Friday, May 09, 2008

Almost There . . .

The semester will be over in a week. Grades will be in, papers will be complete. Then I hope to blog a little more.

For now, here's a little zample (that's what my kids say) of what may come . . .

Goodness and the Ability to Do Otherwise

Suppose Smith pops into existence as a full-grown adult. Smith is good. Really good. So, when Smith sees the homeless man (Jones) on the street, he can't help but offer him whatever help he needs. In fact, Smith is so virtuous, it is a fact that even if Smith had considered ignoring homeless Jones, he couldn't have ignored him. It was literally impossible for him to not do the good action.

Is Smith praiseworthy for his action of helping Jones? Or, would we say that Smith is not praiseworthy since he couldn't have chosen to do otherwise? After all, we wouldn't praise a robot for doing what was dictated by its programming or an animal for acting according to instinct.

If you think he is praiseworthy, then why don't we think robots and animals are praiseworthy? (Remember that praising an animal because it did the correct action is not the same as saying it is actually praiseworthy. We may praise it simply to reinforce the behavior.)

If you think Smith is not praiseworthy, then why do we think God is praiseworthy for his good actions? After all, it is impossible for God to do otherwise.



Anonymous Curtis said...

I don't think Smith is praiseworthy in this example. I don't think a robot or a pet is praiseworthy. But the programmer and the trainer are praiseworthy for causing the robot and pet to be what they are.

With God, we must remember that He is not created. He first identifies Himself in scripture as the "I Am that I Am." He exists because He wills to exist. He exists perfect because He wills to exist perfect. That is worthy of praise.


10:23 PM  
Blogger Joel said...

You're sounding more and more like a behaviorist these days. I like it!
In my opinion, there is a difference between praising to reinforce (i.e., affect behavior) and praising to express admiration or adoration. The latter would be appropriate for both Jones and God.

9:25 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

Curtis -- Here's what I hear you saying: God is praiseworthy because he is the ultimate source of his good character, whereas Smith is not? That sounds pretty good.

Joel -- So you think Smith should be admired for his actions? What about a case where Smith's mind is being controlled by Mad Scientist, and Smith does a good action (caused by Mad Scientist). Would you praise Smith? How are the two cases different?

10:00 PM  
Blogger Joel said...

I would still admire Smith's actions. I admire Jesus' example, and to some extent, he was unable to do anything other than what he did. A little more recent example would be the admiration I have for Lance Armstrong's cycling accomplishments. I have read articles/seen documentaries that indicate he has an innate biological advantage, even over other elite cyclists. One could say he was designed to be an endurance athlete. His accomplishments are worthy of admiration, nonetheless. Again, my praise in these cases is an expression of admiration, not necessarily a means to influence behavior.

9:44 PM  
Anonymous Curtis said...


I'm curious...would you praise, as an expression of admiration, a robot or a computer, or even a flower or an animal? And if you do, is it the same expression of admiration that you have for Lance Armstrong?

5:58 PM  
Blogger Joel said...

I have admiration for many inanimate things: Lamborghini Countach, Corvette with the split rear window (circa mid to late 1960s). As well, I enjoy watching the Westminister (sp?) dog show every year in hopes of seeing and admiring the perfect Boston Terrier. But, the admiration is probably somewhat different than what I have for human feats, even when those feats are largely attributable to variables over which the person has little control. I never really tried to qualify it, and I'm having some difficulty doing so.

I think what I was trying to get at is that there are actions that are worthy of admiration, even if the individual (or deity) involved had not control over those actions. And, one could argue, the individual never as control over their actions, but that the actions are exhibited as a complex result of the individual's histories of reinforcement/punishment, factors affecting motivation, and relevant stimuli being present in the environment, etc. But, that would open a whole 'nother can of worms.

7:37 PM  

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