Urbanism – an overlooked field of the philosophical inquire

Vladan Klement

Abstract: The aim of this paper is to briefly introduce the philosphy of urbanism and show the reasons, why the philosophers should be interested in this field. The paper is supposed to have two parts - the descriptive one, and the quazi-normative one, in which is the author arguing for the connection link between urbanism and moral philosophy of Jesse Prinz. In the second part the author will be defending the connection between moral emotions (sentiments) and the nature of urbanism thinking.

  1. Is there a need for a philosophy of urbanism?

Most common misunderstanding with urbanism is that an urbanism is based in technicalities which occure with architectonical questions. Urbanism is in this view nothing more than searching for the best practical, economical and constructional answers for the question "How we should build cities?".

This approach is mainly connected with functionalistic theory of urbanism. Its often-quoted proponent, Le Corbusier, was the main author of The Athens Charter from 1933. In his ideal city, there are different parts of the city with different utilization.[1]

The way, how to understand or use the concept of urbanism is not one-directed. In the second half of the 20th century, the understanding of the whole concept of "city" has changed. For example in 2003,  The New Athens Charter emphasized city's "cultural richness and diversity, resulting from their long history, linking the past through the present to the future" or  the value of "become connected in a multitude of meaningful and functional networks".[2]

According to recent french authors like Thibaud Zuppinger, urbanism is not just a technical problem, but it is a political and ideological question.[3] Jan Gehl went even more further, when he has declared following statement: "Studying people’s behavior in public space can be compared to studying and structuring other forms of living organisms."[4]

This approach frequently joined with terms like open city, green city, smart city or connected city. Symptomatically, Jan Gehl has named his most famous books "Cities for People". This designation has its own reason. For example in the 1960s, mostly in the western european developed countries[5], there were a lot of activist movements, which wanted to take the city out of cars' hands and give it back to people.

The most important spin, which was done in the last hundred years is the one that changes the definiton of the problem of urbanism from architects to social sciences.

Gehl speaks about living organisms, but for the need of this article one can use this metaphor in another way. Cities are like living organisms and architects and planners are its surgeons and doctors. But as for human organisms you need some social scences background, one should do the same with cities.

This metaphor is slippery, because the analogy doesn't precisely fit. Surgeons are not (in the act of designing) building human bodies. The question if it is not that's why even more motivating for the social sciences (if you create something from the dust, you better think about it twice) will be left opened for the readers.

The topic of urbanism is not new in philosophy. Friedrich Nietzsche was thinking about problem of living in anthropo-technique connotations. The main principle can be summarized as following: tell me how you reside and I will tell you which conception of a man you hold.[6]

By using statistics of Barney Cohen we can answer Nietzsche's question.

In 2000, 47,1% of world's population was livin in urban areas. The prediction for the year 2030 is that 60,8% of world's population will be living in those areas.[7] That means leaving the old paradigm or thinking about cities i.e not to projecting cities and not thinking about how to build it, but how to design and make it a pleasent place for living, you can influent lifes of more than half human population.

Moreover, the distribution of world's urban population[8] will be 79,5% in less developed regions[9] and only 20,5% in more developed regions[10].

The aim of this chapter was to stress the growing importance of cities and therefore of an urbanism, which is directed from one organism to another one. Gehl uses for this link the metaphor "First we shape the cities - then they shape us."[11]

For recapitulation: The role of cities in human lives is becoming more and more  important. The cities and growing and people are moving from rural areas to urban areas. With the changed view on urbanism it turns out there is a scope for a philosophy of urbanism. To be more straightforward, the answer for the question stated in a headline of this chapter is positive - there is a need for a philosophy of urbanism.

The question how are the cities influencing human's life will be answered in another two chapters. Firstly will be stated the sentimentalistic theory of morality and secondy  will be explaned, how the city (urbanistic conception) is connected to one's moral evaluation.

  1. Are we slaves of our emotions?

The previous chapter opened a new empty-box, which has not been opened many times before. It has been said, that the cities can influence morality. How is that possible?

By the sentimentalistic theory of morality, as well as by a few of other theories based on emotions, to have moral judgment is to feel an emotional (sentimental) response in one's body. The emotions are the core to understand morality. For Jesse Prinz, the morality is culturally conditioned response. There is not one universally true morality, which can serve as an objective measure for parallel moralities. All the moralities which appear in the world are equal. In one sense are all equally right and in another sense are all equally wrong. In the first case, different moralities are right if within those moralities are moral judgments making with the reflection of emotions. For better and brighter understnding, the very definition of Prinz's moral theory can be sumarized in these words: "An action has the property of being morally wrong (right) just in case there is an observer who has a sentiment of dissaprobation (approbation) toward it."[12]

It means that if one person has different moral values and judgments than another person, it does not necessary implicate that one of them is not right. If those two persons express their moral judgments according to their sentiments, the moral judgments are true in the boolean way (they can be true or false). But this characteristic has an opposite end. If there are two persons with two different (but both true) moral judgments, it pushes morals into dead end. The main aim of ethics is to define one universal and in all cases (or at least most of the cases) true system of values and therefore moral judgments. For Prinz, this is not so big challenge to face. In his view, it is not bad consequence. It is just the consequence of nature of reality with which we have to count. His positive income into this problem is his solution of tolerance. No one is right, so no one is better than the other. We have to tolerate and respect each other. Of course it does not mean that you have to give up your morality or tolerate holocaust. It only means you have to have all the time in your mind, that your truth is not an objective one. Your morality is not supreme to others. How is the culture involved?

The culture is keeping its own morality through moral education in the early years. As Prinz postulates, the major job with learning morality is done with triggering the emotions. The means of inculcations are psychical punishment, withdrawal of love, ostracization, deprivation and inducing vicarious distress.[13]

In Prinz's view the process of moral evaluation works as follows: "Emotional conditioning and osmosis are not merely convenient tools for acquiring values: they are essential. Parents sometimes try to reason with their children, but moral reasoning only works by drawing attention to values that the child has already internalized through emotional conditioning."[14]

Inputs mentioned above have their justification in telling the story of morality based on emotions and the abundantly used practice of emotional triggering. Those findings tell us about the nature of morality. In Prinz's view the morality is relative. One's morality depends on the culture and/or emotional incentive.

Let's imagine a type of world in which one's emotions are triggered without he/she being aware of it. To say it clear, in author's opinion this is the case of our world and it opens the its doors for philosophy of urbanism.

The subject to examine is the influence of environment, in the case of urbanism city environment. to one's emotions and therefore to his/her moral judgments. This assumption can be resolved by using the researches in the field of psychology.

According to research held by Simone Schnall et al., there is a link between the  filthiness of the environment and moral judging. Schnall et al. designed four experiments, which consisted of volunteers making their moral judgments in normal  conditions (not filthy), mild-stink conditions (four pieces of fart-spray was present close to the participants) and in the strong-stink conditions (eight pieces of fart-spray was present close to the participants). During the experiment there were different vignettes portraying various kinds of moral violation given to the participants and the researches were investigating, how would the moral judgments differ in the three conditions mentioned above. The researches came up with so-called Private Body Consciousness (PBC) index. This index was in advance  describing how much are the participants able to have attention to their physical states. Those participants with high PBC index had bigger susceptibility to the changes in their body because of their sensitivity and another internal skills.[15]

The result of this study is the fact telling us the participants with high PBC index made more severe moral judgments when seated at a dirty desk than at a clean desk.[16] This conclusion has its support in Prinz's work, in which he argues that people without disposition to feel emotions are psychopaths. In their case the moral judgment is more a matter of convention, not expressing their really own moral values.[17]

These foundings offer insight in how can be our moral judgments affected by external factors like filthiness. Now imagine two different persons, person A and person B living in two different cities with two different city environments. Let's say person A is living in a clean city opened for people. Conversely the person B is living in a neglected city without pro-human urbanistic strategy. They both have high PBC index, which means they are inclinable for being affected by the environment. By analogy it can be postulated, that the person A would have less severe moral evaluations than the person B.

How the design of a city influence man's behaviour and way of life can be found in Gehl's book mentioned above (Cities for People). This article doesn't have the ambition to tell the whole story.

The question if we are slaves of our emotions is unanswerable in this article. At some level we are, in some level we are not. For the use of philosophy of urbanism, it is way more responsible to think we are.

Conclusion

Observations made above can sound tricky. It was argued that urbanism is an overlooked field of interest in philosophy. After presenting the Prinz's moral theory and Schnall's research it appears that persons are not fully-dependent on their own desires for moral values, which they would prefer in normal conditions.

As was argued above, the influence of environment to our emotions and therefore moral judgments seems to be set up. There are not many researches about this topic, that's why the author dedicated the first chapter to arguing for a need of philosophy of urbanism, which can go deeper to this rare topic.

If one accepts the presuposition that the philosophy should reflect all aspects of human life, which can be analysed by using social sciences, there is no room left for being sceptic about philosophy of urbanism. Better than analysing the results, philosophy should analyses the causes. Rather than analysing the morality, why not to start with analysing of city environment and its influence on the morality?

 Sources:

Cohen, Barney. Urbanization in developing countries: Current trends, future projections, and key challenges for sustainability. In: Technology in Society. Vol. 28, 20006. p. 63-80.

Curtis, William. Modern architecture since 1900. Phaidon Press, 1986.

Gehl, Jan. Cities for People. Island Press, 2013.

Gehl, Jan. Svarre, Birgitte. How to study public life. Island Press, 2013.

New Charter of Athens 2003. Available on WWW:

http://ectp-ceu.eu/index.php/en/component/content/article?id=85

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Ainsi parlait Zarathoustra. Paris, GF – Flammarion, 2006.

Prinz, Jesse. Emotional construction of morals. Oxford University Press, 2007.

Prinz, Jesse. Morality is a Culturally Conditioned Response. Available on WWW:

https://philosophynow.org/issues/82/Morality_is_a_Culturally_Conditioned_Response.

Schnall, Simone et al. Disgust as Embodied Moral Judgment. In: PSPB, Vol. 34 No. 8, 2008.

Zuppinger, Thibaud. Humanisme et urbanisme. In: L'habitat, un monde à l'échelle humaine. 2009.

[1]     For more informations see Curtis, William. Modern architecture since 1900. Phaidon Press, 1986.

[2]     New Charter of Athens 2003. Available on WWW:

http://ectp-ceu.eu/index.php/en/component/content/article?id=85

[3]     See Zuppinger, Thibaud. Humanisme et urbanisme. In: L'habitat, un monde à l'échelle humaine. 2009, p. 1.

[4]     Gehl, Jan. Svarre, Birgitte. How to study public life. 2013, p. 5.

[5]     By this term the author means former members of European Union.

[6]     See Nietzsche, Friedrich. Ainsi parlait Zarathoustra. Paris, GF – Flammarion, 2006, p. 217.

[7]     See Cohen, Barney. Urbanization in developing countries: Current trends, future projections, and key challenges for sustainability. In: Technology in Society. Vol. 28, 20006. p. 63-80.

[8]     See Cohen, Barney. Urbanization in developing countries: Current trends, future projections, and key challenges for sustainability. In: Technology in Society. Vol. 28, 20006. p. 63-80.

[9]     The less developed regions comprise all regions of Africa, Asia (except Japan), Latin America and the Caribbean, plus Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia.

[10]   The more developed regions comprise Europe, North America, Australia/New Zealand, and Japan.

[11]   Gehl, Jan. Cities for People. Island Press, 2013, p. 9.

[12]   Prinz, Jesse. Emotional construction of morals. Oxford University Press, 2007, p. 9.

[13]   See Prinz, Jesse. Morality is a Culturally Conditioned Response. Available on WWW:

https://philosophynow.org/issues/82/Morality_is_a_Culturally_Conditioned_Response.

[14]   Prinz, Jesse. Morality is a Culturally Conditioned Response. Available on WWW:

https://philosophynow.org/issues/82/Morality_is_a_Culturally_Conditioned_Response.

[15]   See Schnall, Simone et al. Disgust as Embodied Moral Judgment. In: PSPB, Vol. 34 No. 8, 2008, p. 1096- 1102.

[16]   See Schnall, Simone et al. Disgust as Embodied Moral Judgment. In: PSPB, Vol. 34 No. 8, 2008, p. 1102.

[17]   Prinz, Jesse. Emotional construction of morals. Oxford University Press, 2007, p. 44.

Published 4.7.2016

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