Friday, May 06, 2022

Moving to Substack

I started this blog 18 years ago, as a second-year undergraduate philosophy major.  The first couple years were... very undergrad-y... but I think by 2006 or so I was doing some pretty interesting philosophy on here, much (but not all) of which I would still stand by.  The next few years (heading into early grad school) were probably the peak years for the blog in terms of audience engagement, commonly getting dozens of comments per post.

After the old blogosphere largely died off, and engagement moved to Facebook and Twitter, I've kept the blog going as a kind of "extended mind" for organizing my thoughts.  Sharing the posts on FB sometimes leads to some good discussion there.  And I get loads of random google hits through all the page-rank built up over the years. I've written over 2000 posts, received over 14K (non-spam) comments, and since 2010 have received over 5 million page views.  Still, the old Blogger software is no longer well-supported, so I'm curious to see if I can do better on a new platform.

I've heard good things about Substack, so have set up a new blog/newsletter there, called Good Thoughts. (The 'goodthoughts' substack url was already taken, alas, so I've gone with instead.)  Existing email subscribers should be carried over automatically.  Others can click through or use the following form to subscribe:

Whereas Philosophy, et cetera was always primarily a self-indulgent project, my aim with Good Thoughts is to be a little more thoughtful about writing for an audience, e.g. writing more self-contained posts, with less reliance on back-linking to previous posts to fill in essential background, etc. We'll see how it goes, but I hope it proves worthwhile.

Hope to see you there!

P.S. For a synoptic view of my past blogging, check out the annual review posts under my 'compendia' category.

Sunday, May 01, 2022

Utilitarianism Debate with Michael Huemer

Matthew Adelstein kindly invited me & Michael Huemer to hash out our disagreements about utilitarianism over on his YouTube channel.  The resulting discussion was fun and wide-ranging.  In this post, I just want to highlight a couple of major themes that seemed fairly central to our dispute: (1) which intuitions we place the most weight on, and (2) the inferential role of wrongness.

Writing Papers with Pandoc

At Daily Nous, there's a discussion of Tech Advice for a New Philosophy Grad Student.  There's some dispute about whether or not it's worth learning LaTeX.  I recommend pandoc instead for those who are on the fence.  You write in markdown, a simpler and more readable plain text syntax (compare *markdown italics* to \emph{LaTeX italics}, for example!). But it subsequently uses LaTeX to produce good-looking PDFs.  Or it can just as easily convert into other document formats, such as Word .docx, if needed.  It's very flexible.

Wednesday, March 09, 2022

Rescuing Maligned Views in Phil Mind [HYC]

Epiphenomenalism and Idealism are two of the most maligned views in philosophy of mind. So it's kind of funny that Helen defends both.  Something I really like about her papers is that they really bring out why these views are much more defensible -- or even appealing -- than others usually realize.  This comes through especially strongly in her two latest papers:

(1) 'Get Acquainted With Naïve Idealism' (forthcoming in The Roles of Representations in Visual Perception) argues that only idealists can truly secure the putative epistemic benefits of direct realism about perception, as the only well-developed conception of direct acquaintance on offer in phil mind involves the objects of direct acquaintance (i.e., phenomenal experiences) being literal constituents of our thoughts.  Helen shows how idealists can extend this account to make sense of direct acquaintance with "physical" objects (that are themselves ultimately made of phenomenology, and hence apt to enter our minds in the relevant way), while traditional materialist accounts of physical reality can't make sense of this.  The resulting theory of perception -- naive idealism -- is completely wild, but a lot of fun to think about! 

(2) 'Dualism All the Way Down: Why There is No Paradox of Phenomenal Judgment' (forthcoming in Synthese) should instantly become required reading for any class that covers epiphenomenalism.  In this paper, Helen expands upon Chalmers' classic defense of epiphenomenalism against the paradox of phenomenal judgment ("how can you know you're conscious, if qualia can't cause this belief?"), emphasizing that the paradox -- including Kirk's post-Chalmers development of it -- loses its force when one takes care to adopt a systematically dualistic conception of the mind, such that you are not your brain.  This putative "paradox" is usually taken to be the objection to epiphenomenalism, and this paper basically offers a knock-down refutation of it (and a half-dozen closely related variants of the objection).


Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Objections to Rule Consequentialism

Those put-off by the putative counterexamples to Act Consequentialism may consider Rule Consequentialism a more appealing alternative. Michael Huemer goes so far as to suggest that it is "not a crazy view." In this post, I'll explain why I think Rule Consequentialism is not well-supported -- and, at least as standardly formulated, may even be crazy.

There are three main motivations for Rule Consequentialism (RC).  One -- most common amongst non-specialists -- stems from the sense that it would be better (in practice) for people to be guided by generally-reliable rules than to attempt to explicitly calculate expected utilities on a case-by-case basis.  But of course this is no reason to prefer RC as a criterion of right; this consideration instead pulls one towards multi-level act utilitarianism (on which the right decision procedure is something other than constant calculation).

A better argument for RC (and the one that seems to motivate Huemer) is that it better systematizes our moral intuitions about cases.  But I think this is bad moral methodology -- matching superficial intuitions about cases is much less important than conforming to our deeper understanding of what really matters.  And RC is notoriously difficult to reconcile with the idea that promoting well-being (rather than blindly following rules) is what matters.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Guest Post: Animal Population Ethics

Evan Dawson-Baglien wrote to me with some interesting thoughts on the challenge of incorporating non-persons into (non-total views of) population ethics. I asked him if he'd be willing to compose and share his thoughts as a guest post, and he generously agreed. Here's the result. Enjoy!

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Utilitarianism and Reflective Equilibrium

In 'Why I Am Not a Utilitarian', Michael Huemer objects that "there are so many counter-examples, and the intuitions about these examples are strong and widespread, it’s hard to see how utilitarianism could be justified overall."  But I think it's actually much easier to bring utilitarianism (or something close to it) into reflective equilibrium with common sense intuitions than it would be for any competing deontological view.  That's because I think the clash between utilitarianism and intuition is shallow, whereas the intuitive problems with non-consequentialism are deep and irresolvable.

To fully make this case would probably require a book or three.  But let's see how far I can get sketching the rough case in a mere blog post.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Emergence and Incremental Probability

In 'Emergence and Incremental Impact', I argued (contra Kingston and Sinnott-Armstrong) that emergent properties do nothing to undermine the basic case for individual impact: they're just another kind of threshold case, and thresholds are compatible with difference-making increments.

In that old post, I assumed counterfactual determinacy to make the case for there being some precise increment(s) that make a difference whenever a collection of increments together does.  But while revising my paper on collective harm, it occurred to me that the case becomes much more clear-cut when made in terms of probabilities.

Thursday, January 06, 2022

Longtermism Contra Schwitzgebel

In 'Against Longtermism', Eric Schwitzgebel writes: "I accept much of Ord's practical advice. I object only to justifying this caution by appeal to expectations about events a million years from now."  He offers four objections, which are interesting and well worth considering, but I think ultimately unpersuasive.  Let's consider them in turn.

Friday, December 31, 2021

2021 in review

[Past annual reviews: 20202019 & '182017201620152014201320122011201020092008200720062005, and 2004.]

Off the blog:

The biggest development for me was joining as lead editor.  I then completed their chapters on population ethics and theories of well-being, and wrote a new chapter outlining some basic arguments for utilitarianism.  More to come soon!

For more traditional academic publications:
* Parfit's Ethics appeared in print with Cambridge University Press. (Summary here.)
* 'Pandemic Ethics and Status Quo Risk' (summarized here) was accepted by Public Health Ethics.
* 'Negative Utility Monsters' was published in Utilitas.

I'm also pretty excited about various works-in-progress that are currently under review, especially my new paradox of deontology...

Blog posts:

Normative Ethics

* The Cost of Contraints -- sets out the core of my "new paradox of deontology".  Further developed in Preferring to Act WronglyWhy Constraints are Agent Neutral, and Discounting Illicit Benefits.

The Most Important Thing in the World -- is plausibly the trajectory of the long-term future.

Three Dogmas of Utilitarianism -- (i) Confusing value with what's valuable; (ii) Neglecting fittingness; and (iii) Treating all interests as innocent.

* Agency as a Force for Good -- and the appeal of consequentialism.

Learning from Lucifer -- If Satan would be a consequentialist, should the good guys be likewise (just, you know, with better goals)?  Or is there a deeper asymmetry between right and wrong?

* Tendentious Terminology in Ethics -- against common uses of "mere means" and "separateness of persons" talk.

Is Effective Altruism Inherent Utilitarian?  I suggest not.  There's a weaker normative principle in the vicinity, potentially shareable by any other sensible view, which should be difficult to deny. In a later post, I call this: Beneficentrism: The view that promoting the general welfare is deeply important.

* Consequentialism's Central Concept may be importance rather than rightness.

* What's at Stake in the Objective/Subjective Wrongness Debate? Seems terminological.  Appeal to "what a morally conscientious agent would be concerned about" doesn't help, because (my Moral Stunting Objection shows) a morally conscientious agent wouldn't be concerned about right or wrong per se.

Welfare and Population Ethics

* Is Conscientious Sadism still bad?

* Parsimony in Theories of Welfare -- is it really a relevant consideration at all?

* The Limits of Defective Character Solutions -- and why they don't help with the non-identity problem.

* Stable Actualism and Asymmetries of Regret -- actualist partiality is defensible once you subtract the possibility of elusive permissions.

Pandemic Ethics

* Lessons from the Pandemic: blocking innovation is bad.

* Epistemic Calibration Bias and Blame Aversion -- we're often too scared of being wrong, and not sufficiently attuned to the risks of failing to be right (e.g. by instead remaining non-committal) when it matters.

* There's No Such Thing as "Following the Science" -- normative principles are needed to bridge the is/ought gap.  Better slogan: Follow Decision Theory!

* Appeasing Anti-Vaxxers -- and why it's wrong.

* Imagining an Alternative Pandemic Response -- with vaccine challenge trials, targeted immunity via variolation, and immunity passports to spare many (e.g. healthy young people) from lockdowns.

Applied Ethics

* Companies, Cities, and Carbon -- blaming large corporations for proportionately large carbon emissions makes no more sense than blaming large cities. 

Five Fallacies of Collective Harm -- Critiquing the five main reasons why people falsely believe that collective difference-making doesn't require individual difference-making.

The Absurdity of "Undue Inducement" argues that there's no in-principle basis for objecting to monetary incentives to (e.g.) research participants.  If concerned that an offer might be exploitative, the solution is to pay more, not less.

* Against Anti-Beneficent Paternalism - as a general rule, we shouldn't prevent people from doing good (even if we aren't entirely certain of the quality of their understanding or consent).

* Puzzling Conditional Obligations -- if positively good to comply with, then you ought to have unconditional reason to get yourself into position to meet the putative obligation.


* The Parochialism of Metaethical Naturalism - the basic moral facts should not differ depending on our location in modal space (i.e. which world is actual).  But synthetic metaethical naturalism, with its 2-D semantic asymmetry, violates this principle.

* Ruling out Helium-Maximizing -- without giving up robust realism. 

* Why Belief is No Game - pragmatists (like Maguire & Woods) are wrong about what people are rationally criticizable for, and hence wrong about what reasons there are.


* Philosophical Pluralism and Modest Dogmatism - On why we should welcome philosophical dissensus.

* Querying vs Dismissive Objections - are you aiming to create a dialectical opening (to which you'd like to hear a response), or simply shutting things down?  When is the latter appropriate?

* Commonsense Epiphenomenalism - could the view be less weird than everyone tends to assume?

* Helen interviewed on Idealism -- including why Idealism might warrant up to 30% credence.

* New Blogs of Note -- three recommendations.

* Zach Barnett's guest post on 'Meeting Taurek's Challenge'.

* Philosophy Spotlight posts from Eden Lin, Jess Flanigan, and Hrishikesh Joshi.  I'm still waiting for other blogs to join in!

Happy New Year!