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Another Reply to Ed

Good to see you have given up on your appeal to authority. What does Harvard have compared to Notre Dame anyway?

But now I am a little puzzled.  In your appeal-to-authority days, you asked: Why should we go with Notre Dame’s Sterba and his deep egalitarianism, when we can have Harvard’s Rawls with his acceptance of some inegalitarianism?

In reply, I happily made you aware of your deeper anti-authoritarian sentiments and also pointed out that Rawls’s lesser inegalitarianism is only provisional, and that when his view is extended, like mine, to meet squarely issues of distant peoples and future generations, his view too would probably become as deeply egalitarian as mine it.

But now you seem to be shifting gear 360 degrees.  Before you seemed happy with Rawls but unhappy with Sterba.  Now your worry about what the rich might find reasonable seems to go against both our views.  Of course, both of us have arguments for a “preferential option for the poor.” You presumably know Rawls’s argument.  Mine is given in the APA address  and briefly in my earlier comment “Reply to Ed.”  What is it that you now don’t find convincing about either Rawls’s or my arguments?

Neither of us endorse property rights as they are.  How would Rawls achieve his ideal of equal opportunity that gives each person in a society the same opportunities for success as anyone else with the same native abilities.  Imagine the redistribution of educational resources necessary to achieve that!  So do you think that the rich have a good moral argument against the redistributive policies that both Rawls and I endorse?  The way I address my argument to libertarians, using their premises, makes it difficult from them to reject my conclusions. So were do you see a problem with Rawls’s or my moral arguments against the rich?

de Waal

From Ed:

I think de Waal’s work should be read in tandem with that of Steve Suomi, a bioanthropologist specializing in the development of social behavior in rhesus monkeys. Suomi claims that young male rhesus are expelled from their natal tribe at or just before puberty, and exposed to very heavy levels of mortality as nomads, until they succeed in joining a new troop.

Much as college students, these young males cope with this stressful period by using the resources bestowed upon them by nature, nurture, and nature/nurture. The outcomes are not randomly distributed.

The relevant “resources” in Suomi’s picture of the primate world have to do with native “temperament” — response to novel events that are hard to categorize/recognize as appropriately evoking fight or flight v. approach and investigate.
Some are “uptight,” others are “laid back.” The resources also include the individual’s experience of more or less nurturing maternal behavior. Those rhesus males who have the misfortune of being “peer reared” because of maternal neglect, have a repertoire of a- or anti-social behaviors that lengthen the odds against acceptance by a new troop.

Nevertheless, the call of nature (resumption of estrous) does continue to result in maternal behaviors that are much less than “good enough,” with the attendant unfortunate consequences for their male progeny. (What happens to young rhesus females is another story.)

One does not have to be a fan of the elder Huxley to notice that preschool or primary grade teachers encounter similar problems with human children, both male and female. I assume de Waal will have a response to the implication that both social, asocial and anti-social behaviors are part of our phylogenetic heritage.

On a personal note, I happen to be an extremely poor dog trainer. I cannot help but wonder what the lab notes of the geniuses who first domesticated the dog might tell us.


Ed Manier

Reply to Ed

I don’t think you are following my argument closely enough. You come at it with respect to the conflict between rich and poor. Fine.  I assume then that you accept the first part of the argument against egoism and that we are imagining the rich and poor to be arguing within morality. It is here that I assume that we are using a libertarian morality, one that the rich usually feel very comfortable with.  Using that morality, I expose a conflict between the liberty of the rich and the liberty of the poor that needs resolving within morality.  I claim that the only way to resolve this conflict that both sides can reasonably accept (and libertarians are committed to just such a resolution) would favor the liberty of the poor enough to provide a right to welfare. So what is the reasonable argument that the poor should accept that would not have that conclusion?

e-mail to Greene

Dear Josh,

I enjoyed very much reading some of your work and participating in the workshop with you via teleconference this past Friday. I am hoping we can discuss our common concerns a bit further. I think can think of two ways to proceed.

First, you can tell me in what way your philosophical argument or psychological findings in your work under cut my Kantian-inspired argument from rationality to equality. I have attached below the version of this argument that I gave as my APA Presidential Address in 2008. Currently, I am trying to develop the argument into a book that is under contract with Oxford. If the argument is flawed in some way, philosophically or empirically, I would really like to know about it. I could write another book if this one is in trouble. I have this idea about developing the problem of evil… So any thought you have here would be appreciated.

Second, we could also focus our discussion on the ethical theory that is supposed to explain the difference between the Trolley case and the Footbridge case. That theory is sometimes taken to be a version of double effect theory, with its difference between foreseen and intended consequences. Now I know that Thomson did not like this explanation but I don’t think the alternative one she gave works as well.

So what is supposed to be wrong with using the difference between foreseen and intended consequences? Is it that common folk and maybe some of our less thoughtful colleagues judge the Loop case differently from the Footbridge case and don’t recognize that the individual is being used as a means in the Loop case just as much as in the Footbridge case? Didn’t you argue something like this with your Trapdoor case? Of course, common folk and some of our colleagues do get confused about these cases because of the less direct way that the person is being used. But when you are trying to come up with the best theory about how people should behave I think we should just discount such factors which clearly do not seem to be morally relevant except in so far as ordinary folk and our less thoughtful colleagues may get honestly confused by them to some degree so we should calibrate our blame of them accordingly.

But maybe you think there really is nothing morally significant about the difference between foreseen and intended consequence, I admit that its moral significance is more often just assumed than explained. Below is a short defense I gave of it in one of my books Justice For Here and Now (Cambridge, 1998). p.158 Maybe it will trigger some some discussion. (The selection may appear cut off on the right. But when printed out, I think all the text will show.)

“Initially, it might appear to matter little whether the harm was intended or merely foreseen by those who caused it. From the perspective of those suffering harm, it might appear that what matters is simply that the overall amount of harm be restricted, irrespective of whether it is foreseen or intended. But consider. Don’t those who suffer harm have more reason to protest when the harm is done to them by agents who are directly engaged in causing harm to them than when it is done incidentally by agents whose ends and means are good? Don’t we have more reason to protest when we are being used by others than when we are affected by them only incidentally?

” Moreover, if we examine the question from the perspective of those causing the harm, additional support for this line of reasoning can be found. For it would seem that we have more reason to protest a restriction against foreseen harm than we do to protest a comparable restriction against intended harm. This is because a restriction against foreseen harm limits our actions when our ends and means are good, whereas a restriction against intended harm only limits our actions when our ends or means are evil or harmful, and it would seem that we have stronger grounds for acting when both our ends and means are good than when they are not. Consequently, because we have more reason to protest when we are being used by others than when we are being affected by them only incidentally, and because we have more reason to act when both our ends and means are good than when they are not, we should favor the foreseen/intended distinction that is incorporated into just means.”

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Best wishes,


Martha Nussbaum and Jim Sterba share strong commitments to feminism and to policy relevant philosophical reflection.   See Nussbaum, “Women and Human Development, The Capabilties Approach.”  Cambridge. 2000.   Along with colleague Amartya Sen, she has proposed a cross-culturally valid list of basic human capabilities:
•1.  Able to live to the end of a human life of normal length.
•2.  Having good health, nourishment, shelter, reproductive health
•3.  Physical integrity: mobility, freedom from abuse, coercion.   Access to sexual satisfaction, choice in reproduction.
•4.   Ability to think and express oneself in work and activity of one’s choice   (religion, math, science, literature, music)
•5.   Freedom from fear and anxiety; capability for emotional expression,   freedom to love, grieve, experience longing, gratitude, justified anger
•6.  Capability to form and critically reflect upon one’s conception of the   good, capability to form a plan of life; liberty of conscience.
•7.  Affiliation, assembly.  Social basis of self-respect. Capacity for   empathic engagement in social interaction, friendship;  protection against discrimination on basis of race, sex, sexual   orientation, religion, caste, ethnicity, national origin
•8.  Able to live with concern for and in relation to the world of nature.
•9.  Play.  Being able to enjoy recreational activities.
•10.  Control
–    Political participation.  Right to own property; equal employment opportunities; freedom  from unwarranted search and seizure.
She views access to opportunities for development of each and everyone of these ten capabilities as having sufficient rank to limit trade-offs and cost/benefit analyses.
Her position raises a number of policy relevant questions for Jim:  “Is equality a necessary condition for opportunity to develop these capabilities?”   “Are such opportunities likely to be equally weighted by rich and poor?”
By the way,  I’m embarrassed by my earlier crack about Lazarus and the pyramids.

Intuition, egoism, etc.

Below I’m posting a conversation that took place over email in response to session 2. Please feel free to add more and continue the discussion.


From Ed:

I must admit that by the time Darcia, Robert and James had made their first round of comments on last Friday’s topic, I was somewhat confused. I can’t even remember what I was trying to say in response. My guess is that I was/am not alone in that state.

Here’s what I wish I’d said:

“Let’s suppose that human egoistic/selfish/anti-social personalities vary along a continuum, with total inability to control egoistic impulses at the left end and various degrees of an ability to postpone immediate satisfaction of such impulses in the service of a larger egoistic purposes along the line to the right end.

Leftist egoists don’t obtain high school diplomas and many are convicted of felonies. Rightist egoists often make lists of the 20 wealthiest persons in the United States.

Perhaps altruistic/collaborative/pro-social personalities vary in the same way.

Let’s make the huge assumption that we can partition the relevant continua from left to right into subsets so that in each token of a subset type the typical moral trait supervenes on the same type of neural circuitry. I.e., everyone with exactly that type of egoism/altruism has exactly that same type of neural circuitry (micro-wiring plus neurotransmitters).

Evidence (?!): the type of neural circuitry upon which extreme leftist egoism supervenes is caused by pathological parenting in more than 50% of the cases.

Hypothesis: Geoffrey Canada’s “baby colleges” for expectant parents in Harlem will prove to be a necessary element in a successful strategy for increasing the numbers of those students who will succeed in high school and college. (See, Paul Tough, “Whatever It Takes, the quest to change Harlem and America,” Houghton Mifflin, 2008).

I want to propose that the way to avoid the naturalistic fallacy while practicing evolutionary ethics is to trim one’s sails; i.e., to settle for projects likely to reduce leftist egoism in the world, and leave egoism, per se, whatever that might be, to the philosophers.” : ) ???

If that’s not any better, please let me know. : ) !!!

Best wishes,

Ed Manier


Welcome to the new website for the ISLA-Mellon Interdisciplinary Workshop on Morality and Cognition.

This site is essentially a blog so feel free to post comments on sessions, readings, and anything interesting that you think the group would find pertinent.