Friday, January 11, 2008

TMP 13: Choice

[Part of The Molyneux Project; read the main critique here]

Stefan starts his discussion of "Choice" by giving an example of someone having a dinner party, but being offensive in the eyes of one of the guests. He claims that so long as the guest has the opportunity to leave, the offensive behavior is within the realm of "aesthetics," and not "ethics." Recall that on page 48, Stefan suggests that ethics deals only with "inflicted" behavior, or "violence." It seems to me that being offensive is very much to "inflict" something on the guest, in the sense that it does something that the guest does not prefer without the guest's direct permission. But Stefan's view can be saved by redefining "inflict" in a way that would imply that an action inflicts something on a person if it does something to her which she cannot escape from. This seems like what Stefan is trying to say when he suggests that the case moves into the realm of ethics if the guest is chained to a chair.

Stefan implies that chaining the guest to the chair is unjust, but why is this the case? By the way we have defined the situation, we are dealing with an ethical matter: we are trying to determine whether an inflicted preference (an act of "violence") is justified or not (Stefan defined ethical matters this way on page 48). But as I pointed out in an earlier post, Stefan hasn't actually told us how we are supposed to decide ethical matters. He has only told us how to recognize them.

I've already suggested that Stefan seems to accept at least one moral guideline, but I'm not exactly sure what it is. It seems like something along the lines of, "If a behavior is preferable for achieving some kind of end, then it is justifiable, and the actor is not morally responsible for engaging in it." But what kinds of ends justify behaviors in this way aren't completely clear.

This example helps to shed some light on the matter, though. Clearly, if the host actively chained the guest to the chair, it must have been desirable that the guest stay. And if chaining the guest to the chair was in fact preferable for the host to do (perhaps there was no other way to get the guest to stay), then to call the host's actions "unjust" could imply that not all preferable behaviors are justified. However, it could also imply that the host's ends were not the proper ones, and in achieving the proper ends, it would have been preferable for the host to let the guest leave.

The example also suggests another ethical claim. Obviously, it was preferable that the guest leave in order to achieve her ends, and the host's actions have prevented this from happening. So at the very least, it seems that what Stefan has done is to suggest that it is "unjust" to prevent someone from engaging in certain kinds of preferable behavior. I anticipate that Stefan will want to extend this claim further (perhaps to all preferred actions), but I don't want to put words in his mouth.

So up to now, we can interpret Stefan as making at least three vague claims. The first is that in some cases, preferable behavior is justified. The second is either that not all preferable behaviors are justified, or that not all behaviors which are preferable for achieving improper ends are justified. And the third is that it is unjust to prevent people from engaging in some kinds of preferable behavior. It's still not clear what it means for something to be "unjust," but perhaps Stefan will explain that later.

Let's see how these ideas hold up against Stefan's next example, where a man has cheated on his wife. Stefan implies that the husband would be unjust in preventing the wife from leaving him by locking her in the basement, so our third claim seems like it applies. But Stefan writes, "Infidelity does not destroy a partner's capacity to choose; locking her in the basement does." So it seems like we can even strengthen the third claim from saying that preventing preferable behavior is unjust, to the stronger claim that preventing some kinds of merely desired behavior is unjust (perhaps all?).

Further, Stefan suggests that "...we would recognize the regrettable necessity if she [the wife] had to use violence to escape from her imprisonment." So our first claim, that some kinds of preferable behavior is justified, seems confirmed.

Finally, it is possible that restraining the wife was preferable for the husband's achieving his ends. In implying that his behavior is unjust, and that the wife is justified in using force to prevent him from employing the preferable behavior of restraining her, Stefan affirms our second claim (outlined as a disjunction above). This is strengthened even further by Stefan's claim that "We would not generally consider a wife who shoots her husband for infidelity to be acting morally..."

Stefan also introduces what seems to be a fourth claim when he says that when the wife is not restrained, she "...has the free choice and capacity to leave her husband, and thus violence would be an unjust response to the situation..." The claim seems to be that using violence is unjust unless it is preferable for achieving certain ends, like leaving one's cheating husband.

But while Stefan has returned to the language of universally preferable behavior in talking about necessity and goals, it's still unclear where he's getting these ethical claims from. They certainly don't follow from anything he's said so far in the book. If he continues in this way, it seems very likely that I'll be able to win my bet; Stefan seems to be embarking on a non-sequitar. Stefan hasn't offered any real arguments in favor of any of the moral claims he's suggested so far. There are still a few more pages left in the first part; hopefully Stefan offers them soon!

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