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By In Ideas, Normative Ethics, Value Theory Comments (14)

Non-Welfarist Population Ethics (by Ralph Wedgwood)

Most contemporary work in population ethics operates within the framework of welfarism – the assumption that individual welfare is the fundamental value. But this framework is a straitjacket, leading population ethics into a labyrinth of sterile paradoxes. Once welfarism is rejected, a vastly more plausible approach to population ethics becomes available.

The approach that I favour involves a kind of perfectionism at the level of society. Of course, the welfare of individuals comes into the story. But as I shall explain, it is by no means the whole story.

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By In Ideas, Metaethics, Value Theory Comments (28)

There is No Moral Vagueness

In this post, I shall argue for the conclusion that there is no such thing as moral vagueness. The argument rests on a certain assumption, which I myself believe to be true. The crucial assumption is that the fundamental ethical or normative concepts are all essentially comparative notions, like ‘__is better than__’ and ‘There is more reason for__than for__’, and the like.

If this assumption is true, there is no moral vagueness. The moral realm is as precise as the realm of mathematics. Locke’s notorious talk of “moral geometry” is to that extent entirely appropriate.
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By In Ideas, Moral Psychology Comments (3)

Both Humeans and Kantians about Motivation are Wrong

Both Hume and Kant advocated extreme and implausible views of motivation; the same is also true of many of their contemporary followers. The truth about motivation lies in between these two extremes.
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By In Ideas, Metaethics, Practical Rationality, Reasons and rationality Comments (7)

Objective and subjective akrasia

Suppose that there is both an objective ‘ought’ and a subjective ‘ought’. Which of these two kinds of ‘ought’ figures in the anti-akrasia principle that it is irrational to do something at the same time as believing that one ought not to do it?

There is a simple of way of understanding the relation between the objective and the subjective ‘ought’ on which the answer to this question is: Both! It is irrational to do something at the same time as believing that one objectively ought not to do it; and it is also irrational to do something at the same time as believing that one subjectively ought not to do it.

(Note: The original version of this post contained a terrible mistake, which was pointed out by Doug Portmore and Jamie Dreier in their comments below. This is an amended version, without the mistake.)

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By In Ideas, Normative Ethics, Value Theory Comments (15)

Permissible suboptimality: A triple-ranking view

Some philosophers – let’s call them “teleologists” – believe that there is an intimate connection between deontic terms like ‘required’, ‘ought’, and ‘permissible’, on the one hand, and evaluative terms like ‘better’ and ‘best’, on the other.

Teleologists face a problem with the intuitive idea of supererogation. This is the idea that sometimes we are not morally required to do the morally best thing, but may permissibly take options (e.g. to pursue our own personal projects, or to safeguard our own interests) that are morally suboptimal. As Sam Scheffler would say, we sometimes have an agent-centered prerogative to act in morally suboptimal ways.

In this post, I shall argue that two attempts at solving this problem – a simple threshold view, and a dual-ranking view – face serious intuitive difficulties. The best solution, I shall suggest, is not a dual-ranking view, but a triple-ranking view.

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By In Metaethics Comments (21)

Rationality is permissibility

Many philosophers seem to think that – even if the notions of a belief’s being “justified” or “rational” are indeed normative notions, as is widely held to be the case – to say that a belief is “justified” is “rational” is to say something stronger than merely that the belief is permissible.

This is a mistake. It is easy to prove that if the notions of a belief’s being “justified” or “rational” are normative at all, then the permissibility of a belief is sufficient for the belief’s being justified or rational.

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By In Ideas, Metaethics Comments (2)

Is normative necessity distinct from metaphysical necessity?

In “Varieties of Necessity” (in Gendler and Hawthorne, Conceivability and Possibility, Oxford 2002), Kit Fine argued that we need to recognize that certain normative truths are in a sense necessary, and that the kind of necessity in question is sui generis, rather than being a special case of metaphysical necessity.

I shall not dispute Fine’s argument for the conclusion that there are normative necessities. However, I shall dispute his argument for the conclusion that these normative necessities are sui generis. On the contrary, as I shall argue, Fine does not give us a compelling reason to deny that normative necessity is a species of metaphysical necessity.

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