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!


  1. Very cool paper on "utility monsters!"

    Random question: Do you write your papers in LaTex or a similar program? I really like the way your paper looked. I enjoyed the content as well :)

    1. Thanks! Nowadays I mostly use Pandoc to create LaTeX-style PDFs from simple Markdown text. (Here's a nice intro if you want to learn more.)


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