[lit-ideas] Re: Giving Reasons and Morality

  • From: Robert Paul <guimbarde9@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sun, 3 Sep 2006 22:08:34 -0700 (PDT)

Walter, concerned about reason giving and morality, wrote (and Iâ??m quoting it 
all so that we can see his own words):

'Version A

'Moral principles and norms having to do with equality, autonomy, 
reciprocity and universality are general criteria which we apply to different 
contexts, actions, policies, etc. Reason-giving is one particular activity or
language-game. We can do it either in accordance with the above stated 
moral norms or we can engage in the activity while violating those same 
norms. Moral principles originate within our socialization into a particular 
culture, set of traditions, etc. So we, for example, come to learn to respect 
equal freedom of all persons and then we apply this norm within our 
particular activities, one of which is reason-giving. (Or we fail to do so.)'

Iâ??m not sure I understand much of this or recognize it as a description of 
what ordinary people do when they invoke (if they do) â??moral principles and 
norms.â?? To say that reason giving is one particular activity or language-game 
suggests that there is something about reason giving that marks it off as an 
activity different from justifying a claim or supporting a hypothesis, yet I 
wouldnâ??t like to try to say how these three things differ from each other so 
that one always knows when one is giving reasons and when one is engaged in 
casuistry. People do what they do. Perhaps justification is just a species of 
reason giving, along with begging out of going to a dinner party. But what any 
of this has to do with moral principles escapes me. 

'Version B

'Moral principles conceptually originate within the activity of giving 
reasons. The former necessarily presuppose the latter. Without this practice, 
could not learn, nor would we have, moral concepts such as equality, 
autonomy, right and wrong, obligation, etc. It's not that these moral 
principles and concepts are available to us first, learned first within 
acculturation, and then 
applied to various activities and contexts, one of which is reason-giving. 
Rather, what it means to respect others as free and equal persons, what it 
means to have an obligation, etc., are intelligible to us only because we 
understand what it means to give reasons.'

I wonder whatâ??s being claimed here. If it werenâ??t for reason giving there 
would be no moral principlesâ??? So that if some great moral leader were to 
say, â??Suffer the little children to come unto me,â?? or â??The Good is 
reducible to the greatest happiness for the greatest number,â?? we should 
expect reasons (for what it isnâ??t clear) to be forthcoming. Or we should 
expect that at least they are at hand and would be ready if demanded by the 
young moralist. (â??Why is it that we shouldâ?¦?â?? â??How did you find out 
thatâ?¦?â??) However, that one can, itâ??s implied, give reasons to support a 
moral principle no more shows that the existence of moral principles depends on 
the possibility of reason giving than would the existence of the Great Pyramids 
depend on the possibility of their being photographed. The latter's possibility 
passes the former's existence by.

Take Mike Gearyâ??s mamma. Did she instill in her son an aversion to promise 
keeping; a predilection to slump at dinner until his chin rested on the edge of 
the table, allowing him to shovel in, with the edge of his knife, food which he 
then chewed with his mouth open; or an inner voice that told him to kick the 
already downtrodden? She could have. Itâ??s logically possible. But Iâ??ll bet 
she didnâ??t. Iâ??ll bet that she at least taught Atlas that he should keep his 
word. â??But why?â?? the young skeptic asks. â??Why should I keep my word?â?? 
At this point, anything Mikeâ??s mamma could have said would have been 
pointless. â??Why should I, if Iâ??ve given my word, keep my word?â?? Anyone 
expecting reasons to well out of the stone of metaethics must be thinking of 
moral principles as as dicey as Euclidâ??s fifth postulate. â??Someday, it may 
turn out that we were wrong: we shouldnâ??t keep our promises after all.â?? 

But until thenâ?¦

Robert Paul
The Reed Institute
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