I’ll try to keep this brief, and so will likely run roughshod over important points. I’m curious about what’s doing the work on our intuitions in so-called manipulation cases when people deploy them to theorize about responsibility. These are cases in which someone is one way, values-wise, and then her brain is manipulated by a team of neuroscientists/god to produce within her a new set of values (or subset of values), so that she now performs some action for which she is not responsible — or at least that’s what our intuitions are supposed to be.
In an interesting piece in the NYT’s The Stone this morning, Karen Stohr (Georgetown) discussed the nature of contempt as it pertains to Trump and his recent protesters. She claims that contempt is different from anger, insofar as contempt is global, targeting the whole agent. “If I express anger toward you, I am engaging with you. If I express contempt toward you, I am dismissing you.”
She then draws from P.F. Strawson’s “Freedom and Resentment” to suggest that, while anger represents what we are susceptible to as part of interpersonal relationships and the participant stance, contempt moves us to the objective stance. From the participant stance, we see one another as accountable, and we “regard them as fellow moral agents.” From the objective stance, we view others as objects to be “managed or handled,” in Strawson’s words. One of Stohr’s points, then, is that contempt “functions by shifting the targeted person from a participant relationship to an objective relationship. It aims to alter someone’s status by diminishing their agency.” She then argues that contempt in the public sphere is perilous, especially for those not in power or marginalized in various ways. Only those in power can benefit, as only they are able make good on their dismissiveness by pushing the vulnerable even more to the margins. We need to maintain mutual respect, she thinks, and so push public contempt back into the closet.
My local library fines its patrons ten cents per overdue book per day. They will let you continue to borrow books as long as your fine balance is less than $10. As an academic, I sort of think of library fines as a cost of doing business, and I frequently carry a balance in library fines of a few dollars. (To be clear: I mostly incur these fines on books taken out for pleasure reading. What I mean is that I don’t have a moralistic attitude about my library fines.) Since there are no interest charges or time limits, I can carry such a balance for months on end. I’m following the rules, not cheating anyone, and I have never felt bad about my habit of being a few bucks in debt to the library.