There's an excellent new resource for those interested in keeping up with, or contributing to, the wide variety of fascinating work being done in experimental philosophy. It's the Experimental Philosophy Page, and it's set up in wiki format so anyone can edit and update it. Currently there are over 125 papers on-board.
A great deal of ink has been spilled attempting to show that contractualism, alternately, can or cannot accommodate “numbers” in a plausible way. Contractualism aspires to provide an attractive and theoretically robust alternative to consequentialism and the unrestricted interpersonal aggregation that it implies (foundationally anyway), but the abiding worry about the contractualist approach to aggregation has been that it proves too much: while it rejects appealing to numbers in some cases where that rejection seems correct, it also rejects appealing to numbers where numbers seem clearly relevant or even dispositive. What I want to suggest here is a modestly deflationary way that contractualism might be able to accommodate the relevance of numbers.
This posting is about one fictional philosopher and one real
one, and how their theories interact. The real philosopher’s theory has to
mis-characterize the fictional philosopher’s theory. The fictional philosopher’s
theory also has some problems, but they will not concern me.
Those in New England and the Northeast may want to drop in on the conference that Boston University is holding September 25-26. The topic is Ronald Dworkin's forthcoming book Justice for Hedgehogs. The lineup is power packed: Michael Smith, Shafer-Landau, Scanlon, Sen, David Lyons, Appiah, Kamm, Waldron, and lots more. Details below the fold.
Walter Sinnott-Armstrong has given us a new argument for
consequentialism (“How strong is this obligation?An argument for consequentialism from
concomitant variation,” Analysis 69
(2009):438-442). The datum: other things kept equal, the
obligation to keep a promise to take a friend to the airport is stronger than
the obligation to keep a promise to meet a friend for lunch—overriding the
latter obligation takes less than overriding the former.The best account of the source of this
relative strength is that (in normal circumstances) the consequences of
breaking the first promise are more harmful than the results of breaking the
second.If we generalize, it appears
that the relative strength of all obligations depends on the level of harmful consequences
that would result from violating the obligation.Thus consequentialism seems to best account
for strength of obligation.
Sinnott-Armstrong [WSA] recognizes that this argument
“assumes that (i) the strength of the moral obligation does not explain the degree
of harm…, (ii) no third factor can explain the strength, the harm, and their
correlation…, and (iii) the correlation is not accidental…” (440).I think that assumption (ii) is not
well-founded.More basically, we should
question WSA’s ultimate assessment, that in order to respond to his argument,
“deontologists need to explain why some moral obligations are stronger than
others without invoking the harmful consequences of violating those moral
obligations” (442).There is another
response available for deontologists, one that does invoke harm, and it
undermines assumption (ii).
As summer comes to a close and we get ready to return to the classroom,
I've been thinking more about the different shapes my colleagues'
summers have taken, about how much we've written and how much real
holiday we've taken. As a philosophy department chair, one of my
responsibilities is chairing the department's annual performance
evaluation committee and each year I'm struck anew by how hard some of
my colleagues work. I feel humbled by how much very high quality work
some colleagues publish.
Coming to exist is always a harm. Or so argues David Benatar in his provocative book, Better Never to Have Been.
A central pillar of Benatar's defense of this offputting 'anti-natalist' thesis is what he calls the asymmetry argument (BNHB, p. 30): Pleasure benefits us and pain harms us. (1) The presence of pain is bad. (2) The presence of pleasure is good. So far, pleasure and pain are symmetrical in their goodness and badness. But they are not symmetrical with respect to their absence. More specifically: (3) The absence of pain is good, even if that good is not enjoyed by anyone, but (4) The absence of pleasure is not bad unless there is somebody (an actual somebody) who is deprived by its absence.
The University of Toronto’s Centre for Ethics invites applications for
its Visiting Faculty Fellowships. For the academic year 2010-11, two
fellowships will be awarded to outstanding scholars and teachers
interested in writing and conducting research about ethics during a
year in residence at the University of Toronto.
The University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada
In June 2010, the International Association of Women Philosophers (http://www.iaph-philo.org/ ) will be meeting at The University of Western Ontario. This will be the organization's first meeting in Canada and only its second meeting in North America. It will be co-hosted by the Rotman Institute for Science and Values and the Department of Philosophy.
The members of the conference organizing committee are: Gillian Barker, Ariella Binik, Samantha Brennan, Helen Fielding, Katy Fulfer-Smith, Elisa Hurley, Tracy Isaacs, Carolyn McLeod, Karen Nielsen, Kathleen Okruhlik, and Angelique Petropanagos.