ABSTRACT It has been argued that so-called moral disgust is either not really moral or not really disgust. I maintain that sceptics are wrong: there is a distinct emotional response best described as ‘moral disgust’. I offer an account of its constitutive features.
We present counterexamples to the widespread assumption that Moorean sentences cannot be rationally asserted. We then explain why Moorean assertions of the sort we discuss do not incur the irrationality charge. Our argument involves an appeal to the dual-process theory of the mind and a contrast between the conditions for ascribing beliefs to oneself and the conditions for making assertions about independently existing states of affairs. We conclude by contrasting beliefs of the sort we discuss with the structurally similar but (...) rationally impermissible beliefs of certain psychiatric patients. (shrink)
Pessimists about aesthetic testimony argue that it is inappropriate to rely on other people’s aesthetic judgments in forming our own aesthetic beliefs. Some suggest that such reliance violates an epistemic norm, others that it violates a non-epistemic norm. In making their case, pessimists offer several arguments. They also put forward cases meant to elicit pessimist intuitions. In this paper, I claim that none of the main pessimist arguments succeeds against a plausible version of optimism, that is, the view that reliance (...) on testimony in aesthetic matters is appropriate. However, I suggest also that pessimist intuitions have a certain pull that optimists must account for. My second task is to explain the force of pessimist intuitions by shedding new light on their source. (shrink)
We discuss Sharon Ryan’s Deep Rationality Theory of wisdom, defended recently in her “Wisdom, Knowledge and Rationality.” We argue that (a) Ryan’s use of the term “rationality” needs further elaboration; (b) there is a problem with requiring that the wise person possess justified beliefs but not necessarily knowledge; (c) the conditions of DRT are not all necessary; (d) the conditions are not sufficient. At the end of our discussion, we suggest that there may be a problem with the very assumption (...) that an informative, non-circular set of necessary and sufficient conditions of wisdom can be given. (shrink)
I discuss the respective roles of traits and reasons in the explanation of action. I begin by noting that traits and reasons explanations are systematically connected: traits explanations require motivation by reasons. Actions due to psychiatric conditions such as mental disorders cannot be explained by an appeal to traits. Because traits require motivation by reasons, it is often possible to explain one and the same action by an appeal to either the agent's traits or to her reasons. I then ask (...) whether it follows from here that traits and reasons explanations of action are equivalent – though perhaps offered from different points of view – or whether they differ in interesting ways. I argue that the differences are interesting and important – traits and reasons explanations answer different “why” questions regarding action: a reasons explanation tells us what reasons motivated the agent acting; a traits explanation, by contrast, indicates something about an agent’s reasons but tells us something else in addition: it tells us why the agent acted on those as opposed to other available reasons. (shrink)
Aristotle owned slaves and held racist and misogynist views. If anyone today engaged in the same practices or held Aristotle’s views, that person would be judged harshly. However, we do not judge Aristotle particularly harshly. Should we? What standard of virtue ought we apply in judging the characters of people who lived in remote times and places? This is the question I discuss in this paper. I consider and reject several alternatives and then propose a new one.
What is gender and how do we know what our gender is? These are the questions I propose to answer here. I review and reject several hypotheses: gender as sex or—a more careful version of the view—as subjective experiences that arise from sexual characteristics; gender as brain configuration; and gender as a historical kind. I express sympathy with an existentialist conception of gender but argue that such a conception, even according to its proponents, cannot help solve the problems of what (...) gender is and how we know what our gender is. I then advance a new view. (shrink)
Envy has often been seen as a vice and the envied as its victims. I suggest that this plausible view has an important limitation: the envied sometimes actively try to provoke envy. They may, thus, be non-innocent victims. Having argued for this thesis, I draw some practical implications.
This collection features 26 new essays on character from first-rate scholars in philosophy, psychology, economics, and law. The essays are elegantly written and combine forceful argumentation with original ideas on a wide range of questions, such as: "Is Aristotle's theory of character a moral theory?," "Are character traits in tension with personal autonomy," "How do traits differ from mental disorders?," "What is the role of gossip in character attribution?," and "Can businessmen be virtuous?" The chapters are organized thematically into 5 (...) sections, each prefaced by its own special introduction. In the introductions, the editor brings out often unexpected connections among different lines of argument pursued by the authors and raises important questions for further discussion. The collection as a whole offers students of character a unique opportunity to engage with some of the best contemporary work on the topic. (shrink)
Some of our largely unchosen first-order reactions, such as disgust, can underwrite morally-laden character traits. This observation is in tension with the plausible idea that virtues and vices are based on reasons. I propose a way to resolve the tension.
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:Could Understanding Harm?Iskra Fileva, PhD (bio) and Linda A.W. Brakel, MD (bio)We would like to thank the editors for organizing this symposium and our commentators—Marga Reimer and James Phillips—for the thought-provoking feedback. Although we had thought about the ideas we discuss from many different angles, our commentators raised several interesting issues we had not considered. We are grateful for the opportunity to continue the conversation.Reply to ReimerAs Professor Reimer (...) notes, we advocate an approach to self-constitution that we dub “understanding first.” On this approach, non-moral and non-normative understanding of the origin of maladaptive traits must precede moral evaluation and attempts to free oneself—or as we say “prune”—undesirable traits. Professor Reimer presents several interesting cases meant both to extend and test the limits of our proposal. We appreciate this approach and respond to each case in turn.Genes and AlcoholismSuppose Alejandro, an adult raised by adoptive parents, struggles with alcohol addiction. He learns that his biological parents died of alcoholic liver disease and comes to believe that his alcohol problem is caused by a genetic propensity toward alcohol abuse. One can ask: “Does an understanding first approach have the potential to undermine the sense of agency that is necessary for the effective treatment of maladaptive traits?”Answer: It can be explained to Alejandro that genetic proclivities are just that—proclivities—that can be overridden. In fact, behavior can alter our very genes—although not at the sequence level— changes known as “epigenetic.” And the liver disease of the biological parents can serve as a cautionary tale. If even in light of these considerations, Alejandro’s tendency to see genetic propensities as deterministic persists, it is worth asking why. There is no evidence that “genes are destiny,” so the disposition to see them that way must have a psychological explanation. What is the explanation? A self-destructive desire? Fear of freedom? This exploration can itself be empowering. [End Page 211]Adaptive ForgettingSuppose Beata, who has an eating disorder, was molested by her own father when she was a child. Subsequently, her father shot himself and now she has no recollection of the molestation. However, Beata’s eating disorder is largely a result of those experiences. It is quite possible that if Beata were to recall being molested, that would do more harm than good. In this connection, one can ask together with Reimer: “Does an understanding first approach have the potential to undermine an adaptive ‘forgetting’ of root causes of maladaptive traits?”Answer: Here, understanding the history, instead of forgetting it, might allow Beata to gain insight into and empathize with possible motives that may have led to becoming obese. For example, she might have the phantasy that if she had been obese and unattractive, she could have prevented the molestation—hence, become that way now to prevent it from happening again, and more wishfully reverse it. (In unconscious goings-on time is thought to be in the “unexamined present” (Brakel 2009, p. 63; 2015, p. 131; 2022, p. 4; 2023, p. 404.) One benefit of this is that in gaining this type of recognition, Beata might find it easier to change her behavior that she otherwise would not have; it was never her responsibility to prevent her own molestation, and there is no reason whatsoever for her to now make herself unattractive to her deceased father, and very little reason to remain obese in an attempt to deter current day men.Ego-Syntonic Maladaptive TraitsClaire is a concert pianist and alcoholic. Importantly, Claire does not see her own desire for alcohol as destructive but rather, as something constitutive of her own identity. “I wouldn’t be myself without alcohol,” she says. Reimer asks whether our approach would “work for cases where the agent sees a maladaptive trait as constitutive of their identity?”Answer: Although no approach can guarantee success, our claim is that our approach has a better chance than the main alternative known as the pruning view. Since Claire, by stipulation, is not inclined to see her own drinking as a problem, a... (shrink)
I discuss the aesthetic power of painful art. I focus on artworks that occasion pain by “hitting too close to home,” i.e., by presenting narratives meant to be “about us.” I consider various reasons why such works may have aesthetic value for us, but I argue that the main reason has to do with the power of such works to transgress conversational boundaries. The discussion is meant as a contribution to the debate on the paradox of tragedy.
In a widely read essay, “For the Law, Neuroscience Changes Nothing and Everything,” Joshua Greene and Jonathan Cohen argue that the advance of neuroscience will result in the widespread rejection of free will, and with it – of retributivism. They go on to propose that consequentialist reforms are in order, and they predict such reforms will take place. We agree that retributivism should be rejected, and we too are optimistic that rejected it will be. But we don’t think that such (...) a development will have much to do with neuroscience – it won’t, because neuroscience is unlikely to show that we have no free will. We have two main aims in this paper. The first is to rebut various aspects of the case against free will. The second is to examine the case for consequentialist reforms. We take Greene and Cohen’s essay as a hobbyhorse, but our criticisms are applicable to neurodeterministic anti-free-willism in general. We first suggest that Greene and Cohen take proponents of free will to be committed to an untenable homuncular account of agency. But proponents of free will can dispense with such a commitment. In fact, we argue, it is Greene and Cohen who work with an overly simple account of free will. We sketch a more nuanced conception. We then turn to the proposal for consequentialist reforms. We argue that retributivism will fall out of favor not as a consequence of neuroscience-driven rejection of free will, but rather, as a result of a familiar feature of moral progress – the expanding circle of concern. In short, retributivism can and must die, but neuroscience will not kill it – humanity will. (shrink)
I argue that the widely-held view that belief aims at the truth is false. I acknowledge that there is an important connection between truth and belief but propose a new way of interpreting that connection. On the account I put forth, evidence of truth constrains belief without furnishing an aim for belief.
In “Neurosentimentalism and Moral Agency”, Philip Gerrans and Jeanette Kennett argue that prominent versions of metaethical sentimentalism and moral realism ignore the importance, for moral agency and moral judgment, of the capacity to experientially project oneself into the past and possible futures – to engage in ‘mental time travel’. They contend that such views are committed to taking subjects with impaired capacities for MTT to be moral judgers, and thus confront a dilemma: either allow that these subjects are moral agents, (...) or deny that moral agency is required for moral judgment. In reply, we argue for two main claims. First, it is implausible that moral agency is required for moral judgment, and Gerrans and Kennett give us no good reason for thinking it is. Second, at least some of the subjects in question seem able to make moral judgments, and Gerrans and Kennett give us no good reason to doubt that they can. We conclude that they have not shown a problem for any of the metaethical views in question. (shrink)
I question the widespread assumption that when we act for reasons we know what our reasons are. I argue that an agent may act in ignorance, or partial ignorance, regarding his or her reasons, and an action involving ignorance of this sort may still qualify as done for reasons. I conclude from here that we need to develop a suitable new model of action for reasons, and I proceed to offer such a model. Briefly, I argue that an action qualifies (...) as done for reasons when the agent performing that action possesses a reasons explanation of it and is (at least partly) motivated to act by the fact he possesses such an explanation. The crucial point is that the agent may not be motivated – not even in part – by the content of the reasons that constitute the explanation in question. (shrink)
Casting directors are tasked with selecting a suitable actor for a given role. “Suitable” in this context typically means possessing a combination of physical attributes and acting skills. But are there any moral constraints on the choice? I argue that there are. This is an uncommon supposition, and few even entertain the question. In this essay, I discuss the reasons for this omission and attempt to make up for it.
Do claims of taste function as validity claims? Our ordinary use of aesthetic notions suggests as much. When I assert that Rodin’s Camille Claudel is ‘beautiful’ I mean my claim to be, in a sense, correct. I expect others to concur and if they do not I think that they are mistaken. But am I justified in attributing an error to the judgment of someone who, unlike me, does not find Rodin’s Camille Claudel beautiful? Not obviously. For it looks, on (...) the other hand, that my assertion “The sculpture of Camille Claudel is beautiful” is not an assertion about a property of that sculpture, not, that is, about a feature of the world which exists for others as well as for me. Quite the opposite, I seem to base my claim on a subjective response, on a certain feeling of mine. I maintain that the sculpture of Camille Claudel is ‘beautiful’ because it produces a particular effect upon me, namely it pleases me aesthetically. But how can the feeling of pleasure, being a subjective response on my part, serve as a normative ground for a claim? (shrink)
Reasonable people agree that whenever possible, we ought to rely on experts to tell us what is true or what the best course of action is. But which experts should we rely on and with regard to what issues? Here, I discuss several dangers that accompany reliance on experts, the most important one of which is this: positions that are offered as expert opinion frequently contain elements outside an expert’s domain of expertise, for instance, values not intrinsic to the given (...) domain. I also talk about the practical implications of accepting my view. (shrink)
As standardly understood, for an act to be optional is for it to be permissible but not required. Supererogatory acts are commonly taken to be optional in this way. In “Supererogation, Optionality and Cost”, Claire Benn rejects this common view: she argues that optionality so understood—permissible but not required—cannot be the sort of optionality involved in supererogation. As an alternative, she offers a novel account of the optionality of supererogatory acts: the “comparative cost” account. In this paper, we rebut Benn’s (...) objection to the common view that supererogation involves optionality as standardly understood. We also point out that her objection, if it worked, would equally undermine her own comparative cost proposal. (shrink)
In this paper, we criticize what we dub the “pruning view” of self-constitution, championed widely by philosophers, mainly though not exclusively in the Kantian tradition, and instead defend an alternative view inspired by psychoanalysis. We argue that normative assessment comes much too early on the pruning view, so early that it interferes with achieving deeper self-understanding that can produce lasting change. On the proposal we advocate, self-constitution must begin with a non-moralizing attempt to truly understand why one has undesirable and (...) unwanted propensities. We call this the “understanding first” principle. Only after deeper self-understanding has been achieved are attempts to liberate oneself from unwanted elements likely to succeed. (shrink)
I ask whether and when historical inaccuracy in a work of art constitutes an aesthetic flaw. I first consider a few replies derived from others: conceptual impossibility, import-export inconsistency, failure of reference, and imaginative resistance. I argue that while there is a grain of truth to some of these proposals, none of them ultimately succeeds. I proceed to offer an alternative account on which the aesthetic demerits of historical inaccuracies stem from a violation of the conversational contract between author and (...) audience. The key question is what that contract implies. (shrink)
My purpose in the present paper is two-fold: to provide a theoretical framework for understanding the difference between rightness and virtue; and to systematically account for the role of objective rightness in an individual person's decision making. I argue that a decision to do something virtuous differs from a decision to do what's right not simply, as is often supposed, in being motivated differently but, rather, in being taken from a different point of view. My argument to that effect is (...) the following. The 'objectively right' course of action must be right, 'neutrally' speaking, that is right for each of the participants in a given situation: if it is right for you to do A, then it cannot, at the same time, be right for me to prevent you from doing A. But the latter is precisely how things work with virtuous action: for instance, it may be virtuous of you to assume responsibility for my blunder, but it isn't virtuous of me to let you do so. I maintain, on this basis, that, while objectivity does have normative force in moral decision-making, the objective viewpoint is not, typically, the viewpoint from which decisions to act virtuously are taken. I then offer an account of objectivity's constraining power. (shrink)