Blackstone wrote that “it is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer”. Fortescue wrote “one would much rather that twenty guilty persons should escape the punishment of death, than that one innocent person should be condemned and suffer capitally.” Maimonides wrote “it is better and more satisfactory to acquit a thousand guilty persons than to put a single innocent one to death.” I don’t know what the correct number is (10, 20, 1000), but I do think that some such maxim is correct.
How well a person’s life is going (i.e., how high it is in welfare or well-being) is determined by how good or bad for that person the things that are happening in her life are. Theories of well-being purport to tell us what it takes for a person’s life to go well by identifying the basic goods and bads: the kinds that are good or bad for a person in the most fundamental way. In the philosophical literature on well-being, there is a standard menu of theories: hedonism, desire satisfactionism, perfectionism, the happiness theory, hybrid theories, and objective list theories. In “The Subjective List Theory of Well-Being” (Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 2016), I argue that this menu should be expanded to include a neglected type of theory: subjective list theories. I also introduce a particular theory of this type, and I argue that it is superior to some existing theories. In this post, I will give an abbreviated version of the argument from that paper.
I came to philosophy motivated by a long-standing sense that there is something profoundly wrong with the way we live, a sentiment well expressed in a gorgeous 1982 film, Koyaanisqatsi, Hopi for “life out of balance” or “crazy life.” I had experienced ways of living that made sense to me and ways, depicted in the film, that did not. I wanted better to understand this worry. It was surprising, then, that my first ethics course persuaded me that it was probably not worth taking another. The readings sometimes claimed to be talking about the good life, but for the most part they just talked about this or that fragment of a good life: being morally good or being happy, for instance. The fragments made sense, but seemed simplistic and never really added up to anything very compelling. At least, I could never connect them with my original unease at contemporary living. Though not religious, I found more of relevance in religious studies classes, especially on East Asian thought. A later course on MacIntyre brought a deeper appreciation of Aristotle’s insights. But nothing quite hit the mark.
Part of what draws so many students to ancient philosophy, including non-Western thought, is that it seems clearly to address our fundamental concern to lead good lives. What we get from Aristotle and the Stoics, for instance, are comprehensive visions of the sorts of lives we should want. For Aristotle, a good life is a full and active life involving many sorts of excellence, not just moral virtue. It is a deeply pleasant and meaningful life, and includes some element of fortune in things like health and wealth. This is what we should aim at, for ourselves and our children, and the measure by which we should assess our lives in our deathbed reckonings. In broad outline, it is an attractive and reasonably commonsensical picture of the good life. (more…)
A couple of years ago, I posted about an open letter about the ethics of compensating bone marrow stem cell donors. Peter M. Jaworski and I, who co-founded DonationEthics.com, recently published a second open letter about blood plasma donation in Canada (on the site newly redesigned by me!). A number of Canadian provinces have passed, or are considering, legislation that would effectively make it illegal to pay people for blood plasma donations. (The letter concerns donations used to create plasma-based products like immune globulin, not for transfusions.) We and a collection of signatories—ethicists and economists including Soupers Jason Brennan and Jeff Moriarty—argue that this is a mistake. Below is a brief overview of the arguments for these bans (as we understand them) and our responses (as well as a bit of personal editorializing). In my view, this is an open and shut case. We would love to hear what other Soupers think. Are there better arguments for the bans we are missing? We also welcome more signatories (especially Canadian ones!).
America has seen a dramatic increase in the number of so-called “deaths of despair”. Caused by opioid addiction, alcohol or drug overdose and suicide, these deaths have hit middle-aged white people without a college education particularly hard. The trend is extensive enough to have driven up the overall mortality rate, with the U.S. in the unusual position of being a rich country where life expectancy is falling rather than going up.
When was the last time you read an Anthropology article or book? Did you know that there is a recent “Ethical turn” in anthropology and that anthropologists are writing interesting things about moral development, practical reasoning, virtue, autonomy, and other moral topics – all with reference to specific cultural contexts and practices?
If you are like me only a little while ago, you have never heard of the ethical turn because current anthropology is simply not on your radar. And that is why I am posting! I think this might be of interest to many philosophers, but especially to graduate students.
I’ll try to keep this brief, and so will likely run roughshod over important points. I’m curious about what’s doing the work on our intuitions in so-called manipulation cases when people deploy them to theorize about responsibility. These are cases in which someone is one way, values-wise, and then her brain is manipulated by a team of neuroscientists/god to produce within her a new set of values (or subset of values), so that she now performs some action for which she is not responsible — or at least that’s what our intuitions are supposed to be.