I’m teaching a chapter from Peter Singer, The Expanding Circle: Ethics, Evolution, and Moral Progress [amazon]. This passage gives some sense of the argument:
Why should our capacity to reason require anything more than disinterestedness within one’s own group? Since the interests of my group will often be better served by ignoring the interests of members of other groups, the need for a public justification of conduct should require no more than this. Indeed, shouldn’t we rather expect the need for public justification to prohibit justifications which give the interests of my group no more weight than the interests of other groups? This suggestion overlooks the autonomy of reasoning – the feature I have pictured as an escalator. If we do not understand what an escalator is, we might get on it intending to go a few meters, only to find that once we are on, it is difficult to avoid going all the way to the end. Similarly, once reasoning has got started it is hard to tell where it will stop. The idea of a disinterested defense of one’s conduct emerges because of the social nature of human beings and the requirements of group living, but in the thought of reasoning beings, it takes on a logic of its own which leads to its extension beyond the bounds of the group.
I think it’s fair to say that Stanley Fish is shaky on the concept of an escalator, in Peter Singer’s sense.
Here’s a bit of Gunnar Myrdal Singer quotes. What do you think of this general line?
The individual … does not act in moral isolation. He is not left alone to manage his rationalizations as he pleases, without interference from outside. His valuations will, instead, be questioned and disputed. Democracy is a “government by discussion,” and so, in fact, are other forms of government, though to a lesser degree. Moral discussion goes on in all groups from the intimate family circle to the international conference table …. In this process of moral criticism which men make upon each other, the valuations on the higher and more general planes – referring to all human beings and not to specific small groups – are regularly invoked by one party or the other, simply because they are held in common among all groups in society, and also because of the supreme prestige they are traditionally awarded. By this democratic process of open discussion there is started a tendency which constantly forces a larger and larger part of the valuation sphere into conscious attention. More is made conscious than any single person or group would on his own initiative find it advantageous to bring forward at the particular moment. … The feeling of need for logical consistency within the hierarchy of moral valuations – and the embarrassed and sometimes distressed feeling that the moral order is shaky – is, in its modern intensity, a rather new phenomenon. With less mobility, less intellectual communication, and less public discussion, there was in previous generations less exposure of one another’s valuation conflicts. The leeway for false beliefs, which makes rationalizations of valuations more perfect for their purpose, was also greater in an age when science was less developed and education less extensive. These historical differentials can be observed today within our own society among the different social layers with varying degrees of education and communication with the larger society, stretching all the way from the tradition-bound, inarticulate, quasi-folk societies in isolated backward regions to the intellectuals of the cultural centers. When one moves from the former groups to the latter, the sphere of moral valuations becomes less rigid, more ambiguous and also more translucent. At the same time the more general valuations increasingly gain power over the ones bound to traditional peculiarities of regions, classes, or other smaller groups. One of the surest generalizations is that society, in its entirety, is rapidly moving in the direction of the more general valuations.
Then again, there’s Stanley Fish. I keep thinking he can’t get any more Stanley Fish-like than he already was. But then he goes and does it. Oh, and there’s RedState.