What is our reaction when we recognize that someone else has a vice?
I doubt that this question has an answer, as it is poorly formulated. To recognize that someone has a vice, presumably we must recognize that there even are vices, and we cannot do this, I think, without our being committed to some system (even if only commonsensical) for identifying and categorizing vices. And not everyone thinks in that way; and there are different systems, and that which we accept can vary, even, depending upon our own character. And then our response to vice will also vary depending upon our relationship to the other person--we respond differently to vices seen (if we can see them) in those under our authority, or those we love, than vices seen in strangers or enemies. Again, we react differently depending upon whether we think we have the same vice ourself, or could have had it.
But Thomas Hurka is certain that we all react to vice in the same way--with hatred. It's all very simple, apparently, and this forms the basis of his main objection to what appears to be a very subtle book by Gabriele Taylor on the 'seven capital vices' (pride, lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, envy, anger).
Taylor maintains that what principally makes a vice bad is the harm it constitutes to the person who has the vice. Hurka argues that, if that were so, our reaction to a vice would be pity; and yet that is surely not the case:
If the key feature of vice, the one that makes the vices vicious, is its frustrating its possessor's desires, then our primary response to vice as vice should surely be pity. 'He's arrogant and condescending, the poor man,' we should say. Or 'She wants our happy marriage to end -- how awful for her.' Now if we believe the vices can harm their possessors -- and one cannot finish Taylor's book without having that belief strengthened -- then we may indeed feel some pity for a vicious person. But that is surely not our principal reaction to his vice, and surely not the one we have to it as vice. Our principal reaction is hatred, with the more specific forms of anger at vices like arrogance and envy and contempt for ones like gluttony and sloth.He tries to buttress his argument by a consideration of malice, which Hurka maintains is the worst of all vices and therefore the central case of vice. What holds for malice, then, apparently holds for all other vices:
Malice is arguably the worst of the vices, and therefore the central case of vice, yet it is surely not made such by its effects on the malicious person. And our principal response to malice, say to a sadistic torturer's glee in his victim's pain, is hardly pity... if [Taylor] retains her general view that what makes any vice such is the harm it causes its possessor -- and there is no indication that she does not -- she seems committed to holding that malice is vicious primarily because it makes the person who feels it unhappy, and that is surely not the intuitive view.But his objection has clearly gone off the rails when he starts speaking of the 'feeling' of malice, and when he gives the example of some particular act of torture--since to consider someone else's feeling or action is definitely not to consider his "vice as vice", which is what was at issue.
Frankly, I don't know what to say to the view that anger and contempt are 'specific forms' of hatred. Is Hurka supposing that there we have only two ways of responding to things, pro (love) and con (hatred)? Perhaps someone who sees things in that way does react only with variations of hatred to the faults and vices of others.
And I suppose I'm included in Hurka's readership when he writes that "our principal reaction" to someone's vice is hatred. But if so, then I can report that his claim is false. When I reflect carefully on my own reactions, I would say that I feel the following. (I assume that it is the seeing of a vice in a bad action that is the occasion for the reaction.)
- First, perplexity and astonishment--because I cannot usually understand what it would be like to be the sort of person who would act that way.
- Second, fear, because I next consider that I and the other are the 'same stuff', and that what he does reflects on the sort of being that I also am.
- Third, fear once more, from a combination of my first two reactions, since I next consider that perhaps my perplexity is unjustified, given that I am of the 'same stuff', and that I might be ignorant of a similar vice in myself, as presumably that other person is.
- Fourth, sometimes pity, sometimes sorrow, for the other.
- Fifth--very often--in my mind I qualify the preceding reaction by looking at the vice in a larger perspective, and then I view the other, as having that vice, as ridiculous, or absurd, or tragically brought down by something he cannot control. That is, I have a humorous or resigned reaction.
But of course these descriptions of how we do feel have little weight; what is relevant is how we should feel. Yet no light is supplied in that regard by assertions about how we all, surely, feel.