Thursday, October 02, 2014

On Aiming for Moral Mediocrity

People seem to calibrate toward moral mediocrity. If we see, or are told, that many people violate a norm, that seems to increase the rate at which we ourselves violate the norm (e.g., Cialdini et al 2006; Keizer et al. 2011 [though see here]). Commit a good deed or think of yourself in a good light, and shortly thereafter you might be more likely to commit a bad deed, or less likely to commit another good deed, than you otherwise would have been ("moral self-licensing"; though see here). Susan Wolf tells us that people do not, and should not, aim to be moral saints. But maybe she understates the case: Not only do people not want to be saints, they don't even want to be particularly good.

If so, this might fit nicely with the psychology of genocide and war crimes: Yes, it was wrong, perpetrators often say in interviews after the fact. So (the audience wonders), if you knew it was wrong, why did you do it?! Answer: So many people were doing wrong and getting away with it; others would have done the same in the same situation. Interpretation: I was aiming at mediocrity and I hit the target!

How good do you want to be? Don't try to think about what you would have done in Auschwitz. I doubt most of us can know that. Some closer-to-home thought experiments:

Suppose you think that cheating on taxes is morally wrong, independent of compliance rates and whether one is caught. Suppose, now, that you learn that 20% of tax filers with capital gains income cheat on taxes by underreporting their gains, without being caught. You have capital gains you've been honestly reporting. Do you now feel like a sucker? Or do you proudly stand with the upright 80%? What if you learn that only 1% cheat? What if you learn that most people -- 70%, 95% -- cheat?

Or consider sacrificing luxuries so that you can give to charity, or spending two hours to give blood, or having a secret romantic affair, or cheating on a badly-proctored exam, or doing unpleasant duties at work. If the majority are reaping the benefits of immorality -- or if a non-trivial minority (say 20%) are -- do you join them? Do you want to be more charitable than average and more giving of your time than average and to carry more than the average load of group-supporting duties at work and to be more honest with your spouse and a better parent and a better citizen and and and...? Or is moral mediocrity, when you think about it, actually fine with you, the level to which you really aspire?

You might say: To be better than average in so many ways would be to be a moral saint of sorts -- maybe not even humanly possible. But I don't think that's true. I believe that I know some people who are, across a pretty wide range of dimensions, morally admirable (certainly not perfect). But I don't think many people aspire to be like them.

If this is correct, two further thoughts:

(1.) Maybe it's fine to aspire to moral mediocrity? I don't think most of us like to think ourselves as moral mediocrities. But when I think of all the demands the world puts on us, and all the opportunities to be better that we decline or don't even bother to try to see, I feel considerable sympathy for moral mediocrity. (To be clear: In some situations, such as the Holocaust, I think mediocrity is a moral catastrophe to be avoided even at high personal cost.)

(2.) Part of the idea of mediocrity is that the moral standards are relative to what one sees others doing. So if one wants to change one's calibration, or the calibration of others, one effective way might be to change what sorts of behavior receive attention. Some of the ancient wisdom traditions encourage us to think about positive exemplars -- Confucius, Jesus, Buddha, saints, heroes. Perhaps the more we think about those types of cases, keeping them salient, and because salient perhaps representative, the more we will be inclined to model ourselves after them. (Perhaps.) Conversely, perhaps the typical business ethics or research ethics class, which focuses on analyzing examples of corporate or scientific malfeasance, risks backfiring by creating the impression that the world is full of unpunished cheaters.

P.S.: I write this in the spirit of arguing with myself.

[See also: The Calibration View of Moral Reflection]

39 comments:

Christy Mag Uidhir said...

Not for nothing, but you can generate a similar argument for cultivating bad (mediocre) taste.

Rolf Degen said...

According to the latest research, you only need to announce that you are going to commit a good deed - and you are already more likely to commit a bad deed.

https://plus.google.com/101046916407340625977/posts/gzhk98bw89z

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for the link, Rolf -- that looks like a *very* interesting article, based on the abstract! Into the pile for a more careful look later.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Christy: I'm a big fan of having mediocre taste in wine in particular. I'd prefer to cultivate the good taste required for the heights of aesthetic pleasure for goods that are not too expensive to get in the highest quality. Like great writing and music. And Cali-Mexican food!

Angra Mainyu said...

Hi, Eric,

With regard to the studies about calibration, are they sure in the case of breaking laws (i.e., government-passed statutes, regulations, or whatever they're called) that a high percentage of people (or a high percentage of people in a certain social group, etc.) reject, the people who break them actually understand the situation (intuitively) as cheating?

I think there are plenty of cases in which people may not internalize laws as rules in a relevant sense, even if they are statutes.

For example:

1. If a regulation says that a street is one way, but everyone uses it as a two-way street, people may not see that behavior as cheating/rule-breaking. In fact, if someone tries to punish a regulation-breaker, most people may see that attempt as an immoral attempt to punish someone who is not doing anything wrong - and not cheating.

2. If a penal law from country A is meant to apply in the territory of country B banning some behavior, the statute in question would probably not be counted as a rule in the relevant sense by B's population, who will not see themselves as cheaters for not respecting the ban imposed by a foreign government.

3. In the case of trademarks or taxes, people sometimes protest on the streets when their counterfeit merchandise is confiscated and/or they're not allowed to continue selling some stuff (counterfeit or not) without paying taxes (e.g. (in Spanish) http://www.ambito.com/noticia.asp?id=619704 ; those cases are more or less common in some places)

It may be that the more frequently a law is broken, the greater (all other things equal) the number of people who do not see the law as a rule in a relevant sense, though also it probably depends on social groups, in other words on who breaks that law. For example, maybe 20% of the population of a country reject trademarks, but 99%+ or 100% of a subset of the population which is socially more or less homogeneous rejects them. Perhaps members of the latter group simply do not see trademark law as a rule in the relevant sense, whereas many or most members of the rest of the population of the country may well see those who break those laws as cheaters.

Of course, the above is not applicable to cases in which the agents say they knew their actions were wrong, like genocide or war crimes as you mention.

But there are plenty of behaviors that are not immoral except in some specific social contexts in which there is some kind of rule banning them (here, I'm not including in "behavior" all mental states of the person acting), plenty of cases in which people may disagree (maybe implicitly) on whether there is a rule of the relevant sort banning a behavior, and also cases in which a behavior is immoral without the need for a specific social rule banning it, but a number of people fail to see it as immoral when it's generally accepted in the social group or groups they see as relevant, etc.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Yes, good points, Angra. I'm pretty much inclined to agree, for that range of cases, though with one caveat: When you decide that a law is unjust and doesn't apply to you or your group, that *could* be a reasonable and justified opinion; but another possibility is that it is convenient post-hoc rationalization. Pretty hard to pull apart. One imperfect clue might be what well-informed, disinterested parties are inclined to think. I would be inclined to agree that there are important parts of intellectual property law, taxation, and municipal regulation are that oppressive and unjust, especially as applied to poor and disempowered groups.

Angra Mainyu said...

Eric,

I agree that people may well be mistaken in their assessment that a law is unjust - or even just that it's not immoral to break it; see below.

However, even if they're mistaken in their assessment that their behavior is not immoral, that is different from aiming at mediocrity.

Granted, in such cases they are guilty, and they should realize that, but still, they do not realize that, and as long as they believe their immoral behavior is not immoral, the fact that they engage in it does not support the view that they're aiming at moral mediocrity. They may actually be morally mediocre, but it seems to me they're not aiming for that. Instead, they have false moral beliefs.

That aside, and with respect to laws that are not internalized as rules, I wasn't thinking only of cases in which a law is deemed unjust. The counterfeit example was a case in which they deem the law unjust, but there are other cases, and some of them may require carefully considering whether people are aiming at moral mediocrity. Sorry if my post wasn't clear on that, but for example:

Let's say in country A there is a country-wide law that says that driving at more than 35 kph is not allowed on any street (avenues, highways, etc., aside; just regular streets), unless otherwise specified in some special cases.
But as it turns out, Alice observes that nearly all motorists in her city (say. city C, in country A) regularly go at speeds of up to 45 kph on the streets, including the police, government officials, etc., and no one complains or tries to enforce that law.
Then, Alice comes to believe that going at 45 kph (or somewhere between 35 and 45) is not cheating in her social context (i.e., in city C), and goes regularly at speeds of up to 45 kph, even if she recognizes it's illegal.
In other words, she sees driving at 45 kph as against the law, but not against the actual rules people live by, and does not believe it's wrong (or cheating) to drive at that speed.
But Alice does not consider the 35 kph law to be unjust - she just does not consider it a social rule in C.
In fact, when Alice travels to city D, she observes that people in D generally stick to the 35 kph limit. Then, she comes to believe that that's the social rule in D, sticks to the 35 kph limit too (as long as she's in D), and holds that if she or someone else were to drive at 45 kph in D, she would be breaking the rules/cheating (Alice might not be making such assessments consciously).

Is Alice aiming at moral mediocrity, by joining the cheaters in city C, instead of being a sucker?

I think she is not.

She does not believe she's cheating, or joining any cheaters, or doing anything immoral. Granted, it may be argued that Alice was behaving immorally in C too. It might be debated whether she is breaking an obligation to not undermine the rule of law, whether the speed in question is risky, etc. (we may assume the quality of the streets, traffic lights, vehicles, etc., is roughly the same in both cities to simplify).

But the issue I'm getting at is that regardless of whether she's right, she does not seem to be aiming at moral mediocrity.

My worry is that perhaps, sometimes the interpretation of some facts as supporting the theory that when there are more cheaters, people aim at moral mediocrity and cheat, may be failing to distinguish between cases in which people actually aim at moral mediocrity, and cases in which people see the behavior of others not as cheating, but as evidence that there is no such social rule (i.e., as evidence that the written law is not an actual social rule), and so they do not see themselves as behaving immorally and joining the cheaters (they don't see them as cheaters), but as behaving in a way that is consistent with the social rules, even if it breaks the written laws.

Scott Bakker said...

Imitation heuristics are incredibly powerful devices given how little information anyone has available for social decision-making. How much of this is simply a matter of 'playing it safe' (resource and sanction-wise) given information scarcity? It's not that anyone aims for 'moral mediocrity' so much as they are instinctively disposed to vanish into the crowd because evolution has trusted its wisdom over that of prophets and philosophers.

Callan S. said...

Angra,

Where did the social rule (for driving speed, to keep it simple) come from?

What keeps it at a fixed level? What judges it in regards to actual physical consequences, like, say, children run down?

We can't pretend intellect and that we use intellectual planning when no one follows the plan we actually come up with. Intellect doesn't matter in such a case - whatever invents that social rule is the thing that matters.

What sort of responsibility is it to give over to rules when you don't even know where they come from? Or when they'll change (or who they'll turn on)?

It seems utterly irresponsible to me. I'm not sure if this is exactly the same as Eric's moral mediocrity, but it is quite similar as that mediocre rating can slide up and down by the will of *unknown*. Particularly with his holocaust example, where the average behaviour nose dives (relative to a fixed benchmark).

Angra Mainyu said...

Callan,

The rule in the hypothetical scenario I described, like other social rules beyond basic moral rules, is the result of social interactions. I concede a precise speed limit unwritten social rule without a law is unlikely. On the other hand, rules about which direction a road goes, or roughly (not accurately) what speed to go, are more common. But that example was merely to illustrate an issue about motivation. Please pick one of the other examples I offered if you prefer.

Anyway, I would say monkeys, apes and humans regularly do follow rules, enforce them (e.g., get angry with cheaters), etc.
Some of those rules seem not to be socially variable (e.g., moral rules in humans), and others are variable social rules, sometimes based on a law, sometimes not - there are also moral rules regarding whether to follow social rules, etc.
Even though people sometimes know where some rules came from - e.g., some government passed a law, and generally people chose to follow it -, they still don't know where many other rules came from - like moral rules, or many other social rules -, but they follow and enforce them anyway - as did our primate ancestors before any of them even pondered where any rules came from.
That seems to be part of our evolved mental makeup, and without following and enforcing rules of unknown origin, moral behavior would be usually impossible in my assessment, since at least most people do not know where moral rules came from - and until recently at least, no one did.

With regard to pretending intellect and intellectual planning when no one follows the plan we come up with, I'm not sure what you're specifically referring to. Is the plan the law? (i.e., the statute?). That would be the plan some people come up with, but sometimes other people who did not come up with it assess that the plan those people made is not a social rule, etc. (e.g., there are laws on the books that are not enforced or accepted, etc.)
In any case, I do not think that, usually, such cases are examples in which people engage in or pretend to engage in "intellectual planning". In my example, I'm not saying that Alice consciously comes up with those conclusions. She might or might not, and in real cases, people usually do not do that consciously. They just seem believe that there is (or there isn't) such social rule. A written law usually is a cue to the presence of a social rule matching the law, but a defeasible one. If most of the social group ignores the written law, many people may well assess there is no social rule matching that particular law.

In any event, I'm not arguing that Alice is not morally mediocre. My point is that she's not aiming at moral mediocrity, regardless of whether she is morally mediocre. The same goes for the other examples I gave (e.g., patents, trademarks, copyright); the issue I'm trying to address is not whether those people are morally mediocre (as I say, in some cases they are), but whether they aim at being so - not even unconsciously in my view, as long as they don't believe their behavior is immoral.

As I mentioned, I think this is different from cases in which people know they're behaving immorally. When it comes to the issue of whether people aim at moral mediocrity, a key question is, in my view, whether they believe their behavior is immoral.

Callan S. said...

Angra,

If you can't write down the rule your following, in some way which can be physically measured ("be good" cannot be physically measured, so it doesn't count as writing down a rule), then you can't see what the heck you are doing! You have no idea, in such a case!

Sure you can say people have moral this and enforcing that. But if they can't write the rule down, then actually they have no idea what they are doing. It may as well be an epileptic fit (except for the purposes of...a thing that I'll be mysterious about for the time being)

That would be the plan some people come up with, but sometimes other people who did not come up with it assess that the plan those people made is not a social rule

If they can't write out the rule they want to have, then they aren't going through some intellectual process - they are just having a fit - essentially a tantrum at the current authority/parent telling them what to do.

With regard to pretending intellect and intellectual planning when no one follows the plan we come up with, I'm not sure what you're specifically referring to. Is the plan the law?

A plan for ones life! Else if no plan, what is guiding someones life!? Clearly not that person. Just a life like a shopping trolley rolling down a hill, rebounding back and forth.

I mean, no doubt you claim to be in control of your life, yet without a plan your hands are off the steering wheel, aren't they?

If someone knows what they're doing, you'd be able to write it down and cognize it and check, by measuring, whether you remain consistant to that plan.

If someone can't write down what they're doing, then they're out of their own control.

If you think enacting urges is being in control of oneself, well when is the next urge? And the next?

My point is that she's not aiming at moral mediocrity, regardless of whether she is morally mediocre.

In a way I agree - I think Eric is likely being too charitable in saying they try/intend to be morally mediocre. I'd say that in a fit and a tantrum, they just default to it. No plan, just an ecstatic. I think Eric is trying to get someone to own up to it as their intention, then to shift that intention. But in a way it's not their intent any more than when you breathed just then, it was your intent. Your breathing, for example, is just what you are - at defaut.

Though we can hold our breath. If we plan for it.

As I mentioned, I think this is different from cases in which people know they're behaving immorally. When it comes to the issue of whether people aim at moral mediocrity, a key question is, in my view, whether they believe their behavior is immoral.

Frankly I find this notion frightening, peaking in small sparks of terror here and there.

It strikes me as the perfect way for people to not account for their own actions, to take no ledger of their own sins (by whatever measure of the myriad of methods one might measure such. Like, no matter how zany some methods of measuring personal responsibility are, not even having a zany method!). Because if you just don't bother with a ledger, then you don't rememeber anything you did as immoral, thus you don't believe anything you did was immoral!

Further, it seems the best way to run a witchhunt to cull off anyone who does keep a ledger, with the witchhunt run by all the people who, no matter how many mass graves they presided over the filling of, or at lower scales no matter how many assaults (GBH or sexual) they enacted, never feeling their behaviour is immoral - while hunting down the few who would keep a ledger. Because the people with ledgers feel guilty - therefore they are guilty, while the murderer who filled a mass grave feels, sans any ledger, pristine and believes no immorality on their part. And they do spy the guilty one who doth know their own guilt. And they see them as the only guilty one.

But I do admire the evolutionary sleekness of moral anosognosia.

Angra Mainyu said...

Callan,

My worry is about the risk of counting cases in which people (correctly or not) do not believe their actions are immoral as cases in which they aim at moral mediocrity.

With regard to your claim that the notion I suggested is frightening, the notion you're attacking is not mine - you misunderstand what I said.
Again, I think when it comes to it comes to the issue of whether people aim at moral mediocrity - which is not the issue of whether they are morally mediocre -, a key question is, in my view, whether they believe their behavior is immoral.

In the context of my main point, the case in which people follow a social rule that is not on any books is not central. Instead, a situation in which people reckon that there is no social rule matching an existing law, given some evidence of social behavior they assess (consciously or not) trumps the prima-facie evidence for the existence of a social rule given by the existence of the law, is central.

For example: Alice observes that nearly everyone arounds her takes the train without a ticket, the police say nothing, etc., and based on that she reckons (not necessarily consciously, though in this case it might be conscious) that there is no social rule "pay the ticket", even if there is such a law or regulation on the books. So, she pays no ticket, and does not see herself or the others as cheaters, and does not believe she's behaving immorally. Even she's mistaken, she's not aiming at moral mediocrity.

As for following rules of unknown origin, as I mentioned that is part of our evolved mental makeup, and is required almost always for moral behavior. It also applies to social rules that aren't moral rules - even if there is a moral rule "follow the social rules, except in such-and-such situations".

An example is the rule to shake hands when you meet someone for the first time. That's a socially variable rule. In other places, it may be a kiss on the cheek, in others a bow, etc.
Also, people generally do not know where the handshake rule comes from, but generally abide by it, and that seems reasonable (and sometimes they enforce it, by making it clear they're offended if someone breaks it). Still, this is a side issue.

As for being able to write down the rules they follow, I'm not sure why you raise that issue, but most people historically did not know how to write, and our ancestors until recently in evolutionary time weren't even able to speak. But they followed plenty of rules, including species-wide and socially variable ones. That evolved mental machinery doesn't just go away when speech or writing begins. Humans continue to usually follow plenty of rules they can't write down, or articulate.

Still, when a person follows a moral rule or a variable social rule without consciously having thought about it, if asked they're more or less commonly able to give a rough account of the rule if they think about it, though how good the approximation is varies widely. They tend to overgeneralize. But this is not related to the matters I was trying to address.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

This looks like an interesting discussion -- no time to pitch in my own 2 cents right now. Soon, I hope! Trying to get up a new batch of sci-fi before Sam Scheffler gives his talk, etc.

Callan S. said...

Angra,

I understand you're saying "it's a matter of whether they aim at it"'.

But here's how it appears to me

A: One person actually aims at being morally mediocre and do action A, in regard to it.

B: One person does not aim at being morally mediocre, but they are morally mediocre, and do action A, in regard to it.

But they are both doing action A!!

It's like you're saying as long as your intent is somehow pure, it doesn't matter that you're doing A! No matter what A is or how much blood it involves! Where as you seem to be raising the idea that it also depends on whether you think what you're doing is immoral - in which case person A is in your account the immoral person (which is essentially to say, the bad person). That's the start of the witchhunt I refered to.

To me, A is the better person of the two. Person A is like the alchoholics anonymous participant who will admit 'I am an alchoholic'. Person B wont admit to what they are doing - they just sort of go with the flow and think because they went with the flow, their every action is fine. No matter the results of their own actions. Person A, for treating it as their intent to do action A, has a chance of ceasing to do action A. In a way I think Eric is showing a path to admitting 'I am an moral mediocritic' (which like the AA program, is required for change), but I might be absolutely wrong on that and he can shoot that down if he wants.

I get your argument - your argument is whether they aim at moral mediocrity is the thing to measure...not what they actually do when being morally mediocre and their own responsibility in regards to their own actions.

Your argument is that it's just about whether they intended to and whether they believe their own actions are immoral. Which basically, as I read it means if they don't want to believe they did anything wrong (as in not a case of not wanting to believe because of physical evidence, but not wanting to believe, based on no evidence at all - just the urge to not believe), then everyone else is supposed to think they didn't do anything wrong?

What is your argument on that? Is the idea that no one would ever want to believe they are innocent when they are actually guilty? Only innocent people want to believe they are innocent? No one else does? Only the people who have a flicker (or more) of feeling guilty are guilty?

That as long as you never intended to be morally mediocre and with it you end up doing action A it doesn't matter if with your own hands you do A, no matter what A is? In the example, has Alice been shown that she's going with the mediocre flow and also shown what actions she'll end up doing with her own hands as a result? If Alice buys a lottery ticket she expects to keep the winnings because SHE did that with her own hands. But if she goes with the mediocre flow, she doesn't have to account for actions which are hers as much as the lottery ticket buying was? Even if she'd been shown she's gone with the flow?

Angra Mainyu said...

Callan,

I'm in no way suggesting that as long as your intent is somehow pure, it does not matter from a moral perspective that you're doing A. In fact, my statements flatly deny that idea, given that if they are being morally mediocre, well that's that: so, it is morally relevant, it morally matters, etc. That's by the very concept of being morally mediocre.

Moreover, in my second post in the thread (for example), I explained I agree with Eric's point with regard to rejection of a law, and said that in those cases (i.e., the ones Eric brought up in his reply to my first post), they're guilty, their behavior is immoral, etc.; those were a subset of the cases under consideration, which include both cases in which their behavior is immoral, and cases in which it is not, as well as cases in which they reject a law because they deem it unjust, and cases in which they simply do not consider it to be a rule in their social group, etc.

Of course - tautologically - it matters from a moral perspective whether their behavior is immoral. On the other hand, when it comes to assessing the psychological hypothesis that holds that under such-and-such circumstances, people aim, at moral mediocrity, whether their behavior is actually immoral only might matter indirectly as evidence that they aim at moral mediocrity. However, if they mistakenly believe that they are not doing anything immoral, then they're not aiming at moral mediocrity by that behavior (in the sense of "aiming" used in this context). My worry is what I've been stating in this exchange, and earlier in my replies to Eric. It's a worry about the strength of the evidence in support of the hypothesis that people in such-and-such circumstances aim at moral mediocrity. I think people in some cases do that, but one should be careful not to conflate cases of actual aiming at moral mediocrity by doing X, and cases in which the person X'ing doesn't believe she'd doing anything wrong, regardless of whether she's doing something wrong.

I do hold that whether they aim at moral mediocrity is the thing to measure when one is assessing the hypothesis that under such-and-such circumstances, they aim at moral mediocrity. But that's just obvious: if you want to test a theory that holds that people do Y, then the thing to measure is to test whether they Y, regardless of whether it's immoral to Y. My worry is that the measurements were perhaps not being done properly. I wasn't moralizing, as I've been explaining throughout our exchange.

Also, and just to clarify, I wasn't talking about an "urge" not to believe. It's their assessment of the situation, which usually does not involve any feelings of urgency. If their assessment is mistaken, that's usually the result of negligence, without urges. But whether they feel in that fashion isn't the point, either. My point was about the way in which a theory was being tested.

As for some of your other points, they were not related to mine, either, but for the reasons I explained, I hod (because you raised the issues; it's again an unrelated matter), that it's not always or usually unreasonable to follow rules of unknown origin, and also that our capability to follow rules does not depend on an ability to write them down, or even to explain them in words, or even to speak - though some complex rules do require speech, of course.

All that said, I don't know what else to do to persuade you to drop the charges against me. I do not understand how you manage to link anything I said to ideas like the ones in your questions those. Still, I will address your questions below.

Angra Mainyu said...

Callan,

I will address some of your questions and charges:

"Your argument is that it's just about whether they intended to and whether they believe their own actions are immoral. Which basically, as I read it means if they don't want to believe they did anything wrong (as in not a case of not wanting to believe because of physical evidence, but not wanting to believe, based on no evidence at all - just the urge to not believe), then everyone else is supposed to think they didn't do anything wrong?"

No, it does not mean any of the sort. As I said, they may well be mistaken about whether their behavior is immoral, but of course there is no suggestion on my part that others are "supposed to" share their mistake.

"What is your argument on that?"

I wasn't making arguments related to that.

"Is the idea that no one would ever want to believe they are innocent when they are actually guilty?"
No, of course I do not believe that.
Often, people want to believe they're innocent even though they are guilty. And also often, people negligently hold false moral beliefs, and then behave immorally and believe they're not guilty, though that is not always because they want to believe they're innocent, but just because they hold false moral beliefs out of negligence. For example, they may have a religion even if they don't particularly want to have it. And they may behave immorally without realizing it, as commanded by their religion. Or whatever - there are plenty of examples.

"Only innocent people want to believe they are innocent?"
Of course I don't believe that. It's obviously false.

"No one else does?"
No, of course that is false. I don't understand why you keep raising charges like this.

"Only the people who have a flicker (or more) of feeling guilty are guilty?"
No, of course not. That's obviously false - and I realize it is, as one can tell from my earlier posts.

Callan S. said...

Angra,

My worry is that the measurements were perhaps not being done properly. I wasn't moralizing, as I've been explaining throughout our exchange.

I feel you are moralising. You seem to be trying to seperate the practice of moral mediocrity (MM) from personal responsibility. Ie, seperating the persons intention (which is to say, their responsibility) from the MM.

I'm trying to charitably get that maybe you're just trying to get the technical measurements right. But by doing so I think you're disrupting the morality (ie, the culture) involved. It's like being an anthropologist but in your attempt to get your measurements 'right', you go and contaminate the culture you were studying. If the culture you're studying relies on treating someone who had no intent toward MM as having an intent toward it (so as to achieve the other cultural artifact called 'personal responsibility'), then telling that culture they can't just treat enacting MM as also intending to enact MM - well, that's disrupting the culture being studied!

You can be technical, but then I'd think you have to be like the anthropologist and not attempt to alter the culture you are studying. Or you can feel people are missplaced in treating enaction of MM as intending to enact MM - but this is seeking to change the culture around you. Which is moralising!

Eric's made some posts before about ethicists who talk about the negative ethics of eating meat...then go order a hamburger. Raising the subject of how the 'ethics' were more just a technical matter to them, like reading off schematics rather than something cared about. So I assume Eric, in starting the subject, isn't just looking at the subject as a technical study, but indeed as a matter of moral concern (ie, as a person of a culture, dealing with the culture he is in)

HOWEVER, if he is not and the threads a purely schematic examination of general culture, then an observance of the technical difference between enacting MM and intending MM is a very apt one AND my big old emotive posts (and they were emotive and intentionally/conciously so) were off topic and would be goofishly so! I just didn't get the message on what approach to ethics it was - technical or as a person of that culture.

I feel the distinction you're making, if it's a technical observation, is damaging to culture. However, at a technical, schematic level the distinction is probably quite correct, Angra! Though I think it misses some key functionality that arises from the miss attribution of intent in the culture. Ie, it's a trick, but a useful trick.

I think I saw something on students who use scientific studies to get out of certain responsibilites - I'll have to go find it. But if I've been off topic, I apologise for going on and on, Angra - it's important stuff to me, but if it turns out to be off topic, then it was off topic. If that's the case, sorry about that :)

laura looch said...

I tend to think that most people's morality is gauged at what they MUST do to avoid "exile." If everyone is pushing the speed limit by going five miles per hour over, then clearly I am not going to be exiled for going six over. But as the numbers creep up, the risk grows.

So this gauge pegs us at mediocrity. We get little social benefit from being saints, or even good. If there isn't an internal desire for goodness for its own sake, then I think we fall back on this point of exile gauge. "Exile" can be imprisonment, fines, embarrassment, social disapprobation, loss of friendships, loss of career options,etc. THis is far more frightening to most than death itself. IMHO.

Angra Mainyu said...

Callan,

No, I don't seem to be trying to separate the "practice of moral mediocrity" from personal responsibility. I wouldn't call moral mediocrity a practice, but that aside, of course if the behavior is immoral, then it is. Also, the person's intentions are not the same as their responsibility.

Of course, I do separate the issue of whether the person is morally mediocre from the issue of whether the person aims at being morally mediocre, the same way I more generally separate the issue of whether a person is morally evil from the issue of whether a person aims at being morally evil. For that matter, I separate the question of whether the person is, say, a bad teacher, from whether a person aims at being a bad teacher - or a bad driver, or a bad engineer, or a bad anything.

But since those issues are different ones, it's proper to separate them. While that separation may not be relevant in some contexts, they surely are relevant in the context of testing a theory that holds that people have certain aims.

Now, you're saying that you're "trying to be charitable". I would say this: the exchange is on record, so you or others (if anyone is interested) can take a careful look and assess your degree of success at that.

As for the accusation that I'm "disrupting the morality (ie, the culture) involved.", actually the culture is not the same as the morality, but that aside, I reject the charge, on the basis of the record as well.

More specific charges:

"If the culture you're studying relies on treating someone who had no intent toward MM as having an intent toward it (so as to achieve the other cultural artifact called 'personal responsibility'), then telling that culture they can't just treat enacting MM as also intending to enact MM - well, that's disrupting the culture being studied!"

I'm not telling anything to a culture. I'm talking to a person, not to cultures.
I was talking, more precisely, to Eric. I was telling him about my worry, which I have been explained in detail in our exchange and even before that.

"You can be technical, but then I'd think you have to be like the anthropologist and not attempt to alter the culture you are studying. Or you can feel people are missplaced in treating enaction of MM as intending to enact MM - but this is seeking to change the culture around you. Which is moralising!"

A claim that people are "misplaced" would be moralizing in case "misplaced" is intended as a moral claim, which may well be the intent in your post. But I neither used the word "misplaced" nor claimed or suggested that Eric or any other philosophers were being immoral. I'm just not doing that.

As for Eric's intentions, sure, he may well be thinking about these issues as matters of moral concern - I would expect that - , but that is not the point. The point is that as long as one is testing a hypothesis that holds that people aim at Y, then there is a relevant difference between cases in which people aim at Y, and cases in which people Y, but without aiming at Y. In fact, even if there is no difference with regard to the morality or immorality of the the people Ying (a matter on which I made no comment), there remains a difference that is relevant to the hypothesis being tested.

That is theory testing, and it is so regardless of how much morally concerned one is. It's a matter of what the evidence in support of a hypothesis is. Otherwise, one may end up making unwarranted attributions of intention, and risks end up having a false theory, or at least attributing higher probability to a hypothesis than what is warranted by the evidence.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for the interesting continuing discussion, folks! I can't address all of the points raised, but

Angra: I agree with your point: "My worry is that perhaps, sometimes the interpretation of some facts as supporting the theory that when there are more cheaters, people aim at moral mediocrity and cheat, may be failing to distinguish between cases in which people actually aim at moral mediocrity, and cases in which people see the behavior of others not as cheating, but as evidence that there is no such social rule (i.e., as evidence that the written law is not an actual social rule), and so they do not see themselves as behaving immorally and joining the cheaters (they don't see them as cheaters), but as behaving in a way that is consistent with the social rules, even if it breaks the written laws." We need to interpret the evidence in light of that possibility, absolutely. I would hold that it doesn't *always* turn out that people are not aiming at mediocrity.

Scott: But maybe not the *moral* wisdom of crowds?

Callan: You write: "I think Eric is likely being too charitable in saying they try/intend to be morally mediocre. I'd say that in a fit and a tantrum, they just default to it. No plan, just an ecstatic. I think Eric is trying to get someone to own up to it as their intention, then to shift that intention." I don't think it needs to be a conscious intention -- just goal, perhaps invisible to them, revealed by their pattern of choices. I do agree with the general idea that there's a difference between aiming at moral mediocrity and happening to end up acting in a mediocre way because of false beliefs coupled with high aspirations, though I also worry that false moral beliefs are often noxiously self-serving or bigoted, which makes the issue more complex!

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Laura: That's an interesting way of framing it, in terms of "exile". I agree that exile-avoidance is going to tend to end of producing mediocrity. It might also help explain why we often only finally decide to do the good thing (which we knew all along was good) once a friend threatens to shame us for not doing it.

Callan S. said...

Angra,

Of course, I do separate the issue of whether the person is morally mediocre from the issue of whether the person aims at being morally mediocre, the same way I more generally separate the issue of whether a person is morally evil from the issue of whether a person aims at being morally evil. For that matter, I separate the question of whether the person is, say, a bad teacher, from whether a person aims at being a bad teacher - or a bad driver, or a bad engineer, or a bad anything.

To me that describes the problem in communication - it's largely morally okay to be a bad driver. It's largely morally okay to be a bad engineer. It's largely morally okay to be a bad teacher.

That's like being bad at chess - it's okay to be bad at chess, there's no moral problem there. Even if you intend to be bad at chess, there's no moral problem there. So treating the persons intentions in regard to chess as not being the same as their responsibility in such a case is apt in this case. They are seperate because the person has no responsibility in regard to the matter. Intent cannot be part of a responsibility that doesn't exist.

While the supporting examples of someone's intent not mattering are in regards to responsibility (because in the examples they have no responsibility, or largely don't have any responsibility), of course the argument that 'their intending to aim for MM or not is seperate from whether they are MM' makes sense. In as much as it uses a series of examples where there really isn't any responsibility for intent to be a part of.

As for Eric's intentions, sure, he may well be thinking about these issues as matters of moral concern - I would expect that - , but that is not the point. The point is that as long as one is testing a hypothesis that holds that people aim at Y, then there is a relevant difference between cases in which people aim at Y, and cases in which people Y, but without aiming at Y. In fact, even if there is no difference with regard to the morality or immorality of the the people Ying (a matter on which I made no comment), there remains a difference that is relevant to the hypothesis being tested.

I think that's a different hypothesis than the one he has proposed.

Even if a hypothesis treats two things as combined when they aren't, that's still the hypothesis. A new hypothesis that treats them as seperate is itself a seperate hypothesis.

But I don't like writing while being treated as granting no charity, so I leave the last responce to your choice and I'll acknowledge reading it and leave it at that.



Eric,

I don't think it needs to be a conscious intention -- just goal, perhaps invisible to them, revealed by their pattern of choices.

Well, in regard to the subjects raised, is it 'revealed', or are they inventing an intention they didn't have and claiming ownership? Indeed, being prompted to invent that, then to claim it?

I would like to say that it's revealed myself, as well! But people can go along in a dream, just about (and in some sleepwalking murder cases, very literally so!).

I do agree with the general idea that there's a difference between aiming at moral mediocrity and happening to end up acting in a mediocre way because of false beliefs coupled with high aspirations

Do you mean tricked into the pattern of MM? I agree that can be the case. But I think that's a matter of their intent being subverted by someone else, toward MM.

Callan S. said...

Laura,

Perhaps it's a matter of company - like, if everyone else is doing it, then they'd have to exile all of them. So they'd all be exiled together - thus it doesn't seem that big a deal to do it?

Angra Mainyu said...

Callan,

Whether it's okay to be bad a chess is not the point I'm getting at, but rather, "A is bad a chess" does not mean the same as "A aims at being bad at chess" - and also, possibly have a different referent.
Similarly, "A is a morally mediocre", and "A aims at being morally mediocre" have different meaning and actually (and thus possibly) a different referent.
The fact that it's tautologically not okay to be morally mediocre does not affect that point.

Also, even if one aims at reducing moral mediocrity, one should make the distinction I'm making, in order to increase our changes of success.
For example, let's say that both Mary and Tom aim at reducing moral mediocrity. Mary correctly assesses that people in group G1 aim at being morally mediocre, while people in G2 are morally mediocre without aiming at that, and due to a number of false moral beliefs.
Tom, on the other hand, beleives that all of those people aim at being morally mediocre.
All other things equal, Mary clearly has the better chance of success, since she does not have a false theory about the aims and the causes of the moral mediocrity of some of the people, and that probably will allow her to come up with a more effective approach to the problem.

As your not liking writing while "being treated as granting no charity", that is an implicit charge to which I would briefly reply that I don't like writing while being treated as in most of our exchange, though in this case, I prefer to reply than not to. Given that the exchange is on record, anyone interested can assess the respective merits of our positions on her own, so I'd rather leave it at that, though I will respond if I see further charges that might need to be addressed.

Callan S. said...

Mary doesn't seem to consider she could be wrong. Okay, I read you, Angra.

Jon Haidt said...

Eric, great post,
I agree with your reading of the psych literature. I think Glaucon got it right -- we are much more concerned about what people think about us than we are with actually being virtuous. That might become less true in close interpersonal relationships. But in the domains of business and politics, and among our acquaintances and strangers, I think Glaucon (and you) got us pegged.

Jon Haidt

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for the friendly comment, Jon. Interesting thought about close personal relationships. Presumably, we care even more about what our friends and family think of us than we care what strangers think of us (generally speaking), but there might also be more intrinsic interest in doing right by them, independent of what they think -- perhaps especially one's own children.

Angra Mainyu said...

Eric,

I agree with you that it doesn't *always* turn out that people are not aiming at mediocrity. It seems to me that sometimes - maybe often - people do that, though as a means to one or more ends in my view.
In other words, people aiming for moral mediocrity seem to have some goal - e.g., having more money, enjoying some things they would otherwise not have, even being more socially accepted - that they seem to value more than they value being morally better, in their given social context.

That aside, regarding the question "Maybe it's fine to aspire to moral mediocrity?", I'm not sure I understand it.

The word "fine" usually suggests a moral claim (i.e., morally permissible), but in this context I get the impression that it's not a moral claim, since it's surely not morally permissible to be morally mediocre, as long as moral mediocrity involves sometimes behaving immorally (as it seems to), rather than just not doing supererogatory actions (because it's not morally permissible to behave immorally).

Is that a question as to whether it's means-end rational given all of the agent's values, or something like that?

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Angra -- I agree with the first part of your comment. On whether "fine" is normative, what I mean there is something like "all things considered" fine. This probably only makes sense in this context if there can be summary evaluative claims that weigh moral and non-moral considerations against each other. Maybe you would disagree with that?

Angra Mainyu said...

Eric,

Thanks for the clarification.
I think an all-things-considered evaluative assessment is possible from the perspective of the values of an agent. That's like Street's view in the case of human agents, if I got it right (I'm not a constructivist with regard to morality, though; I'm undecided with regard to reasons), though in my case, I'm not sure humans are the right sort of agent (more below).
In this sense, an all-things-considered "should" would be the course of action that maximizes the expected value for the agent. So, it's a means-ends "should", but the ends are the overall ends of the agent. An all-things-considered "okay" might be interpreted as one of several courses of action of equal maximum expected value if there are several. Alternatively, an all-things-considered "okay" might be interpreted as any course of action of non-negative expected value for the agent.

As I mentioned above, though, I'm not sure humans are that sort of agent. Maybe human mind is too splintered for that ;), so to speak. For example, perhaps some part of Alice's brain values being morally good more than anything else, whereas another part values something else more, and there is no unified "Alice" perspetive from which to make the evaluation. Or maybe sometimes there is, and sometimes there isn't, depending on which parts of the brain are in conflict with which ones. I concede I don't know.

So, if that's the sort of thing you have in mind (at least, under one of the two possible interpretations of all-things-considered "okay" I suggested), I neither agree nor disagree with the view that there is such perspective - I'm undecided.

On the other hand, if the perspective you have in mind is supposed to be agent-independent, I don't think there is one - so I guess I would disagree in that case. I mean, I do think the moral perspective is agent-independent (in a way that I think is relevant here), but I don't think there is any agent-independent evaluative perspective that weighs moral and non-moral factors - or more precisely, not one generally used by humans and tracked by human language; I think other possible beings might have a different language and have such a perspective, or one can just artificially define one, but that's not the issue.

Or is what you have in mind different from any of the options above?

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for pressing me on this Angra! I'm inclined to think that I can make judgments about other people that weigh moral and non-moral factors -- though I'd be skeptical about attempts to render it formulaic. So, for example, I think driving 80 mph in a 65 mph zone is a little bit blameworthy because of the risk you are putting on other people in breaking the law. But you're in a hurry because you're late for the concert! I don't think this makes it morally non-blameworthy -- it's not really a sufficient moral excuse -- but there's some sense in which it might be okay anyway because I can understand, or forgive, or find reasonable, that particular weighting of moral vs. nonmoral concerns on your part.

Maybe that's one way to think of it. I find these terms a little squirrelly!

Or here's another way to think of it. I guess it's okay with me that the world has a lot of moral mediocrity in it. I'm kind of reconciled to seeing myself as mediocre, and so I think I kind of ought to be reconciled to mediocrity in other people too. I don't mean to be saying that lots of things are permissible and not at all morally blameworthy; but maybe I don't want to be too blaming even of some of the stuff that is worthy of blame.

Angra Mainyu said...

Eric,

Thanks for the reply.
I agree about the squirrelly terms!
I think they may have more than one usage, so I will try to clarify - and suggest a couple of tentative hypotheses:

Regarding the concert, I agree the behavior is immoral. I think there is a sense of "reasonable" which is a moral sense, and in that sense, it's tautologically not reasonable if it's immoral.
However, for all I know it may be that it's all-things-considered means-to-ends rational (ATCMER) for a person to behave immorally, given his values (i.e., given all of his preference structure, all of his evaluative attitudes, or however you prefer to put it).
If there is a sense of "reasonable" that picks ARCMER, then it may be reasonable in that sense. However, I don't know whether this is what you're getting at. Maybe some unusual agents can help figure out whether it is:

1. A ME-superintelligent AI kills all humans to make paperclips ATCMER.
2. A group of advanced aliens who evolved from predators (and are still predators, even if they no longer need to hunt for food) hunt humans for sport, also ATCMER.
3. A human psychopathic serial killer tortures and kills his victims for fun, also ATCMER (though there is the question of whether a human, even a psychopath, can have that preference structure).

Would you say that one or more of them are being reasonable? (assuming you think at least one is possible; if you think they're all impossible, please let me know).

On the other way to think about it, when you say maybe you don't want to be too blaming even of some of the stuff that is worthy of blame, I get the impression that there is ambiguity in "blame" too, since you're not counting your saying that a behavior is blameworthy as an instance of blaming, while I would.

On that note, that seems like the case of Sarah in Justin Coates's "On Moral Luck and Blame". I think Sarah morally ought not to blame him in the way she does, but it's not the case that she morally ought not to blame him simpliciter (I think Mark Young's alternative explanation there is right).
For example, she does nothing wrong by saying:
Sarah: "His behavior was immoral, because of the way it endangered random people. He deserves to be punish for that. I concede I'm no better - I did the same/tried to do the same several times, as you know -, but I do realize that his behavior - like mine in similar cases is morally unnacceptable, and his arrest is deserved. I deserved to be arrested too - I just got luckier."

I would count that as an instance of blaming him, but perhaps you wouldn't?
Still, regardless of how we use the word "blame", in that context, I offer two hypothesis about your "ought":

1. Morally, you ought to be reconciled with some behaviors, people, etc., in the sense that you ought not to blame them Sarah-style. So, it's a moral "ought".
2. It's an ATCMER "ought" (or perhaps a more limited - i.e., not ATC -, also agent-dependent ME "ought").

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Helpful thoughts, Angra! I'm undecided about alien moralities. (I have some thoughts, but not for right now.) Your version of the Sarah case seems closer to what I have in mind, if we can add that Sarah treats her own behavior symmetrically and condemns it morally but still chooses it because the non-moral reasons outweigh the moral ones (in her reasonable* opinion).

* No, I don't quite know how to articulate "reasonable" here -- the concert case is reasonable, but murdering for a lollipop is not. At least not by human standards (excluding alien cases).

Angra Mainyu said...

Eric,

Thanks for that reply - helpful also. The "reasonable" judgment is intriguing (to me, anyway). I'll take another stab at analyzing it (Granted, there may well be evaluative perspectives that are primitive and can't be analyzed in terms of other perspectives, so this might be one of those cases. However, I'm not sure how to grok your assessment of reasonableness here, and if the perspective were primitive any mildly competent English speaker would probably be able to grok it right away. So, that suggests (tentatively) that it's analyzable.).

On one hand, you assess some immoral behavior is reasonable. To me, that suggests "reasonable" isabout ME-rationality, given an agent's goal. But on the other hand, you say murdering people for a lollipop is not reasonable; I take it the same applies to murdering them for fun. T
hat suggests "reasonable" in this context is not about ME rationality, and in particular, not about ATCMER...unless you're implicitly challenging the ATCMER hypothesis?
In order to rule out that possibility, I would like to ask the following question:
Do you think it's possible that a human psychopath, given what he actually values, [means-ends] ought to torture and kill other people for fun, in order to maximize value for him? - or at least, that's one of the actions that maximizes value, given his own set of values? (even if there are other behaviors of equal expected value?
Or do you think that whenever a human being (even a psychopath) tortures and kills others for fun, he is behaving ATC irrationally, by his own lights (i.e., counting what he actually values, even if he is in some sort of denial)?
I ask because if you think it's always irrational even by his own lights - and given human psychology, even in the case of the twisted mind of a psychopath who nevertheless keeps many of the human mental traits - to torture and kill people for fun, then your reply would still be compatible with your "reasonable" being a case of ATCMER.

If that is not the case (i.e., if you agree the psychopath torturing, etc., can be ATCMER), then the sort of evaluation you're making by "reasonable" is not any I suggested, it seems.

There is another possibility: after further consideration, now I'm thinking there may be another agent-independent evaluative point of view tracked by human language, and which might apply in this context: illness and health.
More precisely, I said I don't think there is any agent-independent [in a relevant sense] evaluative perspective that weighs moral and non-moral factors, but on second thought, I'm not so sure.
One potential such perspective is aesthetics or some aspect of it, since it might be that moral factors play a role in whether some behavior is beautiful, and to some extent, aesthetics may be relevantly agent-independent. But you're not making aesthetic judgments, anyway, so this one doesn't apply.

Another potential such perspective would be that of illness and health. For example, a common medical definition of antisocial personality disorder includes moral factors - it's defined in terms of the rights of others. It may well be that the colloquial concept of illness also weighs moral factors (though, arguably, both morality and health/illness are weighing the same mental factor so they go together, rather than health/illness weighing moral factors, so the point is debatable I think).
Now, also arguably, all immoral behavior is an instance of a mental disorder (illness, failure, etc.) (e.g., "How can you do that? What's wrong with you?"), but the point is disputable, and in that case, perhaps your "reasonable" assessment might be a suggestion that a person with a healthy human mind may in some cases behave immorally - though the case of the psychopath is not one of those.

Angra Mainyu said...

Eric,

Thanks for that also helpful reply. I've been trying to post, but my posts don't seem to be getting through. Maybe it's a spam filter or something?

Angra Mainyu said...

Eric,

The following is part of a longer reply I sent earlier; I'm trying to post this shorter version as a test (i.e., to see if it gets through). If it works, I'll post the rest.

Your "reasonable" judgment is intriguing (to me, anyway). I'll take another stab at analyzing it, because even though I think there are evaluative perspectives that are primitive and can't be conceptually reduced to other perspectives (e.g., morality, health), if the "reasonable" assessment in this case were an instance of one of those, then any mildly competent English speaker would probably (but the assessment is defeasible) be able to grok it right away. But I'm not.

So, you assess some immoral behavior is reasonable. To me, that suggests "reasonable" is about ME-rationality, given an agent's goals. But on the other hand, you say murdering people for a lollipop is not reasonable; I take it the same applies to murdering them for fun.
That suggests "reasonable" in this context is not about ME rationality, and in particular, not about ATCMER...unless you're implicitly challenging the ATCMER hypothesis in the psychopath case?

In order to rule out that possibility, I would like to ask the following question:

Do you think it's possible that a human psychopath, given what he actually values, [means-ends] ought to torture and kill other people for fun, in order to maximize value for him? - or at least, that's one of the actions that maximizes value, given his own set of values? (even if there are other behaviors of equal expected value?

If you think it's always irrational for a human even by his own lights - and given human psychology, even in the case of the twisted mind of a psychopath who nevertheless keeps many of the human evaluative attitudes - to torture and kill people for fun, then your reply would still be compatible with your "reasonable" assessment being a case of ATCMER.

Else, the sort of evaluation you're making by "reasonable" is not among the ones I suggested, it seems (I have another hypothesis, in that case).

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Angra -- For the older posts, things are more likely to be flagged as spam, and I have to hand-approve even those that are not, which can get slow if I get behind on my email, as I did this past weekend. But I'm not seeing the longer post in the spam filter either. Sorry about that!

On the substance of your post, I would prefer to choose neither horn. It is not "reasonable", in my intended sense, for the psychopath to torture and murder for fun; but neither do I think it is irrational for him to do so "by his own lights". The problem is that "his lights" are not reasonable lights.

Similarly, I'd be inclined to say it's not reasonable to prefer one's own death to the scratching of one's finger, even if there is no strictly moral issue at stake. If the view can be sustained, I'd like to suggest that are ways of balancing things against each other that fail to be reasonable even if they aren't strictly contradictory to logic or decision theory.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Weird -- now I'm seeing the longer, earlier one. I've posted it. Angra, please feel free to email me directly also, if there's a post that's having trouble coming through.

The aesthetic and illness/health suggestions for blending the moral and the immoral are interesting. But I also think that they can be blended more directly, too. Why not?

I guess I want to hold onto the idea that morality has some weight to it that transcends the agent's desires and values but that moral does not trump or subsume all other values; and so there can be more or less reasonable compromises of the value of morality vs. other values.

Angra Mainyu said...

Eric,

Thanks for finding the post. There is no other post (I sent a couple of short ones, but the point I was trying to clarify is already clear, so they would be superfluous now).

As for the question of whether there are more direct ways of blending the moral and the immoral, I'm not sure I get what you're saying, but while I agree one can blend them in different ways, I'm not sure there is one already in use and that corresponds to some shared human intuition, and which is agent-independent.

More precisely, of course one can define a function f that gives some value (positive or negative) to any behavior. There are infinitely many such functions. One may define, say, "reasonable-2" as behavior that is non-negatively valued by f. However, that would not tell us anything interesting about us - one can define them in any way one chooses, as long as it's coherent.
Now, I think there are possible agents that have some functions/usages of words that would seem weird to us and who weigh things in any of those manners, but I'm not sure there is a colloquial usage of the term "reasonable" in English in which moral and non-moral matters are weighed, which is not among the usages I listed, which is agent-independent, and which not reducible to other terms without losing meaning.

Then again, the fact that you're using the word "reasonable" like that is evidence that there is one such usage. It's just that I do not recall seeing that before, but that might be because that usage of "reasonable" usually overlaps either moral or health/illness issues, so I didn't encounter it separate from them often enough to notice that a different usage was at play. I'll need to give the matter more thought.