Our puzzle about moral motivation can be seen as a tension that we encounter when we try to reconcile intellectual and practical aspects of morality. Cognitivists interpret moral judgments as expressing cognitive attitudes, such as belief. Moral judgments ascribe properties – axiological, deontic, and aretaic – to persons, actions, institutions, and policies. Internalists believe that moral judgments necessarily engage the will and motivate. We expect people to be motivated to act in accord with their moral judgments and would find it (...) odd for people to be systematically indifferent to what they judge morally significant. It is also a common view that motivation involves pro-attitudes, such as desires. We explain intentional action as the product of informational states, such as beliefs, and practical states, such as desires. But beliefs and desires are logically independent states; no belief entails any particular desire. These assumptions are in tension. (shrink)
Allan Gibbard’s book Thinking How to Live is an important sequel to his earlier and very in uential book Wise Choices, Apt Feelings. His earlier book defended a conception of morality as involving distinctive moral feelings of guilt, shame, and resentment that it is rational for someone to have and went on to defend an expressivist conception of rationality according to which judgments of rationality involve acceptance of norms for behavior and feeling. Though Gibbard offered a novel conception of the (...) semantics and logic of normative judgment, he spent much of that book discussing the evolution, psychology, and social dynamics of normative commitment. Thinking How to Live has a narrower focus. Though Gibbard regards morality as one form of normativity or practical reason, he largely avoids discussion of morality, focusing instead on normativity or practical reason. Here too, his focus is narrower, restricted primarily to issues about the semantics, logic, and epistemology of normative judgment. The new book reinterprets the earlier notion of accepting a norm in terms of planning or commitment to a plan. One consequence of this reinterpretation is to make the expressivist character of Gibbard’s account of normative judgment clearer. He then proceeds to explain normative judgment in terms of commitment to a set of contingency plans, which allows him to defend an account of normative inference and reasoning. In fact, Gibbard argues that his expressivist conception of normative judgment allows him to defend ver-. (shrink)
Given these worries about strategic ethical egoism, we might conclude that morality and rationality are two independent points of view. We might agree that morality is impartial but insist that practical reason is instrumental or prudential. If so, we can see how there might be conflicts between practical reason and other-regarding morality, because other-regarding duties need not always advance the agent's own aims and interests. If there can be such conflicts, then immoral action is not necessarily irrational. If so, we (...) should reject the rationalist element in the problematic about the authority of morality. On this view, the authority, but not the scope or content, of morality depends on the aims or interests of agents. (shrink)
We have looked at worries about expressivism and other forms of noncognitivism. The externalist solution may also seem to be a solution of last resort, because it may seem to deny the platitude that moral judgments are motivationally efficacious. For this reason, we might look seriously at rationalist theories of moral motivation, because they promise to represent moral judgments as intrinsically motivational without giving up cognitivism.
This argument would show weak internalism to be a conceptual truth. But this argument is not compelling. Sometimes when we say that I have a reason to φ, we mean • (a) There is a behavioral norm that enjoins φ-ing and applies to me. In this sense of reason, moral norms do imply reasons. There are as many kinds of reasons as there are norms, including moral reasons, legal reasons, reasons of etiquette. But we often have something more in mind (...) in ascribing reasons. (shrink)
Thomas Nagel's The Possibility of Altruism (1970) is one of the few sustained attempts to reject instrumental and prudential conceptions of practical reason and to defend the possibility of practical reason that is impartial or altruistic. Nagel makes claims about both moral motivation and practical reason, and each claim has both negative and positive constituents.
In The Sources of Normativity (1996) Christine Korsgaard provides a dialectical examination of different conceptions of the sources of normativity or reasons -- conceptions that appeal to voluntarism, realism, and reflective endorsement -- that culminates in her own Kantian or neo- Kantian conception of normativity that is grounded in autonomy. Her method is dialectical (Dialectical) inasmuch as her neo-Kantian conception is supposed to reveal the truth or grain of truth in each of the three prior conceptions. Korsgaard begins Lecture 1 (...) with a statement of the main problems that arise in connection with the normativity of ethics. She factors normative adequacy into answers to two kinds of problems (12-13). (shrink)
Doubts about the adequacy of appeals to impartial practical reason give those with rationalist sympathies reason to explore the metaphysical, and not merely strategic, reconciliation of prudence and altruism contained in metaphysical egoism. Even if we recognize impartial practical reason, the supremacy of moral demands may depend upon the plausibility of metaphysical egoism. For as long as we recognize the demands of prudence, the conflict between altruism and prudence will threaten altruism's supremacy. We might consider one version of metaphysical egoism (...) that appeals to psychological reductionism about personal identity and exploits some Platonic and Aristotelian analogies between intrapersonal and interpersonal relations and concern. (shrink)
Hate speech employs discriminatory epithets to insult and stigmatize others on the basis of their race, gender, sexual orientation, or other forms of group membership. The regulation of hate speech is deservedly controversial, in part because debates over hate speech seem to have teased apart libertarian and egalitarian strands within the liberal tradition. In the civil rights movements of the 1960s, libertarian concerns with freedom of movement and association and equal opportunity pointed in the same direction as egalitarian concerns with (...) eradicating racial discrimination and the social and economic inequalities that this discrimination maintained. But debates over hate speech regulation seem to force one to give priority to equality or to liberty. On the one hand, egalitarian concerns may seem to require restricting freedom of expression. Hate speech is an expression of discriminatory attitudes that have a long, ugly, and sometimes violent history. As such, hate speech is deeply offensive to its victims and socially divisive. Though one might well be reluctant to restrict speech, it might seem that the correct response to hate speech, as with other forms of discrimination, is regulation. On the other hand, libertarian concerns may seem to constrain the pursuit of equality. Though one may abhor hate speech and its effects, the cure might seem at least as bad as the disease. Freedoms of expression are among our most fundamental liberties. Offensive ideas are part of the price one must pay to protect these constitutional rights. This being so, it might seem that the correct response to hate speech is more speech—presumably egalitarian speech condemning hate speech—not the restriction of speech. (shrink)
Write a short paper, approximately 6-8 pages, on one of the following topics. (Some of these topics could also be considered for the longer paper. Some might be better suited for a short paper and some might be better suited for a long paper, but most could be adapted (narrowed or expanded) to work for either purpose.) It is possible to write on another topic, if you prefer, but it is necessary to meet with me in advance and to agree (...) on the contours of an alternate topic. This paper is due in class on Wednesday, May 2. (Students wishing to write the longer paper first should consult with me to okay their topic and set up a different timetable.) Students are welcome to consult me on the topics and readings associated with their papers. (shrink)
This is probably an overly ambitious Syllabus for a ten week seminar. I regard the early part of the Syllabus (roughly, §§1-9) as pretty fixed. We may have to choose among the later topics (§§10- 12), and I welcome student input on these decisions. Required readings are preceded by `(A)`; recommended readings are preceded by `(B)`. Full references are available on the Select Bibliography. Most of the required readings come from the required texts. Required readings not found in the required (...) texts, and some recommended readings, can be found on Electronic Reserves. If you have trouble locating any of the recommended readings, let me know; I can try to help. (shrink)
This paper focuses on normative questions about intertemporal distribution that might seem parallel to more familiar questions about interpersonal distribution. Temporal neutrality is the claim that the temporal location of benefits and harms within a life should not affect their normative significance and implies that agents should have equal concern for all parts of their lives. I focus on temporal neutrality as a demand of prudence. A traditional rationale for temporal neutrality appeals to the idea of compensation: whereas there is (...) no automatic interpersonal compensation for sacrifice, because benefactor and beneficiary are different people, intrapersonal compensation is automatic, because benefactor and beneficiary are the same person. This is why sacrifice of one's present interests for the sake of one's later greater good is a paradigm of rationality. Despite the hegemony of temporal neutrality, it appears to have some counter-intuitive implications -- it may seem to be undermined by reductionist accounts of personal identity, it may seem to compromise fidelity to one's ideals in cases involving diachronic changes of personal ideals, it may seem committed to problematic assumptions about the symmetry of death and prenatal nonexistence, and it might suggest that our apparent preference for pain being in the past is irrational when the alternative would be a smaller future pain. I consider these objections to temporal neutrality and argue that its normative and metaphysical commitments are surprisingly robust. (shrink)
Prudence and authenticity are sometimes seen as rival virtues. Prudence,as traditionally conceived, is temporally neutral. It attaches no intrinsic significance to the temporal location of benefits or harms within the agent’s life; the prudent agent should be equally concerned about all parts of her life. But people’s values and ideals often change over time, sometimes in predictable ways, as when middle age and parenthood often temporize youthful radicalism or spontaneity with concerns for comfort,security, and predictability. In situations involving diachronic, intrapersonal (...) conflicts of value, prudence—in particular,temporal neutrality—appears to require the agent to subordinate her current ideals to her future ones or at least to moderate pursuit of current ideals in light of future ones. But this demand may seem to sacrifice authenticity, if we suppose that authenticity requires acting on the ideals that the agent reflectively and sincerely accepts at the time of action. This tension between prudence and authenticity raises interesting questions about temporal neutrality, the structure of intrapersonal conflicts of value, the nature of ideals, and the demands of authenticity. After examining various aspects of this puzzle, I defend the commitments of prudence in situations involving intrapersonal value conflict and argue that authenticity—understood as being true to oneself— actually supports temporal neutrality. I conclude by suggesting how this defense of prudence lends credibility to the more general demand of temporal neutrality. (shrink)
David Brink presents a study of T. H. Green's Prolegomena to Ethics (1883), a classic of British idealism. Green develops a perfectionist ethical theory that brings together the best elements in the ancient and modern traditions and that provides the moral foundations for Green's own influential brand of liberalism. Brink's book situates the Prolegomena in its intellectual context, examines its main themes, and explains Green's enduring significance for the history of ethics and contemporary ethical theory.
A cognitivist interpretation of moral inquiry treats it, like other kinds of inquiry, as aiming at true belief. A dialectical conception of moral inquiry represents the justification for a given moral belief as consisting in its intellectual fit with other beliefs, both moral and nonmoral. The essay appeals to semantic considerations to defend cognitivism as a default metaethical view; it defends a dialectical conception of moral inquiry by examining Sidgwick's ambivalence about the probative value of appeal to common moral beliefs (...) or intuitions. The essay then addresses two main concerns about the compatibility of cognitivist and dialectical conceptions of moral inquiry. The probative value of moral intuitions requires that they be sufficiently approximately true. The individual and collective benefits of regulating our interactions by norms like those of commonsense morality help explain how we can view ourselves as sufficiently reliable detectors of moral properties. But the probative value of moral intuitions may also seem threatened by the existence of pervasive moral disagreement both within and between cultures. However, a dialectical conception of moral inquiry has resources for resolving moral disagreement; in fact, the dialectical examination of diverse moral perspectives contributes to the justification of moral beliefs. (shrink)
This book is a systematic and constructive treatment of a number of traditional issues at the foundations of ethics. These issues concern the objectivity of ethics, the possibility and nature of moral knowledge, the relationship between the moral point of view and a scientific or naturalist world-view, the nature of moral value and obligation, and the role of morality in a person's rational lifeplan. In striking contrast to traditional and more recent work in the field, David Brink offers an integrated (...) defense of the objectivity of ethics. (shrink)
Consideration of the objection from the personal point of view reveals the resources of utilitarianism. The utilitarian can offer a partial rebuttal by distinguishing between criteria of rightness and decision procedures and claiming that, because his theory is a criterion of rightness and not a decision procedure, he can justify agents' differential concern for their own welfare and the welfare of those close to them. The flexibility in utilitarianism's theory of value allows further rebuttal of this objection; objective versions of (...) utilitarianism can treat self-determination or autonomy as a dominant good which trumps even large magnitudes of lesser goods such as pleasure. After the resources of utilitarianism are exhausted, though, there remains a worry, generated by the personal point of view, about utilitarianism's impartiality. But this worry is correctly viewed, not as a moral worry about the merits of utilitarianism as a moral theory, but as a worry about morality concerning the rationality or supremacy of impartial moral demands. Whether or not this worry can be answered, the fact that it arises supports rather than undermines a utilitarian account of morality. (shrink)