166 days until the first class.
I have gotten permission from Professor Iskra Fileva on the topic I wrote about in a previous post.
As a reminder - in " "The Emotional Basis of Moral Judgments," Jesse Prinz sought to defend "agent-centered sentimentalism" (also known as assessor-relative moral theory) - the view that to say that something is good is to say that the assessor approves of it, and to say that it is bad is to say that the assessor disapproves.
One of the arguments he used was the claim that the moral instruction of children "...conditions the child to experience negative emotions in conjunction with misdeeds."
But, when the parent tells the child that hitting her brother is wrong, the parent is NOT saying, "If you have no aversion to hitting your brother, you would be using moral terms incorrectly if you then said it was wrong." Rather, the parent is saying, "You OUGHT TO have an aversion to hitting your brother; failure to have this aversion makes you a bad person."
So, I am going to write a paper that argues that the arguments Prinz uses in defense of "agent-centered sentimentalism" work much better as arguments in defense of the thesis that praise and condemnation are used to mold sentiments - promoting sentiments (desires and aversions) that people generally have many and strong reasons to promote.
If I can pull this off . . . it could be a substantial defense of a key part of desirism. And I will get the feedback of an academic philosopher who is an expert in the relevant information.
By the way . . . to David Jacquemotte . . . this class has heavily discussed the relevance of empirical psychology to morality. It will include a discussion of some relevant research in the realm of psychology. This is one of the reasons that I asked to be involved in the course, even though I am not a real student yet. Another one of my objectives in this paper will be to address some of the empirical research that the authors we discussed have considered relevant - such as the research of Jonathan Haidt that shows that people use sentiment as a gauge of right and wrong. I know that you have been wanting that . . . at least, if I have interpreted your comments correctly.
In a related issue, as a part of this paper, I want to address the idea of moral internalism versus externalism.
There is an argument in favor of Prinz' form of moral relativism that claims that a person does not use moral terms correctly if he claims that something is wrong but lacks an aversion to performing that action, or says that something is obligatory without being motivated to perform that action.
This is one of the points that I am going to address in the paper.
You see, it may well be the case that a person will not say "X is obligatory" unless he has a reason to encourage people to do X. However, this does not imply that, "I have a reason to encourage people to do X" is a part of its meaning.
It is also the case that a person will not sincerely say, "Y is true," unless the speaker believes Y. However, this does not allow us to draw the conclusion that "I believe that Y" is a part of the meaning of "Y is true". It does not prove that it is not possible for Y to be true in the absence of the agent's belief that Y is true. If I were to sincerely assert Lincoln was president of the United States from 1861 to 1865, it is necessarily the case that I believe that Lincoln was president of the United States from 1861 to 1865 - and I could not sincerely use the claim that this is true if I did not believe it. However, it does not follow from these facts that we do not know what the claim "'Lincoln was president of the United States from 1861 to 1865' is true" means independent of the fact that I believe it. Its truth is independent of my belief in spite of the fact that I could not sincerely assert that it was true unless I believed it.
Similarly, if I were to say "X is obligatory" it may be necessarily the case that I approve of people doing X. However, this does not allow us to draw the conclusion that "I approve of people doing X" is a part of the meaning of "X is obligatory". It does not prove that it is not possible for "X is obligatory" to be true in the absence of my approval of people doing X. If I were to tell my nephew that hitting his younger sister is wrong, it is almost certainly the case that I would not do so unless I disapproved of my nephew hitting his sister. However, it does not follow from the fact that I could not utter the statement sincerely unless I had such a sense of disapproval that my disapproval is a part of the meaning of "hitting your sister is wrong." The truth is independent of my disapproval in spite of the fact that I could not sincerely assert that it is true unless I disapproved.
The reason that disapproval is a part of the sincere claim is that the claim itself is an intentional act. Like the decision to go for a walk, or a decision to have the last slice of chocolate cake, the decision to condemn my nephew is something that I do on purpose. As something that I do on purpose, I must have a reason for my action. Since my action is clearly an action that aims to dissuade my nephew from hitting his younger sister, I would only utter the statement sincerely if I had an attitude of disapproval with respect to my nephew hitting my younger sister. But that does not mean that this attitude is a part of the meaning of "It is wrong for you to hit your younger sister."
In fact, this is also applicable to truth. Stating, "Lincoln was President of the United States from 1861 to 1865" is also an intentional act. As an intentional act, I cannot sincerely assert it unless I had a reason to do so - doing so must serve an interest that I have. In this case, it serves my interest in illustrating a fact about moral internalism versus moral externalism. Yet, the fact that I cannot utter the statement without having a sincere reason to do so, it does not follow that my having such a reason is built into the very meaning of the phrase, "Lincoln was President of the United States from 1861 to 1865" - or that its truth depends on my having a reason to say it.
In short, if we are interested in knowing the meaning of a term or phrase, we are not going to find it in the reasons that people have for expressing it. These types of arguments are not going to support internalism or externalism. The motivations one may have for sincerely uttering a phrase, whether it be "X is obligatory" or "Y is good", are not a part of its meaning.
Wednesday, March 15, 2017
166 days until the first class.
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 7:46 PM