Winch on Moral Dilemmas and Moral Modality

Download Winch on Moral Dilemmas and Moral Modality

Post on 11-Feb-2017

214 views

Category:

Documents

1 download

Embed Size (px)

TRANSCRIPT

  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Connecticut]On: 10 October 2014, At: 14:31Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T3JH, UK

    Inquiry: An InterdisciplinaryJournal of PhilosophyPublication details, including instructions forauthors and subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/sinq20

    Winch on Moral Dilemmas andMoral ModalityCraig Taylor aa Flinders University , AustraliaPublished online: 18 Aug 2006.

    To cite this article: Craig Taylor (2006) Winch on Moral Dilemmas and MoralModality, Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy, 49:2, 148-157, DOI:10.1080/00201740600576910

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00201740600576910

    PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE

    Taylor & Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of allthe information (the Content) contained in the publications on ourplatform. However, Taylor & Francis, our agents, and our licensorsmake no representations or warranties whatsoever as to the accuracy,completeness, or suitability for any purpose of the Content. Any opinionsand views expressed in this publication are the opinions and views ofthe authors, and are not the views of or endorsed by Taylor & Francis.The accuracy of the Content should not be relied upon and should beindependently verified with primary sources of information. Taylor andFrancis shall not be liable for any losses, actions, claims, proceedings,demands, costs, expenses, damages, and other liabilities whatsoeveror howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with, inrelation to or arising out of the use of the Content.

    http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/sinq20http://www.tandfonline.com/action/showCitFormats?doi=10.1080/00201740600576910http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00201740600576910

  • This article may be used for research, teaching, and private studypurposes. Any substantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution,reselling, loan, sub-licensing, systematic supply, or distribution in any formto anyone is expressly forbidden. Terms & Conditions of access and use canbe found at http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditions

    Dow

    nloa

    ded

    by [

    Uni

    vers

    ity o

    f C

    onne

    ctic

    ut]

    at 1

    4:31

    10

    Oct

    ober

    201

    4

    http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditions

  • Winch on Moral Dilemmas andMoral Modality

    CRAIG TAYLOR

    Flinders University, Australia

    (Received 5 May 2005)

    ABSTRACT Peter Winchs famous argument in The Universalizability of MoralJudgments that moral judgments are not always universalizable is widely thought toinvolve an essentially sceptical claim about the limitations of moral theories and moraltheorising more generally. In this paper I argue that responses to Winch have generallymissed the central positive idea upon which Winchs argument is founded: that what isright for a particular agent to do in a given situation may depend on what is and is notmorally possible for them. I then defend the existence of certain genuine moralnecessities and impossibilities in order to show how certain first-person moraljudgements may be essentially personal.

    In his influential and much contested paper The Universalizability of Moral

    Judgments1, Peter Winch claims that what is morally right for one agent to

    do in a given situation is not necessarily the right thing for another (or all)

    agent(s) to do in that situation. Winch claims, that is to say, that moral

    judgments are not always universalizable. That Winchs position in

    Universalizability should be contested is hardly surprising: on the face of

    it, this position can be seen variously to present a challenge to moral

    cognitivism, the supposed impartiality of moral reasons, and to the idea that

    moral theory exhaustively determines moral judgment.2 Replies to Winch

    have, as one might expect, sought to defend the universalizability of moral

    judgments against what has been taken to be an essentially sceptical

    argument by Winch. However I argue in this paper that Winchs critics by

    and large fail seriously to address his positive thesis in Universalizability,

    which is that the class of first-person moral judgements includes, alongside

    Correspondence Address: Craig Taylor, Department of Philosophy, Flinders University,

    GPO Box 2100, Adelaide, SA 5001, Australia. Email: craig.taylor@flinders.edu.au

    Inquiry,

    Vol. 49, No. 2, 148157, April 2006

    0020-174X Print/1502-3923 Online/06/02014810 # 2006 Taylor & Francis

    DOI: 10.1080/00201740600576910

    Dow

    nloa

    ded

    by [

    Uni

    vers

    ity o

    f C

    onne

    ctic

    ut]

    at 1

    4:31

    10

    Oct

    ober

    201

    4

  • (universalizable) moral oughts, certain personal moral necessities and

    impossibilities. The real, though scarcely acknowledged, issue between

    Winch and his critics is: can what is right for a particular agent to do in a

    given situation depend on what is and is not morally possible for them? I

    defend a positive answer to this question: I suggest that there are indeed

    genuine moral necessities and impossibilities such as Winch describes, and

    that certain first-person moral judgements may be essentially personal.

    I. The Case of Billy Budd

    Winch presents his position in Universalizability by drawing on the example,

    from the short story by Herman Melville, of the moral conflict faced by

    Captain Vere of the H.M.S. Indomitable in the case of the court martial and

    execution of Billy Budd (Melville [1924] (1967)). Winch wants to say that the

    conflict Vere faces in reaching the decision to sentence Billy to death is a

    conflict between two genuinely moral oughts, a conflict, that is, within

    morality (pp. 1589). On the one hand Vere, in his speech at Billys court

    marshal, accepts that Billy is innocent before God: Billys action in

    striking and accidentally killing his superior, Claggart, was caused by

    frustration born of the intolerable persecution he suffered at the hands of

    that man. But, on the other hand, the enforcement of Military Law relating

    to an action such as this, which took place on the high seas at a time when

    the threat of mutiny was acute, was also for Vere a moral obligation.

    What is controversial about Winchs account of the example of Billy

    Budd is his entertaining at the same time the following two thoughts: first,

    that morally he could not in such circumstances have condemned a man

    innocent before God, and second, that in deciding to condemn Billy,

    Vere did what was, for him, the right thing to do (p. 163). Winch argues

    here that in reaching this decision [that he could not condemn Billy] I do

    not think that I should appeal to any considerations over and above those to

    which Vere appeals (p. 163). Winch argues, that is, that there is no failure

    on either Veres or his own part to recognize some considerations relevant to

    judgment that might then explain their divergence here. According to

    Winch, what is right for Vere to do in this situation is not necessarily what is

    right for him (i.e. Winch) to do in this situation; in this kind of case moral

    judgments are not universalizable. As Winch says, there is a certain class of

    first-person moral judgments not subject to the universalizability

    principle (p. 159).3

    II. Assessing the First-Person Moral Judgments of Others

    What exactly Winch is claiming above remains widely misunderstood.

    Consider, for example, Lilian Alweisss recent objection to Winch:

    Winch on Moral Dilemmas and Moral Modality 149

    Dow

    nloa

    ded

    by [

    Uni

    vers

    ity o

    f C

    onne

    ctic

    ut]

    at 1

    4:31

    10

    Oct

    ober

    201

    4

  • Winch fails to see that it is one thing to argue that when it comes to

    moral issues I can only appear as a person speaking for myself, and

    another to argue that another persons judgement, which differs from

    my own, is equally correct and morally convincing. To acknowledge the

    validity of another persons judgement, I need to be able to transcend

    my own personal point of view. Yet, as soon as I recognise the validity

    or correctness of another persons judgment, inevitably I beginquestioning the adequacy of my own (Alweiss (2003), pp. 20910)4.

    But Winch is not claiming that another persons judgment which differs

    from my own is equally correct and morally convincing. That is, he is not

    making the implausible claim that two conflicting moral judgments in a

    given situation may both be correct and convincing simpliciter. In the kind

    of case under discussion Winchs point is that we need to ask: Correct and

    convincing for whom? Winchs claim is not that if I were to move to adifferent point of view I would find a different moral judgment to be correct.

    It is true, as Alweiss notes, that Winch says that a given situation may

    without error strike different agents very differently. But Winch immediately

    goes on to add, and this is the crucial point, that if we want to express, in a

    given situation, how it strikes the agent, we cannot dispense with his

    inclination to come to a particular moral decision (p. 169). That is to say,

    we cannot characterise how the situation strikes an agent, their point of view

    if you will, independently of those particular inclinations or dispositions ofcharacter that determine their decision. Winchs point is that we cannot

    express how it strikes an agent here without referring to their particular

    characterthat character is basic in explaining moral judgment.

    Winch is claiming then that in the kind of case he is considering it is not

    most fundamentally my point of view that determines my moral judgment

    but my character, for my character determines my point of view, and that

    this fact will determine how we are to assess the first-person moral

    judgments of others. According to Winch, when we assess the relevant first-person moral judgments of others we are not assessing whether the

    judgments they reach are correct simpliciter but only whether they are

    correct for them. Contrary to Alweiss then, it simply does not follow from

    my acceptance that another person may be correct in reaching a different

    moral judgment to me in a given situation that inevitably I begin to

    question my own judgment, for what in the present case may make

    another persons differing moral judgment correct (i.e., correct for them) is

    their different character.

    III. Agent and Spectator Moral Judgments

    In order to be clear about what is really at issue between Winch and his

    critics, we should consider his account of the relation between an agents

    150 C. Taylor

    Dow

    nloa

    ded

    by [

    Uni

    vers

    ity o

    f C

    onne

    ctic

    ut]

    at 1

    4:31

    10

    Oct

    ober

    201

    4

  • own first-person moral judgments and their judgments as a spectator

    concerning the actions of other people.

    [W]hen I think about the moral decisions and dilemmas of others, it

    seems to me that I am very often asking: What would I think it right

    to do in such a situation? That is, I am making a hypothetical agents

    judgment of my own. Thus only a man who is himself capable ofmaking moral decisions of his own, is capable of making and

    understanding spectators moral judgments about the actions of other

    people. (p. 154)

    The reason, Winch wants to stress, that we need to be able to make our own

    moral decisions before we can make any spectator judgements about the

    actions of others is that the manner in which we reach judgments as agents

    will determine the nature and scope of our spectator moral judgments. Butin order to see how this is so, we need to consider in some detail the kinds of

    factor an agents own moral decisions may turn on. So recall now Winchs

    own judgment concerning Billy Budd.

    Remember first of all that in the case of Billy Budds court-marshal

    Winch is reflecting on what is right for him to do given that he is faced with

    two conflicting moral oughts; he is reflecting on what he morally ought to

    do in the face of a particular moral dilemma. Now, that Winch should ask

    What ought I to do? here shows that he thinks that there is a morallycorrect decision for him to make in this case. But Winchs point is that his

    decision is only correct for him and not necessarily correct for another in his

    place; while Winch gives precedence to one moral consideration (Billys

    innocence) over another (military law) he is not saying that anyone else in

    the same place must weigh these considerations as he does. For this reason

    reaching a moral decision in a case like this does not amount to simply

    dissolving the moral dilemma. The importance of Winchs asking What

    would I think it right to do in such a situation? here is just that throughimagining himself acting in this situationhaving to convict or acquit Billy

    Buddhe may discover what is, as we shall see, morally possible for him in

    this situation. As Winch says,

    I try to confine myself to the genuinely moral features of the

    situation. Having done this I believe that I could not have acted as did

    Vere; and by could not, I do not mean should not have had the

    nerve to, but that I should have found it morally impossible tocondemn a man innocent before God under such circumstances

    (p. 163).

    As Winch later says, what one finds out [in a case like this] is something

    about oneself, rather than anything one can speak of as holding universally

    Winch on Moral Dilemmas and Moral Modality 151

    Dow

    nloa

    ded

    by [

    Uni

    vers

    ity o

    f C

    onne

    ctic

    ut]

    at 1

    4:31

    10

    Oct

    ober

    201

    4

  • (p. 168). The crux of Winchs argument is that a persons moral judgment in

    such cases may turn on what is personally morally possible for them. In

    order to assess Winchs argument, therefore, it is necessary to consider his

    account of such moral modalitiesand it is to this account that I now turn.

    IV. Moral Incapacity

    To begin, one might argue that if the above is a true account of Winchs

    judgment then that judgment has no moral worth. For surely the decision

    here turns not on any moral consideration but merely on Winchs

    psychological capacities and incapacities. But what is crucial for Winch is

    that when he says he could not convict a man innocent before God he is not

    referring to a mere psychological incapacity (it is not as he says that he

    lacks the nerve to convict) but what we might call a genuine moral

    incapacity, an incapacity that is itself expressive (in a way that merepsychological incapacities are not) of Winchs particular moral character,

    i.e. of his moral psychology. We may illustrate the difference between moral

    and mere psychological incapacities as follows. If, to take the case of an

    obvious psychological incapacity, I were to say that I cannot (e.g., because I

    am claustrophobic) ride in elevators, then it at least makes sense for another

    to encourage me to try to do this. In the case of genuine moral incapacities,

    however, to encourage an agent to try to do what he says he cannot do is, as

    Winch says elsewhere in this connection, not to meet the agents point somuch as to make a black, tasteless joke.5 To suggest, for example, that

    Winch should try to overcome his incapacity to convict Billy is to fail to

    appreciate that this incapacity is expressive of his particular moral identity

    or character.

    Of course, one might accept that Winchs incapa...