By In Normative Ethics Comments Off on Hooker And Imperfect Duties, Part Deux (Kantian resources)

Hooker And Imperfect Duties, Part Deux (Kantian resources)

So I was composing a reply to pressing comments from both Brad Hooker and Doug Portmore on the original post on this topic (which can be found here, as can their comments), when I realized that the reply was going longer than seems appropriate for a comment. So I’ve taken inspiration from Dave and decided just to log it as a full-fledged post. (I see that just last week, Jonathan Weinberg did a similar thing here, over on what I think is another great blog, Experimental Philosophy. Maybe this is becoming – or has already become – a blogospheric norm.) Let me kick it off by thanking both Brad and Doug for the comments…

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Hooker Responds

I want to bring to the attention of our readers that Brad Hooker has responded to our original posts — see here, here, and here. On behalf of all us, I would like to thank Brad for his thoughtful responses.

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Responsibility and Identity, Part Deux

There have been a number of very interesting and insightful comments on my original post about responsibility and identity (regarding the fission case). In order to keep my sanity (and my day job!), I’ve had to force myself to refrain from commenting more than twice on any original post, so I’ve let the opportunity pass to talk about several of the comments made. Nevertheless, I think the conversation has been interesting and fruitful, and I thought that a recent comment by John Fischer deserved attention sufficient to warrant a new post. John remarked that we could perhaps find reason to doubt the original “platitude” (that one person can’t be morally responsible for the actions of someone else) by thinking of much more ordinary cases, specifically those involving children. So I as a parent would, it seems, be responsible for the actions of my child (say, if I let my 13-year-old drive the car around the neighborhood and he crashes into something). Ordinarily, those wanting to defend the platitude will say something like, “Well, you (the parent) are still responsible only for your own actions, which in this case were to allow your not-yet-responsible child to wreak havoc in the neighborhood.” I suppose this would be akin to letting your pet monkey loose: he’s not a responsible agent, so we attribute responsibility to you for letting him loose.

This answer doesn’t quite do justice to John’s case, however, because he seems to be insisting that you are responsible for the actions of the child (and not, as it were, responsible just for your lax parenting). But I actually find this to be not quite right. You are clearly appropriately subject to blame for allowing the child to do what he did, but are you really appropriately subject to blame for what the child did? This goes to the heart of the view on responsibility I really want to advocate (but won’t do so quite yet here), namely, that it’s a matter of being appropriately subject to the reactive attitudes (e.g., resentment, anger, etc.) with respect to your general character, and not necessarily with respect to any particular action you’ve performed. Now there’s much involved in that formulation that I won’t go into just yet, but for now I’ll simply say this: it seems that we don’t appropriately react with resentment towards the child because he has yet to develop a moral character, whereas we do react with resentment towards you (the parent) because you (ostensibly) have, and because the action of letting your child run amok reveals certain negative aspects of your character, ones that indicate a willingness to ignore the basic demand for goodwill towards your fellows. But in any event, we’re still reacting negatively toward you for that aspect of your character revealed in the (in)action of lax parenting, and not with respect to any aspect of your character revealed by your child’s actions. This is what distinguishes the parenting case from the original Adam/Brett/Carl case: we hold Brett/Carl responsible for the actions of Adam insofar as their character is exactly similar to his (and is causally produced by his); no such resemblance of character obtains between you and your child, though, so I think the parenting case can be accounted for by the defenders of the original platitude.

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Teaching or Experimentation?

One of our hopes in creating PEA Soup was to provide a forum for discussion about certain issues that may crop up in teaching moral philosophy. I suppose, then, that this is the first post on that topic. For several years now, when introducing Hobbes to students, I run a version of the Hobbes Game, which I believe was created by John Immermahr and published in Teaching Philosophy over ten years ago. The idea is to introduce the Prisoner’s Dilemma (an interpretation of one aspect of Hobbes’ state of nature) to students in a dramatic way, one that forces students to really figure out for themselves what it’s individually rational to do in cases of strategic interaction. So this is how I present the game. At the beginning of the class period I say that 10% of their grade in the class will be determined by the grade they request during the class period. The twist is that they’ll write down the grade they want (either an A or a B), and they’ll be brought up in pairs to submit them simultaneously. If they both request a B, they’ll both get a B. If one requests an A and the other requests a B, the first will get the A and the second will get an F (and vice versa). And if they both request an A, they’ll both get D’s. I then have them think about their strategy for a few minutes (without talking to one another), and then we begin. Some students at first will try to “cooperate” by asking for B’s, but soon enough someone will request an A, resulting in an F for the other, and inevitably the strategy mostly becomes asking for an A (which then results in lots of D’s). Some students invariably get rather distressed by what’s going on, and I’ll occasionally offer students who got F’s another chance at it (and it’s always suprising when they ask for B’s yet again and get burned). As soon as the exercise is over, I immediately announce that the grades don’t count (much to their relief), and we then discuss what the best strategy was, and why, before talking about the direct relevance to Hobbes.

The issue is this: most universities have in place a policy against psychological experimentation on human subjects without their permission. I’m interested in hearing from others who have used this game in their classes (or exercises like it) about whether or not they think it constitutes “human experimentation.” Clearly the game wouldn’t have its intended effect if we were to get students’ permission beforehand to run it. On the other hand, there is some distress involved during the game itself (which is very quickly replaced by relief and laughter, once the truth has been revealed), but is this enough (a) to think of it as experimentation, and (b) to undermine it as a legitimate teaching tool? It is amazingly effective: there are very few other examples I use in class that are burned into students’ minds as well as this one, and that’s precisely the impression I want to leave. But it remains a serious question: is this kind of manipulation (however brief) appropriate in class? And this is related to a larger issue: what precisely are the limits to getting across a serious point in class? I’m very interested to hear what others thinks about this.

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The Embedding Objection: Part II, Four Kinds of Expressivism

This is the second of a series of posts in which I try to make clear the different embedding difficulties that, as a family, are thought to present the most pressing objection to expressivism and to distinguish the different kinds of expressivism toward which each difficulty is most forcefully directed. The first post explained what I take expressivism to be. In this post, I distinguish four main kinds of expressivism. The heart of the series, the actual embedding difficulties, will begin with the next post in the series.

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Is Rule-Consequentialism Too Pervasive?

According to Hooker’s version of rule-consequentialism (RC), the criterion of rightness is as follows: “An act is wrong if and only if it is forbidden by the code of rules whose internalization by the overwhelming majority of everyone everywhere in each new generation has maximum expected value in terms of well-being (with some priority for the worst off).”

Now Hooker believes that one criterion by which we should assess moral theories is how well the implications of a given moral theory cohere with our considered moral convictions. In his book Ideal Code, Real World, he seems to suggest that RC does pretty well on this criterion, but perhaps he has overlooked the fact that RC will be too pervasive. A moral theory is too pervasive if it pervades every aspect of our lives, such that every voluntary human action, including those that have no effect on others, is potentially morally wrong.

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Hooker and Imperfect Duties

Brad Hooker Week on PEA Soup continues… In Chapter 8 of his Ideal Code, Real World, Hooker considers some ways of dealing with the problem of how much the relatively well off are obligated to do for the less well off. The trick here is to come up with some sort of principle that covers our intuitions about various cases (and in particular to find a principle that is not overdemanding). One way of dealing with the problem is to adopt the distinction between perfect and imperfect duties and then incorporate an imperfect duty of beneficence. Hooker rejects this solution, for two reasons, neither of which I find wholly adequate (being the Kantian that I am).

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