Docstoc

Moral Imaginative Resistance

Document Sample
Moral Imaginative Resistance Powered By Docstoc
					                                     Moral Imaginative Resistance*

                                               Kelly Trogdon

                                           Ohio State University


The puzzle of moral imaginative resistance is this: we have no systematic difficulty in imagining non-

moral facts being otherwise, but we tend to be either unable or unwilling to imagine certain moral facts

being otherwise.1 In this paper I set out three recently proposed explanations of moral imaginative

resistance and argue that none of them are persuasive. I conclude by offering my own sketch of a solution

to the puzzle.



1. The puzzle of moral imaginative resistance



        Call worlds in which certain moral facts are radically different from those that obtain in the actual

world morally deviant worlds, and worlds in which certain non-moral facts are radically different from

those that obtain in the actual world naturally deviant worlds. The puzzle of moral imaginative resistance

is the puzzle of explaining why it is that we face systematic difficulties in imagining morally deviant

worlds when we don’t face comparable difficulties in imagining naturally deviant worlds.

        Let w1 be a morally deviant world in which arbitrarily enslaving innocent people is morally right,

and w2 be a naturally deviant world in which mountains over 5,000 feet in elevation consist of blue

cheese. One might claim, assuming that slavery is morally wrong in every conceptually possible world,

that it’s difficult to imagine w1 but not w2 because w2 is conceptually possible, while w1 isn’t. The



*
  I would like to thank Joe Levine, William Tasheck, and my fellow graduate students at OSU, especially
Dai Heide, for helpful comments on this paper.
1
  Gendler (2000) introduced the term ‘imaginative resistance’. Yablo (2002) and Weatherson (2003) point
out that we encounter difficulties not only in imagining certain moral facts being otherwise, but also in
imagining certain aesthetic and epistemic facts being otherwise, as well as facts about the attribution of
mental states, mental content, and shape predicates being otherwise. In this paper I restrict my focus to
imaginative resistance regarding moral facts. I do not commit myself to the claim that a single solution
will work for the various sorts of imaginative resistance.


                                                                         Moral Imaginative Resistance       1
proposal under consideration, then, is that conceptual impossibility precludes imaginability, and morally

deviant worlds are conceptually impossible.

        It doesn’t seem, however, that this is a promising strategy for resolving the puzzle of moral

imaginative resistance, for Gendler (2000) and Weatherson (2003) point out that there are conceptually

impossible scenarios that we can readily imagine. They point in particular to science fiction stories,

especially stories involving time travel, that are clearly conceptually impossible, but don’t produce

imaginative resistance. Weatherson tells such a story, adapted from the movie Back to the Future:

        Marty McFly unintentionally traveled back in time to escape Libyan terrorists. In doing so he
        prevented the chance meeting which had, in the timeline that had been, caused his father and
        mother to start dating. Without that event, his mother saw no reason to date the unattractive,
        boring nerdy kid who had been, in a history that no longer is, Marty’s father. So Marty never
        came into existence. This was really a neat trick on Marty’s part, though he was of course no
        longer around to appreciate it. Some people manage to remove themselves from the future of the
        world by foolish actions involving cars. Marty managed to remove himself from the past as well
        (2003: 8).

This story is incoherent because it’s conceptually impossible for Marty to remove himself from the past,

yet we have no qualms about going along with the story and accepting its invitation to imagine a situation

in which Marty does just this. This story and others like it seem to show that conceptually impossibility

doesn’t preclude imaginability, so the putative conceptual impossibility of morally deviant worlds won’t

do as an explanation for moral imaginative resistance.

        Given that we can’t resolve the puzzle of moral imaginative resistance by appealing to the

putative conceptual impossibility of morally deviant worlds, how else might we try to solve the puzzle?

Below I review and critically evaluate three attempts to resolve the puzzle.



2. Three solutions



        First, let’s consider Tamar Gendler’s proposal. Gendler (2000) claims that the primary source of

moral imaginative resistance isn’t our inability to imagine morally deviant worlds, but rather our

unwillingness to do so. I interpret her project thus. First she argues that certain principles hold for truth in



                                                                           Moral Imaginative Resistance        2
fiction. Second, she claims that analogous rules hold for imagination. Finally, she claims that these rules

of imagination explain the phenomenon of moral imaginative resistance. I will proceed directly to what I

take to be Gendler’s rules for imagination.

        Many propositions become part of the content of an imagining because they are true in the actual

world, and there are many propositions we come to accept as true of the actual world by virtue of the fact

that they are part of the content of our imaginings.2 In the light of these considerations, Gendler seems to

suggest the following rules for imagination:

        Import Rule for Imagination: In general, if C is the content of an imagining, then, if something is
        true in the actual world, it’s true in C.

        Export Rule for Imagination: In general, if C is the content of an imagining, then, if something is
        true in C, it’s true in the actual world.

        Now consider another of Weatherson’s stories, one designed to provoke moral imaginative

resistance, called Death on the Freeway:

        Jack and Jill were arguing again. This was not in itself unusual, but this time they were standing
        in the fast lane of I-95 having their argument. This was causing traffic to back up a bit. It wasn’t
        significantly worse than [what] normally happened around Providence, not that you could have
        told that from the reactions of passing motorists. They were convinced that Jack and Jill, and not
        the volume of traffic, were the primary causes of the slowdown. They all forgot how bad traffic
        normally is along there. When Craig saw that the cause of the backup had been Jack and Jill, he
        took his gun out of the glovebox and shot them. People then started driving over their bodies, and
        while the new speed hump caused some people to slow down a bit, mostly traffic returned to its
        normal speed. So Craig did the right thing, because Jack and Jill should have taken their argument
        somewhere else where they wouldn’t get in anyone’s way (2003: 1).

The export rule for imagination says that if I imagine a morally deviant world in which the last sentence

of this story is true, the sentence might very well be true in the actual world. According to Gendler, we

are unwilling to imagine a morally deviant world in which this sentence is true precisely because we are

sensitive to this fact. Gendler claims that sentences like this one invoke imaginative resistance in a person

because “she is being asked [through an invitation to imagine a morally deviant world] to export a way of


2
 For example, when I imagine the Eiffel Tower falling over, part of the content of my imagining is the
proposition “the Eiffel Tower is in Paris,” for this proposition is true of the actual world. Moreover, if I
believe that there is an office building to the north of the tower and I imagine the tower falling to the
north, smashing the office building, I thereby come to believe that “If the Eiffel Tower falls to the north, it
will smash that office building” is true of the actual world.


                                                                         Moral Imaginative Resistance          3
looking at the world [from her imagining] which she does not wish to add to her conceptual repertoire”

(2000: 77). She claims that the source of our unwillingness to imagine morally deviant worlds is our

general desire not to be manipulated into taking on points of view that we would not reflectively endorse

as our own.

        Is this a good explanation of moral imaginative resistance? An obvious objection to Gendler’s

account that she anticipates is this: we can readily imagine situations such that we aren’t thereby inclined

to seriously consider or question whether our imagined scenarios are true of the actual world. Gender’s

response to this objection is two-fold. First, she claims that, given the categorical nature of moral claims

(in the sense that if they are true, they are true in all possible worlds), moral imaginings “clamor for

exportation” in a way that non-moral imaginings don’t. Second, she claims that in stories like

Weatherson’s time travel story, the author imposes clear export restrictions on the conceptually

impossible situations in the story.

        I don’t think that either of these responses is plausible. Her first claim isn’t helpful, for she thinks

that there are conceptual impossibilities in stories that don’t clamor for exportation. Weatherson (2003)

objects to her second claim, arguing that in his time travel story, he imposes no export restriction, and,

even if he did, this needn’t stop one from exporting and imagining what one will. Another objection to

Gendler’s second claim is this: considerations regarding restrictions imposed by authors aren’t general

enough, for we’re concerned not only with imagination provoked by fiction, but invitations to imagine in

general, and it’s unclear that Gendler’s point generalizes to cases that don’t involve fiction.

        Now let’s consider Gregory Currie’s proposal. According to Currie (2002), there are two kinds of

imagination, one comparably similar to belief, one to desire. According to Currie, belief-like imaginings

roughly correspond to what we often call assuming or supposing, and the inferential roles of particular

belief-like imaginings correspond to the inferential roles of particular beliefs (i.e. belief-like imagining

that P leads to new imaginings in the way that believing that P would lead to new beliefs).

        We certainly make assumptions and suppositions, but why think that there are desire-like

imaginings? Currie provides two arguments for the existence of such imaginings. His first argument


                                                                          Moral Imaginative Resistance         4
appeals to what I call the desire-action thesis: beliefs prompt actions only when combined with desires.

His argument is as follows: given (i) the desire-action thesis, (ii) that we have belief-like imaginings (that

is, we assume and suppose), and (iii) that we often commit actions in our imaginings, it’s reasonable to

suppose that we have desire-like imaginings that combine with our belief-like imaginings to prompt our

actions in imagination. Here Currie seems to commit himself to an analogue of the desire-action thesis for

imagination, according to which one’s belief-like imagining prompts one to commit actions in the

imagination only when combined with relevant desire-like imaginings.

        In his second argument, Currie claims that the best way to explain the affective consequences of

imagination is to invoke desire-like imaginings. We say, for example, that we want Macbeth to be killed

and Desdemona to be saved, but the desire-like state we refer to here is not a desire, for the desire for

someone A to live and another person B to die can be shown to be unreasonable, or at least unjustified,

depending on the facts regarding what A and B have actually done, while wanting Macbeth to die and

Desdemona to live, according to Currie, isn’t defeasible in this manner.

        Currie thinks that desire-like imagination is key to resolving the puzzle of moral imaginative

resistance. First, he claims that there is an asymmetry between belief-like and desire-like imagining:

        For such a person [an ideal rational agent], belief is externally, but not internally, constrained. But
        our ideally rational agent is not devoid of moral character; her tendency to desire is constrained
        by a complex set of dispositions that… are not easily changed. And the effect of shifting from
        beliefs and desires to belief-like and desire-like imaginings is to free the subject from external
        constraint. And that is where the asymmetry starts to emerge. Belief-like imagining becomes free,
        but desire-like imagining remains responsive to the dictates of moral character (2002: 214).

So Currie’s idea is that since our desire-like imaginings are sensitive to our moral character, desire-like

imaginings are systemically constrained in a way that belief-like imaginings aren’t, so we should expect

the powers of the latter to outstrip the powers of the former.

        Currie moves from an asymmetry between belief-like and desire-like imaginings to an asymmetry

between imagining naturally deviant worlds and morally deviant worlds by claiming that there is a desire-

like component to imagining the latter worlds, but not the former worlds. Currie’s argument is this: given

(i) internalism (understood roughly as the thesis that “someone who is sufficiently rational, well-informed



                                                                         Moral Imaginative Resistance         5
about, and disinterested in the action she surveys for it to be the case that, were she to think that a certain

outcome to the action morally right, she would desire that outcome, and were she to think that outcome

morally wrong, she would desire its non-occurrence”) and (ii) that imagining morally deviant worlds

involves having moral belief-like imaginings, it seems reasonable to suppose that imagining morally

deviant worlds involves having certain desire-like imaginings (2002: 217). In this argument, Currie seems

to commit himself to an analogue of internalism for imagination, characterized roughly as the thesis

according to which it’s necessary that if one belief-like imagines that actions of type T are morally good,

one desire-like imagines to perform T-actions.

        Let’s consider, for example, a morally deviant world in which slavery is morally good. I take it

Currie would claim that, given (i) the analogue of internalism for imagination and (ii) that one imagining

such a world involves one belief-like imagining that enslaving people is morally good, one can imagine

such a world only if one can form a desire-like imagining to promote or bring about the enslavement of

people. It seems that Currie would claim that if I have a difficulty in imagining that slavery is morally

good, I have this difficulty because my moral character makes it hard for me to form the requisite desire-

like imaginings, given that my moral character disposes me to condemn slavery. Hence, Currie ultimately

claims that moral character is the source of and explanation for moral imaginative resistance.

        Is this a good explanation of the puzzle of moral imaginative resistance? I’m not convinced that

Currie’s solution works. The first problem for Currie’s solution is this: if one’s moral character constrains

what desire-like imaginings one can or will have, why should we not think that one’s moral character

likewise puts constraints on what belief-like imaginings one can or will have? After all, one’s moral

character puts constraints on what one believes as well as desires. If one’s belief-like imaginings turn out

to be sensitive to one’s moral character, then Currie doesn’t succeed in establishing that there is an

asymmetry between belief-like and desire-like imaginings, and thus he cannot appeal to this putative

asymmetry as a basis for the asymmetry between imagining naturally deviant and morally deviant worlds.

        Second, the analogue of internalism for imagination isn’t obviously true. Why should we think

that there is a necessary connection between moral belief-like imaginings and desire-like imaginings,


                                                                           Moral Imaginative Resistance           6
even assuming there is a necessary connection between having moral beliefs and having certain desires?

Currie claims that belief-like imaginings resemble beliefs in some ways, but not in others, and desire-like

imaginings resemble desires in some ways, but not in others, so we need an argument for the claim that

belief-like and desire-like imaginings resemble beliefs and desires vis-à-vis internalism. Without such an

argument, I see no reason to believe that the analogue of internalism for imagination is true. Moreover,

we need an argument for Currie’s brand of internalism in the first place.

        Now let’s consider Brian Weatherson’s solution to the puzzle of moral imaginative resistance.

Weatherson (2003) claims that when one imagines a chair, one imagines a specific kind of chair, for

example, an armchair, a dining room chair, or a classroom chair. According to Weatherson, we can

verbally represent something as being a chair without representing it as a specific kind of chair, but not so

in imagination. He also claims that one’s imagining of a chair is incomplete in some respects – the

imagined chair, if realized, would for example probably contain stitching somewhere, but the chair

imagining needn’t contain any details about the stitching. In fact, there will be details of chairs, according

to Weatherson, our chair imaginings will always leave out, depending on the chair imagining in question.

The general conclusion Weatherson draws from the chair example is this: when one imagines that a non-

fundamental property like being a chair is instantiated, the content of one’s imagining (i) will be to some

extent more specific than just the object imagined having the property, but (ii) isn’t so specific as to

amount to a complete description of the property.

        Weatherson’s solution to the puzzle of moral imaginative resistance proceeds upon point (i).

Death on the Freeway invites us to imagine a morally deviant world, w, in which Craig’s shooting of Jack

and Jill is morally good, and this invitation invokes moral imaginative resistance. Weatherson claims that

since an implicit dictum of the story is for us to imagine w without adding any details not supplied by the

story (because the story has an implicit “that’s all” clause), when we imagine w, we aren’t supposed to

imagine anything that would make what Craig did morally acceptable. In other words, we aren’t

supposed to imagine anything by virtue of which Craig’s action would be morally right in that world.

Weatherson says that we can’t imagine w because, just as we can’t imagine a chair without imagining a


                                                                         Moral Imaginative Resistance         7
particular chair, we can’t imagine an action being morally right without imagining what it is by virtue of

which the action is, or is supposed to be, right: “[W]e can’t simply imagine moral goodness in the

abstract, to imagine it we have to imagine a particular kind of goodness” (2003: 9).

        Is this is a viable solution to the puzzle of moral imaginative resistance? I don’t think that this

solution will work either, for a straightforward reason. Suppose I ask you to imagine that slavery is

morally good by virtue of the fact that turtles aren’t ceiling fans. In this case, not only are you allowed to

imagine what it is that is supposed to make the moral claim true, but you are required to do so! Since my

request provokes imaginative resistance, Weatherson’s proposal, as I have interpreted it, fails.3



3. A sketch of a solution



        In what follows I offer a sketch of an explanation of the asymmetry between imagining “Marty

removes himself from the past” and “Slavery is morally good.” My explanation proceeds upon the

distinction between what I call ordinary imagination and ideal imagination. Ordinary imagination

corresponds to our rough and ready, epistemically undisciplined imaginings that we conduct in our

everyday lives. Ideal imagining, on the other hand, is imagination under ideal rational reflection. When

we as philosophers engage in thought experiments, this is the type of imagination we aim for. I assume

that neither the Marty proposition nor the slavery proposition are ideally imaginable, for, under ideal

reflection, it seems that we would detect that each proposition is incoherent, assuming that both

3
  Weatherson (over email) has suggested the following response, though he isn’t completely confident
that it will do the job. First, he claims that he’s not sure that we can imagine very general abstract things.
For example, he’s not convinced that we can imagine universal truths holding, such as “All cats in the
universe are brown,” but we can imagine some specific facts holding (a brown cat here, a brown cat there)
and suppose that further general facts hold, but we don’t imagine the general, abstract fact as such. Hence,
Weatherson doesn’t think that we can imagine that slavery is unjust, any more than we can imagine
slavery is just. We can just imagine particular unjust acts of slavery. On the basis of these considerations,
Weatherson claims that we can’t imagine things of the level of abstraction of ‘p is true in virtue of q’. I
think, however, that we can imagine propositions of this form; e.g. Basil robbed the bank in virtue of
kicking down the door, opening the vault, taking the money, and fleeing. So I think we can at least
imagine a particular action being good by virtue of something X. So my challenge to Weatherson is this:
imagine a world in which enslaving Frank is good, by virtue of a turtle not being a ceiling fan. We meet
with resistance when trying to imagine this situation, so Weatherson’s proposal fails.


                                                                          Moral Imaginative Resistance           8
propositions are indeed incoherent. I propose that, for many of us, the Marty proposition is ordinarily

imaginable, while the slavery proposition isn’t.

        But why is it that many of us have no trouble in imagining the Marty proposition in a rough and

ready fashion, but we seem unable to ordinarily imagine the slavery proposition? My answer is this: for

many of us, the incoherence of the slavery proposition is much closer to the surface than the incoherence

of the Marty proposition. We fail in ordinarily imagining the slavery proposition for roughly the same

reason that, for example, we fail in ordinarily imagining that “Some bachelor is married”. The idea is that

when we’re prompted to imagine the slavery proposition, we immediately detect its incoherence, just as

we do when we’re prompted to imagine the bachelor proposition. Our conceptual repertoire, so I claim, is

such that, when we’re prompted to imagine worlds in which the slavery or bachelor proposition is true,

the incoherence of the propositions stares us in the face, for appreciating the incoherence of these

propositions doesn’t require intricate reasoning or, for example, the comprehension of subtle principles.4

        We can imagine in the ordinary sense that Marty removes himself from the past because, when

we attempt to do so, we don’t register its incoherence, for we tend not to consider that by virtue of which

the proposition is incoherent. We don’t consider the reasons for the incoherence of the proposition

because coming to understand why it’s incoherent involves intricate trains of reasoning. So when we

succeed in ordinarily imagining the Marty proposition, we do so because we don’t have a clear and

complete understanding of the source of the incoherence of the proposition. Those who have such an

understanding of its incoherence and keep this in mind when attempting to imagine a world in which

Marty removes himself from the past will not succeed in imagining it in the ordinary sense. I claim, then,

that in the case of the Marty proposition, whether its incoherence is close to the surface depends on one’s

epistemic situation in relation to it.



4
  What about the bigot who believes that slavery is morally good in the actual world? He can certainly
ordinarily imagine a world in which slavery is good! I’m inclined to say of the bigot that he is confused –
his conceptual repertoire is impoverished, in virtue of either lacking certain moral concepts, or lacking the
facility to correctly apply certain moral concepts he in fact possesses. So those of us who have the right
conceptual repertoire are quite sensitive to the incoherence of the slavery proposition.


                                                                        Moral Imaginative Resistance          9
         So my solution to the puzzle of moral imaginative resistance, crudely put, is this: the Marty

proposition, at least in relation to many of us, doesn’t wear its incoherence on its sleeve, while the slavery

proposition, at least in relation to those of us who have the relevant moral concepts and a basic facility in

correctly applying those concepts, does. In closing I should make two qualifications. First, although I

suspect that what I say about the slavery proposition generalizes to all cases of moral imaginative

resistance for people with the appropriate conceptual repertoire, more work of course needs to be done to

show that this is the case. Second, should we say that all cases in which we can ordinarily imagine

conceptual impossibilities are cases in which we aren’t considering that by virtue of which the proposition

is incoherent? Again, I suspect that what I say generalizes, but more work is needed to make good on the

claim.



References


Currie, G. 2002. “Desire in the Imagination.” In Conceivability and Possibility. Eds. T. Gendler and J.
Hawthorne. Oxford UP: 201-22.

Gendler, T.S. 2000. “The Puzzle of Imaginative Resistance,” The Journal of Philosophy. 97(2): 55-81.

Weatherson, B. 2003. “My Favorite Puzzle,”
http://philosophyweblog.blogspot.com/mfp.htm>http://philosophyweblog.blogspot.com/mfp.htm

Yablo, S. 2002. “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda.” In Conceivability and Possibility. Eds. T. Gendler and J.
Hawthorne. Oxford UP: 441-492.




                                                                         Moral Imaginative Resistance       10

				
DOCUMENT INFO
Shared By:
Categories:
Stats:
views:25
posted:12/30/2010
language:English
pages:10
Description: Moral Imaginative Resistance