The core argument in favor of the view that immorality is a natural defect for human beings, which has been developed by Foot, assumes that if justice and compassion have important functions in human survival and reproduction, then injustice and cruelty are natural defects in human beings. But this ignores possibilities and results that cannot reasonably be ignored. Multiple and mixed naturally sound types can and do occur in nature. Moreover, research in the life sciences suggests that at least some (...) bad human behaviors, traits, or strategies are selected for and continue to have important survival-and-reproduction-related functions in human life. All this fits poorly with the position that immorality is a natural defect for human beings. Emerging as much more plausible is the competing view that, for human beings, natural soundness sometimes supports behaviors, traits, or strategies that conflict with (any ideal that can plausibly be called) moral goodness. (shrink)
I show, building on Warren Quinn's puzzle of the self-torturer, that destructive conduct with respect to the environment can flourish even in the absence of interpersonal conflicts. As Quinn's puzzle makes apparent, in cases where individually negligible effects are involved, an agent, whether it be an individual or a unified collective, can be led down a course of destruction simply as a result of following its informed and perfectly understandable but intransitive preferences. This is relevant with respect to environmental ethics, (...) since environmental damage is often the result of the accumulation of individually negligible effects. (shrink)
It is commonly held that rational preferences must be acyclic. There have, however, been cases that have been put forward as counterexamples to this view. This paper focuses on the following question: If the counterexamples are compelling and rational preferences can be cyclic, what should we conclude about the presumed acyclicity of the “better than” relation? Building on some revisionary suggestions concerning acyclicity and betterness, I make a case for hanging on to the presumption that “better than” is acyclic even (...) if “is rationally preferred to” is not. As I explain, the divergence my view makes room for does not threaten to make “better than” judgments less relevant to choice than judgments about rational preference. To the contrary, it makes them more relevant. Toward the end of the paper, I extend my results to the relation “is morally better than” in light of the possibility that there might be moral preferability cycles. (shrink)
It is often supposed that, given two potential objects of choice X and Y, a specific set of circumstances, and a specific choosing agent, one of the following must be true: (1) opting for X is a better choice than opting for Y, (2) opting for Y is a better choice than opting for X, or (3) opting for X and opting for Y are exactly equally good choices. My aim in this paper is to show how some philosophical insights (...) concerning color perception can illuminate the possibility of two options, X and Y, being such that, even given a specific set of circumstances and a specific choosing agent, none of (1), (2), or (3) holds, but X and Y are positively related to one another as “on a par.”. (shrink)
It is natural to assume that we would not be willing to compromise the environment if the conveniences and luxuries thereby gained did not have a substantial positive impact on our happiness. But there is room for skepticism and, in particular, for the thesis that we are compromising the environment to no avail in that our conveniences and luxuries are not having a significant impact on our happiness, making the costs incurred for them a waste. One way of defending the (...) no-avail thesis fits neatly with what I will call the exalted view , according to which the key to human happiness lies in the mental (or spiritual) realm rather than in the material realm. After considering this familiar approach to defending the no-avail thesis, I sketch out a very different approach—one that will, I hope, appeal to those who have doubts about the familiar line of defense. The alternative and novel approach builds on a strand of empirical research on (self-reports concerning) happiness that suggests that we are, in a way, quite shallow, and that our happiness depends on whether we are keeping up with the Joneses. I call this view concerning happiness the worldly view . My reasoning suggests that even if the current rift between exalted pictures of human nature and happiness, on the one hand, and worldly pictures of human nature and happiness, on the other, cannot be repaired, it need not hinder agreement on the plausibility of the no-avail thesis; rather, with the rift come two different routes to the same thesis. I conclude that we should take the no-avail thesis very seriously, and that evidence that we are shallow materialists need not be bad news for the environment(alist). (shrink)
Dreadful and dreaded outcomes are sometimes brought about via the accumulation of individually trivial effects. Think about inching toward terrible health or toward an environmental disaster. In some such cases, the outcome is seen as unacceptable but is still gradually realized via an extended sequence of moves each of which is trivial in terms of its impact on the health or environment of those involved. Cases of this sort are not only practically challenging, they are theoretically challenging as well. For, (...) they raise puzzling complications concerning the assessment of conduct. In particular, given cases of this sort, we seem forced to conclude that, sometimes, each current doing in an extended sequence of moves can be correctly assessed as permissible (relative to a certain set of concerns) even though the sequence foreseeably leads to an outcome that is unacceptable (relative to that same set of concerns) and even though acceptable outcomes are available. And this seems paradoxical. I argue that this (apparent) puzzle glosses over complications associated with action individuation and units of agency. Reflection on these complications makes it clear that in cases of the sort that have given rise to the puzzle, there is an accurate way of seeing what is being done at various particular moments that clearly brings out the tight connection between a current doing and non-trivial damage that is to be expected (and is indeed bound to occur if the doing is completed without a hitch). (shrink)
There is a great deal of plausibility to the standard view that if one is rational and it is clear at the time of action that a certain move, say M1, would serve one’s concerns better than any other available move, then one will, as a rational agent, opt for move M1. Still, this view concerning rationality has been challenged at least in part because it seems to conflict with our considered judgments about what it is rational to do in (...) cases of temptation that share the structure of Warren Quinn’s self-torturer case. I argue that there is a way to accomodate our considered judgments about the relevant cases of temptation without giving up the standard view or dismissing, as in some way rationally defective, the concerns of the agents in the relevant cases. My reasoning relies on the idea that, at least in some cases, whether an action serves one’s concerns well depends on what action(s) or course(s) of action it is part of. In the final section of the paper, I explain how this idea sheds light on an important source of frustration in collective decision-making. (shrink)
Sometimes a series of choices do not serve one's concerns well even though each choice in the series seems perfectly well suited to serving one's concerns. In such cases, one has a dynamic choice problem. Otherwise put, one has a problem related to the fact that one's choices are spread out over time. This survey reviews some of the challenging choice situations and problematic preference structures that can prompt dynamic choice problems. It also reviews some proposed solutions, and explains how (...) some familiar but potentially puzzling phenomena — including, for example, self-destructive addictive behavior and dangerous environmental destruction — have been illuminated by dynamic choice theory. (shrink)
This paper draws a distinction between two closely related conceptions of 'preference' that is of great significance relative to a set of interrelated debates in rational choice theory. The distinction is particularly illuminating in relation to the idea that there is a rational defect inherent in individuals with intransitive preferences and, relatedly, in democratic collectives. I use the distinction to show that things are more complicated than they seem.
The money-pump argument figures as the staple argument in support of the view that cyclic preferences are irrational. According to a prominent way of understanding the argument, it is grounded in the assumption that it is irrational to make choices that lead one to a dispreferred alternative. My aim in this paper is to motivate diffidence with respect to understanding the money-pump argument in this way by suggesting that if it is so understood, the argument emerges as question-begging and as (...) a complicated distraction in the debate concerning cyclic preferences, and that there is a way of understanding the argument that casts it as grounded in a less controversial starting point. (shrink)
I consider the implications of incommensurability for the assumption, in rational choice theory, that a rational agent’s preferences are complete. I argue that, contrary to appearances, the completeness assumption and the existence of incommensurability are compatible. Indeed, reﬂection on incommensurability suggests that one’s preferences should be complete over even the incommensurable alternatives one faces.
Procrastination is frustrating. Because the procrastinator's frustration is self-imposed, procrastination can also be quite puzzling. I consider attempts at explaining, or explaining away, what appear to be genuine cases of procrastination. According to the position that I propose and defend, genuine procrastination exists and is supported by preference loops, which can be either stable or evanescent.
The puzzle of the self-torturer raises intriguing questions concerning rationality, cyclic preferences, and resoluteness. Interestingly, what makes the case puzzling has not been clearly pinpointed. The puzzle, it seems, is that a series of rational choices foreseeably leads the self-torturer to an option that serves his preferences worse than the one with which he started. But this is a very misleading way of casting the puzzle. I pinpoint the real puzzle of the self-torturer and, in the process, reveal a neglected (...) but crucial dimension of instrumental rationality. (shrink)
This article briefly discusses the connection between moral philosophy and moral psychology, and then explores three intriguing areas of inquiry that fall within the intersection of the two fields. The areas of inquiry considered focus on (1) debates concerning the nature of moral judgments and moral motivation; (2) debates concerning good and bad character traits and character-based explanations of actions; and (3) debates concerning the role of moral rules in guiding the morally wise agent.
I focus on the broadly instrumentalist view that all genuine practical imperatives are hypothetical imperatives and all genuine practical deliberation is deliberation from existing motivations. After indicating why I see instrumentalism as highly plausible, I argue that the most popular version of instrumentalism, according to which genuine practical imperatives can take desires as their starting point, is problematic. I then provide a limited defense of what I see as a more radical but also more compelling version of instrumentalism. According to (...) the position I defend, genuine practical deliberation and genuine practical imperatives take as their starting point the agent's intentions and only the agent's intentions. (shrink)
Abstract I challenge the view that, in cases where time for deliberation is not an issue, instrumental rationality precludes myopic planning. I show where there is room for instrumentally rational myopic planning, and then argue that such planning is possible not only in theory, it is something human beings can and do engage in. The possibility of such planning has, however, been disregarded, and this disregard has skewed related debates concerning instrumental rationality.
It is widely held that instrumental reasoning to a practical conclusion is parasitic on non-instrumental practical reasoning. This conclusion is based on the claim that when there is no reason to adopt a certain end, there is no reason to take the means (qua means) to that end. But, as will be argued, while there is a sense of reason according to which the previous statement is true, there is another sense according to which it is false. Furthermore, in both (...) of the relevant senses of reason, it is true that reasons are considerations that ground correct conclusions of practical deliberation and correct advice. It follows that instrumental reasoning to a practical conclusion is not invariably parasitic on non-instrumental practical reasoning. The view that it is results from combining the idea that when there is no reason to adopt a certain end, there is no reason to take the means (qua means) to that end, with the common but faulty assumption that considerations that ground correct conclusions of practical deliberation and correct advice are all reasons in a single sense (sometimes referred to as the normative sense of reason). The assumption in question is implicit in, for example, the work of John Broome, T. M. Scanlon, Christine Korsgaard, and Stephen Darwall.1 Given the common identification of normative reasons with considerations that ground correct conclusions of practical deliberation and correct advice, the position that will be defended in this paper can be expressed by saying that there is not one but two senses of reason for which it is true that reasons are normative.. (shrink)
My aim in this paper is to initiate and contribute to debate concerning the possibility of behavior that is both self-defeating and self-governed. In the first section of the paper, I review a couple of points that figure in the literature as platitudes about (the relevant notion of) self-governance. In the second section, I explain how these points give rise to what seems to be a dilemma that suggests that informed self-defeating behavior, wherein one is aware of the consequences of (...) each choice one makes, is impossible. In the third and fourth sections, I consider two types of cases that appear to be cases of informed self-defeating behavior and argue that one of the cases is a genuine case of self-defeating self-governance. I end with some remarks concerning self-governance, self-defeat, and dynamic choice. I suggest that the notion of self-defeat here employed provides a simple and compelling answer to the question “Are there any diachronic rationality constraints on agents?” The answer (or at least part of the answer) is “Yes, agents must avoid self-defeating behavior.” In section 5, I give reasons for thinking that all cases of diachronic irrationality are cases of self-defeating behavior in the relevant sense. As will become apparent, to the extent that the requirement to avoid self-defeating behavior calls for any cross-temporal coherence, it does so without endorsing a sort of conservatism that can interfere with personal growth and change. (shrink)
I examine current models of self-destructive addictive behaviour, and argue that there is an important place for Ulysses contracts in coping with addictive behaviour that stems from certain problematic preference structures. Given the relevant preference structures, interference based on a Ulysses contract need not involve questionably favouring an agent’s past preferences over her current preferences, but can actually be justified in terms of the agent’s current concerns and commitments.
I argue that procrastination with respect to environmental preservation is in the class of procrastination problems that are particularly difficult to overcome because of the presence of factors that support second-order procrastination. If my reasoning is correct, then second-order procrastination can help explain the distressing fact — assuming it is a fact — that, despite widespread professions of serious concern, the issue of environmental preservation is not getting as much of our attention as it deserves. My reasoning also suggests that (...) improving our situation may require that some of the efforts now focused on promoting concern for environmental preservation be rerouted into tracking procrastination and deploying insights on how to cope with it. (shrink)
This paper focuses on a puzzling but familiar strategy for coping with procrastination that has not yet been analyzed in the literature on that topic. The strategy involves leveraging control. In employing the strategy, we take advantage of the possibility that poor self-control can be a local trait rather than a robust character trait.
Discussion of temptation has figured prominently in recent debates concerning instrumental rationality. In light of some particularly interesting cases in which giving in to temptation involves acting in accordance with one’s current evaluative rankings, two lines of thought have been developed: one appeals to the possibility of deviating from a well-grounded resolution, and the other appeals to the possibility of being insufficiently responsive to the prospect of future regret. But the current appeals to resolutions and regret and some of the (...) verdicts provided face some serious challenges. Building on recent work concerning instrumental rationality, and delving into some important complications concerning human psychology, I revisit the relevant cases of temptation and analyze them in a way that puts resolutions, rational failure, and regret in their proper places. In the process, I highlight and explain the significance of the neglected fact that resolutions can introduce effective anchor points, which can serve agents faced with temptation well, even if the resolutions are abandoned. (shrink)
Is there a mode of sincere advice in which the standards of the adviser are put aside in favor of the standards of the advisee? I consider two sorts of cases that appear to be such that the adviser is evaluating things from within the advisee’s system of standards even though this system conflicts with her own; and I argue that these cases are best interpreted in ways that dissolve this appearance. I then argue that the nature of sincere advice (...) precludes an adviser’s putting aside her own system of standards in favor of a competing system of standards. It follows that, contrary to what some have suggested, it cannot be that practical reason judgments—which are concerned with what an agent has reason to do or not to do and which can figure as advice— evaluate actions from within the agent’s (as opposed to the judger’s) system of standards. (shrink)
A variety of thought experiments suggest that, if the standard picture of practical rationality is correct, then practical rationality is sometimes an obstacle to practical success. For some, this in turn suggests that there is something wrong with the standard picture. In particular, it has been argued that we should revise the standard picture so that practical rationality and practical success emerge as more closely connected than the current picture allows. In this paper, I construct a choice situation—which I refer (...) to as the Newxin puzzle—and discuss its implications in relation to the revisionist approach just described. Using the Newxin puzzle, I argue that the approach leads to a more radically revisionist picture of practical rationality than current debate suggests. (shrink)
I propose a model of intention formation and argue that it illuminates and does justice to the complex and interesting relationships between intentions on the one hand and practical deliberation, evaluative judgements, desires, beliefs, and conduct on the other. As I explain, my model allows that intentions normally stem from pro-attitudes and normally control conduct, but it is also revealing with respect to cases in which intentions do not stem from pro-attitudes or do not control conduct. Moreover, it makes the (...) connection between forming an intention and altering one's deliberative framework transparent, and directly accounts for the fact that while intentions can affect how it makes sense for an agent to reason and what it makes sense for her to do, one cannot make an action that one is tempted to perform worth performing simply by forming a related intention. (shrink)
A variety of strategies have been used to oppose the influential Humean thesis that all of an agent’s reasons for action are provided by the agent’s current wants. Among these strategies is the attempt to show that it is a conceptual truth that reasons for action are non-relative. I introduce the notion of a basic reason- giving consideration and show that the non-relativity thesis can be understood as a corollary of the more fundamental thesis that basic reason-giving considerations are generalizable. (...) I then consider the relationship between the generalizability thesis and the Humean thesis that all of an agent’s reasons for action are provided by the agent’s current wants. I argue that, contrary to a common assumption, there is a subtle and clearly motivated version of the Humean thesis that does not deny, and so is not threatened by, the generalizability thesis. (shrink)
I focus on the idea that if, as a result of lacking any conscious goal related to X-ing and any conscious anticipation or awareness of X-ing, one could sincerely reply to the question ‘Why are you X-ing?’ with ‘I didn't realize I was doing that,’ then one's X-ing is not intentional. My interest is in the idea interpreted as philosophically substantial (rather than merely stipulative) and as linked to the familiar view that there is a major difference, relative to the (...) exercise of agential control, between acting on a conscious goal (even one the agent is not actively thinking about) and acting on a non-conscious goal (about which the sincerely ‘clueless’ response ‘I didn't realize I was doing that’ could be provided). After raising some doubts about the target idea, I consider the two most promising lines of defence. I argue that neither is convincing, and that we should reject the suggestion that the idea is properly accepted as a matter of common sense. Even absent any conscious goal related to X-ing and any conscious anticipation or awareness of X-ing, there is room for counting X-ing as intentional if X-ing is, or is appropriately related to, a non-conscious goal. (shrink)
Redish et al. suggest that their failures-in-decision-making framework for understanding addiction can also contribute to improving our understanding of a variety of psychiatric disorders. In the spirit of reflecting on the significance and scope of their research, I briefly develop the idea that their framework can also contribute to improving our understanding of the pervasive problem of procrastination.
I focus on the mutual advantage conception of justice and on a related Humean argument according to which “the circumstances of justice” obtain only when there is a conflict of ends, a suitable level of scarcity, and rough equality of power. I add to the challenges facing the argument by using a Millian illustration whose significance has not been appreciated in prior discussions of the circumstances of justice to show that, contrary to a key premise of the Humean argument, restraining (...) ground rules concerning entitlement can be mutually advantageous even if there is no conflict of ends or rough equality of power. It follows from my reasoning that, if justice has a place and point when restraining ground rules concerning entitlement would be mutually advantageous, the circumstances of justice can obtain without a conflict of ends or rough equality of power. (shrink)
This chapter discusses the utility of cost-benefit analysis in decision making, specifically environmental decision making. For the purposes of the discussion here, it uses a type of CBA that incorporates two controversial characteristics, namely, the assumption of comparability and the willingness-to-pay measure. The chapter aims to show that the recognition of a well motivated holistic decision-making strategy can shed light on debates regarding CBA. This strategy is concerned with patterns of choices rather than individual ones, and corresponds with two familiar (...) phenomena—the “pricing” of alternatives and the “embedding effect” in willingness-to-pay studies. This chapter also differentiates CBA from cost-preparedness analysis, and concludes that there need not be any inconsistency in pricing alternatives deemed incomparable and that willingness-to-pay studies can be more accurately interpreted as tracking the “preparedness to pay.”. (shrink)
Action theorists and formal epistemologists often pursue parallel inquiries regarding rationality, with the former focused on practical rationality, and the latter focused on theoretical rationality. In both fields, there is currently a strong interest in exploring rationality in relation to time. This exploration raises questions about the rationality of certain patterns over time. For example, it raises questions about the rational permissibility of certain patterns of intention; similarly, it raises questions about the rational permissibility of certain patterns of belief. While (...) the action-theoretic and epistemic questions raised are closely related, advances in one field are not always processed by the other. This volume brings together contributions by scholars in action theory and formal epistemology working on questions regarding rationality and time so that researchers in these overlapping fields can profit from each other’s insights. This book was originally published as a special issue of the _Canadian Journal of Philosophy. _. (shrink)
Moving from simple to increasingly sophisticated candidate cases, I argue against the idea that there can be cases in which, due to no fault of the agent or to any ambiguity regarding how things will go depending on which option is selected, all the options available to an agent are rationally impermissible. Whether there are cases that fit this bill—qualifying as what I will label no-fault-or-ambiguity rational dilemmas—depends on the characteristics of conclusive reasons. My reasoning leads me to the view (...) that a key feature of conclusive reasons is that they capture or ground overall assessments that are relationally significant. I then argue that, while this view does not itself conflict with the most sophisticated candidate cases of purported dilemmas of the relevant sort, following the spirit of the view does lead to a conclusion that blocks counting even these cases as ones in which there is a conclusive reason against every available option. My conclusion is that there is no solid basis for the view that there are cases of no-fault-or-ambiguity rational dilemmas. (shrink)
What should I do? Philosophical reflection on this question has raised a variety of puzzles concerning the nature of ethics and of practical reasoning. In this paper, I focus on some new complications raised by current discussions concerning value pluralism, incomparability, and the nature of all-things-considered judgments. I suggest that part of the debate has proceeded in a way that obscures aspects of how we make good decisions in the face of a plurality of values (and identities) pulling us in (...) different directions. In particular, I argue that the debate has been shaped by a line of thought that does not adequately recognize reason’s role in ensuring that one’s policies and/or habits of consideration support a reasonable pattern of choice. The oversight makes choosing well, given pluralism, more puzzling and challenging than it needs to be. After sketching out the apparent puzzle and considering two recent responses, I defend what I see as a common-sense view of the matter. (shrink)
I focus on David Gauthier’s intriguing suggestion that actions are not to be evaluated directly but via an evaluation of deliberative procedures. I argue that this suggestion is misleading, since even the most direct evaluation of (intentional) actions involves the evaluation of different ways of deliberating about what to do. Relatedly, a complete picture of what an agent is or might be (intentionally) doing cannot be disentangled from a complete picture of how s/he is or might be deliberating. A more (...) viable contrast concerns whether actions and deliberative procedures are properly evaluated on the whole or, instead, through time. (shrink)
One of Bratman’s aims in Planning, Time, and Self-Governance is to develop his insights regarding planning to shed light on temptation. I focus on the main case of temptation Bratman appeals to in supporting his conclusion that it can be rational for an agent facing temptation to stick to her prior plan even if she finds herself with an evaluative judgment that favors deviating. Bratman’s reasoning is meant to be consistent with the priority of present evaluation, and to be sensitive (...) to Smart’s insight that, as Bratman puts it, ‘inference from the advantages of the general habit [of non-reconsideration] directly to a specific conclusion about what to do on the present occasion, once the question of what to do on the present occasion is raised, is fraught.’ My reasoning suggests that, interpreted in one way, the case Bratman uses to make his argument is not clearly a case of giving in to temptation (or else not a case that requires the sort of novel contribution Bratman thinks is needed); and interpreted otherwise, the case does not raise exactly the challenges Bratman suggests it does, and the challenges it does raise are not directly addressed by the solution Bratman provides. (shrink)
According to Marx, "at any given epoch of a given society, [there is] a quantity of necessaries [recognized as] the necessaries of life habitually required by the average worker." The variations in the type and amount of goods recognized as necessary for life between different epochs and different societies is due to the different 'physical conditions' and to the different 'degrees of civilization' and 'comfort' prevalent. In advanced capitalist societies, the necessities of life include a heated dwelling, food, clothing, and (...) access to some means of transportation, be it public or private. However, the average laborer in advanced capitalist societies has access not only to the necessaries of life but to a variety of luxury items as well. For example, the average worker has access to fine food and drink, an automobile, a television, and a stereo system. In my paper, I explain Marx's theory of the nature of capitalist exploitation. I then indicate how the phenomenon described above may be interpreted as evidence against Marx's theory, and then sketch an interpretation of this phenomenon that reconciles it with Marx's theory. My interpretation will suggest that the average worker's access to luxury items can be explained by the necessity in capitalism of reproducing the working class. (shrink)
I review the main models of disability and introduce a line of reasoning that has been neglected in the debate concerning disability and disadvantage. My reasoning suggests that while disablism can and should be combated, success will require more challenging transformations than those featured in the literature.
This paper concerns regret, where regretting is to be understood, roughly, as mourning the loss of a forgone good. My ultimate aim is to add a new dimension to existing debate concerning the internal logic of regret by revealing the significance of certain sorts of cases—including, most interestingly, certain down-to-earth cases involving vague goals—in relation to the possibility of regret in continued endorsement cases. Intuitively, it might seem like, in continued endorsement cases, an agent’s regret must be tied to the (...) idea that the forgone good is no better than the achieved good but is also not fully made up for by the achieved good because the goods are different in kind. But this view is controversial. After describing a challenge to the view, as well as the main features of the debate regarding regret in which it figures, I appeal first to a fanciful case involving a set of ever-better options, and then to a more down-to-earth case involving a vague goal, to develop a defense of the opposing view that, even in continued endorsement cases, mourning the loss of a forgone good need not be tied to the idea that the loss of the good is not fully made up for by the gain of a preferred or incomparable good of a different kind. (shrink)