Recent empirical studies of philosophers by Eric Schwitzgebel and others have seriously called into question whether professional ethicists have any useful expertise with thought experiments, given that their intuitions appear to be no more reliable than those of lay subjects. Drawing on such results, sceptics like Edouard Machery argue that normative ethics as it is currently practiced is deeply problematic. In this paper, I present two main arguments in defense of the standard methodology of normative ethics. First, there is strong (...) reason to believe that expertise with thought experiments requires considering scenarios in their proper theoretical context and in parallel with other pertinent situations, so that we should not expect philosophers to be better than lay folk at responding to decontextualized cases. Second, skeptical views underestimate the epistemic benefits of the actual practices of post-processing initial verdicts both at individual and social levels. Contrary to a mythical conception of ‘the method of cases’, philosophers are frequently sensitive to the quality of intuitive evidence, reject and revise their verdicts on the basis of independently supported principles or interpersonal criticism, and defer to recognized specialists. (shrink)
In disputes about conceptual analysis, each side typically appeals to pre-theoretical 'intuitions' about particular cases. Recently, many naturalistically oriented philosophers have suggested that these appeals should be understood as empirical hypotheses about what people would say when presented with descriptions of situations, and have consequently conducted surveys on non-specialists. I argue that this philosophical research programme, a key branch of what is known as 'experimental philosophy', rests on mistaken assumptions about the relation between people's concepts and their linguistic behaviour. The (...) conceptual claims that philosophers make imply predictions about the folk's responses only under certain demanding, counterfactual conditions. Because of the nature of these conditions, the claims cannot be tested with methods of positivist social science. We are, however, entitled to appeal to intuitions about folk concepts in virtue of possessing implicit normative knowledge acquired through reflective participation in everyday linguistic practices. (shrink)
The demands of rationality are linked both to our subjective normative perspective (given that rationality is a person-level concept) and to objective reasons or favoring relations (given that rationality is non-contingently authoritative for us). In this paper, I propose a new way of reconciling the tension between these two aspects: roughly, what rationality requires of us is having the attitudes that correspond to our take on reasons in the light of our evidence, but only if it is competent. I show (...) how this view can account for structural rationality on the assumption that intentions and beliefs as such involve competent perceptions of downstream reasons, and explore various implications of the account. (shrink)
(Pdf updated to final, slightly revised version of November 2010) -/- Almost everyone would prefer to lead a meaningful life. But what is meaning in life and what makes a life meaningful? I argue, first, for a new analysis of the concept of meaningfulness in terms of the appropriateness of feelings of fulfilment and admiration. Second, I argue that while the best current conceptions of meaningfulness, such as Susan Wolf’s view that in a meaningful life ‘subjective attraction meets objective attractiveness’, (...) do a fairly good job capturing meaningfulness at a time, we need an account that makes sense of the intimate connection between meaningfulness and having a direction in one’s life. According to the Teleological View I propose, what makes a single chapter of a life most meaningful is success in reaching central, objectively valuable goals as a result of exercising essential human capacities. Life as a whole is most meaningful when past efforts increase the success of future goal-setting, goal-seeking, and goal-reaching, so that the life forms a coherent whole without being dedicated to a single aim. Since coherence in this sense is a holistic property of a life, global prudential value is not a function of local prudential values. I suggest that just as pleasure is the final good of human beings as subjects of experience, meaningfulness is the final good of human beings as active agents. (shrink)
Everyone agrees that not all norms that govern belief and assertion are epistemic. But not enough attention has been paid to distinguishing epistemic norms from others. Norms in general differ from merely evaluative standards in virtue of the fact that it is fitting to hold subjects accountable for violating them, provided they lack an excuse. Different kinds of norm are most readily distinguished by their distinctive mode of accountability. My thesis is roughly that a norm is epistemic if and only (...) if its violation makes it fitting to reduce epistemic trust in the subject, even if there is no doubt about their sincerity, honesty, or other moral virtues. That is, violations of epistemic norms don’t merit resentment or other forms of blame, but rather deduction of credibility points in internal scorekeeping and related attitudinal and behavioral changes. As Fricker’s work on epistemic injustice shows, such distrust is undesirable from the point of view of an epistemic agent. Consequently, when one manifests epistemic distrust towards a subject in suitable circumstances, it amounts a way of holding her accountable. Since this form of accountability involves no opprobrium, there is good reason to think it is not linked to voluntary control in the same way as moral accountability. Finally, I make use of this account of what makes epistemic norms distinctive to point out some faulty diagnostics in debates about norms of assertion. My aim is not to defend any substantive view, however, but only to offer tools for identifying the right kind of evidence for epistemic norms. (shrink)
It is widely acknowledged that susceptibility to suitable emotional responses is part of what it is to value something. Indeed, the value of at least some things calls for such emotional responses – if we lack them, we don’t respond appropriately to their value. In this paper, I argue that susceptibility to anger is an essential component of valuing other people, ourselves, and our relationships. The main reason is that various modes of valuing, such as respect, self-respect, and love, ground (...) normative expectations towards others and ourselves. And holding someone accountable for violating legitimate normative expectations involves emotions from the anger family, such as resentment and indignation. I hold that such forms of anger, which aim at getting the target to conform to expectations or lower their unduly elevated status, are neither inherently problematic or dispensable parts of the package of attitudes involved in valuing. Finally, thinking about anger’s role in valuing also helps see when it is out of place or immature – roughly, it is often excessive, because we easily exaggerate the magnitude of the value involved, the harm or threat to it, or the degree of the target’s moral responsibility. (shrink)
Empathic feelings seem to causally influence our moral judgments at least sometimes. But is empathy necessary for our ability to make moral judgments? And is it a good thing if our judgments are based on empathy? This chapter examines the contemporary debate on these issues.
It seems to many that moral opinions must make a difference to what we’re motivated to do, at least in suitable conditions. For others, it seems that it is possible to have genuine moral opinions that make no motivational difference. Both sides – internalists and externalists about moral motivation – can tell persuasive stories of actual and hypothetical cases. My proposal for a kind of reconciliation is to distinguish between two kinds of psychological states with moral content. There are both (...) moral thoughts or opinions that intrinsically motivate, and moral thoughts or opinions that don’t. The thoughts that intrinsically motivate are moral intuitions – spontaneous and compelling non-doxastic appearances of right or wrong that both attract assent and incline us to act or react. I argue that there is good reason to think that these intuitions, but not moral judgments, are constituted by manifestations of moral sentiments. The moral thoughts that do not intrinsically motivate are moral beliefs, which are in themselves as inert as any ordinary beliefs. Thus, roughly, internalism is true about intuitions and externalism is true about beliefs or judgments. (shrink)
What is the relationship between meaning in life and happiness? In psychological research, subjective meaning and happiness are often contrasted with each other. I argue that while the objective meaningfulness of a life is distinct from happiness, subjective or felt meaning is a key constituent of happiness, which is best understood as a multidimensional affective condition. Measures of felt meaning should consequently be included in empirical studies of the causes and correlates of happiness.
In this paper, my aim is to bring together contemporary psychological literature on emotion regulation and the classical sentimentalism of David Hume and Adam Smith to arrive at a plausible account of empathy's role in explaining patterns of moral judgment. Along the way, I criticize related arguments by Michael Slote, Jesse Prinz, and others.
Sentimentalism comes in many varieties: explanatory sentimentalism, judgment sentimentalism, metaphysical sentimentalism, and epistemic sentimentalism. This encyclopedia entry gives an overview of the positions and main arguments pro and con.
According to the quasi-perceptualist account of philosophical intuitions, they are intellectual appearances that are psychologically and epistemically analogous to perceptual appearances. Moral intuitions share the key characteristics of other intuitions, but can also have a distinctive phenomenology and motivational role. This paper develops the Humean claim that the shared and distinctive features of substantive moral intuitions are best explained by their being constituted by moral emotions. This is supported by an independently plausible non-Humean, quasi-perceptualist theory of emotion, according to which (...) the phenomenal feel of emotions is crucial for their intentional content. (shrink)
Suppose that our life choices result in unpredictable experiences, as L.A. Paul has recently argued. What does this mean for the possibility of rational prudential choice? Not as much as Paul thinks. First, what’s valuable about experience is its broadly hedonic quality, and empirical studies suggest we tend to significantly overestimate the impact of our choices in this respect. Second, contrary to what Paul suggests, the value of finding out what an outcome is like for us does not suffice to (...) rationalize life choices, because much more important values are at stake. Third, because these other prudential goods, such as achievement, personal relationships, and meaningfulness, are typically more important than the quality of our experience (which is in any case unlikely to be bad when we achieve non- experiential goods), life choices should be made on what I call a story- regarding rather than experience-regarding basis. (shrink)
This note explores how ideal subjectivism in metanormative theory can help solve two important problems for Fitting Attitude analyses of value. The wrong-kind-of-reason problem is that there may be sufficient reason for attitude Y even if the object is not Y-able. The many-kinds-of-fittingness problem is that the same attitude can be fitting in many ways. Ideal subjectivism addresses both by maintaining that an attitude is W-ly fitting if and only if endorsed by any W-ly ideal subject. A subject is W-ly (...) ideal when the most robust way of avoiding W-type practical problems is deferring to her endorsement. (shrink)
This chapter presents two contemporary pictures of practical reasoning. According to the Rule-Guidance Conception, roughly, practical reasoning is a rule-guided operation of acquiring (or retaining or giving up) intentions so as to meet synchronic requirements of rationality. According to the Reasons-Responsiveness Conception, practical reasoning is a process of responding to reasons we take ourselves to have, and its standards of correctness derive from what we objectively have reason to do, if things are as we suppose them to be. I argue (...) that a version of the latter has some significant advantages. This has some surprising consequences for how we should conceive of the structure of instrumental reasoning in particular. (shrink)
In his recent work, Michael Slote argues that empathy is what Hutcheson called 'the moral sense'. The most innovative argument he offers for this claim is that our empathic reactions play a crucial role in fixing the reference of moral terms. I argue that Slote's bold proposal faces all the main problems of analytical naturalism, as well as some of its own. I suggest that empathy may nevertheless play a more modest and indirect role in acquiring moral knowledge.
Pride in our own actions tells a story: we faced a challenge, overcame it, and achieved something praiseworthy. In this paper, I draw on recent psychological literature to distinguish to between two varieties of pride, 'authentic' pride that focuses on particular efforts (like guilt) and 'hubristic' pride that focuses on the whole self (like shame). Achievement pride is fitting when either efforts or traits explain our success in meeting contextually relevant, authoritative, and challenging standards without excessive opportunity cost. When it (...) is fitting, our lives are at least somewhat meaningful. (shrink)
This paper examines systematically which features of a life story (or history) make it good for the subject herself - not aesthetically or morally good, but prudentially good. The tentative narrative calculus presented claims that the prudential narrative value of an event is a function of the extent to which it contributes to her concurrent and non-concurrent goals, the value of those goals, and the degree to which success in reaching the goals is deserved in virtue of exercising agency. The (...) narrative value of a life is a simple sum of the values of individual events that comprise it. I claim that this view best explains and support common intuitions about the significance of the shape of a life. (shrink)
Psychologists and philosophers use the term 'intuition' for a variety of different phenomena. In this paper, I try to provide a kind of a roadmap of the debates, point to some confusions and problems, and give a brief sketch of an empirically respectable philosophical approach.
According to legal expressivism, neither crime nor punishment consists merely in intentionally imposing some kind of harm on another. Crime and punishment also have an expressive aspect. They are what they are in part because they enact attitudes toward others—in the case of crime, some kind of disrespect, at least, and in the case of punishment, society’s condemnation or reprobation. Punishment is justified, at least in part, because (and when) it uniquely expresses fitting condemnation or other retributive attitude. What makes (...) retributive attitudes fitting is that they protect the victim’s status as inviolable. Hate or bias crimes dramatize the expressive aspect of crime, as they are often designed to send a message to the victim’s group and society at large. Treating the enactment of contempt and denigration toward a historically underprivileged group as an aggravating factor in sentencing may be an appropriate way to counter this message, as it reaffirms and indeed realizes the fundamental equality and inviolability of all members of a democratic community. (shrink)
It has become common to take reasons to form a basic normative category that is not amenable to non-circular analysis. This paper offers a novel characterization of reasons in terms of how we ought or it would be good for us to think in response to our awareness of facts, and thus rejects such Reason Primitivism. Briefly, for r to be a normative reason for A to φ is for it to be the case that A ought to conduct her (...) φ-relevant thinking in a φ-friendly manner, given her awareness of r. In mechanistic terms, this is to say that the psychological mechanisms responsible for A’s potentially φ-ing ought to be causally influenced in the direction of φ-ing by her awareness of r. For r to be an evaluative reason for A to φ is for it to be the case that it is desirable for A to conduct her φ-relevant thinking in a more or less φ-friendly manner, given her awareness of r. What someone ought to do or what it is desirable for someone to do is in turn to be understood in terms of fittingness of different positive or negative reactions. Linking the favoring relation between a fact and an action or belief explicitly with fittingness of attitudes towards the subject reveals the sense in which reasons are normative or evaluative. The paper also responds to six potential challenges to the view and argues it has certain advantages over competing reductionist proposals. (shrink)
It would be terrible for us if humanity ceased to exist after we all die. But of course, eventually humanity will go out of existence. Does this result in a vicious regress if our flourishing hangs on what happens after us? Mark Johnston thinks so. In this note, I explain how Johnston's objection can be avoided. Briefly, our activities have a meaning horizon that extends for some generations after us. What matters is that we make a positive difference to the (...) lives of those generations, not that they themselves necessarily flourish. (shrink)
For ambitious metaphysical neo-sentimentalists, all normative facts are grounded in fitting attitudes, where fittingness is understood in naturalistic terms. In this paper, I offer a neo-sentimentalist account of blameworthiness in terms of the reactive attitudes of a morally authoritative subject I label a Nagelian Imp. I also argue that moral impermissibility is indirectly linked to blameworthiness: roughly, an act is morally impermissible if and only if and because it is not *possible* in the circumstances to adopt a plan of performing (...) it without meriting blame, assuming the agent is rational, informed, and meets the conditions of accountability. (shrink)
Normative political philosophy always refers to a standard against which a society's institutions are judged. In the first, analytical part of the article, the different possible forms of normative criticism are examined according to whether the standards it appeals to are external or internal to the society in question. In the tradition of Socrates and Hegel, it is argued that reconstructing the kind of norms that are implicit in practices enables a critique that does not force the critic's particular views (...) on the addressee and can also be motivationally effective. In the second part of the article, Axel Honneth's theory of recognition is examined as a form of such reconstructive internal critique . It is argued that while the implicit norms of recognition made explicit in Honneth's philosophical anthropology help explain progressive social struggles as moral ones, his theory faces two challenges in justifying internal critique. The Priority Challenge asks for the reasons why the implicit norms of recognition should be taken as the standard against which other implicit and explicit norms are to be judged. The Application Challenge asks why a social group should, by its own lights, extend equal recognition to all its members and even non-members. The kind of functional, prudential, conceptual, and moral considerations that could serve to answer these challenges are sketched. (shrink)
In this paper, I examine six arguments concerning or making use of empirical psychological evidence in metaethics and normative ethics. Generally speaking, I find that the ambitious ones fail and the more modest ones ought to moderate their conclusions further.
Are we really to blame only for actions that manifest our character, as Hume claims? In this paper, I explore Hume's reasoning and the nature of blame in general. I suggest that insofar as blame comes in a relational variety as well as the more familiar reactive one, there may be something to be said for linking blame with character flaws after all.
Dan Haybron has argued by counterexample that perfectionism fails as a theory of well-being. I respond by articulating two different versions of diachronic perfectionism, which takes into account the level of development and exercise of essential human capacities over the course of an entire lifetime.
In this article, the author discusses the methodology of the internalism debate and the role that neuroscience and related experimental methods can play in it. The author argues that findings in either actual or fictional experimental psychology or neuroscience have little relevance to the debate. He claims that the findings do not provide any independent support pro or con internalism. He also observes that the traditional view of the methodological autonomy of philosophical moral psychology remains well-grounded.
The central question of the branch of metaethics we may call philosophical moral psychology concerns the nature or essence of moral judgment: what is it to think that something is right or wrong, good or bad, obligatory or forbidden? One datum in this inquiry is that sincerely held moral views appear to influence conduct: on the whole, people do not engage in behaviours they genuinely consider base or evil, sometimes even when they would stand to benefit from it personally. Moral (...) judgments thus appear to be motivationally effective, at least to an extent. This motivational success would be readily explained if they simply were motivationally effective psychological states, such as desires. This is what Hobbes seems to do when he claims that "whatsoever is the object of any man's appetite or desire, that is it which he for his part calleth good; and the object of his hate and aversion, evil."1 But this is far too quick. We know that moral judgments can also fail to lead to corresponding action. For example, since it is conceptually possible – not to mention all too common in the actual world – to think that something is wrong and yet want to do it, thinking that something is wrong cannot simply consist in aversion toward it, unlike Hobbes seems to have thought. In this way, reflection on the various.. (shrink)
There are many conceivable circumstances in which some people have to be sacrificed in order to give others a chance to survive. The fair and rational method of selection is a lottery with equal chances. But why should losers comply, when they have nothing to lose in a war of all against all? A novel solution to this Compliance Problem is proposed. The lottery must be made self-enforcing by making the lots themselves the means of enforcement of the outcome. This (...) way no external authority is needed to make the losers’ compliance rational both ex ante and ex post. A fairly realistic concrete scenario is sketched to show that the solution could be made to work in practice, particularly since making it work is in everyone’s enlightened self-interest in the circumstances. (shrink)
Moral philosophy is one of the core areas of philosophy. It is a fruitful research project in which ethicists investigate a range of different kinds of questions from the abstract metaethical puzzles concerning the meaning of moral language to the concrete ethical problems such as how much we should do to help other people. Yet, even if different answers to all these questions are intensively debated in moral philosophy, there is surprising little explicit reflection of what the appropriate ways of (...) doing moral philosophy are. -/- What are we entitled to assume as the starting-points of our ethical inquiry? What is the role of empirical sciences in ethics? Is there just one general method for doing moral philosophy or should different questions in moral philosophy be answered in different ways? Are there argumentative structures and strategies that we should be encouraged to use or common problematic argumentative patterns that we should avoid? -/- This volume brings together leading moral philosophers to consider these questions systematically. The chapters investigate the prospects of empirical ethics, outline new methods of ethics, evaluate recent methodological advances, and explore whether different areas of moral philosophy are methodologically continuous or independent of one another. (shrink)