Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Culpability and reasons

Suppose I have (both objectively and subjectively) a morally decisive reason R to refrain from doing A. But nonetheless I do A for some reason S. This reason S is a bad reason. Notice that how poor a reason S is tends to contribute to my culpability. ("What profit it a man to gain the whole world at the cost of his own soul? But Wales!?") Moreover, S's being less deeply entrenched in me makes me more culpable. I don't have even the excuse of habit. On the other hand, the more deeply entrenched R is in me, the worse I am for neglecting R. This suggests that Hume, in insisting that what is crucial for culpability is that a wrong action flow from and reflect one's characte, gets the matter reversed. It is the reasons against the action that make for culpability. (This is perhaps most clear in cases of wrongful omissions.)


Dagmara Lizlovs said...

“Suppose I have (both objectively and subjectively) a morally decisive reason R to refrain from doing A. But nonetheless I do A for some reason S. This reason S is a bad reason.”

S can be manipulated into looking like a good reason. It takes just a slight tilt but as you have said in a response to one of my posts “... It's devilishly clever.”

The thing about it is that that slight tilt doesn't look so bad at all. In fact, sometimes it will appear as something good. In fact, it needs a lesser good in order to function. Here is an example:

Olga does not have a good relationship with her alcoholic father and overly demanding mother, and finds other people with who she can have the relationships she should be having with her parents but cannot. One of them is a much older 50-something teacher in high school named Jeff. Jeff fills the father role to an extent. Jeff is married. During the high school years there is nothing overtly improper on Jeff’s part and the relationship is platonic.

Throughout college, Olga stays in touch with Jeff who provides moral support through Olga’s academic difficulties. Moral support that should have come from her father, but did not. During the college years, Olga develops an attraction to Jeff which is no longer just platonic. Olga had been brought up on the fire and brimstone Christian moral teaching, but the teaching was very superficial, and her overall religious formation was minimal her family being Christmas/Easter Christians. To her, as long as she and Jeff didn’t do anything, they were “OK”. In the meantime, Jeff’s wife develops health problems and intercourse in the marriage is no longer possible. Jeff finds himself with deeper feelings to Olga.

Olga gets a job in North Carolina and Jeff gets a temporary teaching position in California. They still stay in touch and it is obvious that both by now have strong feeling. Due to circumstances, Jeff’s wife remains in the couple’s Ohio home. Olga has not had a chance to see Jeff in a long time, and here is an opportunity, but she is troubled by the feelings involved. Getting up the nerve she visits Jeff. While sexual intercourse does not happen, because Jeff and Olga see themselves as “moral Christians” and Jeff “respects” her virginity, a serious level of heavy necking and intimate fondling does. While Olga cites the ten commandments as a reason for her great discomfort with the situation, Jeff explains that she is being too “dogmatic” that she must get rid of her dogmas, and that they are doing nothing wrong. That Sunday, Jeff and Olga go to a local church. Olga is greatly taken by the level of Jeff’s piety and his kindness towards some elderly people.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

After returning to North Carolina, troubled over the current situation, Olga consults her best friend’s mother, a person she had learned to trust. To Olga’s surprise her best friend’s mother says that she is doing nothing wrong, because she is not out to wreck Jeff’s family. That Jeff is basically a good man, and the he is probably right that Olga, is too dogmatic. She then tells Olga that Olga’s problem is that she had never been allowed to be a girl, and had never fallen in love. That everyone should fall in love even if they get hurt and this relationship is somehow good for her because she is becoming more “mature”.

At some point, Olga runs into her childhood pastor from a main line church. She tells him that she wants to talk about some sin in her life. Again to her surprise, this very scholarly, theologically versed “conservative” pastor tells her that she is being too serious. That everyone sins. Then the pastor talks about two Catholic priests he knows who are wonderful men of God who also go out and pick up women on occasion. At the same time Jeff opens up more about his wife’s health problems with Olga. Jeff finds emotional support in Olga. Olga reasons that this is a good relationship based on all she has been told. She knows that there are a lot worse men out there that her friends have run into, and her friends are surprised by what a wonderfully nice man Jeff is. She reasons that it’s OK because Jeff has been so supportive and he is so religious. After all he is a good person and she is a good person . . .

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Here is another case. Although slightly off topic it is probably parallel to it. It does have something to do with the reasons we give for doing morally the wrong thing, especially if those reasons are based on moral relativism. It is that no matter what horrible things a person does, moral relativism can justify just about anything. Here is an article of just how deeply an up and coming generation has sunk into it:

It is scary when you think that this is where our next leaders are coming from.