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)
'We desire all and only those things we conceive to be good; we avoid what we conceive to be bad.' This slogan was once the standard view of the relationship between desire or motivation and rational evaluation. Many critics have rejected this scholastic formula as either trivial or wrong. It appears to be trivial if we just define the good as 'what we want', and wrong if we consider apparent conflicts between what we seem to want and what we seem (...) to think is good. In Appearances of the Good, Sergio Tenenbaum argues that the old slogan is both significant and right, even in cases of apparent conflict between our desires and our evaluative judgements. Maintaining that the good is the formal end of practical inquiry in much the same way as truth is the formal end of theoretical inquiry, he provides a fully unified account of motivation and evaluation. (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)
Sergio Tenenbaum and Diana Raffman contend that ‘vague projects’ motivate radical revisions to orthodox, utility-maximising rational choice theory. Their argument cannot succeed if such projects merely ground instances of the paradox of the sorites, or heap. Tenenbaum and Raffman are not blind to this, and argue that Warren Quinn’s Puzzle of the Self-Torturer does not rest on the sorites. I argue that their argument both fails to generalise to most vague projects, and is ineffective in the case of (...) the Self-Torturer itself. (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)
In this paper we advance a new solution to Quinn’s puzzle of the self-torturer. The solution falls directly out of an application of the principle of instrumental reasoning to what we call “vague projects”, i.e., projects whose completion does not occur at any particular or definite point or moment. The resulting treatment of the puzzle extends our understanding of instrumental rationality to projects and ends that cannot be accommodated by orthodox theories of rational choice.
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)
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)
Shepard has argued that a universal law should govern generalization across different domains of perception and cognition, as well as across organisms from different species or even different planets. Starting with some basic assumptions about natural kinds, he derived an exponential decay function as the form of the universal generalization gradient, which accords strikingly well with a wide range of empirical data. However, his original formulation applied only to the ideal case of generalization from a single encountered stimulus to a (...) single novel stimulus, and for stimuli that can be represented as points in a continuous metric psychological space. Here we recast Shepard's theory in a more general Bayesian framework and show how this naturally extends his approach to the more realistic situation of generalizing from multiple consequential stimuli with arbitrary representational structure. Our framework also subsumes a version of Tversky's set-theoretic model of similarity, which is conventionally thought of as the primary alternative to Shepard's continuous metric space model of similarity and generalization. This unification allows us not only to draw deep parallels between the set-theoretic and spatial approaches, but also to significantly advance the explanatory power of set-theoretic models. Key Words: additive clustering; Bayesian inference; categorization; concept learning; contrast model; features; generalization; psychological space; similarity. (shrink)
Deontological theories face difficulties in accounting for situations involving risk; the most natural ways of extending deontological principles to such situations have unpalatable consequences. In extending ethical principles to decision under risk, theorists often assume the risk must be incorporated into the theory by means of a function from the product of probability assignments to certain values. Deontologists should reject this assumption; essentially different actions are available to the agent when she cannot know that a certain act is in her (...) power, so we cannot simply understand her choice situation as a “risk-weighted” version of choice under certainty. (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)
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)
Kant’s views on the relation between freedom and moral law seem to undergo a major, unannounced shift. In the third section of the Groundwork, Kant seems to be using the fact that we must act under the idea of freedom as a foundation for the moral law. However, in the Critique of Practical Reason, Kant claims that our awareness of our freedom depends on our awareness of the moral law. I argue that the apparent conflict between the two texts depends (...) on a reading of the opening paragraphs of Groundwork III, and on an interpretation of Kant’s claim that we “act under the idea of freedom”, that is implausible on textual and on philosophical grounds. I then present an alternative interpretation of what Kant means by “acting under the idea of freedom” and of the opening paragraphs of Groundwork III. I argue that the only substantive conclusion of these paragraphs is that no theoretical proof of freedom is necessary. Moreover I argue that although these paragraphs raise concerns about the validity of the moral law, these concerns and Kant’s answers to them, do not give rise to any significant conflict with his views in the Critique of Practical Reason. (shrink)
Constitutivists have tried to answer Enoch’s “schmagency” objection by arguing that Enoch fails to appreciate the inescapability of agency. Although these arguments are effective against some versions of the objection, I argue that they leave constitutivism vulnerable to an important worry; namely, that constitutivism leaves us alienated from the moral norms that it claims we must follow. In the first part of the paper, I try to make this vague concern more precise: in a nutshell, it seems that constitutivism cannot (...) provide an adequate account of the relation between the constitutive norms of agency and the particular ends the agent pursues. I then provide a broad outline of an interpretation of Kant’s formalism that is immune to this objection. I conclude that constitutivism is best understood as the upshot of a formalist view of categorical practical principles. (shrink)
This paper argues that the principles of instrumental rationality apply primarily to extended action through time. Most philosophers assume that rational requirements and principles govern in the first instance momentary mental states, as opposed to governing extended intentional actions directly. In the case of instrumental rationality, the relevant mental states or attitudes would typically be preferences, decisions, or intentions. In fact, even those who recognize the extended nature of our agency still assume that rational requirements apply primarily to mental states (...) at a moment in time. Such views try to do justice to the extended nature of our agency by postulating rational requirements that apply in the first instance to plans, policies, and intentions more generally. The paper focuses on the central case of requirements and reasons governing the reconsideration of intentions and argues that these requirements or reasons are either superfluous or invalid. I argue that a proper conception of instrumental reasoning that applies directly to actions turn out to have surprising consequences. In fact, this conception allows us to see that policies, projects and the like are best understood as instances of extended actions, and that the instrumental requirements that apply to projects and policies are exactly the same as the instrumental requirements that apply to ordinary extended actions. Finally, I argue that the resulting theory of instrumental rationality is a significant improvement over theories that rely on principles governing intentions. (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)
The idea of direction of fit has been found appealing by many philosophers. Anscombe’s famous examples have persuaded many of us that there must be some deep difference between belief and desire that is captured by the metaphor of direction of fit. Most of the aim of the paper is to try to get clear on which intuitions Anscombe’s example taps into. My view is that there is more than one intuition in play here, and I will try to show (...) that various distinctions and points are confused in the literature on direction of fit. But I also want to argue that once the proper distinctions are made, it’s not clear that the notion of direction of fit can do any of the philosophically significant work that it was supposed to do. I first argue that the best way to unpack the notion of direction of fit would indeed be by means of the constitutive relation between truth and belief. In particular, the notion of direction of fit is best understood as different ideals, or formal ends, guiding the inference, from what I call “prima-facie” attitudes to what I call “all-out” attitudes respectively in the theoretical and practical realm. However, I’ll argue that there’s no non-circular way of making this distinction. But even if no definition of “belief” and “desire” come out of the distinction between directions of fit, it does elucidate the different natures of practical and theoretical enquiry. However, understood this way, the notion of direction of fit does not seem to capture the distinction illustrated by Anscombe’s example. I try to argue in the last section that Anscombe’s compelling example is best explained not by a distinction between directions of fit, but by a distinction between two different inferential mistakes: one from general to general or particular to general, and the other from general to particular. There’s an important asymmetry between practical and theoretical endeavours in this neighbourhood. However, noticing this asymmetry will also fail to deliver the philosophical payoffs that the notion of direction of fit was supposed to have. (shrink)
In trying to explain the possibility of akrasia , it seems plausible to deny that there is a conceptual connection between motivation and evaluation ; akrasia occurs when the agent is motivated to do something that she does not judge to be good . However, it is hard to see how such accounts could respect our intuition that the akratic agent acts freely, or that there is a difference between akrasia and compulsion. It is also hard to see how such (...) accounts could be extended to the realm of theoretical reason, but this is generally not taken Ito be a problem, because it is generally assumed that there is no similar phenomenon in the realm of theoretical reason. This paper argues that there is such a thing as theoretical akrasia, and that we can find a characterization of this phenomenon in Descartes’s Meditations. Drawing on certain passages in the Meditations, we can construct an account of theoretical akrasia; this account can then be adapted to resolve the original problem of akrasia in the realm of practical reason. The account asserts that there is a conceptual connection between motivation and evaluation in free action; it also enables us to show how the akratic agent is still acting freely when he does something that he does not judge to be the best all things considered. (shrink)
It is undeniable that human agents sometimes act badly, and it seems that they sometimes pursue bad things simply because they are bad. This latter phenomenon has often been taken to provide counterexamples to views according to which we always act under the guise of the good. This paper identifies several distinct arguments in favour of the possibility that one can act under the guise of the bad. GG seems to face more serious difficulties when trying to answer three different, (...) but related, arguments for the possibility of acting under the guise of the bad. The main strategies available to answer these objections end up either undermining the motivation for GG or failing to do full justice to the nature of perverse motivation. However, these difficulties turn out to be generated by focusing on a particular version of GG, what I call the “content version”. But we have independent reasons to prefer a different version of GG; namely, the “attitude version”. The attitude version allows for a much richer understanding of the possibility of acting on what we conceive to be bad. Drawing on an analogy with theoretical akrasia and theoretical perversion, I try to show how the attitude version can provide a compelling account of perverse actions. (shrink)
Most philosophers working in moral psychology and practical reason think that either the notion of "good" or the notion of "desire" have central roles to play in our understanding of intentional explanations and practical reasoning. However, philosophers disagree sharply over how we are supposed to understand the notions of "desire" and "good", how these notions relate, and whether both play a significant and independent role in practical reason. In particular, the "Guise of the Good" thesis - the view that desire (...) (or perhaps intention, or intentional action) always aims at the good - has received renewed attention in the last twenty years. Can one have desire for things that the desirer does not perceive to be good in any, or form intentions to act in way that one does not deem to be good? Does the notion of good play any essential role in an account of deliberation or practical reason? Moreover, philosophers also disagree about the relevant notion of good. Is it a purely formal notion, or does it involve a substantive conception of the good? Is the primary notion, the notion of the good for a particular agent, or the notion of good simpliciter? Does the relevant notion of good make essential appeal to human nature, or would it in principle extend to all rational beings? While these questions are central in contemporary work in ethics, practical reason, and philosophy of action, they are not new; similar issues were discussed in the ancient period. This volume of essays aims to bring together "systematic" and more historically-oriented work on these issues. (shrink)
In trying to explain the possibility of akrasia, it seems plausible to deny that there is a conceptual connection between motivation and evaluation ; akrasia occurs when the agent is motivated to do something that she does not judge to be good. However, it is hard to see how such accounts could respect our intuition that the akratic agent acts freely, or that there is a difference between akrasia and compulsion. It is also hard to see how such accounts could (...) be extended to the realm of theoretical reason, but this is generally not taken to be a problem, because it is generally assumed that there is no similar phenomenon in the realm of theoretical reason. This paper argues that there is such a thing as theoretical akrasia, and that we can find a characterization of this phenomenon in Descartes's Meditations. Drawing on certain passages in the Meditations, we can construct an account of theoretical akrasia; this account can then be adapted to resolve the original problem of akrasia in the realm of practical reason. The account asserts that there is a conceptual connection between motivation and evaluation in free action; it also enables us to show how the akratic agent is still acting freely when he does something that he does not judge to be the best all things considered. (shrink)