Friday, October 30, 2009

"Saved or Created": A Case of Studied Disjunctive Ambiguity

What exactly does it mean to say you have saved or created 500 jobs? Better yet, when can you not claim that you have saved or created 500 jobs?

Well, the basic claim is disjunctive in character. It reduces to:

Either saving 500 jobs, or creating 500 jobs.

So, if you save 500 jobs, you can be counted as saving or creating 500, with the added rhetorical 'positivity' of having the word "created" associated with your doings. If, on the other hand, you create 500 jobs that did not exist before, you will also be counted as having created or saved 500 jobs, even if, in the process, you had not saved, or indeed lost 500 or more jobs somewhere else in your realm of action. On this latter scenario, there could be a net loss, but because you were a-creatin' you were also a-savin' or creatin'!

Are there other scenarios in which you can be counted as saving or creating 500 jobs? You betcha' there are:

One instance: when you save some number under 500 and make up the balance creatin'. Another one: when you created under 500, made up the balance a savin'. [Notice, none of this says an iota about the pay rate for the jobs, the number of hours worked, etc.]

Only when the aggregate total of saved and created jobs is under 500 will you be counted as not having saved or created 500 jobs.

But, since the predicate says nothing about LOSSES, you can count yourself as either saving or creating 500, even if in the process you also lost 1000 other jobs! Suppose you start out with 2000, lose 1500, retain 500. Is that saving 500? If so, you can be counted as having saved or created 500. Soup for you!

Bottom line: you can save or create without having created any new jobs. You can save or create without having saved any jobs. You can save or create while actually cutting jobs.

Yesiree, That's some mean piece of "framing", or "newspeak", there.

Darwinian Conservatism by Larry Arnhart: The Darwinian Biology of Human Rights

Darwinian Conservatism by Larry Arnhart: The Darwinian Biology of Human Rights

A very interesting piece, concerning itself with how one might try to ground morality in the notion of natural rights and the related notion of natural law, doing this from a naturalistic angle. This is something I've worked on in a series of posts, starting HERE.

Consider these passages from Arnhart:

But then how exactly does "human nature" give rise to "human rights"? It's easy to see how legal rights are created by legal enactment. But it's harder to see how moral rights can exist as standards for judging legal systems. Legal positivists would say that the only rights are legal rights, and that the idea of human rights as moral rights that exist independently of positive law is pure fiction.

How is it that all human beings are "born" with "inherent dignity" and equal human rights? How does a physical birth as a human being translate into a moral birth as a being endowed with rights? Moral philosophers have tried to find a rational proof for the existence of moral rights or of any standard of right and wrong. But philosophers have never reached any agreement on any such rational proof.

I agree with Morsink that this futile quest of philosophers to find a rational proof for moral standards indicates the fundamental mistake in assuming that morality is a product of pure reason. The shared moral outrage against Nazi atrocities that motivated the drafting of the Universal Declaration illustrates how our moral experience arises not from pure reason alone but from moral emotions, and particularly from emotions of disapproval and disgust.

Even as the memories of World War II and the Nazis fade into distant history, we can still see how the emotions of moral revulsion support the idea of human rights. Go to the websites of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and scan some of their reports. Mostly what these organizations do is simply prepare reports that describe cruelty around the world--torture, rape, murder, slavery, and so on. They don't offer any logical arguments to prove that such behavior is wrong, because they assume that a vivid description of cruel behavior will elicit powerful emotions of disapproval. Those they accuse of perpetrating the cruelty will respond by trying to persuade us that the reports from these human rights groups are factually inaccurate.

So reason does have a role to play here, because we need good rational judgment in gathering and assessing information about what is happening. But once we're confident about the facts of the case, our moral judgment of right or wrong depends on our emotional reaction of approval or disapproval. The Universal Declaration is right: to recognize human rights, we need both "reason and conscience"--reason for factual judgments of truth and falsity and conscience for emotional judgments of right and wrong. Reason also allows us to generalize our moral emotions into moral rules. So that, for example, we judge that as a rule human beings have a right to life because the killing of innocent people would elicit moral emotions of disapproval from any normal human being.

This view of moral judgments as ultimately based on emotions is best elaborated in the Darwinian ethics of Edward Westermarck, which best explains the human nature of human rights. As animals formed by natural selection for social life, Westermarck argues, we are inclined to feel resentment toward conduct that we perceive as painful, and kindly emotion toward conduct that we perceive as pleasurable. The mental dispositions to feel such emotions evolved in animals by natural selection because these emotions promote survival and reproductive fitness: resentment helps to remove dangers, and kindly emotion helps to secure benefits. For the more intelligent animals, these dispositions have become conscious desires to punish enemies and reward friends.

Moral disapproval, for Westermarck, is a form of resentment, and moral approval is a form of kindly emotion. In contrast to the non-moral emotions, however, the moral emotions show apparent impartiality. (Here one can see the influence of Adam Smith's idea of the "impartial spectator.") If I feel anger toward an enemy or gratitude toward a friend, these are private emotions that express my personal interests. In contrast, if I declare some conduct of a friend or enemy to be good or bad, I implicitly assume that the conduct is good or bad regardless of the fact that the person in question is my friend or my enemy. This is because it is assumed that when I call that conduct good or bad, I would apply the same judgment to other people acting the same way in similar circumstances, independently of how it would affect me. This apparent impartiality characterizes the moral emotions, Westermarck reasons, because social life gives birth to moral consciousness. Moral rules originated as tribal customs that expressed the emotions of an entire society rather than the personal emotions of particular individuals. Thus, moral rules arise as customary generalizations of emotional tendencies to feel approval for conduct that causes pleasure and disapproval for conduct that causes pain.


And now some choice cuts, which raise some interesting questions Arnhart considers:

...once we're confident about the facts of the case, our moral judgment of right or wrong depends on our emotional reaction of approval or disapproval.

One has to unpack, a bit what these two words "approval" and "disapproval" mean. In the context of moral emotions this is essential, for if an emotion lacks one of this pair of properties, you simply don't have a moral emotion. Moral emotions always have this 'flavor' if you will.

With apologies for the terminology here, MEs are not simply 'likings' and 'dislikings', but have an evaluative element here emphasised by this pair of words. MEs presuppose, in some way standards against which the actions of persons are measured. Do they, or do they not support certain objectives, or desired states? When we are cognizant of actions that work counter to the things that standards are concerned with, we will have moral emotions of disapproval. When they are found to further the things the standards are concerned with, we have moral emotions of approval.

How many standards are we talking about here, and with what are they concerned? What are the objectives or desired states? How explicit are these standard? How explicit can they become? Those are questions that can be answered in the naturalistic way Arnhart sketches, and via empirical research. We find that the standards, and the things with which they are concerned revolve crucially around the notion of human nature, as being social, and several items of value that can be seen as aspects of that essential social life form (communications, life, security, knowledge, play, nurture, etc.., the usual roster of natural values given by natural law theory). But, the key take-away in all this is that moral emotions are evaluative in this sense. There is a cognitive element to them. This distinguishes them from non-moral emotions. One such emotion that is mentioned in the post is resentment.

...Westermarck argues, we are inclined to feel resentment toward conduct that we perceive as painful, and kindly emotion toward conduct that we perceive as pleasurable.


I think this statement is just a bit too simplistic, at least in the human case. It is not the mere fact that an act inflicts pain that may lead us to feel resentment toward someone that acts in that way. No. It is the fact that we take this person to knowingly undertake that action in such a way that unnecessarily works counter to one or more of the natural values, that makes the act something we resent. There is much more going on here than merely noticing that someone is generating pain. A silly example to illustrate the distinction I am trying to make: I don't resent the pain my dentist causes me. Why? Clearly he is not doing any real damage to the standard values above listed. In fact he is working in support of one or more, and the pain is a necessary means to that support. The only way I would feel resentment toward him is if I misinterpret his actions, as might a young child that doesn't know enough about dentistry to see things as an adult would.

Another terminological quibble with this passage is the use of the term 'kindly'. I think it misses something that the earlier term "approval" does not. The moral emotions of approbation approval, or admiration, are not simply feelings of kindliness toward others, but carry with them some level of cognition, again, of the standards and values above referenced. We morally approve of acts because they in some way work to support the things the standards concern themselves with. So when we see someone do these sorts of acts, yes we feel kindly toward them, but there is more going on that that. We feel approval, and that we should praise that person, acknowledge his support of the natural values.

This notion of approval, and the allied notion of praise and acknowledgement (an essentially public activity) brings in its train, as a sort of logical cousin or relation another feature of our moral thought. Moral thought in some way involves universality, and impartiality:

..it is assumed that when I call that conduct good or bad, I would apply the same judgment to other people acting the same way in similar circumstances, independently of how it would affect me. This apparent impartiality characterizes the moral emotions, Westermarck reasons, because social life gives birth to moral consciousness. Moral rules originated as tribal customs that expressed the emotions of an entire society rather than the personal emotions of particular individuals. Thus, moral rules arise as customary generalizations of emotional tendencies to feel approval for conduct that causes pleasure and disapproval for conduct that causes pain.

Once again, we have to ask after the forces that generate these emotions of societies. What is it about certain practices, in certain situations that tend to cause this unanimity in evaluative emotions? The answer Arnhart proposes is that we are cognizant at some level that the practices serve the social group, allowing for its collective survival, while at the same time allowing the individuals in that group to flourish. Both of these things going on, or rather being cognized as being accomplished simultaneously illicit the positive moral emotions, for certain types of acts.

If, on the other hand, only one or the other of these things is going on, or if both are flouted, a practice will run greater risk of causing observers to have the negative moral emotions.

A couple of examples to illustrate. I volunteer time at a food bank. I thereby support the natural value of life, and cement social bonds with other volunteers and people to whom I deliver meals. Someone, seeing this, will feel the approbation. That, being a result of an evaluation of how my acts further the social network of which I am a part.

Now, suppose that I decide that rather than feeding the needy, we should kill them, in the interests of making the society stronger. Suppose, even, that I am correct in this assumption. The society would be better able to protect itself, and everyone within it would have more food, and other such goods. In this case, I am serving the natural value "society", but just as obviously (and understating things considerably) I am also not allowing a good number of individuals to flourish. I obviously would also violate the natural value of life. Hence, an observer, aware of these facts will feel a negative moral emotion toward me.

Third example. I decide to redistribute wealth in a radical way, taking away money from anyone that has more than 30k a year, and splitting up the money evenly amongst all people that are below the poverty line. This obviously would wreak havoc with social stability, because a great many people will feel violated, even if others feel as if they had been saved. The possible repercussions of the practice would be profoundly destabilizing to the natural value we can label with the word "society", even though it would be allowing the poor to flourish. So, one of the negative moral emotions is likely to be the result of observation of such practice.

So, moral emotions arise when we observe knowing actions that impact eudaimonia, or human flourishing, an essential component of which is society.

We begin to have moral emotions relatively early in life. Playground resentments abound, do they not?

We see behavior in the animal kingdom that leads us to believe that animals have emotions that are at least analogous to these moral emotions; shunning and physical punishment among the great apes, for example.

All of this is born of cognition, cognition dependent on mental sophistication; needing at least a rudimentary ability to conceptualize things in the more universal or law-like fashion that the post describes. This requires empathetic abilities, as well as reason. It is something that can happen independently of the acquisition of language. But, language allows it to be developed to a much greater extent, ultimately leading to Ethics as a discipline.

Naval Aviators, Sun Kings: Mad Music Skills continued..

Hey Ya

McChrystal on the 'Protect the Cities' Afghan Strategy




It is safe to assume, the below gives General McChrystal's reasons for not subscribing to the "protect the cities only" strategy being advocated by Vice President Biden:


*"Villagers are supremely rational and practical people: they make the decision on who they will support, based upon who can protect them and provide for them what they need. If a villager lives in a remote area where the government or security forces cannot protect them from coercion or harm from insurgents, he will not support the government – it would be illogical. Similarly, if the government cannot provide him with rule of law, the basic ability to adjudicate requirements legally, or just enough services to allow him to pursue a likelihood, it is difficult for him to make a rational decision to support the government. The Taliban is not popular. It does not have a compelling context. What it has is proximity to the people and the ability to provide coercion and, in some cases, things like basic rule of law, based upon the fact that they are there and can put themselves in that position. The perception of the villager matters in terms of which side he should support, so winning the battle of perception is key."


One would have thought this point to be rather obvious.


*Excerpted from General McChrystal's address to the International Institute of Strategic Studies, 1 October of this year. A must read.