I'm very pleased to introduce Julia Driver, this month's Featured Philosopher. Julia's work should be no stranger to anyone reading PEASoup. She's written pathbreaking work on consequentialism, including its relationship to the virtues, and on a number of other important topics in ethics and its history. Julia joins us today for the first of two posts, the second to go live next week. Please join me in welcoming Julia!
Thanks very much to the
PEA Soup group for inviting me to post on my research. I’ve decided to focus on my current
research projects, discussing moral complicity this week and Humean constructivism
next week. However, I would also
be very happy to answer any questions about my earlier work on virtue theory,
consequentialism, moral expertise, dream immorality, promising, ought implies
can, imaginative resistance, Hume’s views on moral psychology and moral agency,
philosophy and film, etc.
Not much systematic work
has been done explicitly on moral complicity as opposed to legal
complicity. Christopher Kutz has
an interesting book out on it, in which he criticizes consequentialism for not
being able to account for all the different ways in which someone can be wrongfully
complicit. The heart of Kutz’s
criticism of the consequentialist is that the consequentialist is committed to
a certain principle, the Individual
Difference Principle, which holds:
“I am accountable for a harm only if what I have done made a difference
to that harm’s occurrence….” (Complicity:
Ethics and Law for a Collective Age, 116). This runs counter to the view that a person who
participates in the production of a harm (in a very intuitive notion of
‘participates’) is to be held at least partly accountable even if her actions
were causally inefficacious, that is, they made no difference to the
outcome. To say they were causally
inefficacious is not to say that they made no causal impact whatsoever, it is
simply to say that they made no relevant causal impact in that the actions did
not make a relevant difference to the outcome. Kutz’s illustrations of this involve causal
overdetermination cases, such as the case of a bomber who drops a bomb on a target
that has already been utterly destroyed.
Other sorts of cases, also familiar from the philosophical literature,
are cases that involve small contributions, in themselves insignificant, to an
overall greater harm. Sandra
taking the extra car trips and not walking to the office makes no ‘relevant’
difference to the overall harm of global climate change. That takes far, far more than Sandra’s
contribution to carbon in the atmosphere. And generally these sorts of cases
have been taken to be problematic for consequentialism since we still would like
to blame people (somehow) even when they perform some actions that are part of
a greater harm though not themselves causally efficacious. In these cases, they participate in the harm even if they
don’t themselves causally generate it.
However, it gets even
worse for the consequentialist.
There are two types of complicity:
participation complicity and tolerance complicity. Actually helping to bring about a
harmful effect involves participation – those can be cases in which the aid does
make a difference to the outcome, and the cases discussed above in which the
participation doesn’t make a relevant difference. Tolerance complicity is something that comes up in bystander
ethics: one isn’t causally contributing to the bad, but one isn’t doing
anything to stop it either. A
dramatic case of blaming people for tolerating an immoral system is Emerson’s
speech against the ‘withdrawing citizens’ of Massachusetts who did not speak
out and work against the Fugitive Slave Act (1850), which allowed for massive
injustices against African Americans in the North. Tolerating the
evil, Emerson held, makes one complicit in it. Of course, refusing to tolerate the Fugitive Slave Act and
the practices it gave rise to would have had many good effects. But we can imagine cases where refusing
to tolerate makes no difference to the outcomes. Perhaps when one goes to a family gathering and hears
someone make a bigoted comment.
Saying something, challenging the person, may do nothing to change that
person’s attitudes or even the attitudes of any of the other people present,
however, there still seems to be a reason to challenge the bigot, to speak up
and not tolerate the bigoted speech.
Of course, this reason is pro
tanto, overrideable. If one’s
job, and the well being of one’s family, is on the line,
that would be a countervailing reason.
But the simple fact that there is a reason even absent even the prospect
of making a difference poses a challenge to the consequentialist.
The phenomenology of
these sorts of cases suggests that something like self-respect is at
stake. The pressure to say
something in response, to protest an injustice, is tied to preservation of
self-respect. In writing on a
Kantian approach to these issues I have argued that Kantian approaches have an
advantage in that self-respect is intrinsically significant. However, I also think that
consequentialists can co-opt the phenomenology. The sort of consequentialism I have favored is a variety of
global consequentialism, but one that allows for a variety of ways to engage in
moral evaluation (that is, it is not simply restricted to ‘rightness’), and
remains focused on factors relevant to agency (thus, we don’t morally evaluate
shampoo). So, very roughly, the moral quality of x (action, character
trait, intention) depends completely upon the consequences of x. There will be conflict, but in a way
that is fine since it, again, reflects phenomenology such as that of normative
ambivalence. Normative ambivalence
generally occurs in cases where there is a split verdict – e.g. between action
and character, where someone does the right thing, let’s say, but in so doing
displays a morally bad character, a vice.
A character trait is a virtue in when it systematically, across a population, generates good effects, though
in any single individual case, it may not generate good effects and may even
generate bad ones. One way to
handle tolerance complicity cases in which tolerance causes not bad effects on
its own is to say that the tolerator does nothing wrong if the failure to speak
out would do no good; but the tolerator is nevertheless revealing something bad
a bout his or her character. This
approach could generalize to other cases – Sandra does nothing wrong in taking
that extra car trip, though she may reveal something about her character that
is regrettable (a failure to care about the environment or view herself as part
of a community capable of changing things for the better). But I am not satisfied with this. Splitting action and character
evaluation seems very intuitively plausible for normative ambivalence
cases. But tolerance complicity
cases don’t generate the normative ambivalence intuition. Tolerating evil is (pro tanto) just wrong. I think most would agree with
this, but then have trouble accounting for why it is wrong. Intuitively, as I mentioned earlier, it
seems connected to self-respect. I
think that can be cashed out in terms of the fact that most us think that we
have certain core values – values that underlie a kind of normative
identity. The values that a person
endorses as part of this identity need to be stood up for. Here’s an analogy with another kind of
commitment to a friend. If someone publicly disparages a friend, one may feel
compelled to speak up in defense of one’s friend even if one sincerely believes
that speaking up will not change anyone’s mind. The point of speaking up in those circumstances is to
reaffirm one’s values to oneself.
On the view of moral agency that I favor, moral agents frequently engage
in self-evaluation and reaffirmation of core values. Failing to speak up is like a betrayal of those values, and
if one fails one will rightfully feel diminished.
Another way to go, that
is completely compatible with consequentialism, would be to draw on some of Tom
Hurka’s work on the value of attitudes.
So, a pro attitude towards the good is itself good. Within this framework we might argue
that cases of wrongful tolerance complicity involves in many cases having a bad
attitude to an important value.
The badness of the attitude in question needn’t be reducible to
production of good states of affairs.
Sometimes, of course a person tolerates wrongdoing even though she hates
it (and thus she has a good attitude), but the toleration is due to some other
competing reason. Perhaps she is
in a situation where she would be attacked if she expressed her true views, for
example, and thus she has a very compelling reason not to speak up. This is not wrongful tolerance
complicity: her attitude is good, and she is not participating in the
wrongdoing itself. I find this
approach attractive, but need to think more about the implications. I am still attracted to the more traditional way of cashing
out the value of attitudes – in terms of the difference the attitudes
themselves will make. But this is
not incompatible with also viewing them as having intrinsic value. Suggestions welcome!