Did you know that Hillary Clinton sold weapons to ISIS? Or that Mike Pence called Michelle Obama “the most vulgar First Lady we’ve ever had”? No, you didn’t know these things. You couldn’t know them, because these claims are false.1 But many American voters believed them.One of the most distinctive features of the 2016 campaign was the rise of “fake news,” factually false claims circulated on social media, usually via channels of partisan camaraderie. Media analysts and social scientists are still (...) debating what role fake news played in Trump’s victory.2 But whether or not it drove the outcome, fake news certainly affected the choices of some individual voters.Why were people willing to believe easily... (shrink)
Deepfake technology uses machine learning to fabricate video and audio recordings that represent people doing and saying things they've never done. In coming years, malicious actors will likely use this technology in attempts to manipulate public discourse. This paper prepares for that danger by explicating the unappreciated way in which recordings have so far provided an epistemic backstop to our testimonial practices. Our reasonable trust in the testimony of others depends, to a surprising extent, on the regulative effects of the (...) ever-present possibility of recordings of the events they testify about. As deepfakes erode the epistemic value of recordings, we may then face an even more consequential challenge to the reliability of our testimonial practices themselves. (shrink)
Deepfakes are algorithmically modified video and audio recordings that project one person’s appearance on to that of another, creating an apparent recording of an event that never took place. Many scholars and journalists have begun attending to the political risks of deepfake deception. Here we investigate other ways in which deepfakes have the potential to cause deeper harms than have been appreciated. First, we consider a form of objectification that occurs in deepfaked ‘frankenporn’ that digitally fuses the parts of different (...) women to create pliable characters incapable of giving consent to their depiction. Next, we develop the idea of ‘illocutionary wronging’, in which an individual is forced to engage in speech acts they would prefer to avoid in order to deny or correct the misleading evidence of a publicized deepfake. Finally, we consider the risk that deepfakes may facilitate campaigns of ‘panoptic gaslighting’, where many systematically altered recordings of a single person's life undermine their memory, eroding their sense of self and ability to engage with others. Taken together, these harms illustrate the roles that social epistemology and technological vulnerabilities play in human ethical life. (shrink)
Slips of the tongue, unwitting favoritism and stereotyped assumptions are just some examples of microaggression. Nearly all of us commit microaggressions at some point, even if we don’t intend to. Yet over time a pattern of microaggression can cause considerable harm by reminding members of marginalized groups of their precarious position. The Ethics of Microaggression is a much needed and clearly written exploration of this pervasive yet complex problem. What is microaggression and how do we know when it is occurring? (...) Can we be held responsible for microaggressions and if so, how? How has social media affected the problem? What role can philosophy play in understanding microaggression? Regina Rini explores these highly topical and controversial questions in an engaging and fair-minded way, arguing that an event is a microaggression precisely because it causes a marginalized person to experience an ambiguous encounter with oppression. She illustrates her argument with compelling examples from media, politics and psychology and explains the significance of essential concepts, such as media representation, reparative renaming, and safe spaces. The Ethics of Microaggression explains what microaggression is and offers strategies for combating it. Assuming no prior knowledge of the topic or philosophy, it demystifies a controversial and extremely important topic in clear language. It is ideal for anyone coming to the topic for the first time and for students in philosophy, gender studies, race theory, disability theory and social and political philosophy. (shrink)
Recent empirical work appears to suggest that the moral intuitions of professional philosophers are just as vulnerable to distorting psychological factors as are those of ordinary people. This paper assesses these recent tests of the ‘expertise defense’ of philosophical intuition. I argue that the use of familiar cases and principles constitutes a methodological problem. Since these items are familiar to philosophers, but not ordinary people, the two subject groups do not confront identical cognitive tasks. Reflection on this point shows that (...) these findings do not threaten philosophical expertise—though we can draw lessons for more effective empirical tests. (shrink)
Since at least 2016, many have worried that social media enables authoritarians to meddle in democratic politics. The concern is that trolls and bots amplify deceptive content. In this chapter I argue that these tactics have a more insidious anti-democratic purpose. Lies implanted in democratic discourse by authoritarians are often intended to be caught. Their primary goal is not to successfully deceive, but rather to undermine the democratic value of testimony. In well-functioning democracies, our mutual reliance on testimony also generates (...) a distinctively democratic value: decentralized testimonial networks evade control by the state or powerful actors. The deliberate exposure of deception in democratic testimonial networks undermines this value by implicating citizens in their own epistemic corruption, weakening the resilience of democratic society against authoritarian pressure. In this chapter I illustrate that danger through a close reading of recent Russian social media interference operations, showing both their epistemic underpinnings and their ongoing political threat. (shrink)
A microaggression is a small insulting act made disproportionately harmful by its part in an oppressive pattern of similar insults. How should you respond when made the victim of a microaggression? In this paper I survey several morally salient factors, including effects upon victims, perpetrators, and third parties. I argue, contrary to popular views, that ‘growing a thicker skin’ is not good advice nor is expressing reasonable anger always the best way to contribute to confronting oppression. Instead, appropriately responding to (...) microaggression involves difficult application of practical wisdom that does not easily fall under a simple prescription. (shrink)
Scientists, philosophers, and policymakers disagree about how to define microaggression. Here, we offer a taxonomy of existing definitions, clustering around (a) the psychological motives of perpetrators, (b) the experience of victims, and (c) the functional role of microaggression in oppressive social structures. We consider conceptual and epistemic challenges to each and suggest that progress may come from developing novel hybrid accounts of microaggression, combining empirically tractable features with sensitivity to the testimony of victims.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been accompanied by an “infodemic” of misinformation and conspiracy theory. This article points to three explanatory factors: the challenge of forming accurate beliefs when overwhelmed with information, an implausibly individualistic conception of epistemic virtue, and an adversarial information environment that suborns epistemic dependence. Normally we cope with the problems of informational excess by relying on other people, including sociotechnical systems that mediate testimony and evidence. But when we attempt to engage in epistemic “superheroics” - withholding trust (...) from others and trying to figure it all out for ourselves – these can malfunction in ways that make us vulnerable to forming irrational beliefs. Some epistemic systems are prone to coalescing audiences around false conspiracy theories. This analysis affords a new perspective on philosophical efforts to understand conspiracy theories and other epistemic projects prone to collective irrationality. (shrink)
This paper presents a regress challenge to the selective psychological debunking of moral judgments. A selective psychological debunking argument conjoins an empirical claim about the psychological origins of certain moral judgments to a theoretical claim that these psychological origins cannot track moral truth, leading to the conclusion that the moral judgments are unreliable. I argue that psychological debunking arguments are vulnerable to a regress challenge, because the theoretical claim that ‘such-and-such psychological process is not moral-truth-tracking’ relies upon moral judgments. We (...) must then ask about the psychological origins of these judgments, and then make a further evaluative judgment about these psychological origins… and so on. This chain of empirical and evaluative claims may continue indefinitely and, I will argue, proponents of the debunking argument are in a dialectical position where they may not simply call a halt to the process. Hence, their argument cannot terminate, and its debunking conclusion cannot be upheld. (shrink)
It is a philosophical truism that we must think of others as moral agents, not merely as causal or statistical objects. But why? I argue that this follows from the best resolution of an antinomy between our experience of morality as necessarily binding on the will and our knowledge that all moral beliefs originate in contingent histories. We can address this antinomy only by understanding moral deliberation via interpersonal relationships, which simultaneously vindicate and constrains morality’s bind on the will. This (...) means that moral agency is fundamentally social. I model an attitude toward our causal nature on sociologist Erving Goffman’s concept of ‘civil inattention’; our social practice of agency requires that we give minimal attention to the contingent origins of moral judgments in ourselves and others. Understood this way, seeing ourselves as moral agents requires avoiding appeal to causal aetiology to settle substantive moral disagreement. (shrink)
The evidential value of moral intuitions has been challenged by psychological work showing that the intuitions of ordinary people are affected by distorting factors. One reply to this challenge, the expertise defence, claims that training in philosophical thinking confers enhanced reliability on the intuitions of professional philosophers. This defence is often expressed through analogy: since we do not allow doubts about folk judgments in domains like mathematics or physics to undermine the plausibility of judgments by experts in these domains, we (...) also should not do so in philosophy. In this paper I clarify the logic of the analogy strategy, and defend it against recent challenges by Jesper Ryberg. The discussion exposes an interesting divide: while Ryberg’s challenges may weaken analogies between morality and domains like mathematics, they do not affect analogies to other domains, such as physics. I conclude that the expertise defence can be supported by analogical means, though care is required in selecting an appropriate analog. I discuss implications of this conclusion for the expertise defence debate and for study of the moral domain itself. (shrink)
Large Language Models (LLMs) like ChatGPT were trained on human conversation, but in the future they will also train us. As chatbots speak from our smartphones and customer service helplines, they will become a part of everyday life and a growing share of all the conversations we ever have. It’s hard to doubt this will have some effect on us. Here I explore a specific concern about the impact of artificial conversation on our capacity to deliberate and hold ourselves accountable (...) to reason – that is, to be autonomous, in Kant’s sense of the term. I develop ideas from psychologist Jean Piaget to show how chatbots are autonomy traps: their deference to our commands tempts us into venting authoritarian whims, ultimately weakening our own self-control. I argue that the Kantian tradition, including Piaget and sociologist Emile Durkheim, offers powerful conceptual resources for resisting this slide. But it will require us to do something that may seem bizarre: we will need to treat mindless chatbots as if they are autonomous persons too. (shrink)
The debate between proponents and opponents of a role for empirical psychology in ethical theory seems to be deadlocked. This paper aims to clarify the terms of that debate, and to defend a principled middle position. I argue against extreme views, which see empirical psychology either as irrelevant to, or as wholly displacing, reflective moral inquiry. Instead, I argue that moral theorists of all stripes are committed to a certain conception of moral thought—as aimed at abstracting away from individual inclinations (...) and toward interpersonal norms—and that this conception tells against both extremes. Since we cannot always know introspectively whether our particular moral judgments achieve this interpersonal standard, we must seek the sort of self-knowledge offered by empirical psychology. Yet reflective assessment of this new information remains a matter of substantive normative theorizing, rather than an immediate consequence of empirical findings themselves. (shrink)
This short piece draws on political philosophy to show how social media interference operations can be used by hostile states to weaken the apparent legitimacy of democratic governments. Democratic societies are particularly vulnerable to this form of attack because democratic governments depend for their legitimacy on citizens' trust in one another. But when citizen see one another as complicit in the distribution of deceptive content, they lose confidence in the epistemic preconditions for democracy. The piece concludes with policy recommendations for (...) how democratic governments should protect themselves. (shrink)
How can we tell whether an incident counts as a microaggression? How do we draw the boundary between microaggressions and weightier forms of oppression, such as hate crimes? I address these questions by exploring the ontology and epistemology of microaggression, in particular the constitutive relationship between microaggression and systemic social oppression. I argue that we ought to define microaggression in terms of the ambiguous experience that its victims undergo, focusing attention on their perspectives while providing criteria for distinguishing microaggression.
We ought to treat others’ moral views with respect, even when we disagree. But what does that mean? This paper articulates a moral obligation to make ourselves open to sincere moral persuasion by others. Doing so allows us to participate in valuable relationships of reciprocal respect for agency. Yet this proposal can sound tritely agreeable. To explore its full implications, the paper applies the general obligation to one of the most challenging topics of moral disagreement: the morality of abortion. I (...) consider and reject arguments that abortion decisions have special features exempting them from the obligation to be open to moral persuasion. Further, I argue that viewing fetal ultrasound images can accomplish morally persuasion. Accordingly, in at least some cases a woman seeking abortion has an obligation to view fetal ultrasound images as a means of being open to moral persuasion. However, this conclusion does not support recent laws compelling women seeking abortion to view ultrasound images; such laws are in fact incompatible with the respect for agency that underwrites the obligation to be open to persuasion. (shrink)
Learning the psychological origins of our moral judgments can lead us to lose confidence in them. In this paper I explain why. I consider two explanations drawn from existing literature—regarding epistemic unreliability and automaticity—and argue that neither is fully adequate. I then propose a new explanation, according to which psychological research reveals the extent to which we are disturbingly disunified as moral agents.
Neuromoral theorists are those who claim that a scientific understanding of moral judgment through the methods of psychology, neuroscience and related disciplines can have normative implications and can be used to improve the human ability to make moral judgments. We consider three neuromoral theories: one suggested by Gazzaniga, one put forward by Gigerenzer, and one developed by Greene. By contrasting these theories we reveal some of the fundamental issues that neuromoral theories in general have to address. One important issue concerns (...) whether the normative claims that neuromoral theorists would like to make are to be understood in moral terms or in non-moral terms. We argue that, on either a moral or a non-moral interpretation of these claims, neuromoral theories face serious problems. Therefore, neither the moral nor the non-moral reading of the normative claims makes them philosophically viable. (shrink)
In a recent paper, Giubilini and Minerva argue for the moral permissibility of what they call ‘after-birth abortion’, or infanticide. Here I suggest that they actually employ a confusion of two distinct arguments: one relying on the purportedly identical moral status of a fetus and a newborn, and the second giving an independent argument for the denial of moral personhood to infants (independent of whatever one might say about fetuses). After distinguishing these arguments, I suggest that neither one is capable (...) of supporting Giubilini and Minerva's conclusion. The first argument is at best neutral between permitting infanticide and prohibiting abortion, and may in fact more strongly support the latter. The second argument, I suggest, contains an ambiguity in its key premise, and can be shown to fail on either resolution of that ambiguity. Hence, I conclude that Giubilini and Minerva have not demonstrated the permissibility of infanticide, or even great moral similarity between abortion and infanticide. (shrink)
When we look back upon people in past societies, such as slaveholders and colonialists, we judge their actions to have been morally atrocious. Yet we should give some thought to how the future will judge us. Here I argue that future people are likely to regard our behavior as no better than that of the past. If these future people are to be believed, then we are morally hopeless; we have little chance of working out the moral truth for ourselves. (...) I argue that we ought to resist this conclusion, and that our best means for doing so it to reject moral objectivity and accept instead a form of time-linked moral relativism. (shrink)
A popular argument form uses general theories of cognitive architecture to motivate conclusions about the nature of moral cognition. This paper highlights the possibility for modus tollens reversal of this argument form. If theories of cognitive architecture generate predictions for moral cognition, then tests of moral thinking provide feedback to cognitive science. In certain circumstances, philosophers' introspective attention to their own moral deliberations can provide unique data for these tests. Recognizing the possibility for this sort of feedback helps to illuminate (...) a deep continuity between the disciplines. (shrink)
This chapter discusses the philosophical relevance of empirical research on moral cognition. It distinguishes three central aims of normative ethical theory: understanding the nature of moral agency, identifying morally right actions, and determining the justification of moral beliefs. For each of these aims, the chapter considers and rejects arguments against employing cognitive scientific research in normative inquiry. It concludes by suggesting that, whichever of the central aims one begins from, normative ethics is improved by engaging with the science of moral (...) cognition. (shrink)
Morality and Cognitive Science What do we know about how people make moral judgments? And what should moral philosophers do with this knowledge? This article addresses the cognitive science of moral judgment. It reviews important empirical findings and discusses how philosophers have reacted to them. Several trends have dominated the cognitive science of morality in … Continue reading Morality and Cognitive Science →.
A short response to Michael Ruse's essay 'Commons Sense Morality and Its Evolutionary Underpinnings'. Argues that an evolutionary approach to ethics has difficulty accounting for the first-personal and existential aspects of moral deliberation.
There are two problems with the logic of Cesario's argument for abandoning existing research on social bias. First, laboratory findings of decisional bias have social significance even if Cesario is right that the research strips away real-world context. Second, the argument makes overly skeptical demands of a research program seeking complex causal linkages between micro- and macro-scale phenomena.