I had a chat outside of class with our man D. Shoemaker. At some point, we got on to the topic of the morality of belief states. David maintained that a belief, like "tall people are inferior to short people," can be immoral. I said that beliefs cannot be immoral. Here's a hasty outline of my position.
Morality, it seems to me, is about how we treat one another, not what we think of one another. What matters in morality is what we do, not what we think. Beliefs, all by themselves, cannot be moral or immoral. They just are.
Now you might think that if you believe something like "tall people are non-persons" and believe that "it is okay to kill non-persons" then you are likely to kill tall people. Is, however, the belief itself doing any sort of moral work? Or is it the killing of tall persons, and the connection between the belief and the action? It seems to me that all the work is being done by the treating of tall people in one way or another, and none by the thoughts floating in my head.
Take two cases.
Suppose I am a brain in a vat without any ability to communicate or otherwise impact the world around me. Suppose I think that tall people are non-persons. Is my having that thought immoral? I think that's silly.
Suppose there is a twin earth far, far away, with an impenetrable wall between it and our earth. Suppose I have beliefs about the agents (who are circles and squares) on twin earth. Suppose I think it okay to kill circles just for sport. What's (morally) wrong with my thinking that? The impenetrable wall makes it so that no one on either earth will ever have any sort of communication or interaction with one another. Can I have any beliefs about agents/things/whatever on twin Earth that are immoral? I don't think so.
Just to be clear, suppose all of the above beliefs are caused in the right way for moral appraisal. That is, no one is somehow "forced" to believe one thing rather than another because of evolution, genetics, compulsion, the way the brain is, and so on.
(A separate question: Does my position imply that intentions don't matter? You tell me, I don't know...)