A Thought about the American Trial System

I do not know very much about the philosophy of law (well, OK, I don’t really know anything about it!) so this may be a half-baked idea that has been thought of and rejected already. But, I was watching Law and Order yesterday and I was struck by what must be a very obvious fact about the way that we run our courts. Since the jury is listening to the trial live there is an overwhelming temptation for trial lawyers to say stuff that they know will be objected to and even stricken from the record since it is obvious that a jury cannot really ‘disregard’ something that has been said. They may TRY to consciously ignore it, but once it is heard it is in there and doing its damage. Now, I know that in some egregious cases a mistrial can be declared but usually the jury is just instructed to ignore the comment and the trial goes on as usual. Which brings me to my thought.

Why is it that we still have the jury listen to the trial live? A better way to do things, it seems to me, would be to have the trial run as normal sans jury while being video-taped (from the pointof view where the jury would be located). The tape could be edited by the judge to exclude the objectionable material and then the edited tape would be shown to the jury. That would ensure that the jury only sees what the judge rules admissible and would abolish the grandstanding and circus-like atmoshpere of (some) trials.  

Emotive Realism Ch. 3 & 4

So, I have finished (what I hope is) the penultimate draft of my dissertation and It is in the hands of my committee. I have already heard back from one diligent committee member and he has given the green light (not the chair, alas)…so if I hear back from the other two by the beginning of August (and there are no major problems/objections) I should have enough time to make corrections and have the final defensible draft done by the end of August, which means that my September 10th defense is starting to look attainable!!! (fingers crossed; I hope I did not just now jinx it!!!)

Below are the two last chapters (here are chapters 1 and 2). As always comments welcome!

Ch. 3 -Two Current Kinds of Expressivism: Blackburn and Copp

Ch. 4 -Emotive Realism

(Finally) Responding to Roman

In the comments to my post Some Moral Truths are Analytic I got some very useful and detailed comments. Sadly, I was caught-up in the zombie wars and did not have enough attention to focus on both. But now that we have entered the Zombie Cold War (don’t even get me started on this elitist bullshit!! If I hear ‘epistemic peer’ one more time I might…well, I don’t know what I might do… 😉 ) I can actually turn to thinking about something interesting. To that end I will begin by responding to Roman’s comment (RM, you’re next!)

One of Roman’s concerns is whether or not we should call a justified telling of an untruth-with-intent-to-decieve a lie. As he says

there are cases where it might be morally justified to tell a lie; that doesn’t make the action less of a lie, but it does make it less blameworthy, and maybe even meritorious.

I argue, along with  Kant in the Lectures on Ethicsthat it is wrong to call such an action a lie. This is because a lie, properly conceived, is an unjustified telling of an untruth-with-intent-to-decieve. But it is hard for me to see, at this point, how this is anything except a verbal dispute. We bith agree that the action in question is justified. Are there any reasons to think that Roman’s way is better than mine (or vice versa)? I argued that there are a couple reasons to prefer my way.

One of them is on analogy to other moral words. So we draw a distinction between killing and murder (an unjustified killing) and between reposesing and stealing (unjustified property transfer). Roman agrees with this. He says,

I wouldn’t say that the repo man steals the car, since (if he is a legit repo man) presumably the car does not rightly belong to the present owner.

But this is to agree with my point. The repo man does not steal the car. He is justified in taking the car. But Roman goes on to say,

And I just don’t think that “stealing is wrong” is an analytic truth–it is a moral heuristic that we use, and that generally serves us well, but that isn’t always right. Here’s an example (sorry, I’ve been watching Doctor Who): Aliens are planning to destroy the Earth. For that purpose, they have brought a special talisman that will activate their planet-eating machine. The Doctor, being the nice guy that he is, sneaks into their layer and takes off with the talisman, thereby saving the Earth. Now it is pretty clear that he’s done a good thing, and looking for a word other than “stealing” to account for his action is both misleading and unnecessary, since there are lots of other ways to describe his action (at least on a coarse grained account), such as “Saving the Earth.”

I agree that there are lots of ways to describe the Doctor’s action, but I do not think that stealing is one of them. Sure, we might colloquially say that he stole the tailsman, but if pressed I think we would back off of this claim. If we look up ‘steal’ we will find that it means ‘taking property wrongly’, and it is clear that the Doctor is not in the wrong here (at least with respect to some theories of justification; perhaps all…but that is another debate). To call something stealing is to express our moral disapproval of it, and it is hard to see how the Doctor has done anything that deserves moral disapproval. I admit that this distinction has not taken hold with respect to ‘lie’ but I claim that it should.

Roman goes on to dispute my claim with rtespect to torture. I say that an action,

“count as torture when they [i.e. the causing of harm] lack justification, and something else when they don’t. What it adds to the debate is that it clarifies what the debate is about. Everyone agrees that torture is wrong (even Bush thinks that!). What is at issue is whether or not our tactics count as torture or not”

See, this is where I disagree. I think asking whether a particular activity counts as torture doesn’t clarify the debate; it confuses it, by appealing to our simplified moral heuristics and thus nullifying moral debate before it starts. And Bush is a perfect example of this. He doesn’t think torture is wrong (from what I can tell); he just says that torture is wrong, because saying otherwise would sound really really bad for him. His goal is not to make a moral argument; his goal is to influence public opinion. Which is why he will say that “torture is wrong” but “waterboarding is not torture.” That is: he relies on the strategy you seem to be proposing in order to evade moral debate, not to clarify it. And this is why the people we should listen to on the issue are not the politicians, but the CIA generals who will get up in front of Congress and say something like this: “Yes, waterboarding is torture. That is precisely why we need to be allowed to do it in extreme cases. Something that doesn’t constitute torture–like telling terrorists that their mothers hate them–isn’t going to get the job done sometimes.” And this is where real moral debate, rather than just pointing to the strongest intuition, starts.

I agree with Roman that Bush wants to influence the debate, but I guess I have a higher opinion of Bush than Roman does; I think that he really means it when he says that torture is wrong and that he really thinks that water-boarding is not torture because he thinks it is a justified action. Now, I do not agree with Bush, I think that water-boarding is totally unjustified and so counts as torture, but that is where the moral debate has to begin. NObody really thinks that we should torture. What they think (wrongly) is that some extreme measures are justified.

The second argument for my way of doing things relies on an appeal to motivation. I say,

“it is hard to see what kind of a theory of motivation you can give on a view like the one that you suggest. On my view a person should do what ius right because they see that ‘what is right should be done’ as a tautology. Everyone knows that a morally wrong action should not be done. That’s just what it means to say that it is morally wrong.”

Roman responds,

I don’t really see why your approach would fare any better or worse than mine on the issue of motivation, to which this discussion seems largely irrelevant. “X is wrong, therefore I shouldn’t do it” may be an analytic claim, but “X is wrong, therefore I am motivated not to do it” certainly isn’t. (”X is wrong, therefore I should be motivated not to do it,” on the other hand, might be.) Having a motivational state is not just a case of accepting the truth of a proposition.

But this was not the point. The point was that on Roman’s way of doing things it is not clear why a person ought not to lie; it in fact seems to lead to a contradiction…namely that some wrong actions are right. My way of doing things avoids this problem. No wrong actions are right. A moral agent is committed to doing the right actions and forbidden to do the wrong ones.

OK, there is more to say, obviously, but I have got to go to work!

Question Begging Thought Experiments

I really should be thinking about the excellent comments made on some of my other posts but for some reason I am stuck on the zombie stuff right now. I promise I will get back to Berkeley and the analyticity of moral truths soon!

During our fast and furious discussion of my reverse-zombie argument yesterday RC invited me to look at a recent post of his where he discusses when it is appropriate to call an argument question begging. He there argues that begging the question should be reserved for cases where ‘the argument does not advance the dialectic’, or alternatively where the argument is not ‘rationally persuasive to anyone who does not already accept the conclusion’. This is contrasted with the typical view that begging the question is employing one’s conclusion as a premise. So, according to RC it is fine to simply assume without argument that there could be a complete microphysical duplicate of me which lacked consciousness because doing so makes the issue ‘vivid’ and ‘draws out our implicit commitments’ which in turn can serve to rationally persuade. This is partially right and partially wrong. Let me take a minute to explain.

Consider the following argument.

All men are mortal

Socrates is a man

therefore, Socrates is mortal

As everyone knows, this is a valid categorical syllogism. Does it beg the question? Well, in a technical sense one might think that it does, since the conclusion is contained in in the premises. But this argument is question begging in another sense as well. To beg the question in this sense is to beg it against someone. So, this argument begs the question against someone who does not believe that all men are mortal, and against someone who does not believe that Socrates was a man (if there are any such people, that is). Typically no one in a logic class challenges these premises and we all go about our merry business but should someone challenge our claim that all men are mortal we would have to provide a seperate argument to establish that premise. Of course this is nothing new, it is simply soundness under another name. That is why we say a rationally compelling argument is one that is both valid and sound. So to beg the question in this sense is to employ premises in your argument which your opponent does not accept.

So I agree that to call an argument question begging is to complain that the argument is not rationally compelling but not in the sense that RC points out; it is to complain that there is a premise in the argument that one does not accept and which has not been argued for. This RC admits to doing and so he admits to begging the question against the materialist. But what of his counter suggestion? Isn’t the zombie argument rationally persuasive to some and therefore doesn’t it advance the dialectic and so not beg the question in RC’s sense. No. As he himself points out, what the zombie argument does is to draw out one’s implicit assumptions and commitments. But if it only serves to draw out one’s implicit assumptions and commitments then it should be obvious that the argument will only be rationally persuasive to someone who already has implict dualist commitments and so the zombie argument is question begging in RC’s sense as well. It does not serve to advance the dialectic between the materialist and the dualist; what it serves to do is to alert one to which side of the debate one has allegience to but it cannot, and does not, rationally persuade someone who is not already implicitly harboring dualist commitments.

So what we need is an actual argument that the zombie world is conceivable …just as I have said all along.  Notice, though, that I have never denied, and have no quarrel with, the claim that the zombie argument is useful for making a certain issue very vivid. What I deny is that it is anything like an argument against materialism.  

Notice also that RC’s preffered way of characterizing the zombie argument not only begs the question against a materialist of my ilk who thinks that the microphysical facts do entail the qualitative facts (since qualitative facts just are physical facts), but also against someone, like Davidson, who endorses anomalous monism. This is because the anomalous monist denies that the microphysical facts entail any mental facts at all (yet the mental and the physical are identical nonetheless). This is why the debate between the materialist and the dualist is not a debate about reduction and why RC’s way of framing the zombie argument is bad. The better way to do it is in terms of conceiving of a creature physically identical to me which lacks consciousness. But then, as acknowledged by RC, the dualist is in danger from the reverse-zombie argument…that is unless it is question begging in some way…

Reverse-Zombies, Dualism, and Reduction

In some earlier posts (Non-Physical Zombies, How Not to Imagine Zombies, Beating an Undead Horse) I introduced and defended a parody zombie argument designed to highlight the incredible question-begging nature of the original zombie argument. Richard Chappell has not been impressed, calling it a “terrible argument” and saying that it “falls flat (to put it mildly)” . I find this amusing, since the purpose of the argument was to highlight how much question begging is going on around here, and never one to disappoint, RC eagerly begs the question exclaiming “Dualists will complain: you left out the qualia!” . Yes, they will complain; because they think that qualia are non-physical to begin with, just like the materialist complains that there is nothing more to qualia than the physical when he hears the zombie argument for the first time. This is even clearer when RC restates his objection over at Philosophy, etc. He says,

(i) Either ‘NP’ explicitly states the qualia facts Q, or it does not. (ii) If it does, then (NP & ~Q) is straightforwardly contradictory, so the first premise fails. (iii) Otherwise, the third premise fails.

NP is here the complete non-physical description of the world in question. So, if NP explicitly states facts about qualia, then either the question about the nature of qualia has been resolved and we know that they are non-physical and so belong in NP, or we don’t have this issue resolved and we are just begging the question against the materialist. Now, I don’t know about you, but I think it is obvious that we do not have this issue resolved and so (i) is question begging (to put it mildly).

The third premise of the argument was

3. If (NP & ~Q) is possible then Dualism is false

RC says that if we do not state the qualia facts in NP then (3) will be false. Why will (3) be false? The only way that this could be the case would be if it were true that (NP & ~ Q) were possible (that is, it would be possible that there could be non-physical creatures identical to me in every non-physical way, which lack qualia) and Dualism were not false (i.e. it was true). That would have to mean that there were non-physical qualia that were not included in NP, and this is what RC keeps saying. But why should we think that there are non-physical qualia not included in NP? No reason for that is ever given. It is just assumed that qualia are non-physical and so that NP must be incomplete.

RC then goes on to accuse me of missing the point. “The substantive question,” he says,

is whether qualia are irreducible. The conceivability argument works to show that qualia are not reducible to any P (nor NP) which does not explicitly build in qualia. But the NP-based argument is no argument against dualism, because dualists never claimed that qualia were reducible to some OTHER non-physical stuff (whatever you build into NP). Physicalists, on the other hand, doclaim that qualia are reducible to some other physical stuff P.

I, of course, disagreed that this was the substantive issue and argued that the issue of reduction is itself a question begging way of putting the dispute (Reduction, Identity, and Explanation). RC ignores the argument that I gave and instead says that I

simply insist, “the debate between the dualist and the materialist is in no way a debate about reduction“, and so ignore [his] underlying idea concerning what the debate is about.

The quoted line is supposed to be the conclusion of an argument not me simply insisting anything, but let’s let that go. What does RC think that the debate is about?

Once you’ve included the microphysical facts in your base facts, you do not need to add any further ‘table facts’ in addition. Those are already covered. It is in this sensethat table facts are reducible to physical facts. And it is in this sense that the question of physicalism comes down to the question whether qualia are reducible. It is simply the question whether we need to add phenomenal facts to our fundamental base facts, or whether they “come along for free” (like tables do) given the physical facts P.

Now, I am happy to agree that this is what the dispute is about, though as I argued this isn’t really a reductive claim (ontologically). In fact, I have never denied this! The materialist says that we don’t need to add anything, the dualist denies this. What I have denied is that this is really an issue of reduction in anything other than a verbal sense, but as RC points out, that doesn’t really matter…as long as everyone involved agrees on what the issue is.

But now that we all agree on what the issue is, it should be even more obvious that the zombie argument begs the question against the materialist. They tell us to conceive of a world where there are physical duplicates of us that lack consciousness and that doing so shows that the qualitative facts do not  ‘”come along for free” (like tables do) given the physical facts P’. But how do you know that you are really conceiving that world without contradiction? If materialism is true then you are not really conceiving what you think that you are. Since we do not know if materialism is true or not we do not know if we are really conceiving the zombie world without contradiction or not. And that is the point. Without knowing whether or not materialism is true we cannot know if the zombie argument is a good argument or a question begging argument.