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.