Monday, August 06, 2018

Praise and Condemnation 04: Side-Stepping Good and Ill Will

I am I am trying to avoid filling this blog with content that will make a reader's eyes glaze over as they eagerly seek somewhere else that they would much rather be.

This goal is in conflict with a tradition in philosophy to present an opposing view in the best possible light before criticizing it. A philosopher can go through some extraordinary, and extraordinarily clever maneuvers to protect a theory from criticism. Explaining how the philosopher has covered these issues can require a lot of difficult, confusing, and complex work.

And for what? Only to tell the reader that she can toss away those arguments in defense of a simpler way of doing these things?

I can illustrate this with a historic example.

Ancient astronomers decided that the earth was at the center of the solar system and the other heavenly bodies orbited the earth in perfect circles.

Only, those other heavenly bodies did not cooperate. They moved faster at sometimes, slower at others, and sometimes appeared to move backwards when compared to the distant stars (a phenomenon referred to as apparent retrograde motion).

To handle these situations, ancient astronomers did not move the sun to the middle of the solar system. Instead, they added epicycles - circular orbits within circular orbits that helped explain a motion that was closer to that which was observed.

However, this still did not fit perfectly well, so they added epicycles within epicycles, coming up with this extremely complex set of movements, in order to get theory to match up with observations.

The tradition that I mentioned above would have us explain this theory in details - explaining how each epicycle handled objections to the simpler theory, creating a system that was closer and closer to observation. However, in the end, the proposed alternative was just to put the sun at the center of the solar system and everything else orbiting the sun.

Do we really need to explain the epicycle theory (geocentric theory) in such painful detail before saying, "But, hey, this is all much more complicated than it needs to be. Let's go for something simpler."

In order to explain their theory of desire, Arpaly and Schroeder introduce the concepts of "good will" and "ill will'. These are meant to handle cases of an agent desiring that which is good (or bad) "correctly conceived". They then go through this concept to get it to fit our observations of desire.

What I am wondering is whether I need to go through their account in painful detail to show how it handles objections, only to say in the end that we can dismiss these complexities and simply shift the focus of our attention. Instead of putting praiseworthiness and blameworthiness at the center of the moral psychological universe, we should put the intentional acts of praise and condemnation at the center.

These are intentional actions. Like all actions, they are done for reasons. The rationalizing reasons for praise and condemnation are the same types of rationalizing reasons for other actions, the "intrinsic desires" (or final desires) of the agent. The relevant facts about praise and condemnation rests in their effects. Their primary end is to act on the reward system to alter the importance of particular states (or, more specifically, of a proposition p being made or kept true) for the agent and, thereby, to alter behavior.

We do not need concepts of "good will" or "ill will" on this conception, just as a heleocentric theory of the solar system does not need epicycles. We simply need desires that people generally have many and strong reasons to promote universally using the social tools of reward and punishment - including praise and condemnation.

On this account "praiseworthiness" and "blameworthiness" become "that which people actually have reasons to praise or condemn".

No mention of "good will" or "ill will" is required.

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