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What kind of academic inquiry can best help humanity make progress towards as good a world as possible?  Why are philosophers apparently so uninterested in this question?  Is it because most believe the kind of academic inquiry we have today, devoted primarily to the pursuit of knoweldge and technological know-how, is the best that we can have, judged from the perspective of helping humanity make progress towards a better world?  Why are philosophers apparently so uninterested in arguments which seem to show decisively that inquiry restricted to the pursuit of knowledge is both profoundly irrational, and a menace?  The successful pursuit of knowledge and technological know-how, dissociated from a more fundamental concern to help humanity resolve conflicts and problems of living in increasingly cooperatively rational ways, is almost bound to lead to trouble.  Scientific knowledge and technological know-how enormously increase our power to act - for some of us at ... (read more)
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Normative antirealism supposes that the only normative reasons are empirical, viz. those constituted by the actual attitudes of individuals and what follows from them.  However, the empirical normative attitudes of some individuals (e.g. normative realists) posit attitude-independent standards of normative judgement:  for example, rational measures of correctness (e.g. right and wrong) that are independent of the attitudes individuals actually have.  Since it follows from the actual attitudes of realists that there are independent normative standards, at least for them antirealism entails realism.  The antirealists respond that they have proven such independent standards to be fatally compromised:  when properly scrutinized they fail to follow even from the attitudes of realists.  But that's not an empirical claim!  The antirealist is replacing the question "What attitudes do persons actually have?" with the question "What personal attitudes stand up to scrutiny?", so withstanding scrutiny be ... (read more)

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If you come across this paper while researching philosophy of love, you should watch this:
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In The Possibility of Altruism, Thomas Nagel advocates substituting reasons for the role in human motivation traditionally played by desires.  He sees the need because what people desire is an empirical matter revealed in behavior, and varies too greatly to provide the kind of inescapability he thinks morality requires:  reasons can be "agent-neutral", whereas desires must always be "agent-relative" (to use terms later introduced by Parfit).  But Nagel specifically rejects the possibility that this approach conflates causal explanation with normative justification:  "a close connection between the two is already embodied in the ordinary concept of a reason" (15).  

He proposes to dethrone desires by drawing attention to a particular problem regarding the role of "future desires" in practical reasoning.  For example, suppose I now purchase a bottle of water for quenching the thirst I anticipate I will experience later in my drive home.  How do we explain this purchase?&nbs ... (read more)
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I have been rereading The Possibility of Altruism, and have been struck by (pace Nagel) the essential incoherence of cognitive judgment internalism, at least on a rationalist construal of cognitivism (e.g. as opposed to naturalism).

On such a cognitive view, the truth of a moral judgment -- e.g. that act A is right -- is determinable by some rational assessment, regardless of one's involvement in A.  That is, whether or not one is in a position to do A, it's rightness is something anyone can determine, analogous to the way one can determine that "5 + 7 = 12" or "P&Q --> P" are true.  It is a rational truth.

But in determining the truth of a moral judgment I have not thereby decided to do anything, even in cases where I am involved.  In this case (shame on me) I may not yet have decided to do what is right.  The argument will be that, insofar I have not decided to do A, I have failed to fully appreciate the rightness of A.  But we have seen that the determination of the right ... (read more)
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Hey Philosophers!

I was wounding, what are the major distinctions between disputes about the concepts used in ethics to disputes about concepts in the sciences (i.e. the definition of a 'species')?

Also what do you make of LukeProg's solution to conceptual disputes as presented n this post at lesswrong ( I don't know if such an approach could work in the sciences although it might work in ethics.

Looking forward to your responses :)
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Hi Jack,

Nice paper!. However, if I may, I wasn't convinced by your response to objection five. The objection, I take it, is that the intuitions you are marshaling about incoherence derive from a non-moral standpoint, that is, they are intuitions that arise when one is doing metaethics and not when one is actually moralizing.  And it seems undeniable that Moore paradoxical sentences are straightforwardly bizarre when uttered by persons in the context of actual moralizing (just imagine actually having the relevant conversation). At the outset of your paper, you correctly note that expressivism is a theory about actual moralizing, so it seems like this is one objection to which you should be very sensitive.  You respond:

This is not really a rejection of C3, but a rejection of C1, since it admits that it is not always the case that affective or conative attitudes are expressed by moral assertions. If non-cognitive mental states are only sometimes expressed by moral assertions, then the clai ... (read more)

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Hi Matt,

This is a very interesting paper.  I am in agreement with the basic premise, namely, that we should be suspicious of moral intuitions which are highly contingent or "flippable".  However, I have one or two questions about the argument.

In one section, you're dealing with the problem of "typing" mechanisms.  The point, as I understand it, is to show that your argument defeats demandingness intuitions but does not defeat other moral intuitions (such as those concerning the wrongness of slavery).  You say:

Given these considerations, how generally should we type the testimonial process behind my moral belief that slavery is wrong? The reliability of (say) my mother’s anti-racist moral testimony in the actual world should not necessarily be impugned by the unreliability of her moral testimony were she a racist bigot, for her epistemic situation (i.e., her foundational moral beliefs) in the latter case would be radically mistaken. The two types of testimonial processes, then, are plausibl ... (read more)

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Hi Professor Demetriou,

I've just read the draft of your paper, and I really enjoyed it, especially the bits where you complicate the somewhat simplistic just-so cultural-evolutionary story provided by Ross and Nisbett.  One rarely sees such deep engagement with actual anthropological data in moral-philosophical papers about disagreement, and I think your reflections here are a valuable contribution to this literature.

However, I have a question about the "pluralism" that is on offer, which is "a view urging the moral correctness of  multiple and mutually irreducible comprehensive ethical  outlooks , each suited to  its own dimension  of social life ."  A familiar worry emerges here, which is that you are covertly drawing on a kind of monism which serves to make each of the competing moral systems appear attractive.  The trouble begins with the word "suited": what does it mean to say that a moral outlook is "suited" t ... (read more)
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This was a solid paper guys I really must commend you for the excellent work. With that said, I do agree with you about Raz's arguments. They seemed to possess little to no substance whatsoever and his argument of self-interest towards the end seemed to be more of a forfeiture of his premise than anything else. I will at least credit him for attempting to untangle the knots in this complex field we call moral philosophy but I had some major objections while reading. Please do correct me if I speak ignorantly or from a misinformed position.

1. Raz says to be moral is to see value in others and one's self. This value is derived from the virtue of being a person. Are we to take it that the recognition of this value disregards how we cultivate that value through action which subsequently has consequences? If I see value in someone, but still decide to take away their life because I perceive myself to be more valuable, am I moral or not.

2. A refutation of point 1 would be that to see value ... (read more)
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I am delighted that someone of Kitcher's ability has tackled the meta-ethical implications of understanding morality as an evolutionary adaptation. Further, Christine Clavien has advanced that good cause by providing an inspiringly insightful and clear review of important implications of his work. 

However, the science of the matter actually supports a much stronger hypothesis than Kitcher's "morality evolved to overcome altruism failures".That stronger hypothesis may have different meta-ethical implications.

Relevant criteria for scientific truth regarding morality as an evolutionary adaptation Include explanatory power for descriptive facts and puzzles, no contradiction with known facts, simplicity, and integration with the rest of science. By these criteria, a superior hypothesis can be stated as "morality overcomes a universal cooperation-exploitation dilemma by motivating or advocating altruistic cooperation strategies". That is, morality is composed of assemblies of biolog ... (read more)

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Hello all,

I'm currently reading many of the arguments surrounding the Frege-Geach problem for non-cognitivism. So far it appears that all attempted solutions of the problem have failed. Would that be a fair conclusion of the situation currently does anyone know?

Yours gratefully,
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  • Mark Silcox, 2012-08-13 : Almost, but not quite! :) Might I humbly recommend (read more)
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A question from a novice on the topic:

I'm suspecting that certain game-theoretic norms constitute necessary, a priori discernable norms and hence provide a robustly realist foundation for morality.  (And possibly even "non-naturalist", although I suspect that that categorization may not be meaningful or worth caring about.)  As I understand the nature of game theory, it discovers norms of procedural collective rationality.

There is of course room to debate the extent to which morality really is based on the norms of game theory.  However, my questions are slightly different: What is the ontological status of game theoretic norms?  And what are the consequences for the ontology of morality?

Reading suggestions much appreciated.
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I couldn't find Tim's email so am instead posting here a link to my critical discussion of his paper (which may also be of interest to other readers):
Moral Judgments, 2Dism, and Attitudinal Commitments.


Hello, philosophical world:

Often I and many people I know categorize other people's actions as either 'morally permissible' (right, in the weak sense), 'morally impermissible' (wrong), or 'morally obligatory' (right, in the strong sense).  What we ascribe to the actions is known as a /deontic status/.  A deontic status differs from evaluative statuses such as 'good', 'bad', or 'neutral'.  For one thing, deontic statuses apply only to actions, whereas evaluative statuses apply both to actions and to many other sorts of things.

Many people believe in supererogation.  Here's an example of that: Sam's donation to the Red Cross is supererogatory if it was not obligatory for him to do, not impermissible, but also goes 'above and beyond' what is merely permissible.  (Sometimes people call such actions 'above and beyond the call of duty', which we might abbreviate as ABCD.)

I take it that supererogation is a 'mixed' concept: mixed in the sense that it has both deontic and evaluative component ... (read more)
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Jonathan Way writes: "Some irrational states can be avoided in more than one way. For example, if you believe that you ought to A you can avoid akrasia by intending to A or by dropping the belief that you ought to A".

Rather than avoiding akrasia by dropping the belief that one ought A; Jonathan Way has very clearly given a definition of the condition. Clearly the writer has in mind a prior sense of duty in the mind of a person described. This person's path is either to perform his duty, or to discover that his proposed action is not obligatory.

Jonathan Haidt (in his 2001 "The Emotional Dog and Its Rational Tail") suggests that (1) “moral discussions and arguments are notorious for the rarity with which persuasion takes place” (p. 819).  

(He also claims that (2) “moral positions always have an affective component to them”.  Based on these two claims, he hypothesizes that (C) “reasoned persuasion works not by providing logically compelling arguments but by triggering new affectively valenced intuitions in the listener” (p. 819).)

Do you know of any empirical evidence for these premise claims, (1) or (2)?  I'm particularly interested in evidence supporting (1).

Cross-posted from

The paper we discussed this week is here and my (very short) handout is here.

Schroeder is offering more of a general structure for an expressivist account than a fully-worked out one, and one of the points he’s fairly vague on is what descriptive predicate should typically follow the ‘is for’ attitude. For the purposes of the paper, he adopts a proposal of Gibbard’s, which analyses disapproval (a technical term for the expressivist) in terms of being for blaming for; so the idea is that ‘Jon thinks murder is wrong’ should be rendered as ‘Jon is for blaming for murdering’.

(Note that we can’t just adopt the ‘is for’ proposal without any descriptive predicate: ‘is for the non-occurrence of’ because this collapses two readings we want to keep distinct; the non-occurrence of not-murdering is the same as the occurrence of murdering, while not blaming for not murdering is not the same as blaming for murdering.)

Taken literally, it looks like ... (read more)

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Huemer (p.911) objects to the Average Utility Principle on the grounds that it implies:
The Sadistic Conclusion: In some circumstances, it would be better with respect to utility to add some unhappy people to the world (people with negative utility), rather than creating a larger number of happy people (people with positive utility).
This does seem counterintuitive, at least at first glance.  But further reflection reveals that it is not much of a move from the (not especially outrageous) claim that adding mediocre lives can make a world worse. For then we may expect that adding a great many mediocre lives could make a world much worse (transforming it from a predominantly flourishing world to a predominantly mediocre one).  In any case, if this is a harm at all, then it isn't surprising that it could outweigh the modest harm of adding a single moderately bad life.  We are tempted to draw a bright line between lives that are worth living and those that aren't, but ... (read more)
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