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Notes Towards Day 23: The Dog and its Tail

Anne Dalke's picture

Notes Towards Day 23: The Dog and its Tail

I. coursekeeping
let's hear your stories: what's it like, working together?
what works, what doesn't work so well, in this process?
how can we fiddle w/ it?

looking @ one critique

no reading assignments for week after Thanksgiving;
will e-mail you if I come across anything you should read;
come to class ready to draft w/ your group
the opening paragraph of your upcoming paper:
your re-envisioned mission-or-vision,
and a description of the major change you expect to recommend.

Plan to conduct a survey among approximately 40 students (10 in each class?)  

and 10 professors (the others each of you is working w/ this semester?)--
proportionally fewer if you are in a group of 2.

Decide what sort of feedback you want:
on a scale? in a paragraph, a qualitative response?
Post the results of your survey on-line before class next Thursday.

II. Trace Haidt's argument
very gutsy to say:
50 years of psychology/moral philosophy has been
a study of fantasies/post-hoc constructions,
not origins of behavior
challenge to notion (Descartes et. al.) that
we are consciously in control of our behavior

most behavior emerges from us...
and then we think up an explanation
descriptive, not a prescriptive project

how can we use this argument in our curriculum revisions?

"A correct understanding of the intuitive basis of

moral judgment helping educators
design programs (and environments) to improve the
quality of moral judgment and behavior" (815).

"attempts to directly teach thinking and reasoning
in a classroom setting generally show little
transfer to activities outside of the classroom" (829).

(start w/ your reactions to the
story of incest between siblings?)

moral intuitions come first and directly cause moral judgments
moral reasoning is an ex post facto process,
(slow, "cool," "more cognitively expensive") rationalization
of (quick, "hot," "cheaper") gut feeling
(aesthetic? derive from sentiment?)


"moral dumbfounding"
reasoning is rarely used to question one's own attitudes or beliefs
moral reasoning is usually done interpersonally
rather than privately
yet: "my-side bias," "makes-sense epistemology":
find conclusion that fits prior beliefs
effortful search may feel like introspection,
but is actually a one-sided search for "a priori causal theories"

two illusions:
We believe our moral judgment is driven by our moral reasoning
we expect successful rebuttal of opponent to change their mind:
as if forcing a dog's tail to wag by moving it
with our hand will make the dog happy (!)
explicates bitterness, futility, and self-righteousness
of most moral arguments

Metaphors have entailments:
much moral argument involves trying to
get the other person to apply the right metaphor
(designed to trigger intuitions)

Social intuition emergent, from inside out, not outside in...
third-party norm enforcement:
humans keep track of who did what to whom/monitor one another
selective loss of intuitions (parallel to phonology!):
specialize in subset of moral potential
(in a space of possibilities,
you will lose what you are not exposed to)

"maintenance-loss" models of autonomy/community/divinity
attempts to directly teach thinking and reasoning
in a classroom setting generally show
little transfer to activities outside


principal difficulty in objective moral reasoning:
biased search for evidence
seek out discourse partners to trigger conflicting intuitions
most cognition occurs outside of consciousness

Cf. "Failing Home Economics":
"rational decisions are those you...don’t regret later.”

What does/might this have to do w/ the curricula you are working on??