Wednesday, December 2, 2009

10 Justification of moral judgements

A recent cartoon in a local newspaper depicted a man and a woman talking. The caption read, "Of course your mind is cleaner than mine, you change it more frequently."

I don't think you will have trouble guessing who was speaking and who was the object of the assertion. The cartoon speaks to a pervasive societal attitude-that one of the ways in which the sexes differ is in moral character.

Schopenhauer wrote, "The weakness of their reasoning faculty also explains why women show more sympathy for the unfortunate than men." More frequently, when differences between the sexes are claimed, women are portrayed as men's moral inferior. Check Freud, for instance.

For women, the moral problem arises from conflicting responsibilities rather than from competing rights and requires for its resolution contextual and inductive thinking rather than formal and abstract reasoning (Gilligan 1979).

I think it is good to mention the gender issue again, when we discuss justification of moral judgements, because this difference does not exist in philosophical discourse.

When you do a search on "justification of moral judgement" you get tons of hits, which refer for 99% to all kinds of psychological research on this subject.

A dominant perspective is in philosophy, psychology, and law centers on the idea that our moral judgments are the product of a conscious decision in which individuals move directly from conscious reasoning to moral verdict.

An alternative theoretical perspective holds that at least our moral judgments are the product of unconscious psychological processes, and thus, intuitive. A significant component of the intuitive perspective places a strong emphasis on the role of emotions.

An interesting parallel with the theories of ethics we have seen sofar, from realism to emotivism. Psychology and philosophy show a close relation here.

William K.Frankena, an American philosopher who lived from 1912 to 1994, presents an interesting philosophical view on the justification of moral judgements.

A judgement becomes a moral judgement by the point of view, that is taken, in giving reasons and facts to justify the judgement.

"What is the moral point of view? (..) Hume thought that the moral point of view was that of sympathy, and it seems to me he was on the right wavelength. (…) My own position, then, is that one is taking the moral point of view if and only if

(a) one is making normative judgments about actions, desires, dispositions, intentions, motives, persons, or traits of character;

(b) one is willing to universalize one’s judgments;

(c) one’s reasons for one’s judgments consist of facts about what the things judged do to the lives of sentient beings in terms of promoting or distributing nonmoral good and evil;

(d) when the judgment is about oneself or one’s own actions, one’s reasons include such facts about what one’s own actions and dispositions do to the lives of other sentient beings as such, if others are affected.

One has a morality or moral action-guide only if and insofar as one makes normative judgments from this point of view and is guided by them."
-quote end-

But why be moral? Why should we take part in the moral institution of life? Why should we adopt the moral point of view? This may mean we ask for a motivation or for a justification.

Motivation for taking a moral point of view is easily given. It can be a lot of things, from fear, self-interest to altruism.

Justification is an other chapter. First, why should society adopt such an institution as morality? Why should it foster such a system for the guidance of conduct in addition to convention, law, and prudence?

There is a clear answer to that. Without it we hardly could life a satisfactory life in groups. We would end up in a Hobbesian society or in some totalitarian society, ruled by brute force.

But every criminal might say :"This shows that society requires morality and even that it is to my advantage to have others adopt the moral way of life. But it does not show that I should adopt it, and certainly not that I should always act according to it. And it is no use arguing on moral grounds that I should. I want a nonmoral justification for thinking I should.”

The answer Frankena gives is, that, if you were to choose rationally, or in other words, freely, impartially, and in full knowledge of what it is like to live the various alternative ways of life, including the moral one, what would you choose?

The response "Why should I be rational?" is a bit odd, for asking for a justification implies already being rational, of course.

So Frankena concludes that what makes normative judgements moral judgements, is not the use of the words "good" or "right" in them, nor feelings that accompany such judgements, but the moral point of view you choose to give justifying reasons.

You find William K. Frankena: "Ethics", 1973, second edition at
Worth reading…

The Discussion

[13:21] herman Bergson: So much on this subject
[13:21] herman Bergson: The gender issue is crap indeed....
[13:22] Cailleach Shan: LOL many live by it though!
[13:22] herman Bergson: If you look at development psychologists like Erikson and Piaget for instance...
[13:22] herman Bergson: yes Cailleach..even worse...
[13:22] oola Neruda: schopenhaur's views on women are not not not rational... any of them...
[13:22] Repose Lionheart: agree
[13:23] herman Bergson: Those psychologists have developed a theory of stages of moral development..
[13:23] Cailleach Shan: The gender argument is getting a bit tired don't you think. It just gets in the way.
[13:23] herman Bergson: girls dont follow these stages exactly, so they are said to have a deviant development
[13:23] oola Neruda: schopenhaur would be a legit rationale for censorship
[13:23] Rodney Handrick: Deviant?
[13:23] Repose Lionheart: yes, like Freud's theory of psychosexual development
[13:24] Repose Lionheart: same thing
[13:24] Rodney Handrick: hmm...
[13:24] herman Bergson: deviant.....other word.... devious
[13:25] herman Bergson: Anyway...the difference between psychoology and a philosophical approach is that psychology tries to explain and philosophy asks for justification
[13:25] Gemma Cleanslate: interesting
[13:25] freereed Freenote: :)
[13:26] herman Bergson: Justificaiton is a logical and rational explanation of the why
[13:26] Gemma Cleanslate: well psychology usually asks for justification also i think
[13:26] Gemma Cleanslate: well perhaps more why
[13:26] herman Bergson: And Frankena focusses on the moral point of view you take
[13:26] Cailleach Shan: Re. your earlier question " herman Bergson: But why be moral? Why should we take part in the moral institution of life? Why should we adopt the moral point of view? This may mean we ask for a motivation or for a justification." I think countries without humane morality quickly descend into anarchy.
[13:27] herman Bergson: Yes Cailleach....that is the way Hobbes explained it: man would be w wolf for his fellow man in such a society
[13:28] freereed Freenote: freud: homini lupis... man is wolf to man...
[13:28] freereed Freenote: civilization and its discontents
[13:28] Cailleach Shan: So, does a focus on capitalism come into this category do you think.
[13:28] Gemma Cleanslate: lol i saw a play sunday in which 4 school boys wre reciting their lesson of why women were so important to stop that from happening
[13:29] herman Bergson: what should stop happening, Gemma?
[13:29] Repose Lionheart: homini lupis
[13:29] Gemma Cleanslate: men descending to their base instincts
[13:29] Gemma Cleanslate: yes
[13:29] herman Bergson: the full text is Homo homini lupus
[13:29] herman Bergson: is from Hobbes
[13:30] Gemma Cleanslate: ah
[13:30] Rodney Handrick: nothing wrong with basic instincts
[13:30] Repose Lionheart: ㋡
[13:30] herman Bergson: No...that is where the moral point of view comes in
[13:30] herman Bergson: when you justify your moral judgement..
[13:31] Rodney Handrick: this is true
[13:31] herman Bergson: There is a Kantian influence when Frankena asks for the possibility of universalizing your judgement
[13:31] Paula Dix: Herman, the "sympathy" that ethics is build upon is the hability to "feel" what others are feeling?
[13:31] herman Bergson: and other thing is that you should read Chapter 5 from Ethics, Frankena's book
[13:32] herman Bergson: yes Paula....Frankena develops that in chapter 5 much further
[13:32] Paula Dix: ok
[13:32] Paula Dix: makes sense for me :))
[13:32] herman Bergson: this sympathy are a whole list of aspects of our existence which are intrinsic good
[13:32] herman Bergson: Suppose that someone were to ask you whether it is good to help others in time of need. Unless you suspected some sort of trick, you would answer, “Yes, of course.”
[13:33] herman Bergson: If this person were to go on to ask you why acting in this way is good, you might say that it is good to help others in time of need simply because it is good that their needs be satisfied.
[13:33] herman Bergson: If you were then asked why it is good that people's needs be satisfied, you might be puzzled. You might be inclined to say, “It just is.”
[13:33] Gemma Cleanslate: but get a lawyer first
[13:33] Paula Dix: yes
[13:33] Cailleach Shan: It makes the giver feel good.
[13:33] Paula Dix: lol gemma
[13:33] Repose Lionheart: it is good to be good
[13:33] herman Bergson: And here he follows G.E. Moore
[13:33] Gemma Cleanslate: lol that is the thinking these days in the usa it seems
[13:34] Paula Dix: and there is the idea that when its your turn to be in trouble, others will help you
[13:34] herman Bergson: Intrinsic good things cant de defined
[13:34] Epicurus Zuidde: that's contract theory, isn't it?
[13:34] Repose Lionheart: maybe not, but that does not preclude their existing ㋡
[13:34] herman Bergson: I wouldnt say that....
[13:34] herman Bergson: it is closer to a kind of intuitionism still
[13:34] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:35] Epicurus Zuidde: sorry, that was directed to Paula.
[13:35] herman Bergson: dont be shocked...I'll show you that list of intrinsic good things according to Frankena
[13:35] herman Bergson: He doesnt claim that the list is complete
[13:35] herman Bergson: Life, consciousness, and activity
Health and strength
Pleasures and satisfactions of all or certain kinds
Happiness, beatitude, contentment, etc.
Knowledge and true opinion of various kinds, understanding, wisdom
Beauty, harmony, proportion in objects contemplated
Aesthetic experience
Morally good dispositions or virtues
Mutual affection, love, friendship, cooperation
Just distribution of goods and evils
Harmony and proportion in one's own life
Power and experiences of achievement
Peace, security
Adventure and novelty
Good reputation, honor, esteem, etc.
[13:36] Paula Dix: woudlnt that sympathy concept be explaining?? we help because if all are happy world will be better for us
[13:36] Gemma Cleanslate: whoa
[13:36] herman Bergson: A major concept in his theory is The good life...
[13:36] Repose Lionheart: whoa, indeed
[13:36] herman Bergson: It comes close to the Golden Rule too
[13:36] Rodney Handrick: wow...a lot to digest
[13:36] Repose Lionheart: oh..
[13:37] Paula Dix: Epicurus, i have no idea, whats contract theory?
[13:37] Gemma Cleanslate: will we be discussing more of him on thursday if we read??
[13:37] Epicurus Zuidde: Can a utilitarian just group those all together under "wellbeing"?
[13:37] Epicurus Zuidde: Paula, It's Hobbes and Locke's theories.
[13:37] herman Bergson: yes epicurus, they use that term indeed
[13:38] herman Bergson: and Rousseau too I would guess
[13:38] herman Bergson: Interesting here is that the contract theory presupposes that the good life emerges based on a kind of social contract
[13:38] Paula Dix: ah, got it
[13:39] herman Bergson: Where Frankena and others see 'The Good" Life", well-being, as an intrinsic quality of being
[13:39] herman Bergson: which is understood by our rationality
[13:39] Repose Lionheart: people didn't live good lives before the invention of contracts, loosely defined?
[13:39] Paula Dix: do you think they would write these ideas on some other way if they knew biology, genetics, like we do now?
[13:40] Repose Lionheart: good question
[13:40] Paula Dix: i mean, this idea of "contract" looks like this desire to form society, something animal on us
[13:40] herman Bergson: Frankena doesnt hold a contract theory
[13:41] herman Bergson: In fact he sees the good as an intrinsic value of being
[13:41] herman Bergson: all these things like freedom, happiness etc
[13:41] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:41] Paula Dix: ah, so animals wihtout this society urge also do good things... makes sense
[13:41] herman Bergson: I dont think that would be different because of knowledge of biology and genetics...
[13:42] herman Bergson: Well...chimps come very close to human psychology
[13:42] herman Bergson: but the big difference is that they cant make theuir world an object of abstract contemplation by the use of language
[13:43] Paula Dix: im thinking, a tiger wont kill for fun, its not the society that makes lions have some kind of good behavior, ethical behavior
[13:43] Paula Dix: a tiger being a solitary being
[13:43] Rodney Handrick: Are you sure about that Paula?
[13:43] Paula Dix: quite, as much as biologists friends are
[13:44] herman Bergson: There are animals that kill for no reason now and then....if the reason for doing so is normally getting food
[13:44] Paula Dix: yes, true, people do that also
[13:44] herman Bergson: yes, but a person can reflect on his actions....have a moral judgement about it
[13:44] Paula Dix: yes
[13:45] Paula Dix: b ut then, its not society that makes ethics emerge
[13:45] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:45] herman Bergson: And when you give certain reasons you get into that moral point of view, Frankena mentions
[13:45] Cailleach Shan: So Herman do you think it is possible for a human to be amoral?
[13:46] herman Bergson: Like you can make a normative judgement and reason from an aesthetic point of view
[13:46] Paula Dix: good question :)
[13:46] herman Bergson: no..I dont think so......
[13:46] herman Bergson: it is absolutely impossible to escape from the question "Why did I do that?"
[13:47] Paula Dix: even being raised away from other people, this person can think about his/her actions
[13:47] herman Bergson: However, you can heave a very selfish motivation.....
[13:47] herman Bergson: greed for instance....
[13:47] Cailleach Shan: So what does that do in terms of the death penalty. Do we judge another's lack of morality.
[13:47] herman Bergson: Bu tyou get into trouble when you have to give a justification
[13:48] herman Bergson: I think that you have to involve psychology here too, Cailleach
[13:49] herman Bergson: Our explanation of the criminal behavior is that he will do it time and stop to that
[13:49] Paula Dix: woudnt that have to do more with judging the person incapable of learning how not to kill others than moral positions?
[13:49] herman Bergson: so we remove a person out of society
[13:49] herman Bergson: yes Paula
[13:50] herman Bergson: Like Frankena presupposes rationality to be able to justify a moral judgement
[13:50] herman Bergson: Some people lack rationality
[13:50] Epicurus Zuidde: a lot of people lack rationality.
[13:50] Cailleach Shan: Where does the Golden Rule come into that?
[13:50] Paula Dix: lol most people!
[13:51] herman Bergson: No Epicurus, it sounds funny but I dont think so
[13:52] herman Bergson: Frankena even supposes that eventually when two people disagree on a judgement, one judgement will prevail becuase rational considerations will show who is making a mistake
[13:52] herman Bergson: He has a positive believe in mankind, I would say ㋡
[13:52] Paula Dix: lol
[13:53] Gemma Cleanslate: Will we be discussing him further on thursday??????????//
[13:53] Gemma Cleanslate: after we read
[13:53] herman Bergson: The golden rule is related to Frankena's demand that your moral judgement has to be universalizable
[13:53] Paula Dix: i guess its related to education... i see many people around here that only act upon what mother/father teached, cant change from that
[13:54] herman Bergson: Might be an interesting idea Gemma
[13:54] Paula Dix: where we can find Frankena to read??
[13:54] Cailleach Shan: mmmm... do you mean that our judgements must be based on 'We are One' ?
[13:54] Gemma Cleanslate: Herman put the link
[13:54] Paula Dix: i crashed
[13:54] Gemma Cleanslate: ahha
[13:54] herman Bergson: That we have a closer look at his "Ethics"
[13:55] herman Bergson: The book is on the Internet
[13:55] Gemma Cleanslate:
[13:55] Paula Dix: thanks!
[13:55] herman Bergson: yes...
[13:55] Abraxas Nagy: ty gemma
[13:55] Gemma Cleanslate: yw
[13:56] herman Bergson: I think chapter Five is a central part
[13:56] Gemma Cleanslate: ok
[13:56] herman Bergson: Ok....let's spend another lecture on this moral philosopher
[13:56] Repose Lionheart: good
[13:56] Gemma Cleanslate: sounds good to me
[13:56] herman Bergson: The book is from 1973, so rather modern
[13:57] Cailleach Shan: I hope I can be here. Very interesting.
[13:57] Rodney Handrick: 1973...that is recent
[13:57] Rodney Handrick: what's the name of the book again?
[13:57] herman Bergson: Ethics
[13:57] Rodney Handrick: thanks
[13:58] herman Bergson: The URL Gemma showed will bring you directly to it
[13:58] herman Bergson: Then I thank you for your participation ㋡
[13:58] Rodney Handrick: got it
[13:58] Gemma Cleanslate: ok see you all thursday i hope
[13:58] Cailleach Shan: Thanks Herman..
[13:58] Abraxas Nagy: thank you professor
[13:58] freereed Freenote: thank you :)
[13:59] Rodney Handrick: thanks Herman
[13:59] Repose Lionheart: Thank you, Professor
[13:59] herman Bergson: We'll continue on Thursday on this subject
[13:59] Gemma Cleanslate: maybe you could send that link in a notice for those who are coming Thursday and not here
[13:59] Abraxas Nagy: ah great
[13:59] Gemma Cleanslate: ty Herman
[13:59] herman Bergson: I will Gemma....good idea
[14:00] herman Bergson: I'll do it right away
[14:00] Abraxas Nagy: see you all al next time :D
[14:00] Cailleach Shan: By everyone. Good session Herman.
[14:00] herman Bergson: Be well Abraxas ㋡
[14:00] herman Bergson: Thx Cailleach
[14:00] Abraxas Nagy: ty herman and tc
[14:01] Paula Dix: perfect
[14:01] Paula Dix: copied the book... will try to read all
[14:01] Paula Dix: we will talk about it next class??
[14:01] oola Neruda: ahhhh back to real
[14:01] oola Neruda: be well all
[14:01] herman Bergson: yes we will Paula
[14:01] Paula Dix: lol
[14:01] herman Bergson: Bye oola ㋡
[14:01] Paula Dix: ok, so chapt 5 will be first :)))
[14:02] herman Bergson: ok Paula ㋡
[14:03] Paula Dix: i have also to read the previous classes i missed!
[14:03] herman Bergson: a lot of work to do then ㋡
[14:03] Paula Dix: yes :)
[14:04] herman Bergson: ok
[14:04] Paula Dix: going home to read then! bye!
[14:04] herman Bergson: bye Paula ㋡
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