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If somebody behaves unethically, and knows they are doing so, have they made

If somebody behaves unethically, and knows they are doing so, have they made some sort of error of reasoning? Is it coherent to consciously choose to do something one knows is wrong? Or does it merely demonstrate that the person is emotionally indifferent to unethical behavior?

Such behavior would seem to manifest an error of reasoning only if the person also has a commitment never to act unethically and somehow believes that she is acting in accordance with this commitment. Most people have no such commitment. They are ready to act unethically in certain situations and, when they do, there is nothing wrong with their reasoning.

I don't think that people thus acting unethically are always emotionally indifferent to unethical behavior. They may emotionally enjoy the thrill of doing something unethical. Or they may be disturbed by their conduct, albeit not disturbed enough to avoid it. For example, someone finds her neighbor's wallet with $4000 in it. She is emotionally upset by the idea of stealing the money, and she would refrain if the amount were much smaller. But with such a large amount she decides to accept some emotional distress for the sake pocketing the cash. No emotional indifference here, and also no error of reasoning.

Such behavior would seem to manifest an error of reasoning only if the person also has a commitment never to act unethically and somehow believes that she is acting in accordance with this commitment. Most people have no such commitment. They are ready to act unethically in certain situations and, when they do, there is nothing wrong with their reasoning. I don't think that people thus acting unethically are always emotionally indifferent to unethical behavior. They may emotionally enjoy the thrill of doing something unethical. Or they may be disturbed by their conduct, albeit not disturbed enough to avoid it. For example, someone finds her neighbor's wallet with $4000 in it. She is emotionally upset by the idea of stealing the money, and she would refrain if the amount were much smaller. But with such a large amount she decides to accept some emotional distress for the sake pocketing the cash. No emotional indifference here, and also no error of reasoning.

I have a fifteen year old son, bright competent, popular, who has been missing

I have a fifteen year old son, bright competent, popular, who has been missing school on a regular basis for the past one and a half years. He has attended a psychologist (for this reason) and the psychologist has found nothing wrong with him - the psychologist said that my son had, for his age, a "phenomenal understanding of people" . I always felt that my son was emotionally and psychologically very advanced for his age - from a very young age. Anyway my son cannot explain why he does not attend school other than that he hates it (he was badly bullied - mainly by shaming and humiliating by a teacher when he was aged seven - having to stand in a public place in the schoolyard known as "No Man's Land" for three to four lunch times at a go - but the school would not hear a word against the teacher - my son has little recollection of this)and things went down hill from there. My son understands the long term affects of not attending school - he can see that he is falling behind more and more each time...

It's hard to give advice on the basis of a one-paragraph description; so please take the following as no more than a suggestion for your consideration. Unfortunately, your son's problem is not unique. At least I feel that Isee it ever more often: really bright teenagers peaking prematurely,then becoming ever more dim, dull and lethargic.

I doubt your son's attitude to school is much affected by what happened to him eight years ago; and I doubt it could be much affected by the anticipation of any long-term effects that his non-attendance might have eight years down the road. I think he would happily go to school if he found the experience interesting and rewarding either intellectually or at least socially.

You cannot control the school's curriculum to make it more interesting for your son, more responsive to his needs and curiosity. But you may be able to supply links: materials that really interest him and are also related to what's being taught in school. Perhaps he is interested in deep-space exploration and in what we can learn therefrom about the origin of the universe. A well-written introductory book on this subject might then get him interested in physics which provides the methods we use to find out about parts of the universe that are very distant in space or time. Similarly, a good travel story might get him interested in geography; a good program on the Discovery Channel or a trip to the zoo or to a museum of natural history might get him interested in biology; a good program on the History Channel might get him interested in history; a fun book about number theory might get him interested in maths; Sophie's World might get him excited about philosophy; and so on. If he takes a real interest in one subject, becomes curious, gets good at it, finds materials on his own, discusses them with the teacher or fellow students outside class -- then he'll see that school can be interesting, can answer real questions and can also raise many even more interesting new ones. If, with some creative effort on your part, you can get him over this hump, then he may see how interesting school can be and want to take fuller advantage of it on his own.

It's hard to give advice on the basis of a one-paragraph description; so please take the following as no more than a suggestion for your consideration. Unfortunately, your son's problem is not unique. At least I feel that Isee it ever more often: really bright teenagers peaking prematurely,then becoming ever more dim, dull and lethargic. I doubt your son's attitude to school is much affected by what happened to him eight years ago; and I doubt it could be much affected by the anticipation of any long-term effects that his non-attendance might have eight years down the road. I think he would happily go to school if he found the experience interesting and rewarding either intellectually or at least socially. You cannot control the school's curriculum to make it more interesting for your son, more responsive to his needs and curiosity. But you may be able to supply links: materials that really interest him and are also related to what's being taught in school. Perhaps he is interested in deep-space...

Is it ever rational to be immoral?

Is it ever rational to be immoral?

Short as it is, this question is tricky because of two ambiguities.

1. "rational" could be understood in the sense of choosing what are foreseeably the most effective means to given ends, or it could be understood in a more ambitious sense that would allow the commitment to certain combinations of ends, or even single ends, to be irrational as well.

2. for each of the disambiguations for 1, the word "rational" could be understood to mean "rationally permitted" or "rationally required".

I will read your "to be immoral" as shorthand for "to act in a way that is morally wrong."

Suppose your overriding end in life is to make your sister happy. Her greatest wish is for a golden necklace that you cannot afford to buy. But you have a way of stealing it. This theft would be immoral. But it it rationally permitted and even required on the thin notion of rationality: stealing is the foreseeably most effective means for you to attain your end.

This answer remains adequate even if we allow that combinations of ends may be irrational (by excessively interfering with one another's attainment). We may simply suppose that you have no interfering ends -- or, even cleaner, no other ends at all.

Might your sole end -- making your sister happy -- be irrational? The only option I see for supporting this is to claim that it would be irrational for you not to have the end of being in compliance with morality and not to make this latter end overriding. But this claim would stretch the ordinary sense of "rational" beyond recognition. And there is a further problem: Through a somewhat strange upbringing, you might have come to believe that making your sister happy is the one and only end that you morally ought to be pursuing. So you may have the end of being in compliance with morality and you may be committed also to make this end overriding, but, because of what you sincerely believe about the content of morality, you think that the whole content of morality is that you ought to make your sister happy no matter what it takes. In this case, I think, you would be rationally (permitted and even) required to go ahead and steal the necklace even though this is, unbeknownst to you, a morally wrong action.

So, despite the ambiguities, the answer is Yes across the board.

Implicit in this answer is that it can be irrational to be moral: it would be irrational for you to refrain from the theft).

Two questions still open are whether it can ever be rational to do what one believes to be morally wrong and whether it can ever be irrational to do what one believes to be morally required.

Short as it is, this question is tricky because of two ambiguities. 1. "rational" could be understood in the sense of choosing what are foreseeably the most effective means to given ends, or it could be understood in a more ambitious sense that would allow the commitment to certain combinations of ends, or even single ends, to be irrational as well. 2. for each of the disambiguations for 1, the word "rational" could be understood to mean "rationally permitted" or "rationally required". I will read your "to be immoral" as shorthand for "to act in a way that is morally wrong." Suppose your overriding end in life is to make your sister happy. Her greatest wish is for a golden necklace that you cannot afford to buy. But you have a way of stealing it. This theft would be immoral. But it it rationally permitted and even required on the thin notion of rationality: stealing is the foreseeably most effective means for you to attain your end. This answer remains adequate even if we allow that...

Is hope ever not irrational?

Is hope ever not irrational?

I think hope is often not irrational. Here is an example. You get lost in a nature preserve with little food and water. You remember someone telling you that, in a situation like this, it makes sense to walk in a straight line with the help of the sun and your watch. That's what you do, while hoping that you'll get to a road before nightfall.

This hope is not irrational relative to what you know: there are a few hours left in the day, the terrain is not too difficult, and you recall from the map that the nature preserve isn't all that large. So you have good reason to believe that there are roads no more than a few miles away in all directions and that you can cover a few miles well before nightfall.

The hope is also not irrational in a practical sense. You know that people sometimes panic in situations like this, thereby making their predicament much worse through bad decisions caused by fear or anxiety. Your hope helps you keep your cool. Calmed by your confident belief that your method is bound to work, you monitor your direction carefully and manage to maintain it well. Every 25 minutes or so there is an increase of one mile in the distance between you and the point where you realized that you were lost. ...

How is your hope in this sort of case irrational?

I think hope is often not irrational. Here is an example. You get lost in a nature preserve with little food and water. You remember someone telling you that, in a situation like this, it makes sense to walk in a straight line with the help of the sun and your watch. That's what you do, while hoping that you'll get to a road before nightfall. This hope is not irrational relative to what you know: there are a few hours left in the day, the terrain is not too difficult, and you recall from the map that the nature preserve isn't all that large. So you have good reason to believe that there are roads no more than a few miles away in all directions and that you can cover a few miles well before nightfall. The hope is also not irrational in a practical sense. You know that people sometimes panic in situations like this, thereby making their predicament much worse through bad decisions caused by fear or anxiety. Your hope helps you keep your cool. Calmed by your confident belief that your method is...

If it is rational to do X, does it follow that it is irrational not to do X?

If it is rational to do X, does it follow that it is irrational not to do X?

This question is really just about the ordinary meaning of the words or their most appropriate use. I would answer no on both grounds. There can certainly be situations where there is not one uniquely most rational decision. For example, the choice of either of two ties may be rational for a guy going in for an important interview. By choosing one of the two, he acts rationally. But it does not follow that it would have been irrational for him not to choose this tie. Had he chosen the other nice tie, he would also have acted rationally.

I think one can give an affirmative answer if one reformulates your question a bit: If a person does not choose any of the conduct options that it would be rational for her to choose, does it follow that she is acting irrationally?

This question is really just about the ordinary meaning of the words or their most appropriate use. I would answer no on both grounds. There can certainly be situations where there is not one uniquely most rational decision. For example, the choice of either of two ties may be rational for a guy going in for an important interview. By choosing one of the two, he acts rationally. But it does not follow that it would have been irrational for him not to choose this tie. Had he chosen the other nice tie, he would also have acted rationally. I think one can give an affirmative answer if one reformulates your question a bit: If a person does not choose any of the conduct options that it would be rational for her to choose, does it follow that she is acting irrationally?

If people who think irrationally are happy and don't have the trouble of

If people who think irrationally are happy and don't have the trouble of thinking about abstruse matters, and thinking rationally brings distress to you, is it irrational, in this case, to be rational?

Let me add two thoughts to this.

One may distinguish between theoretical and practical rationality. The former employs reason in the service of improving one's understanding and beliefs toward clarity and truth. The latter employs reason toward formulating and achieving ends. Much of the problem you highlight is illuminated by this distinction. Sometimes progress toward clarity and truth hampers our achievement of what we want and have reason to want. For example, when you have a dangerous disease, or find yourself in a life raft without water, you may employ your theoretical rationality to figure out what your chances of survival are. Employing your practical rationality, however, you might conclude that such researches would probably be depressing and would in any case distract you from your goal of getting over the emergency. The practically rational thing might be simply to assume that you can survive this and to throw your full effort into the most plausible option you've got. Beliefs that it is theoretically rational to form and to hold (because they are supported by a careful examination of the evidence) may not be ones that it is practically rational to hold (because forming and holding them will make it harder for you to achieve your reasonable ends). In your terms: When thinking th-irrationally makes you happy and thinking th-rationally brings you distress, then it may be pr-irrational to be th-rational.

We've seen that it may be pr-rational to eschew the path of th-rationality. As Derek Parfit (Reasons and Persons, p. 13) has interestingly discussed, it may also be pr-rational to eschew the path of pr-rationality. Parfit gives the example of a person who is being blackmailed with a threat of violence. The blackmailers are likely to give up when they conclude that the person is too pr-irrational to respond to threats. When the best way to bring the blackmailers to this conclusion is to actually be very pr-irrational, then it may be pr-rational to take a pill that makes one very pr-irrational.

Let me add two thoughts to this. One may distinguish between theoretical and practical rationality. The former employs reason in the service of improving one's understanding and beliefs toward clarity and truth. The latter employs reason toward formulating and achieving ends. Much of the problem you highlight is illuminated by this distinction. Sometimes progress toward clarity and truth hampers our achievement of what we want and have reason to want. For example, when you have a dangerous disease, or find yourself in a life raft without water, you may employ your theoretical rationality to figure out what your chances of survival are. Employing your practical rationality, however, you might conclude that such researches would probably be depressing and would in any case distract you from your goal of getting over the emergency. The practically rational thing might be simply to assume that you can survive this and to throw your full effort into the most plausible option you've got. Beliefs...

If you can't believe something as true that you think is false, then: can you

If you can't believe something as true that you think is false, then: can you believe something is true, and think that you are possibly wrong? If X believes P, can he also believe that it is possible that not P?

The American pragmatist philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce posed this question in a slightly different form when he expressed his belief that some (at least one) of his beliefs are false. Each of us has strong inductive evidence for the analogous belief -- we've all found ourselves compelled to give up a belief as false, and many times. So we have reason to expect that this will happen again. We have reason to believe that some of our beliefs will turn out to be (and thus are) false -- or, in any case, this is what nearly all of us actually believe.

This belief does not commit us to the conclusion that any of our beliefs may (turn out to) be false. But it does commit us to the conclusion that some of our beliefs may (turn out to) be false. To exemplify, take 15 modestly difficult geography questions: about ordering Australia, Brazil, and India by size of area, ordering Japan, Indonesia, and Vietnam by population, ordering Amazon, Mississippi-Missouri, and Nile by length, and so on. There may be two or three questions where you are completely certain of the answer, and another two or three where you are clueless. With regard to the remaining ten, say, you have a belief about what the right answer is, but you are also pretty sure that you won't score a perfect 10. With regard to those ten beliefs, then, you expect that one or more are false, though you don't know, of course, which ones.

The American pragmatist philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce posed this question in a slightly different form when he expressed his belief that some (at least one) of his beliefs are false. Each of us has strong inductive evidence for the analogous belief -- we've all found ourselves compelled to give up a belief as false, and many times. So we have reason to expect that this will happen again. We have reason to believe that some of our beliefs will turn out to be (and thus are) false -- or, in any case, this is what nearly all of us actually believe. This belief does not commit us to the conclusion that any of our beliefs may (turn out to) be false. But it does commit us to the conclusion that some of our beliefs may (turn out to) be false. To exemplify, take 15 modestly difficult geography questions: about ordering Australia, Brazil, and India by size of area, ordering Japan, Indonesia, and Vietnam by population, ordering Amazon, Mississippi-Missouri, and Nile by length, and so on. There...