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Nomy Arpaly
Interests: Badakizu Euskaraz?
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Hi Steve, I agree that you don't need to know about other languages in order to understand the expression 'to have most reason'. I just think that without some awareness of what other languages do it is quite easy to read too much into our use of this (or any) particular expression. I still have to be convinced that any amount of care taken while treating data from one language can prevent us from such over-reading. I also don't think you need anything resembling a word for 'ought' in order to understand what ought is, but I am not sure how I would have handled that fact if I treated linguistic evidence as very, very important in philosophy, the way you do. I don't think knowing something about non-Indoeropean languages is an urgent need for just any philosopher, but I do suspect that it might be a real need for anyone who takes data about linguistic behavior to be important enough to topple entire schools of metaethics. OK, I'll go buy your book!
Hi Steve, I still disagree. Without crosslinguistic data we simply can't know which facts about English should be regarded as significant for your purpose. Here is a dilemma. Suppose, hypothetically. It were to turn out that the behavior of 'ought' that you are talking about was unique to English. Two alternative explanations come to mind. One is that English speakers are profoundly different from the French,Basque, or Norwegian when it comes to normativity. A people that has no concept of ought is arguably even more different from us than the proverbial isolated tribe who leaves its old people to die in the snow, practices polyandry, allows its samurais to kill everyone they feel like, etc. it is just unlikely that such a distance exists between us and the Basques.. Average Basques tell their kids not to lie or steal or kill, just like we do, approve of putting murderers in prison, feel guilt and anger, have the same arguments about abortion as we do. When a Basque learns English she does not experience normative statements as mysterious - not even in the way that some American readers of daoist texts in Chinese experience "mysteriousness". In short, no. I will not believe that Basques don't have a concept of ought, much less that only English speakers have it. It is much "cheaper" to reject all your methodological views, What would the other horn of the dilemma be? Simply to conclude that if it were in fact unique to English, which apparently it's not, the behavior of 'ought' that you discuss would be, like the reason/Reason ambiguity, considerably less important and significant.
That's a great example about the ambiguity of the term "reason". But I suspect that a lot of why I find it convincing has to do with being aware of one language in which nothing resembling that ambiguity exists and another unrelated language in which "Reason" transparently means "the power to reason" (i.e the story goes in your direction). That is: I agree with you that there is good vs bad linguistics, and anything with too much etymology in it tends to be on the bad side, but I don't think you can dismiss the separate issue of monolingual research vs cross-lingusitic research. Even the most brilliant and careful expert on the behavior of the English words 'ought' and 'must' isn't going to convince me that he or she has cracked the secrets of metaethics once and for all if all he or she has is a fascinating and shrewd analysis of the behavior of ENGLISH words. I don't think I can judge how seriously it is appropriate to take a particular fact about English without knowing if the fact is echoed in other languages spoken by people whose "common sense morality" is similar to that of English speakers. Some of these people, these days, speak non-Indoeurpean languages. On the other hand, I hereby express my doubt that you can find a language community to whom some version of the question "does my having a desire for chocolate imply, in itself, that I ought to take the means to get chocolate?" would be an unintelligible question or seem to have a trivial or obvious answer. A nation with no Humeans would be exciting to know!
Steve, thanks for answering! I will have to read your book now, and the studies about other languages. I don't really get you when you say that findings that hang out on the specifics of the language you speak are not problematic "if the questions you asked were influenced by the language you speak". What kind of "influence" are we talking about? Presumably, a Basque speaker and an English speaker can be interested in exactly the same ethical, metaethical, or moral psychological question, search for the truth about it, and differ meaningfully about whether, say, expressivism is true.The question "is expressivism true" is the same for both of them. We have all heard that the "100 words for snow" thing is false (and with it, one version of the "metaphysics of the folk" view). Here is a thought experiment. Or, first, here is a fact: in Basque the word used in ought statements is deeply and transparently connected to need (simple need, as in "cats need meat"). It's pretty much mandatory to use a need-related verb in many ought statements that are not about need. Now for the thought experiment: Imagine that Basque becomes the language of a philosophically dominant nation. In that dominant nation, a bunch of Neo-Aristotelian virtue ethicists shows up one day, all excited by the fact that "We" in "Our Language" (or, "Ordinary Language") connect normativity and need so inescapably: for doesn't it suggest that the moral is what we need to have a good life? In such a scenario, it is next to impossible for us non-Basque non-Aristotelians not to intervene and ask rhetorically: just a moment, who is "We"? What do you mean "Our Language?" Is your language the only one that's Ordinary? I think that would be a legit piece of criticism. The English speaker can legitimately tell the Basque here: you are prejudiced in favor of Neo-Aristotelianism, or at least make a bad argument for it, because you are taking a fact about the Basque language too seriously. To deny that is to risk being a sort of linguistic relativist. Now imagine that English speaking philosophers started talking like the Basque in the example…. Truly hypothetical of course! Now, again, I am ignorant of your book, and from your reply I get the impression that you don't do that. All I am confessing to be confounded about here is your statement that findings that hang on the features of a specific language cannot be thereby problematic.
This is related to the Finlay thread, but I thought it might raise more general questions. One of the most famous sets of normative statements in Western culture would be the Ten Commandments. These were written in a language that... Continue reading
Posted Dec 25, 2014 at PEA Soup
Ben, It seems to me your aversion to being second rate is not the least bit hedonistic. You are intrinsically averse to BEING second-rate, not to FEELING second-rate. You would, if you could press a button etc etc, choose being a first-rate philosopher with low self esteem over being a second-rate philosopher with high self-esteem.
Toggle Commented Jul 20, 2014 on Korsgaard's Good Dog at PEA Soup
Hi Steve, Thanks. It might just be true that we have complementary explanations. Here are a few thoughts. I accept the desire/aversion distinction, but I don't think it can always explain the sense of duty. Just like helping someone for moral reasons does not feel like drinking coffee because you want coffee, telling the truth because of an aversion to lying doesn't feel like killing a roach because you have an aversion to roaches. Well, OK, sometimes it is - but not when the sacrifice you make for morality is so humongous that nobody can say that "not being able to live with yourself" is worse. Let me explain. Suppose I am bothered by a nagging sense of duty to go to the Israeli consulate and renounce my Israeli citizenship. I do not stand to lose much emotionally - I am an identified American - but the process promises to be a serious pain in the ass and involve things of which I have phobias. Maybe what's going on is me being torn by a clash of aversions, and hence the "negative" second layer of motivation - avoiding displeasure rather than pursuing pleasure. What would be more unpleasant, I wonder, going through the pain-in-the-ass process or facing insomnia due to knowing I haven't deleted my name from that population registry? So far I'm with you. However, imagine that the stakes became higher. A person can expect to be tortured by the Nazis if he doesn't "name names". He has a huge aversion to treason, and if he names names he'll never sleep well again. But if he withstands the torture, must we really say that he would have found guilty insomnia more unpleasant than being honest-to-God tortured, or that he expects to find guilty insomnia more unpleasant than being honest-to-God tortured? That would be stretching it. It would require a strange neurology. You can't imagine expecting regular dentist visits to be a certain path to avoiding toothache? Well, I do fully expect it. Even if this example does not work for you, it's true that there can be cases where actions are decisively unpleasant even though they are expected to bring wonderful things about with all certainty. I don't think childbirth will become more pleasant the day it becomes risk-free. What I can't imagine is coming to desire job interviews - or even to desire getting job interviews - intrinsically. I completely agree that sometimes instrumental desires turn intrinsic. You start doing philosophy because you think it will improve you LAST scores and you find yourself desiring it for its own sake. Sure. But getting job interviews? I can see it becoming a matter of self esteem instead of a matter of getting a job, but I can't imagine it desired intrinsically, the way one desires to listen to the Beatles or to play with one's child. Furthermore, back when I was on the market, when I got those calls, I didn't think of it in terms of ego, either. I thought of it in terms of increasing my chances to get a job, even though they offered no certainty. And that caused pleasure. I agree that reluctance is a lot of the phenomenology of duty. Even Kant says that a good will is not called "duty" unless there are mental obstacles to it, aka "inclinations". God acts out of good will, but not out of "Duty" because he does not have inclinations to struggle with. It's true that acting for the sake of a desire isn't desire satisfaction, but still, the thing about dutiful action is that it does not promise any pleasure. Kant emphasizes often that Duty, unlike Inclination, never "holds forth" anything "charming or enticing", and that's how you can tell that it "proudly denies any kinship with the inclinations". People who say "I don't want to do X, but I have to do it" almost always talk about an X that is unpleasant. Philosophers who want to tell me that desire is an inferior motive for moral action always do it by bringing up paradigmatic desires that cause pleasure with their satisfaction, like thirst or a desire for pizza. Brad pressured me on cases where we take on a lot of suffering for the sake of morality. So I think, whatever people's conscious psychological views, "desire" goes with "pleasure" and "duty" with joylessness.
Toggle Commented Jul 20, 2014 on Korsgaard's Good Dog at PEA Soup
Pete, thank you. That's what you think Humeans do? Watch TV? While Kantians work sooooo hard? I think I understand what you mean now, though if that's all you mean, I think that "non-empirical" is a misleadingly melodramatic term.
Toggle Commented Jul 18, 2014 on Korsgaard's Good Dog at PEA Soup
Hi Brad, OK, let me explain my deflationary account of the sense of duty, and then explain a way in which I think it has an advantage over more lofty, non-Humean accounts, using the examples of a Nazi, a saint, and a baseball fan (again). But first, notice what you are doing with your racism example. In order to make my motivation to stand up for racism sound as little like a desire as possible, what do you do? You make sure to remove pleasure from the equation - clarify that, when I stand up to racism, I will incur suffering and not even have the pleasure of of knowing that my action helped someone. This is what I am getting at. We often confused "don't want to do it" with "it wouldn't please me to do it", and thus when something doesn't promise to please us, but we are motivated to do it anyway, it feels pretty strange. When a desire promises only grief then it does not feel like a pull, as a "pull" is the pull of temptation, and temptation is, almost by definition, the promise of pleasure or relief from displeasure. Instead it feels like something that arrest and constrains us - an obnoxious presence in our mind that keeps us from the things that pull us, which we chase a lot of the time, and compels us to action kicking and screaming. When that desire is moral in character - say, a desire for justice for all, or a derivative but still non-instrumental desire that a particular person be treated fairly - then we have the feeling we call a sense of duty. The desire is not simply a state that makes you more likely to act in a certain way, like blind habit or a tic. It is also a state that makes you more likely to feel certain things (e.g watching the person treated unfairly and failing to correct it will make you very sad or angry , while a sudden and utterly unlikely turn in which the racists apologize and go away will make you ecstatic). It even makes more likely to cognize in certain ways (you noticed the injustice happening in the first place - other people would have barely paid attention, because justice isn't something they particularly care about). But does it only motivate you to action just because it is "the strongest functional state?" Well, it's a bit more complicated then that, but the basic answer is "yes". This is a deflationary account, after all! Such a deflationary account of the sense of duty has certain advantages over accounts that say that it somehow has an epistemic, reason-responsive content and it somehow "tracks" real moral duties. One of them is the fact that things other than real moral duties can "compel" us to do things. For example: 1) A Nazi can find himself "compelled" to leave his comfortable house on a cold night so he can kill more children. 2) A morally saintly person finds herself "compelled" to hide a Jew from the Nazis in very dangerous conditions. It is a supererogatory action - and in a way she knows it, because she never blames others who didn't hide people. Nonetheless, if you ask her what motivated her, she said she "had to". 3) A fan of the Red Sox is asked to wear a Yankees t-shirt and offered a bribe. He want the bribe badly, and he gets as far as holding the shirt near his head, but he can't wear it, ever. These three are not motivated by "real" duties, but the sense of being compelled is there just fine, because all three agents swim against the direction their more pleasant desires and the desires for the pleasures these desires bring.
Toggle Commented Jul 18, 2014 on Korsgaard's Good Dog at PEA Soup
Pete, I have akraticaly stayed up till 8am, but I really have to ask you a rather ignorant question. What do you (and some other 21st century Kantians) mean by a "non-empirical" motive or a "non-empirical" faculty of practical reason? You don't mean "part of the noumental world". Neither, presumably, do you intend to imply that, if I were hooked up to an FMRI machine during moral deliberation, nothing would show up on the screen. So I admit - I don't know what you mean…
Toggle Commented Jul 17, 2014 on Korsgaard's Good Dog at PEA Soup
Steve, Thanks. I must admit to Huebris. I was sure that every moral psychologist and her dog knew that when I say "desire for the right and the good" I mean "a desire for the right and the good de re", what with my work and everything. I think it's false that the fact that helping my student does not give me pleasure has to do with the fact that my help does not guarantee his success. I might believe that my visit to the dentist absolutely guarantees the avoidance of next year's potential toothache and it doesn't add a lot of pleasantness to the visit. On the other hand, when I was looking for a job, a call asking for an interview would make my day, even though I had to knock on wood due that the dizzying uncertainty of the enterprise. Maybe you are unique, but as a rule almost nobody looks at a reasonably cheerful young man bursting into bitter hot tears and VISCERALLY thinks "wellbeing increased". One fast-thinks "wellbeing decreased" and then slow-thinks, possibly tells one's self in actual words, that it is all for the best.I don't think having a philosophical theory that tells happiness apart from wellbeing helps much with the matter. I think it's quite apparent that how much pleasure or displeasure a good or bad fact causes you depends, all else equal, on how "viscerally" you know it. This is why killing 50 people through pressing a very distant button is less upsetting to a novice than stabbing or strangling one person is. This why the news of being able to get a loan at 3.4% instead of 3.5% is rarely as thrilling to the home buyer is it should be, even if she "theoretically" knows the difference is huge. Suppose I say "I didn't want to fill out all these forms, but I had to because I wanted to become an American citizen more than anything else". I agree that one way to cash it out is to say that only intrinsic desires are real desires - instrumental ones aren't. However, when I fill out the forms, I am motivated by an intrinsic desire - the desire to become a citizen! True, I suffer from filling out the forms, because it conflicts with some other intrinsic desire that I have. Let's just assume for the moment that I just intrinsically desire to avoid forms. Someone may ask, isn't it true that your desire to become an American citizen is much stronger than your desire to avoid forms? If you are acting on your strongest desire, why are you not feeling like someone who is acting out of her strongest desire? Why is filling out the forms something that you have to "drag yourself" to do if it serves your strongest desire and only conflicts with a weaker one? And this is where I think I can supply an answer. Also, it is possible to satisfy an intrinsic desire without feeling pleasure (you just gave to a charity, which you do often and so take for granted. You have benefited a few starving children in Africa, which you intrinsically desire, but your knowledge that you did so is purely theoretical. On the other hand, the acute anxiety you have, at the same time, about missing your flight is very "real" to you).
Toggle Commented Jul 17, 2014 on Korsgaard's Good Dog at PEA Soup
Everyone: forgive me for being such a bad typist! Peter: you seem to suggest that we can use the word 'desire' to refer to "morally inflected end-choosing for reasons". IMHO it's a little as if, for the sake of peace, you suggested that the word 'evolution' can be used to refer to creation (or maybe the other way around).
Toggle Commented Jul 16, 2014 on Korsgaard's Good Dog at PEA Soup
Brad, Thanks. By hypothesis, my desire for the student's well being in an intrinsic desire - i.e not instrumental to any other desire, including desire for pleasure. I desire the student's welling for it's own sake, not as means for my own pleasure. Of course, if you are a psychological hedonist, and believe that the only intrinsic desire people have is for pleasure, you'll flat refuse to believe me that my desire is intrinsic, and argue that what I really aim at is the warm, fuzzy feeling that I'll get when the student is helped. I think there are several famous lines of arguments that show that genuine intrinsic desire for something other then pleasure can be present in this case. I'll only get into one of them here, as it fits into a short paragraph: Imagine two situations. In situation A, my student is doing well but I am certain he is doing badly, and so I feel pain. In situation B, my student is doing abysmally, but I think he's doing well, and so I feel pleasure. If I prefer A to B, even though A is very unpleasant, than my desire for the wellbeing of my student is not a desire for my own pleasure in disguise. It's perfectly possible that I prefer A to B. This is basically a home-brewed version of the choice presented by Nozick's "experience machine". Of course, even if a desire is intrinsic, its satisfaction can cause pleasure. All I said is that in the student case -just like in the dentist case - it does not result in any immediate pleasure, and is thus different from from a desire for the red sox to win (you feel pleasure at the moment of it's satisfaction) or sexual desire (ditto). I think that's all I need: I don't need to deny that years down the road the satisfaction of the intrinsic desire might have the side-effect of pleasure. But for what it's worth, it's not guaranteed that I get long term pleasure either, and I might know it when I talk to the student. For instance: Perhaps I am the sort of person who takes her good-doing for granted they way she takes electricity for granted, and never stops to relish her actions or their results, and by the time the student is helped (or fails to be helped) I will be worried sick about another student and the whole thing will be out of my mind. Perhaps I suffer from clinical depression of the sort that promises that I will be equally miserable whether I help the student or not (the "woe is me" kind of depression, as one psychiatrist I knew called it) but doesn't get rid of my motivation to act (that, according to the same shrink, would be the "what's the use" kind of depression). Or perhaps the student is about to transfer to a university on Mars, and, being a childish sort, will continue to be angry at me and not update me on whether he failed to finish his PhD there or got a job at a nice, small Martian college. As for your second question, my answer would be deflationary. Suppose I desire to have a horse, but I realize that it's so expensive that I won't be able to visit the Basque Country occasionally and maintain a horse at the same time. I strongly desire to visit the Basque country every so often - so I don't buy the horse. Quite similarly, if I have an intrinsic desire for the right and the good, and the only way to afford a horse is through cheating on my taxes, my desire for the right and the good - if it is strong enough - would trump the desire for the horse, even if the horse would be more fun. Boring, I know….
Toggle Commented Jul 15, 2014 on Korsgaard's Good Dog at PEA Soup
Correction: I defended the view that the the sense of duty that we feel does not show conclusively that it is false that having the right desires is all there is to being virtuous, which, as you say, Korsgaard regards as false.
Toggle Commented Jul 15, 2014 on Korsgaard's Good Dog at PEA Soup
Pete, the view I defended here is not just that a person can enjoy acting from duty. The view I defended here is that the experience of "necessitation" that you are talking about is in a way an illusion, as it is compatible with the non-existence of a motive of duty separate from desire.
Toggle Commented Jul 15, 2014 on Korsgaard's Good Dog at PEA Soup
Happy Bastille Day! One more post for N and M month. Some Kantians make a lot of the fact that often, when we are being moral, we don’t feel like we want to do the right thing, but we do... Continue reading
Posted Jul 14, 2014 at PEA Soup
Thanks, Daniel! I am not going to argue that being moral, having moral desires, or doing the moral thing is always the best for us! True, I always thought Susan Wolf mischaracterizes moral saints by making them all Ned Flanders clones who like to watch "Father Knows Best" and pass the collection plate at church. No morally perfect person would even enjoy a 1950s comedy - too sexist! - and the most moral individual I personally know does not do suburbs, ever. She rescued someone from a would-be rapist by attacking him with a broken glass bottle, and I would rather hear her fascinating adventures than hear most people discuss their tennis, oboe and cooking classes (or their rock band, to give an un-Wolfian example). Despite all that, Wolf is very powerful and persuasive when she argues that for man individuals, moral perfection is not the best life and not the life they want for their children and friends. I don't use the word "virtuous" to mean "has the balance of moral and non-moral ingredients for a good life". It's just personal taste. I find it confusing in contemporary English, even if once upon a time it sounded natural to talk about "a virtuous knife" (try googling the phrase. All you get is a few people trying to explain Aristotle). As for the concept of a rich life, I am sure something good can be done with it, but whoever wants to do it will have to define it first. As things stand I am not sure I want a rich life. I am not a virtue-consequentialist. I don't think what makes a desire virtuous is the fact, if it is a fact, that acting on it would lead to the best results. A desire is a a virtue because its object, the desired thing, is the good or right. Even if you account of the right is consequentialist, your account of virtue needn't be. There might be an agent - dumb, autistic, inexperienced, strangely wired, or situated in a a strange environment - who, through no fault of her own, at least sometimes fails to maximize the good when she follows her virtuous desire, and who, unbeknownst to her, would cause more good if she just stayed home, as it were. That desire is no less virtuous in her.
Oops! Please scratch the word "my guess" in the third paragraph from the bottom. Remained there from a previous thought…. I firmly hold that only an intrinsic desire can make you virtuous. I guess the empirical stuff.
Hi Again, Daniel, Ok, about my view that virtuous persons are persons who intrinsically desire the right and the good. First: I didn’t say “craving”, I said “desire”. At this moment I have many, many desires, but I don’t particularly crave anything. This was double-true at 9AM, because I was asleep. My desires for the well-being of my friends was still there when I was asleep, unable to feel cravings. I reserve the term “craving” for an emotional state, always at least partially unpleasant (“painful”), that can sometime happen when you have been deprived for a while or feel yourself to have been deprived for a while of something you deeply desire, especially (though not always) if the idea of the missing thing appears very vividly in your consciousness (e.g when you used to have and you remember it, or when it’s right in front of you and you can’t have it). Do I think it matters why you desire the right or the good? Well, yes. I think there ought to be no “why”. The desire has to be intrinsic. Not instrumental to anything else (e.g a desire to avoid horrible physical punishment) and not part of a desire for something else (i.e a desire that the Bible be obeyed). Note that I am with Pettit and Smith on “backgrounding desire”. That is, when you act out of a desire for your child’s wellbeing, your reason for action is not “because I desire my child’s wellbeing” but “because my child needs help”. It’s similar to the case of my seeing a cat with a large face and concluding “this is probably a British Shorthair”. My conclusion is only made reasonable by the belief “large-faced cats are usually British Shorthairs”, but my reason for believing is not “Nomy believes that large-faced cats are usually British Shorthairs” but simply “this cat has a large face”. Thus, me acting on a desire for justice does not involve my narcissistically thinking that “Nomy desires justice” is a reason to do it. Now, I don’t think any human starts out intrinsically desiring justice. Luckily, however, desires can shift from instrumental to intrinsic. Perhaps when I meet Peter for the first time I enjoy his charming company. I desire that he be happy because when he is, he is charming and he wants to see me more. Over the years, though, my desire undergoes a transformation: it becomes independent of my enjoyment of Peter’s charm. I find myself desiring Peter’s well being even when it dictates that I should help Peter move to Japan and I won’t enjoy his charm anymore (think of falling in love with someone who is beautiful and can dance but, if lucky, discovering by the time that she has grown too old to dance that you have come to love her independently of these things). A child starts by desiring to help her little brother because she adores the way her parents react when she does it and desiring to share the box of chocolate in a fair manner for similar reason. Overtime, though, the desire transforms itself, and by age 15 she finds herself desiring justice and the wellbeing of others even if her parents die or, like the parents in the novel How to Be Good, start wanting her to be less saintly. Does it mean that I think the Clockwork Orange method can make you a better person? I am too squeamish to ever watch such a movie, but my guess only if it can induce an intrinsic desire for justice (or wellbeing, or whatever). That’s important: a psychopath, congenitally incapable of desiring can probably be made to have the image of super-painful punishment so close to his mind when he contemplates lying that he won’t lie, or he can be made to develop a habit if not lying - the way that someone I know who grew up in a poor country maintained the habit of asking “is there hot water tonight?”, a question he was “conditioned” to ask because it saved him the pain of cold showers. Can an honest-to-God intrinsic desire for truth-telling (or intrinsic aversion to lying) be induced through torture? Well, my guess is it’s not. I received consistent harsh treatment as a kid (not physical, but excessive enough to give me nightmares) for some minor things. That included any minor messiness - leaving a bread crumb on the kitchen counter, say. God knows the harsh treatment did not develop in me the slightest intrinsic desire for cleanliness, though I still have a horrible fear of being judged harshly for minor things, and when I lived in rented apartments I was always afraid of being kicked out. Terror can be a great motivator, but it’s just not very easy to be confused, in the mind of the victim, with an intrinsic desire not to do the thing one is frightened into doing….. But yes, if your desire for justice is intrinsic, I think it doesn’t matter if the source of your intrinsic desire for justice is the unexpected neural effect of a blow to the head. I mean it! There was once an Israeli who was a virulent nationalist extremist who was beaten severely on the head and woke up a whole-hearted, deeply remorseful lefty! And, I think, a better person. I guess I am naturalist to the end.
Daniel: Thanks. I’ll respond to the life-enriching desire thing first and to the clockwork orange later. You guessed right. “Virtuous” for me means a good person. I don’t think the fact that a desire makes your life richer ever, in itself, makes it morally good, or part of the motivational set of a good person. I admit the evidence suggests that people who never care about anyone or who only care about themselves (psychopaths, narcissist) have poor, arid lives – they even complain about it, wondering if they are missing something. Nonetheless, I would guess (with Michael Slote) that the life of creative, clever, imaginative, non-psychopathic property criminal (say, the guy who stole the Mona Lisa, gaining a lot of applause from his fellow Italians) can be much richer than a life free of crime or criminal desires but consisting of a boring 9 to 5 job, 8 daily hours of the inane sort of TV, some Budweiser, etc. I also think that for some people – artists come to mind - life can be greatly enriched by having morally dubious desires (whether they act on them or get tortured by them without surrendering to them). Can you imagine a person who never confronted demons, nay devils, writing Infinite Jest or Crime and Punishment? How about filming The Third Man? Maybe these artists were not happy, but their lives were rich. I don’t get your example. Either it is the right thing to do to protect your child even at the price of causing significant harm to strangers –you have some kind of special obligation - or it isn’t. If it is the right thing to do, the mother in your story, if she protects her child, would be responding to the right-making features of protecting her child. If it ‘s the wrong thing to do – and hence, the mother would do the wrong thing by protecting her child - then you are with me: a life-enriching desire does not always make you a better person. I’ll be back soon!
Hi David, One clarification: I never said all autistic people are good. Only that being good and being autistic are preferably compatible. Have you read/ talked to Neo-Aristotelians lately? A neurotypical teenager whose intentions are as good as can be cannot not qualify as virtuous if cluelessness about the facts of human nature due to lack of experience - and only that - results in screwups on her part. Anyone who is anywhere on the autism "spectrum" is even more clueless. I keep being told - explicitly - that cluelessness is a moral vice….. Note again: if there are autistic people out there who don't care about their fellow human being, they are not my example. There are plenty of those that care. In addition, I understand that kids regarded as "autistic" before the diagnosis became so fashionable were also often profoundly lacking in intelligence - perhaps too much to possess the concepts I think are necessary in order to desire the right and good even de re - concepts like "help" "harm" and so on. I don't claim to be half as knowledgable as you are about the empirical facts. Why I hate the word "spectrum… Well, not quite on topic, but I can't resist answering. I assumed there is an "autism spectrum" for the purpose of the post, but I am skeptic about the very concept. But I am a skeptic. Here is a thought experiment. Consider two children. 1) The Loner. She can't stand being hugged by her parents - a really alien thing for a child. There are strong emotions that she does recognize mostly because she never has them (Grandine says that as a teen she never had crushes and didn't "get them" in others. When she gets a sensory overload, she panics and acts with violence. She would have been diagnosed as "autistic" 20 years ago. 2) The Nerd. He longs to be hugged more. He wants friends. He can easily have a painful crush on the popular girl. Unfortunately, truly abysmal social skills and really "not getting" that science isn't loved by all the way it's loved by him make it impossible for him to get his wishes. He would not have been called "autistic" 20 years ago, but today Nerds are often told they are "on the spectrum". Why assume that the Loner and the Nerd are on the same spectrum - i.e have the same problem to different degrees? The loner has problems or qualities that the nerd does not have to ANY degree. I have yet to be convinced that those problems are even the result of having the nerd's problems to a higher degree, because no amount of social incompetence can make you dislike hugs from your mom. Maybe some evidence would convince me otherwise, but at the moment I just think the "spectrum" is a rash assumption. Thus I suspect sometimes that either there is no "spectrum" - though, among the genuinely autistic, those who are smart can handle their foreign travel lot better than those who are of average intelligence, not to mention low - or there is a spectrum but today's psychiatrist think it's much longer than it can possibly be. Remember some years ago when any kid who had more energy than her dad was considered ADHD? In cynical moments I suspect the spectrum thing is another example of the contemporary tendency to medicalize every problem a person, especially a kid, can have - partially because these days if you can't call a problem a disease nobody would pay for help… But this is off topic…
Thanks, David! First, real quick: I was referring to two separate conditions: autism – one thing – and low intelligence – another. I suggesting ADD might be problematic to. There are plenty of intelligent autistic people in the world. None with practical wisdom, though. I think being a stickler for rules is morally neutral. Just like being what personality psychs call “agreeable” does not equal “kindness”, having what those psychs call a “high conscientiousness score” does not equal justice, respect for persons, or sense of duty. One might, however, be non-blameworthy for being too obsessed with rules, if, somewhat like in OCD, breaking routine causes you abject terror, elemental terror that has nothing to do with normativity, really – being overwhelmed and lost and frail. Some autistic people are like that. Why do I think some autistic people really care about others? Try reading a memoir. The plural of "anecdote" may be “not data”, but it isn’t “not a philosophical example”. I haven't read everything by Temple Grandine (the autism advocate who, when she expresses herself in words, is really likable) but there is the chapter on Temple Grandine in Oliver Sack’s book “Anthropologists on Mars” and her own writings. She is very intelligent, but far enough on the supposed “spectrum” (later on why I don’t like that word) that she dislikes being touched in a friendly way and says she feels like an “anthropologist on Mars” in the world of normals. She points out that normal people are horribly lacking in empathy for anyone whose experiential world is unfamiliar to them and don’t understand, for example, the panicking autistic kid who suffers from sensory overload, and she has, over the years, worked very hard as an activist on behalf of people like herself, which has nothing to do with train schedules, I suspect. She also works to reduce the suffering of animals killed for meat. She says that she suspects nonhuman animals have similar psychologies to her own in some ways and so she can feel their pain to some extent. My former graduate student Nicolas Bommarito quotes one such memoir. Stephanie, diagnosed with Asperger’s and unable to read facial expressions despite her best efforts, says: “Many Aspies [people with Asperger’s Syndrome] tend to be very honest. You might think that that is a really good thing, but it has gotten me into trouble more than once. It has also caused me to hurt people’s feelings, which is something I never, ever want to do”. That's from another interesting memoir, it appears in a book called "first-person accounts of mental illness and recovery". Sure, it is possible that I am taken in by the touching nature of the monologue in the book, but I see no reason to think that the person in question doesn't really mean it when she expresses concern with not hurting others, period. I can't find my copy of the darn thing, but I recall a person who expresses a desire not to hurt others that isn't that different from yours or mine, except that it is paired with bewilderment. When expressing it, she does not use the language of rules or even of morality de dicto. She doesn't sound the least bit like the stereotypical old German who tells you that Order Must Be, though she might be separately concerned with that. Bommarito says: “Stephanie is clearly concerned not to hurt other people’s feelings, but simply has trouble knowing when that will happen. Part of the issue is a non-moral, social vice – one simply finds it difficult to tell when one has hurt another. This happens to non-autistics when they interact with a culture far removed from their own; they do something like stretch out their legs, buy a nice green hat for their newly married friend, or comfort a friend with a pat on the head” He then explains in a footnote: “In much of Southeast Asia, pointing your feel at something or someone important is offensive, as is touching someone’s head (especially when that person is more important than you). In China, buying a married man a green hat implies that you are sleeping with his wife”. (Bommarito’s comparison to travel in Asia fits pretty well with Grandine’s “Anthropologist on Mars” metaphor). Also recommended: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime" (I think that's the title). Fiction, but told from the point of view of someone who worked with autistic kids for many years. The narrator is very intelligent but profoundly screams-and-hits-you-if-you-touch-him autistic. The plot his moved by his feeling that the death of a dog is sad (though he has to deliberate in order to find out that "sad" is the right word for what he feels sad about it) and that killing a dog is as wrong as killing a person is (the language of morality does come into it this time). There are lots of plot twists - I'lll avoid spoilers because I really think it's a great book. The kid also has an obsession with order (his schedule is super-regimented by choice and going on vacation with his parents drives him up the wall), but that is never put in terms of right and wrong, and doesn't seem to have anything to do with what he thinks about the wrongness of killing the dog and of killing persons. So my point was: a person who hurts people unintentionally only because she is condemned, despite much effort, to have about as much of a feel for the feelings of people of her own nation as you would have for those of people in Southeast Asia, is not thereby less good, and surely anyone who gets culture shock at her own back yard is not a phronimos. If it turned out that "aspies" don't really want not to hurt people but only to avoid raising hell - which I doubt, as these people don't lie - then ok, they are not good people. But then, they would fail to be good people NOT because of lack of phronesis, but because of a motivational deficit. And then, there will still be the question of good people of low intelligence, which DO exist. Everywhere. I need to get back to you on the guilt issue. If Stephanie or Temple Grandine don’t feel guilt, it would not change my opinion that they are not worse than you and me. This does, however, raise questions doe me about the nature of guilt. I used to think that guilt is just feeling bad about your wrong, or worse, blameworthy, action, because you generally care about not doing wrong things and being a good person. Therefore, I used to think anyone good who did something bad would feel it. But if it’s in fact true that someone like Grandine, would not feel guilt if she neglects her moral commitments some day, or that Stephanie, who really doesn’t want other people’s feelings, doesn’t feel guilty when she hurts someone, I am going to have to think about whether there is more to guilt – perhaps something more irreducibly “reactive”, more like self-resentment more than just self-blame (I always thought you can blame someone without resenting them). Of course, I only half-trust scientists on telling guilt apart from other things that psychopaths don’t feel – and which autistic people do.
This is definitely work in progress, if you can call it that. Tim Schroeder and I have defended a view according to which even though virtuous people seem different from the rest of us in many ways, it basically comes... Continue reading
Posted Jul 3, 2014 at PEA Soup
Dear all, Any particularists in the house? Here's where I am. I said that doing as a someone says can be morally praiseworthy only if you identified her as a moral expert due to both of you being aware of the right-making features of actions. The fact that she responds to the right-making features of actions means that the action she tells you to perform is likely to have these features. If the normative ethical truth is more complicated than "maximize utility" or "respect persons" than what you know about the probable nature of the action can be disjunctive (e.g that it is an instance of justice or benevolence) or just complicated (it is the most benevolent action that can be performed given the constraints of justice). Then you asked about particularism. Upon reflection, and some joint deliberation with Zach Barnett, I realized I really don't understand how either moral expertise or the detection of moral expertise can happen if particularism is true. I take a moral expert to be someone who can in general be trusted to give spot-on moral advice next time you ask them for some. Look at nonmoral experts for a moment. They seem to be well-versed in patterns and regularities and to derive predictions from there. The same is true of people I think of as "wizards" - people who reliably produce true predictions but don't really know how. These people, too, detect patterns and regularities. If we investigate a putative wizard and discover that there are no patterns that explain her predictions we are forced to conclude that she is not a wizard, just very lucky (people who could predict a lot through Rorschach tests were called "wizards" by their fellow shrinks. It turned out they were great cold readers - like good psychics. But I digress). If particularism is true, especially the extreme sounding version you ask me about, then patterns and regularities are missing when it comes to what makes an action right. There is a unique story behind the rightness of every action. You cannot rule out the possibility that one day you'll run into an action that is right because it increases the beauty of ducks (simpliciter, not because looking at pretty ducks causes pleasure) or even an action that is right because it is cruel. So how can you conclude from the fact that Hans gave correct moral advice in the past that he is likely to give correct moral advice in the future? If one action is right because it respects autonomy and another action is right because it increases the beauty of ducks, how do we expect the same person to be an expert both when it comes to autonomy and when it comes to the beauty of ducks? We can't say that Hans is an expert because he always gets the balance of reasons right, because for a real particularist of the sort you are talking about the right balance methods are also different from action to action. It's hard for our intuitions to break free of the race track analogy, but remember: the ability to detect the very fact that someone has a good moral "track record" with making nontrivial moral decisions depends on having some degree of moral knowledge yourself (quite a bit - nothing analogous is true of a plumber's track record and plumbing knowledge, never mind a tipster's track record and horse knowledge). You need to know something about which actions are right so that you can see that a person made a lot of right decisions. Without pattern-detection, how do you do that? It seems that the only property that you can do induction with here is rightness itself. Perhaps there isn't, strictly speaking, such a thing as a right-making feature and rightness is just a Moore-like property, and if you have moral knowledge you can detect it, thus allowing yourself to think "Hans's actions do have a pattern to them: they have always had the property of rightness, and so they are likely to have it in the future". As far as I can remember, the particularist does not want to believe that only rightness is a right-making feature: she wants to believe there are many, many such features. I don't like the idea of rightness as the only right-making feature, either. So, would anyone who knows more about particularism please explain to me how moral knowledge and expertise (or even wizardry) work in a particularistic setting? OK, I won't make it a long essay after all. Nice to have more questions to think about than I have time to write about.
Toggle Commented Jun 20, 2014 on Moral Concern De Dicto (Again) at PEA Soup
One quick point: race track and moral expertise analogy pretty tricky. Horses only have only one winner-making property - the one brought into being by the rules that say that the horse that completes the race first is the winner. Tipsters might know other properties that winners are likely to have but they are not the winner-making features in the sense of "making" I care about. Thus, race track particularism is unheard of (and also false). . My iPhone is dying - long essay coming up soon.
Toggle Commented Jun 19, 2014 on Moral Concern De Dicto (Again) at PEA Soup