PEA Soup http://peasoup.us Fri, 18 Aug 2017 15:22:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.1 http://peasoup.us/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/cropped-pea-soup-favicon-32x32.png PEA Soup http://peasoup.us 32 32 116732443 Vote Now in the PEA Soup Reader’s Choice Awards! http://peasoup.us/2017/08/vote-now-pea-soup-readers-choice-awards/ http://peasoup.us/2017/08/vote-now-pea-soup-readers-choice-awards/#respond Tue, 15 Aug 2017 17:24:44 +0000 http://peasoup.us/?p=2653 The nominations are in for the PEA Soup Reader’s Choice Awards! The following four papers discussed in the 2016-2017 academic year have been nominated for the Reader’s Choice Paper Prize. Click on each title below to view the nominated post: “Whether and Where to Give” by Theron Pummer “On the Strength of the Reason Against …

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The nominations are in for the PEA Soup Reader’s Choice Awards! The following four papers discussed in the 2016-2017 academic year have been nominated for the Reader’s Choice Paper Prize. Click on each title below to view the nominated post:

  1. “Whether and Where to Give” by Theron Pummer
  2. “On the Strength of the Reason Against Harming” by Molly Gardner
  3. “Intention, Expectation, and Promissory Obligation” by Abe Roth
  4. “Self-Defence Against Multiple Threats” by Kerah Gordon-Solmon

Once you’ve read through the nominated papers, click here to cast your vote in the Reader’s Choice paper prize. The polls close on August 30th, so make sure to have your vote in by then!

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NDPR Forum: Fritz Allhoff’s Terrorism, Ticking Time-Bombs, and Torture (Reviewed by Chris Morris) http://peasoup.us/2017/08/ndpr-forum-fritz-allhoffs-terrorism-ticking-time-bombs-torture-reviewed-chris-morris/ http://peasoup.us/2017/08/ndpr-forum-fritz-allhoffs-terrorism-ticking-time-bombs-torture-reviewed-chris-morris/#comments Mon, 14 Aug 2017 12:00:41 +0000 http://peasoup.us/?p=2647 Welcome to another installment of our NDPR Forums, in which we invite both the author of a book reviewed in NDPR, as well as the reviewer, to talk about the review, the book, and anything else related to the topic. We also welcome anyone else to jump in to comment on any of those topics …

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Welcome to another installment of our NDPR Forums, in which we invite both the author of a book reviewed in NDPR, as well as the reviewer, to talk about the review, the book, and anything else related to the topic. We also welcome anyone else to jump in to comment on any of those topics as well. Today we are opening a thread on Fritz Allhoff’s book Terrorism, Ticking Time-Bombs, and Torture: A Philosophical Analysis (University of Chicago Press), which was reviewed last week in NDPR by Chris Morris. Blurbs below the fold.

Book Blurb: The general consensus among philosophers is that the use of torture is never justified. In Terrorism, Ticking Time-Bombs, and Torture, Fritz Allhoff demonstrates the weakness of the case against torture; while allowing that torture constitutes a moral wrong, he nevertheless argues that, in exceptional cases, it represents the lesser of two evils. Allhoff does not take this position lightly. He begins by examining the way terrorism challenges traditional norms, discussing the morality of various practices of torture, and critically exploring the infamous ticking time-bomb scenario. After carefully considering these issues from a purely philosophical perspective, he turns to the empirical ramifications of his arguments, addressing criticisms of torture and analyzing the impact its adoption could have on democracy, institutional structures, and foreign policy. The crucial questions of how to justly authorize torture and how to set limits on its use make up the final section of this timely, provocative, and carefully argued book.

Review Blurb (Morris): Fritz Allhoff’s book presents a careful and thoughtful defense of the limited use of torture in certain situations. His defense is in part motivated by the challenges of contemporary, post-9/11 terrorism. It is narrowly focused on the ethics of torture, conceived of apart from policy and law. And he addresses common criticisms of torture. In all, it is a forceful defense of torture, one that should be taken seriously by all interested in the debates about the topic.

Allhoff is a moral utilitarian, and much of his argument is consequentialist. He bends over backward to make a more general case for “exceptional” torture, considering broader considerations in favor of limited torture. He does a decent job developing the broader case, but I think it still fails. More interestingly, I think it shows the ways in which act-consequentialism in ethics (and rational choice theory) distorts our reasoning. Allhoff situates his argument in contemporary concerns about terrorism, reasonably in my opinion. He focuses on the ethics of limited torture in these special ticking bomb cases. “In all cases (and all else being equal), if we can choose a lesser harm to a greater one, we should. In ticking time-bomb cases, torture is the lesser harm. Therefore, we should torture in those cases.” (116, see also 195) The general principle may seem plausible to some initially, but of course most who appreciate the role that norms, rules, and principles play in our reasoning and our lives will reject it as a general principle. Many opponents of torture have of course raised considerations of principle and policy. Now, Allhoff is not in the first instance interested in policy: “ticking-time-bomb cases are not about torture policy; they are about one-off applications of torture.” (117) But it is not clear that the topic that interests us today is separable from policy. Torture carried out by agents and offices of a democratic state governed by law seems necessarily to concern policy.

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NDPR Discussion Forum: Alan Thomas’s Republic of Equals http://peasoup.us/2017/08/ndpr-discussion-forum-alan-thomass-republic-equals/ http://peasoup.us/2017/08/ndpr-discussion-forum-alan-thomass-republic-equals/#comments Thu, 10 Aug 2017 01:17:15 +0000 http://peasoup.us/?p=2645 Welcome to the NDPR discussion of Alan Thomas’s new book Republic of Equals: Predistribution and Property-Owning Democracies, recently reviewed by James Lindley Wilson at NDPR. We have invited both Alan and James to participate, and we encourage readers to comment as well on anything related to Alan’s book or James’s review. Blurbs for each below the …

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Welcome to the NDPR discussion of Alan Thomas’s new book Republic of Equals: Predistribution and Property-Owning Democracies, recently reviewed by James Lindley Wilson at NDPR. We have invited both Alan and James to participate, and we encourage readers to comment as well on anything related to Alan’s book or James’s review. Blurbs for each below the fold.

From the OUP blurb: The first book length study of property-owning democracy, Republic of Equals argues that a society in which capital is universally accessible to all citizens is uniquely placed to meet the demands of justice. Arguing from a basis in liberal-republican principles, this expanded conception of the economic structure of society contextualizes the market to make its transactions fair. The author shows that a property-owning democracy structures economic incentives such that the domination of one agent by another in the market is structurally impossible. The result is a renovated form of capitalism in which the free market is no longer a threat to social democratic values, but is potentially convergent with them.

From Wilson’s review: Rawls’ later writings on different economic systems raise several important questions. Most obviously: what is the difference between “welfare-state capitalism” and “property-owning democracy,” and why is the latter superior? And is there any reason to prefer property-owning democracy or liberal socialism? This book provides answers to these questions, defending the superiority of property-owning democracy (POD) to liberal socialism and to revised or idealized versions of welfare-state capitalism. Sustained argument on these fronts is welcome, given the urgency of practical questions involving the aims of reform, and the relatively little attention writers have given to POD. (This has begun to change recently.) The level of policy detail, informed by Alan Thomas’s studies of historians, economists, and political scientists, is impressive. Thomas also argues that once we accept that justice as fairness requires POD, we can better respond to some major philosophical challenges to Rawls’ theory of justice, including how best to interpret the difference principle; whether, as G.A. Cohen argued, Rawls’ theory is indefensibly inegalitarian and his conception of justice adequate to protect the basic liberties.

The reader might doubt that working out the institutional implications of the principles of justice can do much to defend the principles from challenges directed at the principles themselves. But Thomas is explicit that the institutional or “background” context within which the principles will be implemented can contribute to the holistic justification of the principles and their implications (5, 44, 64, 121, 127). In Thomas’s favor is the Rawlsian method of reflective equilibrium, which, as I mentioned, holds that the complete justification of a conception of justice requires evaluation of its institutional implications. Institutional specificity also allows us to test better the stability of a conception of justice (xviii, 104, 292). Thomas’s holism is more ambitious, however, in the justificatory work that “contextual” implications are said to do for principles that are logically prior. Thomas believes that institutional context constrains the operation of principles. Given the right context, the operation of the principles will then be more defensible. Property-owning democracy is, according to him, the right context for Rawls’ principles of justice. While his arguments on behalf of POD are thorough, and will be valuable for anyone interested in the practical implications of Rawlsian principles, I remain skeptical about Thomas’s suggestion that this conclusion helps defend the principles themselves.

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Why Bad People Will Find it Hard to be Patriotic (by Featured Philosopher Derek Baker) http://peasoup.us/2017/08/bad-people-will-find-hard-patriotic-featured-philosopher-derek-baker/ http://peasoup.us/2017/08/bad-people-will-find-hard-patriotic-featured-philosopher-derek-baker/#comments Mon, 07 Aug 2017 18:16:11 +0000 http://peasoup.us/?p=2637 Re-posting after a technical glitch this morning (eds.) 1. Current events are reminding us that patriotism, at least of the sort that gets publicly acknowledged, is a confusing virtue. I don’t mean that the patriot might get drawn into doing bad things on behalf of his country. Patriotism is a form of loyalty, and loyalty, …

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Re-posting after a technical glitch this morning (eds.)

1.

Current events are reminding us that patriotism, at least of the sort that gets publicly acknowledged, is a confusing virtue. I don’t mean that the patriot might get drawn into doing bad things on behalf of his country. Patriotism is a form of loyalty, and loyalty, whether to friends, family, one’s university, or whatever, can draw us into doing bad things on their behalf. I mean instead that those who say they care about patriotism seem surprisingly okay with others doing bad things without regard for the interests of their country.

Take Iran-Contra. Here we have government officials selling American military technology to Iran shortly after the hostage crisis, as well as raising money from Columbian drug cartels, in order to provide funds to insurgents in Central America in defiance of Congress. They then lied about all of this to Congress while under oath. What’s extraordinary in all of this is not that these men professed to be patriots or thought of themselves as patriots. People cynically claim traits they don’t have. The less cynical are often self-deceived. What’s shocking though is that a large portion of the public is apparently willing to accept that the men in question are patriotic—and this is that portion of the public which claims to be most concerned with issues of patriotism. Oliver North ran as the official Republican candidate for Senate in the state of Virginia, and lost, but with 43% of the vote. He has since had a show on Fox News, and is a regular guest for Sean Hannity. His books have been best sellers. John Poindexter and Elliott Abrams were both reappointed to government under the flamboyantly patriotic (or “patriotic”) George W. Bush administration. Abrams also served as a foreign-policy advisor to Romney’s presidential campaign.

This should be staggering. Putting aside the human-rights abuses of the insurgents being funded (we already acknowledged that the patriot might be drawn into doing bad things), we have here a group of government officials stealing military equipment and weaponry from the United States in order to sell it to a hostile foreign power, which had very recently invaded the US embassy and taken its staff hostage for over a year. This is unpatriotic if anything is. One would expect that, given the Republican Party’s vaunted commitment to patriotism, Oliver North couldn’t attend one of its conventions without risking his safety; that Fox News would blacklist him for fear of a boycott by their viewers; that the Bush administration wouldn’t appoint any of the known conspirators for fear of a primary challenge from outraged Republican voters; that Republican presidential candidates would avoid even glancing in the direction of Abrams for the same reason. But, instead, Republican voters seem to regard these men with at worst indifference; and at least in the case of North, a substantial portion are enthusiastic fans.

This phenomenon isn’t limited to characters associated with the Reagan administration, either. Over three-quarters of Republicans think the Confederate flag is a positive symbol. And, to be fair, in the 90’s a majority of Democrats did, and a third still do. What’s confusing about this isn’t tolerance for racism. There’s a lot of that in the US. What’s confusing is widespread affection for the flag of people who took up arms, risked their lives and killed others, in many cases in direct violation of their oaths as commissioned officers is the US Army, in order to no longer be part of the country. And what should be near incomprehensible is that this affection is most widespread among those from whom we hear the most about patriotism and loyalty.

 

2.

My explanation of the phenomenon is not particularly surprising. Much of the time people are not really attached to their country but to a fantasy image of that country. This fantasy might be one in which square-jawed military men willing to act decisively are the nation (or embody the nation), and rule-bound bureaucrats and temporizing legislatures are somehow foreign. For square-jawed North to act unpatriotically, then, is as impossible as a medieval king acting treasonously. The tens of millions of people who voted that Congress in are either airbrushed away in the imagination, or made foreign as well.*

So, do we conclude that those who voted for North or defend the Confederate flag are unpatriotic? That is probably too strong. The actions are unpatriotic. Whether a person qualifies as patriotic or not presumably depends on what kinds of choices they make in a range of cases, over a period of time. But obviously an unpatriotic act is the sort of thing that must be compensated for in other decisions if one wants to qualify as a patriotic person.

In any case, loyalty to a fantasy version of one’s country can lead one to disregard or even actively undermine its interests, or to celebrate its attempted—and near successful—destruction. I want to try to draw a philosophical lesson from this. Patriotism, at least in a modern country, isn’t possible without some level of concern for people simply in virtue of their status as persons. This makes patriotism different from other familiar kinds of particular attachments, like friendship or loyalty to family. Again, I think that virtues come in degrees. I suspect that none of us can claim to be perfect in recognizing the value that others possess solely in virtue of being persons. But, to the extent that one has blinders to others’ personhood, one is more likely to act unpatriotically, which reduces the extent to which one can be regarded as patriotic. Bad people, in short, will find it more difficult to be patriotic; and their badness limits how patriotic they can be. Or at least that’s what I’ll argue.

I believe that patriotism requires concern for people on the basis of their humanity, but that other forms of particular concern do not. Before turning to my main argument, let me say something about why these other forms of concern (e.g. genuine loyalty to friends or family) don’t require universal human concern. First, accepting that someone has a claim on your concern in virtue of being a person or a human being seems, at first glance, distinct from accepting that someone has a claim on your concern in virtue of being a friend or family member. It seems possible for someone to accept the latter without the former. I think I’ve known people who accept the latter without notable concern for strangers or humanity at large. If anthropologists and historians are correct, there have been entire societies where particular loyalties have been regarded as ethically paramount, but concern for humanity at large has not been thought at all admirable.

Second, from what we can tell, impartial morality has not been the norm in human societies for the majority of our history, and we would need strong argument before we conclude that a large portion—maybe the majority—of humanity have been incapable of friendship or of loving their family members. Patriotism, on the other hand, is a culturally and historically local phenomenon, one that only makes sense for those within a certain kind of political community, one that hasn’t existed for most of human history. Achilles is not patriotic (he prays the Greeks face defeat on the battlefield while he’s not fighting); nor, apparently, did the audience expect him to be.

So why would patriotism require concern for people on the basis of their humanity when other forms of particular concern don’t? Mostly because countries are really big. And also that membership is for the most part non-voluntary. Consider, on the opposite end, friendship. We choose our friends, more or less, and our loyalty to a friend is loyalty to one other person. So racists, homophobes, religious bigots, and so on can have friends: they just need to choose for their friends people of the right race, sexual orientation, and religion, who are cool, for whatever reason, with the bigotry. Yes, one of their friends could turn out to be gay, or another could leave the church, and they couldn’t be good friends to them. But they could remain loyal to other friends who are straight and remain in the church, and in lots of cases some of their friends will do that.

Families are closer to countries, in that they involve multiple people, and for the most part we don’t choose our family members. So the chances of religious, ideological, or ethical diversity go up, as do the chances of inter-racial nieces, nephews, and grandchildren. A bigot who happens to have a family like this will be constrained in how loyal a family member she can be. But families are still small enough, and they play a role in replicating both genes and value-systems in the future generation; so it can still happen that one’s family lies entirely outside of the blind spots in one’s concern.

Countries are much larger, and by and large we don’t choose our countries. Even when we do, we have little control over who shares the political community with us. The majority have populations in the millions. Some people will be LGBTQ. There will be ethnic minorities. There will be religious, ideological, political, ethical and moral disagreement. There will be class and educational divisions, and different sectors of the economy with distinct, sometimes competing interests. One won’t know or be related to all of them. Most blind spots in one’s concern will constrain one’s ability to care about the interests and claims of all of one’s fellow citizens, and thus one’s dispositions to act patriotically. Maybe there was some point in the past where this was not so, but in the modern world patriotism will be in conflict with the failure to be concerned with people in virtue of their humanity.

So, to be a real patriot you have to be a cosmopolitan with broadly liberal, post-enlightenment moral views? I’d like that conclusion, but I think it may actually demand quite a bit more. Real patriotism might require a level of saintliness that most of us can’t aspire to, and which I’m not ultimately sure is a good thing. Because countries are so large, and membership is by and large not voluntary, they are also effectively guaranteed to contain a fair number of bigots, and people with illiberal, anti-enlightenment moral views. These won’t just be a few marginal weirdos, either, but a decent portion of the population. Perfectly complete patriotism, then, probably requires feelings of solidarity and loyalty towards these bigots, then, even while one is opposed to their bigotry. I’m not saying this can’t be done, but it’s hard. (Anyone who has found themselves furious with Trump-voters knows that it’s hard.) Maybe being patriotic is harder, in at least some ways, than just having impartial moral concern. You have to have feelings of love to strangers who may despise you, and in any case are not particularly lovable.

To sum up, lots of people self-deceptively believe themselves to value patriotism or regard it as a virtue, while condoning actions that are flagrantly unpatriotic. My guess is that they are able to do this because they are able to discount the claims of some members of their own country. This leads them to misinterpret loyalty to a particular subculture or demographic with loyalty to the country at large. But genuine patriotism requires solidarity with all the members of one’s country—who will typically have little in common beyond their shared humanity. Patriotism is generally incompatible, then, with the standard blinders that allow us to discount the claims and interests of others.

Two final thoughts:

  • I assumed that patriots wouldn’t necessarily be concerned about human rights abuses of Central Americans. Based on the above, maybe that was wrong. After all, a decent number of US citizens are Central Americans.
  • What about countries in the past, in the 19th century, for example? Would any of those have been ethnically or ideologically homogenous enough that one could have been a patriot while still being a racist?

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* I am admittedly rejecting an alternate explanation here that might seem more charitable: people believe that North was acting in the best interests of the country. I acknowledge that there could in theory be patriotic reasons for stealing weapons from one’s own military in order to sell them to a hostile terror-supporting foreign power which had recently invaded the embassy of one’s country, and then lying about it all under oath. But presumably this would have to be pretty extraordinary. A very small strategic advantage over the Soviet Union is not extraordinary.

By way of analogy, if someone tells me they value law and order and that they wish there were more cops like Dirty Harry, there’s an initial discrepancy. Harry Callahan tortures suspects, and that’s illegal. But if I’m feeling charitable I can make sense of it by remembering that he tortured in order to save a young woman from a serial killer—and okay, I get how someone might care about the law but think this is a permissible case of breaking it. But if Harry is torturing suspects in order to track down a jaywalker, the Harry-enthusiast does not care about law and order. The enthusiast might believe that the jaywalker really is a serial killer, but if he believes this in complete defiance of the evidence, then he does not care about law and order. He is simply willing to engage in motivated reasoning so that he can continue to believe of himself that he cares about law and order—or at least that’s the most plausible explanation, all else being equal.

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Featured Philosophers & The Moral Demands of Patriotism http://peasoup.us/2017/08/featured-philosophers-moral-demands-patriotism/ http://peasoup.us/2017/08/featured-philosophers-moral-demands-patriotism/#respond Fri, 04 Aug 2017 23:56:59 +0000 http://peasoup.us/?p=2633 I am happy to announce the Featured Philosophers series will be running on a regular basis again and that it will now include more early career philosophers and advanced graduate students.  The first post by Derek Baker (Lignan University) will go up Monday, August 7th and it will be titled “Why Bad People Will Find It …

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I am happy to announce the Featured Philosophers series will be running on a regular basis again and that it will now include more early career philosophers and advanced graduate students.  The first post by Derek Baker (Lignan University) will go up Monday, August 7th and it will be titled “Why Bad People Will Find It Hard to Be Patriotic”.  Please swing by then to join the discussion.

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Philosophy & Public Affairs Discussion at PEA Soup: Justin Tosi and Brandon Warmke’s “Moral Grandstanding,” with a critical précis by C.A.J. (Tony) Coady http://peasoup.us/2017/08/philosophy-public-affairs-discussion-pea-soup-justin-tosi-brandon-warmkes-moral-grandstanding-critical-precis-c-j-tony-coady/ http://peasoup.us/2017/08/philosophy-public-affairs-discussion-pea-soup-justin-tosi-brandon-warmkes-moral-grandstanding-critical-precis-c-j-tony-coady/#comments Tue, 01 Aug 2017 14:05:37 +0000 http://peasoup.us/?p=2621 Welcome to what should be a very engaging and productive discussion of Justin Tosi and Brandon Warmke’s “Moral Grandstanding.” The paper, which appears in the Summer 2016 issue of Philosophy & Public Affairs, is available through open access here. C.A.J. (Tony) Coady has generously provided a critical précis to begin the discussion, which is immediately …

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Welcome to what should be a very engaging and productive discussion of Justin Tosi and Brandon Warmke’s “Moral Grandstanding.” The paper, which appears in the Summer 2016 issue of Philosophy & Public Affairs, is available through open access here. C.A.J. (Tony) Coady has generously provided a critical précis to begin the discussion, which is immediately below. Please join in!

Tony Coady’s critical précis:

The article on “Moral Grandstanding” by Justin Tosi and Brandon Warmke in Philosophy and Public Affairs can be seen as continuing a process of reflection on the limitations or distortions of moral discourse, or even of morality itself, that has been a marked feature of philosophical inquiry in the late 20th and early 21st century. This trend has antecedents, of course, notably in Nietzsche’s critique of traditional morality (mostly based on his view of Christian morality). In more contemporary dress, it can be seen in Bernard Williams’s critique of what he called with palpable irony “the peculiar institution” of modern morality and his advocacy of the need to return to a classical conception of ethics in its stead; in the various debates about the disturbing role of “moral luck” in attributions of moral praise and blame; in the idea that moral reasons, even where relevant, should not be decisive in all practical thinking, notable in Susan Wolf’s article on “Moral Saints”, and more dramatically in Michael Walzer’s “dirty hands” thesis, applicable only to what he calls situations of “supreme emergency” where the necessities of such emergency trump even the deepest moral prescriptions.

More recently, concerns have been raised about the distorting effects on moral and practical thinking of what has been called moralism. As I have had, for good or ill, a particular role in this development I am interested in exploring connections and dissimilarities between moralism and moral grandstanding, and can only hope that readers will find this of some interest as well. I will therefore begin by giving an account of Tosi and Warmke’s interesting article and then summarise below some of my understanding of the different forms of moralism, as I conceive of it, to compare and contrast it (as exam papers used to say) with the authors’ account of moral grandstanding. I will then proceed to air some misgivings I have about Tosi and Warmke’s account of moral grandstanding and its manifestations. I should say at the outset that theirs is a rich discussion and I will not be able to deal with all the matters that they canvas. For various discussions of the phenomenon of moralism I should mentions the papers in What’s Wrong with Moralism (ed. C.A.J. Coady), Craig Taylor’s book Moralism: a Study of a Vice, and the first two chapters of my book Messy Morality: the Challenge of Politics.

Moralism and Moral Grandstanding Compared

One crucial element in moral grandstanding, and one that, as we shall see below, differentiates it from most forms of moralism, is that moral grandstanding in the paradigm case is defined by our authors (hereafter T&W) as essentially involving a motive and an intention to do something that is in fact at odds with the primary purpose or point of public moral discourse and prima facie at least morally dubious and tending to the corruption of public discourse. The “something” involved is an intention to publicly mark the speaker’s “moral respectability” with regard “to some matter of moral concern”. The standing of “moral respectability” may vary in certain respects so that T&W distinguish two senses (as they put it) of this central feature of paradigm cases of moral grandstanding. The first is marked by the desire that the speaker be considered to meet some “minimum threshold” of moral respectability that perhaps few others meet. The second is marked by the desire that others will think the speaker outstandingly moral, meeting a standard of moral respectability far beyond a minimum threshold. Here, the speaker casts herself as “a paragon of morality”. In fact, however, these two “senses” are much closer than T&W’s account suggests; not so much two senses as slightly varied circumstances in the application of one sense of the expression “moral grandstanding”. Both involve the quest for superior moral status: in the first case, this works by portraying oneself as amongst that rare breed who have managed to attain some minimum threshold of moral respectability in a morally dismal world or segment world, in the second, the world is more morally elevated so the speaker’s quest for recognition of superiority requires going well beyond a respectability threshold to the paragon level. But what the T&W call the “recognition desire” is the same quest for superiority in both cases, it is just that the background has shifted. What is often called, usually derisively, “the moral high ground” will be different in different social contexts, but the quest is the same. So, I will treat T&W’s account of moral grandstanding as standardly involving the single intention or recognition desire to establish moral superiority. I will sometimes term this “the defeating intention” in acknowledgement of the effect it has upon the purpose of public discourse. I do not mean that the speaker must always intend to defeat such a purpose, but rather that he intends something that will commonly have that effect. (I will avoid distinctions between motive, desire and intention partly for simplicity of exposition and partly because such distinctions do not seem relevant here.)

It might be objected that the first sense need not involve a quest for superiority since on the face of it, the desire to exhibit moral respectability is compatible with the moral grandstander merely wanting to bring herself up to the standard that everyone, or almost everyone else has already achieved, so that she is intent only on showing that she is not wretchedly morally inadequate, but, as we shall see, T&W do not really mean to include this case, which would in any event be very rare. With regard to the first sense, they talk, for instance, of the moral grandstander wanting “others to think of her simply as meeting some normative baseline whereas others fail to do so” and of her wanting to be “seen as merely morally respectable in a world where she thinks that precious few meet even that minimum threshold” (p.200).

What then is the primary purpose or point of public moral discourse that the quest for superiority is defeating? This purpose or point, according to the authors, is primarily to “improve people’s moral beliefs” but grandstanding has three effects deleterious to this end: (1) it promotes increased and unhealthy cynicism about moral discourse, (2) it leads to “outrage exhaustion” so that people become suspicious of expressions of moral outrage even when they are justified and required, (3) it contributes to group polarization whereby people tend to move to more extreme positions. T&W explain the prevalence of these effects by reference to five typical ways that grandstanding manifests itself in public discourse. These are: piling on, ramping up, trumping up, excessive outrage, and claims to self-evidence. Piling on consists in unnecessarily joining others in moral declamation; ramping up is making increasingly strong claims about the matter under discussion; trumping up is insistence upon the existence of a moral problem where there is none; the ideas of excessive outrage and claims of self-evidence are non-technical terms needing no immediate clarification.

The significant role of this defeating intention is one thing that separates moral grandstanding from moralism. Most moralistic utterances are not essentially dependent on a defeating intention of this sort, though such an intention may be present in some cases. Moral grandstanding standardly requires the defeating intention, though T&W allow for some very peripheral examples where it might not.

Consider what I have called moralism of scope which is the advancing of moral judgements into areas where they are irrelevant or of less significance in the circumstances than they purport to be. It can also encompass the intrusion of heavy moral artillery into contexts where much lighter weaponry is appropriate. For instance, the questions of whether to take a shower or a bath, whether to take a walk in this direction or that, whether to go to this movie or that, are all questions that can sometimes have a moral dimension to them, but are often beyond, or, perhaps better, beneath moral consideration. Clearly, they do not normally involve issues of justice, or courage, or humility, or duties of one sort or another. Someone who thinks they always do is likely to be a victim of a sort of moral neurosis, the one often described in religious textbooks of moral theology as “scrupulosity”. The phenomenon charted by moralism of scope indeed overlaps with that sketched by the category of trumping up, but unlike the connection given by moral grandstanding we can describe roughly what such moralism amounts to without ascribing to the agent some unworthy intention. Perhaps his activities and thoughts are at odds with the purpose of public moral discourse (if they occur in a public arena) but we don’t have to describe him as seeking some advantage to himself, though sometimes this may be true. In fact, such as person may well be seeking “to improve people’s moral beliefs”” though misguidedly.

Similarly, with the other categories of moralism that I sketched in my book. Just to take one more: moralism of abstraction is the commitment to high level moral principles to a degree that obscures the complexities of applying such principles in specific circumstances that require discerning judgement. (I think this is the burden of one of the complaints Bernard Williams makes of traditional morality altogether and in a different way of much moral philosophy.) It is a distortion of morality that can particularly plague many high-minded discussions of international affairs. Again, those who fall into such moralism needn’t have any sort of self-inflating intention nor any lack of interest in the point of public discourse that concerns our authors.

In both cases, and in several of the other categories I sketched in Messy Morality it is of course possible that transgressions of scope and of abstraction could embody the grandiose intention (the “vanity project” as T&W call it at one point) of moral grandstanding, but not necessarily.

Moral Grandstanding a different type of moral failing

It seems rather that moral grandstanding belongs to a different type of moral failing. It is akin to the vices of hypocrisy, insincerity, and exploitation insofar as they manifest in speech. Moral grandstanders, in the paradigm range, aim at inflating their own position vis-a-vis that of their audience and this self-inflating intention betokens a lack of sincere desire to promote the primary ends of (public) discourse. I take it, however, that they may sincerely believe the moral positions that they declare. So in the “characteristic manifestation” of piling on, the speaker may well be expressing a sincerely held belief in uttering the moral belief that p as an echo of what others have said. His insincerity consists not in urging a belief that he doesn’t hold, but in purporting to advance one project when in fact he is aiming for a different, and disguised, end. By contrast, the paradigmatic hypocrite is uttering propositions that she either does not believe, doesn’t fully believe, or does not live by, while professing full belief or adherence. Hypocrites may overlap with grandstanders when they seek the same position of superiority, but need not do so since when they behave (and speak) in a way that seeks to put them on the same or higher moral level as their audiences they characteristically do not hold or hold strongly enough the relevant moral beliefs at all. Both grandstanders and hypocrites will strive to utter or manifest true moral propositions or those their audience is believed to hold true (if you worry about truth for moral claims, then use the appropriate substitute for getting it right) and often enough will succeed in doing so. That the speaker is false (deliberately puts herself in a false, deceptive position) in both grandstanding and hypocrisy does not make her utterances false, though they are, in something like Austin’s sense, infelicitous. Of course, people can be hypocritical without saying anything, but rather by deliberately behaving in ways that manifest a moral conviction that they don’t have. But here we are concerned, as the authors are, with vices or distortions of discourse.

Another phenomenon that the authors compare their account of moral grandstanding with is Harry Frankfurt’s analysis of bullshit in his book On Bullshit. Frankfurt sees bullshit as occurring when an agent purports to engage in a certain practice but flouts the justifying norms and primary purpose of the practice by manifesting indifference to those aims. One of Frankfurt’s illustrations of bullshit at work is a practical rather than speech example, namely, that of spit-and-polish and red tape in military and governmental contexts which “do not genuinely contribute, it is presumed, to the ‘real’ purposes of military personnel or governmental officials, even though they are imposed by agencies or agents that purport to be conscientiously devoted to the pursuit of those purposes”. In the case of military activities, we might add drill parades and other ritualistic paraphernalia, and, to make a mildly patriotic point in this connection, I should point out that it has been argued that the currency of “bullshit” as a dismissive term of the kind Frankfurt analyses can be traced to its origins amongst Australian troops in Europe in World War I where it was offered as a caustic comment on the British addiction to such rituals. (See Eric Partridge, A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (1963); Partridge is cited in Norman Dixon’s fascinating book On the Psychology of Military Incompetence, which has a chapter on the damaging nature of military bullshit.)

But although bullshit has affinities with grandstanding, notably in the flouting–purpose feature, it differs in intentionality since someone who speaks bullshit may not have any unworthy defeating intention. This is clear from the point made in such remarks as “That’s bullshit and you know it” where the clear implication is that, by contrast, there are cases where the speakers utters bullshit without any idea that it is such. Indeed, some speakers correctly accused of speaking bullshit may have a sincere desire to advance the truth in spite of their utterance signally failing to do so.

Some worries about the account of Moral Grandstanding

Turning from comparisons with other forms of dubious moral utterance to the merits of T&W’s account of moral grandstanding, I have a couple of concerns about it. First, I worry somewhat about the potentiality of the allegation of moral grandstanding to inhibit genuine moral condemnation. Consider the manifestations called piling on and ramping up. T&W cite studies in social psychology on what is called “social comparison”, and an article by Cass Sunstein in support of “one way to understand piling on” that shows its negative features. These studies seem to show a certain likelihood of a convergence within groups related to individuals’ desire to maintain their reputation within the group and their self-conception. There is no doubt that this can be a feature of both piling on and ramping up, but there are plenty of examples of both where this self-regarding feature would be absent or quite incidental. A desire to be in solidarity with others in opposing injustice is, on the face of it, entirely healthy and morally commendable, and may spring from the need to show an oppressed group or individual that their support is widespread. In the case of piling on, it may not “substantively advance discussion” (as T&W put it) but that is not the only significance of public moral discourse, and, in certain contexts, not the primary one. The authors say elsewhere that “the aim of public moral discourse is to improve people’s moral beliefs, or to spur moral improvement in the world.” (p.210) Showing solidarity by public endorsement of statements by others in your group may well aim at the second part of that disjunction since the oppressed may well take heart from seeing widespread condemnation of their oppressors and the oppressors may well be deterred by it. Nothing is guaranteed, of course, but the intention is not a defeating one. (Actually, if we omit the last sentence of the example that T&W give on p. 204 of piling on—the pompous and cringe-making bit about “the right side of history”—the example could well be one that illustrates my point.)

As for ramping up, there are plenty of situations that require someone to ramp up tepid moral responses to an injustice. The shocking facts around clerical (and other institutional) child sex abuse that have gradually come to light in the last 20-odd years should remind us that the initially mild responses and evasions in moral discourse, and the inadequate moral remedies proposed were in dire need of ramping up. Some of those who did ramp up moral discussion may have wanted to show their moral respectability, but many others were simply concerned directly for the victims. Nor is the desire to show one’s moral respectability necessarily an unworthy one when there is a lot of moral corruption in the vicinity. Unless one is a sort of hyper-Kantian, the desire to be in good moral standing with others (or, at any rate with other good people) seems an unexceptional motive that is not in necessary conflict with a concern to know what is morally good and to pursue it as such.

Similar points could be made about the other “manifestations” of moral grandstanding, such as “excessive outrage”. A good deal turns of course on what is excessive and that will be relative to the gravity of the offence or immoral behavior. Opinions will differ upon the assessment of such gravity and hence on what is excessive, but outrage itself is not necessarily a bad emotion, nor need it be correlated with some reprehensible defeating intention. T&W cite empirical evidence that strong emotions are correlated with firm moral convictions. One might wonder whether this is another instance in which solemn social science has come up with a conclusion already obvious to common intelligence, but unless we think that firm moral convictions are somehow a dubious category then it is appropriate that our emotional life should be responsive to them in the right contexts. Of course firm moral convictions can be wrong and the outrage associated with them dangerous, but the lack of conviction and capacity for outrage is also dangerous. W.B. Yeats’ powerful lines descriptive of a dark future in his poem “The Second Coming” puts the dilemma well: “the best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity”. T&W are aware that moral outrage has its place, conceding indeed that moral outrage is “wholly fitting” in the face of “plenty of injustices” (p.211), but their stress on the negative effects of “excessive” outrage could tend to spread suspicion of the positive role this emotion can have.

T&W might reasonably reply that they are not claiming that their various “manifestations” are invariably signs of moral grandstanding. So at one point they say of piling on that “one way to understand piling on” is as an expression of social comparison (p. 204), and more generally even the strong claim that grandstanding “often” (p. 205) manifests itself in ramping up does not entail that ramping up (and the other manifestations) must often be a sign of grandstanding. Yet they also sound a note that seems stronger still when they state, for instance, that “psychological research on social comparison offers an explanation for why ramping up occurs”, and it seems that this explanation in terms of preserving self-image rather than aiming at the truth is one they endorse. More generally, the authors’ concentration on the manifestation phenomena as “the characteristic ways that grandstanding is manifested in public discourse” at least carries with it the suggestion that we should usually be suspicious of these displays as genuinely aimed at epistemic advancement and be vigilant for the existence of the defeating intention.

The issue of Polarization and “Extremes”

There is another issue that I do not have time to address fully here but will flag briefly. It concerns one of the defeating effects on public moral discourse that T&W discuss, namely, group polarization. Their claim is that both piling on and trumping up will lead groups considering some significant question of public concern to move towards more extreme positions. They cite Sunstein’s use of the social comparison phenomenon in support of this, the idea being that the “desire to maintain their reputation and their self-conception” produces a group dynamic that tends to push the members of the group “to advocate increasingly extreme views”. T&W claim that has three bad consequences: (a) it “increases the likelihood that that participants advocate false views”, (b) “it encourages an impression in persons not associated with the group that morality is a nasty business and that moral discourse consists primarily of extreme and implausible claims”, and (c) the views of different groups within which grandstanding occurs will can become more polarized (for these claims see pp211-12).

But all of this relies on the idea that “extreme” views are a bad thing and this thesis is not supported by the empirical social science invoked by Sunstein and others, nor could it be. In fact such research treats “extreme” not as a value-laden concept but merely as a statistical notion. In a group of 10 if 8 hold belief p and 2 hold belief q then q is an extreme belief whatever its content. Similarly, if the 8 hold that p tentatively and the 2 hold it very firmly then the 2 are extreme in their belief. The actual example T&W (and Sunstein) give is instructive. We are asked to imagine that after a highly publicized school shooting a group of people in the community gather to consider proposing new gun control measures, and most tentatively support new measures, but after deliberation the group tends to move towards the enthusiastic support advocated by the minority. This is supposed to be group polarization and a bad thing.

Against this, it is surely pretty clear that movement toward “the extreme” in such cases may be good or bad depending on whether the extreme is true or false, good or bad, and whether the process of arriving at it is epistemically and morally or normatively respectable. The contemporary political fashion for branding all “extreme” views, i.e., often those not in accord with the comfortably privileged “sensible centre”, as wrong, bad, or dangerous, needs much closer scrutiny. In the gun control example we need more detail on what exactly the “extreme” position is, but, as a bemused outsider to the spectacle of American gun culture, I suspect that the extreme view is a good one. (Why not try changing the example to a group in the North gathering to consider the bombing of a black church during a service in Alabama in the 1960s and, after deliberation, adopting the “extreme” decision to go on civil rights protests in the South?)

Whether the process was morally and epistemically appropriate depends on other matters, one being whether the psychological studies on social comparison and conclusions from them are valid. My suspicion is that like some other studies in social science on moral matters they need more critical philosophical assessment than are often given to them. (I have cast a cold eye on some such studies pertaining to moral dilemmas in my “Reason, Emotion, and Morality: some Cautions for the Enhancement Project” in The Ethics of Human Enhancement: Understanding the Debate, eds. Clarke, Coady, Giublini, Sanyal, and Savulescu, Oxford University Press, Oxford, (2016). An excellent related critique of neuro-science studies on morality is Berker, S. ‘ The Normative Insignificance of Neuroscience’, Philosophy and Public Affairs, (2009).)

I should also note that the discussion of polarization is not entirely clear about what the term means. Is it merely a relation within a group or is it supposed to extend to polarization between different deliberating groups within the wider society caused by “social comparison” effects? Either way, there is room for debate about whether polarization is as unhealthy for a particular group or a society as is often assumed. Obviously a good deal turns on how polarization has come about, and it need not come about as a result of some regrettable process such as moral grandstanding, since it is sometimes based on profound differences in outlook on fundamental moral and political issues and/or on divergent class interests. Widespread ongoing consensus may well betoken a stagnant society.

I term most of these reflections on the detail of T&W’s account of moral grandstanding “worries” rather “objections” because I think their very interesting article has identified something genuine about a pathological tendency that can afflict moral discourse, and my primary purpose is to buttress their insights by a reminder that some of the things they cite as manifestations of moral grandstanding can actually manifest something quite different, non-pathological and indeed morally positive. It would be unfortunate if a proper concern for the exposure and criticism of moral grandstanding obscured that reality.

(My thanks to my colleague Andrew Alexandra for some helpful suggestions about this contribution.)

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The Wine Spectator Model of Philosophy Publication http://peasoup.us/2017/08/wine-spectator-model-philosophy-publication/ http://peasoup.us/2017/08/wine-spectator-model-philosophy-publication/#comments Tue, 01 Aug 2017 11:19:31 +0000 http://peasoup.us/?p=2626 It is radical but my idea is that one submits to ranking houses (which could remain the existing journals). Every paper submitted will be published online and ranked. You may submit a paper only once. You fix it up in light of (presumably more careful and more numerous) referee reports, but then it is published …

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It is radical but my idea is that one submits to ranking houses (which could remain the existing journals). Every paper submitted will be published online and ranked. You may submit a paper only once. You fix it up in light of (presumably more careful and more numerous) referee reports, but then it is published with a numerical ranking. Advantages include 1) less refereeing overall and so, potentially, more careful refereeing from people who more closely specialize in the area. 2) much quicker time from submission to publication, eliminating pressure to choose where to submit on strategic grounds, 3) encourages people to finish papers before submitting them, rather than treating submissions as entering a lottery 4) as is the difference between just in and just out of a journal is enormous–this system allows one to get credit for “very close to making it into Phil Rev”. Call this the Wine Spectator Model.

However, a serious concern about this proposal is that one bad set of reports has a more dramatic effect on a paper on this scheme than under the status quo. As is, one can get a set of terrible referee reports and recover to still have the paper placed in a good journal. That, I acknowledge is a real issue with this proposal.

But I think people are not appreciating the scope of the problems that currently exist that need fixing. Many humans are spending a lot of time, for example, desk rejecting a lot of papers and all that would be eliminated. Many papers take years to come out and people are agonizing over whether they can afford to send the paper they love to a top journal, given the high rejection rates and the need for pubs before hitting the market. The strains on referees and those seeking referees is too high.

Some may also think an additional benefit is that it would be good for the profession if we produced less but better papers. This would certainly make reading the literature and refereeing more rewarding.

 

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CFP: 11th ANNUAL FELICIAN ETHICS CONFERENCE http://peasoup.us/2017/07/cfp-11th-annual-felician-ethics-conference/ http://peasoup.us/2017/07/cfp-11th-annual-felician-ethics-conference/#respond Thu, 27 Jul 2017 01:54:50 +0000 http://peasoup.us/?p=2618 The Felician Institute for Ethics and Public Affairs invites papers for its Eleventh Annual Conference, to be held Saturday, October 14, 2017 at Felician University’s Rutherford campus, 227 Montross Ave., Rutherford, New Jersey 07070. (The conference was originally scheduled for April 17, but had to be re-scheduled for the fall.) Submissions can be on any topic in …

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The Felician Institute for Ethics and Public Affairs invites papers for its Eleventh Annual Conference, to be held Saturday, October 14, 2017 at Felician University’s Rutherford campus, 227 Montross Ave., Rutherford, New Jersey 07070. (The conference was originally scheduled for April 17, but had to be re-scheduled for the fall.)

Submissions can be on any topic in moral or political philosophy broadly construed, not exceeding 25 minutes’ reading time (approximately 3000 words). Please send submissions in format suitable for blind review to <felicianethicsconference at gmail dot com> by August 25. Acceptances will be announced by September 10. The plenary speaker will be Michele Moody-Adams, Joseph Straus Professor of Political Philosophy and Legal Theory at Columbia University:

“Taking Expression Seriously: Liberty, Equality, and Expressive Harm”

The paper will discuss some implications and challenges of the claim (accepted by theorists as varied as Elizabeth Anderson, Richard Pildes, Jeremy Waldron,  Catharine Mackinnon and  Charles Lawrence) that (a) expression can sometimes be the cause of direct, ‘non-material’ harm to persons and their interests and (b) the seriousness of some kinds of expressive harm make it reasonable to consider content-based restrictions on free expression and academic freedom.

Please direct inquiries to Irfan Khawaja at <felicianethicsconference at gmail dot com>, or visit the Institute’s website.

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Directory of Philosophers from Underrepresented Groups–The UPDirectory http://peasoup.us/2017/07/directory-philosophers-underrepresented-groups-updirectory/ Wed, 26 Jul 2017 13:04:43 +0000 http://peasoup.us/?p=2616 The UPDirectory publicizes information about philosophers who are members of traditionally underrepresented groups in philosophy. The purpose of the directory is to provide an easy-to-use resource for anyone who wants to learn more about the work of philosophers who belong to underrepresented groups within the discipline. The directory includes information about philosophers who belong to …

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The UPDirectory publicizes information about philosophers who are members of traditionally underrepresented groups in philosophy. The purpose of the directory is to provide an easy-to-use resource for anyone who wants to learn more about the work of philosophers who belong to underrepresented groups within the discipline.

The directory includes information about philosophers who belong to traditionally underrepresented groups in philosophy and who (1) write philosophy in English and (2) have a position researching or teaching philosophy, or (3) have previously held a position in philosophy and are still active in philosophy, or (4) have published an article in a philosophy journal or a book on a philosophy list, or (5) either hold or are working towards a PhD. or M.A. in philosophy and conduct research in philosophy.

Please consider signing up if you have not already, or, if you have, keeping your entry up to date.

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Upcoming Philosophy & Public Affairs Discussion, August 1-3: Justin Tosi and Brandon Warmke’s “Moral Grandstanding,” with a critical précis by Tony Coady http://peasoup.us/2017/07/upcoming-philosophy-public-affairs-discussion-august-1-3-justin-tosi-brandon-warmkes-moral-grandstanding-critical-precis-tony-coady/ Tue, 25 Jul 2017 04:18:08 +0000 http://peasoup.us/?p=2612 We’re excited to announce our next Philosophy & Public Affairs discussion, on Justin Tosi and Brandon Warmke’s paper, “Moral Grandstanding.” The paper is available through open access here. Tony Coady has generously agreed to begin the discussion with a critical précis. Join the discussion August 1-3!

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We’re excited to announce our next Philosophy & Public Affairs discussion, on Justin Tosi and Brandon Warmke’s paper, “Moral Grandstanding.” The paper is available through open access here. Tony Coady has generously agreed to begin the discussion with a critical précis. Join the discussion August 1-3!

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