Given that there is a forceful case for thinking that the affluent are morally required to devote a substantial proportion of what they have to helping the poor, Garrett Cullity examines, refines and defends an argument of this form. He then identifies its limits.
Suppose you perform two actions. The first imposes a risk of harm that, on its own, would be excessive; but the second reduces the risk of harm by a corresponding amount. By pairing the two actions together to form a set of actions that is risk-neutral, can you thereby make your overall course of conduct permissible? This question is theoretically interesting, because the answer is apparently: sometimes Yes, sometimes No. It is also practically important, because it bears on the moral (...) status of practices such as offsetting personal greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In this article we propose a criterion for distinguishing between cases where pairing risk-increasing and risk-reducing actions makes each action permissible, and those where it does not: the Principle of Aggregate Risk-Imposition. We work towards this by considering a range of examples that illustrate various illegitimate ways of pairing risk-increasing actions with risk-reducing ones, and asking what goes wrong in each case. We then use this criterion to evaluate GHG offsetting. Is offsetting a legitimate way of removing the risk-imposition associated with GHG emissions, or not? Controversially, we argue that this turns out to depend on the form that the offsetting takes. (shrink)
ABSTRACT We have previously argued that there are forms of greenhouse gas offsetting for which, when one emits and offsets, one imposes no risk. Orri Stefansson objects that our argument fails to distinguish properly between the people who stand to be harmed by one’s emissions and the people who stand to be benefited by one’s offsetting. We reply by emphasizing the difference between acting with a probability of making a difference to the distribution of harm and acting in a way (...) that worsen’s someone’s prospect. (shrink)
These thirteen new, specially written essays by a distinguished international line-up of contributors, including some leading contemporary moral philosophers, give a rich and varied view of current work on ethics and practical reason. The three main perspectives on the topic, Kantian, Humean, and Aristotelian, are all well represented. Issues covered include: the connection between reason and motivation; the source of moral reasons and their relation to reasons of self-interest; the relation of practical reason to value, to freedom, to responsibility, and (...) to feelings. The editors' introduction provides a valuable introductory survey of the topic, putting the individual essays in context. Ethics and Practical Reason will be essential reading for scholars, postgraduates, and upper-level undergraduates working in this area. (shrink)
This paper presents a moral philosophical account of free riding, specifying the conditions under which failing to pay for nonrival goods is unfair. These conditions do not include the voluntary acceptance of the goods: this controversial claim is supported on the strength of a characterization of the kind of unfairness displayed in paradigm cases of free riding. Thus a "Principle of Fairness" can potentially serve as a foundation for political obligations. The paper also discusses the relation between its moral philosophical (...) account of free riding, and a game theoretic or economic account. (shrink)
Three things often recognized as central to morality are concern for others’ welfare, respect for their self-expression, and cooperation in worthwhile collective activity. When philosophers have proposed theories of the substance of morality, they have typically looked to one of these three sources to provide a single, fundamental principle of morality – or they have tried to formulate a master-principle for morality that combines these three ideas in some way. This book views them instead as three independently important foundations of (...) morality. It sets out a plural-foundation moral theory with affinities to that of W.D. Ross. There are major differences: the account of the foundations of morality differs from Ross’s, and there is a more elaborate explanation of how the rest of morality derives from them. However, the overall aim is similar. This is to illuminate the structure of morality by showing how its complex content is generated from a relatively simple set of underlying elements – with the complexity resulting from the various ways in which one part of morality can derive from another, and the various ways in which they can interact. Plural-foundation moral theories are sometimes criticized for having nothing helpful to say about cases in which their fundamental norms conflict. Responding to this, the book concludes with three detailed applications of the theory: to the questions surrounding paternalism, the use of others as means, and our moral responsibilities as consumers. (shrink)
What is involved in weighing normative reasons against each other? One attractive answer offers us the following Simple Picture: a fact is a reason for action when it bears to an action the normative relation of counting in its favour; this relation comes in different strengths or weights; the weights of the reasons for and against an action can be summed; the reasons for performing the action are sufficient when no other action is more strongly supported, overall; the reasons are (...) decisive when it is most strongly supported; one ought to perform the action there is most reason to perform; rational deliberation is weighing reasons correctly; and acting rationally is doing what one has sufficient reasons to do. This chapter investigates various ways in which, on examination, this Simple Picture appears to require modification and refinement. It examines some of the ways in which talk of the weight of a reason may need improvement, looks more closely at the relationship between reasons and rationality, and asks whether there are ways in which a reason can be defeated which are not kinds of outweighing. The conclusion is that while in some respects the Simple Picture does need to be corrected, in others the jury is out. (shrink)
How should we think of the relationship between the climate harms that people will suffer in the future and our current emissions activity? Who does the harming, and what are the moral implications? One way to address these questions appeals to facts about the expected harm associated with one’s own individual energy-consuming activity, and argues that it is morally wrong not to offset one’s own personal carbon emissions. The first half of the article questions the strength of this argument. The (...) second half maintains that a different kind of argument for the same conclusion is stronger. This focuses on the harms that are attributable to carbon emitters considered collectively. (shrink)
This Handbook focuses on value theory as it pertains to ethics, broadly construed, and provides a comprehensive overview of contemporary debates pertaining not only to philosophy but also to other disciplines-most notably, political theory...
What requirements does morality impose on us in relation to climate change? This question can be asked of individuals, of the entire global population, and of groups of various sizes in between. Given the case for accepting that we all collectively ought to be causing less climate-affecting pollution than we do, what follows from that about the moral status of the actions of members of the larger group? I examine two main ways in which moral requirements on group members can (...) derive from requirements that apply to the larger group. But neither of them seems to apply to the case of climate-affecting pollution. Perhaps this is a case where we together act wrongly, although no-one’s contribution to our doing so is wrong. (shrink)
What difference do our decisions make to our reasons for action and the rationality of our actions? There are two questions here, and good grounds for answering them differently. However, it still makes sense to discuss them together. By thinking about the relationships that reasons and rationality bear to decisions, we may be able to cast light on the relationship that reasons and rationality bear to each other.
To what extent can we as a community legitimately require individuals to contribute to producing public goods? Most of us think that, at least sometimes, refusing to pay for a public good that you have enjoyed can involve a kind of 'free riding' that makes it wrong. But what is less clear is under exactly which circumstances this is wrong. To work out the answer to that, we need to know why it is wrong. I argue that when free riding (...) is wrong, the reason is that it is unfair. That is not itself a very controversial claim. But spelling out why it is unfair allows us to see just which forms of free riding are wrong. Moreover, it supplies a basis from which some more controversial conclusions can be defended. Even if a public good is one that you have been given without asking for it or seeking it out, it can still be wrong not to be prepared to pay for it. It can be wrong not to be prepared to pay for public goods even when you do not receive them at all. And furthermore, it can be right to force you to do so. (shrink)
Moral discourse contains judgements of two prominent kinds. It contains deontic judgements about rightness and wrongness, obligation and duty, and what a person ought to do. As I understand them, these deontic judgements are normative: they express conclusions about the bearing of normative reasons on the actions and other responses that are available to us. And it contains evaluative judgements about goodness and badness. Prominent among these are the judgements that evaluate the quality of our responsiveness to morally relevant reasons. (...) We have a rich vocabulary for making such evaluations – our vocabulary of aretaic terms. Aretaic terms are those which can be used to attribute virtues: terms such as “kind”, “honest”, “fair”, “tolerant” and “reliable”. However, while they can be used to attribute virtues, they have other uses too; and they can be applied not only to persons but also to various states of persons, to actions and other responses, and to patterns of response. In this paper, I offer an account of the relationship between some of the principal uses of aretaic terms; and I show how a useful taxonomy of moral virtues can be generated from the thought that these are ways of being well oriented to morally relevant reasons. (shrink)
A familiar part of ordinary moral thought is this idea: when other people are doing something worthwhile together, there is a reason for you to join in on the same terms as them. Morality does not tell you that you must always do this; but it exerts some pressure on you to join in. Suppose we take this idea seriously: just how should it be developed and applied? More particularly, just which groups and which actions are the ones with respect (...) to which you have participatory moral reasons? And just when is it wrong not to join in? I present answers to these questions, and discuss the implications—including for joint action on a very large scale, like global efforts to address climate change or fight a pandemic. (shrink)
There can be situations in which, if I contribute to a pool of resources for helping a large number of people, the difference that my contribution makes to any of the people helped from the pool will be imperceptible at best, and maybe even non-existent. And this can be the case where it is also true that giving the same amount directly to one of the intended beneficiaries of the pool would have made a very large difference to her. Can (...) non-contribution to the pool be morally justified on this ground? I argue that it cannot. For, first, this line of thought leaves unaffected any reasons for holding that failing to perform the direct action of benefiting someone greatly would be wrong. But the pooling system of helping people is often better than a system separating the help which is given — better because of the perceptible difference it makes to its beneficiaries. If so, failing to contribute to the pool will be at least as wrong as failing to have helped directly would have been. The paper clarifies and defends an argument of this form, showing how it can be formulated in a way that avoids apparent counterexamples, and identifying the assumptions on which it rests. (shrink)
This paper argues that it is morally wrong for the affluent not to contribute money or time to famine relief. It begins by endorsing an important methodological line of objection against the most prominent philosophical advocate of this claim, Peter Singer. This objection attacks his strategy of invoking a principle the acceptability of which is apparently based upon its conformity with "intuitive" moral judgements in order to defend a strongly counterintuitive conclusion. However, what follows is an argument for that counterintuitive (...) conclusion which claims to circumvent the methodological objection, and moreover without having to resort to a justificational ethical theory. How can this be done? Merely by appealing, it is maintained, to the simple practical considerations which are characteristic of the virtues of kindness and justice. Accordingly, an account of those virtues, outlining the structure of the practical reasoning of their possessors, occupies a central place in the argument. The paper displays the resources for normative argument of a "virtue ethics;" but it claims also that its conclusion cannot be escaped by the adherents of any plausible moral outlook. And this yields a further conclusion. All moral outlooks, and not only those which equate the moral point of view with the impartial point of view, face a "problem of demandingness" - for it seems to be a corollary of the argument that if one is to be living a life which is not immoral, one is precluded from pursuing practically any source of personal satisfaction. (shrink)
Can one fact deprive another of the status of a reason for action—a status the second fact would have had, but for the presence of the first? Claims of this kind are often made, but they face substantial obstacles. This article sets out those obstacles but then argues that there are at least three different ways in which this does happen.
Most of us think that it can be wrong not to help someone in chronic need — someone whose life you could easily save, say. And many of us find it hard to see how the remoteness of needy people, either physical, social or psychological, should make a difference to this. Maybe it makes a difference to how wrong it is not to help, but it is hard to see how it can make a difference to whether not helping is (...) wrong. (shrink)
Moral evaluation is concerned with the attribution of values whose distinction into two broad groups has become familiar. On the one hand, there are the most general moral values of lightness, wrongness, goodness, badness, and what ought to be or to be done. On the other, there is a great diversity of more specific moral values which these objects can have: of being a theft, for instance, or a thief; of honesty, reliability or callousness. Within the recent body of work (...) attempting to restore to the virtues a central place in ethical thinking, two claims stand out. One is that, of these two kinds of values, the specific ones are explanatorily prior to the general – that if an action is wrong, it is because it is wrong in one of those specific respects. A second claim, though, is now standardly made definitive of ‘Virtue ethics’: that amongst the specific values, the value of character is explanatorily prior to that of action – that if an action is callous, say, it is because it expresses callousness of character – and that in this sense, the moral value of action derives from that of character. This second claim has been widely attacked; in what follows, I present a reason for believing that, at least in the case of callousness, it is right. (shrink)
This critical study of John Broome’s Rationality Through Reasoning raises some questions about the various requirements of rationality Broome formulates, pointing out some apparent gaps and counterexamples; proposes a general description of rationality that is broadly consistent with Broome’s requirements while providing them with a unifying justification, filling the gaps, and removing the counterexamples; and presents two objections to the book’s broader argument concerning the nature and importance of reasoning.
Weak particularism about reasons is the view that the normative valency of some descriptive considerations varies, while others have an invariant normative valency. A defence of this view needs to respond to arguments that a consideration cannot count in favour of any action unless it counts in favour of every action. But it cannot resort to a global holism about reasons, if it claims that there are some examples of invariant valency. This paper argues for weak particularism, and presents a (...) framework for understanding the relationships between practical reasons. A central part of this framework is the idea that there is an important kind of reason-a 'presumptive reason'-which need not be conclusive, but which is neither pro tanto nor prima facie. /// [Richard Holton] Should particularists about ethics claim that moral principles are never true? Or should they rather claim that any finite set of principles will not be sufficient to capture ethics? This paper explores and defends the possibility of embracing the second of these claims whilst rejecting the first, a position termed 'principled particularism'. The main argument that particularists present for their position-the argument that holds that any moral conclusion can be superseded by further considerations-is quite compatible with principled particularism; indeed, it is compatible with the idea that every true moral conclusion can be shown to follow deductively from a finite set of premises. Whilst it is true that these premises must contain implicit ceteris paribus clauses, this does not render the arguments trivial. On the contrary, they can do important work in justifying moral conclusions. Finally the approach is briefly applied to the related field of jurisprudence. (shrink)
In Paradise Lost, Satan’s first sight of Eve in Eden renders him “Stupidly good”: his state is one of admirable yet inarticulate responsiveness to reasons. Turning from fiction to real life, I argue that this is an important moral phenomenon, but one that has limits. The essay examines three questions about the relation between having a reason and saying what it is – between normativity and articulacy. Is it possible to have and respond to morally relevant reasons without being able (...) to articulate them? Can moral inarticulacy be good, and if so, what is the value of moral articulacy? And thirdly, can moral philosophy help us to be good? I argue that morality has an inarticulacy-accepting part, an articulacy-encouraging part, an articulacy-surpassing part and an articulacy-discouraging part. Along the way, an account is proposed of what it is to respond to the reasons that make up the substance of morality. (shrink)
According to most substantive axiological theories – theories telling us which things are good and bad – pleasure is nonderivatively good. This seems to imply that it is always good, even when directed towards a bad object, such as another person’s suffering. This implication is accepted by the Mainstream View about misdirected pleasures: it holds that when someone takes pleasure in another person’s suffering, his being pleased is good, although his being pleased by suffering is bad. This view gains some (...) of its popularity from the advantages of an axiological theory that is structured in the way advocated by Brentano. However, I argue that we should reject the Mainstream View, in favour of an alternative suggested by Aristotle: this distinguishes between nonderivative goodness and exceptionless goodness. When it is good, being pleased is good nonderivatively – but it is not always good. The aim of the paper is to show how a Brentano-style theory can be modified to accommodate this alternative view, and how that supports a case for accepting it. (shrink)
Are there good grounds for thinking that the moral values of action are to be derived from those of character? This virtue ethical claim is sometimes thought of as a kind of normative ethical theory; sometimes as form of opposition to any such theory. However, the best case to be made for it supports neither of these claims. Rather, it leads us to a distinctive view in moral epistemology: the view that my warrant for a particular moral judgement derives from (...) my warrant for believing that I am a good moral judge. This view seems to confront a regress-problem. For the belief that I am a good moral judge is itself a particular moral judgement. So it seems that, on this view, I need to derive my warrant for believing that I am a good moral judge from my warrant for believing that I am a good judge of moral judges; and so on. I show how this worry can be met, and trace the implications of the resulting view for warranted moral judgement. (shrink)
Weak particularism about reasons is the view that the normative valency of some descriptive considerations varies, while others have an invariant normative valency. A defence of this view needs to respond to arguments that a consideration cannot count in favour of any action unless it counts in favour of every action. But it cannot resort to a global holism about reasons, if it claims that there are some examples of invariant valency. This paper argues for weak particularism, and presents a (...) framework for understanding the relationships between practical reasons. A central part of this framework is the idea that there is an important kind of reason-a 'presumptive reason'-which need not be conclusive, but which is neither pro tanto nor prima facie. (shrink)
What is the significance of empirical work on moral judgement for moral philosophy? Although the more radical conclusions that some writers have attempted to draw from this work are overstated, few areas of moral philosophy can remain unaffected by it. The most important question it raises is in moral epistemology. Given the explanation of our moral experience, how far can we trust it? Responding to this, the view defended here emphasizes the interrelatedness of moral psychology and moral epistemology. On this (...) view, the empirical study of moral judgement does have important implications for moral philosophy. But moral philosophy also has important implications for the empirical study of moral judgement. (shrink)
The circumstances that create the need for humanitarian action are rarely morally neutral. The extremes of deprivation and want that demand a humanitarian response are often themselves directly caused by acts of war, persecution or misgovernment. And even when the direct causes lie elsewhere—when suffering and loss are caused by natural disaster, endemic disease or poverty of natural resources—the explanations of why some people are afflicted, and not others, are not morally neutral. It is those without economic or political power (...) who starve in famines, those who inhabit the most marginal areas who are killed by floods and landslides, those without access to basic education and health care who die from easily preventable diseases. The societies in which these things can happen are unjust, and the injustice of disempowerment is both itself one of the universal afflictions of poverty and a condition of its many other vulnerabilities. (shrink)
For many of the moral beliefs we hold, we know that other people hold moral beliefs that contradict them. If you think that moral beliefs can be correct or incorrect, what difference should your awareness of others’ disagreement make to your conviction that you, and not those who think otherwise, have the correct belief? Are there circumstances in which an awareness of others’ disagreement should lead you to suspend a moral belief? If so, what are they, and why? This paper (...) argues that three principles, taken together, give us a good answer to these questions; that they license a form of provisional moral self-trust; and that they reveal an interestingly distinctive form of pragmatic encroachment in relation to the epistemic standards governing moral belief. (shrink)
What constraints should be imposed on individual liberty for the sake of protecting our collective security? A helpful approach to answering this question is offered by a theory that grounds political obligation and authority in a moral requirement of fair contribution to mutually beneficial cooperative schemes. This approach encourages us to split the opening question into two—a question of correctness and a question of legitimacy—and generates a detailed set of answers to both subsidiary questions, with a nuanced and plausible set (...) of implications. The plausibility of its treatment of the issues surrounding liberty and security, I argue, helps to confer credibility on the fairness-based theory that carries these implications. (shrink)