By In Ideas Comments (17)

Ordinary Language or Just Ordinary English?

This is related to the Finlay thread, but I thought it might raise more general questions.

One of the most famous sets of normative statements in Western culture would be the Ten Commandments. These were written in a language that simply does not have a word that behaves like ‘ought’. To say things that in English would invite ‘ought’ you use “needs to”, “must” or “has the obligation to” or, for non-normative use, “is supposed to”. No “shalt” either, by the way. When God forbid lying he takes the future form of “lie” in the second person and puts “not” in front of it. The whole auxiliary verb thing is alien to Hebrew, with the possible exception of “be”.

I am a big fan of appeal to ordinary language and a big fan of hair splitting, but I fear – for my own sake too – that if you mix together hefty doses of both, you might end up with findings that hang on the specifics of the language you (or your research subjects) speak.

More specifically: to say that a certain philosophical position is only ever held as a result of a linguistic mixup sounds weird to me if people can hold the very same position who speak a language that does not allow a parallel mixup to happen.

I am asking this from a position of ignorance of the relevant literature, but… Any thoughts?

Read more

By In Metaethics, Moral Psychology, Normative Ethics Comments (20)

Korsgaard’s Good Dog

Happy Bastille Day! One more post for N and M month.

Some Kantians make a lot of the fact that often, when we are being moral, we don’t feel like we want to do the right thing, but we do it. Korsgaard openly ridicules the view that a good person actually wants to do the right thing,  calling it “the good dog” picture of the virtuous person. Suppose we want to say desire is the source of all worthy motivation. We then need to explain why doing the right because you desire the right can feel so damn different from drinking coffee because you desire coffee.

I’ll try and sketch an explanation, and incidentally defend both happy, doglike good-doing (sometimes) and dour good-doing (sometimes).


Read more

By In Moral Psychology, Normative Ethics Comments (13)

Aristotle and Autism: Some Thoughts About Moral Virtue

This is definitely work in progress, if you can call it that.

Tim Schroeder and I have defended a view according to which even though virtuous people seem different from the rest of us in many ways, it basically comes down to a difference in desires. A person who has a deep intrinsic desire for the right and the good de re (or desires for the various things that are right and good) is as a result not only disposed to act differently but also has a different mental life in many ways,  emotional and cognitive. For the purpose of this post, though, it doesn’t matter if we talk about what we intrinsically  desire or what we care about as long as we assume neither is a cognitive state.

I would like develop this view further, with attention to questions I keep getting.

 One is :“if a virtuous person does the right thing out of a desire, how come she often feels a sense of duty, not  desire?”  Warning: I plan to post my answer soon!

 Other questions concern the phronimos, but I have no view about the phronimos, only about the good person


Read more

By In Moral Psychology Comments (14)

Moral Concern De Dicto (Again)

Consider the following case:

Immanuel concludes that he must never lie – not even to save a life. Then a would-be-murderer shows up, asking after Gotlieb’s whereabouts. Immanuel, though quite tormented, lies to save Gotlieb. Immanuel believes he did wrong, but feels guiltily relieved, as he cares about human lives at least as much as you and I do, weird views about morality not withstanding. That is why he lied in the first place.

In the past, I have argued that someone like Immanuel – the sort of agent I labeled an Inverse Akratic many years ago – is praiseworthy for her action in so far as it is true that she acted for good moral reasons, even if she doesn’t think they are good moral reasons. In other words, in so far as she is motivated by the right-making features of her action. I emphasized the following: a good person acts for praise-conferring motives, but a good person does not have to have a true ethical theory or even be a good ethicist. To be praiseworthy for an action you need to do it for the sake of the right or the good – de re. I thus defended, among others, Huckleberry Finn and some rather kind young people who espouse Ayn Rand’s views. Here is one question that I get a lot:

“Ok, it’s praiseworthy to follow morality de re. But doesn’t one also get at least some moral credit for caring about morality de dicto? Not even a little bit?”. Relatedly, I get “isn’t Immanuel’s conscience also a good thing about him?”


Read more