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By In Featured Philosophers, Normative Ethics, Uncategorized, Value Theory Comments (40)

Sophisticated Theories of Welfare (by Featured Philosopher Eden Lin)

In this post, I want to raise a problem for a kind of theory of welfare that has recently been on the rise. I will argue that because theories of this kind are false of newborn infants, we should think that they are also false of us.

Theories of welfare differ with respect to the amount of cognitive or psychological sophistication that they require on the part of the subjects to which they are meant to apply. If hedonism is the correct theory of your welfare, then a particular thing is basically good for you—good for you in the most fundamental, non-derivative way—if and only if and because it is a pleasure experienced by you. Thus, if hedonism is true of you, then the capacity for pleasure is the only capacity that you must possess to be positive in welfare. If desire satisfactionism is the correct theory of your welfare, then a particular thing is basically good for you if and only if and because it is the obtaining object of one of your desires. Thus, if this theory is true of you, then the capacity to have desires is the only capacity that you must possess to be positive in welfare. Since these two capacities are relatively simple, we can adopt the convenient (but potentially misleading) convention of calling these theories simple theories.

By contrast, if the correct theory of your welfare is a sophisticated theory, then a particular thing is basically good for you only if you are related to it in a way that involves a fair amount of cognitive or psychological sophistication. Consider a view on which a particular is basically good for you if and only if and because it is the obtaining object of one of your valuing attitudes, and on which valuing something requires (among other things) believing that it is good. If this view is true of you, then in order to be positive in welfare, you need to have a fairly sophisticated capacity: the capacity to value things, which partly consists in the capacity to have evaluative beliefs. As I read them, a number of philosophers have proposed sophisticated theories—including Donald Bruckner, Dale Dorsey, Connie Rosati, Valerie Tiberius, Wayne Sumner, and Benjamin Yelle.

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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 Discussions, Ideas, Normative Ethics, Value Theory Comments Off on Objective or Subject value for setting the strength of agent-claims

Objective or Subject value for setting the strength of agent-claims

Helen Frowe wrote me yesterday to try to understand better my position on how to count the agent’s interest in a trolley switching case. The text she was trying to understand was a piece I co-wrote with David Wasserman, called “Agents, Impartiality, and the Priority of Claims Over Duties; Diagnosing Why Thomson Still Gets the Trolley Problem Wrong by Appeal to the ‘Mechanics of Claims,’” Journal of Moral Philosophy 9 (2012). Thinking about how to answer her brought me to consider an interesting case I hadn’t really thought about before. So I post it here on Pea Soup to invite replies to my tentative read on how to handle this case.

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By In Ideas, Metaethics, Value Theory Comments (9)

Smith’s Objection to Buck-Passing

I very much love Michael Smith’s recent paper “A Constitutivist Theory of Reasons: Its Promise and Parts” (Law, Ethics and Philosophy 2013, also available on his website). One thing that strikes me about this paper is that, whilst discussing Parfit’s views on practical reasons, Smith seems to also create a powerful objection to the buck-passing views of value, which at least to me seems original and something that hasn’t been discussed in the vast buck-passing literature before. So, what I want to do below is to outline this argument briefly and then introduce some of the ways this argument could be resisted. For what it’s worth, my own commitment to buck-passing might be getting weaker because of this argument.

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By In Discussions, Metaethics, Moral Psychology, Normative Ethics, Practical Rationality, Value Theory Comments (2)

Regret

Consider the question “Can regret be appropriate even apart from any belief that one’s choice was misguided or irrational if a monistic theory of the good is true?”  According to the relevant notion of regret, regretting is to be understood, roughly, as mourning the loss of a forgone good.  This notion of regret leaves room for the possibility that there may be cases of rational regret that do not involve the agent seeing her prior choice as in some way misguided.  It is commonly held that this can easily occur when there is a plurality of distinct kinds of goods at stake.  More controversial is the suggestion (which can be found in Hurka’s work) that this can also easily occur when there is only one distinct kind of good at stake.  According to Hurka (“Monism, Pluralism, and Rational Regret”), goods with different “intrinsic properties” can be distinct “in the way that matters for rational regret” without being goods of distinct kinds, and so monistic theories of the good can accommodate “rational regret” as well as pluralistic theories.  But it might be, and indeed has been, argued (by, in particular, Stocker (Plural and Conflicting Values)) that, insofar as different intrinsic properties can be distinct in the way that matters for rational regret, we can think of the different properties as tied to different values, and so we do not have a case of rational ‘monistic’ regret.  And here we seem to reach a stalemate grounded in what seems to be something like a terminological issue, namely whether to count a theory of the good that takes say, pleasure, as the only good as monistic, if it also allows for distinct kinds of pleasure that make room for rational regret.  I am trying to develop a position that gets beyond this stalemate, but am now wondering whether my characterization of stalemate seems fair or if there is a better interpretation of the dynamic of the debate that makes the dispute seem more substantial.  

 

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By In Ideas, Normative Ethics, Value Theory Comments (3)

Questions about Supererogation

Supererogatory actions are those which are (1) morally meritorious or praiseworthy, but (2) not the fulfillment of a moral obligation or duty.  I was having a conversation about this with a colleague today and upon reflection, it seems to me that both clauses in the definition are vague.  This means that whether an action is supererogatory is sometimes vague, possibly for more than one reason.  I am curious if others share my intuitions/diagnosis about this.

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By In Metaethics, Moral Psychology, News and Events, Practical Rationality, Value Theory Comments Off on Call for Abstracts: Tennessee Value and Agency Conference

Call for Abstracts: Tennessee Value and Agency Conference

Tennessee Value and Agency “TVA” Conference

2014 Conference – November 6-9, 2014
Practical Reason, Moral Judgment and Moral Sense, Sensibility and Sentiment in the Moral Life

Call For Abstracts

The 2014 Tennessee Value and Agency “TVA” Conference will take place November 6-9, 2014, on the University of Tennessee Campus, 1210 McClung Tower.  The conference will focus on (rethinking) the relationships between practical reason, moral judgment and moral sense, sensibility and sentiment in the moral life, with an eye toward bringing structure and clarity to the aims and ambitions of current work in moral psychology and moral theory.  Keynote speakers will be Amelie Rorty (Tufts) and Talbot Brewer (UVA). 

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