Gratitude is a positive emotion, typically classified with joy, pride, happiness and hope. But unlike those emotions, gratitude often comes with normative strings attached—the so-called “debt of gratitude.” Beneficence gives rise to gratitude, but also, potentially, to accusations of ingratitude. The other positive emotions lack a precise counterpart to “ingratitude”: to say that someone is without joy or hopeless or bereft of pride is not (necessarily) to thereby accuse her of a failing. It is, of course, possible to respond inadequately to what should make one joyful, proud or hopeful, but in the case of gratitude this danger seems to be foregrounded in the emotion itself, in the form of the ‘debt of gratitude’.
In this passage of Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, the protagonist Elena describes her frustrations with the fact that she feels consistently bested by her friend Lila. This moves her to consider severing ties with Lila—but instead Elena decides, once again, to scramble to catch up with Lila. Despite the fact that Elena is the one who receives a higher education, she feels that “…I knew little or nothing. She seemed ahead of me in everything, as if she were going to a secret school. I noticed also a tension in her, the desire to prove that she was equal to whatever I was studying.” (p.160) Lila, too, is scrambling to catch up to Elena.
Whatever else liberalism involves, it involves the idea that it is objectionable, and often wrong, for the state, or anyone else, to intervene, in certain ways, in certain choices. This paper aims to evaluate different possible sources of support for this core liberal idea. The result is a pluralistic view. It defends, but also stresses the limits of, some familiar elements: that some illiberal interventions impair valuable activities and that some violate rights against certain kinds of invasion. More speculatively, it points to two further sources of support for liberalism, each of which represents a certain kind of social standing: a self-sovereignty compromised simply by being subject to certain kinds of commands and a relational equality compromised by the condemnation of choices with which one’s group is identified.
Pragmatic arguments have often been employed in support of theistic
belief. Theistic pragmatic arguments are not arguments for the
proposition that God exists; they are arguments that believing that
God exists is rational. The most famous theistic pragmatic argument
Pascal’s Wager. Though we touch on this argument briefly below, this entry focuses
primarily on the theistic pragmatic arguments found in William James,
J.S. Mill, and James Beattie. It also explores the logic of pragmatic
arguments in general, and the pragmatic use of moral arguments in
particular. Finally, this entry looks at an important objection to
the employment of pragmatic arguments in belief formation—the
objection that evidence alone should regulate belief.
Seth Margolis, Daniel Ozer, Sonja Lyubomirsky, and I have designed a new measure of overall life satisfaction. We believe that this measure improves on the most widely used multi-item measure of life satisfaction, Diener et al. …
Constitutivists believe that we can derive universally and unconditionally authoritative norms from the conditions of agency. Thus if c is a condition of agency, then you ought to live in conformity with c no matter what your particular ends, projects, or station. Much has been said about the validity of the inference, but that’s not my topic here. I want to assume it is valid and talk about what I take to be the highest ambition of constitutivism: the prospect of grounding moral requirements in the conditions of agency. If this can be done, then we can show that everyone is bound by the demands of morality, and we can do so without the customary entanglements— queer normative entities, an implausibly powerful moral sense, or divine lawgivers. Kant had this ambition (on one reading of his moral metaphysics, anyway). For him the moral law’s universality meant that it had to be a law of freedom, a law that characterized the activity of autonomous wills. It was also the aspiration, in more complicated ways, of post- Kantians like Fichte, Hegel, and Bradley. And it is a project pursued by some contemporary philosophers. But there is something surprising about this final group’s efforts. They begin with a conception of agency that appears highly individualistic, a conception whose conditions don’t explicitly mention other people. This is surprising because presumably the goal of deriving the universal authority of moral requirements from a constitutivist argument will involve demonstrating that other people play some distinctive role in my agency— a role that requires me to honor, respect, or care for them. So if other people are not a party to my agency, it is hard to see how we are supposed to establish this sort of conclusion.
In ancient times, before some point in the second half of the nineteenth century, if you were uncertain how to investigate a topic, epistemologists—philosophers concerned with knowledge and rational belief—would be among the people you would first think of reading and consulting. They had played a large role in the early years of the scientific revolution, mediating the delicate tension between scientific discovery and traditional belief. The last such figure with this kind of influence was John Stuart Mill. But all that has changed. For at least the past hundred years, your first port of call would be a statistician.
Some of our reasons for action are grounded in the fact that the action in question is a means to something else we have reason to do. This raises the question as to which principles govern the transmission of reasons from ends to means. In this paper, we discuss the merits and demerits of a liberal transmission principle, which plays a prominent role in the current literature. The principle states that an agent has an instrumental reason to y whenever y-ing is a means for him to do what he has intrinsic reason to do. We start by discussing the objection that this principle implies counterintuitive reason statements. We argue that attempts to solve this “too many reasons problem” by appealing to pragmatic strategies for debunking intuitions about so-called negative reason existentials are questionable. Subsequently, we discuss three important arguments in favor of Liberal Transmission, and argue that they fail to make a convincing case for this principle. In the course of the discussion, we also provide alternative, less liberal transmission principles. We argue that these alternative principles allow us to accommodate those phenomena that seem to support Liberal Transmission while avoiding its problems.
Charging other people with intellectual vice is an important part of human life. One journalist might accuse another of being a narrow-minded conspiracy theorist, for example, or a lecturer might accuse her student of being intellectually lazy when he once again fails to do the required reading. We make “epistemic vice-charges,” as Kidd calls them, for various reasons.1 Ideally, they can improve our dialectical situation by identifying, explaining, evaluating, and correcting bad epistemic activity. Less nobly, they can be used to stain a rival’s reputation, or to make laypersons doubt an expert’s testimony. Kidd distinguishes robust and rhetorical vice-charges.2 In rhetorical cases, one agent negatively evaluates another but cannot “elaborate or ‘unpack’ the charge . . . by explaining the reasoning that supports the negative judgment.”3 A rhetorical charge lacks epistemic force. Even if it is widely endorsed, without evidence to back it up it is indistinguishable from arbitrary name calling, and thus cannot advance a debate in an epistemically admissible way. But if a charge receives adequate evidential support it becomes robust, has real dialectical force, and can play a role in epistemic life.
Naturalistic moral realists hold that moral properties are part of the natural world.1 They can accept either reductionism or nonreductionism about how moral properties relate to properties invoked in the best natural and social scientific explanations, which I call “scientific properties.”2 This article argues that reductionism is the best form of naturalistic moral realism. Reductionism and nonreductionism differ about whether moral properties and scientific properties are identical.3 Reductionists see moral properties as identical to individual scientific properties or disjunctions of scientific properties. Supposing for illustration that hedonism is the true theory of moral value, reductionism treats goodness as identical to pleasure, just as water is identical to H2O.4 Nonreductionists see moral properties as natural properties supervening on and constituted by scientific properties without being identical to them.5
Dave claims he had never before considered suicide, and he does not recall being depressed or even sad at the time. But late one otherwise-ordinary night, while walking down a quiet street, Dave saw a car approaching, and it occurred to him that—as he later put it—“what I should do would be to kneel in the street and be hit by the car. It seemed to make perfect sense to me. And so that’s what I did.”1 The car screeched to a halt just in front of him, and a man got out and demanded to know what he was doing. According to Dave, “I looked at him, and I said, ‘I don’t know.’ I had no idea. I had no explanation for him. . . . I still today—what, 25 years later—don’t understand what that was and why I did that.”2 In spite of the fact that in some way it made sense to him to kneel down, in another way it must have been utterly unintelligible to Dave to kneel. After all, he could find no reason for his action. Cases like Dave’s thus motivate what is often called the Intelligibility Constraint (IC) on action for a reason: IC: If an agent φs for a reason, then φing is intelligible to her (according to a certain sense of “intelligible”).
There is a spectre haunting the developed world — the spectre of inequality. In the wake of Thomas Piketty’s surprising bestseller Capital in the 21st Century and the disruptive presidential campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in 2016, a consensus seems to have emerged: developed economies are growing more unequal. …
Simone Weil (1909–1943) philosophized on thresholds and across
borders. Her persistent desire for truth and justice led her to both
elite academies and factory floors, political praxis and spiritual
solitude. At different times she was an activist, a pacifist, a
militant, a mystic, and an exile; but throughout, in her inquiry into
reality and orientation to the good, she remained a philosopher. Her
oeuvre features deliberate contradiction yet demonstrates remarkable
clarity. It is value centered and integrated but not systematic. It
contains scattered notes of her translations of and commentaries on
several ancient Greek texts, Pythagorean geometry formulae, and
detailed accounts of her daily tasks within a factory; but her oeuvre
is also composed of addresses to political, industrial, and religious
leaders as well as pieces intended for university students, radical
militants, industrial workers, and farm laborers.
If you look at anybody’s typical list of emotions, you won’t see pains and pleasures among them. Indeed, even among the atypical emotions that people working on emotions regularly cite, pains and pleasures show up only rarely. And yet, very few people will fail to acknowledge the critical, or perhaps the essential, role pains and pleasures play in our emotional lives. This chapter will explain the sense in which pains and pleasures are elementary forms of emotions. Let’s first distinguish pain and pleasure experiences, properly so-called, from their sources — typically, the physical objects, events, activities, etc., that cause such experiences. Smelling a rose is a pleasure, getting pricked by a rose bush thorn a pain — it is said. But it is primarily the experiences generated by these events that are said to be pleasant or painful. These experiences are mental events or episodes caused by various physical stimuli. It is harmless, in fact sometimes quite appropriate, to extend the terms to refer to such stimuli in most ordinary contexts as causes of such experiences. But here we will focus on pains and pleasures as experiences. As experiences, they are presumed to be conscious mental episodes.
Failures are sometimes, but not always, causally relevant to events. For instance, the failure of the sprinkler was causally relevant to the house fire. However, the failure of the dam upstream to break (thus inundating the house with water) was not. Similarly, failures to prevent harms are sometimes, but not always, morally wrong. For instance, failing to save a nearby drowning child is morally wrong. Yet, you are also in some sense “allowing” someone on another continent to drown right now, and this seems permissible. Here, I argue that these two issues are connected. Roughly, I argue that it is prima facie morally wrong to fail to prevent a particular harm if and only if one’s omission is causally relevant to that harm’s occurrence. The result is that, contrary to what Peter Singer claims, failing to donate to famine relief is not morally equivalent to failing to rescue a drowning child in a shallow pond.
Many philosophers hold that a rational person can have imprecise credences. A famous argument due to Adam Elga, however, purports to show that rationality requires that credences have precise values. I show that Elga’s argument can be evaded if we understand imprecise credences to be a case of vagueness.
Over the past few decades, quite a few philosophers, impressed by Bayesian theories of rational decision, have taken such theories to exhaust the contribution that philosophy can make to our understanding of practical reasons and of rational action. But, in the last few years especially, some influential non-Bayesian work in epistemology has attempted to contribute to our understanding of practical rationality and action. The non-Bayesian work that I have in mind has attempted to connect our knowledge with our reasons for action, and this connection has been forged in at least three distinct (but mutually consistent) ways.
Among the most enduring and compelling worries about moral theory is thr: it is disastrously isolated from confirmation. The exact nature of this isolation as been subject to two interpretations. According to one, moral theory is totally insulated from observational consequences and is therefore in princrple. untest-able. According to the other, moral theory enjoys the priVilege of testability but suffers the embarrassment of failing all the tests. According to both, moral theory is in serious trouble. . . . After briefly defending moral theory against the charge of in‘prinCiple untestability, I defend it against the charge of contingent but unmitigated failure.
Last term, some grad students and I read Berys Gaut's book Art, Emotion, and Ethics. Gaut argues that although some morally noxious works of art have aesthetic merit, they never have aesthetic merit in virtue of their moral defects. …
Integrating Ethics in Higher Education - Transformation of Catholic University of East Africa (Cuea) Day 2 - March 14th, 2018 Making Ethics Effective Into Education 09.00 Am W4: What is Ethics?
As the readers of this blog probably already know, UK-based academics have been on strike for five days over the past two weeks, and the industrial action is likely to escalate further. The current dispute concerns pensions, is quite major, and many good things have been written about it – including, and indeed especially, by other political theorists. …
Some political philosophers and theorists place a requirement of
public justification on the permissible use of state coercion or
political power. According to these theorists the recognition of
citizens as free and equal moral persons requires that coercion be
justified for or to others by their own lights, or with reasons that
they could recognize as valid. On this view, a public justification is
achieved when members of the relevant public have adequate or
sufficient reason to endorse a particular coercive proposal, law or
policy. Those who endorse this requirement are often called public
reason liberals as they hold that the coercive power of the state must
be justified for or to all members of the public on the basis of good
If I had to pick a "favourite philosopher", it would be Derek Parfit. His book Reasons and Persons is, in my view, the best there is -- containing striking insights and arguments on every page, and laying the groundwork for basically all subsequent work on the deepest puzzles surrounding consequentialism, personal identity, and population ethics. …
[This is short article that I wrote in collaboration with Neil McArthur, for promotional reasons, when the Robot Sex book (pictured above) was coming out. Since it is unlikely to be published now, I thought I would share it here. …
In the United States, philosophy typically makes its formal entry into
the curriculum at the college level. A growing number of high schools
offer some introduction to philosophy, often in special literature
courses for college bound students. In Europe and many other
countries, it is much more common to find philosophy in the high
school curriculum. However, philosophy prior to high school seems
relatively uncommon around the world. This may suggest that serious
philosophical thinking is not for pre-adolescents. Two reasons might
be offered for accepting this view. First, philosophical thinking
requires a level of cognitive development that, one may believe, is
beyond the reach of pre-adolescents.
In ordinary political discourse, the “common good” refers
to those facilities—whether material, cultural or
institutional—that the members of a community provide to all
members in order to fulfill a relational obligation they all have to
care for certain interests that they have in common. Some canonical
examples of the common good in a modern liberal democracy include: the
road system; public parks; police protection and public safety; courts
and the judicial system; public schools; museums and cultural
institutions; public transportation; civil liberties, such as the
freedom of speech and the freedom of association; the system of
property; clean air and clean water; and national defense.
Nihilism is one of Nietzsche’s foremost philosophical concerns. But characterizing it proves elusive. His nihilists include those in despair in the wake of the “death of God.” Yet they also include believing Christians. We have, among these nihilists, those fervently committed to frameworks of cosmic meaning. But we also have those who lack any such commitment, epitomized in the “last man.” We have those who want to escape this life. And we have those who wouldn’t dream of such a prospect. Extant accounts have shed helpful light on the particularities of these various manifestations of nihilism. Yet they have not explained what ties these together. In this paper, I propose a unifying thread. Nihilists, on my reading of Nietzsche, are those who have come unmoored from (what he sees as) the most important values. That is not to say that there is nothing more to nihilism than being wrong (by Nietzsche’s lights). But it is to say that we don’t understand Nietzschean nihilism fully if we just focus on the descriptive psychology of valuers. The unifying thread of Nietzschean nihilism, on my reading, in fact turns out to be structurally similar to the familiar idea of it we get in a number of other 19th century thinkers and authors—and ironically with those moralists who brand Nietzsche himself a nihilist. Where he differs from them is not in his account of what nihilism fundamentally is (i.e., coming unmoored from values), but in the values he sees nihilists as having come unmoored from.
Scary news from Australia:
• Marc Rigby, Insect population decline leaves Australian scientists scratching for solutions, ABC Far North, 23 February 2018. I’ll quote the start:
A global crash in insect populations has found its way to Australia, with entomologists across the country reporting lower than average numbers of wild insects. …
In particular, there has been a temptation to treat (1)-(3) as equivalent, to treat (4) and (5) as equivalent, and to suppose that each of (4) and (5) entails any of (1)-(3). There has been considerable controversy about whether this last entailment always holds. Ordinary subjects may judge that (4) and (5) are appropriate in cases in which none of (1)-(3) are—cases in which Jack’s breaking the base is a foreseen but undesired consequence of Jack’s intentionally doing something else. It is currently debated what the best explanation of such ordinary reactions might be. It is also debated what to make of the fact that ordinary judgments using the adjective intentional or the adverb intentionally seem influenced by normative considerations.
(with Jonathan E. Ellis; originally appeared at the Imperfect Cognitions blog)
Last week we argued that your intelligence, vigilance, and academic expertise very likely doesn't do much to protect you from the normal human tendency towards rationalization – that is, from the tendency to engage in biased patterns of reasoning aimed at justifying conclusions to which you are attracted for selfish or other epistemically irrelevant reasons – and that, in fact, you may be more susceptible to rationalization than the rest of the population. …