What I call the active mind approach revolves around the claim that what is “on” a person’s mind is in an important sense brought on and held on to through the agent’s self-conscious rational activity. In the first part, I state the gist of this perspective in a deliberately strong way in order to create a touchstone for critical discussion. In the second part, I engage with two categories of our mental lives that seem to speak against construing the mind as active. First, I discuss affectivity, in particular emotion, and show that emotional episodes are active engagements. Second, I discuss habitual action, and in particular those manifestations of habit which are initially opaque to the agent. In my responses to both objections, the notion of a practical self-understanding will play a central role. The result will be a qualified defence and expansion of the active mind position.
This paper generalises Enelow (J Polit 43(4):1062–1089, 1981) and Lehtinen’s (Theory Decis 63(1):1–40, 2007b) model of strategic voting under amendment agendas by allowing any number of alternatives and any voting order. The generalisation enables studying utilitarian efficiencies in an incomplete information model with a large number of alternatives. Furthermore, it allows for studying how strategic voting affects path-dependence. Strategic voting increases utilitarian efficiency also when there are more than three alternatives. The existence of a Condorcet winner does not guarantee path-independence if the voters engage in strategic voting under incomplete information. A criterion for evaluating path-dependence, the degree of path-dependence, is proposed, and the generalised model is used to study how strategic voting affects it. When there is a Condorcet winner, strategic voting inevitably increases the degree of path-dependence, but when there is no Condorcet winner, strategic voting decreases path-dependence. Computer simulations show, however, that on average it increases the degree of path-dependence.
The most common argument against the use of rational choice models outside economics is that they make unrealistic assumptions about individual behavior. We argue that whether the falsity of assumptions matters in a given model depends on which factors are explanatorily relevant. Since the explanatory factors may vary from application to application, effective criticism of economic model building should be based on model-specific arguments showing how the result really depends on the false assumptions. However, some modeling results in imperialistic applications are relatively robust with respect to unrealistic assumptions.
This paper examines the welfare consequences of strategic voting under the Borda rule in a comparison of utilitarian efficiencies in simulated voting games under two behavioural assumptions: expected utility-maximising behaviour and sincere behaviour. Utilitarian efficiency is higher in the former than in the latter. Strategic voting increases utilitarian efficiency particularly if the distribution of preference intensities correlates with voter types. The Borda rule is shown to have two advantages: strategic voting is beneficial even if some but not all voter types engage in strategic behaviour, and even if the voters’ information is based on unreliable signals.
This paper reconsiders the discussion on ordinal utilities versus preference intensities in voting theory. It is shown by way of an example that arguments concerning observability and risk-attitudes that have been presented in favour of Arrow’s Independence of Irrelevant Alternatives (IIA), and against utilitarian evaluation, fail due to strategic voting. The failure of these two arguments is then used to justify utilitarian evaluation of outcomes in voting. Given a utilitarian viewpoint, it is then argued that strategy-proofness is not normatively acceptable. Social choice theory is criticised not just by showing that some of its most important conditions are not normatively acceptable, but also by showing that the very idea of imposing condition on social choice function under the assumption of sincere behaviour does not make much sense because satisfying a condition does not quarantee that a voting rule actually has the properties that the condition confers to it under sincere behaviour. IIA, the binary intensity IIA, and monotonicity are used as illustrations of this phenomenon.
For a PDF version of this post, see here.Many years ago, I was climbing Sgùrr na Banachdich with my friend Alex. It's a mountain in the Black Cuillin, a horseshoe of summits that surround Loch Coruisk at the southern end of the Isle of Skye. …
In a recent paper, Justin D’Ambrosio (2020) has offered an empirical argument in support of a negative solution to the puzzle of Macbeth’s dagger—namely, the question of whether, in the famous scene from Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth sees a dagger in front of him. D’Ambrosio’s strategy consists in showing that “seeing” is not an existence-neutral verb; that is, that the way it is used in ordinary language is not neutral with respect to whether its complement exists. In this paper, we offer an empirical argument in favor of an existence-neutral reading of “seeing”. In particular, we argue that existence-neutral readings are readily available to language users. We thus call into question D’Ambrosio’s argument for the claim that Macbeth does not see a dagger. According to our positive solution, Macbeth sees a dagger, even though there is not a dagger in front of him.
Effective altruism is based on a very simple idea: we should do the most good we can. Obeying the usual rules about not stealing, cheating, hurting, and killing is not enough, or at least not enough for those of us who have the good fortune to live in material comfort, who can feed, house, and clothe ourselves and our families and still have money or time to spare. …
As many Western countries emerged from initial periods of lockdown in spring 2020, they had brought COVID-19 infection rates down significantly. This was followed, however, with more drastic second and third waves of viral spread, which many of these same countries are struggling to bring under control, even with the implementation of further periods of lockdown. Could this have been prevented by policymakers? We revisit two strategies that were focus of much discussion during the early stages of the pandemic, and which were implemented in several Western countries, albeit in a weakened form. These strategies both proceed by targeting certain segments of the population, while allowing others to go about their lives unhindered. The first suggests selectively isolating those that would most likely suffer severe adverse effects if infected – in particular the elderly. The second involves identifying and quarantining those who are likely to be infected through a contact tracing app that would centrally store users’ information. We suggest that both strategies showed promise in preventing the need for further lockdowns, albeit in a significantly more stringent form than anything that was implemented in Western countries. We then proceed to an ethical evaluation of these more stringent policies. We contend that selective isolation strategies face severe ethical problems due to its discriminatory nature, while the ethical issues with a more aggressive contact tracing regime can be mitigated. This analysis has implications for how to respond effectively and ethically to future pandemics, and perhaps contains lessons on how to successfully emerge from our current predicament.
Economic policy evaluations require social welfare functions for variable-size populations. Two important candidates are critical-level generalized utilitarianism (CLGU) and rank-discounted critical-level generalized utilitarianism, which was recently characterized by Asheim and Zuber (2014) (AZ). AZ introduce a novel axiom, existence of egalitarian equivalence (EEE). First, we show that, under some uncontroversial criteria for a plausible social welfare relation, EEE suffices to rule out the Repugnant Conclusion of population ethics (without AZ’s other novel axioms). Second, we provide a new characterization of CLGU: AZ’s set of axioms is equivalent to CLGU when EEE is replaced by the axiom same-number independence.
. Where do journal editors look to find someone to referee your manuscript (in the typical “double blind” review system in academic journals)? One obvious place to look is the reference list in your paper. …
Leo Strauss was a twentieth-century German Jewish émigré
to the United States whose intellectual corpus spans ancient, medieval
and modern political philosophy and includes, among others, studies of
Plato, Maimonides, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Spinoza, and Nietzsche. Strauss wrote mainly as a historian of philosophy and most of his
writings take the form of commentaries on important thinkers and their
writings. Yet as he put it: “There is no inquiry into the
history of philosophy that is not at the same time a
philosophical inquiry” (PL, p. 41). While much of his
philosophical project involved an attempt to rethink pre-modern
philosophy, the impetus for this reconsideration and the philosophical
problems that vexed Strauss most were decidedly modern.
Should a scientist rely on methodological triangulation? Heesen et al. (Synthese 196(8):3067–3081, 2019) recently provided a convincing affirmative answer. However, their approach requires belief gambles if the evidence is discordant. We instead propose epistemically modest triangulation (EMT), according to which one should withhold judgement in such cases. We show that for a scientist in a methodologically diffident situation the expected utility of EMT is greater than that of Heesen et al.’s (2019) triangulation or that of using a single method. We also show that EMT is more appropriate for increasing epistemic trust in science. In short: triangulate, but do not gamble with evidence.
Early modern philosophy in Europe and Great Britain is awash with
discussions of the emotions: they figure not only in philosophical
psychology and related fields, but also in theories of epistemic
method, metaphysics, ethics, political theory and practical reasoning
in general. Moreover, interest in the emotions links philosophy with
work in other, sometimes unexpected areas, such as medicine, art,
literature, and practical guides on everything from child-rearing to
the treatment of subordinates. Because of the breadth of the topic,
this article can offer only an overview, but perhaps it will be enough
to give some idea how philosophically rich and challenging the
conception of the emotions was in this period.
The conventional wisdom in ethics is that pure moral laws are metaphysically necessary. By contrast, Moral Contingentism holds that pure moral laws are metaphysically contingent. This paper raises a normative objection to Moral Contingentism: it is worse equipped than Moral Necessitarianism to account for the normative standing or authority of the pure moral laws to govern the lives of the agents in the worlds where they hold.
It is intuitive to say that persons have infinite value, and recently Rasmussen and Bailey have given some cool arguments for this thesis. But what does it mean to say that humans have infinite value? …
Joseph Henrich's ambitious tome, The WEIRDest People in the World, is driving me nuts. It's good enough and interesting enough that I want to read it. Henrich's general idea is that people in Western, Educated, Industrial, Rich, Democratic (WEIRD) societies differ psychologically from people in more traditionally structured societies, and that the family policies of the Catholic Church in medieval Europe lie at the historical root of this difference. …
In some severely uncertain situations, exemplified by climate change and novel pandemics, policymakers lack a reasoned basis for assigning probabilities to the possible outcomes of the policies they must choose between. I outline and defend an uncertainty averse, egalitarian approach to policy evaluation in these contexts. The upshot is a theory of distributive justice which offers especially strong reasons to guard against individual and collective misfortune.
The pragmatism—anti-pragmatism debate concerns whether practical considerations can constitute genuinely normative wrong-kind reasons (WKRs) for and against doxastic attitudes, whereas the encroachment—anti-encroachment debate concerns whether practical considerations can affect what right-kind reasons (RKRs) one has or needs to have in order to enjoy some epistemic status. While these are two separate issues, my main aim is to show that pragmatists have a plausible debunking explanation to offer of encroachment cases: that the practical considerations in these cases only generate WKRs against belief, rather than affect the RKRs, so that the agents in these cases ought to withhold belief, but only in a practical or all-things-considered sense. Moreover, I argue that the pragmatist debunker’s explanation of what’s going on in encroachment cases is more plausible than the encroacher’s because they’re structurally identical to cases involving WKRs against other attitudes like admiration and fear. These analogous WKR-cases not only support the surprising conclusion that pragmatists should be anti-encroachers, but they also challenge the encroacher’s view independently of whether pragmatism is true.
Many believe that employment can be wrongfully exploitative, even if it is consensual and mutually beneficial. At the same time, it may seem third parties should not do anything to preclude or eliminate such arrangements, given these same considerations of consent and benefit. I argue that there are perfectly sensible, intuitive ethical positions that vindicate this “Reasonable View.” The view requires such defense because the literature often suggests that there is no theoretical space for it. I respond to arguments for the clearest symptom of this obscuration: the so-called nonworseness claim that a consensual, mutually beneficial transaction cannot be “morally worse” than its absence. In addition to making space for the Reasonable View, this serves my dialectical goal of encouraging distinct attention to first- and third-party obligations.
Many consider Nozick’s “utility monster”—a being more efficient than ordinary people at converting resources into well-being, with no upper limit—to be a damning counterexample to utilitarianism. But our intuitions may be reversed by considering a variation in which the utility monster starts from a baseline status of massive suffering. This suggests a rethinking of the force of the original objection.
Tommaso Campanella (Stilo, 1568–Paris, 1639) was one of the
most important philosophers of the late Renaissance. Although his
best-known work today is the utopian text La città del
Sole (The City of the Sun), his thought was extremely
complex and engaged with all fields of learning. The fundamental core
of his thinking, which will be examined in this article, was concerned
with the philosophy of nature (what would nowadays be called science),
magic, political theory and natural religion.
Over the past three years, I have returned to one question over and over again: how does technology reshape our moral beliefs and practices? In his classic study of medieval technology, Lynn White Jr argues that simple technological changes can have a profound effect on social moral systems. …
In defence of pluralism Recently, after a couple of hours discussing a problem in the philosophy of mathematics, a colleague mentioned that he wanted to propose a sort of pluralism as a solution. We were debating the foundations of mathematics, and he wanted to consider the claim that there might be no single unique foundation, but rather many different foundations, no one of them better than the others. …
It is one of the great good fortunes of my life that I was able to count Dick as a friend for almost 40 years. I first met him shortly after I arrived at the University in 1975 as a new assistant professor in the Philosophy Department. I moved to California in 1999, but the friendship continued at a distance after that.
Act consequentialism states that an act is right iff the expected value of its outcome is at least as great as the expected value of any other act’s outcome. Two objections to this view are as follows. The first is that act consequentialism cannot account for our normative ambivalence in cases where agents perform the right act out of bad motives. The second is that act consequentialism is silent on questions of character: questions like ‘What are the right motives to have?’ and ‘What kind of person ought I be?’. These objections have been taken to motivate a move to global consequentialism, on which acts are not the only subjects of normative assessment. Motives and decision-procedures (amongst other things) are also judged right or wrong by direct reference to their consequences. In this paper, I argue that these objections fail to motivate the move from act to global consequentialism.
Arrhenius’s impossibility theorems purport to demonstrate that no population axiology can satisfy each of a small number of intuitively compelling adequacy conditions. However, it has recently been pointed out that each theorem depends on a dubious assumption: Finite Fine-Grainedness. This assumption states that there exists a finite sequence of slight welfare differences between any two welfare levels. Denying Finite Fine-Grainedness makes room for a lexical population axiology which satisfies all of the compelling adequacy conditions in each theorem. Therefore, Arrhenius’s theorems fail to prove that there is no satisfactory population axiology. In this paper, I argue that Arrhenius’s theorems can be repurposed. Since all of our population-affecting actions have a non-zero probability of bringing about more than one distinct population, it is population prospect axiologies that are of practical relevance, and amended versions of Arrhenius’s theorems demonstrate that there is no satisfactory population prospect axiology. These impossibility theorems do not depend on Finite Fine-Grainedness, so lexical views do not escape them.
Some people think that expected utilities determine credences and some thing that credences determine expected utilities. I think neither is the case, and want to sketch a bit of a third view. Let’s say that I observe people playing a slot machine. …
[My thanks to Zach Barnett for writing the following guest post...]At its best, philosophy encourages us to challenge our deepest and most passionately held convictions. No paper does this more forcefully than John Taurek’s “Should the Numbers Count?” Taurek’s paper challenges us to justify the importance of numbers in ethics.Six people are in trouble. …
This paper explores the feasibility of offering a restorative justice (RJ) approach in cases of domestic violence (DV). I argue that widely used RJ processes—such as ‘conferencing’ —are unlikely to be sufficiently safe or effective in cases of DV, at least as these processes are standardly designed and practiced (Sections 1-6). I then support the view that if RJ is to be used in cases of DV, then new specialist processes will need to be co-designed with key stakeholders to ensure they embody not only RJ principles, but also feminist theory and the concept of transformative justice (Section 7).