FEB 24

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10: FEB 24 Unit Three: Contemporary MR Skepticism


  • Waller, Bruce. Chapter 1. "Moral Responsibility," Against Moral Responsibility (16)
  • Reflective prompt. Waller's first chapter might be a bit redundant for us, so I would like you to focus on the theme of "retributive desires", which he treats in Chapter 1. Specifically, how do you assess arguments about the value of retributive desires and emotions, along with the actions that express them. I'll bring in some of the evidence from "public good games", and a little cultural evolutionary research, but there are lots of ways of assessing retributive emotions or desires. Are retributive emotions justified on their own terms?

Some evidence from public goods games

  • Review of Public Goods games and typical results with and without "punishment".
  • Without punishment, cooperation, measured by investments in each round, drops to zero
  • Note "punishment" here means "penalizing behaviors". The behavior in question is voluntary, but the penalty is independent of a blame condition.
  • So, this might support the idea that MR is distinct from accountability and MJ.

Waller, Bruce. Chapter 1. "Moral Responsibility," Against Moral Responsibility

  • Claim: Denial of MR is compatible with MJ (moral judgements). Waller acknowledges that this is disputed.
  • Can you still make moral judgements about people (and yourself) if you eliminate the MR system?
  • Goes through a list of philosophers and other who endorse MR in various ways. How should we hold our retributive emotions: Enthusiastically? Righteously (doing justice)? With a sense of resignation (like the Inquisitionist in Sapolsky)? (this is a broader version of our reflective prompt above.) p. 9 for examples.
  • internal vs. external arguments. internal arguments are question begging.
  • no pragmatic solutions: thought experiment. still have to ask if it is just? can't just be efficacious.
  • MR and MJ -- Claim: Accountability is not central to MR. People's accounts are often mistaken (research at p. 6), and when correct, often do not involve MR. So MR and MJ are separate.
  • Waller's discussion of emotional and use of evolution (I'll elaborate on this in class.)
  • In general, Waller talks about retribution as emotions, but technically, an intuition to punish is an inference supported by an emotion. Emotions are often precursors to action.
  • When is does get to evolution, he is correct about the general point that evolution is retrospective.
  • But his treatment of "tit for tat" is off. p. 12: tit for tat. not exactly the same as "strike back", but also not ineffective.