The unconscionability doctrine in contract law enables a court to decline to enforce a contract whose terms are seriously one-sided, exploitative, or otherwise manifestly unfair. It is often criticized for being paternalist. The essay argues that the characterization of unconscionability doctrine as paternalist reflects common but misleading thought about paternalism and obscures more important issues about autonomy and social connection. The defense responds to another criticism: that unconscionability doctrine is an inappropriate, because economically inefficient, egalitarian tool. The final part discusses (...) more interesting but neglected questions about the scope of accommodation necessary to support fully meaningful autonomous activity. (shrink)
To understand one another as individuals and to fulfill the moral duties that require such understanding, we must communicate with each other. We must also maintain protected channels that render reliable communication possible, a demand that, Seana Shiffrin argues, yields a prohibition against lying and requires protection for free speech. This book makes a distinctive philosophical argument for the wrong of the lie and provides an original account of its difference from the wrong of deception. Drawing on legal as well (...) as philosophical arguments, the book defends a series of notable claims—that you may not lie about everything to the "murderer at the door," that you have reasons to keep promises offered under duress, that lies are not protected by free speech, that police subvert their mission when they lie to suspects, and that scholars undermine their goals when they lie to research subjects. Many philosophers start to craft moral exceptions to demands for sincerity and fidelity when they confront wrongdoers, the pressures of non-ideal circumstances, or the achievement of morally substantial ends. But Shiffrin consistently resists this sort of exceptionalism, arguing that maintaining a strong basis for trust and reliable communication through practices of sincerity, fidelity, and respecting free speech is an essential aspect of ensuring the conditions for moral progress, including our rehabilitation of and moral reconciliation with wrongdoers. (shrink)
Standard, familiar models portray harms and benefits as symmetrical. Usually, harm is portrayed as involving a worsening of one's situation, and benefits as involving an improvement. Yet morally, the aversion, prevention, and relief of harms seem, at least presumptively, to matter more than the provision, protection, and maintenance of comparable and often greater benefits. Standard models of harms and benefits have difficulty acknowledging this priority, much less explaining it. They also fail to identify harm accurately and reliably. In this paper, (...) I develop these problems, argue that we should reconsider our commitment to the standard models, and then merely gesture at the direction in which we might locate a superior approach, one that better accounts for the moral significance of harm and its relation to autonomy rights. (shrink)
Legal domains concerned with deception often recognize and regulate cases of negligent deception. The philosophical discussion of deception should follow suit, shifting from an exclusive focus on deception-as-wrongful-manipulation to a broader panorama that includes negligent deception and contemplates cases in which negligent deception may be wrong even when intentional deception about the same information may be permissible. Interesting philosophical questions then arise about what distinguishes negligent deception from mere misunderstandings and mistakes. Those questions require further thought about how relationships involve (...) epistemic cooperation and interdependence, and when such relationships generate responsibility for others’ mental contents. (shrink)
Edited by a team of four leading philosophers, The Norton Introduction to Philosophy introduces students to contemporary perspectives on major philosophical issues and questions. This text features an impressive array of readings, including 25 specially-commissioned essays by prominent philosophers. A student-friendly presentation, a handy format, and a low price make The Norton Introduction to Philosophy as accessible and affordable as it is up-to-date.
I’m grateful to Professors Langton and Owens for their probing comments and to Mind for providing the occasion for this exchange. Both Langton and Owens helpfully push me to tackle interesting problems that I did not wrestle with in the book. I am game to try to answer them, but some of my responses are tentative and roughly hewn, offered more in the spirit of exploratory conversation than firm conviction.
In this article, I reply to eight critics of my book Speech Matters: On Lying, Morality, and the Law. The topics include lying, promising, reciprocity, free speech, and the testimonial duties of institutions.