When it comes to the duty of beneficence, a formidable class of moderate positions holds that morally significant considerations emerge when one's actions are seen as part of a larger series. Agglomeration, according to these moderates, limits the demands of beneficence, thereby avoiding the extremely demanding view forcefully defended by Peter Singer. This idea has much appeal. What morality can demand of people is, it seems, appropriately modulated by how much they have already done or will do. Here we examine (...) a number of recent proposals that appeal to agglomeration. None of them, we argue, succeeds. (shrink)
A new kind of debate about the normative error theory has emerged. Whereas longstanding debates have fixed on the error theory’s plausibility, this new debate concerns the theory’s believability. Bart Streumer is the chief proponent of the error theory’s unbelievability. In this brief essay, we argue that Streumer’s argument prevails against extant critiques, and then press a criticism of our own.
A dogma of contemporary normative theorizing holds that some reasons are distinctively moral while others are not. Call this view Reasons Pluralism. This essay looks at four approaches to vindicating the apparent distinction between moral and non-moral reasons. In the end, however, all are found wanting. Though not dispositive, the failure of these approaches supplies strong evidence that the dogma of Reasons Pluralism is ill-founded.
How should we understand the relationship between binary belief and degree of belief? To answer this question, we should look to desire. Whatever relationship we think holds between desire and degree of desire should be used as our model for the relationship we think holds between belief and degree of belief. This parity pushes us towards an account that treats the binary attitudes as primary. But if we take binary beliefs as primary, we seem to face a serious problem. Binary (...) beliefs are insufficiently discriminating. If we treat them as primary, we will lack the resources needed for fruitful theorizing. This problem can, I argue, be solved if we think of an agent’s degree of belief that p as reducible to her binary believing that p and the change in the apparent reasons that would be needed to get her to withhold. (shrink)
Agent-relative consequentialism is thought attractive because it can secure agent-centred constraints while retaining consequentialism's compelling idea—the idea that it is always permissible to bring about the best available outcome. We argue, however, that the commitments of agent-relative consequentialism lead it to run afoul of a plausibility requirement on moral theories. A moral theory must not be such that, in any possible circumstance, were every agent to act impermissibly, each would have more reason to prefer the world thereby actualized over the (...) world that would have been actualized if every agent had instead acted permissibly. (shrink)
_Thinking Through Utilitarianism: A Guide to Contemporary Arguments_ offers something new among texts elucidating the ethical theory known as Utilitarianism. Intended primarily for students ready to dig deeper into moral philosophy, it examines, in a dialectical and reader-friendly manner, a set of normative principles and a set of evaluative principles leading to what is perhaps the most defensible version of Utilitarianism. With the aim of laying its weaknesses bare, each principle is serially introduced, challenged, and then defended. The result is (...) a battery of stress tests that shows with great clarity not only what is attractive about the theory, but also where its problems lie. It will fascinate any student ready for a serious investigation into what we ought to do and what is of value. (shrink)
What are we required to do? Who are we required to be? And why are we required to do these things or be these types of people? Ethical theories attempt to systematically answer these questions. This essay examines the most prominent such theories, evaluating each for their strengths and weaknesses.
In this essay, I argue, on the one hand, if we think egalitarian considerations justify libraries, we should think that these same egalitarian considerations justify stealing books online. If, on the other hand, we think that economic incentives justify a prohibition against stealing books online, we should think those same economic considerations justify a prohibition against libraries.
In recent years, an impressive research program has developed around non-analytic reductions of the normative. Nevertheless, non-analytic naturalists face a damning dilemma: either they need to give the same reductive analysis for epistemic and practical reasons, or they can give a different analyses by treating epistemic and practical reasons as a species of the larger genus, reasonhood. Since, for example, a desire-based account of epistemic reasons is implausible, the reductionist must opt for the latter. Yet, if the desire-based account of (...) practical reasons is merely a species of the larger genus, then, due to a violation of irreflexivity, the reduction fails. (shrink)
In this brief essay, we clarify Cohen’s ‘Facts and Principles’ argument, and then argue that the objections posed by two recent critiques of Cohen—Robert Jubb (Res Publica 15:337–353, 2009) and Edward Hall (Res Publica 19:173–181, 2013)—look especially vulnerable to the charge of being self-defeating. It may still be that Cohen’s view concerning facts and principles is false. Our aim here is merely to show that two recent attempts to demonstrate its falsity are unlikely to succeed.
Due largely to the influential work of Ronald Dworkin, there is an ongoing debate concerning the possibility of genuine metaethical theorizing. Dworkin, and others, argue that metaethical theories collapse into first-order normative theories. In his short and widely neglected paper, L.W. Sumner provides a compelling account of how to engage in metaethical theorizing while avoiding substantive moral commitments.
There is a tension between Robert Talisse's rejection of Deweyan democracy and his project of formulating a workable Peircean conception of democracy. If he follows Rawls in taking reasonable pluralism to be a permanent condition, then his Peircean conception of democracy is undermined. But, if he does not commit to the permanence of reasonable pluralism, then his rejection of Deweyan democracy is problematic. Since he chooses the latter interpretation, Talisse must bite the bullet and recognize that Peircean epistemic perfectionists cannot (...) yet bid a definitive farewell to Deweyan democracy. (shrink)
This collection of essays brings together some of the leading legal, political and moral theorists to discuss the normative issues that arise when war concludes and when a society strives to regain peace. In the transition from war, mass atrocity or a repressive regime, how should we regard the idea of democracy and human rights? Should regimes be toppled unless they are democratic or is it sufficient that these regimes are less repressive than before? Are there moral reasons for thinking (...) that soldiers should be relieved of responsibility so as to advance the goal of peace building? And how should we regard the often conflicting goals of telling the truth about what occurred in the past and allowing individuals to have their day in court? These questions and more are analyzed in detail. It also explores whether jus post bellum itself should be a distinct field of inquiry. (shrink)
The most inclusive anthology of its kind, Exploring Moral Problems covers both classic issues and often-neglected topics including the meaning of life, prostitution, organ sales, pornography, drug legalization, gun control, immigration, reparations, racism, sexism, sex and consent, sexual harassment, and climate change. The readings have been carefully edited to make them understandable to every reader. Each selection is accompanied by an introduction and study questions that help students comprehend the material. Reflecting the major role of women in philosophy today, more (...) than 1/3 of the contemporary essays are authored by women. (shrink)
Foundations of Moral Philosophy: Readings in Metaethics is a comprehensive collection of fifty-six contemporary readings and historical sources on major issues in metaethics. It focuses on the meaning of moral terms, the nature of moral psychology, whether we can know moral truths (if there are any), and the role of moral reasons. The book features unparalleled representation of women philosophers, with one-third of the contemporary articles authored or coauthored by women. Wherever appropriate, the articles have been carefully edited to ensure (...) that they will be exceptionally clear and understandable to undergraduate students. The volume is enhanced by a general introduction, introductions and study questions for each selection, and a detailed glossary. (shrink)
This timely anthology gathers forty historical and contemporary readings edited for accessibility. Short introductions precede each reading and a general introduction increase student comprehension across the spectrum of readings. The volume is ideal for all levels of students in civics, political theory, and philosophy courses.
Extending recent appropriations of Charles S. Peirce's work in political theory, we argue that the same epistemic norms that justify democracy offer a plausible basis for justifying multiculturalist policies aimed at protecting at-risk cultural groups. Because this epistemic argument is compatible with a full range of reasonable comprehensive doctrines, it fully accommodates the fact of reasonable pluralism, thereby skirting the Rawlsian objection to which the multiculturalisms of Charles Taylor and Will Kymlicka fall prey.
One vexing question for Desire Satisfactionism is this: At what time do you benefit from a satisfied desire? Recently Eden Lin has proposed an intriguing answer. On this proposal – Asymmetrism – when past-directed desires are satisfied, the time interval during which you benefit is the time of the desire; and, when future-directed desires are satisfied, the time interval during which you benefit is the time of the object. In this essay, I argue that Asymmetrism forces us to give implausible (...) answers to a different question: To what extent does a given satisfied desire benefit you? (shrink)
Recently, Cohen and Timmerman, 1–18, 2016) argue that actualism has control issues. The view should be rejected, they claim, as it recognizes a morally irrelevant distinction between counterfactuals over which agents exercise the same kind of control. Here we reply on behalf of actualism.
Drawing on the work of Jeremy Bentham, we can forward a parity thesis concerning formal and substantive legal invalidity. Formal and substantive invalidity are, according to this thesis, traceable to the same source, namely, the sovereign's inability to adjust expectations to motivate obedience. The parity thesis, if defensible, has great appeal for positivists. Explaining why contradictory or contrary mandates yield invalidity is unproblematic. But providing an account of content-based invalidity invites the collapse of the separation between what the law is (...) and what the law ought to be. Grounding formal and substantive invalidity in a unified source allows us to avoid bringing in any additional apparatus that might compromise this separation. This essay fleshes out and defends the parity thesis. (shrink)
In this essay, I raise a puzzle concerning rational emotions. The puzzle arises from the fact that a handful of very plausible claims seem to commit us to the idea that whether a subject ought to have a certain emotion at a given time in part depends on the fittingness of the intensity of the feelings it involves, and the fittingness of these feelings in part depends on the intensity of the feelings the subject has at that time. Yet this (...) idea is incompatible with another plausible claim: namely, that the deontic properties possessed by a subject having an emotion with a certain intensity are not counterfactually dependent on her having that emotion with that intensity. (shrink)
This essay challenges the analogy argument. The analogy argument aims to show that the international domain satisfies the conditions of a Hobbesian state of nature: There fails to be a super-sovereign to keep all in awe, and hence, like persons in the state of nature, sovereigns are in a war every sovereign against every sovereign. By turning to Hobbes’ account of authorization, however, we see that subjects are under no obligation to obey a sovereign’s commands when doing so would contradict (...) the very end that motivated the authorization of the sovereign in the first place. There is thus an important disanalogy between natural and artificial persons, and this accordingly produces different reactions to the state of nature. (shrink)
Principles of Moral Philosophy: Classic and Contemporary Approaches covers all the major theories in normative ethics--relativism, egoism, divine command theory, natural law, Kantian ethics, consequentialism, pluralism, social contract theory, virtue ethics, the ethics of care, and particularism--and also includes sections on applied ethics and metaethics. It provides students with a balanced introduction to an array of approaches to topics in normative ethics, offering traditional theories alongside criticisms of them. The readings are enhanced by a variety of pedagogical features including a (...) general introduction, an introduction to each reading, study questions after each reading, and a glossary of key terms. -/- With one-third of its contemporary readings authored by women, Principles of Moral Philosophy is the most inclusive and balanced normative ethics reader available. (shrink)
Against non-analytic naturalism and quietist realism, I defend a robust form of non-naturalism. The argument proceeds as follows: In the face of extensional underdetermination, quietist realism cannot non-question-beggingly respond to alternative accounts that offer formally identical but substantively different interpretations of what reasons are. They face what we might call the reasons appropriation problem. In light of this problem, quietists ought to abandon their view in favor of robust realism. By permitting substantive metaphysical claims we can then argue, based on (...) reasonhood being a relation, that reasonhood is an abstract universal. If reasonhood is an abstract universal, then we can non-question-beggingly assert that the counting in favor of relation is a general kind or genus. This poses a dilemma for non-analytic naturalists: either they need to give the same reductive analysis for epistemic and practical reasons, or they can give a different analyses by treating epistemic and practical reasons as a species of the larger genus. However, the former looks extensionally implausible epistemic reasons are not desire-based and the latter entails that the reduction, via a violation of irreflexivity, fails to ground reasonhood. Naturalistic reductions of the normative, accordingly, face a damning dilemma. We should, in the face of this argument, thus accept a robust form of non-naturalist realism. (shrink)
Personal relationships matter. Traditional Consequentialism, given its exclusive focus on agent-neutral goodness, struggles to account for this fact. A recent variant of the theory—one incorporating agent-relativity—is thought to succeed where its traditional counterpart fails. Yet, to secure this advantage, the view must take on certain normative and evaluative commitments concerning personal relationships. As a result, the theory permits cases in which agents do as they ought, yet later ought to prefer that they had done otherwise. That a theory allows such (...) cases is a serious defect. We thus conclude that, in terms of how the theories handle personal relationships, agent-relative consequentialism fairs no better than its traditional counterpart. (shrink)
This essay provides an overview of the elements of normative ethics – deontic verdicts, evaluative claims, determining grounds, and core normative principles. It then turns to how these elements fit together and how they might be filled out. This gives us a precise way of categorizing egoism, act-consequentialism, natural law theory, divine command theory, cultural relativism, Kantianism, and virtue ethics.
A familiar objection to mental state theories of well-being proceeds as follows: Describe a good life. Contrast it with one identical in mental respects, but lacking a connection to reality. Then observe that mental state theories of well-being implausibly hold both lives in equal esteem. Conclude that such views are false. Here we argue this objection fails. There are two ways reality may be thought to matter for well-being. We want to contribute to reality, and we want our experience of (...) the world to be veridical. Yet, if one accepts that reality matters in either of these ways, one must posit differences in well-being where no such differences exist. (shrink)
Are the lives of those fighting on the unjust side of a war worth less than the lives of those fighting on the just side? It is tempting to answer Yes. There is a powerful and popular rationale for this verdict: Things are intrinsically better when people get what they deserve. According to this view, the goodness of a life is the product of one’s desert-adjusted welfare. In this essay, I highlight the troubling implications that adjusting for desert has in (...) the context of war. The implausibility of these implications calls into question the core idea of the desert-adjusted account: namely, that there is some level of welfare that each person deserves, and things would go best if everyone were at these levels. (shrink)
This essay examines the implications Wikipedia holds for theories of deliberative democracy. It argues that while similar in some respects, the mode of interaction within Wikipedia represents a distinctive form of “collaborative editing” that departs from many of the qualities traditionally associated with face-to-face deliberation. This online mode of interaction overcomes many of the problems that distort face-to-face deliberations. By mitigating problems that arise in deliberative practice, such as “group polarization” and “hidden profiles,” the wiki model often realizes the epistemic (...) and procedural aspirations of deliberative democracy. These virtues of the Wikipedia model should not, however, lead to the simple conclusion that it ought to replace traditional face-to-face deliberation. Instead, this essay argues that the collaborative editing process found within Wikipedia ought to be viewed as a promising supplement to traditional deliberation. These two modes of communication ought to be viewed in Madisonian terms – as distinctive forms of interaction that check and balance the vices of one another. When combined, the wiki model promotes the virtues of inclusion and accuracy at large scales, while the face-to-face model excels in conditions of localism and promotes the virtues of solidarity and social capital. (shrink)