Directed duties are duties that an agent owes to some party – a party who would be wronged if the duty were violated. A ‘direction problem’ asks what it is about a duty in virtue of which it is directed towards one party, if any, rather than another. I discuss three theories of moral direction: control, demand and interest theories. Although none of these theories can be rejected out of hand, all three face serious difficulties.
Nietzsche famously attacked traditional morality, and propounded a controversial ethics of 'life-enhancement'. Simon May presents a radically new view of Nietzsche's thought, which is shown to be both revolutionary and conservative, and to have much to offer us today after the demise of old values and the 'death of God'.
Gopal Sreenivasan’s “hybrid theory” states that a moral duty is directed toward an individual because her interests justify the assignment of control over the duty. An alternative “plain theory” states that the individual’s interests justify the duty itself. I argue that a strong moral status constraint explains Sreenivasan’s instrumentalization objection to a Razian plain theory but that his own model violates this constraint. I suggest how both approaches can be reformulated to satisfy the constraint, and I argue that a reformulated (...) plain theory can also avoid an insufficiency objection. The hybrid approach consequently has no clear advantage over the plain approach. (shrink)
Instrumentalism about moral compromise in politics appears inconsistent with accepting both the existence of non-instrumental or principled reasons for moral compromise in close personal friendships and a rich ideal of civic friendship. Using a robust conception of political reconciliation during democratic transitions as an example of civic friendship, I argue that all three claims are compatible. Spouses have principled reasons for compromise because they commit to sharing responsibility for their joint success as partners in life, and not because their relationship (...) involves strong affective attitudes of goodwill, solidarity, trust, and the like. Since shared responsibility for ends is an inappropriate element in the political relationship between citizens, the members of a divided society may manifest the constitutive attitudes of political reconciliation without any commitment to principled reasons for moral compromise. (shrink)
Book synopsis: Simon May presents a fresh and wide-ranging critique of Nietzsche's famous attack on traditional morality, and of his controversial ethics of 'life-enhancement'. He reveals Nietzsche as both revolutionary and conservative–as one who repudiates traditional 'moral' conceptions of God, guilt, asceticism, pity, and truthfulness, and yet retains a demanding ethics of discipline, conscience, 'self-creation', generosity, and honesty. In particular, May shows how Nietzsche rejects truthfulness as an unconditional value and yet celebrates it as one of his own highest values, (...) whose worth is determined by who is pursuing it, for what end, and when in their lives. May is strongly critical of various aspects of Nietzsche's thought–his self-defeating conception of justice, his assumption that 'life-enhancement' necessarily demands world-affirmation, his ambition to de-deify the world, and the impossible and undesirable autonomy of the Übermensch. But Nietzsche is shown to offer modernity key elements of a coherent ethic, and to provide moral philosophy with important tools for reassessing some of its most cherished values and concepts. May's book will be illuminating not just for scholars and students of Nietzsche, in philosophy, literature, and history of ideas, but for anyone interested in current debates about ethics and modernity. (shrink)
On the Genealogy of Morality is Nietzsche's most influential, provocative, and challenging work of ethics. In this volume of newly commissioned essays, fourteen leading philosophers offer fresh insights into many of the work's central questions: How did our dominant values originate and what functions do they really serve? What future does the concept of 'evil' have - and can it be revalued? What sorts of virtues and ideals does Nietzsche advocate, and are they necessarily incompatible with aspirations to democracy and (...) a free society? What are the nature, role, and scope of genealogy in his critique of morality - and why doesn't his own evaluative standard receive a genealogical critique? Taken together, this superb collection illuminates what a post-Christian and indeed post-moral life might look like, and asks to what extent Nietzsche's Genealogy manages to move beyond morality. (shrink)
I argue against Rawls's claim that the liberal principle of legitimacy would be selected in the original position in addition to a democratic principle. Since a religious democracy could satisfy the democratic principle, the parties in the original position would not exclude it as illegitimate.
Book synopsis: On the Genealogy of Morality is Nietzsche's most influential, provocative, and challenging work of ethics. In this volume of newly commissioned essays, fourteen leading philosophers offer fresh insights into many of the work's central questions: How did our dominant values originate and what functions do they really serve? What future does the concept of 'evil' have - and can it be revalued? What sorts of virtues and ideals does Nietzsche advocate, and are they necessarily incompatible with aspirations to (...) democracy and a free society? What are the nature, role, and scope of genealogy in his critique of morality - and why doesn't his own evaluative standard receive a genealogical critique? Taken together, this superb collection illuminates what a post-Christian and indeed post-moral life might look like, and asks to what extent Nietzsche's Genealogy manages to move beyond morality. (shrink)
The Moral Conscience principle claims that a conflict between the demands of a law and the demands of an individual’s sincere moral conscience provides her with a defeasible moral entitlement to an exemption. This chapter argues that this principle is vulnerable to an unfairness objection. There is nothing special about moral conscience that would justify granting an exemption, it claims, that is not shared by a variety of non-moral projects. Thus, there is no principled moral reason for a defeasible entitlement (...) to moral conscience-based exemptions that is not an equally good reason for a defeasible entitlement to non-moral project-based exemptions. Since the chapter assumes that people are not defeasibly entitled to such project-based exemptions, it advocates scepticism about the Moral Conscience principle. (shrink)
Book synopsis: The principal aim of this volume is to elucidate what freedom, sovereignty, and autonomy mean for Nietzsche and what philosophical resources he gives us to re-think these crucial concepts. A related aim is to examine how Nietzsche connects these concepts to his thoughts about life-affirmation, self-love, promise-making, agency, the 'will to nothingness', and the 'eternal recurrence', as well as to his search for a 'genealogical' understanding of morality. These twelve essays by leading Nietzsche scholars ask such key questions (...) as: Can we reconcile his rejection of free will with his positive invocations of the notion of free will? How does Nietzsche's celebration of freedom and free spirits sit with his claim that we all have an unchangeable fate? What is the relation between his concepts of freedom and self-overcoming? The depth in which these and related issues are explored gives this volume its value, not only to those interested in Nietzsche, but to all who are concerned with the free will debate, ethics, theory of action, and the history of philosophy. (shrink)
The question of how to affirm one's life in view of suffering and loss is central to Nietzsche's philosophy. He shows, I claim, that one can affirm – take joy or find beauty in – one's life as a whole, conceived as necessary in all its elements, while also despising parts of it. Yet he mostly pictures such life-affirmation as achievable only via an atheistic theodicy that relies on a key ambition of the very system of morality that he famously (...) attacks: namely to explain or justify suffering in terms of a higher end to which it is essential. I argue that affirmation of one's life is more powerful without the crutch of any theodicy, and point to Job as a paragon of one who can affirm his life without seeking an answer to the question of the meaning or value of suffering – indeed who can dispense altogether with that question. (shrink)
Love—unconditional, selfless, unchanging, sincere, and totally accepting—is worshipped today as the West's only universal religion. To challenge it is one of our few remaining taboos. In this pathbreaking and superbly written book, philosopher Simon May does just that, dissecting our resilient ruling ideas of love and showing how they are the product of a long and powerful cultural heritage. Tracing over 2,500 years of human thought and history, May shows how our ideal of love developed from its Hebraic and Greek (...) origins alongside Christianity until, during the last two centuries, "God is love" became "love is God"—so hubristic, so escapist, so untruthful to the real nature of love, that it has booby-trapped relationships everywhere with deluded expectations. Brilliantly, May explores the very different philosophers and writers, both skeptics and believers, who dared to think differently: from Aristotle's perfect friendship and Ovid's celebration of sex and "the chase," to Rousseau's personal authenticity, Nietzsche's affirmation, Freud's concepts of loss and mourning, and boredom in Proust. Against our belief that love is an all-powerful solution to finding meaning, security, and happiness in life, May reveals with great clarity what love actually is: the intense desire for someone whom we believe can ground and affirm our very existence. The feeling that "makes the world go round" turns out to be a harbinger of home--and in that sense, of the sacred. (shrink)
An exploration of cuteness and its immense hold on us, from emojis and fluffy puppies to its more uncanny, subversive expressions Cuteness has taken the planet by storm. Global sensations Hello Kitty and Pokémon, the works of artists Takashi Murakami and Jeff Koons, Heidi the cross-eyed opossum and E.T.—all reflect its gathering power. But what does “cute” mean, as a sensibility and style? Why is it so pervasive? Is it all infantile fluff, or is there something more uncanny and even (...) menacing going on—in a lighthearted way? In The Power of Cute, Simon May provides nuanced and surprising answers. We usually see the cute as merely diminutive, harmless, and helpless. May challenges this prevailing perspective, investigating everything from Mickey Mouse to Kim Jong-il to argue that cuteness is not restricted to such sweet qualities but also beguiles us by transforming or distorting them into something of playfully indeterminate power, gender, age, morality, and even species. May grapples with cuteness’s dark and unpindownable side—unnerving, artful, knowing, apprehensive—elements that have fascinated since ancient times through mythical figures, especially hybrids like the hermaphrodite and the sphinx. He argues that cuteness is an addictive antidote to today’s pressured expectations of knowing our purpose, being in charge, and appearing predictable, transparent, and sincere. Instead, it frivolously expresses the uncertainty that these norms deny: the ineliminable uncertainty of who we are; of how much we can control and know; of who, in our relations with others, really has power; indeed, of the very value and purpose of power. The Power of Cute delves into a phenomenon that speaks with strange force to our age. (shrink)
I argue that some instances of constitutional religious establishment can be consistent with an expressivist interpretation of democratic legitimacy. Whether official religious endorsements disparage or exclude religious minorities depends on a number of contextual considerations, including the philosophical content of the religion in question, the attitudes of the majority, and the underlying purpose of the official status of the religious doctrine.
Love plays God -- The foundation of Western love : Hebrew scripture -- From physical desire to paradise : Plato -- Love as perfect friendship : Aristotle -- Love as sexual desire : Lucretius and Ovid -- Love as the supreme virtue : Christianity -- Why Christian love isn't unconditional -- Women on top : love and the troubadours -- How human nature became loveable : from the high Middle Ages to the Renaissance -- Love as joyful understanding of the (...) whole : Spinoza -- Love as enlightened romanticism : Rousseau -- Love as religion : Schlegel and Novalis -- Love as the urge to procreate : Schopenhauer -- Love as affirmation of life : Nietzsche -- Love as a history of loss : Freud -- Love as terror and tedium : Proust -- Love reconsidered. (shrink)
James Bohman proposes a republican conception of epistemic injustice as an alternative to Miranda Fricker’s virtue theoretical account. The key element in Bohman’s approach is the concept of domination, one of the central concepts in republican political theory more generally. He claims that all cases of epistemic injustice involve forms of domination, and that institutional mechanisms of non-domination are accordingly necessary to remedy epistemic injustice. I agree with Bohman that there are important connections between domination and epistemic injustice. Nevertheless, I (...) am not persuaded by his characterisation of these connections. I briefly set out Bohman’s account of domination and then critically discuss three interpretations of the relationship between domination and epistemic injustice suggested by his discussion. (shrink)
Compromise is an inescapable part of human coexistence, from the mundane choices of domestic life to the grand stage of world politics. Notwithstanding its ubiquity, compromise raises a number of philosophical puzzles. One kind of problem is conceptual: what is compromise, and how might it differ from similar social phenomena, such as consensus and bargaining? A second kind of problem concerns the murky ethics of compromise, particularly on matters of moral significance. Compromise may have a salutary role in facilitating cooperation, (...) but it can also involve the sacrifice or betrayal of important values. Can there be moral reasons for genuine moral compromise and, if so, what form might they take? Similarly, are there any limits to moral compromise, or are all moral commitments ultimately subject to negotiation? (shrink)
I use the example of racial equality to examine the relationship between the ideal of political legitimacy and the idea that there are some moral limits to political compromise. I defend a principle that rules out certain compromises of racial equality as impermissible violations of legitimacy, but that also provides democratic activists with significant moral latitude in undemocratic contexts. Legitimacy sets these limits on compromise, I argue, because of its role in creating a moral framework for political decision making. This (...) role distinguishes compromises of legitimacy from compromises of other requirements of justice. (shrink)
Rowan Cruft offers an addressive account of directed duties and claim-rights. He claims that the direction of a duty is constituted by two requirements of address between the parties: the right holder must conceive of the action as `to be done to me’ and the duty bearer must conceive of it as to be ‘done to you’. Cruft also argues against accounts of direction and claim-rights that reduce the relation between the parties to nonrelational facts. One such reductive account is (...) the justificatory interest theory. Cruft argues that social authorities can create conventional claim-rights freely, without any constraint imposed by the right holder’s interests. I raise an antecedence objection against the addressive theory as an account of direction. I then argue against Cruft’s claim that conventional claim-rights can be created independently of the right holder’s interests. I conclude that scepticism about the viability of a nonreductive theory of direction is warranted. (shrink)
I distinguish two ways that a cultural practice may be inherently objectionable. I reject the claim that polygamy is inherently "vicious" because asymmetric marriages are inevitably inegalitarian. I argue that there is good reason to think polygamy is inherently "bankrupt" insofar as a cultural ideal of asymmetric marriage presupposes stereotypical gender roles.
I present an interpretation of ideal theory that is grounded in the idea of society as a fair scheme of cooperation, which Rawls describes as the most fundamental idea of justice as fairness. A key element of the Rawlsian idea of cooperation, I claim, is that the individual participants of a genuinely cooperative scheme—whatever its scale—are morally accountable to each other for complying with the scheme’s rules. This means that each participant has the moral standing to demand of the others (...) that they comply with the rules. I argue that the logic of these moral demands requires that the scheme’s rules be worked out on the basis of a strict compliance assumption. In justice as fairness, society as a whole is a grand scheme of cooperation. The principles of justice constitute the moral terms of association for this cooperative scheme, and hence deﬁne the moral demands that citizens, as such, may make of one another. Thus, these principles of justice must likewise be worked out on the basis of a strict compliance assumption. I contrast this interpretation with the standard telic alternative, which grounds the strict compliance assumption in its role as part of the theory of a realistic utopia, and argue for the possibility of non-utopian ideal theories. (shrink)
I raise two critical points about Emanuela Ceva’s theory of interactive justice. First, I argue the value of individual dignity is insufficient in itself to establish principles of interactive justice, but that the lacuna can be filled by an account of democratic authority. Second, I argue that realising interactive justice in political conflict management is better understood as a form of quasi-pure proceduralism rather than intrinsic proceduralism. This is because the moral quality of a decision procedure can be an essential (...) part of the explanation for why political decisions can possess moral authority. (shrink)
Simon May develops a radically new understanding of love as the emotion we feel towards those we experience as grounding our life--as offering us a promise of home--in a world that we supremely value. He also proposes that the child is supplanting the romantic partner as the supreme object of love.
This collection of aphorisms (composed over many years by a noted philosopher) is an aid to crystallising your own thoughts - there are sectors on truth, love, ambition, religion, ageing, cruelty, friendship and all the other vital issues that we confront in life. Aphorisms can be a more enjoyable stimulus for thought than longer philosophical works - because of their variety, because of their compactness, because they invite different interpretations, and because they provide such clear targets - for agreement or (...) disagreement. (shrink)
Leif Wenar’s kind-desire theory states that an individual holds a claim-right against an agent only because she has reason to desire, as a member of a particular social or natural kind, that the agent fulﬁl his duty. He argues that the kind-desire theory is superior to the interest theory of claim-rights, which states that an individual holds a claim-right against an agent only because his duty is in some manner beneﬁcial to her. I compare the merits of the kind-desire theory (...) and a justificatory interest theory, and argue that the kind-desire theory does not satisfy two conditions for a satisfactory analysis of claim-rights as well as this justificatory interest theory. (shrink)
Exemptions from laws of general application are sometimes granted on the basis of an individual’s unwillingness to comply with the law. Most such volitional exemptions involve a conflict between the law and the demands of an individual’s religious or secular moral convictions. I argue here that a limited number of volitional exemptions can be justified on the basis of a futility principle. When otherwise morally permissible penalties for violating the law cannot be expected to induce the compliance of an intransigent (...) minority, the penalties are futile, and the state has some principled reason to exempt the minority from the law’s requirements. Since the futility principle only applies to some cases of conscientious objection, it differs in important ways from justifications grounded in a general entitlement to religious or moral exemptions. (shrink)
A powerful objection to civil marriage claims that it violates the principle of liberal neutrality because the institution implies state endorsement of matrimony as an ideal type of personal relationship. The chapter argues that this neutrality objection is cogent only if certain empirical conditions fail to be met. These conditions concern both the nature and the effects of the social norms that stipulate the intentions and beliefs necessary for good faith entrance into marriage. In certain circumstances, the presumptively permanent nature (...) of marital relationships supports a cogent justification of civil marriage without any implication of state endorsement of the matrimonial ideal. (shrink)