By In Metaethics Comments (19)

Shafer-Landau’s Moral Realism and Supervenience

Here at PEA Soup, Jason Kawall recently raised the possibility that moral realism might be open to a Euthyphro Dilemma kind of objection, which got me thinking about one of those papers that I write and then shelve for some reason or another. In this paper, I take a critical look at Russ Shafer-Landau’s moral realism (as presented in his aptly titled Moral Realism). I figured that perhaps this would be a good venue to discuss its argument.

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By In Applied Ethics Comments (2)

Ethics posts over at Close Range and Rational Hunter

I thought I would point to two interesting ethics posts by Marc Moffett, master blogger at Close Range and Rational Hunter, philosopher of language at the University of Wyoming, and self-proclaimed hunter/gatherer. In this post, Marc wonders, assuming that a certain kind of compatibilism is true, whether utilitarianism is the only ethical theory that can justify the recent government reclassification of weight problems as diseases, thereby making these problems coverable by medicaide. In this post, Marc denies that “responsible hunting” causes the massive pain and suffering of animals usually assumed by those interested in discussions of animal welfare. WRT the latter post and the Rational Hunter blog in general, it is interesting to see someone who values hunting, fishing, and the outdoors thinking out loud about ethical and lifestyle issues concerning animals and the environment.

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By In The Profession Comments (18)

Gender, Philosophy, and Blogging

Brian Weatherson points us blogaholics to Julie Van Camp’s piece on the female-friendliness of the Philosophical Gourmet Report and philosophy graduate departments. (The piece is in the Spring 2004 APA Newsletter on Feminism and Philosophy.) She notes a broad phenomenon that many of us find troubling, namely that “Philosophy remains the most male-dominated field of the humanities in the academy.”

My own experience with graduate students and junior faculty indicates that this troubling fact is changing, but perhaps that’s just because I’ve been lucky enough to be around female-friendly departments and areas of study, where the ratio of women to men is at, near, or in some cases even better than an even split. In any case, while some robust discussion of Van Camp’s piece is going on over at Weatherson’s blog, I wanted to raise a related fact that troubles me: as discouraging, gender-balance-wise, as the make-up of the profession is, the philosophical blogosphere seems even worse. Again, my evidence is only anecdotal, but we’ve seen very few female commentators on PEA Soup, and the ratio of female to male blog authors also seems disproportional. (That’s not to say that there are no female philosophers taking advantage of this medium, of course: Jessica Wilson is a blogger, for example.)

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By In Metaethics Comments (13)

Mackie and disagreement

I recently completed an independent study with a student interested in Mackie’s error theory, and we spent a good deal of time discussing Mackie’s argument from relativity or disagreement. For those unaware, the late Australian philosopher John Mackie favored an error theory of morality, according to which, although our ordinary moral language presupposes that our moral beliefs can correspond to moral facts, there are not moral facts with which those beliefs correspond. So as Mackie understood it, if Matilda believes that capital punishment is wrong and Nancy believes capital punishment is not wrong, their disagreement is in reality only an apparent disagreement, since there is no fact about the wrongness of capital punishment that would render their disagreement intelligible. Mackie held that this error-theoretical account offers a better explanation of the apparent widespread intra- and intersocietal moral disagreement than the alternative, namely, that either Matilda or Nancy is guilty of irrationality, ignorance, misperception, etc., with respect to the alleged moral facts. Moral discourse is thus akin to fairy discourse: The parties to a moral disagreement are arguing, literally, about nothing, just as those who argue about whether fairies’ wings are translucent or opaque are arguing about nothing.

I’ve often felt that the disagreement argument is an important advance over the sophomoric and soft-headed “anthropological” argument that simply says (a) there’s lot of moral disagreement in the world, so (b) there are no objective moral facts or truths. Mackie’s point is that deep-seated disagreement is rationally intractable disagreement, resulting not from any failure of rationality by one of the parties but from the parties holding conflicting normative attitudes toward one and the same sort of act or policy. This is what distinguishes moral disagreement from factual or scientific disagreement: In a factual or scientific disagreement, we have a good idea about what sort of evidence would rationally settle the matter, but with fundamental moral disagreements, we not only can’t point to what sort of evidence would rationally settle the matter, there doesn’t seem to be *any* evidence that might settle it.

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By In Uncategorized Comments (1)

Editorial Policy

Since the Newsweek article was published last week, we’ve been getting more hits than usual. (Out of the roughly 8800 hits received in the last 5.5 weeks, 3100 were received in the last week alone). Overall, we’re very pleased that there’s so much interest. However, some participants have recently posted comments that our readers might find to be a distraction from the more narrow philosophical discussions that this blog is intended to facilitate. Accordingly, we’ve recently begun deleting some of these comments.

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By In Uncategorized Comments (27)

The Uphill versus the Downhill Life

It seems that a life that gets progressively better (the Uphill Life or UHL) is often preferable to one that gets progressively worse (the Downhill Life or DHL), even where both lives contain qualitatively identical events and experiences, only in a different order — I borrow these terms from Feldman 2004. To illustrate, consider David Velleman’s description of two possible lives:

One life begins in the depths but takes an upward trend: a childhood of deprivation, a troubled youth, struggles and setbacks in early adulthood, followed finally by success and satisfaction in middle age and a peaceful retirement. Another life begins at the heights but slides downhill: a blissful childhood and youth, precocious triumphs and rewards in early adulthood, followed by a midlife strewn with disasters that lead to misery in old age. Surely, we can imagine two such lives containing equal sums of momentary welfare. Your retirement is as blessed in one life as your childhood is in the other; your nonage is as blighted in one life as your dotage is in the other. (1991, 49-50)

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By In Applied Ethics Comments (29)

Terrorism and Innocence

I’m currently working on a paper about terrorism, and I decided my first post would concern one of the main issues in that paper. It might seem to be common sense that what is wrong with terrorist acts like the attack on the World Trade Center is that such acts target innocent persons. In fact this is pretty much the traditional account: traditional just war theory states that one limitation on the conduct of war is that one may never intentionally kill innocent persons. (However, in a just war it is sometimes permissible to do things that you foresee will result in the unintended deaths of some innocent persons, via the Doctrine of Double Effect or something like it.)

Now I happen to think that the traditional account is true: what makes terrorism particularly morally abhorrent is that it takes innocent persons as its targets.

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