Inter-generational culpability and compensation

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GE Morton
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Joined: February 1st, 2017, 1:06 am

Re: Inter-generational culpability and compensation

Post by GE Morton » June 28th, 2020, 12:47 pm

Something_Different wrote:
June 27th, 2020, 7:41 pm
Gertie wrote:
June 27th, 2020, 3:45 am
But it is also true that the effects of their actions still impact people today. The American government can decide if it now feels a collective moral duty to try to address this via compensatory laws, grants, policies, affirmative action, tax breaks or whatever, in effect mitigating those inter-generational effects with specific actions. Or not.
I think we're 100% agreed on this point. The American government (meaning the people who are currently in the American government, and indirectly, the people who chose to vote for them) can consider such questions and in fact have a moral obligation to do so.
I added her preceding sentence your Gertie's quote, because it is the major premise of her argument. That premise, taken for granted by many as the explanation for the differentials disfavoring US blacks in incomes, net worth, educational attainment, crime rates, et al, is not well-supported by evidence, or even very well researched. Other explanations, genetic, environmental, cultural --- are better researched and more plausible (and all controversial, of course).

I take the gist of what you're saying there to be that we have moral obligations to mitigate others' hardships, regardless of the causes of those hardships. And I'd agree with that, with qualifications. But that obligation does not devolve upon us from the sins of persons who occupied this territory 150 years ago.

Gertie
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Re: Inter-generational culpability and compensation

Post by Gertie » June 29th, 2020, 5:14 am

Something_Different wrote:
June 27th, 2020, 7:41 pm
Gertie wrote:
June 27th, 2020, 3:45 am
The American government can decide if it now feels a collective moral duty to try to address this via compensatory laws, grants, policies, affirmative action, tax breaks or whatever, in effect mitigating those inter-generational effects with specific actions. Or not.
I think we're 100% agreed on this point. The American government (meaning the people who are currently in the American government, and indirectly, the people who chose to vote for them) can consider such questions and in fact have a moral obligation to do so.

But they also have an obligation to consider how to alleviate the harm from things like natural disasters that don't have any kind of culpability attached to them. So I don't see how this says anything about whether inter-generational culpability is meaningful.
Right. I'm making a point about the effective/consequentialist role of groups as moral actors, not the 'sins of the fathers' stuff, I don't know any moral theory which takes that seriously. So it makes sense to me that a government elected to look out for the welfare of its citizens is engaging in morally significant action when considering alleviating both those types of situations.

Saying 'No it can't be moral because only an individual can make moral choices' is kind of trivially true, but dangerous in its own way, because it undermines the notion of us getting together to try to improve things.

GE Morton
Posts: 1664
Joined: February 1st, 2017, 1:06 am

Re: Inter-generational culpability and compensation

Post by GE Morton » June 29th, 2020, 11:11 am

Gertie wrote:
June 29th, 2020, 5:14 am

Right. I'm making a point about the effective/consequentialist role of groups as moral actors, not the 'sins of the fathers' stuff, I don't know any moral theory which takes that seriously. So it makes sense to me that a government elected to look out for the welfare of its citizens is engaging in morally significant action when considering alleviating both those types of situations.
My point, though, was that there aren't two types of situations. There is only one, that someone is suffering a hardship. One's moral duty to aid someone in distress is of a different order than one's duty to make restitution for a wrong one has done. The latter is strict and obligatory; the former conditional and discretionary. We may have duties to relieve poverty in some situations, but that relief is not "compensation" for anything ("compensation" being payment for services rendered or restitution for damages inflicted).
Saying 'No it can't be moral because only an individual can make moral choices' is kind of trivially true, but dangerous in its own way, because it undermines the notion of us getting together to try to improve things.
How so? People get together all the time to try to improve something. E.g., many businesses and all charities. As I said above, when groups get together and agree to work cooperatively for some common cause or interest one may fairly claim the group is a moral actor (though, of course, its actions are fully reducible to the actions of its members). Political societies, however, are not such groups, and the actions of their governments never reflect more than the interests of some subset of its members.

Also, while it is accurate to say that it is the job of government to "look out" for the welfare of its citizens, e.g., by protecting them from invaders and street criminals, it is not its job to provide for their welfare.

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Something_Different
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Re: Inter-generational culpability and compensation

Post by Something_Different » July 1st, 2020, 9:01 pm

Gertie wrote:
June 29th, 2020, 5:14 am
Right. I'm making a point about the effective/consequentialist role of groups as moral actors, not the 'sins of the fathers' stuff, I don't know any moral theory which takes that seriously. So it makes sense to me that a government elected to look out for the welfare of its citizens is engaging in morally significant action when considering alleviating both those types of situations.
Gertie, it sounds like I agree with your point, but can you help me understand it better so I can make sure? :)

It seems we're talking about two different kinds of moral responsibility:
Consequentialist Responsibility - Responsibility derived from present/future consequences, like alleviating natural disasters, or helping people who are currently disadvantaged in society.
Culpability - Responsibility derived from things that happened in the past, i.e. reparations for past injustices, regardless of the present/future.

Furthermore, there are two objects to which we can assign responsibility:
To the people who make up society - Responsibility ultimately falls to individual policymakers, voters, people.
To society-in-itself - Responsibility ultimately falls to some eternal, non-physical entity, which we denote as "our society"

GE Morton and I are making the argument that:
1. Intergenerational culpability refers to assigning later generations culpability for something that happened before their birth.
2. By "generation" we must mean either the people who make up society, or society-in-itself.
3. Assigning responsibility to society-in-itself is incoherent.
4. Assigning culpability to individuals for something that happened before their birth is unreasonable.
5. Therefore by 1-4, intergenerational culpability is unreasonable.

The argument you appear to make is: "It is perfectly coherent to assign at least consequentialist responsibility, though not culpability ("sins of the fathers"), to society-in-itself, therefore 3 does not hold."

We can have a healthy debate over whether this point is true, but at any rate, it doesn't seem fatal to our argument, since we can just weaken 3 to say "assigning *culpability* to society-in-itself is incoherent."

So I wonder if we actually all agree on the broader point?

Gertie
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Joined: January 7th, 2015, 7:09 am

Re: Inter-generational culpability and compensation

Post by Gertie » July 2nd, 2020, 8:00 am

Something_Different wrote:
July 1st, 2020, 9:01 pm
Gertie wrote:
June 29th, 2020, 5:14 am
Right. I'm making a point about the effective/consequentialist role of groups as moral actors, not the 'sins of the fathers' stuff, I don't know any moral theory which takes that seriously. So it makes sense to me that a government elected to look out for the welfare of its citizens is engaging in morally significant action when considering alleviating both those types of situations.
Gertie, it sounds like I agree with your point, but can you help me understand it better so I can make sure? :)

It seems we're talking about two different kinds of moral responsibility:
Consequentialist Responsibility - Responsibility derived from present/future consequences, like alleviating natural disasters, or helping people who are currently disadvantaged in society.
Culpability - Responsibility derived from things that happened in the past, i.e. reparations for past injustices, regardless of the present/future.

Furthermore, there are two objects to which we can assign responsibility:
To the people who make up society - Responsibility ultimately falls to individual policymakers, voters, people.
To society-in-itself - Responsibility ultimately falls to some eternal, non-physical entity, which we denote as "our society"

GE Morton and I are making the argument that:
1. Intergenerational culpability refers to assigning later generations culpability for something that happened before their birth.
2. By "generation" we must mean either the people who make up society, or society-in-itself.
3. Assigning responsibility to society-in-itself is incoherent.
4. Assigning culpability to individuals for something that happened before their birth is unreasonable.
5. Therefore by 1-4, intergenerational culpability is unreasonable.

The argument you appear to make is: "It is perfectly coherent to assign at least consequentialist responsibility, though not culpability ("sins of the fathers"), to society-in-itself, therefore 3 does not hold."

We can have a healthy debate over whether this point is true, but at any rate, it doesn't seem fatal to our argument, since we can just weaken 3 to say "assigning *culpability* to society-in-itself is incoherent."

So I wonder if we actually all agree on the broader point?
Can I clear up something first - are you a Steve sock?

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