In _The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory_, David Chalmers poses an interesting and powerful challenge to materialism or physicalism. Further, he goes a long way towards providing a proof by example that the rejection of materialism need not commit one to scientifically suspicious “ghost in the machine” doctrines, but can be wedded to a generally naturalistic perspective. As an (as yet) unpersuaded physicalist and functionalist, his case against physicalism seems an appropriate target for criticism. However, it would (...) be beyond the scope of the present paper—or anything of similar length—to attempt a full-scale reply. A full-scale reply could be executed in brief compass only if Chalmers were guilty of (and rested his case entirely upon) some relatively simple mistake. But he does not. If he is mistaken, the mistakes are more subtle and difficult to bring to light. Instead, I shall outline the essentials of his case against materialism, attempt to point to one problem that appears to infect his views and argue that, if his position is to be acceptable, he needs to deal with it more adequately than he has so far. (shrink)
Certain apparently simple problems of coming to an agreement are surprisingly difficult to analyze in terms of individually rational behavior with a given set of preferences and beliefs. Though initially the solution appears obvious, the reasoning that would be needed to reach the solution on the part of a pair of rational individuals seems baroque and doubtful. This is used to suggest that a more fruitful tack is to analyze the situation in terms of a kind of joint or shared (...) intentionality. If that can be invoked, what appears simple in practice will turn out to be simple in theory as well. (shrink)
The cover illustration for Richard Joyce’s elegant and powerful recent work, The Evolution of Morality, is a reproduction of an oddly fascinating and disturbing sixteenth-century engraving, the Anatomia del corpo humano. One has to examine the image for a minute to realize that the standing human figure, stripped of skin, and with muscles, tendons and joints revealed, holds the anatomist’s knife in his left hand and that, with his right, he holds up the single piece of skin, from bearded face (...) to dangling extremities, that had once covered his body. This is the anatomist self-flayed, revealed to inspection by his own knife. A double worry is suggested: the body without the skin may have surprising, or disquieting, features. There is no assurance that what is revealed will accord with our preconceptions. Additionally, there is the thought that only the artist’s magic, freezing a moment in time, permits the body to maintain its integrity. In reality, the body of the self-flayer would collapse and die in short order. -/- Richard Joyce similarly undertakes to wield the analytic knife of science and philosophy to cut away the surface appearance of the moral sense and see what lies beneath. Again, what we find may be surprising or disquieting. Beneath the surface, we find the once-hidden articulation of the moral sensibility. We see its parts, how they are connected, how one links to another. And we may also suspect or fear that what remains cannot long stand inspection in such a state. It may be, indeed, that “we murder to dissect.” And if so, then like the self-flayer, we are ourselves the victims. (shrink)
Decision theory, understood as providing a normative account of rationality in action, is often thought to be an adequate formalization of instrumental reasoning. As a model, there is much to be said for it. However, if decision theory is to adequately account for correct instrumental reasoning, then the axiomatic conditions by which it links preference to action must be normative for choice. That is, a choice must be rationally defective unless it proceeds from a preference set that satisfies the axiomatic (...) conditions. -/- The crucial feature of standard decision theory for present purposes is that it conceives rational action as maximizing, as doing the best that one can in terms of satisfying one’s preferences. For maximizing to be possible, the preference set in question must completely order a person’s options. But I have argued elsewhere that that condition is often unmet by actual preference sets, so maximizing is not always available. Given that it is not, satisficing deserves attention, both as the most important alternative to maximizing and for the lessons it can yield with respect to goal-directed action. With those lessons in hand, standard maximizing decision theory is reconsidered, with the aim of showing that it does not adequately represent the normative distinction between means and ends. (shrink)
My title may suggest that I will address the activities of medical professionals as they go about their daily business of diagnosis, prescription and treatment. Certainly, that deserves attention, but it is not my target here. My concern is, on the one hand, with typical consumers of health and medical information, and, on the other, with the problems such consumers face in understanding, interpreting and applying the information available to them.
Decision theorists generally object to “honoring sunk costs” – that is, treating the fact that some cost has been incurred in the past as a reason for action, apart from the consideration of expected consequences. This paper critiques the doctrine that sunk costs should never be honored on three levels. As background, the rationale for the doctrine is explained. Then it is shown that if it is always irrational to honor sunk costs, then other common and uncontroversial practices are also (...) irrational. Second, it is argued that there is no satisfactory way to make a distinction between the two kinds of cases. Third, a proposal is developed which would explain how it could be rational, under certain circumstances, to honor sunk costs. (shrink)
Many of the world's problems--severe poverty and starvation, global warming, religious war, oppressive and tyrannical regimes--are large, well beyond what any ordinary person might have a significant impact upon. We are at most in a position to make small contributions. This fact is behind a seductive argument: there is nothing we can do about the large problems; since we cannot do anything about the large problems, it is not true that we ought to do anything; therefore, we can, in good (...) conscience, decline to contribute. There may be something to this argument, but we should not make too much of it. What I shall argue is that much depends on the details, that sometimes small contributions, even when there is little prospect of solving the large problem, may be warranted. Worries about the smallness of our contribution do not undermine all reasons for making the small contributions. (shrink)
Regan appeals to the benefit of the doubt as a reason to include some animals within the scope of his arguments about the rights of animals. I think the informal appeal to the benefit of the doubt can be fleshed out and made more compelling. What I shall do differs from his project, however. It is narrower in scope, because I shall focus on a single issue, the dietary use of animals. On another dimension, though, I aim to do more. (...) Regan thinks that it is “not unreasonable” to extend the benefit of the doubt, and that it is better to do so. I shall be arguing that it is unreasonable not to do so. (shrink)
From Schmidtz, one might expect a theory of justice, basically along libertarian lines. The book may surprise, though not disappoint, for that is not quite what one would find. Instead, the title is apt. Schmidtz says that there is a terrain of justice, the terrain of what people are due, and it has a certain kind of unity.
In the long history of moral theory, non-human animals—hereafter, just animals—have often been neglected entirely or have been relegated to some secondary status. Since its emergence in the early 19th century, utilitarianism has made a difference in that respect by focusing upon happiness or well-being (and their contraries) rather than upon the beings who suffer or enjoy. Inevitably, that has meant that human relations to and use of other animals have appeared in a different light. Some cases have seemed easy: (...) once admit that the interests of animals matter and there can be little hesitation in condemning their cruel treatment. Among the more difficult cases has been the bearing of utilitarianism upon the use of animals in various kinds of research where, though the animals might suffer, there were believed to be prospects of great human benefit and where no cruel or malicious motives need be involved. What I shall provide in the current paper is an extended discussion of the bearing of utilitarianism upon practices of animal research. Since such practices have attracted both utilitarian criticism and defense, this will require the examination of arguments on both sides, including consideration of the human benefits, the animal costs, and the ways in which the one can be weighed against the other. (shrink)
I examine the evidential argument from inscrutable evil, evil for which we can see no morally adequate reason. Such evils are often thought to provide evidence for the existence of gratuitous evil that God could not be justified in allowing, but arguments for this are often informal and intuitive. I try to contribute greater rigor by developing a probabilistic argument that large numbers of inscrutable evils are strong evidence for the existence of gratuitous evil. Then, I consider and reject two (...) plausible replies on behalf of the theist. (shrink)
Your mother was wise to teach you that just because everybody’s doing it, that doesn’t make it right. She would have been wise to add that just because everybody thinks it, that doesn’t make it right, either. On the other hand, she would not have been wise to add (and probably did not) that when everybody agrees, that is no evidence whatsoever. When nearly everybody believes something, that’s a reason in its favor. . . . I shall look at a (...) hard case, where I claim radical change is needed, but popular opinion is against me. (shrink)
Designed to be used on its own or with its companion text, Ultimate Questions: Thinking About Philosophy 3e, this collection of readings covers the major topic areas in philosophy: Knowledge; Free Will; Personal Identity; Mind/Body; God; Ethics; and Political Philosophy. While focusing primarily on contemporary philosophy, it also includes many of the classic works essential to an introductory course.
I once came across a Mark Twain story in which a character said something to the effect that the one thing God didn’t know was that he was not all-knowing. As an argument against omniscience, Twain’s one-liner doesn’t amount to much. Thinking about it, however, led to the kind of puzzles I explore here. Some puzzles about omniscience are connected to other issues, such as whether all claims about the future presently have truth-values. Those in turn are connected to deep (...) issues in the metaphysics of time. (Is the future real, and, if so, in what sense?) Others are connected to questions about knowledge by acquaintance1—such as whether God must, in order to be omniscient, know what it is like, say, to be guilty or to have a limited perspective, and whether God can know such things without actually being guilty or having a limited perspective. -/- My concern is with a different kind of puzzle, having to do with propositional knowledge, knowledge of facts that can be represented by that-clauses in sentences such as ‘John knows that the world is round.’ I shall focus upon questions about a supposedly omniscient being who propositionally knows the truth about all current states of affairs. I shall argue that there is no such being. (shrink)
There is a class of views about our moral relations with non-human animals that share the idea that animals do not matter directly for ethical purposes: whatever duties or obligations we have with respect to animals are indirect, connected somehow to other duties or obligations – to other human beings, for example – in which the well-being or interests of animals do not figure. Criticisms of indirect duty theories have often focused either upon denying the link that is supposed to (...) exist between how we treat animals and how or whether we discharge other obligations or upon denying that the indirect duty theorist has an adequate account of the animal-related duties we are confident that we have. I shall not pursue either of these options. Instead, I shall argue, first, that there is a tension within the indirect duty theorist’s view that makes it doubtful that anything will enable him to get what he wants from a theory, and second, that even if the necessary link between the way animals and humans are treated is assumed to be present, it will turn out that its best explanation will imply that there are direct duties to animals after all. (shrink)
I develop an argument that key theses from Ayn Rand's ethics and political philosophy are incompatible with one another. Her ethical egoism is not compatible with her rights theory. Though Rand's version of rights theory is libertarian, the argument does not depend upon any claims peculiar to her theory, but would apply to the (in)compatibility of ethical egoism and almost any plausible rights theory.
There was a period in the latter nineteenth century when a distinctively American kind of radicalism flourished, a time when key thinkers could be called, and called themselves, individualists, libertarians, anarchists, and socialists all at once. McElroy gives us a window on the people and times involved. But her work is of more than antiquarian interest: their debates and the issues they faced often sound strikingly modern.
Since Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation, many philosophers have addressed the ethics of our relations with other animals with skill and insight. By and large, they have argued that something is badly wrong and therefore in need of radical reform, though there have been dissenters, like Peter Carruthers, in The Animals Issue. One feature many such works have had in common is the reliance of their authors upon contentious theoretical stances. There have been utilitarian, Kantian, and contractarian arguments, with theses and (...) arguments in philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, and cognitive science called upon for supporting evidence. -/- Such an approach is hazardous to the extent that it makes it appear that persons interested in the issue must first be convinced of one or more complicated and controversial philosophical theories, and must also follow and agree with a further abstruse line of argument supposed to lead from the theories to practical conclusions. Especially in applied ethics, where the aim is, in part, to improve our practice, the heavily theoretical strategy runs the risk of making the discussion academic in the worst sense of the term, something of interest only to specialists. It would be an important gain if the theory-intensive approach to animal ethics could be avoided, without compromising rigor or substantive argument. (shrink)
Several different positions are classified as contractarian. Though there are variations among them, they all include the assumption that practical or action-guiding principles, among which are principles of moral justification and of political legitimacy, somehow have their basis in consent. A contractarian may or may not believe that there are other practical principles that are based on or justified by something besides consent. If he believes there are any others, there will be delicate issues to address as to whether they (...) yield prescriptions incompatible with prescriptions arising from the appropriate kind of consent. Roughly speaking, contractarians could be ordered in terms of the weight that they attach to principles grounded in consent. If we call the appropriate kind of consent contractual, then there are several options available, ranging from the admission of nothing but contract-based principles to the admission of noncontract-based principles that can sometimes conflict with principles based on contract. The pure form of contractarianism which will be our main focus admits only contract-based principles. (shrink)