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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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By In Moral Psychology, Normative Ethics, Value Theory Comments (4)

Why Afterlifism Isn’t a Ponzi Scheme

Samuel Scheffler’s original and provocative Tanner lectures, now published as Death and the Afterlife (OUP 2013), have already stirred discussion about the importance of humanity’s continued survival for the value of our own lives. In a witty and penetrating review of Scheffler’s work, Mark Johnston argues, among other things, that were our flourishing to depend on the flourishing of future generations, life would turn out to be a kind of Ponzi scheme: the value of our lives would depend on an infinite continuation of humanity. Since there’s good reason to think the chain of generations will eventually end, Schefflerian afterlifism implies the deeply pessimistic conclusion that “there are no value-laden lives to be found anywhere in the history of humanity”. Here, I’m going to argue that this objection fails: the point of many of our most cherished activities can depend on a certain kind of existence of future generations without any danger of regress. We need future generations to be there to be benefited by us or to appreciate our work and perhaps to continue our traditions, not necessarily to flourish in the same way as we do.

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