Saturday, August 04, 2018

Praise and Condemnation 01: Introduction

Praise and condemnation play a significant role in desirism.

Because of that, I want to pay some close attention to Chapter 6 of In Praise of Desire by Nomy Arpaly and Timothy Schroeder, which is called "Credit and Blame".

Perhaps I should say a couple of words about the title.

I have used the terms "praise" and "condemnation" because I wanted to focus on the actions that people take that I take to be kinds of reward and punishment. However, you can blame somebody without condemning him. You can take the attitude, "It's Jim's fault," and yet you may also decide to keep your feelings to yourself and not to condemn Jim for his actions. Perhaps it would be dangerous to do so - as is the case when one blames a political leader that it would be dangerous to condemn. Praise is also a type of action. So, praise and condemnation belong together as a natural pair.

The natural counterpart to blaming is "crediting". Where it is reasonable to say that a person is to blame for the death of the child, we can say that it is to somebody's credit that the child did not die.

That explains the title of the article I am commenting on. "Credit and Blame".

Carrying these facts a bit further, we see that the natural opposite of "blameworthiness" is "Creditworthiness". Unfortunately, as the article points out, we already have a widespread term "Creditworthiness" that means something different - but not different enough - that using this term would cause confusion.

So, we use the term "praiseworthiness" as the opposite of "blameworthiness" even though "praise" is not the opposite of "blame". "Praise" is the opposite of "condemn".

See, we are confused already, and we are only talking about the title.

These are just some facts about how our language developed. Perhaps we could improve the language. However, considering the huge amount of effort that would be required to change our language - change the linguistic habits of more than a billion people - this, perhaps, is not the most cost-effective use of our time.

This gives us "praise" vs. "condemnation"; "credit" vs. "blame"; and "praiseworthiness" vs. "blameworthiness".

I hope that does not confuse folks. If you are a native English speaker, you can probably grasp this because these are the rules built into English. If you are not a native speaker of English, then this is one of the confusions of language that you are going to have to learn to navigate. You have my sympathies.

But, with these distinctions set out on the table where we can look at them and try to prevent them from getting us confused, we can take a look at morality. Specifically, Arpaly and Schroeder want us to look at praiseworthiness and blameworthiness.

Here, the authors state:

To be praiseworthy for a right action is to act out of good will (an intrinsic desire for the right or good), or out of indifference to the lure of the wrong or bad; to be blameworthy for a wrong action is to act out of ill will (an intrinsic desire for the wrong or bad), or out of indifference to the lure of the right or good.

For me, this does not help much. I do not know what a "good will" or a "bad will" is. Furthermore, I am concerned about the roles that "right action" and "wrong action" play in this account. Are right actions always praiseworthy? Or do we need to distinguish between praiseworthy right actions and right actions that are not praiseworthy? If there can be right actions that are not praiseworthy, can there be wrong actions that are not blameworthy?

"Wrong action" and "blameworthy" seem to go hand-in-hand. While, on the other hand, many right actions are not praiseworthy. They are "to be expected" - the agent did what others expected him to do. A worker gets up and shows up at work on time ready to start her shift. It is a right action - but not a praiseworthy action.

I assume that we will be looking at these concerns in the postings to follow.

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