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03/27/2015

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Not to nitpick, Gregg, but as Spock was half-human, it's plausible to think he experienced emotions (there's evidence in the show, in fact, that he does feel the emotions or at least is capable of doing so). Whether Vulcans in general don't feel them at all or only modulate them in rigorous ways in a point of some dispute, I take it.

That said, I wonder if it's plausible to envision a moral psychology entirely free of emotion. Or, put a different way, I wonder whether such a psychology would truly be preferable. While one might welcome the discarding of retributive emotions or punitive reactive attitudes, so too would empathy and compassionate caring be tossed out the window. It is possible such a psychology would help us act better, but it might be somewhat impoverished for all that.

Matt, points well taken! I'm no expert on Spock or Vulcans ;)

My feeling is that we would *not* want to eradicate the reactive emotions completely, so I don't think a Spock-like world is preferable. If some horrible thing was done to my daughter and I did not experience some reactive impulses, I think that would make me a horrible person. Bruce Waller writes about this in his new book. That's different, however, from saying that those emotions are justified or that they can be used to ground just deserts, etc. So I think I agree with you on the value of the emotions still leaves open the interesting philosophical question regarding the justification of the moral responsibility system itself. That was partly what I was trying to get out.

I like the Spok question. The idea that absense of reactive attitudes (RAs) in a Spok-like species would bar them from being able to justify MR seems analogous to the idea that the absence of vision in a species would bar them from being able to justify the existence of objects, which may be justified on other grounds. It also led me to think RAs are to the MR features of actions analogous to Euthyphro's gods' RAs toward the MR features of (pious, impious, and other) actions. This analogy suggests that the Spok idea fares no better than the Euthyphro one. Regarding another related feature of the Spok question, the absence of emotion is correlated with diminished left pre-frontal cortical matter and activity, in turn correlated with sociopathy, which conjures my analogy with non-sighted species.

Not to attack the illustration, but just because Spok talk is always fun for its own sake, and I'm not an expert on him either, but I think Spok was able to understand emotion through behaviorist type inference. He also periodically became biochemically subject to some sort of violent mating ritual, presumably characterized by powerful emotions.

Wonderful month of blogging Gregg, especially given your hectic schedule. I know I've benefited from your skeptical challenges. Thanks so much!

Thanks Alan! I really enjoy our exchanges. I had a lot of fun this month and learned a lot.

Rick, I didn't mean to suggest that the absense of reactive attitudes (RAs) in a Spok-like species would *bar* them from being able to justify MR. I was questioning the role strike-back emotions and reactive attitudes play (if they play any role at all) in defending the moral responsibility system.

I was also half joking ;) I didn't mean it as a serious philosophical argument. Thanks for participating this month!

Logic is a wreath of pretty flowers that smell BAD. (My favorite Spock line, ever, from the "I, Mudd" episode.)

Great month, Gregg.

Great month of blogging, Gregg! Excellent stuff as expected.

Thanks Paul!

Gregg, I just want to echo Matt's point about Spock. Getting that confused can have bad consequences (which I know is all-important to you and your ilk). See here, starting around the 1 minute mark...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GH65ZjlzECM

Great month! So many comments, you must be exhausted. Have a great trip.


Thanks Tamler!

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