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07/02/2013

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Hi Eddy,

A very intriguing first salvo! I had a clarificatory question about how you understand the pluralism you're considering.

You're focused on the following claim:
"(b) it is very likely, as a contingent feature of complex human nature and a wide diversity of cultural histories and geographies, that there are more than one (roughly) equally good systems of morality and responsibility."

From what perspective does one evaluate the systems to come to a comparison of "equally good"? Mustn't there be a shared metric of value between systems Alpha and Beta such that they are equally good? And if there's a shared metric of value, doesn't that put pressure on meta-skepticism directly? If so, the meta-skeptic might take you to be begging the question. Even if this isn't the case, I'd like to hear more about how one should understand pluralism about 'systems of morality'.

Ok - so, that was more than "a" question...

The only good moral responsibility system is a dead moral responsibility system. OK, having gotten that off my chest: Great post, really fascinating issue that helped me get a little clearer picture of some troubling issues (or at least makes me imagine I am now a bit clearer on these issues, which is close enough). In any case, Tamler’s work on these questions made them much clearer for me, and now your meta-analysis of Tamler’s work makes them meta-clear (though I also feel in danger of being overwhelmed by meta-meta-non-skepticism – sort of like how I feel when I try to do a third order Frankfurtian reflection on whether I really approve of reflectively approving of my desire to read Flickers posts).

On the question you raise, it seems plausible to suppose that some form of pluralism is true, but I’m not sure that it follows that “there are more than one (roughly) equally good systems of morality and responsibility.” Rather, there are systems that are better suited for different conditions; and in fact, that is what you seem to suggest in a later paragraph: “If humans are in context A, then X is the best system of morality and MR”. Thus (by my lights) our moral responsibility system was probably an optimum system in the 17th Century: It was a big improvement over the honor system, it promoted a sense of control and self-efficacy and internal locus-of-control (which was an important advance over fatalistic systems and “pre-destination” systems of belief); and at that time, there was not much that we really understood about human behavior and its causes, and so it was not much of an impediment to developing a scientific understanding of human behavior (we had so much to learn about human behavior that the idea that some special elements of human behavior were not naturally explicable did not pose any significant limit on inquiry). Under that system, there are indeed “facts about when agents are properly considered free and responsible” (Bernie Madoff and Robert Harris both qualify). And there is also “progress within any given system”: recognizing insanity as a legitimate excuse, for example, made the MR system better. But now, with our much more advanced understanding of human psychology, the MR system that was once a good fit is now a burden that limits our inquiries and inhibits the application of our understanding to improvements in social structure (the insistence that someone justly deserves punishment impedes better methods of improving the person’s character and behavior and blocks understanding of the causes of that behavior). And using the model you suggest, we can go further: Smilansky’s reluctance to abandon the MR system is based in his belief that we have not in fact reached a level of understanding that enables us to move into a better system beyond the current MR system; and (maybe) Vargas’s plan to “build better beings” is predicated on the idea that given the sorts of animals we in fact are, the general methods of the MR system are the best tools we have for fashioning improvements. And perhaps Jon Haidt (and maybe Christopher Boehm) would insist on something even stronger: other beings might well flourish in a new system that would abandon our current MR system, but human beings – as foraging animals with limited cognitive capacities and strong emotions – are not well-suited for a new system. Certainly it would follow, as you note, that “we’d need a ton of empirical information to understand these conditionals”; and that seems to me precisely the key point that Neil was making last month.

Still, though this approach pushes us to look at these questions in a more subtle manner, I am not sure that it “raises some problems for first-order skepticism about desert and retributive punishment”; after all, even if we conclude that our species can never move beyond our crude MR system, it would not follow that we cannot note that some of its policies involve fundamental unfairness and cruelty. (Likewise, if we discovered that our species is incapable of getting beyond tribalism and ethnic preferences, and that a system of tribalism is the best we can do, it would still be important to note the unfairness and cruelty in that system, and thus do what we can to mitigate and protect against it.) But perhaps I’m confused about what is possible in “first-order” reflections; as I’ve already confessed, when I start thinking about various orders, my head starts to spin. But I’m not confused in thinking this is a fascinating and very thought-provoking post, Eddy; many thanks.

Tamler's argument appears to this realist to be the mother of all non-sequiturs. Why should we drawn ANY conclusions from such obviously false claims as those made by honor culture proponents. If you can stomach it, read a few passages from Hunter S. Thompson's Hell's Angels then tell me what lessons can be learned from those who live that way except that they themselves are demented.

Is it merely intuition mongering to reject as false those systems the practical effects of which offend the great majority of men? Why not start instead from common sense, a la Aristotle and see if we can arrive at something approaching reflective equilibrium? This approach not only offers hope of realizing the truth on such matters; it also has the virtue of not requiring us to take seriously every Tom, Dick, and Harry with an ax to grind against someone.

I have defended value pluralism in print myself. But I don't see how it gets a problem with responsibility skepticism. It certainly blocks one argument for skepticism: an argument from diversity. But it leaves others untouched. It might buy you the following conclusion: even if one notion of moral responsibility is false, other notions - instantiated in other cultures - may not be. But that's not a conclusion that the skeptic need deny. The skeptic defines a particular notion and targets that.

For what it's worth, I see a parallel between Tamler's argument and the standard response to moral relativism from diversity. Yes, the Intuit practiced infanticide, but that's not because they did not value human life, its because they lived in circumstances that made infanticide a less bad option than alternatives. That response is compatible with accepting that moral norms are universally binding. But it doesn't get you what Tamler wants: that different ways of behaving are equally good. Rather, it gets you the following: if you live in circumstances that are very far from optimal, you may be forced to adopt practices that respond to them. We can't conclude from the Inuit example that we have no reason to prefer one package of options (decent health care, long life expectancy, a welfare system and a ban on infanticide) over another (a precarious existence in a marginal environment and no ban on infanticide).

I don't want to turn Eddy's excellent (if poorly-titled) post into a debate about my book, since Eddy is accepting the central thesis, at least for the sake of argument.
But real quick:

1. Robert, no one is being asked to draw conclusions from "such obviously false claims as those made by honor culture proponents." A well-functioning honor culture is one example of a group with very different attitudes and norms about responsibility. If you don't like that example, there are plenty of others. And if any system offends the great majority of men, it's our system. The modern individualist (control-obsessed) conception of responsibility is very recent and culturally local. We're the outliers not the majority.

2. Neil, seems like your proposal only works if you accept that every other culture operates under circumstances that are "very far from optimal" relative to ours. I'm not sure people in, say, Southeast Asia would agree with that. And I don't see any reason to think that's true. For pluralism to be a live option, all you would need is a limited number of groups with fundamentally different responsibility practices that operate under (roughly) equally optimal circumstances, right?

OK, on to the post itself.

Bruce, you write: "after all, even if we conclude that our species can never move beyond our crude MR system, it would not follow that we cannot note that some of its policies involve fundamental unfairness and cruelty."

I don't think Eddy or anyone is denying that. But noting that some policies in an MR system involves unfairness and cruelty isn't the same as reject MR systems entirely, right? I think Eddy's proposal suggests that there is more than one conception of MR that can be considered fair, non-cruel, and lead to flourishing.

Eddy, I'd love to hear how you reply to Matt's question. Can you reject pluralism about the ultimate conception of the flourishing or "the good" but retain it for responsibility norms?

"Neil, seems like your proposal only works if you accept that every other culture operates under circumstances that are "very far from optimal" relative to ours [...] For pluralism to be a live option, all you would need is a limited number of groups with fundamentally different responsibility practices that operate under (roughly) equally optimal circumstances, right?"

For my proposal to work, it must be true that every culture that offers a viable account of responsibility that is genuinely in competition with ours operates under far from optimal circumstances. We may be able to (a) object that some incompatible conceptions are best in far from optimal circumstances or (b) object that some conceptions have costs of their own that make them less attractive or (c) object that a conception of responsibility is not genuinely in competition with ours. I am not sure that you can't meet the challenge on the basis of the evidence you present, but a lot of work seems to be done by honor cultures in the book.

Happy Independence Day! (I’d considered trying to write a post about connections between the sort of free will we typically discuss here and the Freedom represented by our July 4th holiday or by the current revolutions in Egypt, but nothing jelled—perhaps some of you can help.)
I also apologize for my tardy response. I blame it on jetlag, two “campless” kids this week, plus, as always, Tamler (we taped a podcast yesterday for Very Bad Wizards yesterday—should be out before end of month). I wonder: if it were possible to get from our existing system of responsibility, desert, and punishment to Pereboom Peak (the system aimed for by at least some skeptics about basic-desert-level FW and MR), what exactly would I be doing when I offer excuses like these? What would remorse or apology involve exactly? This post was motivated in part by my difficulty understanding the details of how things would look in a post-desert world and my hunch that we’re more likely to move in the right direction by thinking in terms of *degrees* of freedom, responsibility, and desert than by suggesting an all-or-nothing skepticism. (Yet Pereboom does offer lots of useful details, some of which look more like alterations by degrees than revolutionary replacement.)

OK, enough stalling. I knew I’d have to say it sometime in this thread, but I didn’t know it would be in response to the very first comment (Matt’s): “Meta-ethics is hard!” I’m not sure how the pluralist is able to compare the relative value of different moral (and moral responsibility) systems. My suggestion was that the ‘shared metric’ of value would be human well-being and flourishing, which are pretty vague metrics, I admit. But I find it plausible (with Aristotle!) that there are facts about (a) some humans flourishing more or less than others and when and why (e.g., which have lived a better life than others, all things considered, when our lives are going better and worse, etc.), and facts about (b) what systems, practices, beliefs (e.g., about control, responsibility, desert) promote such flourishing more or less than others. And I find it plausible that (a) and (b) are entirely consistent with the fact that (c) given the diversity of human “contexts” (i.e., cultures, geographies, histories, and consequent psychologies), there will be different systems best adapted for different contexts, and also (d) it will likely be difficult to alter systems substantially, at least not without altering contexts accordingly.

Still lots of vague suggestions, but hopefully enough for me to say to Bruce that I agree we’ve come a long way in improving our MR practices, but I’m not convinced that those improvements have been motivated by a general skepticism about FW or desert rather than, as you suggest, a better understanding of the specific facts that limit some people’s capacities for control or opportunities for exercising those capacities. Again, I see such modifications as good ones that occur within the “participant stance” and I can’t really see how they would be made if we took the “objective stance” that seems to erase distinctions of degrees of desert by taking us to a Peak where there is no genuine desert.

I’m hoping this sort of response addresses Neil’s points too, but maybe Tamler will help with Neil. It is likely our current legal system is not even ideal for our non-optimal circumstances. But if you accept pluralism, what gets you the conclusion that the optimal overall package will be one that says basic desert is unjustified? What allows the claim that desert is ultimately unfair?

Eddy: Great stuff, lots to ponder. I think pluralism is the way to go, but I worry that your (a), about there being normative facts determining which systems are better than others, is reaching for just the kind of externalist justification I (following Strawson, of course) don't think is possible (or rather, to look for a justification of this kind is akin to looking for an inductive justification for using inductive reasoning). Whatever systems we have of this sort form the background constraints/conditions on a particular way of life, namely, one of interpersonal relations and recognition.

But all of that is perfectly compatible (as Strawson noted) with there being diverse forms of life in different human societies. So how to account for this?

Here's a way I like to go. We have, qua humans, certain basic cares and commitments, and these are what structure our moral responsibility (MR) systems. In their most general (universalized) form, they are about how others view us (note the vague formulation). In Strawson's terminology, these are cares about the quality of others' wills. But (and this is a huge "but") "quality of will" is multiply ambiguous: sometimes it refers to the sort of regard people have for us (this implicates matters like empathy), sometimes it refers to the qualities of *judgments* that people make about the worth of various reasons, and sometimes this refers to the quality of *characters* people have. There are different possible explanatory (but not justificatory) grounds for each interpretation (some have to do with predictability in coordinating activity, others have to do with cementing bonds of community, etc.).

These different basic commitments are present to some extent pretty universally, I think, insofar as the *responses* to these different qualities of will are more or less natural human sentiments (e.g., anger, regret, admiration, and so forth). But where we get pluralism is in the differential ways in which each of these qualities is emphasized or de-emphasized in different cultures/ways of life. There are some cultures (ancient Greece, e.g.) where character is what matters most, whereas in contemporary western culture, regard and judgments are highly prized.

Within each system, then, different capacities will also be emphasized or de-emphasized (and these competencies may be purely internal or external -- a la Sneddon's insightful paper -- or a combination of both). Justifications for different responses, though, crucially, will still be internal to the system. Thus the possibility for improvement within systems.

Honor cultures, on a construal like this, will be perhaps analyzed in terms of a strong emphasis on the quality of character interpretation of "quality of will," where the various things that may reflect on character are external to me (e.g., what members of my family do). Here is where mistakes might be pointed out: what you care about w/r/t character, we, or those within the system may say, may not in fact be a function of what other people do.

On this view, responsibility is very much like humor: a universally (and pretty distinctly) human enterprise, grounded in various of our (culturally and biologically) evolved sentiments and sensibilities, but with many variations depending on local emphases and de-emphases.

Or at least that's the story I'm going with this week.

Hi Eddy--great post. I can always tell a great one by the quality of comments elicited, and so far you've got a dandy. Too bad I feel tempted to put an end to all that!

I'm actually going to address your first semi-serious remark about today (the 4th; Neil will have to contemplate the past!) and free will. I have argued in my classes--and one public presentation to the Madison department back in 2005--that metaphysically any kind of freedom can be located as a layer in a sort of metaphysical "onion" (no connection, unfortunately, to The Onion, which coincidentally started in Madison). So political freedom (the 4th's) is located on an outward layer, overlaying social freedom, which in turn overlays physical freedom. Each layer is identified by two factors in relationship: an ability factor and an opportunities factor. Since we'er talking about human freedom the ability factors are always attached to either individuals or groups of people. Opportunities are more external in some sense. With political freedom, you have to bring abilities to the table to vote, speak freely, etc. A government must provide any opportunities to do so (or not). That of course requires as a necessary condition some sort of social freedom to interact with others (assembly, someone to vote for, etc.). Social freedom in turn is dependent on physical freedom (sometimes compensated for in certain instances of inability by help from others physically) in some minimal way (even Stephen Hawking has to physically blink to activate his computer). So metaphysically there is downward asymmetrical dependence of outer layers of freedom on inner layers. IF there is a core of mental freedom deeper than physical (which, e.g., the old-fashioned compatibilists denied ), then presumably at least some physical/thus social/thus political freedom is dependent on it. In some ways my argument (developed in independence (pun)) reflects some of Pettit's thesis about the layering of freedom in his A Theory of Freedom. He doesn't develop the metaphysics, however, though I'd argue that my view is pretty consistent with his arguments.

I bet you didn't think anyone would take you up on your challenge! I've had no chance to get the full monty of my argument into print yet, but maybe someday.

Anyway, I'm going to throw a ribeye on the barbie and partake of Leiter's first-ranked-polled 4th activity. Happy holiday to my American friends, and a toast to a great summer day for everyone.

Eddy,
Can you explain this inference?

"There are no non-relative facts about moral responsibility. It might follow that if one takes free will to refer to whatever control conditions or capacities are understood as necessary to be morally responsible, there are no non-relative facts about free will either."

Why think that "might" follow? Isn't it *consistent* with
(A) there being no non-relative facts about responsibility
that
(B) there are non-relative facts about free will
even understanding free will as whatever "control condition or capacities" are necessary for moral responsibility?

If those are consistent then what you say "might" follow doesn't follow. Even if one thinks it's unlikely that (B) given (A) that's different from them being inconsistent. And I'm not sure why anyone would think that (B) is unlikely given (A). Maybe (B) follows from (A) given some additional premise? But that wouldn't show that (B) follows from (A).

Thanks Eddy. Just a quick response. First, let me admit that there is something here I find attractive. The idea we see in some Strawsonians (for instance) that we are beings with a certain psychological nature and that nature entails that only certain ways of living are possible strikes me as absurdly parochial. Imagine an anthropologist who visited the planet Earth around 10,000 BC. She might have concluded that human nature entails that people must live in small groups of mainly kin. The development of agriculture and the subsequent growth of cities would have made her look a right fool. Of course a number of evolutionary psychologists think we are adapted for small group life, but even if that's true in some sense, and if it is true that we pay a psychological cost for living in enormous communities, it is also clear that we reap really significant benefits as well. So I think human ways of life are and can be incredibly diverse, and psychological dispositions alter in significant ways as ways of life alter.

That is to concede that parochial intuitions about fairness might be doing a lot of work in motivating me (though I don't appeal to fairness at many points: it does most of its work in arguing against non-historical accounts of responsibility). On the other hand, I share your broadly Aristotelian conception of what makes life go well, and it seems to me that that broadly Aristotelian conception is also consequentialist at base. That is, justifying a set of practices on the basis that those practices promote flourishing entails giving up the idea of basic desert: the justification is of the wrong kind.

Eddy,

I agree that your Aristotelian (a) and (b) are plausible. (Perhaps not coincidentally, I see nothing wrong with inductive justifications of induction, and think some deductive justifications of deduction are downright awesome.) And yet I want to offer an alternative, superior in my estimation, that will still get us your pluralist conclusions.

Discourse theory meta-ethics as developed by, for a good example, Seyla Benhabib in Situating the Self, gives us something kind of parallel to (a) and (b). That is, there are some features of moral reasoning that are essential to the practice and are not normatively neutral. (a') Everyone in the moral discourse must be free to participate, every proposed moral rule or virtue must be subject to evaluation, and so on. The rational acceptance of a rule or virtue by a particular community depends in part (b') on the very logic of discourse, and on features that all humans have in common, but it also depends in part (c') on the forms of life to which those people are accustomed.

Though Tamler’s assembles a compelling case in his book for fundamental diversity of moral responsibility practices, I remain unconvinced. There are two lines of evidence I would highlight: 1. judgments about moral responsibility are tightly interlinked with a web of action-theoretic concepts and judgments. These encompass abstract theory of mind notions (beliefs, desires, intentions), agency notions (act, outcome, omission, side-effect), and sophisticated related notions such as causality and intentionality. This entire action theoretic apparatus is deployed by very young children without explicit instruction (how could it even be taught?), develops reliably across individuals within groups, and appears to be present across all known human groups. In short, we have good Chomsky-style reasons to believe the whole action theoretic apparatus is innate and universal. Cognitive scientists and others have argued along these lines, including most recently Mikhail. Neuroscientific evidence is also starting to emerge. I think the weight of empirical evidence (what little there is) favors this sort of Universalist view over Tamler’s fundamental diversity view. 2. it is difficult to make inference from diversity of MR practices to diversity of underlying concepts/notions. This isn’t news to Tamler—he is well aware the inference is vexed. Here is an observation that I at least find quite compelling that cuts against Tamler’s view: Take a responsibility system that (apparently) diverges from our own. Notice there appears to be a pressure that exists in such systems to rationalize the practices in a characteristic way. For example, where a man is held responsible for the conduct of his brother, the notion of a “character stain” is invoked that transfers from the perpetrator to his kin. This suggests simply saying the man is morally responsible for what his brother did, full stop, is not enough—this assessment by itself is viewed as somehow ‘infelicitous’. Rather, there is a pressure to produce certain justifications—in this case involving a fictional notion of a ‘kin-transferring character stain’—to rationalize the judgment. This suggests the application criteria internal to the responsibility judgment are *not* met without invoking the fiction. This in turn bolsters the Universalist case that behind the surface diversity of practices, there is underlying universality of concepts/notions.

Fritz, thanks for joining in (and reminding us that ‘follows from’ sometimes means ‘logically entails’). I see that you think the answer to my question #1 is no. That I used “might” and that I posed that question indicates my uncertainly about what meta-skepticism about MR logically entails about FW. But here’s roughly what I had in mind:

Suppose one MR system is Pereboom Peak, on which people’s beliefs and practices include acceptance of the following: MR requires FW, FW refers to the set of capacities required for MR, MR requires agent-causal powers, humans lack agent-causal powers (hence they lack MR and FW), though they have lots of ‘compatibilist capacities’ like reasons-responsiveness that are sufficient for various ‘analogues’ of reactive attitudes, etc.

Another MR system is Fischer Peak, on which people’s beliefs and practices include acceptance of the following: MR requires FW, FW refers to the set of capacities required for MR, MR requires reasons-responsiveness (though not agent-causal powers), humans lack agent-causal powers though they have reasons-responsiveness (hence they have MR and FW).

On Tamler’s view, there is no fact of the matter about whether Pereboom Peak or Fischer Peak is correct about MR. If so, doesn’t that entail that there is no fact of the matter about which is correct about FW—i.e., about what it refers to and about whether humans have FW?

On my pluralist view, both Peaks could be correct in that each might exist in a ‘context’ such that its set of MR practices works to enhance human flourishing better than other MR practices would in that context. If so, doesn’t that entail that both are correct about the meaning and existence of FW? And that’s true even though they both agree about what capacities humans have (e.g., reasons-responsiveness) and lack (e.g., agent causal power)?

I would not be surprised if I’m making some mistake here even on the assumption of meta-skepticism or pluralism, so please let us know if you think I am.

I also suspect you think both Tamler and I are wrong about meta-skepticism or pluralism (I’m not sure about either). But I’d be interested to hear what you think about my third question. If pluralism is right (and at least some correct systems could be compatibilist), doesn’t that entail that compatibilism is true, given what you helpfully taught us about incompatibilism being a necessity claim?

Thanks for all the interesting comments, especially about possibilities for pluralism, and sorry for my brief responses.
Alan, nice pickup on the 4th of July challenge. I think it would be useful for more free will theorists to consider connections to freedom more broadly construed, so I look forward to seeing your view developed.

Paul, thanks for the suggestion from Benhabib (I fear a book with “Postmodernism” in the title—is my fear unjustified?)

David, very nice explanation for the possibility of pluralism. I really like the analogy to humor.

Chandra, I’m inclined to agree with much of what you say—but do you take it to undermine pluralism too? Using the humor analogy, couldn’t it be the case that we have lots of innate and universal capacities that give rise to humor but that the way it gets instantiated varies significantly across contexts? And same for MR?

Neil, I agree we should avoid parochialism. And with the possibilities for (neuro)enhancement and unforeseeable technological advances, who knows what might be possible for humans in the next century (if we survive!). But I couldn’t quite understand your last paragraph. In any case, before this thread dies, I’d like to push the challenge for skeptics—even if Pereboom Peak represents a good system given a particular context, what justifies saying it is better than a compatibilist system, if we assume pluralism?

Chandra, thanks, that's helpful. Question though: even if you have cross-cultural agreement on our fundamental action-theoretic concepts and judgments, that doesn't get you to universalism about moral responsibility judgments, right? Yes, our responsibility judgments are "tightly intelinked" with action theoretic judgments but they might be tightly linked in different ways. Specifically, it might be the some cultures think certain action-theory related capacities are necessary for moral responsibility while others do not. Or, very plausibly, some cultures might emphasize certain capacities more than others in their responsibility judgments so that judgments about degrees of responsibility would differ. Of course, there still might be better and worse systems but not a singe ideal or objectively true or "rational" one.

Dave, I love the humor analogy too. Have you fleshed that out in detail anywhere? It works on this level too: that it's mistake (even though people have tried) to come up with a set of necessary and sufficient conditions for what makes something funny. Maybe that's the case for "what makes someone responsible" as well. Which might be why things tend to get messed up whenever someone tries to cram P.F. Strawson's account into that kind of structure....

@Eddy: "even if Pereboom Peak represents a good system given a particular context, what justifies saying it is better than a compatibilist system, if we assume pluralism?".

Here are three possible worlds.
1. Peak Pereboom. Let's stipulate that total flourishing in this world is 100 (this is just an arbitrary figure).

2. Well designed compatibilist world. Making some empirical assumptions, total flourishing in this world is 90.

Why is total flourishing in 2 lower than 1? First, by hypothesis there is more suffering of wrongdoers in 2 than 1. 1 allows for imposition of penalties on wrongdoers to the extent that these penalties are required for deterrence, rehabilitation and incapacitation. Any further suffering is not justified in 1. So (if 2 differs from 1 in relevant respects) there is more suffering imposed in 2 than 1.

Further, there is (again controversial) evidence that though the wronged want to impose punishment, and believe that they will be happier if they do, they are wrong about the latter. They are actually less happy if they punish than if they do not (even taking into account their frustration at lacking the opportunity to punish). And then there is the suffering imposed on third parties (families of wrongdoers, neighborhoods from which they come, and so on) about which Bruce has spoken. So very plausible, total flourishing is lower in 2 than 1. So is average flourishing. Given the justification offered for pluralism, you should prefer 1 to 2.

But maybe the empirical claims are false. Maybe world 3 is possible (possibility here is obviously not metaphysical or even nomological, but something like 'compatible with facts about the kind of animals we are'). Again, by hypothesis 3 must be a world in which wrongdoers suffer more overall than they do in 1. Again by hypothesis the total flourishing in 3 can't be greater than in 1 (because peak Pereboom is a world in which there is just enough suffering imposed on wrongdoers to promote overall flourishing). The difference between 3 and 1 must not be in total flourishing but in the distribution of flourishing. In 3, the increase in flourishing to those who punish or to those who are actual or potential victims of wrongdoing is sufficient to fully compensate for the decrease in flourishing suffered by those punished.

So the question is: given a reasonable pluralism, should we be indifferent between 1 and 3 (perhaps better, should an ideal observer be indifferent between 3 and 1)? That depends on whether a reasonable pluralism encompasses a variety of different views on inequality, and how much inequality a reasonable pluralism can stomach. I don't think there is an obvious answer to that question.

Neil, thank you for this helpful summary comparing peaks in a pluralistic picture. I'm dubious of some of the empirical assumptions, but I'm also unsure how we would get the necessary information to substantiate them.

Using Dave's humor analogy, it seems like asking us to believe that there's a peak where the total amount of humor is just as high as other possible or actual peaks but without humor ever being offensive to anyone. I can kinda imagine it but it's hard. No Louie CK!

Or to bring in sports, maybe it's like trying to imagine a peak where people engage in competitive sports but where suffering is minimized for losers. No one ultimately deserves to win or lose; it's not truly fair for some to lose. Hard for me to see how to avoid losing much of what competitive sports has to offer. But I admit that these might be bad analogies.

Finally, even if we came to believe that peak 1 would be 'higher' than 2 or 3, I'm also unsure about what it would take to get us there, my main concern being how to do it without slipping into an 'objective stance' and a bit of dehumanization (one reason to think peak 3 might be higher than 1).

Do you (or others) think that we've seen an instantiation of something like peak 1 in the real world (e.g., is there a genuine Buddhist culture that works this way)?

Hey, Tamler. While my pluralist view is laid out in "Qualities of Will" (out this fall, I think, in *Social Philosophy and Policy*), the humor analogy on which it really rests will be a cornerstone of the book I'm writing. So just as "the funny" is a human response-dependent value, so too is "responsibility," and as the former is to be analyzed generally as "that which merits amusement," the latter is to be analyzed generally as "that which merits a range of 'responsibility responses,'" the paradigm examples of which I think can be categorized under the rubric of *sentiments*, which are pretty universal syndromes of affect, thoughts, and motivational impulses (they include, e.g., anger, regret, and admiration). But there may be plural types of actions and attitudes that merit these responses, depending on different cultural emphases.

Another way to put it: what counts as "the funny" is universal across the species (but may be relative to it), but what counts *as funny* may take pluralistic forms; analogously, what counts as "the responsible" is universal (albeit relative to the species), but what counts *as responsible* may take pluralistic forms.

All right, that's it, white flag. I'm a pluralist, not a metaskeptic. As long as I don't have to buy into that original position conditionals nonsense. Pluralists don't have to commit to that, right? Why would they?

P.S. I resent that one of the words I had to type in to prove that my comment wasn't spam was "persons." Have the Kantians infiltrated typepad too?

Eddy, Benhabib engages with postmodernist authors, but I don't think she can be placed in that tradition. She turns to Frege and Wittgenstein to shed additional light on arguments by Adorno and Horkheimer, for instance.

lLet me second Paul's recommendation of Benhabib, though I must say I am extremely surprised to come across a mention of her here.

You asked whether I thought that there has ever been an instantiation of peak 1. It is worth noting that the empirical evidence on humans in the environment of evolutionary adaptiveness (insofar as contemporary hunter-gatherers are representative of the EEA) suggests that sanctions were relatively mild. Gossip about wrongdoers and mild rebuke seem to be the usual responses to most transgressors. Responses escalate slowly to banishment, in the most extreme cases. In any case, as I suggested above I reject the view that there is a good inductive argument from what has been instantiated to what is possible.

That's really interesting and surprising, Neil. We usually talk as though we've progressed in our MR beliefs and practices but your example suggests we've *regressed*, at least from the standpoint of someone who thinks our system is overly punitive. I'd love to hear more about the evidence (or from others about whether they think the anthropological evidence supports Neil's claim here). I assumed that murderers, pedophiles, and even thieves would be treated very harshly in our EEA (i.e., typically they'd be killed). But I'm not sure why I assumed that. Neil, do you have a hypothesis for why sanctions (and reactive attitudes?) have become more severe and punitive in most societies, relative to small hunter-gatherer groups--is it mainly because of increased size of social groups and societies?

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Books about Agency


3QD Prize 2014: Marcus Arvan