Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Finishing the Last Paper, Planning the Next

In 271 days I attend my first class.

Recent projects include reading John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism, and starting John Locke 's Two Treatise on Civil Government.

I am actually including the first treatise, which is usually skipped, and for good reason. In it, Locke argues against a Sir Robert Filmer, who used scripture to defend the absolute power and divine right of kings. Locke argues that scripture contains no such proof.

I, of course, hold that scripture provides a foundation for nothing in morals or politics, it being the imaginative fictions of substantially ignorant tribes. Still, it is an interesting cultural study of what once was - and in some unfortunate parts of the world still is - thought to be an important process.

In this treatise, one can still see and be impressed by Locke's sharp mind - and surprised at how that sharp mind can treat scripture as revealed truth rather than an ancient fiction.

As a side note, he also gives an excellent account, from scripture, of the equality between men and women - or, at least, of husbands and wives. And argues that a wife's subjugation to her husband, like the pain of child birth, provides no reason to continue to suffer that state any longer than it takes to find the means to end it. This - in the late 1600s.

Oh, and I, at one time, thought of Mill as a type of motive utilitarian. He does make the noises of a motive utilitarian when discussing the love of virtue and the sentiment of justice, he does, for the most part, fit a rule-utilitarian mold.

And, I continue work on my paper - which I am now calling, "A Motive Utilitarian Account of Condemnation and Punishment."

As is usually the case, "editing" a document involves completely rewriting it - and this is no exception. However, I am going to make it a rule that, once I get done with this draft, there will be no more substantive rewrites unless evidence is found that I have made a significant error. Instead, I intend to do what philosophers had done generally - which is to create a new edition that addresses some concerns and mentions some additional implications, but the structure of the paper will not change.

I have, as promised, added footnotes and citations - linking to the works of other authors.

I am not mentioning desirism because (1) I still find it a bit pretentious to have my own ethical theory, and (2) I do not want to clutter the discussion. However, in the conclusion of the paper I will point out how the considerations raised in the paper actually yield an implication that utilitarianism - as traditionally understood - is flawed. Motives are not ultimately to be evaluated according by the degree to which they maximize utility, but motives are to be evaluated by the degree that they fulfill or thwart other desires - this providing the reasons that exist to either promote or to inhibit the desire in question.

In this edition, whole sections have vanished - such as the section on the neuroscience of punishment. I need to study that field more before I make claims about its findings - and that is something I intend to do in graduate school. I can take a limited number of courses outside of the department - and I think a class on the neuroscience of "reward" (and punishment) will be rewarding. And the University of Colorado at Boulder has a "Center for Neuroscience" that coordinates activities in 13 departments including philosophy.

As a possible future course of action, I may send the center an email describing my research interest to see if there is anybody there willing to give me some advice on the topic. This, in turn, can be the subject of another paper.

In fact, now that I am nearly finished with this one and I am resolving not to make substantive changes, I want to start researching and working on the next paper - and I am trying to figure out what that next paper should be.

Perhaps I will build on my criticism of Peter Singer and Sam Harris and their use of "external reasons" that do not exist.

Perhaps I will write a paper on the distinction between reasons that an agent has ("to have a reason") and reasons that exist ("there exists a reason").

Perhaps I will discuss the false dichotomy of objective versus subjective morality, and how the vague definitions of these terms keep people debating something that would be settled if people only learned to speak clearly.

Perhaps I will defend my claim that J.L. Mackie is a "schmoral" realist.

Perhaps I will explain how J.S. Mill can defend his utilitarianism from the criticisms of G.E. Moore.

Perhaps I should write on a theory of excuse that describes moral excuses as statements that break the implication from what looks on the face of it to be a wrong action to the conclusion that the agent failed to have good motives.

Perhaps I will address Henry Sidgwick's objections to motives being the ultimate object of moral evaluation.

. . . . um . . . that last one. Yeah. That sounds like a good project. I have already been reading Sidgwick - and it will contribute to my project of getting a basic understanding of moral and political philosophy before classes start. Sidgwick is one of those authors that moral philosophers would be expected to have read and understood. And I will try to write it in such a way that a fan of desirism can hand it out to their friends and family and say, "See, this is what I am talking about. Morality is about evaluating motives, not about evaluating actions."


Unknown said...

All of them. Write a paper on all of them. Or even better, write a new book which includes all of these plus the studies in neuroscience and behavior modification. :)

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Well, I have this PhD dissertation I will need to write (assuming I can convince the school to accept me into that program), and all of this work is preparation towards that end. And it will include anything I can learn in the subjects of neuroscience and behavioral modification.

In fact, one of my objectives when I actually get to take classes will be to include either a class or a special studies project with a neuroscientist on punishment and reward and - if things work out the way I would like - produce a paper on the neurobiology of condemnation and punishment.

But I need that class.