Saturday, February 24, 2018

Moral Authority

I came across an interesting and useful article on the debate over internal and external reasons.

Wong, David B, "Moral Reasons: Internal and External", Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. LXXII, No. 3, May 2006.

I am going to spend a few days looking at this article in detail.

Wong starts with an "Introduction to the Internalism-Externalism Debate," which will be useful in the discussion that follows.

He provides the following definition of externalism.

Externalism locates the authority outside the agent in holding that she can have a duty while having no reason or motive

So, that raises a question in my mind.

What does "authority" mean?

I think it refers to the "ought to be doneness" of that which ought to be done. It is that which creates the duty to obey.

However, this seems to be a magical and mysterious way of talking. I am not sure that it actually says anything. I would prefer to use a more sensible language if at all possible.

Perhaps Wong's definition of internalism will be easier to grasp.

Internalism locates [the authority] inside the agent in holding that she has a reason or motive that necessarily accompanies duty.

Nope. I'm not finding anything useful here either. We have, here, an "authority" of a duty that is found in the reasons or motives that the agent has (internalism), or an "authority" that duty can have independent of the reasons or motives an agent has (externalism).

Yet, I am inclined to say that this "authority" is simply a nonsense term. It doesn't point to anything real. This would explain why philosophers have such difficulty making sense of it.

I just do not see a need to be talking about this "authority".

The desires that an agent has do not work on any type of authority. I have an aversion to pain. That simply means that I am disposed to give a negative value to states of affairs in which "I am experiencing pain" is true. This negative value gives me a reason to prevent the realization of such states. There is no "authority" at work here. There is aversion creating a reason to act . . . period.

I do distinguish between the reasons/motives that an agent has and the reasons/motives that exist. The latter includes the reasons/motives that other people have which are reasons/motives to mold the desires of the agent in particular ways. Yet, these relationships continue to exist without any talk of "authority". Desires/motives create reasons for those who have the desires/motives.

We really don't need to get any more complicated than that.

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