Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Racism and the Immorality of Sentamentalism

174 days until classes start.

I thought of the opening sentence to my Phil 5100 paper.

"If sentimentalism provides the correct account of morality, we can aspire to the day in which morality ceases to exist - when we have rooted it out of every corner of civilization and eliminated it."

Of course, the absurdity of such a statement will be my argument that sentimentalism is not the correct account of morality.

The title of the paper will be, "Racism and the Immorality of Sentimentalism." I will use racism as an example of how sentimentalism fails. Sentimentalism provides an easy defense of racism such that, for the same reasons we have to eliminate racism, we have similar reasons to eliminate sentimentalism.

Specifically, using racism as an example, I want to argue that there is a difference between the sentiments one has and the sentiments one should have. When I tell my neighbor that racism is immoral, I am not saying that he has a sense of the injustice if treating the different races differently. In fact, I am willing to admit that it might not be true. He likely has a sense that his race is superior - that the other race is inferior.

I want to draw some support for this from my studies of the South before the civil war.

The Southern sentiment prior to the civil war was that slavery was a perfectly legitimate institution and that white supremacy was the natural order of the universe. In nine states in the 1860 election, Lincoln got 0 votes. The south was outraged to the point of war that northerners would try to impose on them a level of equality between whites and blacks.

These types of facts, I would hold, create significant problems for sentimentalism.

There is a similar question regarding morality and motivation. There is a view called "moral internalism" that holds that a person does not use a moral term correctly unless they are moved to do that which they say is required, or moved not to do that which they say is prohibited.

This view runs across two problems. One of these is that it leads to the conclusion, "If I am not moved to do X, then it is not required," and "If I am not moved to avoid X, then it is not prohibited." As in, "Since I am not moved to free black slaves or to give them a measure of social equality, then the claim that I am obligated to do so is mistaken."

Yet a third related view is moral rationalism. "To say that it is wrong for me to do X is to say that it is somehow irrational for me to do X." Doing X, on this account, is contrary to reason. Yet, here, too, it follows that, "If it is rational for me to do X then it is moral for me to do X" or, at least, "If it is not irrational for me to refrain from doing X then it is not immoral for me to refrain from doing X." As in: "If it is rational for me to be a plantation owner with a few hundred slaves, then it is morally permissible for me to be a slave owner with a field full of slaves."

This leads to the same conclusion. If sentimentalism (moral internalism) accurately describes morality, then we have reason to aspire to the time when sentimentalism (moral internalism) has been eliminated.

However, an objection grounded on these facts might be accused of being circular. Does my argument not presume the objective wrongness of slavery?

I need to provide an alternative account that does a better job at explaining the observations that does not beg any questions. That "better alternative" holds that morality is not determined by the sentiments one has, but on the sentiments that people generally have many and strong reasons to cause one to have.

The fact that somebody lacks a reason to give blacks equality does not prevent it from being the case that blacks have many and strong reasons to give him a reason to grant equality. The way to "give somebody a reason" to do something or to refrain from something is to use the tools of reward and punishment (including praise and condemnation).

We have many and strong reasons to aspire to the day when sentimentalism has been rooted out and eliminated from all corners of human society. However, by definition, we do not have many and strong reasons to aspire to the day when reward and punishment are no longer used to give people reasons to refrain from activities harmful to others, or to engage in activities beneficial to others.

Sentimentalism is not the correct view of morality. A view that looks, not at the sentiments a person has, but at the sentiments that people generally have many and strong reasons to cause a person to have, does a much better job.

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