Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Rawls on Moral Psychology (I)

The previous posting on Rawls looked at the opening of Chapter VIII of A Theory of Justice and, in the process, made some assessments about the structure of the last part of the work. As I discussed there the central subject of Chapter VIII is Rawls' discussion of how moral psychology provides a basis for the claimed stability of justice as fairness and in this posting I'll begin to look at Rawls' argument to this effect by focusing on sections 70-72 of Chapter VIII.

In these sections Rawls sketches "the course of moral development as it might occur in a well-ordered society realising the principles of justice as fairness". In doing so Rawls draws on an idealised conception that owes something to Piaget's conception of child development but also aims to combine in a certain way the empiricist and rationalist views of moral development that were contrasted in section 69. So the first stage, termed by Rawls the "morality of authority", draws on the empiricist notion that the primitive basis for moral conceptions in childhood arises in a manner that is principally external to the child. In presenting this in terms of the structure of a well-ordered society Rawls assumes that such a society will include the family "in some form" though he also appears not to think that if other arrangements for child care existed that this would affect the account given. One of the points that shows how much the description of this "morality of authority" relates to the empiricist tradition is Rawls' claim that the child "lacks the concept of justification altogether" a claim that will ensure that the early way morality is transmitted matches the view that there are "missing motives" in children as outlined by Rawls in section 69.

The question that animates the account of the morality of authority that Rawls gives concerns the affective bond between the child and its parents and is formulated according to a psychological principle that is also described by Rawls as a "law" and is stated as follows: "the child comes to love the parents only if they manifestly first love him". This conception belongs not to the "empiricist" tradition but to the "rationalist" one and is cited as paralleling a similar claim in Rousseau. The child's actions are hereby viewed as founded on initial motivations provided by instincts and desires with the possible regulation of these by a general notion of self-interest. To relate to others with love is thus not taken to be an immediate option for the child but rather to arise for it through a process of recognition of the way the child is cared for and how it benefits from the care in question being founded on an expression of love. This is a complicated form of recognition, especially for someone who "lacks" the concept of justification so it is instructive to see how Rawls understands the arrival of it.

Love is said by Rawls to be "displayed" by the parents by means of their showing pleasure in the presence of the child and supporting its sense of competence, and, even more importantly, its self-esteem. The centrality of this latter point is further emphasised when Rawls adds his basic description of what it is to love another, which is not only to be concerned with the wants and needs of this other but also "to affirm the sense of the worth of his own person". It is by means of this nurturing of a sense of worth within the person of the child that the parent makes it possible for the child to respond to the parent with a matching affective disposition that we can term its sense of a love for its parent. It is crucial to this explanation that the child's love for its parents is not couched in a merely instrumental sense as it would have been if the child was still operating at the first level of its relation to motives and inclinations. This is why Rawls terms the recognition of love in the child the arrival of "a new affection".

Having stated this initial "psychological law" Rawls goes on to analyse it into its elements. They include the sense that the child has of appreciation for its own sake, that the affective response of parents towards it is an unconditional one and the learning of the child to trust its parents. On the basis of the trust displayed the child is encouraged to expand its own sense of its potential and it is partly through this expanded sense of potential that the child comes to have deeper relations to those who permit this expanded potential to develop. 

However up to this point Rawls has not yet described the "morality" of the situation in terms of how the child comes to have moral conceptions based on its affective relations and the sense of this requires that the trust the child has shown in the parents be extended to the view that precepts that they require the child to act in accord with are internalised by the child. The internalisation of these precepts is based, at least partly, on an imitative relation to powerful figures who are assumed to have the ability to control the environment. Since the child's desires extend beyond the realm judged appropriate for the exercise of them it follows that the child has to learn limits of what is acceptable conduct. The constraints embedded in these precepts are only taken as ones to be guided by on the basis, however, of the affective bond the child has formed with its carers. This affective bond even leads to the child freely confessing to violations of precepts stated by the carers and the development of feelings of guilt when the child behaves in ways that the precepts declare unacceptable. In stating things this way Rawls binds in to the relationship between the child and its carer a conception of trust that has within it a reciprocity and this reciprocity requires the child to acknowledge the precepts as binding on its behaviour in result of the affective bond. Hence the affective bond of love and trust includes within it the potential for the development of guilt as a consequence of violation of trust where such violation is interpreted through the breaking of precepts stated by the carers.

There are initial problems at the stage of the morality of authority in ensuring that what is really being learnt are the basis of the moral precepts being stated since it is possible that the child responds as it does purely on the grounds of fear or anxiety concerning the withdrawal of affection that results from breaking of the precepts by which it has implicitly accepted it should be governed. It is a part of moral development for such fear or anxiety to be distinguished, at least gradually, by the child from the understanding of justified guilt as built in the affective bond. There are conditions that Rawls specifies which make it more favourable that the child will learn the distinctions required and thus become moralised. These include the sense the child is really loved by its parents, that they state clear and intelligible rules to the child and give reasons for them. The parents should also be seen to be governed themselves by the precepts they state. The morality of authority has truly come to be accepted when the child can be seen to behave in accordance with its precepts even when there is no evident prospect of rewards or punishments arising from violations of it.

The "morality of authority" assumes that the general basis of the precepts stated remain beyond the reach of the child's understanding and the prime virtues that it states are ones of obedience and fidelity to authority. When at this stage of development questioning is not a virtue for the newly moralised person.

The "morality of authority" is subsequently distinguished by Rawls from the second stage of moral development which is termed by him the "morality of association". This notion can cover a wide range of cases up to a relation to the national community. The morality here is one that is governed by what is taken to be appropriate to the role within the group in question that the person involved has. These include common sense rules adjusted to the position in question which are expressed by figures of authority within the association but also by the peers the person finds within the association. It is thus a mutually reinforcing system of organisation. An older child relates to the family in this way and the family can be seen as a basic model for how associations work. Just as being a good son or brother is a specific role so also is being a good student or a good sport. Similarly in adult life there are appropriate conceptions of what is fitting for a husband, friend or citizen. As development takes place there follows, as Rawls puts it, "finer moral discriminations". 

So the morality of associations is a morality of ideals in which exemplary notions of roles are taken to be regulative of behaviour. It requires an understanding of cooperation and the acceptance that others have to be engaged with, not least through a process of accepting that they have different motivations and that it is legitimate that they should have. Accepting this in its turn indicates a sense of what beliefs and views govern the conduct of others and thus such a form of morality requires us to view others as governed by what we term a general "mindedness". It is obviously insufficient simply to see this as our own behaviour has to be modified by the recognition of it.

Rawls' point is that this "morality of association" has to be learnt by children and that it is, at least initially, difficult for them. Not least difficult here is the second level of recognition that is required for being inducted into this type of morality, one that comes subsequent to the recognition of the love of the child's parents. This second recognition is of "the person of others". How well the person of others is perceived affects the moral sensibility of the child and part of the development of this sensibility concerns how the child can engage with others to ensure that mutual aid is the product. This requires arts of persuasion to be learnt. Just as the key question of the first stage concerned the reciprocity of love in the child's first relationships so the key question of this stage concerns the trust required for associations to be effectively operative. Simply participating in an association produces a certain level of mutual interaction and this calls on a sense of fellow feeling that is akin to that expressed in the first "law" of moral psychology that Rawls stated. The means by which this second type of attachment takes place reflects a second "law" that works by means of those already present within the group effectively teaching the child the right way to relate within it.

The ties that arise from the fellow feeling thus produced have the same type of affective effect as the reciprocal love involved in engagement with the child's parents. These ties produce, that is, engagements of trust and associated guilt with regard to lapses that affect such trust. So expectations are tied in to associations and failure to live up to them may even merit expulsion from the association. The general structure here is much as it was with parents: certain "natural" attitudes are adopted and on the basis of these moral feelings develop. Mutual benefits are assumed within associations and moral exemplars govern the place each has within them. The Aristotelian Principle further explains the phenomena of enjoyment of the abilities of others within such associations and the desire to emulate their accomplishments. In this sense the account of "excellencies" in Chapter VII can be seen to be part of the general relations that take place in associations.

The virtues of the morality of association are focused not, as was the case with the morality of authority, on obedience but rather on cooperation and the seat of the general desire for justice can be seen here as can the virtues of integrity and impartiality. By contrast the vices here outlawed concern not questioning but rather dishonesty and prejudice.

The third stage of moral development that Rawls considers is that of "the morality of principles". Within the morality of association, as we have seen, there is the growth of a sense of justice and with this a sense of a clear basic relationship to principles. This requires within associations that persons hope to have their conduct viewed as acceptable by wider groups than those with whom they have an immediate affective relation. Now, in a well-ordered society, principles govern the general public conduct of the way that associations fit into the society as a whole. This points to a third psychological law. This states: "once the attitudes of love and trust, and of friendly feelings and mutual confidence, have been generated in accordance with the two preceding psychological laws, then the recognition that we and those for whom we care are the beneficiaries of an established and enduring just institution tends to engender in us the corresponding sense of justice".

So the development of the general sense of justice that has emerged from the previous levels of moral engagement produces a relationship to principles. This sense of justice is manifested in two ways. On the one hand, the institutions from which we have benefited are ones that we want to do our part in maintaining. On the other hand, a willingness to work for justice in relation to institutions in terms of the perfectibility of these arises which extends beyond those which we have benefited from. The sense of justice carries with it, as a consequence of the third psychological law, an inherent tendency towards guilt if the propensities it encourages are not followed and especially if they are openly violated. At this stage we arrive at moral sentiments that are no longer governed by the particular circumstances of our own background and thus become, in a sense, independent of us.

This does not entail that natural relationships are thereby abandoned as moral sentiment has already been invested in these and betrayal of such investment would still be real for us. However, whilst this is so, there is here a new arena for moral sentiments that is not confined within the patterns of given particular relationships. The animating question of this form of morality concerns how it is possible for principles to be related to in an affective manner. Rawls replies to this question in terms of reference to how principles are capable of defining agreed forms of human interests. But to this prudential conception of a basis for principles Rawls also adds the anthropological claim that there exists such a thing as a benevolent disposition towards others. This disposition is described by him as "the love of mankind" and, whilst such a description defines something that could only be the basis of supererogatory relations to others it is taken to underpin the way the sense of justice becomes extended beyond particular concerns.

Finally the Kantian interpretation of justice as fairness shows the latter to be the central social way in which free and equal rational beings relate to each other. It defines, as Kant would put it in Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone, the summum bonum. Rawls' view of this continues to pay homage to the device of the original position as it was the use of this that pointed to the basis of selection of the principles of justice. As he puts this now: "Being governed by these principles means that we want to live with others on terms that everyone would recognise as fair from a perspective that all would accept as reasonable". 

The morality of principles is described in two forms, one that relates to the sense of justice and the other to the love of mankind. The latter is supererogatory whilst the former is not and the split between them stated here reflects an attitude similar to that behind Kant's separation of right from virtue in The Metaphysics of Morals. The morality of principles is the last stage of moral development and is meant to be encompassing of the virtues recognised in the earlier stages and also to provide the settings within which the previous forms of morality find their ultimate justification. The morality of the love of mankind is not an ultimate morality for most people in daily conduct but defines instead something like a code for saints whilst the morality of right is the basic requirement for living in a well-ordered society.

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