Comments on “You are accountable for reasonableness”

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I kind of feel like the

Romeo Stevens's picture

I kind of feel like the reasonableness having no ground is mostly a philosophical point and practically reasonableness does ground out for most people in a sort of homeostasis/maslow type way. ie a sort of evo-psych aware version of pragmatism.

Stopping points vs origins

Peter Corbett's picture

I think a key feature of the sorts of justification practises David describes is that if you try to go too deep, you fail. You can come up with fancy theories to try to explain why people have the attitudes those do, but if you try referencing those theories when justifying an action, then it’s not likely to go down well. I mean, evo-psych for instance. Regardless of the truth or otherwise of it, most people know nothing about it, and of those that do, I bet most think it’s either some fancy academic egghead thing that makes people spout incomprehensible nonsense and/or some evil thing that makes people spout “right-wing” nonsense. Whichever way, knowing the theory is no use when you did something controverisal and want people to stop bothering you about it.

I’m reminded of Johnathan Haidt’s “moral dumbfounding” experiments where he comes up with some hypothetical where someone does something classically wrong but none of the usual reasons for it to be wrong apply, and then gets some poor sucker to try to say if it is or isn’t wrong and why. The memorable one is incest - he comes up with some hypothetical about a situation where there’s no risk of power imbalances or genetic defects or shocking people or anything like that. Responses to these hypotheticals vary depending on who’s reponding. As I recall, university students get dumbfounded; they’re trying to be rational, and try to reconcile their feeling that the incest is wrong with some explicable reason for the wrongness, and generally go a bit quiet, make up nonsense, contradict the hypothetical, try to wriggle out of the terrible bind they’ve been placed in. Try it on working-class people and you typically get angry reactions - what kind of a depraved egghead needs an explanation as to why incest is wrong?

So if you think about a collection of stopping points, the reasons you can give that will make people say “yeah, OK, fair enough”, then you have to deal with the collection as-is, rather than where it came from. And that collection is big, complicated, messy, full of special cases and exceptions, and variable enough from person to person and culture to culture that intractable disagreements can and do occur. Even if there is a neat little theory which explains where all that stuff came from, that theory won’t function as a “ground”, you can’t use it like you could use the Euclidean axioms in geometry.

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This page is in the section Part Two: Taking reasonableness seriously,
      which is in In the Cells of the Eggplant.

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