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Sentiments, evaluations, and claims.

Sam Spade and his secretary, Effie Perine, possess, to put it mildly, different emotional natures, which lead them to judge Sam's lover, Bridget O'Shaughnessy, differently. Effie is sympathetic; Sam is driven not only by self-interest, but by a sense of duty. "When a man's partner is killed he's supposed to do something about it. It doesn't make any difference what you've thought of him. He was your partner and you're supposed to do something about it." And Sam also is moved by resentment and his desire to maintain self-control, because he knows that Bridget is trying to play him for the sap and he is tempted to go along. He sends Bridget to prison, perhaps to be executed, rather than giving in to her pleas to protect her. "I won't because all of me wants to - wants to say the hell with consequences and do it - and because - God damn you - you've counted on that with me the same as you've counted on that with all the others."

In The Moral Sense James Q. Wilson explains how the moral senses of sympathy, duty and self-control, as well as fairness, are deeply rooted in our natures.(1) Wilson draws on a truly impressive array of disciplines - biology, sociobiology, anthropology, sociology, psychology, neurophysiology, criminology, history, Greek philosophy, the philosophy of the Scottish Enlightenment - in showing how our sentiments provide an important ground for our evaluationsof ourselves and others, as wee as a motivating force to act on those evaluations. Wilson effectively demonstrates why our evaluative life - including even Sam Spade's - cannot be explained simply in terms of rational self-interest. Wilson is clear that self-interest plays an important role in the analysis of moral judgments and behavior, but morality cannot be understood simply as a strategy adopted by self-interested agents: the moral sentiments matter.

Much, I think, is right about all this. But I remain skeptical that feelings have the dominating role in morality that Wilson ascribes to them. For as with Sam and Effie, our feelings often diverge. Nothing, I think, is quite so common as reasonable people having different feelings, leading them to different evaluations of the same object. This basic affective diversity of our natures, I believe, renders our feelings unsuitable as the focus of a public, shared, morality in a diverse society. That, at least, is what I shall suggest in this essay.

Can Sentiments Be Judged as Inappropriate?

Although at one point Wilson defines the moral sense in terms of beliefs [xii], the overwhelming emphasis is on the moral sense as -what ordinary people mean when they speak of their moral feelings" [xiii, 8]. It is also said to involve "sentiments' [231. And given that emotions are moral sentiments [2321, it seems that the moral sense - or, rather senses are essentially emotions or sentiments. Now my central problem is this: we have a great deal of evidence that people's emotional natures differ in that some people are more likely, say, to feel anger, or more intense anger at some situations than others. The work of Stella Chess and her colleagues - on which Wilson draws [137-38] - provides evidence of innate differences in temperament; such factors as Quality of Mood" (the tendency to engage in joyful or friendly behavior), as well as threshold responses to stimulation differ from two to three months after birth, and these differences persist.(2) And psychologists of emotions such as Carroll E. Izard recognize that "[t]he interaction of innate differences in emotion thresholds and life circumstances leads to a great variety" of emotional-cognitive orientations.(3) Of course, Wilson himself cites extensive evidence that emotional orientations differ, say, between men and women [ch. 8]. Given this, we know that, in any given circumstance, one person is apt to experience an emotional reaction of a certain intensity that another, placed in just that same situation, win not. Sam is moved by resentment and a sense of duty, Effie by sympathy. To be sure, this will not always be the case, but it will be so often enough. As we afl know, some people are terrified by roller-coasters, others slightly scared and thrilled, and yet others bored; the same applies to Court TV.

If our evaluations depend on our emotional reactions, and our emotional reactions can differ, how are we to judge whose reaction is reasonable? One possibility is presented by Adam Smith:

The man who resents the injuries that have been done to me, and observes that I resent them, precisely as he does, necessarily approves of my resentment. The man whose sympathy keeps time to my grief, cannot but admit the reasonableness of my sorrow. He who admires the same poem, or the same picture, and admires them exactly as I do, must surely allow the justness of my admiration. He who laughs at the same joke, and laughs along with me, cannot well deny the propriety of my laughter. On the contrary, the person who, upon these different occasions, either feels no such emotion as that I feel, or feels none that bears proportion to mine, cannot avoid disapproving my sentiments on account of their dissonance with his own.(4)

In a similar vein, Wilson argues that [W]e judge whether the actions and feelings of another are proportionate. A rich boy distraught at the loss of a penny arouses not sympathy but derision; a boy indifferent to the loss of a loving dog arouses not sympathy but disdain. We approve of the conduct and character of another person if, when we imagine ourselves in hisposition, our feelings correspond to those that we think motivate him. [32]

The joys and sorrows of others, then, are properly taken into account when they are "justified and proportional to the circumstances' [241]. There is a good deal of truth in this. When Sam arrives at the office the next morning, after sending Bridget off to her doom, Effie asks "You did that, Sam, to her?" Even after knowing that Bridget is a murderess, Effie is appalled by Sam's action, and recoils at his touch. She certainly seems to disapprove of him.

In evaluating this proportionality criterion for reasonable or appropriate emotions,(5) we must distinguish two sorts of cases: those in which the emotional reaction strikes us as bizarre and those in which the emotional reaction is not one we share, or would share, but is intelligible to us. In the case of a rich boy who is, literally, distraught over a penny, or a child who is unmoved by the loss of a loving dog, we are apt to be puzzled. Those reactions do not seem to make sense. It is akin to Little Hans' fear of horses: what made him so terribly afraid of horses?(6) In a similar way, that a rich person has lost a penny does not make sense of his being distraught (interestingly, Wilson and I seem to have different emotional reactions to this case - to me derision seems a surprising response). In these cases we are uncertain whether the emotional reaction might not be based on a mistaken belief or other factors not obviously apparent (say, Little Hans' fear of castration). Why would a rich boy care so much about a penny?

Turn now to a more common sort of case: suppose that Alf is disgusted by masturbation, perhaps claiming that it "uses the body for mere pleasure and involves a person in fantasy rather than in valuable experiences of real friendship, play and other goods."(7) Betty may experience no disgust whatsoever, even if she accepts this description. Perhaps some will see this as just like the above cases, where the reaction or non-reaction of one of the parties is simply puzzling. But I do not find it at all puzzling that some are, while others are not, disgusted by the same sexual acts: it is part of life in diverse societies. Now according to the Smithian-Wilsonian test, Alf can criticize Betty's reaction: it does not meet the proportionality test. He cannot avoid disapproving of sentiments dissonant with his own. To be sure he may. Nothing would surprise us less than Alf being disgusted with Betty too for her failure to disapprove of masturbation. However, Alf must also accept that since emotional natures innately differ, Betty's temperament may simply be such that she is not easily disgusted. Alf is the sort who is easily disgusted; Betty is not. And although Alf can criticize Betty for her unAlfian reactions, Betty can, with equal reason, criticize Alf for his UnBettian dispositions. At this point Alf and Beth, seem to have a brute confrontation of emotional natures.

The Moral Sense and the Emotions

To avoid a brute clash of emotional sensibilities, one of the disputants must be able to make a claim to appropriateness that somehow rises above his or her perspective to make an objective claim. One possibility, suggested by Wilson's title, is that the moral sense is not simply an emotional reaction. After all, if the moral sense is really a sense, then like our other senses it alerts us to external properties. Our sight, hearing, touch and so on are senses because they provide data about the world - and so inform us about the way the world is. If someone is nearly blind, she fails to see much about the world; her reactions to the world are not only different, but deficient. And sometimes Wilson does indeed say that the moral sense gives us knowledge: "There are many ways of knowing; the teachings of the heart deserve to be taken as seriously as the lessons of the mind" [238]. Perhaps, then, Alf can simply claim that Betty is morally blind.

If the moral sense provides knowledge, it is the sort of knowledge supplied by our emotional reactions rather than by sight, and so cannot be used to distinguish "moral knowledge" from "emotional knowledge." The emotions do provide information about the world - about what is dangerous, interesting, exciting, or disgusting - but these ways of knowing tell us at least as much about the knower as the known.(8) A person can only reasonably experience fear in situations reasonably believed to be dangerous, so a fearful response is a piece of datum - "Here is a possible dangerous situation." Some of us, though, are less inclined to be afraid than are others. To some extent at least, a timid person has a relatively low threshold for fear, while a courageous person typically has a much higher one. This is not to say that heroes are literally fearless - unless one feels fear one cannot be courageous.(9) Nevertheless, we have good reason to suppose that fear thresholds do indeed differ, and it seems to me entirely implausible to judge that the (relatively) fearless or the timid are misperceiving reality - that they are wrong about the way the world is. To be sure, someone who feels fear at the sight of an animal that he knows to be utterly harmless may well be wrong about the world, but once again we are back to puzzling reactions. So too with our moral senses. In lieu of an account of what sort of moral properties they are tracking, the most plausible explanation of our moral senses is that they are actually emotional responses (and, like afl emotional responses, the interaction of cognition with the limbic areas of the brain).(10) Consequently, as Wilson himself points out, we have reason to believe that some people are more sympathetic, or more concerned with fair play or more duty-bound than others, and their different reactions are not plausibly interpreted by saying that someare "blind" to moral reality, and so their reactions are wrong.

It might be objected that this interpretation depicts all emotions as moral senses; the moral senses may be emotions, but not all emotions are moral senses. Wilson, I think, is not entirely clear on this matter. On the one hand he seems to identify, say, love and enthusiasm - indeed emotions generally - as "moral sentiments" [232]. And this view is endorsed by the work of Paul D. MacLean upon which Wilson draws [24,133]. MacLean's studies of the limbic portion of the frontotemporal region indicate that affective experience - the subjective felt aspect of emotions are inherently positive or negative.(11) They thus constitute either positive or negative evaluations of the objects to which they are directed.(12) If so, all emotions are inherently evaluative - they provide the basis for judging events, others and ourselves, something that seems basic to Wilson's conception of morality [143]. However, Wilson insists that the moral senses are special:

Our moral sense requires justification for any departure from it; as circumstances change - as we learn better ways of averting plagues or producing crops - arguments that once seemed adequate begin to seem inadequate, and our behavior changes accordingly. It is this feeling that we must offer justifications for violating a moral standard that explains the difference between a standard that is purely a matter of private taste ("I like chocolate ice cream") and one that is a matter of moral sensibility ("I ought not to be cruel"). If we decide to switch to vanilla ice cream, we need not justify our decision, especially by an argument that the new flavor merits our respect; if we are cruel, on the other hand, we feel obligated to justify it, usually by saying that the suffering party deserved his fate. [26]

This suggests a multi-tiered account of the moral sense. At the primary level, the moral sense supplies imprecise standards [xiii]; at the secondary level the moral sense requires justification for departing from standards - it is a "feeling that we must offer justifications for violating a moral standard."

However, the relevant distinction here is not, I think, between moral and non-moral standards, but between evaluations that invoke standards and those that are immediate. Consider the ice cream case: suppose that you are a connoisseur of ice creams, and according to your complicated scoring standards, Ben and Jerry's Cherry Garcia is the best ice cream, yet you find yourself recommending Baskin-Robbins Chocolate Fudge. Although it is not an earth-shattering matter, your departure from the standard seems to call for some justification. If the standard selects one as the best, why depart from it? In contrast, a mere evaluative reaction-I usually like Cherry Garcia but today Baskin-Robbins Chocolate Fudge strikes my fancy - does not call for justification because there was no standard from which one is departing. The appropriateness of justification arises when one's evaluations are based on a standard, and one's specific action departs from the standard.

The emotions that can give rise to such standards are not in some way inherently moral (as opposed to simply evaluative).(13) Sympathy, fear, disgust, disdain, love and interest are all possible candidates. And because I see no reason to suppose that these emotions are not subject to the problem of affective-evaluative diversity, it seems that people may quite reasonably adopt different standards for their evaluations and actions. The requirement, then, that moral senses require justifications for acts that depart from the relevant standard does not solve the problem of affective diversity.

The Impartial Spectator

Our disputants still require a way to transcend their own evaluative perspectives to make objective judgments about which of their conflicting reactions is appropriate. A plausible solution to their problem seems the impartial spectator. Wilson is adamant that the moral sense is not simply an emotional reaction, but a disinterested one. The moral sense, we are told, is evident when we "speak disinterestedly about our behavior or that of others" [24-5]. Following Smith, Wilson argues that "[a]t first we judge others; we then begin to judge ourselves as we think others judge us; finally we judge ourselves as an impartial disinterested third party might" [331. The moral sense, then, is an impartial judgment based on the response of a disinterested third party.

Smith was initially led to the impartial spectator device as a way to compensate for self-love. Because each person naturally is most concerned with his own trials and tribulations, he tends to over-react emotionally. We cannot expect others to share these extreme reactions, and so they must be "flattened."(14)

We must, here, as in all other cases, view ourselves not so much according to that light in which we naturally appear to ourselves, as according to how we naturally appear to others. Though every man may, according to the proverb, be the whole world to himself, to the rest of mankind he is a most insignificant part of it .... When he views himself in the fight in which he is conscious that others will view him, he sees that he is but one of the multitude in no respect better than any other in it. If he would act so as that the impartial spectator may enter into the principles of his conduct, which is what of all things he has the greatest desire to do, he must, upon this, as upon all other occasions, humble the arrogance of his self-love, and bring it down to something which other men can go along with.(15)

This is an effective device to compensate for biases arising from self-love, but I cannot see how it solves the problem of diversity of affective dispositions. Alf feels disgust at the thought of masturbation; he tries to imagine a disinterested third party contemplating masturbation, and still is convinced that it is disgusting. To be sure, he sees that Betty cannot go along with this. But it is very hard to see how that would lead Alf to abandon his claim that masturbation is disgusting. More likely he may, as Smith and Wilson suggest, conclude that Betty is herself an object of disapproval. But when Betty appeals to a disinterested third party, she will likely conclude that masturbation is not at afl disgusting; perhaps she will even conclude that a truly impartial spectator would be pleased that a person is getting pleasure in some way that does not harm others. Alf's spectator, she is apt to conclude, is just a voyeur.

Wilson, however, suggests a more complicated account of the role of the impartial spectator:

Though we act out of narrow self-interest much of the time, something in us makes it all but impossible to justify our acts as mere self-interest whenever those acts are seen by others as violating a moral principle. This need to justify suggests to me that Adam Smith was not conjuring up some literary ghost when he wrote of the impartial spectator, -the man within the breast." We want our actions to be seen by others - and ourselves - as arising out of appropriate motives. [230]

Thus, Wilson sometimes appeals to the impartial spectator not simply to justify standards, but to justify departures from standards: "all but the most cynical of us recognize and attach value to the fruits of disinterested reflection - namely, an expressed justification for an action that will persuade a disinterested observer" [241-2].

Perhaps, then, the solution proceeds along the following lines. As we saw above, the moral senses involve standards, departures from which require justification. And this justification must be impartial - it must convince a disinterested third party. This stage of justification, then, may provide the impartial perspective that endows moral judgments with the requisite objectivity. This impartial spectator is an evaluator of arguments and reasons [53-6, 114-5]. At this stage, one might think, Wilson's theory relies on reasons rather than feelings. However, at this level too Wilson draws on our moral sentiments: the point disinterested reflection, he tells us, is to allow "the moral senses to speak to us clearly" [241]. This passage occurs just a few sentences before he stresses the need for impartial justification when departing from standards, indicating that even at this "departure from standards level" justification is to be conducted in terms of moral feelings. This, though, brings us back to the initial problem. Given our affective diversity, this appeal to what an impartial spectator would accept will be no more decisive than at the original level concerning what primary evaluations are appropriate. Given that people have different affective natures, for a wide range of our emotional differences there is no impartial point of view that allows a third party to adjudicate whose emotional reaction is proper and fitting. If so, appeal to our feelings cannot provide an impartial perspective for moral judgment.

Where Affective-Evaluative Diversity Is Not a Problem

An obvious reply, and one that I am confident Professor Wilson would support, is that I have paid too little attention to general agreement and have given too much weight to specific disagreements. The Moral Sense provides impressive evidence that sympathy, a sense of fairness and sense of duty are fundamental moral sentiments, and the virtue of self-control is basic to social life and morality. Indeed, Wilson himself describes the ways in which the sexes as well as different cultures stress different moral senses; evaluative diversity is central to his account. I have apparently fallen into the typical errors of unwary philosophers: "to suppose that if a sentiment does not settle everything it cannot settle anything, or to infer that if people differ in their practical choices they must do so on the basis of different sentiment" [237].

Whether this is a solution to the problem of emotional-evaluative diversity depends on just what one thinks is the upshot of the fact of evaluative diversity. If, as many philosophers and social scientists have done, the fact of evaluative diversity is taken as a proof of either a thoroughgoing cultural relativism or nihilism, then Professor Wilson is entirely correct: it shows no such thing. That our evaluative responses to the world differ in many ways does not show that they are not common in many ways. Wilson, in my view, has conclusively shown that the academic fashions of thoroughgoing moral relativism and nihilism cannot account for the overwhelming evidence concerning the place sentiments in moral life.

Neither is affective-evaluative diversity a problem for a theory about how people judge or evaluate the world. Recall that in the preface of his book Wilson explicitly tells us that his primary interest is in the way people judge [xiv]. Our affective natures are, as Wilson argues, the root of our evaluations of the world and our judgments of others. The fact of affective diversity explains a fundamental feature of our life - the diversity of our judgments about what ways of living are worth pursuing, what sort of people we find admirable, how we hope our children to grow up, what we fear will happen, and so forth. To be sure, Wilson can point out that we agree about much: we seldom admire killers and we always abhor child killers; we want our children to grow up secure and happy. Nevertheless, the variety on even the deepest issues is amazing. Liberal humanists insist that the goal of educating children should be to promote their autonomy and critical faculties, communitarians insist that children should be raised to feel a sense of belonging even at some cost to autonomy(16) and religious fundamentalists may abhor the very ideal of liberal autonomy. A theory of how we judge others should be able to explain evaluative agreement as well as evaluative diversity; a theory based on our affective natures can, I think best explain both.

Affective Diversity and Moral Claims

One aspect of ethics is how we judge; another concerns the claims we make on others. Wilson agrees: having a moral sense, he says, involves being a claim-maker and recognizer [130]. We not only judge others as disgusting, or dangerous, or kind, or unfair, or mean, but we advance claims against them, insisting that they refrain from actions or that they engage in certain sorts of activity. Claim-making of this sort tends to be rather more specific than general. It would be odd to claim that one has a general right that others be sympathetic, though it is up to them whether sympathy is more or less important than fairness or equality. We claim say, a right to adequate housing or a right to prohibit others from taking addictive drugs. Wilson himself, of course, is concerned with these sorts of policy questions, about which he has definite opinions.

In spite of the spirited policy debate over whether addiction is a disease or a crime, whether drugs should be legal or illegal, and whether addicts should be arrested, treated, or ignored, the vast majority of people persist in thinking of the more debilitating addictions as a moral problem, distinguishing among the various addictions in terms of the extent to which they make the addict less than human. Accordingly, food and nicotine addiction, though deplored on medical and aesthetic grounds, are less often regarded as a moral problem than alcohol and cocaine addiction, because while the first two may hurt the body, the latter two degrade the spirit. Not all popular judgments will be accurate at any given moment, but the standard - what is consistent with man's social nature? - remains remarkably stable. Moral judgments do not entirely settle policy issues, of course, as is evident by changing policies towards pornography and extramarital sex, both of which are regarded by large majorities as immoral but neither of which is punished by law today to the extent they once were. Public policy is shaped by considerations of prudence and feasibility as well as of morality and obligation. [94-5]

Wilson is right: the question is not whether, all things considered, a law prohibiting the use of addictive drugs, or pornography, or extramarital sex is wise, but whether some have the moral right to demand that drugs not be taken, pornography not be read, or sex not occur between urmarried people. As I read him, Wilson suggests it is at least morally permissible tomake such demands; he certainly believes so regarding addictive drugs. The moral feelings of many instruct them that such lack of self-control is degrading, and so they disapprove. Their moral sense instructs them that these activities are immoral.

I am a little skeptical of this account of the majority's disapproval of addiction; whether it involves anything like an appeal to man's social nature seems to be at best debatable. But let us grant it. Alf, it will be remembered, was disgusted at masturbation because it was inconsistent with man's social nature; perhaps similar accounts can be given of pornography and extramarital sex. So suppose that Alf and most of his fellow citizens conclude that masturbation is morally wrong insofar as it shows a lack of self-control and is a violation of man's social nature. It degrades us, detracts from our nature as social beings and, so, impairs our humanity. When they contemplate it, they are disgusted, revolted, disdainful or whatever. Suppose, however, that some of their fellow citizens simply do not share these reactions. They do not experience disgust, revulsion or disapproval; insofar as no one besides the agent is harmed, they feel approval of extramarital sex, pornography and masturbation as pleasure-giving and find that the mere idea of addiction evokes no response in them at afl. How are we to adjudicate this dispute? And adjudicate we must, for this is not a mere case of divergent evaluations about which we can agree to differ: the majority is making a claim on our masturbators, readers of dirty books and unmarried lovers that they stop; it claims a moral right to make them stop, and may well even claim a right to punish them unless they stop.

One response is to simply insist that this does not occur: we aU feel disapproval at these activities. As a factual claim, I think this is quite wrong. It is manifestly wrong concerning popular disapproval of a wide range of sexual practices; many practices that the majority finds appalling and dehumanizing strike others as simple pleasures. Supposing that genuine disagreement exists, appeal might be made to an impartial spectator, but I have argued that the impartial spectator cannot solve differences arising out of basic affective diversity. And neither, I have argued, can some plausibly claim that their reactions better track moral reality.

An attractive response is to focus on the more cognitive question: does the activity in question dehumanize the person? We all possess sympathy for others and value self-control, so we can leave aside immediate reactions and focus on the crucial question: does the activity violate our social nature? Our moral sense tens us that being a social creature is important - after that reasons and philosophical principles take over. This is a good deal more plausible than direct reliance on moral sentiments. Again, I am skeptical about the effectiveness of the appeal to our social natures, but the standards of fair play, equality, and duty are doubtlessly deeply grounded. If the main claim is that these very abstract standards arise out of our nature, and that we all have some devotion to them, then I concur. Wilson, though, seems to put more faith in people's immediate feelings than reasoning from abstract principles to specific cases:

In fact, when people act fairly or sympathetically it is rarely because they have engaged in much systematic reasoning. Much of the time our inclination towards fair play or our sympathy for the plight of others are immediate and instinctive, a reflex of our emotions more than our intellect, and in those cases in which we do deliberate (for example, by struggling to decide what fair play entails or duty requires in a particular case), our deliberation begins, not with philosophical premises (much less with the justification for them), but with feelings - in short, with a moral sense. The feelings on which people act are often superior to the arguments they employ. [7-8]

People's immediate feelings are often strongest and clearest on, say, sexual matters; these, though, are precisely the feelings that are not shared and so cannot be the basis of impartial claims against others.

In justifying claims against others we must distinguish very abstract sentiments - such as fairness, sympathy and equality - from specific moral feelings directed at specific acts. The abstract sentiments can indeed serve as the foundation for general principles that, because they are universally shared, provide premises of arguments that afl can accept. Much of Wilson's book is devoted to the important task of showing that sentiments can play this important role. Even here, I think, Wilson undervalues philosophical analysis; just what claims based on one's sense of justice can be justified to afl is a central philosophical problem that cannot be solved by direct appeal to the feelings of ordinary folk.(17) Devices such as Rawls' veil of ignorance - of which Wilson is critical [245] - are useful attempts to sort out precisely where our sense of justice leads. Nevertheless, Wilson's general thesis is powerful: it is only because we have a sense of justice in the first place that such analysis is relevant to us. In that way moral reasoning does begin with intuitions. However, there is another strain in Wilson's theory, according to which "[t]he feelings on which people act are often superior to the arguments they employ." Now if, in justifying claims against each other, sentiments only enter as abstract principles, moral claim-making cannot depend on people's sentimental responses to particular policy issues - such as their reactions to the lives of drug addict - or direct appeal to the feelngs of ordinary folk. Indeed, direct appeal to the moral sense on policy questions is apt to lead to precisely the sort of irrationalism, or at least arationalism, in moral judgments that Wilson says is endorsed by contemporary philosophy [viii].

Moral Feelings, Justification and the Great Society

The Moral Sense is rich and complex, a book of many themes. One theme, however, is disturbing. Running throughout is a devaluation of reasoning, especially philosophical reasoning and justification. For example, Wilson writes:

A good character, however defined, is not life lived according to a rule (there is hardly a rule by which good qualities ought to be combined or hard choices resolved), it is a life lived in balance. The balance among the moral senses is, to me, more an aesthetic than a philosophical matter .... it is a balance that is struck without deliberation or reasoned justifications ....

Morality bears to much contemporary philosophy some- thing of the same relationship that poetry bears to contemporary literary criticism. Some teachers of philosophy treat morality as if it were the intellectual analysis that gives rise to rules, which can then be translated into behavior. This, as Oakeshott warned, is as mistaken as supposing that poetry is an expression in words of an idea that can be worked out in advance. [243]

In a similar vein, Kohlberg's work is criticized as assigning "too much importance to how a person formulates justifications for his moral inclinations and too little on the inclinations themselves" [181-82]. To be sure, throughout Wilson mentions the importance of justification, but he actually has little to say about what types of reasons provide genuine justifications in debates about the proper application of moral principles. Surprisingly, for a book that seems to rebel against cultural relativism, Wilson argues that much of what constitutes a good reason is determined by culture. In particular, he tells us that "culture determines the extent to which a concern for fairness is embodied in an abstract rule of the sort that most Western philosophers have in mind when they speak of justice" [72].

Justice understood as a system of abstract rules and a practice of justifying claims against others in terms of these rules is no mere cultural artifact of the West. It is, rather, the foundation of what F.A. Hayek caned a Great Society - a society of strangers, characterized by wide disagreement on specific issues and very little i anything in the way of shared purposes.(18) Unlike a small face-to-face community, diversity of evaluations is common in such a society. More importantly, as Hayek pointed out, many of the sentiments that evolved while humans lived in small communities are inappropriate in a Great Society as the basis of claims against our fellow citizens.(19) We possess strong feelings about the ways that others lead their private lives, but these feelings properly are ignored as a basis of claims in a society in which people five together without shared purposes or widely shared specific sentimental reactions, but instead according to abstract rules. To a considerable extent, the Great Society does not require universalizing our sentiments [ch. 9] so much as refusing to invoke them as the basis of claims against others. Admittedly, the universalization of the abstract moral sentiments of justice and duty makes the Great Society possible by moralizing our relations with strangers; yet, as John Stuart Mill warned, moral feelings are also one of the greatest threats to it. In claiming to regulate another's activity, Mill insisted, appeal to reasons, not feelings, is justificatory:

People are accustomed to believe, and have been encouraged in this belief by some who aspire to the character of philosophers, that their feelings, on subjects of this nature, are better than reasons, and render reasons unnecessary. The practical principle which guides them to their opinions on the regulation of human conduct, is the feeling in each person's mind that everybody should be required to act as he, and those with whom he sympathizes, would like them to act. No one, indeed, acknowledges to himself that his standard of judgment is his own liking; but an opinion on a point of conduct, not supported by reasons, can only count as one person's preference; and if the reasons, when given, are a mere appeal to a similar preference felt by other people, it is still only many people's liking instead of one.(20)

In the Great Society we cannot confidently rely on our moral sentiments, even we if believe them to pass the test of an impartial spectator, for in such a society others are apt to have different susceptibilities and feelings. Reasoned justification must constantly check, and often restrain, our sentiments. This is not just to say that we should only act on our considered feelings [140]; it is not even simply a recognition that our moral feelings are "incomplete and partial- and so need to be supplemented by" moral reasoning- [236-371. Rather, the point is that often we should entirely put aside our feelings, no matter how strong or deeply held. Despite our often strong feelings to the contrary, we have good reason to conform our actions to the abstract rules of justice that characterize the Great Society. Effie Perine should be an inspiration to us afl. After shuddering at Sam's touch when discovering that he turned Bridget over to the police, she tells him "I know - I know you're right. But don't touch me - not now."


(1) J. Q. Wilson, The Moral Sense (1993). Subsequent page references in the text will be enclosed in square brackets. (2) Chess, The Role of Temperament in the Child's Development, 34 Acta Paedopsychiatrica 91-103 (1967). Starting at two to three months after birth Chess and her colleagues scored children's temperament on nine factors, repeating the scoring at three month intervals for the first eighteen months, then at six-month intervals until the age of five, and thereafter at one-year intervals. (3) C. Izard, Human Emotions, 232 (1977). (4) A. Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments 16 (1976). (5) I consider it in more depth in Value and Justification 74-9 (1990). (6) See Freud, Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety in On Psychopathology 254 (Angela Richards ed., 1979). 1 consider such irrational emotions in Value and Justification, supra note 5, at 64-79. (7) Stephen Macedo's report of John Finnis' position in Liberal Virtues 211 (1991). (8) I realize that this invites attacks by post-modernists and pragmatists that this is true of all our knowledge. I seem to succumb to a representational theory of the mind. For present purposes I must rest content with a modest, though hopelessly contentious, claim: compared to beliefs about the nature of the world, our affective responses to our world ten us comparatively less about the world and more about the responder. For an attack on the representational account of mind, see R. Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979). (9) The courageous discount their fear. See Value and Justification, supra note 5, at 178. (10) See J. Wilson, The Moral Sense, supra note 1, at 24, 133; Value and Justification, supra note 5, at 41-49. (11) For a general survey of his work, see MacLean, Sensory and Perceptive Factors in Emotional Functions of the Triune Brain in Explaining Emotions (Amelie Oksenberg Rorty ed., 1980). (12) I consider the evaluative implications of MacLean's work in Value and Justification, supra note 5, at 41-74. (13) Standards need not be about the ability of something to appropriately evoke an affective response, although they may be. On this point see Value and Justification, supra note 5, at 118-24. (14) A. Smith, supra note 4, at (15) A. Smith, supra note 4, at 83. (16) See Benn, Individuality, Autonomy and Community in Community as a Social Ideal (Eugene Kamenka ed., 1982). (17) Neither, pace Wilson, can it easily be solved by appeal to the democratic process [supra note 1, at 247]. Democracy can only solve the problem of affective diversity if a justification can be provided for allowing the majority's feelings to override the equally reasonable feelings of the minority. (18) See F. Hayek Law, Legislation and Liberty, 13-14 vol. 2, 1976). (19) See id. at 144-50. (20) J.S. Mill, On Liberty 19 (1991).

Gerald F. Gaus is Professor of Philosophy and Political Science at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. He is author of Value and Justification: The Foundations of Liberal Theory (Cambridge, 1990) and Justificatory Liberalism (Oxford, forthcoming).
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Title Annotation:James Q. Wilson's 'The Moral Sense'
Author:Gaus, Gerald F.
Publication:Criminal Justice Ethics
Date:Jun 22, 1994
Previous Article:The immoral sense.
Next Article:Universalism and individualism.

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