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Re: [evol-psych] The Moral Animal

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  • Steven D'Aprano
    ... I do not know the details of this case, so I cannot possibly judge to what extent the killer or killers are culpable. But it seems to me that there is an
    Message 1 of 34 , Jan 31, 2003
      On Fri, 31 Jan 2003 08:19, Hill, David wrote:

      > Let me consider one clear mistake that
      > Wright makes, a mistake typical of moralists of his kind. He writes,
      > "Once you see the forces that govern behavior, it's harder to blame
      > the behaver." (The Moral Animal, p. 348) This is often taken for a
      > truism, but is in fact plainly false. My brother was murdered some
      > years ago, and not surprisingly I took an interest in his killers. I
      > learned something about their motives, which were in fact easy enough
      > to understand. The more I knew of them, the more culpable they
      > appeared. I do not doubt that their actions can be interpreted as a
      > complex of hereditary factors and environmental influences. The
      > killer was predisposed to violence (had been all her life). She was
      > a bomb waiting to go off, and it may be that this disposition had
      > genetic causes. This did not make her appear less culpable. It
      > explained and illuminated her culpability.

      I do not know the details of this case, so I cannot possibly judge to
      what extent the killer or killers are culpable. But it seems to me that
      there is an essential contradiction being shown here.

      If the killer truly was "a bomb waiting to go off", then it what sense
      did she have a choice in committing murder or not? Bombs do not have
      free will, and when they go off, we don't blame the bomb, we blame the

      David would have it that the killer was simultaneously a dangerous
      killer who was CERTAIN to kill sooner or later, and also a free agent
      who could choose whether or not to commit murder. This is not unique to
      David: the phrase "a bomb waiting to go off" is a cliche, and even when
      it is not used, people often go to great lengths to portray the killer
      as being beyond redemption, beyond any possibility of reform, incapable
      of choosing to not kill. But at the same time, they want the killer to
      take moral responsibility for committing murder. (Murder requires
      conscious choice: earthquakes and sharks and the HIV virus do not
      murder, although they frequently kill.)

      Responsibility in a moral sense is different from responsibility in the
      sense of cause and effect. If I truly have no choice in the matter,
      then while I may have casual responsibility for my acts (after all, I
      did do them) I may not have moral resposibility, since I cannot NOT do

      (The question of how to treat these people is a seperate issue.)

      Steven D'Aprano
    • Jeremy Bowman
      ... --Trial and error (with feedback , correction, etc.) is a very effective method of arriving at facts such as: 30 ppsi optimises grip over the most
      Message 34 of 34 , Feb 6, 2003
        George Parrish wrote:

        > How is the tire pressure ought
        > determined? Experience with whatever
        > the tire pressure is influences the ought
        > by feedback. Echoes of ought and is
        > eventually converge at an appropriate
        > point. Understanding how that happens
        > is similar to understanding which came
        > first, the chicken or the egg.

        --Trial and error (with "feedback", correction, etc.) is a very effective
        method of arriving at facts such as: "30 ppsi optimises grip over the most
        typical range of road surfaces".

        Armed with this fact, PLUS some other assumptions that usually "go without
        saying", we would normally resolve to keep the tyres at a pressure of
        30ppsi. We might express our resolve by saying: "The tyres ought to be kept
        at a pressure of 30 ppsi".

        What are those other assumptions that normally "go without saying"? Spelled
        out explicitly, the whole "argument" might go something like this:

        1. The car runs best when the tyres are kept at a pressure of 30ppsi
        2. We want the car to run at its best
        3. We ought to do whatever helps achieve what we want
        Therefore, we ought to keep the tyres at 30 ppsi

        This "argument" just spells out in detail what is already blindingly
        obvious -- its only real virtue is that it makes things EXPLICIT:

        Premise 1 expresses an empirical fact about the car and the typical road,
        discovered by trial and error ("feedback", etc.) as above. (If the roads or
        the car were different, then 1 would be false.)

        Premise 2 expresses a psychological fact. (If we were trying to sabotage
        the car, then 2 would be false.)

        Premise 3 expresses what we might call the basic "ought" of practical
        reason. (But there are various other kinds of "ought" -- if our interests
        were not practical but moral, or aesthetic, or prudential, or
        self-destructive, or whatever, then we wouldn't accept 3.)

        Each of the premises 1-3 is ESSENTIAL. 1 and 2 are "is"s in that they
        describe facts. But 3 is an "ought", and the conclusion RELIES on it.
        Hume's complaint was that in the context of moral reasoning, too many
        writers blithely skip to an "ought" conclusion without acknowledging their
        reliance on a prior "ought" -- (the equivalent of premise 3 above). This is
        very important, because in moral reasoning the prior "ought" is a basic
        moral principle.

        No one disagrees about the basic "ought" of practical reason above, but we
        certainly do disagree about moral principles. People are prepared to kill,
        and sometimes even to die, over moral issues. It is gross negligence,
        intellectually, to fail to acknowledge the basic moral principle(s) one's
        "ought"s rely on. At best, it is deception of self and others.

        Jeremy Bowman

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