This essay focuses on three recent books on morality and virtue, Michael Slote's 'Morals from Motives', Rosalind Hursthouse's 'On Virtue Ethics', and Philippa Foot's 'Natural Goodness'. Slote proposes an "agent-based" ethical theory according to which the ethical status of acts is derivative from assessments of virtue. Following Foot's lead, Hursthouse aims to vindicate an ethical naturalism that explains human goodness on the basis of views about human nature. Both Hursthouse and Slote take virtue to be morally basic in a way (...) that Foot, to her credit, does not. We argue that all three views face a range of serious difficulties. (shrink)
Libertarian self-ownership views have traditionally maintained that we enjoy very powerful deontological protections against any infringement upon our property. This stringency yields very counter-intuitive results when we consider trivial infringements such as very mildly toxic pollution or trivial risks such having planes fly overhead. Maintaining that other people's rights against all infringements are very powerful threatens to undermine our liberty, as Nozick saw. In this paper I consider the most sophisticated attempts to rectify this problem within a libertarian self-ownership framework. (...) I argue that all of these responses are significantly flawed. (shrink)
Consequentialism, many philosophers have claimed, asks too much of us to be a plausible ethical theory. Indeed, the theory's severe demandingness is often claimed to be its chief flaw. My thesis is that as we come to better understand this objection, we see that, even if it signals or tracks the existence of a real problem for Consequentialism, it cannot itself be a fundamental problem with the view. The objection cannot itself provide good reason to break with Consequentialism, because it (...) must presuppose prior and independent breaks with the view. The way the objection measures the demandingness of an ethical theory reflects rather than justifies being in the grip of key anti-Consequentialist conclusions. We should reject Consequentialism independently of the Objection or not at all. Thus, we can reduce by one the list of worrisome fundamental complaints against Consequentialism. (shrink)
Can we adequately account for our reasons of mere taste without holding that our desires ground such reasons? Recently, Scanlon and Parfit have argued that we can, pointing to pleasure and pain as the grounds of such reasons. In this paper I take issue with each of their accounts. I conclude that we do not yet have a plausible rival to a desire-based understanding of the grounds of such reasons.
The proposal I offer attempts to remedy the inadequacies of exclusive focus on well-being for moral purposes. The proposal is this: We should allow the agent to decide for herself where she wants to throw the weight that is her due in moral reflection, with the proviso that she understands the way that her weight will be aggregated with others in reaching a moral outcome. I will call this the "autonomy principle." The autonomy principle, I claim, provides the consequentialist's best (...) prospect for taking people into account morally in a way that they endorse. (shrink)
David Enoch, in Taking Morality Seriously, argues for a broad normative asymmetry between how we should behave when disagreeing about facts and how we should behave when disagreeing due to differing preferences. Enoch claims that moral disputes have the earmarks of a factual dispute rather than a preference dispute and that this makes more plausible a realist understanding of morality. We try to clarify what such claims would have to look like to be compelling and we resist his main conclusions.
David Sobel defends subjectivism about well-being and reasons for action: the idea that normativity flows from what an agent cares about, that something is valuable because it is valued. In these essays Sobel explores the tensions between subjective views of reasons and morality, and concludes that they do not undermine subjectivism.
These days, just about every philosophical debate seems to generate a position labeled internalism. The debate I will be joining in this essay concerns reasons for action and their connection, or lack of connection, to motivation. The internalist position in this debate posits a certain essential connection between reasons and motivation, while the externalist position denies such a connection. This debate about internalism overlaps an older debate between Humeans and Kantians about the exclusive reason-giving power of desires. As we will (...) see, however, while these debates overlap, the new debate is importantly different from the old debate. (shrink)
We argue that Parfit's "Triviality Objection" against some naturalistic views of normativity is not compelling. We think that once one accepts, as one should, that identity statements can be informative in virtue of their pragmatics and not only in virtue of their semantics, Parfit's case against naturalism can be overcome.
Derek Parfit, in On What Matters, argues that all subjective accounts of normative reasons for action are false. This chapter focuses on his “Agony Argument.” The first premise of the Agony Argument is that we necessarily have current reasons to avoid our own future agony. Its second premise is that subjective accounts cannot vindicate this fact. So, the argument concludes, subjective accounts must be rejected. This chapter accepts the first premise of this argument and that it is valid. The main (...) thesis of this chapter is that subjectivists can account for our reasons to get pleasure and avoid agony. The chapter concludes that the Agony Argument does not justify the rejection of subjective accounts. The chapter also examines Parfit's understanding of the distinction between objective and subjective theories. The chapter claims Parfit offers a surprisingly narrow understanding of subjectivism such that even if his critique were successful, this would be bad news for fewer theories than we might have thought. Finally, the chapter replies to some possible worries about the arguments of this chapter. (shrink)
My favorite thing about this paper is that I think I usefully explicate and then mess with Bernard Williams's attempt to explain how his internalism is compatible with our ordinary practices of blame. There are a surprising number of things wrong with Williams's position. Of course that leaves my own favored subjectivism in a pickle, but still...
Libertarian self-ownership views in the tradition of Locke, Nozick, and the left-libertarians have supposed that we enjoy very powerful deontological protections against infringing upon our property. Such a conception makes sense when we are focused on property that is very important to its owner, such as a person’s kidney. However, this stringency of our property rights is harder to credit when we consider more trivial infringements such as very mildly toxic pollution or trivial risks such having planes fly overhead. Maintaining (...) that our rights against all infringements are very powerful threatens to implausibly make such pollution and trivial risk broadly impermissible. This paper suggests that self-ownership views have tended to inappropriately conflate the seriousness of different types of infringements and that treating all infringements so seriously is implausible because it would make too much impermissible. I consider several ways to avoid this result within a self-ownership framework and conclude that the best approach is to allow that the strength of the protection against infringements should be tied to the seriousness of the harm of the infringement. (shrink)
We outline a cognitive and computational account of causal learning in children. We propose that children employ specialized cognitive systems that allow them to recover an accurate “causal map” of the world: an abstract, coherent representation of the causal relations among events. This kind of knowledge can be perspicuously represented by the formalism of directed graphical causal models, or “Bayes nets”. Human causal learning and inference may involve computations similar to those for learnig causal Bayes nets and for predicting with (...) them. Preliminary experimental results suggest that 2- to 4-year-old children spontaneously construct new causal maps and that their learning is consistent with the Bayes-Net formalism. (shrink)
People are adept at inferring novel causal relations, even from only a few observations. Prior knowledge about the probability of encountering causal relations of various types and the nature of the mechanisms relating causes and effects plays a crucial role in these inferences. We test a formal account of how this knowledge can be used and acquired, based on analyzing causal induction as Bayesian inference. Five studies explored the predictions of this account with adults and 4-year-olds, using tasks in which (...) participants learned about the causal properties of a set of objects. The studies varied the two factors that our Bayesian approach predicted should be relevant to causal induction: the prior probability with which causal relations exist, and the assumption of a deterministic or a probabilistic relation between cause and effect. Adults’ judgments (Experiments 1, 2, and 4) were in close correspondence with the quantitative predictions of the model, and children’s judgments (Experiments 3 and 5) agreed qualitatively with this account. (shrink)
Many philosophers maintain that neither one’s reasons for action nor well-being are ever grounded in facts about what we desire or favor. Yet our reasons to eat a flavor of ice cream we like rather than one we do not seem an obvious counter-example. I argue that there is no getting around such examples and that therefore a fully stance independent account of the grounding of our reasons is implausible. At least in matters of mere taste our “stance” plays a (...) normative role in grounding reasons. (shrink)
What are our reasons for acting? Morality purports to give us these reasons, and so do norms of prudence and the laws of society. The theory of practical reason assesses the authority of these potentially competing claims, and for this reason philosophers with a wide range of interests have converged on the topic of reasons for action. This volume contains eleven essays on practical reason by leading and emerging philosophers. Topics include the differences between practical and theoretical rationality, practical conditionals (...) and the wide-scope ought, the explanation of action, the sources of reasons, and the relationship between morality and reasons for action. The volume will be essential reading for all philosophers interested in ethics and practical reason. (shrink)
Shelly Kagan and Leonard Katz have offered versions of hedonism that aspire to occupy a middle position between the view that pleasure is a unitary sensation and the view that pleasure is, as Sidgwick put it, desirable consciousness. Thus they hope to offer a hedonistic account of well-being that does not mistakenly suppose that pleasure is a special kind of tingle, yet to offer a sharp alternative to desire-based accounts. I argue that they have not identified a coherent middle position.
Richard Kraut's neo-Aristotelian account of well-being, Developmentalism, aspires to explain not only which things are good for us but why those things are good for us. The key move in attempting to make good on this second aspiration involves his claim that our ordinary intuitions about what is good for a person can be successfully explained and systematized by the idea that what benefi ts a living thing develops properly that living thing's potentialities, capacities, and faculties. I argue that Kraut's (...) understanding of such proper development plays no serious constraining role in shaping the details of the account. If this is correct, Developmentalism lacks the potential to explain or vindicate the intuitions about what is good for us that it champions. In effect, Kraut offers us a list of things that he claims benefits a person, but he lacks a theory of what those things have in common such that they benefit him. (shrink)