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Dale Miller
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I've been trying to think through a different kind of solution to this problem, or rather a different version of RC/RU for which the problem doesn't arise. That is an "individual" ideal-code theory, according to which the moral code that I ought to obey is the one that it would be optimal for me to internalize, given the world as it is. Needless to say, even if this sort of view doesn't face this problem, it faces lots of others.
I suspect that there is no really satisfactory solution to this problem. However, I think that the best stab that we could make at such a solution would have to be sensitive to what we know about empirically about how people respond to societies in which different sorts of moral codes are very prevalent. Suppose, for example, that we're thinking about a moral code that is very Victorian where sex is concerned, and that we have empirical reason to think that in a society in which enough of a teaching effort is made to instill such a code in (say) 90% of the population, many people in the other 10% are likely to react violently against the code and be wildly promiscuous or fetishistic. For most moral codes that we're interested in, we probably can't really make very confident predictions about what counter-cultures would emerge if enough of a teaching effort were made to induce a given percentage of the population to internalize the code. And, of course, there may be multiple forms that this "teaching effort" could take, complicating the problem further. That's why I don't really think there's a solution. But I think that attempted solutions that ignore these sorts of empirical considerations get off on the wrong foot. If I understand your proposals correctly, Jussi, then that applies to all three, although I'm not sure that I'm interpreting the last one correctly.
I suspect that at some point we all find ourselves making points that we've made previously in other publications. That doesn't mean that the new piece doesn't contain new ideas; some overlap is inevitable, especially if you want the new piece to be accessible to someone who hasn't read your entire corpus to that point. Self-quotation isn't usually the way that philosophers handle this sort of overlap, but I don't see anything about it that is any more ethically problematic than the self-paraphrasing that we usually do. It might even be more honest, by making the fact that you're drawing on previous work entirely explicit. Although in some cases I might wonder whether an author was quoting herself because she could only think of one way to explain a certain point, and in that case I might wonder whether she really understood it herself.
Toggle Commented Dec 18, 2012 on Self-plagiarism in academic publishing? at PEA Soup
We (Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA) want very strongly to avoid hiring someone who won't have defended before they get here. My understanding is that they couldn't take up the position in that case; at the very least they would have do so as a lecturer rather than an assistant professor, which diminishes salary and job security. I don't think that we would feel safe with someone who was planning to defend in August, just prior to the start of the school year; all it takes then is someone's getting sick to postpone the defense past the cutoff point for the the candidate to have the degree in hand at the start of the term. Spring would be acceptable, although if we have two candidates who are otherwise pretty equal and one has the degree in hand, that will be a consideration and might well tip the balance. Given that there is such a large pool of unemployed or underemployed philosophers with Ph.D.s right now, we have discussed requiring Ph.D. in hand at time of application but not done so (that I recall, anyway).
Surely the best reason for the rule that Doug proposes is that after interviewing people all day you're entitled to have some job-candidate free time to relax with your friends and/or colleagues.
Toggle Commented Dec 14, 2011 on The Smoker: A Proposal at PEA Soup
Thanks. I was looking under Editorial Policy.
Toggle Commented Oct 28, 2011 on JESP Discussion Notes - new editor at PEA Soup
Is there an official word limit for submissions to the discussion section?
Toggle Commented Oct 27, 2011 on JESP Discussion Notes - new editor at PEA Soup
When you purchase a book from, do you have to agree not to remove the DRM?
David, I'm curious whether there might be any grounds for describing you as an "indirect" consequentialist of some sort, in practice if not in theory. I'm usually not thrilled about that term, because I think it is ambiguous between a two-level act-consequentialist view like Hare's and a rule-consequentialist view like Hooker's. In this case, though, I'm happy with the ambiguity, because I'm curious whether your practice might conform to either view. To what extent do consequentialist considerations make a difference to what your conscience keeps you from doing? If in the proverbial cool hour you reflect that your doing X will usually have bad consequences, or that bad consequences would result if people generally felt free to X, would this make it more likely that in future you would have to break through a mass of feeling in order to X, one that you would probably encounter afterwards in the form of remorse if you did?
Toggle Commented Aug 19, 2010 on Am I a Consequentialist? at PEA Soup
Something worries me about that response, Jonathan, but I'm not sure if I can say precisely what. Of course, there is an easy answer here about how the present crisis has perhaps revealed some things about the moral character of bankers such that they are in no position to complain about the moral character of their borrowers. And given some of the lending practices that were in place at the height of the subprime lending frenzy, I'm not sure that it is in fact the case that all mortgages were written based on the assumption that borrowers were of strong moral character. Many of these loans, in fact, seem to have been designed specifically for borrowers with such a weak moral character that they would misrepresent their income. Beyond all of this, though, I think that in setting interest rates banks must taken into account the risk that the world will change in various ways over the life of the mortgage. If they guess wrong, then they lose. If their assumption that I will repay is based upon what moral norms have been in the past, but the norms change and my behavior conforms to the norms as they are now, then I don't know that the bank is entitled to complain that I had some obligation to make the future like the past. I wouldn't think that a bank was wrong to make a profit off of a mortgage holder who felt a stronger obligation to repay than demanded by the norms in place when the loan was written, even though the interest rate was higher due to the laxness of those norms and the bank was therefore benefiting from a conscientiousness in the borrower than it hadn't paid for.
A related question: Presumably my mortgage contract specifies that if I don't make payments then my bank will take possession of my house. Suppose that I stop making payments and move out, leaving the bank the keys. Have I walked away from the contract? Or have I honored it, given that the bank's taking possession of the contract was contemplated in the contract itself?
Doug, As I'm understanding this, you take the following principle to be a consequence of the conjunction of INTUITION and OC: If S's performance of a series of actions between T-i and T-j would be optimific, but there is no intention, plan, or resolution that S can form at T-i that will ensure that S will complete this series once it is started, then S is under no obligation to perform the first action in that series at T-i (unless it is also the first action in a series of actions whose successful completion S can ensure at T-i). I see the appeal of the principle, but I wonder about this sort of case: Snidely is going to tie Penelope to the railroad tracks. Dudley will have an opportunity to free her at T-j, but he will be able to do so only if he has first bought a pocket knife at T-i. It would be optimific for him to buy the knife and then free Penelope, but Dudley is irresolute enough that at T-i there is no way for him to make up his mind to free Penelope when the time comes so firmly as to ensure that he will do it. Since it would not be optimific for him to buy the knife unless he uses it to rescue Penelope, when he chooses not to buy it he does no wrong. Then, when T-j comes, it is not wrong for him not to free Penelope, for he cannot do so without the knife and 'ought' implies 'can.' Yet it is counterintuitive to me that Dudley has done no wrong here. This leads me to a conclusion similar to Alex's, which is that INTUITION is too strong.
Doug, In a nutshell, what I've argued previously is that there is something problematic about any moral theory according to which any moral agents who are recognizably human will perform very many actions every day that are objectively wrong, especially when many of them are seriously morally wrong. And I think that this is true on OC, even if cases that violate INTUITION are excluded (not that I'm conceding that they should be). My argument for this is not as airtight as I would like it to be at present, I admit, and I think you'd reject out of hand the version that I find most persuasive because you and I differ over the relation between objective wrongness and blameworthiness. But that's all a different discussion anyway.
Doug, Let me get your take on an example that I've used in print somewhere, either in the Ratio paper that Eric cites or something else. I assume that there are several (at least) people who die every day because they are asleep and unaware of some looming danger---the house's catching on fire is the most likely threat. Most of the people could be saved if their phone were to ring in time to wake them. As a person with access to a phone, it must be true that if I were to dial the right numbers at the right times I could save several lives every day but am failing to do so. So I am presumably performing multiple actions every day that OC entails are seriously morally wrong (insofar as the consequences of the actions I'm doing instead, like grading exams, are far from optimific). This type of scenario, it seems to me, poses serious problems for OC. For present purposes, though, I just want to see whether you agree with me that this scenario does not conflict with INTUITION.
Doug, I have to confess that I've also advanced a version of the objection your criticizing. I also have to confess that I'm initially perplexed by your response to it. Let me ask a couple of questions so that I can get clearer about this: 1. Suppose that I grant that there could be people whose agency is diminished insofar as they suffer from irresistible compulsions and that these compulsions make it impossible for them to perform certain actions even though they are physically capable of doing so. So for agents with these sorts of compulsions, the right action in any situation is the action with the best consequences that their compulsion will allow them to perform. Thus if an agent has some weird compulsion to make 6 the sixth number that she enters into the safe, then it is not wrong for her to fail to open the safe. How does that weaken the objection, though, if I can still show that OC has unacceptable implications when we imagine a normal agent in that situation? After all, that an agent is ignorant of the correct combination in no way entails that if she guesses correctly and forms an intention to enter the right number then she will not be able to follow through on that intention. 2. Following up on Eric's comment about the individuation of actions: For the agent that you're imagining in this situation, could she form the intention at T1 to enter 2, and her doing so be securable? And then could she form the intention at T2 to enter 0, and would that be securable? And so on for each individual digit?
Doug- Or was what I described as a disanalogy between the arguments really just another way of stating your original point? Normative Uncertainty shows that blameless wrongdoing is possible, so Mine Shafts has no force against OC?
Toggle Commented Apr 22, 2010 on Consequentialism and Uncertainty at PEA Soup
Doug- Thanks, that is helpful. It seems to me that the arguments are disanalogous in one way that might turn out to be consequential. The argument in Mine Shafts turns on the implicit assumption that there can be no blameless wrongdoing; Sally is blameless for what she did, therefore what she did was not wrong. Since OC plus the facts entails that it was wrong, we must reject OC. On the other hand, in Normative Uncertainty you seem to be assuming implicitly that blameless wrongdoing is possible: SC is true, SC plus the information available to Sandra entails that for her to do A3 is wrong, yet she is blameless for doing A3.
Toggle Commented Apr 22, 2010 on Consequentialism and Uncertainty at PEA Soup
"Consider also that we would not blame her if she were to perform A3, but that we would blame her if she were to perform a1." Doug, can you say more about this claim? Who are "we"? Is the idea that no reasonable person would blame her? In Mine Shafts, it seems to be implicit that Sally's ignorance about which shaft the miners are down is not due to any failure on her part. We might well blame her for opening gate 3 if she should have known where the miners were but didn't. In Normative Uncertainty, it does not seem entirely obviously to me that Sandra is not responsible for her own failure to know what theory of morality is true. (We might need to know more about Sandra to judge this.) And even if she is not, it does not seem obvious to me that failure to know this means that she should not be blamed failing to do a1. It might mean that some negative reaction to her would be unjustified, but perhaps this is a judgment about her character. Can't we blame people for actions that they performed in obedience to a moral view that they hold but that we reject, while simultaneously admiring their commitment to acting on the moral principles to which they (wrongly, in our view) subscribe?
Toggle Commented Apr 22, 2010 on Consequentialism and Uncertainty at PEA Soup
Not that I know of, although I like the idea. I proposed that he have a reply in this issue, but he didn't seem all that keen. I have some idea what he thinks about some of my objections to his reading, because the three of us presented our papers as a panel at the last International Society for Utilitarian Studies conference, but both his paper and mine changed some since then so even I don't know how he would answer all of my points. And I've no idea what he would say to Riley.
Here are the abstracts: Mill’s moral theory: Ongoing revisionism D.G. Brown University of British Columbia, Canada, Revisionist interpretation of Mill needs to be extended to deal with a residue of puzzles about his moral theory and its connection with his theory of liberty. The upshot shows his reinterpretation of his Benthamite tradition as a form of ‘philosophical utilitarianism’; his definition of the art of morality as collective self-defence; his ignoring of maximization in favour of ad hoc dealing in utilities; the central role of his account of the justice of punishment; the marginal role of the internal sanction in his criterion of moral wrong; his deep respect for common-sense morality; and his restriction of the scope of morality so as to claim for the utilitarian tradition the whole realm of the aesthetics of conduct as part of a general theory of practical reason. Brown on Mill’s moral theory: A critical response Dale E. Miller Old Dominion University, USA, In this article, I argue that the reading of Mill that D.G. Brown presents in ‘Mill’s Moral Theory: Ongoing Revisionism’ is inconsistent with several key passages in Mill’s writings. I also show that a rule-utilitarian interpretation that is very close to the one developed by David Lyons is able to account for these passages without difficulty. Mill’s extraordinary utilitarian moral theory Jonathan Riley Tulane University, USA, D.G. Brown’s revisionist interpretation, despite its interest, misrepresents Mill’s moral theory as outlined in Utilitarianism . Mill’s utilitarianism is extraordinary because it explicitly aims to maximize general happiness both in point of quality and quantity. It encompasses spheres of life beyond morality, and its structure cannot be understood without clarification of his much-maligned doctrine that some kinds of pleasant feelings are qualitatively superior to others irrespective of quantity. This doctrine of higher pleasures establishes an order of precedence among conflicting kinds of enjoyments, including moral as well as non-moral kinds. In particular, as he indicates in Utilitarianism, Chapter V, the higher kind of pleasure associated with the moral sentiment of justice, namely, a feeling of ‘security’ for vital personal concerns that everyone has and that ought to be recognized as equal rights, is qualitatively superior to any competing kinds of pleasures regardless of quantity. Justice (more generally, morality) is conceived as a social system of rules and dispositions which has as its ultimate end the maximization of this pleasant feeling of security for everyone. The upshot is that an optimal social code that distributes and sanctions particular equal rights and correlative duties has absolute priority over competing considerations within his utilitarianism. The code seeks to prevent conduct that, in the judgment of suitably competent majorities, causes grievous kinds of harm to other people by injuring their vital personal concerns. To prevent the acts and omissions which are judged to cause such undue harm, the code assigns equal duties not to perform them, and authorizes due punishment of anyone who fails to fulfill his duties. Punishment is always expedient to condemn and deter wrongdoing. But it is properly a separate issue which particular ways of inflicting punishment are expedient in any particular situation. Given that feelings of guilt are a way of inflicting punishment, coercion is not necessary for punishment. Thus, Mill’s claim that wrongdoing always deserves to be punished in some way does not imply that coercive legal sanctions and public stigma are always expedient for the enforcement of moral duties.
David's distinction between outweighing reasons and silencing them gets at what was behind my earlier comment that what was being described here doesn't seem to amount to choosing one's reasons: a reason that is merely being outweighed, as opposed to silenced, still seems to be amongst one's reasons. Neil, if David is right that that your new characterization requires the stronger notion of silencing, then I'd still suggest that you think more about whether an explanation in terms of the direction of attention might not both provide a Humean basis for this notion and be true to our psychology.
Neil, "Suppose I have a first-order desire for immortality, and a means-end belief that I can raise the probability of immortality by an immediate act of writing. . . . The latter pair will oppose the same immediate act of writing that the former pair supports." I'll think about this more, and I may be wrong, but my initial reaction is that think that if this is all that it going on then your "fragment of immortality" reason isn't being inhibited so much as it is being counterbalanced. It seems to me that this means you aren't really "choosing your reasons." Although maybe your account explains what is really going on in cases in which it might seem to someone that she is choosing her reasons, and perhaps that is all you need.
Toggle Commented Mar 31, 2010 on How Humeans Can Explain Reason-Choosing at PEA Soup
This seems promising, but I'm not sure that you've said enough yet about how the desire not to act on a reason inhibits action based on that reason. I wonder if a plausible account could be given of this that focuses on the notion of attention. Could you say, for instance, that Setiya's desire not to act for the reason of gaining immortality (or a fragment thereof) leads him to direct his attention away from that desire (or from the belief that writing a book would achieve this?), and that this is how it inhibits his choosing to write the book for that reason? I'm not sure that this fits every case in which we choose our reasons---maybe sometimes we ask ourselves what we would do if we didn't have a reason, while never in fact succeeding in pushing that reason out of mind---but then perhaps not every case of reason-choosing is alike.
Toggle Commented Mar 31, 2010 on How Humeans Can Explain Reason-Choosing at PEA Soup
Perhaps perfect neutrality would require canceling your reservation for half of the nights originally booked, dividing your time between the boycotted hotel and one that is union approved. There's another preliminary question that might be mentioned here, although perhaps it shouldn't be discussed until Matt's original questions have been thoroughly discussed. (I don't mean to "threadjack" Matt.) This is whether there is any ethical relevance to the difference between a boycott and a strike.
To answer the second question first, our new gen ed program (starts next year) will require a "philosophy or ethics" course. The original plan was that an ethics course would be required, either an intro ethics course from us or a discipline-specific course taught by a department for their own majors. The problem for us was that there was going to be no place for other intro philosophy courses in the program at all. We fought for making philosophy and ethics separate requirements, with an intro ethics courses from us satisfying both simultaneously, but this hodgepodge requirement is what we were forced to accept. As to the first question, the short version of the story is that our university decided to put together web-based modules on different aspects of ethics for graduate students. One module is essentially on philosophical ethics. A colleague whose specialty is Latin American history was tasked with creating this module. I was asked if I wanted to "assist" him. I declined.
Toggle Commented Jan 25, 2010 on University Ethics Requirements at PEA Soup