By In Call For Papers Comments Off on CfA: The Ethics of Giving

CfA: The Ethics of Giving

Submission deadline: January 9, 2017

Conference date(s): May 23, 2017 – May 25, 2017  [Go to the conference’s page]

The conference will feature talks by Peter Singer, Hilary Greaves, Larry Temkin, Laurie Paul, Christian Barry, and several other prominent figures.

We hope to include up to ten talks by postgraduate students and early career researchers. Funding permitting, we may be able to fully reimburse for travel/accommodation. If you are interested in applying, please submit an abstract of around 500 words to Theron Pummer (at by 9 January 2017. Please allow 2-3 weeks after this deadline for decisions to be made.


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By In Ideas, Normative Ethics, Practical Rationality Comments (23)

Do we have Vague Projects?

Tenenbaum and Raffman (2012) claim that “most of our projects and ends are vague.” (p.99)  But I’m not convinced that any plausibly are.  On my own blog, I recently discussed the self-torturer case, and how our interest in avoiding pain is not vague but merely graded.  I think similar things can be said of other putative “vague” projects.

T&R’s central example of a vague project is writing a book:

Suppose you are writing a book. The success of your project is vague along many dimensions. What counts as a sufficiently good book is vague, what counts as an acceptable length of time to complete it is vague, and so on. (p.99)

But it strikes me as strange for one’s goal to be to reach some vague level of sufficiency.  When I imagine writing a book, my preferences here are graded: each incremental improvement in quality is pro tanto desirable; each reduction in time spent is also pro tanto desirable.  These two goals seem like they should be able to be traded off against each other — perhaps precisely, or (if they are not perfectly commensurable goods) then perhaps not, but this sort of rough incomparability between two goods is (I take it) not the same as either good itself being vague.
I could imagine a cynical person who really doesn’t care to improve the quality of their book above a sufficient level.  Perhaps they just want it to be of sufficient quality to earn a promotion, or some other positive social appraisal.  But these desired consequences are even more clearly not vague.


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By In Uncategorized Comments Off on CFP: Climate Ethics and Climate Economics: Discounting the Future

CFP: Climate Ethics and Climate Economics: Discounting the Future

The first of six ESRC-funded workshops exploring issues where the ethics and economics of climate change intersect will be held at Oxford University’s Martin School on 13-14 January 2016. The keynote speakers will be Simon Caney and Partha Dasgupta.


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By In Normative Ethics Comments (18)

Satisficing by Effort

[I'm never quite sure when it's appropriate to cross-post things from here, but Doug suggested that this post might be of broader interest, and I'd certainly welcome Souper feedback, so here goes!]

Satisficing Consequentialism aims to capture the intuitive idea that we're not morally obligated to do the best possible, we merely need to do "good enough" (though of course it remains better to do better!). Ben Bradley, in 'Against Satisficing Consequentialism', argues convincingly against forms of the view which introduce the baseline as some utility level n that we need to meet. Such views absurdly condone the act of gratuitously preventing boosts to utility over the baseline n. But I think there is a better form that satisficing consequentialism can take. Rather than employing a baseline utility level, a better way to "satisfice" is to introduce a level of maximum demanded effort below which one straightforwardly maximizes utility. That is:

(Effort-based Satisficing Consequentialism) An act is permissible iff it produces no less utility than any alternative action the agent could perform with up to X effort.


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By In Normative Ethics, Value Theory Comments (14)

Fitting Consequentialist Agents

I’m interested in defending consequentialism against allegations that it represents an inherently perverse perspective, or that the consequentialist agent would have a morally bad character. For example, critics allege that the consequentialist agent would have ‘one thought too many’, that they would treat others as replaceable ‘value receptacles’, that they would be cold and calculating, untrustworthy, and incapable of genuine personal relationships. I aim to rebut these charges.


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By In Normative Ethics Comments (19)

Analyzing Act, Rule, and Global Consequentialism

As a first pass, we may think of Consequentialist moral theories as those that specify the right in terms of the good.  But these terms occlude some important structure that can be brought out by further analysis.  In particular, I take it that to say what's good is to say what we have reason to desire, whereas to ask about what's right is to ask about what we have reason to do.

I'm interested in how our understanding of different variants of consequentialism may be advanced by reformulating them in terms of reasons.  I think we obtain two especially illuminating results if we discipline our normative theorizing in this way.  Firstly, we find that Global Consequentialism (GC) is arguably just a terminological variant that fails to go beyond Act Consequentialism (AC) in any substantive respect.  Second, we gain some insights into the structure of Rule Consequentialism.


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