Thursday, March 31, 2011

More Aristotle on Luck: Fortune, Fools and Flow

Aristotle wants to distinguish between fortune and luck.  Events with small benefits can be lucky, but only events with a lot of benefit or a lot of detriment can be counted as fortunate.  Aristotle thought that some people are just fortunate by nature.  These people succeed in life for apparently no reason.  Many times these people are foolish.  In spite of their lack of care or lack of wisdom, these people succeed. For example, foolish people can succeed in the stock market or at navigating even they they are not well-educated in these fields.  While some people succeed because of knowledge or know-how, fortunate people succeed based on consistent great luck.  Aristotle also being a fortunate person is an inexplicably lucky feature or characteristic. Aristotle appealed to a supernatural element to explain how some people are fortunate for life.  Fortunate people are just in touch with some sort of divine or supernatural force.  

Aristotle argues for why fortune is associated with the supernatural.  The kind of argument he uses is an argument by elimination, meaning that he begins with a set of possible explanations and eliminates all alternatives until only one option is left.  First, he considers whether wisdom can explain good fortune.  He rejects wisdom as a cause of fortune.  Wisdom does not cause fortune because fortunate people often have no idea and no explanation of why he or she is fortunate.  Second, Aristotle considers whether fortune is the result of gods favoring fortunate people.  Divine favor is also rejected as a cause of fortune, since divine favor would be shown to the wisest and best men, not the fools who actually are fortunate.  Now, Aristotle does think that luck is somehow the result of god, since lucky people have "inspiration" from the gods.  However, gods do not directly cause fortune.  The last possibility Aristotle considers is whether some people are fortunate by nature.  This creates a puzzle, since if something were caused by nature, then it would happen out of necessity rather than occurring as an accidental cause.  Aristotle solves this problem by saying that some people have natural endowments which are non-rational or a-rational desires that bring about success.  For example, say that Musical Mary is born with an irrational passion to perform and write music.  This passion leads her to pursue music consistently and to have success. Nature has given Mary certain talents and endowments but her fortune is not just the result of being born this way. 

Naturally being born a certain way cannot explain all of Mary's fortune.  For example, how is it that Musical Mary has had favorable desires at times that allowed her to succeed?  Well, it can't be by reason or chance.  Aristotle then says that fortunate people have favorable desires and passions at appropriate times because they are in touch with a divine element in themselves.  Fortunate Musical Mary does not act based on reason but she acts based on divine inspiration.  Dr. James compares this to "being in the flow" when playing sports or games.  Many people who are talented at sports and games succeed in these activities without rational deliberation and choices about their actions.  Musical Mary, for example, can play a complex piano concerto without even thinking carefully about what she is doing.  When I rock climb, I often climb best when I can immerse myself in the activity rather than when I think too much about my actions.  Psychologists call these "flow states".  In flow states one is able to perform better when one does not try hard to reason and think about his or her actions.  One may object and say that flow states are the result of unconscious thought or deliberation, so being in the flow does reflect reason.  A similar objection is that we can train ourselves to have flow states through rational thought  

Determinism, Incompatibalism and Luck

Aristotle thinks that luck is something real.  Unlike Aristotle, some philosophers have been skeptical about the existence of luck.  In other words, these philosophers think that luck is impossible and that luck does not exist.  Here is a short argument against luck:

1. Luck is incompatible with the view that every event is causally determined by a prior physical event (this view is called incompatibalism).
2. Every event is causally determined by a prior physical event according to laws of nature (this view is called determinism).
3. Since determinism and incompatibalism are both true, there is no such thing as luck.

Determinism is just the view that all events happen because they are directly caused by previous events.  There are a few varieties of determinism.  First, there is physical  determinism, which is the view that laws of physics and whatever initial conditions there were at the start of the universe (such as the big bang) determine the events of history.  Second, there is theistic determinism.  According to this view, God has determined history.  God has a plan and everything happens because of God's plan.  Third, there is fatalism.  Fatalism does not specify whether physical laws of nature or God determine events.  Fatalists think that the actual world is the only possible world.  In spite of physics or God, the world could only have been one way: the way it is.

Are incompatibalists right?  Why is determinism incompatible with luck?  Well, most people can agree that lucky events are event that "could have been otherwise".  Based on this criterion for luck, here is a brief argument for incompatibalism:

1. Events are lucky events if and only if it might not have occurred.  Things happen by luck only if events could have been otherwise.
2. If determinism is true, then everything happens out of necessity.  In other words, things could not have been otherwise.
3. So if determinism is true, then no events are lucky or unlucky.

Aristotle thought that determinism is compatible with luck.  He imagines a scenario where two friends meet by chance in a market.  For example, say that I have to buy eggs and my friend has to buy coffee.  We do not expect to see each other but when we do, we are both glad and happy that we met.  Perhaps we are both causally determined to visit the same market at the same time.  In spite of the truth of determinism, Aristotle thinks that this kind of event can count as good luck.

Aristotle thought that a lucky event was an event that was inadvertant (unintentional), unforeseeable (not expected) harm or benefit in action.  Aristotle gives the following four conditions for a lucky event: first, luck is an accidental cause.  Second, this accidental cause that affects the outcome of a deliberate and purposeful action.  Third, luck causes outcomes that we do not intend or expect.  Fourth and last, the unintended and unexpected outcome is either good for us or bad for us.  Dr. James summarizes this by listing three elements to luck: there must be a choice, there must be a benefit and this benefit must result accidentally rather than as a result of the choice.

For example, say that Sam is really craving Gina's Pizza.  Sam goes to Gina's and orders a slice of pizza.  As Sam enjoys his pizza, Kobe Bryant walks in.  Now, Sam is a huge Lakers fan.  Sam introduces himself and gets to shake Kobe's hand.  Because he got to meet Kobe, Sam is greatly benefited by his choice to go to Gina's.  However, his reason for going to Gina's was to get pizza, not to meet Kobe.  Sam made a choice which resulted in an unexpected and unforeseen benefit.  Sam got lucky!

Aristotle thinks that luck is not "accountable to reason".  In other words, luck does not follow the rules of logic or physical laws.  There are three major categories of things that are accountable to reason.  Natural things, for example, have natural, innate, essential (non-accidental) features.  For example, a tree has a natural and innate ability to photosynthesize.  Artificial products are also accountable to reason.  Artificial products are just things that humans make.  Because humans make them, they are created to have specific purposes.  Also, there are natural fields of science that are accountable to reason.  Mathematics, optics, harmonics and astronomy are all fields that study things that follow laws of logic and physics.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Attempt to Define Luck: What the Luck?

After introducing luck in general, Dr. James then tried to define luck.  For example, an event is lucky if and only if it is lucky for some people (or subjects) and potentially unlucky for some people.  Lucky events are either good or bad for a subject.  In other words, lucky events have valence.  Valence just means that lucky events are always either lucky or unlucky for someone and that lucky events are always good or bad for someone.  In addition to valence, lucky events must also be beyond a person's control.  Events that a person has full control over are not lucky events.

Latus thinks that such a definition of luck is insufficient.  He came up with some counterexamples that fit these criteria but are not instances of luck.  For example, the sun rises every day is a good occurrence and it is beyond our control, but it's not lucky.  Another example is gravity.  It's good for us that we don't just drift out into space, but we're not lucky that gravity exists.

In response to Latus, someone might say that luck requires that the event is an accident that was unintended.  This addition to the definition of luck is also problematic, since winning the lottery is a case of luck but winning the lottery is not unintentional.  A person wants to win the lottery when he or she buys a ticket.

Another attempt to improve the definition of luck is to say that lucky events are matters of chance.  However, there is another counterexample to this definition.  For example, there may be a forecast for a 90% chance of rain tomorrow.  But if it does rain tomorrow, this is not a result of luck.

Someone might try to further refine the definition of luck by saying that lucky events are events that had a low probability of happening.  Only things that happen "against odds" are lucky.  But consider Russian Roulette, a game where a gun is loaded with a single bullet.  A person who plays this game has a low chance of dying (1/6) but this person is still lucky to be alive.  In spite of the fact that there was a high probability that the person would live, we still say that a person is lucky to survive Russian Roulette.

Yet another improvement of the definition of luck is to say that an event is lucky if the person who experienced the event was not in a position to know that the event would occur.  If a person does not have evidence that an event will occur, then perhaps these events are lucky.  But imagine this counterexample: imagine that some all-knowing entity, such as God, a superphysicist or a psychic, tells you that you will win the lottery.  Although you expect to win the lottery after hearing this, it is still a matter of luck that you win the lottery.

Still a different definition of luck is to say that an event is lucky if the event did occur but could easily have not occurred.  In other words, if circumstances were only slightly different, then the event would not have happened.  A counterexample to this is a case where a person is born with a terrible genetic disease.  It is not possible that this person could have been born without the disease.  He or she could not have easily been born without the disease,  yet this person is unlucky to have the disease.

Rescher wants to draw a distinction between luck and fortune.  Perhaps getting a disease is unfortunate, but because it happens in the natural course of things, it is not unlucky.  Another example is that a person may be fortunate to be born beautiful, but he or she is not lucky.  Rescher thinks that fortunate things happen in the natural course of events but lucky or unlucky things somehow happen outside of the natural course of events.  For example, having a cold is unfortunate but having a cold on the day that you happen to have a final exam is unlucky.  Or being born ugly is unfortunate but being born ugly in a family full of beautiful people is unlucky.

First Lecture: Intro to Luck

Dr. James is providing an introduction to ethics by looking at luck.  We will consider what role luck plays in moral responsibility and freedom, as well as the role it plays in punishment and other social institutions.

The first thing we will then address is what counts as luck. What is luck?   First, games that are won merely by chance are an example of luck.  For example, one does not need skill to win a lottery or to win on a slot machine.  Whether someone wins at these games of chance is merely a matter of luck.  Someone who wins a slot machine has good luck.  Second, another example of luck is when chance events cause a person to either fail or succeed at an action.  For example, say that a person is a very good rock climber and so they decide to climb a very tall rock without any ropes or safety equipment because the climb to the top of the rock is very simple.  Now imagine that a butterfly flies out of one of the holes on the rock, scaring the climber.  Startled, the climber falls to her death.  The climber did not fall because she was not skilled enough.  She fell because she had bad luck.  Dr. James notes that the most enjoyable games or competitions are those where one must rely on both luck and skill.  Third, one can have natural or social endowments.  Natural endowments include talents and abilities such as being good at learning languages or having musical talents.  Social endowments include being born rich or being born into a royal family.  Fourth and Finally, there are twists of fate.  Twists of fate are a common theme in tragic dramatic plays, such as Greek tragedies and Shakespeare.

Another way we can think about luck is by examining common ways that people think about luck.  In other words, what are our psychological tendencies about luck?  For example, a study by Risen and Gilovich shows that people are unwilling to trade lottery tickets with a neighbor in spite of the fact that doing so does not affect the probability that they will win.  This is meant to show that people are afraid to "tempt fate".  Another study (Olson) shows that children are more likely to show a preference for people who have good luck rather than people who have bad luck.  Even adults care about luck.  A study by Damisch et al has shown that people perform better on skill-based tasks if they perform lucky rituals beforehand.  For example, if a pro tennis player touches a lucky rabbit's foot before playing, he is more likely to play well.  In another example, a student may write a better paper if he or she does a lucky little dance beforehand.

Dr. James also want to contrast modern attitudes on luck with ancient attitudes.  Ancient Greeks accepted that much of our lives are up to chance and fate and that humans have limited control over our lives.  Even Happiness and virtue are the result of luck and circumstance.  An exception to this trend in ancient Greece was Epictetus, a stoic philosopher who thought that a person can be happy in spite of bad luck.  Epictetus thought that humans have a large amount of control over their happiness.  Humans started to understand probability and statistics in the 17th century.  Dr. James notes that the intellectual understanding of chance and luck helps us to control and shape our lives.  Because in the modern day we have a better understanding of probability, chance and luck, we have a better idea of when individuals or groups are responsible.  The modern understanding of luck can be adopted by both liberal and conservative political thinkers.  Conservatives may be likely to emphasize the role that luck plays in collective endeavors (such as running a government) and emphasize the personal control that an individual has over his or her own life.  A liberal thinker may be more likely to emphasize the collective responsibility and control that groups have while also emphasizing the role that luck plays in the life of an individual (such as wealth, race, place of birth).

Monday, March 28, 2011

A New Quarter, A New Class

Hello hello!

My name is Louise.  Feel free to call me Weez or Weezy.  I am a TA for Dr. James' Intro to Ethics class at UCI this spring.

In previous entries I have already introduced myself and explained what to do before section.

Please visit my blog often and feel free to comment on any posts for clarification or further questions!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Nozick on Social Justice

While Rawls thinks that fairness is most important to make a just society, Nozick thinks that entitlement is the criterion for a just society.  Basically, goods should be distributed to people who are entitled to them because they have worked hard or are talented.  He is a political libertarian, meaning that he wants to maximize personal liberty.

Three principles of justice.  The Principle of Justice in Acquisition is the idea that people are entitled to goods like wealth, clean water and love only if the goods are acquired in a just way.  For example, if a loaf of bread is stolen, then a person is not entitled to it whereas if you work hard to earn money to buy bread then you are entitled to it.  The idea is that if you work for something, you deserve it.  The Principle of Justice in Transfer is the idea that holds transferred from one person to another is only just if done so voluntarily and if the person transferring them acquired them justly.  For example, buying stolen goods from a thief is not a just transfer because the thief acquired them in an unjust way.  The Principle of Rectification is the idea that if there is not justice in acquisition or in transfer, then the rightful owners should have their goods returned.

Objections.  Nozick is not specific about what it means to acquire goods justly.  Also, what about native societies who are the first to gain ownership of goods?  Are Native Americans, for example, entitled to all the land and resources that they once held?  Also, since the goods were taken from Native Americans were taken by force, does this mean we should return the goods?

Nozick on Justice in Transfer.  Nozick calls his version of justice entitlement justice.  He calls Rawls' version of justice end-state justice.  Nozick notes that goods in many societies are distributed unequally.  For example, the richest 5% of a population may control 90% of the wealth.  While Rawls would say that this situation requires a re-distribution (transfer) of goods, Nozick says that the inequality itself is not enough of a reason to transfer goods.  Nozick thinks that we must consider if the wealthiest people are entitled to that wealth or not.

Nozick thinks that only an unregulated market is just.  He thinks that using taxation, for example, to redistribute wealth, is just like stealing.  Of course people cannot steal or cheat in order to get wealth, but people should be free to earn as much wealth as possible for them.

Nozick uses an example with basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain to show that Rawls in wrong.  First, imagine that we are in a society where Rawls' method of distributing goods has been used.  This means that goods are distributed as equally as possible.  Now, imagine that Wilt has signed a contract with his basketball team according to which he gets a profit of 25 cents from the sale of each ticket.  Because of this, Wilt earns a massive fortune.  Now, the acquisiton of this wealth seems just but Rawls is forced to say that this is an unfair distribution.  Nozick thinks that it is ridiculous to deny that Wilt deserves his wealth!  Basically, if people chose to make Wilt so dang rich, then it is fair that Wilt is to dang rich!

Sven notes that we can offer a slightly different case in order to continue to test whether Rawls or Nozick is right.  For example, say that instead of 25 cents, Wilt is earning $250 per ticket that his fans purchase.  Or imagine that there is a monopoly where there is only one provider of a good.  Maybe Wilt was extra industrious and he bought up all the rubber trees in the world in order to be the sole provider of basketballs and basketball shoes.  Wilt then decides to charge $500 per basketball and $1.000 per pair of shoes.  Even though Wilt has justly acquired that wealth, can we say that he deserves it?  Nozick would say yes but Rawls would say no.

Rawls on Justice

Rawls is concerned with social justice.  Specifically, he is concerned with a just distribution of goods (positive things), such as wealth, education and perhaps even emotional goods such as happiness and love.  In other words, Rawls is concerned with how goods are spread out in a society. Currently, goods are distributed unfairly.  Some individuals and nations have concentrated wealth, for example.  Rawls thinks that a just distribution of goods must be fair.  In order to decide what kind of distribution is fair, we must decide how to distribute goods without knowing how or if we will benefit from the way goods are distributed.

Rawls thinks that we can tell if a distribution is fair by using a thought experiment. Imagine that you are unaware of what position you will have in a society.  This is what Rawls calls the original position, which is a hypothetical scenario.  Rawls says that in the original position, you are behind a veil of ignorance.  You do not know if you will be president or a pauper.  You also don't know if you are young or old, rich or poor, married or single or talented or useless.  You also don't know what race, religion or culture you belong to.  Rawls thinks that if we don't know where we will be in a society, we will want to create a fair society where goods are distributed equally.  Basically, the idea is that since you could possibly end up in the worst possible position, you would want to be treated fairly even as the lowest person in the hierarchy.

Two Principles.  Rawls thinks that once behind the veil of ignorance, it will be rational to support two principles.  First, we will support the equal liberty principle, which states that liberty for all people should be maximized.  For example, everyone has the same freedom of speech so long as one person's freedom of speech does not interfere with another person's  Second, it is rational to support the difference principle, which is about differences in distribution of goods.  Specifically, the difference principle says that differences in how goods are distributed will be designed to benefit everyone in the society and will also be attached with positions or roles in the hierarchy that are available to everyone.  For example, police may have additional power to use force and violence but this is because we think that this makes the whole society better.  Also, this power is available to anyone who wants to apply to work with the police.  Rawls thinks that the equal liberty principle is more basic and more important than the difference principle.  Also, you cannot trade your liberties in order to gain goods.  For example, you cannot sell your right to vote in order to gain wealth.

The basic idea is that such a method of designing a society will help to compensate for inequalities.  For example, a person may be lucky and is born wealthy.  However, this does not mean that this person deserves to be rich.  Or someone might be born the son of a king but this does not mean that the king's son deserves to be royalty.

The equal liberty principle requires that one person's liberty will not interfere with another's.  For example, my right to own a gun cannot interfere with my roommate's right to be safe.  The difference principle requires not only that differences in distribution benefit everyone but also that special liberties or a wealth of goods must be earned and that such opportunities are available to everyone.  For example,  the president has special power. But the president only has special power because (1) it benefits our government and society if the president has special power and (2) the president earned this power through free elections in which anyone is free to run for president.

Objections to Rawls.  First, the difference principle focuses only on the goods of each person individually rather than in comparison to other people.  Specifically, the difference principle allows that as long as the lower class is benefited somehow, it is ok if the upper class benefits greatly.  Second, the difference principle limits the benefits that talented or hard-working people can gain.  If a person is smart, talented and hardworking, then why should there be limits to how much that person can earn?  If that person works harder than other person, they should earn more!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Nagel's Absolutism

In Nagel's paper "War and Massacre", Nagel attempts to limit utilitarianism.  Utilitarianism is the view that as long as the greatest number of people are benefited by an action, this outweighs the negative consequences for a few people.  The question is whether there is a limit to the extent of the negative consequences that a few can suffer in order for an action to be morally good.  Nagel argues that there are some negative consequences that are always wrong, no matter how many people are benefited by an action.

Utilitarianism & Absolutism. Utilitarianism is the view that an action is good or bad based on the consequences. Absolutism is the view that an action itself is good or bad.  Absolutists do not think that the consequences alone can justify an action that is bad in itself.  Absolutism does not ignore consequences of an action.  Absolutism is a limit of utilitarianism, not a substitute.  Absolutism is the view that while consequences are relevant to the morality of an action but that some actions are always bad, regardless of consequences.  For example, innocent murder of civilians is always bad, even if it brings about good consequences.

Two Restrictions.  Nagel argues that whether war is moral depends on how the war is fought.  Some things should never be done in war, such as murder of innocent civilians and killing medical personnel.  There are two kinds of restrictions of behavior.  First, only certain kinds of people should be attacked.  For example, only soldiers or paramilitary armed fighters can be attacked.  Children and other innocent civilians cannot be attacked.  Second, only certain kinds of attack are acceptable.  For example, it may be OK to shoot someone, but it is not OK to torture someone or poisoning a water supply.  The first is a restriction is on the class (or kind) of people to be attacked and the second is a restriction on the type of hostility  that can be used.

Nagel's point is that we cannot only consider consequences when deciding if an action is moral or immoral.  Some actions, Nagel says, are bad even if they provide good consequences.

Nagel's "Moral Luck" 2: Skepticism and a Response

Nagel is a skeptic when it comes to moral responsibility.  He notes the criterion for determining whether an action is good or bad is based on luck, then it is not our choice to be good or bad.  In other words, it is impossible to be morally responsible if the only way to tell if an action is good or bad is to look at the consequences determined by luck.  If luck determines the rightness or wrongness of an action, then no person is responsible for the consequences of his or her actions.

Sven notes that there are possible responses to this kind of skepticism.  We can, like Frankfurt, say that moral responsibility does not depend on free will and control of consequences.  Also, we can separate the moral worth of an action from the means of assessing the moral worth of an action.  Someone may object to Nagel with an epistemic response to the problem of moral luck.  Basically, there may be times that we are unable to know why a person's action is morally good or bad but this does not change the fact that the action is good or bad.  Luck does not affect the morality of an action.  Luck only affects how or whether I know if an action is morally good or bad.

Nagel's "Moral Luck" 1: The Basics

So far, we have discussed two ethical approaches: utilitarianism and Kantian ethics.  These are two different ways to decide if an action is good or bad.  Utilitarianism is the view that what is good is what maximizes net happiness.  Kant's ethical view is that what is good is what is done for the right reasons, namely that actions are motivated by the good will. Specifically, Kant thinks that an action is moral if and only if the rule being followed can be made a universal law.

In Nagel's article "Moral Luck" , he suggests that utilitarianism must be modified because the consequences of an action are often beyond the control of a person.  In short, Nagel argues against a utilitarian position on the grounds that moral actions are not moral merely by luck.  If an action only has good consequences because of luck, then we cannot say that the person acting is the source of the moral value of the action.  A person whose action is only good because he is lucky is not deserving of moral blame or praise.  Likewise, if an action has terrible consequences only due to luck, then the person acting is not blameworthy.

For example, imagine two people: lucky Lae and unlucky Usagi.  Lae and Usagi both throw a banana peel out the window.  Now, Lae's peel just happens to be picked up by a cleaning crew within minutes.  Usagi's banana peel, however, sits on the ground until someone slips and falls on the peel.  It is only a matter of luck that determines what the consequences of the action are.  Lae and Usagi both perform the same action.  Nagel thinks that neither Usagi nor Lae are more morally responsible than the other.

Nagel bases his argument on the control intuition, which is the notion that if the consequences of an action are not in the control of a person, then he or she is not morally responsible for those consequences.  In short, you are not responsible for random lucky (or unlucky) consequences of an action.  Kant's theory fits in with this view because Kant thinks that only the motive or will behind an action is relevant to whether an action is good or bad.  Although Kant does not advocate for the control intuition, his theory is compatible with it, since Kant thinks that unlucky consequences of an action do not make an action bad so long as the action was done for the right reasons.

Nagel describes four different kinds of moral luck.  Resultant luck is just luck about the way our actions turn out.  For example, when I play the lottery, it is a matter of resultant luck whether I win or lose.  Circumstantial luck is luck about what kinds of situations or circumstances are presented to us.  For example, it is a result of circumstantial luck which lottery I am able to play.  Constitutive luck is luck about what kind of person you are.  Namely, the temperament, capacities and inclinations that you have are the result of luck.  For example, the fact that I have a strong desire to play the lottery is a result of constitutive luck.  Causal luck is luck about how I have been causally determined by previous events and actions. This is really a mix of circumstantial luck and constitutive luck.  For example, it is a matter of luck if my unlucky desire to play the lottery and my ability to play the Powerball lottery both cause me to actually play the lottery.

Nagel thinks that resultant luck and circumstantial luck should play and do play a role in determining if an action is good or bad.  Nagel thinks that constitutive luck does not and should not play a role in whether an action is moral.

Nagel's argument can be used against both utilitarianism and Kantian ethics.  Utlitarianism is wrong because it allows that luck can determine if a person's action is good or bad, which seems unfair.  Kant is wrong because Kant does not seriously consider the importance of consequences for moral assessments.  In other words, Kant thinks that acting morally is risk-free.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Kantian Ethics

Kant says that what makes an action good is that it is the result of a good will, or good motivations and intentions.  According to him, only the good will is always good.  All other good things have the potential to be misused or perverted.  For example, being smart can be good if someone uses intelligence to perform good actions.  Being smart can also be bad if someone uses his or her intelligence to hurt people.  Other kinds of goods that can be perverted are gifts of nature, such as talents of mind (being smart, being funny) and qualities of temperament (courage and resolution) as well as gifts of fortune (power, riches, honor, health and happiness).

Unlike Mill, Kant does not think that happiness is always good.  Kant says that happiness is only good if the person who is happy also has a good will.  First, he thinks that sometimes happiness makes people arrogant.  Being arrogant can make someone insensitive or greedy.  Also, when people are happy then they tend to think that they deserve to be happy.  Kant thinks that this is problematic because some people don't deserve to be happy if they have not earned their happiness (e.g. lazy people or people who are just really lucky).

Kant thinks that even if the consequences of your action are terrible, an action is moral if you have the right motivations.  If someone acts out of his or her good will and has good intentions, then an action is good.

The good will has three features.  First, the good will is necessary in order for other things to be good.  Second, the good will is the only thing that is always good.  Third, the value of the good will is much higher than the value of all the other goods combined.

Conforming with Duty vs. Acting from Duty.  It is important to note that Kant does not think that it is enough if our actions just happen to conform (or fit in with) a duty.  Rather, one must act from the duty.  In other words, one must act because one wants to fulfill his or her duty.  For example,  your mechanic has a duty to not overcharge you when you bring in your car to get fixed because it's unfair.  Now imagine two different mechanics.  The first mechanic, Charlie Good, never overcharges his clients because he knows that it is wrong to overcharge people.  Charlie acts from duty because he wants to fulfill his duty.  The second mechanic, Susy Selfish, would love to overcharge some people, but she knows that if she does so, it will hurt her business.  Susy does not act from duty.  Susy acts selfishly, so her action merely conforms with duty.

Another example.  Doctors have a duty to be honest with their patients out of respect.  Now imagine Dr. Duty.  Dr Duty always tells his patients the truth because he thinks it is important to respect his patients by being honest.  Dr. Duty acts from duty.  Now imagine Dr. Meme.  Dr. Meme tells his patients the truth but only because he knows that he will lose his medical license if he lies.  Dr. Meme conforms with duty but he does not act from duty.

Yet more examples. Another example of someone who does not act from duty is the Happy Helper.  The Happy Helper helps others not because he thinks it is the right thing to do.  Rather, the Happy Helper only helps others because it makes him feel good about himself.  Kant says that the Happy Helper's actions are not morally good or morally worthy.  One more example is the honor-obsessed Klingon.  A Klingon may perform a "good" action, such as saving the life of her crewmates.  This action, however,  is not good if she only does so in order to gain honor.  Because the Klingon does not act from the good will, her action is not good.

Three Claims about The Good Will and Duty.  First, an action has moral worth only if the action is done from duty.  Second, acting from duty means respecting the moral law.  Third, an action is good not because of the consequences of the action but it is only good because of the maxim (rule or principle) that is being followed when the person acts.

Maxims.  An action is good if it follows a good maxim.  A maxim is a personal rule or personal principle that guides action.  For example, "Never lie to friends and family" may be a personal rule that I follow.  This maxim describes the kinds of actions I should perform in a general way.

The Categorical Imperative.  The categorical imperative is way to check whether our maxims are good or if our maxims are bad.  One version of the categorical imperative is the formula of universal law: only act according to maxims that can rationally be made universal laws.  In other words, only follow rules that everyone can and should follow.  A rule can be universalized only if doing so is not contradictory.  For example, if I have the maxim, "I will lie when I want to" and this rule became universal, then everyone would just lie whenever they wanted to.  But a lie is an attempt to deceive someone else.  If everyone lied all the time, then nobody would ever expect to hear the truth, so nobody would every be deceived by lies.  In short, if everyone lies all the time, lying becomes impossible!  Because this rule cannot be universalized, it is a bad rule.

Suicidal Maxim.  Imagine suicidal Sally.  Sally might want to act according to the maxim, "end your life if living causes more pain than pleasure."   Now imagine if this rule were universal.  Kant thinks that if every person followed a rule that led them to kill themselves if they expected their lives to be painful, then this would go against life itself and so seems to be irrational.  Kant does not think that there can be a world of rational people who follow such a rule.  Sven notes that this example is not very convincing.

Promise-Keeping Maxim.   Now imagine promise-breaker Bea.  Bea follows the personal rule, "I will break promises when I want to."  If this rule were universal, then the whole practice of promise-making and promise-keeping would cease to exist.  If nobody every kept promises then nobody would ever expect promises to be kept.  But a promise means that you expect a person to think that you will not break the promise.  Because following the rule to break promises makes this very action impossible, it is impossible for a world of rational people to follow this universal law.  Because the maxim cannot be universalized, it is a bad maxim.

In short, Kant thinks that you cannot make yourself an exception to rules.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Utilitarian Ethics 2: Proof of Greatest Happiness Principle and Objections

Mill's Proof of the Greatest Happiness Principle.
(1) if you see something, this proves that it is visible.
(2) Similarly, desiring something proves that it is desirable.
(3) The only thing that each person truly desires is happiness.
(4) The only thing that is truly desirable for a person is his or her own happiness.
(5) Hence each person should perform the actions that promote the greatest happiness.

Three Problems with this Argument:
First,  (2) does not follow from (1).  Visibility and desirability are not the same kinds of things.
Second,  (4) does not follow from (3).  To assume that we can derive an "ought" from an "is" is to make the naturalistic fallacy, which is a point made by David Hume.
Third,  (5) does not follow from (4).  Just because your own happiness is desirable does not mean that the happiness of other people is also desirable.

Further Objections to Utilitarianism:
(1) We cannot always predict what the consequences of our actions will be.  It is difficult if not impossible to judge the morality of an action based on what the predicted consequences will be.
(2) It is difficult to quantify pleasures.  In other words, it is hard to represent pleasures with numbers in order to determine if happiness will be maximized by an action. Cost-benefit analysis is difficult if not impossible.
(3) Also, the process of trying to determine if an action will maximize happiness is time-consuming and difficult.  It is not practical that we will be able to do such a calculation before we perform an action.
(4) Utilitarianism cannot explain special duties or obligations that we have to people like our friends, family and neighbors.
(5) If we only care about sum total happiness, then there will be actions that are good while these actions do cause a great amount of pain for some people.  For example, say that six of the seven dwarves decide to torture, beat and murder the Dopey for fun.  Even though Dopey experiences a lot of pain, utility is still maximized because the other dwarves are so happy.  Thus a utilitarian must say that it is good for the dwarves to murder Dopey.
(6) Utilitarianism fails to respect individual rights.  The rights of a single person can be violated as long as the greatest good is still maximized.
(7) Utilitarianism does not address the question of what kind of a person we should be.  The focus is entirely on consequences rather than the character of people.  For example, if I am offered a job as an assassin, I might think that killing people for a job would be OK because even if I do not take the job, someone else will.  This means that whether or not I am an assassin, the consequences are the same, hence the moral value of either choice is equal.

The first three objections do not attack the theory but rather the practice of the theory.  Objections (1), (2) and (3) are all objections that the theory is impractical and difficult (if not impossible) to use as a way of making moral decisions.  Objections (4), (5), (6) and (7) object on the grounds that the results of utilitarian theory will conflict with strong moral intuitions or other reasons to consider when deciding if an action is good or bad.

Utilitarian Ethics 1: Intro

Now we turn to normative philosophy. Normative means that instead of just concerning what is the case, we are talking about what should be the case.  A normative claim is a claim that asserts that things should be a certain way.  Contrast a normative claim with a descriptive claim, which simply asserts that things are a certain way.  e.g. "Natalie Portman was really thin in Black Swan" is a descriptive claim because it simply describes, whereas "Natalie Portman was too skinny in Black Swan" is a normative claim because there is also a judgment made about the state of affairs being described ("too skinny" implies that it was wrong that Natalie was so thin in the film).  To say that a claim or a theory is normative is also the same as calling is prescriptive.

Ethics is one arena of normative philosophy.  A goal of ethics is to tell us what we should do.  There are a number of different approaches to the question of how we determine if an action is morally desirable.  First, we can determine if an action is moral if the motive or the purpose of the action is good.  Second, we can ask whether a certain rule or maxim has been followed by the action.  Third, we can consider the results and consequences of the action and ask whether these results and consequences are good.  This lecture focuses on the third approach, which we call consequentialism.

John Stuart Mill is a great example of a classic consequentialist.  His view in particular is called utilitarianism.   Utilitarianism is the view that in order to determine if an action is good or bad, we must look at the consequences of the act.  Specifically, we must ask whether we can expect the action to give us utility.  Utility is very similar to happiness.  A thing has utility if it causes us more happiness and pleasure than pain and sadness.  In short, utility is net happiness (the happiness left over after we take away all the unhappiness).  Mill's utilitarianism is not an egocentric or self-centered view.  One must not just look at the consequences for oneself; one must also consider the consequences for other people.  Utilitarianism thus requires that we have expectations about the consequences of our behaviors.  Although we may not know the consequence until we act, we must consider the consequences that we do expect to happen.  In short, what makes an action moral is to maximize net expectable utility.  Actions are good if they tend to promote the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

One objection to utilitarianism might be that it excludes the happiness or utility of animals from being relevant to moral considerations.  Someone might think that it is not enough that an action promotes the good of human beings.  Someone might think that we must also consider whether an action promotes utility for animals.

Greatest Happiness Principle: The greatest end or goal is to achieve the absence of pain and to maximize the quality and quantity of our happiness.  We perform all actions in order to achieve this goal (this is a descriptive claim about what motivates our action).

Mill thinks that actions are right if they promote happiness and that actions are wrong if they promote pain or the lack of happiness (this is a normative claim that asserts that what is moral is what promotes happiness; Mill derives a moral normative claim from his psychological descriptive claim).  In other words, if an action multiplies happiness then that action is good.

Happiness is used as a technical term in Mill.  Happiness means pleasure.  Mill talks about two kinds of pleasure, or enjoyment.  Sometimes, he is talking about a kind of mental state, such as being happy or thinking that chocolate cake tastes really good.  Other times, he talks about actions or activities that are likely to produce such pleasant mental states.  Sven call pleasures that are mental states "subjective pleasures" and he calls pleasures that are activities or actions "objective pleasures".

Happiness is measured in two ways: quality (how good of a pleasure is it) and quantity (how much pleasure is there).  Quantity is measured by how many people experience the good.  We can also measure quantity by how long a pleasure lasts or how many time the pleasure is experienced.  Quality can be measured in two ways.  First, we can use a democratic method of determining which pleasures are better; the more people who think a pleasure is desirable, the better the pleasure is.  For example, if more people think that eating ice cream is more desirable than eating bananas, then eating ice cream is a higher (better) good.  Second, Mill thinks that pleasures that involve using our minds and our rational thinking are higher (better) than pleasures that only involve sensation.  For example, using our reasoning skills to solve a math problem is a higher pleasure than eating ice cream.

Mill's Utilitarianism is a Universalism.  This just means that we must consider the happiness of all people.  This means that it is not enough just to consider consequences for our friends, families and neighbors.  Rather, we must consider the consequences for all humans.  Moreover, we must give equal weight to the utility (net happiness) of all people.  This universalistic dimension of Mill's utilitarianism is indicative of the social justice issues that concerned Mill.

Mill thought that social reform could be motivated by utilitarianism.  In the time in which he lived, he noted that happiness was not possible for everyone because the education systems and other social institutions were terrible.  He wanted to create political change that could make happiness possible for even the lowest classes of people.  He thought that disease could be eliminated through sanitation and education.  Mill also thought that poverty could be eliminated by private charity and public welfare.  He also thought that the higher pleasures of the mind should be encouraged by social institutions such as education.

We can sum up Mill's view in four main theses:

Consequentialism: whether an action is right or wrong is determined by the consequences of that action.
Hedonism: we do seek and should seek happiness.  Utility is net happiness (the happiness that is left over after we subtract out our pains).
Maximalism: a good or right action produces the highest number of good consequences and the fewest number of bad consequences.
Universalism: we must give equal weight to the consequences for all people.

Motive vs. Intention. On the one hand,  Mill thinks that our motive is irrelevant to whether an action is good or bad.  Even if we want to do good, our action can still be morally bad if the consequences are bad.  While the motive is unimportant to determine moral worth of actions, Mill thinks that intention is important to determine moral worth of an action.  Motives may be used to determine if a person himself or herself has moral value, but the action is only good or bad if the consequences are good or bad.  On the other hand, intention is relevant to the morality of an action.  Intention is what a person wants to do by an action.  In other words, an intention is just what consequences a person is trying to achieve by his or her actions.  A motive is a feeling about why I want to do something whereas an intention is the consequences that I hope to bring about by my action.  For example, if I bring in ice cream for all my friends, my intention is to provide my friends with ice cream,  This intention is relevant.  However, my motive is irrelevant; it does not matter if my motive is to make my friends happy or if my motive is to manipulate my friends by buying them ice cream.

Ayer, Chisholm and Frankfurt on Free Will

Hello hello!  I know I have not posted in a long time.  Here is a short(ish) recap of the two lectures on which I have not posted.  The main topic here is still free will.

Incompatibalists say that in order for us to be free, we must be able to have done otherwise than we actually did.  We call this the Principle of Alternative Possibilities (PAP): an action is free if and only if the person could have acted otherwise.  Because incompatiablists believe that everything is causally determined, they also believe that all of our actions lack alternative possibilities.  A result of this is that incompatibalists think that we lack freedom.

Compatibalists will respond that we should interpret PAP in a hypothetical way: an action is free if and only if one would have done otherwise if one had been able to do so.  Compatibalists think that the actually ability to do otherwise is not necessary for free will.

Ayer, for example,  says that we should not contrast freedom with causal determinism.  Rather, we should contrast it with physical force or constraint.  Ayer thinks that being free is entirely compatible with the causal laws of nature.  He thinks that freedom is incompatible with someone forcing you to do something or constraining your actions physically.  For example, I can be free in spite of gravity but I cannot be free if someone locks me in a cage.

Ayer says there are three conditions that must be satisfied in order for an action to be the result of free will.  First, if I had chosen to act differently then I should have acted otherwise.  Second, the action is done without constraint or compulsion.  Third, no one compelled me to do as I did.  Ayer thinks that although we may live in a causally ordered world, there is still room for freedom so long as we would have done otherwise if it were possible to do so.

Chisholm objects to Ayer's view of free will.  Chisholm thinks that it is not enough if a person would have done otherwise if he or she had chosen to do otherwise.  Let's take the example of John Wilkes Booth's choice to shoot President Lincoln.  Ayer says that this action is free if and only if Booth would have done otherwise if he had chosen to do so.  Chisholm says that this is not enough.  Chisholm says that the action is free if and only if Booth both (1) would have done otherwise if he had chosen to do so and (2) he could have chosen to do otherwise.  Chisholm thinks that if it is not possible for Booth to have chosen to do otherwise, then his action is not free.

There are some problems with Chisholm's view.  First, some think that it is silly to think that we can control what we want or what we choose to do. e.g. When I choose to run a red light, I am unable to choose to not run the red light because I can't help this overwhelming desire I have to drive fast and violate traffic laws.  Second, some think that it is by the exercise of our freedom that we force ourselves into situations where we cannot act otherwise.  e.g. If I am able to resist running the red light, it is only because I have trained myself and taught myself not to do so.  In other words, I have created a situation for myself where I cannot choose but to obey traffic laws.

Agent causation vs. Event causation.  Chisholm thinks there is another problem with determinism.  He says that determinists talk only about causation where events cause other events.  Chisholm thinks that there is another kind of causation: agent causation.  In such cases, it is not prior events but a person who causes events to happen.  Because determinism is only concerned with event causation, it does not rule out the possibility of agent causation.

Objections to Agent-Causation:
(1) Nietzsche denies that there is any such thing as agent causation.  To say that an agent causes things is to say that the cause comes from nowhere, since the agent brings this new causal power into existence.  Since nothing comes from nothing, this agent causation must come from something other than the agent's choice.
(2) Psychological objection.  Agent causation is ultimately caused by some brain event.  Hence there is no such thing as agent causation, since so-called agent causation is caused by an event in the brain.  Chisholm responds: ah, but this brain event is caused by the agent!  The person is still the ultimate cause of agent causation.   But someone might ask further: how can both event causation and agent causation work together in a single person?

Libet's Experiments on Freedom.  Libet constructed an experiment where people were told to choose to move their fingers and then also told to report when they were choosing to move their fingers.  The findings showed that there was a slight delay between when a person actually began to move his or her fingers and when he or she claimed to choose to do so.  In short, people were moving their fingers before they chose to do so.  A simple interpretation of this experiment is to conclude that there is no such thing as free will; it is just an illusion.  However, someone might note that there will be a gap of time between when someone makes a choice and when someone is able to report on that choice being made.  Either way, there is nothing in Libet's work that indicates that our actions tomorrow do not depend on the choices we make today.

Harry Frankfurt comes in with further refinement of a compatiablist position.  First, he distinguishes between first-order desires and volitions and second-order desires and volitions.  First order desires are just desires to do something, such as my desire to drink peppermint tea.  A second-order desire is a desire to have a desire, such as a desire to have the desire to drink coffee instead of tea.  A first-order volition, or will, is just a successful first-order desire.  For example, if my first-order desire to drink tea is successful and I do drink tea, then this is a first-order volition.  A second-order volition is a successful second-order desire.  For example, if my desire to desire coffee rather than tea is successful and I therefore drink coffee instead of tea, this is a second-order volition.

Frankfurt thinks that people who lack second-order desires and second-order volitions are wanton.  A wanton does not care about his or her will but only follows his or her desires as they arise.  Animals, for example, are wantons.  Frankfurt thinks that what separates us from animals is our ability to reflect on and think about our desires.

Frankfurt thinks that a person is free if he or she is able to want what he or she wants to want.  In other words, a person is free if he or she is able to have the will that he or she wants to have.  A wanton drug addict, for example, who only has first-order desires and volitions is not free according to Frankfurt.  Likewise, an unwilling addict who may have second-order desires not to do drugs but is unsuccessful in realizing these desires is also not free.  Similarly, even the willing addict is not free because although the willing addict has second-order volitions, this is not because of a choice the willing addict has made.  The desire a drug addict has to desire drugs will be realized whether or not there actually is a desire to desire drugs.  Hence no drug addicts are free.

Strengths of Frankfurt's View: (1) It explains why we are better than animals, (2) It explains the will in terms of desire, which is simple to understand and (3) It explains why we want freedom of will (because we want to satisfy desires).

Regress Objection to Frankfurt's View: (1) If the goal is to have second-order desires and volitions, why not third-order or fourth-order, too?  We can go on and on and have more reflective desires.  This is the problem of infinite regress.  Frankfurt responds: But there are desires that we identify with, we see ourselves as being made up of the second-order desires.  Also, perhaps the second-order desires are determined, or caused by external events.  On objection to Frankfurt here is that if our second-order desires are determined, then we lose free will.

Moral Responsibility vs. Free Will.  Frankfurt says that the addict may not be free, but he is morally responsible.  Frankfurt gives two conditions for moral responsibility: (1) a person must be able to predict the consequences of his or her action and (2) a person must have been able to have done otherwise.  Freedom requires that we can control our second-order desires and volitions whereas moral responsibility merely corresponds, or goes along with, our second-order desires and responsibilities.  Frankfurt thus reformulates the PAP: A person is not moral responsible if he or she acted only because he or she was unable to act otherwise.