Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Exclusion of reasons and purity of heart

Patrick is an attractive man and a good philosopher. His colleague Jenny, who is married to someone else, now has two reasons to talk to Patrick. Here we don't, I think, want to say that the problematic reason is overridden or defeated. For if Jenny's practical reasoning in favor of talking to Patrick includes "Patrick is attractive, but I'm married to someone else," her practical reasoning takes Patrick's attractiveness in favor of talking with him, and that's unfaithful--there is at least a moral imperfection there, even if not a sin. (One can act or reason viciously without actually sinning.) Rather, the reason should be excluded in the Raz sense. Jenny has a second order reason not to let Patrick's attractiveness count even pro tanto or defeasibly in favor of spending time with him, just as when an army commander tells one to take yonder hill, one has a second order reason not to let personal inconvenience count even pro tanto or defeasibly in favor of staying put.

In practice, it's hard to really exclude reasons, we often do not know all our motives, and self-deceit is easy, which is why we have practices of self-recusal when one has strong excluded reasons. It is important enough in some cases not to risk acting on excluded reasons that one removes oneself from a position where one would be making a decision where the excluded reasons are relevant.

Another practice besides recusal is working on one's psychology so that the excluded reason in favor of an action count against the action. Thus, in the above example, that Patrick is attractive would start counting as a defeasible reason against talking with him for Jenny. When she does end up talking to him, it will perhaps no longer be partly because of his attractiveness, but despite it. Such a practice of overcompensation is not abstractly ideal--a morally perfect being would have no need for it. Moreover, in some cases the equivalent of recusal is more appropriate: a judge should not overcompensate for the fact that she'll benefit monetarily from a verdict by biasing herself against that verdict, but should recuse herself. But in some cases, overcompensation seems an appropriate solution.

However, human capabilities for self-deceit are enormous, and one cannot count on overcompensation to do the trick by itself. For it had better not be the case that Jenny is in fact consciously or unconsciously weighing three reasons in favor of talking to Patrick: the philosophical reason for talking with Patrick, the attractiveness reason in favor of talking with Patrick and the attractiveness reason against talking with Patrick, even if the third reason overcompensates for the second. For if she is acting on these three reasons, she is taking Patrick's attractiveness in favor of spending time with him. But perhaps a habit of overcompensation can give rise to genuine exclusion of the excluded reasons.


Dagmara Lizlovs said...

I'll say this to Jenny - Girlfriend, you need a reality check. You're attracted to Patrick because you don't have to live with his quirks and you see only just one side of him. You're not attracted to Patrick the total person which includes all his warts, you're attracted to a private fantasy immage you have of him which probably doesn't corresond to the real Patrick.

I know someone who was married to a nice man. This guy was a nice family type man honest and hardworking, and kind of boring. Now his wife was attracted to a male colleage who was attractive (I think the guy is just ugly, but that's my perception)and charming and more interesting than her husband just like Jenny here. To make a long story short, this woman left her husband for her colleague. It was a real ugly divorce, she married her colleague after divorcing her husband. Husband number two got involved in questionable professional practices and has gotten into lots of legal trouble with the loss of many of his assets.

Huume said...

I've thought about this for a long time. I am kind of pinching myself that a philosopher is actually giving this serious thought, and much more articulate that I could ever muster up.

Ive always thought that this kind of relational strain also has alot to do with a person not having strong and proper convictions about the nature of beauty, beyond just physical beauty.

Kind of as Dagmara suggested, if jenny understood better what makes a person beautiful (aside from their physical appearence) it might lessen the impact of patricks physical beauty. . maybe in the way of normalizing him.

I think we have a tendency to think of beautiful people as completely beautiful people. . in the sense that we fill in gaps in their personality that enhance their physical characteristics. . . that can lead us to think too fondly of a person. I don't know that that is as well worded as it could be right now.

Maybe as a counterexample, jenny may not find patrick attractive and patrick may also be a good philosopher, so she (again) has 2 good reasons to talk to patrick, banking on the fact that she feels safe talking to an unattractive person. Patrick may have a very beautiful personality, which may cause jenny to stumble mentally, in the same way she would if patrick were attractive as in your example.

Both examples in my opinion show. . some kind of gap in thinking as it relates to beauty.

This is very difficult in practice. Sorry if thats poorly worded :/

Alexander R Pruss said...


Attractiveness is not just beauty, and I think that's part of the problem with Jenny and Patrick. Attractiveness here is a relational property: "Patrick is attractive (to Jenny)" basically just means that Jenny is attracted to Patrick. (There is also a sense of "Patrick is attractive" as meaning that Patrick is attractive to typical heterosexual women in the culture, but that's not the relevant sense here.) And the fact that a married person is attracted to someone else should definitely be an excluded reason for interacting with the other person.

Physical beauty by itself is a different motivation. One might see someone as beautiful without being attracted to the person. But it is also really easy, I bet, to be self-deceived here, and think one is just abstractly admiring an instance of beauty.

I remember a biopic about Hugh Hefner where he was portrayed as saying, shortly after starting Playboy, that they weren't publishing pornography, but only beautiful photographs. One wants to say: But why, then, are they all of young women, rather than also of young men, beautiful landscapes, birds of paradise, Gothic cathedrals and other beautiful subjects? And why are the subscribers (I assume) predominantly men?

Huume said...

Thats quite an interesting quotation from mr. hefner. I think its easy to see how bogus his reasoning was in saying that as one could apply that kind of logic to justify quite a number of deviancies. .

I also agree with what you say about the bit on physical beauty. Maybe somewhat related, I have a little over 6 years in training in classical drawing and when I was studying william bouguereau, there came a time where I could no longer in good conscience before God study his artwork becuase of the overtly sensual nature of some of his paintings, in light of some of my history prior to coming to faith in christ.

I'm probably veering off topic now but its exciting to hear you speak about these issues becuase as an artist and lover of art its something I think about alot.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Now there are a couple more things on attractive. Jenny may find Patrick not just attractive because of his physical appearance. Patrick may even be kind of unattractive physically. She probably finds him attractive because there is a degree of intellection/spiritual interaction. They may be really clicking while working on a project. Jenny is just finding herself at this point in life on the same wavelength as Patrick. For many women being on the same wavelength is a major attractant. There are several problems.

Numero Uno: The office romance. Office romances are a gamble or a minefield. They sometimes result in a lasting relationship such as marriage, more often they don't. When the break-up comes team dynamics are adversely affected. It gets dicey if the romance involves supervisor and subordinate. So if Patrick is Jenny's supervisor, Jenny had better update her resume. If one or both participants are married to someone else things will get really messy and someone will be looking for a new job. Even in today's sexually open climate, reputations still get ruined. If she gets involved with Patrick, Jenny will be violating an important cardinal career rule - "Don't defecate where you eat."

Now to a less obvious but still problematic: Seeing only one side of a person. Jenny sees only that side of Patrick which is Patrick the co-worker, Patrick the philosopher. If she sees Patrick only at work, she doesn't see the rest of Patrick. Patrick the public persona and Patrick the private persona may be two very different things. Patrick the husband/boyfriend. Then there is Patrick the father. Patrick the uncle. Patrick the brother or son. While Patrick may be a super fantastic guy at work, he may also at the same time be a jerk in these other relationships. A similar case is an athlete we all admire because he has overcome all manner of adversity, and then there is an ugly incident involving this athlete. The next thing you know there are streams news stories about restraining orders, assaults, drugs, doping etc.

The antidote to use: It is obvious that Jenny is cruising for a bruising here because she is married and attracted to Patrick. The thing for Jenny to do is make a list of all of the people in her life such as her husband, children and even Patrick. Next step is to pretend or place herself in the shoes of all of these people and ask if I got further involved with Patrick how will all these people feel about it. How would they be hurt by it. How would she feel if she were her husband and knew this was going on. How would she feel if she was one of her teenage children and they knew this was going on. How will this affect her son's adult attitude towards women. What is her daughter learning about marriage from this. She should ask herself what if she was a younger child and this was going on between her parents. Sometimes this will throw cold water on the attraction.

Heath White said...

It occurs to me that we may be oversimple in saying that "X is a reason for doing Y, but excluded for subject S." Why not say instead that "X is not a reason for S to do Y, but it might be a reason for T to do Y"?

I'm not sure what the implications of the different views are, but there must be some.

Alexander R Pruss said...


Good question!

One response to you would be that goods achieved by an action always give rise to reasons for doing the action. It is good to rest. So I have reason to rest, rather than to take the hill I am justly commanded to take.

But the problem comes back. Maybe it's not really good to rest when one is obligated to take the hill. But I think that would make the good be the on-balance-good. But if the good is the on-balance-good, what is it that we're balancing?

All that said, even if every good gives rise to a reason, it could be that the pleasantness of being with an attractive person is not always a good (though resting maybe is, and health certainly is). If so, then there is another solution to Jenny's problem (and if Jenny is attractive, to Patrick's problem as well): to inculcate in oneself an attitude of not treating this pleasure as good when it is not in fact a good.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Now I have looked again at the the Patrick/Jenny scenario described. On furhter reflection I decided to look at this like a weather forcaster would look at a map of weather conditions with all the data. With that in mind I'm issuing a "tornado watch" for the Patrick and Jenny counties. What I'm seeing in the data given is that we are past the "convective outlook stage". If there is anyone more familiar with meteorology and atmospheric science I wonder if they would agree with my analogy.

I think that Jenny is in a position of self deception here. Let's face it, her primary reason for talking to Patrick IS that she is attracted to him. The other reasons are convenient excuses to talk to Patrick and to provide personally acceptable alternative reasons. It is a kind of self deception. It is this self deception that sets down the conditions making the tornado vortex of sin possible. In fact the tornado is counting on it. If the situation continues I'm predicting an EF3 here.


"But the problem comes back. Maybe it's not really good to rest when one is obligated to take the hill. But I think that would make the good be the on-balance-good. But if the good is the on-balance-good, what is it that we're balancing?" What's on the balance here is the danger of becoming a moral slacker.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

'"Patrick is attractive, but I'm married to someone else," her practical reasoning takes Patrick's attractiveness in favor of talking with him, and that's unfaithful--there is at least a moral imperfection there, even if not a sin.' I was thinking on this topic of these sorts of moral imperfections today and I am writing this as an engineer in aircraft propulsion. It occured to me that a moral imperfection functions a lot like an impurity known as an inclusion in a titanium fan disk in an aircraft turbine engine. This inclusion maybe quite small, and the engine may operate quite well for a long time. However, this inclusion is a local stress riser. With each flight the engine accumulates so many fatigue cycles. One whole fatigue cycle of idle to take-off power to idle with several partial cycles such as alternating between climbing, cruising, descending leveling off. What happens is that a microscopic crack developes at the inclusion site. This is the crack initiation. Then there is a subtle crack growth phase that occurs with each engine cycle. It is imperceptible at first. Little microscopic steps at a time, and then it becomes more pronounced. Finally, the crack has popagated to where the remaining material is insuficient to prevent fracture. In a turbine engine the failure is catestrophic to the system as a whole. One of the most infamous of such fatigue failures was the Souix City United Airlines crash in 1989. It is the same almost identical scenario where there is at least a moral imperfection even if there is not a sin. The dynamics of these moral imperfections and metalurgical inclusion is identical. In both the metalurgical as well as the moral crack growth, the process is very slow and very subtle. In both metalugical and moral cases we must beware that this process is always going on. Prevention in the metalurgical case is NDI inspections at regular intervals with a calculated parts life limit when the part is removed from the engine. In the moral case the prevention is regular examination of conscience and regular confession. Also one must ask God to remove these moral imperfections the way one would remove them through a triple melting process for titanium. Our triple melt being a focus on the Holy Trinity.