Can Our Capacity for Moral Reasoning Be Strengthened?
Citation (APA): Jacobson, D. (2016). Can Our Capacity for Moral Reasoning Be Strengthened? [Kindle Android version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com
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Can Our Capacity for Moral Reasoning Be Strengthened? By Daniel Jacobson
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Recent “scientific” pessimism on this score claims that what we take to be moral reasons are mere rationalizations; and that when we think we are reasoning with others, we are actually engaged in unreasoned persuasion.
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This extravagant view treats half-truths about the difficulty of moral reasoning as if they were the whole truth about its impossibility. The case for such strong pessimism rests not on science but scientism:
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MEZZA VERITÀ TRASFORMATE IN VERITÀ
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In the first place, the human capacity for moral reasoning can be strengthened because our general reasoning capacities are amenable to improvement. This is most readily observed by considering how people develop as they mature from children to adults. We improve at logic, whether or not we learn the fancy Latinate names for rules of inference.
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È LA RAZIONALITÁ IN GENERE CHE PUÒ ESSERE MIGLIORATA
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inference to the best explanation.
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If the lawns and streets are wet this morning, the best explanation is that it rained last night while we were asleep.
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First, haven’t behavioral economists and psychologists shown us that people are very bad at reasoning? We humans are predictably irrational
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L OBIEZIONE COMPORTAMENTISTA
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Second, what do these reflections on general-purpose reasoning have to do with specifically moral thought?
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2 OB: RAGIONAMENTO E RAG. MORALE SONO COSE DIVERSE
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people unreflectively adopt heuristics— rough-and-ready simplifying principles— that work pretty well in a wide variety of common contexts. When interested parties, including both marketers and scientists, figure out the heuristics people use, they can exploit circumstances where it fails. We commonly chase sunk costs, overvalue things that belong to us, and respond differently to equivalent scenarios depending on how they are framed. Although these failures of rationality are fascinating and important, concentration on them can obscure the fact that our reasoning works well in many other circumstances.
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LA SCOPERYA COMPORT.
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Plenty of general reasoning is morally relevant, in that it can be applied to morally significant cases and yield practical conclusions.
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RAGIONE GENERALE E RAG. MORALE
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Kids learn early that “It’s not fair” is more powerful than “I don’t want to” or just “No.”
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But quickly enough one learns that claims about fairness have to be disciplined in certain ways. You can only make a claim of fairness when you can offer reasons
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link to one of the most prominent papers in the pessimistic genre,
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The idea that the human brain is a machine built to win arguments rather than to discover the truth seizes on the fact that people are biased in myriad ways, and these biases influence their evaluation of evidence. (This tendency is not quite as dismal as it seems, since it makes sense to hold on to core beliefs and values firmly rather than continually reevaluating them, which would have significant psychic costs.) But the claim that the brain’s primary function is advocacy rather than discovery is not credible. Most intellectual tasks involve problem solving rather than persuasion; you don’t argue with a bear but hunt, fight, or flee from it. Even in social contexts, where persuasion is most important, there are obvious costs to being proven wrong. Convince the tribe that bears are harmless and your reputation is likely to suffer.
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CONTRO ADVOCACY: I BIAS HANNO SENSO. CHI NN RISOLVE PROBLEMI MUORE
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The second claim is directed specifically at moral reasoning, which it holds to be mere rationalization.
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The strongest case comes from the well-documented human capacity to confabulate about our reasons, telling neat stories about what we do and why, which do not hold up under scrutiny. Although confabulation happens in various contexts, many of which have nothing to do with value judgment, no one thinks that this phenomenon supports a global pessimism about reasons. Even if we sometimes get it wrong about what we’re doing, everyone grants that in most ordinary contexts we know both what we are doing and why. Moreover, sometimes when people confabulate a false causal story, they are still sensitive to reasons that they cannot articulate.
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PROVA RAZIONALIZZAZIONE: RICOSTRUZIONE ERRATA
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Consider one of the most frequently cited experiments
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LA PROVA VS LA RAGIONE
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subjects were morally dumbfounded by various “offensive yet harmless” scenarios, such as eating one’s dead pet dog and cleaning the toilet with the flag. That is to say, although they were quite sure there was something wrong with these actions, the subjects could not give reasons
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it has serious problems, the worst of which is that it presupposes an extremely narrow conception of what can count as a good practical reason:
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the experimenters stipulate that there are no harmful consequences of actions that stir up strong aversive reactions.
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one cannot simply stipulate that a type of action isn’t dangerous— that is, likely to be harmful in realistic contexts— or that it does not violate well-founded rules, such as the rule laboratories have against the desecration of corpses. The general tendencies of actions are matters of fact rather than stipulation.
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psychological literature on moral dumbfounding presupposes that the only thing that can count as a practical reason is harm. It then adopts an untenably narrow conception of what counts as harmful that ignores danger, treats well-founded rules as mere suggestions, and ignores painful emotions even when they are predictable.
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IL DANNO COME HOME UNICO MALE
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There is nothing inherently magical about being averse to sticking pins in a doll constructed to resemble your child, for instance. Magical thinking requires some false causal belief, such as belief in the power of voodoo;
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While there is a science of disgust, there is no science of the disgusting— that is, of what merits disgust— and the tacit assumption that only germs can be disgusting leads to some obviously absurd conclusions.
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RIVALUTARE IL DISGUSTO
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Though one could attempt to formulate an empirical notion of what counts as an injury, say, all that would do is demonstrate that there are other sorts of harms than injuries. It is simply not in the purview of science to discover what humans ought to care about.
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the question was not whether moral reasoning is difficult to engage in honestly and, at least sometimes, harder to follow. It was whether it is possible to strengthen our capacity for moral reasoning— or
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DIFFICILE MA POSSIBILE
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The modestly pessimistic claim is true but rather obvious
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The biggest problem with the simple story of moral judgment as expression of emotion is that nobody treats moral judgments— their own or other people’s— in this way.
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NESSUNO CONSIDERA LA MORALITÀ UN EMOZIO
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Another fact about how moral discourse actually takes place is that we do not simply make judgments but offer reasons for them, which purport to justify those judgments. We do not simply say that abortion is always wrong or permissible (or some more qualified claim).
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Although many people hold skeptical theories about moral judgment, few can consistently treat moral judgments the way those theories seem to require. And it does seem like some reasons are better than others.
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INCOERENZA DEI PESSOMISTI
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we treat moral judgments: as claims that stand in need of justification,
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There are many domains of evaluative judgment— concerning aesthetics, for instance— where it seems clear that something human must be implicated in truths about beauty.
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