the normative relevance of accountability

In his paper “Favoring,” Antti Kauppenin seeks to explain normative “reasons” (it being the case that one has reason to do something, an item being a reason for one to do that something) in terms of normative “oughts” (it being the case that one ought to do something). Part of his view, or at least his argument for it, is the idea that normativity comes to accountability. This view, though probably a minority view among meta-normative theorists, has some significant currency in the field. He expresses the view, with respect to the normative ought, as follows: 

Think about what it is for something to be normative… there is good reason to think that it comes down to the fittingness or appropriateness of certain reactive attitudes and other forms of crediting or discrediting agents. One way to put this is that normative facts are action-guiding because they are reaction-guiding. When we fail to do something we are supposed to do, we are liable to blame or criticism, by ourselves as well as others. That is what the ‘normative pressure’ (Kolodny 2005) of reasons consists in. Normative reasons have authority for us, and this derives, at least in large part, from our being a fitting target of recrimination by our better selves and those we respect if we fail to take them into account… So, let’s say that for what it is for something to be normative is for it to provide an authoritative standard that we are accountable for living up to, that is, acting in accordance with. There are, to be sure, excuses and exemptions. But roughly, for you to be accountable for something, it must be something you should have done and could have done but didn’t do. If it is the case that you ought to φ, it is clear that what you are accountable for is φ-ing. It is fitting to respond negatively to you for not φ-ing, unless you have an excuse.

I’m not inclined to agree with this view, but I want to understand (i) the intuitive pull behind it, (ii) just what it comes to and (iii) what the good arguments are for and against it (or the different versions of it) are. I’ll mainly address the second thing here, but also touch on the third thing and suggest that the real action concerns a related, narrower thesis (with a home in a different literature). 

Here is a precisification of the core view in the above quote.

ought (accountability) X ought to A iff (and because) it is fitting (for anyone) to blame or criticize X for failing to A.

Fittingness seems to be an agent-neutral normative feature. This is of note for at least two reasons. First, the more standard order of explanation is from agent-relative normative features to agent-neutral normative features (e.g. from each agent having reason to A and there being something necessary about this being the case to all agents having reason to A). Second, on the more general view of normativity as accountability, fittingness itself will have to be explained in a similar fashion, raising the prospect of an invalid, circular pattern of explanation. Third, the broad pattern of constitutive explanation here goes like this: the overall ordering of X’s target set of options that includes her A-ing is determined by the ordering of some distinct set of options for all agents. Granted, the distinct orderings of options are internally or content-wise related, but we still need an explanation of this striking pattern of constitutive explanation. Especially since the competing view of normativity takes it to concern a set of options (or a type of such) getting ordered in an action-guiding-relevant way.

(It is worth noting as well that fittingness, taken as normative, might itself be an ought — making the circular-explanation problem directly relevant to ought (accountability). If the core fittingness reaction concerns the attitude of blame, it would seem that the situation is something like this: the relevant options are simply blaming X for failing to A versus not doing so and the options are ordered — in the normative way, perhaps by some single factor, this one being the only one that is relevant — such that exhibiting the blaming attitude is better than not (and hence the best option). And so, it being fitting to respond to X failing to A by exhibiting a blaming attitude comes to a way of it being the case that one ought to respond to X failing to A by exhibiting a blaming attitude. The fittingness of blaming behaviors would then be a distinct, derivative issue — and probably would not be equivalent to it being the case that one ought to exhibit the blaming behavior, all sorts of far-flung pragmatic factors generally being relevant to, and sometimes controlling, factors in determining whether exhibiting blaming behavior is the best of one’s options.)

In the unpacking of ought (accountability), I’ve bumped up against two problems for the view: (i) it (or at least the larger view of normativity that it partially specifies) seems to be committed to a circular pattern of explanation and (ii) the explanatory structure provided is too thin (we need more and the right kind of meat in the explanation). The circular-explanation problem and the underspecified-explanation problem. The first problem seems quite serious to me. And I suspect the upshot of it is that, even if there is something else — perhaps some more specific kind of normative feature — that is accountability-constituted, normative features themselves are not (and the normative ought itself is not). However, this is consistent with there being an interesting and important accountability-involving constitutive-explanatory story for certain normative features. And, if so, addressing the second problem — that of specifying some additional, plausible explanatory detail — will be helpful (as, of course, would be a specification of what the more-specific sort of normative feature is that is given by accountability). So now I’ll provide both of these things.

Here’s the direction I would go in beefing up ought (accountability) constitutive-explanation-wise. We can make the second-order type of option-ordering relevant to the first-order (or target) option-ordering via X knowing that it is fitting (appropriate, correct) for anyone to blame her (in the sense of exhibiting a blaming attitude) for failing to A. From this knowledge, X would come to know that (a) it is likely that she will be blamed for failing to A (if only by herself) and that (b) if she is blamed, she will not be justified in rejecting the blame. If the option-ordering power of all of this (with regard to the target A-ing-relevant options X faces) is sufficient, the effect will be decisively ordering these options such that X’s A-ing comes out as the decisively best choice for A (even if it was antecedently best, it is now decisively best). That is a rough, just-so story that hopefully indicates a plausible way for the necessary explanatory work to get done.

One way to make this sort of explanation fit as an explanation for the normative ought would be if, apart from X knowing that it would be fitting to blame her for failing to A, the option of A-ing was not the best choice for X — or at least not clearly or decisively the best choice. But why suppose this is the case? Also, even if this were the case, it would be natural to say that the fact that it would be appropriate to blame any given person for failing to A (say) is just one factor, however powerful or decisive, among many in making A-ing be X’s best option. That there are other factors means that the explanatory role here is not confined to first-order-option-ordering factors that reference a distinct option-ordering. And normativity, in this broad sense, simply concerns how the target set of options gets orders, whether or not this turns on the fact of some distinct but related ordering. But this is much more in-line with the dominant, competitor view of normativity per se (and hence the normative ought per se and having-reason in the normative sense per se).

Okay, all done trying to patch up ought (accountability) – whew! The consolation prize here is that it is still plausible that there is a special and significant sort of normative feature that is constituted — perhaps in something like the “beefed up” way indicated — by accountability. The feature I have in mind is the narrowly deontic normative feature of moral (or more broadly normative) requirement. Normative requirements are generally taken to be distinct from normative oughts and to entail them (but not be entailed by them). Roughly: normative requirements are parts of requirement/permission systems of norms and normative features, while oughts are a function of something like “summing up” all of the factors that favor or disfavor the options of a set of options.

So consider this:

requirement (accountability) X is required to A iff (and because) (i) X ought or has most reason to A and (ii) it is fitting (for anyone) to blame X for failing to A.

The general family of views like this — which includes a version of something like requirement (accountability), due to Matt Bedke, that drops the first element, making for something quite structurally similar to ought (accountability) — is laid out and evaluated nicely in a recent paper by Justin Snedegar. I’m sympathetic to the idea that something in this family of views is correct, providing a prominent place for accountability in the important, specifically deontic portion of our normative world. However, as Snedegar points out, we need a story that (a) explains why these two elements (and two different option-sets and their orderings) are related in this way and (b) why their being in this relationship has the right kind of necessity such that it constitutes a not-merely-stipulated or “natural” normative property or kind (viz., the narrowly deontic property of being required). My rough, just-so story, in addition to providing something that the probably-false ought (accountability) needs to work, also provides something that the more-likely-true requirement (accountability) needs to work. It provides [a], but not [b]. We need [b] as well.

Though the idea of normativity being provided by accountability is not-so-promising, facts about accountability might be an important normative option-orderer. And the idea that this kind of option-ordering plays a distinctive and key role in constituting the narrowly-deontic features (such as normative requirement) is a pretty promising idea that deserves additional thought and attention.

Tyler Cowen on the Harper’s free speech letter

Here is a link to the letter: https://harpers.org/a-letter-on-justice-and-open-debate/

And here is a link to Cowen’s blog post (quoted extensively below, with my reactions/comments interspersed — italics): https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2020/07/the-harpers-free-speech-letter-and-controversy.html

[Cowen] Of course I side with those who signed the [Harper’s] letter, but I would add a few points.

First, I don’t think the letter itself quite pinpoints what has gone wrong, nor do I think that such a collective project is likely to do so.  Most of us would agree there is nothing wrong per se with voluntary standards of affiliation, or voluntary speech regulations in private institutions, nor should the NYT feel obliged to turn its platforms over to tyrants such as…say…Vladimir Putin.

[me] Certainly, there are special issues when speech/expression regulation (and personal exclusion) is involuntary – especially when the sanctions come from the government and even more especially when that government is appropriately committed to the basic values of a pluralistic, liberal society). And voluntary speech regulation still needs its standards – presumably that is part of the issue here. Moreover, when standards become public and dominant, they might as well be enforced through the government. There is a similar chilling effect. And there may well be similar – or even more intense – censorious ill will behind the regulation. I take it that it is these cases of voluntary speech regulation (and personal regulation – inclusion or exclusion from benefits, institutions, etc.), not the cases of voluntary regulation or exclusion that are pretty clearly things we should allow (like my decision not to associate with this or that person whom I regard as an asshole), is the matter of concern. True enough, we need to say more about when speech regulation and associated personal exclusion are appropriately allowed or not (and why). It will matter a lot, I think, whether a personal speech-regulative or associative/dissociative action is merely personal or part of a larger, public dominant standard.

The actual problem is that we have a new bunch of “speech regulators” (not in the legal sense, not usually at least) who are especially humorless and obnoxious and I would say neurotic — in the personality psychology sense of that word.  I say let’s complain about the real problem, namely the moral fiber, emotional temperaments, and factual worldviews of the individuals who have arrogated the new speech censorship functions to themselves.  I am free to raise that charge, a collective letter signed by 153 diverse intellectuals and artists really is not, and is strongly constrained toward the more “positive” and “constructive” approaches to the problem, or at least what might appear to be such.

Maybe this (the character of the enforcement personnel) is the main problem, but maybe not. Are the present standards for what speech is to be regulated and how perfectly okay, the main problem being that they are enforced by folks who are incompetent, borderline mentally ill, etc.? I think there are significant issues with the standards themselves (e.g., offense as a harm and a sufficient reason to regulate) and how they are to be enforced (e.g., via collective ostracism and often actual hatred directed against the offenders). Also, because of cultural and institutional changes in modern life (e.g., social media but also shifts in reasonable weightings given to different competing values), we need to update traditional ideals of free speech (so I don’t think that the problems with extant dominant standards for speech regulation is that they just don’t get it that we had the right standards before). 

The letter is descriptively accurate in blaming lack of “toleration” and increased “censoriousness” for our problems, but those words only make sense if you have a much deeper mental model of what is actually going on.  There is ultimately something question-begging about words that do not pin down the proper margin of objection, or what might be a correct worldview, or what might be a worldview we should in fact not tolerate in our affiliations.  In other words, a non-question-begging answer has to take sides to some extent, and that is especially hard for a collective or grand coalition to do.

Sure, we need to know when “toleration” is bad and “censoriousness” (if this term is being used in a non-pejorative way) is good. And why. I don’t think it is too much to ask, in such a letter, to provide something of a contrast object – to say something about the kinds of speech and expression that should fall on the okay-to-regulate side of the ledger and what the salient factors are for making this determination. You don’t need a full theory and you don’t need to be off-putting.

That is fine!  No complaint from these quarters… But in reality, the letter itself, de facto, decided to elevate consensus and reputational oomph over actual free speech about the real truths in our world… So in the Straussian sense it is actually a letter about the limits and impotence of true free speech, and the need to be constrained by social consensus.

How about the signers and non-signers?  Here is from the NYT piece:

“We’re not just a bunch of old white guys sitting around writing this letter,” Mr. Williams, who is African-American, said. “It includes plenty of Black thinkers, Muslim thinkers, Jewish thinkers, people who are trans and gay, old and young, right wing and left wing.”

Only a very small number of individuals in the world even had the option of signing, and it seems the particular individuals chosen were selected with an eye toward their public and intellectual palatability.  Do you really think they would have invited [fill in the blank with name of “evil” person of your choice] to sign?  Or how about such a letter signed only by white males?  More prosaically, how about a few vocal Trump supporters or members of the IDW?

You can’t expect readers to scroll through thousands of names, but of course with internet technology you could have a linked pdf with a second tier of signers, more numerous and also more truly intellectually diverse.  The de facto message seems to be: “free speech is too important a cause to let just anybody sign onto.”

Again, what they did is fine!  I work with voluntary institutions all the time, and am quite familiar with “how things have to go.”

But again, let’s be honest.  To produce a paean to free speech, acceptable to Harper’s and worthy of receiving a non-condemnatory article in The New York Times, the organizers had to “restrict free speech” in a manner not altogether different than what they are objecting to.

And this brings into relief, once again, the contrast object of acceptable speech regulation. So far, so good. However, though these folks are obeying and enacting certain constraints on speech in order to achieve consensus with their target group (mainly, the “woke” left), they are not knuckling under in the face of threatened or imagined sanctions. There is a “deep” free speech ethic that they are not exemplifying (and that I am sympathetic to): that of systematically and decisively elevating truth (and difference and error and contention as an essential means to the truth) and the free expression of one’s person, over avoiding giving offense. In line with such an ideal, one would speak one’s mind no matter what and even offend people and create contentious situations on purpose (not to hurt, but to achieve truth/expression and model the ideal that includes the essential means to these). Maybe the right lesson here is that such a deep ethical ideal of free speech – as opposed to a probably-narrower but more public one grounded in basic moral reasons we all share – is a rare flower that does not grow well everywhere. For the purposes of this letter, defending free speech by modeling “deep” free speech (that ideal of free speech) would not work out very well…

Fortunately, most people will read the Harper’s letter straight up rather than in Straussian terms.  The Straussian reading is far more depressing than the pleasure you might feel at seeing this missive take center stage, if only for a day.

Depressing, I think, only relative to one’s acceptance of what I’m calling (with a Rawlsian twang) the deep ethical ideal of free speech. But maybe a thinner but still worthwhile ideal of free speech is available. Maybe such an ideal will neither decisively elevate contentious truth-seeking over avoiding offense nor revel in disagreement, contention and even giving offense – but will nonetheless treat moral hysteria mobs, especially those generated on thin pretexts and meting out ruinous punishments, as unacceptable. I can envision a “public” free speech ideal like this that is both inspiring and not in the least betrayed or ignored in this letter or the strategies behind it. With Tyler, I’m disappointed that we don’t live in a “deep free speech” world. But I’m a truth-seeking, rationalist outlier and so, as a matter of realistic and respectful public consensus, I’ll have to take my half loaf. We need to be clear on what this half-loaf is, and then clearly defend it, or we risk getting no loaf at all and living in a “woke” version of sectarian society. 

I worry some that the Harper’s letter is not clear about just what ideal of free speech it is defending – and thus might be (or might be reasonably interpreted as) defending, as a reaction to new information and a changed weighting of values in society, an old-school free speech ideal that is, I believe, more sectarian than publicly-defensible (and, in any case, quasi-Rawlsian framing aside, a bit reactionary). I definitely worry that Tyler, in addition to making a similar mistake, also errs in pinning the main problem of excessive speech regulation on the “neuroticism” of the speech enforcers, thus distracting from academic and public discussion of what speech-regulation standards should be, how they should be enforced, how one might enforce them in good or bad faith (borderline mental health issues aside), etc.  I would address the neuroticism (or whatnot) indirectly, through calling out the failure to meet valid public standards. When the failure is rooted more in borderline mental illness than in error, ignorance, incompetence, etc., then I guess we’ll have to deal with the borderline mental illness.

Reason (having-reason, there-being-reason) fundamentalism

Suppose that there is reason for Ronnie to go to the party because there will be dancing there and Ronnie loves to dance. As Daniel Fogal points out in his “Reasons, Reason, and Context,” ‘reason’ here is used as a mass noun, to refer to the action having what I’ll call a specific valence that has quantity to it. (Thus there is some/much reason for Ronnie to go to the party. We might also say that Ronnie has reason — some or much — to go to the party, where having-reason language does not indicate, as it does in some other contexts, that the specific valence is partially explained by Ronnie believing that there will be dancing as against the fact of such). Distinguish specific valence from overall valence or the valence that an option has in virtue of all of the respects of specific valence that bear (e.g., perhaps Ronnie also ought to go to the party because the sum of any competing specific valences here fail to outweigh).

Normative reasons (count noun here, not mass noun) explain there being reason (for some agent). Put another way: the reason-status of an item is that of explaining or helping explain, in a certain way, there being reason (for some agent). Fogal persuasively argues that reasons-talk and causes-talk are the same in that they pick out pragmatically/communicatively salient representatives of clusters of conditions that constitute full explanations or causes. The bits singled out stand in for the whole thing. And because of all of the variation in the sorts of things that it makes good pragmatic/communicative sense to single out as reasons, there is no special metaphysical explanatory role for reasons themselves in explaining reason. Though there are different explanatory roles in the overall explanation of there being reason for X to A (e.g., Ronnie loving dancing and the fact that there will be dancing play different explanatory roles, the former playing what is sometimes called the “source” role), no such roles neatly map onto this as against that item being cited as being a or the reason for Ronnie to go to the party. 

So we might say that the fact that there will be dancing at the party is a reason for Ronnie to go to the party or that the fact that there will be dancing at the party explains why Ronnie has reason to go to the party (maybe part of the assumed pragmatic/communicative context here is that we know that Ronnie loves to dance). But, similarly, in some pragmatic/communicative contexts, the fact that Ronnie loves to dance is the relevant explainer of why Ronnie has reason to go to the party. For these reasons, we should reject Mark Schroeder’s claim that desires are not reasons but rather mere background conditions for reasons. Any distinction between reasons and background conditions (or enabling conditions) essentially involves pragmatic/communicative selection from among the elements of the total explanation of why there is reason for Ronnie to go to the party. And that reflects us, not the metaphysics of it, especially as such categorization crosses over the lines between distinct metaphysical, explanatory roles.

***

There was never much of any reason to think of normative reasons themselves as normatively more fundamental than specific normative valence itself. I never thought this, for years having held a less-sophisticated version of the metaphysics of reasons/reason implied by the mass/count noun distinction in reason/reasons language that Fogal stresses. Perhaps it is because these distinctions have not always been clearly recognized that many philosophers have spoken as if normative reasons (the normative-reason-status of items) were normatively fundamental. We need to stop such sloppiness. And, if we do, then a “reasons-first” program of constitutive normative/evaluative explanation makes little sense. The relevant constitutive-explanatory program in the ballpark would be a “having-reason first” (or “there-being-reason first”) program, according to which specific normative valence is the sole normatively/evaluatively fundamental feature (whether or not there is any constitutive explanation of specific valence by clusters of conditions, any one of which might be pragmatically/communicatively salient and hence a or the reason; after all, specific valence could be explanatorily primitive). But also, if we are concerned with different explanatory elements in the explanation of specific valence, that is a separate issue from what we do or should cite as the or a reason why Ronnie has reason. Fogal’s paper brings this point into particularly sharp relief.

What might a “having-reason-first” program of constitutive normative/evaluative explanation look like? This is something that Fogal’s paper does not address. That is curious because, putting on my somewhat-confused reasons-first theorist hat, I would retreat to claiming that this — or some confused version of this — is what I meant all along. Thanks for helping me get clearer, Fogal!

That constitutive-explanatory program might look something like this: necessarily, specific normative valence is related to overall normative valence via an “additive” or “contributory” explanatory relationship. Hence, the right explanation of ought-features (and other overall valence features) is always via specific having-reason features, specifically via these, pro and con, being weighed or added together in a “contributory” style.

Here are two problems with this view. The first one denies the universal validity of this pattern of explanation for all overall valences (and all ought-features). The at-least-possible cases I have in mind here are those in which a specific valence entails, all on its own, corresponding overall valence. In such cases, necessarily, there is only one specific valence relevant to deciding between a set of options (perhaps a binary set of options, as the plausible cases might suggest). In such a case, there would be no “contributory” explanatory link between specific and overall valence. Certain normative relationships of requirement, correctness, appropriateness, fittingness might work this way (e.g., maybe fitting-attitude standards, if and when they are normative, work this way).

The second problem denies not the reality but the importance of the contributory sort of explanatory link. On this sort of view, what is important, metaphysically, is that a specific valence (again, perhaps a kind of requirement, correctness, appropriateness, etc.), though in principle only one of many factors and subject to being overruled, in conjunction with other factors commonly present, entails the corresponding overall valence. For example, most moral requirements usually entail oughts, but do not if more-important requirements (or other super-important factors) override. On this sort of picture, though some contributory explanatory link is present, it is simply of the right minimal sort for the entailment to hold (given that enabling conditions have been met). What matters is the entailment, not any weighing up of distinct respects of specific valence.

Combining these two objections into one, we might say that specific normative valence includes both merely-having-reason and something like requirement — a specific normative valence that either necessarily or circumstantially (and defeasibly) entails the corresponding ought-feature. (There might also be specific valence that, conjoined with relevant conditions that often or generally obtain, entail that one has sufficient reason to do the thing. But I’ll leave such cases aside for now.)

However, supposing these objections hold, the following not-insubstantial elements of the program remain. 

First, overall valence is always explained, one way or another, in terms of specific valence (and hence in terms of any explanatory basis for this and, by proxy, by what is appropriately cited, on pragmatic/communicative grounds, as a reason). 

Second, the generic quantitative language of having reason (and there being reason) applies to all specific and overall valence (even if using such language is not always conversationally appropriate, given pragmatic/communicative implicature). Whenever there is some normative valence attaching to A-ing for X, it is true that X has reason to A (or there is reason for X to A). 

Third, the explanatory linkage between specific valence (and therefore its explanatory basis and therefore any reason taken as representative of this basis) and overall valence is (a) centrally explanatorily relevant in the evidently “contributory” cases (e.g., additively explained ought-features), (b) centrally explanatorily relevant in certain hard or unusual cases that are not evidently “contributory” (e.g., describing what is going on in the proper balancing of competing requirements) and (c) relevant to good theorizing whenever more than one specific valence is potentially in play in determining the overall valence, providing formal-level description and explanation.

what normative-explanatory work can fittingness-in-attitude do?

According to McHugh and Way (“Fittingness First,” ETHICS), both reasons and value are to be constitutively (and normatively) explained by attitude-types having certain objects or contents that are “fitting” (appropriate, correct, etc.). For example, my belief that P is fitting (and correct) if and only if it is true. So they reject the “buck-passing” analysis of value, according to which value is analyzed in terms of fitting valuation — but fitting valuation is analyzed in terms of what we have most reason to value. They instead simply stop the analysis with certain objects being fit to be valued (or not).

In treating fittingness as a normative primitive, they reject the broad “reasons first” program of constitutive explanation within the normative and evaluative realm. Moreover, they take reasons (and presumably agents having reason) to be a function of fitting attitudes: to be a reason is to be a premise in good reasoning and good reasoning is simply reasoning that preserves attitude-fittingness across inference.

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a puzzle and a solution regarding the rational ‘ought’

One might think that it being the case that X rationally ought to A (exhibit some action or attitude in response to relevant items) is a straight-forward function of the reasons that X has for/against A-ing. And one might think that the sort of normative reason that is relevant here is of the subjective or psychological sort (specifically a broadly cognitive mental state — e.g., a belief or a perceptual experience). One supporting thought for this last thought is that normativity is, at its core, the direct guidance of responses via rational causal tendencies in the mind of the agent (we might call this the “direct rational guidance” view of normativity).

However, quite plausibly, the rational ‘ought’ is, in some respects, a function of appropriate response to facts, not just mental states.

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contagion requiem

wet market contagion

community spread

Li cries out

then silenced

dead

empty streets in Wuhan

people inside

doors welded shut

how many died?

Xi lies

dictatorship and national pride

crematorium ash flies

the Devil is unbound

the world oblivious

 

 

priests consecrate the wine and bread

body and blood of Christ

only to be struck down, dead

the Horsemen have arrived

the job of Christ is no earthly saving

dead in the wards

dead in the hallways

bodies fill the churches

shipped to more-spacious churchyards nearer the Vatican

the conflagration spreads

 

 

oh, American decadence!

the stupid vanity of the trumped-up man

stupidly vain righteousness

impeach the man

impeach democracy

‘I win! I shine!’ — ‘You swine!’

a glorious circus all dressed up in right and wrong

interrupted by sweeping death

Emerald City sorrow, Gotham apocalypse

the dying comes and comes

unprepared

machines breathing last breaths

saviors saving only to die

the big boss strips us naked

knocks us unconscious…

we awake in fits

to face reality and find solace as we can

but back to the circus we go

winning and losing, righting and wronging, shining and stinking up the joint 

what a show

death smiles

but the end is not yet written

social injustice and individual obligation

Suppose that society can wrong individuals and groups within society (as I think it can).  If one (or some group) is wronged in any way, one can legitimately complain (object, demand, etc.). If one is wronged by society, one complains to… society.  But society is not an agent, so such a complaint cannot function as it would if one were privately wronged. And so, though we can say that society is obligated to right the wrong, it seems we must cash this out in terms of the obligations of individuals.  Continue reading

that Peloton commercial

Here we go:

My initial, emotion-driven evaluation, when I started seeing the ad (over and over and over and over, watching NFL football), was negative.  I think I was responding to the woman seeming sort of unsure of herself, maybe weak in some way — and her husband “saving her” by getting her the machine.  I think this got my feminist hackles up.  However, upon reflection, I don’t think the commercial is sexist.  I don’t think it is about a husband wanting his “116 lb wife to be a 112 lb wife.”  It is about an unsure or insecure or unhappy person find strength in accomplishment — and being helped to this by a loved one, by her partner (and, somewhat oddly to my tastes, documenting the whole adventure via selfie).  I suspect that the woman playing this role (unsure, insecure, needing support) made me uncomfortable (even though I bring no simple egalitarian ideals to the table).  For the images and story of the commercial, in addition to capturing a conventional gender reality (but perhaps also non-conventional psycho-sexual reality) that is not, in itself, obviously objectionable, also easily fits into or slides into representations of gender and marriage roles that are unjust and oppressive.  Danger, Will Robinson, danger!  My emotional reaction, but not my considered judgment, more or less line up with the negative evaluation of the commercial as sexist.  Thoughts?

why think ‘must’ implies ‘ought’?

To say that I ought to take out the garbage and to say that I must take it out is to say two different things.  And, if I ought to take out the garbage, it does not follow that I must. But — apparently — if I must take out the garbage (if I am required to), then it follows that I ought.  The ‘must’ seems in some way stronger than the mere ‘ought’ (perhaps ‘must’ is simply ‘decisively ought’ — that is one theory).

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what non-teleological practical reasons might be like and why “consequentializing” them would be a mistake

Plausibly, in certain sorts of cases X having reason to A (where A is either the performance of an action or the having of an attitude), the specific or contributory valence of A-ing for X is not a function of X’s A-ing realizing or promoting some outcome O.  Rather it is a function of X’s A-ing being an appropriate or fitting response to some condition, feature or circumstance C.  I’ll call these reasons appropriate-response type reasons (with the larger, catch-all category being “non-teleological” reasons). We can, for such reasons, rig up an outcome that plausibly might explain the normative valence. For example, we could say that [X-A-ing-when-C-is-present] or [X-A-ing-when-X-registers-that-C-is-present] is agent-neutrally valuable or beneficial to X, thus making it such that X has reason to A in virtue of realizing or promoting one of these valuable or beneficial outcomes.  However, there is this element that is not captured by the “consequentializing” strategy: the valence (for X) is supposed to attach to X’s A-ing — but not due to X’s A-ing being related (including identical to) some condition (the outcome) that itself has some normative or evaluative valence. So it seems plausible that this sort of case of X having reason to A is non-teleological and, in this, not fully or truly “consequentializable” (unless we weaken the conditions for “consequentializability” such that the “original” normative character of these sorts of reasons need not be captured in the move).

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