Thursday, December 28, 2006

GRIFFIN: 3 well-being and morality/4 Ethical push and pull

Ethical push and pull do not meet necessarily: further arguments:

Though living a life of point and weight and of conformity to values generally may be seen as prudential values, it is hard to see how their value, purely prudentially, could be greater than a good life itself – if it came to the terribly hard choice between morality and survival. Moral reasons and practical reasons overall might outweigh prudential ones in such a case, but identifiably prudential ones still would be in conflict with them” [What makes these reasons identifiably prudential?]

It is not that death could never be better than dishonour, but rather that it is hard any longer to see the relevant notion of dishonour solely under the heading of prudence – it has to be something lesss hedged in than that.” 160-161

[But Griffin is conscious of the difficulty:]

This does, however, call for some qualification. Since morality penetrates prudence, so making the prudence/morality dualism hard to maintain, my talk about 'identifiably prudential reasons is not entirely satisfactory; prudential reason run, without boundary, into moral ones” (161)

GRIFFIN: 3 well-being and morality/3

Griffin's idea of the relation between morality and prudence is complicated. He wants to allow both the existence of a sense in which lives can be said to be good which is prior to the moral sense and the "penetration of the prudential by the moral", namely the fact that being virtous or acting morally can be intrinsically prudentially valuable; in addition to this a deflationist view about "dualism of practical reason". I believe that it is very difficult to come up with a coherent notion of well-being, compatible with these ideas.

The penetration of the prudential by the moral. (p. 131)


What I have in mind is this. One has not got a specification of the prudential at all without a pretty full account of what moral demands there are on us and how they are to be accommodated. Prudential value does not stop at the edges of an individual’s own private life. Some persons may see their self-interest in a narrow, crabbed way. But anyone with a defensible idea of prudential values can see what he cares about not just as what as a matter of fact he now cares about, but as what he ought to care about or what he will care about after subjecting his concerns to full deliberations. He will find it hard, therefore, to keep moral and prudential values apart. One of the things he will want is a life of point and substance. What he will see as prudentially valuable, valuable to his own personal life, will to some extent coincide with what he will see as valuable morally. Our understanding of ‘a good life’ cannot be parcelled into ‘good prudentially’ and ‘good morally’. The very phrase ‘ a good life’ may seem ambiguous (good prudentially? good morally?), but at any deep level there are not two senses to be distinguished. Part of having a life of point and substance is having a life in which moral reasons take their place, along with other practical reasons, in motivation.” (131)

[He endorses this for the sake of the argument. Apparently this conception seems to be rejected by those other arguments. But he does not appeal to the previous arguments. Rather, Griffin endorses this claim for the sake of the argument, and shows that even if it is true, in this way one cannot attempt to reduce morality to prudence, since prudence is already defined in moral terms.].


“And since we want to live a life of value or weight, we have to decide what a valuable life is. This is a point, among many others, at which prudence and morality will not stay apart. A valuable life, in the sense that we are now trying to understand, cannot just be a life filled with prudential values conceived in fairly narrow self-interested terms. A valuable life, in the sense we are after, consists importantly in doing things with one's life that are themselves of sufficiently substantial value to turn back on the life itself and make it valuable. And we cannot see what we do in those necessary terms if we have no regard for, or if we damage, values generally, including the value of other persons' lives.[...] Prudence cannot be kept in narrow confines. What is prudentially valuable must, at various points, spread out into areas that do not look like a part of prudence at all. The boundary defining prudence cannot, along this frontier, really be fixed.” (156-157)

Thus, Sigdwick's dualism of practical reason has to be rejected:


“Furthermore, the penetration of prudence by morality, in particular that it penetrates it in a way that shifts serious deliberation on to the level of abstraction where the categories 'prudential' and 'moral' are left behind, makes dualism an unlikely model for their relation. This is not to say that ethical push and ethical pull eventually meet; so far as I can see it points to the opposite conclusion.” 160

Why does Griffin thinks that the rejection of dualism does not favor the idea that ethical push and pull eventually meet? Here is what he writes.

Griffin also makes a point that is anaologous to the one made by Scanlon in “what we owe...”, about the idea that there is type of deliberation in which reasons of prudence are evaluated together with reasons of morality.


But the most important point to make about the putative dualism of practical reason is that deliberation of a sufficiently global scope is not conducted in terms of ‘prudence’, ‘self-interest’, or ‘flourishing’ on the one side and ‘morality’ on the other. It is conducted in terms of strength of practical reasons. […] It is to say that values, neither expressly prudential nor expressly moral but values taken at a higher level of abstraction, are what we appeal to: the notion f what , all things considered, is worth our concern. Just as when with prudential values we deliberate not by appeal to any one substantive prudential value but to the notion of prudential value itself [when is it the case that we do this?], here too we step up another rung in the ladder of abstraction. There is nothing mysterious or suspect about this step; it is one more of the same sort that we have continually taken in deliberation.” (161)

The big difference between this view and the view argued by Scanlon is that Griffin thinks that the above described type of practical deliberation, which may be called "deliberation about the kind of life one should live" represents the next "step up" "in the ladder of abstraction", after one in which "with prudential values we deliberate not by appeal to any one substantive prudential value but to the notion of prudential value itself". Scanlon, on the contrary, argues there is no level of deliberation in which we appeal to the notion of prudential value itself, rather than to any one substantive prudential value.
Also Griffin seems almost to contradict himself, when he writes that "
the most important point to make about the putative dualism of practical reason is that deliberation of a sufficiently global scope is not conducted in terms of ‘prudence’, ‘self-interest’, or ‘flourishing’ on the one side and ‘morality’ on the other. It is conducted in terms of strength of practical reasons." If this is true, how can he hold that there is a level in which we deliberate "by appeal to any one substantive prudential value but to the notion of prudential value itself" ? I think that Scanlon's argues his view much more convincingly than Griffin.

GRIFFIN: 3 well-being and morality/2

The question is:

do ethical push and ethical pull eventually meet?”

this “meeting” is interpreted in terms of “moral reasons [being] generated out of prudential ones” ("if you behave well - morally speaking - is always going to be good for you”)

Griffin allows that:

  • Moral reasons do trump purely prudential reasons.



that does not mean [...] that moral reasons are generated out of prudential ones. It shows only that once our various reasons for action – prudence, morality, etiquette, and the rest – are brought together in a single hierarchy of reasons for action, moral reasons come out on top. But we want to know something different. When we organize the various things that make an individual life better into a hierarchy of prudential values, does morality then come out on top? Does it, in cases of conflict, trump, perhaps even extinguish all other prudential values?” (68-69) [This is identified with the idea of McDowell about prudential value. Griffin here follows the Foot/Hosthouse line rather than the McDowellian one.]

“So the strong argument we need, which indeed many will make, runs something like this. There is no coherent concept of good in conflict with right; right is prior to good; good has sense only within limits laid down by right. Therefore, it would make no sense to say that morality required a sacrifice of good. Suppose I come upon several children trapped in a blazing building. Suppose, too, I ought to try and save them (for whatever reason are strong enough to create an obligation: it is one life against many; I am risking fewer years than they have ahead of them; I am responsible for them.) [This is starting with a bad example. We do not know enough about the life of the person who is supposed to make the decision. Suppose you were studying a molecule that would provide a vaccination for AIDS. Or suppose you had children to care, etc... We could question whether you have, after all, most reason to do is to save the trapped children.] I might reason: I could well die in the attempt; my life – if I funk doing what I ought – would still be a lot better than no life at all; by funking it I would, of course, suffer terrible guilt and remorse, but I would eventually face up to them and go on living what altogether would be a good life. But this strong claim means that I cannot intelligibly reason like this. The moral failure would make it impossible for it to be a good life; it could not be a better life than one without the moral failure. It could not, no matter how small the moral failure, and how great the disaster to me. [How small the moral failure is a rethorical device. An act which can be called “a small moral failure” in terms of conventional morality may turn out to be no moral failure at all when seen in the light of the right moral theory. For example, I may be poor and steal a drug to save my life. This is a moral failure in conventional terms, but it may not be a moral failure in the stronger sense of “moral” for which it is sensible to say that moral reasons “come up on top”.] It is an extravagant claim, and one that again, I think, rests on a confusion. We need to split the notion of 'a good life' into two. There is a sense in which moral failure, being a failure to act for the best reasons, is a falling off from an ideal – and not just in the trivial circular sense that it is not the most moral or most rational life.[ What it means is that it is among the things that count in a good life.] It is not the finest life: the life one would hope to lead. But there is another conception of a good life, a life one would hope to lead. It is the sense that appears in judgments such as that it is better to be moral and alive than to be moral and thereby lose one's life, or that it is sometimes better to fail morally and stay alive than not to fail and thereby lose one's life. [Here I shall ask: better from which point of view? Are such claims really typical, ones whose meaning I am supposed to recognize? Are they really uttered? And does the concept of “moral” in question refer to conventional morality, or to what is truly moral and therefore ought to trump other concerns?] And it is this second conception that should be the base for judgments of well-being in moral theory. [But I find there is more than one sense in which a life can be meant to be better, when it contains a moral failure, than another. Example: it contains more subjective states of happiness, it contains more accomplishments, etc… Why shall we suppose that there is only one conception of what it means for a life to go well, apart from moral considerations?] This is not at all paradoxical. We want as the base for at least some moral judgment consideration of quality of life that are restricted to the prudential values on my list. [who is “we”. Why should we want this?] And being moral enters that list only in a limited way: only by being part of what it is to be at peace with one’s neighbour and with oneself. This sort of peace is a prudential value, and when morality enters consideration under that heading it takes on prudential weight. But as a purely moral consideration, not subsumable under one of these headings, it has no prudential weight. We do not want to lose this prudential notion of a good life by merging it altogether with morality. [Why?] And we do not for reasons of moral theory: it needs the notion.” (69)[Is this supposed to be a constraining assumptions? If yes, it puts the argument on weak grounds. One could claim that morality does not need the notion. (E.g. Scanlon.)]

[Also: This shows that Griffin's conception of well-being as a particular sense of goodness invokes the self-sacrifice constraint: the concept of self-sacrifice must be coherent]

GRIFFIN: 3 well-being and morality/1

When Griffin wants to show the difference between the concept of well-being and other senses in which a life can be said to become good or go well, he often talks about the peculiar type of independence that obtains between well-being evaluations and moral evaluations.

This is note 38 at p. 38 of ch. II. In this note, Griffin is explaining why he can endorse a restricted version of the interest theory of value. What Griffin has troubles showing, here and in other passages dedicated to the distinction between the rational and the moral life, and prudential value, is that there is "a conception of a valuable life independent of, not subordinate to, right".

“I have followed the utilitarian assumption – actually is far more widespread – that we have a notion of good or valuable independent of our notion of what it is right or wrong to do. […] But there is a tradition that holds that good has status only in the context of a theory of right, or that the concept of right is prior to the concept of good. […] But the desire account qualifies the independence of good and right in certain ways. One thing that people with mature values take as an aim is acting morally. Ethical push comes to incorporate much of ethical pull. Moreover, when a person faces a conflict between his own interest and his moral obligation, the latter wins: moral reasons trump prudential reasons. But there still remains a conception of a valuable life independent of, not subordinate to, right.[What is the argument for this claim? Does the next sentence explain or justify it?] That immoral desires make no claim on fulfilment, that they have no authority in determining action, which seems to be the nerve of Rawls claim, does not mean that they cannot make one better off. [Apparently the synonimity between "being better off” and having well-being or a prudentially valuable life is assumed.
If this is right, the sentence with which Griffin distances himself from Rawls' position can be translated into the following claim: immoral desires have no authority in determining action, but they are relevant in terms of well-being. So Rawls' conclusion is resisted by arguing that even if the good - conceived in action guiding terms - is subordinate to right - this yet does not show that a different concept of value, which is not value in the action guiding sense, value as it is expressed in well-being evaluations, cannot exist when it opposes morality. Against this: if well-being is defined as prudential value, then, how is it possible for it not to be action guiding? After all the concept of prudence is related to action. It must be shown that some values can be acting guiding in a different sense from the sense in which morality is action guiding. But Griffin does not want to identify this difference with the difference between acting rationally and acting morally, since he, like McDowell, conceives the boundaries of rationality to be broad enough as to include receptivity to moral reasons (see here, esp . 20 and 21). So the difference he appeal to must be one between two recognizibly different ways of being guided by values, namely having goals of well-being, on one side, and living the most reasonable life, which includes obedience to moral reasons. Griffin holds that the objectives set by these two maxims can coincide, but do not necessarily:
[this is still endnote 38] And I doubt whether even an ideal person, whose values are perfectly developed, will find that ethical push and ethical pull entirely coincide. [This is also no argument.] But certainly with the mass of humanity they do not. [Most people's interests and subjective characteristics are such that, for them, doing what is best - morally speaking - and doing what will increase their well-being most represent two different courses of action. (So this is an appeal to principle M.)
This may seem obvious. It would be obvious if well-being were considered a function of people's actual desires. But it is not at all obvious that things should be so, if we start from Griffin's idea according to which well-being is a function of "rational" or "informed" desires, desires had in idealized conditions.]
In thinking about others (say the inept sadist who can rise to no richer life), we might well decide that their welfare is greater for their acting wrongly. [What ground this assertion? It is not plain common sense, in so far as we are talking about welfare, and welfare is not a folk term. Maybe Griffin is claiming that when we think about the sadist fulfilling some of his desires, we may agree that the fulfillment of some of those desires makes the sadist life better in some sense. Clearly, there can be many senses in which a sadist life can be made better by the fulfillment of immoral desires. The sadist life can go better in experiential terms, meaning that it would contain more rather than less desirable experiential mental states. It can become better in material terms, etc... But how are we supposed to know in what sense Griffin means the life of the sadist life goes "better", when he opposes this sense to better in moral terms? Griffin needs to prove that there is a sense in which the sadist's life goes better by acting wrongly, which is more general than material conditions or pleasure, and less general than the concept of valuable life as it appears in this post (quote 19), that is, as a notion of choiceworthiness. ] Similarly, in thinking about our own lives, we may decide that, though we have no sufficient reason to act immorally, it would increase our well-being to do so. END OF ENDNOTE 38
For a rielaboration of those arguments, see also this post and this post.

Griffin: TASTE

I have tasted both apples and pears. I like both but prefer pears. How do we expalin my attaching more value to having a pear? The only relevant desirability feature is that they taste good. [“tasting good” is invoked still as a value in the objective sense.] However, it is not a plausible explanation of tasting better that I perceive that pears possess this desirability features to a greater degree than apples. We need to explain my liking pears more in terms of my wanting them more. [...] [This is only a statement, not an argument. The argument comes next:] We have no reason to expect, with many tastes, that differences in valuing shows that there is any lack of perfection of understanding. My preference for pears is not open to criticism...” (28)

[ But why should we believe this? Suppose that the only reason why I prefer pears is that they unconsciously remind me the male genital organ... And suppose that nonetheless pears do not taste better, nor is the experience of eating pears is not made any more pleasurable by this unconscious aspect it has. Why should not this preference be revisable?]

Griffin: The distinction between subjective and and objective elements of well-being


Some philosophers treat the distinction between objective and subjective as if it marked a crucial distinction between accounts of well-being. They do, because they attach great importance to whether or not well-being is made to depend upon an individual's desires, tastes, feelings, or attitudes. But, as we just saw in the last section, the dependence of prudential value on desires is much less simple, less a matter of all or nothing, than they assume. The best account of 'utility' makes it depend on some desires and no on others.” 33.

Griffin's idea is that different attitudes are appropriate to different sorts of objects, so that different ways of criticizing desires are appropriate with respect to different types of desires.

He quotes 4 different sorts of cases:

Case 1. involves personal tastes. E.g. “apples and pears

Case 2. involves “discovering a valuable thing”, which is based upon pre-existent motivations that are “features of human nature”. E.g. Company.

Case 3. “preference based upon understanding” involves “discovering a value” like in 2, but here understanding of the thing values plays a major role. E.g Freud preferring thinking clearly to pleasure.

Case 4. “discovering a value” such as “accomplishing something with one's life” when this involves a radical shift of perspective.

Case 1 and 2 involve what Scanlon calls “subjective conditions.” Griffin thinks that in 1. ( taste case) mere preferences or desires affect well-being directly.

Griffin: 2. Distinction between prudential value and perfectionist values


The good, almost unavoidable, point in perfectionism is this. There are prudential values that are valuable in any life. There are not enough of them, nor is a specific balance between nthem prescribable universally enough, to constitute a form of life. They are the values on the list of the ends of life.” (70)



Persons differ not so much in basic values as in their capacity to realize them. Some basic values (e.g. enjoyment) depend in part on persons’ individual, varying tastes, [Notice: an aspect of subjective variability is introduced via the concept of taste] but not many depend on taste.[…] This is the unavoidable form of prudential perfectionism.” (70)

[Now we shall ask: what distinguishes perfectinism pure from prudential evaluation, apart from the inclusion in prudential evaluations of matters of taste? What makes an objective account of well-being prudential as opposed to a theory of the good life in a perfectionist sense?]


To get an account of well-being that would be of use in moral theory we have to move beyond forms of perfectionism (even my modest one) and on to what is valuable to the particular person affected in each case we judge. For special reasons about Jessica, autonomy might not be the thing for her to go for. For Nicholas, totally absorbed in his work, with no taste for day-to-day pleasures, enjoyment may count for little and accomplishments for a lot. For Edward, risk stimulates; for Sarah, it is off-putting. [In Jessica’s, Edward’s and Sarah’s case, the sort of subjectivity in question can be interpreted according to the notion of capacity to realize prudential values.] We cannot make any useful judgment about how to act so as to promote well-being without having a notion of well-being that captures these variations.” (72)

Summing up: he difference between the two type of value seems to consist in the following:

a. that prudential evaluation allows more subjective variability than perfectionist evaluation

b. that prudential evaluation includes matters of taste which are excluded from perfectionist evaluation

Griffin. How the concept of well-being is introduced: value and interest

Griffin is trying to show that there is a close connection between the concept of prudential value and the concept of interest. He shows that his theory is compatible with a weakened form of the Interest Theory of value.


“… the only form of the Interest Theory [of value] [i.e. ‘for a thing to be of value is for it to be the object of, or the satisfaction of, desire or interest.’ This is Perry.] that is plausible is one restricted to prudential value. There are two weighty doubts about it. It does not make value prior to desire […] And it does not allow the value we attach to our various ends ever to diverge from their place in the hierarchy of our informed desires, and there seem to be cases of such divergence.” 38

“So this restricted version [of the Interest Theory] seems to me right. There are, none the less, differences in tone between 'valued' and 'desired'. 'Valued' and 'valuable' are, like 'good' and 'interest', rather weighty words and do not sit altogether comfortably in cases where what one wants lacks importance. But these are minor troubles, the sort of linguistis strains that most theories involve." (38)

Griffin. How the concept of well-being is introduced. 3: Interest

The concept of well-being is sometimes considered to be analytically connected to the concept of what is in a person's interest. Griffin claims that his analysis of the meaning of well-being preserves this connection to a sufficient degree:

“The desire account has all along been designed to keep ‘utility’’ close to ‘ what is in a person’s interest’. It is not that the expression ‘fulfilling ones informed desire’ and ‘being in one’s interest’ come out meaning the same. They certainly do not mean the same in the usual sense of ‘desire’. [Moreover] I may desire Turkish delight simply through having a weakness for it, but to say that it is in my ‘interest’ applies a heavy word to an entirely light subject. None the less, these are all pretty minor differences, and the application of the two expressions is very close.” (37)
He also assumes that the concepts of good and interest are analytically connected:

"The link between ‘interest’ and ‘good’, however, is one of meaning. The word ‘good’ has associated with it ‘the condition of answering certain interests, which interests are in question being indicated either by the element modifying or the element modified by “good” or by certain features of the context of utterance’ [this is the semantic analysis of ‘good’ by Ziff , Paul, Semantic Analysis; Ithaca Cornell University Press.] [Here comes the important point:] The use of ‘good’ that we are especially concerned with is ‘good for such-and-such a person’. The relevant interests, therefore, are that person’s interests, and for something to be good is for it to satisfy those interests of his. And since utility is linked to satisfying a person’s interest, it must in the same way be linked to a person’s good." (37)

Griffin. How the concept of well-being is introduced. 2. well-being and "valuable"

GRIFFIN: well-being and valuable lives.

There are many places in which Griffin talks as if statements about what is valuable to a person and the concept of well-being could be used interchangeably:


“If a father wants his children to be happy, what he wants, what is valuable to him, is a state of the world, not a state of his mind; merely to delude him into thinking that his children flourish, therefore, does not give him what he values” (13)

“that is what gives the [present account of well-being] its breadth and attraction as a theory of what makes life valuable” (14)


“If the Experience Requirement excludes these values [accomplishments, close authentic personal relationships] from 'utility', then 'utility will have less and less to do with what these persons see as making their own lives good.” (19) “If either I could accomplish something with my life but not know it, or believe that I had but not really have, I should prefer the first. That would be, for me, for me, the more valuable life.

Finally, after the previous passage, he recognizes that there is a problem. The notion of valuable life can mean many things:

'Valuable life', of course, is full of ambiguity. It can mean a life that is valuable because of its value ot other persons. It can mean a morally valuable life, or an aesthetically valuable one, or one valuable in terms of some code, such as a code of chivalry. But my ground for preferring the first sort of life would not be any of these; I should prefer it because it would be, considered on its own, considered simply as a life I must lead [This introduces the criterion of “a life considered on its own” . I will show that it is impossible to distinguish the ground of preferring this life from a perfectionist one if not by committing oneself to a definition of what “a life considered on its own is” that entails a mental state account of well-being], a more fulfilling one. [“fulfilling” has both a perfectionist and a welfarist connotation. Griffin can be read as committing himself to the view that a valuable life, in the sense in question, is a a life that rates high in terms of perfection, when it is evaluated “on its own”. But this would be contentious for a definition: we can imagine counterexamples in which a life is made better in terms of perfection by realizing some feature, but not better prudentially." ] So it is a value that has to be found a place within the bounds of 'utility'.

So here we have a further specification of what we mean when we use the concept of well-being or prudential value. What is in question is not what makes a life valuable, or good, simpliciter, but what makes it good or valuable on its own. I expected Griffin to the intuitive idea of what is "good for the person who lives it", as Sumner and Crisp do. Griffin does this here (see 8).

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Griffin. How the concept of well-being is introduced.

A. There must be a connection between well-being evaluations and deliberation:


“our job is not to describe an idea already in existence independently of our search. Before we properly explain well-being, we have to know the context in which it is to appear and and the work it needs to do there. [...] One proper ground for choosing between conceptions of well-being would be that one lends itself to the deliberation that we must do and another does not.” (1)

The assumption that the concept of well-being can be connected to deliberative notions is reflected also in the choice of characterizing well-being and utility as prudential value. Being prudent, in fact, is an attribute of people taken as agents.

“The way to submit [a moral theory] to the test of correctness is harder to decide. [...] A good place to start on the search for standard of correctness in prudential and moral judgment is with developing as rich a substantive account of prudence and morality as one can. (I am using 'prudence' here in the philosopher's especially broad sense, in which it has to do not just with a due concern for one's future but with everything that bears on one's self-interest.)” (4)

He connects his discussion of well-being to the context of the utilitarian tradition:


“How are we to understand 'well-being'? As 'utility', say the utilitarians, aware that this technical term itself needs explaining.” (7)

So the idea is not clear. But as I shall show in the next posts, the concept of well-being is defined negatively, often by explaining the difference between moral good and prudential value:

B. Griffin recognizes there is no particular folk usage of the word "well-being" that stands for the concepts he (and utilitarians philosophy) were trying to characterize:


“Utilitarians use our rough, everyday notion of 'well-being', our notion of what it is for a single life to go well, in which morality may have a place but not the dominant one. This does not mean that our ob is merely to describe the everyday use. It is too shadowy and incomplete for that; we still have to be ready for stipulation.” (7)

James Griffin's "Well-Being"

From now on, and for a while, I shall be discussing James Griffin's theory about well-being, as exposed in his "Well-Being" (Oxford University Press, 1986.)
The leading question is about well-being's meaning: what does Griffin takes well-being to be? How does he characterize the notion? What common-sense ideas does he appeal to?

Monday, December 11, 2006

On an apparently coherent view and how to interpret it maliciously.

Academic philosophy is wonderwul. The most coherent worldview is probably going to win the competition for truth in the long run. For this, we have to thank our (philosopher's) current methodology: reflective equilibrium or something like that. (Maybe, more a sort of intuitionism, than reflective equilibrium.)

I shall now expose a very coherent view of the world which will not appear respectable in a British institution. Then, I shall argue that we shall have doubts about it and fear it; also because of its coherence.

A coherent system of philosophy:

(IN the brackets, I shall refer to what is usually taken to ground the assertion.)
1. Philosophy of Mind:
1.A what is mind?
1.A.I it consist roughly in having intentional states: belief/desires (intuitions/use)
1.A.II it consist in having consciousness (intuitios/use)
1.A.I requires: purposive behavior, or at least behavior (intuitions/philosophical analysis)
1.A.II what does requires? very difficult to say (the hard problem of consciousness) maybe creatures having 1.A.I all have some form of 1.A.II, even if this may be only a contingent truth. (intuitions/philosophical analysis)

1.A.III: what creatures have some form of mind? (intuititions; deduction with 1.A.I: coherence!)
We (humans)
Lizards (?)
Frogs (?)
Plants .... no.
Mountains, rivers... no, come on!

2. Ethical theory
2.A. What is good? Well-being. (intuitions/arguments)

2.B. What is acting right?
2.B.I It means maximizing the good. Or it is at least intimately connected with promoting the good. (within certain limits?) (intuitions)
2.B.II Hence acting right: promoting well-being/ avoiding doing harm/ (respecting well-being?)
2.B.III Respect: respect things that have well-being. Do not harm them!

2.C. What is well-being? Difficult to say.
2.C.I: necessary conditions for well-being: the subject of well-being must have a point of view. Something must be good for him (it) (intuitions)
2.C.II Having a point of view: having desires (or the capacity to have desires). My desires make something good good for me.
2.C III Having consciousness. The world that enters my consciosness becomes my world.
(having a point of view=having some form of "mind"?)
2.C.IV What creatures have well-being?
we humans (we have consciosness and desires, so we have a point of view (2.C.III and IV), so we can have well-being (2.C.I)
monkeys, delphins, dogs (?), bats (?) (they have desires, or at least consciosness, so they can have a point of view (2.C.III and IV), and they can have well-being (2.C.I)
rabbits, lizards, frogs, (?) : they behave/act. Display purposive behavior. So they have desires. Hence a point of view (2.C.III). They can have well-being (2.C.I)
plants? cannot have desires. cannot have a point of view
mountains, rivers: cannot have desires, cannot have well-being

2.B.III + 2.C. The boundaries of morality:
The boundaries of respect:
The following creatures must be respected (i.e. taken into account in our moral calculations:)
we, humans
monkeys, delphis, dogs (?), bats (?)
rabbits, lizards, frogs (??)
plants... not for their own sake.
mountains, rivers: not for their own sake.

2.D.: some historical and contingent facts: we (Europeans, cultures which adopted "western" values) recognize all humans as worthy of respect + some animals (monkeys, delphins, dogs).
We do not take plants as beings to whom moral respect is own: when we respect them, we do it for the sake of the good of some human or non - human animal.
We do not consider mountains, rivers as individual with moral rights: we can use them, unless we violate a right of a person, or cause harm to a human or non human animal.

This is coherent world view. It looks as if every piece of it is independently plausible. The normative conclusions fit wonderfully with our practices!!!

Let us try to look at it from another perspective:
The Hegelian/Wittgensteinian interpretation:
the central concept of ethics is RECOGNITION

2.D, the facts about practices are the starting point. . We, (westeners) as a matter of fact recognize other human beings, some animals, as creatures with a moral standing. We do not recognize plants, mountains or rivers. (Notice that other cultures do.)
We do not do this because of 2A, 2B and 2C. We just do it. Our phisiology, our culture, the way we grow up shape our relations with other animals, plants and natural objects. Probably a certain empathy with mammals is genetically pre-determined. But we share obvious behavioral and superficial traits with them: it could even be approved. Dogs, cuts and cows live with us, etc.... Recognize at least certain animals as creatures with a moral standing took a long way, and there are still a lot of people who do not share this view. We have established practices about how to treat other human beings and certain other animals. We have problems with intermediate cases: we have troubles dealing with embryos and severely mentally handicapped people; which is to say, we have not developed an agreeement how to deal with such cases, and our intincts and practices sometimes point to opposite directions.

We create something like 2.C+2A coherently with 2D: we shape our ethical theories to fit the intuitions we already have about who we shall respect. We formulate its principles as abstraction which sound plausible in themselves.

2A. what look like questions in the philosophy of mind are actually questions of moral and political philosophy, in the following sense. The concept of a mind is strictly connected with the concept of a point of view and the concept of a point of view is strictly connected with the concept of well-being, and intuitions about who is capable of being a well-being recipient are strictly connected to "intuitions" about who we shall respect. We ascribe minds to those creatures belonging to a class of which we respect at least some members. Hence we ascribe it to childrens even if we have no first-person reports of experience by children who are younger of 3 years old, and we ascribe it to cows because we recognize it in our dogs. We have troubles ascribing minds to plants, they do not have "behavior" in the same sense as animals do. We do not feel enough near to them. We have troubles with insects and worms.

The malicious interpretation: on coherence and truth.

Analytic philosophy, celebrated as the most respectable form of philosophy for its methodological analysis with science, prizes coherence.
But coherence has two faces. Aristotle, for example, had a coherent philosophical system in which slavery could be justified.
Coherence is a warm gun, too much of it grounds a suspicion about the truth of the system. For it looks that so much coherence cannot be a coincidence, and that it only represents a rationalization of the dominant ideas in a culture, those ideas that are rarely questioned. But being rarely questioned does not make them more true.
Coherent system of thoughts are important because they represent what we, as free thinkers, have reasons to fear, in a way.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Hot not to be a consequentialist/2

...If my picture of the difference between consequentialist and non-consequentialist forms of reasonings is right, the real difference between the two relies in judgments about the scope of the variables that should enter into “moral calculation”.

According to certain forms of act-consequentialism, (taken both as an agent theory and as an act theory) all good and bad facts ought to be included in this calculation. According to others, only foreseeable good and bad consequences ought to be included in this calculation.

A non-consequentialist theory of "what is right", will limit the range of facts that should be assessed in order to perform the right action, compared to both types of consequentialist theories (meaning both tipes of act-consequentialism), in a specific way.

The fact that certain good or bad events take place ought not enter into moral calculation. A non-consequentialist theory would argue that I cannot kill an innocent to prevent another one to be killed, (or that I cannot kill an innocent in order to prevent another person to kill an innocent in order to prevent another innocent to be killed.) A think what a deontological requirement should be seen as doing is ruling out from view considerations on what good my killing the innocent should achieve as irrelevant from practical reasoning. For another example, a non-consequentialist theory will deny me the right to kill an innocent now in order to avoid killing another one in the future. Facts about what I shall achieve by killing an innocente are excluded from the calculation.

This may be too strong a way to characterize what is for a view to be non-consequentialist. If all facts about what I shall achieve by killing a person are irrelevant, then the deontological prohibition says that I shall never kill an innocent even when doing so would prevent a massacre.

In order to avoid this result, we simply have to think deontological constraints as a sorts of partial filter, that gradually lets facts about consequences become relevant to our calculations, as we reach a certain threshold (it can be thought that, once a certain threshold is reached, it becomes morally wrong to ignore the consequences.)

According to this view, the difference between consequentialist and non-consequentialist moralities (moralities that include some deontological prohibitions) consist in the fact that non-consequentialist moralities limit the range of considerations that can count in determining whether one is acting rightly or wrongly.

This is coherent with what psychologists call “bounded rationality” approach to human reasoning, and with evolutional reconstruction of moral sense.
Psychological evidence suggests that human beings must use heuristics in order to act optimally given the practical limitations that human decision making is subject to, such as a time limit, and finite processing capacities.

A non-consequentialist ethics is the only kind of ethics that makes sense to agents , because it is appropriate for agents whose decision procedures are subject to empirical limitations, such as those of which theorist of bounded rationality talk about.

This account seems to provide no justification for the remorse that deontological or virtue theory views should attach to killing an innocent even when this is (supposedly) what must be done in order to prevent a massacre from occurring.

But I think that the justification that it provides is sufficiently good. We can describe this remorse as tracking down the loss in moral integrity, that is, as a loss in one's confidence about being able to live up to the standards morality requires. As I said a deontological view of morality is THE moral view an agent should have, and an agent with a deontological view must be an agent feeling remorse over the killing of an innocent, even when he has overwhelming reasons to do this.

The reason why this is so is that having any other attitude toward killing means having an attitude that is guaranteed not to produce the best results in the long terms. When I write "best results" I am not affirming a consequentialist views of rightness, but I am referring to agent's own take of the goodness of the outcomes, that is, an assessment of the goodness of the outcomes of having a certain attitude in the long run, as viewed from the point of view of the agent, which is something any sensible non-consequentialist theory must allow. (Alternatively, one can rely upon a contractualist framework and sya that the attitude in question is not the sort of attitude that could reasonably be accepted by agents looking forward to find universal attitudes to guide human behavior.)

Both when the agent is , and when he is not, aware of this relation between remorse and his long term attitudes towards morality, this justifies feeling remorse for having to kill an innocent even when this is morally justified. Remorse, that is to say, is exactly what he ought to feel if one is the sort of agent that has the right, that is to say the virtuous, attitude towards killing.

This way of looking at things can be justified by considering what it would signify, for a person that engages in philosophical reflection, to find out that one has no remorse after having killed an innocent (when the consequences granted that it was the right thing to do.) Finding out that one feels ok about the actoin, that having a rational justification for an horrible act estinguishes any sense that something terrible had appened, means finding out that one does NOT have the disposition that is requried in order to live a morally irreprensible life, and that one's repulsion againt killing innocent people may not be enough to counterweight the forces of selfish considerations on a different occasion. It is, in Aristotelian terms, to find out that one did not receive the right kind of moral upbringing.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

How to be a non-consequentialist.

Context of the discussion: what Dancy ('Moral reasons') believes a fully fledged non-consequentialist theory must account for:

In the context of this discussion, Dancy considers the sort of defence of a non-consequentialist theory that implies explaining the existence of deontological constraints. There can be theories that are not consequentialist but neither recognize deontological constraints. Assuming that consequentialism has no space for agent-relative values (a thesis criticized by Sen), non-consequentialism can (arguably) be refuted by arguing that there are "agent-relative" reasons or values, that is to say reasons (or values) that justify the agent's relative lack of committment for realizing the aim of the morally best state of affairs, when accomplishing this aim entails too big a sacrifice of the agent's own special concerns (such as projects, friendships, respect of non - moral ideals, etc). It would represent already a significant departure from (neutralists) versions of consequentialism to argue that a person has the right to give more weight in one's moral calculation to sacrifices regarding one's own projects or frienships, than the analogous sacrifices faced by another person. (This is the kind of view defended by Scheffler, who cannot find a rationale for deontological constraints, while can find a rationale for resisting the demands of the sort of impersonal morality in question.)

Dancy refuses this characterization of a non-consequentialist outlook. Dancy sides with Foot's claim that a rational defence of a good (non-consequentialist) moral theory should explain what may be called "options" and "constraints" with equal ease.

Notice that this discussion with proceed upon the assumption that a consequentialist theory is an act-consequentialist one, that is to say, a theory giving each agent the same moral aim, that of producing states of affairs with the greatest ethical value, and identifying the act the agent ought morally to do with the act that would, in each instance, and among the ones the agent is not prevented to perform, bring about that aim.

(I am not considering rule or motive utilitarianism here, for the following reason. Rule or motive utilitarianism can be seen as either an act theory or an agent theory- that is to say, either as a criterion for the wrongness or rightness of actions, or as the theory saying what act an agent ought morally to perform. If rule utilitarianism is conceived as an act-theory, then it seems undermined by its own justification. In fact, if what makes a rule a good rule is its leading on the whole to the achievement of the best state of affairs, how can an act be right that fails to reach this very objective? If, on the other hand, rule utilitiarianism is conceived as an agent theory, and act-utilitarianism as the act-theory, there will be many cases in which the act that is right (in virtue of the act theory) will not be the one that the agent ought morally to perform, according to the agent theory.

I have doubts that this picture is coherent, for it seems that a committment to act-utilitarianism as an act-theory and a committment to follow the dictates of rule-utilitarianism in practical deliberation can hardly coexist in the same agent. )

Let us consider what may justify the existence of deontological constraints. According to Dancy, deontology oblidges me to choose A2 over A1 in the following case:

A1. I allow J to be killed by K
A2. I kill N.
(N and J are innocent human beings)
I have to choose between A1 and A2: (¬(A1) → (A2)) & (¬(A2) → (A1)),

We are supposing that both A1 and A2 are facts I am aware of. I am, that is, is wholly conscious that by failing to kill J I will let K be killed.
This leads to a whole host of difficulties explaining how can A2 have more value than A1 from my point of view; it brings to the introduction of agent-relative reasons and agent-relative value. It leads to talk about "moral cost to the agent" (what explains the difference in value between A1 and A2 from my point of view.)
I have suspects about calling the violation of a constraint as "a moral cost". If it would be a moral cost, then our theory should imply that the agent has the right to discount this cost. (If the cost of killing an innocent is one that I should pay, I should be praised, not blamed, if I choose to pay it.)

The wrongness of violating a deontological constraint is conceived as a "cost" to the agent, we cannot make sense of a similar deontological restriction, like the following.

I believe that, just as an agent should morally choose not to kill an innocent even when this would lead to let another innocent be killed, a person should choose morally not to kill a person now, even when this would certainly lead to kill another person in the near future.

Moreover, I am not sure that the best understanding of a morality containing deontological restriction is that of a morality saying that we should prefer A1 over A2, that is to say, letting die to killing.

Letting someone die can be as bad as killing, when letting die qualifies as an agent act in some sense. What is required in order for an omission to count as an agent's act is something difficult to tell. But we clearly have the sense that when we have full power and control over letting someone die (say, when we have the technical means and we could prevent this at an insignificant cost to ourself) letting someone die can be as much a morally objectionable act as killing. We do not make the best sense of deontological prohibitions, I think, by conceiving them under the rule that omissions are always to be preferred to acts.

In order to gain some meaningfulness to the idea deontological perspective, I think, one must asks what deontological prohibitions are for. The answer, I think is something like the following:
if we did not perceive that there would be something morally problematic in killing a person for the sake of saving another one, we would be morally allowed to take on ourself the responsibility of deciding the life of death of many individuals. This is risky, because there are all sort of factors that may militate against this sort of self-ascription of responsibility to myself, such as personal biases.

Moreover, a person must have a strong disposition against killing innocents in general in order to refrain from this when his own interest is at stake; and a person with the right sort of disposition will have troubles killing an innocent even when a. the state of affairs that would result from his failing to do so will be equally bad in consequentialist terms, and b. the state of affairs that would result from his failing to do so will be worse in consequentialist terms.

What follows from the idea that what appear in first-person thinking as deontological constraints is objectively the effect of a moral outlook, acquired from a good moral upbringing, that takes away from the agent the responsibility of performing the sort of moral calculation that act-consequentialism requires from him?

The effect of having a deontological constraint as a part of one's moral outlook produces a shrinking of the "deliberative sphere" (the range of considerations that are relevant for the choice of action). This must not be understood as implying that, if one adopts a deontological morality, certain facts about the consequences of an act would become irrelevant (say because that act is prohibited and nothing else can be said in his favor)

Rather, according to my theory, deontological constraints are rules directing the agent's search of facts that bear upon the morality of an action. Having a deontoligical constraint about killing means, first of all, reaching the conclusion that the action is wrong in a straighforward manner, without interrogating oneselves too much about what shall be the other consequences of forgoing that act.

This explains why talking about an act /omission asymmetry is not the best way to understand a deontological outlook. When the possibility of causing the death of an innocent by omission has already entered the deliberative sphere, the agent cannot pretend that the omission causing the death of this person is somehow less wrong qua omission.

.... To be continued....

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Can the worst life be the one I have most reasons to desire?

The good life is different from the life X has most reasons to desire.

A general argument.

If Bernard Williams's “internal reasons” claim is right, and if the good life is the life that virtuous people typically desire, then a life can be the life that X has most reason to desire, and yet not be a good life, because X's reasons depend from X's desires, and X desires may be different from the desires of the virtuous. So if the good life is by definition the life that the virtuous desires, then X, having different desires from the virtuous, X has also reasons to desire a different life than the good life.

(I take Williams' claim that all reasons are internal as a claim about what reasons we have. This is perfectly compatible with a Nagelian, Dancyian or Scanlonian view of what reasons are)

Williams' internalism is highly controversial (but I am becoming increasingly convinced that he is right.) So an argument with Williams' internalism as its premise does not provide a stringent argument.
Let us consider examples and intuitions.


1. Frank

Frank's virtue is not that strong. Frank is a decent person, but is not the kind of guy that would be able to resist certain temptations. If Frank becomes an important politician, Frank will be offered bribes so tempting that he would not be able to forgo them. He will take the bribes and regret it afterwards. And Frank does not desire that kind of life.

It is not incoherent to think that a life in which one has important political responsibility is a better life objectively than a life in which one does not, and that the latter, not the former is the life Frank has most reason to choose.

2. John.

John is sexually incontinent. He is unable to live a loving relation with a stable partner. What John desires most, is to have sex with as many beautiful women as possible. John has also tried his best to live a stable monogamous relation but he could not help feeling depressed and finally cheating his wife. John has most reasons not to form a stable monogamous relation. John has most reasons to have sex with as many beautiful women as he can, and to provide himself with the means that can help him achieve this goal. John has reasons to live a life in which he buys expensive clothes, that make him more successful in his conquers. So John has reasons to work some extra hours to buy more expensive clothes. There is clearly conceptual room to claim that marring and avoiding the extra working hours necessary to buy the expensive playboy outfit is the best life, between the two, and that the life as a single with the extra working hours necessary to buy the expensive playboy outfit is the life John has most reason to live.


Addition: that is to say, the life a virtuous person would choose for John to live, assuming the virtuous person puts himself in John's shoes. Ok, what I had discovered was nothing but the difference between the advisor and the example model of idealization. (Used for example by Michael Smith.)

Can I prove the further claim, that someone can have reasons to choose a life, among the ones he can choose to live, that a virtuous person would not choose, even if placed in analogous circumstances? (that it to say, can John have a reason to choose a life that does not correspond to the life he would choose under the ideally virtuous advisor model?)



Benjamin is an amoralist, and he is sadic. Benjamin's view of morality is the one of Trasimachus. He has no conscience, no pang of remorse. Benjamin finds himself in the situation in which he can either stab a colleague in the back and get a promotion, or not do it and let his colleague get a promotion.

I tend to think that Benjamin has most reasons to choose the life in which he stabs a colleague in the back and gets the promotion. This is clearly not the life that the virtuous would choose for him, if he could choose between the two cases. And this is also, I think, what would make Ben's life a better life.

How does Williams defend this claim? He says that a reason must be able in principle to explain action. And since desires are required to explain action, a reason must have some connection with a person's desires. What kind of connection? Something is a person's reason, says Williams, only if that person would arrive at the conclusion that he had that reason by reasoning upon his desires, their entailments, their nature, their fundation.

The crucial point is that it is that person that must do the reasoning.

As McDowell writes, this rules out something like conversion. Something would not count as a reason for Benjamin, if it woud require a conversion for Benjamin to recognize it as such.

The idea of a conversion seems important to me. Not because William's claim about motivation is right, which gives priority to desires, but because we want to say that a person's reasons are his reasons. And if someone would need a conversion in order to recognize something as a reason, and therefore, in order to offer it as an explanation of his action, there is a sense in which we are allowed to aks ourselves: are we still speaking about what would be a reason in that person's perspective? Conversion seems to be a sort of limiting parameter for personal identity.

Virtue Ethics

Virtue ethics is a very weird thing and difficult to define. [If you want to read a good introduction of virtue ethics, I suggest you "virtue ethics" by Rosalind Horsthouse. I'm giving my own thoughts about it.]
In its most extreme form it would be the thesis that every moral and evaluative concept can be reduced to the concept of a good human being, or a good character. I think no real philosopher held something so implausible except maybe Nietzsche, and some contemporary analytical philosophers who thinks themselves as Aristotelians: Geach and Foot.. Do not quote! (Here is why I classify Nietzsche as a virtue ethicist in this sense: a possible interpretation of the first essay of the Genealogy is that the concept of "good" and "bad" person is prior (genetically prior) to both the concept of "good" and "evil" character, and to the concept of the moral good. "Good" is to be understood an attribute of "good people"; that it, the term that people belonging to ruling class - the good, the noble, the strong, the powerful - started to use to refer to themselves. Everything else is said to be good as in relation to this: good acts are those acts that emanate from noble people, good tastes are tastes of noble people, etc...) (If I am right, Geach and Foot's view, which denies that there is a meaning of good different from the attributive sense, seem to imply something like Nietzsche's view. This is all a very personal theory; while what I'm going to say from now on is much less controversial.)

There is a more moderate view of what virtue ethics is, which I think it makes little sense to see in opposition to deontology or consequentialism, even if it differs from the two, especially in terms of approach. The model of this sort of virtue ethics is especially Aristotle. According to this view, the central concept of virtue ethics are the concepts of a good human being, of a virtue, and of eudaimonia or fulfillment, that is, the good life. Virtue ethics differs from the other two approaches primarily (I would say exclusively) in that for virtue ethics the focus of moral theory should not be the evaluation of norms of conduct and actions (taken as atoms of behavior) but the three aforementioned concepts. The difference, therefore, is in what virtue ethics, against both consequentialism and deontology, sees as the business of moral theory and as having a proper understanding of morality.
Let's make an example. It is crucial for the success of both a consequentialist and deontological morality, that they provide some philosophical method to discriminate good and bad actions (or right and wrong, if you prefer), usually (I would say exclusively) conceived as a general rule.
, in fact, is nothing but a class of formally analogous general rules, in the sense above. A rule is consequentialist if it has the following form: action F is good iff its outcome (which may even coincide with the action itself!!!) is good (or better than any other possible outcome, in some versions.) So if you want to ascertain whether a certain action is good your consequentialist instruction manual tells you the following: look at the consequences of the action (which may include the action itself), evaluate their goodness, and if you produced more good than bad, well, boy, you did a good thing. (In some versions, if you did what produced more good than bad than any other action you could have done you did the right thing, otherwise you did the wrong thing.)
Deontology is also a class of formally analogous general rules. A deontological morality may even contain some consequentialist principle, but, on a whole, it will be different from a consequentialist one because it will contain rules forbidding you to do certain actions whatever the consequences in terms of the goodness produced. (So for example, you may not break a promise even if you know that, if you don't, 1000 promises will be broken.) But fundamentally it also consists in providing you with an instruction manual: if you want to ascertain whether a certain action is good or bad (or better, right or wrong) you take your deontological instruction manual, which will contain some list of actions you are not allowed to do, whatever the circumstances. (Some manuals are just a set of rules, like the 10 Commandments. Other, like Kant's cathegorical imperative, consist of one rules from which all other rules can be deduced.)
Now, notice that virtue ethics presents itself as something really different. The virtue ethicist would argue that the proper business of ethics is not to produce instruction manuals. The basic tenet of this sort of virtue ethics are:
1. the Aristotelian idea that rules in ethics obtain only "for the most part"; and that you need experience and a good upbringing to be able to judge the goodness of an action
2. the idea that it is more reasonable to start by evaluating a person's character, and judge her action only on the background of the character it came from.
A virtuous agent will certainly have in mind something like a list of actions that are standardly wrong. I will see the fact that a certain action the breaking of a promise as a good reason not to do it. But the morality of the virtuous agent is far from exhausted by sticking to the rules that forbid breaking a promise, or lying, and we may also conceive of situations in which he will assess the consequence of maintaining a promise or telling the truth and decide that he has reasons not to do it.
A virtuous action therefore takes consequences in great account. But he is not concerned, first and foremost, with the production of the highest quantity of good. A virtuous person is supposed to be able to perceive the moral quality of an act, for example, it's being corageous, charitable, sensitive act, as a reason to do it, and this of course is connected to its consequences (a corageous act is an act done in the presence of danger, in view of a greater good), but there is nothing like a calculation of the overall goodness of the outcome. The attitudes of a virtuous agent could be more similar to those of the adherent to deontology: he will not make an uncharitable act for the sake of increasing the moral perfection of that person's life.

[Consider the difference between the two definitions, or if you want, between Aristotle and Nietzsche. I think so. Aristotle, for example, would have never dreamed of assuming "a good person" as the primitive and only authentic sense of moral goodness. And, in opposition to Nietzsche (in the Genealogy) he has never think of it as a mere (unconscious) reflection of positions into a social hierarchy ("the good" as the best, the noble, the powerful, the ruling class). It is true that he uses the understanding of a good man, that is to say, of a man of his social class, as a method to define the good, or choiceworthy life. But the focus here is on what makes a life choiceworthy. It is true that, for Aristotle, we can discover what is a choiceworthy life only by looking at what sort of life the nobles prefer to live. But I think we can infer from his writings that his reason for doing that is that he is sincerely convinced that such people are better than other men (and of course, incomparably better than woman and slaves) at perceiving the real value of things. In other words, the concept of a good man plays and epistemic, not an ontologically constitutive role.
Notice the difference with Nietzsche. Nietzsche can be read as arguing in the Genealogy that there are no real values, or at least no real moral values (moral values are no values at all); and that moral language should be understood along lines different from the promotion of moral goodness, or happiness. For Nietzsche, when the Greek called an act, or a life, "good", all that they meant by the word "good" as that it was an act that it was typical for a noble man to perform, or the life that it was typical for a noble man to live, or simply that it was an act of a noble person, and the life of a noble man. After the "slave revolt in morality" things changed a bit; which is to say, the noble started to look at themselves, and at their most typical actions, with a sense of guilt. (Which was a psychological reflection of the hate they received from the people of the inferior class.) So "good" - that is, "noble" - was turned into "evil"; and "bad", that is "slavish", was turned into (morally) good.]

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Can one have no reason to choose to live a better life?
(The strike of Dostoevskiy)
Some preliminary points:

  • Geach and Foot: good is only descriptive. A good life is like a good knife.
  • All others: there is another sense of good. Some things can be simply good (Moore: books are good.)
  • Buck-passers: x is good = "X has the properties that make it reasonable to have a certain (pro)attitude towards it" (Pro-attitude:= admiring it, respecting it, desiring it.)

  • A good life: a life that is good as a life. A good specimen of its kind. (Like a good knife)
  • The choiceworthy life: life L is the most choiceworthy life for person S. It means that life L is the life that person S has most reasons to choose (to live)
  • Agent-relativity: notice that, if there are agent-relative reasons, then, L1 can be more choiceworhty that L2 from S's point of view, and at the same time L2 can be more choiceworthy than L1 from S' 's point of of view. A life in which one sees John becoming the best student in his class can be the most choiceworthy life for Peter, who is John's father, but not for Frank, who is not.
  • LIFE-tokens and LIFE-types: in the former claim L1 and L2 represent life "types," not tokens. The subject-relativity of choiceworhiness depends from the way life-types are described. So if L1 is described as "the life in which one sees his son becoming the best student in his class", then L1 turns out to be more choiceworthy then L2 for both Peter and Frank.
  • If we use L1 and L2 to refer to life-tokens, than everytime we talk about a life being choiceworthy, we talk about its being choiceworthy from the perspective of the person whose life it is.
"A good life is a life that it is choiceworthy; that is, a life that is reasonable to choose/prefer": what is the status of this assertion ?
  • according to buck-passers it is a conceptual(?) or metaphysical (?) necessity.
  • this entails that we do not have an independent standard to measure the goodness of lives apart from our finding reasonable to desire them
  • if so, then we may only say that a good life is a life having whatever properties a virtuous person would desires it to have
  • On the contrary, what if we have an indipendent (naturalistic?) criterion to describe the goodness of lives? If this is so, then the claim "the good life is the life that it is most reasonable to desire to live" is substantive ethical claim, one that could turn out to be wrong.
Is it wrong?
  • Maybe it makes no sense to speak about what is most reasonable for anybody. Maybe we should think that choosing the best life is reasonable only for virtues people.
  • The latter can be explained in virtue of the following: Maybe virtuous people are those people who desire and manage to live good lives. What makes it reasonable for a virtuous person to choose a good life is his desire to live a good life. And it is a mark of virtue to have this desire (but also to be capable to accomplish it, at least in not particularly adverse circumstances.)
  • even so: the claim that the virtuous always desire or choose to live a good life is a substantive ethical claim and it may turn out to be false, or alternatively:
  • The virtuous are necessarily those who desire to live good lives, but by having this desire they can fail to be reasonable.
  • I shall consider the second question: can it be unreasonable to choose the best life, and reasonable to choose the worst life?
Let us see if we can find an example of a life that can be better as a life than another one, but that one would have less reason to choose. Of course we need to presuppose that we have some intuition about "the good life" independent from the life one has most reason to choose.

One class of examples may be derived from the more usual examples of the "wrong type of reason" problem (see the examples provided by "the strike of the demon," (Rabinowic - Rasmussen) "the moralistic fallacy" -D'arms and Jacobson etc...)
In "the strike of the demon" what gives one a reason to have the attitudue A is that one would be killed otherwise. I must admit I cannot produce any analogous counterexample for human lives. Suppose that the demon tells me that he will kill me at the age of 21 if I start to live a life in which I will realize my full artistic potentialities. This gives me a reason to choose a life in which I will not realize them.

It seems to me that by making a life the most reasonable to choose, the Demon makes it automatically the best life. The wrong reason problem cannot arise with this kind of goodness.
In this case L1= the life in which I live until age 21 and start to realize my artistic abilities
L2= a life in which I live until my natural age (say 80) and I don't realize my artistic abilities
in this case, it seems that, provided that L2 is really the life I have most reason to choose, then L2 , that is, a life that is longer but contains no artistic development, is really a better life than the short life L1. (What makes it better, as a life, is that it last longers, and contains other sorts of goods.)
Something similar applies if the demon threatens to kill me if I do not betray a friend . Here
L1: betray a friend and live
L2: do not betray a friend and die now
here as well, people may think either that the "strike of the demon" makes it more reasonable to choose L1 or to choose L2. But those who think it would be more reasonable to choose L1, it seems to me, should also think that L1 (a life in which one betrays a friend but does not die) is a better life than L2 (a life in which one dies early but with a clean conscience)

One could argue that claiming that L2 is a better life than L1 involves some sort of "moralistic fallacy": the fact that we have moral reasons to choose L2 over L1 makes us say that L2 is more valuable (as a life) than L1. This would be as wrong as claiming a joke less valuable as a joke (that is to say, less funny) because it would be immoral to make it or think it.

But notice how little convincing the accusation of moralistic fallacy is for lives than for jokes. I think the reason can be easily told: in the case of jokes we have an independent standard to judge whether a joke is "good as a joke" (that is: funny , assuming a "functional/descriptive" reading of "good", and that the function of jokes is to be funny, not to edify). But in the case of
lives we have no clear intuition about what makes a life good, apart from its being a life one has reasons to live.

The failure to produce a "wrong sort of reasons" problem for lives suggests that we lack an independent intution of what makes lives "good", independent, that is to say, from the judgment of what makes it reasonable to desire to live it. So the buck-passing view of good may be false in general, but true for human lives.

But we shall consider a second type of examples, Dostoevskijan examples.
In the "notes from the underground" Dostoevskiy argues that there is something that all people desire in life, which obviously does not make their life better: this is simply the absolutely arbitrary act of the will, of making something against their interest. What Dostoevskiy means by "interest" is some sort of "objective idea" of what makes a person's life good: namely wealth, power, affections, morality. Dostoevskiy argues not that people do not do what is in their best interest, because they ignore it, but that even if people knew perfectly what was in their interest they would still desire to act otherwise, because they do not want to reduce their life to a mathematical object! In other words, people want to be unforeseeable, which entails being irrational, and unreasonable.

Dostoevskji's claim about motivation can be easily turned into a claim about "romantic goodness". It can be claimed that a life can be made better "in the romantic sense" by containing something unforeseeable and unreasonable. Now, an interesting claim about "romantic goodness" is that it seems to be - intuitively - the kind of goodness that can contribute to the goodness of an individual life, but not the kind of goodness that can give a reason to choose that life to the person whose life that is. Therefore: romantic goodness can make a life better than another without making it more choiceworthy for the person whose life that is.

Consider two lives in which a subject loses a lot of goods. In one life, it is because he is unlucky. In the other, it is because he does a Dostoevskjian act. The second life is better than the first (it contains more romantic goodness.) But is there anything in the second life that gives a person more reason to choose it or want it? It seems that there cannot be. For if agent S has a reason to choose the first life, this makes it reasonable for him to do a Dostoevskjian act. But becoming reasonable, the act ceases to become Dostoevskjian and to contribute to the romantic goodness of a life. (This applies even retrospectively. If the agent is in the position to see, retrospectively, his life as being made better by the Dostoevskjian act, he will see his act as reasonable and destroy its romantic value. The romantic goodness of a life must be thought as inacessible in the agential perspective.)

In conclusion: it may be claimed that the agent has no reason to choose a life containing romantic goodness, but has reasons to admire it. This can also be doubted. The equivalence between the good life and the choiceworthy life does not obtain, but a buck-passing account referring to an attitude of the spectator (not of the agent) may still be available.