Let’s suppose that it is possible for us to come to know by empathy what other people are thinking and feeling, where empathy is some kind of direct perception of what goes on in their minds that isn’t based on inference of any kind. Given that the thoughts of other people, in turn, may reveal further facts about them and the external world, empathy may be a way of coming to know non-psychological facts as well. This informational role of empathy is the main focus of Michael Slote’s ‘The Many Faces of Empathy’. Slote argues that empathy is a way of acquiring knowledge of the world and moral facts, and is essential to the transmission of knowledge by testimony.
Herbert Spencer (1820–1903) is typically, though quite wrongly,
considered a coarse social Darwinist. After all, Spencer, and not
Darwin, coined the infamous expression “survival of the
fittest”, leading G. E. Moore to conclude erroneously in
Principia Ethica (1903) that Spencer committed the
naturalistic fallacy. According to Moore, Spencer's practical
reasoning was deeply flawed insofar as he purportedly conflated mere
survivability (a natural property) with goodness itself (a non-natural
property). Roughly fifty years later, Richard Hofstadter devoted an entire
chapter of Social Darwinism in American Thought (1955) to
Spencer, arguing that Spencer's unfortunate vogue in late
nineteenth-century America inspired Andrew Carnegie and William Graham
Sumner's visions of unbridled and unrepentant capitalism.
Rampant moral relativism is widely decried as the leading source of the degeneracy of modern life. Though I proudly count myself a relativist, I rather doubt that relativism has anything like the cultural influence that its most ardent critics fearfully attribute to it. Much of what gets criticized under the rubric of relativism is often really no such thing. Relativists need not be hedonists, egoists, nihilists or even moral skeptics.
Kant begins the First Section of the Groundwork with a statement that is one of the most memorable in all his writings: “There is nothing it is possible to think of anywhere in the world, or indeed anything at all outside it, that can be held to be good without limitation, excepting only a good will” (Ak 4:393). Due to the textual prominence of this claim, readers of the Groundwork have usually proceeded to read that work, and Kant’s other ethical works as well, on the assumption that the truth of that assertion, and therefore the conception of the good will, both occupy a fundamental place in Kantian ethics. The assumption, however, becomes increasingly hard to sustain as we gain more familiarity with Kant’s ethical writings and better understanding of his ethical theory. As for the concept of the good will, Kant does avow the intention of “developing” it (Ak 4:397), and he goes on to thematize concepts that he thinks of as related to the good will (the moral worth of an action, acting from duty). But he never provides an explicit account of what he takes a ‘good will’ to be.
Many different ideas have been given the name ‘relativism’, and the term has been used to pillory all sorts of views (sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for bad ones). It is mere posturing to say that you are for or against “relativism” unless you say what you mean by the term. Here I want mainly to discuss (and to criticize) a view I have encountered among students in philosophy courses, who say things like this: "What anyone believes is true for that person. What you believe is true for you, what I believe is true for me." We can call the view expressed in such statements ‘relativism’ because it denies that there is any such thing as “absolute” truth, holds that all truth is relative to the person who believes it.
This is my first trip to South Africa. In fact, it is my first time on the continent of Africa, and even my first adventure south of the equator. I am honored to be speaking in South Africa, because I regard this nation as just about the only one whose history in the past half century might have the power to inspire us with hope. My own country, for instance, the United States, has long thought of itself (and even been thought of by others) as a defender of human rights and liberty. But during the past fifty years, it has become the world’s leading imperialist power. It now engages without hesitation in brutal wars of aggression. It regards its military power as exempting it from all international law and even from all recognized standards of human decency. At home as well as abroad, it turning into a sham all the conceptions of human rights, and all the ideals of democracy and freedom, to which it still has the arrogance to think of as its exclusive property.
By the year 1768, Kant claimed to be at work on a system of ethics, under the title “metaphysics of morals” (Ak 10:74). During the so-called ‘silent decade’ of the 1770s, when Kant was working on the Critique of Pure Reason, he promised repeatedly not only that he would soon finish that work but also that he would soon publish a “metaphysics of morals” (Ak 10:97, 132, 144). Yet it was not until four years after the first Critique that Kant finally wrote a work on ethics, and even then he merely laid the ground for a metaphysics of morals by identifying and establishing the supreme principle on which a system of duties would be based (G 4:392). Three years later, in the Critique of Practical Reason Kant once again dealt entirely with foundational questions in moral philosophy. Kantian ethics is primarily known, especially among English-speaking philosophers, through these two ethical works of the 1780s, neither of which contains anything like a ‘metaphysics of morals’.
When we ask whether “values” are “objective”, what are we asking about? What is at stake? The agendas of different questioners are varied, and the issues are seldom entirely clear or explicit. When issues about the ‘objectivity of values’ are raised by people with certain kinds of political motives, one typical aim is simply the short term legitimation or de-legitimation of certain kinds of rhetoric in certain limited argumentative or political contexts. Sometimes the assertion that there are ‘objective’ values (or even ‘Objective Truth’) is merely a crude rhetorical device used on behalf of dogmatic and intolerant individuals who see themselves as courageous defenders of The Right, and view anyone who questions what they believe in as enemies of What is Right. But this superficial ploy works, when it works at all, only by focusing attention on self-answering meta-questions (about whether there is anything Right at all, and whether one should try to be on its side), thus distracting attention from the real issues, which are whether what they believe really is true, whether they have any good reasons for believing it, and whether any truth at all could possibly warrant the dogmatic and intolerant spirit in which they act in the name of what they believe.
In the Preface to his best known work on moral philosophy, Kant states his purpose very clearly and succinctly: “The present groundwork is, however, nothing more than the search for and establishment of the supreme principle of morality, which already constitutes an enterprise whole in its aim and to be separated from every other moral investigation” (Groundwork 4:392). This paper will deal with the outcome of the first part of this task, namely, Kant’s attempt to formulate the supreme principle of morality, which is the intended outcome of the search. It will consider this formulation in light of Kant’s conception of the historical antecedents of his attempt.
If you ask a philosophy professor this question, there are several things you might hope to be told by way of an answer. You might want to hear how the professor thinks the subject of philosophy fits into an academic curriculum. You might want to watch the professor try to justify the place of philosophy, or of departments of philosophy, within a university. If you ask more than one professor, you might like to see different philosophers, representing different standpoints or specialties within the field, attempting to give an account of the field as a whole. You probably want to listen to them trying to vindicate their own philosophical positions or argue for the centrality (or at least the indispensability) of their own subfield.
Kant was among the first to break decisively with the eudaimonistic tradition of classical ethics by declaring that the moral principle is entirely distinct and divergent from the principle of happiness (G 4:393, KpV 5:21-27). I am going to argue that what is at issue in Kant’s rejection of eudaimonism is not fundamentally any question of ethical value or the priority among values. On the contrary, on these matters Kant shares the views which led classical ethical theory from Socrates onward to embrace eudaimonism. Instead, where Kant breaks with classical ethics is in the conception of human nature. Kant’s conception of human nature so altered the application of moral principles that it forced a change in the way happiness was conceived, leading to a reversal of what had earlier been thought about the relation of the principle morality to the pursuit of happiness.
One of the principal aims of Kant’s Metaphysics of Morals, especially of the Doctrine of Virtue, is to present a taxonomy of our duties as human beings. The basic division of duties is between juridical duties and ethical duties, which determines the division of the Metaphysics of Morals into the Doctrine of Right and the Doctrine of Virtue. Juridical duties are duties that may be coercively enforced from outside the agent, as by the civil or criminal laws, or other social pressures. Ethical duties must not be externally enforced (to do so violates the right of the person coerced). Instead, the subject herself, through her own reason and the feelings and motives arising a priori from her rational capacities -- the feelings of respect, conscience, moral feeling and love of other human beings, must constrain herself to follow them (MS 6:399-404). Among ethical duties, the fundamental division is between duties to oneself and duties to others.
Religion and subjectivity. In Part Four of Religion Within the Boundaries of Mere Reason, Kant states his more or less official definition of ‘religion’: “Religion is (subjectively considered) the recognition of all our duties as divine commands” (Ak 6:153; cf. 6:443). To be religious, for Kant, is to view all one’s duties as commands issued to one by God. Kant’s wording of this definition, apparently restricting the definition to religion “subjectively considered”, might suggest that there could be another, “objective” way of considering religion, and this “objective religion” might have a different definition.
Freedom is important. Modern liberal societies are built around it. Citizens fight for their fundamental freedoms — rights to speech, thought, religious expression, education, work and so on — and governments are evaluated relative to their success in securing these freedoms. …
In this paper I shall examine how the pragmatists regarded the context of a single self in time (the problem of personal development over the life course) and the context of a single self in social space (the problem not only of surrounding individuals but also of surrounding and fundamentally different groups). After a quick glance at the ontologies of the earlier pragmatists, I discuss the problems of individual development and social difference as they emerged society-wide during and after the first pragmatist generation. Having specified these problems, I can set the second pragmatist generation in the context they provide. The paper concludes with a discussion of the centrality of accounts of development and difference in a processualized social ontology.
A cash transfer recipient in Kenya, in front of the house he built with the money, in 2014. Photo: GiveDirectly. The New Statesman journalist Stephen Bush recently predicted that, having achieved their life-long dream of taking Britain out of the EU, the right-wing press’s next target will be DfiD and Britain’s commitment to foreign aid. …
Leibniz was obsessed with freedom. He turns to this topic again and again throughout his long career. And what he has to say about freedom is much more resourceful and inventive than typically acknowledged. While building on medieval theories—for instance by describing freedom in terms of the relation between the agent’s will and intellect—he also adds radically new elements and even anticipates some views that are popular today. The combination of theses about free will that Leibniz endorses in his mature writings is unusual and may at first appear inconsistent: (a) he claims that some of our actions are free, (b) he links free agency closely to agent causation and in fact appears to deny that there is event causation; (c) he accepts a form of determinism. In other words, Leibniz endorses what we can describe as an agent-causal compatibilist theory of freedom. The three theses may seem to be in tension not only because proponents of agent causation views are typically incompatibilists, but also because determinism is often defined in a way that presupposes event causation. As we will see soon, however, the tension is merely apparent. Leibniz’s version of agent-causal compatibilism is perfectly coherent and has some unique advantages over rival accounts.
Is it appropriate to convict and punish defendants using only statistical evidence? In this paper, I argue that it is not and try to explain why it is not. This is difficult to do because there is a powerful argument for thinking that we should convict and punish using statistical evidence. It looks as if the relevant cases are cases of decision under risk and it seems pretty clear that we should act to maximize expected value in such cases. Given some standard assumptions about the values at stake, the case for convicting and punishing using statistical evidence seems solid. In trying to show where this argument goes wrong, I shall argue (against Lockeans, reliabilists, and others) that beliefs supported only by statistical evidence are epistemically defective and (against Enoch, Fisher, and Spectre) that these epistemic considerations should matter to the law. The key to solving the puzzle about the role of statistical evidence in the law is to revise some commonly held views about epistemic value and to defend the relevance of epistemology to this practical question.
Do you believe in love at first sight? Maybe you do and maybe you don’t. Perhaps you will refuse to say, complaining that the question is obscure. I sympathize with that response. In a way, it is the subject of this essay, though I hope to show that there is more at stake. I begin with the prediction that, whatever you make of love at first sight, you do not believe in “love at definite description.” You may know on general grounds that there is a shortest spy, but you cannot love the shortest spy if you have not met her and know nothing more about her. You could, I suppose, become invested in the prospects of the shortest spy, whoever she is, preferring outcomes that will benefit her to ones that benefit other people, striving to ensure that the shortest spy survives and flourishes. But this would not be love, and absent further context, it would not be rational. It might be different if the description were more poignant: “the woman who saved your life” or “the brother you never knew.” Special concern for individuals so described may be intelligible. Likewise, perhaps, if the description evokes, in richly textured detail, an attractive human being. Personal acquaintance may be not be required for love. But mere description, as in “the shortest spy,” is not enough.
“Feminist aesthetics” does not label a variety of
aesthetics in the way that, for example, the terms “virtue
theory” and “naturalized epistemology” qualify types
of ethics and theories of knowledge. Rather, to refer to feminist
aesthetics is to identify a set of perspectives that pursue certain
questions about philosophical theories and assumptions regarding art
and aesthetic categories. Feminists in general have concluded that,
despite the seemingly neutral and inclusive theoretical language of
philosophy, virtually all areas of the discipline bear the mark of
gender in their basic conceptual frameworks.
Both advocates and critics of experimental philosophy often describe it in narrow terms as being the empirical study of people’s intuitions about philosophical cases. This conception corresponds with a narrow origin story for the field—it grew out of a dissatisfaction with the uncritical use of philosophers’ own intuitions as evidence for philosophical claims. In contrast, a growing number of experimental philosophers have explicitly embraced a broad conception of the sub-discipline, which treats it as simply the use of empirical methods to inform philosophical problems. And this conception has a corresponding broad origin story—the field grew out of a recognition that philosophers often make empirical claims and that empirical claims call for empirical support. In this paper, I argue that the broad conception should be accepted, offering support for the broad origin story.
It is a noticeable feature of intellectual life that many people research the same topics, but do so using different conceptual and disciplinary baggage, and consequently fail to appreciate how the conclusions they reach echo or complement the conclusions reached by others. …
It is remarkably difficult to describe any aspect of Gottfried Leibniz’s metaphysical system in a way that is completely uncontroversial. Interpreters disagree widely, even about the most basic Leibnizian doctrines. One reason for these disagreements is the fact that Leibniz characterizes central elements of his system in multiple different ways, often without telling us how to reconcile these different accounts. Leibniz’s descriptions of the most fundamental entities in his ontology are a case in point, and they will be the focus of this paper. Even if we look only at texts from the monadological or mature period—that is, the period starting in the mid-1690s—we find Leibniz portraying the inhabitants of the metaphysical ground floor in at least three different ways. In some places, he describes them as mind-like, immaterial substances that perceive and strive, or possess perceptions and appetitions—analogous in many ways to Cartesian souls. Elsewhere, he presents them as hylomorphic compounds, each consisting of primary matter and a substantial form. In yet other passages, he characterizes them in terms of primitive and derivative forces.
Participants evaluated whether emotions expressed in facial displays by self and a stranger were responses to particular emotion-eliciting photos or not. Performance on self was superior to a stranger when paired eliciting stimuli produce different emotions (e.g. sad vs cute), but not the same emotion (e.g. both amusing), supporting a “common code” not memory account.
and future in moral judgment, we administered a well-established moral judgment battery to individuals with hippocampal damage and deficits in episodic thought (insert Greene et al. 2001). Healthy controls select deontological answers in high-conflict moral scenarios more frequently when they vividly imagine themselves in the scenarios than when they imagine scenarios abstractly, at some personal remove. If this bias is mediated by episodic thought, individuals with deficits in episodic thought should not exhibit this effect. We report that individuals with deficits in episodic memory and future thought make moral judgments and exhibit the biasing effect of vivid, personal imaginings on moral judgment. These results strongly suggest that the biasing effect of vivid personal imagining on moral judgment is not due to episodic thought about the past and future. VC 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
John Rawls (b. 1921, d. 2002) was an American political philosopher in
the liberal tradition. His theory of justice as fairness
describes a society of free citizens holding equal basic rights and
cooperating within an egalitarian economic system. His theory of
political liberalism delineates the legitimate use of
political power in a democracy, and envisions how civic unity might
endure despite the diversity of worldviews that free institutions
allow. His writings on the law of peoples set out a liberal
foreign policy that aims to create a permanently peaceful and tolerant
On a naive Humean picture of action, we have beliefs and desires and together these yield our actions. But how do beliefs and desires yield beliefs? There are many (abstractly speaking, infinitely many, but perhaps only a finite subset is physically possible for us) maps from beliefs and desires to actions. …
God and morality are often yoked together. Many religious believers think that morality is not possible without God. And some religious believers use this alleged dependency between God and morality as the basis for an argument in favour of his existence. …
I am preparing for a new course this semester on philosophy and cognitive science. In the third and final part of the class, we are going to read and discuss Moral Machines: Teaching Robots Right from Wrong by Wendell Wallach and Colin Allen (OUP 2009). …
Frederick Douglass (c. 1817–1895) is a central figure in United
States and African American
history.[ 1 ]
He was born a slave, circa
1817;[ 2 ]
his mother was a Negro slave and his father was reputed to be his
white master. Douglass escaped from slavery in 1838 and rose to become
a principal leader and spokesperson for the U.S. Abolition movement. He would eventually develop into a towering figure for the U.S. Civil
Rights Movement, and his legacy would be claimed by a diverse span of
groups, from liberals and integrationists to conservatives to
nationalists, within and without black America.