The agent-relative/agent-neutral distinction is one of the most important in contemporary moral theory. Yet, providing an adequate formal account of it has proven difficult. In this article I defend a new formal account of the distinction, one that avoids various problems faced by other accounts. My account is based on an influential account of the distinction developed by McNaughton and Rawling. I argue that their approach is on the right track but that it succumbs to two serious objections. I then (...) show how to formulate a new account that follows the key insights of McNaughton and Rawling’s approach yet avoids the two objections. (shrink)
It is common to distinguish moral rules, reasons, or values that are agent-relative from those that are agent-neutral. One can also distinguish moral rules, reasons, or values that are moment-relative from those that are moment-neutral. In this article, I introduce a third distinction that stands alongside these two distinctions—the distinction between moral rules, reasons, or values that are patient-relative and those that are patient-neutral. I then show how patient-relativity plays an important role in several moral theories, gives us a better (...) understanding of agent-relativity and moment-relativity, and provides a novel objection to Derek Parfit’s “appeal to full relativity” argument. (shrink)
It is commonly held that all deontological moral theories are agent-relative in the sense that they give each agent a special concern that she does not perform acts of a certain type rather than a general concern with the actions of all agents. Recently, Tom Dougherty has challenged this orthodoxy by arguing that agent-neutral deontology is possible. In this article I counter Dougherty's arguments and show that agent-neutral deontology is not possible.
Deontic constraints prohibit an agent performing acts of a certain type even when doing so will prevent more instances of that act being performed by others. In this article I show how deontic constraints can be interpreted as either maximizing or non-maximizing rules. I then argue that they should be interpreted as maximizing rules because interpreting them as non-maximizing rules results in a problem with moral advice. Given this conclusion, a strong case can be made that consequentialism provides the best (...) account of deontic constraints. (shrink)
In traditional consequentialism the good is position-neutral. A single evaluative ranking of states of affairs is correct for everyone, everywhere regardless of their positions. Recently, position-relative forms of consequentialism have been developed. These allow for the correct rankings of states to depend on connections that hold between the state being evaluated and the position of the evaluator. For example, perhaps being an agent who acts in a certain state requires me to rank that state differently from someone else who lacks (...) this connection. In this chapter several different kinds of position-relative rankings related to agents, times, physical locations, and possible worlds are explored. Arguments for and against adopting a position-relative axiology are examined, and it is suggested that position-relative consequentialism is a promising moral theory that has been underestimated. (shrink)
Q: If necessity is the mother of invention, whence necessity? A. : The matrix of necessity in God-talk is religious experience, philosophically interpreted. The interpreters, theists and non-thesists, have indeed been inventive.
Forty years’ experience as a bacterial geneticist has taught me that bacteria possess many cognitive, computational and evolutionary capabilities unimaginable in the first six decades of the twentieth century. Analysis of cellular processes such as metabolism, regulation of protein synthesis, and DNA repair established that bacteria continually monitor their external and internal environments and compute functional outputs based on information provided by their sensory apparatus. Studies of genetic recombination, lysogeny, antibiotic resistance and my own work on transposable elements revealed multiple (...) widespread bacterial systems for mobilizing and engineering DNA molecules. Examination of colony development and organization led me to appreciate how extensive multicellular collaboration is among the majority of bacterial species. Contemporary research in many laboratories on cell–cell signaling, symbiosis and pathogenesis show that bacteria utilise sophisticated mechanisms for intercellular communication and even have the ability to commandeer the basic cell biology of ‘higher’ plants and animals to meet their own needs. This remarkable series of observations requires us to revise basic ideas about biological information processing and recognise that even the smallest cells are sentient beings. Previous article in issue. (shrink)
Introduction: In The Netherlands, physicians have to be convinced that the patient suffers unbearably and hopelessly before granting a request for euthanasia. The extent to which general practitioners (GPs), consulted physicians and members of the euthanasia review committees judge this criterion similarly was evaluated. Methods: 300 GPs, 150 consultants and 27 members of review committees were sent a questionnaire with patient descriptions. Besides a “standard case” of a patient with physical suffering and limited life expectancy, the descriptions included cases in (...) which the request was mainly rooted in psychosocial or existential suffering, such as fear of future suffering or dependency. For each case, respondents were asked whether they recognised the case from their own practice and whether they considered the suffering to be unbearable. Results: The cases were recognisable for almost all respondents. For the “standard case” nearly all respondents were convinced that the patient suffered unbearably. For the other cases, GPs thought the suffering was unbearable less often (2–49%) than consultants (25–79%) and members of the euthanasia review committees (24–88%). In each group, the suffering of patients with early dementia and patients who were “tired of living” was least often considered to be unbearable. Conclusions: When non-physical aspects of suffering are central in a euthanasia request, there is variance between and within GPs, consultants and members of the euthanasia committees in their judgement of the patient’s suffering. Possible explanations could be differences in their roles in the decision-making process, differences in experience with evaluating a euthanasia request, or differences in views regarding the permissibility of euthanasia. (shrink)
Forty years’ experience as a bacterial geneticist has taught me that bacteria possess many cognitive, computational and evolutionary capabilities unimaginable in the first six decades of the twentieth century. Analysis of cellular processes such as metabolism, regulation of protein synthesis, and DNA repair established that bacteria continually monitor their external and internal environments and compute functional outputs based on information provided by their sensory apparatus. Studies of genetic recombination, lysogeny, antibiotic resistance and my own work on transposable elements revealed multiple (...) widespread bacterial systems for mobilizing and engineering DNA molecules. Examination of colony development and organization led me to appreciate how extensive multicellular collaboration is among the majority of bacterial species. Contemporary research in many laboratories on cell–cell signaling, symbiosis and pathogenesis show that bacteria utilise sophisticated mechanisms for intercellular communication and even have the ability to commandeer the basic cell biology of ‘higher’ plants and animals to meet their own needs. This remarkable series of observations requires us to revise basic ideas about biological information processing and recognise that even the smallest cells are sentient beings. (shrink)
A review of Vasiliu's book, Du Diaphane. Aristotle's theory of the transparent is his riposte to the doctrine expressed in Plato's Timaeus that the manifestation of sensible qualities should be explained in terms of the receptacle's participation in the realm of Forms.
John Passmore was a renowned Australian empirical philosopher and historian of ideas. In this book, which was originally published in 1952, Passmore's intention was to disentangle certain main themes in Hume's philosophy and to show how they relate to Hume's main philosophic purpose. Rather than offering a detailed commentary, the text provides an account based on specificity and critical scholarship, seeking to complement the other more comprehensive works on Hume's philosophy that had become available around the same time. This book (...) will be of value to anyone with an interest in perspectives on Hume and Passmore's philosophical approach. (shrink)
The selection of wanted from unwanted messages requires discriminatory mechanisms of as great a complexity as those in normal perception, as is indicated by behavioral evidence. The results of neurophysiology experiments on selective attention are compatible with this supposition. This presents a difficulty for Filter theory. Another mechanism is proposed, which assumes the existence of a shifting reference standard, which takes up the level of the most important arriving signal. The way such importance is determined in the system is further (...) described. Neurophysiological evidence relative to this postulation is discussed. (shrink)
The widely accepted supposition that Newton’s De gravitatione was written in 1684/5 just before composing the Principia is examined. The basis for this determination has serious difficulties starting with the failure to examine the numerical estimates for the resistance of aether. The estimated range is not nearly nil as claimed but comparable with air at or near the earth’s surface. Moreover, the evidence provided most likely stems from experiments by Boyle, Hooke, and others in the 1660s and does not use (...) evidence available in the late 1684. The document supports Newton’s contention that the aether medium incorporates very large voids thereby proving that body and space differ but does by no means completely reject its corporeal nature or eliminate its resistance. Newton’s use of the term inertia provides no conclusive evidence for a late date as often claimed and his definition of gravitas is difficult to reconcile with a late one. (shrink)
This book examines the concept of public interest against the background of English politics from the Civil War to the coming of the Hanoverians. These years witnessed both the rise of the modern notion of the public interest as a part of ordinary political language and the growth of a social philosophy of individualism. The new ideas challenged the _status quo_, based on order, reason of state and national power, in the name of legitimate self-interest and respect for the rights (...) of the private person. In presenting a complex set of ideas in their historical context, the author examines both abstract philosophies and the issues of the day as recorded in press, pulpit and law courts. A chapter devoted to economic thought includes a re-assessment of the social assumptions of mercantilism. (shrink)
We all ‘know’ that public opinion came to prominence in the political vocabulary of the late eighteenth century. It may be that this dates its rise a bit late, but it is not relevant to argue the matter here. My concern is rather that we be equally aware of the purposes for which people made use of the concept. Here I wish to consider various possible contexts for speaking or writing of public opinion, or ‘opinion’, as it was usually called (...) prior to the mid-eighteenth century. It may be possible to define, more fully than heretofore, the work that the expression did in eighteenth-century thought. As contemporary students of public opinion have been learning, an answer to this question may not even be wholly irrelevant to the task of specifying the nature of public opinion in our own time. (shrink)