Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Convergence, Ethics, and the A Priori

I've previously discussed the close analogy between belief/truth and desire/value. The most obvious point of disanalogy is that our beliefs are subject to causal influence from empirical facts, so might be expected to converge on reality given sufficient exposure to said facts. In contrast, whatever values are, they don't seem the sort of entity that could causally interact with our desires. Positing some abstract Platonic realm of 'objective values' seems entirely superfluous to explaining the actual desires that we have. But as Michael Smith points out, something very similar can be said about our a priori beliefs - "whatever facts about what is a priori true are, they most certainly are not facts with which we causally interact." ['In Defence of The Moral Problem' in Ethics and the a priori, p.271]

Smith goes on to suggest that the truth-maker for a priori beliefs is merely constructive, i.e. the set of a priori beliefs that "we would all converge on if we were to subject our initial beliefs about what is a priori true to a reflective equilibrium process and so came up with a maximally informed and coherent and unified set of beliefs about what is a priori true."

If you then replace 'a priori belief' with 'desire', and 'a priori true' with 'valuable', then that pretty much yields Smith's analysis of normative facts. We have just as much reason to think that maximally coherent desire sets will converge, as we do to think that maximally coherent a priori belief-sets will.

It's widely believed that there need not be any such convergence of desires. Two perfectly informed and fully rational people might nevertheless retain different values and desires. The thought is that what values a fully rational person brings out of reflective equilibrium will be "radically relative" on those values he began with. But this skeptical argument will also extend to a priori beliefs:
Consider two people who have rather different beliefs about what is a priori true from each other to begin with, prior to engaging in the reflective process. Shouldn't we suppose that what one of them ends up believing to be a priori true, after subjecting their beliefs to a reflective equilibrium process, will be radically relative to the beliefs that they had to begin with? Absent the causal regulation of their various beliefs by the one set of apriori truths - that is, given the constructivism - the answer must be yes. (p.294)

Smith goes on to explain how we may preserve a priori truths nonetheless:
Given that, on this view, people have to converge in their beliefs about what is a priori true for any claim about what is a priori true to be true at all so it follows that, if we wish to interpret people as having beliefs about what is a priori true where some such beliefs are indeed true, then we simply have to so interpret them that they would converge if they had a maximally informed and coherent and unified set of such beliefs. (p.295)

The same is then said of desires: if we wish to interpret people so that it's possible to have true beliefs about what they have normative reason to do, then "we have no choice but to interpret them in such a way that the differences between them would slowly cancel out as they came closer and closer to having a maximally informed and coherent and unified set of desires."

That all sounds rather question-begging to me, and indeed Smith admits that "none of this is to say that there is good reason" to interpret people in such a way. Nevertheless, he concludes:
The crucial point is simply that worries about convergence are in both cases irrelevant to that decision. Convergence can be secured if it needs to be. Arguments from skepticism must therefore come from elsewhere.

I must admit I do not see the force of his argument here. If the only way to "secure convergence" is to radically reinterpret people's beliefs and desires, then isn't that problematic? (My problem here may be that I don't really understand what sort of "interpretation" he has in mind. Does anyone else have any idea?)

So, rather than reassuring me about the convergence of values, I'd have to say that Smith's argument has merely made me more skeptical about the possiblility of a priori truth!

Experts and Authority

It's sometimes thought that conservatives have a greater respect for authority than liberals. I think that's not quite right. Rather, it seems to me, they have different conceptions of authority. Liberals, though generally unimpressed by traditional power structures, may have more respect for the authority of experts. "Elitist intellectuals" that we are, we think that biologists probably know more about biology than your average Joe. Really, it never fails to amaze me that people see fit to make up their own opinion (usually grounded on nothing more than wishful thinking) on scientific issues like evolution or climate change. Surely it would be far more sensible to admit ignorance and defer to the authority of experts?

Of course, anti-scientific attitudes are not restricted to the right. Romantic environmentalists are opposed to nuclear energy and genetic engineering no matter the potential benefits to the environment. (I'm not entirely sure if the benefits outweigh the risks in either case, but they're surely worth looking into, rather than dismissing out of hand.) And if economists are largely agreed that free trade helps the third world, I'm not sure why so many leftists embrace trade protectionism.

Further, Chris at Mixing Memory points out that everyone thinks themselves qualified in linguistics and psychology, because we think and talk all the time. (Of course, this annoys the real experts - like Chris - no end.)

How about philosophers - do they tend to get annoyed by laypeople's philosophical musings? I guess most philosophers are pretty irritated by the unthinking relativism that's so widespread. And I myself get quite annoyed when I see stupid psychologists and economists making claims about "rationality" whereby they just assume that maximizing expected value in dollars(!) is the only rational thing to do. Ugh. But then again, most people don't really think much about philosophy anyway, apart from moral and political philosophy, at least. And are we really experts at those anyway? I've previously answered affirmatively, complaining at how the public sees religion as answering the "why" questions, when really it just makes thing up, and it's only philosophy that seriously tackles such problems.

Though that's not quite the same issue, I guess. One might grant that ethics falls under the dominion of philosophy, whilst denying that academic philosophers are themselves experts at it. (There's an interesting discussion of the latter issue over on Kieran Setiya's blog.) I'd grant that we needn't expect moral philosophers to be more virtuous than other people. But I should think that they are more likely to attain moral knowledge, if there is any to be found, and at the very least ought to have more consistent and well-justified values than would non-philosophers. It would thus seem appropriate for ethics panels to have more moral philosophers rather than the religious and other authorities that tend to dominate. But I'd be curious to hear what others think on this issue. I'm no expert, after all ;)

Monday, May 30, 2005

Philosophers' Carnival #14

... is here, courtesy of Chris at Mumblings and Grumblings. It offers a fine collection of philosophical posts, as always, so head on over and check it out.

Coherence and Rational Desires

In recent times, my position has been that our ultimate values are beyond rational criticism. Rationality can assess a potential 'means' against some presupposed 'ends', but it cannot recommend one end over another (except in relation to some further end). But perhaps I've neglected an important further role rationality can play. We might also assess the consistency and overall coherence of our values or desires, just as we do our beliefs.

As Michael Smith writes in The Moral Problem, p.159:
Suppose we take a whole host of desires we have for specific and general things; desires which are not in fact derived from any desire that we have for something more general. We can ask ourselves whether we wouldn't get a more systematically justifiable set of desires by adding to this whole host of specific and general desires another general desire, or a more general desire still, a desire that, in turn, justifies and explains the more specific desires that we have. And the answer might be that we would.

It might help to offer an example. Imagine someone who thought three foods all tasted equally good, but he only desired to eat the first two. This desire set makes little sense. We require some explanation for why the third food is different, so as to justify its different treatment. If no such explanation is forthcoming, then the desire set is open to rational criticism for making arbitrary distinctions. It would make more sense for the agent to desire all the good-tasting foods (again, assuming there was no hidden reason for treating some differently). [M. Smith, 'In Defence of The Moral Problem' in Ethics and the a priori, p.269.]

Moreover, our desires ought to cohere not just with each other, but also with our evaluative beliefs. Suppose we believe that we have normative reason to Φ (that is, on Smith's analysis of normative reasons, "we believe that we would desire to Φ if we were fully rational") and yet we fail to desire to Φ. Then we are irrational "by our own lights. For we fail to have a desire that we believe it is rational for us to have." (TMP, p.177)

Now for the crucial question: does the amoralist's desire set suffer from incoherence? We've already established that he rationally ought not be purely egoistic, i.e. he must see at least some other people as having intrinsic worth as ends in themselves. But why should he desire the well-being of some people but not others? Unless he can draw some principled distinction between the groups, then the amoralist's desires are unacceptably arbitrary. The moralist's universal concern shows greater coherence and unity, and thus is less open to rational criticism.

I should note that this ties in nicely with Nagel's dissociative argument for agent-neutral reasons. We all recognize that pain is bad. But by denying agent-neutral reasons, the amoralist is committed to the view that no-one else actually has any reason to relieve his pain. This seems implausible, assuming we have reason to do anything at all.

Once we recognize that our own interests matter, and that other people are relevantly similar to ourselves, then consistency would seem to require us to conclude that the interests of other people matter too. As Christine Korsgaard notes, when we are asked to put ourselves in the position of a victim of our cruelty, we do not respond, "Someone doing that to me, why that would be terrible! But then I am me, after all." ['The Sources of Normativity' in Darwall et al. (eds.) Moral Discourse and Practice, p.400] We all recognize that something is no less terrible merely because it happens to someone else.

So we are now in a position to respond to the amoralist. It seems that someone could fail to care about others without making any empirical or logical mistake. But they show a degree of arbitrariness and incoherence in their values which is open to rational criticism. The amoralist must retreat to a form of rational nihilism, denying that there are any agent-neutral reasons for action. ("My pain isn't really bad. It's just bad to me.") But this position squares poorly with our intuitive judgments about the badness of pain and the impersonal reasons that it gives rise to. If we're right to hold that there can be agent-neutral reasons, then it follows that the amoralist is irrational in failing to recognize and act on these reasons. But even if we grant reason-relativism, we can still fault the amoralist for drawing arbitrary distinctions by caring about some people but not others who are relevantly similar. They could make their desire set more coherent by expanding their circle of concern to cover everyone (perhaps gradually 'fading out' as more 'distant' people would be slightly different in ways that justify having slightly less concern for them). So, either way, the amoralist is open to rational criticism.

Old Posts, New Comments

The "recent comments" hack on the (main page) sidebar only checks current posts, i.e. those displayed on the main page. So every now and then I'll point out any old posts where new comments have been added. So, for this week, in addition to the ongoing discussion of free will and the problem of evil, there have also been interesting new comments made on Dreams and Sensations, and Interactive Fictions. Feel free to join in the discussion!

Multicultural Conservatism

Jordan has a great post on why the Maori Party is not left-wing:
It seems to me that the Maori Party's ambition is to work back towards an illusory golden past of Maoridom, where individuality is subsumed under collective whanau, hapu and iwi identities. This is highlighted by the constant references to whanau, hapu and iwi in their speeches; by their hostility to the inevitable effects of modernity and the Enlightenment on Maori society; by their desire to see social services dominated by a Maori "Aristocracy" (also known as iwi-based service agencies) rather than the universal services provided by the welfare state.

A more conservative - in fact reactionary - approach to politics is hard to imagine. If a pakeha-based party was out campaigning for the restoration of the great landed estates as there were in England; supporting the putting of economic and social power back in the hands of the elites; undermining the national institutions of common citizenship that bind us together - that party would be laughed out of political existence within minutes.

As I responded in comments, I'm disappointed by how many so-called "liberals" are willing to embrace cultural conservatism when the culture in question is non-Western. It's a betrayal of all the Left stands for.

(See also my past posts on affirmative aristocracy and cultural integration.)

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Sexist Rape Laws

Via the Green Party:
At the second reading of the Crimes Amendment Bill (No 2), Ms Bradford proposed changes to the way rape was defined, to include rapes by men on men, women on women, women on men, the use of objects, and anal and oral rape.

The Bill says only women can be raped. Men are not considered to be victims of rape, no matter how brutal the attack - and women cannot rape.

The amendment was rejected. I find this simply incomprehensible. What possible reason could there be for retaining such an outdated and sexist definition of 'rape' in our laws?

The Law of Non-Contradiction

"How do you respond to someone who denies the law of noncontradiction? Some logicians suggest hitting the person with a stick. A better idea is to pretend to agree. Whenever you assert something, also assert the opposite. Soon your opponent will want to hit you with a stick!"

That's Harry Gensler, in Formal Ethics, p.36. He then offers an amusing dialogue between two Hegelians:
A: Are you still a follower of Hegel?

B: Of course! I believe everything he wrote. Since he denied the law of noncontradiction, I deny this too. On my view, P is entirely compatible with not-P.

A: I'm a fan of Hegel myself. But he didn't deny the law of noncontradiction! You read the wrong commentators!

B: You're wrong, he did deny this! Let me get my copy of The Science of Logic.

A: Don't get so upset! You said that he did deny the law, and I said that he didn't. Aren't these compatible on your view? After all, you think that P is compatible with not-P.

B: Yes, I guess they're compatible.

A: No they aren't!

B: Yes they are!

A: Don't get so upset! You said that they are compatible, and I said that they aren't. Aren't these two compatible on your view? Recall that you think that P is compatible with not-P.

B: Yes, I guess they're compatible. I'm getting confused.

A: And you're also not getting confused, right?


Saturday, May 28, 2005

Why Be Moral? (Outline)

Here are my posts on that topic, gathered together in one convenient location. I've got until Thursday to merge them together and condense the result into a 2000 word essay...

1) Introduction to the amoralist's challenge, and working with a conception of morality which allows us to make sense of it.

2) Self-interested reasons: Collective Rationality - answers why we, collectively, should be moral. But what if the question is asked at the individual level?

3) Self-interested reasons: The Good Life. Forces a (partial) retreat from egoism, but insufficient to justify full-blown morality.

4) Seeking neutral ground: the framework view, and rational non-cognitivism.

5) The analogy with prudence (rules out prudence as the standard of rationality; leaves open rational altruism and present-aim theories).

6) Consistency

7) Agent-neutral reasons. (Rules out objective present-aim theories. Leaves open rational altruism and relativism.)

8) Motives and Reasons (some pressure towards relativism).

9) The adoption of ultimate ends (resisting relativism) [forthcoming, though cf. here and here].

Past-Blind Justice

Utilitarianism claims that the right thing to do is whatever would maximize well-being. It is thus an extreme form of substantive justice, paying no (intrinsic) heed to procedural or historical concerns. It allows no independent notions of rights or desert. Justice is not something prior to utility calculations, but the result of them. This way, everyone is treated with equal concern.

But is it plausible to ignore history in such a way? Utilitarianism is committed to "past-blindness". So far as the future is concerned, the past is irrelevant. The universe could be created ex nihilo in its present form, and the future would unfold in the exact same way. But we tend to think there would be moral differences. There is a moral difference between really making a promise, and merely having everyone believe you so promised. Even if the consequences are identical, we think the past matters. You have a greater obligation in the case where you really made a promise.

Suppose you employ a boy to mow your lawn, and after doing the job well he asks for his pay. If you could do more good by giving the money to charity instead, then the utilitarian must conclude that the right thing to do is renege on your promise and give the money to charity. In response to the question, "But is this really absurd?", Kymlicka responds:
Yes, this is absurd. What is absurd here is not necessarily the conclusion, but the fact the boy's having actually performed the job, or that I had actually promised him the money, never enters into the decision as such... The everyday view says that I should repay loans regardless of whether it maximizes utility. The [utilitarian] says that I should repay the loan because it maximizes utility. The boy has no greater claim on me than others, he just is likely to benefit more than they are, and so repayment is the best way to fulfil my utilitarian obligation. (W. Kymlicka, Contemporary Political Philosophy, p.24)

This is also problematic for criminal justice, which we usually see as being heavily dependent upon historical facts. Utilitarianism implies that it is strictly speaking irrelevant whether the accused committed the crime. All that matters is whether finding him guilty would maximize well-being (whether by deterring others, preventing a future crime this so-far-innocent man would commit, or even satisfying the retributive urges of the local community).

More sophisticated 'indirect' accounts, like Rule Utilitarianism, might avoid these conclusions. But, as Kymlicka notes above, they get the right result for the wrong reason. We think that justice requires treating people as they deserve, and this is going to be influenced by facts about the past, regardless of whether they have any future consequences. But utilitarianism leaves no room for the notion of desert. It treats the past as irrelevant. As such, it seems to yield an inadequate conception of justice.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Collective Rationality

One traditional answer to the amoralist's challenge ("why should we be moral?") is to point out the Hobbesian alternative: a state of war wherein life is "nasty, brutish, and short." If everyone behaves morally, then we're all better off than we would be if no-one was moral. The moral perspective is one of collective (rather than individual) rationality, and we need to appeal to this view in order to resolve the prisoner's dilemmas and other collective action problems that arise. It's in everyone's interests to live in a more moral society, so we may appeal to this shared 'common interest' in defence of morality. Just as individual rationality leads us to care about our self-interest, so collective rationality lends reason to care about morality. Or does it?

The problem here is that each deliberating agent is an individual, not a collective, so it isn't clear why their decision must be governed by collective rationality. From the viewpoint of the individual, the Hobbesian choice is a false dilemma. Their choice is not between a world of total morality or total amorality; all they get to decide is their own actions. And, as in the prisoner's dilemma, the individual is better off acting prudently no matter what the others do (assuming their behaviour is independent of the individual's decision). Collective rationality advises even the egoist to behave morally; but individual rationality need not, and it's surely this sort of rationality that aims to guide the practical reasoning of individuals.

David Gauthier (Morality and Rational Self-Interest, p.19) presents the incompatible arguments as follows:
(a) If it is reasonable for me to accept only self-interested reasons for acting, then it is reasonable for everyone. But if everyone accepted only self-interested reasons for acting, then everyone would do worse than if everyone also accepted moral reasons for acting. But it is not reasonable for everyone to do worse than necessary. Therefore it is not reasonable for everyone to accept only self-interested reasons for acting, and so not reasonable for me.

(b) If it is reasonable for me to accept moral reasons for acting, then I must do better by accepting them. For it is not reasonable for me to do worse than necessary. But whether others accept moral reasons or not, I do better to accept only self-interested reasons, rather than moral reasons as well. Therefore it is reasonable for me to accept only self-interested reasons for acting.

Both sound fairly compelling, though I also think both arguments are flawed. (b) neglects the good to/good for distinction, which I think is a clear mistake. A person might reasonably sacrifice their own interests for the sake of some good which they value even more highly (e.g. the well-being of those they love). But we may fix this problem by modifying the argument in (b) so that it is merely talking about what is prudentially reasonable. After all, the Hobbesian argument is that it's in everyone's interests to be moral, so the amoralist need only deny this much. Given this modification, I think their defence is a success.

(a) shows that rational egoism is what Parfit calls "directly collectively self-defeating", defined (for any theory T) as follows:
if we all successfully follow T, we will thereby cause the T-given aims of each to be worse achieved than they would have been if none of us had successfully followed T. (Reasons and Persons, p.55)

However, rational egoism makes no claims to be a collective theory. Rather, it is a theory about what it is rational for an individual to do. And as Parfit notes, it cannot possibly be directly individually self-defeating, for by definition, if an individual successfully follows rational egoism then he will have achieved what's in his best interests. (Of course, it might be indirectly self-defeating, due to the paradox of hedonism. But that would simply show that the individual had not successfully followed the theory. The theory would tell him that the prudent thing to do is make himself less disposed towards selfishness, and the egoist failed to do this.) So rational egoism is not self-defeating in any theoretically problematic sense.

So, does collective rationality have any practical import? Well, it does when we are making collective, i.e. political, decisions. We can concede that an egoist may have no (individually rational) reason to behave morally, without that diminishing the importance of morality more generally. For even the egoist must agree that it's best for all involved (including himself) if others are moral; and he should even agree to civil/political measures that would help promote the formation of moral character generally - even in himself. If the measures caused him to acquire a more moral character, this 'cost' (in individually rational terms) would be more than offset by the benefits of having more moral neighbours. Rational egoism implies that the rational thing to do is encourage the "irrationality" that is morality.

This is a less than satisfactory answer. It still allows that the egoist should try to encourage everyone else to be altruistic whilst secretly remaining selfish himself. But then, it shouldn't be surprising that one cannot provide a full defence of morality from within the framework of self-interest. What we really need is a more neutral battle-ground, a way of judging between the rival frameworks of self-interest and morality, without presupposing either.

'Right' Is Making The World Better

One reason for thinking that consequentialism must be correct is that otherwise it might be morally wrong to make the world a better place, and that's just absurd. To bring out the force of this argument, consider the old 'Organ Harvest' scenario, where a doctor could kill an innocent passerby so as to transplant his organs into five needy patients (one who needs a heart, two needing kidneys, etc.), and thereby save their lives. Intuitively, we think it must be wrong for the doctor to kill, no matter the beneficial consequences. But can this intuition survive rational reflection?

Let's remove homicide from the picture, and consider two alternative possible worlds. In the first world, the five patients die, and the passerby goes on to live a happy life. In the second world, the passerby's head falls off (by brute natural chance) just as he's walking past the doctor's office. The doctor then uses the man's organs to save the five patients, who each go on to live happy lives. Further suppose that all else is equal - there are no other relevant differences between the two possible worlds. Which world is better? Surely, based on the descriptions provided, we must judge that world #2 is the better one.

Now suppose that God lets you choose which of the two worlds to actualize. (After making your decision, the divine encounter will be wiped from your memory.) You get two buttons. If you press the first button, the real world will be world #1, and the passerby will live. If you press the second button, the real world will be world #2, and the five patients will live instead. Which button should you press? Again, it seems obvious that you should press button #2. Given the option, we should choose to make the world a better place rather than a worse one.

Let's elaborate on how it is that the passerby's head happens to fall off (in the second world). It turns out an invisibly thin razor-sharp wire had been blown by a freak wind which fixed its position at neck height where the man was walking past. (No-one else was hurt and the wire soon untangled itself and blew away harmlessly into the nearest dumpster.) This presumably will not alter the moral status of any of our above judgments.

Now suppose that, instead of two buttons, God gives you a length of razor-sharp wire with which you can make your decision. By putting it straight in the dumpster, you will realize world #1. By fixing it in the appropriate place, you will realize world #2. Again, God will later wipe all memory of your decision and actions. What should you do? The situation seems morally equivalent to the previous one. There don't seem any relevant grounds for changing your choice. Thus the right thing to do, in this bizarrely contrived scenario, is kill the passerby.

So why shouldn't doctors go around killing people? Why, it would have bad consequences, of course! In the real world we are never perfectly rational and fully informed, so we can easily make mistakes when attempting utility calculations. There's the risk that you would be found out, which could result in widespread panic and a "climate of fear" that would make life very unpleasant for everyone in the society. Moreover, the action itself would probably warp your psychology, and without God to reset your brain, it might dispose you to commit wrong (utility-thwarting) acts in future. 

So the utilitarian can agree that homicidal doctors are almost always acting wrongly. But in any (bizarrely unrealistic) scenario where it would actually do more good than harm, we must judge that it would indeed be right. (Given that such situations would never arise in real life, this judgment has no practical import.) Though this initially seems counter-intuitive, further reflection can support the judgment. The real absurdity is not the utilitarian conclusion, but the bizarre scenario that critics of utilitarianism are appealing to here.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

I, Robot

This is fun: The Personality Defect Test (via David Farrar)

"You are 85% Rational, 0% Extroverted, 28% Brutal, and 42% Arrogant."
You are the Robot! You are characterized by your rationality. In fact, this is really ALL you are characterized by. Like a cold, heartless machine, you are so logical and unemotional that you scarcely seem human. For instance, you are very humble and don't bother thinking of your own interests, you are very gentle and lack emotion, and you are also very introverted and introspective. You may have noticed that these traits are just as applicable to your laptop as they are to a human being. In short, your personality defect is that you don't really HAVE a personality. You are one of those annoying, super-logical people that never gets upset or flustered. Unless, of course, you short circuit.

Your exact opposite is the Class Clown.

Other personalities you would probably get along with are the Hand-Raiser, the Emo Kid, and the Haughty Intellectual.

Hmm, I'm not really all that humble. "Haughty intellectual" probably would've been a more accurate result...

Carnivals & Comments

[Update: moved to front from May 23.]
The next Philosophers' Carnival will be on Monday. Keep an eye out for posts from other bloggers you'd like to nominate. You can check the list of nominations here. Also, be sure to pick one post of your own to submit by the end of the week.

In other news, there are some new comments on my old post on the Problem of Evil & Free Will. I think (apparently contrary to everyone else in the world) that considerations of free will make the problem of evil all the more serious for theism. People's substantive freedom is impinged upon all the time, as when a murderer kills you against your will, or when you suffer from addiction or other mental illness which impedes your autonomy. A truly benevolent God would do more to protect our freedom (of both body and will). Anyway, read the post for the full details, and respond (there) with any comments you might have -- I'm curious to hear what others think of the argument.

The Good Life

What is the best way to live? This is arguably the most fundamental question in ethics, if "best" is understood to mean "morally best". But there are other interpretations. We might instead ask what sort of life would be best for me (a prudential question), or simply best, simpliciter. This then raises the meta-ethical question, "why be moral?" Is the moral life better than a life of enlightened egoism, or vice versa? Or perhaps they are one and the same?

Of course, there are specific cases where morality and self-interest conflict. But it might nevertheless be prudent (in a "rational irrationality" kind of way) to develop moral character in ourselves. There are three lines of argument which could support this: achievability of goals, the paradox of hedonism, or a moralized theory of well-being. If these work, it would provide us with a strong answer to the amoralist: even the self-interest theory of rationality tells them they ought to be moral!

A moralized theory of well-being is the least plausible approach, though from the little I know, it seems to have been favoured by the Ancient Greeks. The idea here is that virtue is an essential part of one's eudaimonia or flourishing. Socrates thought that evil was bad for your soul. (Hence the notion that people only ever do evil from ignorance -- for who would knowingly harm themselves in such a way?) The modern equivalent would be an 'objective list' theory of well-being which included virtuous character as one of the objectively valuable components of the good life. But as I don't find such theories at all plausible, I will not pursue this option any further here.

The 'achievability of goals' argument can be found in my recent post on V-beings (follow link for explanation of the terminology):
Suppose you want only to maximize your future happiness, and you have the choice of becoming either a V-, I-, or E-being. Which should you choose? I'm inclined to think the V-being has a rather large advantage, in that they would find it much easier to get others to go along with their ends. (Just imagine: "Hi, I want you to be happy!" "Okay, sounds good to me!") Their goals would be generally supported by the rest of society, and thus they'd have a better chance of succeeding at them and attaining happiness themselves. By contrast, it must really suck to be [a sadist].

But note that this is, so far, merely an argument to change your reactive attitudes. You should try to cultivate a taste for other people's happiness. But that doesn't require you to see other people as ends in themselves. You might still try to please other people merely as a means to your own happiness. To encourage a deeper moral conversion, we must turn to the next argument, which Kai Nielsen puts as follows:
[The egoist], being human, could not but value friendship, love, comradeship and fraternity. But all those things would be impossible for him, at least in their more genuine forms, if he lived the life of an immoralist. But, in not having them, he loses a lot -- loses more than he could ever gain in a tradeoff with the goods he gained by his immoralism. The very central human goods (friendship, love, comradeship, fraternity), goods resting on a non-calculating reciprocity, will not be available to him, it is natural to argue, if he does not take the moral point of view. (Why Be Moral?, p.294)

There is definitely something to this argument. It echoes the 'paradox of hedonism' - if you explicitly aim at happiness, you are sure to miss it. This good can only be achieved indirectly, through sincerely aiming at other goods, including those which require "non-calculating reciprocity". Thus the rational egoist should strive to lose his egoism, and become a more moral person.

The conclusion is still somewhat limited, however. As Nielsen goes on to note, it really only rules out systematic egoism. One might attain the above goods without being perfectly moral, thus leaving open the option of a more limited amoralism. Nielsen demonstrates this through the case of a "classist amoralist", who forms deep and genuine connections to others within his elite class, but ruthlessly exploits the lower classes without a twinge of guilt. It is difficult to deny that such behaviour really might be in his best interests. So if we are to hold that it is always irrational to be immoral, we must look elsewhere than prudence for the explanation.


It seems I'm an accidental vocabularian. I was writing a post, and accidentally wrote 'culinate' instead of 'cultivate' at one point. Which sort of makes sense, I suppose, given the connection between cultivated tastes and culinary ones. The neologism handily combines the two concepts into one, i.e. to "culinate" is to cultivate culinary tastes. Any buyers?

The Five Songs Meme

(via Suze)

Song playing right now

A Perfect Circle - Imagine

Total volume of Music on my Computer
About 2 gigs, I think.

Last CD I Bought

Five Six songs I listen to a lot / mean a lot to me
  • Metallica - Nothing Else Matters

  • Foo Fighters - Learn To Fly

  • Velvet Revolver - Fall To Pieces

  • Sense Field - Save Yourself

  • Jeff Buckley - Hallelujah

  • Queen - These Are The Days Of Our Lives

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Historical Justice

An extreme form of the procedural approach to justice is the "historical" view of justice held by libertarians such as Nozick. On this view, what matters for justice is not the end result (e.g. alleviating poverty, or whatever), but simply the historical process, as governed by three general principles:

1) A principle of initial acquisition, specifying how one may justly gain property rights over unclaimed resources.
2) A principle of transfer, specifying how one may justly acquire resources from someone else.
3) The principle of rectification: any past injustices (i.e. violations of the above two principles) must be rectified.

In future posts I will examine these principles in more detail, but for now I just want to note an obvious flaw in the whole approach, which is the problem of inter-generational justice.

The model seems to assume a static view of history as the interactions between a fixed group of people. It provides no guidance for how to deal with the belated entrance of new (born) people into the system. They had no chance to participate in the initial distribution of resources (as guided by principle #1), as they did not exist at the time. So they are unfairly bound by the choices of those who went before them. There is no justice in the fact that a child born into a rich family has better chances in life than he would have if born into a poor family instead. Even if we suppose that poor parents are entirely responsible for their own poverty, this is no fault of their children, and it is unjust that they should suffer in consequence.

I'm not sure whether this problem is inherent in the historical approach, or merely libertarian varieties of it. It may be possible to come up with non-libertarian principles of just transfer which could deal with this problem. For example, we might allow the coercive redistribution of wealth from rich families to poorer ones, or taxes to fund freely accessible and high-quality public education. But this goes very much against the spirit of the approach, and indeed the letter of it too, as we are now directing justice towards a particular pre-conceived end (i.e. provision of goods to poor children), rather than merely letting things unfold according to a non-teleological and minimally-restricted historical process.

Simply put, the old cry of "won't somebody think of the children!?" strikes me as a knock-down argument against the libertarian conception of justice. Indeed, the problem is so obvious, I'm sure that committed libertarians must have some response to it. But what?

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Mailbag: The Anti-Analytic Reader

I just received a very odd email with the subject heading "Regarding your website (and your education)":
It seems to me that you haven't read any Nietzsche. You should. You'd start to realize how ridiculous your methods of argumentation really are. There is no such thing as a logical proof of any philosophical idea, so why do you continue to argue in a manner like that? There are only perspectives that can be argued for and your method of argumentation is about as cold, dreary, and unpersuasive as I've ever seen. Hey, let's go form new terms and then produce some verbal wank with them. Yay! Here, I'll call this well-being and this happiness and this pleasure and blah, blah, blah blah blah.... And then worse, your type feel like you're doing something important!

Expand your mind beyond the old philosophy. Check out some continental.

Sorry about the polemical tone. I just read several of your posts and they are truly ridiculous. Have you not heard? Language was not given by God; it has no set meaning; it started as warning signals between monkeys about different types of predators that were in the area. All it can do is signal to phenomenon in the world. And when you debate like you and your friends do then you're just mixing around different definitions and playing games with language. You're not actually accomplishing anything but mental and verbal masturbation!

Hence the 20th century rise of phenomenology (and please don't even try to say that Kant was performing phenomenology) - the attempt to actually explain what's going on in the world, not just the mixing and matching of words and concepts with no real connection to the world. There is such fucking thing as a util!

The tradition had a crisis. Some people have dealt with it and learned from it and continued to push philosophy forward. And some people have just stopped dead in the water - not even realizing the utter absurdity they call "philosophical inquiry."

Once again, sorry for the polemic - but learn from it...
[name redacted]

p.s. I wrote the above under the assumption that you were a grad student, but if this is incorrect then it explains everything. And in the latter case, please, before you graduate, expand your thought process beyond Kant and Mill - their days of credibility are long past.

What tripe - last I checked, analytic philosophy was flourishing in the English-speaking world (and even making some inroads into France, I believe). And was he trying to prove to me that there is "no such thing as a logical proof of any philosophical idea"? And if not, if it's just his "perspective", then why on earth should I listen to that? (Here we see that analytic philosophy is one of those invincible ideas I was talking about last month.)

And yes, I'm just an undergraduate, though I'm not sure how that "explains" my choice of discipline. The implication seems to be that anyone more familiar with the discipline would soon abandon it in favour of studying woolly-headed continental types. Though if my correspondent here is a representative product of this alternative "education", I'm sure you'll understand if I'm less than tempted to follow in his footsteps.

Utilitarian Respect For Persons

A quick thought: Some object to utilitarianism on the Kantian grounds that it fails to "treat each person as an end in themselves, and never as a means only". For example, utilitarianism may instruct us to sacrifice some people as a means to benefit (more) others. But I'm not sure this objection really holds. Utilitarianism takes the interests of everybody into account, and thus never treats anyone only as a means. Even the sacrificed people were considered as "ends in themselves", their interests included in the utilitarian calculus. It just turned out that their needs were outweighed by other people's. So they were treated as a means, granted, but not as a means only. Now, it's not so clear that this weaker result (i.e. treating people as a means in addition to an end in themselves) is something worth objecting to. People benefit from other people all the time. Ask a stranger for directions and you are using them as a means to your own ends. This seems morally innocuous. But perhaps that's because the other person (tacitly) consents to being 'used' in such a way. It seems more problematic when people are used against their will. But then, utilitarians would agree that it's unfortunate when anyone's interests (or autonomy) are sacrificed. It's a bad thing in itself -- but this harm might be outweighed by a greater good. The real question seems to be whether it's an absolute, overriding evil to use someone as a means against their will. But the answer to this is obviously "no". If someone knew the code to deactivate a nuclear bomb which threatened to kill millions, but stubbornly refused to share the information, one would be well justified in tricking, drugging, or otherwise forcing him to share the code against his will. So, what's the objection, exactly?

Incompletely Relative Rationality

I previously asked whether the amoralist is irrational in neglecting the concerns of others. A positive case might be made for this via analogy with prudence. We tend to think it irrational for a person to disregard their future interests. As McDowell writes:
It is not clear that we really can make sense of the idea of someone who is otherwise rational but cannot see how facts about his future can, by themselves, constitute reasons for him to act in various ways. (McDowell, 'Are Moral Requirements Hypothetical Imperatives?' in M. Smith (ed.) Meta-ethics, p.107.)

But, as Parfit points out in Reasons and Persons (p.140), there's a strong analogy between 'I' (vs others) and 'now' (vs future). The aprudentialist might argue, "I don't care about my future self - I only care about me now. So why should I take my future self's interests into account?" It seems likely that whatever answer we give will apply, mutatis mutandis, to the amoralist too.

To bring out the analogy, notice that our aim in practical reasoning is always to answer the question, "how should I now act?" -- it is relative to a time just as much as it is relative to an agent. Now, we are tempted to say that the "agent-now" (i.e. present time-slice of the agent) is being irrational in neglecting his future interests, because his future self will suffer as a result. But neglecting other people's interests will likewise expose them to extra suffering. If an agent-now can rationally ignore the suffering of others, parity of reasoning would seem to suggest that he may likewise ignore the suffering of his future time-slices. (Of course, most of us are, as it happens, concerned about our future selves. But then, most of us are at least mildly altruistic too. That doesn't show we must be, or that anyone who fails to share our perhaps idiosyncratic concerns in these respects must necessarily be irrational.)

We might defend prudence by arguing that reasons are 'timeless', so if X will be a reason for you in future, then that very same consideration must be a reason for you now. But if reasons are neutral between time-slices of people, then why are they not likewise neutral between people? This reasoning leads us to rational altruism: if X is a reason for you, then it's also a reason for me.

So the problem, you will notice, is that rational egoism is "incompletely relative". It allows time-neutral reasons, but not agent-neutral ones. Such inconsistency is troubling. We would do better to accept both or neither. If we insist that it is irrational to discount one's future interests, then we should likewise conclude that it is irrational to discount the interests of other people. But we are not forced into rational altruism. We might instead accept that even the aprudentialist need not be irrational.

A (very unusual) person might ignore their future interests without thereby making any logical or empirical mistake. If they genuinely do not care about their future interests, then it is not clear what grounds we have for calling them "irrational". Most of us are committed to the prudential point of view. But it isn't clear what non-question-begging, non-prudential reasons can be given for adopting this view. So, on reflection, we see that it is just as rationally legitimate to work within the framework of present-concerns instead. As with the rival viewpoints of self-interest and morality, these frameworks are simply incommensurable. There are no independent grounds for favouring one over another. Each person (or time-slice of a person!) must simply choose what sorts of considerations they will recognize as reasons, thereby deciding what sort of person they want to be.

Update: I should add that the analogy become especially forceful when coupled with Parfit's reductionist view about personal identity, according to which the persisting ego is an illusion, and there is no further fact beyond the various physical and psychological connections and continuities between time-slices.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Is Pain Impersonally Bad?

Thomas Nagel, in The View From Nowhere, argues that anyone's pleasure and pain provide everyone - not just the subject of the experience - with reasons for action. That is, they provide "agent-neutral" reasons, rather than "agent-relative" ones. If he's right about this, then we can charge the egoistic amoralist with irrationality, for their failure to recognize and act on these reasons. But is he right?

We begin by recognizing that "each person has a reason to care about his own pleasure and pain" - this is, so far, merely an agent-relative reason. Next, as Nagel explains:
We have to decide whether the kind of reason people have to avoid pain for themselves can be plausibly combined with impersonal indifference to it. Here the argument from disassociation seems to me persuasive. If we assign impersonal value to pleasure and pain, then each person can think about his own suffering not just that he has reason to want it gone, but that it's bad and should be got rid of. [emphases added] If on the other hand we limit ourselves to relative reasons, he will have to say that though he has a reason to want an analgesic, there is no reason for him to have one, or for anyone else who happens to be around to give him one... evaluation of [the pain] is entirely confined within the framework of a judgment about what it is rational for this person to want.

But the pain, though it comes attached to a person and his individual perspective, is just as clearly hateful to the objective self as to the subjective individual. I know what it's like even when I contemplate myself from outside, as one person among countless others. And the same applies when I think about anyone else in this way. The pain can be detached in thought from the fact that it is mine without losing any of its dreadfulness. (p.160)

One must be careful when trying to perceive values from an objective point of view, since within the "absolute conception" there is no room left in the world for mattering at all. As I wrote in my previous essay:
The essentially relational nature of value is made clearer by the notion of an evaluative point of view. Absolute objectivity, or the absence of a perspective, leaves no room for value; the universe doesn’t care what we do. But this need not lead to nihilism. Viewpoints exist, and value exists in relation to them. Morality does not require some ‘absolute value’ that is good from the null view. On the contrary: evaluation is impossible when deprived of all criteria, and ‘ought’ becomes meaningless – “a word of mere mesmeric force”.

But Nagel's point is well-supported by the alternative approach of Hegelian objectivity. If, in the objectifying process, we expand our viewpoint rather than constrict it, we can retain such perspectival notions as 'mattering'. We can achieve a (more) objective viewpoint which incorporates the values of ourselves and others, and thus recognizes the badness of pain and the importance of relieving it. This "moral point of view" will offer agent-neutral reasons to act.

But this is not enough to refute the amoralist. He may grant that one plainly ought to act morally according to this agent-neutral viewpoint. But the question is, what reason does he have for adopting this view-point in the first place? (Kai Nielsen, Why Be Moral?, p.290.) Why expand his perspective in such a way as to include the concerns of others? He is only concerned with himself; he does not wish to take on board others' concerns, for they are of no import to him. Adopting the objective point of view would thus seem to distort what the egoistic individual has reason to do, for it includes concerns that he does not share.

This, then, is the crux of the matter. Is the amoralist acting irrationally in refusing to acknowledge the welfare of others as an end he ought to pursue? That seems far from obvious. However, in a future post I'll look at how an analogy with prudence might support this claim.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Pleasurable Relations

No, that's not a euphemism for sex. Sorry. Think instead about the different ways that a person might respond in relation to the feelings of others. There are three basic options: you might empathize, feeling pleasure at others' pleasure, and pain at their pain; you might have the very opposite reaction, getting sadistic pleasure from others' pain; or you might be entirely indifferent to the well-being of others. Let's label these three types of character as V-beings, E-beings, and I-beings, respectively (standing for virtuous, evil, or indifferent character).

These are the characters we've been looking at in class, inspired by Colin McGinn's Ethics, Evil and Fiction. But as it stands, these feelings might not have any necessary impact on one's actions. An E-being might behave morally and help others, making himself miserable in the process. So we're not yet really talking about 'virtue' or 'evil' at all. A more interesting cast of characters might result from considering analogous desires instead. Let us say that an altruist desires that others are happy; an amoralist is purely egoistic and does not care what happens to others either way; and a wicked person has an intrinsic desire that others suffer. 

These new characters could incorporate the pleasure felt in sympathy (since we feel pleased when we know that our desires have been fulfilled), but it becomes a side-effect rather than an aim of action. They thus allows us to see virtue and evil in non-egoistic terms. The wicked person might be selflessly evil - even willing to promote evil at cost to himself!

Would it matter to any of these characters who caused the pleasure or pain to others? Consider the sadistic E-being: would he still get pleasure from watching strangers harm each other, or is he only happy when he himself inflicts the pain? The answer to this will determine whether it is really the pain of others that he enjoys, or if it is rather something about himself having power over them, or some such. Of course, the genuinely wicked person would not care whether he was the cause of the evil or not. Compare the genuine altruist to the self-gratifying moralist: the latter wants to be the person who helps others, whereas the former has a more pure other-regarding desire, that others be helped (whether by himself or others).

We can also separate out egoism by asking what state of affairs each character would prefer despite remaining ignorant of its realization. The egoist V-being wants to know others are happy in order to be happy himself. The altruist just wants others to be happy - whether he learns about it is less important. Similarly, mutatis mutandis, for the egoist vs. wicked E-being.

One interesting question raised in class was how these characters ought to relate to each other. Suppose that an E-being is enjoying much sadistic glee: should a V-being be sympathetically happy about this? Of course she will have an extrinsic reason to be sad, i.e. for the sake of the harmed person who is pleasuring the sadist so. But quite apart from that, should the V-being regard the E-being's glee as intrinsically good (though possibly outweighed by the greater harm of the victim)?

This can pose a problem for utilitarianism, as the common intuition here is that there is nothing good about sadistic pleasure. But this then denies the utilitarian claim that happiness is an intrinsic good. It seems we must restrict this claim to merely 'deserved happiness' or 'non-sadistic happiness', or some such. That would complicate our theory. Is it a complication worth adding? I'm not sure about it. I think we can say that the even the sadist's pleasure is good-in-itself. But of course it is all-things-considered bad, because it is outweighed by the greater harm done to the victim. (Do you think this response is plausible?)

There's also the opposite problem of revenge. We can get a wicked glee from seeing bad people suffer (our lecturer mentioned a disturbingly enjoyable story about a rapist being tracked down by the victim's mother and sodomized with a cucumber). But, on reflection, it is probably bad of us to react in such a way. This harks back to the old idea that revenge makes us "no better than they". By enjoying the suffering of another, we ourselves become E-beings. This might be seen as the greatest threat of evil: not just the harm it does to others, but the risk of contagion. As Hilzoy wrote in a stunningly insightful post:

I think the effects of hatred are like (what I've seen of) cocaine. At first, it's exhilarating. It's fun to see other people being vile and to set yourself in opposition to them... But if you don't keep hatred in check, you come to rely on it more and more, the fun fades, and it corrodes you from within.

To change tacks somewhat, it's also worth considering which of these characters it makes most egoistic sense to be. Suppose you want only to maximize your future happiness, and you have the choice of becoming either a V-, I-, or E-being. Which should you choose? I'm inclined to think the V-being has a rather large advantage, in that they would find it much easier to get others to go along with their ends. (Just imagine: "Hi, I want you to be happy!" "Okay, sounds good to me!") Their goals would be generally supported by the rest of society, and thus they'd have a better chance of succeeding at them and attaining happiness themselves. By contrast, it must really suck to be evil.

One last issue worth considering is the apparent "double standard": we assume that altruism needs no justification, but wickedness seems bizarre and in need of explanation. What's the basis for this difference? Aren't they logically analogous? Of course, we'd all want to encourage altruism, for our own sakes and others', but that's no principled reason to see one character as more understandable than the other. Perhaps it's a similarity thing: based on our own (roughly altruistic) values, we can more easily understand those with similar values. Or it could be natural/statistical: it just so happens that most humans are naturally sympathetic, so we think nothing of it, whereas genuine wickedness is exceedingly rare, so we think it odd. 

But are either of those reasons deeply principled? It seems that what we really want to say is that pleasure is the sort of thing that all rational agents are able to recognize as an objective good, whereas pain is objectively bad, and that accounts for the asymmetry. (Why would a rational agent pursue something he sees as bad?) Alternatively, we might appeal to consistency. The E-being wants himself to be happy, so why doesn't this value-judgment "carry over" into his hopes for other people? It seems inconsistent to say that oneself ought to be happy whereas everyone else ought to be sad. Thus such a view might stand in greater need of justification than the more consistent position of altruism. Any other ideas?

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Motives and Reasons

Motives and (normative) reasons are clearly not the same thing. If someone behind my back (and without my knowledge) is swinging a baseball bat at my head, then I have reason to duck, though I do not realize it and so fail to be motivated to do so. Still, there seems an important connection between them. It seems that reasons are things that would motivate us, if only we knew about them. But is this necessarily so?

My earlier taxonomy effectively identifies subjective reason with free motivation - though I should be careful not to confuse recognition of a fact that is a reason with recognizing that fact as a reason. Of course we will be motivated by whatever we see as reasons, i.e. what I taxonomized as "s-reasons". But - the more important question - what about "p-reasons"? Are they possible? Might we recognize that some fact (which just so happens to be a reason) is true, yet fail to see the fact as a reason? This is not so clear.

Suppose not. Then we might seem to be committed to a desire-based theory of reasons:
the core assumption... is that a reason is necessarily something that would guide the action of an informed agent. But according to the belief-desire theory of action, all action aims at desire-fulfillment. So the agent would treat as action-guiding only information that was relevant to the fulfillment of his desires. If you presented him with a 'reason' which appealed to some end that he did not share (i.e. desire), then he would not consider it a reason to act at all.

But is this 'potential motivational force' truly essential to the concept of a reason? Must an objective reason be recognized as a reason by all factually-informed agents? If so, then it would seem the amoralist is correct. From the mere fact that the (informed) amoralist is not motivated to act morally, it would follow that the amoralist has no reason to be moral. But we might wish to deny this, and hold that the amoralist is in error: there are reasons for action that they are failing to recognize, namely, those provided by the demands of morality.

Let 'rational internalism' (not to be confused with moral reasons internalism) be the claim that reasons must potentially motivate, as above. (That is, the denial that p-reasons are possible.) Does rational internalism vindicate the amoralist? I think there are two ways this could be avoided. One would be to deny belief-desire psychology, and argue that there are intrinsically motivating beliefs ('besires'). That sounds odd to me, but some philosophers do defend this view. (I wonder what psychologists have to say about it?) The other option is to claim that new beliefs could influence our basic desires, which again I find implausible, but as it's a psychological question, we philosophers probably aren't in any position to comment.

Leaving aside those complications then, we have the two basic options: adopt rational internalism and admit that the amoralist has no reason to be good, or else reject rational internalism. Which option do we have most reason to pick? [And how would the rational internalist answer if I had no motivation to adopt his theory? ;)]

The Amoralist Challenge to Internalism

Moral internalism is the claim that motivation/reason for action is built into the very concept of morality. So if you recognize that you morally ought to X, it follows from that fact alone that you have motive/reason to X. As the slashes make clear, there are two forms of moral internalism: one is concerned with motivation, and the other with 'reasons' or rational justification. Both are implausible, and indeed conclusively refuted by the conceivability of the amoralist and the coherence of his question, "why should I be moral?".

The amoralist is someone who pays no heed to moral demands. He might recognize that a particular action is morally required, but he denies that this gives him any reason to do it. As I wrote in a recent post:
I can imagine someone sincerely saying, "Yes, I agree that X would be the right thing to do. But so what? I don't care about morality, I just want what's best for me, and I can better achieve that by doing Y." Upon hearing such a stark admission of amorality, I would probably be shocked and disgusted at the person's vicious character. But I would not consider their statement to be incoherent.

I then go on to describe how motivational internalists have to deny that such a being is possible. They must say the statement is insincere - the apparent "amoralist" isn't really talking about morality, but rather (inverted commas, what other people call) "morality". This response fails to take the amoralist seriously. As Brink writes, "We can imagine someone who regards certain demands as moral demands - and not simply as conventional moral demands - and yet remains unmoved." (p.148) There is nothing incoherent about this picture, thus proving that motivating force is not internal to the concept of morality after all. We should reject motivational internalism.

Of course, we all recognize that there is some significant connection between moral judgments and motivation. But internalism mistakes this connection, and a better account of it can be provided by externalism:
Though it makes the motivational force of moral considerations a matter of contingent psychological fact, externalism can base this motivation on "deep" or widely shared psychological facts. If, for example, sympathy is, as Hume held, a deeply seated and widely shared psychological trait, then, as a matter of contingent psychological fact, the vast majority of people will have at least a desire to comply (even) with other-regarding moral demands. Moral motivation, on such a view, can be widespread and predictable, even if it is neither necessary, nor universal, nor overriding. These are limitations in the actual motivational force of moral considerations which, I think, reflection on common sense morality recognizes. (David Brink, 'Externalist Moral Realism' in M. Smith, Meta-ethics, p.149.)

We should also reject moral reasons internalism, for similar reasons. In this case, it is the coherence of the amoralist's challenge, rather than his mere existence, which refutes the theory. The amoralist asks, "why should I be moral?", and this is a fair question. But the reasons internalist must reject it out of hand as incoherent. According to the internalist, it is inherent in the concept of morality that it provides reasons to act, so to recognize a moral demand just is to recognize a reason to act. So it is senseless to ask the amoralist's question; the internalist must reject it as conceptually confused.

The internalist can support this position by arguing that the question "why be moral?" is equivalent to the question "why should I do what I ought?", and that this is clearly incoherent. But this argument rests on an equivocation. It ignores that there are different kinds of 'should'. Clearly the amoralist is not asking why he morally ought to be moral - that would indeed be senseless! Rather, he is asking for a non-moral justification. He is appealing to a rational 'should'. In other words, he is asking: "what reason do I have to fulfil my moral obligations?", or, equivalently, "is the framework of morality genuinely reason-giving?" These are clearly coherent, and indeed vitally important, philosophical questions.

The conceptual coherence of such questions is sufficient to refute moral reasons internalism. If there are moral reasons, this is not merely a conceptual truth about morality, but also depends upon our substantive theory of rationality, the content of morality, and facts about agents and the world. (Brink, p.153) We have thus established externalism. And just as well, since internalism can only provide facile answers to the difficult questions above ("Why be moral? You just should - it's built into the very definition of the concept!"). If we want to find a more satisfying answer, we must first admit externalism. Only then can the question be seriously asked - and thus seriously answered.

Sensitivity, Dreams, and the Cogito

We want our beliefs to be true, but in a reliable sort of way, rather than by some fluke or chance. This prompts the sorts of counterfactual requirements discussed here. We want our belief to be 'sensitive' to the truth, so that if P had been false, we would not have believed that P. But this requirement is too strong, as skeptical scenarios make clear. Instead, we should be satisfied with a belief that is 'safe', i.e. one we would not easily be mistaken about. It is enough that our beliefs track the truth through close possible worlds - they need not be secure all the way out to the first 'not-P' world, if it is very distant (as is the BIV scenario).

Now, Jonathan at Fake Barn Country argues that the skeptic's dream scenario threatens the safety of our beliefs. There is a close possible world in which I am dreaming all of this, such that many of my present beliefs would be false. So even though my beliefs are all true (let us suppose), they fail to count as knowledge because I easily could have been dreaming and thus mistaken.

As I responded in comments:
the phenomenology of dreaming is quite different from that of waking life. Even though I might not realise when I'm dreaming, I certainly do realise when I'm awake. This asymmetry is important. There is no chance at all that I'm dreaming right now, because I know that I never have this quality of phenomenological experience while asleep. So I don't see dreams as skeptically dangerous.

My understanding of dreaming is influenced by Dennett's metaphor of anosognosia: sometimes when it seems we are aware of something (e.g. filling in the blind spot), it's really just that we are not aware of our deficit. I think dreams are like this: it's not that we positively think we're awake, it's more just that we aren't aware that we are asleep. Most dreams aren't convincing hallucinations, it's just that our judgment is so impaired at the time that we don't realise how different and unconvincing they are. The potential for confusion is negative, not positive; it's due to a lack, not a presence.

What I want to emphasise here is the crucial difference between my waking knowledge that I'm awake (which is in no danger of being mistaken), and my dreaming inability to tell whether I'm awake. The latter in no way threatens the former. From the fact that if I were dreaming right now I would not be able to tell the difference, it does not follow that I actually cannot tell the difference! That's the "asymmetry" idea I was trying to get at before. (I worry that I'm not expressing this very clearly, but I hope you at least get the general idea.)

As such, I consider my beliefs quite unthreatened by dream-based skepticism. If we include the appropriate background, i.e. the rich 'positive' phenomenology that grounds my beliefs, then I think they even remain 'safe'. Given my phenomenology, I could not easily be mistaken. I could have a different phenomenology and fail to realise it, e.g. if dreaming, but that is of no relevance here. It's no problem, because as it happens I'm not just overlooking a negative, I'm actually noticing a positive. I am fully aware of the richness of my present (waking) experiences. If dreaming, I would not have that awareness. Instead, I would be unaware of my deficit. Two negatives do not make a positive. We should conclude that my beliefs are safe after all.

Alternatively, if you insist that the dream scenario implies that my beliefs are technically not 'safe', then that simply shows that safety is not what matters. All that justification really requires is the sort of "asymmetrical safety" that I have described above. 'Symmetrical safety' is overly stringent in much the same way as 'sensitivity' is. So we should not be too worried if our beliefs fail to meet these tall requirements in light of various skeptical scenarios.

To demonstrate: suppose that you've been slipped a drug that screws up your logical capabilities. So you engage in wacky trains of illogical reasoning, all the while unaware of your irrationality. At some point, you reason to yourself, "I think, therefore I am", and it strikes you as utterly certain - you think you couldn't possibly be wrong. But suppose it turns out you are wrong. We can't comprehend this of course, because we're all on the wacky drug ourselves, so our logical capacities are screwed. But that, I hereby stipulate, is really how it is (in the scenario we're imagining).

Does that scenario in any way threaten our present certainty in Descartes' cogito? I should think not. This then helps reinforce my central point: The fact that if we were wrong we wouldn't know it, does not establish that we currently do not know that we're right. To think otherwise is to neglect the asymmetries I've pointed to, and Dennett's insight that neglecting absence does not create presence - it merely seems like it.

Friday, May 20, 2005

CFA: Metallica & Philosophy

[Bill Irwin asked me to post the following. Apparently Brian Leiter recommended my blog to him, which is kinda neat. Anyway, here it is:]

Call for Abstracts: Metallica and Philosophy

William Irwin, editor

The editor of Seinfeld and Philosophy, The Simpsons and Philosophy, The Matrix and Philosophy, and More Matrix and Philosophy seeks abstracts for a new volume on Metallica. Abstracts and subsequent essays should be philosophically substantial but accessible, written to engage the intelligent lay reader. Potential contributors should examine other volumes in the Popular Culture and Philosophy series for style and content. Contributors of accepted essays will receive a significant honorarium.

Possible themes and topics might include, but are not limited to, the following: Search for Meaning—“Frantic” and “Through the Never”; Nuclear Fear and Politics—“Fight Fire with Fire” and “Blackened”; Capital Punishment—“Ride the Lightning”; Politics, Economics, and Ethics—“…And Justice for All” and “Some Kind of Monster”; The Problem of Evil—“Creeping Death”; Alcoholica: Free Will and Addiction—“Master of Puppets” and “Fixxer”; Appearance and Reality—“Enter Sandman” and “Escape”; Foucault and Metallica on Madness and Insanity—“Sanitarium” and “The Frayed Ends of Sanity”; Truth—“Eye of the Beholder”; Hypocrisy and Inauthenticity—“Leper Messiah” and “Holier Than Thou”; Hume and Augustine on Moral Motivations and Inordinate Desire—“Sad But True,” “The Unnamed Feeling,” and “Master of Puppets”; Emotion: Love and Anger—“The Struggle Within” and “St. Anger”; Heidegger’s Being-toward-death—“Fade to Black” and “The Four Horsemen”; War—“Disposable Heroes” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls”; Sorrow, Redemption, and Forgiveness—“No Remorse,” “Harvester of Sorrow,” and “The Unforgiven”; Violence—“Seek & Destroy” and “All Within My Hands”; Masculinity and Warrior Virtues—“Metal Militia,” “Don’t Tread on Me,” and “Shoot Me Again”; Existentialism—“Wherever I May Roam,” “Nothing Else Matters,” and “My World”; Selling-Out, Commercialism and Marxism: Why did Metallica start making videos?; Napster and Intellectual Property; Group Identity and Personal Identity: Are the group members the same persons they were 20 years ago? Is it the same group it was 20 years ago, given the changes the members have undergone and given the changes in bass players?

Contributor guidelines:

1. Abstract of paper (100-500 words).

2. CV or resume for each author and co-author.

3. Submission deadline for abstracts: July 1, 2005

4. Submission deadline for first drafts of accepted papers (tentative): February 1, 2006

5. Abstracts should be submitted by e-mail, with or without Word attachment.

Send by e-mail to:


Is Justice Created or Discovered?

Does justice require getting a fair result, or is it enough to apply a fair procedure? Compare a lottery to a criminal trial. There is no independent standard against which to assess the outcome of a lottery - we cannot say that a particular ticket deserves to win - all that matters is the process. But in a criminal trial, there is an independent standard of justice that we aim at: we want to convict the guilty, and acquit the innocent. The perfect jury's deliberations achieve the just result, whereas the perfect lottery's procedure constitutes its fairness. Which of these models best reflects the nature of distributive justice?

I previously suggested that the veil of ignorance would be an appropriate procedure to constitute justice. But on second thoughts, the substantive approach seems more principled. That way, there is an independent standard of justice for our procedures to aim at - we might say the just result is 'discovered' rather than 'created'. The procedures may still serve as useful heuristics though, as Ronald Dworkin illustrates through his poker analogy:
Suppose that you and I are playing poker and we find, in the middle of a hand, that the deck is one card short. You suggest that we throw the hand in, but I refuse because I know I am going to win and I want the money in the pot. You might say that I would certainly have agreed to the procedure had the possibility of the deck being short been raised in advance. But your point is not that I am somehow committed to throwing the hand in by an agreement I never made. Rather you use the device of the hypothetical agreement to make a point that might have been made without that device, which is that the solution recommended is so obviously fair and sensible that only someone with an immediate contrary interest could disagree. Your main argument is that your solution is fair and sensible, and the fact that I would have chosen it myself adds nothing of substance to the argument. (Dworkin, 'The Original Position', p.18. Link added!)

So, if we reject purely procedural justice, what sorts of substantive results should we require? I think it will come down to the notion of equal concern, however you choose to interpret that. (Follow the link for details.)

As always, I'm curious to hear what others think of these issues, as I'm pretty new to all this stuff and still in the process of working out my own thoughts. (Say, I wonder if good philosophy is a procedural or substantive matter? Heh, I'm more tempted to go procedural on that one, actually.) So, what's the verdict: is distributive justice substantive or procedural?

Two Conceptions of Objectivity

We typically view the world from our own particular, subjective, point of view. But we often want to transcend this limitation, and attain a more objective conception of reality - one that is less tainted by our idiosyncrasies, and thus more accurately reflecting The Way Things Really Are. What I only recently realized - by reading Jonathan Dancy's Moral Reasons - is that there are two very different ways of going about this.

The most common approach is what Dancy calls 'absolute objectification'. Its identifying characteristic is abstraction, as it peels away "mere appearances" to get at the Objective Reality that lies beneath. This is the objectivity sought by scientific reductionists, in pursuit of an 'absolute conception of reality'. One might think of it as a 'negative' sort of objectivity, as it is achieved by removing any subjectivity from the picture.

Dancy's 'Hegelian objectivity' is very different. It adds to the picture rather than taking away. It aims not at a 'view from nowhere', but rather a view from everywhere. The metaphor of concentric circles is illustrative: Think of your subjective viewpoint as the central circle. Let each successive circle represent a new observer, who can see each earlier person - including their faults - and can therefore correct for some of their biases and so come to attain a slightly more objective view of the world. But he in turn will have flaws that are noticed by the next observer, etc. ad infinitum.

Note how much more inclusive this picture of objectivity is. As Dancy (p.147) puts it:
In this process of objectification, nothing is left behind. Every aspect of each succeeding view is retained, though maybe somewhat altered, in each of its successors.

This allows us to retain secondary qualities such as colour, beauty, and perhaps morality, in our objective conceptions of reality. Plus all those everyday objects (e.g. tables and chairs) that aren't fundamental particles of physics and so might not survive a full-scale scientific reductionism.

I'm fairly inclined towards reductionism myself (see the earlier link). I see no reason to think that the 'noumenal realm' or ultimate reality will be anything like the 'phenomenal realm' of our common-sense conception. So if we're seeking Truth, then absolute objectivity could well be the way to go. But it seems that Hegelian objectivity is more likely to lead to understanding. In part, this is because an absolute 'view from nowhere' is so utterly inconceivable. Just ask yourself, how does reality "really" look? One thing I loved about The Matrix was towards the end of the movie when Neo suddenly 'saw through' the "appearances" of the Matrix, and everything turned into streams of numbers. That's my metaphor for trying to 'see' from the absolute conception: when the appearances are stripped away, what's left? What would it look like - how would it appear? There is, of course, no answer; it's a senseless question. But such confusions are what we find by attempting to grasp the world through absolute objectification. Given our human limitations, it seems that the Hegelian approach will tend to be much more illuminating to us.

That's my current position, anyway. What do you think? Which style of objectivity is better? Or do they just serve different purposes? Are the objects of a Hegelian view properly said to be "real", or should that status be reserved for the absolute conception?

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Palestine-Israel Conflict

[This essay is from the first-year political science paper I took a couple years back.]

Why has the Palestine-Israel conflict been so difficult to resolve?

The ongoing conflict between Arabs and Jews over Palestine-Israel has been one of the most complex and difficult disputes of modern times. Developing due to the competing nationalisms born in the late nineteenth century – but rooted in a history which stretches back millennia – the core of the problem is found in conflicting claims to the same small area of land. Diverse complications have since arisen – particularly the refugee crisis, terrorist acts, and the ongoing dispute over the fate of the holy city of Jerusalem – which embroil the conflict even deeper within the collective national psyches of those involved. Reluctance to compromise, and opposition from extremists within each group, have further complicated the peace process. Unless some way can be found for the two peoples to share the ‘twice-promised land’, in a manner acceptable to both, the future prospects for peace look grim.

Jews in the late nineteenth century were plagued by discrimination and distrust. Tens of thousands were slaughtered in the Russian pogroms,[1] where the only way for Jews to gain equality was through Christian baptism. Zionism was the political answer to this intensifying persecution, and was developed by Theodore Herzl at a time when nationalism was on the rise in Europe[2]. The movement has been described as “a product of Western political thought…embracing the nationalist vision.”[3] Zionists sought the creation of a Jewish national home, for they thought that they would not be free of anti-Semitism until they had a state of their own. Palestine was eventually chosen, as Jewish claims to that land could be traced back through Biblical history to the Hebrew kingdoms of Israel and Judea[4], and the added religious justification that the land was “promised” to Abraham by God.[5] Engaging the aid of Britain to help the Zionists achieve their goal, the Balfour Declaration of 1917 announced the intention of the British to help the Jews set up a “national home” in Palestine. Balfour viewed Zionism as being “of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land”[6]. Naturally, the Arabs disagreed.

It has been said that “the roots of Palestinian nationalism lay in the same rights-based principles as Zionism”.[7] Certainly, the competing nationalisms had Europe as their single origin. Arab nationalism began with the study of Arab history and language (stimulated by French and US missionary and educational activities in the Levant)[8], and only later developed into a political movement. The first Arab nationalist secret society[9] was founded by Christian Arabs (who looked to Europe for assistance) in 1875. Arab nationalistic feeling was running strong when the threat of Zionism became apparent. The British enticed the Arabs into supporting them in WWI by promising to “recognise and uphold the independence of the Arabs”[10] after the war. That they so blatantly betrayed this (by implementing the Balfour Declaration) in the case of Palestine, has been a sore point to Arabs ever since.

Under the British mandate of the interwar years, the Zionists at last had the opportunity to implement their plans of large-scale colonisation. The Jewish population in Palestine increased more than tenfold (from 56 000 in 1918 to 608 000 in 1946).[11] This lead to fear amongst the Arab population that the Jews were going to seize all their land and take over their country (indeed, a 1930 government survey[12] showed that already 28% of Palestinian families were without land). An Arab revolt from 1936-9 finally forced the British to re-examine their policy in Palestine, and the 1939 White Paper[13] ensured limits to Jewish immigration, and promised eventual independence for Palestine.

The Jews viewed the British turnaround as a betrayal of the Balfour Declaration, at a time when they desperately needed a home secure from anti-Semitism. The Holocaust is estimated to have cost the lives of least six million Jews.[14] The horrific abuse they suffered at Hitler’s hands won the Jews much worldwide sympathy, especially when coupled with images showing the terrible disappointment of Jewish refugees being turned away from Palestine by the British, and being sent back to their European camps. The Zionists stepped up their efforts to gain Palestine by any means necessary – fair or foul. In 1946, Irgun (a Zionist terrorist organization) blew up the King David Hotel (British government headquarters) in Jerusalem, killing 90 and injuring over 200 innocent people.[15] Despairing of the whole sorry affair, the British handed the Palestine problem over to the UN to try to solve.

It would be worth pausing a moment here to consider the rift between Jewish and Arab populations in early twentieth century Palestine. The Jews tended to be[16] (in general) ‘modern’, secular, industrial, outward looking, and their women were semi-liberated. In contrast, Palestinian society was ‘traditional’, highly religious, agricultural, inward looking, and their women were not at all liberated. Furthermore, in the mid 1930s, over 90% of Jews in Palestine were educated. Sadly, this was the case for only 15% of Arabs.[17] Despite a lessening of such demographic disparities over time, Milton-Edwards observes that “In more than half a century there has been no sign of integration between the Jews and Arabs of Israel”.[18] Their totally different cultures, outlooks and aims in life, can help to explain why the two groups have found it so difficult to coexist peacefully. The differences have also fuelled their competing nationalisms, as identities are forged in counterpoint by contrasting themselves with the other group. If they had not seemed so very foreign to each other, perhaps history would have turned out quite differently.

In the face of this insurmountable cultural split, the United Nations Special Committee On Palestine (UNSCOP) in 1947 recommended partition of the country into separate Jewish and Arab states. This horrified the Arabs, but the Jews didn’t hesitate to proclaim the birth of the State of Israel once the British had finally withdrawn (14 May 1948). However, they first had to rid themselves of the many disgruntled Palestinians living within the borders of (soon to be declared) Israel. The Jews used deliberate terror tactics, such as the massacre of Deir Yassan (9 April 1948), where some three hundred innocent villagers – men, women and children – were tortured and slaughtered mercilessly.[19] Begin, Irgun’s leader, later described the success of his terror tactics: “The Arabs began to flee in terror…of the about 800,000 Arabs…only some 165,000 are still there”[20]. During the war which followed, the victorious Israelis claimed even more land – their territory growing from 56% under the UNSCOP partition, to 77% of all of Palestine after the war.[21]

The refugee problem which originated in 1948 has been one of the most contentious issues facing Palestine-Israel. Over 914 000 Palestinians (out of 1.4 million total) became refugees.[22] Erskine notes that 80% of pre-1967 Israel was land abandoned by Arab refugees, and that by 1954, over one third of the Jewish population in Israel lived on ‘absentee property’.[23] After the war, Israel would not allow the Palestinians who had fled their homes to return, citing lack of space and the “serious social, political and security consequences which would arise”[24]. Instead, their homes were given to new Jewish immigrants[25], flooding in under the ‘Law of Return’. Israel refused to accept responsibility for the plight of the refugees, blaming instead the neighbouring Arab governments’ “selfish motives and propaganda efforts”[26] for the refugees’ refusal to resettle elsewhere. But resettlement could be problematic, as Khouri points out, the Palestinians would have found “the economic, social and political situation in many Arab states…considerably different from their own”[27]. Yet the alternatives were limited. Even back in 1951, the UN Conciliation Commission concluded that changes since 1948 meant that it was “now unrealistic to try to repatriate all Arab refugees”.[28] The best hope for future settlement of the refugees may be in a separate Palestinian state.

The refugee problem itself led to another serious obstacle to peace: that of terrorism. The hopelessness of young refugees made their camps an ideal recruiting ground for the Fedayeen[29] terrorist group, determined to strike back at the Israeli ‘usurpers’, using terror tactics similar to those previously used by Zionist groups. While such methods strike us as deplorable, one must bear in mind that when a group is so outclassed (the Israeli army was well trained and armed, due to much US military aid), ‘honest’ warfare is no longer a serious option. In 1973, Jobert, the French Foreign Minister, commented on Palestinian terrorism: “Do you think that trying to get back into your own home really constitutes an unforeseen act of aggression?”[30] Understandable though it is, such aggression is but another obstacle to peace, as it merely reinforces the fear and animosity each group feels towards the other – not to mention the terrible loss of life[31]. Such actions make trust almost impossible, and so preclude the possibility of peaceful negotiation and compromise. To make matters even worse, extreme terrorist organizations on both sides have killed their own national leaders for seeking peace – in 1981, Egyptian Prime Minister Sadat was assassinated by Islamic extremists, and Israeli Prime Minister Rabin befell a similar fate in 1995, at the hands of Jewish extremists.[32]

Another contentious issue for Palestine-Israel has been control of Jerusalem, and how to ensure rights of access for people of all religions to the city’s holy places. The overlap of Jewish and Muslim shrines in the Old City could create future problems, as part of the Islamic Haram al-Sharif compound (which contains the revered Dome of the Rock) is believed to lie on the site of the Jewish Second Temple (demolished in AD 70), and adjacent to the Wailing Wall.[33] The original 1947 UNSCOP report recommended internationalisation of the city. But during the Palestine war (1948) West Jerusalem was seized by Israel, and East Jerusalem (containing most of the holy places) by Jordan. Neither power was prepared to give up the city.[34] The problem deepened after Israel’s success in the Six Day War of 1967, where it captured all of Jerusalem – and then proceeded to bulldoze Arab homes in order to clear room for Jews to pray near the Wailing Wall.[35] Despite unanimous UN condemnation of East Jerusalem’s annexation, Israeli officials made it clear that they “would not give up the Old City regardless of what resolutions the General Assembly passed”.[36] The stubbornness of both Jews and Arabs with regard to their ownership-rights to Jerusalem will continue to be an obstacle to any future peace negotiations.

Yet there have been moments of hope throughout the conflict. The ‘October War’ of 1973 forced Israel into serious security negotiations on the basis of UN Resolution 242 (land for peace). It also led Egypt and the mediating US to resume diplomatic relations after a six year break.[37] The Camp David accords between Egypt and Israel in 1978 initiated a ‘framework’ for peace (though it did not adequately address the roots of the Palestine problem).[38] In 1982, the massacre of Palestinian refugees (during the Lebanon crisis) shocked 400 000 Israelis into attending an anti-war protest in Tel Aviv.[39] The success of the Intifada (Palestinian uprising, from 1988-93), where the Palestinians intentionally refrained from using firearms[40], has hopefully taught Palestinian leadership that non-violent civil disobedience can gain far greater international sympathy than arbitrary terrorism. A crucial first step was taken through the Oslo Accords of 1993, where Israel and the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) finally recognised each other and “agreed to direct peace talks”.[41] This also led to the historic first handshake between Arafat and Rabin.[42] More recently, the ‘Roadmap for Peace’ has renewed peace talks, and aims to set up a phased Palestinian state by 2005.

I consider the overarching problem which combines and inflames many of the above issues, to be an imbalance of idealism and pragmatism. Israel needs to be willing to gamble a little, for the sake of resolving this conflict. It has consistently (if understandably) emphasised the need for security throughout its short history, but it now must risk relaxing this somewhat, and give the Palestinians more liberty. In the recent past, an overzealous Israel would imprison Arabs without trial, just for belonging to the PLO or possessing a Palestinian flag.[43] Such authoritarian measures create a disharmonious atmosphere inconsistent with peaceful reform. Continued government-subsidised colonisation[44] of Palestinian territories aims to undermine the nationalist movement in areas containing an Arab majority, so is a further attempt to cement Israeli security. Macintyre observes that up to 85% of the Jewish settlers were attracted by pragmatic (the housing offered was two thirds cheaper than in Israel) rather than ideological considerations.[45]

The Palestinians, for their part, suffer imbalance in the opposite direction. They need to somehow accept the injustices which have befallen them, and try to move on to secure the best possible future, in a realistic fashion. Those who cannot accept Israel at all, such as Cattan, provocatively insist that “it is erroneously assumed… that (Israel’s) withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza to the 1949 armistice lines would settle the problem”[46]. But such a stubborn refusal to compromise will not help the Palestinians. Gandhi once said that “Palestine belongs to the Arabs, in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French”.[47] But if any progress is to be made, then they must accept the reality of Israel; the reality that now only a part of Palestine belongs to the Arabs, despite the injustice of this. Fortunately, a great deal of progress has been made in this respect, as the PLO now recognises Israel, and hopefully some of the Palestinian fringe groups will soon follow suit.

The conflict over Palestine-Israel is not easy to resolve, as is evident from the many failed attempts and partial-successes of the past. At its root, it is a nationalistic issue, with two distinct groups claiming the one piece of land for their nation-state. It is remarkable and unfortunate that two peoples who have suffered so much, can nevertheless be so unsympathetic to the other’s plight. For any future progress to be made, both sides must be willing to compromise, and learn to stop viewing the other as a mortal threat to their own existence. Whether such a degree of trust is possible, given the many contentious issues and destabilising events explored above, is by no means certain.

[1] R. Macintyre, Palestine-Israel: Conflict in the Modern Holy Land, p.11.

[2] F. Khouri, The Arab-Israeli Dilemma (3rd ed), p.3.

[3] B. Milton-Edwards & P. Hinchcliffe, Conflicts in the Middle East since 1945, p.23.

[4] M. Tessler, A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, p.10. Note that H. Cattan, The Palestine Question, p.3, points out that Palestinian heritage can be traced back to the Philistine tribes (contemporary with the Israelite tribes which modern Jews use for justification), and also the Canaanites – who are the earliest known inhabitants of Palestine, then known as the “Land of Canaan”.

[5] Macintyre, p.8.

[6] Ibid., p.27.

[7] Milton-Edwards & Hinchcliffe, p.23.

[8] Khouri, p.6.

[9] D. Peretz, The Middle East Today (2nd ed), p.133. Note that Ciment, Palestine/Israel: The Long Conflict, p.28, thought that Palestinian nationalism could be traced back even further, to an 1830s revolt against the foreign rule of Ibrahim Pasha.

[10] in the McMahon-Hussein correspondence of 1915-16, see Khouri, p.7.

[11] Cattan, p.28.

[12] Macintyre, p.34.

[13] Ibid., p.45.

[14] Peretz, p.272.

[15] Macintyre, p.48.

[16] The following generalisations are outlined in Macintyre, p.39.

[17] Ibid., p.38.

[18] Milton-Edwards & Hinchcliffe, p.25.

[19] Cattan, p.44.

[20] Cattan, p.45.

[21] Macintyre, p.55. Note also that Cattan, p.69. points out that Jewish land ownership before partition only amounted to 6% of Palestine.

[22] Macintyre, p.59.

[23] W. Khaladi, From Haven to Conquest, pp.801-3.

[24] Khouri, p.161.

[25] of which there were 2.5 million from 1950-1995, see Macintyre, p.62.

[26] Khouri, p.162.

[27] Ibid., p.164.

[28] Ibid., p.132.

[29] Macintyre, p.67.

[30] Cattan, p.118.

[31] Macintyre, p.109, points out that suicide bombers from extreme Islamic groups (such as Hamas) killed 59 people in just the first quarter of 1996.

[32] Ibid., pp.84, 106.

[33] Khouri, p.119

[34] Ibid., pp.102-3, 109.

[35] Macintyre, p.92.

[36] Khouri, p.114

[37] Ovendale, p.221.

[38] Ibid., pp.233-4.

[39] Macintyre, p.89.

[40] Milton-Edwards and Hinchcliffe, p.30.

[41] Macintyre, p.103.

[42] Ciment, p.59.

[43] Macintyre, pp.94-5.

[44] Tessler, pp.520-1.

[45] Macintyre, p.94.

[46] Cattan, p.57.

[47] Khaladi, p.367.


Cattan, H., The Palestine Question, New York: Croom Helm, 1988.

Ciment, J., Palestine/Israel: The Long Conflict, New York: Facts On File, 1997.

Khaladi, W., From Haven To Conquest, Beirut: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1971.

Khouri, F., The Arab-Israeli Dilemma (3rd ed.), New York: Syracuse University Press, 1985.

Macintyre, R., Palestine-Israel: Conflict in the Modern Holy Land, Auckland: Macmillan, 1997.

Milton-Edwards, B. & Hinchcliffe, P., Conflicts in the Middle East since 1945, London: Routledge, 2001.

Ovendale, R., The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Wars (2nd ed.), New York: Longman, 1992.

Peretz, D., The Middle East Today (2nd ed.), New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971.

Tessler, M., A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994.