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Eugine_Nier comments on Are Deontological Moral Judgments Rationalizations? - Less Wrong

38 Post author: lukeprog 16 August 2011 04:40PM

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Comment author: Eugine_Nier 21 August 2011 10:50:57PM 1 point [-]

The point is that blame can itself have the effect of decreasing the frequency of the behavior that is receiving the blame. So the right question to ask is would having been more exposed to the idea that one should be blamed for doing X have prevented the person from doing X.

Comment author: lessdazed 21 August 2011 11:08:11PM *  0 points [-]

So the right question to ask is would having been more exposed to the idea that one should be blamed for doing X have prevented the person from doing X.

My point is that sometimes the answer to "would having been more exposed to the idea that one should be blamed for doing X have prevented the person from doing X?" is no and the answer to "would having been more exposed to the idea that one should be blamed for not trying to improve morally have prevented the person from not improving morally?" is yes and the answer to "would having been more exposed to the idea that one should be blamed for doing X have prevented the person they would be had they tried to improve morally from doing X?" is yes.

Thank you for succinctly stating a good question to ask. The answer to that question may be "no" while the answers to two similar questions are both "yes". Yet by "morally right" many people seem to mean not just situations where the answer to the question you put is "yes", but those in which the answer to the first question is "no" but the answers to to related questions are both "yes". Others mean only cases in which the answer to the first question is "yes", period.

I think I know what people mean by phrases such as "What possible sense can it make to say that nevertheless, really and truly, the morally right thing to do is push the fat man?" or "It is morally right to push the fat man", I think I know why other people are confused, and I do not feel confused by the question, but rather an impulse to unpack it and explain why I think it is confusing.

Person 1: Is it morally right to hit random people you encounter in the street?

Person 2: No. We blame everyone who does that, and consequently people don't do that, even when they want to.

Person 3: I agree.

P1: To kidnap and eat people?

P2: Same answer as to the first question.

P3: Likewise.

P1: For a tiger to kidnap and eat people?

P2: It's not "immoral" because neither the tiger nor anyone else is affected by blame. We guard against tigers, and defend ourselves, and even seek out and kill tigers that have acquired a taste for humans, but we do not castigate tigers.

P3: I agree.

P1: An alien spacecraft has begun abducting and experimenting on people. Who the aliens abduct seems random: sometimes they go to great lengths to reach an individual, but there is no pattern at all among abductees. Every abducted person has had part of their brain removed, and has an apparently irresistible desire to eat people. It seems all abductees must be monitored or restrained for the rest of their natural lives. Is it wrong for them to eat people?

P2: No, they are like the tigers.

P3: I agree.

P1: But previously you both said it was morally wrong to eat people!

P2: It depends on the effects of blame. There is no effect of blaming the abducted cannibals. It's not even like with people who have hidden brain based biological disorders, when failing to blame them weakens the social condemnation for everyone, and there is a weighing to do. The alien case is so one-sided and distinguishable that we can easily tell that the right thing to do is to not blame the abductees, but to blame conventional cannibals.

P3: I agree

P1: Actually, I left something out when describing the aliens. They have kidnapped millions of people, but never anyone wearing anything red, or who have red tatoos, or were in red cars, or were within a few feet of anything not biological that was red. The aliens said as much when they arrived, beaming this information directly into everyone's skulls in their native language several times a day. Are people truly morally responsible for kidnapping and eating people?

P2: Obviously not if they have been abducted and altered. Blame has no effect at all on the behavior of abductees, so they are not "morally responsible". that's the true meaning of "morally responsible", just check the dictionary!

P3: I disagree. Blame may not affect abductees, but it does affect whether or not people get abducted, because the safety measure is so low-cost and easy to implement. Abductees are to blame for eating people, and are truly "morally responsible".

Person 4: If you want to define the term "morally responsible" so that it's simply the answer to one hypothetical question, I don't blame you and I'm willing to play that game. If you think the term naturally covers blaming the abductees for eating people, that's fine too. But Person 1: don't get confused and lose sight of the relationship between blame and people's actions, don't think there is only a small link or no link at all between blame and the number of cannibals just because they are not "truly morally responsible" as you define it. And Person 2: don't get confused by your having a single term such that you might think that if only we blame abductees in the right way, they will stop eating people whenever they can.