the advantages of sodomy over orthogenitalism

Methinks the homophiles are protesting too much by resolving to ignore the obvious charitable reading of Justice Scalia’s insistence on submitting law to moral scrutiny. Consider that their most compelling current jurisprudence calls for equal protection of homosexuals as distinguished by immutable characteristics of their sexual preferences. Suppose that tomorrow, psychiatrists declare the preferences of coprophagia, apotemnophilia, or kleptomania to be equally immutable. Would it be reasonable to demand that restaurants served excrements on par with conventional nutrients; that surgeons be compelled to amputate healthy limbs on their owners’ demand; or that bankers and shopkeepers surrendered their stock to anyone organically beholden to the advantages of theft over honest toil? Might it not make more sense to submit equal protection to moral judgments? Anyone who thinks this far-fetched is welcome to contemplate the immutability of schizophrenia as grounds for mandating equal treatment for its patients.

liberal heroics

From: larvatus
Date: December 9th, 2012 12:27 pm (local)
I deny both the premiss, that liberal societies attribute an equal and unexchangeable value to each person, and the conclusion, that the figure of a hero is categorically improper therein. The former is belied by utilitarian reasoning that undergirds every public policy in modern democracies. As to the latter, we live in a country that made a secular saint of MLK after elevating Ike to its highest elected office. More recent examples can be found here.

From: aptsvet
Date: December 9th, 2012 12:43 pm (local)
The problem actually is more complicated than that. One has to defend a deontological position in a world of limited resources. So whether one wishes it or not, one has to recourse to utilitarian methods. Which does not change the validity of the principle. Even morals is not a suicide pact. Perhaps I will make an additional argument in my next essay.
As to the hero worship, examples do not matter, they are simply a way of pandering — could you direct me to a theoretical work? We live in a society subscribing to liberal principles, it does not mean we live in a liberal society.

From: larvatus
Date: December 9th, 2012 04:21 pm (local)
There is no duty to be a deontologist. Aristotelian virtue ethics is but one viable alternative that leaves plenty of room for heroics of all sorts in a society of your choosing. For Hellenic theory of our common ancestry, you might look into the Bernards: Knox and Williams. Likewise religious ethics, both within and without the Abrahamic lineage. On the moral importance of examples, please see Kant’s kasuistische Fragen.

From: aptsvet
Date: December 10th, 2012 07:13 am (local)
Actually, I do feel a duty to be a deontologist, it does not work any other way. At least where interpersonal relations are concerned. And I don’t believe one can treat ethics as a menu: utility today, virtue tomorrow.
Re heroes: personal moral example is something else; traditionally hero is somebody defending strictly parochial values, hardly compatible with the universalist aspirations of ethics.

From: larvatus
Date: December 10th, 2012 07:39 am (local)
I think some positions of social responsibility morally require a shift in deliberative criteria. The interrogator in charge of a “ticking bomb” scenario would fail his fellow citizens if he were to forgo otherwise blameworthy means of extracting information about defusing it from the terrorist in his custody. This is an instance of the common law doctrine of necessity that depending on circumstances can excuse acts both unlawful and immoral under normal conditions.
The notion that “strictly parochial values” are incompatible with the universalist aspirations of ethics highlights the necessity of Kantian casuistry. Thus: “Vedete come muore un italiano!” Generally speaking, a broad range of preferential treatments for members of one’s tribe, family, nation, or confession can readily pass the law of nature criterion. In this context, Bernard Williams took issue with the impersonal nature of moral systems. According to him, the idea of fairness and impartiality must have a limit, and in justifying one’s partiality in terms of impartial principles, one is in a sense removing the justification one already has — ‘she is my wife’. To specify some principle as to why and when is is permissible to show such partiality is to undermine the reality of oneself as a related and so moral being.

From: aptsvet
Date: December 10th, 2012 08:14 am (local)
On the “ticking bomb” issue: I find Nagel’s argument (in Mortal Questions) more convincing. Whoever tortures another human being and for whatever reason, should not pretend that he acts morally — even though the state ordering such a treatment may have used the best utilitarian logic.
On the second issue I would not dispute your point, I simply would like to emphasize again the term “strictly”. “She is my wife” is a passable argument; “she is my wife and perish the world” isn’t. Samson slaughtering the Philistines with an ass’s mandible doesn’t take their interests into account altogether.

From: larvatus
Date: December 10th, 2012 08:46 am (local)
As Saul Kripke might have retorted, whoever tortures another human being for reasons of necessity is acting schmorally. It bears notice that Kant interpreted “fiat iustitia, pereat mundus” as “es herrsche Gerechtigkeit, die Schelme in der Welt mögen auch insgesamt darüber zu Grunde gehen” [let justice reign even if it wipes out all the villains in the world]. Along these lines, slaughtering the Philistines in a just war serves their best legitimate interests in the best possible way.

dead from the waist down

Joel Marks is concerned with the sort of desire that we would want if we were absolutely convinced that there was no such thing as moral right and wrong. He thinks that the most likely form of this desire unbridled by moral scruple would be pretty much the same as what we want now. Considering just one dimension of desire, Jim Harrison’s observation serves as a fitting complement to this surmise: “they say a hard dick has no conscience, but a scholar’s dick is a shy item full of question marks, guilt, ironies.” Mr Marks’ conscientious cock must fall well short of unschooled tumescence. For my part, the man claiming that none of his sexual urges are held in check by morality is a rapist, a eunuch, or a liar. And likewise for the remaining six deadly sins.

no respect

Kwame Anthony Appiah derives his honor code from a universal right to respect wherein he presupposes all normal human beings to vest:

Some people think only hierarchical forms of the right to respect should be called “honor.” There’s a reason for this, beyond the insistence of a committed defender of social hierarchy like Edmund Burke: many of the most noticeable forms of honor from the Iliad to the Pashtunwali are, indeed, hierarchical. The issue here is not just a matter of a terminological stipulation, though: I think that much is to be gained by thinking about hierarchical and non-hierarchical codes that assign the right to respect together. The argument for that view is this book.
    What is democratic about our current culture, then, is that we now presuppose all normal human beings, not just those who are especially elevated, to be entitled to respect. But granting everyone recognition respect is perfectly consistent with granting greater appraisal respect to some than to others, because these are different forms of respect. From now, I’ll reserve the term dignity for one species of honor, namely, the right to recognition respect. So now we can say: Honoring some especially is consistent with recognizing the dignity of everyone else. Such dignity does not require the comparative forms of appraisal that go with more competitive forms of honor. It’s not something you earn, and the appropriate response to your dignity is not pride so much as self-respect; after all, if your humanity entitles you to respect, then it entitles you to respect even from yourself!

—Kwame Anthony Appiah, The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen, W.W. Norton & Company, 2010, p. 130

A fundamental problem with this approach to honor stems from the fact that honoring rational beings entails a recognition of their beliefs about God and life, right and wrong, good and bad. In our current democratic culture, this recognition involves an accommodation of what John Rawls calls the citizen’s comprehensive moral doctrine. One such doctrine subsumes the Christian articles of faith spelled out by Paul of Tarsus in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, which counts homosexuals amongst the unrighteous (adikoi), debarred from inheriting the Kingdom of God. Elsewhere Appiah boasts of having reconciled with his homosexuality as a Christian before he eventually stopped being a Christian. But a Pauline Christian needs must discount this reconciliation of an arsenokoites with the Christian doctrine, as proceeding pursuant to a honor code of a congenital contortionist. Notably, Appiah makes an effort to acknowledge some congenital attributes as “relevant bases for partiality”, while altogether disclaiming their suitability as grounds for moral and social superiority:

The struggle to break the tight connection between honor and birth is nearly as old as the connection itself. Recall Horace—son of a freed slave—addressing Maecenas, the richest and noblest of the private patrons of the arts in Augustan Rome, some two millennia ago. Maecenas “says it’s no matter who your parents are, so long as you’re worthy,” but Horace complains that most Romans take the opposite view.6[6. Horace, Sermones, I.6, II.7-8.] Anyone who offers himself for public office, the poet grumbles, gets asked “from what father he may be descended, whether he is dishonorable because of the obscurity of his mother.”7[7. Ibid., II.34-37.] This is the feature of the old system of honor that we have rejected, as we have grown suspicious of the idea that some people deserve better (or worse) treatment on account of identities they did not choose. Social status—class, if you like—should grant you no moral rights, people think; nor should your race or gender or sexual orientation.8[8. Ascriptive identities to which one is assigned by birth, such as family membership, can, I should insist, be relevant bases for partiality. You are entitled (indeed, sometimes required) to treat A better than B solely because A is your sister and B is unrelated to you. But recognizing something as a form of partiality is recognizing that there is nothing intrinsically superior about those to whom one is partial: if there were, one’s reasons for favoring them could be impartial. See Appiah, The Ethics of Identity, Chapter 6.]

Op. cit., pp. 185, 245

For the purposes of Appiah’s argument, his moral gerrymandering is impotent in its extravagance. It is extravagant because rejecting the old system of honor based on the idea that some people deserve better (or worse) treatment on account of identities they did not choose, would leave our society with no means of legitimately honoring the fast runner or the brilliant mathematician. It is impotent in virtue of leaving room for the Christian pastoral policy of requiring that “homosexuals must certainly be treated with understanding and sustained in the hope of overcoming their personal difficulties and their inability to fit into society”, while asserting “the fact that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered and can in no case be approved of”. And notwithstanding Appiah’s insistence on “granting everyone recognition respect” irrespectively of their sexual orientation, no such granting can take place between himself and and his fellow citizens of the Pauline Christian persuasion. Within the liberal bounds of Rawlsian reasonable pluralism, these latter cannot advocate the use of coercive political power to impose conformity with their views upon non-believers. But they have every right, not only to withhold respect from their fellow citizens whom they find morally wanting, but also to subject them to public displays of contempt.
    To those who object to the incorporation of religion into the range of doctrines subject to recognition by a democratic culture, let it be pointed out that moral objections to homosexual behavior can be and have been made on rational secular grounds, from Plato and Aristotle, to Immanuel Kant and Jean-Paul Sartre. And to those who would carve out sexual orientation from the purview of moral discourse capable of grounding human entitlements to respect, let it be pointed out that secular objections of comparable gravity attach, within comprehensive moral doctrines recognized as legitimate by our democratic society, to a spectrum of divisive issues ranging from abortion to welfare. While a democratic society may warrant the security of abortionists and welfare recipients, it cannot ensure their freedom from disparagement by reasonable citizens whose moral views equate welfare with theft and abortion with murder. That is why any reasonable pluralistic society whose citizens uniformly presuppose all normal human beings to be entitled to respect, is bound to harbor no end of disagreement on the scope of this presupposition, depending on the disparate construals of normalcy within its citizens’ comprehensive moral doctrines. In short, no democratic entitlement to respect can emerge from the mere fact of humanity. Democracy is the right to shame and shun the unrighteous through faith and reason.

Crossposted to [info]larvatus and [info]philosophy.

the good thief


Gerald Blanchard; pencil on paper; by Charles Sabba Jr.

Blanchard’s full participation came under consideration when he pled guilty to 16 charges on November 7, 2007. He agreed to sell his four condos and pay restitution to the Canadian government. And he was willing to take a longer sentence for himself in exchange for leniency toward his coaccused, whom he refused to testify against. None of his partners served jail time.

—Joshuah Bearman, “Art of the Steal: On the Trail of World’s Most Ingenious Thief”, Wired, 22 March 2010

If you are going to take the rap, that’s the way to do it.

duty and character

It is well understood that duty cannot defer to passion. Actions that defer to passions, can at best proceed in accordance with duty. Such deference preempts the possibility of acting from duty. It is equally certain that duty cannot defer to orientation, construed as a certain regularity in passions. Nor can it defer to outlook, construed as a cohesive diachronic account of passions. For regularity and cohesion add nothing principled to the mix. But by the same token, it is far from clear that duty is independent of character, construed as a cohesive diachronic organizing principle of passions and constituent motive of actions.

Assuming these definitions, is there a coherent notion of acting from duty that makes it coextensive with acting from character?

Update: I mean to ask a basic question. Actions that proceed from passion are by definition teleological. They aim to cure a lack. This aim preempts their capacity for answering to principle regardless of anticipated outcomes. By contrast, answerability to principle is a general condition of modern deontology, as distinct e.g. from its classical theological construal in the manner of Augustine’s “Dilige, et quod vis fac.” On the other hand, by making allowances for supererogation, even the deontologist leaves room for accommodating diverse norms of character. (Here I am construing character broadly, as ἦθος rather than ἕξις.) So the duty in regard to a certain course of action may be perfect or imperfect, depending on its mandate by the agent’s character. Thus even in the absence of a conflict of duties, it is possible to accommodate individual differences of principle.

Crossposted to [info]larvatus and [info]real_philosophy.