January 21, 2016

Juicy Quote XIII

Filed under: Ethics,Juicy Quotes,Life — camcintosh @ 11:31 am

“An increase of pride diminishes gratitude. So doth sensuality, or the increase of sensual appetites; which coming more and more under the power and impression of sensible objects, tends by degrees to make the mind insensible to any thing else. Those appetites take up the whole soul; and, through habit and custom, the water is all drawn out of other channels in which it naturally flows, and is carried as it were into one channel … Genuine virtue prevents that increase of the habits of pride and sensuality, which tend to diminish the exercises of the useful and necessary principles of nature. And a principle of general benevolence softens and sweetens the mind, makes it more susceptible of the proper influence of the gentler natural instincts, directs every one into its proper channel, determines the exercise to the proper manner and measure, and guides all to the best purposes.”

—Jonathan Edwards, The Nature of True Virtue (University of Michigan Press, 1960), pp. 93, 97.

October 21, 2015

Pipe Sesh Post 1.0: Criminals in the Hands of an Angry Batman

Filed under: Ethics,Life,Pipe Sesh Post — camcintosh @ 12:34 am

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 12.32.48 AMFor as long as I can remember, I’ve been a Batman fan. One time—I must have been 4 or 5 years old—I entered a local Batman costume contest. Rumor had it that the real Batman would be there to determine the winner. It was a massive childhood disappointment. The moment I saw the “real” batman, I pegged him as a phony. He had nothing on Michael Keaton. I left angry at that charlatan and envious of another kid’s awesome utility belt.

Although Tim Burton’s Batman will always have a nostalgic place in my heart, Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins is as good as movies get. I like that they chose to emphasize the role of fear in the creation and maintenance of the Batman character. Batman is born out of Bruce Wayne’s fear of bats. He never quite loses the fear, but it becomes a healthy kind of fear, the kind that motivates action (Cf. Tom Morris on “The Purpose of Fear”). He uses this to create in criminals a different kind of fear, the kind that stifles and suppresses action.

But there is a certain tension inherent in that theme: it’s not obvious how to reconcile the concept of Batman as a fearsome character and the concept of Batman as a righteous character. A criminal can’t be deathly or desperately afraid of Batman if he knows Batman is not, as a matter of moral principle, an agent of death and mortal despair.

But do criminals need to know that Batman isn’t an agent of death and mortal despair? Perhaps not. All Batman needs to do is make them genuinely believe he is. Would such an act of deception be wrong? Again, perhaps not. Nazis forfeit their right to know the truth when they ask if you’re harboring Jews. Gotham’s criminals forfeit their right to know that Batman will not assume the divine role of taking a man’s life. And that’s a good, albeit terrifying, thing. The more a criminal fears Batman, the more deterred from criminal behavior he will be.

How much more should we fear the one who we know has the power of life and death in His hands, perfectly good though He is? But this is the healthy kind of fear—the kind that prompts action, or, in Biblical terms, is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 9:10). Wisdom is essentially action-oriented. A person is wise when he consistently knows and does the right thing. But a person becomes wise by first developing a healthy fear of a righteous judge, for such fear entails knowing something about the judge’s moral prescriptions, the consequences of failing to live up to them, and being motivated to act accordingly. And it is important to note that the life of wisdom begins with fear; it doesn’t dwell or end there. Eventually, love replaces fear as the motivation for obedience.

But the fool despises wisdom and, like Gotham’s criminal, dwells in the fear of the stifling kind, the fear of unknowing. They don’t know when or weather they’ll fall into the hands of an angry, righteous judge, but the prospect ought to cast a dark and terrifying shadow over their lives.

But amidst all these rejoicings Aslan himself quietly slipped away. And when the Kings and Queens noticed that he wasn’t there they said nothing about it. For Mr. Beaver had warned them, “He’ll be coming and going,” he had said. “One day you’ll see him and another you won’t. He doesn’t like being tied down—and of course he has other countries to attend to. It’s quite all Consummate Gentlemanright. He’ll often drop in. Only you mustn’t press him. He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.” –C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (Harper, 1994), p. 182.

Tonight’s reflection was brought to you by Ashton’s Consummate Gentleman. It has a robust and memorable flavor; it tastes a bit like how pine needles smell in the fall. Despite being a medium-bodied blend, one bowl was enough. The blend’s full description is on the label.

November 22, 2013

Morally Disappointing but Not Blameworthy Acts

Filed under: Ethics,Philosophy — camcintosh @ 3:59 pm

Are all morally disappointing acts morally blameworthy acts? By a “morally disappointing act,” I simply mean an act that justifies moral disappointment. So if you commit a morally disappointing act, I am justified in being morally disappointed in you. By a “morally blameworthy act,” I mean an act that either flouts or fails to fulfill a moral duty/obligation or expectation. I’m assuming that all blameworthy acts justify moral disappointment. But are there morally disappointing acts that are not blameworthy? Consider acts of cowardice. It seems to me that the following acts of cowardice are all morally disappointing, but only the last is not morally blameworthy.

1. You’re a soldier in an intense battle. Men are dropping to your left and right. You intentionally fall behind your comrades in the ranks to avoid getting shot. Your cowardly act is blameworthy. Why? For failing to perform your duty or obligation qua soldier.

2. The titanic is sinking, and you are in a lifeboat that’s already a little over maximum capacity. There’s a chance the boat could hold more, but you’re afraid. Just as you’re about to launch, another man begs to come aboard. You deny the man’s petitions and launch. Your cowardly act is blameworthy. But, arguably, not for failing to meet any duty or obligation (the boat was already over max capacity), but for failing to meet a moral expectation (the expectation to welcome him aboard given the chance that the boat could have held more). For an explanation of the category of moral expectations, see below the fold.

3. You get beat up really badly by a bully much larger and tougher than you. The next day you’re walking with me (your friend), and the same bully harasses me, but you do nothing. You are a coward for not sticking up for me. But are you blameworthy? Are you obligated or expected to stick up for me, such that, were you not to, you’d be blameworthy? Seems a bit much.

Let it be granted that you are not blameworthy for not sticking up for me (you did not flout or fail to meet any moral obligations or expectations). Nonetheless, it still seems that I’m justified in being morally disappointed in you. Why? Not sure. But if so, there are morally disappointing acts that are not morally blameworthy.

Here’s an argument against the conclusion I just reached. You are morally expected to not perform morally disappointing acts. So by performing a morally disappointing act, you fail to meet moral expectations. But if you fail to meet moral expectations, you are blameworthy. So, if you perform a morally disappointing act, you are blameworthy. Therefore there are no morally disappointing acts that are not blameworthy. Which position do you think is more intuitive? Can you think of better examples than the ones I sketched?

April 12, 2013

What Guns and Fetuses have in Common

Filed under: Ethics,Politics — camcintosh @ 11:53 pm

The following two propositions are prima facie inconsistent:

(1) A woman’s right to decide what shall happen to her person trumps the potential risk of someone being murdered
(2) The potential risk of someone being murdered trumps anyone’s right to decide that bearing arms is necessary for the protection of one’s person

One defense of their consistency might run as follows: a woman’s right to decide what shall happen to her person is a natural right. And natural rights should always trump mere legal rights when in conflict. And because “the potential risk of someone being murdered” in (2) expresses the natural right to life against potential risk, it has trump power over the right to bear arms, which is a mere legal right, an artifact of law. Thus, there is no inconsistency.

This defense will not work. If the right to life against potential risk is the natural right that gives trump power to “the potential risk of someone being murdered,” then it is a natural right a fetus enjoys, too.

“But!” it will be objected, “It’s not clear that the fetus enjoys that right precisely because it’s not clear that a fetus is a human person, and only human persons have natural rights.”

But this won’t do either, for four reasons. First, the point does not rest on whether the fetus is clearly a person or not; rather, it rests on the modest observation that it might be a person. The very possibility of the fetus’s being a person is what generates the potential risk. Again the point is parallel: it’s not clear whether someone will be murdered by virtue of the rightful possession of firearms among citizenry; it’s the potential risk of that happening that generates the trump. Second, it is clear that the fetus is at least a human, if not a human person. Third, it is false that only human persons, or even only humans, have natural rights. Non-human animals have natural rights, too. And there’s no morally relevant distinction that could be made between a human fetus and some non-human animal that would entail the latter has natural rights but the former doesn’t. Finally, it’s not clear that the right to bear arms is not an expression of a natural right (indeed, the very same one). It’s easy to imagine cases where one’s right to bear arms just amounts to, or is an exercise or defense of, the right to life against potential risk (or, more perspicuously, one’s right to decide what shall happen to one’s person). Suppose I live on the worst street of Detroit, and the chances of me getting raped, robbed, or murdered are high. Should I find myself confronted by any one of these dangers, having firearm protection just is a way of defending my right to life, or my right to decide what happens to my person.

So, (1) and (2) are at least prima facie inconsistent. Of course, that’s just a more modest way of saying they’re probably ultima facie inconsistent, too. But what guns and fetuses don’t have in common is media coverage.

March 15, 2013

Moral Buck Passing

Filed under: Ethics — camcintosh @ 2:19 pm

The topic is moral responsibility, how and whether culpability gets transferred though moral versus non-moral intermediaries.

Scenario 1: I tell an Italian friend of mine to do a dirty job for me. Suppose I know that there’s a probability of .5 he will carry out the job.
Scenario 2: I set in motion a fairly simple causal chain of events involving only non-moral intermediaries (e.g., rocks, pulleys, wheels, cue balls, etc.) that I know has a probability of .5 that it will get the dirty job done.

Am I any less culpable if the dirty job gets done in Scenario 2 than if it gets done in Scenario 1? Now some twists:

Scenario 3: I tell an Italian friend of mine to do a dirty job for me. Given his record, I know there’s a .9 probability that he will carry it out. But he’s busy, and so passes the job to the next best man, lowering the probability of the job being carried out to .7. This guy in turn passes the job to someone else, and so on for a while. In each case, the next person who receives the job is a little less reliable (or kinder) than the last, and the job finally lands on someone who has only a .1 probability of getting it done. (Suppose I know that the job will be passed on in this way, and that I know the final probability).
Scenario 4: I set in motion a fairly complex causal chain of events involving only non-moral intermediaries (e.g., rocks, pulleys, wheels, cue balls, etc.) that I know has a probability of .1 that it will get the dirty job done.

Am I any less culpable if the dirty job gets done in Scenario 4 than if it gets done in Scenario 3?

January 28, 2013

Is it Possible to Value Oneself?

Filed under: Epistemology,Ethics,Philosophy — camcintosh @ 2:19 pm

ThinkerWhat is the salient difference between valuing a particular book (say, as you read it or as it is in your possession) and valuing the idea of a book? One obvious answer is to say that in the former case, an actual object is valued, whereas in the latter case no actual object is valued. What is valued is merely the idea of an object; the value doesn’t attach to any particular object.

Can we say the same thing in the case of valuing a particular person (your spouse, say) and valuing yourself as a person? The former case is straightforward. But in the latter case, is it really you that you’re valuing, or is it the mere idea that you have of yourself? How else could you value yourself other than by first forming an idea or conception of yourself as an object to value? The self-conception stage seems to necessarily stand in between yourself and your valuing your self.

But can the value ever traverse that stage, penetrating through the idea of yourself back to your self? Can the value reach ‘behind’ the idea of the self to the self itself? If not, is valuing oneself impossible?

An Argument Against Divine Simplicity

Filed under: Ethics,Philosophical Theology,Philosophy of Religion — camcintosh @ 1:02 am

That in virtue of which something is valuable is organic unity, the unification—in more or less degrees of tightness—of a diversity of elements. When multiple things come together to form a coherent, structured, and harmonious whole, a necessary condition for value is met. For a defense of this view, see Genesis 1 and nearly the entire history of Western philosophy, from Plato to Robert Nozick. So, we have the following argument:

(1) If x is valuable, x is an organic unity. (P)
(2) God is valuable. (P)
(3) Therefore, God is an organic unity. (1, 2 EI)
(4) If God is omnino simplex, then God is not an organic unity. (P)
(5) Therefore, God is not omnino simplex. (3, 4 MT)

The main premise, clearly, is (1). The defender of divine simplicity could argue backwards, inferring from God’s simplicity that God is not an organic unity. But because God is valuable, we have here a counterexample to (1). In that case, it must be asked which is more reasonable to believe, (1) or

(6) God is omnino simplex. (P)

There are good arguments for both, but I’d throw in with (1). Maybe one could argue that (1) and (6) are in some way logically compatible. But I have my doubts.

December 7, 2011

The Virtue Paradox

Filed under: Ethics,Philosophy — camcintosh @ 11:30 pm

How could a slothful person ever become disciplined? Wouldn’t successfully resisting slothfulness require the virtue of discipline? It seems that many virtue-vice relationships presuppose this sort of paradoxical situation: resisting some vice requires possessing its opposing virtue. But if one already possesses the opposing virtue, did one really ever possess the vice? Maybe talk of degrees is necessary, or perhaps it is possible to possess some vice and its opposing virtue simultaneously.

October 9, 2011

‘Immoral Art’ is an Oxymoron

Filed under: Aesthetics,Ethics,Philosophical Theology — camcintosh @ 2:13 am

What are we doing when we do art? A simple but true answer, I think, is imitating God. How are we imitating God? We are imitating God as a creator.

We are imitating God’s creativity, but not just his creativity as such. We are imitating a special kind of creativity—a kind that is not just pragmatic, but has a deep aesthetic element to it as well.

Any act of God’s will be an expression of—or at least logically consistent with—his essential nature. God cannot bring about gratuitously immoral or logically impossible states of affairs because God’s nature delimits what is moral and logically possible. Hence, God’s creativity cannot be immoral.

But if what we’re doing when we do art is imitating God’s creativity, then we cannot be doing art when we do things that are immoral. Immoral art is an oxymoron. When one produces something that is immoral, it is not art. An artifact, no doubt. But not art (note: ‘bad’ is ambiguous. There could be a such thing as ‘bad’ art. My claim is only that there is no such thing as immoral art).

How does one know whether an alleged piece of art is immoral or not? It’s really hard to say. And our knowledge of such is fallible. I’m sure there are cases when one (or many) thinks a piece of art is immoral when it is not, and cases when one does not think a piece of ‘art’ is immoral when it is. But I take it that there is a truth of the matter, and this truth, moreover, could very well be context-sensitive.

August 24, 2010

Gratuitious Evils of the Worst Kind

Filed under: Ethics,Philosophy — camcintosh @ 4:20 pm

A while back I expressed the idea that sexual evils are, to my mind, the worst kind of evils. Here I will attempt to articulate why I think this is true, and why sexual evils are better examples of apparently gratuitous evils than the typical examples.

As I reflect on horrendous and gratuitous evils, it seems to me that the qualitatively worst kind of such evil has been completely ignored—sexual evils. There seems to be something altogether different, more perverse and twisted and fully saturated with pure moral wickedness about sexual evils than the ones normally discussed (e.g., forest-fire fawns, stray-bullets, accidentally backing-up over one’s own child, etc.). Here I have in mind sexual evils such as rape and child molestation, to say nothing of the varying degrees of perversity these acts can have. Why do I think sexual evils are better examples of apparently gratuitous evils than the typical examples? Gratuitous evils are usually characterized by their apparent quality and quantity. It’s not the apparent quantity of sexual evils that seems different. It’s the quality of the sin that increases apparent gratuitousness. Let me suggest at least three reasons.

First, sexual evils are exclusively moral evils. Moral evils are qualitatively worse than natural evils in that they involve personal offense, which conveys a responsibility and avoidableness on behalf of the offending party that natural evils do not. That moral evils can be traced to a responsible moral agent who could have refrained from so acting heightens the intuition of gratuitousness, whereas natural evils cannot obviously be seen as avoidable or as tracing to a responsible moral agent, though such is possible (e.g., it is possible that God or demons are responsible for both moral and natural evils, but this is not obvious or apparent). But both sexual evils and, say, murderous evils are exclusively moral evils. So what makes sexual evils worse than other moral evils, such as murderous ones? Consider the following two points.

Second, acts of sexual evils are qualitatively worse that other moral evils. Murderous evils fail to treat moral agents as valuable ends, but sexual evils fail to treat moral agents as valuable ends and mistreats them only as valuable means. I suggest that this is qualitatively worse. One might object that a murderer also treats a moral agent as a means to satisfying his desires and so is on par with sexual evils. But I think this is confused—a murderer’s victim is not valuable to the murderer insofar as they are dead; the victim is not valuable to the murderer at all. The murderer does not treat his victims as valuable means, but treats the act of murdering as a valuable means. Where x is a moral agent, perhaps the difference is between not valuing x as an end and disvaluing x. Disvaluing x includes not valuing x as a means in addition to treating x improperly (i.e., mistreating x). What’s more is that the disvaluing of x in cases of sexual evils is perverse. In the most extreme cases (that’s what we’re after), there is the shattering of an innocent and pure life for the sake of satisfying an utterly selfish and perverse carnal desire. This is not mere disvaluing, but perverse defilement or degradation.

Third, the consequences of sexual evils are qualitatively worse than other moral evils. While the consequences of both murderous evils and sexual evils are ‘forever’ in a sense, murderous evils involve a release of suffering whereas sexual evils offer no such release. They insidiously linger and continue to torture the victim long after the evil is perpetrated. Intense feelings of shame, worthlessness, and guilt created in victims of sexual evil forever mar the face of innocence. In other words, sexual evil is prolonged, undeserved torture. This torture is often mental, and as such is arguably worse than physical torture. Moreover, sexual evils often have the unfortunate consequence of being repeated by victims of sexual evils, and so, in a way, self-perpetuate.

I conclude that sexual evils are such that their quality and intensity greatly heightens apparent gratuitousness more than typical examples of apparently gratuitous evils. So the question remains—is God justified in permitting these kinds of evils? Couldn’t God have at least created humans in a way minimizes such evils, say, by creating men with less libido? Does the goodness of the gift of sexual pleasure righteously expressed outweigh or defeat the apparent gratuitousness of sexual evils?

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