336 days until classes start.
I have finished Philosophy Bites podcast.
The last podcast episode that I listened to was Gregg Caruso on Free Will and Punishment.
Caruso argued that free will does not exist; consequently, moral praise and condemnation are illegitimate - as is moral reward and punishment. Nobody has a choice over what they do - they are merely acting on the effects of their environment on their genetic material. Consequently, what they do is not to their credit, and they cannot be praised or deserve any reward. Nor can a person be blamed or punished for what they did wrong.
Caruso argues that there are two legitimate reasons for punishment. One is deterrence - to prevent a person from doing that which is harmful to others by threatening them with a cost. The other justification for punishment, which is the primary focus of this podcast episode, is to treat a wrong-doer as somebody who has an illness that makes that person a threat to society. He compares the confinement of prisoners as comparable to putting a patient under quarantine - something that can be done to a person without their consent, but which carries no implication of blameworthiness or being such as to deserve this harm.
This episode, posted on April 16, 2016, still makes no mention of the possibility that praise and condemnation, reward and punishment, might have a purpose. That is to say, the reason we have selected rewards as a response to some activity (and use praise as a type of reward), and punishment as a response to others (with condemnation working as a type of punishment), is because these activities have certain effects on the human brain, and people generally have reasons to create those effects.
That idea still seems to be unique to the philosophy that I present here in this blog.
On a related note, I am now about half way through Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations. He, too, fails to see that praise and condemnation have a function - an effect - that explains and justifies their use. Smith wrote that gratitude is the natural response to benevolence and resentment the natural response to causeing harm. The impulse to reward comes from the attitude of generosity and to punish comes from resentment. Specifically, these responses are appropriate when impartial observers (not the agent who is actually harmed, and not the agent doing the harm) would have this response under normal circumstances to an act of benevolence or resentment.
Smith, however, does not investigate why it is the case that resentment and punishment is an appropriate response to wrongdoing as opposed to, let us say, clucking and flapping one's arm as a chicken. We look simply at the descriptive fact that people are disposed to respond to wrongdoing with feelings of resentment and an impulse to punish and judge, from this fact alone, that it is appropriate that they do so.
Where philosophers do look for the reason to reward or punishment only in their effects, they see this as providing an incentive or a deterrant to the evil action. That is to say, they are to enter into the agent's calculations before the fact as reasons to do that which will earn a reward, and as reasons to avoid that which will be punished. Yet, as Smith argues, we hold the agent who acts for the sake of reward much less favorably than we would hold the agent who provides a benefit out of simple generosity or a desire to help somebody in need. Similarly, Smith argues that the agent who acts like a properly motivated person would act merely to avoid punishment will get his wish in being undeserving of punishment, but one who warrants no praise either - as a person who acts in the pursuit of justice or forbears from some action because it is wrong.
Oh . . . I should mention as an aside . . . one of the provessors at the University of Colorado that I hope to study under, David Boonin, has a book out on The Problem of Punishment which may serve as an opening for presenting some of these ideas. I should add that book to my reading list.
Too little time!
And too little money. This book costs $110.00.
Okay, where was I before I digressed? Oh, yes, with the idea that reward and punishment work on the brain to alter desires and, thereby, to cause people to do that which is good or refrain from that which is evil, even when no actual reward/praise or punishment/condemnation can be expected.
NOTE: John Stuart Mill has this idea in his writing, in Utilitarianism, as I recall, though I cannot find the precise reference at this moment.
I have been giving thought recently to papers I may write in order to introduce some of my ideas to the philosophy department. Reading Boonin's book with an eye to writing a paper on the idea that reward and punishment - praise and condemnation - have a purpose in reorganizing the mind/brain to promote desires for that which is useful and aversions to that which is harmful - could be one of those papers.
Monday, September 26, 2016
336 days until classes start.
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 4:13 PM