Peter van Inwagen proposes a criterion of philosophical success. He takes it to support an extremely pessimistic view about philosophy. He thinks that all philosophical arguments for substantive conclusions fail, including the argument from evil. I’m more optimistic on both counts. I’ll identify problems with van Inwagen’s criterion and propose an alternative. I’ll then explore the differing implications of our criteria. On my view, philosophical arguments can succeed and the argument from evil isn’t obviously a failure.
According to deterrence justifications of legal punishment, legal punishment is justified at least in part because it deters offenses. These justifications rely on important empirical assumptions, e.g., that non-punitive enforcement can't deter or that it can't deter enough. I’ll challenge these assumptions and argue that extant deterrence justifications of legal punishment fail. In the process, I examine contemporary deterrence research and argue that it provides no support for these justifications.
I’ll raise a problem for Retributivism, the view that legal punishment is justified on the basis of desert. I’ll focus primarily on Mitchell Berman’s recent defense of the view. He gives one of the most sophisticated and careful statements of it. And his argument is representative, so the problem I’ll raise for it will apply to other versions of Retributivism. His insights about justification also help to make the problem particularly obvious. I’ll also show how the problem extends to non-retributive (...) justifications of punishment. I’ll argue that Berman’s argument makes a questionable assumption about the standard of justification that justifications of punishment must meet to be successful. If we think about what it takes to justify punishment and reflect on the intuitions that retributivists appeal to, it turns out that the intuitions aren’t obviously up to the task. (shrink)
Many philosophers claim that it is always intrinsically good when people get what they deserve and that there is always at least some reason to give people what they deserve. I highlight problems with this view and defend an alternative. I have two aims. First, I want to expose a gap in certain desert-based justifications of punishment. Second, I want to show that those of us who have intuitions at odds with these justifications have an alternative account of desert at (...) our disposal – one that may lend our intuitions more credibility. (shrink)
Some philosophers defend legal punishment by appealing to a natural right to punish wrongdoers, a right people would have in a state of nature. Many of these philosophers argue that legal punishment can be justified by transferring this right to the state. I’ll argue that such a right may not be transferrable to the state because such a right may not survive the transition out of anarchy. A compelling reason for the natural right claim – that in a state of (...) nature there are few if any viable non-punitive enforcement options – isn’t obviously true in state contexts. (shrink)
Recently, Michael Huemer has defended the Principle of Phenomenal Conservatism: If it seems to S that p, then, in the absence of defeaters, S thereby has at least some degree of justification for believing that p. This principle has potentially far-reaching implications. Huemer uses it to argue against skepticism and to defend a version of ethical intuitionism. I employ a reductio to show that PC is false. If PC is true, beliefs can yield justification for believing their contents in cases (...) where, intuitively, they should not be able to do so. I argue that there are cases where a belief that p can behave like an appearance that p and thereby make it seem to one that p. (shrink)
I argue that voting abstention may be obligatory under certain non-trivial conditions. Following recent work on voting ethics, I argue that the obligation to abstain under certain conditions follows from a duty not to vote badly. Whether one votes badly, however, turns on more than one's reasons for wanting a particular candidate elected or policy implemented. On my account, one's reasons for voting at all also matter, and one can be in a position where there is no way to exercise (...) one's right to vote well. Seriously unfair electoral processes may put one in such a position. Such processes arguably hold in some contemporary western democracies, including the US. (shrink)
I argue that contemporary liberal theory cannot give a general justification for the institution or practice of punishment, i.e., a justification that would hold across a broad range of reasonably realistic conditions. I examine the general justifications offered by three prominent contemporary liberal theorists and show how their justifications fail in light of the possibility of an alternative to punishment. I argue that, because of their common commitments regarding the nature of justification, these theorists have decisive reasons to reject punishment (...) in favor of a non-punitive alternative. I demonstrate the possibility of this alternative by means of a careful examination of the nature of punishment, isolating one essential characteristic—the aim to impose suffering—and showing how this characteristic need not guide enforcement. There is logical space for a forceful and coercive, yet non-punitive method of enforcement. This fact poses difficulties for many classical and contemporary justifications of punishment, but it poses particularly crippling problems for general liberal justifications. (shrink)
I criticize an increasingly popular set of arguments for the justifiability of punishment. Some philosophers try to justify punishment by appealing to what Peter Strawson calls the reactive attitudes – emotions like resentment, indignation, remorse and guilt. These arguments fail. The view that these emotions commit us to punishment rests on unsophisticated views of punishment and of these emotions and their associated behaviors. I offer more sophisticated accounts of punishment, of these emotions and of their associated behaviors that are consistent (...) with Abolitionism, the view that punishment is unjustified. (shrink)
Some philosophers think that the challenge of justifying punishment can be met by a theory that emphasizes the expressive character of punishment. A particular type of theories of this sort - call it Expressive Retributivism [ER] - combines retributivist and expressivist considerations. These theories are retributivist since they justify punishment as an intrinsically appropriate response to wrongdoing, as something wrongdoers deserve, but the expressivist element in these theories seeks to correct for the traditional obscurity of retributivism. Retributivists often rely on (...) appeals to controversial intuitions involving obscure concepts. While retributive intuitions can be compelling, some worry that the justificatory challenge cannot be met merely by appealing to them. ER tries to enhance the clarity and justificatory power of these intuitions and the concepts they invoke by appealing to an expressive conception of punishment. I argue that these theories fail to justify punishment and that there is reason to think that they cannot, in principle, justify punishment. (shrink)
I propose an alternative interpretation of the Crito. The arguments that are typically taken to be Socrates’ primary arguments against escape are actually supplementary arguments that rely on what I callthe Superiority Thesis, the thesis that the state and its citizens are members of a moral hierarchy where those below are tied by bonds of obligation to those above. I provide evidence that Socrates holds thisthesis, demonstrate how it resolves a number of apparent difficulties, and show why my interpretation is (...) preferable to competing interpretations. (shrink)