Jonas Olson presents a critical survey of moral error theory, the view that there are no moral facts and so all moral claims are false. Part I explores the historical context of the debate; Part II assesses J. L. Mackie's famous arguments; Part III defends error theory against challenges and considers its implications for our moral thinking.
Jonas Olson writes that "a plausible moral error theory must be an error theory about all irreducible normativity". I agree. But unlike Olson, I think we cannot believe this error theory. I first argue that Olson should say that reasons for belief are irreducibly normative. I then argue that if reasons for belief are irreducibly normative, we cannot believe an error theory about all irreducible normativity. I then explain why I think Olson's objections to this argument fail. I end (...) by showing that Olson cannot defend his view as a partly revisionary alternative to an error theory about all irreducible normativity. (shrink)
Technology and responsibility: reflections on the new tasks of ethics.--Jewish and Christian elements in philosophy: their share in the emergence of the modern mind.--Seventeenth century and after: the meaning of the scientific and technological revolution.--Socio-economic knowledge and ignorance of goals.--Philosophical reflections on experimenting with human subjects.--Against the stream: comments on the definition and redefinition of death.--Biological engineering--a preview--Contemporary problems in ethics from a Jewish perspective.--Biological foundations of individuality.--Spinoza and the theory of organism.--Sight and thought: a review of "visual thinking."--Change and (...) permanence: on the possibility of understanding history.--The gnostic syndrome: typology of its thought, imagination, and mood.--The hymn of the pearl: case study of a symbol, and the claims for a Jewish origin of gnosticism.--Myth and mysticism: a study of objectification and interiorization in religious thought.--Origen's metaphysics of free will, fall, and salvation: a "divine comedy" of the universe.--The soul in gnosticism and Plotinus.--The abyss of the will: philosophical meditations on the seventh chapter of Paul's epistle to the Romans. (shrink)
Jonas Olson defends a moral error theory in (2014). I will first argue that Olson is not justified in believing the error theory as opposed to moral nonnaturalism in his own opinion. I will then argue that Olson is not justified in believing the error theory as opposed to moral contextualism either (although the latter is not a matter of his own opinion).
The existence of fundamental moral disagreements is a central problem for moral realism and has often been contrasted with an alleged absence of disagreement in mathematics. However, mathematicians do in fact disagree on fundamental questions, for example on which set-theoretic axioms are true, and some philosophers have argued that this increases the plausibility of moral vis-à-vis mathematical realism. I argue that the analogy between mathematical and moral disagreement is not as straightforward as those arguments present it. In particular, I argue (...) that pluralist accounts of mathematics render fundamental mathematical disagreements compatible with mathematical realism in a way in which moral disagreements and moral realism are not. 11. (shrink)
Experiences—visual, emotional, or otherwise—play a role in providing us with justification to believe claims about the world. Some accounts of how experiences provide justification emphasize the role of the experiences’ distinctive phenomenology, i.e. ‘what it is like’ to have the experience. Other accounts emphasize the justificatory role to the experiences’ etiology. A number of authors have used cases of cognitively penetrated visual experience to raise an epistemic challenge for theories of perceptual justification that emphasize the justificatory role of phenomenology rather (...) than etiology. Proponents of the challenge argue that cognitively penetrated visual experiences can fail to provide the usual justification because they have improper etiologies. However, extant arguments for the challenge’s key claims are subject to formidable objections. In this paper, I present the challenge’s key claims, raise objections to previous attempts to establish them, and then offer a novel argument in support of the challenge. My argument relies on an analogy between cognitively penetrated visual and emotional experiences. I argue that some emotional experiences fail to provide the relevant justification because of their improper etiologies and conclude that analogous cognitively penetrated visual experiences fail to provide the relevant justification because of their etiologies, as well. (shrink)
A classic of phenomenology and existentialism and arguably Jonas's greatest work, The Phenomenon of Life sets forth a systematic and comprehensive philosophy -- an existential interpretation of biological facts laid out in support of Jonas ...
According to the communication desideratum (CD), a notion of semantic content must be adequately related to communication. In the recent debate on indexical reference, (CD) has been invoked in arguments against the view that intentions determine the semantic content of indexicals and demonstratives (intentionalism). In this paper, I argue that the interpretations of (CD) that these arguments rely on are questionable, and suggest an alternative interpretation, which is compatible with (strong) intentionalism. Moreover, I suggest an approach that combines elements of (...) intentionalism with other subjectivist approaches, and discuss the role of intuitions in developing and evaluating theories of indexical reference. (shrink)
Trevor Teitel has recently argued that combining the assumption that modality reduces to essence with the assumption that possibly some objects contingently exist leads to problems if one wishes to uphold that the logic of metaphysical modality is S5. In this paper I will argue that there is a way for the essentialist to evade the problem described by Teitel. The proposed solution crucially involves the assumption that some propositions possibly fail to exist. I will show how this assumption affords (...) a motivated contingentist response to Teitel’s argument. (shrink)
This paper concerns how extant theorists of predictive coding conceptualize and explain possible instances of cognitive penetration. §I offers brief clarification of the predictive coding framework and relevant mechanisms, and a brief characterization of cognitive penetration and some challenges that come with defining it. §II develops more precise ways that the predictive coding framework can explain, and of course thereby allow for, genuine top-down causal effects on perceptual experience, of the kind discussed in the context of cognitive penetration. §III develops (...) these insights further with an eye towards tracking one extant criterion for cognitive penetration, namely, that the relevant cognitive effects on perception must be sufficiently direct. Throughout these discussions, we extend the analyses of the predictive coding models, as we know them. So one open question that surfaces is how much of the extended analyses are genuinely just part of the predictive coding models, or something that must be added to them in order to generate these additional explanatory benefits. In §IV, we analyze and criticize a claim made by some theorists of predictive coding, namely, that (interesting) instances of cognitive penetration tend to occur in perceptual circumstances involving substantial noise or uncertainty. It is here that our analysis is most critical. We argue that, when applied, the claim fails to explain (or perhaps even be consistent with) a large range of important and uncontroversially interesting possible cases of cognitive penetration. We conclude with a general speculation about how the recent work on the predictive mind may influence the current dialectic concerning top-down effects on perception. (shrink)
The debate on the ethical aspects of moral bioenhancement focuses on the desirability of using biomedical as opposed to traditional means to achieve moral betterment. The aim of this paper is to systematically review the ethical reasons presented in the literature for and against moral bioenhancement.
My aim in this essay is largely defensive. I aim to discuss some problems for moral error theory and to offer plausible solutions. A full positive defense of moral error theory would require substantial investigations of rival metaethical views, but that is beyond the scope of this essay. I will, however, try to motivate moral error theory and to clarify its commitments. Moral error theorists typically accept two claims – one conceptual and one ontological – about moral facts. The conceptual (...) claim is that moral facts are or entail facts about categorical reasons (and correspondingly that moral claims are or entail claims about categorical reasons); the ontological claim is that there are no categorical reasons – and consequently no moral facts – in reality. I accept this version of moral error theory and I try to unpack what it amounts to in Section 2.1 In the course of doing so I consider two preliminary objections: that moral error theory is (probably) false because its implications are intuitively unacceptable (what I call the Moorean objection) and that the general motivation for moral error theory is self-undermining in that it rests on a hidden appeal to norms. The above characterization seems to entail the standard formulation of moral error theory, according to which first-order moral claims are uniformly false. Critics have argued that the standard formulation is incoherent since – by the law of excluded middle – the negation of a false claim is true. Hence if ‘Torture is wrong’ is false, ‘Torture is not wrong’ is true. Contrary to what moral error theorists contend, then, moral error theory seems to carry first-order moral implications that by the theory’s own lights are uniformly false. In Section 3 I suggest a formulation that is consistent with the standard formulation of moral error theory, free of first-order moral implications, and subject to no logical difficulties. In Section 4 I consider and rebut Stephen Finlay’s recent attack on moral error theory. According to Finlay the conceptual claim is false because all moral claims – and indeed all normative claims – are, or should be understood as, relativized to some moral standard or system of ends. Moral error theorists thus attribute to ordinary speakers an error that simply isn’t there. I argue that Finlay’s view has some very implausible implications and that it does not avoid commitment to various forms of error theory. This becomes especially clear when we focus on fundamental moral claims. In Section 5 I consider the worry that error theorists’ rejection of categorical reasons proves too much; in particular, the worry that error theorists’ qualms about categorical reasons apply equally to claims about hypothetical reasons, that is, claims to the effect that there is reason to take the means to one’s ends. In my view error theorists such as Mackie and Joyce have failed to pay due consideration to this problem. What the challenge establishes, I submit, is that error theorists cannot just take for granted that hypothetical reasons are metaphysically unproblematic; they must offer an account of hypothetical reasons that shows that they are. I argue that the only plausible account available to error theorists is one according to which claims about hypothetical reasons reduce to non-normative claims about relations between means and ends. (shrink)
Moral particularism is commonly presented as an alternative to ‘principle- or rule-based’ approaches to ethics, such as consequentialism or Kantianism. This paper argues that particularists' aversions to consequentialism stem not from a structural feature of consequentialism per se, but from substantial and structural axiological views traditionally associated with consequentialism. Given a particular approach to value, there need be no conflict between moral particularism and consequentialism. We consider and reject a number of challenges holding that there is after all such a (...) conflict. We end by suggesting that our proposed position appears quite appealing since it preserves attractive elements from particularism as well as consequentialism. (shrink)
According to T.M. Scanlon's buck-passing account of value, to be valuable is not to possess intrinsic value as a simple and unanalysable property, but rather to have other properties that provide reasons to take up an attitude in favour of their owner or against it. The 'wrong kind of reasons' objection to this view is that we may have reasons to respond for or against something without this having any bearing on its value. The challenge is to explain why such (...) reasons are of the wrong kind. This is what I set out to do, after illustrating the objection more thoroughly. (shrink)
In a recent article published in this journal, Kris McDaniel proposes a variant of Peter van Inwagen’s argument against the principle of sufficient reason that makes crucial use of plural grounding. In this response paper I object to McDaniel’s argument. I argue that there is no notion of plural grounding available that is both irreflexive in the sense required for the argument to go through and general enough to formulate the principle of sufficient reason as proposed by McDaniel.
‘Gnosticism and Modern Nihilism’ (published in Social Research , 1952) is indeed one of Hans Jonas’ most famous essays, to which its author reserved very deep attention during his philosophical career. As a former pupil of Martin Heidegger and Rudolf Bultmann, Jonas started to deal with religious topics, and specifically with Gnosticism, from the very outset of his philosophical career in the 1920s. After gaining recognition thanks to his remarkable philosophical-existential interpretation of Gnosticism, he returned to the modern (...) age and its philosophical characters. Principally, Jonas discovered that modern philosophy up to Heidegger and Sartre suffered from a peculiar spiritual disease – namely, nihilism – that he had already traced in ancient Gnosticism and that he intended to reject. Therefore, Jonas’ acquaintance with ancient religion and thinking gave him a deep insight into the modern age and provided him with a first glimpse of what was later to become his biological philosophy. However, whoever could imagine that the idea of tracing similarities between Gnosticism and modern thinking came to Jonas at the beginning of 1950 from the famous philosopher and biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy? In this article, I shall endeavour to demonstrate this thesis by quoting from unpublished documents. However, I shall also try to prove that Jonas did not follow von Bertalanffy’s advice completely. The overall aim is, therefore, both to highlight the origins of an essential turning point in the thinking of Hans Jonas, and, on such a basis, to outline the innovation and originality of his philosophical contribution. (shrink)
The article deals with present day challenges related to the employ of technology in order to reduce the exposition of the human being to the risks and vulnerability of his or her existential condition. According to certain transhumanist and posthumanist thinkers, as well as some supporters of human enhancement, essential features of the human being, such as vulnerability and mortality, ought to be thoroughly overcome. The aim of this article is twofold: on the one hand, we wish to carry out (...) an enquiry into the ontological and ethical thinking of Hans Jonas, who was among the first to address these very issues with great critical insight; on the other hand, we endeavour to highlight the relevance of Jonas’ reflections to current challenges related to bioscience and biotechnological progress. In this regard, we believe that the transcendent and metaphysical relevance of the «image of man» introduced by Jonas is of paramount importance to understand his criticism against those attempts to ameliorate the human being by endangering his or her essence. (shrink)
Ontic Structural Realism is a version of realism about science according to which by positing the existence of structures, understood as basic components of reality, one can resolve central difficulties faced by standard versions of scientific realism. Structures are invoked to respond to two important challenges: one posed by the pessimist meta-induction and the other by the underdetermination of metaphysics by physics, which arises in non-relativistic quantum mechanics. We argue that difficulties in the proper understanding of what a structure is (...) undermines the realist component of the view. Given the difficulties, either realism should be dropped or additional metaphysical components not fully endorsed by science should be incorporated. (shrink)
It is widely acknowledged that some truths or facts don’t have a minimal full ground [see e.g. Fine ]. Every full ground of them contains a smaller full ground. In this paper I’ll propose a minimality constraint on immediate grounding and I’ll show that it doesn’t fall prey to the arguments that tell against an unqualified minimality constraint. Furthermore, the assumption that all cases of grounding can be understood in terms of immediate grounding will be defended. This assumption guarantees that (...) the proposed minimality constraint is significant for all cases of grounding. With its help one can get a clear grip on the relevance of grounding, a feature that will be put to use in the penultimate section. (shrink)
The Received View on quantum non-individuality is, roughly speaking, the view according to which quantum objects are not individuals. It seems clear that the RV finds its standard expression nowadays through the use of the formal apparatuses of non-reflexive logics, mainly quasi-set theory. In such logics, the relation of identity is restricted, so that it does not apply for terms denoting quantum particles; this “lack of identity” formally characterizes their non-individuality. We face then a dilemma: on the one hand, identity (...) seems too important to be given up, on the other hand the RV seems to require that identity be given up. In this paper we shall discuss how the specific characterization of the RV through non-reflexive logics came to be framed. We examine some of the main objections to this version of the RV and argue that they are misguided under this specific “non-reflexive” understanding of the RV. Finally, we shall also argue that this non-reflexive view is not the only option for a metaphysical articulation of the RV: less radical approaches to identity and logic are open. In particular, some of these alternative approaches to the RV we present may be immune to most of the criticisms presented against the non-reflexive approach. (shrink)
What is it that makes a mental state conscious? Recent commentators have proposed that for Kant, consciousness results from differentiation: A mental state is conscious insofar as it is distinguished, by means of our conceptual capacities, from other states and/or things. I argue instead that Kant’s conception of state consciousness is sensory: A mental state is conscious insofar as it is accompanied by an inner sensation. Interpreting state consciousness as inner sensation reveals an underappreciated influence of Crusius on Kant’s view, (...) solves some long-standing puzzles concerning Kant’s difficult doctrine of self-affection, and sheds light on his theory of inner experience. (shrink)
:In this article, we consider contexts or domains in which moral bioenhancement interventions possibly or most likely will be implemented. By looking closely at similar or related existing practices and their relevant ethical frameworks, we hope to identify ethical considerations that are relevant for evaluating potential moral bioenhancement interventions. We examine, first, debates on the proper scope of moral education; second, proposals for identifying early risk factors for antisocial behaviour; and third, the difficult balancing of individual freedom and third party (...) concerns in psychiatry. In imagining moral bioenhancement in practice, we observe that unlike other forms of enhancement, moral enhancement fundamentally asks how the interests and preferences of the individual and the interests of others should be weighed. Highly diverse domains such as education, mental health, and the judicial domain might be involved, and moral bioenhancement might challenge existing institutional settings. Given these highly varied contexts and domains, it appears unlikely that there will be a distinct set of practices that will be referred to as “moral bioenhancement.”. (shrink)
Jonas' philosophical biology is an attempt to overcome the dualism, i.e., the alienation between man and world, which characterizes both Gnostic thinking and the Heiddegerian existentialist approach that Jonas had applied in its interpretation. This dualism leads both approaches to despise or, at least, to neglect nature.Jonas' philosophical biology is intended to provide an insight into the phenomenon of life that is more than a mere reflection of scientific epistemology. Rather, it regards itself as a cognitively significant (...) approach towards the living in its own right. At the same time, philosophical biology is not intended as an alternative to the scientific enterprise, but instead as a desirable and even necessary complement of it. In developing philosophical biology, Jonas additionally aims at securing a place for man in the order of the living that is more than just locating him somewhere in the order of primates. (shrink)
According to Kant each person has an empirical character, which is ultimately grounded in one’s free choice. The popular Causal Laws interpretation of empirical character holds that it consists of the causal laws governing our psychology. I argue that this reading has difficulties explaining moral change, the ‘gradual reformation’ of our empirical character: Causal laws cannot change and hence cannot be gradually reformed. I propose an alternative Causal Powers interpretation of empirical character, where our empirical character consists of our mind’s (...) causal powers. The resulting picture of empirical character allows for moral change and Kantian weakness of will. (shrink)
Habermas’ ‘ethics of citizenship’ raises a number of relevant concerns about the dangers of a secularistic exclusion of religious contributions to public deliberation, on the one hand, and the dangers of religious conflict and sectarianism in politics, on the other. Agreeing largely with these concerns, the paper identities four problems with Habermas’ approach, and attempts to overcome them: the full exclusion of religious reasons from parliamentary debate; the full inclusion of religious reasons in the informal public sphere; the philosophical distinction (...) between secular and religious reasons; and the sociological distinction between ‘Western’ and ‘non-Western’ religions. The result is a revised version of the ethics of citizenship, which I call moderate inclusivism. Most notably, moderate inclusivism implies a replacement of Habermas’ ‘institutional translation proviso’ with a more flexible ‘conversational translation proviso’. (shrink)
The so-called Wrong Kind of Reason (WKR) problem for Scanlon's account of value has been much discussed recently. In a recent issue of Utilitas Gerald Lang provides a highly useful critique of extant proposed solutions to the WKR problem and suggests a novel solution of his own. In this note I offer a critique of Lang's solution and respond to some criticisms Lang directs at a Brentano-style approach suggested by Sven Danielsson and me.
We discuss the idea that superpositions in quantum mechanics may involve contradictions or contradictory properties. A state of superposition such as the one comprised in the famous Schrödinger’s cat, for instance, is sometimes said to attribute contradictory properties to the cat: being dead and alive at the same time. If that were the case, we would be facing a revolution in logic and science, since we would have one of our greatest scientific achievements showing that real contradictions exist.We analyze that (...) claim by employing the traditional square of opposition.We suggest that it is difficult to make sense of the idea of contradiction in the case of quantum superpositions. From a metaphysical point of view the suggestion also faces obstacles, and we present some of them. (shrink)
Perception purports to help you gain knowledge of the world even if the world is not the way you expected it to be. Perception also purports to be an independent tribunal against which you can test your beliefs. It is natural to think that in order to serve these and other central functions, perceptual representations must not causally depend on your prior beliefs and expectations. In this paper, I clarify and then argue against the natural thought above. All perceptual systems (...) must solve an under-determination problem: the sensory data they receive could be caused by indefinitely many arrangements of distal objects and properties. Using a Bayesian approach to perceptual processing, I argue that in order to solve the under-determination problem, perceptual capacities must rely on prior beliefs or expectations of some kind. I then argue that perceptual states or processes can help ground knowledge of the world whether the ‘beliefs’ necessary for perceptual processing are encoded as sub-personal states within a perceptual system or cognitive states, such as person-level beliefs. My argument has two main parts. First, I give a preliminary argument that cognitive influence on perception can be appropriate, and I respond to three lines of objection. Second, I argue that cognitively influenced perceptual states can be instances of seeing that p, which makes the relevant states well suited to help ground knowledge that p. I conclude that a cognitively penetrated perceptual state or process can help ground knowledge under some circumstances. (shrink)
This article addresses the growing industry of retail socially responsible investment (SRI) profiled mutual funds. Very few previous studies have examined the final consumer of SRI profiled mutual funds. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to, in an exploratory manner, examine the impact of a number of pro-social, financial performance, and socio-demographic variables on SRI behavior in order to explain why investors choose to invest different proportions of their investment portfolio in SRI profiled funds. An ordinal logistic regression analysis (...) on 528 private investors revealed that two of the three pro-social variables had a positive impact on how much the consumer invested in SRI profiled funds. Moreover, there was proof of a non-altruistic motive for investing in SRI as consumers who perceive that financial return of SRI is equal or better than "regular" mutual funds, invested a greater proportion of their portfolio in SRI profiled mutual funds. Furthermore, the results showed that women and better-educated investors were more likely to invest a greater proportion of their investment portfolio in SRI. Overall, the findings indicate that both financial perceptions and pro-social attitudes are connected to consumer investment in SRI. (shrink)
Contextualism about vagueness (hereafter ‘Contextualism’) is the view that vagueness consists in a particular species of context-sensitivity and that properly accommodating this fact into our semantic theory will yield a plausible solution to the sorites paradox., But Contextualism, as many commentators have noted, faces the following immediate objection: if we hold the context fixed, vagueness still remains, therefore vagueness is not a species of context-sensitivity. Call this ‘the simple objection’. Absent a convincing reply to the simple objection, Contextualism is in (...) very bad shape. Oddly enough, defenders of Contextualism have said very little in reply. Proponents of the objection have tended to assume that this is because no reply is in the offing—the simple objection is taken to be unassailable. In this short paper, we sketch two replies to the simple objection which result in two very different kinds of Contextualism: Epistemicist Contextualism and Radical Contextualism. With these two theories in hand, the simple objection loses its force. (shrink)