Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Spitzer Vs Norm Internalists

Some seem to think that moral judgments express an internal motivational state towards some particular state of affairs. 'Eating cookies is bad' means something like 'I am motivated not to eat cookies'. The main point is that you cannot make a moral judgment and fail to be motivated by it. There are two versions of this. The strong version simply reads off of the formulation above: it is impossible to fail to act in accordance with your moral judgments. A weak version seems more reasonable: when you make a moral judgment you are necessarily but defeasible motivated to act in accordance.

The battle is set against those of us who think it quite possible (in so far as actuality is a guide to possibility) to make a moral judgment and not give a damn about it. Internalists think this is not, in any sense, possible. I think Eliot Spitzer just made it so:

“I have violated my obligations to my family [...] my sense of right and wrong.”

The New York State's governor is apologizing for having hired the services of a 'pricey' prostitute in Washington. It's still not clear to me whether people are mad because: a) he used the state's money to pay; b) because she was too pricey (could have found cheaper, come on!); or c) because he is creating more jobs outstate than instate. Either way, that's not important here. What matters is that, according to Spitzer himself, his own moral judgments were not strong enough for... pretty much anything with regards to sex.

Was he necessarily motivated to act? Really? It looks more like he had a belief about some or other thing and when the time came he did not give a damn. It is clear that he did not simply fail to act in accordance with his sense of right and wrong. He had enough motivation to clearly contradict, thereby demolishing, his own sense of write and wrong.

So either Internalists got something wrong about the human mind, or Spitzer is just not wired up properly. Given the humongous amount of Spitzerians that not only fail to act in accordance but who succeed in demolishing their own judgments with their acts, I tend to think that Spitzer won this time. Pyrrhic victories are still victories.