By In Applied Ethics, Featured Philosophers, Ideas, Political Philosophy Comments (12)

Why Bad People Will Find it Hard to be Patriotic (by Featured Philosopher Derek Baker)

Re-posting after a technical glitch this morning (eds.)


Current events are reminding us that patriotism, at least of the sort that gets publicly acknowledged, is a confusing virtue. I don’t mean that the patriot might get drawn into doing bad things on behalf of his country. Patriotism is a form of loyalty, and loyalty, whether to friends, family, one’s university, or whatever, can draw us into doing bad things on their behalf. I mean instead that those who say they care about patriotism seem surprisingly okay with others doing bad things without regard for the interests of their country.


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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 Ideas, Normative Ethics, Political Philosophy, Practical reasons, Reasons and rationality Comments (8)

Conversion Stories

Much is made these days of ideological bubbles and commitment cocoons (OK, I made up that one), in which people stick to their beliefs regardless of any “evidence” or “reasoning” otherwise. But, let’s admit it, it’s hard to change your mind about something you’ve been committed to solely based on your assessment of reasons. This is true even for — perhaps especially for — professional philosophers.

It might be worth hearing, then, about your true conversion stories and the role contrary reasons played for you: What moral/political view were you committed to — perhaps even published about — that you abandoned solely in the face of good reasons otherwise? Were the reasons available to you all along and you just saw them in a newly salient light, or were they new reasons to you? Have you “backslid”? Have you gone on to publish on the contrary view? (See my conversion story below the fold.)


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By In Ideas, Moral Psychology, The Profession Comments (7)

The Happy Coincidence Defense and The-Most-I-Can-Do Sweet Spot (by Eric Schwitzgebel)

Eric Schwitzgebel writes:

Here are four things I care intensely about: being a good father, being a good philosopher, being a good teacher, and being a morally good person. It would be lovely if there were never any tradeoffs among these four aims.

Explicitly acknowledging such tradeoffs is unpleasant — sufficiently unpleasant that it’s tempting to try to rationalize them away. It’s distinctly uncomfortable to me, for example, to acknowledge that I would probably be better as a father if I traveled less for work. (I am writing this post from a hotel room in England.) Similarly uncomfortable is the thought that the money I’ll be spending on a family trip to Iceland this summer could probably save a few people from death due to poverty-related causes, if given to the right charity.

Today I’ll share two of my favorite techniques for rationalizing the unpleasantness away. Maybe you’ll find these techniques useful too!


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By In Ideas, Political Philosophy Comments (3)

Relational Egalitarianism and Politics

This is the second installment of PEA Soup’s partnership with Bleeding Heart Libertarians. In this series folks from BHL share their thoughts with Soup readers. This post is by Jessica Flanigan (University of Richmond).


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By In Action Theory, Ideas, Metaethics, Practical Rationality, Practical reasons, Reasons and rationality, Value Theory Comments (4)

Decisive Reasons and Rational Supererogation

I have a roughly formulated and half-baked inquiry:

Suppose that rationality endorses maximizing utility, but there is room for rational supererogation, and so it is sometimes rationally permissible to drink a coffee even if doing so does not maximize utility.

Would you say that there is no decisive reason against drinking the coffee because, although drinking the coffee is rationally inferior to another available option, it is still rationally permissible?  Or would you say that, because drinking the coffee is rationally inferior to another available option, there is decisive reason against drinking the coffee even though drinking it is rationally permissible?

I am attracted to a usage of decisive reason according to which the consideration that C pinpoints a decisive reason against A’s X-ing if and only if, because C, A should not X.  Given this usage, there is no decisive reason against drinking the coffee (from the point of view of rationality) because, although drinking the coffee is rationally inferior to another available option, drinking the coffee is still rationally permissible and so it is not true that one should not drink the coffee.  I wonder if folks would balk at this implication and see usages with this implication as thereby counter-intuitive.

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By In Ideas, Moral Psychology, Normative Ethics, Reasons and rationality Comments (15)

Can psychopaths make judgments of worth?

There’s a longstanding dispute about whether psychopaths are morally responsible. For our purposes, just stipulate that psychopaths are blind to moral reasons, that is, they lack moral, or normative, competence. There’s not much disagreement on this point (for psychopaths who score very highly on the Hare Checklist). The disagreement, instead, is over whether normative competence is necessary for moral responsibility. Suppose a psychopath sees that hitting you with a baseball bat will cause you pain, but he does it anyway because it’s fun. So, it’s thought, he judges hitting you to be worth doing, and he also judges that your interests don’t matter. Isn’t that sufficient to ground apt moral blame, and so sufficient for his being morally responsible?

Or so a school of thought goes (represented by Tim Scanlon, Angela Smith, Matt Talbert, and Pamela Hieronymi). What matters is that the psychopath at least has the rational capacity to form judgments of worth, i.e., make evaluative judgments of reasons. If he does, then it doesn’t matter if he’s blind to one subset of reasons; he’s still blameworthy for judging that the bad thing is worth doing and judging that other considerations don’t matter.

I want to try out an argument against this stance and see what you think.


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