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:

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Philosophers' Carnival #170

Welcome to the 170th Philosophers' Carnival, a round-up of recent philosophical blog posts from around the web.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

E.J. Lowe on the Inescapability of Metaphysics

"How is it possible for creatures like us to chart the realm of possibilities? Of course, this is a curious question, to the extent that it is, itself, a question -- addressed to ourselves -- about the very realm of possibilities, access to which, by us, is being put in question.  Suppose, however, that we were to come up with an argument whose conclusion was that it is not possible for us to chart the realm of possibilities. That conclusion would seem to undermine itself, because the conclusion itself concerns the realm of possibilities, maintaining that that realm does not include the possibility of our charting it.  We could thus only have reason to believe the conclusion if the conclusion were false: so we can have no reason to believe it.  Is this just a trick? I don't think so; rather, it is yet another example of the unavoidability of metaphysics. As rational beings, we cannot but consider ourselves capable of knowing at least something about the realm of possibilities. This should not be surprising. Reasoning itself depends upon a grasp of possibilities, because a valid argument is one in which it is not possible for the conclusion to be false if the premises are true -- and a rational being is a creature which can discern the validity of at least some arguments." -- p.137 of 'Metaphysical Knowledge', in Matthew Haug (ed.) Philosophical Methodology: The Armchair or the Laboratory?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Health Improvement vs. Treatment

Appeals to quality-adjusted life-years (QALYs) in medical resource allocation decisions are naturally supported by a broadly utilitarian view of the role of health institutions, i.e. as having the purpose of improving social welfare (via health improvement) as much as possible.  But is that the right view to have? My colleague Mary recently pressed me on an intuitive alternative conception of healthcare as aiming at treating localized health problems rather than yielding global health benefits to patients.  Might that be a better view?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Kidney-Equivalent Donations

There's an interesting post over at the EA forums advocating live kidney donation as an effective way to do a lot of good.  The authors estimate that kidney donation to start a donor 'chain' could be expected to yield a benefit of approximately 14 quality-adjusted life-years (QALYs), with risks to the donor being much smaller than you might expect.  So that's cool.  Not something I'm inclined to do myself, but definitely a cool thing for those who are willing to follow the authors (and GiveWell's Alexander Berger) and go under the knife for their moral beliefs!

One thing that really struck me while reading this, though (and that also emerges in the comments to their post) is just how easy it is to do an equal amount of good through well-targeted financial donations.  Though GiveWell caution against putting too much weight on rough quantitative estimates, their top-rated charities appear to work at around $50 per QALY (see, e.g., these unofficial deworming estimates, and their estimate of bednets as costing at the margin around $3200 per life saved).  So perhaps we can think of each $700 (or £450) donated to GiveWell-recommended charities as a "kidney-equivalent donation".