A moral equivalent of Moore’s paradox?

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:

  1. 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."
  2. 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.

22 Replies to “A moral equivalent of Moore’s paradox?

  1. Michael, this might be a bit off-track, but are these Moore paradoxical?
    ‘It’s raining, but do I believe it?’
    ‘It’s raining, but don’t believe it’ (uttered to myself)
    If so, then we might have to understand ‘joint assertion’ more broadly.

  2. Thanks, Jamie. I had forgotten about those paragraphs. You’re certainly correct that something like ‘Shut the door but I’m not commanding you to shut the door’ is Moore paradoxical in *some* sense, but part of the reason for my question is that I’m not actually sure what the boundaries are for something’s being Moore paradoxical. That is, I’m not actually sure what kinds of examples we’re supposed to be analyzing.
    For example, if we’re taking the ‘It is raining but I don’t believe it’ example as a paradigm of Moorean paradox, then it seems that these would be the nondeclarative equivalents:
    (I) ‘Shut the door but I really don’t want you to shut the door.’
    (E) ‘Hooray, but I’m not excited’
    (Q) ‘I don’t really want you to tell me whether it’s raining, but is it raining?’
    That is, if we take the ‘it is raining but I don’t believe it’ to be the paradigm of a Moorean paradox, then one of the speech acts expresses a psychological state that the assertion denies one as having. But your example seems like a perfectly good case of Moorean paradox as well, even though it doesn’t fit the paradigmatic form. And in none of these cases (yours included) is there a joint assertion. Just some kind of joint “representation,” as it were. So, I was thinking that joint assertion cannot be a necessary condition for being Moore paradoxical.

  3. Right, I get it. To parallel the belief one as closely as possible, you want one conjunct to contradict the sincerity condition of the other. Only I doubt that the imperatives really have wants as their sincerity conditions. Imagine a sergeant passing on an order to his corporal from the lieutenant: polish all of the door knobs. The sergeant doesn’t want the corporal to polish the door knobs (he thinks it’s a waste of time), but he is quite sincerely giving the order.

  4. Dan (and Jamie),
    You’re right that there seem to be examples of M-paradoxical expressions that aren’t joint assertions, and I don’t have much to say about these non-assertive, non-paradigmatic types. So I’m happy to concede that joint assertion is a condition for M-paradoxical assertions but not for other M-paradoxical expressions. I remain curious as to whether we can provide a unified account, of both the moral and non-moral kinds I identified above, of M-paradoxical assertions.

  5. Michael,
    My immediate intuitive response to find (Q) a bit odd, but far short of paradoxical. I am not at all baffled by the person who asserts (Q), as I would be by the person who seems sincerely to assert (P). I quite literally don’t know what the P-asserter is telling me, whereas at least I think I have a fairly good grasp of what the Q-asserter is telling me. Note that I can fairly easily explain away the apparent tension in Q by saying “Well, he just doesn’t care about right and wrong” (and this lack of caring is precisely what is somewhat odd about him—after all, most people do care and, more importantly perhaps, most people see that they should care). No comparable explanation seems available in the case of the P-asserter: one cannot say “Well, he just doesn’t believe what he takes to be the case,” or anything of the sort, because believing something just is taking it to be the case.
    We might also note that it doesn’t seem either impossible or paradoxical for a wholeheartedly immoral person (Satan, perhaps) to say “Hurting animals for fun is wrong, and that’s just what I like about it!”
    Another comparison: Suppose someone says (R) “Smoking is bad for me, but I don’t care.” This doesn’t seem to me paradoxical either (in fact I’ve known several real people who said just this); it is, perhaps, irrational, but that is something else. But this does raise some interesting questions. For instance: what does the R-asserter accept, in terms of her reasons for action? It might be that she is denying that the fact that something is bad for her gives her reason to avoid doing it. Alternatively, she might accept that she has reason for avoiding what is bad for her, but not care about these reasons. In a way the second interpretation seems to me more plausible: if faced with the medical evidence, vivid descriptions of cancer, emphysema and charred lungs, etc., it would seem difficult for her to continue to maintain that she had no reason not to smoke, but perfectly open for her to say “I don’t care about any of that future stuff right now—that just doesn’t move me.” She might even add: “If I were more rational, I would care—but practical rationality is also one of the things I really don’t care about.”
    But now I begin to wonder why the P-asserter couldn’t take the same tactic. Why shouldn’t she be able to say, “I acknowledge that there is reason to believe that it is raining—and so if I were theoretically rational, I would believe that it is raining. But theoretical rationality is just one of those things I really don’t care about.” In other words, why can’t we say “I realize that p is false, but I’m going to believe it anyway” in just the same way as we might say “I realize that q is really stupid, but I’m going to do it anyway”? The difference seems to be that in going so far as to say “p is true” one has already committed oneself to “I believe p” (and likewise with “p is false” and “I do not believe p”); whereas “I am not going to do q” goes a step beyond “q is stupid.” And, similarly (so far as I can see), “I care about q” goes a step beyond “q is wrong.”

  6. This is interesting Michael. Three points:
    1. Something worries me about the move from saying that something is wrong to thinking that agent has made a moral judgment. When someone says something like (Q), the easy and charitable way to understand them is to think that they haven’t really made a moral judgment. Had they made one they would care on a threat of irrationality. But, we do want to avoid ascribing irrationality to people on the grounds of their sayings if there is an easy interpretation that avoids this.
    2. I’m not sure how the paradoxicality of the saying could be based on the psychology of the agent and not the linguistic norms and such. Without the linguistic norms it’s not clear how saying anything could commit the agent to have any attitudes. One theory about the Moore paradoxicality is that saying ‘it rains’ carries a conventional implicature that the speaker believes that it rains. You might think that moral utterances like something is wrong carry similar implicatures about the intentions of the agents. If the norms governing the use of moral terms have such implicatures, then it is paradoxical for the agent who is attempting to follow these norms to try to deny that he has the attitudes he is implicating he has.
    3. Even your account seems to be based on the linguistic norm which says that assert something only when you think you have sufficient evidence that the assertion is true. This is the norm one violates when one asserts thing one does not have or even believe to have evidence for. As a result, if one were playing by the rules of assertion, the assertion would commit one to conflicting attitudes towards evidence.
    I think the problem in the practical case will be to explain what is problematic in thinking that the attitude in question is sufficiently warranted and not having the attitude. So, it looks like there are cases where you *can* explicitly acknowledge that the caring attitude would be sufficiently warranted but not have it and let others know about this. So, I can believe that others are sufficiently warranted to care about the state of the golf courses in US without caring about that myself.

  7. Troy,
    I’d agree that (Q)-assertions aren’t as strange as (P)-assertions, though I think that ‘odd’ and ‘paradoxical’ might be just different points along the same continuum. One way to get at the (possible) paradoxicality of (Q)-assertions is to consider whether we’d think (Q)-asserters are sincere. If someone (in my presence) asserted something like (Q), I’d feel pretty confident that I’d be entitled to remark, “I don’t really think that you believe hurting animals is wrong. After all, you don’t seem to care about it at all!” Now in asking whether someone is sincere, we’re asking more than whether they are being truthful; we’re also asking about the depth of their commitment to what they assert. So it’s an epistemic inquiry, not just a psychological one. And in my own case, if I entertained the thought expressed in (Q), I’d take my indifference as indirect evidence against my belief in the first conjunct.
    You remark: “It might be that she is denying that the fact that something is bad for her gives her reason to avoid doing it. Alternatively, she might accept that she has reason for avoiding what is bad for her, but not care about these reasons.”
    Perhaps my view is that I don’t understand what it could mean not to care about a consideration one takes to be a reason.
    I’d concede that immoralists (or maybe these are amoralists) might make such assertions non-paradoxically. (That seemed to be Hare’s famous point about amoralists using moral language in an ‘inverted comma’ sense.) Indeed, the M-paradoxicality rests on the fact that the overwhelming majority of agents aren’t amoralists and are at least occasionally moved to act on their moral beliefs. Because of this, the apparent indifference feels paradoxical.
    Jussi,
    I think you and I are in general agreement on ascriptions of rationality: The absence of motivation is evidence for absence of the corresponding judgment. As for the bit about linguistic norms: I’m pretty convinced (by Shoemaker, Heal, de Almeida, our own Uriah Kriegel) that if M-paradoxical assertions are paradoxical, this paradoxicality is derivative of the mental state(s) they express. So I’m not denying that the assertions may violate conversational norms; I’m only denying that’s the fundamental fact in need of explanation here.

  8. I agree with Troy that these are far short of paradoxical. My view is that the strangeness is indeed conversational. If wrongness is always relational to some standards, norms, or (as I prefer) ends, then to say simply that something is ‘wrong’ is to leave the relevant standard implicit. I’ve argued that in many standard contexts, this conversationally implicates that it is a standard that the speaker endorses (e.g. in my ‘Value and Implicature’.) If that’s right, then there is something weakly (i.e. context-dependently) Moore-paradoxical about assuming some standard, and claiming that you don’t care about it.

  9. I’m in the “not really paradoxical” camp. An extreme case: Suppose that a psychopath studies philosophy and becomes convinced, as an intellectual matter, of the truth of Kantian ethics. Why couldn’t this person sincerely assert that lying is wrong, and yet not be in the least bit moved by this belief? I don’t see any reason that we would have to the use of ‘wrong’ here to be in an inverted comma sense.
    This is probably too simplistic, but it seems to me that assertions are expressions of belief, that there is something paradoxical about making an assertion while simultaneously denying that you have the belief that it expresses, but that there is nothing paradoxical about making an assertion while denying that you have some mental state other than the belief you are expressing. To say that an action is wrong implies that you have a belief, but to say that you don’t care is (roughly) to deny that you have an attitude or desire.
    Of course, this is easy for me to say because I’m comfortable with moral externalism. I’m not clear why how people divide on this question won’t just track how they divide on the internalism/externalism question. Michael, you seem to suggest that you don’t think this is the case… can you say something about how you take the question to relate to the internalism/externalism issue?

  10. Here’s an example we discussed the other day:
    ‘I promise to x, but I don’t intend to x’.
    As far as promising is inherently a moral matter, this would be a good example of a moral M-paradoxicality. It’s also a case where the attitude in question is not a belief. Of course you might say that the first part of the speech-act is not asserting either. And, interestingly, the account based on the different attitudes towards evidence doesn’t immediately seem applicable.

  11. Thanks for the comments everyone.
    Jussi,
    Regarding
    ‘I promise to x, but I don’t intend to x’.
    You’re right about that example, though I’d be inclined to say that there’s a paradoxicality of the same kind here inasmuch as promising amounts to an affirmation that one takes certain reasons for action as binding one’s future conduct, so to not intend to x amounts to denying that those reasons are binding.
    Steve,
    I’m having trouble seeing that we’re not on the same page. Note that I don’t deny there’s a conversational strangeness to assertions of (Q); I only claim that such strangeness is derivative of the strangeness of the mental states they express. The conversational implicature, as you describe it, is the speaker’s endorsement of a standard that she then expresses indifference toward. I guess I’m not seeing how my suggestion that there’s a paradoxicality here, one of an epistemic kind, is at odds with your remarks.
    Dale,
    Your remark “that there is nothing paradoxical about making an assertion while denying that you have some mental state other than the belief you are expressing” is useful: What I’d want to say in response is that in the case of certain kinds of judgments (moral ones in particular) their assertion is the acceptance of certain reasons for action. Hence, to assert these judgments while also being indifferent to them amounts to taking a conflicting stance toward those reasons: that they are and are not reasons for action.
    Note also that you (and Troy) have recourse to Satan or psychopaths as counterexamples: I’m not bothered by that much, since my view is that (Q)-assertions are paradoxical only for agents capable of being moved by their moral judgments (or if you’re Hare, by their ‘moral judgments’.) I’d also want to raise doubts about whether the psychopath you describe has been ‘convinced’ of the justifiability of these moral judgments.
    As for the larger implications for internalism/externalism: I’m working that out, but I’m attracted to the notion that the apparent paradoxicality here suggests that internalism is best understood neither as a hypothesis about the nature of moral judgments nor a descriptive hypothesis about moral judgments operate in human psychology. Rather, I think internalism expresses a regulative ideal of rationality. This is consistent with the sort of internalism defended by Korsgaard, Smith, and others, but adds to their picture in important ways.

  12. Michael-
    You write:
    “Hence, to assert these judgments while also being indifferent to them amounts to taking a conflicting stance toward those reasons: that they are and are not reasons for action.”
    This is, I recognize, a naive question. Is it really that unusual, though, for people to acknowledge that they are not at all moved by something that they recognize is a legitimate reason for action? It strikes me that procrastinators admit this about prudential reasons all of the time. I might also find it paradoxical if someone said that X is a reason for action for her but that she should not be motivated by it. If she says that she is not motivated by X, though, but admits that this is a defect in her motivational economy, then this strikes me as fairly commonplace. Now you could certainly say that she is simply wrong to call x a reason for herself if it doesn’t move her, but in that case I would initially be inclined to disagree with your claim that making a moral judgment means taking yourself to have reasons for action. I don’t find anything especially paradoxical about someone who says that she has a moral reason to do something and that while she is not moved to do it, she admits that she should be. My hunch is that no small portion of Peter Singer’s readers find themselves in this position.

  13. Hi Michael,
    I am wondering if you would generalize your account to cover evaluative judgments, e.g. ones expressed by people uttering sentences such as ‘Stealing is bad’.
    Having – as a result of your post – re-read Graham Oddie’s discussion of such cases in his book “Value, Desire, and Reality’, I’ve been thinking about these cases, which seem odd in a different way than deontic ones:
    ‘Brussel sprouts taste bad, but I want to taste some.’ (and imagine the person saying this while heaping some onto his plate)
    ‘People who make fun of others are bad people, but I want to be one.’
    ‘Knowledge is good, but I don’t want any’
    ‘Happiness is good, but I want to be unhappy’

  14. Michael,
    In part I was just offering a diagnosis of the strangeness.
    One difference between us seems to be that I think the strangeness is contingent: it arises in certain contexts, but it is defeasible.
    There may be a second difference, but it depends on what you mean by saying that the conversational strangeness is derivative from the strangeness of the attitudes. I don’t think it is possible both to endorse and be indifferent towards a standard at the same moment. So the strangeness of the statement doesn’t derive from the strangeness of the attitudes you are in when you make it; rather, it derives from the fact that you seem to express both the presence and the absence of an attitude. Perhaps that’s what you meant by the strangeness of the attitudes. However, that doesn’t fit with your calling internalism a ‘regulative ideal of rationality’: presumably you mean that people CAN have this strange combination of attitudes, by virtue of being irrational. And I’d disagree with that.

  15. I’ve come to this post rather late but I don’t think anyone has said much about (P) yet. It’s not the assertion
    (P) It’s raining, but I don’t believe it
    that is meant to be paradoxical but rather the fact that while it could be true that (both (a) it is raining and (b) I don’t believe that it is raining, it appears that I could never sensibly state such a truth since (P) is a contradiction (there’s a separate literature on whether or not self-contradictions are meaningless).So Moore’s Paradox is really the idea that there seem to be recognisable truths that certain people cannot sensibly utter at certain times (when put it this way, it sounds almost Tractarian).
    The later Witggenstein’s ‘solution’ involved the claim that the phrase ‘I believe it is raining’ does not report a mental state but is rather the expression of the thought ‘it is raining’ (i.e. that ‘I believe it is raining’ means roughly the same thing as ‘it is raining’). Wittgenstein found Moore’s Paradox insightful because he thought it showed that we cannot describe our current beliefs without expressing them (Severin Schroeder has a nice paper on this; the point has also been made in terms of conventional implicature)
    With this is mind, the parallel structure which (P) has to
    (Q) Hurting animals for fun is wrong, but I don’t care
    should immediately raise questions about expressivism. If (Q) is to be analogous to (P) then the statement ‘I don’t care’ should not *describe* an attitude of mine but rather *express* it (or, at any rate, be given such an interpretation by someone who agrees with Wittgenstein on the first point).
    Personally, I’m not convinced that (Q) is analogous to (P) in this respect. For, while the phrase ‘I don’t believe it’s raining’ states (or conventionally implies) roughly the same thing as ‘it’s not raining’, the phrase ‘I don’t care that hurting animals is wrong’ does NOT state the same thing as ‘hurting animals is not wrong’. On the contrary it (conventionally) implies that hurting animals IS wrong. So we have a real disanalogy here. The disanalogy is made clearer if we phrase things this way:
    (P*) I don’t believe that it’s raining, but it’s raining
    (Q*) I don’t care that hurting animals for fun is wrong, but hurting animals for fun is wrong
    the first half of P* expresses a view DENIED in the second half of P* (viz that it’s not raining). By contrast the first half of Q* implies that the second half of Q* is correct. Indeed the ‘but’ in Q* is rather misleading.
    Jussi wrote above he doesn’t ‘understand what it could mean not to care about a consideration one takes to be a reason.’ I’m considerably less virtuous than him in this respect: I can see that I ought to care about things I can’t quite bring myself care about, just as someone might see that they ought to believe and/or desire things that they can’t quite bring themselves to belief and/or desire . These are failures of reason as well as ethical failures, but I don’t think that there is any self-contradiction involved in describing such states of affairs.
    Even if Jussi is right though (P*) and (Q*) would still not be analogous for on his view the first half of Q* (‘I don’t care that hurting animals for fun is wrong’) is meaningless, whereas the first half of P* (I don’t believe that it’s raining) makes perfect sense. Either way ‘I don’t care that hurting animals for fun is wrong’ cannot mean ‘it’ s not wrong to hurt animals’ (unless we are putting ‘wrong’ in inverted commas, but then if we are to play fair we must also use inverted commas in the same place on either the right side of Q* or the left side of P*).

  16. Constantine,
    always nice to see comments from you. I’m not sure we need to say that (P) is contradictory even if it is paradoxical or self-undermining. The argument against expressivism you give is interesting even though I’m not sure whether they would admit that the antecedent expresses a real moral judgment in (Q). It’s also interesting what you say about the implicature of the antecedent of (Q), namely that saying that one doesn’t care about the wrongness of X implies that one thinks that X is wrong. By the way, I said no such thing. The quote (and the view) you talk about are from Michael Cholbi who posted just below my comment. I’m with you on weaker internalism.

  17. Thanks Jussi! I an never tell who’s writing what in these blogs (that’s partly why I usually don’t comment much). I don’t thinbk I was trying to do anything as exciting as to disprove expressivism. Glad we agree about the caring stuff (though I’ve always wondered whether ‘weak internalism’ was a misleading term for the view).

  18. I think I partly agree with Constantine, but let me express my concerns in a less Wittgensteinian way. The thing about non-moral Moorean paradoxes like “It’s raining, but I don’t believe it” is not so much that they are paradoxical, but that they are simply contradictory. Either the speaker is claiming that she knows that it is raining outside and that she doesn’t believe it, or she is claiming that she believes that it is raining outside and that she doesn’t believe it. As you’ve claimed (Michael), this is an example of someone holding two different attitudes towards the same body of evidence or – even simpler still – the same proposition. Either way, if the speaker is honest, she at once believes two contrary propositions, which, if not a mark of paradoxicality, is at least a mark of irrationality.
    But there seems to be nothing contradictory in claiming “Hurting mammals for fun is wrong, but I don’t care.” It seems quite possible for both conjunctions to be true. And this, I think is easily explained by the fact that the first conjunct expresses what is considered to be a cognitive state; a (perhaps true) belief about the value of hurting animals for mere fun, and the fact that the second conjunct expresses what is paradigmatically taken to be a conative state. In these types of examples, the speaker is taking two different attitudes toward the same proposition. As far as I can tell, there doesn’t seem to be a problem holding a belief that P is the case, while not desiring P to be case, or better yet, desiring ~p. Both kinds of mental states have a different direction of fit [See Anscombe’s Intention (1969) and Smith’s Humean Theory of Motivation (1987)]. Analogously, it is like stating “I know that I should always eat my salad with the smaller fork, but I simply don’t care.” Here, there is a norm of etiquette as opposed to a norm of morality, but the argument should run the same; it ought to be the case that knowledge of what is required by the norms of etiquette should, by itself, motivate an agent to act. But of course, no one is going to be motivated by the norms of etiquette if they don’t care for etiquette in the first place. There seems to be an assumption that with the (strictly) moral-Moorean paradoxes, the knowledge that something is morally wrong should somehow be universally motivating because moral norms are presumed to be authorative. But if you’re a reasons-internalist (which seems to be, at the very least, the default position on practical reasons) it is very difficult to accept, nay, even conceptualize that norms of morality can be authoritative if you do not care about morality or doing what it prescribes.
    I mean, in the end, this seems like a clash of intuitions towards the truth or falsity of judgment internalism. And this, I believe, is what requires argumentation. How is it possible for a belief, all on its own, to motivate someone to act? If the Humean Theory of Motivation is true, then a belief can never motivate an agent without a relevant desire, and the burden of proof seems to lie with those who believe otherwise. Even though the Humean Theory of Motivation might be a “dogma in philosophical psychology”, I agree with Smith that it is one that expresses a fundamental, even if trivial truth about human psychology.

  19. I agree with much of what Bruno says. The debate is essentially one about (degrees of) internalism, though certainly trying out the analogy with Moore’s paradox may help us think more clearly about just how internalist we want to be, and why. There are the usual related issue about akrasia here too (whether one can fail to care against ones better judgement. I take it the Smith/Kennett view which Jussi and I agree with is ‘yes, but it is irrational’).
    One small quibble: I find Bruno’s explanation for why (Q) is not contradictory misleading. He says it is because “it seems quite possible for both conjunctions to be true” . Yes, but that’s also true about (P): it is possible both that (1) I believe it’s raining and that (2) it’s not raining. Hence the ‘paradox’ of my not being able to state both conjuncts without contradiction.

  20. I’ve been thinking about the last few posts and, after some consideration, I have come to realize that there is indeed something quite odd with someone uttering the claim “(Q) Hurting animals for fun is wrong, but I don’t care.” But such oddity doesn’t necessarily mean that this claim is an example of a moral-Moorean Paradox. I have been trying to imagine what a reasons-internalist would say about Q. Loosely, the thesis of reasons-internalism may be stated as follows:
    An agent has a reason to φ if and only if there is, or would be, as a matter of fact, some desire in the agent’s subjective motivational set that would be served or furthered by his φ-ing.
    Of course, some claim that reasons-internalism is a rather controversial thesis. But there seems to be some consensus in the literature that it is (or should be), at least, the default position.
    I’ve been thinking about what the normative term “wrong” or “wrongness” should mean for the reasons-internalist. To most, when we claim that something (say, an action A) is morally wrong, we mean that there are (perhaps conclusive) reasons to refrain from doing A. But for the reasons-internalist, it must imply that the agent also has a desire, or some other pro-attitude, or something else in her motivational set that already explains why she has the reason in the first place. If an agent has a reason to refrain from hurting animals, it must be the case that the agent feels a certain affinity towards the welfare of animals. Otherwise, she would not have the reason she has to refrain from hurting them. And if she feels affinity towards the welfare of animals, if would indeed seem very odd if she also did not care about the fact that hurting animals for fun is wrong.
    When a speaker utters P* “It’s raining outside but I don’t believe it” she is not being paradoxical so much as she is being irrational. After all, the paradox concerns the observation that certain pairs of propositions that can both be true (i.e. “it’s raining outside” and “I don’t believe it”) are rendered contradictory when uttered by a speaker. That is, it cannot both be true that the speaker believes that it is not raining outside, and believes or knows that it is raining outside. It is irrational for someone to hold both beliefs that P and that ~P.
    But it is irrational for an agent to desire P and ~P? If we are going to be Humeans about this, we are committed to answer “no”. Reason, as Hume famously claims, is and ought to be the slave of the passions; “’Tis no better to prefer the destruction of the whole world than the scratching of my finger” (or something like that..). So if no desires – simply on their own – can ever be irrational, why should desiring P and ~P be irrational?
    On way to argue that it would be irrational to hold opposing desires is perhaps to appeal to the very thesis of reasons-internalism, according to which desires generate reasons. One may argue that if you have opposing desires, then, de facto, you have opposing reasons. To be clear, this is not a simple case of having different ends that require courses of action that may be incompatible with each other. If I desire to loose weight, but at the same time desire to eat a tub of ice cream, I have at once a reason to loose weight as well as a reason to eat the ice cream. Of course, eating that much ice cream may be counterproductive, but here, I have a reason to P and reason to Q. This type of situation is, admittedly, a commonplace. But it does not mean that I have opposing reasons. Opposing reasons are such that you have a reason to P and a reason to ~P. And, if not a mark of irrationality, is a mark of oddity.
    But I’m not certain that the charge of irrationality has any jurisdiction on opposing desires. In the end, it may simply a case of inner turmoil or irresoluteness.
    But what is interesting is the conclusion that if the reasons-internalist construes “wrongness” (in terms of wrong action) along the lines of considerations or reasons that count against certain actions, she is committed to the claim that moral beliefs – beliefs about what is wrong – must motivate.
    Of course, it may be a bit misleading to call them “moral beliefs” since they involve more than a cognitive state. Perhaps “moral judgments” is more appropriate, but this is a minor issue. The belief that hurting animals for fun is wrong is a cognitive state that expresses a purported normative fact. For the reason-internalist, there is a necessary relation between normative and motivational force (indeed, they may be the same for the reasons-internalist). If normative facts are about what an agent ought to do or what has reason to do, then it must be the case that by stating a normative fact, and if you are honest, you are motivated or can be motivated by the content of your belief. When an agent states “Hurting animals for fun is wrong, but I don’t care”, either she is being dishonest, or she does not understand what she is uttering. If she does understand what she is saying and is honest, then perhaps we can claim that she is irrational. And maybe that’s too strong.
    Nonetheless, there seems to be an argument here to demonstrate that the reasons-internalist is committed to judgment-internalism; a conclusion that I think would be very surprising, and for many, counter-intuitive.

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