an unavoidable feature of our empirical existence (maybe not Being?), at least in any modern context. This still implies that the existentialist themes such as ‘existence precedes essence’ and ‘Being incorporates Becoming’, perhaps expressed in general terms through the idea that we must constantly choose our values and meaning in life, convey a real truth about us and the problems we face. But that truth finds its way through to us by our actions and the way we use our technology (and its sheer power) rather than by ontological (metaphysical) realities expressed by our language. That arises despite most people’s resistance to having to make nasty choices or decisions. It is in the nature of democracy that decisions are alterable after a limited period of time, being left unchanged if the decision is reaffirmed or there is no significant support for a change but even values enshrined in a written constitution can be discarded if atttitudes change strongly. Unless the dissident and the awkward are able to challenge received opinion the democracy is seen to be threatened, unlike a dictatorship or, indeed, traditional culture where they are not allowed to.
- Yet the history of dictatorship in the twentieth century serves to show how deep the problem of choice goes. Neither the revolutionary dictatorships which promised a great new future, nor the more conservative ones like Franco which sought to retain an old authority, could eliminate moral, and associated political, fragmentation even when they definitely intended to do precisely that. The most they could do was to drive it underground, leaving it to return, often in deeper form precisely because of the record of dictatorship itself and the issues surrounding that.
- Accordingly, moral philosophy has to make its peace with existential choice in whatever way it can. In this second book I explored ways in which ideas of ‘social contract’ and the Aristotelian notion of ‘means’ between lack of particular moral values and display of an excessive degree of them (consider spendthrift, thrift, and meanness for example) might be updated to work with a world of moral choice.
- From 2005 most of my attention went on the website, and shorter essays accessible here (essays). In 2011 I became involved with Brighton University philosophy society (and CAPPE), and gave a talk there in October 2012. Subsequently, I took part in conferences on what is now called ‘neoliberalism’ (roughly speaking, reliance on markets for as much as possible) in 2014, followed by utopias, radical interventions and citizenship in 2015-17.
- As I see it, the neoliberal phenomenon is illustrative of the problems I try to address because markets, and products for sale, regularly fill the void when other ideas do not convince. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending upon one’s point of view, a recent reading of the life of Tolstoy failed to convert me to Christianity, or even any religion. Business and publication success actually came more readily to the saint than to the lecher and gambler, although actual writing came best with the family stopover on the way from one to the other. The ideals of celibacy and chastity now need to address the modern commercial world where any Elvis impersonator could do both ‘Viva Las Vegas’ and hot Gospel, rocking the place out both times (and the fans unlikely to notice the difference). I stubbornly prefer being an atheist to a Mammon worshipper.