21 found
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  1. The Case for Comparability.Cian Dorr, Jacob M. Nebel & Jake Zuehl - 2023 - Noûs 57 (2):414-453.
    We argue that all comparative expressions in natural language obey a principle that we call Comparability: if x and y are at least as F as themselves, then either x is at least as F as y or y is at least as F as x. This principle has been widely rejected among philosophers, especially by ethicists, and its falsity has been claimed to have important normative implications. We argue that Comparability is needed to explain the goodness of several patterns (...)
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  2. Multidimensional Concepts and Disparate Scale Types.Brian Hedden & Jacob M. Nebel - forthcoming - Philosophical Review.
    Multidimensional concepts are everywhere, and they are important. Examples include moral value, welfare, scientific confirmation, democracy, and biodiversity. How, if at all, can we aggregate the underlying dimensions of a multidimensional concept F to yield verdicts about which things are Fer than which overall? Social choice theory can be used to model and investigate this aggregation problem. Here, we focus on a particularly thorny problem made salient by this social choice-theoretic framework: the underlying dimensions of a given concept might be (...)
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  3. Status Quo Bias, Rationality, and Conservatism about Value.Jacob M. Nebel - 2015 - Ethics 125 (2):449-476.
    Many economists and philosophers assume that status quo bias is necessarily irrational. I argue that, in some cases, status quo bias is fully rational. I discuss the rationality of status quo bias on both subjective and objective theories of the rationality of preferences. I argue that subjective theories cannot plausibly condemn this bias as irrational. I then discuss one kind of objective theory, which holds that a conservative bias toward existing things of value is rational. This account can fruitfully explain (...)
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  4. Totalism without Repugnance.Jacob M. Nebel - 2022 - In Jeff McMahan, Tim Campbell, James Goodrich & Ketan Ramakrishnan (eds.), Ethics and Existence: The Legacy of Derek Parfit. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 200-231.
    Totalism is the view that one distribution of well-being is better than another just in case the one contains a greater sum of well-being than the other. Many philosophers, following Parfit, reject totalism on the grounds that it entails the repugnant conclusion: that, for any number of excellent lives, there is some number of lives that are barely worth living whose existence would be better. This paper develops a theory of welfare aggregation—the lexical-threshold view—that allows totalism to avoid the repugnant (...)
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  5. The Good, the Bad, and the Transitivity of Better Than.Jacob M. Nebel - 2018 - Noûs 52 (4):874-899.
    The Rachels–Temkin spectrum arguments against the transitivity of better than involve good or bad experiences, lives, or outcomes that vary along multiple dimensions—e.g., duration and intensity of pleasure or pain. This paper presents variations on these arguments involving combinations of good and bad experiences, which have even more radical implications than the violation of transitivity. These variations force opponents of transitivity to conclude that something good is worse than something that isn’t good, on pain of rejecting the good altogether. That (...)
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  6. The Sum of Well-Being.Jacob M. Nebel - 2023 - Mind 132 (528):1074–1104.
    Is well-being the kind of thing that can be summed across individuals? This paper takes a measurement-theoretic approach to answering this question. To make sense of adding well-being, we would need to identify some natural "concatenation" operation on the bearers of well-being that satisfies the axioms of extensive measurement and can therefore be represented by the arithmetic operation of addition. I explore various proposals along these lines, involving the concatenation of segments within lives over time, of entire lives led alongside (...)
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  7. Calibration dilemmas in the ethics of distribution.Jacob M. Nebel & H. Orri Stefánsson - 2023 - Economics and Philosophy 39 (1):67-98.
    This paper presents a new kind of problem in the ethics of distribution. The problem takes the form of several “calibration dilemmas,” in which intuitively reasonable aversion to small-stakes inequalities requires leading theories of distribution to recommend intuitively unreasonable aversion to large-stakes inequalities. We first lay out a series of such dilemmas for prioritarian theories. We then consider a widely endorsed family of egalitarian views and show that they are subject to even more forceful calibration dilemmas than prioritarian theories. Finally, (...)
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  8. An Intrapersonal Addition Paradox.Jacob M. Nebel - 2019 - Ethics 129 (2):309-343.
    I present a new argument for the repugnant conclusion. The core of the argument is a risky, intrapersonal analogue of the mere addition paradox. The argument is important for three reasons. First, some solutions to Parfit’s original puzzle do not obviously generalize to the intrapersonal puzzle in a plausible way. Second, it raises independently important questions about how to make decisions under uncertainty for the sake of people whose existence might depend on what we do. And, third, it suggests various (...)
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  9. Utils and Shmutils.Jacob M. Nebel - 2021 - Ethics 131 (3):571-599.
    Matthew Adler's Measuring Social Welfare is an introduction to the social welfare function (SWF) methodology. This essay questions some ideas at the core of the SWF methodology having to do with the relation between the SWF and the measure of well-being. The facts about individual well-being do not single out a particular scale on which well-being must be measured. As with physical quantities, there are multiple scales that can be used to represent the same information about well-being; no one scale (...)
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  10. Aggregation Without Interpersonal Comparisons of Well‐Being.Jacob M. Nebel - 2022 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 105 (1):18-41.
    This paper is about the role of interpersonal comparisons in Harsanyi's aggregation theorem. Harsanyi interpreted his theorem to show that a broadly utilitarian theory of distribution must be true even if there are no interpersonal comparisons of well-being. How is this possible? The orthodox view is that it is not. Some argue that the interpersonal comparability of well-being is hidden in Harsanyi's premises. Others argue that it is a surprising conclusion of Harsanyi's theorem, which is not presupposed by any one (...)
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  11. Hopes, Fears, and Other Grammatical Scarecrows.Jacob M. Nebel - 2019 - Philosophical Review 128 (1):63-105.
    The standard view of "believes" and other propositional attitude verbs is that such verbs express relations between agents and propositions. A sentence of the form “S believes that p” is true just in case S stands in the belief-relation to the proposition that p; this proposition is the referent of the complement clause "that p." On this view, we would expect the clausal complements of propositional attitude verbs to be freely intersubstitutable with their corresponding proposition descriptions—e.g., "the proposition that p"—as (...)
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  12. Normative Reasons as Reasons Why We Ought.Jacob M. Nebel - 2019 - Mind 128 (510):459-484.
    I defend the view that a reason for someone to do something is just a reason why she ought to do it. This simple view has been thought incompatible with the existence of reasons to do things that we may refrain from doing or even ought not to do. For it is widely assumed that there are reasons why we ought to do something only if we ought to do it. I present several counterexamples to this principle and reject some (...)
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  13. Rank-Weighted Utilitarianism and the Veil of Ignorance.Jacob M. Nebel - 2020 - Ethics 131 (1):87-106.
    Lara Buchak argues for a version of rank-weighted utilitarianism that assigns greater weight to the interests of the worse off. She argues that our distributive principles should be derived from the preferences of rational individuals behind a veil of ignorance, who ought to be risk averse. I argue that Buchak’s appeal to the veil of ignorance leads to a particular way of extending rank-weighted utilitarianism to the evaluation of uncertain prospects. This method recommends choices that violate the unanimous preferences of (...)
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  14. Ethics without numbers.Jacob M. Nebel - 2024 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 108 (2):289-319.
    This paper develops and explores a new framework for theorizing about the measurement and aggregation of well-being. It is a qualitative variation on the framework of social welfare functionals developed by Amartya Sen. In Sen’s framework, a social or overall betterness ordering is assigned to each profile of real-valued utility functions. In the qualitative framework developed here, numerical utilities are replaced by the properties they are supposed to represent. This makes it possible to characterize the measurability and interpersonal comparability of (...)
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  15. Priority, Not Equality, for Possible People.Jacob M. Nebel - 2017 - Ethics 127 (4):896-911.
    How should we choose between uncertain prospects in which different possible people might exist at different levels of wellbeing? Alex Voorhoeve and Marc Fleurbaey offer an egalitarian answer to this question. I give some reasons to reject their answer and then sketch an alternative, which I call person-affecting prioritarianism.
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  16. Asymmetries in the Value of Existence.Jacob M. Nebel - 2019 - Philosophical Perspectives 33 (1):126-145.
    According to asymmetric comparativism, it is worse for a person to exist with a miserable life than not to exist, but it is not better for a person to exist with a happy life than not to exist. My aim in this paper is to explain how asymmetric comparativism could possibly be true. My account of asymmetric comparativism begins with a different asymmetry, regarding the (dis)value of early death. I offer an account of this early death asymmetry, appealing to the (...)
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  17. Conservatisms about the Valuable.Jacob M. Nebel - 2021 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 100 (1):180-194.
    ABSTRACT Sometimes it seems that an existing bearer of value should be preserved even though it could be destroyed and replaced with something of equal or greater value. How can this conservative intuition be explained and justified? This paper distinguishes three answers, which I call existential, attitudinal, and object-affecting conservatism. I raise some problems for existential and attitudinal conservatism, and suggest how they can be solved by object-affecting conservatism.
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  18. Consequences of Comparability.Cian Dorr, Jacob M. Nebel & Jake Zuehl - 2021 - Philosophical Perspectives 35 (1):70-98.
    We defend three controversial claims about preference, credence, and choice. First, all agents (not just rational ones) have complete preferences. Second, all agents (again, not just rational ones) have real-valued credences in every proposition in which they are confident to any degree. Third, there is almost always some unique thing we ought to do, want, or believe.
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  19. A fixed-population problem for the person-affecting restriction.Jacob M. Nebel - 2020 - Philosophical Studies 177 (9):2779-2787.
    According to the person-affecting restriction, one distribution of welfare can be better than another only if there is someone for whom it is better. Extant problems for the person-affecting restriction involve variable-population cases, such as the nonidentity problem, which are notoriously controversial and difficult to resolve. This paper develops a fixed-population problem for the person-affecting restriction. The problem reveals that, in the presence of incommensurable welfare levels, the person-affecting restriction is incompatible with minimal requirements of impartial beneficence even in fixed-population (...)
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  20. Extensive Measurement in Social Choice.Jacob M. Nebel - forthcoming - Theoretical Economics.
    Extensive measurement is the standard measurement-theoretic approach for constructing a ratio scale. It involves the comparison of objects that can be concatenated in an additively representable way. This paper studies the implications of extensively measurable welfare for social choice theory. We do this in two frameworks: an Arrovian framework with a fixed population and no interpersonal comparisons, and a generalized framework with variable populations and full interpersonal comparability. In each framework we use extensive measurement to introduce novel domain restrictions, independence (...)
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  21. Strong dictatorship via ratio-scale measurable utilities: a simpler proof.Jacob M. Nebel - forthcoming - Economic Theory Bulletin.
    Tsui and Weymark (Economic Theory, 1997) have shown that the only continuous social welfare orderings on the whole Euclidean space which satisfy the weak Pareto principle and are invariant to individual-specific similarity transformations of utilities are strongly dictatorial. Their proof relies on functional equation arguments which are quite complex. This note provides a simpler proof of their theorem.
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