the right sort of intrinsic desire to avoid doing morally wrong things

One can do what is morally right without the action having moral worth, as with Kant’s (merely) prudent shopkeeper (not overcharging a naive customer when she easily could). The reason that the shopkeeper’s right action lacks moral worth is, roughly, that she does not have the right sort — the moral sort — of aim or motivation in doing the right (honest) thing.

In recent literature, folks distinguish two different sorts of motivational contents (motivating reasons) that might go into having the correct sort of motivation for a right action to have moral worth. First, there is content that concerns right-making features (RMF-type content), content like that overcharging this customer would fail to treat each customer equally. Second, there is content that concerns rightness (or wrongness) itself (RI-type content), content like that it would be wrong to charge this customer more than I charge the others. Some, like Nomy Arpaly and Julia Markovitz, have argued that only RMF-type motivational content is necessary. One intuitive point that works in favor of this approach is this: absent any knowledge of what makes a right action right, the insistence on doing the right thing can begin to look like a kind of empty fetish. Also, in the Huckleberry Finn case, Huck doesn’t turn Jim (the slave) in partly because he sees Jim as human (something that would make turning Jim in wrong, so an RMF-content) even though he thinks doing this is wrong (an RI-content that motivates toward turning Jim in).

More recently, others (e.g., Zoe Johnson King, Paulina Sliwa, Kashev Singh) have argued that RI-content is necessary as well (and sometimes that RI-content is primary, as Johnson King and Sliwa argue). Among other things, these authors (and others) produce reasonably convincing arguments against drawing the conclusions that Arpaly and Markovitz draw from cases of doing what is right simply because it is right (with no particular understanding of what makes right actions right operative, hence the charge of fetishism) and from the Huck Finn case (responding, by doing what is right, to the things that make the right action right, while holding explicit judgments that the right action is wrong).

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The “Other Side” of the Holocaust

My response to a (perfectly legitimate) critique of the Texas directive demanding that teachers teach “both sides” of every issue, including the Holocaust:

Irfan Khawaja October 16, 2021 at 11:08 am

This is a fundamentally idiotic directive with a fundamentally idiotic motivation. But if they’re really duty-bound to abide by it, why not teach the history of the Palestinian nakba of 1947-49? The Palestinians were (and are) the victims of the victims of the Holocaust, the people whose story is rarely told in American discourse. If you want “the other side” of the Holocaust, that’s it. You don’t have to tell the Holocaust from the perspective of David Irving or the SS. Tell it from the perspective of those who were collateral damage of the attempt to compensate the victims.


There is a point about desert that Fred Feldman and Brad Skow get wrong in their SEP entry on desert. They distinguish between desert and entitlement (their terms; other terms would be ‘pre-institutional desert’ and ‘institutional desert’). There should be a threefold distinction here, not a twofold distinction.

If a convention or institution specifies that, if someone makes a certain mark, then they are to be rewarded or honored in a certain way, Feldman and Skow say there is entitlement, not desert (they want to reserve the term ‘desert’ for pre-institutional desert). However, it is both true that the winner of the footrace deserves (or is entitled to) the specified prize for winning and that the person who is fastest (but failed to win due to happenstance) deserves to have won. The former is institution-dependent in an obvious way, but so is the latter. Neither makes sense except relative to the conventions of a contest (and similarly for other conventions or institutions). We might call the first procedural or specified-reward institutional desert and the second substantive institutional desert with respect to what is meant to be (but might not always accurately be) measured by the making of the mark. (The basic point here is not original to me: Scanlon makes a version of this point in his 2013 article, “Giving Desert Its Due.”) Continue reading

Voting on Character Means Voting Republican

So here’s a case of character-based voting–not a particularly dramatic one, I’ll admit, but a case just the same, and evidence that character-based voting can, under the right circumstances, make perfect sense. 

I recently got my mail-in ballot for the upcoming general election. One of the offices on the ballot is that of Hunterdon County Clerk (for Hunterdon County, New Jersey). The Republicans are running incumbent Mary H. Melfi as their candidate; the Democrats aren’t running a candidate this time. Assuming that I vote in this election (as I plan to), I have three options:

  1. I could vote for Melfi.
  2. I could leave the relevant part of the ballot blank.
  3. I could write someone in besides Melfi, or write something in the relevant slot, whether or not it’s the name of a candidate, up to and including a ballot-spoiling piece of profanity.

As it happens, I’m a Democrat strongly opposed to the Republican Party in its current incarnation. In previous elections where a Republican was running unopposed by the Democrats (or I was, due to a bureaucratic glitch, forced to vote Republican in a primary), I’ve either left the ballot blank, or in some way voted against the Republicans by some ad hoc expedient–e.g., making use of the write-in option, and writing “Not X” with the Republicans’ name for “X,” or writing in “NOTA” (None of the Above) in rejection of everyone on the ballot. In general, I have no problem with taking a party-line stance on voting, whether for the Democrats or against the Republicans.

In this case, however, I’ve decided to vote for Melfi on grounds of character. So yes: voting on character means voting Republican, at least in this case.

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Back to School: Life in Palestine (1)

So how was your child’s first day of school? It’s always so traumatic, sending the little tykes off on their own, isn’t it? At least it didn’t involve tear gas and an altercation with the military.

Well, here, by contrast, is the first day of school for the Palestinian children of the (Palestinian) village of Tuk’u, in the West Bank, near Bethlehem. According to my sources, the school day began with an unprovoked incursion into town by the Israeli military, and descended from there into a tear gas fusillade, a chaotic detention of a few school children, and various other sorts of mayhem, only imperfectly captured in the video and stills below. I’ve spent time in this village, and villages like it, across five trips to the region, the most recent one in the summer of 2019, my last trip before the pandemic struck. Testimony from first-hand experience: the Israeli military invades villages like Tuk’u, Beit Ummar, Abu Dis, Sawahera, Surif, and Halhul essentially at will, going out of its way to target school-aged children, and imprisoning them indefinitely without charge. Better to instill the fear early than wait until they understand the need for it. That’s just what a military occupation is.

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9/11 + 20

This Saturday marks the twentieth anniversary of 9/11. To that end, I thought I’d haul out some of the more edifying things I’ve written over the years about, or of relevance to, 9/11. In doing this, I’m to some extent plagiarizing at least the form of Chris Sciabarra’s most recent blog post at his blog, summarizing the twenty annual posts he’s written about 9/11. But plagiarism in this case is intended more as a tribute than as mere theft. If you read one thing about 9/11, you should read Chris’s Post of Posts.

The old World Trade Center site, April 2017.
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New Blogger: Kevin Carson

Having welcomed a new blogger yesterday, I’d like to welcome yet another–Kevin Carson, who’s agreed to blog at Policy of Truth. I figured that PoT hadn’t gotten sufficiently left-wing and anarchist, so it was time to up the ante. Sectarian designations aside, I thought Kevin was just the guy to shake this place up a little. The twenty years he’s spent working in hospitals (and the insight he brings to the subject) also coheres nicely with PoT’s recent focus on issues in health care. That said, I’ve given Kevin carte blanche to write on whatever he wants, including re-publishing the posts he writes for other outlets, and/or serializing the various book/paper manuscripts he’s always working on.

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