Tuesday, June 28, 2011

on moral capitulation.

Suppose that someone says that F-ing is wrong, but she is elated when F-ing becomes legal. It seems to me that we’d be right to think that this person was disingenuous when she said that she thought F-ing was wrong.

Let’s look at a putative example. Suppose Sam tells us that he thinks that slavery is wrong, but becomes elated when it’s made legal. How is Sam not being disingenuous when he says that he thinks slavery is wrong?

In fairness, sometimes things are a bit more complicated. Suppose that Sarah says that she’s genuinely opposed to prostitution, but when it becomes legal she says she supports its decriminalization.

How could Sarah genuinely oppose prostitution and yet be okay with it being legal? Doesn’t the latter suggest that she doesn’t genuinely believe the former?

Maybe not. Suppose that though Sarah genuinely believes that prostitution is wrong she also believes that prostitution is an act of a certain kind that she doesn’t believe the government has any business making laws about. Or suppose that she believes that prostitution should be illegal, but the practical enforcement of it is either ineffective or inefficient or both. If either one were the case, it seems that Sarah could genuinely believe that prostitution is wrong and yet still support its decriminalization.

Notice, though, that in Sarah’s case she’s not elated about prostitution becoming legal. She accepts its decriminalization begrudgingly since, after all, she thinks that it’s wrong. So let’s suppose that Sarah doesn’t express mere reluctant acceptance when prostitution becomes legal, but instead exuberant joy. It seems to me that this would betray her disingenuousness when she claims that prostitution is wrong. Call me crazy.

So, my original claim still stands: if someone says that F-ing is wrong but becomes elated when F-ing is made legal, she’s most likely disingenuous when she says F-ing is wrong.

I call one who disingenuously espouses moral claims a Rakitinist, duly named after the atheist seminarian from Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.


Blogger Jonathan Charles Wright said...

Here are some things one might naturally think are wrong, and yet be elated upon hearing that their government is going to legalize it.

1. glutinous behaviors
2. envious behaviors
3. greedy behaviors
4. (non-violently) wrathful behaviors
5. slothful behaviors
6. (non-violently) lustful behaviors
7. prideful behaviors

Surely there are things one can consistently think are immoral yet not rightfully within the purview of a state government. One might even be joyful that one was not living in a state that immorally punished immorality.

3:08 PM  
Blogger Derek said...

Hello Jon,

Fair enough.

Suppose that someone says that F-ing is wrong, but when F-ing becomes legal she's elated *because* she thinks that more people will get to F. How is she not disingenuous is saying that she thinks F-ing is wrong?

I think this covers your counterexample(s).

10:05 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Charles Wright said...

Hi Derek!

That makes sense. It seems an immediate consequence of a judgment of wrongness is that one wants (all things being equal) for people not to do that thing.

But then: who would ever admit to being elated for this reason? Maybe some people would. People are crazy.

4:50 PM  

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