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September 22nd. Autonomy and the Dog.

It is important, for the Moral Dog, to have autonomy. Both Kant and John Stuart Mill were clear on that, and they didn’t agree on much else, I can tell you.

The Owner says autonomy is the capacity to be my Own Dog. She suggests that when I decide to choose cheese or not to choose cheese I am exercising it. She is, as usual, oversimplifying the whole Moral Dog issue because she wants me to hurry up, take the cheese and sit. Gerald Dworkin clarifies it very well. He says autonomy is all to do with second order desires. In other words, it is not choosing cheese that makes the Moral Dog autonomous, but choosing to choose cheese. Harry Frankfurt said is only because moral beings possess second-order desires, created from their capacity for rational evaluation of first-order desires, that they possess true freedom of will. He calls those who are not capable of this kind of autonomy wantons.

It is clear that I have more autonomy than the Owner. Whilst I do, generally, choose cheese, I do so because I choose to choose cheese, despite knowing that it comes with the whole bottom-on-the-ground baggage.

The Owner says she is every bit as autonomous as me. Possibly, she says, she is even more autonomous since she frequently chooses not to choose cheese, having coffee instead, or simply chewing on her pen until she has a mouth full of ink. (Both of these options, I understand, have fewer calories than the cheese.)

I might be convinced if it were not for how frequently I hear her saying that she wishes she hadn’t chosen so much cheese. Autonomous indeed. It seems to me that retrospectively choosing not to choose cheese that she has already chosen does not count as autonomy. I never regret cheese. I suspect the Owner may be a wanton. The Owner says this is ridiculous since this is a thing which floats in soup, and I should remember that only one of us sits when they’re told to. Only one of us, she then adds in a voice loaded with meaning, has the potential to be a Good Dog.

She has sidestepped the argument completely. I sense the enormity of the implicit bribe, not to mention the accompanying implicit threat. The Autonomous Moral Dog should not be such a pushover – but if my Second Order desire not to choose cheese (because it comes with Associated Baggage) makes me a Bad Dog it risks leading me to a cheese free world.

Fortunately with only a little thought Dworkin and Frankfurt provide the answer. The Moral Dog looks at it this way. My First Order desire is generally to choose cheese. Freud would have seen this as a product of the Id, that immediate, primeval urge for cheese that drove Stone Age man to catch cows and design biscuits. My Second Order desire requires rational consideration of the meaning of my First Order desires simply because I am my Own Dog. Second Order desire therefore compels me to refuse the cheese, despite its extraordinarily wonderful scent, because it is a Bribe. Second Order desire comes from Freud’s ego, the proud sense of person that means that it is not enough, even for a Good Dog, to be just anyone’s for cheese.

Fortunately, Moral Dogs are complex beings, more complex than even Dworkin, Frankfurt and the Owner realise. Moral Dogs have Third Order desires. A Third Order desire looks dispassionately on the First Order desires of the cheese-appreciating dog. Third Order desires add a complex layer of meaning to the nature of a Good Dog that is encapsulated in Second Order desires. The Third Order desire is born of Freud’s Superego. It recognises the decency of the Second Order desire, but also recognises the risk that it could lead not only to the Moral Dog having no cheese at all, but also to the entire collapse of the Owner’s cheese storage and cheese proffering activities. Most importantly of all, it recognises and trusts the Moral Dog to be not only decent but Noble.

The Noble Dog knows that it is the Innermost Thoughts that count. The Noble Dog’s Third Order desire considers whether it is acceptable to take the cheese despite the fact that it is intended as a bribe. The Noble Dog thus treats the attempted bribe as a mere Moral Failing of the Owner, seeing the cheese as honourable recompense for outwitting the whole cheese-bottom-automaton plot. The Noble Dog may decide to sit, but can do so autonomously because his Third Order desires decide to take the route that best trains the wanton owner to better provide cheese. The Noble Dog is thus not bribed at all.

The Third Order desire means that even though the Owner thinks she is bribing me to sit, in fact I am bribing her, by sitting, to provide cheese.

And by the way, a wanton does not float in soup. Not unless she falls in by accident.

The Moral Dog is totally free to take the cheese.

Categories: cheese dog dog philosophy John Stuart Mill Kant philosophy

Hergest the Hound

I am a dog of many thoughts.

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