By In Metaethics Comments (19)

Responsibility and Identity

It is taken to be a platitude that one person can’t be morally responsible for the actions of someone else (see, e.g., Ted Sider’s book Four Dimensionalism for a recent reaffirmation of this claim). But there seems to be a fairly simple argument against this view, an argument drawing from Derek Parfit’s work on personal identity. Suppose that Adam has committed a brutal murder, and he then undergoes fission, that is, one half of his brain is put in one identical triplet’s body, and the other half is put in the other identical triplet’s body (call the two other triplets Brett and Carl). Let us then stipulate that each of the resulting persons is qualitatively identical to Adam. What’s happened to Adam? There are the usual four options: Adam survives as both, survives as Brett, survives as Carl, or doesn’t survive. There are clearly two persons in existence after the fission, though, so because one person doesn’t equal two, Adam can’t survive as both. And there’s no non-arbitrary reason for why he would’ve survived as Brett and not Carl, and vice versa. So the best description of the case is that Adam hasn’t survived the fission. But this isn’t even remotely as bad as ordinary death; indeed, what’s occurred to Adam is just as good as ordinary survival: both Brett and Carl will (quasi-)remember Adam’s commission of the crime, they’ll fulfill his intentions (at least insofar as their duplication won’t cause pragmatic conflicts in carrying them out), and they’ll persist in his beliefs, desires, goals, and general character.

But what about responsibility for his actions? If the loss of identity in this way is unimportant with regard to ordinary patterns of prudential concern, then why should it matter with regard to moral attributions like responsiiblity? What matters instead, it seems clear, are the relations of psychological connectedness that obtain between Brett/Carl and Adam. But insofar as these relations obtain to the highest possible degree, there seems no reason to deny that both Brett and Carl are responsible (or least quasi-responsible) for Adam’s actions, which is a straightforward denial of the so-called platitude: one person can be responsible for the actions of someone else.

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By In Normative Ethics Comments (1)

Hooker on the Cost of Internalizing a Moral Code

Josh, Doug, Dave, Richard Rodewald, and I were discussing the last two chapters of Brad Hooker’s Ideal Code, Real World, in which Hooker goes to great lengths to discuss the importance of taking into account the costs associated with having each member of an overwhelming majority of each new generation accept a particular moral code. This raises the question of just what costs are supposed to be counted in the calculation that determines the ideal moral code. Both Josh and Dave suggested that, when we get to the details of what these costs are, it looks like Hooker is either inconsistent about what such costs include, or he vastly underestimates some of these costs to the point that it looks like the ideal moral code would be so conservative as to fly in the face of some of our considered moral beliefs–and thus his Rule-Consequentialism would violate to a significant extent one of the criteria of adequacy that he endorses for a correct moral theory. This post will lay out what costs are supposed to be counted in the calculation that determines the ideal moral code, and, in the next post, I’ll get to the dilemma.

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By In Normative Ethics Comments (4)

Agency and the Paradox of Deontology

Lest our readers begin to think that this blog will turn out to be some sort of consequentialist love-fest, here’s something from the deontology corner of PEA Soup.

I recently gave a paper at UNC-Greensboro, in which I defend deontology against Samuel Scheffler’s objection that its restrictions are paradoxical. Among the many helpful comments offered by the audience, one point that received some healthy discussion was whether the case that supposedly generates the putative paradox is actually possible. The case is this (there are other versions of it, but this is the one I focus on): either Agent 1 kills Victim 1, or Agents 2-6 will kill Victims 2-6. Deontology (let’s grant) obligates Agent 1 to not kill Victim 1, so this means that five other killings will occur, and as such deontology fails to minimize the overall number of killings. But if killing is so wrong, it seems paradoxical to require more, rather than fewer, overall violations of the duty to not kill.

Now early on, I was tempted to say that the case itself could not occur, but given that it doesn’t seem logically impossible, and it’s otherwise hard to prove a universal negative, I instead worked up a solution (I think) that renders deontology non-paradoxical given that such a case could arise. So I simply grant the case. Some of the comments from folks at UNC-G, however, got me reconsidering the idea that maybe the case itself is problematic.

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By In Normative Ethics Comments (3)

Why Most Moral Theories Are Deficient

I recently wrote a paper entitled “Why Most Moral Theories Are Deficient.” I welcome comments and criticisms. Here’s an abstract:

“In this paper, I present an argument that poses the following dilemma for any moral theory: either reject one or more of our most firmly held moral convictions or accept that non-moral reasons can counterbalance moral reasons and thereby affect the moral permissibility of our actions. Furthermore, I argue that, given this dilemma, we should conclude that most, if not all, of the moral theories currently on offer are deficient in that they either fail to comport with our considered moral judgements or fail to provide us with the requisite account of non-moral reasons and how they affect the permissibility of our actions. I conclude the paper both by suggesting that we take a new approach to normative ethics and by taking the first step in this new direction.”

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By In Normative Ethics Comments (15)

Consequentializing: Part III

This entry is the final installment of a three-part series on consequentializing non-consequentialist moral theories. As noted in Part I, a number of philosophers accept what’s called Dreier’s Conjecture: For any moral theory M, there is some conceivable theory of the good that, when combined with the consequentialist principle “φ-ing is morally permissible iff φ-ing would produce the best available state of affairs,” yields moral verdicts that are, in every instance, identical to those of M. And, as also noted in Part I, philosophers such as Brown, Louise, and Pettit believe that if this conjecture is true, then the consequentialism/non-consequentialism distinction is an empty distinction. In this entry, I argue, to the contrary, that even if Dreier’s Conjecture is true, the consequentialism/non-consequentialism distinction is still an important and meaningful distinction.

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The Embedding Objection: Part I, “What is Expressivism?”

Many people think that the problem of embedding ethical sentences like (1)

(1) Intentionally flying airplanes into tall buildings is wrong

within more complex sentences like (2)

(2) If intentionally flying airplanes into tall buildings is wrong, then I won’t do it

is one of the most challenging difficulties facing expressivists. This difficulty is often called “The Embedding Objection” or “The Frege-Geach Problem.” I also think The Embedding Objection is one of the most challenging difficulties facing expressivists, though I think the difficulties are not often fully understood as well as they might be. One reason, I think, is that ‘The Embedding Objection’ is an exceedingly misleading definite description: despite the occurrence of the definite article, there are, as far as I can tell, at least eight different problems that fall under the label ‘The Embedding Objection’; despite the occurrence of ‘objection’, not all of these problems are intended by those who mention them to be objections (for example, Dreier’s (1996) insistence that expressivist theories must account for compositionality is not an objection that they cannot); and despite the occurrence of ’embedding’, some of the problems have nothing fundamentally to do with embedding (for example, Sinnott Armstrong’s (2000) “Deepest Problem of Embedding”). Another reason is that there are several different kinds of expressivism, and so it is not always clear toward which kind of expressivism each of the eight problems is most forcefully directed. So, in a series of entries, I’ll try to make more transparent the different problems falling under the label ‘The Embedding Objection’ and toward which kind of expressivism each problem is most forcefully directed.

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Consequentializing: Part II

This entry is the second installment of a three-part series on consequentializing non-consequentialist moral theories. As noted in Part I, a number of philosophers accept what’s called Dreier’s Conjecture: For any moral theory M, there is some conceivable theory of the good that, when combined with the consequentialist principle “φ-ing is morally permissible iff φ-ing would produce the best available state of affairs,” yields moral verdicts that are, in every instance, identical to those of M. In her forthcoming article, Jennie Louise concludes from this conjecture that all moral theories are consequentialist (forthcoming, pp. 2 & 33). In this installment, I argue that this can’t be right since analogues of Dreier’s Conjecture are true of most moral theories, including Kantianism, contractualism, virtue ethics, and divine command theory. Thus, if Dreier’s Conjecture establishes that we’re all consequentialists, then these analogues establish that we’re all Kantians, contractualists, virtue ethicists, and divine command theorists as well, and this is just absurd.

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