Book Club: The Edge of Reason 5, the challenge of psychology

Let us continue our in-depths discussion of Julian Baggini’s The Edge of Reason, a book that aims, in a sense, at striking a balance between the Scylla of scientistic rationalism and the Charybdis of anti-rational relativism. Chapter 5 concerns what Julian calls “the challenge of psychology,” the idea that since much of our thinking is unconscious, we are not really rational beings, as much as rationalizing ones.

The chapter begins with a short introduction to the famous trolley dilemma, introduced by philosopher Philippa Foot as a tool to bring out our moral intuitions. I will not summarize the thought experiment, since it is well known. Baggini says that it is obvious that when many people “go consequentialist” in one version of the dilemma, and “Kantian” in another, this is because different psychological intuitions, not any explicit moral reasoning, are at play. Which immediately brings him to Daniel Kahneman’s famous distinction between “System 1” and “System 2” reasoning: the version of the dilemma that involves a more personal interaction with others is likely to trigger our emotional responses (System 1), while the impersonal version activates our thinking in terms of large numbers and consequences (System 2).

The problem, of course, is that it may be difficult, philosophically speaking, to make sense of one’s diverging reactions to the different situations posed by the trolley dilemma: “if asked why we should not push the person, we don’t say, ‘I don’t know, it just feels wrong.’ Rather, we come up with various rational justifications, such as the idea that it is wrong to use a person as a means to an end — even when this is just what we were prepared to do in the lever case.”

Kahneman himself seems pretty pessimistic about the sort of inference about human reasoning that we should make from his research: “when asked if his 45 years of study had changed the way that he makes decisions, [Kahneman] had to reply, ‘They haven’t really, very little, because System 1, the intuitive system, the fast thinking, is really quite immune to change. Most of us just go to our graves with the same perceptual system we were born with.’”

Setting aside that even the interviewer had a hard time taking Kahneman’s words at face value, Baggini says “not so fast,” so to speak. He points out that System 1 is an “enemy of reason” only if we conceptualize reason as identical to formal logic, which he has been at pains to argue, in the previous five chapters, is far too narrow a conception.

Julian maintains that the sort of “gut feelings” we sometimes have, especially, but not only, when it comes to moral situations, are in fact the result of quick heuristics embedded into System 1: “Heuristics are cognitive shortcuts, and the key is that they wouldn’t have evolved if they didn’t work more often than not. The problem is that they are so deep rooted that we often find ourselves using them even when we don’t need a quick, snappy solution but cool, calm reasoning.”

Julian seems to hint, in the passage above, that these System 1-based heuristics are the result of biologically rooted instincts, and surely in part that is the case. But I don’t see why they cannot also be the outcome of accumulated experiences, and more likely a deeply intertwined combination of both.

Baggini goes on to suggest that it isn’t at all obvious — as utilitarians, or Kantian deontologists, would argue — that moral questions ought to be analyzed solely on the basis of “cold” (i.e., impartial) reason. The most obvious case, he maintains, is that of parental love. As parents we are partial to our children, and given a choice between intervening on behalf of our child or on behalf of a stranger’s child, we do not hesitate and choose the former. And rightly so, says Julian, as the world wouldn’t likely be a better place if everyone treated their kids as random members of the population. That, of course, generates a tension between “local” ethics (i.e., our personal moral decisions) and “universal” ethics (what we should do when we think of humanity at large). Welcome to the human condition, where sound judgment (which, remember, for Baggini is what defines reason in the broadest terms) is a necessary component of our existence. And where Systems 1 and 2 constantly interplay.

Julian then moves to the perilous territory of “gendered” reason: what if it turns out that people of different genders think in significantly, if not radically, different ways, ways that are deeply rooted in their gender identity? Should we then not talk about reason(s), in the plural, instead of the singular term, and concept, we inherited from the Enlightenment?

He reports a strange conversation he had with the French philosopher Luce Irigaray, who has been influenced by the Lacanian school of psychotherapy, and who thinks of gender differences in a somewhat radical fashion: “When I interviewed her, I suggested that [her position] means that in a sense I was not meeting her at all, since we could not share the same understanding. She agreed. ‘In this moment we seem to be in the same place, inhabiting the same space, the same time, the same country, the same culture, the same language. In a way it is only an illusion.’”

Julian labels this an “extreme” position, “frankly not supported by the best evidence of psychology.” I’m slightly more blunt: it’s nonsense on stilts.

He elaborates along lines that seem eminently sound to me: “Feminist philosophy, for instance, is not separate from all other philosophy. A feminist critique of epistemology (theory of knowledge) has its force because it suggests there is something epistemology is missing because of distortions rooted in gender, distortions it seeks to remedy. Such a critique would lack any power if it amounted to the claim that there is male epistemology and female epistemology, and each of the two should mind their own business.” Exactly, though the latter is, indeed, the position of some radical feminists and gender studies scholars.

Baggini goes on to analyze the gender gap within the philosophical profession, ascribing it to the intellectual culture within, in terms of the assumption that discussions have to be value-neutral (while feminism, most obviously, isn’t), and especially that academic philosophy is characterized by the encouragement of a confrontational approach toward colleagues, which makes a number of women feel very uncomfortable.

All of this certainly does play a role (and indeed, I’ve seen it with my own eyes), but I would like to remind people that a comparable gender gap exists within plenty of other fields where there is no such (special) culture of confrontation, and where there are no approaches to technical matters that depart from value neutrality: mathematics, chemistry, physics and engineering come to mind. So I dispute the idea that the gender gap in philosophy is peculiar to the field, or that the profession itself should undergo some kind of radical change in order to resolve the problem. The problem is going to be resolved in the same way in which it is being addressed in other fields: by encouraging young girls to embrace areas that have been seen as traditionally “male,” on the simple ground that there is no reason at all why they shouldn’t succeed in them. And of course by an explicitly fair treatment of women undergraduate and graduate students, as well as faculty at different ranks. Something, incidentally, that philosophy as a profession is very aware of and has been implementing for years through the efforts of the American Philosophical Association.

So what does psychology tell us about human reason? Baggini suggests a revision of Plato’s famous analogy between the human mind and a chariot led by two horses: “we would do better not to think of the human soul as comprising two wildly different horses and a controlling charioteer, but as being one single equine which draws on all sorts of cognitive tools, from the conscious, systemic and deliberative to the automatic, unconscious and affective.” It’s more a mule than a thoroughbred, he says. The image may be less ennobling, but it is “better to be a many-skilled mule than one-trick pony.”

160 thoughts on “Book Club: The Edge of Reason 5, the challenge of psychology

  1. Robin Herbert


    This is just so off the reservation, with regard to what the conversation is about that you might as well start talking about your favorite recipes or UFOs.

    If the claim he made was on the reservation then my pointing out that it is incorrect must also be on the reservation.

    And actually it is quite central

    The claim is that the utilitarian position is not based on emotion, right?

    And we know that every time a utilitarian makes a decision to act in accordance with utilitarian principles, he has made the decision to act within those principles, not obliged to by virtue of being a utilitarian.

    So what is his reasoning behind acting in accordance with utilitarian principles? And why does he consider them sound? If the answer is that it seems like a good idea to him that utility is maximised then he is acting on the basis of emotion.

    If he has some other objective basis for choosing utilitarianism then someone ought to be able describe it, at least in outline.

    My claim is that utilitarianism is ultimately based on the feeling that it would be good if utility was maximised. It is just as much an emotive position as emotivism.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Robin Herbert


    Yes, people do things for emotional, non-rational reasons. That’s the point.

    So your premise is that any action based on an emotion is non-rational?

    If I decide to eat a felafel roll because I like felafel rolls then I am acting in a non-rational fashion?

    Is that what you mean?


  3. Robin Herbert

    It’s a time of instrumental rationality. But it is an incoherent position with respect to utilitarianism, and therefore irrational within that framework.

    But it is not a position within that framework, so that is irrelevant.

    It is a perfectly coherent position within its own framework.

    “Rationality” isn’t a universal independent on the specifics, but you conveniently jump out of the specifics to make a meta-point. Which nobody has been disputing.

    If you want to to stick firmly within a particular framework, then fine, but you can hardly make comparisons between frameworks if you do that.

    If you want to make comparisons between frameworks you can’t do it while staying strictly within one of those frameworks.

    In order to compare frameworks you have to go meta, because comparing two frameworks is an inherently meta activity.

    So, yes, it is a completely coherent position within its own framework.


  4. Robin Herbert

    Emotivism is a completely coherent and rational within an emotivist framework.

    Utilitarianism is not a more rational position than emotivism.

    You cannot make claims about emotivism from within the framework of utilitarianism because emotivism does not operate within that framework

    And if you want to argue that utilitarianism is rational and that emotivism is not, then you cannot rule out questions of why a utilitarian decides to act within the principles of utilitarianism you can’t simply assume that he must.


  5. Robin Herbert


    And Baggini’s point is that such a conception of rationality — strictly limited to logical coherence and entailment — is too strict, precisely because people have competing priorities, criteria and experiences. Which is why he argues for an expanded sense of rationality that is not limited to coherence and entailment. I don’t know how else to put it

    I never doubted that this was Baggini’s point.

    I was disputing his reasoning. I was pointing out that the problems he talks about are not endemic to rationality, they are simply the result of an arbitrary decision to hang on to certain axioms.

    If he were simply to drop those axioms then these problems disappear and then you can keep on using logical coherence, entailment etc without having to limit your conception of rationality.

    There is no logical contradiction between wanting to help children in general and wanting the best for your own. There is no logical contradiction between competing priorities, criteria and experiences and so no reason to alter logic to account for them.

    He wants to change our conception of rationality in order to hold on to certain axioms and nobody can give me an account of why anyone would want to hold on to those axioms.

    I say, keep the conception of rationality and lose the axioms unless you can give me a good reason to keep them.

    Or would that be too easy?


  6. Philosopher Eric

    Thanks for your last response to Robin — I think I finally get it now. From the premise of “the greatest happiness for the greatest number”, sacrificing the fat guy is a rational solution regardless of the method that’s used to make it. I don’t believe this point was expressed quite this plainly earlier, and I for one need things to be stated plainly.

    So to move on, you’re saying that it’s Baggini’s position that we need not actually hold any moral ideology to its premise? We could instead use “sound judgement” when conflicting discrepancies surface? If so then I have quite a problem with that stance! That seems like the standard excuse that’s used to help legitimize flawed notions in general. What’s to stop any pseudo scientists from saying, “As Julian Baggini says, we need only use sound judgement when… [our idiotic notions fail].” Does he address this issue either here or elsewhere?


  7. Markk

    I suspect that the so-called discrepancies in people’s responses to the trolley problem are due to the way it is framed.

    Four people on one track, one on another – this is too abstract. It’s a maths problem.

    Pushing a fat man off a bridge – we have more detail. We can picture him. It feels uncomfortable. We would spare him if he was thin?

    On the first track is a construction worker, a 12 year old girl and an elderly retired couple. On the other is an apprentice hairdresser. – Now, how would people respond?

    This is one instance of philosophical thought experiments not being gory enough.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Coel

    Hi Massimo,

    We are talking about whether something is rational or not — in the specific sense of logically coherent — from within a utilitarian perspective.

    That is true, but of very limited relevance, since no human is a pure utilitarian. All of us have a mesh of utilitarian heuristics, deontological heuristics and virtue-ethic heuristics. (And of course the commitment to each of these is an emotional one.) What the trolley problem reveals is how these tension against each other.

    Robin is quite correct to address the overall issue of a person under the trolley dilemma, rather than treating them as though they were a robot programmed solely with utilitarianism (which is what considering it from within the utilitarian perspective amounts to).


  9. Massimo Post author


    “Does he propose something like this in chapters ahead? An old modern, psychological updating of “gnothi seauton”?”

    Wouldn’t know, I’m reading the book as we proceed…


    Thanks for the stream of responses, though it would be better to concentrate them a little. At any rate:

    “If I decide to eat a felafel roll because I like felafel rolls then I am acting in a non-rational fashion? Is that what you mean?”

    No, and I explicitly said that. That’s an example of instrumental rationality. But the basic choice, the feeling, is non-rational. Which is not the same as irrational. I reserve the latter for cases of incoherence, as a utilitarian who pulls the lever but doesn’t push the man.

    “Emotivism is a completely coherent and rational within an emotivist framework.”

    As a philosophy, yes. But the specifics are dictated by non-rational, and sometimes irrational desires, not by logical necessity.

    “Utilitarianism is not a more rational position than emotivism”

    It is in the sense that, contra to what you and Coel keep repeating, there is no reason at all to think that utilitarians are beginning from an emotive state. In fact, I highly doubt that’s historically true in the case of Bentham. They can simply defend their position on entirely logical grounds: you begin with the observation that most people seek happiness and avoid pain; you add the idea that ethics is about improving the human condition and social living — by definition; you get that one kind of rational ethics is one based on the idea that society is better off if we maximize happiness and reduce pain. Where on earth is the emotional part in this?


    “I suspect that the so-called discrepancies in people’s responses to the trolley problem are due to the way it is framed.”

    I doubt it. Trolley dillemas now come in a large variety of frames, and the neurobiology behind them is pretty clear at this point.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Robin Herbert

    That is the other thing that doesn’t make sense.

    We are talking about a suggestion that we should alter our conception of rationality, right?

    And people keep saying “don’t go meta”.

    How is a discussion about changing our conception of rationality not already meta? How much more meta could you get?

    How can we discuss a proposal that we should change our conception of morality and stay within the confines of one particular theory of morality.

    Especially as it is a theory that no one here appears to subscribe to.


  11. Bunsen Burner

    There is a thread here on the demographics of philosophers I find interesting. I had to deal quite a bit with gender/race disparity in mathematics/physics/engineering a long time ago and still find it an issue in the private sector. But lets stick to philosophy as that seems what most people know here. I am interested in people’s opinions on why this disparity exists ( and no, I don’t care if you have double blind test, and so on).

    In particular:

    Why do more men than women take philosophy and become philosophers?

    Why do more white people do the same than people of other races/ethnicities?

    And just to stir things up a bit, how much do people actually believe in a Western/Non-Western philosophy split? Is there really a culturally distinct way at looking at problems of morals/aesthetics/science, etc? If not, then why even have non-western philosophy as a topic?


  12. Massimo Post author


    All good questions. Here is my opinion:

    • Part of the reason we have fewer women, and certainly fewer minorities in philosophy may be due to more or less unconscious discrimination. But the major reason is that those groups are culturally discouraged to engage in fields like philosophy. You have no idea how many minority students come to me because they want to enroll as philosophy majors, but their parents and peers tell them they are wasting their time and money. I also guarantee you that every time I’ve been on a search committee people have bent over backwards to hire a woman, a minority, or even better a minority woman.

    • Yes, I do think there are substantive differences between Western and Eastern philosophy, as I detailed in my book on the topic: Eastern philosophies tend to me more mystical than rational, unlike Western, i.e., Greek philosophy. That said, there are clear examples of Eastern philosophies that are hard to distinguish from their Western counterpart (e.g., Indian logic tradition), and vice versa (Heidegger is much appreciated by the Kyoto School, for instance). My take is that there are indeed very different styles of philosophizing, but they only partially map on the East-West divide.


  13. Daniel Kaufman

    Emotivism is the view that moral statements like “x is wrong” do not express propositions and are thus, neither true nor false, but rather are performatives; linguistic means of expressing approval/disapproval. So, “x is wrong” literally says nothing, but rather is a way of going “X, Boo!”

    Reason does not enter into it. That’s the entire point of the theory. It is an interpretation of Hume by way of the linguistic philosophy of the early 20th century. And reason also has nothing to do with Hume’s theory. Again, that’s the entire point. Morals belong to the passions, not the understanding.

    Utilitarianism, on the other hand, is entirely rationalistic in its intent and design. That it is hedonic is incidental. Moore’s Ideal Utilitarianism simply says that our duty is to maximize the good, which is treated as an undefinable primitive.

    This is all pretty basic, introductory level ethics. You can say, “No it isn’t!” but all that means is that you’re not engaging in the conversation that the discipline is engaged in. You can say “Well then the discipline’s wrong!” but all that means is that you’ve rendered yourself and your part of the discussion irrelevant to what’s going on in the discipline and in every classroom on the earth in which the discipline is being taught.

    Can we stop now? Please?

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Coel

    Hi Massimo,

    (Utilitarians) … can simply defend their position on entirely logical grounds: (1) you begin with the observation that most people seek happiness and avoid pain; (2) you add the idea that ethics is about improving the human condition and social living — by definition; (3) you get that one kind of rational ethics is one based on the idea that society is better off if we maximize happiness and reduce pain. Where on earth is the emotional part in this? (numbers added)

    Since you ask. First, most of your paragraph is descriptive rather than normative, and we have to be clear where we’re getting the normativity.

    The statement (2) is hiddenly normative. By slapping the label “ethical” on “improving the human condition” you are effectively saying “we should try to improve the human condition”. It’s an expression of approval of things that improve the human condition. (Why else would you be assigning the label “ethical” to it?) That right there is a moral axiom that derives from your value system and thus is emotional.

    [To see that, note that others might adopt a different axiom, for example plenty of religious people have held that ethics is about submission to the will of God, regardless of the human condition. Plenty of them have held that we were put on this earth to suffer.]

    Statement (3), by the way, is pretty much a tautology in that you’d be hard pushed to define the merit function “better off” in a way that didn’t make it a tautology.

    [As an aside, the above paragraph is more or less exactly what Sam Harris tries in The Moral Landscape, and you straightforwardly spot the leaps in logic there.]

    In essence the argument comes down to this:

    A) Human beings do try to maximise their happiness.
    B) Human beings should try to maximise their happiness (or “are morally obligated to” maximise their happiness).

    (A) is an “is” statement, “B” is an ought statement, and does not follow; cite Hume). Getting to B requires an value-based (emotional) axiom. In this emotivist form it works:

    A) Human beings do try to maximise their happiness.
    B1) I want us to organise society to maximise human happiness.
    B2) I am advocating utilitarianism, where the normativity derives from my advocacy.

    There is then no leap of logic. That’s why utilitarianism is founded in emotivism.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Daniel Kaufman

    In fact, I highly doubt that’s historically true in the case of Bentham.

    = = =

    You don’t have to wonder. It’s right at the beginning of “An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation.” Bentham flat out says that utilitarianism is grounded in a modern, scientific view of human nature. Nature determines that the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain are fundamental imperatives of all organisms and thus are rationally understood as being intrinsically good. The utilitarian recognizes this and thus, a rational ethic is one in which what is intrinsically good is that which is obligatory. Incidentally, this is why those who wish to use utilitarianism to argue for obligations to animals, prefer Bentham over Mill, the latter of whom is at least partially a eudaimonist, given his views of the higher and lower pleasures.


  16. Daniel Kaufman

    One last thing: A utilitarian ethic requires that one be disinterested. This is another sense in which it is rationalistic. One’s duty is to do that which one, disinterestedly, determines will maximize the good. It is not to do that which one is moved to do by one’s sympathy. The latter would be a sentimentalist account.


  17. Coel


    Moore’s Ideal Utilitarianism simply says that our duty is to maximize the good, which is treated as an undefinable primitive.

    This is exactly what is wrong with much of philosophical discourse on ethics: it treats the subject within compartmentalised frameworks. To say that the claim: “our duty is to maximize the good” is an “undefinable primitive” is to quite literally make it nihilistic and empty of meaningful content. The only meaning such a phrase could have is how it relates to other things.

    Robin and myself are asking the question: why do utilitarians advance the axiom “our duty is to maximize the good” and what do these concepts actually mean? Our conclusion is that it is emotivist, that it amounts to people advocating particular moral axioms based on their own value system.

    Not asking that question, and regarding the axiom as an “undefinable primitive” within a compartmentalised framework, might be aligned with what happens in classrooms taught by philosophy professors, but if they do that then they cut themselves off from the real world and from actual human ethics (which is a real feature of the real world, not merely an abstract discussion in a self-contained compartment of conceptual space).

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Daniel Kaufman

    Bunsen Burner:

    In my view, the gender disparity is because men and women have different interests, something that is due in part to acculturation, which itself is due in part to biological/physiological differences. Men and women also have very different life-arcs. It would be very weird, in my view, if there weren’t such disparities.

    There are any number of disciplines in which women are overrepresented and men are underrepresented.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. stevenjohnson

    Pushpin is as good as poetry. This proposition strikes me as an appeal to the authority of the pushpin lover’s emotions. It is hard to think of pushpin as a mere appetite after all. If love of pushpin is a mere incidental, an irrelevancy to academic philosophy, when emotions, motives, are not irrelevant to life, then philosophy is irrelevant. The scholastic tradition is not dead.

    I always thought Socrates/Plato were highly regarded as philosophy. The notion that knowledge is virtue (or prerequisite to lower virtues?) should be kept in mind, no? You can’t know do the good unless you know the good. Nobody knows that a fat man will stop the train. I mean, you can say it, but only a fool will kill someone who isn’t going to die anyway just because somebody claims this dude is heavy enough to stop a train. It’s sort of a double bind. If you do the sensible thing and deny the premise, then you’re cheating by not playing the game. If you take it seriously, and your unarticulated judgment keeps you from murdering someone for a maybe, then you lose the game. The only way you can win is by pretending to be irrational enough to really believe you know the murder victim will save other peoples’ lives.

    The problem of course is that is actually preposterous, an absence of reasonable judgment. If you want to generalize the lesson of the fat man and the train switch, I think it should be, Socrates/Plato was right: There is an epistemic criterion. A consequence of that is simple, but vast. The effects of acts of commission can be difficult enough to predict (the problem with consequentialism, right?) But by and large predicting the consequences of acts of omission are like proving negatives. It’s like taking care of your own children first because you’re the one who knows them best. I think it’s the people who push the fat man off the bridge who’ve lost their judgment. And the philosophers who declare them the rational ones who are incoherent, forgetting real ethics need knowledge, not arbitrary premises.


  20. Philosopher Eric

    Well said on Emotivism Daniel. The lesson I think is that if there is a term like this one that seems special that you haven’t been in the practice of using, then don’t just presume that the commonly understood root of the word holds in a given discipline — it might not. Furthermore you should generally be able to use terms that we’re all familiar with to get your point across. Wittgenstein’s “ordinary language” position could help our discussions out in general.


  21. Daniel Kaufman


    Okay, you keep talking about what you and Robin are interested in. And we’ll keep talking about what philosophical ethics is actually about and what actually gets taught to millions of college students worldwide; what doctors and nurses are taught, as a requirement for licensing; etc. You know, all those people who don’t live in the real world.


  22. Coel


    Nature determines that the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain are fundamental imperatives of all organisms and thus are rationally understood as being intrinsically good. The utilitarian recognizes this and thus, a rational ethic is one in which what is intrinsically good is that which is obligatory.

    And that right there is a leap from an “is” to an “ought”, from “we do pursue pleasure and avoid pain” to “we are obliged to” or “we ought to” pursue pleasure and avoid pain.

    It’s a non-sequitur. And, worse, it’s unclear what it even means. What does “we are obliged to pursue pleasure” mean? Obliged in what way? And regarding it as an “undefined primitive” doesn’t help, it just makes the whole scheme literally vacuous.


  23. Coel

    An addendum and illustration of the “is” to “ought” leap at the base of utilitarianism.

    Natural selection is all about leaving more descendants, and thus animals (including humans) tend to be programmed with a desire to leave descendants. Just as we do seek pleasure and avoid pain, most of us do tend to act to leave descendants.

    Does it follow that we are obliged to have descendants, and that those who choose not to are being unethical? No, it doesn’t. That’s a completely fallacious leap; and it’s the same fallacy as the leap between “humans do act to maximise pleasure” and “humans are morally obliged” to do so.

    Liked by 2 people

  24. Robin Herbert

    Given that this is a discussion about a suggestion that we should modify what we mean by rationality then I am not sure why we are talking about utilitarianism at all, never mind forbidden to move outside that framework.

    I am not a utilitarian and not planning to become one at any time soon. Same with deontology.

    So if these kinds of positions cause problems that require us to change what we mean by rationality then what is that to me? That is not my problem.

    I have no assumption that there is somehow an objectively right answer to moral questions and so these problems don’t exist for me. I am able to reason consistently about all of these “problems” that seem to cause so much trouble for the others. And because I am upfront about my emotional commitments instead of hiding them away and pretending they don’t exist, it reduces their power to mislead me and I am able to lay out the full reasoning and don’t have to keep thinking up reasons why people are not allowed to ask questions about missing steps.

    So if you are going to convince me that we have to change what we mean by ‘rationality’ then it would have to be an argument that could be made without even mentioning these positions.

    For the people who assert my position is not rational then I can only roll my eyes in their general direction.


  25. wtc48

    Massimo: “I also guarantee you that every time I’ve been on a search committee people have bent over backwards to hire a woman, a minority, or even better a minority woman.”

    This is why, ten years ago, I urged one of my granddaughters to aim to be the first female President, as she (besides being bright and beautiful) was of mixed race (Caucasian/Latino). She turns 36 in 2020, so will be eligible, but I doubt she will be ready, as she’s currently raising her three children. However, as there are more and more mixed marriages, there will be less pressure of the kind you mention on search committees.


  26. ejwinner

    Thanks for the moderation. I should know better. I get frustrated when people try to nag me into conversations I’ve already said I’ve no further interest in. But noticing such nagging is my own choice, after all.

    I do think the comment thread has grown unnecessarily complicated – and contentious (and repetitive) – because some think that if Baggini doesn’t get his examples exactly ‘right” (ie., consistent with their own understanding), his cause is lost. But if this is true (and I don’t think it is), then the question becomes, why bother having this discussion at all.

    I have read the chapter. I find it’s discussion of the relations between rationality and ethical choices quite clear, and consistent with what I know of those issues in their academic context. I actually think the problem of psychology here, and in philosophy as a whole, much deeper than Baggini believes, but at least we have the tip here, if not the whole iceberg – and we don’t actually need the whole iceberg to follow Baggini here.

    I confess I didn’t read deeply in the section on ‘gendered reason,’ because the question only has relevance when philosophers stray (as they did quite frequently in the 19th Century, and still occasionally do) and try to analyze or prescribe what people do or should do according to their gender. And the question of hiring practices is a professional one, and doesn’t seem to me to contribute to Baggini’s central discussion (although I may be wrong).

    Liked by 2 people

  27. wtc48

    Dan: “Bentham flat out says that utilitarianism is grounded in a modern, scientific view of human nature. Nature determines that the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain are fundamental imperatives of all organisms and thus are rationally understood as being intrinsically good. The utilitarian recognizes this and thus, a rational ethic is one in which what is intrinsically good is that which is obligatory.”

    Perhaps I’m stretching this interpretation, but isn’t Bentham attempting to link to the function of instinct in animals (i.e. “nature”), who are deemed to be pursuing pleasure and avoiding pain because to assume otherwise would be absurd? The process is considered imperative and obligatory, because the animals have no choice in the matter. But I don’t see how this can be applied to humans without reference to intuition or learned heuristics of some kind.


  28. Massimo Post author


    “There is then no leap of logic. That’s why utilitarianism is founded in emotivism”

    Hum, no. And at this point I’ll just leave it at that. The reason I address your points is not because I hope to convince you — not going to happen, ain’t that stupid — but because your misconceptions are pretty common and addressing them may be useful to others. But there is a limit. Which we have way passed in this conversation.


    “For the people who assert my position is not rational then I can only roll my eyes in their general direction”

    Setting aside that that sort of comments advances the discussion not a single iota, notoby said your position is not rational. We just said it’s wrong. There is a difference.

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  29. Robin Herbert

    I had always thought that Utilitarianism was the position that good actions are the ones which result in maximiing utility.

    If I am wrong about that then, hey, I don’t even know what what Utilitarianism is and all the more reason that I won’t be altering my concept of rationality on the basis of the problems it causes.

    My point was that if maximising utility is regarded as a good because we feel it is good then that makes the basis of Utilitarianism emotional

    I never doubted that Utilitarians claim that it has a purely rational basis, I am only doubting tgat they are correct.

    I am not sure why that is a possibility that people here are not even prepared to countenance. There are a lot of philosophical claims that are wrong.

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