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11/09/2013

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Hi Brandon,

You might be right, I think it would depend on the details of the particular theory.

"But leaving this issue aside, how would you respond to the charge that your position is objectionably subjectivist? Don't the metaphysics of agency - whatever they are - act as constraints on what individuals should feel or how they should act when it comes to responsibility?"

Yes, I do think that the metaphysics of agency act as constraints but they're very broad constraints. There are limits to what kinds of responses and expectations are appropriate. But within those limits I think the relevant parties should have the leeway to respond as they think is appropriate. And the norms of appropriateness can vary from case to case even intrapersonally--they cannot be determined from the outside. At least according to the view I'm trying to develop...

What allows me to set limits at all, even broad limits? Why isn't that the same kind of busybody behavior I'm objecting to? Those are hard questions. The neighbor analogy that I brought up with Ryan might be helpful but in the end, that's only an analogy. This problem seems to apply to most pluralistic moral approaches though--the 'where do you draw the line' question..

Thanks for responding Tamler.

On the anaogy with logic, does the degree to which your views are shared really affect the degree to which you are an obnoxious busybody? Either you claim to be able to speak for others, or you don't. If Saulace's position on MR came to be accepted by almost everyone else, would his theorising really change in character at all? Bear in mind that Saulace probably believes he is only doing what the logician is doing, and the logician probably hasn't surveyed the public recently to check which logical practices are widespread any more than Saulace has checked which responsibility practices are widespread, so the two are acting from pretty much the same place with respect to their willingness to speak on behalf of the general public.

Anyway, here is a different tack. It's commonly thought that moral judgements are inherently universal - you can't really judge that you *morally* ought to X in these circumstances without judging that anyone else ought to X in those circumstances (or something like that). Do you reject that claim? You're free to if you want, of course. But if you do accept it, then it looks like we engage in busybodying whenever we make any moral judgement. Whenever we think in moral terms, we are tacitly speaking for everyone else, rather than leaving space for the particulars of each case to determine what is appropriate. And if this is so, then philosophers aren't worse perpetrators than anyone else.

A final question - would you be OK with Saulace if he proposed the same theories, but only ever used his own experiences, or his intuitions about how he would feel/behave in various hypothetical cases, as material for them? Imagine that Saulace, being someone who experiences guilt, resentment, gratitude and so on, wonders to himself whether these attitudes would be appropriate for him were determinism true, but doesn't extend his theorising to wondering whether they would be appropriate for others. This much is surely OK, right? But imagine that Saulace finds out that lots of other philosophers have the same sorts of thoughts (about their own cases only, without universalising). Saulace has a great deal to gain from listening to their explanations as to why they think their attitudes are or are not appropriate (given determinism, or tout court), and from sharing his own. After all, anyone else's thoughts could easily be adapted to his own case, and it might be that he could use them to show that he (and he only) would be justified in his attitudes, and vice versa. So there grows up this philosophical field devoted to exchanging arguments about these attitudes, and there are conferences and journals and all that paraphernalia, so it comes to look just like the philosophy of moral responsibility as it presently exists - but no-one makes any busybodying judgements about people other than themselves. I have two reactions to this thought experiment: firstly, it's just absurd for these people not to be making judgements about each other as well as themselves, since their individual cases are all clearly parallel - the whole idea is basically a way of showing that judgements about the appropriateness of attitudes actually are universalisable; but secondly, even if you are right that busybodying would be a problem, since we could reconstruct our field without anyone actually committing the sin of busybodying, it's not actually the practice of philosophising that is at fault.

Suppose something crazy, like that morality has to do with social cooperation. Maybe the reactive attitudes, like guilt, remorse, and shame, develop as parts of our morality as internal disciplinary mechanisms. This might be a little Freudian, but I'm also thinking of morality in social/evolutionary terms. Maybe we shouldn't worry so much about the reactive attitudes as truth-tracking but merely as functional instruments in human interaction. The questions that we should worry about, then, should be a lot closer to the questions psychologists asks: Do the reactive attitudes lead to well-adjusted behavior or pathological behavior? Does the individual react in appropriate or proportional ways?

I'm wary of making the analogy, but we don't ask whether pain tracks truth. We asks questions about phenomenology and function. I think the interesting questions about the reactive attitudes don't have to do with truth-track, but rather with the phenomenology and the functionality.

And a word in defense of mild relativism: If we accept that individuals as a morals agents should be socially influenced, that healthy individuals that should and will be influenced by their environment, then some relativism about the reactive attitudes follows. As cultural norms as to what is shameful differ, so should normal, healthy responses. This doesn't rule out making judgments about cultures that as a whole are quite perverse.

CJ, thanks.

"On the anaogy with logic, does the degree to which your views are shared really affect the degree to which you are an obnoxious busybody? Either you claim to be able to speak for others, or you don't. If Saulace's position on MR came to be accepted by almost everyone else, would his theorising really change in character at all? Bear in mind that Saulace probably believes he is only doing what the logician is doing, and the logician probably hasn't surveyed the public recently to check which logical practices are widespread any more than Saulace has checked which responsibility practices are widespread, so the two are acting from pretty much the same place with respect to their willingness to speak on behalf of the general public."

You're right that logician hasn't surveyed the public lately but he also hasn't witnessed much disagreement over core first-order logical principles. Saulace has because Saulace is familiar with the MR debate as it has been conducted in his own culture (never mind others). The issue, as you say, is what people would agree with once they knew all the relevant empirical facts about the circumstances and situation. So yeah, I think the logician is on safer ground than Saulace in thinking that he's just pointing out what people think already. I don't buy that either you think you speak for others or you don't. There's a difference, depending on what subject you're speaking of. The logician is like a professional poker player pointing out probability errors in how I'm playing. The MR theorist is more like a literary critic telling me I shouldn't like War and Peace or Lolita.

"A final question - would you be OK with Saulace if he proposed the same theories, but only ever used his own experiences, or his intuitions about how he would feel/behave in various hypothetical cases, as material for them?"

Yes, I would be OK with that but I don't think that's what most philosophers are doing--even with all the amendments you add afterwards. Most MR theorists are searching for the TRUTH about the conditions of moral responsibility. (There are exceptions.) And the theories are developed to reveal this truth to others, not merely to systematize their own intuitions. That's my understanding of the function of most theorizing in this field. And as I say in other comments, even if they were merely trying to systematize their own intuitions, that might be misguided as well because our intuitions about the conditions for MR may appropriately vary depending on the case.

Mark, correct me if I'm wrong but I think your comment is not meant as an objection to my post but something that's consistent with it. Given that, I won't reply but just say thanks (since you're a rare case for this post). But if I'm wrong, let me know how this is supposed to be an objection.


I haven't read the comments, so there's a high chance of me saying something sophomoric here. But I'm going to talk non-philosophically.

(1) Judging freedom and moral responsibility has practical consequences. The only way you can be a busybody here is not to pay attention to what's going on, not to understand the situation. Human behavior is nuanced and longitudinal. I think if you're approaching it with that in mind, you'll be all right. But you have to really invest energy into cases, you can't just throw around buzzwords. Related, to avoid being a busybody, it's probably more effective to concentrate on our own actions most (given our epistemic access), then those of our loved ones, then situations where people ask us to mediate, ideally as part of a shared community.

(2) This point is related to the MR debates, but I can't help but feel it's a meta-philosophical point as well, about what we're doing when we're doing philosophy. I think a lot of the tension here comes from pretension of philosophers and inadequacy of academic debates to address real-world stuff. On one hand, philosophers are better judges if they're trained to understand these distinctions, as might be lawyers, judges, psychologists, social scientists, etc. On the other hand, we have to acknowledge when our models and systems don't map on to the intricacy of real life. When we see this, that usually means two things: We need to revise our theories, and we need to be more sensitive and honest to the cases we're judging.

Honestly, I think even being worried about being a busybody shows something good. It's pretty refreshing when someone who studies human behavior remembers they're studying actual people.

Tamler, you write: "What all of us refuse to [do] is to allow Sarah and Emma to determine the features and circumstances that they think are relevant in their own interpersonal conflict."

I understand the point, but I wanted to make clear that in one sense at least this claim is straightfowardly false. Part of what may seem problematic about Saulace's intrusion is that he seems to be privileging his status as theorist. He knows better than Sarah and Emma. But even as we theorists theorize we are not denying that status to our fellow theorizers. So, in one sense, it is perfectly open to Emma and Sarah to determine the features they think are relevant in their situation -- that's just theorizing about moral responsibility.

Of course, I would deny the stronger claim that what Emma and Sarah should have license to do is determine for themselves and only themselves the features that matter. And this is what I took you to be claiming.

But let's suppose I'm willing to countenance such a position. Could you say more about whether there are any standards then for how Emma and Sarah carry out such a determination? What if they disagree about what's relevant? What if one of their spouses has a view about what matters? What if one of them goes to a member of the clergy or (*gasp*) to their local philosophy department to ask for advice? Is it the friendship or the wronging that gives Emma license to be involved in the determination efforts? That is, suppose Sarah doesn't think she did anything wrong -- and so denies that Emma is positioned to determine any of the relevant features?

I know this is a barrage of questions. But I think each one gestures toward internal theoretical difficulties with particularizing the standards. So I thought I'd invite you to say more about the counter-proposal.

Two points:

1/ Hume: "Be a philosopher; but, amidst all your philosophy, be still a man [or woman, or (better) person]."

2/ I'll stop doing philosophy as soon as the rest of the world stops doing philosophy. Sarah and Emma are knee-deep in "philosophical" theories and assumptions. That they are not reflective about this doesn't change that fact. Someone needs to help them sort it all out. But not in their face. That's why we have journals and conferences.

Fun post! Thanks!

Tamler,

There are two ways a poker player could correct me on the probabilities. The first is to say "You calculated your expected profit on this decision wrong, it's only $20 not $50." The second is to say "It's irrational to try to maximise your greatest potential profit rather than your expected profit." For a logician, proving theorems within some formal calculus is like the first kind of advice, but promoting intuitionism is like the second. And promoting incompatibilism is like the second too. It's trying to correct people, not on the value of some calculation, but on how they should be. Isn't that just what you criticise as busybodying?

Perhaps it is still open to the logician to say "Well, there are norms about how we should think that are already present in everyday life; I'm just describing them more clearly, not telling people how to live." But that response is open to Saulace too (and is likely to be taken up to some extent by his namesakes, I suspect). You might say that the situation is different for MR, because our norms are more confused, or because there are no general norms but only the facts particular to each case. But even if this is correct, then the only difference between Saulace and the logician is that Saulace is factually wrong - he has confabulated norms, or ignored their complexity, or something - but just being incorrect doesn't make you immoral.

On the claims of MR theorists to revealing the truth (or TRUTH), well, perhaps they do, but I don't see it changes much. I doubt philosophers are very often directly motivated by the search for truth when they write or present a paper - they're motivated by the attractiveness of whatever they are saying in the context of what their peers are saying, how their intuitions and pet theories clash or harmonise with the recent theories or cases they have seen, their alternating sensations of understanding and confusion in the face of others' work, the struggle for survival and prominence in the great game of thesis and counter-thesis. All this would go on just as it does now if we were only looking to systematise our intuitions (just as scientists would act pretty much the same whether they were all realists or all anti-realists). So, believing you have the truth is pretty much separable from the activity of philosophising. Consequently, even if believing you have the truth is morally wrong, it's not a wrong that philosophers engage in by virtue of being philosophers. (I suppose it might be if philosophising *caused* the belief in revealing the truth, but I suspect that almost everyone has that belief anyway.)

On the point that our intuitions perhaps ought to vary according to the case, again, even if this is true, forgetting it isn't a moral error, it just gets you the wrong answers.

Boomer, thanks. I agree with point 1. As for point 2, I think the problem runs deeper than that. It's not that the theories need to get better. It's that maybe we shouldn't be trying to develop theories about how to resolve other people's conflicts at all.


Matt, thanks, you write:

"Part of what may seem problematic about Saulace's intrusion is that he seems to be privileging his status as theorist. He knows better than Sarah and Emma. But even as we theorists theorize we are not denying that status to our fellow theorizers. So, in one sense, it is perfectly open to Emma and Sarah to determine the features they think are relevant in their situation -- that's just theorizing about moral responsibility."

I don't see that. Sarah and Emma aren't theorizing--they're just working out their own conflict in their own way. If I asked them: "are you two developing a theory of moral responsibility" they'd think I was crazy.

This is relevant to your other questions too. If they disagreed, or other people who know them have opinions, that's just part of working out a conflict. They might go to their local clergy, they might ask a common friend, they might ask a philosopher-friend. What they wouldn't do is consult a theory of MR. You might argue that they should, but that's a different issue.

Joe, thanks. 1. I love Hume, great quote. 2. See my reply to Matt right above. But a couple questions for you: do you really think going to a philosophy journal would help resolve their conflict? Is that what's necessary?

CJ, I'm afraid of lost your logician analogy, probably because I'm not familiar with metalogical debates or intuitionism etc.

"But even if this is correct, then the only difference between Saulace and the logician is that Saulace is factually wrong - he has confabulated norms, or ignored their complexity, or something - but just being incorrect doesn't make you immoral."

Well, in one sense you're right. But confabulating norms or ignoring their complexity can definitely be immoral--think of all the misguided imperialist ventures that countries have done in the name of their conceptions of justice. Of course, philosophers are not invading countries. So part of the 'immorality' claim is an exaggeration, a cry for attention.

Thanks, Tamler. I see you've got a new post, but I did want to follow up on your reply.

I'm inclined to think you've got a more robust view of what theorizing is than I do. Working out their conflict is coming to a resolution on a number of questions, like who is blameworthy for what and what the appropriate responses and further interactions are.

But those are the very questions that we, as theorists, are trying to work out. After all, it isn't as if we theorists, as friends, and parents, and lovers, etc., don't also attempt to work out our conflicts.

So what is it we're doing as theorists that is so different from what ordinary people do in working out their conflicts? We are, hopefully, more reflective and explicit about our aims, more apt to seek generalization explicitly, and to view our activity *as* theorizing. But I don't see how the aims aren't reasonably on a par.

Matt, right, there are different ways to interpret 'theory.' The kind of theory that I'm referring to is a systematic one that would apply across a wide range of situations and groups. The paradigmatic theory in this sense is one that offers necessary and/or sufficient conditions for being truly (or at least appropriately held) morally responsible. P.F. Strawson's account would barely qualify if at all...

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