Friday, March 03, 2017

True Moral Belief vs. Emotion-based Action

178 days until first class.

I am currently working on editing "Morality from the Ground Up" - my attempt to provide a primer for desirism.

My goal is to have a draft posted on the Desirism group in Facebook on or before March 12.

Then, I am going to focus my attention on the pseudo-paper that I am writing for the Phil 5100 class that I am pretending to take this semester. I am currently planning on the role of emotion (desire, passion, sentiment) in moral belief.

The relationship is somewhat complex.

The practice of determining the morality of an action directly from emotions is flawed. It does not follow from the fact that "I have an averse emotional reaction to the thought of a homosexual relationship" that "homosexual relationships are wrong", any more than "I have an averse emotional reaction to the thought of interracial relationships" implies "interracial relationships are wrong". Regardless of how common this line of thought happens to be, it is not a valid form of moral argument.

At the same time, emotion (desire, passion, sentiment) is an essential component of intentional action. Whenever we act, we do so by measuring our emotional attachment to the two actions and their consequences, and this determines what we want most to do.

There is, of course, a distinction between appealing to one's emotions to determine what to believe and appealing to one's emotions in deciding what to do.

The problem is that, when we asked a moral question, that question can come to us in two forms.

We could interpret the question as asking, "What would you do in this circumstance?" Answering this question requires an appeal to emotion - it is a question that is answered by answering the question, "Which option do you like the most?"

We could also interpret the question as asking, "What do you believe people should do in this circumstance?" Beliefs, of course, should not be grounded on emotion. Though a belief can, in contrast, be a belief about emotions.

However, all of us . . . or . . . most of us . . . like to believe that what we would do in a given circumstance is what a person should do in that circumstance. If somebody believes that he is a good person, then she will believe that she can get an accurate reading on what a person should do in a given circumstance by looking at what she would do in that circumstance. This practice appears to be fairly common.

In fact, if somebody actually is a good person, then determining what she would do in a given circumstance will actually tell her what a person should do in that circumstance. Looking at what she would do would be an accurate thermometer. There would be no problem in claiming that she knows the truth of the proposition "what should a person do in these circumstances" by knowing what she would do in those circumstances.

This relates to another complexity regarding the relationship between emotion and moral truth. A true statement about what a person should do in a given circumstance is a statement about what a good person, examining her emotions, would do under those circumstances. It is, in part, a belief that takes emotions as their object - a belief that is, in part, a belief about the emotions that will guide a good person's actions.

Given these relationships between true moral belief and emotion-based intentional action, it is little wonder that there is a lot of confusion about these relationships. There is little wonder that people, who often appeal to emotion to decide what they would do in a given circumstance, confuse this with determining the truth of a proposition about what a person should do in a given circumstance. These are not the same thing. Though, in a good person, they would yield the same answers.


Unknown said...

I hope you will also include how one could determine whether they are a good person. Going by what you have here, one could - and based on how biased we normally are, would - think they are a good person, and therefore, all their moral judgments would be correct.

Do you think you are a good person? Let's assume your answer is yes. And I think I'm a good person. Yet we disagree on a significant moral question. How could we determine the truth? We shouldn't use our intuitions as they are notoriously unreliable. So what other method shall we use? I know we have talked about a "desire thermometer" before, but that seems wildly impractical at this point. Any other suggestions?

Alonzo Fyfe said...

I am working on the outline at this point and will post that in future blog entries.

At this point, I am expecting to say something about the idea that motivation can come from a "desire to do the right thing", but this desire still leaves open the possibility that the determination of what "the right thing" is does not relate the object of evaluation to the desires of the agent. Instead, it relates the object of evaluation to the desires that people generally have many and strong reasons to promote.

As I continue on with this pseudo class, I am putting more and more of desirism into my comments. However, at this point, the professor has not said anything in return. Perhaps she is stunned at my brilliance. Perhaps she is baffled by my ignorance and is just hoping that by ignoring me I will just disappear. Or perhaps she is just too busy. (The latter option - which is by far the most likely, leaves open the question of whether she is too busy to respond, or if she is too busy even to read, what I have submitted.)