Sunday, 29 April 2012

Rawls on Moral Psychology (II)

The previous Rawls posting looked at part of the account given of moral psychology in Chapter VIII of A Theory of Justice. In this posting I am going to continue to track the account by seeing how Rawls develops on from the discussion looked at in the sections analysed in the previous posting.

In the second part of Rawls' discussion he indicates he will look at the three stages of morality (authority, association and principle) in more detail and he connects this description now with what he terms "moral sentiments". The term "moral sentiments" is an old one in the history of ethics dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries and Rawls uses the term "sentiment" to mean a permanent ordered family of governing dispositions. Included in this idea of a "sentiment" for Rawls are such things as a sense of justice, the "love of mankind" and lasting attachments. Importantly "sentiments" are not all viewed by Rawls as "moral" since natural attachments such as are expressed between children and parents are also viewed as types of sentiment. This does, however, mean that there are two types of sentiment and that a relationship between them needs to be described.

The main features of specifically moral sentiments are assessed in terms of responses to questions concerning the types of feelings that are occurrently experienced when they are manifested. This includes questions about the way we speak about these sentiments when we are referring to particular experiences, how we understand behavioural reactions in relation to them and what the sensations that are connected to them are. In raising these points Rawls wishes to distinguish the characteristic sensations felt for example from the moral experiences which they often characterise. So, whilst a feeling of guilt may lead one to feel hot the sensation in question is something different from the moral experience with which it is associated. No particular sensations are either necessary or sufficient to mark the moral experiences as occurring although it may be necessary that something like them happen if one is "overwhelmed" by particular moral feelings. But the recognition that the moral experience in question is occurring can be purely based upon a report from someone that this is what they are feeling.

This brings in a question that is sharper than the ones considered so far, to wit, what the definitive explanation is for having a moral feeling. So, assuming someone feels guilt, it is not only appropriate to ask them why they feel this but also to have some general idea of what kind of reply is appropriate as a response to the question. And included in this sense is an at least intuitive idea of a difference between guilt and, say, anxiety. Anxiety strictly speaking is viewed by Rawls as only a natural feeling and not seen by him thus as equivalent to guilt at all. Moral feelings as such refer, in the explanation we find acceptable of what has brought them on, to other moral phenomena. Ultimately, to certain types of expression of what is right or wrong. This does not mean that guilt, for example, is always experienced in ways that properly reflect moral concepts. Given the typology of moral development that Rawls outlined previously it is quite possible that sentiments that belong to an early stage of moralisation still have effects later so that guilt is attached to violations of precepts of authorities even though we, as mature reasoners, don't feel that the authorities in question are such for us.

The general contract view to which Rawls is committed leads to him seeing moral sentiments as generally based on principles of right that would be chosen in the original position. So they relate, for example, to the recognised conception of fairness. This does not mean that the moral feelings experienced at any one time have to be singular since there is no reason to think that particular events might not be productive of multiple moral feelings. Further, people might experience moral feelings that are not appropriate to the situation, perhaps due to being overly conscientious (or insufficiently so). 

This account leads on to the next question which concerns the characteristic intentions of people experiencing given moral feelings. These can be sketched in general terms as when a guilty person seeks to repair the fault for which they feel the guilt in question. There are families of dispositions that could be laid out here in terms of the appropriate behavioural modifications and connecting the moral feelings to different settings (such as associative ones by contrast to those of principle) might well lead to variations in terms of appropriate behaviour.

There are also questions about the kinds of responses expected from others when someone is undergoing a particular moral experience. Someone who is guilty expects those to whom he expresses his guilt to respond with resentment whilst one who is ashamed, by contrast, may expect contempt. The latter situation after all relates more intimately to the conduct that someone expects of themselves. Feelings of guilt relate generally speaking to conduct framed by principles of right whilst feelings of shame, by contrast, are connected to conduct framed by principles that reflect conceptions of the good.

The final question Rawls poses with regard to the sentiments concerns characteristic temptations and resolutions of the feelings in question. With regard to resolutions, feelings of guilt suggest a request for forgiveness, whilst feelings of shame are resolved by conduct that re-connects one to the excellencies one recognises. Just as Rawls earlier connected shame to conceptions of the good so also he now indicates that it is appropriately experienced as a breach of virtue.  What is interesting in the contrast is that on Rawls' view a morality framed in terms of shame is really one that describes supererogatory acts and related thus to the idea of the "love of mankind" (as expressed in an ideal of conduct). This differs from the feelings of guilt which in fact connect more to the right conduct towards others that all have a right to expect of one. The theory of right governs reciprocal action and requires a reconciliation between self and others. But the two moralities are viewed by Rawls as two parts of a general conception.

Having laid out this general account of moral sentiments Rawls turns next to what he terms the connection of moral attitudes to "natural" ones. The relationship between these two ideas is first formulated in terms of what types of "natural" attitudes are missing when a person appears not to have certain moral feelings. The second question, the converse of the first, is what types of natural attitudes are shown to be present when moral emotions are experienced. The three stages of morality provided something of a response to the first question (through use of a notion like that of "missing motives") and it is evident in terms of lack of recognitional capacities undermining the possibility of moral feelings. However evidence for the presence of "natural" attitudes does not admit of the same kind of direct examination since the expression of moral feelings may be based on a number of factors. One of the complications here is the development of general ideas of sympathy such as underlie the notion of the "love of mankind" and whether it is these or specific sentiments that underlie appropriate moral responses but on this Rawls remains agnostic.

Once certain types of natural attachments have developed it is usual to expect a liability to moral emotions to follow. As Rawls puts this:

To confirm the connection between the natural attitudes and the moral sentiments one simply notes that the disposition on A's part to feel remorse when he injures B, or guilt when he violates B's legitimate claims, or A's disposition to feel indignation when C seeks to deny B's right, are as closely related psychologically with the natural attitudes of love as the disposition to be joyful in the other's presence, or to feel sorrow when he suffers.

Moral sentiments thus have a directional intentionality that connects them to occasions that are taken to be ones that require appropriate types of response. Given this analysis it follows that moral sentiments grow out of "natural" sentiments to which they are intimately related.

It follows from this analysis that moral feelings are normally expected to be part of the structure of life. Someone who really acted only from self-interest and in whom we could identify none of the usual range of moral emotions would be someone with whom we could form no bonds of relation. Further such a person could form no sense of indignation at their own treatment since there would be no standard for that treatment that would permit such a notion. Indignation is a kind of moral feeling and requires, to be sustained, a reference to standards of right and such standards are not purely self-centred. 

The general account of moral psychology concludes in the chapter by Rawls restating the three laws that underpin the three stages of morality and stating that these laws require that there be recognised institutions of justice and that such institutions are recognised publicly. Principles of moral psychology have thus been shown to be such that the sense of justice is part of moral development. Further the relationship between moral psychology so understood and the theory of institutions is one whereby the latter are implicitly connected to notions of healthy moral development. 

Rawls now discusses why it is that the theory of justice is such that it has to be connected to moral notions, a discussion that is of particular interest given the way his theories developed subsequently to the writing of Theory. Here Rawls articulates the view that politics requires some sense of moral conduct and that it presupposes a theory of justice which explains moral sentiments. Not only is this so but the description of psychological laws that underpin the notion of moral development relates this development to an account of rationality. Included within the account of rationality is a sense of the normative sense of instrumental action. 

By the latter Rawls means that we have final ends that include attachments to persons, their interests and our sense of justice and that such attachments are part of what gives sense to our purposive actions. Affective ties are part of the way we learn to become moralised and the pursuit of life includes within it further moral relations. The psychological laws are not merely Pavlovian for Rawls either as they are founded on experiencing others in ways that reflect their embodiment of the ideals that are expected. Reciprocity underpins general social behaviour but it can only do so if others really are taken to have attitudes towards us that show a manifest concern for our good and the good of others. It is this that is the general basis of the sense of justice in sociality. Ethical norms are not understood merely as constraints but are rather part of a coherent self-conception formed through an extensive path of development.

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