By providing an explicit estimate of the harms caused by personal greenhouse gas emissions, John Nolt (in his “How Harmful are the Average American’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions?”) hopes to undermine tendencies to downplay these emissions and their impacts on global climate change. He estimates that an average American would be responsible for one two-billionth of the suffering or death of two billion people (over 1000 years). He treats this as equivalent to being responsible for the suffering or death of one (...) person. In my paper I argue that these are not equivalent, and that the former is less problematic than the latter. I end with the suggestion that, in terms of personal emissions, having fewer children is more effective than merely reducing our current emissions. (shrink)
My central thesis is that philosophers considering questions of epistemic value ought to devote greater attention to the enduring nature of beliefs. I begin by arguing that a commonly drawn analogy between beliefs and actions is flawed in important respects, and that a better, more fruitful analogue for belief would be desire, or a similarly enduring state of an agent. With this in hand, I argue that treating beliefs as enduring, constitutive states of agents allows us to capture the importance (...) of accessible, justified, and true beliefs to sustaining personal identity, autonomy, self-control, and authenticity. We thus arrive at a significant value to such beliefs through their crucial role in our personal, practical identities. (shrink)
To lead an environmentally virtuous life requires information—about morality, environmental issues, the impacts of our actions and commitments, our options for alternatives, and so on. On the other hand, we are finite beings with limited time and resources. We cannot feasibly investigate all of our options, and all environmental issues (let alone moral issues, more broadly). In this paper I attempt to provide initial steps towards addressing the epistemic demands of environmental virtue. In the first half of the paper I (...) provide rules of thumb with respect to (1) how to prioritize our investigations into various issues, and (2) what kinds of information we should seek with respect to these issues, and the levels of epistemic justification we ought to attain. In the second half of the paper, I turn to a modified virtue ethics, appealing to the attitudes of virtuous ideal observers to provide characterizations of morally justified and morally non-culpable actions. I then apply these latter concepts in assessing agents, their actions and projects (with respect to environmental virtue), in light of their investigative efforts, and given their particular circumstances. (shrink)
In this paper I respond to a set of basic objections often raised against those virtue theories in ethics which maintain that moral properties such rightness and goodness (and their corresponding concepts) are to be explained and understood in terms of the virtues or the virtuous. The objections all rest on a strongly-held intuition that the virtues (and the virtuous) simply must be derivative in some way from either right actions or good states of affairs. My goal is to articulate (...) several distinct, though related, objections grounded in this intuition, and to argue that virtue ethicists have ample resources to respond to these worries. The explanatory primacy of the virtuous over the right or the good emerges as a distinct and viable position. (shrink)
I argue that recent virtue theories (including those of Hursthouse, Slote, and Swanton) face important initial difficulties in accommodating the supererogatory. In particular, I consider several potential characterizations of the supererogatory modeled upon these familiar virtue theories (and their accounts of rightness) and argue that they fail to provide an adequate account of supererogation. In the second half of the paper I sketch an alternative virtue-based characterization of supererogation, one that is grounded in the attitudes of virtuous ideal observers, and (...) that avoids the concerns raised in the first part of the paper. (shrink)
Victoria Davion in “Itch Scratching, Patio Building, and Pesky Flies: Biocentric Individualism Revisited” takes biocentric individualism to task, focusing in particular on my paper, “Reverence for Life as a Viable Environmental Virtue.” Davion levels a wide-range of criticisms, and concludes that we humans would be better off putting biocentric individualism aside to focus on more important issues and positions. Worries raised by Davion can be defended by elaborating on the position laid out in the original paper, including a background normative (...) theory appealing to hypothetical virtuous ideal observers, upon which the position is drawn. Many of her criticisms appear to arise out of misreading or ignoring what is explicitly argued. When these misconstruals are corrected, it becomes clear that there is still space for a viable virtue of reverence for life. (shrink)
This paper begins by drawing attention to inadequacies in common characterizations of the vice of complacency. An alternative account is presented that avoids these flaws. The distinctive nature of complacency is then clarified by contrasting it with related vices, including apathy, resignation, akrasia, excessive pride, and hypocrisy.
In my “Promising and Supererogation” I argue that one cannot fulfill promises to perform supererogatory actions (such as “I hereby promise to perform one supererogatory action every month”). In a response to my paper, David Heyd argues that there is an alternative solution to the problem I raise. While I agree with much that Heyd says about the examples he discusses, his proposed solution involves a crucial alteration of the problem; his proposed solution does not solve the problem I present.
In this paper I attempt to defuse a set of epistemic worries commonly raised against ideal observer theories. The worries arise because of the omniscience often attributed to ideal observers -- how can we, as finite humans, ever have access to the moral judgements or reactions of omniscient beings? I argue that many of the same concerns arise with respect to other moral theories (and that these concerns do not in fact reveal genuine flaws in any of these theories), and (...) further, that we can and often do have knowledge of the reactions of ideal observers (according to standard, prominent theories in the domain of epistemology). (shrink)
A response to Christopher Preston's book "Grounding Knowledge" (2003). I first argue that Preston’s work strongly suggests that epistemologists would do well to re-examine and pay greater attention to ‘knowledge how’. Second, I briefly consider several of Preston’s proposals (concerning the importance of place to our cognitive lives) through the lens of contemporary virtue epistemology and suggest how Preston’s work might inform and shape theorizing in this area. Finally, I turn to a set of potential questions for Preston, focusing in (...) particular on his proposal that we ought to preserve a wide range of places inorder to allow for an epistemically valuable cognitive diversity. (shrink)
In this paper I argue (i) that choosing to abide by realist moral norms would be as arbitrary as choosing to abide by the mere preferences of a God (a difficulty akin to the Euthyphro dilemma raised for divine command theorists); in both cases we would lack reason to prefer these standards to alternative codes of conduct. I further develop this general line of thought by arguing in particular (ii) that we would lack any noncircular justification to concern ourselves with (...) any such realist normative standards. (shrink)
A paradox involving promises to perform supererogatory actions is developed. Several attempts to resolve the problem, focusing in particular on changing our understanding of supererogatory actions, are explored. It is concluded that none of the proposed solutions are viable; the problem lies in promises with certain contents, not in our understanding of supererogation.
Moral response-dependent metaethical theories characterize moral properties in terms of the reactions of certain classes of individuals. Nick Zangwill has argued that such theories are flawed: they are unable to accommodate the motive of duty. That is, they are unable to provide a suitable reason for anyone to perform morally right actions simply because they are morally right. I argue that Zangwill ignores significant differences between various approvals, and various individuals, and that moral response-dependent theories can accommodate the motive of (...) duty. (shrink)
There have been several recent defenses of biocentric individualism, the position that all living beings have at least some moral standing, simply insofar as they are alive. I develop a virtue-based version of biocentric individualism, focusing on a virtue of reverence for life. In so doing, I attempt to show that such a virtuebased approach allows us to avoid common objections to biocentric individualism, based on its supposed impracticability (or, on the other hand, its emptiness).
Many philosophers, in discussing supererogation, maintain that supererogatory actions must be done for the benefit of others. In this paper I argue that there can be instances of self-regarding supererogatory actions. That is, there are cases in which the primary (or sole) intended beneficiary of a supererogatory action is the agent herself, and she need not be acting out of a concern for morality or moral rules. In such cases the agent still acts suitably 'beyond the call of duty', and (...) in a morally praiseworthy fashion. (shrink)
Epistemologists often assume that an agent’s epistemic goal is simply to acquire as much knowledge as possible for herself. Drawing on an analogy with ethics and other practices, I argue that being situated in an epistemic community introduces a range of epistemic virtues (and goals) which fall outside of those typically recognized by both individualistic and social epistemologists. Candidate virtues include such traits as honesty, integrity (including an unwillingness to misuse one’s status as an expert), patience, and creativity. We can (...) understand such traits to be epistemic virtues insofar as they tend to produce knowledge – not for the agent alone, but for her community. Recognition of such ‘otherregarding epistemic virtues’ both broadens the area of inquiry of epistemology, and introduces new standards for the evaluation of epistemic agents. (shrink)
Virtue theorists in ethics often embrace the following characterizationof right action: An action is right iff a virtuous agent would performthat action in like circumstances. Zagzebski offers a parallel virtue-basedaccount of epistemically justified belief. Such proposals are severely flawedbecause virtuous agents in adverse circumstances, or through lack ofknowledge can perform poorly. I propose an alternative virtue-based accountaccording to which an action is right (a belief is justified) for an agentin a given situation iff an unimpaired, fully-informed virtuous observerwould deem the (...) action to be right (the belief to be justified). (shrink)
I propose a modified virtue ethics, grounded in an analogy between ecosystems and human personalities. I suggest that we understand ourselves as possessing changing systems of inter-related sub personalities with different virtues, and view our characters as flexible and evolving.
Such activities as tracking, watching, and photographing animals are frequently presented as morally superior alternatives to hunting, but could they themselves be morally problematic? In this paper I argue that, despite certain differences from the stalking of humans, a strong case can be made for the prima facie wrongness of stalking sentient animals. The chief harm of stalking is the fear and altered patterns of behavior which it forces upon its victims.
It is argued that Nozick's experience machine thought experiment does not pose a particular difficulty for mental state theories of well-being. While the example shows that we value many things beyond our mental states, this simply reflects the fact that we value more than our own well-being. Nor is a mental state theorist forced to make the dubious claim that we maintain these other values simply as a means to desirable mental states. Valuing more than our mental states is compatible (...) with maintaining that the impact of such values upon our well-being lies in their impact upon our mental lives. (shrink)