Friday, January 18, 2019

British Ethical Theorists 0016:Some Notes 01

This will likely be one of several posts in this series that just jot down some random pieces of information that I encounter in my reading.

Sidgwick on Motivational Internalism

Sidgewick wrote that the judgment that X ought to be done gives an impulse or motive to action and that it must at least be possible that this impulse to action conflicts with the agent's other motives. Sidgwick seems to be arguing that the "ought" of morality is something that does battle against other inclinations - where, in some cases, the other inclinations win out and where moral ought wins out in others.

Specifically, Sidgwick wrote in Methods of Ethics, Part I, Chapter 3, Part 3 that:

Further, when I speak of the cognition or judgment that `X ought to be done'---in the stricter ethical sense of the term ought---as a `dictate' or `precept' of reason to the persons to whom it relates, I imply that in rational beings as such this cognition gives an impulse or motive to action: though in human beings, of course, this is only one motive among others which are liable to conflict with it, and is not always---perhaps not usually---a predominant motive. In fact, this possible conflict of motives seems to be connoted by the term `dictate' or `imperative', which describes the relation of Reason to mere inclinations or non-rational impulses by comparing it to the relation between the will of a superior and the wills of his subordinates. This conflict seems also to be implied in the terms `ought', `duty', `moral obligation', as used in ordinary moral discourse: and hence these terms cannot be applied to the actions of rational beings to whom we cannot attribute impulses conflicting with reason. We may, however, say of such beings that their actions are `reasonable', or (in an absolute sense) `right'.

Desirism, of course, would deny this. A judgment that something is a duty is a judgment that a person with good desires and lacking bad desires would do it. However, it is at least possible that the agent has other ends and none of the ends that a person with good desires and lacking bad desires would have. In fact, this should be said - to base morality on one's own ends is to conceive of the world in which the agent himself is a master and all others are mere servants. Granted, this way of thinking is consistent with each agent being a benevolent master - they may still care about others. Still, it only allows the interests of others to be morally relevant if the agent has a relevant motivational pro-attitude towards those interests. If not, the agent is not rendered evil. Instead, the interests the agent is not moved to consider are rendered - by that fact alone - irrelevant.

Moore on the Usefulness of Virtues

G.E. Moore, in seems, denied that virtues had intrinsic value. His main argument stated in Principia Ethica, Chapter V, convincingly enough:

Nevertheless I do not think we can regard it as part of the definition of virtue that it should be good in itself. For the name has so far an independent meaning, that if in any particular case a disposition commonly considered virtuous were proved not to be good in itself, we should not think that a sufficient reason for saying that it was not a virtue but was only thought to be so.

As written, this is one of the features of desirism. A desire is good insofar as it tends to fulfill other desires. No desire is good in itself. If it were discovered that a particular character trait were to do more to fulfill the desires of others than was originally thought, then tha is a reason to promote that desire as a virtue. If it tends to do harm, then we have reason to condemn it. If it were the case that selfishness produced vast amounts of wealth that made even the lives of the poorer individuals better off, then that would be a reason to call it a virtue. If, instead, it results in a few families hoarding the vast majority of wealth and the rest of us being merely their serfs and servants, then this gives most of us reason to condemn selfishness.

Broad, Sidgwick, and the Role of Reward and Punishment

C.D. Broad, in his book Five Types of Ethical Theory, he devotes Chapter 6 to the study of Sidgwick. In this, he presents Sidgwick's argument that the concept of right is findamental and basic - that it is unanalyzable. To make his case, he looks at various proposed analysis and dismisses them.

One of the possible forms of analysis is: "other men will feel approval towards me if I do X and will feel disapproval towards me if I omit to do X".

This is near enough to what desirism states that one should comment on the difference. A good desire, according to desirism, is one that people have reason to promote using praise (of those who exhibit it) and condemnation (of those who do not). However, good and bad desires are not identified by actual praise and condemnation, but on the praise and condemnation people have reasons to inflict. The objections that Broad applies (in Sidgwick's name) to the former theory do not apply to the latter. For example, Broad has Sidgwick objecting that it certainly seems possible for it to be the case that the people praise some form of conduct that is still not right, or condemn some conduct that is not wrong. So, what people actually praise and condemn cannot determine what is right or wrong. This is true. This is because there is sometimes a difference between what people have reason to praise and condemn on the one hand, and what they do praise and condemn on the other. So, Sidgwick is correct about this reduction of right, but he did not say anothing about the more reasonable alternative.

No comments: