Rational Agency and the “End of Philosophy.”

(With thanks to BH for drawing the Brooks’ to my notice.)

At the American Philosophical Association the idea of rational agency can seem firmly in place.  “Our rational agency” can seem to apply unproblematically to us and our actions, or at least to the ones we want to focus on and analyze.

But it isn’t clear it should occupy such a place.  And David Brooks’ op-ed yesterday gives a reasonably accurate picture of a very different view emerging from a great deal of recent work in empirical psychology and cognitive neuroscience. 

Moral judgments … are rapid intuitive decisions and involve the emotion-processing parts of the brain. …

The question then becomes: What shapes moral emotions in the first place? The answer has long been evolution, but in recent years there’s an increasing appreciation that evolution isn’t just about competition. It’s also about cooperation within groups. Like bees, humans have long lived or died based on their ability to divide labor, help each other and stand together in the face of common threats. Many of our moral emotions and intuitions reflect that history. We don’t just care about our individual rights, or even the rights of other individuals. We also care about loyalty, respect, traditions, religions. We are all the descendents of successful cooperators.

The first nice thing about this evolutionary approach to morality is that it emphasizes the social nature of moral intuition. People are not discrete units coolly formulating moral arguments. They link themselves together into communities and networks of mutual influence….

The rise and now dominance of this emotional approach to morality is an epochal change. It challenges all sorts of traditions.

There are plenty of details to object to in the article.  But the overall picture of human normative functioning, which is now coming into philosophy largely through kinds of experimental philosophy, is exceptionally important.  And, of course, very Humean.  And in a number of ways very feminist. 

Of course, there is no sign in Brooks’ article of the history, nor are the recent feminist discussions typically recognized in the relevant literature.  Perhaps we should try to change that.

Daughters, listen to your mothers!

How low can they go?  How manipulative can one’s run of the mill colleagues or acquaintances be? 

So suppose you are dealing with a problematic situation, and people are not happy, but you think you at least understand the agenda.  Maybe it’s trying to decide the fate of an important but faltering program.  Or perhaps it’s a non-academic situation; your neighborhood has to decide about some problematic  ordinance. 

But then your  perception suddenly shifts and you realize that the agenda might have been quite different.  In fact, you might have been set up to look really bad in one way or another.   You were throwing out some ideas to encourage people to brainstorm for a conclusion, but  the  intent on the very people encouraging you was to show you didn’t understand  the problem.  

It was thinking about such a situation, and thinking of the possibility that I was in one, that I also wondered whether something similar might be going on in some of those cases where a woman, seemingly out of the blue, says someone is or was trying to rape her.   Perhaps she was quite aware that he was pressuring her, but she thought it  was about negotiating the boundaries of  a relationship.  Of course, he was trying to move too fast, but it just never crossed her mind that she really did not count at all, except perhaps as providing material for boasting later on.  And then she saw just what was going on.

I hope I’m not alone in finding these cases hard to understand.  I’ve  insisted that  whenever she says “no,” her decision must be followed.   But I haven’t gotten a very good idea  of what’s gone on.

Oddly today in the nether parts of the Sea-Tac airport on the way to the APA meeting, I witnessed an exchange between a young couple with a very young daughter and a grandmotherly woman.  The young daughter was fully of lovely  smiles.  The older woman remarked, “She is going to be very lovely.  You will have to teach her to be very careful.”

There may be people one deals with who have malevolent intentions that  are outside one’s normal ken.  And perhaps that is going on in some cases of rape that are otherwise opaque to understanding.  In my case, Mr jj raised the question of my being set up.  I can well remember similar warnings from my mother about “boys”. 

Treating people as objects of fun or pleasure  is not, of course, confined to one gender.  The various forms of its manifestations may be quite surprising.

Protest Proposed Afghan Law on Women

The Feminist Majority Foundation writes:

We just heard that President Hamid Karzai has announced he will review the draft of Shia family law that would strip Afghan women and girls of their basic rights. Karzai is responding to the worldwide outrage over the draft law including President Obama who called the law “abhorrent”.

Afghan women leaders in Parliament in the Afghanistan Human Rights Commission, and in non-profit organizations have been fighting the proposed law. We must lend our voices in support of our Afghan sisters.

While Karzai is reconsidering, let him hear from you and as many people you can reach. Urge him to withdraw the draconian law that would restrict women from leaving their homes, working, going to school and obtaining medical care without their husbands’ permission. The law also includes provisions that grants child custody only to men and revokes women’s rights to refuse sex with their husband.

And please join our Campaign for Afghan Women and Girls. As the Taliban have gained strength in Afghanistan over 1000 girls’ schools have been destroyed. Teachers have been murdered – some right in front of their students. Acid is being thrown on girls’ faces on their way to or from school. As US shifts it attention to Afghanistan, we must do all we can to make sure Afghan women and girls are not forgotten!

To send letters to Pres. Karzai and the afghan Embassy, click here. Thanks, Jender-Mom!