William Edmundson has written a very necessary book. John Rawls: Reticent Socialist makes the case for Rawlsian socialism in light of Rawls’s complete corpus, and manages to do it thoroughly in under 200 pages. Of course there have been many discussions and interrogations of Rawls’s socialism, though none which have attempted to tie everything together so neatly in light of everything Rawls has written. One reason may be that interest in Rawls’s socialism has roughly tracked the political fashions in the US and UK, with a higher interest in defending socialism in the 1970s and 80s and then a waning interest through the 90s and aughts, and only now picking up steam again. Another reason may be that all of our interpretive energy about how to fit together the later Rawls and the earlier Rawls was so taken up with the questions of global justice that we were too exhausted for anything else. In this vacuum the defenses of Rawlsian capitalism have flourished, perhaps culminating in John Tomasi’s Free Market Fairness. In light of this, Edmundson has provided a very welcome counterweight, which I hope to see gain a wide audience. For better or worse, Rawls has served as the lingua franca for significant sectors of academic political philosophy, meaning that the question of whether Rawls was a socialist is also the question of whether there can be a legitimate argument for socialism at all, at least in some circles.
[The following is the text of a talk I delivered at the World Summit AI on the 10th October 2019. The talk is essentially a nugget taken from my new book Automation and Utopia. It's not an excerpt per se, but does look at one of the key arguments I make in the book]
The science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke once formulated three “laws” for thinking about the future. …
I detect at least two unspoken assumptions in Birch’s project, and I question, indeed, reject both of them. One is that welfare is the primary concern of animal ethics. I think liberation is. Birch’s other assumption is that the scientific investigation of animal sentience is key to promoting animal ethics. I think science is largely irrelevant to progress on this front and can even be counterproductive.
« From quantum supremacy to classical fallacy
Book Review: ‘The AI Does Not Hate You’ by Tom Chivers
A couple weeks ago I read The AI Does Not Hate You: Superintelligence, Rationality, and the Race to Save the World, the first-ever book-length examination of the modern rationalist community, by British journalist Tom Chivers. …
The criminal law is broadly retributive insofar as it predicates censure and sanction on culpable or responsible wrongdoing. 1 Wrongdoing for which the agent is not responsible and, hence, not culpable (in this sense) is excused. Responsibility and excuse are scalar phenomena, because the capacities constitutive of the normative competence required for responsibility can be had to different degrees and their impairment can be a matter of degree. Ideally, the criminal law would aim to deliver just deserts in cases of partial responsibility, making censure and sanction proportional to the degree of culpable wrongdoing. However, with some qualifi cations, American criminal law is bivalent about responsibility and excuse. It treats responsibility as all or nothing, and it is very stingy with excuse, in effect treating many cases of partial responsibility as if the individuals were fully responsible. It is normatively problematic to treat responsibility and excuse as bivalent when the underlying facts about them are scalar in nature. 2 In this essay, I want to explain this concern about * It is my pleasure to contribute an essay honoring Larry Alexander, who has been a friend for two decades and from whom I have learned so much about the philosophy of law, especially legal interpretation and criminal jurisprudence. My debt is all the greater because of our frequent disagreements.
It is widely thought that firms that employ workers in “sweatshop” conditions wrongfully exploit those workers. This claim has been challenged by those who argue that because companies are not obligated to hire their workers in the first place, employing them cannot be wrong so long as they voluntarily accept their jobs and genuinely benefit from them. In this article, I argue that we can maintain that at least many sweatshop employees are wrongfully exploited, while accepting the plausible claim at the core of many defenses of sweatshops, namely that engaging in a voluntary and mutually beneficial transaction with a person in need cannot constitute morally worse treatment of that person than doing nothing at all to benefit her. We can do this, I claim, by accepting that wealthy multinational corporations have positive duties to employ or otherwise benefit the global poor. I argue that these duties can be plausibly grounded in the fact that potential sweatshop workers are victims of global structural injustice, from which multinational corporations typically benefit.
Tom Brady is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. His ability for pinpoint passing, taking hits without fumbling, identifying weaknesses in defenses, and simply finding ways to win is unparalleled in the history of American football. And yet every once and a while he seems very unhappy with himself. When he throws an interception, even in a meaningless game, he sometimes wails and moans, even falling to the ground and pounding his helmet with his hands. He is obviously blaming himself. There are many other familiar examples: Serena Williams, behind in a tennis match, screams at herself, pounds her racket, and stomps her foot angrily; Tiger Woods stares in shock and then mutters to himself for missing what we nevertheless deem a ridiculously hard putt; Lindsay Vonn tosses her ski poles, shouting in disgust after seeing her third-place time. But this sort of response is not the exclusive purview of elite athletes. The weekend golf “duffer” who shanks her iron shot, the aging academic who misses an easy layup in a departmental basketball game, the bar denizen playing pool who scratches on the 8-ball: these regular folks also clearly blame themselves at their failures.
Suppose that what time-relative interests you'll have in future depends upon what decision you make now. For example, in McMahan's case of The Cure you can choose between five years of happy life continuous with your current psychology, or else taking a cure that greatly extends your future life but at the cost of introducing an immediate radical psychological discontinuity, such that the future happy person -- while numerically identical to you -- has nothing psychologically in common with your current self (in terms of memories, personality, values, etc.). …
It is widely agreed that hypocrisy can undermine one’s moral standing to blame. According to the Nonhypocrisy Condition on standing, R has the standing to blame some other agent 5 for a violation of some norm N only if R is not hypocritical with respect to blame for violations of N. Yet this condition is seldom argued for. Macalester Bell points out that the fact that hypocrisy is a moral fault does not yet explain why hypocritical blame is standingless blame. She raises a challenge: one must explain what is distinct about hypocritical blame such that the hypocritical blamer lacks the standing to blame, even if the arrogant or petty blamer does not. Of those writing on hypocrisy, only we offer a direct response to Bell’s challenge. Recently, however, our account has come under criticism. We argue here that (1) our account can handle these criticisms and that (2) no other rival account adequately addresses Bell’s challenge of explaining what is uniquely objectionable about hypocritical blame. Because answering Bell’s challenge is a necessary component of any plausible account of the relationship between hypocrisy and standing, our account remains the best on offer.
Color science concerns the process of color vision and those features of the environment that affect the colors that we see and how we see them. Color vision has been studied systematically from a variety of points of view since the 19th century. The science we discuss below draws on optics, psychology, neuroscience, neurology, ophthalmology, and biology. And, although the relevant basic facts of optics and physiology and their contribution to color vision have been known for at least a century and half, there are still many aspects of color vision—including some quite fundamental ones—that are poorly understood. In what follows we will provide an overview of what is known and indicate matters of current controversy. We will concentrate on giving the background necessary to understand those parts of color science that are potentially relevant to philosophical work on color. Our account is necessarily quite sketchy and we won’t be able to do more than provide a starting point for those interested in the topic.
In the middle of the fifth century BCE, Empedocles of Acragas
formulated a philosophical program in hexameter verse that pioneered
the influential four-part theory of roots (air, water, earth, and
fire) along with two active principles of Love and Strife, which
influenced later philosophy, medicine, mysticism, cosmology, and
religion. The philosophical system responded to Parmenides’
rejection of change while embracing religious injunctions and magical
practices. As a result, Empedocles has occupied a significant position
in the history of Presocratic philosophy as a figure moving between
mythos and logos, religion and science.
Thought experiments are basically devices of the imagination. They are
employed for various purposes such an entertainment, education,
conceptual analysis, exploration, hypothesizing, theory selection,
theory implementation, etc. Some applications are more controversial
than others. Few would object to thought experiments that serve to
illustrate complex states of affairs, or those that are used in
educational contexts. The situation is different, however, with
respect to the appropriation of imagined scenarios to investigate
reality (very broadly conceived to include things like electrons,
tables, rain, beliefs, morals, people, numbers, universes, and even
In A Theory of Justice, John Rawls works out a theory of the good, with a view to establishing three conclusions important to his theory of justice. The first is that his chosen unit of distribution, primary goods, are indeed good, and good in the way he defines them to be— they are things that citizens have reason to want no matter what else they want. The second is that it is good-for a person to be a just person, at least if the person lives in a well-ordered society, one that is effectively regulated by a publicly accepted conception of justice.
French philosophers of the Ancien Régime wrote treatises on
beauty or taste; the term “aesthetics”, coined in Latin as
“aesthetica” by German philosopher Alexander
Baumgarten in 1735 (§116), was not in popular usage in France and
appeared only in rare instances at the end of the eighteenth century. Philosophers described taste (“goût” or
“goust”) as a sentiment that allowed both
creators and consumers to discern the beauty of an object. At times,
authors focused more on the object, such as a painting; at other
times, they examined what was happening inside the mind of the person
who created it or of the person who looked at it.
The twenty-first century will witness an unprecedented decline in the diversity of the world’s languages. While most philosophers will likely agree that this decline is lamentable, the question of what exactly is lost with a language has not been systematically explored in the philosophical literature. In this paper, I address this lacuna by arguing that language loss constitutes a problematic form of illocutionary silencing. When a language disappears, past and present speakers lose the ability to realize a range of speech acts that can only be realized in that language. With that ability, speakers lose something in which they have a fundamental interest: their standing as fully empowered members of a linguistic community.
There are roughly two philosophical literatures on
“happiness,” each corresponding to a different sense of the
term. One uses ‘happiness’ as a value term, roughly
synonymous with well-being or flourishing. The other body of work uses
the word as a purely descriptive psychological term, akin to
‘depression’ or ‘tranquility’. An important
project in the philosophy of happiness is simply getting clear on what
various writers are talking about: what are the important meanings of
the term and how do they connect? While the “well-being”
sense of happiness receives significant attention in the contemporary
literature on well-being, the psychological notion is undergoing a
revival as a major focus of philosophical inquiry, following on recent
developments in the science of happiness.
Philosophers, cultural, social and political scientists are increasingly recognizing affectivity as an essential dimension of the political. Affectively charged political rhetoric, political strategies, and the global rise of populist and nationalist movements have contributed to this resurging interest in political affectivity (cf. Cossarini and Vallespín 2019). Yet, when one recent political economy bestseller’s title reads Nervous States: How Feeling Took Over the World (Davies 2018), anybody who is at all familiar with the history of political philosophy from Plato and Aristotle through Hobbes, Spinoza, Rousseau, Montesquieu and, indeed, Kant, to contemporary postfoundational political theorists is likely to meet such a title with a raised eyebrow. Arguably it is not news that the political is deeply stirred by affect and emotions. But affectivity is not just some by-product of a properly “emotion-proof” (Demertzis 2013) political domain based on rational judgment, deliberation and (self-)interest, as some traditional liberal political theorists have suggested (Hirschman 1977; Holmes 1995) . Rather, the political—the realm in which we negotiate our plurality and differences with a view to freedom, power, individual autonomy, collective recognition or our forms of living-together—is essentially affective. In this respect, ‘the political’ must be distinguished from policy-making or ‘real politics’, where affectivity and emotions are typically also involved, but often just contingently so (cf. Slaby and Bens 2019). The political is affective because it fundamentally deals with what matters to us, what we value, fear or desire, or what concerns us—us as a polity. Conversely, the affective is always political, since emotions are not just subjective affairs but are governed by “feeling rules” (Hochschild 1983) and are modulated by shared or conflicting values. Hence, emotions always involve the negotiation of what, how, and with (or against) whom we ought to feel.
Critical disability theory refers to a diverse, interdisciplinary set
of theoretical approaches. The task of critical disability theory is
to analyze disability as a cultural, historical, relative, social, and
political phenomenon. Some call this work “critical disability
studies” or CDS (e.g., Meekosha & Shuttleworth 2009; Vehmas
& Watson 2014). The use of “critical disability
theory” here intends to capture a broader swath of approaches,
including those originating in the field of philosophy. Critical
disability theory is a methodology, not a “subject-oriented area
of study” (Schalk 2017).
I recently encountered an interesting argument. It was given in the midst of one of those never-ending Twitter debates about the ethics of AI and robotics. I won’t say who made the argument (to be honest, I can’t remember) but the gist of it was that we shouldn’t create robots with ethical decision-making capacity. …
Some of the most significant policy responses to cases of fraudulent and questionable conduct by scientists have been to strengthen professionalism among scientists, whether by codes of conduct, integrity boards, or mandatory research integrity training programs. Yet there has been little systematic discussion about what professionalism in scientific research should mean. In this paper I draw on the sociology of the professions and on data comparing codes of conduct in science to those in the professions, in order to examine what precisely the model of professionalism implies for scientific research. I argue that professionalism, more so than any other single organizational logic, is appropriate for scientific research, and that codes of conduct for scientists should strengthen statements on scientific autonomy and competence, as well as on the scientific service ideal.
Recognizing the variety of dystopian science-ction novels and movies, from Brave New World to Gattaca and more recently Star Trek, on the future of humanity in which eugenic policies are implemented, genetic engineering has been getting a bad reputation for valid but arguably, mostly historical reasons.
Feminist philosophy is a large and growing subfield of the discipline. Feminist philosophers vary in their methodologies and philosophical
aims, and are often grouped by their approaches to philosophy, or by
the philosophical traditions that have influenced them (for example,
as analytic, continental, or pragmatist feminists). This entry
provides an overview of the group of feminist thinkers whose work
incorporates elements of both continental and pragmatist
philosophies. Given the occasional confusion of the colloquial and the philosophical
senses of the term “pragmatism” and the slipperiness of
the term “continental” (or “postmodern”)
philosophy, a word about the two fields is in order before turning to
feminist approaches to their intersections.
The Greek-Arabic sciences penetrated in the Islamic world during
the 8th and 9th centuries AD due to the massive
activity of the translators and al-Kindi’s vision of knowledge
and also through the exegetical activity of the Aristotelian circle of
Baghdad. From the end of the 10th, throughout the
11th, and up to the beginning of the 12th
centuries, the production of original philosophical literature into
Arabic and Persian became the main stream of the Arabic-Islamic
philosophy, which was by then increasingly distant from the Greek
sources in Arabic translation.
Salomon Maimon (1753–1800) stands as one of the most acute,
original, and complicated philosophers — and certainly one of
the most fascinating personalities — of the eighteenth century. By granting the principle of sufficient reason unlimited validity
Maimon embraces a radical form of rationalism. His robust criteria for
the validity of knowledge suggests that even Kant’s attempt to
limit epistemological claims to the realm of possible experience
cannot be secured without a substantial ontological commitment. Kant
faces a severe choice: either adopt elements from the dogmatic,
rationalist, metaphysics he set out to challenge, or accept that his
system is undermined by skepticism.
I summarize the central ideas and arguments of Rock, Bone, and Ruin: An Optimist’s Guide to the Historical Sciences, before responding to criticisms from Leonard Finkelman, Joyce Havstad, Derek Turner, and Alison Wylie. These cover whether, and to what extent, we can establish optimism about the historical sciences, the distinction between ‘trace-based’ and ‘non-trace’ evidence, the distinction between experiments and models, and the purpose and limits of speculation in scientific reasoning.
What is it to be mentally healthy? In the ongoing movement to promote mental health, to reduce stigma and to establish parity between mental and physical health, there is a clear enthusiasm about this concept and a recognition of its value in human life. However, it is often unclear what mental health means in all these efforts and whether there is a single concept underlying them. Sometimes the initiatives for the sake of mental health are aimed just at reducing mental illness, thus implicitly identifying mental health with the absence of diagnosable psychiatric disease. More ambitiously, there are high-profile proposals to adopt a positive definition, identifying mental health with psychic or even overall wellbeing. We argue against both: a definition of mental health as mere absence of mental illness is too thin, too undemanding, and too closely linked to psychiatric value judgments, while the definition in terms of wellbeing is too demanding and potentially oppressive. As a compromise we sketch out a middle position. On this view mental health is a primary good, that is the psychological preconditions of pursuing any conception of the good life, including wellbeing, without being identical to wellbeing.
Joane Petrizi (12th century)—the most significant Georgian
medieval philosopher—devoted intensive work to neo-Platonic
philosophy. He translated Nemesius of Emesa’s On the Nature of
Man into Georgian, a work which in that day attracted considerable
attention. Of particular importance is his Georgian translation of
Proclus’s Elementatio theologica, to which he also wrote a
step-by-step commentary. Petrizi’s commentary on the Elementatio
theologica represents a significant effort at reception inasmuch
as the Georgian philosopher interprets the work immanently, that is, on
the basis of Proclus’s philosophy itself.
I’m going to try to post more short news items. For example, here’s a new book I haven’t read yet:
• Naomi Klein On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal, Simon and Schuster, 2019. I think she’s right when she says this:
I feel confident in saying that a climate-disrupted future is a bleak and an austere future, one capable of turning all our material possessions into rubble or ash with terrifying speed. …
In a recent issue of Bioethics, I argue that compulsory moral bioenhancement should be administered covertly. Alexander Zambrano has criticized this argument on two fronts. First, contrary to my claim, Zambrano claims that the prevention of ultimate harm by covert moral bioenhancement fails to meet conditions for permissible liberty-restricting public health interventions. Second, contrary to my claim, Zambrano claims that covert moral bioenhancement undermines autonomy to a greater degree than does overt moral bioenhancement. In this paper, I rebut both of these arguments, then finish by noting important avenues of research that Zambrano’s arguments motivate.
Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543) was a mathematician and astronomer
who proposed that the sun was stationary in the center of the universe
and the earth revolved around it. Disturbed by the failure of
Ptolemy’s geocentric model of the universe to follow Aristotle’s
requirement for the uniform circular motion of all celestial bodies
and determined to eliminate Ptolemy’s equant, an imaginary point
around which the bodies seemed to follow that requirement, Copernicus
decided that he could achieve his goal only through a heliocentric
model. He thereby created a concept of a universe in which the
distances of the planets from the sun bore a direct relationship to
the size of their orbits.