Monday, August 13, 2018

RoME 2018 07: Moral Reasons

Rocky Mountain Ethics Congress Session 07: Anne Jeffrey
How to Get Metaphysical About Moral Reasons Without Losing Your Mind Dependence”

Commentator: Michael Bukoski (Florida State University)

Abstract: This paper proposes a way of being serious about the metaphysics of moral reasons (as serious as the robust realist) while embracing the thesis that moral reasons are mind dependent (usually forwarded by the quasi- and anti-realist). The view I introduce to do this work is what I call Moral Reasons Hylomorphism. According to Moral Reasons Hylomorphism, moral reasons are objective entities whose existence and persistence conditions are determined by certain of an agent’s mental capacities, and whose contents—that is, what they count in favour of or against—depend on certain of an agent’s mental states. I defend the hylomorphic account by showing how it uniquely solves a familiar puzzle arising from metaphysical and conceptual assumptions about moral reasons while avoiding pitfalls of other mind-dependent accounts.

I had difficulty understanding this presentation. Allow me to try to explain it as best as I can.

The first problem I had is that I had no idea what "Hylomorphism" is, and the author did not explain it. Perhaps she suspected that we all already knew what it was - and perhaps I should have already known what it was. But, I did not. Fortunately, about 5 minutes into the presentation while being totally lost, I remembered that had come to the presentation with Google, so I asked Google what this was.

Google told me, "Hylomorphism is a view that physical objects result from the combination of matter and form."

A statue exists not only in virtue of the matter which makes up the statue existing, but with the statue having a particular form. The same is true of a particular person - who is made up of certain organs, but also depends on those organs being structured in a particular way.

It would seem, then, that Jeffrey wants to argue that moral reasons can be understood as some sort of combination between matter and form, and this would solve some problems that people are thought to have with respect to moral reasons.

Those problems have to do with moral reasons having two properties:

(1) Moral reasons must be action-guiding or motivating.

(2) Moral reasons must be objective.

The problem with these two properties is that they seem to not be compatible. In order to guide or motivate action, a moral reason must be one or more of the agent's mental states - a state that is capable of causing an intentional action and, at the same time, still allow that the intentional action is the agent's intentional action. Whereas objectivity seems to require that the moral reason exist as something outside and independent of the agent's mental states. As can be expected, it is difficult for something to be both one or more of the agent's mental states and independent of the agent's mental states.

And . . . that is about as far as I could go with this presentation. I cannot explain how Jeffrey thought that Hylomorphism about moral reasons would solve this problem. I cannot even say how Jeffrey thought that moral reasons were hylomorphic.

I am sorry that I could not do better.

I will add a comment about how desirism handles this issue. Moral reasons are not action-guiding. Moral reasons have to do with the desires and aversions that other people have - specifically, reasons that they have to praise or condemn conduct in order to create mental states in the agent. Morality is not concerned with the mental states an agent has, but with the mental states the agent should have. Naturally, if the agent had those mental states they would motivate her action. In the absence of those mental states, the agent lacks reason to do what is right (or, at least, lacks the right reasons), and that is what makes her evil.

However, this does not pay any attention to the concept of "hylomorphism". So, I regret, I cannot really even provide a summary of Jeffrey's views on this matter.

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