Democrats tend to raise strong objections to voter ID laws.
Republicans claim that they want to impose voter ID laws because they wish to combat voter fraud. However, voter fraud is such a rare thing, for every instance of voter fraud that such a law would prevent, they block a larger number of legitimate votes. This means that the election is less representative of the public will than it would have been without the law (and with a little bit of fraud).
Of course, some argue, the very purpose of the law is to prevent the election from being representative of the public will.
There are certain segments of the population – people who are poor or sick or who lack transportation or who are elderly – who find voter ID laws far more burdensome than people of more established means. These people tend to vote for Democratic candidates. Consequently, Republicans are not actually interested in preventing voter fraud. They are more interested in keeping legitimate voters who would vote for their opponents away from the polls.
During this 2016 primary season for the Democratic Party, thirteen states and several territories will choose convention delegates using a caucus system.
Caucuses have a great deal in common with voter ID laws such that, if one thinks that voter ID laws are fundamentally unfair, then it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the caucus system is fundamentally unfair for the same reasons.
In order to participate in a primary election (as distinct from a caucus), one simply needs to vote. Many states provide a number of ways to vote so that those who are poor, elderly, sick, immobile, or suffering from severe time constraints can still cast a ballot – therefore allowing their preferences to be noted and reflected in the election results.
A caucus, on the other hand, is like a voter ID law on steroids. In order to participate in a caucus, a voter must travel to the caucus location. One has to sit there – potentially through hours of organizational paperwork and speeches. Then, one’s vote is counted.
One of the differences between voter ID laws and a caucus is that, factoring in some logistical matters, a person gets to choose on which day they will get the ID that will allow them to vote. A political caucus, on the other hand, is held on a specific day - at a specific time. Anybody who does not available at that specific time cannot participate - and the election will not reflect her will.
Another difference is that, for parents (particularly working parents), one can generally arrange for somebody to watch the children while they take care of the task of getting a voter ID or choose a day when the children are otherwise occupied or where they can be conveniently brought along. However, when it comes to a political caucus, both parents have to attend at the same time. If they find a third party to arrange to watch the children, then, unless that third party belongs to a different political party (at least in closed caucuses), then that third party still represents somebody who cannot attend the caucus.
Most caucuses offer some sort of child supervision during the caucus process. However, this does not change the fact that it can be a substantial burden to get the kids bundled up and to take them to the caucus – where, perhaps, they do not want to be. Nor does this provide any help if any of the children should have some event scheduled to start or end while the caucus is ongoing.
In other words, parents will tend to find the burdens of participating in a caucus system to be significantly greater than the burdens of voting. This will result in lower participation.
So far, in this primary cycle, voter participation for caucus states (for which I could find data) has average 9.33% of eligible voters. Whereas voter participation in states that held primary elections has been 31.53%. This means that a state that adopts a caucus system rather than a primary voting system puts up barriers that about 70% of those who would have otherwise voted find too large to cross.
This then raises the question of the degree to which these barriers disadvantage any of the candidates. This is the same as asking whether the type of voter more likely to be found in the 30% that do vote rather than the 70% that do vote are more likely to support any of the candidates. For all candidates for which this is true, we can say that those candidates have picked up extra delegates because of rules that prevented their competitor’s supporters from participating.
I wish to remind the reader, the question of the degree to which the caucus system disadvantages candidates is exactly the same question as the question of whether a voter ID system disadvantages candidates, and whether that should be regarded as a problem.
Rather than consider a number of potential responses to these concerns, I can handle most of them simply by pointing out that the defense of the caucus would be just as useful as a defense of voter ID laws. A logically and morally consistent person doesn’t use an argument in one case that she would reject in a relevantly similar case.
Other arguments may exist and, indeed, there may be good reason for a caucus. Yet, those good reasons, if they exist, must be counted as good reason to give some candidates more delegates than others by adopting rules that prevented, to a greater degree, voters who would have supported an opposition candidate from voting. This fact remains true of the caucus system, even if one can find good reasons for it.
Thursday, March 31, 2016
Democrats tend to raise strong objections to voter ID laws.
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 11:28 AM
This is quite uncharacteristic of me.
In the last week, I have taken one of my philosophical ideas, written it up as best as I could, and emailed them to certain academic philosophers who have written on the subject asking them if the argument makes sense.
It is nothing earth-shattering. It is the thesis that, for 40 years, philosophers have been misinterpreting the error theory of J.L. Mackie. It is an argument that can be expressed without going off into volumes of text (which would be a huge imposition on the recipient). Yet, it does touch upon a number of ideas that I present in this blog.
What I am attempting to demonstrate is that a standard interpretation of J.L. Mackie's error theory is mistaken.
That mistake probably originates with Simon Blackburn in the article, "Errors and the Phenomonology of Values" (in Morality and Objectivity: A Tribute to J.L. Mackie, Ted Honderich (ed.)).
Blackburn was puzzled by the fact that Mackie spent the first part of his book, Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong arguing that all moral claims are false. Then, in the second half of his book, Mackie went on to make a bunch of moral claims as if they were true. In other words, even though Mackie argued that all moral claims are false, he went on to conduct his moral business as usual in the second half of his book.
Blackburn, in pointing out this problem, explained what he thought Mackie should have done.
If a vocabulary embodies an error in some use it would be better if either it, or a replacement vocabulary, were used differently. We could better describe this by saying that our old, infected moral concepts or ways of thought should be replaced by ones which serve our legitimate needs, but avoid the mistake.Blackburn, however, denies that Mackie did this.
Yet Mackie does not say what such a way of thought would look like, and how it would differ in order to show its innocence of the old error. On the contrary, in the second part of the book he is quite happy to go on to express a large number of straightforward moral views… All of these are expressed in the old, supposedly infected vocabulary.
I want to argue that Mackie did exactly what Blackburn said he should have done, and not what Blackburn said Mackie did.
To begin with, Blackburn gave Mackie a choice to either change the existing vocabulary or to replace it. To illustrate the second option, Blackburn suggested replacing the term “moral” and its cognates with “shmoral” and its cognates.
However, Mackie selected the first option. He opted to use the same words, but to use them in different ways.
He illustrated the way that he was going to reform moral concepts by using the concept of an “atom” as an example.
The fact that the word 'atom', as used in nineteenth-century physics, had as a part of its meaning 'indivisible particle of matter' did not in itself, even in the nineteenth century, compel anyone to believe that there are indivisible material particles. One could either refrain from using the term 'atom' in affirmative statement or, as physicists have subsequently done, use the term with other parts of its meaning only, dropping the requirement of indivisibility. (Mackie: p. 100).
Specifically, the term "atom" originally meant "without parts" or "uncuttable". Physicists were studying helium, hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon atoms under this definition – assuming that these smallest bits of each element could not be further divided into parts.
However, as physics progressed, physicists began to suspect that the smallest pieces of an element actually had parts – that they were made up of electrons, neutrons, and protons. It was at least theoretically possible to “split” what people had been calling atoms. However, that meant splitting what, by definition, is that which could not be split.
Ultimately, physicists dropped “without parts” from the meaning of the term “atom” and simply used the term to refer to the smallest pieces of an element – the smallest bits of matter that still could be identified as hydrogen, helium, gold, carbon, iron, and the like.
This did not produce any great crisis for physicists. With this slight change, they were able to continue to go along studying atoms. However, this was not “business as usual”. From that point on it was no longer the case that atoms, by definition, could not be broken up into parts.
Similarly, Mackie is going to continue to use the same moral terms. However, he is going to alter the meaning of those terms. Specifically, he will replace a meaning that contains an false claim of intrinsic prescriptivity and put in its place a term that lacks this error.
This brings us to the next question: How do we distinguish between error-filled “moralizing” and error-free “shmoralizing”
I think we can find that distinction in Mackie's chapter on universalizability.
In Chapter 4 of Ethics, Mackie distinguishes three stages of universalizability for moral claims. The argument here is that what distinguishes "moralizing" from "shmoralizing" is that the former uses Stage 2 universalizability, while the latter employs Stage 3 universalizability.
Mackie described Stage 2 universalizability as follows:
In this second stage of universalization, we look for prescriptive maxims that we are prepared not only to apply to all persons (groups of persons, nations, and so on) alike as things are, but also to go on applying no matter how individuals change their mental and physical qualities and resources and social status. And we must allow not only for changes which may, as a matter of practical, causal, possibility come about, starting from where we are, but also for differences of condition and inversions of role that could not possibly occur, and which it may take a considerable effort even to imagine. (Mackie: p. 90)This is to be distinguished from Stage 3 universalizability, which he described as follows:
In this third stage we are taking some account of all actual desires, tastes, preferences, ideals, and values, including ones which are radically different from and hostile to our own, and consequently taking some account of all the actual interests that anyone has, including those that arise from his having preferences and values that we do not share . . . We must . . . look not for principles which can be wholeheartedly endorsed from every point of view, but for ones which represent an acceptable compromise between the different actual points of view. (Mackie: p. 93).He then explains the way that Stage 2 universalizability relates to the practice of taking moral values as intrinsically prescriptive properties, and the way that Stage 3 universalizability avoids this error.
This second sort of universalizability is linked with the fact . . . that moral judgments commonly include a claim of objectivity. The claim that some difference is objectively morally relevant in a certain context is not easy to reconcile with the admission that, while it appears relevant from one interested point of view, it does not appear relevant from the point of view of someone whose situation and qualities are different. By contrast, the claim to objectivity has no tendency to support the third stage of universalization. Quite the reverse. It is all too easy to believe that the objective validity of one's own ideals provides an overwhelmingly strong reason for taking no account at all ideals that conflict with them, or of interests associated with including rival ideals (Mackie: pp. 96-7).In other words, “shmorality” is not “business as usual”. “Business as usual” would involve continuing with the practice of engaging in Stage 2 universalizability. However, this level of universalizability embeds the false assumption that “objective values” (a.k.a. intrinsic prescriptivity) exists. We avoid this error by dropping intrinsic prescriptivity from the meaning of our moral terms and adopting the new practice of Stage 3 universalizability.
So, when it comes to error-free moralizing, Blackburn’s claim that “Mackie does not say what such a way of thought would look like, and how it would differ in order to show its innocence of the old error," is false. It would look like Stage 3 universalizability, and it denies that objects of evaluation had intrinsic prescriptivity.
Blackburn wrote that, "...in the second part of the book he is quite happy to go on to express a large number of straightforward moral views… All of these are expressed in the old, supposedly infected vocabulary." This is false. Those moral views are expressed in the error-free vocabulary of Stage 3 universalizability.
If I may beg your indulgence, I think I can further support this conclusion by approaching it from another direction.
I think that there might be some confusion generated by the fact that Mackie talks about two types of objectivity in his book.
There is a type of objectivity that involves a claim of intrinsic prescriptivity. This is the type of "objective value" that Mackie says does not exist.
However, there is - at the same time - a type of objectivity that can be captured by the phrase, "Is such as to satisfy requirements of the kind in question," (Mackie: p. 55).
"Requirements", in turn, is cashed out in terms of desires or interests. From Mackie:
'Good', I think, always imports some reference to something like interests or wants, and I intend 'requirements' to be read in this sense, not so colourlessly as to be almost equivalent to 'criteria'. (Mackie: p. 58)This type of objectivity is real.
However, this type of objectivity is not the type that Mackie is talking about when he says that there are no objective values. From Mackie:
Something may be called good simply in so far as it satisfies or is such as to satisfy a certain desire; but the objectivity of such relations of satisfaction does not constitute in our sense an objective value. (Mackie: p. 24)
Mackie writes about the “objectivity of such relations” as if they are real things. However, these real things are not currently built into the meanings of moral terms.
But he does not say that they could not be.
I understand Mackie as wanting to get rid of objective values in the sense of getting rid of intrinsic prescriptivity (Blackburn’s "morality") and replacing it with objective values in the sense of "being such as to satisfy the desires and interests in question" (Blackburn’s "shmorality").
The switch, then, from "moralizing" to "schmoralizing" is a switch from a morality that defends its moral evaluations of character traits or principles in terms of intrinsic prescriptivity, to a morality that defends its moral evaluations of character traits or principles in terms of "being such as to satisfy the desires and interests in question".
As I see it, David Hume's moral theory provides a model by which we may understand Mackie's "schmorality". A character trait, in Hume's system, is to be evaluated according to whether it is agreeable or useful to the agent (giving the agent reasons to promote it), and whether it is agreeable or useful to others (giving others reason to promote it). It has no intrinsic goodness or badness.
Similarly, we find in Mackie's account of stage-3 universalizability:
In this third stage we are taking some account of all actual desires, tastes, preferences, ideals, and values, including ones which are radically different from and hostile to our own, and consequently taking some account of all the actual interests that anyone has, including those that arise from having preferences and values that we do not share. (Mackie: p. 95)
Once again, “shmorality” is not “business as usual”. “Business as usual” is objectivity in the form of intrinsic prescriptivity. “Shmorality”, in contrast, is objectivity in the form of “being such as to fulfill the desires or interests in question.”
I am not saying that Mackie is right in all of this. I am only saying that this seems to be a better interpretation of Mackie than the "business as usual" interpretation. Once we understand what Mackie actually wanted to say, then we can go on and ask whether or not he was right when he said it.
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 7:52 AM
Thursday, March 24, 2016
Now, where did I leave off when I was viciously assaulted by illness?
(Actually, I had been ill since mid-January, but surrendered to it this past week as I just didn't want to spend the energy thinking for a while.)
But, there's a need to get back to work.
Now, when I last left off, I was reading Caroline West's article, "Business as Usual? The Error Theory, Internalism, and the Function of Morality" (in "Business as Usual? The Error Theory, Internalism, and the Function of Morality," in A World Without Values: Essays on John Mackie's Moral Error Theory, (Richard Joyce and Simon Kirchin, eds.).
West provides us with the following definition of internalism:
[I]t is a conceptual truth about morality that an agent who judges that she morally ought to φ will, insofar as she is rational, be prima facie motivated to φ.She then argues that the function of morality is such that it it presumes that internalism is true.
She provides five different examples of the function of morality.
(1) Counter-acting limited sympathies. Morality is used to foster cooperation among individuals with limited sympathies in a world with scarce resources so that we may obtain the benefits of that cooperation.
(2) Oppression. Morality is used to keep the serfs and workers at their jobs by informing them that they have certain duties to their lords and masters.
(3) Emancipation - or to prevent oppression. Morality is used by people to demand a right to equal treatment.
(4) Overcoming weakness of will. Realizing one's moral obligations to the other people in the family might - just might - provide a little extra incentive on the part of the agent not to drink excessively or gamble the rent money.
(5) Persuasion: Morality is used by people to cause other people to act differently. It is unique from law, which provides an agent with motivation in the form of avoiding sanctions or obtaining rewards. It's purpose is to motivate an agent to act differently even in the absence of rewards or punishments.
What we actually have here is five different expressions of a single purpose - to get an agent to act differently. The purpose of morality is to influence behavior.
If this is the purpose of morality, then it simply makes no sense that morality would have this purpose unless there is some intimate link between adopting a moral belief or judgment and behavior. The reason it makes sense to alter another person's behavior by getting them to adopt a particular moral attitude is precisely because, "it is a conceptual truth about morality that an agent who judges that she morally ought to φ will, insofar as she is rational, be prima facie motivated to φ." When we get an agent to adopt a certain judgment, we can get her to alter her behavior.
In these posts discussing J.L. Mackie's error theory, we see that Mackie's objection to this is that it postulates the existence of an entity where there is little or no reason to believe that such an entity exists. We are talking about an entity whereby a judgment that "I ought to φ" provides an agent with motivation to φ. But still we have to ask the question of what it takes for a judgment of the form, "I ought to φ" to be true. Is it true merely because it is believed - in which case the agent who things that he should rid the world of all Jews really should rid the world of all Jews. Or is it true of only certain things? If it is true of only certain things, then how did they get that property and how are we to know we have found it?
What we need is a way to link moral judgment to motivation that does not involve any type of bizarre metaphysical entities.
I accept the premise that moral claims intend to alter behavior. However, it does not do so by using self-motivating moral judgments that lack any coherent account of how that can be true or justified.
Instead, moral judgments contain within them an element of praise or condemnation. Praise and condemnation work on the limbic section of the brain to alter desires; promoting desires that tend to bring about what is praised and aversions that tend to avoid that which is condemned. This is a purely determined process, not unlike the ways in which heroine and nicotine can alter motivation. There is no rationality involved - individuals are not reasoned into their moral attitudes. Nor are there any judgments to be accepted or rejected. Instead, agents simply acquire certain likes (a desire to help those in need) and dislikes (an aversion to taking the property of others without their consent).
There is reason and judgment involved in deciding what to reward and punish - what to praise and condemn. People can be rational - or irrational - in making these choices. In this, the situation is much like that of having a flat tire on the car. The concept of rationality is applied to the process of determining if there are reasons to change the flat tire and, if so, how to go about it. However, all the reasoning in the world will not get the flat tire changed. Similarly, rationality is used to determine what desires and aversions to promote, but all of the reasoning in the world will not cause those desires and aversions to change.
This account makes use of entities no more bizarre than reward/praise and punishment/condemnation, their effects on the limbic system on the brain in altering desires, and the standard relationships between an agent's desires and her intentional actions. We can set aside the judgments that one ought to φ that we can neither explain nor justify. And with it, we can set aside internalism.
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 4:30 PM
Thursday, March 17, 2016
It seems that a lot of people are unclear as to the requirements regarding the moral right of freedom of speech.
The right to freedom of speech is a moral right against violence or threats of violence as a response to words or communicative actions (e.g., sign language, pictures, or cartoons). The main reason for this moral right is that truth has value, and truth should be able to stand up to objections on its merits. It is primarily falsehood that needs to resort to violence in its defense.
This moral prohibition applies to everybody. Some people assert that it is a restriction only placed on government. However, nobody - no individual, no organization, no company - has a right to respond to mere words with violence or threats of violence.
A right to freedom of speech is not a right to enter somebody else's property or private space and start yelling. If there is a violent response to such an action (e.g., fine, imprisonment) it is not a violation of freedom of speech. It is a legitimate response to trespass or to disturbing the peace.
For example, going into a movie theater and shouting protests at the screen when others have come to watch the movie not protected by a right to freedom of speech. An individual has a right to write up a critical review and get it published, or even to shout their protests outside of the theater where it will not disturb those who came to watch the movie. These are legitimate. Entering the theater and disrupting the presentation is not.
The same principle applies to attending a public event for the purpose of shouting down the speaker.
Let us take, for example, an speaking event and a protestor who decides to interrupt and shout her protests for one minute.
There is a principle in morality that says that what it is permissible for one person to do, it is permissible for everybody to do. Almost every moral system has some version of the statement, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." It is found in the expression, "How would you like it if everybody did what you did?" In Kantian terms, it can be expressed as, "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law without contradiction."
So, the person who stands and shouts for a minute is saying that each and every person in the auditorium may stand and deliver a similar one-minute speech. If we assume that the audience has 1000 members, then that is going to be over 16 hours of shouting - assuming that the principle being used involves limiting each individual to 1 minute of uninterrupted shouting.
If one is not willing to wait patiently while every other person takes their minute to shout about something that concerns them, then one is not doing unto others what one would have others do to them. One is acting on maxims one cannot will to be a universal law.
Another way to express this objection is to note that such a person is claiming a special right for themselves that she denies to everybody else. She is saying, in effect, "I am morally superior to all of you; you are all beneath me. My superior moral status gives me rights that none of you have."" Such an act is a paradigm expression of arrogance and self-importance.
Again, there is no objection to writing up a protest, or to arrange one's own meeting where one can express one's own opinion (again, without individuals in the audience shouting their protests). There is no objection to protesting outside of where the speech is being given. The objection is to providing an interruption - the equivalent of standing up and shouting at the screen in the middle of a movie.
Now, I am not a Kantian, nor do I accept moral clichés. However, desirism provides a very similar conclusion.
Instead of, "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law without contradiction," desirism says, "Act as a person with good desires would act, where good desires are those desires people generally have many and strong reasons to promote as universal desires."
Respect for the speaker and for those who came to watch her speak counts as a desire that people generally have many and strong reason to promote as a universal desire. It is something even the person who would interrupt the speech has a reason to promote as a universal desire since, without it, such speeches would be impossible.
This means that a lack of respect for the speaker and the members of the audience who came to hear the speech is something that people generally have many and strong reasons to respond to with condemnation, and even punishment. It is something that gives people generally good reason to identify the speaker as a selfish and arrogant - as somebody who thinks of herself as being superior to and above others and, correspondingly, thinks of others (and is willing to treat them as) lesser beings.
Which, in fact, accurately describes such a person.
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 8:17 AM
Tuesday, March 15, 2016
Internalism not only represents a false belief.
Internalism is one of those pernicious false beliefs that gets people killed - or brings them to suffer other harms. In this, it is like the belief that vaccines cause autism, or the belief that we can dump unlimited amounts of CO2 and CH4 into the atmosphere and not change the climate.
Caroline West defines "the most popular version of internalism" as:
[I]t is a conceptual truth about morality that an agent who judges that she morally ought to φ will, insofar as she is rational, be prima facie motivated to φ. (in "Business as Usual? The Error Theory, Internalism, and the Function of Morality," in A World Without Values: Essays on John Mackie's Moral Error Theory, (Richard Joyce and Simon Kirchin, eds.)Why is this a pernicious false belief?
Because, if it is the case that "X is wrong" implies "I am motivated not to do X", then it follows that if "I am motivated to do X" then "X is not wrong."
It effectively create a morality in which whatever a person is motivated to do is morally right, and the only things that are wrong are things the agent actually does not want to do.
Granted, internalism actually talks about what a person would be motivated to do if they were rational. However, this will not eliminate the problem. It is rational for the rapist to kill his victim. It is rational for the person who can take money or merchanise without being caught to take it. It is rational for a person who can get away with a beneficial lie or successfully bully a rival to lie or successfully bully a rival. One can draw no necessary connection between what it is rational for a person to do and what is right.
West admits that internalism is in conflict with a set of three other beliefs (all of which, I would be willing to argue, are true).
(1) Cognitivism, the view that moral claims express beliefs that can be true or false.NOTE: I usually present the third proposition as, "There is no rationality of desires-as-ends. There is only a rationality of desires-as-means. This is because what we desire as a means is a combination of what we desire as an end plus beliefs, and beliefs can be evaluated rationally.
(2) The Humean theory of motivation, the thesis that beliefs and desires are distinct existences, and that the motivational states are desires.
(3) The Humean theory of normative reason, which holds that reason alone mandates no revision to a subject's existing desire set, except instrumentally.
On this account, if moral claims are beliefs, and only desires motivate, and there is no rationality of desires-as-ends, then there is a disconnect between moral beliefs and motivation.
However, what is more important is that there is a disconnect between moral truth and motivation.
Internalists try to get around this problem by arguing that there is a set of beliefs called "judgments" (which includes moral beliefs) that are motivating and can be evaluated for rationality.
In fact, no such entities exist. This is as much a fiction as postulating angels to explain what keeps the planets in motion.
Here is where that perniciousness comes in again. If the belief that something is morally obligatory provides motivation to do it, then the fact that one does not feel motivated suggests that it is not obligatory. We can determine our moral obligations by looking at what motivates us and, by good fortune, the only things that morality prohibits us from doing are those things we are not motivated to do anyway.
Contrast this with the view that that a person does not determine right from wrong by looking at what one is motivated to do or to refrain from doing. What determines right from wrong is, in some important way, what helps or harms others. Because it is the case that a person can want to do things harmful to others, and want not to do things that would help others, looking to one's own motivation is a very poor way to determine what is right and wrong.
And, yet, a lot of people do this. They look first at what they want to do or what they do not want to do. They then rationalize what they want to do or not doing what they do not want to do. That is, they look for some argument, however unsound it may be, that seems to support the conclusion that what they want to do is right and what they are not morally required to do that which they do not want to do.
This points to where the internalist's "moral judgment" defense fails. The internalist has to argue that there is something about "harm to others" that it is necessarily irrational for an agent to cause and rational for an agent to prevent. Now, let's look at the lion or any other predator or parasite and try to find a way to argue that predators and parasites are necessarily irrational. Just as evolution creates predators and parasites in nature, it has created predatory and parasitical attitudes in us.
Internalism is not only a false belief and a pernicious belief, it is also very, very common. The consequence is a lot of people end up getting hurt, and some of them get killed (or worse).
In her article, West will go on to argue that the various functions of morality (she will identify five) all presuppose some sort of internalism. All of these involve various ways in which moral claims are supposed to alter behavior in some way.
In a follow-up post, I will look at her argument and say, "No, these functions do not suggest any type of internalism. These functions suggest the use of rewards such as praise and punishments such as condemnation to mold malleable desires."
Morality is not concerned with what motivates the rational agent. Morality is concerned with what would motivate the rational agent with good desires and lacked bad desires. "Good desires" are those that people generally have reason to promote, while "bad desires" are those that people generally have reason to inhibit.
This will get us away from this pernicious, false doctrine that a person can determine their obligations and prohibitions by looking at their own motivations.
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 8:28 AM
Monday, March 14, 2016
Are you a moral realist? Anti-realist? Cognitivist or non-cognitivist? Emotivist? Prescriptivist? Error-theorist? Objectivist? Absolutist?
How about "All of the above"?
It turns out that whenever anybody claims to be one of these things to be the accurate account of morality they (um . . . we . . . for I have done this, though I am now nearly certain that it is a mistake) are making an assumption that may not be true.
The assumption is that there is universal agreement on the meaning and use of moral terms. We all have to be using moral terms as realists for realism to be true. We all have to be using moral terms as emotivism if emotivism is true.
If, instead, different people use moral terms in different ways, then it is quite possible for one person to be an emotivist, another to be a cognitivist, and yet another to be an error theorist.
J.L. Mackie, in his book Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong, makes this mistake, and then (unknowingly, I believe) provides an account that shows why it might be mistaken.
Mackie starts with the idea that all moral claims are false. He argues that (1) all moral statements claim that the object of evaluation contains an intrinsic prescriptivity, and (2) intrinsic prescriptivity does not exist, so (3) all moral claims are false.
In saying that all moral claims are false he is saying that there is nearly universal agreement in the use of moral terms such that they always point to intrinsic prescriptivity.
What he intends to do about this is to replace contemporary morality with a new morality. He argues for this by pointing to the way that scientists replaced an old definition of atom ("without parts") with a new definition ("the smallest piece of a given element, but which still is made up of yet smaller parts - electrons, neutrons, and protons"). This move did not harm chemistry at all, so a comparable move should not harm morality.
Mackie wants to replace this defective system of morality with a new system. In this new system, we recognize that there is no intrinsic prescriptivity and we universalize our moral principles across different interests. It is a system where no interest is taken as "intrinsically correct" or "intrinsically incorrect."
Let's assume that Mackie is correct to this point. He introduces this new form of morality and, slowly, people adopt it. Let us assume that we reach a point where 80 percent of the people are using moral terms in the old way where all moral claims are false, and 20% of the population has adopted the new way where some moral claims are objectively true - but where moral claims are not claims about intrinsic prescriptivity.
At this point, Mackie would have created a society where nobody can claim that moral realism is true or false. Moral realism would apply to the 20% of the people who, by "moral", are using Mackie's new definition. Meanwhile, "anti-realism" (in the form of an error theory) still applies to the other 80% who, by "moral", are still making claims about intrinsic prescriptivity.
Anybody who asserts that moral realism is the one and true account of morality, or that error theory is the one true and accurate account of morality, would be wrong. To make either assertion is to make the false assumption that 100% of the people are using the term "moral" the same way.
The thing is, we might already be in a situation where the claim that 100% of the people are using the term "moral" with the same meaning is false.
Simon Kirchin says in "A Tension in Moral Error Theory" ( (in A World Without Values: Essays on John Mackie's Moral Error Theory, (Richard Joyce and Simon Kirchin, eds.), 2010) that the fact that moral theorists come up with so many different accounts of morality suggests that people are not in 100% agreement on the use of meaning of moral terms. Our moral language is a mess - and in that mess it would be false to claim that there is the type of agreement necessary to say that "realism" or "emotivism" or "cognitivism" or any of the other views is true of all of morality.
So, the next time one is invited to defend moral realism, or relativism, or Mackie's error theory, or any of a number of similar positions, perhaps the best and most accurate response is to say, "I can't. Moral language is simply too varied, ambiguous, and vague to allow us to defend any one of these theories."
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 8:52 AM
With primary elections in several states tomorrow, it is my hope that Clinton pulls at least a little further ahead of Sanders for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Sanders threatens such extreme harm to so many people that I cannot see any way for the good he would do to come close to justifying the harm done. Some of us cannot shrug with such indifference at reducing hundreds of millions of people to absolute squalor.
We see more evidence of Sanders' utter disregard for the world's poor and his ignorance of economics in his meeting with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Sanders wants to block immigrants from coming into the United States because, he says, it would lower wage rates and the Koch brothers would profit.
First, Sanders shows not an iota of concern for those being blocked from these jobs. He simply dismisses them, as if they are mere things. This is an attitude I find utterly contemptible (and which is shared by a depressingly large number of Sanders' supporters).
Second, Sanders' views on immigrant labor show a blatant contradiction. If Sanders were a normal politician, I would say that he was contradicting himself to try to get votes from different groups. However, in this case, I think the more accurate description is that Sanders has no idea what he is talking about.
If we accept Sanders' argument for not letting additional workers into the country, then we should adopt Trump's plan to round up the immigrants that are here and throw them out of the country. After all, if new laborers would lower wages and allow the Koch brothers to profit, then the 11 million workers already here should be thought of as depressing wages and allowing the Koch brothers to profit as well.
However, the prevailing view is that those 11 million workers cannot be deported without doing severe harm to the economy. They are, in other words, providing a significant net benefit to the American economy. If this is the case, then there is reason to expect that additional workers would provide a significant net benefit as well.
In the same way that the 11 million immigrants are a net benefit to the American economy, the people lifted out of squalor around the world and made a part of the global work force are a net benefit to the global economy. These people are purchasing food, basic medical care, clothing, and shelter. In doing so, they are feeding and growing these industries - industries that serve the world's poor - industries that will suffer themselves when Sanders throws the local workers out of their local factories.
Note that, in making this argument, I am accepting Sanders' premise that these people are mere things who have value only insofar as they provide a benefit to others. The argument above claims that they do, in fact, provide a benefit to others.
We should be adding to this the fact that these are human beings, and their welfare is important quite independent of the degree to which they are useful to others. Over the past 30 years, the percentage of people in the world living on less than $2.00 per day has dropped from 50% to less than 20%. In absolute terms, we went from a time when 2 billion out of 4 billion people lived in absolute poverty, to a time when 1 billion out of nearly 7 billion live in absolute poverty.
I look at these facts, and I go, "Really? Wow! That's great!" I truly cannot think of any greater accomplishment in human society - ever.
This is a real improvement to the lives of real human beings. This matters. Those people are not mere 'things' whose only value comes from being a benefit to others.
The President of the United States has a great deal of power when it comes to trade. This means we can't elect Sanders as President and hope that a more intelligent and compassionate Congress will block his more destructive ideas. Sanders can do far more harm to far more of the world's poor far faster than anything that can come from, for example, the Republican denial of climate change.
Sanders' still brags about 25 years of opposition to the very plans that have brought about these changes. Yet, he refuses to even mention these benefits. He refuses to talk about those people as anything other than "potential job stealers". That is all they are to him. And that is all they are to many of his followers.
If the Koch brothers and others profit from this, then, instead of shutting down the systems that have provided such a benefit, we can keep those systems in place and tax those concentrations of wealth instead. With that tax money, we can provide even more benefits to the 1 billion people still in extreme poverty. We can provide food, clean water, basic medical care, capital improvements, training, and education.
Furthermore, let us not pretend that everybody has gained as a result of these policies. Some have been made worse off. We should be using some of that money to help those who are harmed - to smooth the transition to a world where fewer people live in extreme poverty.
It is for the sake of those hundreds of millions of people that Sanders and many of his followers care nothing about that I hope that Clinton will pull further ahead of Sanders tomorrow. The human suffering that would come from a Sanders victory is too great to shrug off.
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 8:02 AM
Friday, March 11, 2016
In the article "Normativity, deliberation, and Queerness," (in A World Without Values: Essays on John Mackie's Moral Error Theory, (Richard Joyce and Simon Kirchin, eds.), 2010), David Copp considered and raised objections to five arguments for the Authoritative Reasons Proposal.
The Authoritative Reasons Proposal says this:
Authoritative Reasons Proposal: Necessarily, if a person has a moral obligation to do something, then (a) there is a moral reason for her to do it, and (b) if she is fully rational and believes she is obligated to do it or that there is a moral reason for her to do it, she takes this obligation or reason appropriately into account in deciding what to do.David Copp rejects the Authoritative Reasons Proposal. In doing so, he looked at five arguments that might be offered in its defense, and raised objections to each of them.
One of those arguments was the Argument from "Ought" implies "Can".
The first premise is that moral obligations are incumbent on all rational agents.... The second premise is the maxim that “ought implies can”.... An agent who, all things considered, is morally obligated to do something must be able to do it....But then, third, anyone who is subject to a moral obligation must be able to fulfill the obligation simply in virtue of exercising her rational capacities, irrespective of contingent features of her circumstances or of her desires or values and the like.... We can now draw the desired conclusion. For if an agent can comply with the demands of morality simply by exercising her capacity for rational deliberation and action, it must be that the reasons to act in accord with these demands would motivate her to act accordingly insofar as she were thinking rationally.I am going to object to the third premise in this argument. If an agent is under a moral obligation, this does not imply that the agent can perform the action irrespective of her desires or values and the like. This would require some sort of magical force that does not exist in the real world. The capacity to act independent of our desires and values simply does not exist. If morality requires such a capacity, this would not be an argument that shows that capacities of this type are real. This would be an argument that shows that morality itself is a fiction.
However, morality does not require this fictitious capacity. Instead, to say that an agent is under a moral obligation is to say that if the agent had the right desires or values, then the agent could (and would) perform the action. In the language of the compatibilists, "could have done otherwise" implies "would have done otherwise if she had wanted to."
Since an agent cannot, in fact, "comply with the demands of morality simply by exercising her capacity for rational deliberation" it does not follow that "the reasons to act in accord with these demands would motivate her to act accordingly insofar as she were thinking rationally."
It is actually the good desires that would motivate her to act accordingly - the good desires that she would have if the reasons (desires) she had matched up with the reasons (desires) she SHOULD have. The reasons (desires) that people generally have reason to cause her to have.
There is a place for adding in this account that the agent not only "would have acted otherwise if she had wanted to" but also that she "could have wanted to". However, in saying this we are only saying that the reasons under discussion are reasons that can be molded using rewards such as praise and punishments such as condemnation. It is to say that this is one of the ways in which society is capable of molding malleable brains.
David Copp takes these same points in the opposite direction and comes up with a similar problem.
If it were the case that our moral obligations depended on the reasons we had and not the reasons we should have, then it would be very easy to get out of many claims concerning our obligations.
If I am unloving, careless, and lazy, I will not take care of my children. I could not cease to be unloving, careless, and lazy by a simple exercise of my rational capacities. But I certainly cannot invoke the Maxim to argue on this basis that I have no duty to feed my children.A person who must "change psychologically in ways he could not bring about simply by exercising his rational capacities" (to exchange the reasons has with for reasons he should have) cannot escape morality by this fact alone.
In fact, there is something quite dangerous in the idea that our moral requirements are determined by what it is rational for us to do. It does make it easy to escape moral obligations whenever the case that what it is rational for a person to do is to act in ways that are harmful to others. If it is rational for an agent to kill a person he just raped (to prevent her from talking), and a person's moral obligations are limited to what it is rational for a person to do, then morality must command the agent to kill the person he just raped.
The way around this is to deny that morality has anything to do with what it is actually rational for an agent to do at any given moment, but rather with what it would be rational for the agent to do if he had the reasons to act that he should have (that people generally have reasons to cause him to have).
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 3:22 PM
The Authoratative Reasons Proposal states:
Authoritative Reasons Proposal: Necessarily, if a person has a moral obligation to do something, then (a) there is a moral reason for her to do it, and (b) if she is fully rational and believes she is obligated to do it or that there is a moral reason for her to do it, she takes this obligation or reason appropriately into account in deciding what to do.David Copp rejects the Authoritative Reasons Proposal. In doing so, he looks at five arguments that might be offered in its defense, and seeks to defeat each of them. (Copp, David, "Normativity, Deliberation, and Queerness" in A World Without Values: Essays on John Mackie's Moral Error Theory, (Richard Joyce and Simon Kirchin, eds.), 2010.)
I, too, reject the Authoritative Reasons Proposal. Practical ought and rationality relate actions to the reasons that an agent has. Moral ought relates actions to the reasons that an agent should have (the reasons that people generally have reason to cause people to have). Insofar as there can be a gap between the reasons an agent has and the reasons an agent should have, there can be a gap between what an agent rationally ought to do and what an agent morally ought to do.
Now, setting that aside for a moment, I want to look at Copp's response to one argument that might be offered in defense of the ARP.
This is the "Argument from Blame".
First, an agent is morally required all things considered to do something only if she would be blameworthy if she were to fail to do it, unless she had an excuse. But, second, a person is not blameworthy for doing something unless she had a good reason not to do it. . . . It follows, then, that an agent is morally required all things considered to do something only if she has reason to do it, and only if it is not the case that she has better reason not to do it.I argue that blame is a tool that is used to try to close this gap between what agents have reason to do and what agents should have reason to do. A person is blameworthy when that person acts in a way that demonstrates that this gap exists - that the reasons an agent has (that motivated the morally wrong action) are not the reasons the reasons the agent should have (which would have motivated the morally correct action).
In looking at the argument above, we need to take note of the phrase "has a reason", "had a good reason", and "has better reason". There is a distinction to be had between the reasons an agent has and the reasons she should have. "Has a reason" speaks to the reasons that the agent has. "had a good reason" or "has better reason" speaks to the reasons of quality. We need to say something about what it takes for a reason to be a good reason, or a better reason.
I would argue that, at least in the realm of morality, the quality of a reason depends on whether there are other reasons to promote it. Where people have reasons to promote a reason we may call it a good reason. Where people have even more and stronger reasons to promote a different reason, it is a better reason.
However, a more important distinction here is not about the good or better reasons an agent has, but the distinction between the reasons an agent has and those she should have.
The phrase, "An agent is morally required all things considered to do something only if she has reason to do it," is false. To say that she is morally required to do something is to say that she SHOULD HAVE reason to do it - that people generally have many and strong reasons to make it the case that she has reason to do it. However, it need not be the case that the agent actually does have the reasons she should have - the reasons that people generally have reasons to cause her to have. The agent may be immoral, which means that the reasons she has are not the reasons she should have.
Copp describes for us a gangster who has reasons to engage in criminal activity in order to obtain power and enjoyment. His moral obligation to give up a life of crime does not depend on him actually having a reason to do so (such that, if he lacks this reason, then he also lacks the obligation). It is associated with the fact that she should have reasons to do so - that he ought to have reasons to refrain from harming others and to obey the law that he currently lacks.
Going back to the Authoritative Reasons Proposal, if a person has a moral obligation to do something then it is true that there are moral reasons for her to do it, though these reasons that exist need not be reasons the agent has. And if they are not reasons that the agent has, then she can be fully rational and aware of the fact that these reasons exist but still ignore them, as a true villain would.
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 12:11 PM
In my defense of my account of morality, I have worried about the presentation that I have used to express the basic ideas used in this theory.
I present them by describing a universe that consists of a single person (Alph) with a single desire (to gather stones).
At the start, I describe specifically what it is to have a "desire that I am gathering stones". It is a desire that motivates Alph to realize a state of affairs within which the proposition, "I am gathering stones" is true. It is not a desire that stones be gathered. The creation of a pile of stones is an unintended consequence of realizing a state in which "I am gathering stones" is true, but it is not the goal or the end.
The description goes on from here. It shows the distinction between means and ends as Alph runs out of stones to gather and now must scatter stones as a means to once against realize a state in which "I am gathering stones" is true.
I introduce a second person, Betty, and give Alph the ability to choose whether Betty has a desire to gather stones or to scatter stones. I point out that Alph has a reason to cause Betty to desire to scatter stones, because this would allow Alph to continually gather stones without running out of stones to gather.
In writing this, I have always had a worry that a critic would look at this and report how such a story cannot possibly have anything interesting to say about the real world. The imagined critic would say that this is the wrong way to go about such a project.
I could not see how this skepticism could be turned into a substantive objection. Indeed, I pointed out how, in a physics class, one would learn the principles of mechanics through a method of instruction that involved frictionless surfaces and massless strings - simplifications that allowed one to look more precisely at what it is we wanted to study.
And still I remained bothered by the skeptic who refused to accept this as providing any type of useful information.
In anticipation of returning to graduate school, I have gone online to "The Great Courses" and purchased a course on introductory philosophy, "Great Ideas of Philosophy, 2nd Edition", taught by Professor Daniel N. Robinson of Oxford University.
Lecture 27, "Newton - The Saint of Science"
Professor Robinson describes Newton's "Great Idea" this way:
First, [Newton] reduces the problem. He renders the problem in utterly abstract terms. He reduces the problem to the problem of an ideal mass - a point, revolving around a center of force. No need to look at planets or peer through telescopes. Rather, once can sit with a pencil and a piece of paper . . . and determine the behavior of an ideal mass making revolutions around a center of force. Now this becomes an idealized model of an imaginable world - a possible world.This actually makes me feel better about my idealized world consisting of a single person and a single desire, adding complexities, to explain the fundamental concepts from which a theory of morality would come to be constructed. In fact, it almost wants me to go back and start over, to create this idealized world and to explain these concepts, without the hesitation that I have felt in the past from second-guessing myself.
Because I do, in fact, think that all of the elements of morality can be demonstrated as complexity gets added to this simple model.
In more general terms, this provides me with yet another example of a problem that arises when an individual focuses too narrowly on a given field of study and ignores those things he judges to be irrelevant. Under normal circumstances, I would never have studied Newton because Newton was not a moral philosopher - so he would have nothing to say on a topic that interests me.
However, as happened here, I sometimes resolve (or I am forced - as when I was compelled to take 'core requirements' in college) to study outside of my interest, and I find hugely important information. A second example is when I was forced to take a course in the philosophy of mind and discovered that desires are propositional attitudes whereby a desire that P motivates an agent to realize a state of affairs in which P is true.
Perhaps, now, I can actually write that book.
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 8:45 AM
Thursday, March 10, 2016
In August, 1789, France's National Constituent Assembly adopted "The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen"
The very first of these rights:
"Article 1: Men are born free and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions can be founded only on the common good."
Except in Saint Dominique - now known as Haiti.
A lot of wealthy French people were making a lot of money on the slave plantations in Saint Dominique so, as a result, the slaves in Saint Dominique were not free, nor were they considered equal in rights. And when computing whether social distinctions were founded on the common good, only the good of the plantation owners was considered, not that of the slaves.
I find it completely surprising the degree to which people can sweep moral considerations aside when there is money to be made.
Of course, we saw the same thing in the United States.
"All men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
Except the black slaves - who were created to be slaves. And a quarter of a million people would lay down their lives in an effort to keep them as slaves.
There is this huge gap in wealth. Globally, the top 0.1% of the population owns 81% of the global wealth. 99.9% of the population shares the remaining 19%.
And so a call goes out that morality demands that we take some of the wealth being hoarded by this top 0.1% and use it to aid . . . um . . . people in about the $20,000 to $100,000 per year range. The people in the $0 to $1000 per year range can just go off somewhere and die.
All, of course, bought and paid for by the people in the $20,000 to $100,000 per year range, with their campaign contributions and their votes.
Of course, we are told that there is a moral principle involved here. The redistribution of wealth from the very wealthy to this middle-range group is morally required.
But we can ignore the people in the $0 to the $1000 range, in the same way that the people in France ignored the slaves in Haiti, and the people in the United States ignored their slaves (and the Native Americans) when they had a moral principle at stake.
They are just so easy to ignore.
If we don't talk about them, it is as if they do not exist. We can't have moral obligations towards THEM because . . . well . . . who are you talking about again? You say that the money should go to aid those in the $0 to $1000 per year category FIRST? That the people in the $20,000 to $100,000 per year category might even be obligated to PAY a portion of their income to provide aid, rather than receive the new set of government benefits of free college and medical care being promised to them on account of their relative (compared to the top 1%) poverty?
One studies these events in utter disbelief that so many people can so conveniently ignore such a blatant inconsistency. And, yet, it sits there as obvious as a lone tree in on a lone island in the ocean.
Perhaps it would not be so mind-boggling if the people involved just admitted, "Our goal is to take from others and to give to us. Whether those others are wealthier than us or poorer, it does not matter. What matters is merely our power to take from them and to profit thereby."
But, instead, these are cases where people claim to be acting because morality commands it - because it is the right thing to do. Morality insists that people are born free and equal. Morality insists that those who have far more than they need be made to give up some of their wealth to aid those who need more than they have. EXCEPT the slaves. EXCEPT the people of the earth living on $0 to $1000 per year.
(Particularly owing to the fact that we have obtained a great deal of our wealth by taking from the people in these countries. It is not like our business and political leaders have seen it as an inviolable duty to see to it that these people got paid a fair price for their resources and a fair wage for their labor.)
Where did these exceptions come from?
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 2:50 PM
David Copp starts of with two principles of rationality and moral reasons. (Copp, David, "Normativity, Deliberation, and Queerness" in A World Without Values: Essays on John Mackie's Moral Error Theory, (Richard Joyce and Simon Kirchin, eds.), 2010.)
Right out of the gate, I am afraid, I am not going to like either of these two proposals.
Authoritative Reasons Proposal: Necessarily, if a person has a moral obligation to do something, then (a) there is a moral reason for her to do it, and (b) if she is fully rational and believes she is obligated to do it or that there is a moral reason for her to do it, she takes this obligation or reason appropriately into account in deciding what to do.This is false.
I will start with the proposition that rationality relates actions to the reasons (desires) that an agent has, while morality relates actions to the reasons (desires) that an agent morally should have. The desires that an agent morally should have are the desires that other people have reason to cause agents to have. To the degree that there is a gap between the reasons an agent has and the reasons an agent should have, there is a gap between what an agent rationally ought to do and what the agent morally ought to do.
So, if we go back to the original proposal, it is the case that if a person has a moral obligation to φ (if a person with good desires would φ), then there are moral reasons for her to do it.
Now, if this agent is fully rational, and even if she believes that she is obligated to φ (that a person with good desires would φ), she may not have a reason to φ if the reasons she has diverges from the reasons she should have.
In fact, the distance between the reasons an agent has and the reasons an agent should have - what it is rational for her to do and what it would be rational for a person with good desires to do - is the measure of moral evil.
Non-Instrumental Reasons: An agent S has a “non-instrumental reason” to φ just in case there is a reason for her to φ and the fact that this is so does not depend on S's having any particular desires, values, or interests, or on whether S's φing would be to her advantage.I will end up agreeing that there are non-instrumental reasons. These are desires that people have other than the agent. However, I am going to have trouble with the phrase that says that "agent S HAS a 'non-instrumental reason'". It is one thing to say that a non-instrumental reason exists. It is another to say that the agent has it.
When we look at the desires that other agents have, there is a difference between saying that those desires are reasons for her to φ, and saying that those desires are reasons for causing S to acquire a reason to φ. When I write about moral reasons, I am writing about the second of these two distinctions, not the first. This is captured in the distinction between the reasons that S has, and the reasons that S should have - the reasons that others have reason to cause her to have.
So, "there is a reason for her to φ" means that there is a desire that would be fulfilled by her φing. Such a desire would count as a reason to bring it about that S does φ. However, it does not count as a reason that S has to φ. It is possible that no such reason exists.
There are what we might call "non-instrumental reasons" that exist (desires that exist) that are independent of the desires, values, and interests that S has (unless S is the only person in the world). However, to say that S has a non-instrumental reason merely because other reasons exist is confusing at best. Instead, we can more clearly express this idea by saying, "There exists non-instrumental reasons for S to φ just in case there are reasons (desires) for her to φ that are not her own and, thus, do not depend on S's having any particular desire, value, or interest."
I want to note that Kopp himself rejects Proposal 1. That is to say that Kopp is not defending these proposals. He simply wants to discuss them. Specifically, he wants to argue that, if Proposal 1 is true, "that moral naturalism has nothing to fear from the proposal".
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 12:13 PM
(1) There are desires constitutive of being rational.
(2) If there were a desire constitutive of being rational, then it would answer Mackie's objection that there are no objective values without postulating non-natural properties.
I am going to have to be careful here.
I hold that the first proposition is false.
Michael Smith wants to suggest that the second proposition could be true. (Smith, Michael, "Beyond the Error Theory," in A World Without Values: Essays on John Mackie's Moral Error Theory, (Richard Joyce and Simon Kirchin, eds.), 2010.)
I need to be careful to prevent my beliefs that the first proposition is false from contaminating Smith's argument that the second proposition could be true.
However, I find this difficult.
Consider the following two claims:
(1) Fully grown horses can fly.
(2) If fully grown horses could fly, then granite would sink in water.
I take the first statement to be false.
Now, when I go to the second statement, I am confronted with the question, "How was reality changed so as to make it possible that fully grown horses can fly?"
It is only after I know what those changes are that I can then infer what those changes imply about whether granite would sink in water.
Consequently, to assess Michael Smith's claim that if desires are constituative of rationality then this would handle Mackie's error theory, , I have to consider the changes to the real world that would be required to make it the case that desires are constituative of rationality. Only then will be able to infer from those changes whither this they would answer Mackie's challenge that there are (or can be) no objective values.
More specifically, Smith wants to examine the suggestion that a statement of the form, "People intrinsically desire that P" is constituative of rationality.
I take Smith's claim of "intrinsic rationality" to be the same as what I call "desires as an end". If we accept this substitution, then I certainly have to accept that, for each has a number of intrinsic desires. There is no question here.
An obvious example is that many people have an "intrinsic aversion" to their own pain. That is to say, they see the avoidance of their own pain as an end and will choose to avoid pain even in circumstances where the agent will otherwise benefit. Offer somebody a dollar if he would endure 1 hour of painful torture, and I suspect there would be few takers.
So, the problem is not with the claim that "people intrinsically desire that P". The problem is with the claim that "people intrinsically desire that P" can be constituative of rationality.
Intrinsic desires are like eye color, opposable thumbs, being bipedal, having a spleen, and having the capacity to see color. We have acquired these through a long history of evolution. Having an aversion to pain is no more constituative of rationality than having a spleen, or having blue eyes.
Our brain is plastic - so that our desires are, in part, shaped by our experiences and not just our genes. However, the number of fingers (or even the number of arms and legs) a person has is also shaped by experience. The ability to see and to hear, and the color of one's eyes and hair, can be altered through interaction with the environment. Interactions with the environment can change the fact of whether a person has a spleen or an appendix. However, this fact does not make it the case that any of these states are constituative of rationality.
Similarly, the fact that experience can alter a person's desires does not make the desires constituative of rationality.
It may be irrational to cut off one's arm, and it may be irrational to choose to acquire an addiction to tobacco (by taking up smoking), but this does not imply that having an arm or not having an addiction to tobacco is constituative of rationality. The reason that the actions can be considered rational or irrational is because intentional actions are grounded, in part, on beliefs, and those beliefs can be checked for rationality.
Now, I can turn to the problem I have with Smith's thesis that IF desires were constituative of rationality, then we may have an answer to Mackie's objection to the existence of objective values. However, this is like saying IF having an appendix were constituative of rationality or IF eye color was constituative of rationality or IF having opposable thumbs were constituative of rationality. I can't make enough sense out of the antecedent to answer the question.
There is no desire constituative of rationality. It may still be the case that if there were desires constituative of rationality that Mackie would have a problem dealing with them. However, that issue becomes a moot point in the shadow of the fact that there are no desires constituative of rationality.
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 9:24 AM