Opponents of abortion sometimes hold that it is impermissible because fetuses are persons from the moment of conception. But miscarriage, which ends up to 89 % of pregnancies, is much deadlier than abortion. That means that if opponents of abortion are right, then miscarriage is the biggest public-health crisis of our time. Yet they pay hardly any attention to miscarriage, especially very early miscarriage. Attempts to resolve this inconsistency by adverting to the distinction between killing and letting die or to (...) the difficulty of preventing miscarriage fail, leaving a dilemma. Opponents of abortion should either advocate a substantial shift in our political and medical priorities or else give up the view that fetuses are persons from the moment of conception. (shrink)
The effective altruism movement (EA) is one of the most influential philosophically savvy movements to emerge in recent years. Effective Altruism has historically been dedicated to finding out what charitable giving is the most overall-effective, that is, the most effective at promoting or maximizing the impartial good. But some members of EA want the movement to be more inclusive, allowing its members to give in the way that most effectively promotes their values, even when doing so isn’t overall-effective. When we (...) examine what it means to give according to one’s values, I argue, we will see that this is both inconsistent with what EA is like now and inconsistent with its central philosophical commitment to an objective standard that can be used to critically analyze one’s giving. While EA is not merely synonymous with act utilitarianism, it cannot be much more inclusive than it is right now. (shrink)
When we can’t live up to the ultimate standards of morality, how can moral theory give us guidance? We can distinguish between ideal and non-ideal theory to see that there are different versions of the voluntarist constraint, ‘ought implies can.’ Ideal moral theory identifies the best standard, so its demands are constrained by one version. Non-ideal theory tells us what to do given our psychological and motivational shortcomings and so is constrained by others. Moral theory can now both provide an (...) ultimate standard and give us guidance; this view also gives us new insights into demandingness and blame. (shrink)
What is the best way to make sustained societal progress over time? Non-ideal theory done on its own faces the problem of second best, but ideal theory seems unable to cope with disagreement about how to make progress. If ideal theory gives up its claims to completeness, then we can use the method of incompletely theorized agreements to make progress over time.
Narrativists about well-being claim that our lives go better for us if they make good stories—if they exhibit cohesion, thematic consistency, and narrative arc. Yet narrativism leads to mistaken assessments of well-being: prioritizing narrative makes it harder to balance and change pursuits, pushes us toward one-dimensionality, and can’t make sense of the diversity of good lives. Some ways of softening key narrativist claims mean that the view can’t tell us very much about how to live a good life that we (...) can’t find in other theories of well-being; while there are smaller-scale ways we can incorporate narrativist insights into our views of well-being, narrativism should not be a universal organizing principle for our lives. (shrink)
One of David Estlund’s key claims in Utopophobia is that theories of justice should not bend to human motivational limitations. Yet he does not extend this view to our cognitive limitations. This creates a dilemma. Theories of justice may ignore cognitive as well as motivational limitations—but this makes them so unrealistic as to be unrecognizable as theories of justice. Theories may bend to both cognitive and motivational limitations—but Estlund wants to reject this view. The other alternative is to find some (...) non-ad hoc way to distinguish cognitive from motivational limitations. I argue that this strategy will not work. Just as a person’s cognitive limitations may block her motives no matter how much she perseveres, so too motivational limitations may be genuine inabilities. Even ideal theories of justice must bend to even ordinary motivational limitations when they truly cause us to be unable to comply with requirements. (shrink)
It seems as though we have a duty to read the news – that we’re doing something wrong when we refuse to pay attention to what’s going on in the world. But why? I argue that some plausible justifications for a duty to read the news fail to fully explain this duty: it cannot be justified only by reference to its consequences, or as a duty of democratic citizenship, or as a self-regarding duty. It can, however, be justified on the (...) grounds that we have a positive, imperfect duty of respect for strangers, even when our actions don’t affect them directly. Reading the news is a key way, sometimes the only way, that we can respect those who are strangers to us. I close by considering some of the implications and limitations of this duty. (shrink)