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Phil-100A-Hndt-4-F-10 - Phil 100A: Ethics F 10 ...

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Unformatted text preview: Phil 100A: Ethics F 10 Professor Aaron Zimmerman Handout 4: Acquiring Moral Concepts & Becoming a Reliable Moral Judge 1. The Substantive Argument for Skepticism Revised (1) Our moral beliefs have various sources: O1, O2…On (e.g. disgust and indoctrination). (2) All of these sources are unsafe or unreliable. Therefore, (3) None of our moral beliefs have safe or reliable origins. (4) If our beliefs are not formed in a safe and reliable way then we do not know what we believe (even if we luckily get things right). Therefore, (5) We have no moral knowledge. Debunking explanation: an explanation of how someone came to hold a given belief that should undermine her confidence in it. (E.g. learning that this is an April Fool’s Day edition of the newspaper should undermine my prior belief in the stories it contains.) Aim: Our task is to respond to this argument by identifying a reliable way of forming moral beliefs and arguing that our core moral convictions have this origin. We need to find an explanation of how we came to hold our core moral beliefs that is not itself a debunking explanation. 2. The Development of Moral Concepts a. As we noted when discussing the morality of drug use, prudential thought is not yet moral thought. So we can examine a child who can judge that certain things are bad for her and other things good for her and ask how she might transition from these beliefs to genuinely moral judgments—beliefs of the form “This is immoral.” b. To think in moral terms a child must be capable of thinking about what is good and bad for other people. A very basic or crude sensitivity to the wellbeing of others is innate (pp 154 ­5). c. The fact that something is bad for everyone affected does not entail that it is immoral. Only the actions of beings with minds (and their effects) can be coherently judged to be moral or immoral. To think in moral terms a child must distinguish mere happenings from intentional actions. This means that knowledge of other minds is a precondition for moral knowledge. Question: How do children come to acquire knowledge of other minds? Describe the difference between theory ­theory and simulation theory and the different effects the processes each theory describes might be plausibly thought to have on a child’s behavior. d. As Hamlyn, Wynn and Bloom (2007) show, very young infants show a preference for helpers over hinderers. But this is not yet evidence of moral thought. e. Non ­human animals can act neither morally nor immorally. They cannot be appraised in moral terms. Moreover, if someone does not recognize this fact it is reasonable to say that she does not yet grasp moral concepts. If common thought is any guide, there are at least two additional conditions that must be met for moral appraisability: (1) We impose an epistemic condition on moral evaluation when we claim that non ­human animals are incapable of immorality because they lack any awareness of right and wrong. (2) We impose a motivational condition on moral evaluation when we remove animals from the scope of moral evaluation because they lack the kind of self control they would need to regulate their behavior in accordance with such awareness. Without moral concepts and/or self ­control (it is claimed) an agent is incapable of immorality. f. Some researchers would want to include here meta ­ethical beliefs regarding the purported “authority ­independence” of distinctively moral rules and principles. It seems that children as young as two years of age believe that hitting and stealing would still be wrong even if parents, teachers and God said it was okay, but that licking their plates and wearing pajamas to school would be perfectly fine if allowed by these figures. Is belief in the authority ­independence of moral norms necessary for truly moral thought? g. Basic Moral Development: A child does not yet grasp moral concepts, think in moral terms, or possess the ability to formulate moral beliefs, until she restricts her use of “moral” and “immoral” to the intentional actions of animals that have some awareness of right and wrong and the self ­control necessary to act on that knowledge. One might also argue that her use of moral terms must be connected, in at least some way, to her beliefs about the harms and benefits generated through such actions. Note how far from mere feelings of disgust we have already moved in our explanation of the developmental origins of even the most rudimentary moral beliefs. 3. Partiality and the Reliability of Moral Belief Claim: A child might meet the conditions described above for Basic Moral Development and still lack moral knowledge. Until she learns to correct for partiality, her moral judgments may be too unreliable to be properly thought of as knowledge. Suppose the child calls “immoral” all those acts that thwart her ends, and thinks that everything she wants is morally okay. Then she will almost certainly arrive at many false moral beliefs. And the bare knowledge that what is in her self ­interest needn’t be morally good probably won’t be enough to instill the requisite reliability, as partiality may prevent this knowledge from guiding her beliefs when morality and self ­interest conflict. The reliability of our moral judgments therefore awaits a kind of neutrality that most healthy adults manage to achieve—to at least some extent—in our core moral judgments Question: How do children learn to correct for partiality in their moral beliefs? How do they come to judge moral matters in a more neutral or objective light? 4. The Neutrality Exercised in An Example of Core Moral Judgment Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield contains a host of details drawn from the author’s own troubled childhood. Early on in the tale, Copperfield is sent to Salem House, a boarding school run by the despicable Mr. Creakle. Copperfield’s assessment of the man’s cruelty will serve as our example of core moral judgment or belief. We will describe its origins and assess their reliability. Our question, recall, is whether we might answer the substantive argument for moral skepticism. Can we do this by arguing that Copperfield knows that Creakle acted immorally because this belief has a safe and reliable origin? I should think there never can have been a man who enjoyed his profession more than Mr. Creakle did. He had a delight in cutting at the boys, which was like the satisfaction of a craving appetite. I am confident that he couldn’t resist a chubby boy, especially; that there was a fascination in such a subject, which made him restless in his mind, until he had scored and marked him for the day. I was chubby myself and ought to know. I am sure when I think of the fellow now, my blood rises against him with the disinterested indignation I should feel if I could have known all about him without having ever been in his power; but it rises hotly, because I know him to have been an incapable brute, who had no more right to be possessed of the great trust he held, than to be Lord High Admiral, or Commander ­in ­chief: in either of which capacities, it is probable that he would have done infinitely less mischief. (1849 ­50/1997, 85 ­6) Copperfield satisfies himself that partiality is not distorting his present judgment of Creakle when he correctly surmises that he would feel truly “disinterested indignation” and retain his conviction in Creakle’s immorality if he had “known all about him without having ever been in his power.” Thus, Copperfield doesn’t merely judge Creakle immoral because he feels indignant over what he perceives to be the man’s mistreatment of him. Instead, he correctly judges that he would still feel this way were he merely observing from afar Creakle’s similar treatment of boys wholly unrelated to him. 3rd Person Neutrality: S’s judgment that X acted immorally has 3rd ­person neutrality just in case S knows that he would still judge X’s act immoral were he an unaffected party knowledgeable about the (value neutral) facts of the case. Let the patient be one of the people directly affected by the action A under review, and the agent one of the people performing the action. 2nd Person Neutrality: The agent’s judgment that A was immoral has 2nd person neutrality just in case she knows that she would still judge the action immoral were she one of A’s patients. The patient’s judgment that A was immoral has 2nd person neutrality just in case she knows that she would still judge the action immoral were she one of A’s agents. 5. Reasons v. Feelings in the Exercise of Objective Moral Judgment Dickens has Copperfield basing his judgment of Creakle on the determination that he would feel indignation were he a neutral observer who had never experienced mistreatment at Creakle’s hand. And we have also imagined what Creakle would feel were he to occupy the second person perspective of Copperfield and the other chubby boys affected. But Thomas Nagel’s description of how objectivity is achieved provides us with a third option by replacing judgments about what you would feel were you a neutral observer, or what you would experience were you one of the affected parties, with judgments regarding the reasons to refrain that you would attribute to the immoral act’s perpetrator were you one of his victims: ‘How would you like it if someone did that to you?’ It is an argument to which we are all in some degree susceptible . . . The essential fact is that you would not only dislike it if someone else treated you in that way; you would resent it. That is, you would think that your plight gave the other person a reason to terminate or modify his contribution to it, and that in failing to do so he was acting contrary to reasons which were plainly available to him. (1970, 82 ­3) Nagel is of course right. Only a pathologically egotistical agent—a practical solipsist as we might call him—would both admit that he would justly resent the lashings were he to receive them and at the same time insist that there is no reason at all for him to refrain from delivering the blows to others. Question: But why is the fact that you are you whereas I am me, not a “morally relevant” consideration? ...
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