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06/05/2012

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Marcus Arvan

A quick thought (I just began reading your paper). In your introduction you discuss four ways in which art might have cognitive moral value:

1. Deontological
2. Consequentialist
3. Ethics of Care
4. Virtue Ethical

The first thing that occurred to me when reading this was, "Do any of these things seem to *me* to comprise the kind of moral knowledge that I think art sometimes conveys?" My answer to this question was: not sure. The next thing that occurred to me is that, to the extent that I think art conveys moral knowledge, it is *particularistic* knowledge. That is, I think art conveys morally relevant aspects of situations (and situation-types) that all moral *theories* unhelpfully abstract away from. Indeed, it occurred to me that this is precisely what I think good art (art that "moves" me, at any rate) does well. It gets me to "see" (morally important) things about situations that cannot be expressed in language or codified neatly using any of the stock concepts of popular moral theories.

In short, I think gets one to see crucial things that cannot be spoken or conveyed in any way except through *particular* moral experience.

I think, then, that you might want to think about how your discussion applies to moral particularism (an unpopular view, I know, but perhaps one that can be charitably combined with any other moral theory, viz. principles, utility, virtue are *important*, but there are also *other* morally important things about particular situation that can only be artistically conveyed or experienced).

Mark Alfano

Interesting point, Marcus. Of the major normative theories, care and virtue are most consilient with particularism.

We should think about penning a sister paper that explores the implications for metaethics, with an eye to sentimentalism and particularism.

Marcus Arvan

Mark (from your paper): "Personality variables seem to account for at most 30% of the variance in behavior, including morally evaluable behavior.[20] In contrast, situational factors – from mood elevators and mood depressors to ambient sensory stimuli and the presence of bystanders – account for as much as 40% of the variance in behavior.[21] Thus, while something like character may exist, it is a pale reflection of the robust sort of character that both ordinary people and virtue ethicists usually presuppose."

Okay, but I have a question about the situationist experiments appealed to in order to make these claims.

Isn't a large part of what makes a person a *good* person the kinds of situations they are disposed to put themselves in? The situationist experiments *manipulate* situations and then show how people (e.g. seminary students) behave when those situations are manipulated. Okay -- but don't seminary students tend to put themselves in certain *kinds* of situations? Examples here are easy to come by. Unlike the businessperson who is rushing to and fro (and hence, unlikely on average to help people), the seminary student is unlikely, on average, to be in much of a hurry. They are also unlikely, on average, to put themselves in all kinds of bad situations -- examples include: going out to bars/clubs at night, etc.

These points would seem relevant to your discussion of art and virtue ethics. Doesn't art illustrate things like, "Hey -- you know, don't put yourself in Hamlet's situation", and, "Oh, by the way, don't turn yourself into the kind of person, like Salieri -- the kind of person who, when they are put in the *situation* of coming across someone like Mozart, are apt to get envious." It is highly likely, after all, that Salieri made a lot of choices -- putting himself in a lot of situations over a great many years, hanging out with the wrong people, developing the wrong values -- that developed his deep-seated envy. Can't Salieri teach us to avoid the kinds of situations (and people) who are likely to (situationally) bring out these aspects of us? (I say all of this, btw, from the perspective of an ex-professional musician who quit the business partly out learning that I responded rather poorly to the *situations* the life of music put me in. The life of music, I like to say, brought out the worst in me).

Can't the proponent of virtue-theory-style moral cognitivism make claims like this, the situationist critique of virtues notwithstanding?

Marcus Arvan

Ha - never mind. I just finished the paper and saw that you go on to develop just this kind of account. Glad to see we agree! ;)

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