09 September 2006

Hursthouse-Curzer-Pearson- ?

With a view to saying something eventually about Aristotle's doctrine of the mean itself... Well, there are still some things to get out of the way. I want to revisit Hursthouse-Curzer-Pearson.

For the moment, understand the doctrine of the mean as: An action (or emotion) can go wrong in one or more of various respects (Curzer: 'parameters'), and, when it thus goes wrong, in that respect it is somehow either more, or less, than what should have been done (or felt) in that respect.

Observations (fine print--skip if you wish!):
1. I don't think we should add that, if the action (or emotion) in some respect is somehow more than what should have been done (or felt) in that respect, then we can imagine some other way of going wrong, complementing it, which would have been somehow less, in that respect, than what should have been done or felt (and vice versa for less). That is, I don't think the doctrine commits Aristotle to holding that right actions (and emotions) fall between complementary and opposed wrong ways of action (or feeling); although I do think the doctrine implies that a virtue, or habit, of right action (or feeling) falls between complementary and opposed habits of wrong action (or feeling).
2. There is no need to presume that 'more' and 'less' must be understood cardinally, or that they are used in other than an analogous sense when used across the various 'parameters'.
3. If an action (or feeling) is 'more' or 'less' in some respect, it can't be made intermediate (neither-more-nor-less) by its being 'less' or 'more' in some other respect. (This I think is the nonsense Aristotle refers to with the language of 'an deficiency of an excess' and 'excess of a deficiency'. This too is how I think he understands why, e.g. theft is always wrong. It is excessive in some respect, and it cannot therefore be 'done right' by someone's hitting the mean in other respects.)
Hursthouse objects that there are some cases in which an action (or feeling) goes wrong, where we should really say that the wrongness is one of kind or quality, not degree or quantity: that is, in some respect the action (or feeling) is different in kind (quality) from what should have been done.
Observation (more fine print!)
4. Hursthouse sometimes seems to argue as if she holds that every way in which an action can go wrong is like this, viz. that it never happens that there is a respect in which an action has gone wrong, and it is wrong because it is somehow 'more' or 'less' than what should have been done. Of course this is too strong, and it gets her into trouble, leading Pearson to try to split the difference between her and Curzer.
Hursthouse contrives an example in which, she thinks, someone gets it right quantitatively, and so his mistake must be qualitative only. Consider the parameter of 'what' (that is, what or what sort of objects one takes for one's action or emotion). Suppose--the details are not essential--that Aristotle holds that a person should fear only death, physical trauma, and severe pain. These are 3 sorts, then, and one could go wrong by fearing either more sorts than these, or less. But now imagine that there was someone who feared exactly three sorts of objects, thus getting the quantity right, but what he feared was: mice, the dark, and spiders. (And he had no fear of the other three sorts of things.) Clearly, his mistake would be one of quality, not quantity.

To this Curzer replies: No, he still makes a mistake in quantity, but it is a different dimension of quantity from the one that your contrived example pays attention to. His mistake --clearly--is that he fears mice (and the dark, and spiders) too much, whereas he fears death and trauma and severe pain) too little. Thus Aristotle is vindicated.
Observation (still more fine print!)
5. This is where Hursthouse in her most recent brings in points about the relativity of number to description (Frege: an assertion about number assigns a number to a concept.) But Pearson shows, I think, that this ends up being smoke--Curzer's reply can be reformulated even allowing for this.
Pearson then replies to Curzer as follows. I'll quote the passage for you. I quote it posing this challenge: Do you regard this as a powerful and satisfactory reply? I have my doubts, which I'll share with you in a later post.
The following objection should be raised. We are imagining the scenario in which any amount of fear of such objects qualifies as ‘too much’. But if I tell you that Luke fears the dark ‘too much’, though that would be logically consistent with me thinking that the appropriate amount to fear the dark is not at all, I would most naturally be understood, I take it, to be suggesting that some amount of fear is appropriate, just not the amount Luke feels prone to experience. The quantitative comparison, ‘too much’, seems to imply that some amount is correct and so in cases in which the correct amount is zero it seems that something has gone wrong. Consider the following: Bob embezzled ‘too much’ money; a pop star abused ‘too many’ children; the Nazis killed ‘too many’ Jews. In each case, I take it, though it would be logically consistent to think that the person asserting the claim maintains that the right amount in each case is zero, this is not how they would be naturally understood or construed. Similarly with the other side of the equation: characterising the fearless phobic’s lack of fear of death, etc., quantitatively as him fearing these things ‘too little’. Again, one could reply that if you claim that Eric does not fear death enough (on the battlefield) that tends to imply that he fears it to some degree, but the case in question is supposed to be one in which the agent does not fear it at all. Imagine someone who does absolutely no work - not someone who does a little work, just not very much - someone who really does no work whatsoever, but instead just lazes around all day long, from morning until evening, watching TV and drinking beer. If you claim this person works ‘too little’, though that may be logically consistent with you thinking he does no work at all, you would, I take it, most naturally be thought to be implying that though this agent does some work, he does not do enough. As with the claim that the fearless phobic fears e.g. mice ‘too much’, we might think that Curzer’s analysis suggests the wrong answer. Does the fearless phobic fear the squeak of mice ‘too much’? One might well think that it sounds odd to say so, if one believes we should not fear this to any extent at all.
Curzer’s strategy seems committed to the view that, if confronted by Hursthouse’s counter examples, Aristotle would appeal to misleading implicatures like the above.