Reason and the Nature of Obligation

There has been some interesting discussion over at Think Tonk (The Supernaturalistic Fallacy) and Common Sense Philosophy (The Supernaturalististic Fallacy…?) about naturalism and the foundation of obligations. In particular the issue is whether or not naturalism has the resources to accomodate moral realism. I think that its does, and am sympathetic to the supernaturalistic fallacy.

The view that if God did not exist then all things would be permissible is familiar and quite common, and just about as wrongheaded as a view can be. The senisble view is not that God’s commands make something moral, but that he commands us to do what is moral (uh, the Euthyphro question…hello?)…that this is actually what most theists have in mind already can be seen by answering the following question: Could God command us to rape? For, if He did, then raping would be morally acceptable, right? The answer is a resounding ‘no! He would not command us to do that!’ But why not? The reason is that God would not command us to do something immoral. So, what role does God play? Well, He sets up the system of rewards and punishments that are supposed to get us to actually do what is right. But that is very different from His making the things to be right or wrong in the first place! Now how do we know what we ought to do? The answer is simple; via the use of reason.

This kind of position has had a long and venerable history in Western philosophy. Locke very clearly has this kind of view in mind in the Essay. Consider this passage from Book IV

Where there is no property, there is no injustice, is a Proposition as certain as any Demonstration in Euclid: For the Idea of Property, being a right to any thing; and the idea to which the Name Injustice is given, being the Invasion or Violation of that right; it is evident, that because these Ideas being thus established, and these Names annexed to them, I can as certainly know this Proposition to be true, as that a Triangle has three Angles equal to two right ones. Again, No Government allows absolute Liberty: The Idea of Government being the establishment of Society upon certain Rules or Laws, which require Conformity to them; and the Idea of Absolute Liberty being for any one to do whatever he pleases; I am capable of being certain of the Truth of this Proposition, as of any in Mathematicks.

We start with the definitions of the concepts and deduce the moral propositions in just the same way that mathematicians start with definitions and deduce theorems. So for instance from the fact that I say ‘I promise to pay you back’ combined with the definition that promising just means that you have placed yourself under an obligation it follows that you ought to keep the promise. This just is Searle’s famous derivation of an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’ (Searle 1964) which Locke anticipates before anyone even thought there was such a problem!

So for Locke, we have the obligation to keep our promises (even in the state of nature) but that does not give us a reason to keep them. Thus it is important for Locke that God exist and that there be a system of reward and punishment in the afterlife in order to give us the motivation to do what we determine to be right with our reason. This is evident from what Locke says in Book II of the Essay

Of these Moral Rules, or Laws, to which Men generally refer, and by which they judge of the Rectitude or Pravity of their Actions, there seem to me to three sorts, with three different Enforcements, or Rewards and Punishments. For since it would be utterly in vain, to suppose a Rule set to the free actions of Man, without annexing to it some Enforcement of Good and Evil [read: Pleasure and Pain], to determine his Will, we must, where-ever we suppose a law, suppose also some Reward or Punishment annexed to that Law. It would be in vain for one intelligent Being, to set a Rule to the Actions of another, if he had it not in his Power to reward the compliance with, and punish deviation from his Rule, by some Good and Evil, that is not the natural product and consequence of the action it self. For that being a natural Convenience, or Inconvenience would operate of itself without a Law. This, if I mistake not, is the true nature of all Law, properly so called.  (Ch. XXVIII, 6)

These three sorts of moral rules are first divine law, second civil law and third the law of opinion (ibid. section 7). Each of these kinds of laws comes with it its own kind of punishment and rewards and so we have motivation to obey each kind. So we use reason to determine what the moral laws are and what counts as moral and immoral but we still need something that ‘determines the will’ else the law will be ‘utterly in vain’.

Of these three it is the divine law that is the most important as it via the divine law that “Men judge whether their actions are Sins, or Duties”.

The Divine Law, Whereby I mean, that Law which God has set to the actions of Men, whether promulgated to them by the light of Nature, or the voice of Revelation. That God has given a Rule whereby Men should govern themselves, I think there is no body so brutish as to deny. He has a Right to do it, we are his Creatures: He has Goodness and Wisdom to direct our Actions to that which is best: and he has Power to enforce it by Rewards and Punishments, of infinite weight and duration, in another Life: for no body can take us out of his hands. This is the only true touchstone of moral Rectitude; and by comparing them to this Law, it is, that Men judge of the most considerable Moral Good and Evil of their Actions; that is, whether as Duties, or Sins, they are like to procure them happiness, or misery, from the hands of the ALMIGHTY. (ibid section 8) 

In the state of nature we are able to rationally deduce the moral law, but we as yet have no reason to abide by it. God, knowing how we are built and so knowing that we need some motivation to follow the law, was kind enough to set up a system of rewards and punishments to provide the necessary motivation.

This way of reading Locke has him in close agreement with Hobbes. For Hobbes a law is a command from someone who has the right to command us (Ch. 15 paragraph 40) and so what he (Hobbes) has been calling laws of nature are more properly called “theorems concerning what conduceth to the conservation and defense” of ourselves yet, “if we consider the same theorems, as delivered in the word of God, that by right commandeth all things; then they are properly called laws,” and this is exactly the way that Locke unpacks the moral law. God has the right to command us, as we are his creatures and he has the goodness and wisdom of what is best for us and so we can know that the law is for our own good. The law being for our own good gives us some reason to follow it, but, just to make sure, God has set up the powerful motivation system of eternal punishments and rewards. So whereas Hobbes argues that we need a strong Earthly authority to punish those who transgress the law, Locke has a strong authority in the form of God. 

It is in Chapter 14 of Leviathan that Hobbes defines the concepts of obligation, duty, justice and injustice let us look closely at what he says.

Right is said to be laid aside, either by simply renouncing it: or by transferring it to another. By simply RENOUNCING; when he cares not to who the benefit thereof redoundeth. By TRANSFERRING; when he intendedth the benefit thereof to some certain person, or persons. And when a man hath in either manner abandoned, or granted away his right; then he is said to be OBLIGED, or BOUND, not to hinder those, to whom such right is granted, or abandoned, from the benefit of it: and that he ought, and it is his DUTY, not to make void that voluntary act of his own: and that such hindrance is INJUSTICE, and INJURY, as being sine jure; the right being before renounced, or transferred. So that injury, or injustice, in the controversies of the world, is somewhat like to that, which in the disputations of the scholars is called absurdity. For as it is there called an absurdity, to contradict what one maintained in the beginning: so in the world, it is called injustice, and injury, voluntarily to undo that, which from the beginning had been voluntarily done. The way by which a man simply renounceth, or tranferreth his right, is a declaration, or signification, by some voluntary and sufficient sign, or signs, that he doth so renounce, or transfer…and the same are the BONDS, by which men are bound, and obliged: bonds, that have their strength, not from their own nature, (for nothing is more easily broken than a man’s word,) but from fear of some evil consequence upon the rupture. (p227; emphasis added))

This passage is strikingly similar to Locke’s view. First notice that he here agrees with Locke’s definition of injustice as the violation of a right. Once you transfer or renounce a right you no longer have that right and so hindering the person who now has the right is an action without right  (sine jure: without right) and by hindering them you are now violating that person’s right and so acting unjustly.

This suggests a way of reading this passage which puts Hobbes in line with Locke’s account in the Essay. When I make a covenant I thereby acquire an obligation to perform it in virtue of my voluntarily transferring a right. I can see this by the use of my reason, and in fact deduce that not to do it results in a contradiction. But this does not give me any reason to fulfill that obligation. In order to fulfill that obligation I need some other kind of motivation, and Hobbes says that there are “but two imaginable helps to strengthen it. And those are either fear of the consequences of breaking their word; or glory and pride in appearing not to need to break it.” (p229) This second ‘help’ Hobbes doubts can be relied on. It is fear of the consequences of breaking their word that we should count on. As he says,

The passion to be reckoned upon, is fear; whereof there be two very general objects: one, the power of spirits invisible; the other, the power of those men they shall therein offend. Of these two, though the former be of the greater power, yet the fear of the later is commonly the greater fear” (ibid)

So this is our motivation for performing what we have contracted to do in much the same way as in Locke’s account of why we do what we ought, but it is not the source of our obligation. The source of our obligation is the fact that we have made it known by signs that we intend to enter into a covenant; the obligation stems from the “force of our words”but again, this does not give us a reason to fulfill it even though not doing so results in a kind of absurdity. This suggests that we can make binding promises in the state of nature but that we will have no reason to perform them unless we have a very strong fear of what will happen should we not do so which is exactly what Locke argues.

So God is not the source of morality, He is the enforcer of morality…so if he does not exist the worse case scenerio is that people may not have very strong motivating reasons to do what they ought to do…but so what? As Kant rightly pointed out, someone who acts morally solely to get rewarded (or to avoid punishment) is not really acting morally in the first place….so the existence of God may actually be a hinderance to morality….

Consciousness is Not a Relational Property

I’m Back! At least for the next five days until I go to Vegas for the ASSC on Friday for some more HOT Fun in the Summertime!

Wow, what a trip!!! Toronto is much nicer than I thought it would be, and the East Coast is truely beautiful this time of year (the highlight for me was the saltwater pool in Kennebunkport…almost like being in the ocean in Hawaii, or Jamaica or something, nice!)…but it is good to be back in Brooklyn…

Anyways, here is the passage from p. 211 of Consciousness and Mind that I mentioned in the previous post (Consciousness, Relational Properties, and Higher-Order Theories)

Since there can be something it’s like for one to be in a state with particular mental qualities even if no such state occurs, a mental state’s being conscious is not strictly speaking a relational property of that state. A state’s being conscious consists in its being a state one is conscious of onself as being in. Still, it is convienent to speak loosely of the property of a state’s being conscious as relational so as to stress that it is in any case not an intrinsic property of mental states.

’nuff said? This is the real reason that Rosenthal’s view is not targeted by objections like Pete Mandik’s Unicorn argument, or the common objection from the possibility of the HOT occuring in the absence of the first-order state, or as I argued, from Uriah’s charge that higher-order theories, like Rosenthals’s, that claim that the first-order state does not acquire a new property (i.e. of being a conscious state) are committed to the claim that consciousness is epiphenomenal.

I agree that the confusion is due mostly to Rosenthal’s ‘loose way of speaking’ and his reluctance to disabuse people of this intuitive picture of the higher-order thought theory. This is at least in part because this way of thinking of the theory agrees better with our common sense conception of how things like this should work. This, as I have already said, is yet another reason to prefer K-HOTs to Q-HOTs. 

Consciousness, Relational Properties, and Higher-Order Theories

Greetings from Kennebunkport!

Jen and I went whale watching yesterday (saw a few Hump-backs and a couple of Fin-backs)…but all I could think about was consciousness! That is, aside from trying not to get sea-sick 🙂

In an earlier post (The Function of Consciousness in Higher-Order Theories) I argued that higher-order theories were committed to saying that consciousness had very little function, but not, as Uriah suggested, to saying that consciousness was epiphenomenal. This was found to be puzzling by some, and today I was thinking about why this is.

Intuitively, what people think that higher-order theories construe a mental state’s being conscious as a relational property of the first-order state. This is not suprising, sunce Rosenthal has said in numerous places that on his view consciousness is a relational property. But this is actually not right.

In Sensory Qualities, Consciousness, and Perception he is very clear that consciousness is not a relational property of the first-order state (I do not have my copy of Consciousness and Mind with me, but the passage is in section 5). This is because, on his view, the higher-order state can occur ibn the absence of the first-order state.

So, a state’s being conscious is not an intrinsic property of the state, nor is it strictly speaking a relational property of the state. It simply isn’t a property that the first-order state has at all. Any given first-order state is conscious when a suitable higher-order state represents the creature as being in that state.

Now, I agree that this is odd sounding, but this is what Rosentyhal’s view is…this is yet another reason to prefer K-HOTs to Q-HOTs. On this view the first-order state does come to have the relational property of being conscious in virtue of causing a K-HOT that represents the creature as being in that state, and since there is no real difference between representing a state that does not exist and misrepresenting a state that does exist (on Rosenthal’s view) then the K-HOT account captures everything that Rosenthal wants to say without the odd sounding results.

OK, so back to the pool for me!

On Hallucinating Pain

OK, so one more for the rode…

I was recently re-reading one of Ned Block’s papers (‘Bodily Sensations as an Obstacle for representationism’) where he denies that there is an appearance/reality distinction when it comes to pain. This is a commn view to have about pain (had for instance by Kripke in his argument against the Identity Theory). Here is what he says

 My color experience represents colors, or colorlike properties. (In speaking of colorlike properties, I am alluding to Sydney Shoemaker’s “phenomenal properties”  or “appearance properties” or Michael Thau’s nameless properties.) But, according to me, there is no obvious candidate for an objectively assessable property that bears to pain experience the same relation that color bears to color experience. But first, let us ask a prior question: what in the domain of pain corresponds to the tomato, namely, the thing that is red? Is it the chair leg on which I stub my toe (yet again), which could be said to have a painish or painy quality to it in virtue of its tendency to cause pain–experience in certain circumstances, just as the tomato causes the sensation of red in certain circumstances? Is it the stubbed toe itself, which we experience as aching, just as we experience the tomato as red? Or, given the fact of phantom-limb pain, is it the toeish part of the body image rather than the toe itself? None of these seems obviously better than the others.

Now if one has adopted a higher-order theory of consciousness one will think that there is indeed an appearance/reality distinction to be made here. Since it is the higher-order state, and only the higher-order state, that accounts for there being something that it is like to have a conscious pain it follows that there is the real possibility that one may misrepresent oneself as being in pain when one is not, or as not being in pain when one is.

So it is no suprise to find David Rosenthal saying stuff like this

Just as perceptual sensations make us aware of various physical objects and processes, so pains and other bodily sensations make us aware of certain conditions of our own bodies. In standard cases of feeling pain, we are aware of a bodily condition located where the pain seems phenomenologically to be located. It is, we say, the foot that hurts when we have the relevant pain. and in standard cases we describe teh bodily condition using qualitative words, such as painful, burning, stabbing, and so forth. Descartes’s famous Sixth Meditation appeal to phantom pains reminds us that pains are purely mental statess. But we need not, on that account, detach them from the bodily conditions they reveal in the standard, nonhallucinatory cases. (from Sensory Quality and the Relocation Story)

 So Rosenthal seems to be saying that it is bodily conditions that play the role that the tomatoe does and it is first-order states which constitute an awareness of those conditions which play the role that Block calls ‘representing color or colorlike properties’. If these are all distinct states, then we should expect for them to come apart.

 I have addressed the issue of unconscious pains in some previous posts. An unconscious pain, for Rosenthal and those like him, is a state that makes us conscious of some bodily condition and which will resemble and differ other pains states in ways that are homomorphic to the resembelances and differences between these bodily states. But what about the other case mentioned? Is it even possible to think that one is in pain and be wrong?

Rosenthal cites what he calls ‘the dental fear phenomenon’ as evidence for this claim. Here is what he says (in the same article as before)

Dental patients occasionally report pain when physiological factors make it clear that no pain could occur. The usual explanation is that fear and the non-painful sensation of vibration cause the patient to confabulate pain. When the patient learns this explanation, what it’s like for the patient no longer involves anything painful. But the patient’s memory of what it was like before learning the explanation remains unchanged. Even when what it’s like results from confabulation, it may be no less vivid and convincing than a nonconfabulatory case.

Now, I have always felt that this dental fear stuff was a really convincing way of showing that there really is a reality/appearance distinction for pains, but when I have tried to research this I have not been able to find very much on it (and Rosenthal offers no citations), but it does seem to be a reletively common phenomenon. Here is an excerpt from a paper on dental fear in children that tells a dentists how to deal with this

Problems that a dentist is convinced are associated with misinterpretation of pain may be addressed by explaining the gate theory of pain. A very basic explanation which is suitable for children as young as five is as follows. ‘You have lots of different types of telephone wires called nerves going from your mouth to your brain (touch appropriate body parts). Some of them carry “ouch!” messages and the others carry messages about touch (demonstrate) and hot and cold. The sleeping potion stops the ouch messages being sent, but not the touch and the hot and cold messages. So you will still know that I am touching the tooth and you will still feel the cold of the water. Your brain looks out for messages all the time. If you are convinced that it will hurt, it will. This is because if I make the ouch nerves go off to sleep and I touch you, a touch message gets sent. But your brain is looking for ouch messages and it says to itself, ‘There’s a message coming. It must be an ouch message.’ So you go ‘ouch’ and it hurts, but all I did was to touch you. It’s just that your brain was confused.’ (The language may, of course, be adjusted for older children.) If this fails to work, then active treatment should be stopped. (from Dental Fear in Children)

This is clearly a pain hallucination, as evidenced by the fact that the way they treat it is not with more medication, but with an explanation, pitched at the kids level, of why what they are fealing is not pain.

Now this is very different from what is called neuropathic pain, which is pain that is caused by a misinterpretation of an innocuous stimuli, like touch, or pains like phantom limb pain. This is the result of one kind of stimuli, for one reason or another, causing the bodily state that gives rise to the perception of pain.

Peripheral nociceptive fibers located in tissues and possibly in the nervi nervorum can become hyperexcitable by at least by 4 major mechanisms: a) nociceptor sensitization (“irritable nociceptors”); b) spontaneous ectopic activity; c) abnormal connections between peripheral fibers; and d) hypersensibility to catecholamines. This peripheral sensitization results in increased pain responses from noxious stimuli (primary hyperalgesia) and previously innocuous stimuli elicits pain (peripheral allodynia). Central nociceptive second order neurons in the spinal cord dorsal horn can also be sensitized when higher frequency inputs activate spinal interneurons. This results in the release of neuromodulators that activate glutamate receptors and voltage-gated calcium channels with a net effect of an increase of intracellular calcium that windup action potential discharges. Degeneration of peripheral nociceptive neurons may trigger changes in the properties of low-threshold sensitive neurons and axonal sprouting of the central processes of thesefibers that connect with central nociceptive interneurons. (from Neuropathic Pain Treatment: The Challenge

So it does look like we can distinguish the three states and that we do in fact find cases on one without the other.

Shesh! that turned out to be longer than i expected…but what the hell? I’m Outa Here!

I’m Outa Here!

My girl friend and I are going to drive up the coast to Cape Cod and Kennebunkport and then we will make our way over to Toronto for the SPP, maybe I’ll see you there!

What this means is that for the next week or so I may be slow in responding to comments/posting new stuff, so please hang in there.

The Function of Consciousness in Higher-Order Theories

I was recently reading through a new paper of Uriah Kriegel’s called The Same-Order Monitoring Theory of Consciousness where he says this

If consciousness were indeed a relational property, M’s being conscious would fail to contribute anything to M’s fund of causal powers. And this would make the property of being conscious epiphenomenal (see Dretske 1995: 117 for an argument along these lines).

This is, by all appearances, a serious problem for HOMT [higher-order monitoring theory a.k.a. Higher-order thought theory]. Why have philosophers failed to press this problem more consistently? My guess is that we are tempted to slide into a causal reading of HOMT, according to which M* produces the consciousness of M, by impressing upon M a certain modification. Such a reading does make sense of the causal efficacy of consciousness: after M* modifies M, this intrinsic modification alters M’s causal powers. But of course, this is a misreading of HOMT. It is important to keep in mind that HOMT is a metaphysical, not causal, thesis. Its claim is not that the presence of an appropriate higher-order representation yields, or gives rise to, or produces, M’s being conscious. Rather, the claim is that the presence of an appropriate higher-order representation constitutes M’s being conscious. It is not that by representing M, M* modifies M in such a way as to make M conscious. Rather, M’s being conscious simply consists in its being represented by M*.

So far this is all right (notice how Uriah has Rosenthal’s account correctly formulated in such a way as to be immune from certain unicorn arguments). I have also pointed out how this implicit assumption about what the higher-order thought theory is keeps people from thinking the theory is anti-Cartesian in certain important respects.

But Uriah goes on to say that

When proponents of HOMT have taken this problem into account, they have responded by downplaying the causal efficacy of consciousness. But if the intention is to bite the bullet, downplaying the causal efficacy is insufficient – what is needed is nullifying the efficacy. The charge at hand is not that HOMT may turn out to assign consciousness too small a fund of causal powers, but that it may deny it any causal powers. To bite the bullet, proponents of HOMT must embrace epiphenomenalism. Such epiphenomenalism can be rejected, however, both on commonsense grounds and on the grounds that it violates what has come to be called Alexander’s dictum: to be is to be causally effective. Surely HOMT would be better off if it could legitimately assign some causal powers to consciousness. But its construal of consciousness as a relational property makes it unclear how it might do so.

Now Rosenthal will be speaking about this issue at the ASSC, and Uriah is right that Rosenthal does not think that there is much, if any, function to consciousness qua consciousness, so I don’t want to get into that stuff. What I want to question is whether or not anyone who agrees with Rosenthal is committed, in the way that Uriah seems to think that they are, to saying that consciousness is epiphenomenal.  

The brunt of the challenge seems to come from the claim that our being conscious of a mental state, and hence that mental state being conscious, does not change, or modify the first-order state in any way and so its causal powers are unaffected by being conscious. I think that this is right; in fact I use this as a premise in my argument that higher-order theories are committed to there being something that it is like for a creature to have a conscious thought. But does this claim entail that consciousness is epiphenomenal? I am not sure that it does.

I think that someone who like the higher-order theory could say that, while the first-order state does not come to have any new causal properties when it become conscious, the creature in which the state occurs does. So, at the very least, even by Rosenthal’s lights, we get the ability to report (as opposed to express) our mental states when they are conscious, and we get the ability to introspect our mental states and thereby come to know what it is like for us to have them.

Now whether they can say there is more to the function of consciousness than this is another question, but at the very least, one does not have to dine on the bullet that Uriah has prepared.