A Schooling in Contempt: Emotions and the Pathos of Distance

A Schooling in Contempt: Emotions and the Pathos of Distance

Nietzsche scholars have developed an interest in his use of “thick” moral psychological concepts such as virtues and emotions. This development coincides with a renewed interest among both philosophers and social scientists in virtues, the emotions, and moral psychology more generally. Contemporary work in empirical moral psychology posits contempt and disgust as both basic emotions and moral foundations of normative codes. While virtues can be individuated in various ways, one attractive principle of individuation is to index them to characteristic emotions and the patterns of behavior those emotions motivate. Despite the surge in attention to Nietzsche’s use of emotions, the literature has tended to lump all emotional states together. In this paper, I argue that what Nietzsche calls the pathos of distance is best understood as the virtue associated with both contempt and disgust. I conclude with a discussion of the bleak prospects for a Nietzschean democratic ethos.

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Call for Abstracts: Moral Technologies Conference



Designing Moral Technologies – Theoretical, Practical and Ethical Issues

July 10-15, 2016


LOCATION: Centro Stefano Franscini (http://www.csf.ethz.ch/)

on the Monte Verità near Ascona, Switzerland


Scope: Many empirical disciplines, such as sociology, psychology, neuroscience and anthropology, contribute to a growing knowledge of the foundations, mechanisms, and conditions of human moral behavior in various social contexts. This knowledge provides a basis for moral technologies – interventions intended to improve moral decision-making that do not target deliberation itself, but underlying neurological or psychological processes, as well as technological mediators of human social interaction. Such technologies include pharmacological interventions (“moral enhancement”), social technologies for “nudging” people, and persuasive information technologies. This development raises important questions, such as: Are context-sensitive moral technologies possible? To what extent is it morally justifiable to bypass deliberation in pursuit of improved moral decision-making? Do moral technologies endanger ethical pluralism?


The conference will discuss theoretical, practical and ethical issues related to moral technologies. The conference will take place at the Centro Stefano Franscini (http://www.csf.ethz.ch/) on the Monte Verità in the southern part of Switzerland (near Ascona). Invited speakers include: David Abrams (University of Pennsylvania), Willem-Paul Brinkman (Technical University Delft), Rosaria Conte (Institute for Cognitive Science and Technology Rome), Molly Crockett (University of Oxford), Paul Slovic (University of Oregon), John Sullins (Sonoma State University), Ann Tenbrunsel (University of Notre Dame), Nicole Vincent (Georgia State University) and others.


Call for abstracts: We welcome proposals for both papers and posters from all disciplines dealing with moral technologies (empirical disciplines, engineering, social sciences, and humanities). Possible topics include theoretical, conceptual, scientific, technological, ethical, and political issues and problems related to moral technologies. For example, proposals may present research on new types or the effectiveness of moral technologies, as well as assessments of the legitimacy of such interventions in concrete social contexts such as parenting, prisons, and companies.


To submit a paper proposal, send us your name & affiliation, the title of the paper, and a brief abstract (~500 words). To submit a poster proposal, send us your name, the title of the poster, and an executive summary (~200 words). Please send all proposals to: christen@ethik.uzh.ch


Deadline for submissions is January 31, 2016. Notification of acceptance is February 29, 2016.


Conference details: The conference fee will include all costs for the stay (food & lodging) during the 5-day conference and will be approximately CHF 850; special reductions for PhD students may apply (numbers are subject to change). The conference is funded by the Congressi Stefano Franscini, the Cogito Foundation, and the University Research Priority Program Ethics of the University of Zurich. The organizing committee consists of Mark Alfano (Delft University of Technology), Markus Christen (University of Zurich), Darcia Narvaez (University of Notre Dame), Peter Schaber (University of Zurich), Carmen Tanner (Zeppelin University), Giuseppe Ugazio (University of Zurich), Jeroen van den Hoven (Delft University of Technology), and Roberto Weber (University of Zurich).

Draft review of The Virtue Ethics of Hume & Nietzsche, by Christine Swanton

Draft review of The Virtue Ethics of Hume & Nietzsche, by Christine Swanton

Reading this book, one gets the impression that Swanton has not so much studied Nietzsche as overheard a couple of teenage boys shooting the shit after reading Atlas Shrugged. Snippets of his ideas are glued together haphazardly with common-sense bromides, poorly disguised tenets of Ayn Rand, and allusions to Freud’s dissident disciple Alfred Adler. The resulting pastiche is a chimera: prosthe Swanton opithen te Rand messê te Adler.

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Normative trust as an equivalence relation

Trust is a fascinating phenomenon.  You can feel an emotion of trust towards a person, or an institution, or even an artifact.  You can engage in a trusting relationship with a person or institution, though not (I think) an artifact. You can put your trust in someone or something, an action that is characteristically but not necessarily accompanied by the emotion of trust.

Tori McGeer, Philip Pettit, and I have written about the ways in which trust can function as a self-fulfilling prophecy -- how putting one's trust in another can lead them to become or at least simulate trustworthiness. Part of how this is meant to work is through various feedback mechanisms between the trustor and the trustee. This presupposes that trust is a dyadic relationship, most naturally understood as a relation between agents.

What I want to explore here are the logical properties of normative trust, by which I mean trust that is functioning as it ought to. In particular, I suggest that normative trust is symmetric (if aNTb, then bNTa), transitive (if aNTb and bNTc, then aNTc), and reflexive (aNTa). In other words, normative trust is an equivalence relation that partitions agents into communities of trust.

Symmetry: Imagine I trust you, and have for a long time. I routinely tell you my secrets, my hopes, my fears. I make myself vulnerable to you in various ways, but it rarely crosses my mind that you might betray me -- and when it does, the thought doesn't worry me. You've proven trustworthy in a variety of circumstances, so my trust is at this point well-founded. This aspect of our relationship is mutual knowledge between us.  Yet you don't trust me.  In fact, you explicitly distrust me.  You refuse to tell me our secrets, to reveal your hopes and fears, to make yourself vulnerable to me. It often crosses your mind that I might betray your confidence, and when it does, you're motivated to prevent that.

This is certainly a possible kind of relationship. It probably characterizes many relationships between child and caregiver. It may also characterize certain kinds of one-sided friendships. It might characterize relationships between addicts and those who take care of them. It seems pretty clearly to characterize certain kinds of client-therapist relationships. When I suggest that normative trust is symmetric, then, I'm not claiming that this kind of relationship is impossible. What I do think, though, is that, to the extent that symmetry breaks down, trust is not functioning as it ought to. A fully functional trusting relationship is one in which both parties trust each other. In other words, normative trust is symmetric.

Transitivity: Reliance, being an externalist concept, is descriptively transitive. If you rely on the pilot to get you from Laguardia airport to London Heathrow, and the pilot relies on the ground crew to maintain the plane in working order, then you rely on the ground crew whether you know it or not, whether you like it or not. Trust, being an internalist concept, is clearly not descriptively transitive. You can trust someone who trusts someone you don't trust or even distrust.  But when you do, things have gone wrong; trust is not functioning as it ought.

Suppose I trust you with my secrets, and you trust your sibling with your secrets, but I explicitly distrust your sibling. Things are not as they ought to be. For instance, if I find out that you tell your sibling everything, I'm going to be motivated to avoid telling you things I don't trust her with. Or suppose you trust me to complete a task, and that I sub-contract out a part of that task to someone you distrust. Again, if you find out that I've done this, you'll most likely withdraw your trust from me -- at least in this instance and perhaps more generally.  You might conclude that I lack good judgment about whom to trust. In other words, normative trust is transitive.

Reflexivity: Finally, normative trust is reflexive. You ought to trust yourself. There is a remarkable near-consensus on this. Pasnau argues that self-trust explains how we should react to peer disagreement. Lehrer argues that self-trust grounds reason, wisdom, and knowledge. Govier argues that self-trust grounds autonomy and self-respect. Goldberg argues that self-trust is a good model for trust of others. Given the transitivity of normative trust, we see one reason why the relation should also be reflexive: if you trust me but I don't trust myself, your trust is misplaced (or my mistrust is misplaced).

Normative Trust as an Equivalence Relation & Communities of Trust: If the discussion so far is on the right track, normative trust is an equivalence relation. And this suggests an intriguing further consequence: perhaps we can define a community of trust in terms of this equivalence relation. What it means to be part of a community, in this sense, is to be a member of a partition formed by the normative-trust equivalence relation. Naturally, you can be in such a community and fail to have trust accorded to you: it's a normative relation, not a descriptive one. But this actually helps us to explicate some of the harms caused by distrust and mistrust, in a way that connects with Miranda Fricker's work on epistemic injustice. Not to trust someone who belongs to your community of trust is a way of ostracizing them, of casting them out of the community. To the extent that such ostracism succeeds, the target ceases to be a member of the community of trust and has their own self-trust called into question.