Friday, December 31, 2010

2010: My Web of Beliefs

It's been a busy year, which has meant less blogging for me than usual. Still, there's enough that I can write a year-end summary of sorts [cf. 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004].

Misc. Philosophy

'Empty Definitions' warns against the popular mistake of thinking that substantive philosophical disputes turn on how we choose to define our terms. 'Non-Physical Questions' builds on related ideas to bring out a simple (but, I think, compelling) problem for physicalism (plus some fun discussion in the comments).

False Dichotomies, Deism, and Religious Bundles notes that popular pre-bundled worldviews may gain false plausibility in virtue of one component of the bundle being fairly reasonable (in a way that does nothing to support the other elements).

In an epistemology post that doesn't really fit in any other category below, I raise some objections to Huemer's Self-Defeat Argument for Phenomenal Conservatism (the view that intuitions are always prima facie justifying).

'Fissioning in Prospect and Retrospect' considers some fun personal identity puzzles. I also wrote general posts this year summarizing my thoughts on personal identity and abortion.

Applied Ethics

I joined Giving What We Can, pledging to give a portion of my income to the most effective charities, and discussed some reasons why you might want to do likewise. On a more theoretical note, my post 'Helping Wrongdoers' argues against Garrett Cullity's attempt to limit the moral demands of affluence. 'Securing Moral Liberty' looks at why we might reasonably want to limit morality's demands, even if there's no way to actually do this except by ensuring the basic welfare of the worst-off. 'Utilitarian Policy' invites suggestions for "no-brainer" welfare-improving policies.

Voting, Vegetarianism, and Other Chunky Impacts points out an important fallacy in common arguments that our individual behaviour is inefficacious. I offer a limited defense of free-riding. 'Species and Cognitive Enhancement' considers whether we would have more (intrinsic) reason to "cure" a mentally retarded human than to equally "enhance" a non-human animal.

Normative Ethics

- 'Anti-Consequentialism and Axiological Refinements' points out that many apparent objections to consequentialism really just suggest the need for a more refined theory of the good. Worries about killing and average utility are a great example of this. 'Desiring Each Good' then explains why utilitarianism does not in fact neglect the separateness of persons, or treat individuals as 'replaceable', contrary to the common objection.

- 'Co-operative Utilitarianism' explains Donald Regan's sophisticated theory for dealing with co-ordination problems. The Limits of Moral Theory then draws out an interesting consequence of Regan's work: it's actually impossible to design a theory such that universal compliance with it ensures the collectively optimal results!

- Co-operation vs. Benevolence explains why co-operation ain't always so great.

- I propose a distinction between 'Agential' and 'Outcome' responsibility, clarifying how some puzzle cases in the moral responsibility literature are giving rise to merely terminological disputes. 'Expecting Better of the Ignorantly Unreasonable' continues my crusade against those who think that ignorance is almost always morally exculpatory (in this case responding to a specific argument from Neil Levy). I also warn against 'increasingly subjective oughts'.


I argue for an important normative disparity between 'agential' vs. 'mere' evaluands, as an extension of last year's arguments against Global Consequentialism. I further argue that value primitivists cannot capture this disparity merely by reconstructing 'ought' as the conjunction of 'value' + 'can'.

My post on ambiguous meta/normative theories distinguishes two very different ways of interpreting theories like Divine Command Theory, Humean subjectivism, etc., and suggests that neither seems very appealing. An earlier post raised a similar problem for Humeans in the context of exploring how best to understand the force of hypothetical imperatives.


I found myself writing so many posts after Peter Singer's incredibly stimulating graduate seminar on Parfit's new book (On What Matters) that I've created a whole new category for my responses to Parfit's work. Some highlights include: Non-Metaphysical Cognitivism, Actual vs. Possible Disagreement, Parfit's Possibilism, and Expressivism & Evidence. Most significantly (to me): 'Natural Arbitrariness' explains how Parfit convinced me that Smithian considerations of coherence are not enough to defuse all cases of "Future Tuesday Indifference"-style normative perversity, thus paving the way for a more thorough-going (not merely 'procedural') objectivism about reasons.

Technology and Academia

- APA Wishlist: less snow, more skype, and a functioning website -- one can dream!
- I explain the basics of RSS feeds -- an incredibly convenient tool for anyone who reads more than a couple of blogs or news websites.
- Ubuntu 10.10 recommendations: for a simple, free, and powerful alternative / supplement to Windows.
- Grading with Google Docs (advanced): super-convenient python scripts to make electronic grading of student papers a logistical breeze.

Happy New Year!

1 comment:

  1. I'm trying to draw out the web of beliefs of Less Wrongers over here. Thanks for the inspiration.


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