Monday, February 16, 2015

Cancelling Schroeder's "Implicature" Response to Parfit's Trivality Objection

According to Parfit's Triviality Objection, metaethical naturalism can't adequately capture our ability to make substantive positive normative claims.  For example, suppose a subjectivist naturalist wants to hold both:

Normative Subjectivism: You have reasons for action just when that act would fulfill one of your desires; and

Reductive Thesis: What it is to have a reason for action just is for that action to be such as to fulfill one of your desires.

Parfit responds that, if the Reductive Thesis were true, Normative Subjectivism could no longer state a positive substantive normative fact, since it would not be attributing any further normative property to acts that fulfill one of your desires.  It would just be to re-attribute that same property under another guise, and so the only real normative fact in the vicinity would be the negative one that there is no further normative property of being a reason that acts may have when they have the property of being such as to fulfill your desires (or whatever).

Schroeder responds, in 'What Matters about Metaethics' (forthcoming, pp.7-8), that on his view positive normative claims are still possible because the attribution of reasons pragmatically implicates that the reasons in question are relatively weighty ones.  And the property of being a weighty reason is a further normative property, just as Parfit asked for.

I have a couple of worries about this response.  Firstly, Schroeder is relying on pragmatic implicatures from normative claims in order to explain their status as positive substantive normative claims, but implicature is cancellable.  So consider the following putatively positive substantive normative claim:

Friday, February 13, 2015

Thoughts on 'Non-Consequentialism Demystified'

'Non-Consequentialism Demystified' is a really interesting new paper in Phil Imprint by Nye, Plunkett & Ku.  It makes two moves, in particular, that I want to focus on in this post.

First, it proposes an interesting analysis of distinctively moral normativity (something that has puzzled me before) in terms of the fittingness of feelings of obligation.  While there's clearly an intimate connection here, it's natural to wonder about the direction of explanation: If you are morally obligated to Φ, that would provide a straightforward explanation of why it's fitting to feel obligated thus. On the other hand, if the distinctive phenomenology is meant to explain what it is to be morally obligated, we might feel that some other explanation is needed of when and why such phenomenology is fitting.  Insofar as emotions (like fear) have fittingness conditions, these seem derivable from their cognitive content: the implicit claim being made by the emotion in question (e.g. that you're in danger).  But what is the cognitive content of a feeling of obligation?  Surely not just the vacuous reflexive thought that this very feeling is fitting.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Information and Parfit's Fact Stating Argument

In Chapter 26 of On What Matters (vol 2), Parfit sets out his (comparatively neglected) 'Fact-Stating Argument' against non-analytical moral naturalism.  This begins by distinguishing the referential and informational senses of "same fact".  Consider the following three claims:

(J) Shakespeare is Shakespeare
(K) Shakespeare and the writer of Hamlet are one and the same person.
(L) Shakespeare wrote Hamlet.

Parfit explains:
In the referential sense, (J) and (K) state the same fact, since both claims refer to Shakespeare and tell us that Shakespeare has the property of being numerically identical to himself.  In the informational sense, however, (J) and (K) state different facts. Unlike (J), (K) refers to Shakespeare in a way that also tells us that Shakespeare wrote Hamlet. In the informational sense, it is (K) and (L) that state the same fact.

Parfit then goes on to consider the moral naturalist's thesis:
(Q) moral rightness is the same as some particular natural property

Are "Internal Reasons" Normative?

Bernard Williams, in his 'Internal and External Reasons', introduces the internal interpretation of 'A has a reason to ϕ' as "impl[ying], very roughly, that A has some motive which will be served or furthered by his ϕ-ing, and if this turns out not to be so then sentence is false: there is a condition relating to the agent's aims, and if this is not satisfied it is not true to say, on this interpretation, that he has a reason to ϕ."  On the external interpretation of the reasons-claim, by contrast, "there is no such condition."

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Waiving Rights and "Second-class citizens"

There's a curious pattern of reasoning one sometimes comes across (especially from the anti-Cosmopolitan Left) that one does better -- morally speaking -- to ignore destitute outsiders than to engage with them on mutually beneficial but unequal or potentially "exploitative" terms.  In an old post on 'boycotting the needy' I discussed the cases of sweatshop labour and prostitution.  I'm now thinking more about immigration and guest worker program.

It's a common concern, amongst people who are unwilling to offer citizenship to long-term migrant workers, that it would be an unjust society that relegates long-term migrants to a lower status of "second class (non-)citizens".  Since we neither want to see ourselves as living in an unjust society, nor offer citizenship to these would-be immigrants, it's concluded that we must expel them from our borders instead! (See, e.g., Wellman's defence of limited-stay migration.)

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Wellman's Implicit Defense of Near-Open Borders

Kit Wellman's 'Immigration and Freedom of Assocation' begins with the following set-up:
Without denying that those of us in wealthy societies may have extremely demanding duties of global distributive justice, I ultimately reach the stark conclusion that every legitimate state has the right to close its doors to all potential immigrants, even refugees desperately seeking asylum from incompetent or corrupt political regimes that are either unable or unwilling to protect their citizens’ basic moral rights.

But, reading on, it's not so clear that this really is what he concludes.  In a key passage on p.127, he writes:

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 in review

(Past annual reviews: 20132012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, and 2004.)

On the blog:


* Normative Concepts -- what makes a concept a normative concept?
* Non-Normative Epistemology -- does it make sense, or are we unavoidably committed to (at least epistemic) normativity?
* Fittingness and Normativity -- can fittingness views adequately capture the "oomph" of practical normativity (the sheer badness of the really bad)?

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Blogs and Articles

There's a cool paper by Thomas Kroedel on 'Dualist Mental Causation and the Exclusion Problem', forthcoming in Nous.  The central idea is very much akin to that discussed in my 2011 blog post 'Epiphenomenal Explanations'.  As with the previously noted case of Kagan on Consequentialism and Individual Impact, I guess it just goes to show that I should hurry up and turn more of my blog posts into journal articles!

It does seem a bit of a shame, though, that that's the only way to get professional credit for one's ideas.  As I've argued before, blogging is an excellent medium for doing philosophy, and while some ideas benefit from the sustained exposition possible in a lengthy journal article, I think it's at least as common to read papers that would benefit from being distilled into blog posts!  So I think it's unfortunate, generally speaking, that our professional incentives are set up the way that they are.  (Not that it's at all clear what feasible alternatives there are...  Any thoughts?)

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Questioning Political Dogmas

There's an interesting thread over at Daily Nous asking whether there's a problematic lack of political diversity in academic philosophy.  I don't think this is something that can be answered in a value-neutral way.

In particular, one cannot just assume that the spectrum of views in the general populace is privileged and ought to be reflected proportionally in academia, (or anywhere else, for that matter).  As we know from history, morally abhorrent views can enjoy substantial popular support.  There was once widespread support for slavery, fascism, etc., amongst certain populations. Otherwise decent and "reasonable" people held, and advocated for, these abhorrent views.  That doesn't mean that they were actually reasonable in doing so, or that the views are ones that (ever) merited representation amongst the intelligentsia.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

December Donations

Happily, I was in a position this year to make donations worth around 8 kidneys, mostly split between SCI (deworming: most cost-effective "quality of life"-improving intervention) and GWWC (growing the effective altruism community, so more money is donated wisely in future).

For anyone interested in donating to GiveWell-recommended charities, check out the Effective Altruism hub on how to donate most tax-efficiently in your country.  E.g., for UK taxpayers, giving via the GWWC trust allows the charity to claim "Gift Aid" from the UK government -- increasing the size of your donation by 25% at no added cost to you. (Donations directly to SCI are already Gift Aid eligible, but this allows you to donate to other GiveWell-recommended charities in addition.)  If GiveWell doesn't process your donation, be sure to fill out a donation report to help them track their "money moved".

My take on GiveWell's top charities: