But no one can ever say I didn’t sing

Wednesday 🌊

7:38pm  |  I am pretty much done with Scanlon’s book — just his Appendix is left. This will probably be the last bit of my notes on my first encounter with Scanlon’s book.

The Appendix is about reasons, à la Bernard Williams. I think that Scanlon’s main claim in the Appendix is that a person is not considered “irrational” simply because she may be “insensitive.”

Now, Scanlon notes that Williams differentiates between 2 kinds of reasons: internal and external.

The internal reason is the story/account that the subject is conscious of. It can be true or false that a person has this type of reason, depending on whether the person is aware of the account and accepts it as their story.

External reasons are simply the context that surround a person as observed by a third-person. The subject need not be consciously aware of the context, and neither does she need to choose it as the motivating aspect of her story even if she were to be aware of it.

An external reason can be an internal reason, and an internal reason and be an external one also, but they need not always go hand-in-hand.

Examples: human infants have external reason to cry if the infant is hungry or wet or tired or in pain. But the human infant may not have conscious awareness of their reason for crying.

Now, I think that these distinctions somehow help me to sort out some of the other things that I was wondering about several of nights ago at the train station — about what Scanlon must have meant when he was saying that “actual wishes are not what is fundamental: what people have reason to want determines how and when what they actually want makes a moral difference.” (p.407)

Bernard’s distinctions are useful because part of what I was originally wondering whether the phrase “what people have reason to want” should be interpreted via Bernard’s “external reasons” or via Bernard’s “internal reasons.”

Using Bernard’s distinctions then (since they’re so handy), suppose that Scanlon’s “actual wishes” are Bernard’s “internal reasons,” and the “reason-having-wishes” are Bernard’s “external reasons.” If this is the case, then what Scanlon is saying on page 407 is basically that “internal reasons” only have moral relevance when “external reasons” say they do. Presumably, “internal reasons” still do have moral relevance and perhaps the “internal reason” is what “finalizes” or actuates the moral aspect of the difference.

So now, if this is what Scanlon means to say on page 407, then I want to think about that. Is it the right thing to think? What are the implications of his view? Are there potentially troublesome counterexamples?

I think that I’m going to think about this over the next few days since I’m a bit tired and can’t think of any good counterexamples at the moment.

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9:37 pm  | I like this — for obvious reasons.

Scanlon writes: “Given O’Brien’s lack of social sensitivity, it may be that no amount of careful rethinking would get him to see that he has reason to change his behavior. But he does have such a reason in Williams’ “internal sense,” since the conclusion that there is something to be said for changing can be reached by a “sound deliberative route” from elements of his S. Nonetheless, I would not say that O’Brien is being irrational in failing to be moved by this reason; he is just insensitive.” (p.366)

Final thoughts: Scanlon’s book is titled What We Owe to Each Other, but I think that a more truthful title might have been What We Owe to Friends. That is, I think that Plato would have said that “we” are all friends — whether we are able to see that or not.

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⛺️ Michael and I watched the film ‘Florence Foster Jenkins‘ together. It was a really cute story based on true events. It made me think of my own situation a little bit — Harvard and all. Perhaps I am just as oblivious as Florence.

I really liked the quote at the end: People may say I can’t sing, but no one can ever say I didn’t sing. (A line from the 2016 film, Florence Foster Jenkins)

People may say that I can’t do philosophy, or that I can’t study at Harvard, or whatever else. But no one can ever say that I didn’t do philosophy, or that I didn’t study at Harvard, or whatever else. Whether I’m good at it or not, and whether they’ve accepted me or not, I did do these things, and more.

I will add here, one of Michael’s favorite quotes: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena… who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” — Theodore Roosevelt, Citizenship in a Republic Speech, April 1910

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