I discuss Bernard Williams’ ‘integrity objection’ – his version of the demandingness objection to unreasonably demanding ‘extremist’ moral theories such as consequentialism – and argue that it is best understood as presupposing the internal reasons thesis. However, since the internal reasons thesis is questionable, so is Williams’ integrity objection. I propose an alternative way of bringing out the unreasonableness of extremism, based on the notion of the agent’s autonomy, and show how an objection to this proposal can be outflanked by (...) a strategy that also outflanks the ‘paradox of deontology.’. (shrink)
The paper outlines and explores a possible strategy for defending both the action/omission distinction (AOD) and the principle of double effect (PDE). The strategy is to argue that there are degrees of actionhood, and that we are in general less responsible for what has a lower degree of actionhood, because of that lower degree. Moreover, what we omit generally has a lower degree of actionhood than what we actively do, and what we do under known-but-not-intended descriptions generally has a lower (...) degree of actionhood than what we do under known-and-intended descriptions. Therefore, we are in general less responsible for what we omit than for what we do—which is just what AOD says. And we are in general less responsible for what we do under known-but-not-intended descriptions than for what we do under known-and-intended descriptions—which is just what PDE says. (shrink)
I develop an account of moral perception which is able to deal well with familiar naturalistic non-realist complaints about ontological extravagance and ‘queerness’. I show how this account can also ground a cogent response to familiar objections presented by Simon Blackburn and J.L. Mackie. The familiar realist's problem about relativism, however, remains.
I examine the familiar criterial view of personhood, according to which the possession of personal properties such as self-consciousness, emotionality, sentience, and so forth is necessary and sufficient for the status of a person. I argue that this view confuses criteria for personhood with parts of an ideal of personhood. In normal cases, we have already identified a creature as a person before we start looking for it to manifest the personal properties, indeed this pre-identification is part of what makes (...) it possible for us to see and interpret the creature as a person in the first place. This pre-identification is typically based on biological features. Except in some interesting special or science-fiction cases, some of which I discuss, it is human animals that we identify as persons. (shrink)
I develop the relatively familiar idea of a variety of forms of knowledge —not just propositional knowledge but also knowledge -how and experiential knowledge —and show how this variety can be used to make interesting sense of Plato’s and Aristotle’s philosophy, and in particular their ethics. I then add to this threefold analysis of knowledge a less familiar fourth variety, objectual knowledge, and suggest that this is also interesting and important in the understanding of Plato and Aristotle.
In the Preface to his fine book, Paul Horwich deplores the “polar split” that he sees in academic philosophy today between most philosophers, who don’t care about Wittgenstein, and the Wittgensteinian minority, who don’t care about much else, and are “engaged in feuds with one other that no one else cares about”. Whether or not this picture is entirely fair either to Wittgensteinians or to non-Wittgensteinians, it is certainly true, and unfortunate, that Wittgenstein has been normalised by the academic system. (...) His work has been turned into just another specialisation within the philosophy curriculum that no one who is not “taking the course”, or researching in the area, need pay any attention to. The irony, Horwich suggests, is that Wittgenstein, especially in Part One of _The Philosophical Investigations_, offers a revolutionary perspective on the whole question of how to do philosophy, which any philosopher, Wittgensteinian or not, can benefit from at least considering. (shrink)
I develop an anti-theory view of ethics. Moral theory (Kantian, utilitarian, virtue ethical, etc.) is the dominant approach to ethics among academic philosophers. But moral theory's hunt for a single Master Factor (utility, universalisability, virtue . . .) is implausibly systematising and reductionist. Perhaps scientism drives the approach? But good science always insists on respect for the data, even messy data: I criticise Singer's remarks on infanticide as a clear instance of moral theory failing to respect the data of moral (...) perceptions and moral intuitions. Moral theory also fails to provide a coherent basis for real-world motivation, justification, explanation, and prediction of good and bad, right and wrong. Consider for instance the marginal place of love in moral theory, compared with its central place in people's actual ethical outlooks and decision making. Hence, moral theory typically fails to ground any adequate ethical outlook. I propose that it is the notion of an ethical outlook that philosophical ethicists should pursue, not the unfruitful and distorting notion of a moral theory. (shrink)
Provided you start from suitable intuitions, it is easy enough to construct a whole range of arguments any or all of which might be called “the paradox of deontology.” Suppose you think that the role of agency is to bring about goodness, and that it's good to observe deontological constraints. Then it will follow that you should bring about the observing of deontological constraints. And if in some particular context the way to bring about such observings is via a breach (...) of one or more deontological constraints, so be it. Or suppose, more strongly, that you think that the role of agency is to bring about maximal goodness, and that the keeping of the maximum number of deontological constraints is a crucial part of maximal goodness. Then it will follow that you should bring this about. And again, if the route to doing this sometimes runs via the breaching of one or more deontological constraints, so be it. For a non-consequentialist, the way to challenge this supposed paradox is simply to deny that the role of agency is to bring about goodness. This is true because not all reasons are future-directed: some reasons arise from the past or the present, or arise without any time-index. Kant sees this way out of the paradox, and takes it. So far, so good. But Kant goes further, into more complex and strictly Kantian moves against consequentialism; and it is less clear that this further is better. (shrink)
“Thin concepts” are dubious entities. Careful analysis of the usual examples of thick and thin raises serious doubts about both their conceptuality and their thinness. Confusions aside, there is little obvious use for them in ethics or metaethics. The very idea that there could be a naturally-occurring purely evaluative moral concept, with no descriptive content, no cultural setting, and no capacity for distanced or ironic use, is as chimerical as any other ahistorical illusion. Our concentration on thick and thin has (...) distracted us from thinking about other interesting and important ethical distinctions—evidential/ verdictive, evaluative/ prescriptive, determinable/ determinate, Zangwill’s because-relation, Anscombe’s brute-relative-to relation—which have something genuine and non-illusory on both sides of them. (shrink)
I argue that one central resource for ethical thinking, seriously under-explored in contemporary anglophone philosophy, is moral phenomenology, the exploration of the texture and quality of moral experience. Perhaps a barrier that has prevented people from using this resource is that it’s hard to talk about experience. But such knowledge can be communicated, e.g. by poetry and drama. In having such experiences, either in real life or at second-hand through art, we can gain moral knowledge, rather as Mary the colour (...) scientist can gain knowledge of colours; such knowledge is a real cognitive gain, but it is not knowledge of the propositional kind that philosophers have usually focused on. (shrink)
Of course there is a long history of such sayings in all the world’s main spiritual traditions. Socrates’ remark reminds us at once of Solon’s doleful doctrine that we should call no man happy until he is dead (Herodotus Histories Book 1; Aristotle Nicomachean Ethics 1100a11). And Bonhoeffer’s famous saying, while it echoes the typical teaching of many Christian spiritual masters, for instance St Thomas à Kempis and Bianco da Siena (the author of that beautiful hymn “Come down O Love (...) Divine”), is ultimately just a paraphrase of Jesus’ even more famous saying that anyone who wants to follow him must “deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16.24). (shrink)
In this paper I start with the familiar accusation that divine command ethics faces a "Euthyphro dilemma". By looking at what Plato’s ’Euthyphro’ actually says, I argue that no such argument against divine-command ethics was Plato’s intention, and that, in any case, no such argument is cogent. I then explore the place of divine commands and inspiration in Plato’s thought more generally, arguing that Plato sees an important epistemic and practical role for both.
There is a gap between what we think and what we think we think about ethics. This gap appears when elements of our ethical reflection and our moral theories contradict each other. It also appears when something that is important in our ethical reflection is sidelined in our moral theories. The gap appears in both ways with the ethical idea glory. The present exploration of this idea is a case study of how far actual ethical reflection diverges from moral theory. (...) This divergence tells against moral theory, and in favour of less constricted and more flexible modes of ethical reflection. (shrink)
Mikel Burley says that he thinks that the Makropoulos debate can make no sense unless talk about eternal life makes sense. Here is his most striking argument that it doesn't – that immortality is inconceivable: …the concepts [of birth, death, and sexual relations] are internally related to the concept of a human being in the sense that they form part of the complex system of interrelated concepts of which ‘human being’ is a member. To understand what a human being is, (...) and hence to be able to operate competently with that concept, one must also have some understanding of, among many other things, what it means for a human being to be born, to form sexual relationships, and to die. (shrink)
Though Socrates can easily look like a cosmopolitan in moral and political theory, a closer reading of the relevant texts shows that, in the most important sense of the term as we now use it, he turns out – disappointingly, perhaps – not to be. The reasons why not are instructive and important, both for readers of Plato and for political theorists; they have to do with the phenomenon that I shall call ethical blind-spots.
An externalist view of intention is developed on broadly Wittgensteinian grounds, and applied to show that the classic Thomist doctrine of double effect, though it has good uses in casuistry, has also been overused because of the internalism about intention that has generally been presupposed by its users. We need a good criterion of what counts as the content of our intentional actions; I argue, again on Wittgensteinian grounds, that the best criterion comes not from foresight, nor from foresight plus (...) some degree of probability, nor from any metaphysics of “closeness”, but simply from our ordinary shared understanding of what counts as doing a given action, and what does not. (shrink)
Tim the terrorist: We have Tim the terrorist in custody, and we know that he knows where the bomb is that his group have secretly planted somewhere in central London, and we know that if we torture him hard enough he will reliably tell us where it is in time for us to defuse it, and we know that there is no other way of getting him to tell us, and we know that if we don't defuse it the bomb (...) will kill thousands of innocent people. So: what to do? (shrink)
An option range is a set of alternative actions available to an agent at a given time. I ask how a moral theory’s account of option ranges relates to its recommendations about deliberative procedure (DP) and criterion of rightness (CR). I apply this question to Act Consequentialism (AC), which tells us, at any time, to perform the action with the best consequences in our option range then. If anyone can employ this command as a DP, or assess (direct or indirect) (...) compliance with it as a CR, someone must be able to tell which actions fit this description. Since the denseness of possibilia entails that any option range is indefinitely large, no one can do this. So no one can know that any option has ever emerged from any range as the best option in that range. However we come to know that a given option is right, we never come to know it in AC’s way. It is often observed that AC cannot give us a DP. AC cannot give us a CR either, unless we are omniscient. So Act Consequentialism is useless. (shrink)
This paper's ?I examines Derek Parfit's main, metaphysical, argument for reductionism about personal identity. ?II considers three possible ethical arguments for reductionism, and suggests a new approach to the question of what matters about personal identity which has to do with the notion of an ethical narrative.
I begin this paper by examining what MacIntyre has to tell us about radical disagreements: how they have arisen, and how to deal with them, within a polity. I conclude by radically disagreeing with Macintyre: I shall suggest that he offers no credible alternative to liberalism's account of radical disagreements and how to deal with them. To put it dilemmatically: insofar as what MacIntyre says is credible, it is not an alternative to liberalism; insofar as he presents a genuine alternative (...) to liberalism, this alternative is not credible. In large part the credibility problems that I see for MacIntyre's project arise from the history on which he bases it; it is with this history that I begin. Reflection on MacIntyre's profound and subtle political philosophy thus fails to dislodge liberalism from its contemporary intellectual supremacy–a supremacy which I think liberalism has well earned. If anything, such reflection enhances the hegemony of liberalism still further. And a good thing too. (shrink)
A virtue is a disposition of character which instantiates or promotes responsiveness to one or more basic goods -- where a basic good is one which in itself can provide an agent with a sufficient motivation, and an observer with a full explanation. The basic goods to which faith is a responsiveness are truth and practical hope -- the latter being the belief that action according to deliberate choice is not ultimately pointless for me. Now these goods are often in (...) tension for an agent; indeed if there is no God, they will eventually come into irresoluble tension. If God does not exist, there is no single coherent disposition which is a responsiveness to both goods; that is, there is no virtue of faith. So faith is only a virtue if God exists. (shrink)
Agents have aims. Any aim can be either simple or complex. If an aim is complex, then its different components make irreducibly different demands on the agent. The agent cannot rationally respond to all these demands by promoting all her different component aims at once. She must recognise a distinction between the rational response to any component aim of promoting it, and the rational response of respecting it. If the goods are incommensurable, then rational agents have complex aims. So if (...) the goods are incommensurable, rational agents do not only promote whatever aims they recognise. But consequentialism tells agents only to promote whatever aims they recognise. So if the goods are incommensurable, consequentialism is wrong. I note applications of this argument to the writings of Robert Nozick, Philip Pettit, and John Harris. (shrink)
Antigone’s reasons for being prepared to die make good sense within a tragic world-view; but the Crito turns out to be, in an odd way, aporetic, because Socrates’ professed reasons make no sense within the Platonist world-view that we expect him to use. On Platonist principles, Socrates should have escaped from prison, and acted unjustly in not doing so. But Socrates’ real reasons for being prepared to die are not Platonist: they are tragic. Like Antigone, he regards the narrative of (...) his life as over: this is why he is incapable of taking seriously the option of escape. (shrink)
I will discuss some familiar problems in the philosophy of religion which arise for theistic belief. I will argue that it may be most worthwhile to focus on a particular sort of theistic belief, capital-T ’Theism’, central to which is a particular conception both of God and of the believer’s relation to God. At the heart of ’Theism’ in this sense is the continuing experience of God, both individual and collective. Compared with the evidence for Theistic belief that is provided (...) by this experiential contact with God, most of the usually considered arguments for and against God’s existence are secondary. (shrink)