So here’s an idea I’ve been fiddling with for a while and would be interested to hear if anyone thinks that further exploration of this idea would be fruitful. (I’m also trying out this line of thought later this month at the ETMP conference in Amsterdam, so I wouldn’t mind some ‘pre-feedback’ before my presentation.)
I assume most of us are familiar with examples of Moore’s paradox:
(P) It’s raining, but I don’t believe it
Peter Railton (in the paper "Moral factualism" that he wrote for the Blackwell moral theory anthology edited by PEA Souper Jamie Dreier) suggests that there are moral equivalents of Moore’s paradox:
(Q) Hurting animals for fun is wrong, but I don’t care
I’m interested in (a) whether assertions of propositions like that expressed in (Q) are Moore-paradoxical; (b) if so, why; and (c) what that paradoxicality might reveal about moral psychology, and more specifically, about the motivational properties of moral judgment.
My initial view is that assertions of (Q) are paradoxical; that their paradoxicality is not due to their violating a linguistic/conversational norm or a substantive moral norm, but is instead rooted in the very psychology of the speaker; and that, roughly, the explanation of this paradoxicality is similar to explanations some philosophers have given of the paradoxicality of non-moral Moore-paradoxical assertions.
There is of course a vast literature on Moore’s paradox, but there is general agreement that the paradox has these two interesting features:
- The paradox is first-personal: The paradox arises only with respect to the attitudes of a single individual. It’s not at all paradoxical for me to assert "it’s raining, but Shelly doesn’t believe it is."
- The paradox is one of joint assertion: It’s not paradoxical for it to be raining, but for me not to believe it is. The paradox arises only with my joint assertion of the two propositions.
One reason for an affirmative answer to (a) is that the oddity of assertions of (Q) has these same two features: My joint assertion of (Q) is paradoxical, but assertion of "hurting animals for fun is wrong, but Shelly doesn’t care" isn’t. Similarly, it wouldn’t be paradoxical at all for hurting animals for fun to be wrong even if I don’t care. So it appears that assertions of (Q) gain whatever paradoxicality they may have from the same two features that help to explain the paradoxicality of non-moral Moore paradoxical assertions.
How should the paradoxicality of (Q) be explained? Again, there are many accounts of Moore paradoxicality, but one I find plausible appeals to a kind of epistemic paradoxicality. To assert ‘it’s raining’ is to assert a proposition for which one presumably has adequate evidence. But whatever is adequate for that assertion to be epistemically warranted is adequate for one to believe that it’s raining. The paradoxicality thus arises from apparently conflicting attitudes toward one and the same body of evidence: A given body of evidence sufficient to warrant the assertion of P is also sufficient to warrant belief in P.
With a significant amendment, a similar account of the Moore paradoxicality of (Q)-type assertions could be defended — or at least I think it can. First, let’s restrict our discussion to situations wherein the assertion of ‘I don’t care’ in (Q) expresses full motivational indifference. That is, it states that the speaker is not in the least motivated to act on her judgment that hurting animals is wrong. So her assertion of (Q) isn’t equivalent to something like ‘hurting animals is wrong, but I have more important things to do than worry about than intervening to stop those children from taunting that dog.’ So: what’s paradoxical about affirming the wrongness of hurting animals while being motivationally indifferent to that judgment? Parallel to the epistemic interpretation of the paradoxicality of (P), I’d argue that whatever reasons a speaker takes as sufficient to warrant the assertion of ‘hurting animals for fun is wrong’ is also sufficient to motivate her, to at least some degree, to act as they judgment would direct her.
I’m interested in whether (Q) is paradoxical, and if so, whether my proposed account of this is defensible. But aside from these matters, the apparent paradoxicality of (Q) seems likely to have implications concerning the relationship between moral judgment and moral motivation. Does this paradoxicality provide evidence for internalism about moral judgment and motivation — that a sincere moral judgment necessarily brings at least a smidgen of motivation in tow? I don’t believe it does, but I’d be curious to know what others about the implications for moral psychology generally.