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01/03/2015

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It did soften the criticism (quite a bit actually), John. I'm just being sensistive (I get it from my mom).

Thanks again for the back and forth.

Justin,

Funny: I get a certain amount of insanity from my mom!

Justin, I am learning a lot. Thanks.

Following up on my own post about institutional good and evil last month, how does 'ought' relate to institutional actions, plans and goals? You started off by saying "deontic judgments—judgments of moral obligation, moral right, and moral wrong—presuppose control; specifically, they presuppose one’s having free will." But we can say that institutions ought to do things that lie within their power to do even when no individual can do them individually, and when it seems obvious that institutions don't have free will. For example, let's say astrophysicists foresee that an asteroid will hit the earth with a 100% probability on 9/11/2021 and surely destroy our civilization. We can say 'NASA out to do something to stop this!', by which we mean, for example, that NASA should start something like a Manhatten Project whose goal will be to intercept the asteroid near Jupiter's orbit, and change its trajectory using nuclear detonations. This lies within NASA's abilities as an institution even though no human individual has the capacity to pull this off using their individual capabilities, and even though NASA lacks free will (since only individuals can have free will). If NASA did not do something while it still could, would we not want to blame NASA, even though it lacks FW, a conscience, a mind, or a capacity even to make decisions, given that it is ultimately human minds making decisions under institutional rules. Would deontic judgments apply to NASA because it can do something, even though the institution lacks FW? I could imagine that Pereboom or Fischer or someone else who wants to defend the reality of morality w/o FW could argue that we are in fact rather like institutions of organs and cells.(I don't support that view, but I could see how someone could and would want to argue that).

Nice post Justin, I just saw this. By a weird coincidence, a big chunk of Chapter 2 of my dissertation is devoted to this very same topic. I'm too scared to go back and look at it, but if memory serves my solution was to reject the WIC principle (as Roger does). I argued that right and wrong only require what Bruce Waller called "take-charge responsibility.) You clearly disagree:

"Like Haji, I endorse WIC. For me, it just doesn't make sense to say to something like it was wrong for you to do X if you could not have done other than X. It's like telling a robot it should not have performed it's program or that it was wrong in performing it's program. It just seems out of place. I hold that things can be bad but bad is different than wrong."

I have a hard time buying that. There is certainly a looser sense of wrong that only requires a compatibilist understanding of "can." I'm not concerned with determinism when I say "I was wrong to bet on a team that has Ryan Lindley as their QB." Or "I was wrong not to take my dogs on a walk this morning. I don't see why the same can't be true for moral wrongs like "it was wrong for me to have robbed that liquor store."

You might think that if determinism is true, the claim is not really about me but just about the act. So when I say "I was wrong to bet on Arizona" I'm really saying "it was wrong to bet on Arizona." To say that it was truly was wrong for ME to rob that liquor store I have to believe that it was metaphysically possible. But that seems to overly fetishize the term 'wrong' in a way that doesn't square with ordinary usage.

Also, we do often use the word as a means of directing future behavior. I say "I was wrong to bet on Arizona" as a way of reminding myself not to bet on atrocious quarterbacks in the playoffs. So I don't think the terms "right" and "wrong" entail any further claims about desert-entailing responsibility.

Anyhow, thanks for the post--glad you're blogging this month! Looking forward to the rest of your posts.

Hi, Tamler. Thanks for the thoughtful response, and I'm glad that you enjoyed the post. I'm now curious to check out your dissertation. If your chapter 3 is on the reactive attitudes then the plot thickens...
I'll try to briefly respond, you say: "There is certainly a looser sense of wrong that only requires a compatibilist understanding of "can." I'm not concerned with determinism when I say "I was wrong to bet on a team that has Ryan Lindley as their QB." Or "I was wrong not to take my dogs on a walk this morning."
I see what you're saying and I agree that there are different senses of the word "wrong", I’m not sure the examples that you mention are such examples (I would need more details) but your point is well taken regardless. That said, sometimes saying something was wrong is short-hand for saying I wish it didn't happen and this is much different, at least to my ears, than understanding wrong as doing something that you should not have done. So, I take you to be saying just that sort of thing when you make your claim about the bet on Arizona. You lost the bet, thus, you wish you had not made the bet. But, just to be clear this looser sense of wrong is not the wrong connected to moral obligation (invoked by OIC). I understand moral wrong as equivalent to "ought not" where the "ought' is the 'ought' invoked by OIC. I don't think this is fetishizing the concept of wrong as you suggested. Rather, I like to think it's getting clear on what we mean by the utterance of wrong in different contexts. I also think that the term used in different contexts carries (vastly) different meanings. Given that so much rides on these evaluations I think we should try and get clear on what we mean by the loose sense of wrong and the sense invoked when we fail to comply with a specific agent demand. And, if there is a big difference then I want to analyze what is lost.

Peter, I'm glad the post has been illuminating. This thread has been super-helpful for me as well!

Your question is a really good one and I'm not sure how to respond. I haven't thought much about group obligations or group responsibility in quite some time. My initial reaction is to reject group obligations as too messy. Rather, if we think that a group can say intecept comet X, then when thinking about obligations we should individuate which team members are obligated to do what. Anyway, great question! Vargas talks a bit about moral ecology and seeing our agency as part of a larger fabric of circumstances which might lend itself to helping us tackle your question. Also, there are other folks who work primarily on group responsibility and group obligataions (and group cognition).I would recommend Bryce Huebner's work on this, though like I said, I'm a bit out of touch with the group obligation/responsibility literature.

Bryce's google scholar is here: http://scholar.google.ca/citations?user=WNjj1rYAAAAJ&hl=en

Thanks again for the question, Peter!

Just to complicate the discussion even more...

Regarding moral dilemmas, there seems to be an assumption floating around here which we should question. Take the sniper. Suppose we judge that he ought not to kill the kid, and that he ought not to allow any danger to the lives of his platoon. Neither one of these judgments contravenes OIC. Now, following those two oughts might not be compossible. But each one separately is possible!

So there is an inference going on behind a cloak of darkness: from ought(agent,X) and ought(agent,Y), inferring ought(agent, X-and-Y). Maybe that, rather than OIC, is what we should question if we think tragic moral dilemmas (where every option is wrong) sometimes occur.

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