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)
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.
Phenomenal Conservatism Phenomenal Conservatism is a theory in epistemology that seeks, roughly, to ground justified beliefs in the way things “appear” or “seem” to the subject who holds a belief. The theory fits with an internalistic form of foundationalism—that is, the view that some beliefs are justified non-inferentially (not on the basis of other beliefs), and that […].
-/- I start from three premises, roughly as follows: (1) that if possible world x is better than world y for every individual who exists in either world, then x is better than y; (2) that if x has a higher average utility, a higher total utility, and no more inequality than y, then x is better than y; (3) that better than is transitive. From these premises, it follows that benefits given to the worse off contribute no more to (...) the world’s value than equal-sized benefits given to the better off. (shrink)
Recent results in probability theory have cast doubt on the coherence theory of justification, allegedly showing that coherence cannot produce justification for beliefs in the absence of foundational justification, and that there can be no measure of coherence on which coherence is generally truth-conducive. I argue that the coherentist can reject some of the assumptions on which these theorems depend. Coherence can then be held to produce justification on its own, and truth-conducive measures of coherence can be constructed.
Agent-centered epistemic norms direct thinkers to attach different significance to their own epistemically relevant states than they attach to the similar states of others. Thus, if S and T both know, for certain, that S has the intuition that P, this might justify S in believing that P, yet fail to justify T in believing that P. I defend agent-centeredness and explain how an agent-centered theory can accommodate intuitions that seem to favor agent-neutrality.
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.
Moore’s paradox supports the principle of “metacoherence”, i.e., that if one categorically believes that P, one is committed to accepting that one knows that P. The principle raises puzzles about how, when one has justification for P, one also has justification for the claim that one knows P. I reject a skeptical answer as well as a bootstrapping answer, and I suggest that we typically have independent justification for the claim that we know P.
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)
Deontological ethicists generally agree that there is a way of harming others such that it is wrong to harm others in that way for the sake of producing a comparable but greater benefit for others. Given plausible assumptions about this type of harm, this principle yields the paradoxical result that it may be wrong to do A, wrong to do B, but permissible to do (A and B).
I propose a skeptical form of moral realism, according to which, while there are objective values, many of the evaluative properties appealed to in common sense moral thinking, particularly “thick” evaluative properties, may be illusory. I suggest that “immorality” may be an example of a thick evaluative term that denotes no real property.
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)
I argue that, given evidence of the factors that tend to distort our intuitions, ethical intuitionists should disown a wide range of common moral intuitions, and that they should typically give preference to abstract, formal intuitions over more substantive ethical intuitions. In place of the common sense morality with which intuitionism has traditionally allied, the suggested approach may lead to a highly revisionary normative ethics.
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.
This is a response by the author of Ethical Intuitionism to criticisms raised by Fred Seddon (Jars, Spring 2007). Among other things, Huemer observes that his attack on ethical reductionism does not depend upon excluding relational properties from consideration at the start; that he does not claim that all philosophers are intuitionists; and that Objectivism is susceptible to the general arguments he discusses against the possibility of deriving an "ought" from an "is".
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.
Externalist theories of justification create the possibility of cases in which everything appears to one relevantly similar with respect to two propositions, yet one proposition is justified while the other is not. Internalists find this difficult to accept, because it seems irrational in such a case to affirm one proposition and not the other. The underlying internalist intuition supports a specific internalist theory, Phenomenal Conservatism, on which epistemic justification is conferred by appearances.
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)
In response to Ari Armstrong's essay, "A Direct Realist's Challenge to Skepticism," Huemer defends his views on two issues concerning the nature of perception, against the Objectivist position: First, he argues that perceptual experiences have propositional but nonconceptual content; second, he argues that in perceptual illusions, the senses misrepresent their objects. He finds that the Objectivist view that perception cannot misrepresent because it lacks propositional content not only is absurd but opens the door to philosophical skepticism.
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)
Three ways of approaching controversial issues are: (i) To accept the conclusions of experts on their authority; (ii) to evaluate the relevant evidence/arguments for ourselves; and (iii) to simply withhold judgement. The received view recommends strategy (ii). But (ii) is normally epistemically inferior to (i) and (iii), since we are justified in believing that it is less reliable at producing true beliefs and avoiding false ones.
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)
I defend my earlier argument for incompatibilism, against Helen Beebee’s reply. Beebee’s reply would allow one to have free will despite that nothing one does counts as an exercise of that freedom, and would grant one the ability to do A even when one’s doing A requires something to happen that one cannot bring about and that in fact will not happen.
Huemer responds to Michael Young's argument that an ethical egoist should not embrace prudent predation because accepting a principle of prudent predation has serious negative consequences over and above the consequences of individual predatory acts. In addition, he addresses the advantages Young claims for an agent-relative conception of value over an agent-neutral one. He finds that the agent-relative conception does not clearly have any of the advantages Young names, and that some paradigmatic uses of the concept of value are agent-neutral.