Category Archives: Metaethics

Moral Complexity and Andre Comte-Sponville’s ‘Spiritual Atheism’ – Part 3 of 5

This is the third part of a five-part essay comparing and contrasting the moral systems of the Dalai Lama, Andre Comte-Sponville, and Viktor Frankl with regard to how well (or poorly) their respective moral systems fare against morally complex situations.


Andre Comte-Sponville’s Moral System (based on Spiritual Atheism)

     Comte-Sponville’s moral system, in contrast to the Dalai Lama’s is more consequentialist than deontological. His moral system is more concerned with states of affairs and consequences that affect them than purely motivation/intention. Take, for instance, the fact that he decries certain moral actions such as “rob[bery], rape, and murder” (42). He does this, presumably, because of the immensely harmful consequences that each one brings about. Robbery can shatter a person’s sense of security within their own home or environment. Rape forcefully objectifies a person’s existence, conflating the meaning of their life with the desirability of their physical traits. Murder almost inherently involves pain and suffering, not to mention its permanent duration. As a result, Comte-Sponville’s moral system is more consequentialist than deontological.

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Contra Ainslie: Multi-variable Measures of Akrasia

Throughout his explanation of akrasia as hyperbolic discounting, Ainslie focuses on the temporal dimensions of the discounting process, noting that when the possibility of experiencing satisfaction from a particular reward is less delayed, then the agent is more likely to engage in akratic actions or be swayed by akratic behavioral dispositions.

Ainslie uses the term “imminent” to describe how strongly an agent may feel an internal pull towards a particular reward and its accompanying satisfaction (Ainslie 30). “Imminent,” when properly understood within hyperbolic discounting, includes but should not be limited to temporal considerations. Akratic actions involve internal calculations guided by desire or emotion with an emphasis on, or at least a preference for, the likelihood of certainty in obtaining satisfaction from a reward. This aspect of certainty is what some psychological experiments mentioned by Ainslie fail to properly take into account.

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An Introduction to Akrasia

Skele Akrasia has traditionally been defined as “incontinence” or “weakness of will” and occurs when an agent, endowed with certain rational and volitional faculties (deliberation and free will), chooses a poorer course of action. Akrasia has wide-reaching implications for topics such as motivation (what causes akratic actions?), impulsiveness (how does one prevent akratic actions?), moral accountability (is akrasia similar enough to addiction or compulsion to warrant lesser moral culpability?), and the like. As scholar George Ainslie points out, the practical application of akrasia has been, and is currently being, studied by scholars coming from numerous disciplines including philosophy of mind, sociobiology, economics, neurophysiology, and cognitive psychology (Ainslie 7). The importance of understanding the concept and what it means for human beings should not be understated.

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Criticisms of the Use of the ESD Doctrine in Kennedy v. Louisiana (2008)

The most commonly raised criticism against the national consensus test of the ESD doctrine is that it constitutes an ongoing saga of judicial activism. Judicial activism occurs when a judge/justice upholds his or her own political, legal, religious, economic, or other beliefs contra society, thereby substituting the objectivity of existing laws for the subjectivity of personal preferences. Some may not feel that judicial activism is all that subversive. But judicial activism not only forces the judge/justice’s will on the people, but also it can greatly limit the legislative branch’s ability to function. The blurring of judicial and legislative lines can result in political stalemate, voter apathy, and a general distrust of government. Kimberly Bliss comments that under a democratic system “legislatures, not courts, are constituted to respond to the will and consequently the moral values of the people” since the former has more contact with the people and has, in theory, been elected by the voters (1334).

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Kennedy v. Louisiana (2008) – US Case Law Overview

In 2008, proponents of capital punishment for rape believed they had a winning case that would allow the use of capital punishment for some nonlethal crimes. Patrick O’Neal Kennedy from Harvey, Louisiana was sentenced to death after he was convicted of raping his eight-year-old stepdaughter. The rape was uncommonly brutal in its severity. The injuries that Kennedy’s stepdaughter sustained from the repeated rapes required emergency surgery. Kennedy initially maintained that the battery was committed by two neighborhood boys. He even refused to plead guilty when a settlement was offered to spare him from a death sentence. In 2003, Kennedy was convicted and sentenced under a 1995 Louisiana law that allowed the death penalty for the rape of a child under the age of 12. The Court did not share the same optimism that proponents of capital punishment did. The majority, relying on the precedent of the ESD Doctrine, overturned the death penalty since the rape, though it did involve a child, did not result in the death of the victim (544 U.S. 407).

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The Historical Development of the Evolving Standards of Decency (ESD) Doctrine in the U.S. Supreme Court

One of the most controversial elements of the U.S. Bill of Rights is the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause of the Eighth Amendment which states that “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted” (U.S. Const. Amdt. 8). Whether the use of the death penalty is an instance of cruel and unusual punishment has been the subject of sustained and intense debate given that there have been over 16,000 legal executions in the United States from 1700 until 2019 (TIME). Continue reading

Contra Haidt: A Short Critique of Schwitzgebel and Rust’s Empirical Studies

From Haidt’s impassioned rejection of the “rationalist delusion,” it is difficult to discern why Schwitzgebel and Rust would place such significance on the aforementioned behaviors as they pertain to ethicists versus non-ethicists. There are more morally egregious behaviors that ethicists could engage in would serve to overwhelmingly confirm the fact that they do not act more morally than others despite their professional status as moral philosophers. Yet, in the various articles published by Schwitzgebel and Rust, very little explanation is provided as to why these are truly relevant to determining whether moral philosophers behave better than those who may not have as extensive training or education in moral reasoning. In an article about the library habits of ethicists versus their non-ethicist counterparts, there is only one sentence provided as to why failure to return library books is bad (Schwitzgebel 714). Rather than justifying their choice of moral behaviors to research, Schwitzgebel and Rust spend most of their published articles explaining the methods they use.

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A Summary of “The Righteous Mind” by J. Haidt

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In his work “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion,” social psychologist Jonathan Haidt coins the term “the rationalist delusion” to explain a tendency of a majority of scholars to overemphasize the importance of rationality in human behavior throughout history (103). Haidt claims that the “worship of reason,” particularly within the realm of morality, is essentially inappropriate and he utilizes the rest of his book to advocate for a different version of moral reasoning and decision making processes based more on emotive intuitions that are dominant (103).

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A Glance at the Social Structure of Western Medicine

     In Western medicine, just as in law, religion, and the military, there is a single group located above all others at the top of this social institution. This group is an authoritative minority endowed with certain privileges/rights/duties/obligations and, subsequently, they are required to fulfill certain roles. This group is, of course, composed of physicians.

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2 Brief Yet Excellent Introductions to Meta-Ethics!

This first video above does a great job of presenting the basic contours of the field in an easy-to-follow manner. 

This second video below does a greater job of doing so while digging a little bit deeper on the details. 

If you get a chance, make sure to watch both!