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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 Ideas, Normative Ethics Comments (42)

Does Actualism Have A Problem With Supererogation?

Actualism, as I understand it, is the view according to which in determining what it is permissible to do at a time, t, one should consider only what would happen were one to do it and compare that with what would happen were one to do each of the other things one can do at t. Many object to Actualism (call this the Standard Objection) on the grounds that if it is true, then people are able to get out of present obligations in virtue of their potential future wrongdoing. That seems right to me. Actualists have a set of standard replies to this kind of argument, though. Mightn't there be a stronger objection to Actualism, however, one to which Actualists can't offer the same kind of replies that they do to the Standard Objection? I think there might. This objection is that Actualism seems to allow people to get out of having present moral obligations, not in virtue of their potential future wrongdoing, but, instead, in virtue of their potential future supererogatory behavior.

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By In Ideas Comments (19)

Featured Philosopher: John Deigh on Meta-ethics

It is my pleasure to introduce our next Featured Philosopher, John Deigh.  John is a Professor of Philosophy and Law at the University of Texas, Austin, and he is widely known for his insightful work in moral psychology, the history of philosophy, and for his valuable work as the editor of Ethics from 1997-2008.  Please feel free to share your comments or questions!

I am grateful for the opportunity to share with the PEA Soup community some ideas about the history of meta-ethics in the twentieth century that I’ve been working out recently.  These ideas are part of a larger project that began with my chapter, “Ethics in the Analytic Tradition”, in the Oxford Handbook of the History of Ethics (R. Crisp, ed.).  That chapter gives the history of analytic ethics during roughly its first fifty years, from G. E. Moore to R. M. Hare and Stephen Toulmin.  The history treats ethics as a field of philosophy many of whose movements and changes have come about as a result of movements and changes in other fields like metaphysics and the philosophy of language.  For example, I explain the radical impact of Moore’s Principia Ethica on Anglo-American ethics as continuous with the revolution in British philosophy that Moore and Russell ignited through their attacks at the turn of the 20th century on British Idealism.  These attacks and the positive constructions to which they gave rise constituted the beginnings of the analytic movement in philosophy.  The first chapter of Moore’s Principia, I maintain, should therefore be read as one of the major contributions to the beginnings of this movement and not, contrary to current fashion, as a rhetorically powerful recycling of ideas from Sidgwick.

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By In Featured Philosophers, Ideas Comments (21)

Explaining Blame and Forgiveness (by Featured Philosopher Miranda Fricker)

I am pleased to introduce the next PEA Soup Featured Philosopher, Miranda Fricker.  Profesor Fricker is currently the Director of the Mind Association, the author of the insightful and very influential book, Epistemic Injustice, and she is posting today about her next book project.  Please feel free to add comments or questions below!

Thanks for inviting me to contribute! I’d like to put forward one or two of the main lines of thought for a book project I’m working on—Explaining Blame and Forgiveness. My main point will be about the surprisingly close relation between two apparently very different kinds of forgiveness; but first I need to say something about philosophical method, and to summarise a view of blame that I’ve put forward elsewhere.[1]

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By In Ideas Comments (10)

An Alternative to Journals?

Imagine a world where, instead of journals there are assessment houses. You send your paper to an assessment house of your choosing, just as you now send your paper to a journal of your choosing. That assessment house, possibly after a round or two of referee feedback and revision, assigns your paper a grade. You then may post that paper with the grade from the assessment house. Perhaps the assessment house notes all the papers it has assessed and their grades. Existing services such as Phil Papers or Academia.edu provide a stable online place to archive one’s paper in a citable format. Papers there are available free to all. Perhaps existing editorial boards for journals might serve, initially at least, as the assessment houses.

The advantages of such a system are that 1) more people would have access to more scholarship, 2) the process would cost less money, 3) since the average paper would be refereed much less frequently this would require much less overall refereeing which would allow referees to focus more carefully on the fewer jobs they take on and make it easier to quickly find willing referees who are especially well suited to assessing the paper at issue, 4) this would make scholarship available more quickly, and 5) graduate students and junior faculty could be more secure that papers completed close to tenure decisions or when they go on the market would be taken into account.

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By In Featured Philosophers, Ideas Comments (23)

Virtue and Right Revisited (by Featured Philosopher, Robert N. Johnson)

Some time ago I argued that a problem with a certain sort of virtue ethics might not be fixable (in “Virtue and Right”). The banner ‘virtue ethics’ covers a variety of views united by not much more than the thought that ethics is in some way or other best approached through the idea of good character and virtue. My arguments set aside many of those views, especially those that, while giving pride of place to virtue, adopt a ‘no theory’ or ‘anti-theory’ stance toward the right. If you are anti-theory, then my train didn’t leave the station. Indeed, perhaps the best version of virtue ethics is one that turns its back on a theory of the right. But the sorts of views I was interested in thinking about were those that aspire to such a theory in order to create an alternative to deontological or consequentialist theories of right action.

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By In Ideas, Normative Ethics Comments (24)

Moral Theory and “Action-Guidingness”

All over there are arguments that employ the following premise: Necessarily, the true moral theory is action-guiding. I must confess that I don’t really have a grip on what this notion is. And yet it is often appealed to to do some very heavy-lifting: most often to establish that some form of subjectivism about moral obligation is true and also that ‘Ought’ Implies ‘Can’ is true. But given that I don’t understand what this action-guidingness is supposed to amount to, I don’t know how to understand these arguments, let alone evaluate them. Mayhaps someone here can help me out with this. Can anyone articulate for me in a non-metaphorical way what it means to say that a theory is action-guiding?

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