[Note: This is (roughly) the text of a talk I delivered at the bias-sensitization workshop at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Montreal, Canada on the 24th May 2019. …
How to serve two epistemic masters
Posted on Thursday, 23 May 2019
2018 paper, J. Dmitri Gallow shows that it is difficult to combine
multiple deference principles. The argument is a little complicated,
but the basic idea is surprisingly simple. …
Suppose that you have been invited to attend an ex-partner’s
wedding and that the best thing you can do is accept the invitation
and be pleasant at the wedding. But, suppose furthermore that if you
do accept the invitation, you’ll freely decide to get inebriated
at the wedding and ruin it for everyone, which would be the worst
outcome. The second best thing to do would be to simply decline the
invitation. In light of these facts, should you accept or decline the
invitation? (Zimmerman 2006: 153). The answer to this question hinges
on the actualism/possibilism debate in ethics, which concerns the
relationship between an agent’s free actions and her moral
The uneducated person blames others for their failures; those who have just begun to be instructed blame themselves; those whose learning is complete blame neither others nor themselves.1 So says Epictetus, spelling out one tenet of Stoic thought: that blame, whether of oneself or another, has no place in a life wisely lived. To blame is unhealthy and dispensable. This tenet long endeared me to Stoicism. For I was, for many years, what Peter Graham calls a ‘blame sceptic’. That is not to say that I resiled from blaming. Rather, I blamed and then reproached myself for doing so. Since reproaching entails blaming, I thereby compounded my felony. And then, reproaching myself for compounding my felony, I compounded it some more.
In a decade of important work, Stephen Smith has marshaled a number of arguments against what he calls ‘the duty view’ of damages awards in private law. The duty view (which might more revealingly have been called ‘the existing duty view’) is the view according to which ‘damage[s] awards confirm existing legal duties to pay damages.’ Generously, I am credited with advancing ‘the most plausible’ version of the duty view, namely the ‘inchoate duty view’ according to which the court makes determinate, by its award, what was up to then an indeterminate legal duty. Smith and I agree, at least arguendo, that by its award the court fixes the amount that the defendant now has a duty to pay. I merely add: ‘and now has a duty to have paid’. This is the addition that Smith rejects.
There has been an ongoing debate about whether desires are beliefs. Call the claim that they are the desire-as-belief thesis (DAB). This paper sets out to impugn the two versions of DAB that have enjoyed the most support in the philosophical literature: the guise of the good and the guise of reasons accounts. According to the guise of the good version of DAB, the desire to j is identical to the belief that j is good. According to the guise of reasons version of DAB, the desire to j is identical to the belief that one has a normative reason to j. My paper presents a pair of objections to DAB: the first specifically targets the guise of reasons account defended by Alex Gregory, while the second aims to undermine DAB more generally.
It is almost unanimously accepted in the moral luck literature that Kant denies resultant moral luck—that is, he denies that the lucky consequence of a person’s action can affect how much praise or blame she deserves. Philosophers often point to the famous good will passage at the beginning of the Groundwork to justify this claim. I argue, however, that this passage does not support Kant’s denial of resultant moral luck. Subsequently, I argue that Kant allows agents to be morally responsible for certain kinds of lucky consequences. Even so, I argue that it is unclear whether Kant ultimately endorses resultant moral luck. The reason is that Kant does not write enough on moral responsibility for consequences to determine definitively whether he thinks that the lucky consequence for which an agent is morally responsible can add to her degree of praiseworthiness or blameworthiness. The clear upshot, however, is that Kant does not deny resultant moral luck.
Need considerations play an important role in empirically informed theories of distributive justice. We propose a concept of need-based justice that is related to social participation and provide an ethical measurement of need-based justice. The β-ε-index satisfies the need-principle, monotonicity, sensitivity, transfer and several ‘technical’ axioms. A numerical example is given.
Curiously, people assign less punishment to a person who attempts and fails to harm somebody if their intended victim happens to suffer the harm for coincidental reasons. This “blame blocking” effect provides an important evidence in support of the two-process model of moral judgment (Cushman, 2008). Yet, recent proposals suggest that it might be due to an unintended interpretation of the dependent measure in cases of coincidental harm (Prochownik, 2017; also Malle, Guglielmo, & Monroe, 2014). If so, this would deprive the two-process model of an important source of empirical support. We report and discuss results that speak against this alternative account.
Art can be addressed, not just to individuals, but to groups. Art can even be part of how groups think to themselves – how they keep a grip on their values over time. I focus on monuments as a case study. Monuments, I claim, can function as a commitment to a group value, for the sake of long-term action guidance. Art can function here where charters and mission statements cannot, precisely because of art’s powers to capture subtlety and emotion. In particular, art can serve as the vessel for group emotions, by making emotional content sufficiently public so as to be the object of a group commitment. Art enables groups to guide themselves with values too subtle to be codified.
At first glance there does not seem to be anything philosophically
problematic about human enhancement. Activities such as physical
fitness routines, wearing eyeglasses, taking music lessons and prayer
are routinely utilized for the goal of enhancing human capacities. This
entry is not concerned with every activity and intervention that might
improve people’s embodied lives. The focus of this entry is a
cluster of debates in practical ethics that is conventionally labeled
as “the ethics of human enhancement”. These debates include
clinicians’ concerns about the limits of legitimate health care,
parents’ worries about their reproductive and rearing
obligations, and the efforts of competitive institutions like sports to
combat cheating, as well as more general questions about distributive
justice, science policy, and the public regulation of medical
In politics, representation is as representation does. Or – it is the contingent product of what is done with it, or in its name. Against this background, efforts by theorists to extract representation’s essence from its contexts and functions do not necessarily advance our understanding (Derrida 1982, 301). Likewise, neat distinctions between (e.g.) two or more types, forms or qualities of representation are common in democratic theory, but the practices which produce representation often traverse and disrupt static and neat distinctions. Consider the example of “self-appointed representation” (SAR) (Montanaro 2012) and its implied opposite “other-appointed representation” (OAR). SAR, to be representation, depends in some form on recognition by others. OAR, to be representation, depends on a presentation of a self adequate to representation. This is one instance of representation’s diverse and common liminal qualities, which see it traversing and complicating neat categorisations.
In his On the Genealogy of Morality Nietzsche famously discusses a psychological condition he calls ressentiment, a form of toxic, vengeful anger. In this paper, I offer a free-standing theory in philosophical psychology of what is characteristic of this state. My view takes some inspiration from Nietzsche, but this paper will not be a work of exegesis. In the process of developing my account, I will try to chart the terrain around ressentiment and closely-related and sometimes overlapping states (ordinary moral resentment, envy, vengefulness, anger, and the like) and also seek to explain what’s ethically objectionable as well as psychologically pernicious about ressentiment. Ressentiment, I shall contend in this paper, is not simply a ten dollar word substitutable for ‘resentment,’ though it is indeed a species of that genus. On the account I develop, the perception of being slighted, insulted, or demeaned figures centrally in cases of ressentiment.
The Four Ages of Man - Nicolas Lancret
There’s an oft-repeated ‘fact’ thrown around in debates about retirement and old age. The details can vary but it’s something to the effect that when the pension entitlement age was set at 65 in the early part of the 20th century, very few people could expect to collect it, and those that did could only expect to collect for a few years (probably no more than 5). …
John Stuart Mill famously wrote:
We do not call anything wrong, unless we mean to imply that a person ought to be punished in some way or other for doing it; if not by law, by the opinion of his fellow-creatures; if not by opinion, by the reproaches of his own conscience. …
What are the epistemic benefits of democracy? According to the ‘epistemic democrats’, democratic procedures such as deliberation and voting are valuable in part because they produce epistemically valuable outcomes. Indeed, epistemic democrats claim the legitimacy of democracy depends, at least in part, on the epistemic quality of the outcomes of political decision-making processes. In this paper, I want to consider two epistemic factors that might figure into the value of democracy, namely, veritistic and non-veritistic epistemic goals.
Suppose something bad happens to my friend, and while I am properly motivated in the right degree to alleviate the bad, I just don’t feel bad about it (nor do I feel good about). Common sense says I am morally defective. …
Richard Hare left behind at his death a long essay titled “A
Philosophical Autobiography”, which was published after his
death. Its opening is striking:
I had a strange dream, or half-waking vision, not long ago. I found
myself at the top of a mountain in the mist, feeling very pleased with
myself, not just for having climbed the mountain, but for having
achieved my life’s ambition, to find a way of answering moral
questions rationally. But as I was preening myself on this
achievement, the mist began to clear, and I saw that I was surrounded
on the mountain top by the graves of all those other philosophers,
great and small, who had had the same ambition, and thought they had
In recent years there has been an explosion of philosophical work on blame. Much of this work has focused on explicating the nature of blame or on examining the norms that govern it, and the primary motivation for theorizing about blame seems to derive from blame’s tight connection to responsibility. However, very little philosophical attention has been given to praise and its attendant practices. In this paper, I identify three possible explanations for this lack of attention. My goal is to show that each of these lines of thought is mistaken and to argue that praise is deserving of careful, independent analysis by philosophers interested in theorizing about responsibility.
I maintain that intrinsic value is the fundamental concept of axiology. Many contemporary philosophers disagree; they say the proper object of value theory is final value. I examine three accounts of the nature of final value: the first claims that final value is non-instrumental value; the second claims that final value is the value a thing has as an end; the third claims that final value is ultimate or non-derivative value. In each case, I argue that the concept of final value described is either identical with the classical notion of intrinsic value or is not a plausible candidate for the primary concept of axiology.
In research on action explanation, philosophers and developmental psychologists have recently proposed a teleological account according to which we typically don’t explain an agent’s action by appealing to her mental states but by referring to the objective, publically accessible facts of the world that count in favor of performing the action. Advocates of the teleological account claim that this strategy is our main way of understanding people’s actions. I argue that common motivations mentioned to support the teleological account are insufficient to sustain its generalization from children to adults. Moreover, social psychological studies, combined with theoretical considerations, suggest that we do not explain actions mainly by invoking publically accessible, reasoning-giving facts alone but by ascribing mental states to the agent. The point helps advance the theorizing on the teleological account and on the nature of action explanation.
Decision theory and philosophy of action both attempt to explain what it is for an ideally rational agent to answer the question “What to do?” From the agent’s point of view, the answer to that question is settled in practical deliberation and motivates her to act. The mental states that determine her answer are the sources of rationalizing explanations of the agent’s behavior. They explain why she performed a given action in terms of why it made sense, from her point of view, to so act. Rationalizing explanations should be contrastive, of the form “Agent S performed action A, rather than actions B, C, or D, because P, Q, and R” where B, C, and D are whatever S takes to be the possible alternatives to A, and P, Q, and R are whichever of S’s deliberative considerations and other factors yield a good explanation.
This is a (likely incomplete) transcendental phenomenology of professional failure. You can read it, if you like. Or don’t. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
There is conflicting experimental evidence about whether the “stakes” or importance of being wrong affect judgments about whether a subject knows a proposition. To date, judgments about stakes effects on knowledge have been investigated using binary paradigms: responses to “low” stakes cases are compared with responses to “high stakes” cases. However, stakes or importance are not binary properties—they are scalar: whether a situation is “high” or “low” stakes is a matter of degree. So far, no experimental work has investigated the scalar nature of stakes effects on knowledge: do stakes effects increase as the stakes get higher? Do stakes effects only appear once a certain threshold of stakes has been crossed? Does the effect plateau at a certain point? To address these questions, we conducted experiments that probe for the scalarity of stakes effects using several experimental approaches. We found evidence of scalar stakes effects using an “evidence-seeking” experimental design, but no evidence of scalar effects using a traditional “evidence-fixed” experimental design. In addition, using the evidence-seeking design, we uncovered a large, but previously unnoticed framing effect on whether participants are skeptical about whether someone can know something, no matter how much evidence they have. The rate of skeptical responses and the rate at which participants were willing to attribute “lazy knowledge”—that someone can know something without having to check— were themselves subject to a stakes effect: participants were more skeptical when the stakes were higher, and more prone to attribute lazy knowledge when the stakes were lower. We argue that the novel skeptical stakes effect provides resources to respond to criticisms of the evidence-seeking approach that argue that it does not target knowledge.
During the last few years, it has become usual to turn to some seventeenth century readings of the traditional idea of an original common possession of the earth for philosophical aid to explain and support the rights of persons in situations of extreme need, including refugees. Hugo Grotius’s conception of this idea is one of the most cited ones. In this paper, I hold that a Grotian reading of the idea of an original common possession of the earth is not a fruitful principle if we want to elaborate a solid defence of the rights of the ones in need. I reconstruct and analyse the role this idea has in Grotius’s theory of private property and present objections to it from a Kantian perspective.
I give a new argument for the moral difference between lying and misleading. First, following David Lewis (1983, 2002), I hold that conventions of Truthfulness and Trust fix the meanings of our language. These conventions generate fair play obligations. Thus, to fail to conform to the conventions of Truthfulness and Trust is unfair. Second, I argue that the liar, but not the misleader, fails to conform to Truthfulness. So the liar, but not the misleader, does something unfair. This account entails that bald-faced lies are wrong, that we can lie non-linguistically, and that linguistic innovation is morally significant.
Words change meaning, usually in unpredictable ways. But some words’ meanings are revised intentionally. Revisionary projects are normally put forward in the service of some purpose – some serve specific goals of inquiry, and others serve ethical, political or social aims. Revisionist projects can ameliorate meanings, but they can also pervert. In this paper, I want to draw attention to the dangers of meaning perversions, and argue that the self-declared goodness of a revisionist project doesn’t suffice to avoid meaning perversions. The road to Hell, or to horrors on Earth, is paved with good intentions. Finally and more importantly, I want to demarcate what meaning perversions are. This, I hope, can help us assess the moral and political legitimacy of revisionary projects.
I don’t usually write too much about veganism/vegetarianism since it is a deeply personal issue (but see here and here). However, I have been trying to write more about deeply personal issues and I recently revisited one of my favorite albums from way back in the late ’80’s. …
Some time ago, after hearing something along the lines of “the infinite differs from the finite” or “infinite numbers are different from finite numbers” for the umpteenth time, two things occurred to me. These are phrases reminiscent of the language used in bubbles. And infinite numbers need not differ from finite numbers. This paper develops those ideas.
To be an enthusiast, for Locke, is to believe oneself, on insufficient evidence, to be the recipient of immediate divine inspiration. We describe the theological context that led Locke to insert a chapter on this subject into the fourth edition of the Essay, and then examine why Locke held enthusiasm to be particularly objectionable. Far from being an obscure historical footnote, the chapter raises foundational questions for Locke’s epistemology. We look more closely than have previous treatments of this topic at the religious practices that Locke targets, and find them to be less obviously irrational than his criticisms suggest. Reflection on those criticisms allows us a clearer understanding of where Locke locates the ultimate grounds of rational belief.