Monday, July 07, 2008

Ostriches (or: implicit confusion)

After describing how moral philosophers have expended reams of paper debating trolley problems, Hallq concludes: "The confusions of the man on the street [who couldn’t give a coherent rationale for his responses] don’t seem so bad, in comparison." But that strikes me as precisely backwards, for familiar Socratic reasons. The moral thinking of the folk is so deeply and thoroughly confused that they don't even realize how confused they are. When moral philosophers start sifting through the mess, identifying and modifying points of incoherence, they are becoming less, not more, confused.

Granted, doing philosophy may (at least at first) make one feel more confused, because one's previously implicit confusions are brought to the surface and made explicit. But the confusion was there all along, even prior to your becoming aware of it.


  1. Hmmm... perhaps this was not the best way to word it. I literally did mean "not so bad in comparison," but that phrasing is part of a common understatement trope, which makes it sound like I think doing moral philosophy makes things worse. Indeed, it's clear that in some respects it makes this a little bit better, at least insofar as I'm pretty sure if Foot and Thompson participated in Hauser's survey, they would meet the minimal criterion used for having a decent rationale. Still, the ability of philosophers to account for their judgments appears pretty limited, when you look at these debates.

    It's also odd that you would bring in people "knowing" or "feeling" that they are confused--many philosophers seem to struggle remarkably little with such feelings.

  2. "odd that you would bring in people "knowing" or "feeling" that they are confused"

    Well, that's the only way I could begin to make sense of your apparent (if unintended) suggestion that the folk are comparatively less confused than philosophers.

  3. OK. I think we're good for now, though this has reminded me I was considering responding to your query for general disagreements... I'll have to do that sometime.


Visitors: check my comments policy first.
Non-Blogger users: If the comment form isn't working for you, email me your comment and I can post it on your behalf. (If your comment is too long, first try breaking it into two parts.)

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.