While most people believe the best possible life they could lead would be an immortal one, so‐called “immortality curmudgeons” disagree. Following Bernard Williams, they argue that, at best, we have no prudential reason to live an immortal life, and at worst, an immortal life would necessarily be bad for creatures like us. In this article, we examine Bernard Williams' seminal argument against the desirability of immortality and the subsequent literature it spawned. We first reconstruct and motivate Williams' somewhat cryptic argument (...) in three parts. After that, we elucidate and motivate the three best (and most influential) counterarguments to Williams' seminal argument. Finally, we review, and critically examine, two further distinct arguments in favor of the anti‐immortality position. (shrink)
A particularly important, pressing, philosophical question concerns whether Confederate monuments ought to be removed. More precisely, one may wonder whether a certain group, viz. the relevant government officials and members of the public who together can remove the Confederate monuments, are morally obligated to (of their own volition) remove them. Unfortunately, academic philosophers have largely ignored this question. This paper aims to help rectify this oversight by moral philosophers. In it, I argue that people have a moral obligation to remove (...) most, if not all, public Confederate monuments because of the unavoidable harm they inflict on undeserving persons. In the first section, I provide some relevant historical context. In the second section, I make my unique harm-based argument for the removal of Confederate monuments. In the third section, I consider and rebut five objections. (shrink)
Peter Singer argues that we’re obligated to donate our entire expendable income to aid organizations. One premiss of his argument is "If it is in your power to prevent something bad from happening, without sacrificing anything nearly as important, it is wrong not to do so." Singer defends this by noting that commonsense morality requires us to save a child we find drowning in a shallow pond. I argue that Singer’s Drowning Child thought experiment doesn’t justify this premiss. I offer (...) my own Drowning Children thought experiment, which should reveal that commonsense morality entails that premiss two is actually false. (shrink)
Effective altruists either believe they ought to be, or strive to be, doing the most good they can. Since they’re human, however, effective altruists are invariably fallible. In numerous situations, even the most committed EAs would fail to live up to the ideal they set for themselves. This fact raises a central question about how to understand effective altruism. How should one’s future prospective failures at doing the most good possible affect the current choices one makes as an effective altruist? (...) This question is important to answer not only because every effective altruist will face this question due to typical human akrasia, but also because how the question is answered will determine just how demanding effective altruism can be. I argue that no matter how effective altruists answer this question, they will have to take on some commitments seemingly antithetical to their movement. -/- More precisely, I argue that effective altruism is subject to a dilemma. Effective altruists’, at times, implicit actualist assumptions (i) commit them to conclusions seemingly antithetical to what typical effective altruists actually believe, as well as the spirit of the movement and (ii) undermine effective altruists’ arguments against moral offsetting and giving to charities close to the heart. Yet, effective altruists’, at times, implicit possibilist assumptions (iii) also commit them to conclusions seemingly antithetical to what typical effective altruists actually believe, as well as the spirit of the movement and (iv) undermine typical responses to demandingness worries for the normative conception of effective altruism. I argue that the best way out of the dilemma is to accept hybridism, though even hybridism won’t preserve every commitment of effective altruism. (shrink)
In a series of recent papers, Ben Bramble defends a version of hedonism which holds that purely repetitious pleasures add no value to one’s life (i.e. Non-Repeatable Hedonism). In this paper, we pose a dilemma for Non-Repeatable Hedonism. We argue that it is either committed both to a deeply implausible asymmetry between how pleasures and pains affect a person’s well-being and to deeply implausible claims about how to maximize well-being, or is committed to the claim that a life of eternal (...) pleasure for a person can be just as good for them as a life of eternal suffering. The only way out of this dilemma is for Bramble to reject the Non-Repetition Requirement. Yet, rejecting this requirement both forces Bramble to reject the wholly unique, core component, of his view and undermines his view’s ability to handle one of the most powerful objections to hedonism, viz., that a life with a larger quantity of so-called “base” (or lower) pleasures is better for a person than a life with a slightly smaller quantity of so-called higher pleasures. We conclude that Non-Repeatable Hedonism must be rejected in favor of standard forms of hedonism or some non-hedonic view of well-being. (shrink)
Agnieszka Jaworska and Julie Tannenbaum recently developed the ingenious and novel person‐rearing account of moral status, which preserves the commonsense judgment that humans have a higher moral status than nonhuman animals. It aims to vindicate speciesist judgments while avoiding the problems typically associated with speciesist views. We argue, however, that there is good reason to reject person‐rearing views. Person‐rearing views have to be coupled with an account of flourishing, which will (according to Jaworska and Tannenbaum) be either a species norm (...) or an intrinsic potential account of flourishing. As we show, however, person‐rearing accounts generate extremely implausible consequences when combined with the accounts of flourishing Jaworska and Tannenbaum need for the purposes of their view. (shrink)
Deprivation views of the badness of death are almost universally accepted among those who hold that death can be bad for the person who dies. In their most common form, deprivation views hold that death is bad because (and to the extent that) it deprives people of goods they would have gained had they not died at the time they did. Contrast this with categorical desire views, which hold that death is bad because (and to the extent that) it thwarts (...) people’s categorical desires. Categorical desires are desires that are not conditional upon one being alive; yet provide reason for the agent to continue living to ensure that those very desires are satisfied. I argue that categorical desire views are subject to two serious problems that deprivation views are not. First, categorical desire views entail that it is not bad for someone to not be resuscitated after dying a bad death. Second, categorical desire views cannot account for cases in which it is good to prevent people from coming into existence or cases in which it is good to prevent them from continuing to exist. After considering, and rejecting, various replies on behalf of categorical desire proponents, I conclude that we have good reason to reject categorical desire views in favor of deprivation views. (shrink)
Do facts about what an agent would freely do in certain circumstances at least partly determine any of her moral obligations? Actualists answer ‘yes’, while possibilists answer ‘no’. We defend two novel hybrid accounts that are alternatives to actualism and possibilism: Dual Obligations Hybridism and Single Obligation Hybridism. By positing two moral ‘oughts’, each account retains the benefits of actualism and possibilism, yet is immune from the prima facie problems that face actualism and possibilism. We conclude by highlighting one substantive (...) difference between our two hybrid accounts. (shrink)
The actualism/possibilism debate in ethics is about whether counterfactuals of freedom concerning what an agent would freely do if they were in certain circumstances even partly determines that agent’s obligations. This debate arose from an argument against the coherence of utilitarianism in the deontic logic literature. In this chapter, we first trace the historical origins of this debate and then examine actualism, possibilism, and securitism through the lens of consequentialism. After examining their respective benefits and drawbacks, we argue that, contrary (...) to what has been assumed, actualism and securitism both succumb to the so-called nonratifiability problem. In making this argument, we develop this problem in detail and argue that it’s a much more serious problem than has been appreciated. We conclude by arguing that an alternative view, hybridism, is independently the most plausible position and best fits with the nature of consequentialism, partly in light of avoiding the nonratifiability problem. (shrink)
The actualism/possibilism debate in ethics concerns the relationship between an agent’s free actions and her moral obligations. The actualist affirms, while the possibilist denies, that facts about what agents would freely do in certain circumstances partly determines that agent’s moral obligations. This paper assesses the plausibility of actualism and possibilism in light of desiderata about accounts of blameworthiness. This paper first argues that actualism cannot straightforwardly accommodate certain very plausible desiderata before offering a few independent solutions on behalf of the (...) actualist. This paper then argues that, contrary to initial appearances, possibilism is subject to its own comparably troubling blameworthiness problem. (shrink)
Deprivationism cannot accommodate the common sense assumption that we should lament our death iff, and to the extent that, it is bad for us. Call this the Nothing Bad, Nothing to Lament Assumption. As such, either this assumption needs to be rejected or deprivationism does. I first argue that the Nothing Bad, Nothing to Lament Assumption is false. I then attempt to figure out which facts our attitudes concerning death should track. I suggest that each person should have two distinct (...) attitudes toward death: one determined by agent’s reasonable expectations about when she will die and one determined by the amount of metaphysically possible good one reasonably believes death precludes. (shrink)
A relatively new debate in ethics concerns the relationship between one's present obligations and how one would act in the future. One popular view is actualism, which holds that what an agent would do in the future affects her present obligations. Agent's future behavior is held fixed and the agent's present obligations are determined by what would be best to do now in light of how the agent would act in the future. Doug Portmore defends a new view he calls (...) moral securitism, which is supposed to avoid the problems associated with actualism. On this account, what an agent would do in the future is treated as fixed iff that agent's future actions are not currently under the agent's present deliberative control. φ-ing is under an agent's present deliberative control iff whether the agent φ's depends upon the immediate outcome of the agent's present deliberations. I argue that moral securitism falls prey to two of the same serious problems that actualism does: it lets agents avoid incurring moral obligations because they have rotten moral dispositions and entails that agents ought to perform truly terribly acts. After providing a few standard counter-examples to actualism to show how it is plagued with these two problems, I offer my own example which demonstrates that moral securitism is subject to a version of these same two problems. I then review Portmore's response to my objection, arguing that it fails. I end the paper by offering a tentative revision of moral securitism that would allow it to avoid the aforementioned problems. (shrink)
If earlier-than-necessary death is bad because it deprives individuals of additional good life, then why isn't later-than-necessary conception bad for the same reason? Deprivationists have argued that prenatal non-existence is not bad because it is impossible to be conceived earlier, but postmortem non-existence is bad because it is possible to live longer. Call this the Impossibility Solution. In this paper, I demonstrate that the Impossibility Solution does not work by showing how it is possible to be conceived earlier in the (...) same senses it is possible to live longer. I then offer a solution to the Asymmetry Problem by suggesting a novel way to separate the badness of each type of non-existence from the type, and frequency, of attitudes we should have towards each type of non-existence. Even if both types of non-existence are equally bad, certain contingent facts about our postmortem non-existence provide reason for the badness of early deaths to be more frequently salient than the badness of late conceptions. (shrink)
I defend the bold claim that self-described speciesists are not really speciesists. Of course, I do not deny that self-described speciesists would assent to generic speciesist claims (e.g. Humans matter more than animals). The conclusion I draw is more nuanced. My claim is that such generic speciesist beliefs are inconsistent with other, more deeply held, beliefs of self-described speciesists. Crucially, once these inconsistencies are made apparent, speciesists will reject the generic speciesist beliefs because they are absurd by the speciesists’ own (...) lights. (shrink)
Perhaps death’s badness is an illusion. Epicureans think so and argue that agents cannot be harmed by death when they’re alive nor when they’re dead. I argue that each version of Epicureanism faces a fatal dilemma: it is either committed to a demonstrably false view about the relationship between self-regarding reasons and well-being or it is involved in a merely verbal dispute with deprivationism. I first provide principled reason to think that any viable view about the badness of death must (...) allow that agents have self-regarding reason to avoid death if doing so would increase their total well-being. I then show that Epicurean views which do not preserve this link are subject to reductio arguments and so should be rejected. After that, I show that the Epicurean views which accommodate this desideratum are involved in a merely verbal dispute with deprivationism. (shrink)
In “Save the Children!” Artúrs Logins responds to my argument that, in certain cases, it is morally permissible to not prevent something bad from happening, even when one can do so without sacrificing something of comparable moral importance. Logins’ responses are thought-provoking, though I will argue that his critiques miss their mark. I rebut each of the responses offered by Logins. However, much of my focus will be on one of his criticisms which rests on an unfortunately common misunderstanding of (...) Singer’s argument in “Famine, Affluence, and Morality.” My response, then, is important not only because it salvages my positive argument, but also because it identifies, and corrects, this misunderstanding. (shrink)
According to actualism, an agent ought to φ just in case what would happen if she were to φ is better than what would happen if she were to ~φ. We argue that actualism makes a morally irrelevant distinction between certain counterfactuals, given that an agent sometimes has the same kind of control over their truth-value. We then offer a substantive revision to actualism that avoids this morally irrelevant distinction by focusing on a certain kind of control that is available (...) to an agent. Finally, we show how this revised view has two additional advantages over actualism. (shrink)
This paper attempts to show that contextualism cannot adequately handle all versions of ‘The Lottery Paradox.” Although the application of contextualist rules is meant to vindicate the intuitive distinction between cases of knowledge and non-knowledge, it fails to do so when applied to certain versions of “The Lottery Paradox.” In making my argument, I first briefly explain why this issue should be of central importance for contextualism. I then review Lewis’ contextualism before offering my argument that the lottery paradox persists (...) on all contextualist accounts. Although I argue that the contextualist does not fare well, hope nevertheless remains. For, on Lewis’ behalf, I offer what I take to be the best solution for the contextualist and argue that once this solution is adopted, contextualism will be in a better position to handle the lottery paradox than any other substantive epistemological theory. (shrink)
This is a short reply to Dan Demetriou's "Ashes of Our Fathers: Racist Monuments and the Tribal Right." Both are included in Oxford University Press's Ethics, Left and Right: The Moral Issues That Divide Us.
Charles Travis presents a series of essays in which he has developed his distinctive view of the relation of thought to language. The key idea is "occasion-sensitivity": what it is for words to express a given concept is for them to be apt for contributing to any of many different conditions of correctness (notably truth conditions). Since words mean what they do by expressing a given concept, it follows that meaning does not determine truth conditions. This view ties thoughts (...) less tightly to the linguistic forms which express them than traditional views of the matter, and in two directions: a given linguistic form, meaning fixed, may express an indefinite variety of thoughts; one thought can be expressed in an indefinite number of syntactically and semantically distinct ways. Travis highlights the importance of this view for linguistic theory, and shows how it gives new form to a variety of traditional philosophical problems. (shrink)
Charles Travis presents a series of essays on philosophy of perception, inspired by the insights of Gottlob Frege. He engages with a range of contemporary thinkers, and explores key issues including how perception can make the world bear on what we do or think, and what sorts of capacities we draw on in representing something as (being) something.
This book provides a novel interpretation of the ideas about language in Ludwig Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations. Travis places the "private language argument" in the context of wider themes in the Investigations, and thereby develops a picture of what it is for words to bear the meaning they do. He elaborates two versions of a private language argument, and shows the consequences of these for current trends in the philosophical theory of meaning.
This is my reply essay (1000 words) to TravisTimmerman's "A Case for Removing Confederate Monuments" in Bob Fisher's _Ethics, Left and Right: The Moral Issues That Divide Us_ volume. In it, I explain why I think the mere harm from the racial offense a monument may cause does not justify removing it.
This is the third and final section of a paper, "Oxford Realism", co-written with Charles Travis. -/- A concern for realism motivates a fundamental strand of Oxford reflection on perception. Begin with the realist conception of knowledge. The question then will be: What must perception be like if we can know something about an object without the mind by seeing it? What must perception be if it can, on occasion, afford us with proof concerning a subject matter independent of (...) the mind? (shrink)
Thought's Footing is an enquiry into the relationship between the ways things are and the way we think and talk about them. It is also a study of Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations: Charles Travis develops his account of certain key themes into a unified view of the work as a whole. The central question is: how does thought get its footing? How can the thought that things are a certain way be connected to things being that way?
Introductory Remarks Reading these excellent commentaries we already wish we had written another book – a more comprehensive, clearer, and better defended one than what we have. We are, however, quite fond of the book we ended up with, and so we've decided that, rather than to yield, we'll clarify. These contributions have helped us do that, and for that we are grateful to our critics. We're lucky in that many (so far about twenty1) extremely able philosophers have read and (...) commented on our work in print. A slightly discouraging fact is that all these commentators seem to think we are completely, utterly mistaken. On the positive side: Our critics seem to disagree about what we're completely wrong about. On the one hand, radical contextualists (e.g. Travis) find our objections against them off the mark, but our objections to moderate contextualism dead-on. On the other hand, the moderate contextualists (e.g. Szabo) think that our objections against them fail, but our objections to radical contextualism are strong (Szabo, concludes that we ‘present strong arguments against radical contextualism, but only a weak case against moderate contextualism’). This means we've got our work cut out for us – defending the middle ground from every which way – something we are more than pleased to do. We start with general points of clarification, points it will be useful to reference from time to time when discussing each commentary. (General Comment #4 is the most important, and we reference it repeatedly in what follows.) General Comment #1: Our View isn't Radical.. (shrink)
Comment garantir l’objectivité de notre rapport au monde? Le rationalisme et l’empirisme renvoient, chacun à leur manière, à une capacité générale de l’esprit humain – capacité désengagée du monde, décontextualisée. La nouveauté radicale qu’introduit Wittgenstein dans sa seconde philosophie est une vision contextualiste et proprement humaine de l’objectivité.Dans cet ouvrage, issu de leçons données au Collège de France en 2002, Charles Travis prend appui sur Frege, Wittgenstein et J.L. Austin pour montrer que l’opération de désangagement du monde propre aux (...) différentes théories de la connaissance contemporaines ne permet plus à la pensée d’être objective et a fortiori d’être vraie. Elle ne permet pas de véritable rapport au monde. C’est plutôt au sein de nos pratiques les plus ordinaires que se fondent l’objectivité qui est la nôtre, la vérité, ainsi que les différents accords du monde avec le langage et la pensée. La vérité n’est pas abstraite, nos représentations sont situées. Toute signification, comme toute pensée, est sensible à l’occasion. Charles Travis propose ici une lecture originale de Wittgenstein, conjuguée à une approche particulière des grands problèmes de la philosophie analytique. (shrink)
There is a view abroad on which perceptual experience has representational content in this sense: in it something is represented to the perceiver as so. On the view, a perceptual experience has a face value at which it may be taken, or which may be rejected. This paper argues that that view is mistaken: there is nothing in perceptual experience which makes it so that in it anything is represented as so. In that sense, the senses are silent, or, in (...) Austin's term, dumb. Perceptual experience is not as such either veridical or delusive. It may mislead, but it does not take representation to accomplish that. (shrink)
This paper proposes a third meditation-category—automatic self-transcending— to extend the dichotomy of focused attention and open monitoring proposed by Lutz. Automaticself-transcending includes techniques designed to transcend their own activity. This contrasts with focused attention, which keeps attention focused on an object; and open monitoring, which keeps attention involved in the monitoring process. Each category was assigned EEG bands, based on reported brain patterns during mental tasks, and meditations were categorized based on their reported EEG. Focused attention, characterized by beta/gamma activity, (...) included meditations from Tibetan Buddhist, Buddhist, and Chinese traditions. Open monitoring, characterized by theta activity, included meditations from Buddhist, Chinese, and Vedic traditions. Automaticself-transcending, characterized by alpha1 activity, included meditations from Vedic and Chinese traditions. Between categories, the included meditations differed in focus, subject/object relation, and procedures. These findings shed light on the common mistake of averaging meditations together to determine mechanisms or clinical effects. (shrink)
Let us begin with a piece of intellectual history. The story begins in a period encapsulating the second world war – say the ‘40’s, give and take a bit. Around then, it began to be argued with force that an expression – e.g., an English one – while it well might mean something, does not say anything, and notably no one thing in particular. The principal behind the argument was surely J.L. Austin, though, I would claim, the same point was (...) argued in a somewhat different way by Wittgenstein. The intended point was not merely a grammatical one: we say of an expression that it means such and such, but not that it says such and such. Be that as it may, the main point was quite substantive: typically, an English expression is such that, with its meaning fixed, there are a variety of distinct things to be said in using it on some production of it or other. (shrink)
What words mean plays a role in determining when they would be true; but not an exhaustive one. For that role leaves room for variation in truth conditions, with meanings fixed, from one speaking of words to another. What role meaning plays depends on what truth is; on what words, by virtue of meaning what they do are requied to have done (as spoken) in order to have said what is true. There is a deflationist position on what truth is: (...) the notion is exhausted by a given, specified, mass of 'platitudes', each to the effect that if words said (say) things to be thus, things must be that way. (The thought that thus-and-so is true iff thus-and-so.) These platitudes, and so deflationism, miss that aspect of truth that determines meaning's role. Truth requires words to have the uses which, given what they mean, they should have in the circumstances of their speaking. Through this link with use, when words would be true is a factor fixing what it is they said. (shrink)
The practice of sending parolees back to prison for violations of their parole conditions, which has grown seven-fold over the past 25 years and now contributes significantly to rising prison populations, has escaped rigorous empirical or theoretical analysis. This article suggests that this practice be understood as a form of sentencing , as a deprivation of liberty for violation of state-imposed rules. Seen through this lens, the practice of parole revocations is particularly vulnerable to critique as failing to meet the (...) standards of sentencing jurisprudence. The article calls for a reexamination of parole revocation policy using a sentencing framework. (shrink)
A continuous Oxford tradition on knowledge runs from John Cook Wilson to John McDowell. A central idea is that knowledge is not a species of belief, or that, in McDowell's terms, it is not a hybrid state; that, moreover, it is a kind of taking in of what is there that precludes one's being, for all one can see, wrong. Cook Wilson and McDowell differ on what this means as to the scope of knowledge. J.L. Austin set out the requisite (...) foundations for McDowell to be right. McDowell has shown why the tradition, and his version of it, need to be right. But he does not accept Austin's innovation. That is a shame. For, despite McDowell's very great insightfulness, precisely that much separates him from a very powerful, and correct, view of what knowledge is. (shrink)