Saturday, July 14, 2018

Acts, Attitudes, and the Separateness of Persons

My previous post discussed the first of Seth Lazar's two objections to my account of the separateness of persons. Here's the second:
Chappell thinks the objection has to do only with attitudes. His token-pluralistic utilitarianism can, in its deontic verdicts, be extensionally identical to token-monistic utilitarianism (according to which only aggregate well-being is non-instrumentally valuable), but preferable since it encourages us to adopt the appropriate attitude to the losses inflicted in the pursuit of the overall good. This misunderstands the separateness of persons worry. It has nothing to do with our attitudes: it concerns instead what we ought to do. We ought not assume that benefits to one person can cancel out same-sized costs to another.

I agree with that last sentence.  Indeed, that is the heart of my account of the separateness of persons: that we should not treat people as fungible, such that "benefits to one person can cancel out same-sized costs to another".  However, whether costs are cancelled or merely outweighed is precisely something that (I show) has implications for fitting attitudes rather than for what acts are ultimately most worth performing.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Constitutive Instrumentality: a response to Lazar

Seth Lazar's forthcoming paper, 'Moral Status and Agent-Centred Options' contains some interesting objections to my 'Value Receptacles' paper.  Here's the first:
Chappell’s treatment of the separateness of persons has several weaknesses. First, what does it mean to value aggregate well-being non-instrumentally, while valuing the well-being of individuals only instrumentally? The view seems a straw man. Aggregate well-being is composed of the well-being of individuals. If aggregate well-being is a noninstrumental value, then individual well-being is a non-instrumental value, since aggregate well-being just is all the individual well-being taken together. Treating different people’s well-being as totally fungible is a conceptual mistake, hence not a charitable interpretation of the separateness of persons objection. 

This is incorrect.  An important upshot of my paper was that we need to recognize two very different kinds of instrumentality.  The most familiar kind is when one thing is a causal means to another, as (e.g.) in the case of money being useful for buying desired objects.  But we should also recognize the possibility of one thing being a constitutive means to another.  This is what's going on in the case of someone who most fundamentally cares about a kind of good in the aggregate, rather than having any basic, non-derivative concern for the particular instances that make up the aggregate.  Their concern for the instances is wholly derivative of their concern for the whole, in a way that makes them entirely indifferent to internal variation (e.g. in the identities of the instances) as long as it doesn't affect the overall value of the whole.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Sub-experiences and Minimal Duration

Suppose that our conscious experiences have a certain minimum duration, say 100 ms.  Take a subject experiencing a second of pleasure, and let 't1' denote the first 50 ms time period, 't2' the next 50 ms, and so on through to 't20'.  So the subject experiences pleasure from t1 - t20.  Do they experience pleasure at t1 (and accrue a proportionate momentary welfare boost at this time)?

I'm inclined to answer 'yes'.  But this may seem to entail that both whether you're experiencing pleasure at a time and whether you accrue positive momentary welfare can be extrinsic, not fixed by the intrinsic properties of the moment.  After all, if the agent had been knocked unconscious after t1, then they would not have experienced any pleasure during this period due to the associated neural activity lasting for less than the minimum experiential duration.  Their neural activity at t1 will only get to (partly) constitute a pleasant experience if it continues on for at least another 50 ms.  This gets especially puzzling if one posits an open future.  It might then be indeterminate at t1 whether the agent is currently experiencing pleasure -- the facts about the agent's t1-experiences would not be settled until a later time (perhaps at t3 they get retroactively 'fixed').  That seems weird.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Civility and Politics Beyond the Pale

Michelle Goldberg has an excellent opinion piece in the NYT on the recent 'civility debate':
The norms of our political life require a degree of bipartisan forbearance. But treating members of Donald Trump’s administration as ordinary public officials rather than pariahs does more to normalize bigotry than exercising alongside a white separatist. [...] As long as our rulers wage war on cosmopolitan culture, they shouldn’t feel entitled to its fruits. If they don’t want to hear from the angry citizens they’re supposed to serve, let them eat at Trump Grill.

Ordinarily, my sympathies are all for showing civic respect to our political "opponents" (who ideally we should not think of as opponents at all).  But these aren't ordinary times.  As Goldberg briefly recounts, the Trump administration (and indeed much of the broader Republican party) has abandoned any pretense of abiding by norms of civil democracy in favour of blatant dishonesty, inhumanity, and political corruption.

Do those who insist on continued civility (for moral rather than tactical reasons) deny that Trump and his cronies have gone beyond the pale?  If so, where do they draw the line -- must we tolerate everything short of the gas chamber?

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Three kinds of offsetting

Distinguish the following kinds of "offsetting" behaviour:

Preventative offsetting -- when potential harms depend on just the global amount of something (say, greenhouse gas emissions), it seems that one can prevent the potential harm done by one's contributions by "offsetting" or paying to reduce others' contributions, so that the net effect of one's behaviour leaves the global magnitudes unchanged.

Cause-specific (or harm-type) offsetting -- when you cause a harm of a certain type, but then seek to 'offset' the badness of this by preventing a like harm from occurring elsewhere.  E.g. donating to a relevant environmental charity after polluting your local river.

Cause-neutral (or net utility) offsetting -- when you cause a harm of a certain magnitude, and then seek to 'offset' the badness of this by preventing a similar amount of harm elsewhere.  E.g. donating to a global poverty charity after polluting your local river.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Moving to Miami!

I'm very happy to say that Helen & I will be joining the philosophy department at the University of Miami next year!

We bid farewell to many fantastic colleagues, and will certainly miss daffodil season in York...

... but are thrilled to be joining the outstanding philosophical community at UM!

Thursday, March 01, 2018

On Parfit on Knowing What Matters

If I had to pick a "favourite philosopher", it would be Derek Parfit.  His book Reasons and Persons is, in my view, the best there is -- containing striking insights and arguments on every page, and laying the groundwork for basically all subsequent work on the deepest puzzles surrounding consequentialism, personal identity, and population ethics.  So it was a great honour to have him respond to my paper 'Knowing What Matters' in his third volume of On What Matters.  I wish he were still around to be able to continue the conversation further, as I would have liked to prompt him to engage more closely with various claims (that he was instead initially inclined to reject by just re-asserting his antecedent view). Sadly, that's no longer possible.  But I guess I can at least continue my side of the conversation, and perhaps other readers will suggest further comments and responses that could be made on Parfit's behalf.

'Knowing What Matters' argues that Parfit concedes too much to the moral skeptic, and explores how the robust realist might defensibly take a less conciliatory line on moral epistemology.  In particular:

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Cognitivism and Moral / Philosophical Peer Intransigence

Richard Rowland's forthcoming Analysis paper on 'The Intelligibility of Moral Intransigence' presents a curious argument against moral cognitivism.  It goes roughly as follows:

P1. Beliefs track perceived evidence.
P2. Perceived peer disagreement is perceived evidence.
Hence C1. Peer intransigent judgments are not beliefs.
P3. Moral peer intransigence is intelligible: moral judgments can be peer intransigent.
Hence C2: Moral judgments are not beliefs.

The argument seems to prove too much, insofar as one could just as well replace 'moral' with 'philosophical' in P3, but non-cognitivism about all philosophy seems pretty absurd.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Philosophical Expertise, Deference, and Intransigence

Here's a familiar puzzle: David Lewis was a better philosopher than me, and certainly knew more and had thought more carefully about issues surrounding the metaphysics of modality.  He concluded that modal realism was true: that every concrete way that a world could be is a way that some concrete universe truly is (and that these concrete universes serve to ground modal truths -- truths about what is or is not possible).  But most of us don't feel the slightest inclination to defer to his judgement on this topic.  (I might defer to physicists on the 'Many Worlds' Interpretation of quantum mechanics, but that's a different matter.)  Are we being irrational?

Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 in review

(Past annual reviews: 20162015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, and 2004.)

Off the blog... Mostly I've been occupied this year by the arrival of this little guy:

Professionally, I was delighted to finally find a good home for my 'Willpower Satisficing' paper (in Noûs!).  'Why Care About Non-Natural Reasons?' was accepted by APQ.  And a couple of previously-accepted papers -- 'Knowing What Matters' and 'Rethinking the Asymmetry' -- appeared in print, while 'Fittingness Objections to Consequentialism' was officially approved for an OUP-edited volume.  Busy times!

On the blog...

Applied Ethics

* A series of posts took a critical look at a healthcare fiasco unfolding in the UK which our family experienced first-hand: UK shuts down Independent Midwives, Medical Indemnity: Protection or Compensation?, and Assessing the NMC's Defense of its Independent Midwifery Ban.

* Universalizing Tactical Voting rebuts the moral objection to tactical voting.

* Anomaly vs Huemer on Immigration -- explaining why the default presumption should be to favour freer immigration.

Moral Theory

* Aggregating the Right Moments addresses one intuitive reason for thinking that it'd be better to give one person half a million minutes (i.e. one year) more life than to give a million people one minute more each.

* Nanoseconds that Matter explains why even arbitrarily small durations of time should not be assumed to lack value entirely.

* Harms, Benefits, and Framing Effects defends the existence of 'framing effects' against the objections of a recently published paper.

* Iterating Badness in the Paradox of Deontology explores an objection to Setiya's new paper, 'Must Consequentialists Kill?'

* Drawing the Consequentialism/Deontology Distinction does just what it says on the tin.


* Our Zombie Bodies, and Physicalist Epiphenomenalism discusses the idea that our mental properties should not be attributed to our physical bodies in addition to our person, and so our bodies are, in a sense, philosophical zombies.

* Intelligible Non=Natural Concerns explores exceptions to the rule that we shouldn't care about morality 'de dicto'.

Happy New Year!