Blog Coordinator

« Moore's Way of Justifying Retributivism | Main | Moore's Method: Does it Mean What He Thinks it Means? »

11/19/2013

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

This approach is very interesting, and there's a lot I find attractive about it. I do still have some of the worries I raised before, and this post helps me formulate them a little better (though my thoughts here are still pretty half-baked).

What I find attractive about this account is that it seems to offer a nice way to justify some of our retributive judgments by grounding them in emotions that look virtuous; I especially like the suggestion that moral outrage can in some instances seem like the most fitting expression of fellow-feeling. My worry is that maybe the same emotion of fellow-feeling can also motivate conflicting anti-retributive judgments. Some of the arguments for moral responsibility skepticism that I find most compelling work by generating fellow-feeling for the perpetrators of horrible crimes - for example, by calling attention to the brutal background conditions that led to the formation of a monstrous character like Robert Harris.

Given that, I'm not sure how we are supposed to proceed (I don't have a well worked out answer to the question you asked me in the comments on the last post). If strong retributive and anti-retributive judgments can be generated by the same virtuous emotions, then how do we decide which judgments are right? I know you suggested we might try and figure out which judgments are more consistent with our other judgments and strive for some kind of reflective equilibrium, maybe you could say a little more about how that is supposed to go.

I have difficulty engaging with this dialogue because:

1. It sounds odd to me to say that an emotion is virtuous or not. I have always thought that people (agents) can be virtuous or not. To regard emotions, stripped out of context in a particular situation, as virtuous or not, seems like some kind of type error. At best, it seems emotions can be virtuous or not depending on context.

2. Talk about whether emotions are virtuous seems to presuppose moral realism. If there is no real morality (like Joshua Greene argues), then there can be no real virtuousness of emotions (unless morality and virtuosity are distinguished in some way I don't understand). One of the virtues (ha!) of the free will debate is that we can analyze freedom without presupposing that morality exists - how free an agent is doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the moral evaluation of how they exercise that freedom. Moreover, the arguments for moral skepticism seem to me pretty strong (esp. among free will skeptics, like Richard Double and Josh Greene), and it doesn't seem like the sort of thing we should dismiss out of hand.

Maybe I'm reading this wrong, but Moore's dichotomy between retributive sentiment and forgiveness seems a bit off. Can't a person refuse to forgive, and yet not wish harm upon the wrongdoer? Conversely, can't you forgive someone and yet insist that "justice be done?"

Per the question, I think a person could certainly base a retributive desire upon a sense of compassion or solidarity with the victim, a sense of well-placed moral outrage, etc. Whether retribution properly follows from compassion or outrage is another matter. I might be convinced that brutally torturing my father's murderer is the only way to honor his memory, but that doesn't make it true.

In other words, I think all sorts of twisted sentiments can be derived from a combination of virtuous sentiments and faulty reason.

In some cases there may be non-retributive versions of, or analogs of, the retributive emotions at issue here. Suppose it's right that a central kind of guilt is best understood as a kind of self-retribution, and that free will skeptics can give no role to that kind of guilt in moral psychology. It might nonetheless be true that there was a non-retributive moral emotion that could play a similar role in moral psychology. I think there is a kind of remorse in which the wrongdoer suffers because he empathizes with the suffering of the person he has harmed. I don't think the idea of retribution has to play any role in explaining this kind of remorse. To my ears, empathy-based remorse sounds every bit as virtuous as self-retributive guilt (and maybe even more virtuous). This might be a start on working up a non-retributive moral psychology which is just as attractive from a virtue-ethics perspective as a retributive moral psychology.

Emotions are pretty highly unreliable features of human nature on which to balance trustworthy judgments. From rage to exuberance to horror, the margins are certainly just potential kneejerks that carry little reflective axiological weight. How about the in-betweens like more persistent forms of outrage that might buttress retribution? So in response--how about the lessons of Stoics here? If we have good reasons to question not just emotions at the ephemeral extremes, but emotions that persist under some more chronic rational conditions, isn't it possible to produce higher-order criticisms that temper our trust of those as well? Certainly FW skepticism as mentioned before is relevant here, and motivations for pragmatic revision of punitive practices might also place our emotions on a back-burner. After all, emotions as phenomenology is all about us--and does not easily make room for more inter-subjective considerations in a starring philosophical role.

Can one distinguish ressentiment and "moral outrage" from the first person perspective? That is, when one is in the grip of this form of moral emotion, how would one know whether it is the vicious or virtuous emotion that is being experienced? Does the experience of moral outrage feel different than outrage? Also, it seems important to distinguish guilt that is a veridical response to one's own wrongdoing (e.g., a murderer feeling guilty for the act of murdering) and guilt that is obsessive or neurotic (e.g., moral scrupulosity OCD). The former is a plausible candidate for playing a role in moral epistemology whereas the latter seems less likely. Also, what about cases where someone feels guilty because they mistakenly believe that they did something wrong (e.g., someone feels guilty for offending a friend but, in fact, the friend was not offended)?

Ryan, there aren't any easy answers especially in when conflicting emotions are in play. But we don't have to get discouraged quite yet. The punishment debate often proceeds as though there are only two options: pure retributivism or utiliarianism (with a Hart-like mixed theory thrown in sometimes). But the nice thing about Moore's methodology is that it can a yield a wide range of accounts that incorporate many different elements. As I'll suggest in the next post, I think there's an theory or approach that can make sense of the conflicting emotions you're describing, at least to some degree.

Kip, if talk of virtuous emotions sounds odd to you, then substitute a suitable word that will sound less odd. I don't think anything hangs on the use of that word. And like I say in the previous post, although Moore's presupposes a strong (and implausible) form of moral realism, the methodology doesn't require us to do that.

"One of the virtues (ha!) of the free will debate is that we can analyze freedom without presupposing that morality exists - how free an agent is doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the moral evaluation of how they exercise that freedom."

You might be right about the free will debate. But this is a debate about justifying punishment which has to include moral evaluation of some kind.

Andrew, thanks: "Can't a person refuse to forgive, and yet not wish harm upon the wrongdoer?"

In many cases, probably--but it becomes more complicated if you're not the victim and the victim does wish some sort of harm on the wrongdoer.

"Conversely, can't you forgive someone and yet insist that "justice be done?"

Not so sure about this one--seems a little too rationalistic for my taste. Part of forgiveness seems to me to include a willingness to let them off the hook justice-wise (even if you still punish consequentialist reasons like you might do to a small child).


Ben, thanks. We might agree on this more than it appears. Would you go this far with the view though? Empathy-based remorse is fine but it should accompany at least some desire to make up for what you've done (in one way or another)?

Alan: "Emotions are pretty highly unreliable features of human nature on which to balance trustworthy judgments. From rage to exuberance to horror, the margins are certainly just potential kneejerks that carry little reflective axiological weight."

I agree that that some extreme forms of emotions felt in the heat of the moment may seem unreliable a source of moral judgment. But that doesn't mean all emotions are unreliable, especially when we have time to reflect on the virtuous or non-virtuous qualities, right?

"How about the in-betweens like more persistent forms of outrage that might buttress retribution? So in response--how about the lessons of Stoics here? If we have good reasons to question not just emotions at the ephemeral extremes, but emotions that persist under some more chronic rational conditions, isn't it possible to produce higher-order criticisms that temper our trust of those as well?"

I'm not sure I understand what you're getting at here. Is the response your answer to the first question?

"After all, emotions as phenomenology is all about us--and does not easily make room for more inter-subjective considerations in a starring philosophical role."

Really? This debate we're having now about the virtuousness of the emotions (and there are many like it) seems pretty intersubjective to me. Or is this the wrong kind of intersubjectivity? ("I finally had an intersubjective debate but my doctor told me it was the wrong kind"...)


Daniel,

"Can one distinguish ressentiment and "moral outrage" from the first person perspective? That is, when one is in the grip of this form of moral emotion, how would one know whether it is the vicious or virtuous emotion that is being experienced?"

Great questions! In response, I think it might be hard to distinguish in the moment but less so upon reflection. I can think of many times that I've thought back on an emotional reaction and realized that it much less of a virtuous character than I thought. We exhibit ugly forms of self-righteousness all the time but have some capacity anyway to recognize this late, don't you think? (I'm not saying the reflection is always reliable either but it carries some weight.)

As for your last claims, my guess is that that moral OCD is a pretty rare phenomenon and that most people err on the side of not feeling guilty or remorseful enough. And I say that as a man born of Jewish parents...

Hi Tamler--

Yes, objective virtues associated with emotions might be intersubjective, but as I stated, e.g., FW skepticism is a high-level reason to question whether there is any such thing as relates specifically to defending punishment--particularly retributive punishment--based on emotion. So FW skepticism is to our considerations here as were high-order beliefs about necessity to Stoics. There are very plausible grounds to question the intelligibility of objectively virtuous emotions.

Tamler,

Yes, I think that's right. I think that empathic suffering strikes us as more virtuous when it's connected with the desire to relieve the suffering of the others with whom we empathize, and this is one way of understanding what's going on in making amends. But I think this is true about self-retributive guilt, too. That is, if we're retributivists, self-retributive guilt will also seem more virtuous when connected with a desire to make amends.

Alan & Tamler,

If FWS is true then, of course, retribution makes no sense, seeking justice simply isn't a virtue. Don't FW/MR & the reactive attitudes in general go hand in hand? I don't think, thus, I can answer your question sans a refutation of FWS. In other words, if I shared your reluctance to believe in FW, then I would have to fight the urge to see justice done. But I do not even come close to seeing things your way. The existence and abuse of FW are obvious to me. Moreover, there are plenty of good philosophical arguments supporting that contention. Having availed myself of this reasoning, I do not base my judgments of MR on my emotions. It's the other way around: I find my visceral reactions to, say, criminals, entirely appropriate given my understanding of the moral facts pertaining to their crimes.

Emotions can track the truth--e.g., regarding whether something or someone is to be avoided (fear, disgust), whether a relationship or situation should be continued (pleasure, contentment), etc. Obviously, emotions can mislead us too, and surely more often than, say, perception. But our reasoning processing can lead us astray too.

It seems highly plausible that the positive reactive emotions, such as gratitude, compassion, and feeling proud often track the truth regarding who deserves or needs our support and when we should continue doing what we've just done (well). If so, then that seems to put pressure on the desert-skeptic to argue either that these reactive emotions, and the judgments they produce, are unjustified, or to explain why the negative reactive attitudes and judgments are unjustified even if the positive ones are not. I'm not convinced Pereboom's analogs are up to the task (e.g., sadness just doesn't motivate in the same ways anger does).

Perhaps I'm just restating Moore's (and Tamler's) points here.

Ben,

"But I think this is true about self-retributive guilt, too. That is, if we're retributivists, self-retributive guilt will also seem more virtuous when connected with a desire to make amends."

--I agree! That's what I was talking about in reply to you. I'll have a lot more on that in the next post.

Alan and Robert, I take it that Moore and the FW skeptic agree about the kind of freedom we have. Moore is a compatibilist and this is his way of defending retributivism under the assumption that we only have this kind of freedom. I don't see how the FW skepticism debate is independent of the debate about the virtuousness of retributive emotions for agents like us. They're part of the same conversation.


That's what I'm saying, Tamler. LFW and retribution stand and fall together. Compatibilism just doesn't cut it either, when it comes to handing out just deserts, especially of the divine and eternal sort. There are just too many good excuses available for even really bad behavior on the assumption that it can be traced to circumstances beyond our control.

This:
http://tomkow.typepad.com/tomkowcom/2012/07/a-few-short-steps-to-the-gallows.html
might be relevant.

This is in connection with Eddy's post about truth-tracking. Consider cases like the Robert Harris case. When most people just hear the story of the crime itself, they typically respond with the strongest sort of retributive anger. But when they know the whole story, including the horrific abuse Harris suffered as a child, the retributive anger is often replaced by empathy. It seems to me that the emotions we feel when we have full information should be thought to track the truth better than the emotions we feel when we have partial information.

Ben (if I may)--

This is why Robert and I are strange bedfellows on this. If something like FW skepticism undercuts our reasons buttressing our retributive emotions, then it seems hard on a FW basis to justify such emotions as virtuous. Perhaps there are independent reasons to do so, but they are unclear to me so far.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Books about Agency


3QD Prize 2014: Marcus Arvan