A theory of wellbeing contributes to explaining whether this or that state of affairs is a benefit or harm to a particular subject. A natural starting point from which to build such a theory is the subject’s valenced attitudes: I benefit from occurrences I like, desire, value, take a subjective interest in, etc. and am harmed by occurrences I dislike, desire not to happen, disvalue, take a subjective interest against, etc. Call this theory “Unrestricted Wellbeing Subjectivism.” The theory is unrestricted, since no state-of-affair types are excluded; that is, any occurring state of affairs that the subject takes a valenced attitude towards will benefit or harm that subject. There are several reasons philosophers have adduced in favor of restricting wellbeing subjectivism – i.e. in favor of stipulating that some specified types of events are ineligible to affect a subject’s wellbeing. One such source of reasons, against which I will defend unrestricted wellbeing subjectivism, is the problem of self-sacrifice.
There is surprisingly little discussion about pain’s badness in the philosophical literature. One might think that it falls naturally out of any of the various theories of well-being, but this is not so straightforward (as Shelly Kagan argues). In recent work, I look at some ways pain’s badness can be explained. This post summarizes some of my arguments.
At first, the explanation for pain’s badness seems simple: it hurts! Ideally, an account of pain’s badness will appeal to pain’s feel in the explanation. It would be nice if that were all there were to it – pain is bad straightforwardly in virtue of the negative feeling tone. Call such a view dolorism. Straightforward dolorism is, however, too straightforward. It fails to allow for cases where pain is not intuitively bad. I will discuss one type of case. (Another, which I explain elsewhere, is a condition called pain asymbolia, in which patients report to experience pain but don’t find it bothersome.)
Think of the most recent remarkable experience you’ve had. Perhaps it was reading an engrossing novel that opened your eyes to a new depth of poverty, stamina, and kindness. Perhaps it was attending a sporting event you thought would exemplify stereotypes on the basest level yet turned out to deliver an unexpected but welcome insight into empowerment and dedication. Perhaps it was a sappy movie that helped you to cry when you most needed it, and then to laugh it off, so that you emerge with a fresh emotional state. Perhaps it was simply the wrong turn you took when trying to get across town that led you to discover a playground full of Somali immigrants, dressed in beautiful colors, playing soccer.
Welcome to our NDPR Forum on Andrew Jason Cohen’s Toleration and Freedom from Harm: Liberalism Reconceived (Routledge 2018), which was recently reviewed by Peter de Marneffe in NDPR. Please feel free to join in on the discussion, about the book, the review, or related issues. Andrew will be joining in soon.
“The Moral Neglect of Negligence” by Seana Valentine Shiffrin, with a critical précis by Ekow Yankah
We are excited to host a discussion of Seana Valentine Shiffrin‘s article “The Moral Neglect of Neglicence,” Ch. 8 of Oxford Studies in Political Philosophy Vol.3. Shiffrin’s article is available here, with kind permission from OUP. We expect the article to be available here permanently.
The discussion thread will be open May 2-4 for an initial round of questions and comments, after which Shiffrin will post a set of responses, probably by May 6 or 7. The discussion thread will then immediately open for another couple of days, after which Shiffrin will send a final round of responses.
We are thrilled to kick off the discussion with a critical précis by Ekow Yankah, below. Join us!
This post is partly a “bleg” and partly an invitation for people to give their two cents on what strikes me as a very deep and important divide among moral theorists.
Consider so-called “common-sense morality”. It consists of claims like, “It’s wrong to take someone else’s property”; “You shouldn’t handle others’ bodies without their consent”; “The job should go to the person who deserves it”; “Academic censorship is wrong because it goes against the very purposes of the university”; “It’s worse to do harm than to merely allow it to occur”; “You shouldn’t make a promise that you don’t intend to keep”; etc. It gets called “common-sense” mainly because it’s thought to capture the moral leanings of the person on the street. But it’s also fair to call it “common-sense” just because of the way it conceptually carves the world for evaluation in terms of “should”, “worse”, and so on — namely, in terms of “property”, “consent”, “job”, “point”, “do/allow”, “promise”, “intend”. These are common-sense conceptualizations because they are the conceptualizations that common-sense morality employs.
Steve Wall and I have been thinking together about what the best theory of well-being that claims that loving the (prudentially) good is itself (prudentially) good would look like. Such views have been lovingly explored by, among others, Parfit, Darwall, Kagan, and Feldman. On such a view, there are objective prudential values, for example, achievement or friendship, which either have prudential value independently from any attitudes or whose value is more easily unlocked by the relevant attitudes than options without this objective value. Typically such views maintain that being objectively good, and one in some way loving or enjoying that objective good, are each necessary conditions, and jointly sufficient, for a benefit. (NB: The view under discussion here is different from Hurka’s related version of “loving the good is itself good” as Hurka ties this thought to virtue and he is not talking about prudential value.)