SUMMARY/COMMENTS on IPOD 7.1-7.3 [This is a continuation of a series on Arpaly-Schroeder’s In Praise of Desire (IPOD)]
Here we go…
- The setting (reason). The first three chapters provided something of an account of what deliberation (explicit reasoning or figuring) is: it is a type of (covert, mental) action performed for some specific purpose, such as figuring out which of one’s options in behavior is best or figuring out whether that P is true or false. Though deliberation has important roles to play and allows for a powerful and wide range of response, neither it nor its products explain what it is to think or act for reasons. Rather, deliberation is a complex action composed of more fundamental ways of thinking or acting for reasons. These fundamental ways of thinking or acting for reasons are non-deliberative, non-voluntary, and non-reflective (“ND processes” for short). And they may occur on their own as well as being constituents of acts of deliberation. For example, it is via an ND process that I automatically transition from the perception of a car in the intersection to the conceptual identification of this fact (to the belief). Similarly, I might achieve some end E in the least-costly way via some ND process (without explicit figuring, I know when I have expended enough, or too much effort, for example). Such processes are not explicit acts of deliberation or reasoning. An explanation of what makes a response an ND process (a basic responsiveness to reasons, a basic rational response) is provided. (More details when I post more-specific summary/comments on these first three chapters…)
- The setting (desire). The fourth, fifth, and sixth chapters provide for an account of what desires are and are not. Though desires have typical motivational and emotional (and attention-guidingly cognitive) effects, desires are not identical to the production of such effects (or even dispositions to produce such effects). In particular, using thought-experiments we can show the relevant motivational elements, relevant emotional-reaction-type elements, and relevant attention-directing cognitive elements are neither necessary nor sufficient for the presence of desires. (Important cases that help establish this: joy upon knowing your sports team has won but no particular action that would promote their winning is motivated, similar functional profile for Strawson’s Weather Watchers who are literally incapable of action and hence motivation to act, clinical cases of diminished or absent relevant emotion but present motivation.) Conclusion: desires are simply the things that typically cause such motivational, emotional, and cognitive elements. They should not be construed as essentially motivational, essentially emotion-reaction-causing or essentially cognitive (in being attention-directing). In principle, agent X might desire that P without there being any motivational, affective, or cognitive elements or effects (not even any dispositions to exhibit them). Moreover, like water, desire is a natural kind: it is that thing, whatever we discover it to be, that explains the typically-present or typically-caused “surface” features by means of which we establish reference. And we have a good candidate for what the essence or “deep structure” of desire is: to desire that P is to have the content that-P “constituted as a reward” by the reward learning system of the brain. Lots of scientific details provided, but the upshot is that the “textbook account” of how this system works (as far as we know, we don’t have all of the details figured out) would have what is constituted as a reward (in the technical sense of ‘reward’ used in the neuroscience) being the common cause of the things that desires are a common cause of (the motivational effects, the emotional effects, the attention-directing cognitive effects). We should, then, believe that X desiring that P is nothing more or less than X’s reward-learning system constituting that-P as a reward. (More details when I post more-specific summary/commentary on these chapters…)
- The third section of the book, Virtue, begins with chapter seven. 7.1-7.3 concern what makes an action praiseworthy or blameworthy (PW or BW). 7.1 sets the table. The concern is with PWness and BWness as they require or recommend relevant attitudes of crediting someone for their action or blaming them for it. Technically, praising is an action, making the term ‘PW’ inapt. And some think that blaming is or requires action – perhaps just speech-acts, but action nonetheless. Regardless of how we think of blaming and praising, the focus here is on (what in an action merits) the attitudinal responses, crediting and blaming, not on (what in an action merits) actions such as expressing blame, punishing, praising etc.
- 7.2 concerns good and bad will. The praiseworthy action is the action that is not only right, but also done for the right reasons. The done-for-the-right-reasons part is having a good will. Ignoring, for brevity, the proposals regarding bad will, indifference to moral reasons (a bad thing), and indifference to immoral reasons (a good thing), here is the account of good will: Complete good will is an intrinsic desire for the right or good (correctly conceptualized), while partial good will is an intrinsic desire for part of the right or good (correctly conceptualized). If we cash out praiseworthiness in terms of performing the right action for the right reasons (or out of good will, whether compete or partial), we get the idea that praiseworthy action is right action done from the right intrinsic desires (7.3).
- Comment1. Though perhaps I have missed something, A&S do not seem to have much argued for the idea that the ends of practical reason (or the normative ends of action) are set solely via desires (or solely via desires that are not simply the product of normative or evaluative judgments). They have not yet given much reason for us to think that the good will is not constituted, in part, by relevant evaluative or normative judgments. (I suspect their argument will come to this: SC offers the best explanation of the things that we need to explain. In particular, normative-judgment-versus-mere-desire conflict – getting up to go to work in the morning because you think this is the right thing to do even though you long to stay in your comfy bed, for example – can be explained by SC without running into any hard issues about what normative judgments are and any spooky Moorean properties that they are about.) Though I am sympathetic to the idea the intrinsic desires set the ends for practical reason and action, I’d like an argument for this view. And I’d like to hear something about what normative judgments are, what they do, and how they are related to desires.
- Comment2. Though this is not reflected in their snappy formulation, they deny that having a good will has to consist in having some one right intrinsic desire. What the right desires are is to be supplied by the correct moral theory and they are remaining neutral on this. But, intuitively, all of the following desires are relevant (supposing, for the sake of simplicity, that a pure deontology is correct): (a) the desire to do what is right (most abstract), (b) the desire to respect persons (less abstract, supposing that a Kantian gloss on deontology is correct), (c) the desire not to break promises to others (more specific). In addition, if our deontology is less pure (and more commonsense), we have: (d) the desire that right actions be done (or that others do what is right as well as oneself), (e) the desires that others respect other people, and (f) the desire that others do not break their promises. This matters because it suggests that having a complete good will is being related to this sort of diversity of ends – and giving them the appropriate priority-ranking with respect to each other. And this suggests, in turn, a more fine-grained account of partial good will than what they give. (Of course, this gets even more complicated if we suppose, as we should, that whatever the correct general moral theory is, it will contain both broadly deontological and value or consequentialist elements.) I worry, then, that they have abstracted away too much to give a realistically-textured account of what full and partial good will come to.
- Comment3. For similar reasons, I worry that the relevance of priority-relationships between moral and non-moral ends becomes obscured. They are encouraging, if not endorsing, the idea that the good will is simply the morally good will. Is so, then the “saintly” person who is gives little or no priority to personal and other non-moral ends but satisfies the criteria for having perfect moral good will has a good will simpliciter. I realize that the precise nature of the lack-of-priority given to non-moral ends might be internal to a moral evaluation (that is also an all-in evaluation of the agent’s end-orientation). But we at least need to be told whether, on A&S’s reckoning, having a good will concerns an agent’s relationship to all her ends or only some subset of her ends that constitute the moral ends. We should also address the idea that the abjectly-self-sacrificial moral agent has a worse will for being abjectly self-sacrificial. I realize that their response will be that they are attempting to abstract from these kinds of issues. My response, in turn, is that in doing so they are skipping over details that are necessary to have a theory of the good will that is as interesting and informative as we might reasonably want. (I’ll address this issue again in my summary of 7.4-7.7, distinguishing praiseworthy right action from [right action from] admirable character.)
- Comment4. The “correctly conceptualized” part is confusing to me. They motivate this via the need to apply the sense-reference distinction. If Frege’s favorite property is moral goodness, I don’t get credit for desiring that Frege’s favorite property, whatever it is, be instantiated a lot. Fine – but a bit fussy (put it in a footnote maybe, folks). But they give another motivation that does not quite square with all of the sense/reference fussiness: the idea that someone who fervently desires to do what is right, but has the wrong theory of what is right, should not get credit (the example here is a sort of act-consequentialist Ayn-Randist who rationalizes keeping his promise in the present case via reasons of self-interest that apply to the case; any act-consequentialist rationalization for a right action would have done the trick – though I’ll admit that the enlightened-self-interest version act-consequentialism more obviously has the wrong sorts of reasons at work than does agent-neutral welfare act-consequentialism). The issue here, though, is simply the roles, in a good will of (i) desiring to do what is right and (ii) desiring to do [fill in the substantive theory of right action]. So I don’t think the main not-just-a-footnote issue here can be handled without reference to correct conceptualization (sense, narrow content, etc.). You just have to get it right regarding what makes right acts right, intrinsically desire it, and have this rationalize your right action.