Featured Philosopher: Julia Driver

So pleased that our next featured philosopher is the wonderful Julia Driver. Here now is Julia:

I would like to thank the two Daves for the chance to talk about some of my more recent work.

The most significant project that I am working on currently is a book manuscript that lays out a sentimentalist approach to normative and meta-ethics, including an account of blame that is, very broadly speaking, Humean.   The section on moral appraisal and blame is the last section of the book. The major claim in this section is that the disapproval of a mental quality constitutes blame.  Disapproval is a sentiment, albeit rather thin, so this account is not a purely cognitive account of blame. The disapproval can be realized via a variety of negative moral emotions such as anger, contempt, etc.  This claim all by itself isn’t particularly surprising. However, I argue that this evaluation centered account of blame can be developed in fairly surprising ways, and I also offer an account of the moral emotions that presents them as playing a very important part in our moral critical practices, not simply in terms of providing motivation or alerting us to wrongdoing.  They are important in self-regulation (the Humean equivalent of self-governance) when it comes to a kind of score-keeping that functions to moderate our emotional responses.

I discuss this issue of blame as a form of disapproval by situating it in the contemporary literature.   For example, in the literature on moral responsibility it is now commonplace to hold that there are different senses of responsibility. Then, separately, there is the issue of which senses of responsibility are associated with blame, which is a kind of holding responsible.  Just to mention David Shoemaker’s work (Hi, Shoe!), he notes distinctions that have been made in the literature on responsibility (sometimes very many distinctions), but focuses on three:  attributability-responsibility, answerability, and accountability. Very roughly, one is attributability responsible if one’s attitudes and actions insofar as they are “properly attributable” to the agent and reflect the agent’s “self”.  This is contrasted with the other two senses in which responsibility for attitudes and actions involves being the proper object of a request for reasons.  Accountability requires that an agent has the capacity to regard others appropriately, and, via empathy understand facts about them that provide reasons, such as what their interests are, what their emotional states are, etc.  Answerability involves judgments about the reasony facts, for example, are they reasons? How weighty are they?

He illustrates the distinction between attributability and answerability with the following example:

After my child has become a serial killer, for instance, I may arrive at the consciously held propositional belief that he’s a worthless human being, that he is dead to me. And yet, when I read of his upcoming execution, I may well up with tears or fall into a depression. “I still care about him,” I may say. “There are no reasons to do so—he’s an awful man—but it still matters to me what happens to him.” (“Attributability, Answerability, and Accountability: Toward a Wider Theory of Moral Responsibility,” Ethics, 2011, 610)

Dave is clearly talking about responsibility as it pertains to persons. And, further, the standard view would be that blame is not apt in cases where there is just this kind of responsibility since there is no issue of justifying one’s attitude.  Attributabilty involves the action or attitude being attributed to the agent as part of the agent’s self.  In the case above, the father’s love for his child really is part of him, and involves a genuine evaluative commitment.  But he cannot give reasons for it. Animals clearly lack the cognitive sophistication of human beings.  But the distinction is nevertheless useful for me because one could argue that insofar as one has a ‘self’ which involves at least some form of valuing, we can attribute moral flaws or defects of character to that being.  Valuing in and of itself is not self-reflective. This opens up the possibility of separating being morally evaluable (one has rotten attitudes, for example) from possessing moral agency (one can act responsibly on the basis of reasons that one takes to be reasons).  And, on this view, at least some sort of blame is apt even when the being is not accountable. Thus, when I disapprove of someone’s character I blame them aptly just in case the attitude in question is properly attributable to them. Why is this important? It accounts for the intuition that we have that extreme psychopaths are at least in somesense morallyblameworthy, even though incapable of providing any moral justification or responding to moral reasons.  It also has the interesting implication that animals – at least ones that have selves – can be morally vicious, and thus be blameworthy in the same attributability sense.  If they value, then they can have some primitive evaluative commitments. Similarly, they can be praiseworthy. A loyal dog is really loyal, not just metaphorically loyal. Here I also take the opportunity of discussing an updated Humean view of animals and animal rights, and compare it to the updated Kantian approach in Christine Korsgaard’s lovely book Fellow Creatures.

I am sure that many will find this broadly Humean approach bizarre.  However, I point out that this approach has certain features that are supported by popular accounts of blame and blameworthiness.  Just as an example, Tim Scanlon’s account divorces blame from permissibility, and holds that someone is blameworthy in virtue of having done something that “indicates something about that agent’s attitudes toward others that impairs his relations with them.” (Moral Dimensions, 145) Note that the object of blame is someone’s attitudes.

I also argue that this approach is consistent with a thoroughgoing naturalism.  Animals may not be fully rational, or, more realistically, as rational as we are, but they are capable of acting in response to considerations in favor of one option over another.  They engage in elementary forms of emotional-regulation. As such, it isn’t bizarre to think that they can have selves, though not as thoroughly vetted as the selves human beings have.

Since I regard blame to have some emotional content, I also discuss the nature of moral emotions (anger, gratitude, etc.), and how they figure into our critical practices.  Here I owe much to the work of writers such as Susan Wolf, Martha Nussbaum, Myisha Cherry, Justin D’Arms, and Dan Jacobson. Martha Nussbaum, for example, in her Anger and Forgiveness, discusses the critical practice of transactional forgiveness (conditional forgiveness), its history, and various common features.  One feature is that of score-keeping.  It is necessary in the case of transactional forgiveness to keep track of whether or not the relevant conditions have been fulfilled. I consider this and then argue that score-keeping is important to certain forms of relationship repair and amelioration of harsh emotions even if all conditions for forgiveness have not been met. Some moral emotions serve the function of facilitating this score-keeping. The one I focus on in this analysis is schadenfreude, or pleasure in the misfortune of another.  I argue that while it might not be morally appropriate to feel such pleasure (this sounds more plausible given a detailed analysis of the emotion), schadenfreudeis an example of an emotion that has certain coherence conditions with respect to other moral emotions.  So, for example, someone who has been harmed by Bob in the past and has experienced anger directed at Bob has more reason to experience schadenfreudewhen some misfortune occurs to Bob.  The schadenfreude is an emotional way of marking Bob’s misfortune, and often functions to lessen anger responses.  This is due to a sense of ‘balance’ having been restored.  I disagree with Nussbaum that the sense of balance involved is a form of magical thinking.  Instead, it is another kind of score-keeping that serves to mitigate our harsh reactive attitudes towards wrongdoers, even ones who have no desire for forgiveness.

Thus, another role for the moral emotions is to keep track of goods and bads that befall people and that may be relevant to the appropriateness of our further reactions to them.

13 Replies to “Featured Philosopher: Julia Driver

  1. Hi Julia! Big fan of your work, here. This all sounds very interesting. I have two questions. I will ask one now, and then perhaps another later. You say that “disapproval of a mental quality constitutes blame,” and that disapproval is a sentiment, albeit a thin one. You also say that you regard blame as having “some emotional content.” I’m trying to reconcile those claims. Is there something more to blame than sentiment/emotion, or not? (it occurs to me that sentiment and emotion may not be the same thing for you, in which case I’m interested in the difference). I’m also thinking that some forms of disapproval of others’ mental qualities just don’t feel very blame-y. How about if I simply disapprove of others’ mental qualities in the sense of finding them disappointing? I imagine you will want to say that is a form of blame (?), but it *seems* coherent for me to say, “No, I don’t blame you at all. It just saddens me that that was your choice/reaction/etc.” Thanks!

  2. Hi, Olivia, thanks so much for the comments!

    I view disapproval as covering a lot of negative emotions (emotions, since they have intentionality, etc.). When I morally disapprove of someone, I am disapproving of their attitudes, and that disapproval may be manifested by different negative emotions, some harsh, but not all are harsh. So, in a way, I use “disapproval” as a kind of placeholder to indicate negative emotional response. The rhetorical space is this: there are very many authors who argue that blame does not necessarily involve emotion, and I want to argue against that view.

    I do think that there are some forms of disapproval that don’t seem very blamey. The example you give, disappointment, is great. But I think that there is a difference between blaming and expressing blame, so probably a clearer example for me would be the person who is just thinking, “I am very disappointed in his attitudes, but I don’t blame him.” Honestly, this does seem kind of odd to me.
    The disapproval is the result of the sympathy we feel for the people who have relationships with the wrongdoer, or the person otherwise acting from bad attitudes, or, in cases where the person has only wronged me, the natural resentment that arises.

  3. This is great, Julia! Thanks for doing it. I’ll mostly just echo what Olivia (my excellent new colleague) said. I too am really interested in disapproval (I do it all the time!). Say more, please! As I myself was casting about for a possible third-person emotional response to poor judgment for my own stuff, the best I could come up with was indeed disapproval (although I focused on what I take to be its first-personal analogue, regret). But I was worried that that wasn’t a genuine sentiment, at least in the sense of being a true “basic” emotional disposition, one whose bouts are irruptive, urgent, and have an associated action-tendency and aim. Do you take disapproval to give rise to emotional bouts in this sense, that those bouts involve these features? What are they (especially the action-tendency)?

    Now you might not mean this. Perhaps instead, as you suggest, different *actual* emotions (e.g., anger, contempt) are “realizations” of disapproval. This makes it sound like blame is best explained in *functional* terms, as something only counts as blame if it’s anger-in-the-disapproval-way, or contempt-in-the-disapproval-way. If that’s true, then I’m really intrigued, but I lose sight of disapproval itself as being a *sentiment* (rather than a mode).

  4. Hi Dave,

    Yes, I was worried about the use of “disapproval” myself, but mainly because it seemed so thin. But at least in way that I intend to use it, it is just a blanket term which incorporates negative emotions that are its realizations. So it corresponds to your second suggestion. I think that goes some way to explaining why people reach for it in describing blame — one doesn’t commit to a particular emotional response. And, indeed, I think that there is no particular negative emotional response that is blame. But what they have in common when it comes to blame is the disapproving feature.

  5. Hi Julia! Thank you for sharing these highlights from your latest project. There is much to discuss, but one item that jumped out at me was your claim that “one could argue that insofar as one has a ‘self’ which involves at least some form of valuing, we can attribute moral flaws or defects of character to that being. Valuing in and of itself is not self-reflective.” I would like to hear more of the argument for this claim. What is the conception of self and its relation to valuing that is at work here?

  6. Hi Dan,
    Thanks for the question. There is having a self and then there is self-reflection. Having a self is required for self-reflection, but not the other way around. Creatures with selves have a point of view, and, though I am not sure whether or not I want to say that this is strictly necessary, that point of view involves valuing. Further, it seems to me that if we think of selves as agents that must require valuing. In persons we would say that they have a set of evaluative commitments that structures their attitudes. That sounds a bit intellectualized for animals, but there would be something very like that for them. So, in the case of a dog the dog’s self would be a matter of the dog’s point of view, and that point of view involves valuing certain things (maybe we want to add something about a requirement of coherence amongst the attitudes that are a part of the point of view — though I’m a little skeptical of this). Probably anyone who has had a relationship with a dog has the sense that the dog does have a point of view, that it values certain things, that it acts as though certain things are good for it and certain things are not, which seems to indicate that at least in a primitive way it takes certain things to be good and certain things to be bad or not as good. The dog remembers, the dog engages in simple planning, etc. Thus, the dog seems to have all the things that we associate with a self. But having a self does not require that one be self-reflective, and that’s what I was referring to above. Self-reflection involves the ability to step back and evaluate themselves. As far as we know animals cannot do this.

  7. Hi Julia – this all sounds fascinating – can’t wait to read the book. Reading this made me think that your view would be friendly to an asymmetry about blameworthiness and praiseworthiness, in the style of Wolf or Nelkin (a loyal dog does seem praiseworthy, but I am much less sure about a vicious dog being blameworthy). Do you talk about asymmetry? And if there is asymmetry, how does a sentimentalist view deal with that?

  8. Hi Ellie,
    Thanks for the questions! The correct but confusing answer is that there is and their isn’t an asymmetry. So I do think a vicious dog is blameworthy in virtue of having vicious attitudes, however, in the case of dogs and other animals their profound ignorance is also in some ways exculpatory since it renders a significant function of blame moot. We can’t really reason with a dog (though I think that there are things we can do with higher animals that are like reasoning with them, that involves showing them that an option is good in a way they might not have appreciated on their own). But their are other functions that blaming attitudes have, and a common one discussed in the literature has to do with adjusting relationships. If a dog becomes vicious we have good reason to avoid it — and that reason is due to the attitudes of the dog, so the dog is not like a hurricane. If a dog becomes virtuous, such as going from disloyal to loyal, then we no longer have that reason to avoid it. Further, in the case of the loyal dog we already think that whatever valuings it has are good. And, with some qualification, I would say the same about an extreme psychopath. Blameworthy, yes, but not as blameworthy as someone who can fully appreciate the right sorts of reasons. But the qualification is interesting. Neither animals nor extreme psychopaths are moral agents on this view since neither is capable of taking the right sorts of meta-cognitive attitudes towards their own mental states or the mental-states of others. But from a sentimentalist point of view, psychopaths have another type of defect in that their inability to morally approve or disapprove of their own mental states is either the result of, or partly constitutive of, their failure to have the proper affect, to sympathetically engage with others. And note that this does not mean that they aren’t sophisticated agents. There are lots of areas in which they can and do reason normatively in fully appropriate ways. However, psychologically normal dogs, for example, do possess the capacity for sympathetic engagement. Dogs are capable of the right affect, and their lack has to do with the limited role that such affect plays for them given their more limited cognitive abilities.

  9. Hi Julia,
    Thanks for the interesting discussion. I’m very much looking forward to reading your book!
    Could you say a bit about responsibility? For example, can your view of blame and blameworthiness make sense of the idea that it is at least reasonable to be skeptical or libertarian about responsibility? It seems to me that some of the things you say suggest that skepticism and libertarianism are obviously false. But some could take this to be a reductio of the view.

  10. Hi Lou, thanks for the question — could you explain a bit more? Offhand my approach is to focus on holding responsible, leaving aside metaphysical issues relating to “deep” responsibility.

  11. Hi Julia,
    Sure, sorry for being so unclear! I read you as saying that it can be appropriate to angrily blame people because of their valuing certain things (e.g. the father’s loving or not loving his son). The possible worry is that it is too easy to become an appropriate target of angry blame on your view. Many think that angry blame is only appropriate if the agent has a strong kind of control. Incompatibilists would say that you are not an appropriate target of angry blame (for what you value or anything else) if determinism is true. But your view seems unable to leave room for such a view. And this seems to suggest that you are committed to a view on the compatibility question.

  12. Thanks for the clarification, that’s very helpful. I don’t think that all blame is angry. I think that one can be simply disappointed, for example. I also want to rely on a distinction between blaming and expressing blame. The conditions for expressing blame require more than mere blameworthiness. I try to argue that there are many different functions of blame and expressing blame, and that control is very relevant because then motivating the wrongdoer is very important. Without control, that isn’t feasible. But blame also has a function motivating the blamer to avoid the blamee, or to otherwise adjust the relationship in light of the information about the blamee’s attitudes.

  13. Hi Julia,

    I’m echoing others, your project sounds very interesting and I can’t wait to read your book! Incidentally I just discussed David’s paper with my students last week, and we also experimented with possibilities for Humean interpretation. Moreover, my students also wondered how to accommodate that view with respect to our relationship with animals, and they also came up with some possible avenues, some of which you also mentioned (I’m so proud of them!). However, we also identified some asymmetries. Most importantly, when it comes to accountability, we tend to look to other humans, instead of the animals themselves: we are accountable to other humans for how we treat animals, much more than we are accountable to the animals themselves (similar asymmetry also bothered some students in David’s alien example, since, they argued, it’s the aliens that hold us accountable, not the grass whose rights we are violating). Of course, some pet owners attribute blame to their pets, but I hesitate to call this genuine blame – mere displeasure at getting a shower or preference for another food isn’t enough for blame, at least in the accountability sense. That seems to require much more: that we are indeed in a mutual and equal inter-personal relationship. Even if animals can have selves (a thought with which I agree), the nature or quality of those selves may matter for an equal relationship.

    Another worry is that the differences between humans and animals don’t necessarily map neatly onto the AAA distinctions, as would be the case for marginal human agents, if David’s book is on the right track. For instance, the dog may be vicious or loyal, but we don’t call the lion cruel for killing its prey. We also attribute animals some choices and preferences, even normative knowledge (“The dog knows full well it shouldn’t be on the couch!”), but both aretaic appraisals and judgment attributions seem to depend on more variables than with humans. Cognitive capabilities probably matter a lot, but also closeness, it seems. We attribute a lot more to the family dog than a wild lion. In your view, is this a matter of different capabilities, or just a matter of animals learning human rules, or us expecting more from animals that live close to us?

    Thanks!

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