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01/21/2013

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Hi Tamler - ok, good, let's focus on dogs. Did we ever discuss dogs on Flickers (or the late Garden)? This seems worthwhile doing, e.g. can they be reasons-responsive in a robust enough sense so that compatibilists will attribute free will to them? At risk to my nose, I still want to persist. It seems to me that you are grateful to the dog not only because (a) your child was saved, and (b) dogs are arguably creatures to whom certain emotional responses like gratitude seem appropriate, unlike cars. We still need to clarify that last one (is it that they have emotions? intentions? A personality? but never mind). Beyond that, it seems that in your story what plays a crucial role is the dog's agency. The dog stayed with your child and guarded it, and so on. But then, after you are over the scare, and some time has passed, can't we question that agency, and whether it is enough for true gratitude? Is a dog the sort of thing where if it does this and that, it makes sense to be grateful?

Let's try out a less happy story. Your child is missing, and it turns out that your dog attacked and killed it. Let's assume that the dog isn't dangerous anymore, so there is no forward-looking reason to harm it. Still, you want to kill that dog. I stop you, and say that while I understand your emotional reaction, dogs are just not the sort of creatures that deserve to be reacted to and treated in that way. So no, it won't be killed even after a trial. In fact, it won't even be punished. In fact, there won't be a trial. In fact, there even won't be any adverse reaction. Dogs are just not the proper focus of real disgratitude. They lack the required agency and free will, they are not responsible and blameworthy in a sufficiently robust way, whatever they do. If this is persuasive, then it makes your story much less plausible. (I am assuming you won't want to go for a Wolf asymmetry view of the appropriateness of reactions to dogs.)

How do we decide? Maybe it's a bit too early for that question. I am still not sure whether you are (on my view) too permissive in terms of your standards for gratitude, or over appreciative of dogs, for example. But otherwise, we do seem to be in trouble: I find your dog example a reductio of your position, and you want to punch me on the nose...

Saul, there's no question that I have many deeply inappropriate attitudes towards dogs. I just don't think gratitude is one of them. I like your case of the dog deserving punishment--and I agree with you that this would not be appropriate even if if I felt that way at the time.

But this is only a problem for me is you're mistaken in your assumption that I "won't want to go for a Wolf asymmetry view of the appropriateness of reactions to dogs." Actually, I might want to go for something exactly like that. Gratitude is different from resentment. Resentment is not "disgratitude," as you put it.

Regarding the resolvability question, you write: "I find your dog example a reductio of your position." I'm not surprised, because this isn't the first time that's happened! We've both used the same example in our work (Firemen going into the towers on 9/11) to make precisely the opposite points about gratitude and moral worth. ("One man's reductio...") We just don't see gratitude the same way at all, even though we agree about a lot of other things. Which is why the question of what could settle the dispute is interesting.

Let me put it this way: clearly, there are some attitudes or feelings that don't admit to the kind of analysis you want to apply to gratitude. Arousal, for example. Imagine that someone says they're aroused by online pornography. And then a philosopher comes along and says that pornography is not the kind of thing that one can be aroused by. Arousal is only appropriate when the object of arousal is present in flesh and blood. One cannot be aroused by something on a computer screen--that is not a proper focus of genuine arousal.

You'd agree that this philosopher has missed the point about arousal, that the philosopher is overintellectualizing something that's natural and doesn't require external justification--right? So the question is: how do we distinguish cases like this from cases like, say, resenting computers or hamsters, where it seems like we can question the appropriateness or genuineness of the attitude?

My tentative view is that a feeling or attitude is appropriate if it has some staying power and is not grounded in false beliefs or assumptions. Which is why for me gratitude survives the analysis. I have no illusions about libertarian agency in dogs. And yet (in that scenario) I would continue to feel grateful to Charlie, even after the euphoria of finding my child faded. So why wouldn't that apply to resentment? Because upon reflection, after cooling down a bit, any resentment I feel towards dogs fades away. That doesn't happen (for me) with gratitude but it does with resentment.

In the end, unsurprisingly, I guess I don't think there's a fact of the matter about this question...

Tamler, sorry to jump into this discussion so late but I had a question about your last claim in response to Saul, specifically when you said, "My tentative view is that a feeling or attitude is appropriate if it has some staying power and is not grounded in false beliefs or assumptions."

Suppose someone doesn't draw the same conclusion after cooling down and their resentment towards dogs (or little babies) does not fade away and that this alternate conclusion "is not grounded in false beliefs or assumptions". Is it then appropriate (for them) to hold resentment? To say 'no' one would have to appeal to some sort of metaphysical underlying condition, I assume, conditions you want to deny(?). As it seems that you want to shy away from those conditions I assume that you would just want to say yes, your view implies that response, at least to me. But that seems, well, wrong. Surely, little babies (or dogs) do not deserve to be treated with resentment, but, if I understand your position, we lose our ability to say such treatment is wrong or ill-advised? Or, maybe, I have just missed something important here. Either way, if you could speak to this point it would be quite helpful so I could better understand your position and what it entails.

Your last sentence suggests your skepticism about grounding a fact of the matter. Does this mean that as long as anyone has an attitude that is enduring for some decent length of time that it is appropriate for them to have such an attitude (assuming the 2nd condition of your tentative view has been met)?

I’m concerned that when we give up or step back from a desert based notion that underlies or justifies our practices and attitudes that we are forced to forever be at a stalemate with cases like this. I guess I’m not ok with people resenting little children and dogs and feel that your view, as well as most varieties of the view that I have come across, weaken my ability to object to such behavior with any force. Consider another case. Let’s call it “Whacked-out dad”.

Imagine a dad walking around pissed off at his 7 month-old child weeks after the child made him miss the superbowl because the child was having a tantrum that inhibited him from going out with friends to watch the game. On your view his attitude is as justified (or appropriate) as yours regarding the dog. This seems quite unintuitive, at least by my lights.

Hey Justin,

Very good questions. It's concerns like this that makes me extremely tentative about endorsing that view, a lot of bullets to bite. At the same time though, notice that your objection is that my view leads to counterintuitive results. So I take it, then, that you couldn't be a whacked-out Dad. Not after you calmed down and thought things through. And if people are similar enough to you in this respect, then they couldn't be the whacked out Dad either. And if that's right, then you're only dealing either with a possible world objection or at any rate with outliers. I think I can live with that.

On the other hand, if you're not similar to other human beings in this respect, then what grounds do you have for calling their attitudes inappropriate? What access to the realm of appropriateness do you have that they lack? It's my inability to answer these questions that leads me to the 'no-fact-of-the-matter' view.

Finally, note that you had to go to resentment to make this reductio as strong as possible. So an asymmetric view, which would regard gratitude in this way but maybe not resentment, would still be in play.

Hi Tamler - this started out with my saying that free will was relevant to friendship (because appreciation matters to friendship, and appreciation depends upon FW) - at least sometimes, and in some kinds of friendship. You then said that this was just manifestly crazy, and chose the for you favorable ground of gratitude. But since then you seem to have been climbing down quite a lot, or so it seems to me. You seem to "lower" gratitude to a level that would be appropriate also for dogs, admit that your move depends upon an asymmetry (this must be a weakness in a view), and also say that there is no fact of the matter. Am I right that now you don't think that my view is so demonstrably crazy?

Well, I never said it was "demonstrably crazy," just crazy. Craziness is like gratitude, it resists external rational justification. But no, I don't think my view on that has changed. I also don't think I've "lowered" gratitude just by conceding it would be appropriate for dogs. And if we can feel grateful to dogs, then we can obviously feel grateful to or appreciate friends. I'm not sure I understand your question: how have I been climbing down? Why would any of this indicate a change in my view?

Tamler - apologies for the delay in replying, couldn't reply earlier. Perhaps this is too far back in Flickers to pursue further here, but just a few words, not to leave your comments in the air. Ok, I thought you were climbing down, but if not then my mistake. My basic idea is that thoughts about the absence of free will, as a form of understanding what happened in a different way, can undercut reactions such as gratitude. One comes to have the old free will worries about the praiseworthiness of one's friend, and hence of whether gratitude makes sense. So for me, if dogs have no free will, then either we have two types of gratitude here, or your evaluation of gratitude is unacceptable.

Similarly, you seem happy with an asymmetry but asymmetries seem problematic (and clearly you don't have nor desire a Wolfian Reason-based justification for an asymmetry here). If your grounding is a P.F. Strawson reactive attitudes stance, then I see no reason to think that P.F. himself thought that an asymmetry could be defended. So you would also need to do further work here to defend this.

In any case, thanks for the good discussion.

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