This edition of the newsletter continues a focus on pedagogy and outreach—of teaching Native American and Indigenous philosophy and of creating supports for Native American and other underrepresented students so that more see college and further study of philosophy as live options for themselves.
The interlude in the Theaetetus was a seminal text for Plotinus, who endorsed both Socrates’ conception of the ideal of god-likeness (ὁμοίωσις θεῷ) and his claim that evil would “inevitably haunt mortal nature.” (176a7-8) However, in so far as the interlude raised more questions than could be addressed in what would become ten Stephanus pages, Plotinus reinterpreted the Socratic claims and integrated them in the framework of his emanative ontology. The god to whom we are to make ourselves “like” became the hypostasis Intellect and the archetypes of virtue therein; virtue became the state of embodied human souls who activate the traces of the Forms within themselves; and contemplation became the focus of the best life for a human being to lead. As for the claim that evil would forever stalk human nature, which Socrates had left vague and unsupported, it led Plotinus to formulate a highly complex theory of matter as metaphysical evil and indirect source of moral evil. Plotinus’ conception of both virtue and vice, it will be argued, is a form of moral realism avant la lettre.
Society’s relationship with modern animal farming is an ambivalent one: on the one hand there is rising criticism about modern animal farming; on the other hand people appreciate certain aspects of it, such as increased food safety and low food prices. This ambivalence reflects the two faces of modernity: the negative (exploitation of nature and loss of traditions) and the positive (progress, convenience, and efficiency). This article draws on a national survey carried out in the Netherlands that aimed at gaining a deeper understanding about the acceptance of modern dairy farming in Dutch society. People take two dimensions into account when evaluating different aspects of modern dairy farming: (1) the way living beings are used for production and (2) the way a dairy farm functions as a business.
In the societal tradeoffs problem, each agent perceives certain quantitative tradeoffs between pairs of activities, and the goal is to aggregate these tradeoffs across agents. This is a problem in social choice; specifically, it is a type of quantitative judgment aggregation problem. A natural rule for this problem was axiomatized by Conitzer et al. [AAAI 2016]; they also provided several algorithms for computing the outcomes of this rule. In this paper, we present a significantly improved algorithm and evaluate it experimentally. Our algorithm is based on a tight connection to minimum-cost flow that we exhibit. We also show that our algorithm cannot be improved without breakthroughs on min-cost flow.
[It] was hard to know what lessons to draw. The democracies had shown their resilience in the long run. How they had done it, and what it meant for the future, was much less clear. The knowledge of their hidden strengths the democracies had been given did not translate into greater self-knowledge or self-control. …
All the legal maneuvers, the decades of recriminations, came down in the end to two ambiguous syllables. No one knew why old man Memeson had named his two kids “Laurel” and “Yanny,” or why his late wife had gone along with it. …
This paper argues that certain types of causal processes central to action theory, deviant causal chains, pose serious problems for several key legal concepts. A deviant causal chain occurs when an agent initiates a causal chain leading to an outcome, but the outcome is brought about through “deviant” means rather than the means intended by the agent. Suppose that an unskilled gunman intends to shoot and kill someone; he shoots and misses his target, but the gunshot startles a group of water buffalo, who trample the victim to death. The gunshot brings about the intended effect, but in a “deviant” way rather than the one planned. What the law makes of these cases, and how the law should handle them, are our puzzles.
But the scanty wisdom of man, on entering into an affair which looks well at first, cannot discern the poison that is hidden in it, as I have said above of hectic fevers. Therefore, if he who rules a principality cannot recognize evils until they are upon him, he is not truly wise; and this insight is given to few. …
My favourite fallacy is the fallacy fallacy. It’s the fallacy of thinking that something is a fallacy when it isn’t. This paper concerns a high-profile instance, namely the phenomenon of hindsight bias. Roughly, it is the phenomenon of being more confident that some body of evidence supports a hypothesis when one knows that the hypothesis is true, than when one doesn’t.
Decision-makers face severe uncertainty when they are not in a position to assign precise probabilities to all of the relevant possible outcomes of their actions. Such situations are common—novel medical treatments and policies addressing climate change are two examples. Many decision-makers respond to such uncertainty in a cautious manner and are willing to incur a cost to avoid it. There are good reasons for taking such a cautious, uncertainty-averse attitude to be permissible. So far, however, there has been very little work on developing a theory of distributive justice which incorporates it. We aim to remedy this lack. We put forward a novel, uncertainty-averse egalitarian view of distributive justice. We analyse when the twin aims of reducing inequality and limiting the burdens of severe uncertainty are congruent and when they conflict, and highlight several practical implications of the proposed view. We also demonstrate that if uncertainty aversion is permissible, then utilitarians must relinquish a favourite argument against egalitarianism.
But if we consider, where Monies are raised according to wealth, there they who have made equall gain, have not equall possessions, because that one preserves what he hath got by frugality, another wastes it by luxury, and therefore equally rejoycing in the benefit of Peace, they doe not equally sustaine the Burthens of the Commonweal [civitatis]: and on the other side, where the goods themselves are taxt, there every man, while he spends his private goods, in the very act of consuming them he undiscernably payes [imperceptibiliter persolvit] part due to the Commonweal, according to, not what he hath, but what by the benefit of the Realm he hath had. …
My thesis in this paper is a fairly simple one, and one, I believe, that is fairly simple to support on rational grounds – although I imagine it will prove controversial among some dedicated to a strictly ‘scientific’ understanding of life. But the thesis can be stated simply enough: A materialist interpretation of evolutionary theory cannot account for the subjective dimension of life, and, in particular, cannot account for that aspect of life of most concern to religion, its spiritual aspirations. Indeed, not only can it not account for desire of a spiritual sort, it cannot account for desire at all, not even the desire for physical survival, which it presupposes.
Guardians of companion animals killed wrongfully in the U.S. historically receive compensatory judgments reflecting the animal’s economic value. As animals are property in torts law, an animal’s economic value is its fair market value (FMV), its value, as it were, to strangers. However, in light of the fact that guardians often value their companion animals at rates in excess of FMV, legislatures and courts have begun to recognize a second value, the animal’s value to its guardian, or its capital. Since guardians invest in their animals, when animals are killed guardians lose the opportunity to recoup their investments. In this paper, I argue for a third value, an animal’s intrinsic value, its value to itself, and I propose a method to determine it. The method assesses investments animals make in themselves expecting a return. The theory has legal implications for economic damages in wrongful companion animal death lawsuits and philosophical implications for proper assessment of the value of nonhuman animal life.
Have you ever had an argument with someone about an issue that you cared deeply about, and you just knew you were right? But the other person kept citing statistics and studies and factual claims that felt suspect to you, but you couldn't prove it on the spot. …
It is now just over three weeks since my sister died. The ordinary patterns of life are beginning to resume. Deadlines loom, meetings have been scheduled, and the obligations of work are making themselves felt once more. …
Hobbes made a distinctive contribution to the discussion of freedom on two fronts. He persuaded later, if not immediate, successors that it is only the exercise of a power of interference that reduces people’s freedom, not its (unexercised) existence – not even its existence in an arbitrary, unchecked form. Equally, he persuaded them that the exercise of a power of interference always reduces freedom in the same way, whether it occurs in a republican democracy, purportedly on a ‘non-arbitrary’ basis, or under a dictatorial, arbitrary regime. But the basis on which Hobbes maintained those two propositions was very different from any that successors would have found plausible. This article explores the idiosyncratic principles that led Hobbes to develop his influential point of view.
In the contextualist methodology that Quentin Skinner has championed throughout his career, ‘‘the history of thought should be viewed not as a series of attempts to answer a canonical set of questions, but as a sequence of episodes in which the questions as well as the answers have frequently changed.’’ Bringing this methodology to bear on the work of a single thinker, Skinner argues in his recent book that in a short span of just over ten years Hobbes, stung by the work of radical and parliamentary writers, went through just such a radical shift in his thinking about the meaning of political liberty. While describing Hobbes as concerned throughout that period with the single ‘‘question of human liberty,’’ he maintains that his 1651 ‘‘analysis of liberty in Leviathan represented not a revision but a repudiation of what he had earlier argued’’ in his 1640 manuscript, The Elements of Law, and indeed his two editions of De Cive in the mid 1640s. In upholding this thesis he describes my claim that there is ‘‘no evidence of any significant change’’ in Hobbes’s theory between those works as an example of the sort of position he rejects.
I approach these questions in the step-by-step, unnuanced manner of the philosopher. In the first section, I characterise the republican tradition in its broad historical sweep, drawing on an earlier book on republicanism, and then, in the second section, I give an account of what the system of culture should be taken to encompass. With those matters fixed, I go on in the third section to look at the role and significance of culture in the republican way of thinking. And finally, in the fourth section, I turn to the policy lessons for the state that this picture of the significance of culture would support. These lessons must be seen as important, I think, by anyone who embraces a republican philosophy, and they stand in conflict with the positions that might attract adherents of opposed philosophies, such as libertarianism and communitarianism.
The background thesis is that an implicit ontology of the people and the relation between the people and the state often shapes how we think in normative terms about politics. This article attempts to defend that thesis in relation to Rawls. The argument is that the rejection of an image of the people as a group agent connects with his objection to utilitarianism and the rejection of an image of the people as a mere aggregate connects with his objection to libertarianism. Rawls, it is argued, holds by an in-between picture and it is this that explains many of his most distinctive commitments.
Trolley cases are widely considered central to the ethics of autonomous vehicles. We caution against this by identifying four problems. (1) Trolley cases, given technical limitations, rest on assumptions that are in tension with one another. Furthermore, (2) trolley cases illuminate only a limited range of ethical issues insofar as they cohere with a certain design framework. Furthermore, (3) trolley cases seem to demand a moral answer when a political answer is called for. Finally, (4) trolley cases might be epistemically problematic in several ways. To put forward a positive proposal, we illustrate how ethical challenges arise from mundane driving situations. We argue that mundane situations are relevant because of the specificity they require and the scale they exhibit. We then illustrate some of the ethical challenges arising from optimizing for safety, balancing safety with other values such as mobility, and adjusting to incentives of legal frameworks.
Both advocates of corporate regulation and its opponents tend to depict regulation as restrictive—a policy option that limits freedom in the name of welfare or other social goods. Against this framing, I suggest we can understand regulation in enabling terms. If well designed and properly enforced, regulation enables companies to operate in ways that are acceptable to society as a whole. This paper argues for this enabling character by considering some wider questions about responsibility and the sharing of responsibility. Agents who are less able or willing to act well are obviously more likely to face criticism, mistrust, and adverse responses. It will be more difficult to hold those agents responsible, especially so when there are many who fail in their responsibilities or where there are wide-reaching disagreements about those responsibilities. Regulatory standards, like other norms and ways of defining responsibilities, address these problems: by restricting, they also enable social cooperation. Like other forms of holding responsible, ways of enforcing those standards against recalcitrant agents, or encouraging conformity to them, may also seem restrictive. Again, however, these practices play an important role in enabling responsible agency. This is partly because they can bolster readiness to act well in agents who experience or witness such responses. It is also because they free other agents to exercise initiative and commitment in defining their individual responsibilities in line with higher standards.
Auguste Comte (1798–1857) is the founder of positivism, a
philosophical and political movement which enjoyed a very wide
diffusion in the second half of the nineteenth century. It sank into
an almost complete oblivion during the twentieth, when it was eclipsed
by neopositivism. However, Comte’s decision to develop successively a
philosophy of mathematics, a philosophy of physics, a philosophy of
chemistry and a philosophy of biology, makes him the first philosopher
of science in the modern sense, and his constant attention to the
social dimension of science resonates in many respects with current
points of view.
Margaret Gilbert has long defended the view that, roughly speaking, agents share the intention to perform an action if and only if they jointly commit to performing that action.1 This view has proven both influential and controversial. While some authors have raised concerns over the joint commitment view of shared intention, including at times offering purported counterexamples to certain aspects of the view, straightforward counterexamples to the view as a whole have yet to appear in the literature.2 Here we provide such counterexamples to show that joint commitment is neither necessary nor sufficient for shared intention.
Benevolent absolutisms occupy a rather unclear position in Rawls’s The Law of Peoples. On the one hand, these states, because they are not well ordered, do not belong to the Society of Peoples, which consists of those societies that are both law abiding and well ordered. On the other hand, unlike other societies that are either not well ordered or not law abiding (or both), benevolent absolutisms are not to be assisted or sanctioned into becoming well ordered. Given Rawls’s aim of expanding the Society of Peoples for the benefit of lasting peace and stability, this situation seems wanting. In light of this, I argue that The Law of Peoples should be altered in order to clarify the theoretical status of benevolent absolutisms, and I discuss alternative ways of doing so.
Constructivists think that value is a “construction” of the attitude of valuing. For a thing to be valuable, “is for that thing’s value to be entailed from within the point of view of a creature who is already valuing things.”1 I think this is a compelling conception of value. But it is also a bleary view. For it is consistent with many different notions about which value claims are correct, how they are to be constructed from an agent’s practical point of view, and what constitutes such a point of view.
One psychological condition has an especially deep connection to the felt meaningfulness of life. The purpose of this essay is to explore the nature of this condition, which I think it is appropriate to call love. I begin by more precisely articulating my motivating platitude about love and meaning. Having identified this crucial and underappreciated element of love’s psychological profile, I use it to select a varied set of examples that it is natural to think of as paradigms. I observe that almost all prominent philosophical accounts of love are, surprisingly, silent about some of these paradigm cases. The aim is not to show that these theories are misguided, but to suggest that my approach is distinctive and worth exploring.
But still the main and most diverting Point of the Enquiry is behind, which is the placing some Spectators in these new Discoveries, to enjoy these Creatures we have planted them with, and to admire their Beauty and Variety. …
It is a pleasure to embark on a discussion of ethics without having first to disabuse you of the belief in the existence of morality, which is a belief in the existence of right and wrong, good and evil, duty and desert, prohibitions and permissions, etc., as objective features of the universe. As J. L. Mackie, Ian Hinckfuss, Richard Garner, Richard Joyce, Hans-Georg Moeller, Russell Blackford, and yours truly have each argued at book length, morality is a myth. Since there is so much else to discuss once morality has been taken to be mythical, it is, as I say, a pleasure to be able to get down to business.
« Review of Bryan Caplan’s The Case Against Education
The Zeroth Commandment
“I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse: therefore choose life, that thou mayest live, thou and thy seed.” –Deuteronomy 30:19
“Remember your humanity, and forget the rest.” –Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein, 1955
I first met Robin Hanson, professor of economics at George Mason University, in 2005, after he and I had exchanged emails about Aumann’s agreement theorem. …
This paper provides an account of social practices that reveals how they are constitutive of social agency, enable coordination around things of value, and are a site for social intervention. The social world, on this account, does not begin when psychologically sophisticated individuals interact to share knowledge or make plans.