Judith Jarvis Thomson and others contend that rights are pro-tanto rather than absolute, that is, that rights may permissibly be infringed in some circumstances. Alan Gewirth maintains that there are some rights that are absolute because infringing them would amount to unspeakable evil. However, there seem to be possible circumstances in which it would be permissible to infringe even those rights. Specificationists, such as Gerald Gaus, Russ Shafer-Landau, Hillel Steiner and Kit Wellman, argue that all rights are absolute because they (...) have implicit exceptions, the exceptions being either right-voiding or right-compatible. Specificationists have charged pro-tantoism with preventing rights from being action-guiding, and pro-tantoists have levelled the same charge against specificationism. I show that both charges are mistaken. Pro-tantoists claim that specificationists cannot account for the moral remainder that we recognise in some circumstances and which can be explained by reference to a permissible right-infringement. Specificationists retort that the moral remainder can be explained by invoking compensation-rights. I show that the pro-tantoist claim is true and that the specificationist retort is false on two counts: explanation in terms of compensation-rights is not applicable to all cases; and it fails to account for the moral dynamic in the cases to which it is applicable. The contention that rights are pro-tanto does not conflict with the substance of the contention that rights are trumps, despite claims of specificationists to the contrary. (shrink)
I criticize Brian Earp's ‘Some Writing Tips for Philosophy’. Earp's article is useful for someone who wishes to do well in analytic philosophy as currently practised but it also casts doubt on why such analytic philosophy would be of interest to someone who wants to learn something new. In addition to its good tips, Earp's article contains two bad tips which, if followed, will tend to produce a paper that says next to nothing. I list the two faulty tips, show (...) how the practices of great philosophers and scientists contradict them, then set out some contrary good tips for philosophers who aim to write a paper that makes a contribution to our knowledge. (shrink)
Determinism seems incompatible with free will. However, even indeterminism seems incompatible with free will, since it seems to make free actions random. Popper contends that free agents are not bound by physical laws, even indeterministic ones, and that undetermined actions are not random if they are influenced by abstract entities. I argue that Popper could strengthen his account by drawing upon his theories of propensities and of limited rationality; but that even then his account would not fully explain why free (...) actions are not random. I offer a solution to this problem which draws on Hornsby’s analysis of action. I then borrow an idea of Kant about self-consciousness to distinguish free agents from sub-human animals. I make a brief evaluation of Popper ’s contribution. (shrink)
Neil Levy defends no-platforming people who espouse dangerous or unacceptable views. I reject his notion of higher-order evidence as authoritarian and dogmatic. I argue that no-platforming frustrates the growth of knowledge.
Social science employs teleological explanations which depend upon the rationality principle, according to which people exhibit instrumental rationality. Popper points out that people also exhibit critical rationality, the tendency to stand back from, and to question or criticise, their views. I explain how our critical rationality impugns the explanatory value of the rationality principle and thereby threatens the very possibility of social science. I discuss the relationship between instrumental and critical rationality and show how we can reconcile our critical rationality (...) with the possibility of social science if we invoke Popper’s conception of limited rationality and his indeterminism. (shrink)
Doxastic voluntarism maintains that we have voluntary control over our beliefs. It is generally denied by contemporary philosophers. I argue that doxastic voluntarism is true: normally, and insofar as we are rational, we are able to suspend belief and, provided we have a natural inclination to believe, we are able to rescind that suspension, and thus to choose to believe. I show that the arguments that have been offered against doxastic voluntarism fail; and that, if the denial of doxastic voluntarism (...) is part of a strategy to defeat scepticism, it is inept, because knowledge presupposes doubt. (shrink)
The existence of natural laws, whether deterministic or indeterministic, and whether exceptionless or ceteris paribus, seems puzzling because it implies that mindless bits of matter behave in a consistent and co-ordinated way. I explain this puzzle by showing that a number of attempted solutions fail. The puzzle could be resolved if it were assumed that natural laws are a manifestation of God’s activity. This argument from natural law to God’s existence differs from its traditional counterparts in that, whereas the latter (...) seek to explain the fact of natural laws, the former seeks to explain their possibility. The customary objections to the traditional arguments cannot be successfully adapted to counter this new argument, with one exception which has only limited effect. I rebut four claims that the theistic solution to the puzzle about natural laws is paradoxical, though I concede that one of these claims has merit. I consider four objections to the new argument but find three of them more or less unsatisfactory. The fourth, if successful, would undermine our claims to know the truth about the world. (shrink)
Ethical intuitionists regard moral knowledge as deriving from moral intuition, moral observation, moral emotion and inference. However, moral intuitions, observations and emotions are cultural artefacts which often differ starkly between cultures. Intuitionists attribute uncongenial moral intuitions, observations or emotions to bias or to intellectual or moral failings; but that leads to sectarian ad hominen attacks. Intuitionists try to avoid that by restricting epistemically genuine intuitions, observations or emotions to those which are widely agreed. That does not avoid the problem. It (...) also limits epistemically genuine intuitions, observations or emotions to those with meagre content, and the intuitionists offer no plausible explanation for how inference from such insubstantial propositions can engender substantial moral knowledge. Instead of moral knowledge, intuitionism offers the prospect of mutual name-calling between intellectually stagnant groups. I criticise and reject the principle of phenomenal conservatism, to which intuitionists sometimes appeal. (shrink)
In contrast to eminent historical philosophers, almost all contemporary philosophers maintain that slavery is impermissible. In the enthusiasm of the Enlightenment, a number of arguments gained currency which were intended to show that contractual slavery is not merely impermissible but impossible. Those arguments are influential today in moral, legal and political philosophy, even in discussions that go beyond the issue of contractual slavery. I explain what slavery is, giving historical and other illustrations. I examine the arguments for the impossibility of (...) contractual slavery propounded in the Enlightenment and their offspring expounded in recent writings, including those by Barnett, Cassirer, Ellerman, Rawls, Roberts-Thomson, Satz and Steiner. I show that they involve confusions between abilities and rights, free will and freedom, directing and doing, what may be true sequentially and what may be true simultaneously, default rights and universal rights, impermissibility and impossibility, and metaphorical and literal uses of language. (shrink)
In opposition to the tenet of contemporary action theory that an intentional action must be done for a reason, I argue that some intentional actions are unmotivated. I provide examples of arbitrary and habitual actions that are done for no reason at all. I consider and rebut an objection to the examples of unmotivated habitual action. I explain how my contention differs from recent challenges to the tenet by Hursthouse, Stocker and Pollard.
The permissibility of actions depends upon facts about the flourishing and separateness of persons. Persons differ from other creatures in having the task of discovering for themselves, by conjecture and refutation, what sort of life will fulfil them. Compulsory slavery impermissibly prevents some persons from pursuing this task. However, many people may conjecture that they are natural slaves. Some of these conjectures may turn out to be correct. In consequence, voluntary slavery, in which one person welcomes the duty to fulfil (...) all the commands of another, is permissible. Life-long voluntary slavery contracts are impermissible because of human fallibility; but fixed-term slavery contracts should be legally enforceable. Each person has the temporarily alienable moral right to direct her own life. (shrink)
Strawson offers three accounts of singular predication: a grammatical, a category and a mediating account. I argue that the grammatical and mediating accounts are refuted by a host of counter-examples and that the latter is worse than useless. In later works Strawson defends only the category account. This account entails that singular terms cannot be predicates; it excludes non-denoting singular terms from being logical subjects, except by means of an ad hoc analogy; it depends upon a notion of identification that (...) is too vague; and it is unnecessarily complicated, relying on analogies where a more uniform explanation should be possible. But I show how the account can be corrected to avoid all these difficulties and to provide an accurate account of singular predication. (shrink)
The dominant tradition in Western philosophy sees rationality as dictating. Thus rationality may require that we believe the best explanation and simple conceptual truths and that we infer in accordance with evident rules of inference. I argue that, given what we know about the growth of knowledge, this authoritarian concept of rationality leads to absurdities and should be abandoned. I then outline a libertarian concept of rationality, derived from Popper, which eschews the dictates and which sees a rational agent as (...) one who questions, criticises, conjectures and experiments. I argue that, while the libertarian approach escapes the absurdities of the authoritarian, it requires two significant developments and an important clarification to be made fully consistent with itself. (shrink)
It appears that light may be thrown on the nature of moral principles if they are construed as moral laws analogous to ceteris-paribus laws of nature. Luke Robinson objects that the analogy either cannot explain how moral principles are necessary or cannot explain how obligations can be pro-tanto; and that a dispositional account of moral obligation has explanatory superiority over one in terms of moral laws. I explain the analogy, construing laws of nature as necessary relationships after the fashion of (...) William Kneale and Karl Popper. I then show that Robinson’s objections are mistaken and that if the difference between a dispositional account and a law account is not merely verbal, then it is the law account that is superior. I also dispel the common confusion between the necessity of laws and the existence of forces. (shrink)
It is commonly claimed that the conclusion of a valid deductive argument is contained in its premises and says nothing new. In 'Deduction and Novelty,' in The Reasoner 5 (4), pp. 56-57, I refuted that claim. In The Reasoner, 8 (3), pp. 24-25, David McBride criticised my refutation. I show that McBride’s arguments are unsound.
I present a diversity of theories of freedom which I compare and contrast. I begin with a brief summary of my own recently published theory, which I show to be superior to the other theories considered. I find that there are various weaknesses or errors in the other theories and that my own theory is the only one that gives an adequate explanation of why freedom, or a free society, is desirable.
I summarize a conception of morality as containing a set of rules which hold ceteris paribus and which impose pro-tanto obligations. I explain two ways in which moral rules are ceteris-paribus, according to whether an exception is duty-voiding or duty-overriding. I defend the claim that moral rules are ceteris-paribus against two qualms suggested by Luke Robinson’s discussion of moral rules and against the worry that such rules are uninformative. I show that Robinson’s argument that moral rules cannot ground pro-tanto obligations (...) is unsound, because it confuses an absolute reason for an obligation with a reason for an absolute obligation, and because it overlooks the possibility that priority rules may be rules for ordering pro-tanto obligations rather than rules for eliminating contenders for the status of absolute obligation. (shrink)
I apply Karl Popper’s conception of critical rationality to the question of personal fulfilment. I show that such fulfilment normally depends upon the person achieving positive freedom, and that positive freedom requires negative freedom, including freedom of expression. If the state has legitimacy, its central duty must be the enforcement of those rules that provide the best prospects for personal fulfilment for the people under its jurisdiction. The state is therefore morally debarred from suppressing freedom of expression. I consider and (...) rebut arguments from falsity, harm, offence, and democratic principles, which are intended to show that the state should prohibit the expression of some types of content. I go on to argue that typical university speech codes are incompatible with the aims of an institution of higher education. (shrink)
I summarise Robert Audi's 'Moral Perception.' I concede that there is such a thing as moral perception. However, moral perceptions are culturally-relative, which refutes Audi’s claims that moral perception may ground moral knowledge and that it provides inter-subjectively accessible grounds which make ethical objectivity possible. Audi's attempt to avoid the refutation tends to convert rational disputes into ad hominem ones. I illustrate that with the example of the ethics of prostitution.
A central problem of political philosophy is that of explaining how a state could have the moral authority to enforce laws, promulgate laws which citizens are thereby obliged to obey, give new duties to citizens and levy taxes. Many rival solutions to this problem of political authority have been offered by contemporary and recent philosophers but none has obtained wide acceptance. The current debate takes no cognisance of George Berkeley’s ‘Passive Obedience’, in which he defends the exceptionless duty of not (...) using force to resist the state and offers a rule-consequentialist account of morality which indicates an explanation of political authority as grounded in the social connectedness of human beings. I expound, criticise and develop Berkeley’s explanation to provide a promising solution to the problem of political authority. The solution impugns the political authority of all existing states as well as the duty of passive obedience. (shrink)
The chance objection to incompatibilist accounts of free action maintains that undetermined actions are not under the agent's control. Some attempts to circumvent this objection locate chance in events posterior to the action. Indeterministic-causation theories locate chance in events prior to the action. However, neither type of response gives an account of free action which avoids the chance objection. Chance must be located at the act of will if actions are to be both undetermined and under the agent's control. This (...) dissolves the apparent paradox of Frankfurt-type cases as well as the chance objection to incompatibilist free will. (shrink)
It is often claimed that the conclusion of a deductively valid argument is contained in its premises. Popper refuted this claim when he showed that an empirical theory can be expected always to have logical consequences that transcend the current understanding of the theory. This implies that no formalisation of an empirical theory will enable the derivation of all its logical consequences. I call this result ‘Popper-incompleteness.’ This result appears to be consistent with the view of deductive reasoning as a (...) process of unfurling the content of the premises; but I suggest that the result about validity impugns this theory of reasoning. (shrink)
I distinguish arguments and arguing and I explain some important logical features of arguments. I then explain how philosophers have been misled, apparently by Euclid, into giving seriously mistaken accounts of arguing. I give a few examples. I then offer a seven-step guide on how to argue. After that, I conclude.
I defend pornography as an important aspect of freedom of expression, which is essential for autonomy, self-development, the growth of knowledge and human flourishing. I rebut the allegations that pornography depraves and corrupts, degrades women, is harmful to children, exposes third parties to risk of offence or assault, and violates women ’s civil rights and liberties. I contend that suppressing pornography would have a range of unintended evil consequences, including loss of beneficial technology, creeping censorship, black markets, corruption and extensive (...) social costs. (shrink)
I offer consequentialist and deontological arguments for a competitive market in human organs, from live as well as dead donors. I consider the objections that a market in organs will frustrate altruism, coerce the desperate, expose under-informed agents to unacceptable risks, exacerbate inequality, degrade those who participate in it, involve a kind of slavery, impose invidious costs, and impair third-party choice sets. I show that each of these objections is without merit and that, in consequence, the opposition to markets in (...) organs is an untenable endorsement of death, suffering and the suppression of freedom. (shrink)
Frege proposed his doctrine of unsaturatedness as a solution to the problems of the unity of the proposition and the unity of the sentence. I show that Frege’s theory is mystical, ad hoc, ineffective, paradoxical and entails that singular terms cannot be predicates. I explain the traditional solution to the problem of the unity of the sentence, as expounded by Mill, which invokes a syncategorematic sign of predication and the connotation and denotation of terms. I streamline this solution, bring it (...) up to date and contrast the resulting conventionalist account with Frege’s unsaturatedness account. I argue that the conventionalist account provides a clear and intelligible solution to the problem of the unity of the sentence which is free of the defects of Frege’s account. I suggest that the problem of the unity of the proposition is spurious. I recommend that the notion of unsaturatedness be extruded from serious debate. (shrink)
Schueler has argued, against the eliminativist, that human purposive action cannot be an illusion because the concept of purpose is not theoretical. He argues that the concept is known directly to be instantiated, through self-awareness; and that to maintain that the concept is theoretical involves an infinite regress. I show that Schueler’s argument fails because all our concepts are theoretical in the sense that we may be mistaken in applying them to our experience. As a consequence, it is conceivable that (...) direct introspection of an event as a purposive action may be mistaken. I indicate ways in which the eliminativist may be able to explain why our perception and introspection is afflicted with systematic error. (shrink)
David Miller propounds a theory of objective knowledge from which he mistakenly derives some consequences about question-begging and persuasion that appear to be false. He makes a further claim about persuasion that also seems false. I argue that Miller’s account of objective knowledge is explanatorily weak unless supplemented with an account of subjective knowledge and that the latter enables us to extricate Miller’s theory from the falsehoods he associates with it.
I argue that, because of scarcity, the right to life cannot imply an obligation on others to save the life of the right-holder, and that collectivising resources for health care not only ensures that resources are used inefficiently and inappropriately but also removes from people the authority to make decisions for themselves about matters of health, life and death.
How could a state have the moral authority to promulgate and enforce laws that citizens are thereby obliged to obey? That is the problem of political authority. The Consequentialist Explanation of Political Authority contends that great social benefits depend upon there being a state with political authority. In his book, The Problem of Political Authority, Michael Huemer considers different types of explanation of political authority and he rejects them all. I show that the objections he raises to consequentialist accounts are (...) confused and that they fail to connect with the Consequentialist Explanation of Political Authority. Huemer argues that anarchy of a particular kind would be better than the states that exist in current Western societies. I explain why that argument, if it were successful, would be an effective objection to the Consequentialist Explanation of Political Authority. (shrink)
In Chapter 2 of Escape from Leviathan, Jan Lester defends two hypotheses: that instrumental rationality requires agents to maximise the satisfaction of their wants and that all agents actually meet this requirement. In addition, he argues that all agents are self-interested (though not necessarily egoistic) and he offers an account of categorical moral desires which entails that no agent ever does what he genuinely feels to be morally wrong. I show that Lester’s two hypotheses are false because they cannot accommodate (...) weakness of will, because they are inconsistent with agency, which requires free will, because ends, obligations and values cannot be reduced to desires, and because maximisation is often not possible. Further, Lester’s claim that agents are self-interested is vacuous, his attempted reduction of moral behaviour to want-satisfaction fails, and his contention, that agents always do what they genuinely think to be morally required, seems untenable. A defence of freedom that depends on homo economicus is far from promising. (shrink)
Contemporary orthodoxy affirms that singular terms cannot be predicates and that, therefore, ‘is’ is ambiguous as between predication and identity. Recent attempts to treat names as predicates do not challenge this orthodoxy. The orthodoxy was built into the structure of modern formal logic by Frege. It is defended by arguments which I show to be unsound. I provide a semantical account of atomic sentences which draws upon Mill's account of predication, connotation and denotation. I show that singular terms may be (...) predicates, that it is highly implausible that there is an ‘is’ of identity in natural languages, and that modern formal logic is deficient in that it cannot recognize sentences, including singular existentials, in which singular terms are predicates, or inferences which depend upon the logical role rather than the logical category of expressions. (shrink)
In ‘The Open Society and its Enemies,’ Karl Popper contrasts closed and open societies. He evaluates irrationalism and the different kinds of rationalism and he argues that critical rationalism is superior. Living in an open society bestows great benefits but involves a strain that may in some people engender a longing to return to a closed society of tribal submission and an attraction for irrationalism. Attempts to recreate a closed society lead to totalitarianism. In the light of Popper’s arguments I (...) criticise contemporary identity politics and I show that identity politics is irrationalist and tends to totalitarianism. (shrink)
Cranston argued that scarcity makes universal welfare rights impossible. After showing that this argument cannot be avoided by denying scarcity, I consider four challenges to the argument which accept the possibility of conflicts between the duties implied by rights. The first denies the agglomeration principle; the second embraces conflicts of duties; the third affirms the violability of all rights-based duties; and the fourth denies that duties to compensate are overriding. I argue that all four challenges to the scarcity argument are (...) unsuccessful. I then discuss Eddy’s recent challenge, which makes welfare rights context dependent, but I argue that this also fails because it makes rights unknowable. I conclude that the scarcity argument, restated in the light of the discussion, shows that universal welfare rights, as ordinarily understood, are impossible and I explain the philosophical and practical significance of this conclusion. (shrink)
Edmund Gettier’s three-page article is generally regarded as a classic of epistemology. I argue that Gettier cases depend upon three false assumptions and are irrelevant to the theory of knowledge. I suggest that we follow Karl Popper in abandoning subject-centred epistemologies in favour of theories of objective knowledge.
Contemporary liberal theorists generally support open borders and some argue that liberalism is incompatible with substantive immigration control. We argue that it has not been shown that there is an inconsistency in the idea of a liberal state enforcing such controls and that it may be obligatory for a liberal state to impose substantive restrictions on immigration. The immigration control on which we focus is that concerning people from societies that resemble closed societies, particularly those in which Islamic fundamentalism is (...) endemic. We suggest that, if the threat we envision is real, then a liberal state has a right to limit immigration from such societies. (shrink)
This is a three-page refutation of the Rachels's denial of moral diversity. In sections 2.5 and 2.6 of ‘The Challenge of Cultural Relativism,’ James and Stuart Rachels argue that diversity amongst cultures with regard to moral rules is overstated because all cultures have some values in common. I show that their argument is invalid and otherwise unsound and that cultures differ substantially with regard to their moral rules.
John Searle, in several articles and books, has contended that institutions incorporating status functions with deontic powers are created by collective acceptance that is not analysable into individual acceptance. I point out three self-contradictions in Searle’s exposition.
I explain how Karl Popper resolved the problem of induction but not the pragmatic problem of induction. I show that Popper’s solution to the pragmatic problem of induction is inconsistent with his solution to the problem of induction. I explain how Popper’s falsificationist epistemology can solve the pragmatic problem of induction in the same negative way that it solves the problem of induction.
John Schwenkler asks whether we should shield ourselves from others' abhorrent beliefs. I expound and criticise his discussion and I explain why a rational person who wants to improve his knowledge should not shield himself from abhorrent beliefs.
David Miller claims that every valid deductive argument begs the question. Other philosophers and logicians have made similar claims. I show that the claim is false. Its appeal depends on the existence of logical terminology, particularly concerning what a proposition 'contains' or its 'logical content,' that is best understood as metaphoric and that, given its aptness to mislead, would be better eschewed. I show how the terminology appears to derive from early modern theories of the nature of mind, ideas and (...) reasoning that have since been rejected. (shrink)
I argue that social-contract theory cannot succeed because reasonable people may always disagree, and that social-contract theory is irrelevant to the problem of the legitimacy of a form of government or of a system of moral rules. I note the weakness of the appeal to implicit agreement, the conflation of legitimacy with stability, the undesirability of “public justification” and the apparent blindness to the evolutionary critical-rationalist approach of Hayek and Popper. I employ that approach to sketch answers to the theoretical, (...) historical and practical questions about the legitimacy of government or of systems of moral rules. (shrink)
John Searle, in several articles and books, has contended that institutions incorporating status functions with deontic powers are created by collective acceptance. I argue that collective acceptance can create new status functions with deontic powers only if other status functions with deontic powers already exist, so that collective acceptance can create new institutions only if other institutions are presupposed. So, the claim that institutions depend upon collective acceptance involves a vicious infinite regress. I provide an example to show how an (...) institution of slavery could be created by individual acceptances plus mutual belief about those acceptances. I consider whether an institution could be created by individual acceptances without mutual belief about those acceptances; but my conclusion is largely negative. I contend that the emergence of a new institution presupposes an existing institutional context and I explain how infinite regress can be avoided. (shrink)