Thursday, March 24, 2016

Caroline West: The Relationship between Motivation and Moralilty

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.

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