Trust, Facts, and Values

Tried to go in last week, but somehow the call outs and gate clearance never made it through…

Started discussing the critical thinking text chapter on moral reasoning last night — a simple leap from the material on arguments from analogy, many of which were about moral matters, like the Judith Jarvis Thomson piece we discussed last time. And though I am an editor of the text we’re using I wanted to stir the pot a bit beyond the overly simplified distinctions between fact and value, judgments of taste and judgments of reason, and objectivity and subjectivity the chapter starts out with. It’s harder to convince people that values are subject to reasoned arguments than to convince them that facts are value laden and conventionally constructed. The culture has tilted, I guess, towards relativism, across the board.

But first we somehow wandered onto the topic of how background norms in a neighborhood, (etc.) affect behavior, and how the cycle can be vicious or virtuous. This in turn took us to the ancient and ever compelling conversation about the conflict between individual liberty and the common good, and likewise about how trust itself, though risky, can contribute to the conditions that make it warranted. One astute young man who’s been in both max and medium security prisons noted that in medium security prisons rules designed to promote the common good (at least in theory) are routinely flouted as long as the COs don’t enforce them: in other words a permitted violation is a permissible  violations. Example: they are allowed to use lamps with 25 watt light bulbs through 10:00 p.m. If people collectively left them on after 10:00 it would be disturbing to many (remember bars, not walls). Still, since COs look the other way on infractions many leave them on past 10:00 and point out to their cell mates that the CO’s are okay with it, so what’s the problem? At SingSing, he reports, everyone abides by those, and many other even self imposed, rules. For example, when inmates are done eating in the mess hall they hit their spoons on the table to signal that they are about to get up (so no one is alarmed about the movement). When I recounted this story to a friend after I got home last night he laughed and said, ya, because it would be too dangerous in a max not to turn off the lamp when you cell mate asks you to (ha ha)! But while it’s no doubt true that everything is more dangerous in a max, this young man instead focused on the continuity of the community in a max as at least part of the reason people respect other inmates’ rights and liberties (and space): they are mostly all in for the long haul and it’s in everyone’s interest to build community. They tend to see the collective good and individual good as more closely intertwined. So are they more moral in maxes, or does the more moral behavior in maxes reveal the selfish underpinnings of the enterprise of morality?

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