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Pete Murray
Albany, NY
A graduate student in political philosophy working on Rawls and Kant.
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I think the problem here might be a result of asking the question in a particular way. You’re relying on a distinction between objective and subjective obligation. But perhaps the question should be, what obligations should I recognize, on pain of irrationality? Insofar as I am considering what to do - that is, insofar as I am constructing an intention in deliberation - I am thinking of the action I will ultimately intend as the output of deliberation. Intentions, I take it, are intrinsically prospective. The truth about what I will do, then, is tied to the outcome of deliberation. It isn’t the input. This means that I cannot rationally, within the deliberation itself, take that outcome to be a fixed truth (that I will or will not act in such and such a way). I think this means that the inference from NSR and ORBT to ABSRD doesn't work. NSR says that I am objectively required not to intend X if I am objectively required to believe that I won't X. Fine, as far as it goes. For example, I should not intend to fly unassisted by technology given that I am rationally required to believe that I cannot do so. ORBT says that if p is true, then I am objectively required to believe that p. But ABSRD says something more: I can’t have an obligation to intend to do an action that I won’t end up doing. But this only follows if I am required to believe that I won’t do the thing I don’t end up doing. My argument is that we cannot have a general obligation to believe truths about what we will do, while engaged in the deliberations that will determine our intentions. Even if I have an obligation of some kind to believe all truths generally (which commenters above have questioned), the truth about what I will eventually do, as such, cannot be included among the set of truths I am required to believe when deliberating about what I will do. In cases like flying, I have reasons to hold that I will not fly that are completely independent of my deliberation, and so these kinds of truths don’t fall afoul of presuppositions intrinsic to the act of deliberation. But, in forming my intentions, I am rationally required to see the truth of what action I will ultimately take as indeterminate. The idea, again, is that this truth is tied to the outcome of deliberation - it is my deliberation, and the resultant intention, that determines whether it is true that I will act (or least try to act) in such and such a way. So, what I will or will not do, as such, cannot be included in the set of truths that I recognize within deliberation.
Re. 1: What's the "it" that the local political-legal order is founded on? Sorry, I'm missing the reference. Re. 2: Right, a functioning political-legal order. What I would say depends what you think the function is. Its function could be described in value-laden terms (say, its function is to maintain the freedom and/or equality of citizens). Then, I agree that the function has normativity "built-in." Otherwise, I'm not sure. This gets into complicated questions about normativity: a sledge-hammer's function (maybe) is to break things, but I ought not break things that aren't mine. To know a thing's function isn't necessarily to know what one ought to do with it in any particular case. My point is the small one that the move from a "function" claim to a justified "ought" claim is, at least, complicated. Re . 3: I'm not sure what we can use to deny the legitimacy of an oppressive societal order if not values that are somehow objectively justified (this diverges quite a bit from Boghossian's language of absolute moral facts, I know). I do think we require a conception of objectivity about morality, but we need not be Platonists of any sort, who hold that moral values exist independently of us. We could, to name one example (and as you mentioned much earlier), be constructivists of some kind. But, I'm not sure how a thorough-going relativism can justify this kind of criticism. Doesn't mean it can't be done, of course, only that I don't see how (given my current state-of-knowledge regarding forms of moral relativism).
No, no, of course you're right that you are not obligated to defend a substantive legal theory to make your criticism. I ask because I'm interested in where our disagreement lies. Now, I fear this makes me potentially guilty of thread-jacking. I'm happy to cut it out - please just let me know. I'm not sure what you mean when you say that legal theory is "prima facie" normative. Maybe this will help me: are the laws in a blatantly and terribly oppressive system (leaving aside the legal theory that attempts to justify them, if such exists) prima facie normative? Do the oppressed have an obligation to follow these laws (even in cases where they've internalized the oppression and see themselves as justifiably oppressed)? My position is that a legal and political order that seriously undermines the freedom of its citizens ("seriously" and "freedom" require more formal interpretations that are too much for a blog comment) is not legitimate, and its laws are not genuinely normative, even if people do actually follow them. I'm trying to point at a distinction between what people actually do, and the justification for what they do. You might be saying that legal theory does depend on values, but that these values themselves do not require any further defense within a more comprehensive moral theory. I'd still want to say that this kind of legal theory is part of moral theory more generally - it's dealing with the objectively correct (or reasonable, or true) values that tell us about what kinds of ends to have, or what states of affairs to aim at, or what we should do (however you'd want to phrase this sort of thing).
Ah, sorry, your post at 10:14 explicitly addresses some stuff I said above, but I was writing when you posted it and didn't see it. I think my central question is, then, on what do you think the normative force of a political and legal order is based? I understand that you reject morality as its basis, and depending on what you mean by that, we may be much closer to agreement that it appears from the exchange of comments.
Eric, I mention legal systems because it was your example. As Matt points out, Boghossian uses etiquette, and I was seeking to make an analogy between them. Sorry that I wasn't clear enough about that. I do think that the same concerns about etiquette, from Boghossian's post, hold true about legal systems. His point about systems of etiquette is that, although their specific form is a matter of convention, still there is some underlying moral value that the system as a whole must be able to count as adhering to (he says it is something about avoiding offense). The same point can be made about legal systems. Here's how I think the point works. Let's say some conventional system of etiquette, for one reason or another, cannot be understood as aiming at avoiding offense in the right way. Then, that system of etiquette fails to be genuinely normative- i.e., I have no obligation to follow its rules. The language of the rules is still normative language, but just because a sentence is structured as an imperative or command does not mean I am obligated to follow it, does it? Such a command is normative when I really ought to follow it (it's actually instantiating, or creating, or whatever you want to say, a command or law). The same concern can be raised about legal systems. So, when you talk about the "kind of normativity" of a legal system, I don't think this addresses the point. A merely conventional legal system, by analogy with Boghossian's argument about systems of etiquette, must rely on some "absolute" moral value(s), if it is to be normative. (I think candidate values might include some interpretation of freedom, of equality, or both.) So, I think Boghossian's argument works to question whether any legal system is genuinely normative at all without some underlying moral facts that can explain or account for its normativity. This is not the same thing as rejecting legal positivism: at least, I think that I can accept that a legal system exists in some conditions while still claiming that it is not legitimate. Ok, then, why not relativism all the way down? Here I turn to your last question ("why deny that a convention can offer the right kind of objectivity?"). Boghossian addresses this with a version of the old argument that the statement of moral relativism (something like, "Right and wrong are a matter of the conventions of a particular group") is itself an absolute moral fact. He then asks, why, if we allow one absolute moral fact, should we not allow many? I'm not sure how strong this is, but at least it looks like he's creating a dilemma: either we are led to nihilism, or we must embrace some absolute moral fact(s). And then: if we allow one absolute moral fact, why not many? So, it looks to me like Boghossian is saying that a thorough-going relativism is untenable, because it either reduces to nihilism or makes use of some "absolute" moral fact(s).
Hi Eric, I don't think I'm reformulating the point without evidence - Boghossian is talking about moral facts, explicitly. This is more than just a linguistic point, right? It has to do with what is "actually" right and "actually" wrong. You ask why I think the buck stops with moral theory, so to speak. Well, there isn't a single answer here. Any given moral theory will say something about why the buck stops with it (so to speak). Any even somewhat adequate moral theory is going to say something about value theory, particularly about the source and normativity of values and moral "oughts". I read Boghossian as making the point that the buck has to stop somewhere, and that relativism can't account for the right sort of stopping point. Just so, just because we do have some specific body of laws doesn't by itself mean that we have the correct body of laws. I understand legal positivism to be claiming that whether a legal system exists is a social fact, not a moral one (perhaps you understand legal positivism differently). But this does not address the question of what the best or most just or reasonable system of law would be. The latter question must be answered on the basis of some values or others. I take Boghossian to be pointing to what he sees as a need for a standard of objectivity for these required values. I'm rephrasing here, but I take this to be what he's on about in talking about moral facts - I don't see a need to saddle him with some questionable correspondence theory of moral terms like "right" and "wrong". (Not that you're doing this either, but it strikes me as a possible implication of talking about "moral facts.") Last quick note: I agree with you that the political sets some kind of limits on our answers to other sorts of moral questions. To put it in Kantian terms, I think any complete moral theory requires both an account of right - which deals with our political and legal system, and so on - and an account of virtue.
Hi Doug, Interesting post! In your original case, you give the form as involving two independent actions, A and B. But, I'm not sure that this is the appropriate way to understand the form of the original case of beheading Jones. It looks to me to be the following: If you ought to A, then you ought to A by B-ing. You ought to A. Therefore, you ought to A by B-ing. If this is the correct form, then notice that the counterexamples given by Broome (and posted above by Errol) don't seem to apply (at least, not to the argument form I've just given). The original argument starts to look to me more like a means-end relation, and so I think that what is going on is simply the case of a hypothetical imperative: given that I have some particular end, it is rational (or, I am rationally obligated) to take up effective means to that end. The argument proceeds by giving a specific hypothetical imperative, and then in the second premise saying that one ought to hold the end contained in the hypothetical imperative. The conclusion is that one ought to take up the means to that end contained in the hypothetical imperative.
Toggle Commented Mar 15, 2011 on A Bleg for Help with Deontic Logic at PEA Soup
Interesting post. A few comments. I think Jussi is on the right track here with respect to the first point. It's kind of quick, Ralph, but right at the beginning she does frame her discussion in terms of judgments of value, and making distinctions in kinds of judgments. This is surely an important project for a Kantian, for whom such attitudes play a central role in determining the goodness of other objects. Even using the language of means and ends, I think, is already to bring us withing the realm of rational valuing, because actions (or objects, or states of affairs) are only means and ends in our judgments. X can be a cause of Y regardless of my purposes, but x is only a means to y given my end of y. With respect to the second point, my guess is that the "or" is a re-description. Korsgaard glosses what it is to value something as an end as "to value it for its own sake," so valuing something as a means is then to value it for the sake of something else (that is, for some other end). So, I suspect it's just to emphasize the contrast using that particular, not uncommon way of speaking. You may well be right that the "for the sake of" language is not precise enough to fully track the actual means/end distinction. Finally, I do think it can make sense to value something as a means. Let me try an example: Joe thinks that going to the store to buy milk is worth doing. Joe thinks this is worth doing because he needs the milk to bake a cake, which he really wants. Joe then values the state of affairs in which he goes to the store and buys milk, but he values it as a means to his ultimate goal of baking the cake. Does that work as a case of "valuing as a means"?
Toggle Commented Jan 25, 2011 on What is instrumental goodness? at PEA Soup
I see two versions of an "ought implies can" principle in Jason's post. The first applies to token instances of belief formation (or, in the moral case, to token instances of intention-formation or action, say). This formulation says that in any token case, I can be epistemically required to believe that P only if the required conditions are present such that I am able to believe that P. The second formulation is implicit in Jason's observation that "you might say that I am in some sense physically or psychologically capable of believing that P--it is not incompatible with some important or essential description of my psychology that I believe that P." Here, "ought implies can" is not about token instances, but about more general features of the epistemic or moral agent. I'd go a step further and say that this version of "ought implies can" should be understood as applying not to applications of an epistemic or moral theory, but rather to the choice of theory: if an epistemic or moral theory assumes features of agency that humans do not possess, then it cannot serve as a source of justifications for us. With this is mind, look back at the defect cases. What I want to say about these, in light of the latter formulation of "ought implies can," is that these are cases of people who fail in some respect to be epistemic agents. A person with a form of brain damage that causes them to systematically believe or fail to believe in ways that diverge from the relevant epistemic norms is to this extent and in this manner irrational. Following Eric R., it seems odd to say of such a person that they ought to believe differently - they cannot! It would be like saying the lion ought not kill the gazelle. We ought not kill (in the relevant conditions), only because we are moral agents, and the lion is not. So the upshot here, I'm claiming, is that in the defect cases the correct conclusion is not the failure of "ought implies can" (properly understood), but rather that the victims of the defects fail to be - to the extent determined by the defect - epistemic agents. It matters that it is a systematic defect, because we all fail to be rational from time to time, and this does not mean that we lack agency, but only that we have made a mistake. I think Jussi's Japanese soldier case is an interesting middle ground between neurological defects and everyday mistakes - perhaps we need an account of epistemic norms at the level of culture? - but I've already written too long a post. -Pete
Toggle Commented Jan 2, 2011 on Does Ought Imply Can Outside Ethics? at PEA Soup
Ralph, Thanks for the post. I want to take up a point made much earlier by Nicholas about the conditional nature of the value of all external objects and ends-to-be-effected (as opposed to us, who are ends-in-ourselves). Take the example of the intrinsic, unconditional disvalue of pain. I think that this is mistaken, and that we can see this by considering cases where pain itself is the thing that is valued. The point of the following example is to show that pain is sometimes, itself, valuable, and therefore that it is not inherently disvaluable. Think of going to the gym to exercise: for many, the pain of exercise is sought. If you don't feel a little pain you're not doing it right. One way to think of this phenomena is that the pain is still disvaluable, but it is valued as a means to health. However, I think that sometimes we value the pain itself, not simply as a means, but insofar as the pain is a signal (of effort, or effect, or whatever). It is the pain that is taken as valuable, because of the kind of thing it is (that is, taken as intrinsically valuable). A related case is someone who, as a result of a guilty conscience, engages in a punishing exercise routine. The pain is valued as a punishment. The experience of pain is a good thing, because it is unpleasant, and this unpleasantness is (from the point of view of the agent) deserved. If these examples work, they show that pain is not unconditionally disvaluable, but rather its value or disvalue depends on the ends of some agent. Then, of course, we get Kant's argument that the good will is unconditionally valuable, ending a regress of merely conditionally valuable things and grounding a world that can then contain objective value.
Toggle Commented Jan 5, 2010 on The Deepest Error in Kant's Ethics at PEA Soup