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Rejecting ethical deflationism

Ethics 116 (4):742-768 (2006)

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  1. The Value of Normative Information.Jeffrey Sanford Russell - manuscript
    This paper explores the idea that it is instrumentally valuable to learn normative truths. We consider an argument for "normative hedging" based on this principle, and examine the structure of decision-making under moral uncertainty that arises from it. But it also turns out that the value of normative information is inconsistent with the principle that learning *empirical* truths is instrumentally valuable. We conclude with a brief comment on "metanormative regress.".
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  • Is It OK to Make Mistakes? Appraisal and False Normative Belief.Claire Field - 2019 - Dissertation, University of St Andrews
    Sometimes we make mistakes, even when we try to do our best. When those mistakes are about normative matters, such as what is required, this leads to a puzzle. This puzzle arises from the possibility of misleading evidence about what rationality requires. I argue that the best way to solve this puzzle is to distinguish between two kinds of evaluation: requirement and appraisal. The strategy I defend connects three distinct debates in epistemology, ethics, and normativity: the debate over how our (...)
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  • Free Will Agnosticism.Stephen Kearns - 2015 - Noûs 49 (2):235-252.
  • 'Along an Imperfectly-Lighted Path': Practical Rationality and Normative Uncertainty.Andrew Sepielli - unknown
    Nobody's going to object to the advice "Do the right thing", but that doesn't mean everyone's always going to follow it. Sometimes this is because of our volitional limitations; we cannot always bring ourselves to make the sacrifices that right action requires. But sometimes this is because of our cognitive limitations; we cannot always be sure of what is right. Sometimes we can't be sure of what's right because we don't know the non-normative facts. But sometimes, even if we were (...)
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  • Ethics Under Moral Neutrality.Evan Gregg Williams - 2011 - Dissertation,
    How should we act when uncertain about the moral truth, or when trying to remain neutral between competing moral theories? This dissertation argues that some types of actions and policies are relatively likely to be approved by a very wide range of moral theories—even theories which have never yet been formulated, or which appear to cancel out one another's advice. For example, I argue that actions and policies which increase a moral agent's access to primary goods also tend to increase (...)
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  • Subjective Normativity and Action Guidance.Andrew Sepielli - 2012 - In Mark Timmons (ed.), Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics, Vol. II. Oxford University Press.
  • In Defence of My Favourite Theory.Johan E. Gustafsson & Olle Torpman - 2014 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 95 (2):159-174.
    One of the principles on how to act under moral uncertainty, My Favourite Theory, says roughly that a morally conscientious agent chooses an option that is permitted by the most credible moral theory. In defence of this principle, we argue that it prescribes consistent choices over time, without relying on intertheoretic comparisons of value, while its main rivals are either plagued by moral analogues of money pumps or in need of a method for making non-arbitrary intertheoretic comparisons. We rebut the (...)
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  • A Case for Ethical Veganism.Tristram McPherson - 2014 - Journal of Moral Philosophy 11 (6):677-703.
    This paper argues for ethical veganism: the thesis that it is typically wrong to consume animal products. The paper first sets out an intuitive case for this thesis that begins with the intuitive claim that it is wrong to set fire to a cat. I then raise a methodological challenge: this is an intuitive argument for a revisionary conclusion. Even if we grant that we cannot both believe that it is permissible to drink milk, and that it is wrong to (...)
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  • Does MITE Make Right? Decision-Making Under Normative Uncertainty.Brian Hedden - 2016 - In Russ Schafer-Landau (ed.), Oxford Studies in Metaethics Volume 11. pp. 102-128.
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  • If Nothing Matters.Guy Kahane - 2017 - Noûs 51 (2):327-353.
    The possibility that nothing really matters can cause much anxiety, but what would it mean for that to be true? Since it couldn’t be bad that nothing matters, fearing nihilism makes little sense. However, the consequences of belief in nihilism will be far more dramatic than often thought. Many metaethicists assume that even if nothing matters, we should, and would, go on more or less as before. But if nihilism is true in an unqualified way, it can’t be the case (...)
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  • Rational Moral Ignorance.Zach Barnett - 2021 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 102 (3):645-664.
    Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, EarlyView.
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  • Moral Uncertainty and the Principle of Equity Among Moral Theories1.Andrew Sepielli - 2013 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 86 (3):580-589.
  • Normative Uncertainty as a Voting Problem.William MacAskill - 2016 - Mind 125 (500):967-1004.
    Some philosophers have recently argued that decision-makers ought to take normative uncertainty into account in their decisionmaking. These philosophers argue that, just as it is plausible that we should maximize expected value under empirical uncertainty, it is plausible that we should maximize expected choice-worthiness under normative uncertainty. However, such an approach faces two serious problems: how to deal with merely ordinal theories, which do not give sense to the idea of magnitudes of choice-worthiness; and how, even when theories do give (...)
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  • Normative Uncertainty and Social Choice.Christian Tarsney - 2019 - Mind 128 (512):1285-1308.
    In ‘Normative Uncertainty as a Voting Problem’, William MacAskill argues that positive credence in ordinal-structured or intertheoretically incomparable normative theories does not prevent an agent from rationally accounting for her normative uncertainties in practical deliberation. Rather, such an agent can aggregate the theories in which she has positive credence by methods borrowed from voting theory—specifically, MacAskill suggests, by a kind of weighted Borda count. The appeal to voting methods opens up a promising new avenue for theories of rational choice under (...)
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  • Rationality with Respect to People, Places, and Times.Larry S. Temkin - 2015 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 45 (5-6):576-608.
    There is a rich tradition within game theory, decision theory, economics, and philosophy correlating practical rationality with impartiality, and spatial and temporal neutrality. I argue that in some cases we should give priority to people over both times and places, and to times over places. I also show how three plausible dominance principles regarding people, places, and times conflict, so that we cannot accept all three. However, I argue that there are some cases where we should give priority to times (...)
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  • Why Maximize Expected Choice‐Worthiness?1.William MacAskill & Toby Ord - 2020 - Noûs 54 (2):327-353.
    This paper argues in favor of a particular account of decision‐making under normative uncertainty: that, when it is possible to do so, one should maximize expected choice‐worthiness. Though this position has been often suggested in the literature and is often taken to be the ‘default’ view, it has so far received little in the way of positive argument in its favor. After dealing with some preliminaries and giving the basic motivation for taking normative uncertainty into account in our decision‐making, we (...)
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  • Decision Under Normative Uncertainty.Franz Dietrich & Brian Jabarian - forthcoming - Economics and Philosophy.
    While ordinary decision theory focuses on empirical uncertainty, real decision-makers also face normative uncertainty: uncertainty about value itself. From a purely formal perspective, normative uncertainty is comparable to (Harsanyian or Rawlsian) identity uncertainty in the 'original position', where one's future values are unknown. A comprehensive decision theory must address twofold uncertainty -- normative and empirical. We present a simple model of twofold uncertainty, and show that the most popular decision principle -- maximising expected value (`Expectationalism') -- has different formulations, namely (...)
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  • Moral Uncertainty.Krister Bykvist - 2017 - Philosophy Compass 12 (3):e12408.
    What should we do when we are not certain about what we morally should do? There is a long history of theorizing about decision-making under empirical uncertainty, but surprisingly little has been written about the moral uncertainty expressed by this question. Only very recently have philosophers started to systematically address the nature of such uncertainty and its impacts on decision-making. This paper addresses the main problems raised by moral uncertainty and critically examines some proposed solutions.
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  • Free Will Agnosticism.Stephen Kearns - 2013 - Noûs 47 (2):235-252.
    I argue that no one knows whether there is free will.
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  • Promoting Value As Such.Evan G. Williams - 2013 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 87 (2):392-416.
    Without needing to commit to any specific claims about what states of affairs have most agent-neutral value, we can nevertheless predict that states of affairs which are relatively valuable are also relatively likely to occur—on the grounds that, all else equal, at least some other agents are likely to recognize the value of those states of affairs, pursue them because they are valuable, and successfully bring them about as a consequence of that pursuit. This gives us a way to promote (...)
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  • Enkrasia or Evidentialism? Learning to Love Mismatch.Maria Lasonen-Aarnio - 2020 - Philosophical Studies 177 (3):597-632.
    I formulate a resilient paradox about epistemic rationality, discuss and reject various solutions, and sketch a way out. The paradox exemplifies a tension between a wide range of views of epistemic justification, on the one hand, and enkratic requirements on rationality, on the other. According to the enkratic requirements, certain mismatched doxastic states are irrational, such as believing p, while believing that it is irrational for one to believe p. I focus on an evidentialist view of justification on which a (...)
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  • Degrees of Acceptance.Alexander Dinges - forthcoming - Philosophical Quarterly.
    While many authors distinguish belief from acceptance, it seems almost universally agreed that no similar distinction can be drawn between degrees of belief, or credences, and degrees of acceptance. I challenge this assumption in this paper. Acceptance comes in degrees and acknowledging this helps to resolve problems in at least two philosophical domains. Degrees of acceptance play vital roles when we simplify our reasoning, and they ground the common ground of a conversation if we assume context probabilism, i.e., that the (...)
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  • Moral Disagreement and Inexcusable Irrationality.Ralph Wedgwood - 2019 - American Philosophical Quarterly 56 (1):97.
    This essay explores the following position: Ultimate moral principles are a priori truths; hence, it is irrational to assign a non-zero credence to any proposition that is incompatible with these ultimate moral principles ; and this sort of irrationality, if it could have been avoided, is in a sense inexcusable. So—at least if moral relativism is false—in any disagreement about ultimate moral principles, at least one party to the disagreement is inexcusably irrational. This position may seem extreme, but it is (...)
     
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  • Moral Uncertainty and Distributive Sufficiency.Michael Bukoski - 2021 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 24 (4):949-963.
    According to the sufficiency principle, distributive justice requires that everyone have some sufficient level of resources or well-being, but inequalities above this threshold have no moral significance. This paper defends a version of the sufficiency principle as the appropriate response to moral uncertainty about distributive justice. Assuming that the appropriate response to moral uncertainty is to maximize expected choiceworthiness, and given a reasonable distribution of credence in some familiar views about distributive justice, a version of the sufficiency principle strikes the (...)
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  • The Hard Problem of Intertheoretic Comparisons.Jennifer Rose Carr - forthcoming - Philosophical Studies:1-27.
    Metanormativists hold that moral uncertainty can affect how we ought, in some morally authoritative sense, to act. Many metanormativists aim to generalize expected utility theory for normative uncertainty. Such accounts face the “easy problem of intertheoretic comparisons”: the worry that distinct theories’ assessments of choiceworthiness are incomparable. The easy problem may well be resolvable, but another problem looms: while some moral theories assign cardinal degrees of choiceworthiness, other theories’ choiceworthiness assignments are merely ordinal. Expected choiceworthiness over such theories is undefined. (...)
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  • Is Normative Uncertainty Irrelevant If Your Descriptive Uncertainty Depends on It?Pamela Robinson - forthcoming - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly.
    According to ‘Excluders’, descriptive uncertainty—but not normative uncertainty—matters to what we ought to do. Recently, several authors have argued that those wishing to treat normative uncertainty differently from descriptive uncertainty face a dependence problem because one’s descriptive uncertainty can depend on one’s normative uncertainty. The aim of this paper is to determine whether the phenomenon of dependence poses a decisive problem for Excluders. I argue that existing arguments fail to show this, and that, while stronger ones can be found, Excluders (...)
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  • What decision theory can’t tell us about moral uncertainty.Chelsea Rosenthal - 2020 - Philosophical Studies 178 (10):3085-3105.
    We’re often unsure what morality requires, but we need to act anyway. There is a growing philosophical literature on how to navigate moral uncertainty. But much of it asks how to rationally pursue the goal of acting morally, using decision-theoretic models to address that question. I argue that using these popular approaches leaves some central and pressing questions about moral uncertainty unaddressed. To help us make sense of experiences of moral uncertainty, we should shift away from focusing on what it’s (...)
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  • Normative Uncertainty and Probabilistic Moral Knowledge.Julia Staffel - 2019 - Synthese 198 (7):6739-6765.
    The aim of this paper is to examine whether it would be advantageous to introduce knowledge norms instead of the currently assumed rational credence norms into the debate about decision making under normative uncertainty. There is reason to think that this could help us better accommodate cases in which agents are rationally highly confident in false moral views. I show how Moss’ view of probabilistic knowledge can be fruitfully employed to develop a decision theory that delivers plausible verdicts in these (...)
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  • Hoping for Metanormative Realism.Anne Jeffrey - 2019 - Erkenntnis 86:1-15.
    Debates in metaethics about metanormative realism, quasi-realism, anti-realism, and nihilism mostly focus on epistemic reasons for beliefs about values. Very little has been said about our practical reasons for metaethical beliefs, and even less is said about practical reasons for other attitudes we might take toward metaethical views. This paper shows why a recent argument bucking that trend fails to show that we have practical reasons to believe realism over nihilism, but that for many of us, we do have practical (...)
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  • An Axiomatic Approach to Axiological Uncertainty.Stefan Riedener - 2020 - Philosophical Studies 177 (2):483-504.
    How ought you to evaluate your options if you’re uncertain about which axiology is true? One prominent response is Expected Moral Value Maximisation, the view that under axiological uncertainty, an option is better than another if and only if it has the greater expected moral value across axiologies. EMVM raises two fundamental questions. First, there’s a question about what it should even mean. In particular, it presupposes that we can compare moral value across axiologies. So to even understand EMVM, we (...)
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  • The Morality of Creating and Eliminating Duties.Holly M. Smith & David E. Black - 2019 - Philosophical Studies 176 (12):3211-3240.
    We often act in ways that create duties for ourselves: we adopt a child and become obligated to raise and educate her. We also sometimes act in ways that eliminate duties: we get divorced, and no longer have a duty to support our now ex-spouse. When is it morally permissible to create or to eliminate a duty? These questions have almost wholly evaded philosophical attention. In this paper we develop answers to these questions by arguing in favor of the asymmetric (...)
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  • In Dubious Battle: Uncertainty and the Ethics of Killing.Seth Lazar - 2018 - Philosophical Studies 175 (4):859-883.
    How should deontologists concerned with the ethics of killing apply their moral theory when we don’t know all the facts relevant to the permissibility of our action? Though the stakes couldn’t be higher, and uncertainty is endemic where killing is concerned, few deontologists have an answer to this question. In this paper I canvass two possibilities: that we should apply a threshold standard, equivalent to the ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ standard applied for criminal punishment; and that we should fit our (...)
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  • Moral Uncertainty About Population Ethics.Hilary Greaves & Toby Ord - forthcoming - Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy.
    Given the deep disagreement surrounding population axiology, one should remain uncertain about which theory is best. However, this uncertainty need not leave one neutral about which acts are better or worse. We show that as the number of lives at stake grows, the Expected Moral Value approach to axiological uncertainty systematically pushes one towards choosing the option preferred by the Total and Critical Level views, even if one’s credence in those theories is low.
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  • Normative Uncertainty for Non-Cognitivists.Andrew Sepielli - 2012 - Philosophical Studies 160 (2):191-207.
    Normative judgments involve two gradable features. First, the judgments themselves can come in degrees; second, the strength of reasons represented in the judgments can come in degrees. Michael Smith has argued that non-cognitivism cannot accommodate both of these gradable dimensions. The degrees of a non-cognitive state can stand in for degrees of judgment, or degrees of reason strength represented in judgment, but not both. I argue that (a) there are brands of noncognitivism that can surmount Smith’s challenge, and (b) any (...)
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  • Metaethical Agnosticism: Practical Reasons for Acting When Agnostic About the Existence of Moral Reasons.Joseph Len Miller - 2020 - Journal of Value Inquiry 54 (1):59-75.
    There has been little discussion about how to act when uncertain about the existence of moral reasons in general. In this paper I will argue that despite being uncertain about the existence of moral reasons, someone can still have a practical reason to act in a particular way. This practical reason is morally relevant because it will have an impact on whether we’re making the correct moral decision. This practical reason will result from a principle of decision-making that can be (...)
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  • Moral Hedging and Responding to Reasons.Amelia Hicks - 2019 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 100 (3):765-789.
    In this paper, I argue that the fetishism objection to moral hedging fails. The objection rests on a reasons-responsiveness account of moral worth, according to which an action has moral worth only if the agent is responsive to moral reasons. However, by adopting a plausible theory of non-ideal moral reasons, one can endorse a reasons-responsiveness account of moral worth while maintaining that moral hedging is sometimes an appropriate response to moral uncertainty. Thus, the theory of moral worth upon which the (...)
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  • Rejecting Supererogationism.Christian Tarsney - 2019 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 100 (2):599-623.
    Even if I think it very likely that some morally good act is supererogatory rather than obligatory, I may nonetheless be rationally required to perform that act. This claim follows from an apparently straightforward dominance argument, which parallels Jacob Ross's argument for 'rejecting' moral nihilism. These arguments face analogous pairs of objections that illustrate general challenges for dominance reasoning under normative uncertainty, but (I argue) these objections can be largely overcome. This has practical consequences for the ethics of philanthropy -- (...)
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  • Epistemic Modesty in Ethics.Nicholas Laskowski - 2018 - Philosophical Studies 175 (7):1577-1596.
    Many prominent ethicists, including Shelly Kagan, John Rawls, and Thomas Scanlon, accept a kind of epistemic modesty thesis concerning our capacity to carry out the project of ethical theorizing. But it is a thesis that has received surprisingly little explicit and focused attention, despite its widespread acceptance. After explaining why the thesis is true, I argue that it has several implications in metaethics, including, especially, implications that should lead us to rethink our understanding of Reductive Realism. In particular, the thesis (...)
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  • Normative Uncertainty and the Dependence Problem.Abelard Podgorski - 2020 - Mind 129 (513):43-70.
    In this paper, I enter the debate between those who hold that our normative uncertainty matters for what we ought to do, and those who hold that only our descriptive uncertainty matters. I argue that existing views in both camps have unacceptable implications in cases where our descriptive beliefs depend on our normative beliefs. I go on to propose a fix which is available only to those who hold that normative uncertainty matters, ultimately leaving the challenge as a threat to (...)
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  • Decyzje w sytuacjach niepewności normatywnej.Tomasz Żuradzki - 2020 - Przeglad Filozoficzny - Nowa Seria 29 (2):53-72.
    Etycy nie poświęcali dotąd wiele uwagi niepewności, koncentrując się często na skrajnie wyidealizowanych hipotetycznych sytuacjach, w których zarówno kwestie empiryczne (np. stan świata, spektrum możliwych decyzji oraz ich konsekwencje, związki przyczynowe między zdarzeniami), jak i normatywne (np. treść norm, skale wartości) były jasno określone i znane podmiotowi. W poniższym artykule – który jest rezultatem projektu dotyczącego różnych typów decyzji w sytuacjach niepewności związanej z postępem w naukach i technologiach biomedycznych – przedstawię analizę sytuacji niepewności normatywnej, czyli takich, w których podmiot (...)
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  • Maximal Cluelessness.Andreas L. Mogensen - 2021 - Philosophical Quarterly 71 (1):141-162.
    I argue that many of the priority rankings that have been proposed by effective altruists seem to be in tension with apparently reasonable assumptions about the rational pursuit of our aims in the face of uncertainty. The particular issue on which I focus arises from recognition of the overwhelming importance and inscrutability of the indirect effects of our actions, conjoined with the plausibility of a permissive decision principle governing cases of deep uncertainty, known as the maximality rule. I conclude that (...)
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  • Discounting for Public Policy: A Survey.Hilary Greaves - 2017 - Economics and Philosophy 33 (3):391-439.
    This article is a critical survey of the debate over the value of the social discount rate, with a particular focus on climate change. The ma- jority of the material surveyed is from the economics rather than from the philosophy literature, but the emphasis of the survey itself is on founda- tions in ethical and other normative theory rather than highly technical details. I begin by locating the standard approach to discounting within the overall landscape of ethical theory, and explaining (...)
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  • How Moral Uncertaintism Can Be Both True and Interesting.Andrew Sepielli - 2018 - Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics 7.
  • On the Overwhelming Importance of Shaping the Far Future.Nicholas Beckstead - unknown
    In slogan form, the thesis of this dissertation is that shaping the far future is overwhelmingly important. More precisely, I argue that: Main Thesis: From a global perspective, what matters most is that we do what is best for the general trajectory along which our descendants develop over the coming millions, billions, and trillions of years. The first chapter introduces some key concepts, clarifies the main thesis, and outlines what follows in later chapters. Some of the key concepts include: existential (...)
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  • Moral Uncertainty About Population Axiology.Hilary Greaves & Toby Ord - 2017 - Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 12 (2):135-167.
    Given the deep disagreement surrounding population axiology, one should remain uncertain about which theory is best. However, this uncertainty need not leave one neutral about which acts are better or worse. We show that, as the number of lives at stake grows, the Expected Moral Value approach to axiological uncertainty systematically pushes one toward choosing the option preferred by the Total View and critical-level views, even if one’s credence in those theories is low.
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  • Uncertain Preferences in Rational Decision.Moritz Schulz - 2020 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 63 (6):605-627.
    ABSTRACT Is uncertainty about preferences rationally possible? And if so, does it matter for rational decision? It is argued that uncertainty about preferences is possible and should play the same role in rational decision-making as uncertainty about worldly facts. The paper develops this hypothesis and defends it against various objections.
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  • Intertheoretic Value Comparison: A Modest Proposal.Christian Tarsney - 2018 - Journal of Moral Philosophy 15 (3):324-344.
    In the growing literature on decision-making under moral uncertainty, a number of skeptics have argued that there is an insuperable barrier to rational "hedging" for the risk of moral error, namely the apparent incomparability of moral reasons given by rival theories like Kantianism and utilitarianism. Various general theories of intertheoretic value comparison have been proposed to meet this objection, but each suffers from apparently fatal flaws. In this paper, I propose a more modest approach that aims to identify classes of (...)
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  • Constructivism About Intertheoretic Comparisons.Stefan Riedener - 2019 - Utilitas 31 (3):277-290.
    Many people think that if you're uncertain about which moral theory is correct, you ought to maximize the expected choice-worthiness of your actions. This idea presupposes that the strengths of our moral reasons are comparable across theories – for instance, that our reasons to create new people, according to total utilitarianism, can be stronger than our reasons to benefit an existing person, according to a person-affecting view. But how can we make sense of such comparisons? In this article, I introduce (...)
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  • Ethical Vagueness and Practical Reasoning.Billy Dunaway - 2017 - Philosophical Quarterly 67 (266):38-60.
    This paper looks at the phenomenon of ethical vagueness by asking the question, how ought one to reason about what to do when confronted with a case of ethical vagueness? I begin by arguing that we must confront this question, since ethical vagueness is inescapable. I then outline one attractive answer to the question: we ought to maximize expected moral value when confronted with ethical vagueness. This idea yields determinate results for what one rationally ought to do in cases of (...)
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  • Meta-Reasoning in Making Moral Decisions Under Normative Uncertainty.Tomasz Żuradzki - 2016 - In Dima Mohammed & Marcin Lewiński (eds.), Argumentation and Reasoned Action. College Publications. pp. 1093-1104.
    I analyze recent discussions about making moral decisions under normative uncertainty. I discuss whether this kind of uncertainty should have practical consequences for decisions and whether there are reliable methods of reasoning that deal with the possibility that we are wrong about some moral issues. I defend a limited use of the decision theory model of reasoning in cases of normative uncertainty.
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