The philosophy papers blog is up. Quiet day – two papers and a book review.
I’m still trying to think of something interesting to say about consequentialism. It’s almost getting to the stage where I’d be better off going and doing some research rather than trying to figure everything out on my own. But that’s not the blogging way. Or at least it’s not my blogging way.
Let’s grant as a starting point that prudential norms are concerned in the first instance with expected consequences rather than actual consequences. Paying $1 for a lottery ticket with an expected value of 1 cent is dumb, even if the ticket ends up winning. Dumb luck indeed. The question that arose in two posts by John Quiggin (here and here) was whether the same kind of point applies to ethical norms. Assuming (controversially) that something like consequentialism is the right theory of personal morality, is it actual consequences or expected consequences that matter for morality? And if it’s expected consequences, is it expectation according to the agent’s beliefs, her society’s beliefs, the beliefs it is rational for her to have, or some other beliefs?
I’ve been trying to think of something useful to say on this, and I haven’t. First, a quick sociological note. Contra the impression that may have been created by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong’s Stanford entry on consequentialism, a lot of consequentialists think it is expected consequences not actual consequences that matter. Frank Jackson has some papers where it is basically assumed as a premise that it’s expected consequences that matter, and that premise is used to try to defuse some challenges to consequentialism. How successful the defusing is is a matter for some debate, but it’s clear which side of the actual/expected debate he’s on.
Second, three examples that I’ve been puzzling over while trying to think of something interesting to say. I don’t even have commentary on the examples, because I’m just stuck. Well, except to note that one of John Quiggin’s points, that philosophy examples are often gratuitously violent, is true and may be confirmed here. And to note that none of the examples bear any intentional resemblance to any person living dead or imaginary.
Ken believes, on the basis of no evidence whatsoever, that he can tell whether a gun is loaded. He thinks he can detect the difference in weight that the extra ammunition provides. This is completely untrue. In fact he’s no better at this than random. He thinks the gun he is holding right now is unloaded. In fact he is certain that it is unloaded. So he thinks there is no harm in pointing it at Sharon’s foot and pulling the trigger, and some small gain since he very much enjoys ‘firing’ unloaded guns. He does this, and Sharon gets a bullet in the foot. Was Ken’s act of pulling the trigger morally wrong?
Gene has been brought up to hate Rhode Islanders. Filthy irreligous corrupt scum, he thinks. And many other people in his part of Connecticut agree. All of Gene’s evidence about Rhode Islanders supports his beliefs. That evidence is all testimonial – he wouldn’t actually go into the horrible Rhode Island – but it seems remarkably consistent. One day Gene sees a car with Rhode Island licence plates stop at his father’s store and its inhabitants stop at his father’s store, and its occupants get out to buy some food and drink. Believing that they are filthy irreligous corrupt scum, Gene launches into a tirade of abuse directed at them, with the intent of making them go away. Underneath his tough exterior, Gene is actually quite worried what these dangerous Rhode Islanders will do if they stay. The Rhode Islanders are quite upset, even shaken, by Gene’s outburst and quickly get back in their car and drive away. Was what Gene did in abusing the Rhode Islanders morally wrong?
Jamie is cooking a rather distinctive dish for his dinner guests tonight. The ingredients include two rare herbs, X and Y. (I should make up names for these, but I am a little lazy.) Jamie doesn’t know this, in fact no one who hasn’t studied a bit of medicine does, but X and Y should never be served in combination. Although each is safe, together they are rather toxic. Although this knowledge is not widespread, Jamie could probably have figured it out if he’d reflected for a bit on this evidence. For he knows that W and Y in combination are toxic, that’s why he used X rather than W, and he knew that X and W have very similar effects on humans. He just somehow forgot to put 2 and 2 together here to conclude that X and Y are probably very dangerous also. But he did put X and Y together, and all of his guests ended up being rather sick for the next week. Did Jamie do the wrong thing in preparing a dish with X and Y in it?
As I said, no commentary, just examples to think about.