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My problem with this kind of argument is that it doesn't properly address the possibility of error. The argument explicitly (and repeatedly) acknowledges that emotions are fallible. Nevertheless, the argument goes on to base punishment on these fallible emotions.

This is actually representative of a number of free willist views that work the same way (I'm thinking of Dennett's "free will worth wanting"). The fundamental problem is that, by framing the debate in a certain way, the debate's structure invites errors that are subtle and inconspicuous. Because the proponent only makes conclusions about what is likely or appears-to-true, he leaves the backdoor open for erroneous conclusions that have the appearance of truth without further scrunity. The entire structure of the debate encourages people to focus on what merely appears to be true, and to avoid that further scrutiny. That structure eliminates obvious errors, but (by a kind of selection bias), subtle and hidden errors rise to the surface - especially the kind that we want to be true!

To give a concrete example: big revolutions like the Copernican and Darwinian revolution were based on subtle, hidden errors. They were not obvious at the time, at all. By the kinds of logic endorsed here, the errors would have continued until they became obvious.

In the criminal law, we have the principle that we'd rather let 10 criminals go free than punish one innocent man. That's a good principle. But arguments like this, which explicitly endorse the serious possibility of error, are not a proper foundation for punishments in that context. These kinds of arguments are fundamentally incompatible with the "beyond a reasonable doubt"-type principles on which we base criminal justice.

A more satisfying argument would lead to a conclusion of what is actually true, not what is likely true or appears to be true based on fallible indicators.

Sorry for joining the party late. Nice set of posts Tamler!

I agree, however, with Kip. I see no reason why we should take our admittedly fallible emotions as a justification for retributive justice. Sure we have a strong strike-back emotion--an emotion we share with other animals. But why take such an emotion as *justification* for retributive justice? Given the punitive nature of retributive justice, shouldn't the burden of proof be on those who want to defend just deserts, and shouldn't such burden require more than an appeal to our strike back emotion?

(I'm also not clear what justifies premise 2--that "the emotions that motivate our retributive judgments are virtuous." Can you explain that further? Are the emotions that motivate the moral repugnancy argument against homosexuality virtuous? I would think not, but then how do we judge the virtuous nature of an emotion?)

Thanks Tamler, interesting stuff. A quick clarificatory question: how are we to evaluate the virtuousness of retributive emotions? (Depending on the answer, the method in question would seem to point in quite different directions.)

Why do we think that the retributive emotional reactions are virtuous? Suppose a family member is intentionally harmed by some hostile person. In a Jeffrie Murphy-style thought experiment, we compare the retributive reaction to the emotionless one, and we clearly prefer the retributive reaction. But we do so because the retributive reaction indicates love and loyalty by contrast with the indifference that the emotionless reaction suggests. So supposing these are the alternatives, we strongly prefer that the person in question have the retributive reaction, and this is because it’s an indicator of virtues such as love and loyalty. But the specific content of the retributive reaction still faces the challenge that Tamler specifies in his post – it does not aim at well-being, and in this respect it does not seem to differ from the content of a sadistic desire. There’s a nice solution: consider it a good thing (at least prima facie) when relevantly situated people have the retributive reactions, but when it comes to justification of the way the target of the reaction is to be treated, set the content of the reaction aside.

I'm not sure how plausible I find the claim that if a particular moral judgment is motivated by a virtuous emotion then it is likely to be true. It seems to me that it may be pretty common for bad moral judgments to be motivated by virtuous emotions. But this might just be my ignorance regarding how this account is supposed to work; depending on how you answer the question of how to evaluate the virtuousness of emotions (like the emotions that motivate retributive judgments), maybe this won't be such a worry.

Conclusion: PROFIT!!!!

Without a *lot* more explication of step 2 anyway.

Kip, that's a good point. It's possible that the virtuousness condition for the reliable emotion might alleviate some of your worries. But that might just push the problem a step back.

Gunnar, thanks. That's where Moore's is frustratingly vague. What he does is appeal to a bunch of cases and then to our intuitions about the virtuousness of different emotions (outrage, guilt, forgiveness etc). So I suppose it's something like reflective equilibrium when it comes to evaluating virtuousness.

Derk, yeah, I should have been more clear with post. What I want to do here is not argue that any of those premises are true, just that this might be the promising way of defending retributivism (in some form) if those premises are plausible. So a better place to evaluate the methodology is that last summary of the different steps. There the approach seems like it could just as easily lead to your form of (non-consequentialist) anti-retributivism, depending on how the steps turn out. In the next post, I'll suggest that the approach doesn't support the retributive principle as he defines it but rather to some form corrective or restorative principle.

Ryan,a couple things. Number 1, Moore does allow for cases where virtuous emotions produce bad moral judgments. But he thinks that in general, they're a reliable guide to moral truth. And of course, the issue is how you'd know that the judgment produced by a virtuous emotion was bad. Probably it would have to be inconsistent with a lot of other moral judgments produced by virtuous emotions...

Neil, Step 1 is collect underpants.

"That's where Moore's is frustratingly vague. What he does is appeal to a bunch of cases and then to our intuitions about the virtuousness of different emotions (outrage, guilt, forgiveness etc). So I suppose it's something like reflective equilibrium when it comes to evaluating virtuousness".

So if I have emotion X and I'm content that I have emotion X, X is virtuous? It's a pretty small circle. You only get justification out of reflective equilibrium by throwing as much as possible into the hopper.

Neil, step one is collect underpants.

It goes further than being content that you have the emotion.

My worry is that when I think of particular moral debates, I can see positions on either side being motivated by virtuous emotions. Take the abortion debate, for example - someone who is pro-life could be motivated by compassion for what they see as an unborn child, someone who is pro-choice could be motivated by compassion for women, etc. And it seems like there could be all kinds of cases where retributive emotions like outrage or guilt produce bad moral judgments. So I'm just not sure how reliable they are. Even if virtuous emotions produce good moral judgments more often than not, it still seems like there are going to be all kinds of cases virtuous emotions produce bad moral judgments, so it seems like this account would at least have to leave us worried about how justified our retributive judgments are.


Excellent post! I would say yes, this approach (steps 1-4)seems to be the right one, even if Moore's attempt at spelling it out is problematic.

In premise 2 his talk of emotions seems far too coarse-grained. For an emotion to be fitting it must not only be of the right type but it must have the right amount of force. So even if anger is the appropriate or virtuous response in a certain case not any amount of anger will be virtuous. I think this point is important for his argument to move forward and it could serve to fend off some of the worries presented by Ryan. I think this could also be a first response to Gunnar as well.

On a side note (but related) I had a question: Why can't our reasons for punishment be retributivist but our motivations for selecting any particular kind of punishment be consequentialist? Maybe our retributivist emotions set the parameters of what could count as a set of deserving punishments (grounded in some principles that explain desert)and we select the punishment which we think could produce the best consequences from the set given by our retributivist emotions (properly reflected on).

This approach, if it makes any sense at all, would seem to fall in line with what Derk mentioned. It would allow us to justify why we are engaged in punishment while not letting the retributivist emotions, on their own, dictate how the target of the reaction ought to be treated.

Greg, see my reply to Derk. (Greg's comment went to spam so I'm only seeing it now. For everyone, if a comment doesn't come up, chances are that's what happened. I've never censored a comment. Please email me if you don't see your comment and see several that were posted after yours.)

Ryan, can you say more about how we would know that a virtuous emotion is producing a bad moral judgment? The only way I can think of of is that it the judgment would be inconsistent with a lot of judgments we hold to be true. But we'd hold those judgments to be true because they were the motivated by virtuous emotions. As far as I can tell, that's how it's supposed to work anyway.

Justin, thanks. "For an emotion to be fitting it must not only be of the right type but it must have the right amount of force. So even if anger is the appropriate or virtuous response in a certain case not any amount of anger will be virtuous."

That sounds right. I'm hoping to post part II on his account today, so let's see if it can accommodate your point.

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