Reasons and Terracotta

3 maj 2010 | In Emotion theory Meta-ethics Moral Psychology Psychology Self-indulgence | Comments?


(Not friends of mine)

Terracotta, the material, makes me nauseous. Looking at it, or just hearing the word, makes me cringe. Touching it is out of the question. One may say that my reaction to Terracotta is quite irrational: I have no discernable reason for it. But rationality seems to have little to do with it – its not the sort of thing for which one has reasons. My aversion is something to be explained, not justified. It is not the kind of thing that a revealed lack of justification would have an effect on, and is thus different from most beliefs and at least some judgments.

The lack of reason for my Terracotta-aversion means that I don’t (and shouldn’t) try to persuade others to have the same sort of reactions Or, insofar as I do, it is pure prudential egotism, in order to make sure that I won’t encounter terracotta (aaargh, that word again!) when I go visit.

So here is this thing that reliably causes a negative reaction in me. For me, terracotta belongs to a significant, abhorrent, class. It partly overlaps with other significant classes like the cringe-worthy – the class of things for which there are reasons to react in a cringing way. The unproblematic subclass of this class refers to instrumental reasons: we should react aversely to things that are dangerous, poisonous, etc. for the sake of our wellbeing. But there might be a class of things that are just bad, full stop. They are intrinsically cringe-worthy, we might say. They merit the reaction. (It is still not intrinsically good that such cringings occur, though, even when they’re apt – the reaction is instrumental, even when its object is not).

Indeed, these things might be what the reactions are there for, in order to detect the intrinsically bad. Perhaps cringing, basically, represents badness. If we take a common version of the representational theory of perception as our model, the fact that there is a reliable mechanism between type of object and experience means that the experience represents that type of object.

Terracotta seems to be precisely the kind of thing that should not be included in such a class. But what is the difference between this case and other evaluative ”opinions” (I wouldn’t say that mine for Terracotta is an opinion although I sometimes have felt the need to convert it into one), those that track proper values? Mine towards terracotta is systematic and resistent enough to be more than a whim, or even a prejudice, but it doesn’t suffice to make terracotta intrinsically bad. Is it that it is just mine? It would seem that if everyone had it, this would be a reason to abolish the material but it wouldn’t be the material’s ”fault”, as it where. Is terracotta intrinsically bad for me?

How many of our emotional reactions should be discarded (though respected. Seriously, don’t give me terracotta) on the basis of their irrelevant origins? If the reaction isn’t based on reason, does that mean that reason cannot be used to discard it? This might be what distinguishes value-basing/constituting emotional reactions from ”mere” unpleasant emotional reactions . Proper values would simply be this – the domain of emotional reactions that can be reasoned with.

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