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Wednesday
Aug292012

Even more on motivated consequentialist reasoning

Wow—super great comments on the “Motivated consequentialist reading” post.  Definitely worth checking out!

Some highlights: 

  • MW & Jason Hahn question whether I’m right to read L&D as raising doubts about Haidt & Graham’s characterization of the dispositions, particularly the “liberal” one, that generate motivated reasoning of “harms” & like consequences.
  • Peter Ditto offers a very generous and instructive response, in which indicates he thinks L&D is “perfectly consistent” with H&G but agrees that it “generally challenges” the equation of consequentialism with systematic reasoning in Greene’s distinctive & provocative dual-process theory of moral judgment.
  • A diabolical genius calling himself “Nick” asks whether the “likelihood ratio” I assigned to L&D on the “asymmetry thesis” has been contaminated by my “priors.” I answer him in a separate post.

I am persuaded, based on MW’s, Jason’s, and Peter’s various points, that I was simply overeager in reading the L&D results as offering any particular reason to question H&G’s characterization of “liberals.” (BTW, the reason I keep using quotes for “liberals” is that I think people who self-identify as “liberals” on the 5- or 7-point “liberal-conservative” survey measure are only imperfect Liberals, philosophically speaking; the ones who self-identify as “conservatives,” moreover, are also imperfect Liberals—they aren’t even close enough to being anti-liberals to be characterized as “imperfect” versions of that; we are all Liberals, we are all small “r” republicans—here…)

The basis of my doubt is that I find it unpersuasive to suggest that intuitive perceptions of “harm” unconsciously motivate liberals or anyone else to formulate conscious, confabulatory “harm-avoidance” arguments. I don’t get this conceptually; if it’s intuitive perceptions of harm that drive the conscious moral reasoning of liberals about harm, where is the motivated reasoning? Where does confabulation come in? I also think the evidence is weak for the idea that perceptions of “harm” (or “unfairness,” for that matter) are what make liberals see “harm” (or “unfairness”) is what explains "liberals'" positions, at least on issues like climate change & gun control & the HPV vaccination. I think “liberals” are motivated to see “harm” by unconscious commitments to some cultural, and essentially anti-Liberal perfectionist morality. That is, they are the same as “conservatives”  in this regard, except that the cultural understanding of “purity” that motivates "liberals" is different from the one that motivates “conservatives.”

But I concede, on reflection, that L&D don’t furnish any meaningful support for this view.

Here’s my consolation, however, for being publicly mistaken. Ditto directs me and others to the work of Kurt Gray, who Peter advises has advanced a more systematic version of the claim that everyone’s morality is “harm” based but also infused with motivated perceptions of one or another view of “purity” or the like (a position that would make Mary Douglas smile, or at least stop scowling for 10 or 15 seconds).

Well, as it turns out Gray himself wrote to me, too, off-line. He not only identified work that he & collaborators have done that engage H&G & also Greene in ways consistent with the position I am taking; he also was also very intent to furnish me with references to responses from scholars who take issue with him. So I plan to read up. And now you can too:

There are some 16 responses to the latter –from the likes of AlickeDitto, Liu & Wojcik; Graham & Iyerand Koleva & Haidt --in the Psychol. Inq. issue. Sadly, those, unlike the Gray papers, are pay-walled. :(

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