I’ve always thought that Philosopher’s Annual thing that puts out a top 10 articles of the year list tries to come up with such a list too quickly. It takes most of us some years to get around to reading stuff and even longer to have a sense of whether the paper was really interesting and valuable. But obviously if you wait too long papers from a particular year will no longer be vivid before us. So how long would it be ideal to wait before attempting such a thing–2 years? 4 years? Also, how would one best do it? Is there a voting system where all with a background in philosophy—say anyone who attended philosophy grad school–could vote that would be tolerably safe from voting mischief? Who ought to be able to vote on such a thing? Should it only be specialists in the area of the paper? Finally, is such a thing worth doing at all? It could seemingly helpfully pool our collective wisdom concerning papers that are important and perhaps not widely known. Or it could possibly just be an elitist exercise that is bound to work the benefit of the already well-known? Finally, I had in mind such a thing only for ethics stuff broadly construed. Is this worth doing and if so how should it be done?
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.
There is surprisingly little discussion about pain’s badness in the philosophical literature. One might think that it falls naturally out of any of the various theories of well-being, but this is not so straightforward (as Shelly Kagan argues). In recent work, I look at some ways pain’s badness can be explained. This post summarizes some of my arguments.
At first, the explanation for pain’s badness seems simple: it hurts! Ideally, an account of pain’s badness will appeal to pain’s feel in the explanation. It would be nice if that were all there were to it – pain is bad straightforwardly in virtue of the negative feeling tone. Call such a view dolorism. Straightforward dolorism is, however, too straightforward. It fails to allow for cases where pain is not intuitively bad. I will discuss one type of case. (Another, which I explain elsewhere, is a condition called pain asymbolia, in which patients report to experience pain but don’t find it bothersome.)
Think of the most recent remarkable experience you’ve had. Perhaps it was reading an engrossing novel that opened your eyes to a new depth of poverty, stamina, and kindness. Perhaps it was attending a sporting event you thought would exemplify stereotypes on the basest level yet turned out to deliver an unexpected but welcome insight into empowerment and dedication. Perhaps it was a sappy movie that helped you to cry when you most needed it, and then to laugh it off, so that you emerge with a fresh emotional state. Perhaps it was simply the wrong turn you took when trying to get across town that led you to discover a playground full of Somali immigrants, dressed in beautiful colors, playing soccer.
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.