Saturday, February 06, 2016

Opposite Day: "Charity begins at home" edition

It's been almost a decade since my evil twin Ricardo last posted on this blog. I invite him back today to share a horribly misguided speech that he recently gave as part of a debate in St Andrews on the topic 'Charity begins at home'. (They needed someone to defend that awful claim, and I wasn't entirely comfortable about it myself, so sent along my evil twin to do the job. Here's what he came up with...)

Friday, January 29, 2016

Expected Value without Expecting Value

I'm currently teaching a class on "Effective Altruism" (vaguely related to this old idea, but based around MacAskill's new book).  One of the most interesting and surprising (to me) results so far is that most students really don't accept the idea of expected value.  The vast majority of students would prefer to save 1000 lives for sure, than to have a 10% chance of saving a million lives.  This, even though the latter choice has 100 times the expected value.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2015 in review

(Past annual reviews: 20142013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, and 2004.)

Metaethics & Epistemology

* Information and Parfit's Fact-Stating Argument - clarifying what I take to be one of the strongest (yet generally neglected) arguments against metaethical naturalism.
* Are "Internal Reasons" Normative?  I worry that Williams can't coherently think so.
* Normative vs Metaethical Wrong-making explains what I think is wrong with a recently-published "moral argument against moral realism".
Self-Undermining Skepticisms -- argues that Street-style attempts to "debunk" normative realism will end up being self-defeating.
* Three options in the epistemology of philosophy compares skepticism, epistemic conservatism, and objective warrant views. (My sympathies lie with the latter.)
Judgmentalism vs Non-commitalism -- would an ideally rational agent ever suspend belief?

Moral Theory

* Deliberative Openness and the Actualism-Possibilism Dispute - arguing that agents should treat as deliberatively "open" (or within their control) just that which counterfactually depends upon the outcome of their present deliberations.  If your best present efforts can do nothing to influence your future decisions, then this "future self" should, for deliberative purposes, be treated as a distinct agent -- not someone who you can rely upon to carry out your present plans and intentions.  So, plan accordingly.
* Three ways of rejecting moral intuitions -- some more legitimate than others.
* Thoughts on 'Non-Consequentialism Demystified' -- is it a problem for a theory if it holds that reasonable choices and reasonable preferences diverge?
* Moral Theories and Fittingness Implications -- why the former have the latter.
* Wronging for Utilitarians -- not such a puzzle as some seem to think.
* Criterial vs Ground-level Moral Explanations -- a distinction that can help explain why various (e.g. motivational) objections to utilitarianism fail.  See also Rossian Utilitarianism.
* 'Objective Menu' theories of wellbeing -- the old 'list' metaphor is misleading.
* Questioning Moral Equality -- is there any interesting sense in which all people are truly "moral equals"?
* The Best Case for Voting -- invoking cooperative, rather than purely individualistic, utilitarianism.

Applied Ethics

* My paper 'Against "Saving Lives": Equal Concern and Differential Impact' was published in Bioethics.
* Is it OK to have kids? -- my article in Aeon Magazine.
* Procreative Externalities -- are additional people good or bad for those already here? (And more.)
* Good Lives and Un/conditional Value -- If good lives are not intrinsically good, it's hard to avoid the bleak conclusion that it'd be better had there never been life at all.

* GOP Closes Doors to Newborns -- satire, but distressing how little needs tweaking when you start from real quotes from politicians talking about Syrian refugees.
* Waiving Rights and "Second-class Citizens" -- there's something odd about objecting to extended guest-worker programs for the sake of the guest-workers who want to stay here and work.
* Basic Needs and Basic Rights -- why we should prefer a right to an efficient system over a right to free provision of basic needs like food and water.
* It's worth Thinking Realistically about Policy Outcomes.  So few seem to bother.
* Sex Selection and Gender Norms - rebutting a bad argument.

* Beyond Lip-service: betting for beliefs, donating for values -- given all that money can do, isn't it odd that we don't spend more on realizing our values?  If you don't donate to a cause, can you really be said to sincerely value it at all?
* Moral Priorities -- it's taboo to talk about moral tradeoffs.  It shouldn't be.
* Alas, so does Furrow on Eating Meat.  What's with all the bad arguments, people!?


* Baffling Philosophy -- what views do you find completely baffling / unmotivated-seeming?
* For a view that's much more compelling than people generally realize, check out Helen's 'Idealism Without God' -- a radically original rethinking of idealism.  (Better than Berkeley!)

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Aeon article on Procreative Ethics

It's been a year in the making, but my article on procreative ethics is finally up at Aeon Magazine!  Big thanks to Helen Yetter-Chappell, Eden Lin, my parents, and my brother Luke, for helpful feedback on making it accessible to a general audience. (Bonus points to my parents for bringing me and my four brothers into existence -- all net positives for the world, in my opinion!)

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Normative vs Metaethical (constitutive) Wrong-making

Melis Erdur, in 'A Moral Argument Against Moral Realism', asks "whether it makes moral sense to take the dictates of some independent reality to be the ultimate reason why genocide is wrong." (p.7) She continues:
[S]urely, the existence of an independently issued verdict – if there were such a verdict – that genocide is wrong would not be the main or ultimate reason why it is wrong. Genocide is wrong mainly and ultimately because of the pain and suffering and loss that it involves – regardless of whether or not the badness of such suffering and loss is confirmed by an independent reality.

It's a mistake to think that moral realism implies that possession of the mind-independent property of moral wrongness is the "ultimate reason why" an act is wrong, in the ordinary (normative) sense of "reason why".  It's a common mistake, though.  Matt Bedke writes something similar (though I gather from correspondence that he doesn't really intend it to be read this way) in 'A Menagerie of Duties?': "Is it because they are causing [...] pain that the action normatively matters in the way it does, or because there is some non-natural property or relation at play? Surely the former." (p.197)

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Lichtenberg on Effective Altruism

Judith Lichtenberg has a pretty misguided -- and often misleading -- hit piece on the Effective Altruism movement, which concludes:
The effective altruists have shown that, without undue burdens, many of us can and should do a lot more than we do now. But in their zeal to maximize effectiveness, they distort human psychology, undervalue the contributions made by ordinary people, and neglect the kind of structural and political change that is ultimately necessary to redress the suffering and radical inequality we see around us.

Her criticisms are not well-supported.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

GOP Closes Doors to Newborns

In a nearby possible world, the GOP politicians decrying refugees extended their arguments just a little further.  It went a little something like this...

"Who in their right mind would want to let in tens of thousands of newborn children, when we cannot determine, when the administration cannot determine, who is and isn’t going to grow up to be a terrorist?” Cruz asked.

“Here’s the problem." Rubio expanded. "You allow 10,000 people to be born. And 9,999 of them are innocent people who grow up to be decent, law-abiding citizens. And one of them becomes a terrorist,” he said. “What if we get one of them wrong? Just one of them wrong.”

"My primary responsibility is to keep the people of Texas safe," explained the Governor of Texas, in a video clip. "That means: no more people," he quietly added. "They're just too risky."

"Abortion is murder," one pro-life campaigner clarified. "But if we ship babies off to the Middle-East, whatever happens to them is out of our hands." She paused. "I think it's the right thing to do, to protect our values, and protect our children." A longer pause. "The ones that are already here, I mean."

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Three Options in the Epistemology of Philosophy

You pursue your arguments as far as they go, and eventually reach your bedrock assumptions: foundational premises that you accept (and might describe as seeming 'intuitive' to you), but that you can give no further argument for.  Further, you realize that coherent philosophical diversity is possible: others could, coherently, accept (and find 'intuitive') different starting points from yours.  What should you do about it?

One might deny the stipulated set-up, and insist that there is ultimately only one internally coherent philosophical world view.  But that seems unlikely, so I will put aside that ambitious view for now.  One might also reject the "foundationalist" structure I've assumed above, defending instead the idea that our beliefs might form an interlocking (ultimately circular, but "mutually supporting") web, with no privileged starting points.  But I think what I say below will be easily translatable into coherentist idiom: the question just becomes what to think of our web of beliefs as a whole, given that coherent alternatives are possible.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Self-Undermining Skepticisms

Radical skepticism has a curious tendency to undermine itself:  If you can know (or justifiably believe) nothing at all, then you cannot know (or justifiably believe) even that.  So it seems that one cannot coherently take oneself to be incapable of forming justified beliefs.

More limited forms of skepticism might hope to avoid this fate. But it can prove difficult to halt the slide once you've started down that route.  Consider Sharon Street's epistemic argument against moral realism, which we might reconstruct as follows:

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Against the "Sufficiency Principle" of Agential Promotion

Eden Lin recently got me thinking about (agential) promotion. By way of background: many views hold that we have reason to act a certain way iff so acting serves to promote a certain kind of outcome (e.g. valuable state of affairs, or the satisfaction of the agent's desires, or whatever).  Promotion of this kind might be thought to consist in probability-raising, for example, but there are disputes about the details, such as what the relevant "baseline" probability is for comparison purposes.  Eden's paper, 'Simple Probabilistic Promotion', (mentioned here with permission) identifies the following Sufficiency Principle as a commitment of many -- perhaps most -- of the philosophers in the literature:

Sufficiency Principle: S’s doing A promotes p if it causes p to obtain.

For example, Behrends & DiPaolo (p.4) offer the following case, where Julie supposedly "promotes" her desire by pressing the button, even though it's no more likely to be fulfilled than if she did nothing (it is guaranteed either way):
Buttons 2. Julie has some desire. There is one button in front of her. She knows that if she pushes the button, her desire is guaranteed to be fulfilled. However, unbeknownst to Julie, if she does not push the button, Black will ensure that her desire is fulfilled.

Eden convincingly argues that we needn't accept the sufficiency principle.  I'm inclined to think, stronger still, that we positively should not accept it.  Here's why.