In ethics, it is commonly supposed that we have both positive duties and negative duties, things we ought to do and things we ought not to do. Given the many parallels between ethics and epistemology, we might suppose that the same is true in epistemology, and that we have both positive epistemic duties and negative epistemic duties. I argue that this is false; that is, that we have negative epistemic duties, but no positive ones. There are things that we ought (...) not to believe, but there is nothing that we ought to believe, on purely epistemic grounds. I also consider why the parallels between ethics and epistemology break down at this particular point, suggesting that it is due to what I call the infinite justificational ‘fecundity’ of perceptual and propositional evidence. (shrink)
Alexander Miller has recently considered an ingenious extension of Frank Jackson and Philip Pettit's account of 'program explanation' as a way of defending non-reductive naturalist versions of moral realism against Harman's explanatory criticism. Despite the ingenuity of this extension, Miller concludes that program explanation cannot help such moral realists in their attempt to defend moral properties. Specifically, he argues that such moral program explanations are dispensable from an epistemically unlimited point of view. I show that Miller's argument for this negative (...) claim is inadequate, and that he has, in spite of himself, identified a promising defence of moral realism. (shrink)
According to the cosmological argument, there must be a self-existent being, because, if every being were a dependent being, we would lack an explanation of the fact that there are any dependent beings at all, rather than nothing. This argument faces an important, but little-noticed objection: If self-existent beings may exist, why may not also self-explanatory facts also exist? And if self-explanatory facts may exist, why may not the fact that there are any dependent beings be a self-explanatory fact? And (...) if that fact is self-explanatory, why make recourse to self-existent beings? This line of questioning is surprisingly hard to answer, but I find resources for an answer in Bertrand Russell's logical atomism. (shrink)
The Clarke/Rowe version of the Cosmological Argument is sound only if the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR) is true, but many philosophers, including Rowe, think that there is not adequate evidence for the principle of sufficient reason. I argue that there may be indirect evidence for PSR on the grounds that if we do not accept it, we lose our best justification for an important principle of metaethics, namely, the Principle of Universalizability. To show this, I argue that all the (...) other justifications of the Principle of Universalizability on offer, including Richard Hare's, are inadequate. (shrink)
I begin by asking the meta-epistemological question, 'What is justification?', analogous to the meta-ethical question, 'What is rightness?' I introduce the possibility of non-cognitivist, naturalist, non-naturalist, and eliminativist answers in meta-epistemology,corresponding to those in meta-ethics. I devote special attention to the naturalistic hypothesis that epistemic justification is identical to probability, showing its antecedent plausibility. I argue that despite this plausibility, justification cannot be identical with probability, under the standard interpretation of the probability calculus, for the simple reason that justification can (...) increase indefinitely but probability cannot. I then propose an alternative model for prima facie justification, based on an analogy with Ross's account of prima facie obligation, arguing that this model illuminates the differences between justification and probability and, given the plausible assumption of epistemic pluralism, explains them as well. (shrink)
Traditional utilitarianism, when applied, implies a surprising prediction about the future, viz., that all experience of pleasure and pain must end once and for all, or infinitely dwindle. Not only is this implication surprising, it should render utilitarianism unacceptable to persons who hold any of the following theses: that evaluative propositions may not imply descriptive, factual propositions; that evaluative propositions may not imply contingent factual propositions about the future; that there will always exist beings who experience pleasure or pain.
In this article I show that the argument in John Harris's famous "Survival Lottery" paper cannot be right. Even if we grant Harris's assumptions—of the justifiability of such a lottery, the correctness of maximizing consequentialism, the indistinguishability between killing and letting die, the practical and political feasibility of such a scheme—the argument still will not yield the conclusion that Harris wants. On his own terms, the medically needy should be less favored (and more vulnerable to being killed), than Harris suggests.
There is a world-wide shortage of kidneys for transplantation. Many people will have to endure lengthy and unpleasant dialysis treatments, or die before an organ becomes available. Given this chronic shortage, some doctors and health economists have proposed offering financial incentives to potential donors to increase the supply of transplantable organs. In this paper, I explore objections to the practice of buying and selling organs from the point of view 1) justice, 2) beneficence and 3) Commodification. Regarding objection to the (...) Commodification of transplant organs, I examine a number of possible justifications of this objection but conclude that each of these would, if true, rule out the donation of transplant organs or the selling of numerous accepted commodities, or is implausible for some other reason. (shrink)
Charles Pigden has argued for a logical Is/Ought gap on the grounds of the conservativeness of logic. I offer a counter-example which shows that Pigden’s argument is unsound and that there need be no logical gap between Is-premises and an Ought-conclusion. My counter-example is an argument which is logically valid, has only Is-premises and an Ought-conclusion, does not purport to violate the conservativeness of logic, and does not rely on controversial assumptions about Aristotelian biology or 'institutional facts.'.
Why have so many philosophers agonised over the possibility of valid arguments from factual premises to moral conclusions? I suggest that they have done so, because of worries over a sceptical argument that has as one of its premises, `All moral knowledge must be non-inferential, or, if inferential, based on valid arguments or strong inductive arguments from factual premises'. I argue that this premise is false.
I characterise moral intuitionism as the methodological claim that one may legitimately appeal to moral judgments in the course of moral reasoning even when those judgments are not supported by inference from other judgments. I describe two patterns of criticism of this method: ‘morally unserious’ criticisms, which hold that ‘morality is bunk’, so appeals to moral intuitions are bunk as well; and ‘morally serious’ criticisms, which hold that morality is not bunk, but that appeals to moral intuition are nonetheless misguided. (...) I consider morally serious criticisms of Kantian and Aristotelian provenance, but defend the intuitionist method from both. (shrink)
What if human joy went on endlessly? Suppose, for example, that each human generation were followed by another, or that the Western religions are right when they teach that each human being lives eternally after death. If any such possibility is true in the actual world, then an agent might sometimes be so situated that more than one course of action would produce an infinite amount of utility. Deciding whether to have a child born this year rather than next is (...) a situation wherein an agent may face several alternatives whose effects could well ramify endlessly on such suppositions, for the child born this year would be a different person—one who preferred different things, performed different actions, and had different descendants—from a child born next year. It has recently been suggested that traditional utilitarianism stumbles on such cases of infinite utility. Specifically, utilitarianism seems to require, for its application, that all experience of pleasure and pain cease at some time in the future or asymptotically approach zero. If neither of these conditions holds, then the utility produced by each of two alternative actions may turn out to be infinite, and utilitarianism thus loses its ability to discriminate morally between them. (shrink)
The Law of Non-contradiction, the claim that a proposition cannot be both true and false, enjoys a special status in philosophy. Most philosophers think that finding a contradiction – the assertion of both P and not-P – in one’s reasoning is the best possible evidence that something has gone wrong, the ultimate refutation of a position. But what reason do we have to believe this? Some philosophers say that we must believe the Law because any attempt to deny it somehow (...) shoots itself in the foot, logically or practically. For example, Julian Baggini and Peter Fosl have recently argued that any attempt to refute the law actually presupposes it. I consider and reject their argument. (shrink)
I argue that utilitarianism cannot accommodate a basic sort of moral judgment that many people want to make. I raise a real-life example of shockingly bad behavior and ask what can the utilitarian say about it. I concede that the utilitarian can say that this behavior caused pain to the victim; that pain is bad; that the agent’s behavior was impermissible; even that the agent’s treatment of the victim was vicious. However, there is still one thing the utilitarian cannot say, (...) namely that the agent wronged the victim, that they violated her. According to utilitarianism, moral offenses are offenses against global utility, right reason or the totality of sentient beings, but never against individual victims, yet this aspect of the action – that it is an offense against a particular person –is highlighted when we say that this action wronged that woman. (shrink)
Elaine Sternberg's Just Business is one of the first book-length Aristotelian treatments of business ethics. It is Aristotelian in the sense that Sternberg begins by defining the nature of business in order to identify its end, and, thence, normative principles to regulate it. According to Sternberg, the nature of business is 'the selling of goods or services in order to maximise long-term owner value', therefore all business behaviour must be evaluated with reference to the maximisation of long-term owner value, constrained (...) only by considerations of ordinary decency and distributive justice. This stands in sharp contrast to recently popular 'stakeholder' approaches to business decision making. I argue that Sternberg's definition of business, particularly in its maximising and long-term conditions, is flawed, that her teleological method raises more questions than it solves, and that her Aristotelianism cannot be wedded happily to her libertarianism. (shrink)
I present a problem for a prominent kind of conservatism, viz., the combination of traditional moral & religious values, patriotic nationalism, and libertarian capitalism. The problem is that these elements sometimes conflict. In particular, I show how libertarian capitalism and patriotic nationalism conflict via a scenario in which the thing that libertarian capitalists love – unregulated market activity – threatens what American patriots love – a strong, independent America. Unrestricted libertarian rights to buy and sell land would permit the sale (...) of all American territory by private individuals to foreign powers. Patriotic nationalists regard this as outrageous, but libertarian capitalists cannot refuse it. (shrink)
The logical Law of Non-contradiction – that a proposition cannot be both true and false – enjoys a special, perhaps uniquely privileged, status in philosophy. Most philosophers think that finding a contradiction – the assertion of both P and not-P – in one's reasoning is the best possible evidence that something has gone wrong, the ultimate refutation of a position. But why should this be so? What reason do we have to believe it?
Philosophical naturalism is a cluster of views and impulses typically taken to include atheism, physicalism, radical empiricism or naturalized epistemology, and some sort of relativism, subjectivism or nihilism about morality. I argue that a problem arises when the naturalist offers the argument from evil for atheism. Since the argument from evil is a moral argument, it cannot be effectively deployed by anyone who holds the denatured ethical theories that the naturalist typically holds. In the context of these naturalistic ethical theories, (...) the argument from evil typically fails to provide good reason for either the naturalist or the theist to disbelieve in the God of theism. This does not prove that naturalism is false, or that the argument from evil is unsound, but rather that certain naturalists’ use of the argument has been misguided. (shrink)
Some beginning logic students find it hard to understand why a material conditional is true when its antecedent is false. I draw an analogy between conditional statements and conditional promises (especially between true conditional statements and unbroken conditional promises) that makes this point of logic less counter-intuitive.
I try out a tentative hypothesis in speculative philosophy, by sketching a theory of value modelled on John Locke's theory of acquisition. I argue that this theory has all the advantages of Locke's theory of acquisition, but few of its disadvantages. Moreover, it allows us to reconcile two attractive, but apparently incompatible, ideas about value: the real-value idea (that animals, plants, artifacts, and landscapes really are valuable) and the subject-dependence idea (that things have value only in relation to experiencing subjects). (...) As a theory of value, it may be interesting in its own right, but I also argue that it may be of particular interest to theists. (shrink)
I define ethical intuitionism as the view that it is appropriate to appeal to inferentially unsupported moral beliefs in the course of moral reasoning. I mention four common objections to this view, including the view that all such appeals to intuitionism collapse into “subjectivism”, i.e., that they make truth in ethical theory depend on what people believe. I defend intuitionism from versions of this criticism expressed by R.M. Hare and Peter Singer.
I borrow an idea from the fiction of C. S. Lewis that future outcomes may affect the value of past events. I then defend this idea via the concept of a “temporal whole”, and show its promise as a partial theodicy and its resonance with both Christian theism and a robust personalism.
I define ethical intuitionism as the view that it is appropriate to appeal to inferentially unsupported moral beliefs in the course of moral reasoning. I mention four common objections to this view, including the view that all such appeals to intuition make ethical theory politically and noetically conservative. I defend intuitionism from versions of this criticism expressed by R.B. Brandt, R.M. Hare and Richard Miller.
What do Ross’s The Right and the Good; Chisholm’s Theory of Knowledge; Kripke’s Naming and Necessity; and Audi’s The Architecture of Reason have in common? They all advance important philosophical positions, but not so much via analytic arguments as via formal schemas, distinctions, examples, and analogies. They use such formal schemas, etc, to describe the world so as to make some aspect of it manifest. That is, they simply try to ‘tell it like it is’. This ‘method of descriptive manifestation’ (...) is less commonly recognized than it should be given its divergence from the self-image of analytic philosophy. (shrink)
Analytic philosophers often claim that the giving and criticizing of deductive arguments is the main or only business of philosophy. I argue that this is mistaken and show analytic philosophers also use formal schemas, distinctions, examples, and analogies so as to make some aspect of reality manifest. That is, some analytic philosophers sometimes simply try to ‘tell it like it is’. This ‘method of descriptive manifestation’ is less commonly recognized than it should be given its divergence from the self-image of (...) analytic philosophy. (shrink)
Walter Sinnott-Armstrong's recent defense of moral skepticism raises the debate to a new level, but I argue that it is unsatisfactory because of problems with its assumption of global skepticism, with its use of the Skeptical Hypothesis Argument, and with its use of the idea of contrast classes and the correlative distinction between "everyday" justification and "philosophical" justification. I draw on Chisholm's treatment of the Problem of the Criterion to show that my claim that I know that, e.g., baby-torture is (...) wrong, is no more question-begging than Sinnott-Armstrong's denial that I know this. (shrink)
Is it possible to have moral knowledge? ‘Moral justification skeptics’ hold it is not, because moral beliefs cannot have the sort of epistemic justification necessary for knowledge. This skeptical stance can be summed up in a single, neat argument, which includes the premise that ‘Inductive arguments from non-moral premises to moral conclusions are not possible.’ Other premises in the argument may rejected, but only at some cost. It would be noteworthy, therefore, if ‘inductive inferentialism’ about morals were shown to be (...) at least possible. Some philosophers may suppose that inductive moral arguments from non-moral premises cannot get off the ground, but I show that a perfectly legitimate inductive moral argument exists. This argument has non-moral premises and a moral conclusion, its premises are related to its conclusion in the right way, and it avoids some of the problems of other, better-known arguments from ‘Is’ to ‘Ought’. (shrink)
This article is not intended to state what I positively believe to be true, but to make a suggestion which I think it well-worth working out. The suggestion is not altogether unfamiliar, but it has certain implications that seem to have been so far overlooked, or at any rate have never been developed. I do not think that it is the duty of a philosopher to confine himself in his publications to working out theories of the truth of which he (...) is convinced.… It is a part of a philosopher's work, as it is of a scientist's, to try out tentative hypotheses and examine their advantages and disadvantages. (shrink)
I present a short, informal vignette that poses the question of whether altering one's appearance by wearing a wig counts as deception, since in both cases one (apparently) tries to bring about false beliefs in others. The bald-headed wig-wearer tries to get others to believe falsely that he has a thick head of hair. If deception is generally wrong, why isn't wig-wearing wrong also?
The Clarke/Rowe version of the Cosmological Argument is sound only if the Principle of Sufficient Reason is true, but many philosophers, including Rowe, think that there is not adequate evidence for the principle of sufficient reason. I argue that there may be indirect evidence for PSR on the grounds that if we do not accept it, we lose our best justification for an important principle of metaethics, namely, the Principle of Universalizability. To show this, I argue that all the other (...) justifications of the Principle of Universalizability on offer, including Richard Hare's, are inadequate. (shrink)
The best judge of the soundness of a philosophical argument is the philosopher with the greatest philosophical aptitude, the deepest knowledge of the relevant subject matter, the most scrupulous character, and a disinterested position with respect to the subject matter. This last feature is important because even a highly intelligent and scrupulous judge may find it hard to reach the right conclusion about a subject in which he or she has a vested interest. When the subject of inquiry is the (...) soundness of theistic arguments, the best judge will be the most intelligent and scrupulous philosopher who is also disinterested in the soundness of the theistic argument under consideration. I argue that, in this case, the disinterestedness requirement is best satisfied by the theist whose belief in God is “properly basic”, and in the course of defending this argument I uncover a little-recognized desideratum for theistic arguments. (shrink)
Bertrand Russell famously disparaged Thomas Aquinas as having ‘little of the true philosophic spirit’, because ‘he does not, like the Platonic Socrates, set out to follow wherever the argument may lead.’ Like many of Russell's pronouncements, this is breathtakingly supercilious and unfair. Still, even an enthusiastic admirer of Aquinas may worry that there is something in it, that there is something wrong with religious ‘commitments’ in philosophy. I examine Russell's objection by comparing standards of permissibility in epistemology with standards of (...) permissibility in ethics, where these issues are better understood. I conclude that the epistemic standard behind Russell's criticism is no less contentious in epistemology than, say, direct utilitarianism is in ethics. (shrink)
I borrow an idea from the fiction of C. S. Lewis that future outcomes may affect the value of past events, defend this idea via the concept of a 'temporal whole' and show its promise as a part of a theodicy and its resonance with Christian theism.
This paper is an ethical reflection on the real-life case of "Angela", a highly intelligent but severely anorexic young woman who wishes to refuse all but palliative treatment. It is part of CQHE's "Ethics Committees and Consultants at Work" series, in response to the essay, "Starving for Perfection.".
This paper is an attempt to bring some order to a classic debate over the mind/body problem. I formulate the dualist, identity, and eliminativist positions and then examine the disagreement between eliminativists and their critics. I show how the apparent impasse between eliminativists and non-eliminativists can be helpfully interpreted in the light of the higher-order debate over methodological versus substantive commitments in philosophy. I argue that non-eliminativist positions can be defended using Roderick Chisholm's defense of what he calls "particularism" in (...) the problem of the criterion. (shrink)
Bertrand Russell famously said of Thomas Aquinas, ‘There is little of the true philosophic spirit in Aquinas. He does not, like the Platonic Socrates, set out to follow wherever the argument may lead.’ Russell’s criticism here presupposes that philosophical beliefs ought to ‘track’ the conclusions of the best arguments but that Aquinas’ religious commitments prevent his beliefs from doing this. Elsewhere, I have defended Aquinas from this ‘Failure to Track’ objection on the grounds that it enshrines an arbitrary and unreasonable (...) epistemic principle. Graham Oppy has recently replied that I have misunderstood Russell, and that his objection to Aquinas was not the ‘Failure to Track’ objection, but rather the ‘Sincerity Objection’ (that one should not to pretend have grounds or reasons for philosophical conclusions other than those which one actually has). I argue that Oppy is mistaken, that Russell did mean the Failure to Track objection, and that the Sincerity Objection is weak anyway. (shrink)
Elaine Sternberg’s Just Business is one of the first book‐length Aristotelian treatments of business ethics. It is Aristotelian in the sense that Sternberg begins by defining the nature of business in order to identify its end, and, thence, normative principles to regulate it. According to Sternberg, the nature of business is ‘the selling of goods or services in order to maximise long‐term owner value’, therefore all business behaviour must be evaluated with reference to the maximisation of long‐term owner value, constrained (...) only by considerations of Ordinary decency and distributive justice. This stands in sharp contrast to recently popular ‘stakeholder’ approaches to business‐ethical decision making. I argue that Sternberg’s definition of business, particularly in its maximising and long‐term conditions, is flawed, that her teleological method raises more questions than it solves, and that her Aristotelianism cannot be wedded happily to her libertarianism. (shrink)