Friday, August 28, 2009

This and that

I'm interested in 'same on the inside' intuitions. Does 'being the same on the inside' as someone who acts permissibly mean that you also act permissibly in doing what you do? I tend to think not. Typically, I try to argue that 'being the same on the inside' as someone who acts permissibly doesn't mean that you act permissibly by focusing on cases where the subject in the good case acts with the best of intentions and brings about some bad effects but does so non-culpably. Here's a case for those who tend to have more internalist leanings. In the actual world, Billy is sticking pins in a voodoo doll to curse his rival. In the actual world, Billy is motivated by malice but his actions don't harm even the voodoo doll. Intuition: he acts permissibly when he sticks a pin in the doll. In some merely possible world, Gilly is Billy's mental duplicate and uses a voodoo doll to cripple his romantic rival. Both Billy and Gilly believe voodoo work, by the way. They both read in very similar books that it works. Intuition: he acts impermissibly when he sticks a pin in the doll. Call me crazy, I don't think you should cripple your romantic rivals. Call me crazy, I don't think it matters if you put pins in voodoo dolls.

Here's another point about things that reason's aren't.
Suppose you think that reasons are either psychological states or the contents of those states. Here's an argument that those who accept the second view use to argue against the first. The first view has the unfortunate implication that the attitudes that provide the premises for practical reasoning don't represent the reasons. That's bad. Here's an argument against the second view. We all know that what motivates us in the typical case are contingent features of the world, not necessary existents. It looks like only worldly states of affairs or facts will be reasons.

Miller might say that there are psychological enabling conditions that allows him to say that so and so has such and such reason depends upon contingent matters but it still seems that an implication of the reasons-are-propositions view is that the reasons you have are reasons there would have been even if your psychology had been radically different.

On an unrelated note, I need to read Analysis more often! It seems that WSA has an argument for consequentialism that looks a lot like the kinds of arguments I offer against consequentialism in the courses where we talk about these things.

Finally, I've finally fixed my ride (or, had my ride fixed). Picked up my bike with a new frame and equipped with brakes with real stopping power. Went for my first ride this morning. Great fun.

Also, found a credenza on Craigslist for $75! Pretty good day.


Nick said...

I just don't have your intuition about Billy. In fact, it seems very strange to me to say that Billy did nothing wrong. I can't offer much of an argument, but here's something. Suppose Dilly is internally like Billy and Gilly, but, in his world, people only have voodoo powers on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Luckily, Dilly tried to do his voodoo on a Tuesday, so nothing happened.

I don't know if it strikes you as any more intuitive, but it does seem to me that Dilly did something wrong. And I think it will be hard to come up with a theory that says that Dilly did something wrong but Billy didn't. (Example: the answer isn't that Billy did nothing wrong since there was no chance of his action hurting anyone. This is true of a man who attempts to shoot someone with an unloaded gun, though such a person surely does something wrong.)

That said, it does seem more plausible that Gilly's action was less permissible than Billy's. It seems to me, though, that the reasons for this are just standard things having to do with moral luck.

geoff said...

I also don't share the intuition about Billy. If he didn't really believe that sticking pins in voodoo dolls worked, then I'd think he was acting permissibly (just venting or something). But given the fact that he *does* think this, my sense is that he's acting in a way that he shouldn't. No different from somebody who aims a gun at your head hoping to kill you but upon pulling the trigger realizes the gun's not loaded.

Leo Iacono said...

I don't share your intuition that your old bike has a new frame. I'm pretty sure it's a new bike equipped with old wheels.

Marshall Scott Naylor said...

There's a problem in how to qualify a reason as good or bad if they're psych. states or contents of psych. states or enabling conditions.

For example, believing in ghosts by walking through a spooky house at midnight or sitting over some scientific literature about ghosts in broad day light in a non-spooky house.

You'll probably have two sets of different psychological states, maybe contents, and enabling conditions. Unless you design some sensible way to sort through good or bad here, I think you're going to have to make some determination about veridical quality to sort out the good or bad reason.

Miles said...

Do you have the same intuition about Bill(1) who takes a shot at his wife and misses and Bill(2) who takes a shot at his wife and (because of a gust of wind) kills her?

If so, is Bill(1) blameworthy and Bill(2) blameless? Does it imply we should treat Bill(1) differently from Bill(2)?

Call me crazy, but I don't think you should try to shoot your wife.

Miles said...

Also interested in your intuition here: Gill(1) drives his car from his house to the airport. Gill(2) tries to drive his car from the house to the airport, but Geordie beams onto the wrong stretch of highway, and Gill(2) kills him.

I guess you'd say (a) "Gill(2) acts wrongly but is blameless for doing so." What's the advantage of saying that instead of (b) "Gill(2) didn't act wrongly, but did harm"? (a) cuts the connection between blame and wrongdoing; (b) cuts it between wrongdoing and harm - do you have any cases where the wrongdoing-harm connection is more obvious than the wrongdoing-blame connection? Also, are those cases such that, were we to re-describe them, the obviousness would switch?

(I bring this case up b/c it seems to me to lead naturally to a different objection to your view: not that it generates counter-intuitive results simpliciter, but that it generates results that are no more appealing than those generated by an alternative.)

Michael said...

Isn't the better question to ask whether Billy and Gilly do wrong to the same (if any) degree, as opposed to whether they act permissibly? I have to agree with the several commenters who feel that Billy acts wrongly, if nothing else in virtue of the fact that his actions display significant ill-will. The question is whether any extra badness accrues to Gilly's action in virtue of his methods and/or success.

In these cases I think there are at least three factors that it's important to keep separate (and this with the caveat that I'm no ethicist): quality of will, rationality, and success. It seems to me that if there *is* an intuition that Billy acts less wrongly than Gilly, this is not just because he didn't succeed in harming anyone, but because the method by which he tries to carry out his malicious intent is manifestly silly -- at least without a further story about why it is reasonable for him to believe that voodoo works; and if there is such a story, I think it becomes very difficult indeed to separate this from the unloaded-gun case that some of the others mentioned.

My own feeling here is that one's capacity to do good or ill is a function of one's rationality. This is why, for instance, we don't tend to think animals are evil when they kill innocent humans. At a higher level, humans who are poor rational actors have a lesser ability to make their will (good or ill) efficacious in the world: even when they do end up having a large impact, it will typically be a matter of blind, physical luck. And it seems to me plausible that the extent which which we judge an action morally -- and, hence, the agent who produced it -- is a function of the extent to which it is an expression of the agent's will.

Along these lines I'd be curious what you think about the relative morality of these three characters:

The Cunning Villain: Has very malicious will towards humans, forms very cunning plans for harming them, and succeeds in doing great harm.

The Foiled Villain: Has very malicious will towards humans, forms cunning plans for harming them, but due to highly improbable strokes of luck (think birds flying into the path of bullets, storms clouds appearing out of a clear blue sky to douse hospital fires, etc.) never succeeds in harming anyone.

The Feeble Villain: Has very malicious will towards humans, but never succeeds in harming anyone because his plans are manifestly silly (imagine him trying to carry out assassinations with carefully-placed banana peels, to crush people's heads at a distance between his thumb and index finger, and so forth.)

My own feeling is that I've listed these cases in order from most to least morally bad, with significant differences in between, but I know some who disagree; at any rate, I'd be curious to know what you think.