Moral Philosophy Seminar (Monday - Week 8, MT22)

moral philosophy

John Locke maintains that our degree of commitment to a proposition should covary with our degree of justification for holding it.  It’s easy to understand this with respect to straightforward descriptive matters: if I have equal justification for thinking that it’s raining and that it’s not raining, I should withhold assent from both propositions rather than giving full credence to either.  But Locke’s claim occurs in the context of an essay on enthusiasm or what we would today call fanaticism.  Locke is interested in how partial credence in an evaluative proposition would carry over into partial practical commitment to that proposition.  Roughly, his idea is that your degree of commitment to practical claims should covary with their justificatory standing.  Call this Locke’s Dictum.  I ask how Locke’s Dictum comports with two intuitive ideas about commitment.  First, some of our most important goals, values, and relationships require full-fledged commitment.  An agent who is lackadaisically committed to acting justly, or a parent who is only hesitantly and waveringly committed to his child’s well-being, seem problematic.  Arguably, you have to commit fully and completely to these goals, values, or relationships in order to realize the goods associated with them.  Second, for any particular commitment, we can raise reasonable skeptical worries about whether it can be adequately justified over possible competitors which yield different claims about what is to be done.  It seems that we are faced with a choice: either we violate Locke’s Dictum; or we forgo the goods associated with full-fledged commitments; or we deny a reasonable pluralism about possible commitments.  I argue that we must reject Locke’s Dictum and with it a series of seeming platitudes about the connection between justificatory reflection, commitment, and fanaticism. 

Moral Philosophy Seminar Convenor: Jeremy Fix