I suppose in my friendly dispute with Giles Pearson I need to avoid going to an extreme. Will I adopt a safe position if I adhere to a middle course?
(i) All talk of degrees of fear of objects is meaningful and relevant to morality.I accept (ii), and attribute this to Aristotle as well--which is not shown false by examples that show that some talk of degree of fear of objects is incoherent.
(ii) Some talk of degree of fear of objects is meaningful and relevant to morality.
(iii) No talk of degree of fear of objects is meaningful and relevant to morality.
This is perhaps the principal way in which Hursthouse, I think, goes astray. She proposes a certain construction of what it would be to show 'too much' and 'too little' in fearing objects: she construes this in terms of the number of kinds of things that someone fears. You go astray if that number is too large or too small. But--we all agree--that is a looney idea. And is there any evidence that Aristotle accepted it? Yet to reject that construction as absurd is to show only that (i) is false, which we knew anyway.
Here is an argument that talk of degree of fear of objects is sometimes meaningful:
- We don't fear objects, but we fear objects qua their being fearful.
- Fearfulness varies in degree.
- Thus fear of objects reasonably varies in degree.
A mistake of too much: having more fear for an object than the fearfulness of that sort of thing warrants.
A mistake of too little: having less fear for an object than the fearfulness of that sort of thing warrants.
(This is all ceteris paribus, of course. Put aside variations due to circumstance, time, etc. which can be attributed to other 'parameters' of action.)
If this is accepted, then isn't (ii) vindicated? We can then dispute about how to handle cases of objects which are not fearful at all. These, I believe, are like 'degenerate' cases in mathematics. ("Are you suggesting that someone with no money at all has less money than someone with five dollars??"--From a certain point of view, this question can seem problematic.) With some artifice, perhaps, we can deal with them as similar to the other cases (as I suggested in my previous post). Or we could hold that, in those cases, the mistake is one in judgment, or a mental illness, and not a deficiency character. But I don't see (not yet) that the general thesis is much affected by them.