The form of egalitarianism I am concerned with holds that equality in the distribution of welfare across persons is intrinsically good . In other words, it is good for people to be equally well-off, and bad for some to be better off than others, apart from consideration of any further consequences of such equality or..
At the beginning of the Nichomachean Ethics , Aristotle announces his intention to discover what is the good, or the chief good (book I, chapter 2). In the rest of the work, however, there follow such a multitude of answers to this question endorsed by Aristotle, that at its conclusion one may understandably wonder what the upshot of Aristotle's ethics was. One might wonder whether the good, as Aristotle saw it, was that at which all things in fact aim (as (...) he says in I.1), or rather that at which all things ought to aim if they can (as seems more commonsensical), or happiness (I.4), or the realization of one's function (I.7), or activity of the soul in accordance with virtue (I.7), or activity in accordance with reason (I.7), or pleasure of some kind (VII.13), or the exercise of our faculties (VII.13), or contemplation (X.7). One might wonder how the good could simultaneously be identical with all of these different things. In this essay, I aim first to explain the general purport of Aristotle's ethics and second to criticize it. (shrink)
This is not a comprehensive style guide; rather, it focuses on the most common problems I have found in student writing. Sections A and B give general tips on how to write a paper (esp. a philosophy paper). Sections C-F list common errors.
The _minimal free will thesis_ (MFT) holds that at least some of the time, someone has more than one course of action that he can perform. (1) This is the least that must be true in order for it to be said that there is free will. It may be disputed whether the truth of MFT is _sufficient_ for us to 'have free will,' (2) but there is no doubt that the main philosophical challenge to the belief in free will (...) has come from the thesis of universal determinism, so understood as to exclude MFT. A proof of MFT is therefore of considerable philosophical interest, whether or not it constitutes a full proof of free will. In any case, it is the minimal free will thesis of which I have a proof to offer. (shrink)
The following responds to "The Objectivist Ethics" by Ayn Rand. I assume the reader is familiar with it. I begin with a general overview of what is wrong with it. I follow this with a set of more detailed comments, which make a paragraph-by-paragraph examination of her statements in the essay. The latter also elaborates further some of the points made in the overview.
The problem I am concerned with is very general: Why do we need a coercive institution in our society to control our behavior? This question is a little different from "Why do we need a government?" in two ways: First, because "coercive institution" is a broader term than "government"; probably not every coercive institution that controlled people's behavior would be called a government, though every government is a coercive institution (that is, an institution exercising coercion as one of its main (...) functions). Second, controlling the behavior of the members of the society in which it exists is perhaps not the only important function of government (it may be, for example, that we need a government to fight people from other societies); I will not consider other possible things we might need a coercive institution to do. I will only consider whether we as a society need such an institution to control our own behavior. (shrink)
On Objective Being in the Intellect Another seminar paper on Descartes. This is about what Descartes means by something's 'existing objectively in the intellect' (as when he says the idea of the sun is "the sun itself existing in the intellect"). Could he mean it literally?
You pass an electron through an inhomogeneous magnetic field (this is produced by a type of magnet, but don’t worry about the details). The field causes the electron to swerve. It is found that all electrons swerve by the same amount, and half of them swerve up, while the other half swerve down. See a video illustration of this.
This paper will focus on my conception of the nature of morality, which I call intuitionism. My conception is inspired in large part by earlier intuitionists (Moore, Ross, and Prichard), though I do not claim they would all agree exactly with everything I say.
Informal student evaluations of faculty were started in the 1960's by enterprising college students.(1) Since then, their use has spread so that now they are administered in almost all American colleges and universities and are probably the main source of information used for evaluating faculty teaching performance.(2) There is an enormous literature on the subject of student evaluations of faculty (SEF).(3) The following is a summary of some developments in that literature that should be of special interest to faculty, with (...) particular emphasis on criticisms of SEF that have emerged recently. But I begin with the arguments in favor of the use of SEF. (shrink)
Imagine we are at a murder trial. Randy Smith is accused of killing his Aunt Millie. The defense admits that on the night of the murder, Smith had an argument with his Aunt, that he took a pistol out of his jacket and shot her. She died of the gunshot wound. Smith knew that the gun was loaded, that Millie was directly in front of it, and that he was pulling the trigger. He was not insane at the time, there (...) were no abnormal chemicals in his brain, and he was not acting in self-defense. He killed her knowingly, intentionally, and unjustifiably. (shrink)
In _The Mind and its Place in Nature_ , C.D. Broad tries to show, as he says (p. 59), that "there is no doubt" that the Theory of Emergence is a logically possible view with a good deal in its favor. And in his history of British Emergentism, McLaughlin states that emergentism is perfectly internally coherent, although he doesn't think it has any empirical evidence in its favor at present. I am inclined to agree with the assessment that emergentism is (...) a coherent theory, but I can't see that Broad or McLaughlin has shown this, at least if this is taken to mean that it represents a metaphysical possibility (and not merely is not self-contradictory). Moreover, I suspect many people find the concept of emergent properties somehow unscientific, mysterious, and possibly incoherent; and I doubt that Broad has adequately addressed this intuition. He has indeed admirably explicated the meaning of the theory, so that now we can all understand it; but just as even to explain the idea, for example, that there are alterations without causes in such a way that it becomes absolutely, crystal clear what one means by "an uncaused change" would not be to demonstrate. (shrink)
Sometimes a second-order claim can undermine the first- order claim that it's about. Consider Moore's paradox: "It is raining, but I don't believe it." What makes this sentence paradoxical and seemingly contradictory, although formally it is consistent, is that the second half of the claim undercuts the speaker's right to assert the first half. If the speaker does not believe it is raining, he has no right to assert that it is raining. There are other examples along similar lines: "It (...) is raining, but there's no reason to think it is raining"; "It is raining, but I don't know whether it is raining." These statements, while not strictly contradictory, are self-undermining: the second-order claim in the second conjunct undermines the assertion of the first-order claim in the first conjunct. (shrink)
People want things, and they tend to act in such a way as to get the things they want, to the best of their ability.1 Sometimes our wants conflict with each other, so that we are forced to choose between different things that we want. When this happens, we normally choose the thing that we want more, over the thing that we want less. Behaving in this way is what we call “rational”; more specifically, it is “instrumentally rational.” Instrumental rationality (...) consists in choosing the means that best achieves one’s goals, according to the information one has. (shrink)
3.1. Why logic is a priori. 3.2. Why mathematics is a priori. 3.3. Why ethics is a priori. 3.4. The nature of a priori knowledge - Acquired through the faculty of reason; knowledge of universals. 4. Universals 4.1. What are they? - "universal" & "particular" defined 4.2. The (real) problem of universals - "nominalism" & "realism" defined; why these are the only two possible positions. 4.3. Rand the realist - why Rand must be a realist, whether she knows it or (...) not 5. More on ethics: 5.1. The value of life - the need (and lack) of a proof that life is good in the Objectivist ethics. 5.2. Rand's derivation (?) of egoism - How not to argue for egoism. 5.3. Is egoism self-evident? - The need for arguments for or against egoism. (shrink)
I look for explanations for the phenomenon of widespread, strong, and persistent disagreements about political issues. The best explanation is provided by the hypothesis that most people are irrational about politics and not, for example, that political issues are particularly difficult or that we lack sufficient evidence for resolving them. I discuss how this irrationality works and why people are especially irrational about politics.
John DePoe has criticized the self-defeat argument for Phenomenal Conservatism. He argues that acquaintance, rather than appearance, may form the basis for non-inferentially justified beliefs, and that Phenomenal Conservatism conflicts with a central motivation for internalism. I explain how Phenomenal Conservatism and the self-defeat argument may survive these challenges.
Immigration restrictions violate the prima facie right of potential immigrants not to be subject to harmful coercion. This prima facie right is not neutralized or outweighed by the economic, fiscal, or cultural effects of immigration, nor by the state’s special duties to its own citizens, or to its poorest citizens. Nor does the state have a right to control citizenship conditions in the same way that private clubs may control their membership conditions.
Some theories of practical reasons incorporate a lexical priority structure, according to which some practical reasons have infinitely greater weight than others. This includes absolute deontological theories and axiological theories that take some goods to be categorically superior to others. These theories face problems involving cases in which there is a non-extreme probability that a given reason applies. In view of such cases, lexical-priority theories are in danger of becoming irrelevant to decision-making, becoming absurdly demanding, or generating paradoxical cases in (...) which each of a pair of actions is permissible yet the pair is impermissible. (shrink)
A central problem facing a probabilistic approach to the problem of induction is the difficulty of sufficiently constraining prior probabilities so as to yield the conclusion that induction is cogent. The Principle of Indifference, according to which alternatives are equiprobable when one has no grounds for preferring one over another, represents one way of addressing this problem; however, the Principle faces the well-known problem that multiple interpretations of it are possible, leading to incompatible conclusions. I propose a partial solution to (...) the latter problem, drawing on the notion of explanatory priority. The resulting synthesis of Bayesian and inference-to-best-explanation approaches affords a principled defense of prior probability distributions that support induction. (shrink)
Parsimony is a virtue of empirical theories. Is it also a virtue of philosophical theories? I review four contemporary accounts of the virtue of parsimony in empirical theorizing, and consider how each might apply to two prominent appeals to parsimony in the philosophical literature, those made on behalf of physicalism and on behalf of nominalism. None of the accounts of the virtue of parsimony extends naturally to either of these philosophical cases. This suggests that in typical philosophical contexts, ontological simplicity (...) has no evidential value. (shrink)
I defend the 'Repugnant' Conclusion that for any possible population of happy people, a population containing a sufficient number of people with lives barely worth living would be better. Four lines of argument converge on this conclusion, and the conclusion has a simple, natural theoretical explanation. The opposition to the Repugnant Conclusion rests on a bare appeal to intuition. This intuition is open to charges of being influenced by multiple distorting factors. Several theories of population ethics have been devised to (...) avoid the Repugnant Conclusion, but each generates even more counterintuitive consequences. The intuition opposing the Repugnant Conclusion is thus among the best candidates for an intuition that should be revised. (shrink)
Illegal drugs are not inherently unclean, any more than alcohol, tobacco, or canola oil. All of these are simply chemicals that people choose to ingest for enjoyment, and that can harm our health if used to excess. Most of the sordid associations we have with illegal drugs are actually the product of the drug laws: it is because of the laws that drugs are sold on the black market, that Latin American crime bosses are made rich, that government officials are (...) corrupted, and that drug users rob others to buy drugs. (shrink)
I defend the principle of Phenomenal Conservatism, on which appearances of all kinds generate at least some justification for belief. I argue that there is no reason for privileging introspection or intuition over perceptual experience as a source of justified belief; that those who deny Phenomenal Conservatism are in a self-defeating position, in that their view cannot be both true and justified; and that thedemand for a metajustification for Phenomenal Conservatism either is an easily met demand, or is an unfair (...) or question-begging one. (shrink)
Seven proposed accounts of epistemic possibility are criticized, and a new account is proposed, making use of the notion of having justification for dismissing a proposition. The new account explains intuitions about otherwise puzzling cases, upholds plausible general principles about epistemic possibility, and explains the practical import of epistemic modality judgements. It is suggested that judgements about epistemic possibility function to assess which propositions are worthy of further inquiry.
Recent results in probability theory have cast doubt on coherentism, purportedly showing (a) that coherence among a set of beliefs cannot raise their probability unless individual beliefs have some independent credibility, and (b) that no possible measure of coherence makes coherence generally probability-enhancing. I argue that coherentists can reject assumptions on which these theorems depend, and I derive a general condition under which the concurrence of two information sources lacking individual credibility can raise the probability of what they report.
This book defends a form of ethical intuitionism, according to which (i) there are objective moral truths; (ii) we know some of these truths through a kind of immediate, intellectual awareness, or "intuition"; and (iii) our knowledge of moral truths gives us reasons for action independent of our desires. The author rebuts all the major objections to this theory and shows that the alternative theories about the nature of ethics all face grave difficulties.
Trenton Merricks argues that on any reasonable account, warrant must entailtruth. I demonstrate three theses about the properties ofwarrant: (1) Warrant is not unique;there are many properties that satisfy the definition of warrant. (2) Warrant need not entail truth; there are some warrant properties that entailtruthand others that do not. (3) Warrant need not be closed under entailment, even if knowledge is. If knowledge satisfies closure, then some warrant properties satisfy closure while others do not;if knowledge violates closure, then allwarrant (...) properties violate closure. (shrink)
Sense data are the alleged mind-dependent objects that we are directly aware of in perception, and that have exactly the properties they appear to have. For instance, sense data theorists say that, upon viewing a tomato in normal conditions, one forms an image of the tomato in one's mind. This image is red and round. The mental image is an example of a “sense datum.” Many philosophers have rejected the notion of sense data, either because they believe that perception gives (...) us direct awareness of physical phenomena, rather than mere mental images, or because they believe that the mental phenomena involved in perception do not have the properties that appear to us (for instance, I might have a visual experience representing a red, round tomato, but my experience is not itself red or round). Defenders of sense data have argued, among other things, that sense data are required to explain such phenomena as perspectival variation, illusion, and hallucination. Critics of sense data have objected to the theory's commitment to mind-body dualism, the problems it raises for our knowledge of the external world, its difficulty in locating sense data in physical space, and its apparent commitment to the existence of objects with indeterminate properties. (shrink)
Should the recreational use of drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and LSD, be prohibited by law? Prohibitionists answer yes. They usually argue that drug use is extremely harmful both to drug users and to society in general, and possibly even immoral, and they believe that these facts provide sufficient reasons for prohibition. Legalizers answer no. They usually give one or more of three arguments: First, some argue that drug use is not as harmful as prohibitionists believe, and even that (...) it is sometimes beneficial. Second, some argue that drug prohibition “does not work”, i.e., is not very successful in preventing drug use and/or has a number of very bad consequences. Lastly, some argue that drug prohibition is unjust or violates rights. I won’t attempt to discuss all these arguments here. Instead, I will focus on what seem to me the three most prominent arguments in the drug legalization debate: first, the argument that drugs should be outlawed because of the harm they cause to drug users; second, the argument that they should be outlawed because they harm people other than the user; and third, the argument that drugs should be legalized because drug prohibition violates rights. I shall focus on the moral/philosophical issues that these  arguments raise, rather than medical or sociological issues. I shall show that the two arguments for prohibition fail, while the third argument, for legalization, succeeds. (shrink)
Individuals have a prima facie right to own firearms. This right is significant in view both of the role that such ownership plays in the lives of firearms enthusiasts and of the self-defense value of firearms. Nor is this right overridden by the social harms of private gun ownership. These harms have been greatly exaggerated and are probably considerably smaller than the benefits of private gun ownership. And I argue that the harms would have to be at least several times (...) greater than the benefits in order to render gun prohibition permissible. (shrink)
We propose that all actual causes are simultaneous with their direct effects, as illustrated by both everyday examples and the laws of physics. We contrast this view with the sequential conception of causation, according to which causes must occur prior to their effects. The key difference between the two views of causation lies in differing assumptions about the mathematical structure of time.
Richard Fumerton’s “Principle of Inferential Justification” holds that, in order to be justified in believing P on the basis of E, one must be justified in believing that E makes P probable. I argue that the plausibility of this principle rests upon two kinds of mistakes: first, a level confusion; and second, a fallacy of misconditionalisation. Furthermore, Fumerton’s principle leads to skepticism about inferential justification, for which reason it should be rejected. Instead, the examples Fumerton uses to motivate his principle (...) can be accounted for using a different principle: in order for S to be justified in believing P on the basis of E, it must be true that E makes P probable. The latter principle can be independently motivated and does not lead to skepticism. (shrink)
The problem of induction and the problem of Cartesian/brain-in-the-vat skepticism have much in common. Both are instances of a general problem of defeasible justification . I use the term "defeasible justification" to refer to a relation between a piece of evidence.
The brain-in-a-vat argument for skepticism is best formulated, not using the closure principle, but using the "Preference Principle," which states that in order to be justified in believing H on the basis of E, one must have grounds for preferring H over each alternative explanation of E. When the argument is formulated this way, Dretske's and Klein's responses to it fail. However, the strengthened argument can be refuted using a direct realist account of perception. For the direct realist, refuting the (...) BIV scenario is not a precondition on knowledge of the external world, and only the direct realist can give a non-circular account of how we know we're not brains in vats. (shrink)
both the initial justification for adopting it and the justification for retaining it provided by seeming memories. This view captures our intuitions about justification in several cases, while none of the alternative views can.
In the first chapter, I explain the concept of awareness and the distinction between direct and indirect awareness. Direct awareness of x is understood as awareness of x which is not based on awareness of anything else, and the "based on" relation is understood as a particular way in which one state of awareness can be caused by another state of awareness when the contents of the two states are logically related.
In The Structure of Empirical Knowledge , Laurence BonJour argues that coherence among a set of empirical beliefs can provide justification for those beliefs, in the sense of rendering them likely to be true. He also repudiates all forms of foundationalism for empirical beliefs, including what he calls "weak foundationalism" (the weakest form of foundationalism he can find). In the following, I will argue that coherence cannot provide any justification for our beliefs in the manner BonJour suggests unless some form (...) of foundational justification is assumed. In other words, the argument that BonJour gives in favor of the thesis that coherence provides a kind of justification succeeds if and only if some beliefs have (at least weak) foundational justification. (shrink)