Moral Praise

X: If you could, would you have done differently?
Y: Yes.
X: How?
Y: I would not have accepted this life imposed on me, with its limits and responsibilities.
X: Why don't you do so now?
Y: It's just too much trouble. Would create too much of a mess of my life. It's not worth it. I don't value freedom that much to jeopardize a life of peace. Plus I don't want to hurt the people around me. It's better that way. I'm content, and I know that fighting for my freedom in the circumstances I am in would not make me any happier.

* Is valuing a life of peace morally equivalent to valuing a life of freedom? If Y had instead fought for his freedom, jeopardizing his peace and alienating the people in his life, would it be a pursuit of something (morally) noble and admirable or would it merely be a result of the fact that he values something different?

* If you support Y in what he did, is it because you yourself prefer peace over freedom? If you find fighting for freedom admirable, is it because you yourself value freedom over peace? Is our moral admirability of something based on how we prioritize our own values?

* Everyone has a right to act according to what they value. To believe otherwise would be contrary to individual freedom. But is there any basis to our moral praise or disapproval of what people value?

* Are there values that people ought to value? An "ought" cannot exist, suspended by itself. No, it can't. No categorical imperatives. It has to be hypothetical: If you desire your own well-being, flourishing, you ought to value A.

* Are there more than one ways to flourish for an individual? There is no reason to suppose otherwise. If so, many values can lead to individual flourishing, and prioritization among them would be a matter of individual preference.

* Valuing peace over freedom, or valuing freedom over peace, do they both lead to individual flourishing? [Let's assume they do.]

* If Y values peace over freedom, and peace he can have, then acting accordingly would lead to his individual flourishing.

* If [Y] values freedom over peace, and freedom he is denied, then he is denied his flourishing. You cannot obtain flourishing from what you do not value. To fight for freedom is still his best bet for flourishing, in case he succeeds.

* Y is pursuing his own flourishing, but that is also (incidentally) the easy way out. Such cannot be deserving of our moral praise. The issue of praise or blame would not even arise. ('Moral luck')

* [Y], if he pursues his freedom, he is displaying courage by fighting against the odds for what is his right. This is deserving of moral praise. If [Y] chickens out, if [Y] displays cowardice and picks the easy way out, he is not deserving of moral praise. If this choice is not excused, justified or seen as understandable [depending on state of reactive attitudes], one can judge it to be morally disappointing.

*What if [Y] decides not to pursue his freedom, not out of cowardice, but because he decides to sacrifice his flourishing for the flourishing of people around him, whose flourishing is parasitic on his, would this be deserving of moral praise? Two attitudes are possible here, based on how you view this act of sacrifice. You could praise it as an act of altruism, or you could consider it to be based on good intentions, but ultimately misguided and hence not deserving of moral praise. Which of these is correct, I'm not sure but I lean towards the latter.

Comments

Komal said…
Very interesting post, and very relevant to the conversations we've been having lately :).

As a virtue ethicist, I would say there definitely is a basis for our moral evaluation of other people's values and decisions. Although people certainly have the legal 'right' to act according to their values (most of the time), meaning that, for example, it would be wrong for Y to be sent to prison for his choice (obviously!); that is entirely separate from whether or not he ought to have chosen what he did.

It is generally better for a person to choose freedom over pleasing their parents, laziness or existential cowardice. Of course, choosing unfreedom is okay when a person's life is seriously threatened, for example if they risk an honour killing or some such thing. But this doesn't apply to Y's case.

Anyway, this is how we can morally evaluate another person's values and decisions.
Komal said…
Btw, one individual's flourishing never depends on the denial of another's freedom. This is because parasitism is not part of the good life, and neither is the corrupting influence of power.

A person who enslaves, entraps or harms others cannot be free.
Komal said…
I just noticed something about this exchange:

"X: If you could, would you have done differently?
Y: Yes.
X: How?
Y: I would not have accepted this life imposed on me, with its limits and responsibilities.
X: Why don't you do so now?
Y: It's just too much trouble."

X asked Y if he would do things differently if he could. Later, X asked him why he isn't doing those things he says he would do if he could. The question implies that Y can do those things. Y's subsequent answer implies the same. Thus, Y can do what he says he would do if he could, which means he should be doing it according to his own stated intentions: but he isn't! So his original statement of his intentions is incorrect. Either that or the conversation has been badly transcribed.
Awais Aftab said…
Y can do what he says he would do if he could, which means he should be doing it according to his own stated intentions: but he isn't! So his original statement of his intentions is incorrect.

Glad you noticed ;) Y could pursue his freedom, but he didn't, because it was "too much trouble". Y begins by trying to justify that he didn't have a choice, but further probing reveals that deciding not to pursue freedom was his own choice, based on the fact that he didn't value freedom that much to opt for the trouble.