Friday, November 21, 2008

Yes, the folk are (typically) externalists

The survey results are in and of the 133 students polled, 75% said that there was a more stringent duty for Plum to assist Peacock.


dtlocke said...

I'm curious as to why you think that saying that Plum has a more stringent duty to assist Peacock implies a (tacit) commitment to externalism. I assume you mean externalism about "justified action", as you indicate in your earlier post. Why couldn't it just be that we have more stringent duties to those to whom we have caused harm, even if the action that caused that harm was entirely justified? It seems to me, and I think Geoff, that this is exactly what's going on in this case. I know you've said in your response to Geoff that you find this position "odd", but I guess I just don't.

[On a side note, you might want to control for the proximity variable. I think that a mere difference in proximity can often affect our intuitions about relative duties. That's not to say that that is *all* that's going on in this case---just that it's an extra variable that could and probably should be controlled for.]

Clayton said...

Hey Dustin,

Here's why I think that this data supports externalism about justification. I take the externalist thesis to be something like this--it is possible for there to be two agents that are internally indiscernible where the facts relevant to the justificatory status of their actions differ. And, I take it that the following sort of fact is relevant to justificatory status--whether one acted against an undefeated reason. And, I think that the intuitive data suggests that Plum did act against an undefeated reason but did so unwittingly.

I only know of two internalist responses consistent with the verdict that there is this comparative difference. The first is the sort of response that Geoff gave. The second is a response that Barbara Herman offers to defend her view that all wrongs can be attributed to defects in the agent's will. Herman's response is, in effect, to say that in the wake of the poisoning, Plum discovers that she did not do what she had intended to do and thus insofar as she is committed to that end, she has now a reason to bring about the means necessary for realizing that end by pursuing a new means by which to realize that end. I think the problem with this response is that in the wake of some failures, the agent also knows that there is nothing available to them by which they might pursue their original ends. Thus, I don't think she can explain why this sort of agent intuitively acts wrongfully for failing to do something about the bad state of affairs caused by the agent.

The other is Geoff's strategy and what I find odd about it is the apparent combination of two claims:
(i) There is a reparative* duty to assist Peacock that is more stringent than the duty to assist Mustard and that differs in kind from a duty that, say, Green would have if he had the stuff to save Peacock.
(ii) There was no normative reason that she acted against by giving him the poisonous mushrooms.

What I find odd is the idea that there are reparative duties to respond to bad states of affairs you know you never had reason not to bring about in the first place. Better, I think, to think of reasons as the kinds of things that you can act against and thereby fail to meet its demands unwittingly, unintentionally, unwillingly, etc... I think that there are enough cases like this that we can't rule out the possibility in this case.

Anyway, I'm trying to type fast because I'm literally falling aslepps as I teype this.