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11/05/2013

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"There may be a reason. But it would be the wrong kind of reason."

Dave, I feel like that woman in Woody Allen's Manhattan who said "I finally had an orgasm but my doctor told me it was the wrong kind."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQPu0KLJu1I

I'll respond like Woody Allen: I've never once had the wrong kind. Even my worst reason was right on the money.

Given that, I still think that there's a tension in what you're saying, a reason (wrong kind or no) to question your way of understanding fittingness. But we can argue about this over sazeracs...

Dave,

You dropped a surely bomb on me! In response, (a) I don't know about going all deontological about the virtues, (b) I agree that there are norms and there are norms - I meant to deny the kind of norm that would license anything like blame *for the emotive reaction*. We might have expectations (a kind of norm), but violating expectations isn't morally significant by itself. My thought was we'd learn something about my character, and that would be useful for future interaction (not for responding to the particular emotive reaction to the dog-killing).

Josh,

Don't you think there's more going on here than just questions about character attribution? If Tamler doesn't feel bad about killing the neighbor's dog, and he doesn't apologize or make some attempt to show his regret, that certainly tell us something about his character. But doesn't it seem that he also fails to show due regard for the neighbor and for the dog? And if he does fail to show due regard for others by not feeling bad and offering apology, etc, doesn't he violate a moral expectation? And, if he does violate a moral expectation, isn't that morally significant?

Always capitalize "Sazeracs," Tamler. They are proper.

Looking forward to the NOWAR discussion.

Tamler--interesting discussion. In my previous post I alluded to the fact that the neighbor might mitigate any responsibility for backing over the dog by having not properly controlled the dog's wanderings. A legislator here in Wisconsin killed his granddaughter in similar fashion a few years back, and I had some of the same thoughts about why the little girl was not being more closely monitored. Surely if that sort of thing must affect how we regard the driver, and how the driver self-assesses her/his own responsibility.

Hi Justin,

I think anybody, having just heard of the awful dog-running-over, should offer their regrets, should feel bad, and what have you. Should the guy who did the running over offer more than this, because he did the running over? I want to say no. Do we expect him to? Probably, but I want to say these expectations are a mistake - we mistake causal responsibility for something more (an easy mistake to make, but still a mistake). Our driver is no different from the neighbor who stops by just after the incident.

I mean, that's what I want to say. Am I missing something, or does some important feature of moral responsibility/blameworthiness hang on my being right or wrong?

Sorry for the delay, I'm at NOWAR so comments will be slow in coming. And a new post is coming tonight that may piss everyone off (though I hope not).

Dan, do you really think the neighbor would be right to blame me in any serious way? The point of the case is that the neighbor shouldn't blame me but I should blame myself. The neighbor should at some point actually try to make me feel better. So if the neighbor actively blamed me and kept harping on it, this account is consistent with me at some point being able to reasonably tell the neighbor that in there was nothing I could really have done to avoid killing the dog. So back off. (Not you, the neighbor.)

Neal, I think that's why I would have problems with the Scanlon approach in this case as well...

Alan, you really think people are running around feeling too guilty all the time? Our capacities for rationalization are pretty impressive.

Elisa, sorry I meant theories of moral responsibility that I'm aware of and that we deal with mostly on this blog. I'm not the best-read person in the areas you're talking about.

Justin Capes, yeah, that's possible but I think that kind of explanation is a post-hoc stretch in this case. I'm skeptical that my apologies and compensation are a way to signal something about my quality of will. The neighbor already knows I didn't intend to kill his dog...

Mark and others who take this line, if you think that the person is not to blame but should feel bad, what exactly should they feel bad about? What should they apologize for? Being part of the causal events that led to the dog's death? Is that really what we're doing? Personally, I don't think so.


In thinking this through, I'm struck by the thought that I'd be in the wrong if I didn't express sympathy were the dog to have died from natural causes or disease (e.g., cancer). I might say "I'm so sorry to hear that", etc.

Returning to the case in which I run the dog over, that sympathy should remain, and I might say, "I'm so sorry this happened." Indeed, I'd be sorry that this happened by my hand, though my non-responsible hand. I'm sorry to be the one that's involved in the tragedy.

The question to my mind, then, is whether it is irrational to be sorry and feel bad about being implicated in what is, by all accounts, a real tragedy. But why shouldn't I? It doesn't seem that I need to acknowledge that I'm at fault to wish that I hadn't been the one who killed the dog.

While, from the perspective of responsibility, my wholly accidental killing of the dog is no different from the dog being killed by a falling rock, it doesn't follow that I should feel no different about the killing than the rock -- after all, I'm not a rock.

Tamler,

If you hurt someone, even accidentally, you're supposed to feel bad about it. Not for any moral reason -- it's not a moral requirement. If you don't feel bad for hurting someone, then you're defective in a way that may have implications for how you behave in the future.

However, when you do hurt someone, even accidentally, you are supposed to make amends (that's a moral requirement), even if an apology is all that's required. An apology delivered without the feeling that you did something hurtful, whether it was intentional or not, is insincere. An insincere apology is morally offensive. So you can't live up to your moral requirements unless you feel bad about what you did.

So the driver should (non-morally) feel bad about killing the dog and hurting their neighbour. Not because they did it on purpose, but just because they did it.

We need to distinguish a number of things.

It is right to feel bad that the dog has been run over – the world has become a worse place through the dog being run over and if one is sensitive the world and to others suffering (as one needs to be in order to respond in the right way to the world and to others suffering) then one will feel worse when the world becomes worse and others suffer.

It is right to express to the neighbour my regret that the dog is run over and he has suffered the loss of his dog. As Justin implies above in his example of stepping on someone’s foot at the airport, the purpose of this is to convey to the dog owner that you did not run over the dog intentionally, and also to show your awareness of the nature of the situation (ie to show that you recognise that its something bad that has happened so you would not have intentionally chosen to make it happen).

However to hold someone blameworthy is (or should be) to think he should change his character so he will go about his decision-making differently in future. In the example you should not change your character (you should not become someone who does not drive or does not back his car out of the drive) so neither you nor your neighbour should blame you…

Sorry for typo - should have written 'It is right *for you* to express to the neighbour *your* regret that the dog is run over and he has suffered the loss of his dog.'

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