Sunday, August 05, 2018

Praise and Condemnation 02: Three Distinctions

In our last exciting episode, we looked at the three dichotomies that fall under the general idea of praise and condemnation.

They are:

Praise and condemnation

Credit and blame

Praiseworthiness and blameworthiness.

This is according to Chapter 6 of In Praise of Desire by Nomy Arpaly and Timothy Schroeder, which is called "Credit and Blame".

"Praiseworthiness" is the odd term here. In order for this set of terms to make the most sense, what is called "praiseworthiness" should be thought of as "creditworthiness" - but the latter term already has a meaning that has something to do with a person's qualifications for buying a home or getting a credit card, and little to do with credit in the moral sense. This is demonstrated by the fact that many of the people who are the most creditworthy in the economic sense are the least praiseworthy in the moral sense.

Furthermore, Arpaly and Schroeder gave us a definition of praiseworthiness and plameworthiness

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.

Now, what is this "good will" or "ill will"?

Complete good will is an intrinsic desire for the right or good, correctly conceptualized . . . Partial good will is an intrinsic desire for some part of the right or good, correctly conceptualized.

Ill will is to be understood as having the same relationship towards the wrong or bad.

I am not finding this helpful. What is "an intrinsic desire for the right or good"? What is involved in desiring the whole of the right of the good as opposed to some part? And, what is involved in conceptualizing the right or good correctly versus incorrectly?

I would like to present an alternative account of being praiseworthy or blameworthy in desirism terms, and then see how well this fits with what Arpaly and Schroeder have in mind once we untangle all of these entanglements.

To be praiseworthy for a right action . . .

Well, first, we need a concept of a right action.

A right action, in desirism terms, is that action which a person having good desires and lacking bad desires would have performed in the circumstances.

However, a person can perform a right action for bad reasons. The person who saves a child so that he can collect a reward has done what a person with good desires and lacking bad desires would have done (saved the child), but not for the right reasons.

To be praiseworthy, an agent must not only perform the right action, but for the reasons that a good person would have done so. And the right reasons are the reasons that people generally have reason to promote universally in virtue of the effect that praise and condemnation have through the reward system.

Well, this is the competing desirism formulation . . . we need to look at Arpaly and Schroeder's formulation.

Correctly Conceptualized?

Spare Conativism holds that the sense required for perfect good will is to be determined by normative moral theory: the concepts deployed in grasping the correct normative moral theory are the concepts through which one must intrinsically desire the right or good in order to have good will.

By the way, "Spare Conativism" is the name that Arpaly and Schroeder give to their theory.

Anyway, the difficulty here is that Arpaly and Schroeder do not want to take sides regarding a correct normative theory. They think that there is a correct normative theory out there, but they do not want to say what it is. They want to leave that question to others. Without taking sides, they simply want to understand "correctly conceptualized" in terms of "as conceptualized by the correct normative theory."

In my first readings of this, I gave a false interpretation to this phrase that I should warn against. I originally thought that the authors were saying that all normative theories were equally valid. One could be a Kantian or a Utilitarian or some other sort of theorist, and that no theory was better than any other. I have since formed the opinion that this is not their view at all. Instead, they hold that there is a correct theory, but they do not want to go into a huge digression discussing which theory (if any) is correct.

Desirism differs from Spare Conativism in that it is both a meta-theory and a normative theory. It stands in opposition to both Kantianism and Utilitarianism.

The main difference here is that Spare Conativism allows for the possibility that intrinsic values exist. That is to say, there is (or could be) a "right" or "wrong" or "good" or "bad" - a "value property" - that is intrinsic in nature. The authors want to think of a good or ill will in terms of the appreciation of this intrinsic value. This is something that desirism has no room for.

In short, Spare Conativism relates being praiseworthy and blameworthy in terms of valuing the right thing or wrong thing, whatever they happen to be. Desirism says, "I'll tell you what the right thing and wrong thing is." At this point, there is no conflict between the two accounts. One is simply a more specific version of the other.

However, since desirism sees praise and condemnation as tools for molding desires, there is room for conflict.

It is possible that a person can value the wrong thing, and yet still not be blameworthy.

On the traditional free-will doctrine, this may be the case where the agent did not choose to perform the action. In this case, the action is not blameworthy because it is not an action. Being praiseworthy or blameworthy for a right or wrong action requires that the action be an action.

Desirism says that a person can perform an action, and yet not be blameworthy, because the action comes from a desire that praise or condemnation cannot influence. A person, out of a severe aversion to pain, may give her captors the location of the hidden rebel base. This could be a genuine action (and not just the blurting out of syllables outside of the agent's control that happen to be the location of the hidden rebel base). Yet, the agent is not blameworthy because praise and condemnation have no effect on the aversion to pain - at least not at this level.

If we look at the actual practice of morality - at the way people actually do it - governing the use of praise and condemnation based on where they can actually have an effect seems to be a part of that practice. And this is a point in favor of desirism.


FredT said...

Nice post. But morals and values are mostly subjective; therefore all that follows are also subjective. There is a bit of logic to the first layer of morals and values, from basic premises, but after that it is all subjective, and settled by agreement within a culture. Mother Teresa sold babies. What does it matter? In the end we all just die anyway. Sorry that I am such an ass.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

You are going to have to explain what you mean by "subjective."

I have written in a few places (see, for example, Morality from the Ground Up part XIV) we have trouble talking about these things without creating a lot of confusion because we have no clear definitions.

I once engaged in two online debates at the same time. In one I defended the subjectivity of morality, and in the other I argued against it. Yet, I defended the same position in both debates. The difference is that each used a different definition of subjectivity.

In the debate where I defended subjectivity, I defended the position that all value depends on desire and no value exists independent of desire.

In the debate where I argued against subjectivity I argued against the position that value depends on the desires or beliefs of the person making the evaluation. They do not. Nor do they depend on the mutual agreement of individuals - any more than the age of the earth depends on people coming to a mutual agreement. Morality is something that everybody can agree on, and yet everybody is wrong. However, what they are agreeing or disagreeing about is still dependent on the fact that desires exist.


Like I said, the problem is that we do not have a clear set of definitions. We use the same terms to mean radically different things, and people slip from one definition to another without noticing.