Morality doesn't always require our best. Prudent acts and heroic sacrifices are optional, not obligatory. To explain this, some philosophers claim that reasons of self-interest must have a special "non-moral" significance. A better explanation, I argue, is that we have prerogatives based in rights.
I argue that when determining whether an agent ought to perform an act, we should not hold fixed the fact that she’s going to form certain attitudes (and, here, I’m concerned with only reasons-responsive attitudes such as beliefs, desires, and intentions). For, as I argue, agents have, in the relevant sense, just as much control over which attitudes they form as which acts they perform. This is important because what effect an act will have on the world depends not only (...) on which acts the agent will simultaneously and subsequently perform, but also on which attitudes she will simultaneously and subsequently form. And this all leads me to adopt a new type of practical theory, which I call rational possibilism. On this theory, we first evaluate the entire set of things over which the agent exerts control, where this includes the formation of certain attitudes as well as the performance of certain acts. And, then, we evaluate individual acts as being permissible if and only if, and because, there is such a set that is itself permissible and that includes that act as a proper part. Importantly, this theory has two unusual features. First, it is not exclusively act-orientated, for it requires more from us than just the performance of certain voluntary acts. It requires, in addition, that we involuntarily form certain attitudes. Second, it is attitude-dependent in that it holds that which acts we’re required to perform depends on which attitudes we’re required to form. I then show how these two features can help us both to address certain puzzling cases of rational choice and to understand why most typical practical theories (utilitarianism, virtue ethics, rational egoism, Rossian deontology, etc.) are problematic. (shrink)
We argue for asymmetries between positive and negative partiality. Specifically, we defend four claims: i) there are forms of negative partiality that do not have positive counterparts; ii) the directionality of personal relationships has distinct effects on positive and negative partiality; iii) the extent of the interactions within a relationship affects positive and negative partiality differently; and iv) positive and negative partiality have different scope restrictions. We argue that these asymmetries point to a more fundamental moral principle, which we call (...) Morality’s Harmonious Propensity. According to this principle, morality has a propensity toward preserving positive relationships and dissolving negative ones. (shrink)
This article investigates a puzzle about gratitude—the proper response, in a beneficiary, to an act of benevolence from a benefactor. The puzzle arises from three platitudes about gratitude: 1) the beneficiary has certain obligations of gratitude; 2) these obligations are owed to the benefactor; and 3) the benefactor has no right to the fulfillment of these obligations. These platitudes suggest that gratitude is a counterexample to the “correlativity thesis” in the moral domain: the claim that strict moral obligations correlate to (...) moral rights on the part of the person to whom the obligation is owed. The goal of this chapter is to determine whether the three gratitude platitudes are true, and, if they are, what they tell us about the correlativity thesis. Sections 1 through 3 argue for the truth of each of the platitudes. It is then argued that while benefactors lack standing to demand, they do possess an imperfect right to gratitude: a special and morally significant standing to remonstrate with ungrateful beneficiaries. These facts suggest the following modification of the standard correlativity thesis: moral obligations entail moral rights on the part of the person to whom they are owed, which may be perfect (demandable) or imperfect. (shrink)
Non-moral blame seems to be widespread and widely accepted in everyday life—tolerated at least, but often embraced. We blame athletes for poor performance, artists for bad or boring art, scientists for faulty research, and voters for flawed reasoning. This paper argues that non-moral blame is never justified—i.e. it’s never a morally permissible response to a non-moral failure. Having explained what blame is and how non-moral blame differs from moral blame, the paper presents the argument in four steps. First, it argues (...) that many (perhaps most) apparent cases of non-moral blame are actually cases of moral blame. Second, it argues that even if non-moral blame is pro tanto permissible—because its target is blameworthy for their substandard performance—it often (perhaps usually) fails to meet other permissibility conditions, such as fairness or standing. Third, it goes further and challenges the claim that non-moral blame is ever even pro tanto permissible. Finally, it considers a number of arguments in support of non-moral obligations and argues that none of them succeed. (shrink)
Are we ever morally permitted to do what is morally wrong? It seems intuitive that we are, but evidence for dissociations among judgment of permissibility and wrongness are relatively scarce. Across 4 experiments (N = 1,438), we show that people judge that some behaviors can be morally wrong and permissible. The dissociations arise because these judgments track different morally relevant aspects of everyday moral encounters. Judgments of individual rights predicted permissibility but not wrongness, while character assessment predicted wrongness but not (...) permissibility. These findings suggest a picture in which moral evaluation is granular enough to express reasoning about different types of normative considerations, notably the possibility that people can exercise their rights in morally problematic ways. (shrink)
Anscombe counsels us to dispense with those moral concepts that presuppose a divine law conception of ethics, among which she numbers the concepts of “moral obligation and moral duty, […] of what is morally right and wrong, and of the moral sense of ‘ought’.” Schopenhauer made a similar point more than a century earlier, though his critique implicates a narrower range of concepts. Through reflection on his accounts of right and wrong and of duty and obligation, I attempt to show (...) that we can dispense with the imperative in ethics while retaining these notions, thus preserving a distinctively modern conception of morality. (shrink)
Far from being indiscriminately critical of the ideas he associated with the morality system, Bernard Williams offered vindicatory explanations of its crucial building blocks, such as the moral/non-moral distinction, the idea of obligation, the voluntary/involuntary distinction, and the practice of blame. The rationale for these concessive moves, I argue, is that understanding what these ideas do for us when they are not in the service of the system is just as important to leading us out of the system as the (...) critique of that system. I then show how regarding the aspiration to shelter life from luck as the system’s organizing ambition explains why the system elaborates and combines these building blocks in the way it does. Finally, I argue that the ultimate problem with the resulting construction is its frictionless purity. It robs valuable concepts of their grip on the world we live in, and, by insisting on purity from contingency, threatens to issue in nihilism about value and scepticism about agency. (shrink)
What is it to take responsibility for a moral failure? This chapter investigates taking responsibility for wrongdoing. It starts by considering a prominent view in the literature: that to take responsibility for a wrong is to blame oneself for it. Contrary to the self-blame account, it is argued that taking responsibility and self-blame can come apart in various ways. Instead, the normative footprint account is defended. It is suggested that wrongdoing changes the normative landscape in systematic ways: it can create (...) duties to apologize, to acknowledge the wrong done, to make amends, to respond to the wronged party’s upset. To take responsibility for a wrong is to own the normative consequences of one’s wrong. (shrink)
The overall moral status of an option—whether it is required, permissible, forbidden, or something we really should do—is explained by competition between the contributory reasons bearing on that option and the alternatives. A familiar challenge for accounts of this competition is to explain the existence of latitude: there are usually multiple permissible options, rather than a single required option. One strategy is to appeal to distinctions between reasons that compete in different ways. Philosophers have introduced various kinds of non-requiring reasons (...) that do not generate requirements, even if they win the competition. This paper rejects two familiar versions of this strategy, one appealing to merely justifying reasons and one appealing to merely commendatory reasons. It offers a new account of how reasons compete that instead appeals to a sharp distinction between the reasons against an option and the reasons for the alternatives to that option. (shrink)
We can often permissibly choose a worse self-interested option over a better altruistic alternative. For example, it is permissible to eat out rather than donate the money to feed five hungry children for a single meal. If we eat out, we do something permissibly partial toward ourselves. If we donate, we go beyond the call of moral duty and do something supererogatory. Such phenomena aren’t easy to explain, and they rule out otherwise promising moral theories. Incommensurability and Ruth Chang’s notion (...) of parity can explain certain small improvement puzzles, but they can’t explain permissible partiality and supererogation. On the other hand, Josh Gert’s distinction between justifying and requiring weight can explain all three phenomena: permissible partiality, supererogation, and the relevant small improvement puzzle. Indeed, this chapter provides a reason to endorse the justifying/requiring weight distinction by showing that it provides the only extant explanation of all three phenomena. (shrink)
Dual-role approaches to reasons say, roughly, that reasons can relate to actions in two fundamentally different ways: they can either require conformity, or justify an action without requiring that it be taken. This paper develops a formal dual-role approach, combining ideas from defeasible logic and practical philosophy. It then uses the approach to shed light on the phenomenon of supererogation and resolve a well-known puzzle about supererogation, namely, Horton’s All or Nothing Problem.
In this article, I critically reassess Iris Marion Young's late works, which centre on the distinction between liability and social connection responsibility. I concur with Young's diagnosis that structural injustices call for a new conception of responsibility, but I reject several core assumptions that underpin her distinction between two models and argue for a different way of conceptualising responsibility to address structural injustices. I show that Young's categorical separation of guilt and responsibility is not supported by the writings of Hannah (...) Arendt, which Young draws on, and that it is also untenable on independent systematic grounds. Furthermore, I argue that several of Young's other criteria fail to clearly demarcate two distinct phenomena. I therefore propose to transcend Young's distinction between two models in favour of a related, but conceptually different distinction between two forms of responsibility: interactional and structural. Embracing this terminology facilitates the conceptualisation of the general features of responsibility that are shared by both forms, including their retrospective and prospective time-direction and their applicability to individual, joint and group agency. The distinction between interactional and structural responsibility also yields a more compelling general account of the role of background structures, and of blame within ascriptions of political responsibility. (shrink)
In ‘What’s Wrong with Colonialism,’ Lea Ypi argues that the wrong of colonialism can be expressed as procedural wrongs, not as wronging territorial rights. On her view, colonial practices went wrong in two ways: they forced residents into political associations, and the terms of the political association were not established through equal and reciprocal negotiations. I argue that because Ypi’s account successfully side-lines all but essential claims to territory, her theory ends up being vulnerable to an objection it means to (...) avoid. Historical residents may be subject to unequal treatment under newly formed political associations because their historical patterns of land use are not considered to have any independent moral weight. My analysis does not rely on any appeal to property or territorial rights. Instead, I appeal to pre-existing obligations holding between residents. (shrink)
This paper develops a new theory of the morality of promissory obligations. T. M. Scanlon notoriously argued that promising consists in assuring the promisee that we will do something. I disagree. I argue that it is true that promising consists in assuring the promisee, but what the promisor gives to the promisee is not an assurance that they will do something, but that the normative situation is in a certain way.
Do participants in shared activity have mutual obligations to do their bit? This article shows this question has no one-size-fits-all answer and offers a pluralist account of the normativity of shared agency. The first part argues obligations to do one's bit have three degrees of involvement in shared activity. Such obligations might, obviously, bolster co-participants’ resolve to act as planned (degree 1). Less obviously, there also are higher and lower degrees of involvement. Obligations to do one's bit might provide our (...) agency-pooling mechanism. When they do, we act together by virtue of satisfying them (degree 2). Conversely, some shared activities involve no obligation (degree 0). In the second part, I argue shared agency theory is best served by a non-moralistic conception of obligation, one on which co-participants’ obligations need be neither strict-performance obligations, nor directed ones. Overall, my arguments suggest that we can choose how to coordinate normatively our shared activities. (shrink)
According to second‐personal approaches to moral obligation, the distinctive normative features of moral obligation can only be explained in terms of second‐personal relations, i.e. the distinctive way persons relate to each other as persons. But there are important disagreements between different groups of second‐personal approaches. Most notably, they disagree about the nature of second‐personal relations, which has consequences for the nature of the obligations that they purport to explain. This article aims to distinguish these groups from each other, highlight their (...) respective advantages and disadvantages, and thereby indicate avenues for future research. (shrink)
The Problem of Obligation is the problem of how to explain the features of moral obligations that distinguish them from other normative phenomena. Two recent accounts, the Second-Personal Account and the Relational Account, propose superficially similar solutions to this problem. Both regard obligations as based on the claims or legitimate demands that persons as such have on one another. However, unlike the Second-Personal Account, the Relational Account does not regard these claims as based in persons’ authority to address them. Advocates (...) of the Relational Account accuse the Second-Personal Account of falling prey to the Problem of Antecedence. According to this objection, the Second-Personal Account is committed to the implausible claim that we have an obligation to φ only if, and because, others demand that we φ. Since the Relational Account’s proposed solution to the Problem of Obligation does not face the Problem of Antecedence, its advocates argue that it is dialectically superior to the Second-Personal Account. In this paper, I defend the Second-Personal Account by arguing that, first, the Relational Account does not actually solve the Problem of Obligation and, second, the Second-Personal Account does not fall prey to the Problem of Antecedence. (shrink)
Arguments that claim opponents of abortion are inconsistent in some manner are becoming increasingly prevalent both in academic and public discourse. For example, it is common to claim that they spend considerable time and resources to oppose induced abortion, but show little concern regarding the far greater numbers of naturally occurring intrauterine deaths (miscarriages). Critics argue that if abortion opponents took their beliefs about the value of embryos and fetuses seriously, they would invest more time and resources combating these naturally (...) occurring deaths than those caused by induced abortion. The implication is that abortion opponents do not take their beliefs about embryos and fetuses seriously—and so why should anyone else? These “inconsistency arguments”, as we have called them, have considerable intuitive appeal: showing that someone is living inconsistently or holding beliefs that seem prima facie inconsistent seems to many to undermine those beliefs. However, upon closer examination, these arguments become less convincing. In short, we show that the inconsistency arguments we are aware of are severely flawed, and so, if critics wish to continue their criticism, they should abandon inconsistency arguments in favor of other styles of argument. We will proceed in four stages. First, we describe the basic form of inconsistency arguments against abortion opponents. Second, we outline specific instances of the inconsistency argument that have been advanced. Third, we outline specific responses to these arguments, noting ways in which responses also conform to set patterns. Finally, we assess the debate and suggest how it might progress in productive ways. (shrink)
In “Other-Sacrificing Options”, Benjamin Lange argues that, when distributing benefits and burdens, we may discount the interests of the people to whom we stand in morally negative relationships relative to the interests of other people. Lange’s case for negative partiality proceeds in two steps. First, he presents a hypothetical example that commonly elicits intuitions favourable to negative partiality. Second, he invokes symmetry considerations to reason from permissible positive partiality towards intimates to permissible negative partiality towards adversaries. In this paper, I (...) argue that neither the intuition elicited by Lange’s example nor the invoked symmetry considerations support a permission for negative partiality. This does not mean that negative partiality is unjustified. It means only that the justification, if there is one, must take a different form. I end by suggesting an alternative justification of negative partiality, one that mirrors gratitude-based justifications of positive partiality rather than justifications based on intimacy. (shrink)
Many morally significant outcomes can be brought about only if several individuals contribute to them. However, individual contributions to collective outcomes often fail to have morally significant effects on their own. Some have concluded from this that it is permissible to do nothing. What I call ‘the problem of insignificant hands’ is the challenge of determining whether and when people are obligated to contribute. For this to be the case, I argue, the prospect of helping to bring about the outcome (...) has to be good enough. Furthermore, the individual must be in a position to increase the probability of its being brought about to an appropriate extent. Finally, I argue that when too few are willing to contribute, people may have a duty to increase their number. Thus, someone can be obligated to contribute or to get others to contribute. This prospect account is consistent with Kantianism, contractualism and rule consequentialism but inconsistent with act consequentialism. (shrink)
Ever since Hegel famously objected to Kant’s universalization formulations of the Categorical Imperative on the grounds that they are nothing but an empty formalism, there has been continual debate about whether he was right. In this paper I argue that Hegel got things at least half-right: I argue that even if negative duties (duties to omit actions or not to adopt maxims) can be derived from the universalization formulations, positive duties (duties to commit actions or to adopt maxims) cannot. The (...) paper is divided into three main sections. In the first, I set out the procedures generally accepted among Kantians for deriving positive duties from the universalization formulations. In the second, I set out the arguments from section 1 in more detail and explain why they do not work. In the third, I examine a strategy that might be used to supplement the arguments from section 2 and I argue that it also does not work. (shrink)
According to an attractive and widely held view, all practical reasons are explained in terms of the (instrumental or final) value of the action supported by the reason. I argue that this theory is incompatible with plausible assumptions about the practical reasons that correspond to certain moral rights, including the right to a promised action and the right to an exclusive use of one’s property. The argument is an explanatory rather than extensional one: while the actions supported by the relevant (...) reasons (e.g. keeping a valid promise or respecting property) can be argued to have a certain kind of value, I argue that this value presupposes a moral right, and therefore cannot explain the reason. Reflection on such cases suggest the conclusion that reasons that are subject to normative powers are generally not value-based. This also has important implications for the dialectic between ‘value-first’ and ‘reasons-first’ approaches to normativity. (shrink)
The dominant response to Peter Singer’s defense of an extremely demanding duty of aid argues that an affluent person’s duty of aid is limited by her moral entitlement to live her own life. This paper argues that this entitlement provides a basis not for limiting an affluent person’s duty of aid but rather for the claim that she too is wronged by a world marked by widespread desperate need; and the wrong she suffers is a distinctive one: the activation of (...) a duty of aid so demanding that it dominates her life, crowding out her own valuable projects and involvements. (shrink)
Bernard Williams thought that philosophy should address real human concerns felt beyond academic philosophy. But what wider concerns are addressed by Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy, a book he introduces as being ‘principally about how things are in moral philosophy’? In this article, we argue that Williams responded to the concerns of his day indirectly, refraining from explicitly claiming wider cultural relevance, but hinting at it in the pair of epigraphs that opens the main text. This was Williams’s solution (...) to what he perceived as the stylistic problem of how to pursue philosophy as cultural critique. Taking the epigraphs as interpretative keys to the wider resonances of the book, we show how they reveal Williams’s philosophical concerns – with the primacy of character over method, the obligation to follow orders, and the possibility of combining truth, truthfulness, and a meaningful life in a disillusioned world – to be recognisably rooted in the cultural concerns of post-war Britain. In the light of its epigraphs, the book emerges as the critique of a philosophical tradition’s inadequacies to the special difficulties of its cultural moment. (shrink)
Partiality is the special concern that we display for ourselves and other people with whom we stand in some special personal relationship. It is a central theme in moral philosophy, both ancient and modern. Questions about the justification of partiality arise in the context of enquiry into several moral topics, including the good life and the role in it of our personal commitments; the demands of impartial morality, equality, and other moral ideals; and commonsense ideas about supererogation. This paper provides (...) an overview of the debate on the ethics of partiality through the lens of the domains of permissible and required partiality. After outlining the conceptual space, I first discuss agent-centred moral options that concern permissions not to do what would be impartially optimal. I then focus on required partiality, which concerns associative duties that go beyond our general duties to others and require us to give special priority to people who are close to us. I discuss some notable features of associative duties and the two main objections that have been raised against them: the Voluntarist and the Distributive objections. I then turn to the justification of partiality, focusing on underivative approaches and reasons-based frameworks. I discuss the reductionism and non-reductionism debate: the question whether partiality is derivative or fundamental. I survey arguments for ‘the big three’, according to which partiality is justified by appeal to the special value of either projects, personal relationships, or individuals. I conclude by discussing four newly emerging areas in the debate: normative transitions of various personal relationships, relationships with AI, epistemic partiality, and negative partiality, which concerns the negative analogue of our positive personal relationships. (shrink)
According to Stephen Darwall, being with others involves an implicit, second-personal respect for them. I argue that this is correct as far as it goes. Calling on Jean-Luc Nancy’s more ontological account of being-with, though, I also argue that Darwall’s account overlooks something morally very important: right at the heart of the being-with that gives us to ourselves as answerable to others on the basis of determinate, contractualist moral principles, we encounter an irreducible excess of sense that renders those principles (...) questionable. Following Nancy, I characterize this exposure to excess as adoration and develop some of its moral implications. (shrink)
The aim of this paper is to analyze the basis for the moral obligation to remember. As the moral relation to the past is primarily a matter of shared identity, the kind of obligation in question splits into two related issues, namely, that of political, state-oriented and state-organized memory on which the political identity rests and that of memory labour grounded in social identities based in shared, time-extended projects. Drawing upon tensions between these two, I discuss time control and the (...) accumulation of identity as central to memory labour and, referring to John Zerzan’s critique of symbolical roots of power, pinpoint the moral basis of such an accumulation. On the basis of this, I argue for nesting the duty to remember in acknowledging the agent’s recognition of the relatedness and dependency of their agency and possibilities of flourishing which can be obtained thanks to adjusting the field of the virtue of practical wisdom so that it includes members of the time-extended community. (shrink)
Building on her previous work (2004, 2012, 2013), Christine Korsgaard’s recent book Fellow Creatures (2018) has provided the most highly developed Kantian account of duties towards animals. I raise two issues with the results of this account. First, the duties that Korsgaard accounts for are duties “towards” animals in name only. Since Korsgaard does not reject the Kantian conception in which direct duties towards others require mutual moral constraint, what she calls duties “towards” animals are merely Kantian duties regarding animals, (...) verbally repackaged. Hence, Korsgaard’s account is best understood as an expansion (albeit a substantial one) of Kant’s own view of an indirect duty regarding animals. Second, the expansion does not take us quite as far as Korsgaard hopes. She aims for a conception in which our duties towards animals and humans are equally important, but her argument does not support this conclusion. I point out the potential for a more radical revision of Kant’s anthropocentrism that rejects his underlying assumption that duties towards others are based on mutual constraint. (shrink)
There are plenty of classic paradoxes about conditional obligations, like the duty to be gentle if one is to murder, and about “supererogatory” deeds beyond the call of duty. But little has been said about the intersection of these topics. We develop the first general account of conditional supererogation, with the power to solve familiar puzzles as well as several that we introduce. Our account, moreover, flows from two familiar ideas: that conditionals restrict quantification and that supererogation emerges from a (...) clash between justifying and requiring reasons. (shrink)
Gibt es überzeugende Überforderungseinwände gegen anspruchsvolle moralische Auffassungen? In diesem Buch werden Überforderungseinwände präzise charakterisiert, systematisch eingeordnet und argumentativ verteidigt. Unter Berücksichtigung der wichtigsten philosophischen Beiträge zum Thema wird gezeigt, weshalb gewisse Moraltheorien und -prinzipien dafür kritisiert werden können, dass sie zu viel von einzelnen Personen verlangen.
What do we owe each other when we act together? According to normativists about collective action, necessarily something and potentially quite a bit. They contend that collective action inherently involves a special normative status amongst participants, which may, for example, involve mutual obligations to receive the concurrence of the others before leaving. We build on recent empirical work whose results lend plausibility to a normativist account by further investigating the specific package of mutual obligations associated with collective action according to (...) our everyday understanding. However, our results cast doubt on a proposed obligation to seek the permission of co-actors before exiting a collective action, and suggest instead that this obligation is a function of explicit promising. We then discuss how our results pave the path for a new normativism, a theory that neither under- nor overshoots the target given by our common conception of the interpersonal obligations present in collective action.*. (shrink)
What is it for a duty or obligation to be directed? Thinking about paradigmatic cases such as the obligations generated by promises will take us only so far in answering this question. This paper starts by surveying several approaches for understanding directed duties, as well as the challenges they face. It turns out that shared agency features something similar to the directedness of duties. This suggests an account of directedness in terms of shared agency – specifically, in terms of the (...) so-called practical intimacy that holds between individuals when they act together. The final section addresses a challenge to the shared agency approach posed by legal wronging in tort law. (shrink)
This short paper offers a skeptical solution to Åqvist's paradox of epistemic obligation. The solution is based on the contention that in SDL/KDT logics the externalist features of knowledge, about which we cannot have obligations, are obscured.
The (moral) permissibility of an act is determined by the relative weights of reasons, or so I assume. But how many weights does a reason have? Weight Monism is the idea that reasons have a single weight value. There is just the weight of reasons. The simplest versions hold that the weight of each reason is either weightier than, less weighty than, or equal to every other reason. We’ll see that this simple view leads to paradox in at least two (...) ways. We must complicate the picture somehow. I consider two candidate complications. The first, Parity Monism, is inspired by Ruth Chang’s suggestion that parity is a fourth comparative beyond the traditional three (>, <, =). This view complicates the single weight relation by allowing that the weights of reasons can be on a par. Unfortunately, Parity Monism resolves only one of the two paradoxes that afflict simple versions of Weight Monism. To resolve both paradoxes, we need our second candidate complication, Weight Pluralism. This view holds that reasons have at least two weight values (e.g., justifying weight and requiring weight) and these two values aren’t always equivalent. Parity is no substitute for Pluralism. (shrink)
Divine command theory is experiencing something of a renaissance, inspired in large part by Robert Adams’s 1999 masterpiece Finite and Infinite Goods. I argue here that divine commands are not always necessary for actions to be morally obligatory. I make the case that the DCT-ist’s own commitments put pressure on her to concede the existence of some moral obligations that in no way depend on divine commands. Focusing on Robert Adams’s theistic framework for ethics, I argue that Adams’s views about (...) good, evil, reasons, and the nature of moral obligation suggest that there can be moral obligations that exist independently of any divine commands. My argument proceeds through the development of an example in which there is a moral obligation that is not even partially grounded in a divine command. I focus primarily on Adams’s view because, many contemporary divine command theorists work in a broadly Adams-ian framework, so the argument that I advance here poses a challenge for many contemporary versions of DCT. (shrink)
Effective altruism’s identity as both a philosophy and a social movement requires effective altruists to consider which philosophical commitments are essential, such that one must embrace them in order to count as an effective altruist, at least in part in the light of the goal of building a robust social movement capable of advancing its aims. The goal of building a social movement provides a strong reason for effective altruists to embrace an ecumenical set of core commitments. At the same (...) time, there are risks involved in adopting an ecumenical approach to social movement building. In this paper, I develop a view about how effective altruists should characterize the movement’s core philosophical commitments, in light of the challenges of social movement building. I suggest that John Rawls’s idea of an “overlapping consensus” provides a useful model for thinking about the philosophical core and broader structure of the movement. (shrink)
In a recent paper, Thomas Carnes develops a novel argument for reparations for historical injustices. This Reply shows that Carnes succeeds only at the cost of invoking an implausible formalism. The Reply also presents in brief a simpler argument for reparations.
In this paper, I outline and defend a commonly-held moral view which has received surprisingly little sustained philosophical attention. This view, which I call the ‘authority of conscience,’ states that believing ourselves to have moral obligations to act in a certain way does in fact create an obligation to act in that way. Although I do not provide a positive case for the principle of authoritative conscience, beyond its popularity and intuitive force, I defend it against several prima facie objections. (...) I then go on to demonstrate that the principle does not entail any anti-realist metaethical commitments, and is therefore compatible in particular, and contrary to appearances, with plausible formulations of moral realism. (shrink)
My goal in this piece is to show that there is a problem lurking in the shadows of recent attempts to derive positive duties from Kant’s so-called universalizability tests and, further, to show that the most obvious way of fixing these attempts renders them unable to fulfill their function. I shall begin by motivating and explaining such an attempt.
Organizations have neither a right to the vote nor a weighty right to life. We need not enfranchise Goldman Sachs. We should feel few scruples in dissolving Standard Oil. But they are not without rights altogether. We can owe it to them to keep our promises. We can owe them debts of gratitude. Thus, we can owe some things to organizations. But we cannot owe them everything we can owe to people. They seem to have a peculiar, fragmented moral status. (...) What explains this? Individualistic views explain this in terms of individualistic notions alone. Such notions don’t invoke any distinctive features of organizations. They just invoke the features of individual members of organizations. Collectivistic views, instead, explain this in terms of collective notions alone. Such notions don’t invoke the features of individual members of organizations. They just invoke the features of those organizations. We argue that neither approach works. Instead, one needs to synthesize the two approaches. Some individual interests, we think, are distinctively collective. We, as individuals, have a distinctive interest in playing a part in successful collective action. From this, so we argue, flows the apparently peculiar, fragmented moral status of organizations. (shrink)
Supererogatory acts—good deeds “beyond the call of duty”—are a part of moral common sense, but conceptually puzzling. I propose a unified solution to three of the most infamous puzzles: the classic Paradox of Supererogation (if it’s so good, why isn’t it just obligatory?), Horton’s All or Nothing Problem, and Kamm’s Intransitivity Paradox. I conclude that supererogation makes sense if, and only if, the grounds of rightness are multi-dimensional and comparative.
Moral subjectivism is commonly associated with out-of-favour theories like, e.g., Alfred Ayer’s emotivism or John Mackie’s error theory. This paper approaches the field against the background of the attitudinal character of morality and religion. The possibility of a brand of moral subjectivism is established which is common to Ayer’s and Mackie’s theories in name only yet still has significant merits. The perspective from action theory and the philosophy of mind suggests that the problem of moral obligation, central to moral philosophy, (...) is more convincingly dealt with by subjectivism than by its rivals: In contrast to realism or even relativism (with which subjectivism is often confused), subjectivism can help to explain the peculiarities of obligation without forcing us to disregard the parallel problem in the field of religion. This finding calls into question the rationale for, as well as the success of, central assumptions in ontology and semantics which the realist so freely hands out in order to make his point: If religious facts and the truth-aptness of religious judgements will not explain religious obligation, moral facts and the truth-aptness of moral judgements will not help the moral realist either. So unless we do not wish to simply cast the problem of moral obligation aside, in future, moral subjectivism must be seriously considered as a worthwhile position in its own right. [in German] **************************************************************************************************** ********** Moralischer Subjektivismus ist ein Oberbegriff für Theorien wie Alfred Ayers „Emotivismus“ und John Mackies „Irrtumstheorie“, die heute kaum noch Vertreter finden. In diesem Aufsatz beleuchte ich das Feld vom Einstellungscharakter von Moral und Religion her. Ich lege so die Möglichkeit eines anderen moralischen Subjektivismus dar, der mit Ayers oder Mackies Theorie nur das Rubrum gemein hätte und doch gewichtige Vorzüge aufweist. Die handlungstheoretische Betrachtung von Moral und Religion mit Hilfe der Philosophie des Geistes legt nahe, dass dieser moralische Subjektivismus mit dem für die Moralphilosophie zentralen Problem des moralischen Sollens besser umgehen kann als seine Rivalen: Anders als der Realismus oder gar der Relativismus (mit dem der Subjektivismus oft verwechselt wird), kann der hier ausgeleuchtete Subjektivismus mit der besonderen Verbindlichkeit moralischer Forderungen umgehen, ohne die Parallele zur besonderen Verbindlichkeit religiöser Forderungen in Abrede stellen zu müssen. Die Rolle und Durchschlagkraft der vom Realisten so freigiebig gespendeten ontologischen oder semantischen Zusatzannahmen er- scheint vor diesem Hintergrund fragwürdig. Dem religiösen Realisten wird man vergleichbare Annahmen nicht zugeben wollen und muss es auch nicht. Dann aber können wir die Erklärung besonderer Verbindlichkeit generell nicht auf Ontologie oder Semantik gründen. Der verbreitete Appell an sogenannte moralische Tatsachen oder die behauptete Wahrheitsfähigkeit moralischer Sätze erweist sich so als wirkungslos. Sofern wir das Problem des moralischen Sollens überhaupt weiter ernst nehmen wollen, muss der moralische Subjektivismus als Position künftig ernsthaft erwogen werden. (shrink)
ABSTRACT An influential argument against the possibility of obligations to oneself states that the very notion of such obligations is incoherent: If there were such obligations, we could release ourselves from them; yet releasing oneself from an obligation is impossible. I challenge this argument by arguing against the premise that it is impossible to release oneself from an obligation. I point out that this premise assumes that if it were possible to release oneself from an obligation, it would be impossible (...) to violate that obligation. I note that there are two interpretations of this assumption, one conceptual and one psychological. I argue that, on both interpretations, the assumption is false—at least according to independently plausible accounts of obligations to oneself and of what it means to waive an obligation. My arguments paint a picture of obligations to oneself that not only challenges the argument against their coherence, but also illuminates these obligations’ relationship to other parts of the moral domain. (shrink)