It is widely accepted that morality does not demand that we do our very best, but our most significant moral traditions do not easily accommodate this intuition. I will argue that the underlying problem is not specific to any particular tradition. Rather, it will be difficult for any moral theory to account for binary moral concepts like permissible/impermissible while also accounting for scalar moral concepts like better/worse. If only the best is considered permissible, morality will seem either unreasonably demanding or (...) implausibly minimal. But if we draw a line of duty below the optimal, then we must explain how the act that is worse is nonetheless permissible. Some have tried to explain this by appealing to non-moral considerations, and others have appealed to agent-relative moral considerations. I argue that no such approach will work. We should instead exploit the distinction between reasons for performing an act and reasons for holding someone accountable for an act’s performance. This approach will also help to clear up a confusion regarding the notion of a moral demand. (shrink)
I argue that supererogation poses a serious problem for theories of moral reasoning and that this problem results, at least in part, from our taking too narrow a view of the reasons that can influence an act’s deontic status. We tend to focus primarily on those reasons that count directly for and against an act’s performance. To adequately account for supererogation, we need to consider also a different class of moral reasons. Aside from those reasons that contribute, for instance, to (...) an act’s being morally better or worse than its alternatives, there are moral reasons that govern the ways in which we respond to the performance or non-performance of those acts. These reasons govern the attitudes we express in response to moral acts as well as our practices of issuing demands and of seeking justification in the case of an omission. These sorts of moral reasons are, I argue, integral to an account of supererogation. Attending to them will allow us to accept that the supererogatory omission does actually involve a moral failure of sorts while denying that it is a failure of obligation. And this will allow us to account for our intuitions regarding supererogation while avoiding what I call the problem of supererogation. I begin with a discussion of what we might mean by ‘supererogation’, and I outline the problem that it raises. I then provide an account of supererogation that avoids this problem. (shrink)
Universalism vs. Communitarianism focuses on the question, raised by recent work in normative philosophy, of whether ethical norms are best derived and justified on the basis of universal or communitarian standards. It is unique in representing both Continental and American points of view and both the older and a younger generation of scholars. The essays introduce the key issues involved in universalism vs. communitarianism and take up ethics in historical perspective, practical reason and ethical responsibility, justification, application and history, and (...) communitarian alternatives. Based on a special issue of the Journal Philosophy and Social Criticism, the book includes two additional essays by Chantal Mouffe and by Hubert and Stuart Dreyfus. David Rasmussen is Professor of Philosophy at Boston College and editor of Philosophy and Social Criticism. Contents: introduction, David, Rasmussen. Universalisms: Procedural, Contextualist, and Prudential, Alessandro Ferrara. Beyond Liberalism and Communitarianism: Toward a Critical Theory of Social Justice, Gerald Doppelt. The Liberal/Communitarian Controversy and Communicative Ethics, Kenneth Baynes. Discourse Ethics and Civil Society, Jean Cohen. Equality, Political Order and Ethics: Hobbes and the Systematics of Democratic Rationality, Rolf Zimmermann. Atomism and Ethical Life: On Hegel's Critique of the French Revolution, Axel Honneth. The Gadamer-Habermas Debate Revisited: The Question of Ethics, Michael Kelly. What Is and What Is Not Practical Reason? Agnes Heller. Adorno, Heidegger, and Postmodernity, Hauke Brunkhorst. Impartial Application of Moral and Legal Norms: A Contribution to Discourse Ethics, Klaus Günther. An Ethics, Politics, and History, Jürgen Habermas in an interview conducted by Jean-Marc Ferry. Rawls: Political Philosophy without Politics, Chantal Mouffe. What Is Morality: A Phenomenological Account of the Development of Ethical Expertise, Hubert L Dreyfus, Stuart E. Dreyfus. Universalism and Communitarianism: A Bibliography, Michael Zilles. (shrink)
Ecopolitics is a study of environmental awareness--or non-awareness--in contemporary French theory. Arguing that it is now impossible not to think in an ecological way, Verena Andermatt Conley traces the roots of today's concern for the environment back to the intellectual climate of the late '50s and '60s. Major thinkers of 1968, the author argues, changed the way we think the world; this owes much to an ecological awareness that remains at the heart of issues concerning cultural theory in general. The (...) book points to critiques of ecology in the work of Luc Ferry and Jean Baudrillard before turning to more complicated ecological awareness primarily in French thought. The author considers key texts by influential figures such as Michael Serres, Paul Virilio, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Michel de Certeau, Helene Cixous and Luce Irigaray. (shrink)
Because of the difficulty posed by the contrast between the search for truth and truth itself, Michael Polanyi believes that we must alter the foundation of epistemology to include as essential to the very nature of mind, the kind of groping that constitutes the recognition of a problem. This collection of essays, assembled by Marjorie Grene, exemplifies the development of Polanyi's theory of knowledge which was first presented in Science, Faith, and Society and later systematized in Personal Knowledge. Polanyi (...) believes that the dilemma of the modern mind arises from the peculiar relation between the positivist claim for total objectivity in scientific knowledge and the unprecedented moral dynamism characterizing the social and political aspirations of the last century. The first part of Knowing and Being deals with this theme. Part two develops Polanyi's idea that centralization is incompatible with the life of science as well as his views on the role of tradition and authority in science. The essays on tacit knowing in Part Three proceed directly from his preoccupation with the nature of scientific discovery and reveal a pervasive substructure of all intelligent behavior. Polanyi believes that all knowing involves movement from internal clues to external evidence. Therefore, to explain the process of knowing, we must develop a theory of the nature of living things in general, including an account of that aspect of living things we call "mind." Part Four elaborates upon this theme. (shrink)
In this original and provocative account of the evolutionary origins of human communication, Michael Tomasello connects the fundamentally cooperative structure of human communication (initially discovered by Paul Grice) to the especially ...
In various areas of Anglo-American law, legal liability turns on causation. In torts and contracts, we are each liable only for those harms we have caused by the actions that breach our legal duties. Such doctrines explicitly make causation an element of liability. In criminal law, sometimes the causal element for liability is equally explicit, as when a statute makes punishable any act that has “ caused … abuse to the child….” More often, the causal element in criminal liability is (...) more implicit, as when criminal statutes prohibit killings, maimings, rapings, burnings, etc. Such causally complex action verbs are correctly applied only to defendants who have caused death, caused disfigurement, caused penetration, caused fire damage, etc. (shrink)
Freud justified his extensive theorizing about dreams by the observation that they were “the royal road” to something much more general: namely, our unconscious mental life. The current preoccupation with the theory of excuse in criminal law scholarship can be given a similar justification, for the excuses are the royal road to theories of responsibility generally. The thought is that if we understand why we excuse in certain situations but not others, we will have also gained a much more general (...) insight into the nature of responsibility itself. Nowhere has this thought been more evident than in the century-old focus of criminal law theoreticians on the excuse of insanity, a focus that could not be justified by the importance of the excuse itself. In this paper I wish to isolate two theories of excuse, each of which instantiates its own distinctive theory of responsibility. One is what I shall call the choice theory of excuse, according to which one is excused for the doing of a wrongful action because and only because at the moment of such action's performance, one did not have sufficient capacity or opportunity to make the choice to do otherwise. Such a choice theory of excuse instantiates a more general theory of responsibility, according to which we are responsible for wrongs we freely choose to do, and not responsible for wrongs we lacked the freedom to avoid doing. The second I shall call the character theory of excuse, according to which one is excused for the doing of a wrongful action because and only because such action is not determined by those enduring attributes of ourselves we call our characters. (shrink)
In the Trolley Case, as devised by Philippa Foot and modified by Judith Jarvis Thomson, a runaway trolley is headed down a main track and will hit and kill five unless you divert it onto a side track, where it will hit and kill one.
This paper deals with Ludwik Fleck’s theory of thought styles and Michael Polanyi’s theory of tacit knowledge. Though both concepts have been very influential for science studies in general, and both have been subject to numerous interpretations, their accounts have, somewhat surprisingly, hardly been comparatively analyzed. Both Fleck and Polanyi relied on the physiology and psychology of the senses in order to show that scientific knowledge follows less the path of logical principles than the path of accepting or rejecting (...) specific conventions, where these may be psychologically or sociologically grounded. It is my aim to show that similarities and differences between Fleck and Polanyi are to be seen in the specific historical and political context in which they worked. Both authors, I shall argue, emphasized the relevance of perception in close connection to their respective understanding of science, freedom, and democracy. (shrink)
Has inquiry into the meaning of life become outmoded in a universe where the other-worldiness of religion no longer speaks to us as it once did, or, as Nietzsche proposed, where we are now the creators of our own value? Has the ancient question of the "good life" disappeared, another victim of the technological world? For Luc Ferry, the answer to both questions is a resounding no. In What Is the Good Life? Ferry argues that the question of (...) the meaning of life, on which much philosophical debate throughout the centuries has rested, has not vanished, but at the very least the question is posed differently today. Ferry points out the pressures in our secularized world that tend to reduce the idea of a successful life or "good life" to one of wealth, career satisfaction, and prestige. Without deserting the secular presuppositions of our world, he shows that we can give ourselves a richer sense of life's possibilities. The "good life" consists of harmonizing life's different forces in a way that enables one to achieve a sense of personal satisfaction in the realization of one's creative abilities. (shrink)
Michael S. Brady offers a new account of the role of emotions in our lives. He argues that emotional experiences do not give us information in the same way that perceptual experiences do. Instead, they serve our epistemic needs by capturing our attention and facilitating a reappraisal of the evaluative information that emotions themselves provide.
Michael Ryan (d. 1840) remains one of the most mysterious figures in the history of medical ethics, despite the fact that he was the only British physician during the middle years of the 19th century to write about ethics in a systematic way. Michael Ryan’s Writings on Medical Ethics offers both an annotated reprint of his key ethical writings, and an extensive introductory essay that fills in many previously unknown details of Ryan’s life, analyzes the significance of his (...) ethical works, and places him within the historical trajectory of the field of medical ethics. (shrink)
Is ecology in the process of becoming the object of our contemporary passions, in the same way that Fascism was in the 30s, or Communism under Stalin? In The New Ecological Order, Luc Ferry offers a penetrating critique of the ideological root of the "Deep Ecology" movement spreading throughout the United States, Germany, and France. Traditional ecological movements, or "democratic ecology," seek to protect the environment of human societies; they are pragmatic and reformist. But another movement has become the (...) refuge both of nostalgic counterrevolutionaries and of leftist illusions. This is "deep ecology." Its followers go beyond practical critique of human greed and waste: they call into question the very possibility of human coexistence with nature. Ferry launches his critique by examining early European legal cases concerning the status and rights of animals, including a few notorious cases where animals were brought to trial, found guilty, and publicly hanged. He then demonstrates that German Romanticism embraced certain key ideas of the deep ecology movement concerning the protection of animals and the environment. Later adopted by the Nazis, many of these ideas point to a profoundly antihumanistic component of deep ecology that is compatible with totalitarianism. Ferry shows how deep ecology casts aside all the gains of human autonomy since the Enlightenment. Far from denying our "duty in relation to nature," The New Ecological Order offers a bracing caution - against the dangers of environmental claims and, more important, against the threat to democracy contained in the deep ecology doctrine when pushed to its extreme. (shrink)
Michael Ignatieff draws on his extensive experience as a writer and commentator on world affairs to present a penetrating account of the successes, failures, and prospects of the human rights revolution. Since the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, this revolution has brought the world moral progress and broken the nation-state's monopoly on the conduct of international affairs. But it has also faced challenges. Ignatieff argues that human rights activists have rightly drawn criticism from (...) Asia, the Islamic world, and within the West itself for being overambitious and unwilling to accept limits. It is now time, he writes, for activists to embrace a more modest agenda and to reestablish the balance between the rights of states and the rights of citizens.Ignatieff begins by examining the politics of human rights, assessing when it is appropriate to use the fact of human rights abuse to justify intervention in other countries. He then explores the ideas that underpin human rights, warning that human rights must not become an idolatry. In the spirit of Isaiah Berlin, he argues that human rights can command universal assent only if they are designed to protect and enhance the capacity of individuals to lead the lives they wish. By embracing this approach and recognizing that state sovereignty is the best guarantee against chaos, Ignatieff concludes, Western nations will have a better chance of extending the real progress of the past fifty years. Throughout, Ignatieff balances idealism with a sure sense of practical reality earned from his years of travel in zones of war and political turmoil around the globe.Based on the Tanner Lectures that Ignatieff delivered at Princeton University's Center for Human Values in 2000, the book includes two chapters by Ignatieff, an introduction by Amy Gutmann, comments by four leading scholars--K. Anthony Appiah, David A. Hollinger, Thomas W. Laqueur, and Diane F. Orentlicher--and a response by Ignatieff. (shrink)
If observation is ‘theory-laden’, how can there be ‘observationally equivalent theories’? How can the observations ‘laden’ by one theory be ‘the same as’ those ‘laden’ by another? The answer might lie in the expressibility of observationally equivalent theories in a common mathematical formalism.
Miranda Fricker appeals to the idea of moral-epistemic disappointment in order to show how our practices of moral appraisal can be sensitive to cultural and historical contingency. In particular, she thinks that moral-epistemic disappointment allows us to avoid the extremes of crude moralism and a relativism of distance. In my response I want to investigate what disappointment is, and whether it can constitute a form of focused moral appraisal in the way that Fricker imagines. I will argue that Fricker is (...) unable to appeal to disappointment as standardly understood, but that there is a more plausible way of understanding the notion that she can employ. There are, nevertheless, significant worries about the capacity of disappointment in this sense to function as a form of moral appraisal. I will argue, finally, that even if Fricker can address these worries, her position might end up closer to moralism than she would like. (shrink)