N.B. Dr Bykvist is now based at the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford. The full-text of this article is not currently available in ORA, but you may be able to access the article via the publisher copy link on this record page.
Understanding value in terms of fitting attitudes is all the rage these days. According to this fitting attitude analysis of value (FA-analysis for short) what is good is what it is fitting to favour in some sense. Many aspects of the FA-analysis have been discussed. In particular, a lot of discussion has been concerned with the wrong-reason objection: it can be fitting to have an attitude towards something for reasons that have nothing to do with the value the thing has (...) in itself. Much less attention has been paid to the problem of identifying the relevant attitudes in virtue of which value is supposed to be defined. An old complaint, however, is that the FA-analysis is bound to be circular, because the fitting attitude is best seen as an evaluative judgement or an evaluative experience. In this paper, I am arguing that the challenge to find a non-circular account is deepened by the fact that on many popular non-evaluative understandings of favouring, there are good states of affairs that it is never fitting to favour, because it is logically impossible or irrational to favour them. I will also show that the remaining candidate of favouring, 'imaginative emotional feeling', will generate a new version of the wrong-reason objection if it is put to use in the FA-account. I shall conclude that the prospects of finding a non-circular FA-analysis look bleak. (shrink)
What should we do when we are not certain about what we morally should do? There is a long history of theorizing about decision-making under empirical uncertainty, but surprisingly little has been written about the moral uncertainty expressed by this question. Only very recently have philosophers started to systematically address the nature of such uncertainty and its impacts on decision-making. This paper addresses the main problems raised by moral uncertainty and critically examines some proposed solutions.
This paper argues that we can benefit or harm people by creating them, but only in the sense that we can create things that are good or bad for them. What we cannot do is to confer comparative benefits and harms to people by creating them or failing to create them. You are not better off created than you would have been had you not been created, for nothing has value for you if you do not exist, not even neutral (...) value. (shrink)
What is the prudentially right thing to do in situations in which our actions will shape our preferences? Suppose, for instance, that you are considering getting married, and that you know that if you get married, you will prefer being unmarried, and that if you stay unmarried, you will prefer being married. This is the problem I will deal with in this article. I will begin by explaining why preferences matter to prudence. I will then go on to discuss a (...) couple of unsuccessful theories and see what we can learn from their mistakes. One of the most important lessons is that how you would have felt about a life had you never led it is irrelevant to the question of what you prudentially ought to do. My theory takes this into account. What counts is how you feel about a life when you are actually leading it. (Published Online August 21 2006). (shrink)
L. A. Paul has recently argued that the epistemically transformative nature of certain experiences makes it impossible to rationally decide whether to have the experience or not. We start by explaining why, contrary to what Paul claims, epistemically transformative experiences do not pose a general problem for the possibility of rational choice. However, we show there is a particular type of agent for whom the problem identified by Paul does arise. With this agent in mind, we examine Paul’s own suggestion (...) for how to approach a transformative decision problem, namely, that one should decide based on whether one would like to come to know the experience in question, and we conclude that Paul’s suggestion is no solution for this particular agent. In other words, Paul’s solution does not work for the only type of agent for whom the problem she has identified arises. (shrink)
Accommodating degrees of moral certitude is a serious problem for non-cognitivism about ethics. In particular, non-cognitivism has trouble accommodating fundamental moral certitude. John Eriksson and Ragnar Francén Olinder  have recently proposed a solution. In fact, Eriksson and Francén Olinder offer two different proposals—one ‘classification’ account and one ‘projectivist’ account. We argue that the classification account faces the same problem as previous accounts do, while the projectivist account has unacceptable implications. Non-cognitivists will have to look elsewhere for a plausible solution (...) to the problem of accommodating fundamental moral certitude. (shrink)
The simple idea behind act-consequentialism isthat we ought to choose the action whoseoutcome is better than that of any alternativeaction. In a recent issue of this journal, ErikCarlson has argued that given a reasonableinterpretation of alternative actions thissimple idea cannot be upheld but that the newtheory he proposes nevertheless preserves theact-consequentialist spirit. My aim in thispaper is to show that Carlson is wrong on bothcounts. His theory, contrary to his ownintentions, is not an act-consequentialisttheory. By building on a theory formulated (...) byHolly Smith, I will show that the simple ideacan be upheld. The new theory I will proposehas all the merits of Carlson's theory withoutsharing its demerits. (shrink)
I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to comment on McKerlie's interesting article, especially since it concerns one of my pet topics and provides many helpful comments on one of my own articles on this topic. My comments will be brief because I agree with most of his points, in particular, his criticisms of the prudential view and the present-aim theory. What I want to do here is just to clarify a couple of things concerning my own theory, (...) concede some of the difficulties that McKerlie raises for my theory, and see to what extent his own proposal fares better than my own theory. (shrink)
Introduction -- The nature and assessment of moral theories -- What is utilitarianism? -- Well-being -- Utilitarian aggregation -- A user-friendly guide to action? -- Is utilitarianism too demanding? -- Is utilitarianism too permissive? -- The way outcomes are brought about -- The place of rules in utilitarianism.
Michael Smith has recently argued that non-cognitivists are unable to accommodate crucial structural features of moral belief, and in particular that non-cognitivists have trouble accounting for subjects' certitude with respect to their moral beliefs. James Lenman and Michael Ridge have independently constructed 'ecumenical' versions of non-cognitivism, intended to block this objection. We argue that these responses do not work. If ecumenical non-cognitivism, a hybrid view which incorporates both non-cognitivist and cognitivist elements, fails to meet Smith's challenge, it is unlikely that (...) 'purer' and more familiar versions of non-cognitivism will succeed. (shrink)
Several people have helped us to write this essay. Our greatest debt is to Wlodek Rabinowicz, who has been an excellent supervisor of the project. He spent a lot of time and energy reading drafts of the essay. Without his painstaking criticism and helpful comments this essay would lack in precision, relevance, and logical correctness. Earlier drafts of the essay were discussed in Sven Danielsson and Wlodek Rabinowicz's seminar at the Department of Philosophy, University of Uppsala. The participants of the (...) seminar contributed with helpful criticisms. Apart from Sven and Wlodek, we would like to thank Thomas Anderberg, Erik Carlson, Tomasz Pol, Peter Ryman, Rysiek Sliwinski, and Jan Österberg. We are especially grateful to Erik Carlson. His critical eye detected many flaws in earlier versions of our theory. (shrink)
How do we determine the well-being of a person when her preferences are not stable across worlds? Suppose, for instance, that you are considering getting married, and that you know that if you get married, you will prefer being unmarried, and that if you stay unmarried, you will prefer being married. The general problem is to find a stable standard of well-being when the standard is set by preferences that are not stable. In this paper, I shall show that the (...) problem is even worse: inconsistency threatens if we accept both that your desires determine what is good for you and that you must prefer what is better for you. After I have introduced a useful toy model and stated the inconsistency argument, I will go on to discuss a couple of unsuccessful theories and see what we can learn from their mistakes. One important lesson is that how you would have felt about a life had you never led it is irrelevant to the question of how good that life is for you. What counts is how you feel about your life when you are actually leading it. Another lesson is that a life can be better for you even if you would not rank it higher, if you were to lead it. (shrink)
Act-consequentialism is usually taken to be the view that we ought to perform the act that will have the best consequences. But this definition ignores the possibility of various non-maximizing forms of act-consequentialism, e.g. satisficing theories that tell us to perform the act whose consequences will be good enough. What seems crucial to act-consequentialism is not that we ought to maximize value but that the normative status of alternative actions depends solely on the values of their outcomes. The purpose of (...) this paper is to spell out this dependency claim and argue that it should be seen as the denning feature of act-consequentialism. In particular, I will defend the definition against certain objections that purport to show that the definition is too wide and too narrow. (shrink)
When an act is right or wrong, there may be an explanation why. Different moral theories recognize different moral facts and offer different explanations of them, but they offer no account of moral explanation itself. What, then, is its nature? This thesis seeks a systematic account of moral explanation within a framework of moral realism. In Chapter 1, I develop a pluralist theory of explanation. I argue that there is a prima facie distinctive normative mode of explanation that is essential (...) to moral theory. In Chapter 2, I characterize normative explanation through its formal properties. I then draw on John Mackie’s claim that moral explanations are queer to develop a powerful form of moral scepticism. In Chapters 3–4, I reject attempts to reduce normative explanation to logical necessity, metaphysical necessity, or conceptual necessity. The failure of these accounts is taken to reinforce Mackie’s scepticism. In Chapter 5, I defend a partial analysis of normative explanation in terms of irreducible normative laws. I argue that irreducible normative laws offer a realist, though non-naturalist, answer to Mackie’s scepticism. The existence of irreducible normative laws then is defended as offering the best realist explanation of why rightness and wrongness supervene on descriptive properties. In Appendix A, I discuss the claim the normative explanation has an essential connection to the motivation of virtuous agents. I defend this claim from certain difficulties posed by Jonathan Dancy’s recent work. (shrink)
John Broome's Weighing Lives provides a much-needed framework for the intriguing problems of population ethics. It is also an impressive attempt to find a workable solution to these problems. I am not sure that Broome has found the right solution, but I think he has done the ethics profession a tremendous service in tidying up the discussion. The framework he presents will make it possible for the participants in this debate to formulate their positions in a clear and precise manner. (...) Even people who disagree with him will be helped by this framework, since they will now be able to show exactly where their views differ. (shrink)
Just as we can be more or less certain about empirical matters, we can be more or less certain about normative matters. Recently, it has been argued that this is a challenge for noncognitivism about normativity. Michael Smith presented the challenge in a 2002 paper and James Lenman and Michael Ridge responded independently. Andrew Sepielli has now joined the rescue operation. His basic idea is that noncognitivists should employ the notion of being for to account for normative certitude. We shall (...) argue that the being for account of normative certitude is vulnerable to many problems shared by other noncognitivist theories. Furthermore, we shall argue that Sepielli’s account has its own problems: His favored normalization procedure for degrees of being for has highly problematic implications. (shrink)