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This post is part of the Mod Squad’s Author Meets Critics on Antonia LoLordo’s “Locke’s Moral Man”.

This post makes reference to the preceding post by Shelley Weinberg

The contents of this post are entirely the work of Antonia LoLordo.

Response to Weinberg, Part 1: On Chapter 2

Shelley raises a number of concerns about my claim that Lockean consciousnesses extend themselves into the past and future by appropriation.  She starts out by reiterating a common objection to appropriation interpretations:

[T]he subjective appropriation of actions is not metaphysically robust enough for Locke’s theory of divine rectification, which is that God will make right through eternal reward and punishment all the failures of human justice … if I subjectively constitute myself from a first personal point of view, then there is nothing objective for God to look to when considering whether I am the same self now as the one who committed a past crime.  The reason is that I subjectively determine who I am through my appropriations, and I may be unable to appropriate (remember) all that I have done or I may appropriate an action I never did.

Shelley says I deny that this objection is pertinent, “seeing the problem as an inconsistency between the appropriation interpretation and divine rectification”.  I don’t think the appropriation interpretation is inconsistent with divine rectification.  (I think any interpretation that’s inconsistent with divine rectification is ipso facto a failure!)  But Shelley and I do not understand divine rectification in precisely the same way.  Shelley says that  “the underlying point of divine rectification is that God can make right (rectify) human failures of justice, including those due to wrong appropriations”.  I don’t think God needs to rectify the human failures of justice due to mis-appropriations because I don’t think there are any mis-appropriations.

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This post is part of the Mod Squad’s Author Meets Critics on Antonia LoLordo’s “Locke’s Moral Man”.

The contents of this post are entirely the work of Shelley Weinberg

I am very pleased to have the opportunity to participate in the Mod Squad’s discussion of Antonia LoLordo’s new book, Locke’s Moral Man.[1] It’s an excellent book, full of interesting arguments and new insights with respect to both well-worn topics and less-trodden territory.  The result is a systematically well-argued interpretation of the relation between Locke’s views on liberty, personal identity, and what LoLordo broadly calls “rationality,” which includes new contributions on what separates the cognitive capacities of persons and animals.  Altogether, the book provides a strong argument for how we should see Locke’s view of the moral agent not as bound by any particular metaphysical constraint, but as consisting in a set of well-defined capacities that serve as the conditions for liberty, personhood, and rationality:

To be a moral agent, a creature must meet three conditions.  First she must be capable of acting freely, in accordance with her desires; of suspending the prosecution of desires while she deliberates about the best course of action; and of amending her desires in accordance with the results of deliberation.  Second, she must be a person, that is, a being who conceives of herself as existing through time so that she imputes past actions to herself and is motivated by the prospect of future pleasure and pain.  Third, she must be sufficiently rational to be capable of abstracting and forming lasting ideas of reflection. (p. 133)

Locke’s Moral Man is composed of three sections, each of which lays out the conditions for liberty, personhood, and rationality, respectively.  I will focus my attention on an issue in chapter 2, “Personality,” and then on an issue in chapter 3, “Rationality.”

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This post is part of the Mod Squad’s Author Meets Critics on Antonia LoLordo’s “Locke’s Moral Man”.

This post makes reference to the preceding post by Jessica Gordon-Roth

The contents of this post are entirely the work of Antonia LoLordo.

I argue that to be a Lockean moral agent is to be free, rational, and a person.  Jessica argues that really all that’s needed is to be a person:  “once one is a person, the liberty and rationality required for moral agency come as part of the package”.  I agree.  I said that “although I treat liberty, personality, and rationality as distinct conditions … they’ll turn out to be closely intertwined” (2).  I said that being free implies being rational and being a person (46, 63).  I said that anyone who meets the rationality condition will be free and a person (104).  I said that if you are a person you must reach the relevant threshold of rationality (84).  Looking back at the book, I didn’t say that anyone who’s a person will be free, but I should have.  As Jessica points out, Locke’s claim that punishment is annexed to personality implies that all persons are moral agents, hence that all persons are free as well as rational.  (This is why the idea of a person is the idea of the ‘moral Man’.)  So, as Sam said, “the three conditions on Lockean moral agency … are really, at bottom, just one”.

Jessica talks about non-human animals being persons or moral agents.  I think it’s an obvious consequence of Locke’s view that non-human animals could be persons, and perhaps that some actually are.  (It’s also an obvious consequence of Locke’s view that some human beings – people in irreversible comas, the severely cognitively disabled, infants and very young children – aren’t persons.)  However, I don’t know any evidence that Locke actually thought that non-human animals could be moral agents.  Jessica might reply as follows.  It’s pretty obvious that something could be a Lockean moral agent without being a person, and Locke was a smart guy, so he must have recognized this.  If he didn’t say it, it must be because he thought it wouldn’t go over well with his audience.  I’m a bit reluctant to take this line, though.  Cultural blind spots and the force of habit can prevent even the smartest people from making obvious inferences.  Locke owned shares in a corporation that traded in slaves.

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This post is part of the Mod Squad’s Author Meets Critics on Antonia LoLordo’s “Locke’s Moral Man”.

The contents of this post are entirely the work of Jessica Gordon-Roth.

Locke’s Moral Man is an engaging book that draws interesting connections between what John Locke says in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and what he asserts elsewhere. The depth of Antonia LoLordo’s knowledge of Locke’s corpus is impressive.  So too is the way she weaves together many of the claims Locke makes therein. In Locke’s Moral Man, LoLordo sheds new light on a number of long-discussed passages in the Essay and offers a novel description of Lockean moral agency.  I am glad to have the opportunity to offer my thoughts on LoLordo’s book here. In this post I will do some to highlight points of agreement between LoLordo and myself, but I will spend most of the time posing questions and raising objections.  I will begin by briefly discussing a general concern I have regarding LoLordo’s treatment of Lockean moral agency.  Then I will raise objections more specific to LoLordo’s treatment of Locke on persons.

At the beginning of Locke’s Moral Man, LoLordo asserts that “Locke faces a problem few philosophers before him faced:” He denies that there are sharp distinctions in nature, or natural kinds. Yet he also thinks there is a sharp distinction between those who are moral agents and those who are not (1).  LoLordo’s fix for this problem is to claim that moral agency consists in a set of capacities, rather than membership in a kind:

What he ultimately offers is a set of capacities that we can understand and agree are the conditions of moral agency even if we don’t agree about what grounds them.  To be a moral agent, a creature must meet three conditions: First she must be capable of acting freely, in accordance with her desires; of suspending the prosecution of those desires while she deliberates about the best course of action; and of amending her desires in accordance with the results of deliberation. Second, she must be a person, that is, a being who conceives of herself and is motivated by the prospect of future pleasure and pain. Third, she must be sufficiently rational to be capable of abstracting and of forming lasting ideas of reflection (133).

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This post is part of the Mod Squad’s Author Meets Critics on Antonia LoLordo’s “Locke’s Moral Man”.

This post makes reference to the two preceding posts by Samuel Rickless: Post 1, Post 2

The contents of this post are entirely the work of Antonia LoLordo.

In Locke’s Moral Man I argue for the following eight claims:

(L1)        Strong active power is the underlying source of the capacity to make a change.

(L2)        Only spirits have strong active power; will is the only strong active power.

(L3)        Free actions are voluntary actions that meet certain counterfactual conditions.

(L4)        Animals will and act freely:  will and free action aren’t unique to moral agents.

(L5)        Instead, what distinguishes moral agents is a second kind of freedom.

(L6)        This is full-fledged free agency and involves suspension.

(L7)        Suspension is not caused by volition.  Locke doesn’t say what it is caused by.

(L8)        Locke is agnostic on the metaphysics of moral agency, including suspension.

Sam argues that all eight are false.  Instead, he holds:

(R1)       Strong active power is the capacity to make changes by one’s own power.

(R2)       There are many strong active powers and they are not all unique to spiritts.

(R3)       Freedom of action is the ability to do as you will (including forbear as you will).

(R4)       Only moral agents, not animals, have freedom of action.

(R5)       There’s only one notion of liberty in Locke, freedom of action.

(R6)       The ability to suspend is just a kind of freedom of action.

(R7)       Suspension is caused by the volition to suspend.

(R8)       Locke is a compatibilist.

I’ll try to defend L1-L8 against R1-R8.

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This post is part of the Mod Squad’s Author Meets Critics on Antonia LoLordo’s “Locke’s Moral Man”.

(continued from yesterday’s post)

The contents of this post are entirely the work of Samuel Rickless.

4. LoLordo is ultimately interested in the necessary and sufficient conditions for counting as a moral agent.  Much of her discussion of active power, will, and freedom is designed to establish that, on Locke’s view, none of these three features distinguishes moral agents from non-moral agents, for “animals possess active power” (38), and hence have wills and consequently freedom of action, without being moral agents (38, 41).  I agree with LoLordo that Locke takes animals to possess active power, for he takes them to have the ability to move their bodies (and other bodies too) without relying on borrowed motion to do so.  But LoLordo errs in supposing that Locke takes animals to have will (or freedom), for there is strong textual evidence that this is something Locke denies.  The relevant textual evidence comes from an extended discussion of superaddition in Locke’s third letter to Stillingfleet.

In the relevant passage, Locke is criticizing those (including, presumably, Stillingfleet) who think that God can superadd to matter some properties not already contained in the essence of matter, but that God cannot superadd to matter thought, reason, and volition.  The passage is noteworthy because it reveals what kinds of properties Locke thinks would need to be added to mere matter to get plants, animals, and, if such were possible, material spirits:

God creates an extended solid substance, without the superadding any thing else to it, and so we may consider it at rest: to some parts of it he superadds motion, but it has still the essence of matter: other parts of it he frames into plants, with all the excellencies of vegetation, life, and beauty, which are to be found in a rose or a peach-tree, &c. above the essence of matter in general, but it is still but matter: to other parts he adds sense and spontaneous motion, and those other properties that are to be found in an elephant.  Hitherto it is not doubted but the power of God may go, and that the properties of a rose, a peach, or an elephant, superadded to matter, change not the properties of matter; but matter is in these things matter still.  But if one venture to go one step further, and say, God may give to matter thought, reason, and volition, as well as sense and spontaneous motion, there are men ready presently to limit the power of the omnipotent Creator, and tell us he cannot do it; because it destroys the essence, “changes the essential properties of matter.”   (W4: 460)

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This post is part of the Mod Squad’s Author Meets Critics on Antonia LoLordo’s “Locke’s Moral Man”.

The contents of this post are entirely the work of Samuel Rickless.

I am very pleased to be able to comment on LoLordo’s exceedingly clever, carefully researched, and original synthesis of various sub-topics in Locke exegesis in the service of constructing an overall picture of Lockean moral agency.  LoLordo’s main thesis is that, according to Locke, “[t]o be a moral agent is to be free, rational, and a person” (2).  As it turns out, however, the three characteristics that LoLordo takes to be individually necessary and jointly sufficient for Lockean moral agency are also, so she thinks, conceptually interconnected.  The freedom that is supposed to be necessary for moral agency, which LoLordo identifies with “the capacity to suspend the prosecution of one’s most pressing desires and deliberate about the best course of action”, “requires both rationality and personal identity” (63).  Persons, LoLordo argues, are modes (that is, dependences on substances, rather than substances) characterized by a sufficient degree of understanding and rationality (84).  And the kind of rationality required for moral agency, she argues, is constituted by “abstraction, reflection, and suspension”, such that any being in possession of all three of these abilities “is a free person” (104).  Thus, in the end, a free being is a rational person, a rational being is a free person, and a person is a rational (and hence free) being.  This may appear at first to be a complicated picture, but my sense is that by the end of the book LoLordo has argued for something approaching a kind of moral trinitarianism: the three conditions on Lockean moral agency that she identifies are really, at bottom, just one.

In this post, I will concentrate on LoLordo’s reconstruction of Locke’s views on freedom, and the bearing that she takes this reconstruction to have on a proper understanding of the relation between Lockean freedom and Lockean moral agency.  The basic elements of LoLordo’s reconstruction are these:

  1. There are two kinds of powers (or abilities): active powers and passive powers.  In the early editions of the Essay, “the idea of active power is typically the idea of the capacity to [make a] change”, while in later editions “it tends to be the idea of the underlying source of that capacity” (31).
  2. “Active power [in the ‘source’ sense] is unique to spirits” (33), where “to be a spirit is to think and have the power to produce motion by thought” (107), and is in fact “simply their will” (33).  Therefore, “the exercise of active power is simply volition” (33), where volition is the sort of mental act that causes the sorts of actions (whether these be actions of the mind—thoughts—or actions of the body—motions) that are called ‘voluntary’ (27).
  3. An agent S “acts freely in performing action a [i.e., possesses freedom of action with respect to a] iff (i) S does a because S wills to do a [i.e., S’s doing a is voluntary], and (ii) if S had not willed to do a, S would not have done a” (27).  Thus: “[L]iberty is an active power just by virtue of will being an active power.  The extra element that makes an action free as well as voluntary—that if the agent had willed otherwise she would have done otherwise—imports no new activity” (33).
  4. Mere possession of active power (or will, or freedom of action) does not distinguish those who are moral agents from those who are not, for “animals possess active power” (38), and hence have wills and consequently freedom of action (under certain circumstances), without being moral agents (38, 41).
  5. There are “two different notions of liberty” (51), namely, freedom of action and “the sort of full-fledged free agency that derives from having the capacity to suspend the prosecution of one’s most pressing desires and deliberate about the best course of action” (63).
  6. Thus: What distinguishes beings who are moral agents from beings who are not is full-fledged free agency, rather than freedom of action.
  7. Suspension of desire-prosecution cannot be voluntary: “We do not suspend because we will or desire to suspend.  Suspension precedes the determination of will by desire” (49).  The proper attitude towards what causes suspension is agnosticism: the most plausible conclusion is that “Locke simply does not know what, if anything, causes suspension.  He clearly thinks he knows what ought to move us to suspend, but there is little reason to think he claims to know whether—or by what—we are causally necessitated to suspend.”  (59)
  8. Thus: An account of the metaphysical basis of desire-suspension (and hence metaphysical ground of moral agency), as traditionally conceived, though perhaps not vacuous or impossible, is unnecessary for ethics/politics (1, 134).

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