Most people believe that there are limits to the sacrifices that morality can demand. Although it would often be meritorious, we are not, in fact, morally required to do all that we can to promote overall good. What's more, most people also believe that certain types of acts are simply forbidden, morally off limits, even when necessary for promoting the overall good. In this provocative analysis Kagan maintains that despite the intuitive appeal of these views, they cannot be adequately defended. (...) In criticizing arguments for limited moral requirements as well as those for unconditionally prohibited acts, Kagan offers a sustained attack on two of the most basic features of ordinary common sense morality. (shrink)
Shelly Kagan argues for a hierarchical position in animal ethics where people count more than animals do, and some animals count more than others. In arguing for his account of morality, Kagan sets out what needs to be done to establish our obligations toward animals and to fulfil our duties to them.
According to the dominant philosophical tradition, intrinsic value must depend solely upon intrinsic properties. By appealing to various examples, however, I argue that we should at least leave open the possibility that in some cases intrinsic value may be based in part on relational properties. Indeed, I argue that we should even be open to the possibility that an object''s intrinsic value may sometimes depend (in part) on its instrumental value. If this is right, of course, then the traditional contrast (...) between intrinsic value and instrumental value is mistaken. (shrink)
Peter Singer famously argued in Animal Liberation that almost all of us are speciesists, unjustifiably favoring the interests of humans over the similar interests of other animals. Although I long found that charge compelling, I now find myself having doubts. This article starts by trying to get clear about the nature of speciesism, and then argues that Singer's attempt to show that speciesism is a mere prejudice is unsuccessful. I also argue that most of us are not actually speciesists at (...) all, but rather accept a view I call modal personism. Although I am not confident that modal personism can be adequately defended, it is, at the very least, a philosophical view worthy of further consideration. (shrink)
There is one thing we can be sure of: we are all going to die. But once we accept that fact, the questions begin. In this thought-provoking book, philosophy professor Shelly Kagan examines the myriad questions that arise when we confront the meaning of mortality. Do we have reason to believe in the existence of immortal souls? Or should we accept an account according to which people are just material objects, nothing more? Can we make sense of the idea of (...) surviving the death of one’s body? If I won’t exist after I die, can death truly be _bad_ for me? Would immortality be desirable? Is fear of death appropriate? Is suicide ever justified? How should I _live_ in the face of death? Written in an informal and conversational style, this stimulating and provocative book challenges many widely held views about death, as it invites the reader to take a fresh look at one of the central features of the human condition—the fact that we will die. (shrink)
What are the limits of well-being? This question nicely captures one of the central debates concerning the nature of the individual human good. For rival theories differ as to what sort of facts directly constitute a person's being well-off. On some views, well-being is limited to the presence of pleasure and the absence of pain. But other views push the boundaries of well-being beyond this, so that it encompasses a variety of mental states, not merely pleasure alone. Some theories then (...) draw the line here, limiting well-being to the presence of the appropriately broadened set of mental states. But still others extend the limits of well-being even further, so that it is constituted in part by facts that are not themselves mental states at all; on such views, well-being is partly constituted by states of affairs that are “external” to the individual's experiences. In this essay, I want to explore some of this debate by focusing on a particular stretch of the dialectic. That is, I want to think hard about a particular connected series of arguments and counterarguments. These arguments – or, at least, the concerns they seek to express – emerge naturally in the give and take of philosophical discussion. Together they make up a rather simple story, whose plot, in very rough terms, is this: first there is an attempt to push the limits of well-being outward, moving from a narrow to a broader conception; then comes the claim that the resulting notion is too broad, and so we must retreat to a narrower conception after all. (shrink)
According to the dominant philosophical tradition, intrinsic value must depend solely upon intrinsic properties. By appealing to various examples, however, I argue that we should at least leave open the possibility that in some cases intrinsic value may be based in part on relational properties. Indeed, I argue that we should even be open to the possibility that an object's intrinsic value may sometimes depend on its instrumental value. If this is right, of course, then the traditional contrast between intrinsic (...) value and instrumental value is mistaken. (shrink)
Moral desert -- Fault forfeits first -- Desert graphs -- Skylines -- Other shapes -- Placing peaks -- The ratio view -- Similar offense -- Graphing comparative desert -- Variation -- Groups -- Desert taken as a whole -- Reservations.
Typically, discussions of well-being focus almost exclusively on the positive aspects of well-being, those elements which directly contribute to a life going well, or better. It is generally assumed, without comment, that there is no need to explicitly discuss ill-being as well—that is, the part of the theory of well-being that specifies the elements which directly contribute to a life going badly, or less well—since (or so it is thought) this raises no special difficulties or problems. But this common assumption (...) is a mistake, since it is far from obvious how to extend even familiar theories of well-being so as to explicitly cover ill-being as well. This paper acts as an introduction to ill-being, noting some of the interesting and overlooked problems ill-being raises for qualitative hedonism, preference theory, and objective list theories. Particular attention is paid, by way of illustration, to the claim that knowledge is an objective good. Assuming this is so, what exactly is the opposite of knowledge, the objective bad which lowers one’s well-being in the same way that knowledge raises it? (shrink)
000000001. Introduction Call a theory of the good—be it moral or prudential—aggregative just in case (1) it recognizes local (or location-relative) goodness, and (2) the goodness of states of affairs is based on some aggregation of local goodness. The locations for local goodness might be points or regions in time, space, or space-time; or they might be people, or states of nature.1 Any method of aggregation is allowed: totaling, averaging, measuring the equality of the distribution, measuring the minimum, etc.. Call (...) a theory of the good finitely additive just in case it is aggregative, and for any finite set of locations it aggregates by adding together the goodness at those locations. Standard versions of total utilitarianism typically invoke finitely additive value theories (with people as locations). A puzzle can arise when finitely additive value theories are applied to cases involving an infinite number of locations (people, times, etc.). Suppose, for example, that temporal locations are the locus of value, and that time is discrete, and has no beginning or end.2 How would a finitely additive theory (e.g., a temporal version of total utilitarianism) judge the following two worlds? Goodness at Locations (e.g. times) w1:..., 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, ..... w2:..., 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, ..... Example 1 At each time w1 contains 2 units of goodness and w2 contains only 1. Intuitively, we claim, if the locations are the same in each world, finitely additive theorists will want to claim that w1 is better than w2. But it's not clear how they could coherently hold this view. For using standard mathematics the sum of each is the same infinity, and so there seems to be no basis for claiming that one is better than the other.3 (Appealing to Cantorian infinities is of no help here, since for any Cantorian infinite N, 2xN=1xN.). (shrink)
Anyone who reflects on the way we go about arguing for or against moral claims is likely to be struck by the central importance we give to thinking about cases. Intuitive reactions to cases—real or imagined—are carefully noted, and then appealed to as providing reason to accept various claims. When trying on a general moral theory for size, for example, we typically get a feel for its overall plausibility by considering its implications in a range of cases. Similarly, when we (...) try to refine the statement of a principle meant to cover a fairly specific part of morality, we guide ourselves by testing the various possible revisions against a carefully constructed set of cases. And when arguing against a claim, we take ourselves to have shown something significant if we can find an intuitively compelling counterexample, and such counterexamples almost always take the form of a description of one or another case where the implications of the claim in question seem implausible. Even when we find ourselves faced with a case where we have no immediate and clear reaction, or where we have such a reaction, but others don't share it and we need to persuade them, in what is probably the most common way of trying to make progress we consider various analogies and disanalogies; that is to say, we appeal to still other cases, and by seeing what we want to say there, we discover what it is plausible to say in the original case. In these and other ways, then, the appeal to cases plays a central and ubiquitous role in our moral thinking. (shrink)
Many proposed moral principles are such that it would be difficult or impossible to always correctly identify which act is required by that principle in a given situation. To deal with this problem, theorists typically offer various methods of determining what to do in the face of epistemic limitations, and we are then told that the right thing to do – given these limitations – is to perform the act identified by the given method. But since the method and the (...) underlying principle can diverge, it would seem that in such cases we are being given contradictory advice: some particular act will be both right and not right. Various attempts to resolve this apparent paradox are surveyed, but none are completely satisfactory. (shrink)
What determines whether an action is right or wrong? Morality, Rules, and Consequences: A Critical Reader explores for students and researchers the relationship between consequentialist theory and moral rules. Most of the chapters focus on rule consequentialism or on the distinction between act and rule versions of consequentialism. Contributors, among them the leading philosophers in the discipline, suggest ways of assessing whether rule consequentialism could be a satisfactory moral theory. These essays, all of which are previously unpublished, provide students in (...) moral philosophy with essential material and ask key questions on just what the criteria for an adequate moral theory might be. (shrink)
In Rethinking the Good, Larry Temkin argues that the common belief in the transitivity of better than is incompatible with various other value judgments to which many of us are deeply committed; accordingly, we should take seriously the possibility that the better than relation is not, in fact, a transitive one. However, although Temkin is right, I think, about the mutual incompatibility of the beliefs in question, for the most part his examples don’t leave me inclined to deny transitivity. Nonetheless, (...) there is one example, involving infinity, that does seem to me particularly troubling. (shrink)
Although the nature of moral desert has sometimes been examined in axiological terms—focusing on the thought that it is a good thing if people get what they deserve—deontologists typically think desert is more appropriately treated in terms of duties and obligations. They may, for example, prefer to talk in terms of there being a moral duty to give people what they deserve. This essay distinguishes a number of forms such a duty might take, and examines four of them more closely. (...) (In particular, it looks at positive and negative duties with regard to both comparative and noncomparative desert). Questions about the contents of each of these duties are raised, making clearer just how much work would be involved in spelling out the relevant duties more completely. The essay concludes with a brief discussion of the possible implications of such desert-based duties for population ethics. (shrink)
In The Geometry of Desert I used graphs to explore two common ideas about moral desert, namely, that people differ in terms of how deserving they are, and that it is a good thing if people get what they deserve. I argued that desert is a more complex value than we normally recognize, and I laid out a number of alternative possible views, defending some of them. In a pair of critical discussions published in this journal, Victor Tadros and Kasper (...) Lippert-Rasmussen offer a variety of objections to several of the ideas I have put forward. In this essay I welcome their criticisms and respond to some of the main points they raise. (shrink)
In my forthcoming book, How to Count Animals, More or Less (based on my 2016 Uehiro Lectures in Practical Ethics), I argue for a hierarchical approach to animal ethics according to which animals have moral standing but nonetheless have a lower moral status than people have. This essay is an overview of that book, drawing primarily from selections from its beginning and end, aiming both to give a feel for the overall project and to indicate the general shape of the (...) hierarchical position that I defend there. In this essay, I contrast the hierarchical approach with its most important rival (which holds that people and animals have the very same moral status), sketch the main idea behind one central argument for hierarchy, and briefly review three potentially troubling implications of the hierarchical view. I close with a discussion of a promising possible solution to the most worrisome of the three objections. (shrink)
The Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics interviewed Kagan about his formative years; his work on death, the moral status of animals, and desert; his views on changing one’s mind and convergence in philosophy; and his advice for graduate students in moral philosophy.