Monday, March 06, 2017

A First Strike against Sentamentalism

175 days until the first class.

I am pushing to finish “Morality from the Ground Up”. Currently, the document is 22,000 words. (Typed, double space, with standard margins, this means about 88 pages.) I promised to have this formatted and posted by the middle of March, and I think I am on track to do this. I am about 70% of the way through editing the document, after which I need to add title pages and a TOC and I can put it up on the Desirism site.

Then I focus my attention on my next such project – for the Contemporary Moral Theory course that I am somewhat taking this semester.

The reading assignments that I went through over the weekend have sharpened my focus on what this paper will be about. The title will be, “The Immorality of Sentamentalism”.

Sentamentalism is a type of moral theory that states that moral judgments are expressions of an agent’s sentiments. Basic sentimentalism asserts that there is little more to a moral assertion than a claim about an agent’s sentiment that an action is right or wrong. More complex versions of sentimentalism hold that rightness or wrongness is determined by the sentiment that an agent would have towards an object of evaluation under if one had full and accurate information and employed sound reasoning.

David Hume provides examples of both types of sentimentalism.

The following is an example of basic sentimentalism:

When you pronounce any action or character to be vicious, you mean nothing, but that from the constitution of your nature you have a feeling or sentiment of blame from the contemplation of it.

Here, an expression of rightness or wrongness is nothing but an expression of one’s attitude towards it.

However, Hume elsewhere presents us a more elaborate idea of wrongness. In order to accurately judge something as wrong, one must:

Learn all of the relevant facts about that which one is evaluating. For example, it may appear to be the case that one person struck another but, on examination, one may discover that the blow came accidentally or from another person entirely.

Use the imagination and remove any harm or benefit one may obtain from a verdict one way or another. For example, one may be able to step into a job that would be left vacant if a competitor is declared to be a wrongdoer, but one should not allow their potential benefit to cloud one’s judgment in this or any other case.

Use the imagination to remove any thought of harm or benefit to others one cares about – such as to one’s children or one’s close friends. These two might cloud an individual’s judgment.

Include all relevant facts about human nature such as what a person can normally be expected to know or conclude from a set of evidence.

On this account, to judge something wrong is to judge that one would have a sentiment of disapproval if one had performed all of these tasks responsibly even if, before doing so, one’s initial attitude was something entirely.

In my paper, I am going to argue that the claim that this accounts for the meaning of moral terms is false. It is, in fact, a bit arrogant to think that one’s own sentiment determines what is right and wrong for all of humanity – as if everybody on the planet has a duty to appease the sentiments of the assessor.

Furthermore, even if this were an accurate account of the meaning of moral terms, this would only imply that the practice of morality is something that people generally have many and strong reasons to abandon – and to condemn anybody who engages in the practice of ‘morality’.

Yet, the absurdity of claiming that morality is something that people generally have reason to condemn is so internally inconsistent (yet, it is true of sentimentalism), that sentimentalism cannot possibly provide an accurate account of morality.

No comments: