How should we make decisions when we're uncertain about what we ought, morally, to do? Decision-making in the face of fundamental moral uncertainty is underexplored terrain: MacAskill, Bykvist, and Ord argue that there are distinctive norms by which it is governed, and which depend on the nature of one's moral beliefs.
N.B. Dr Bykvist is now based at the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford. The full-text of this article is not currently available in ORA, but you may be able to access the article via the publisher copy link on this record page.
What should we do when we are not certain about what we morally should do? There is a long history of theorizing about decision-making under empirical uncertainty, but surprisingly little has been written about the moral uncertainty expressed by this question. Only very recently have philosophers started to systematically address the nature of such uncertainty and its impacts on decision-making. This paper addresses the main problems raised by moral uncertainty and critically examines some proposed solutions.
Understanding value in terms of fitting attitudes is all the rage these days. According to this fitting attitude analysis of value (FA-analysis for short) what is good is what it is fitting to favour in some sense. Many aspects of the FA-analysis have been discussed. In particular, a lot of discussion has been concerned with the wrong-reason objection: it can be fitting to have an attitude towards something for reasons that have nothing to do with the value the thing has (...) in itself. Much less attention has been paid to the problem of identifying the relevant attitudes in virtue of which value is supposed to be defined. An old complaint, however, is that the FA-analysis is bound to be circular, because the fitting attitude is best seen as an evaluative judgement or an evaluative experience. In this paper, I am arguing that the challenge to find a non-circular account is deepened by the fact that on many popular non-evaluative understandings of favouring, there are good states of affairs that it is never fitting to favour, because it is logically impossible or irrational to favour them. I will also show that the remaining candidate of favouring, 'imaginative emotional feeling', will generate a new version of the wrong-reason objection if it is put to use in the FA-account. I shall conclude that the prospects of finding a non-circular FA-analysis look bleak. (shrink)
This paper argues that we can benefit or harm people by creating them, but only in the sense that we can create things that are good or bad for them. What we cannot do is to confer comparative benefits and harms to people by creating them or failing to create them. You are not better off created than you would have been had you not been created, for nothing has value for you if you do not exist, not even neutral (...) value. (shrink)
What is the prudentially right thing to do in situations in which our actions will shape our preferences? Suppose, for instance, that you are considering getting married, and that you know that if you get married, you will prefer being unmarried, and that if you stay unmarried, you will prefer being married. This is the problem I will deal with in this article. I will begin by explaining why preferences matter to prudence. I will then go on to discuss a (...) couple of unsuccessful theories and see what we can learn from their mistakes. One of the most important lessons is that how you would have felt about a life had you never led it is irrelevant to the question of what you prudentially ought to do. My theory takes this into account. What counts is how you feel about a life when you are actually leading it. (Published Online August 21 2006). (shrink)
Michael Smith has recently argued that non-cognitivists are unable to accommodate crucial structural features of moral belief, and in particular that non-cognitivists have trouble accounting for subjects' certitude with respect to their moral beliefs. James Lenman and Michael Ridge have independently constructed 'ecumenical' versions of non-cognitivism, intended to block this objection. We argue that these responses do not work. If ecumenical non-cognitivism, a hybrid view which incorporates both non-cognitivist and cognitivist elements, fails to meet Smith's challenge, it is unlikely that (...) 'purer' and more familiar versions of non-cognitivism will succeed. (shrink)
The simple idea behind act-consequentialism isthat we ought to choose the action whoseoutcome is better than that of any alternativeaction. In a recent issue of this journal, ErikCarlson has argued that given a reasonableinterpretation of alternative actions thissimple idea cannot be upheld but that the newtheory he proposes nevertheless preserves theact-consequentialist spirit. My aim in thispaper is to show that Carlson is wrong on bothcounts. His theory, contrary to his ownintentions, is not an act-consequentialisttheory. By building on a theory formulated (...) byHolly Smith, I will show that the simple ideacan be upheld. The new theory I will proposehas all the merits of Carlson's theory withoutsharing its demerits. (shrink)
Recently, there has been a revival in taking empirical magnitudes seriously. Weights, heights, velocities and the like have been accepted as abstract entities in their own right rather than just equivalence classes of objects. The aim of my paper is to show that this revival should include value magnitudes. If we posit such magnitudes, important value comparisons can be easily explained; it becomes easier to satisfy the axioms for measurement of value; goodness, badness, and neutrality can be given univocal definitions; (...) value aggregation can be given a non-mathematical understanding which allows for Moorean organic unities. Of course, this does not come for free. One has to accept a rich ontology of abstract value magnitudes, but, to quote David Lewis, ‘The price is right; the benefits in theoretical unity and economy are well worth the entities.’. (shrink)
Introduction -- The nature and assessment of moral theories -- What is utilitarianism? -- Well-being -- Utilitarian aggregation -- A user-friendly guide to action? -- Is utilitarianism too demanding? -- Is utilitarianism too permissive? -- The way outcomes are brought about -- The place of rules in utilitarianism.
Just as we can be more or less certain about empirical matters, we can be more or less certain about normative matters. Recently, it has been argued that this is a challenge for noncognitivism about normativity. Michael Smith presented the challenge in a 2002 paper and James Lenman and Michael Ridge responded independently. Andrew Sepielli has now joined the rescue operation. His basic idea is that noncognitivists should employ the notion of being for to account for normative certitude. We shall (...) argue that the being for account of normative certitude is vulnerable to many problems shared by other noncognitivist theories. Furthermore, we shall argue that Sepielli’s account has its own problems: His favored normalization procedure for degrees of being for has highly problematic implications. (shrink)
L. A. Paul has recently argued that the epistemically transformative nature of certain experiences makes it impossible to rationally decide whether to have the experience or not. We start by explaining why, contrary to what Paul claims, epistemically transformative experiences do not pose a general problem for the possibility of rational choice. However, we show there is a particular type of agent for whom the problem identified by Paul does arise. With this agent in mind, we examine Paul’s own suggestion (...) for how to approach a transformative decision problem, namely, that one should decide based on whether one would like to come to know the experience in question, and we conclude that Paul’s suggestion is no solution for this particular agent. In other words, Paul’s solution does not work for the only type of agent for whom the problem she has identified arises. (shrink)
Accommodating degrees of moral certitude is a serious problem for non-cognitivism about ethics. In particular, non-cognitivism has trouble accommodating fundamental moral certitude. John Eriksson and Ragnar Francén Olinder  have recently proposed a solution. In fact, Eriksson and Francén Olinder offer two different proposals—one ‘classification’ account and one ‘projectivist’ account. We argue that the classification account faces the same problem as previous accounts do, while the projectivist account has unacceptable implications. Non-cognitivists will have to look elsewhere for a plausible solution (...) to the problem of accommodating fundamental moral certitude. (shrink)
How do we determine the well-being of a person when her preferences are not stable across worlds? Suppose, for instance, that you are considering getting married, and that you know that if you get married, you will prefer being unmarried, and that if you stay unmarried, you will prefer being married. The general problem is to find a stable standard of well-being when the standard is set by preferences that are not stable. In this paper, I shall show that the (...) problem is even worse: inconsistency threatens if we accept both that your desires determine what is good for you and that you must prefer what is better for you. After I have introduced a useful toy model and stated the inconsistency argument, I will go on to discuss a couple of unsuccessful theories and see what we can learn from their mistakes. One important lesson is that how you would have felt about a life had you never led it is irrelevant to the question of how good that life is for you. What counts is how you feel about your life when you are actually leading it. Another lesson is that a life can be better for you even if you would not rank it higher, if you were to lead it. (shrink)
All else being equal, creating a miserable person makes the world worse, and creating an ecstatic person makes it better. Such claims are easily justified if it can be better, or worse, for a person to exist than not to exist. But that seems to require that things can be better, or worse, for a person even in a world in which she does not exist. Ingmar Persson defends this seemingly paradoxical claim in his latest book, Inclusive Ethics. He argues (...) that persons that never exist are merely possible beings for whom non-existence is worse than existence with a good life. We argue that Persson's argument, as stated in his book, has false premises and is invalid. We reconstruct the argument to make it valid, but the premises remain highly problematic. Finally, we argue, one can make sense of our procreative obligations without letting merely possible beings into the moral club. (shrink)
Act-consequentialism is usually taken to be the view that we ought to perform the act that will have the best consequences. But this definition ignores the possibility of various non-maximizing forms of act-consequentialism, e.g. satisficing theories that tell us to perform the act whose consequences will be good enough. What seems crucial to act-consequentialism is not that we ought to maximize value but that the normative status of alternative actions depends solely on the values of their outcomes. The purpose of (...) this paper is to spell out this dependency claim and argue that it should be seen as the denning feature of act-consequentialism. In particular, I will defend the definition against certain objections that purport to show that the definition is too wide and too narrow. (shrink)
John Broome's Weighing Lives provides a much-needed framework for the intriguing problems of population ethics. It is also an impressive attempt to find a workable solution to these problems. I am not sure that Broome has found the right solution, but I think he has done the ethics profession a tremendous service in tidying up the discussion. The framework he presents will make it possible for the participants in this debate to formulate their positions in a clear and precise manner. (...) Even people who disagree with him will be helped by this framework, since they will now be able to show exactly where their views differ. (shrink)
The long sweep of human history has involved a continuing interaction between peoples' efforts to improve their well-being and the environment's stability to sustain those efforts. Throughout most of that history, the interactions between human development and the environment have been relatively simple and local affairs. But the complexity and scale of those interactions are increasing. What were once local incidents of pollution shared throughout a common watershed or air basin now involve multile nations - witness the concerns for acid (...) desposition in Europe and North America. What were once acute episodes of relatively reversible damage now affect multiple generations - witness the debates over disposal of chemical and radioactive wastes. (shrink)
In a recent book, Wayne Sumner gives a lucid and very thorough treatment of the standard accounts of well-being. While his criticisms of hedonism and objectivism are convincing, his objections to preferentialism are less so. He argues that preferentialism is seriously mistaken, for preference satisfaction is neither sufficient nor necessary for well-being. In this paper, I show that Sumner’s arguments do not support this conclusion. In particular, I show that some of his main criticisms are based on a straw man (...) conception of well-being preferentialism. I discuss this conception in the second section of this paper. In the third section, I deal with his criticism of the sufficiency claim. I show that his criticisms can be met by adopting a personal restriction that excludes preferences that do not involve the preferrer and his life. Finally, in the fourth section, I turn to his criticism of the necessity claim. (shrink)
: This paper focuses on cases of epistemically transformative experiences, as Paul calls them, cases where we have radically different experiences that teach us something we would not have learned otherwise. Paul raises the new and rather intriguing question of whether epistemic transformative experiences pose a general problem for the very possibility of rational decision-making. It is argued that there is an important grain of truth in Paul’s set up and solution when it is applied to a certain narrowly defined (...) set of cases – choices to have a new taste experience in a safe environment, where no important objective values are at stake. But the way she generalizes this approach to large-scale life choices, such as the choice to become a parent, is less convincing. Furthermore, given a proper understanding of revelatory value, there is no need to reconfigure the agent’s choice situation in order to enable rational decision-making. Keywords: Transformative Experience; Rational Decision-Making; Revelatory Value; Subjective Value La riconfigurazione dei problemi decisionali nell’ottica di Transformative Experiences di L.A. Paul Riassunto: Questo lavoro si concentra sui casi di esperienze epistemicamente trasformative, come le definisce Paul, casi in cui abbiamo esperienze radicalmente differenti che ci insegnano qualcosa che non avremmo appreso diversamente. Paul solleva una questione nuova e alquanto intrigante, ossia se le esperienze epistemicamente trasformative pongano un problema generale per l’effettiva possibilità della decisione razionale. Si sosterrà come vi sia un importante elemento di verità nella posizione e nella soluzione di Paul, se riferite a un ristretto numero di casi – la scelta di provare una nuova esperienza in un ambiente sicuro, dove non sono in gioco valori oggettivamente importanti. E, tuttavia, il modo in cui Paul generalizza questo approccio investendo un vasto ambito di scelte di vita, quali la scelta di diventare genitore, è meno convincente. Inoltre, data un’adeguata comprensione di valori rivelativi, non c’è bisogno di riconfigurare il contesto di scelta dell’agente per attivare un processo decisionale razionale. Parole chiave: Esperienza trasformativa; Decisione razionale; Valore rivelativo; Valore soggettivo. (shrink)
I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to comment on McKerlie's interesting article, especially since it concerns one of my pet topics and provides many helpful comments on one of my own articles on this topic. My comments will be brief because I agree with most of his points, in particular, his criticisms of the prudential view and the present-aim theory. What I want to do here is just to clarify a couple of things concerning my own theory, (...) concede some of the difficulties that McKerlie raises for my theory, and see to what extent his own proposal fares better than my own theory. (shrink)
Desire-based theories of well-being are often said to accept (G), x is good for a person just in case he wants it, and (B), x is better for a person than y just in case he prefers x to y. I shall argue that (G) and (B) are inconsistent, and this inconsistency resists any plausible refinement of these principles. The inconsistency is brought out by cases in which our wants and preferences for certain life-options are contingent on which life-option we (...) realize. My argument can be generalized to endorsement theories that define a person’s good as the right combination of some kind of objective desirability and subjective endorsement, and allow preferences to be tie-breakers when the compared objects are equally desirable (or incommensurable). My conclusions will not just be negative. I shall argue that if the choice is between (G) and (B), the most attractive option is to keep (G), slightly refined, and drop (B). (shrink)
Just as we can be more or less certain that there is extraterrestrial life or that Goldbach’s conjecture is correct, we can be more or less certain about normative matters, such as whether euthanasia is permissible or whether utilitarianism is true. However, accommodating the phenomenon of degrees of normative certitude is a difficult challenge for non-cognitivist and expressivist views, according to which normative judgements are desire-like attitudes rather than beliefs. Several attempts have been made on behalf of non-cognitivism and expressivism (...) to meet the challenge Studies in metaethics, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2007; Sepielli in Philos Stud 160: 191–207, 2012; Eriksson and Francén Olinder in Aust J Philos 94: 719–735, 2016). These attempts have all been found wanting. Michael Ridge has recently offered a quasi-realist solution, according to which expressivists can say exactly what cognitivists say about certitude, including normative certitude. In this paper, we explain the basic problem and Ridge’s quasi-realist solution. We then argue that the quasi-realist account of normative certitude faces severe difficulties that do not arise for cognitivist accounts, according to which normative judgements are beliefs. (shrink)
ABSTRACT Broome’s target in his paper is the popular claim that rationality consists in responding correctly to reasons. He takes this to be the reductive claim that rationality reduces to responding correctly to reasons, which in turn he takes to entail that the property of rationality is identical to the property of responding correctly to reasons. It is this identity claim that Broome attempts to refute by showing that the properties that are supposed to be identical cannot be so because (...) they themselves do not share all properties. In this short commentary, I shall say something about the overall structure of Broome’s argument. More specifically, I shall argue that in its current form his argument rests on a very controversial premise, but that it can be replaced with an argument that avoids it and has wider significance. I shall also question the way Broome deals with the so-called Kantian argument against his own argument. Finally, I shall sketch an alternative view of rationality, which agrees with Broome that it supervenes on the mind, but disagrees with him on the question of whether it itself is a purely mental property. (shrink)