Sunday, November 29, 2009

Actualism and Complex Actions

I previously argued that practical reasoning is intimately tied to actions, not act-sequences. One possible response (which I owe to Doug Portmore) is to say that our practical reasoning can conclude in an intention to φ, where "‘φ’ can stand for either some basic act or some act-sequence which contains a sequence of basic acts performed over some temporally extended time period."

I'm happy to countenance complex actions, like firing a gun or driving to the store. Despite comprising "a sequence of basic acts performed over some temporally extended time period", complex actions are not mere sequences. They're things we can do with a single 'exercise of agency', so to speak. That is to say: even if they won't be completed until a future time, they're still things I can decide to do now, and my decision will be effective. Complex actions may thus be included among the options available for my present self to choose.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

PhilPapers Survey

Here. As the FAQ explains:
We are conducting the survey as an information-gathering exercise concerning the distribution of philosophical views within the philosophical profession. We hope to discover interesting facts about the distribution of these views...

Our primary target population consists of professional philosophers, but the survey is open to anyone to take. We will break down results by different categories of users, including those with a Ph.D. in philosophy, graduate students in philosophy, undergraduates in philosophy, and others.

Includes zombies, trolleys, and other fun stuff. Do take it!

Update: results here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Can Death Harm Non-Persons?

I've previously suggested that only persons (roughly, beings with an enduring sense of self) are harmed by death. There are two ways that one might argue for this.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Ethics without Act-Sequences

Doug Portmore comments:
Do you deny that we make moral judgments concerning act-sequences or that moral theories need to account for such moral judgments? And what about my claim that we can fulfill and surpass imperfect duties only by performing certain act-sequences? Do you deny this? [...]

My argument is that we make moral judgments regarding the deontic statuses of act-sequences and that, therefore, we should expect our moral theory to be able to account for these moral judgments and that a moral theory that tells us only what deontic statuses individual acts have can't account for these moral judgments because deontic status doesn't agglomerate over conjunction.

Agglomeration fails for unspecific act types, e.g. "driving home". Driving home is (typically) permissible, as is drinking alcohol, but the combination of drinking and driving is not permissible. But suppose we offer more specific descriptions of the token acts, e.g. in the form "φ-ing in circumstances C". What's the argument that these fail to agglomerate? After all, the token action of driving in the circumstance of being drunk is precisely what seems impermissible here. We may expect that in any such case of an intuitively "impermissible" act-sequence, at least one of the individual token actions - fully specified - is impermissible. Stronger still, I think that whenever we seem to "make moral judgments concerning act-sequences" what we are really doing is making a moral judgment about the individual actions in context.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Portmore on Possibilism

Doug Portmore is inviting comments on his manuscript 'Commonsense Consequentialism'. I've previously discussed earlier chapters here and here. I now want to discuss the concluding chapter, which makes a number of claims with which I strongly disagree.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Are QALYs Discriminatory?

In 'QALYfing the value of life' (J. Med. Ethics, 1987), John Harris claims that it is unjust "discrimination" to allocate scarce medical resources to the patients that would benefit most from them (in terms of "Quality-Adjusted Life Years", or QALYs). Instead, he says, we should try to save (or, rather, postpone death for) as many people as we can, without regard for how much different individuals stand to gain from continued life. Since each life "counts for one", Harris argues, postponing death for two 90-year olds (by a month) is more important than postponing a teenager's death by scores of years.

There's something strange about insisting that each person's life has "equal moral value", without bothering to assess how much each person stands to gain from continued life.