How should we treat patients diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state or minimally conscious state? More specifically, should we treat them as having the full moral status of persons? Yes, or so we argue. First, we introduce the medical conditions of PVS, MCS, and the related conditions of Locked-in Syndrome and covert awareness. Second, we characterize the main argument for thinking diagnosed PVS patients are not persons. Third, we contend that this argument is defeated by mounting empirical evidence (...) for the considerable uncertainty of PVS diagnoses. Fourth, we characterize a new argument for PVS non-personhood suggested by Neil Levy and Julian Savulescu, one intended to accommodate the diagnostic uncertainty. According to this argument, even if diagnosed PVS patients are in fact MCS, it makes no difference because MCS patients are probably not persons either. Fifth, we challenge the new argument by assembling reasons for doubting the claim that MCS patients are not persons. The outcome is that it is fairly uncertain whether diagnosed PVS and MCS patients are persons or not. What should we do in light of this uncertainty? Sixth, we develop and support a guiding precautionary principle, which we call Precautionary Personhood. Finally, we apply the principle to the case of diagnosed PVS and MCS patients: we argue that given substantial uncertainty about their personhood we should go ahead and treat these patients as if they are persons. (shrink)
Evolutionary debunking arguments, notably Sharon Street’s Darwinian Dilemma (2006), allege that moral realists need to explain the reliability of our moral judgments, given their evolutionary sources. David Copp (2008) and David Enoch (2010) take up the challenge. I argue on empirical grounds that realists have not met the challenge and moreover cannot do so. The outcome is that there are empirically-motivated reasons for thinking moral realists cannot explain moral reliability, given our current empirical understanding.
Heightened awareness of the origins of our moral judgments pushes many in the direction of moral skepticism, in the direction of thinking we are unjustified in holding our moral judgments on a realist understanding of the moral truths. A classic debunking argument fleshes out this worry: the best explanation of our moral judgments does not appeal to their truth, so we are unjustified in holding our moral judgments. But it is unclear how to get from the explanatory premise to the (...) debunking conclusion. This paper shows how to get from here to there by way of epistemic insensitivity. First, we reconstruct Richard Joyce’s evolutionary debunking argument from insensitivity. Second, we raise epistemological difficulties for Joyce’s argument. Third, we develop and defend a new debunking argument from insensitivity. (shrink)
Do the cognitive origins of our theistic beliefs debunk them or explain them away? This paper develops an empirically-motivated debunking argument and defends it against objections. First, we introduce the empirical and epistemological background. Second, we develop and defend the main argument, the debunking argument from false god beliefs. Third, we characterize and evaluate the most prominent religious debunking argument to date, the debunking argument from insensitivity. It is found that insensitivity-based arguments are problematic, which makes them less promising than (...) the debunking argument from false god beliefs. (shrink)
Dogged resistance to demanding moral views frequently takes the form of The Demandingness Objection. Premise (1): Moral view V demands too much of us. Premise (2): If a moral view demands too much of us, then it is mistaken. Conclusion: Therefore, moral view V is mistaken. Objections of this form harass major theories in normative ethics as well as prominent moral views in applied ethics and political philosophy. The present paper does the following: (i) it clarifies and distinguishes between various (...) demandingness objections in the philosophical literature, (ii) identifies a formidable and interesting form of the demandingness objection that targets a wide scope of moral views, and (iii) defuses this objection by developing a local skeptical argument from unreliability the form of which may, interestingly, be effectively deployed in other areas of philosophy. (shrink)
What is the nature of human well-being? This paper joins the ancient debate by rejuvenating an ancient claim that is quite unfashionable among moral philosophers today, namely, the Aristotelian claim that moral virtue is (non-instrumentally) necessary for human well-being. Call it the Aristotelian Virtue Condition (AVC). This view can be revived for contemporary debate by a state-of-the-art approach that we might call constructivist experimental philosophy, which takes as its goal the achievement of a reasonable constructivist account of well-being and takes (...) the investigation of actual folk intuitions as the central means to achieving that goal. The paper motivates this approach and challenges the commonplace philosophical rejection of AVC by arguing (1) that folk intuitions should count as evidence in the debate, especially if we aim at a constructivist account of well-being, (2) that folk intuitions can be accurately elicited through a thought experiment (the “Crib Test”), and (3) that there is some reason (subject to experimental confirmation) for thinking that folk intuitions, thus elicited, support AVC. Aristotelian ethics, and indeed the entire virtue ethics tradition, has come under fire recently by empirically informed philosophers who question the empirical adequacy of the postulation of robust character traits, but regardless of how that debate turns out, other parts of this tradition might be empirically supported rather than undermined. This paper sketches a promising, empirically informed way of supporting Aristotelian views of well-being. (shrink)
We raise three issues for Philip Kitcher's "Ethical Project" (2011): First, we argue that the genealogy of morals starts well before the advent of altruism-failures and the need to remedy them, which Kitcher dates at about 50K years ago. Second, we challenge the likelihood of long term moral progress of the sort Kitcher requires to establish objectivity while circumventing Hume's challenge to avoid trying to derive normative conclusions from positive ones--'ought' from 'is'. Third, we sketch ways in which Kitcher's metaethical (...) opponents could respond to his arguments against them. (shrink)
In this paper, I critically summarize John Cartwrtight’s Evolution and Human Behavior and evaluate what he says about certain moral implications of Darwinian views of human behavior. He takes a Darwinism-doesn’t-rock-the-boat approach and argues that Darwinism, even if it is allied with evolutionary psychology, does not give us reason to be worried about the alterability of our behavior, nor does it give us reason to think that we may have to change our ordinary practices and views concerning free-will and moral (...) responsibility. In response, I contend that Darwinism, when it is allied with evolutionary psychology, makes for a more potent cocktail than Cartwright suspects. (shrink)
If there is a “basic structure objection” to G.A. Cohen’s incentive critique of Rawls, then there is also a BSO to claims that private racial discrimination thwarts social justice by reducing the opportunity of its targets. In this paper, I take up the debate about the site or purview of justice and discuss it with reference to the case of race. I argue that the dispute about the site of justice has been wrongly understood as a dispute about the substantive (...) requirements of justice instead of as a dispute about where it is appropriate to apply considerations of justice. (shrink)
Once we accept anyone's postulates he becomes our professor and our god: for his foundations he will grab territory so ample and so easy that, if he so wishes, he will drag us up to the clouds. Montaigne During the last fifteen years, the community of philosophers interested in religion has evinced a waxing concern with the justificatory value of religious experiences for theism. Two parallel but largely discrete debates have appeared in the literature.
Recently Robert Forman has attempted to muster support for the largely abandoned position that mystical experiences cross-culturally include an unmediated, non-relative core. To reopen the debate he has solicited essays from likeminded scholars for his book, The Problem of Pure Consciousness. Predictably the focus of the volume rests on the refutation of the position most notably expounded by Steven Katz in his influential article of 1978, ‘Language, Epistemology and Mysticism’.