Sunday, March 2, 2014
A while back @FrankPasquale tweeted a link to a blog post by Eric Schwitzgebel that begins with the lines, "A central question of moral epistemology is, or should be: Am I a jerk? Until you figure that one out, you probably ought to be cautious in morally assessing others."
This post has kept popping into my mind since then, and so I thought I'd pass it on to BLPB readers. Personally, I believe part of living a healthy, balanced life includes trying to minimize the extent to which I am a jerk, and I have found the remainder of Schwitzgebel's post to be helpful in advancing that goal. Here's a bit more (but you should really go read the whole thing):
But how to know if you're a jerk? It's not obvious. Some jerks seem aware of their jerkitude, but most seem to lack self-knowledge. So can you rule out the possibility that you're one of those self-ignorant jerks? Maybe a general theory of jerks will help!
I'm inclined to think of the jerk as someone who fails to appropriately respect the individual perspectives of the people around him, treating them as tools or objects to be manipulated, or idiots to be dealt with, rather than as moral and epistemic peers with a variety of potentially valuable perspectives. The characteristic phenomenology of the jerk is "I'm important, and I'm surrounded by idiots!" However, the jerk needn't explicitly think that way, as long as his behavior and reactions fit the mold. Also, the jerk might regard other high-status people as important and regard people with manifestly superior knowledge as non-idiots.
To the jerk, the line of people in the post office is a mass of unimportant fools; it's a felt injustice that he must wait while they bumble around with their requests. To the jerk, the flight attendant is not an individual doing her best in a difficult job, but the most available face of the corporation he berates for trying to force him to hang up his phone. To the jerk, the people waiting to board the train are not a latticework of equals with interesting lives and valuable projects but rather stupid schmoes to be nudged and edged out and cut off. Students and employees are lazy complainers. Low-level staff are people who failed to achieve meaningful careers through their own incompetence who ought to take the scut work and clean up the messes. (If he is in a low-level position, it's a just a rung on the way up or a result of crimes against him.)
Inconveniencing others tends not to register in the jerk's mind....