Friday, November 14, 2008

Deontological externalism

I'm quite fond of this argument:
(1) The notion of justified action is a deontological notion.
(2) The notion of justified action is an externalist notion.
(C1) Not all deontological notions are internalist notions.
(3) If justified belief were an internalist notion, justified action would either not be a deontological notion or would not be an externalist notion.
(C2) Justified belief is an externalist notion.

I've defended (3) previously appealing to considerations having to do with moral psychology and observations that often arise in connection with discussions of the toxin puzzle. Suppose (3) is true.* What defense can be given in support of (2)?

I'm planning on doing some polling this next week of students to test to see if their intuitions support (2). I suspect they will, but I'd also not be surprised if X-philes might not be able to generate data that seems to contradict (2). Here's the plan. I'll try to elicit intuitions about a specific sort of case. I'll focus on cases in which an agent takes due care but nevertheless brings about some bad state of affairs. I'll then see whether students are inclined to think that the agent has a more stringent obligation to assist those who are harmed by her having brought about this bad state of affairs than to assist agents who have been harmed by similar bad states of affairs but states of affairs not caused by the agent. My hunch is that they'll think that there's comparatively a more stringent obligation to the one whose harm was caused by the agent. Theoretically, I think that such a result would suggest that conditions 'external' to the agent can go towards determining the deontic status of the agent's actions. The thought is that the best explanation of the difference in comparative stringency is due to the fact that the initial course of action was wrongful and that the difference in the stringency of the duty is a reflection of the fact that the duty being discharged is no mere duty of beneficence, it is a duty of reparation.


* A joke I owe to Steve Sverdlik.
Geometry teacher: Suppose that this is an isosceles...
Concerned student: But teacher, suppose it isn't!

No comments: