Thursday, December 31, 2020

2020 in review

[Past annual reviews: 2019 & '182017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, and 2004.]

Off the blog: In contrast to many families, our childcare situation actually improved in 2020 (!), so I was able to be much more productive than in the previous couple of years:

* Completed my little Parfit book for Cambridge University Press' Elements in Ethics series.

* 'The Right Wrong-Makers' -- probably my best paper yet -- accepted for publication in PPR.

* Co-authored a Washington Post op-ed (on pandemic research ethics) with Peter Singer.

* Expanded the above into a short-but-sweet open-access paper in Research Ethics.

* Contributed to another co-authored paper (highlights here) exploring the prospects for controlled voluntary infection as a pandemic policy tool.

* 'Deontic Pluralism and the Right Amount of Good' appeared in print.

Blog posts:


* Beneficent Retirement and Academic Successorships - exploring Smilansky's suggestion that "for a great many people, the best professional action that they can currently take is to leave their profession." Argues for time-limited tenure and other policies to encourage more & shorter academic careers.  Are there any non-selfish reasons to oppose this?

* Academic pay cuts vs job cuts -- in a forced-choice situation, we should much prefer the former. We should even prefer pay cuts for established professors over more common measures like hiring freezes.

* What if authors could respond to referee comments? - could help relieve the systemic overburdening of journals, as a confused report just means the review process will start all over again somewhere new.

* What Should Editors Ask of Referees? - suggestions for improving peer review.

Ethical & Political Theory

* A New Paradox of Deontology - why the shift to agent-neutral deontology doesn't help. (Improved version posted to PEA Soup.)

* Moral Theory and Motivational Contingency - How, if at all, would your motivations change in response to changes in your normative- or meta-ethical beliefs? 

* Nefsky on Tiny Chances and Tiny Differences - I refute some bad arguments for thinking that consequentialism has any kind of "inefficacy problem".

* When is Inefficacy Objectionable? - after addressing three prominent arguments, I conclude: "none of these arguments appear to have any potential to establish that consequentialism is collectively self-defeating. They're complete non-starters. If I'm right about this, then the current literature on this topic would appear to be deeply confused."

* Emergence and Individual Impact - explains why Sinnott-Armstrong's famous arguments in defense of "joyguzzling" rests on an incoherent assumption.

* Who's responsible for offset harms? - working through some puzzles about moral offsetting.

* No Utility Cascades - a simple refutation of a recent Analysis paper.

* Monotonicity and Inadvisable Oughts - Sometimes you ought to do a specific thing that's of a general kind, but you ought not to do that general thing (because you'd actually do it in the wrong specific way). (Responding to contrary arguments from Daniel Muñoz & Jack Spencer).

* Vulcan Interests and Moral Status - affect is required for non-zero welfare, but one may possess moral status even while one's welfare is stuck at zero.

* Hedonism, Egoism, and Implausible Restrictions - Why I think hedonism and egoism are completely bonkers, poorly-motivated views.

* Political Beliefs, Uncertainty, and the Expected Value of Paralysis - uncertainty is no reason to suspend belief (undermining Jason Brennan's latest argument against voting).

* Adams' Critique of Global Consequentialism - a good objection, though his follow-through is off-track.

Posts on the Ethics of Controlled Voluntary Infection

* Highlights from my coauthored paper on deliberate infection (summarizes and links to major points from the following posts).

* Pandemic moral failures: how conventional morality kills.

* When is CVI worthwhile?

* Three Neglected Advantages of Controlled Infection

* Combining Experimental Vaccines + Variolation - this policy could have stopped the early pandemic in its tracks, with minimal risk.

Other Applied / Pandemic Ethics

* Lives are the Wrong Measure - many issues in ethics are subject to reasonable dispute, but this isn't one of them.  Counting all deaths as equal is simply idiotic.  This post refutes a contrary argument that rests upon a kind of probabilistic bias.

* Innocuous vs Unjust Systemic Discrimination - disparate outcomes needn't be unjust. Common objections to QALYs rest on a very basic failure to appreciate this: "If men end up worse off when everything is counted as it ought to be, that does not make correctly counting things sexist against men. And so it goes, of course, for the elderly and (detrimentally) disabled."

* Against Conventional Moral 'Decency': There's actually nothing "decent" about blindly prioritizing quantity over quality of life.

* Against 'prudish' research ethics - A striking analogy between prostitution and so-called "exploitative" medical research.

* The Optimal Use of Sub-optimal Vaccines - NYT "experts" cannot imagine how to incentivize people to remain in socially valuable medical trials.

* Against Bad Government (pandemic edition) - I'm shocked by how incompetent and harmful our local government's response has been.

* Scale and Symmetry in Covid Debates - on the importance of comparative assessments when every available option involves grave costs.  Plus a quick illustration of how immense the indirect harms from the pandemic could be.

* Legality is No Excuse - it's possible to exercise one's legal rights in ways that are morally wrong, obvs.

* Where Best to Give - now easier to know than ever before!


What Makes Your Papers Worth Reading?  I offer my answers there.  I look forward to others contributing to my Philosopher Spotlight Series soon (I've some exciting guest posts lined up for the new year -- feel free to shoot me an email if you're interested in joining in!). 

* VR Recommendations for Oculus Quest - and at just $300, I'd strongly recommend the latest headset to anyone interested in the technology -- after surviving 2020, you deserve a treat.

Happy New Year!


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