By In Experimental Philosophy, Ideas, Moral Psychology, Moral Responsibility Comments (4)

How “ought” exceeds but implies “can”

Over the past few years, an interesting development in experimental philosophy has been work on the “ought implies can” principle (OIC) in commonsense morality. Several research teams have investigated whether patterns in commonsense moral judgment are consistent with a commitment to OIC, understood as a conceptual entailment from having a moral responsibility to being able to fulfill it. Across a variety of contexts and testing procedures, the principal finding has been very consistent: people are definitely willing to attribute moral responsibilities to agents unable to fulfill them. Based on these findings, I and others have concluded that there is no conceptual entailment from “ought” to “can.” But there is a lingering question. If there is no conceptual entailment, then what is the source of the intuitive link, which many theorists seem to sense, between “ought” and “can”? A new paper might provide at least part of the answer.


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By In Applied Ethics, Ideas, Moral Psychology Comments (8)

The Truth about Lying

Lying is an important social and moral category. We react negatively to liars and their lies. But what is it to lie? The standard view in philosophy and social science is that a lie is a dishonest assertion. This view goes all the way back to at least the 4th century, when Augustine wrote, “He may say a true thing and yet lie, if he thinks it to be false and utters it for true.” On this view, lying is a purely psychological act: it does not require your assertion to be objectively false, only that you believe it is false.

About two years ago, my son Angelo came across an expression of the standard view of lying. He wondered whether it fit the ordinary concept of lying. (You might be able to imagine the sort of dinnertime conversations that could lead a twelve-year-old to become curious on this point.) In particular, Angelo was interested in whether, on the ordinary view, lying was a purely psychological act. So we conducted some behavioral experiments to find out.


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By In Academia, The Profession Comments (20)

The ethics of professional (non-)correspondence

I communcate with lots of academics regularly, as I'm sure most readers of this blog do. This is not surprising. But what I do find surprising is how frequently academics simply do not respond to, or even acknowledge, communications from professional colleagues. This includes communications of the following sorts: invitations to give a talk, invitations to contribute a paper, invitations to review a paper, messages sharing a copy of published work that engages their views, messages sharing in-progress work that engages their views, and messages asking specific questions about their own published work. (The list is not exhaustive.)


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By In Uncategorized Comments Off on Two studentships in philosophy

Two studentships in philosophy

I have funding to support two graduate students to work with me on
SSHRC-funded projects: one on the norms of assertion and related
issues in epistemology, the philosophy of language and value theory;
the other an experimental philosophical approach to issues in speech
act theory. Interested parties should apply to the philosophy graduate
program at the University of Waterloo (
). Your application should make clear which
project you’re interested in, and any qualifications that make you an
especially good candidate to work on the project.

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By In Uncategorized Comments (2)

Why the disconnect?

The contemporary debate over the constitutive norms of assertion, as well as related debates about the norms of belief and action, and the nature of epistemic value, deal with deep and important questions about the nature of normativity, especially constitutive normativity, about value, and about whether there really is an essential distinction between epistemic evaluation on the one hand, and practical rationality or ethical evaluation on the other. Some of these questions might be broadly categorized under the familiar heading 'ethics of belief', but that really doesn't do justice to the breadth of issues at stake.

For the most part, participants to these debates work in epistemology, philosophy of language and, to a lesser extent, social philosophy. Moreoever, I've been informed by more than one editor of more than one journal devoted to ethics (broadly understood) that work on these issues just isn't a good fit for their journal or audience.

I'm curious why this is so. Is it just an accident? Have the debates just not had quite enough time to percolate through various subdiscplinary borders? Do ethicists just not view these questions as genuinely ethical questions? Or are they viewed as ethical, but somehow derivative or secondary to other, more long-standing debates in the ethics literature?

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By In Uncategorized Comments Off on ‘Have’ and the reason relation

‘Have’ and the reason relation

Clayton posted here and linked from there. I'll post there and link from here.

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By In Metaethics Comments (12)

Moral discourse, speech acts, and the “by” relation

Jamie and Mark have already had some very helpful things to say about this in email correspondence. I wanted to open up the discussion and see what others think.

The proposal is to understand moral utterances along the following lines, what we might call the "layered speech-act model" of moral discourse. There are at least two versions of it:

  • (V1) When you say 'X is good', you assert that X is good by approving (or: expressing approval) of X.
  • (V2) When you say 'X is good', you express approval of X by asserting that X is good.

You perform one speech act by performing another.

Details remain to be worked out, but the initial hope is two-fold. First, that by layering assertion and approval this way, it integrates the intuitive truth-aptness and motivational dimension of moral discourse. Second, that it avoids embedding problems, because it can rely on the logical properties of the propositions asserted.

Any such proposal faces at least three serious questions initially.

  • (Q1) Is it ad hoc?
  • (Q2) Does it reinvent the wheel?
  • (Q3) Can it deliver on the anticipated benefits?

I think the answer to Q1 is clearly 'no'. Elsewhere the "by" relation does indeed layer speech acts as posited here. Answering Q3 will require actually filling in the details, making it clear how either V1 or V2 (or some other layered pair) delivers the goods. I've only indicated in the sketchiest terms how that might go. As for Q2, as best I can tell, no one has explicitly framed matters the way I have here. But perhaps it's appropriate to interpret others as saying basically the same thing in other words.

Anyway, I'd be very pleased to hear what you think about any of the proposals or questions.

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