(forthcoming in Nous
Accuracy-first epistemology cannot show that coherence is a general rational requirement. Accuracy-first epistemology starts from the plausible claim that accuracy is epistemically valuable, and tries to vindicate norms of rationality by showing how conformity with them is beneficial. Jennifer Carr has shown that this approach faces a problem parallel to the Repugnant Conclusion in population ethics. This paper argues that accuracy first epistemology must solve this problem if it is to actually vindicate norms of rationality, and the only solution is to say either that accurate credences in some propositions have no value or infinitesimal value. From this it follows that certain incoherent credal states are not dominated by any coherent credal states. Thus the standard argument in accuracy-first epistemology for probabilism fails. The paper considers alternative ways of vindicating probabilism by appeal to the value of accuracy, and argues that none give a universal vindication.
Collective Action Problems and Conflicting Obligations
(forthcoming in Philosophical Studies
Enormous harms, such as climate change, often occur as the result of large numbers of individuals acting separately. In collective action problems, individuals have so little chance of making a difference to these harms that changing their behavior has insignificant expected utility. Even so, it is intuitive that individuals in many collective action problems should not be parts of groups that cause these great harms. This paper gives an account of when we do and do not have obligations to change our behavior in collective action problems. It also addresses a question insufficiently explored in the literature on this topic: when obligations arising out of collective action problems conflict with other obligations, what should we do? The paper explains how to adjudicate conflicts involving two collective action problems and conflicts involving collective action problems and other sorts of obligations.
The Best Argument for "Ought Implies Can" is a Better Argument Against "Ought Implies Can"
One of the most powerful arguments that ought implies can starts from the idea that obligations must be able to guide action, and claims that obligations that cannot be fulfilled cannot guide. This paper discusses a range of ways in which unfulfillable obligations can guide action, and argues that denying the principle that ought implies can gives us a better account of how obligations guide action than affirming it. The paper then considers the worry that, if we deny that ought implies can, we get too many obligations and too much guidance; it shows that this is no more of a worry for theories that deny ought implies can than for theories which affirm it.
When robots should do the wrong thing
, with Ryan Jenkins and Duncan Purves, in Robot Ethics 2.0
, forthcoming from Oxford University Press
Robots should act in accordance with some version of consequentialism, even if consequentialism is false. However, this by itself does not make it permissible for robot designers to build consequentialist robots. We argue that certain kinds of uncertainty about the future do license robot designers to build robots that comply with false moral theories.
Replaceable Lawyers and Guilty Defendants
(forthcoming in The Journal of Moral Philosophy
Many criminal lawyers should expect that, were they to not defend a certain client, someone no less capable would do so. It is morally wrong for such attorneys to defend defendants who should be punished. This is true no matter how strong the defendant's rights are and no matter how important the benefits of defending the defendant are, and does not rely on endorsing any particular theory of punishment. It is true because the fact that the attorney expects to be replaced by someone equally capable has an asymmetric effect on the reasons for and against defending. The reasons that justify defending become extremely attenuated by this expectation, no matter what they are, while the reasons against defending are much less affected, no matter what they are.
Why so negative? Evidence aggregation and armchair philosophy
The use of intuitions by so-called armchair philosophers has been criticized on empirical grounds. However, debates between armchair philosophers and their empirical critics would benefit from great precision. This paper discusses a set of probability-based tools for determining what we can and cannot learn from intuitions in various conditions. These tools can tell us whether beliefs can be justified by armchair practices, and what empirical findings would have to show to undermine the use of intuitions in philosophy. Using these tools, the paper shows that armchair philosophy makes sense in a broad range of situations, and that it is quite plausible that we are in those situations at the moment.
Truth Promoting Non-Evidential Reasons for Belief
Sometimes a belief that p promotes having true beliefs, whether or not p is true. This gives reasons to believe that p; call these reasons to believe "truth promoting non-evidential reasons for belief." This paper argues that three common views in epistemology, taken together, entail that reasons of this sort can epistemically justify beliefs. These three claims are: epistemic oughts are normative, epistemic oughts have a source, and the source of epistemic oughts is an end that has true belief as a necessary component. These claims would be hard for many epistemologists to deny, but accepting them, and thus accepting that truth promoting non-evidential reasons can justify beliefs, has significant consequences for epistemology.
Reforming Intuition Pumps: When Are the Old Ways the Best?
There have been a number of calls for reform of traditional
philosophical methods such as gathering intuitions from bizarre thought
experiments and using them as evidence in deductive arguments. In this
paper I argue that those who accept certain common meta-philosophical
views have reasons to embrace some 'old fashioned' philosophical
methods, such as the use of intuitions as data and the use of bizarre
thought experiments; these reasons are especially strong for those that
agree with these calls for reform.
The Irrelevance of Folk Intuitions to the "Hard Problem" of Consciousness
(Consciousness and Cognition
Recently, a number of philosophers have turned to folk intuitions
about mental states for data about whether or not humans have qualia or
phenomenal consciousness. In this paper I argue that this is
inappropriate. Folk judgments studied by these researchers are most
likely generated by a certain cognitive system - System One - that will
ignore qualia when making judgments, even if qualia exist. If
experimental research has any hope of shedding light into the existence
of qualia, it needs to be better founded in an understanding of how we
The Irrelevance of Dispositions and Difficulty to the "Hard Problem" of Consciousness
(Consciousness and Cognition
I respond to Justin Sytsma, Edouard Machery, and Bryce Huebner's
arguments against the view I put forth in "The Irrelevance of Folk
Intuition..." I argue that judgments about mental states are likely to
be insensitive to qualia (if they exist) because these judgments are either too
easy or too hard.
Psychology and the Use of Intuitions in Philosophy
(2009, Studia Philosophical Estonica
special edition on the use of intuitions in philosophy)
I argue that
there are legitimate concerns about the use of intuitions in philosophy,
and that these concerns cannot be fully responded to using the
traditional methods of philosophy; we need a psychologically-informed
understanding of how intuitions are generated. I explore how such an
understanding is likely to impact a range of philosophical projects,
including conceptual analysis, the study of (non-conceptual) "things
themselves," and experimental philosophy.
Student Relativism: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
I present a novel approach to teaching students who are moral
relativists. I argue that we should not try to convince students to
abandon relativism. We can show moral relativists why they should
care about studying ethics rigorously and engaging with the views of
others, and an openness to relativism actually encourages better
Interest as a Starting Place for Philosophy
(Essays in Philosophy
2012, special edition on philosophical methodology)
beliefs that are widely shared among philosophers, such as the belief
that skepticism is false, are often held with extreme confidence.
However, this confidence is not justified if these beliefs are based on
what are traditionally seen as the sources of philosophical evidence,
such as intuitions or observation (or reasoning on these bases).
Charity requires that we should look for some other basis for these
beliefs. I argue that these beliefs are based on our knowledge of what
we find interesting. Further, I argue that this is a good basis for
belief. Knowing what we find interesting allows us to tune our inquiry
in ways we could not otherwise.
Works in progress
Please contact me if you would like copies or more information.
False moral beliefs and moral uncertainty
Some people have false beliefs about what they morally should do, or are uncertain about what they should do, where these are not explained by false beliefs or uncertainty about any purely non-moral claims. To what extent do such false moral beliefs or moral uncertainty affect what one actually should do? This paper presents an answer which has been overlooked in the literature on this question. The answer accommodates the data typically discussed in this literature, which cannot all be accommodated by any other theory currently on offer. It also avoids the problem of inter-theoretic value comparisons.
Flawed credences and moral decisions
The previous paper is about moral beliefs or credences; this paper is about descriptive beliefs or credences with moral implications, such as beliefs about what the most effective medical treatment for some condition is. This paper argues the following: sometimes, when an agent does not have the credences they should have, they morally ought to do what their actual, flawed, credences recommend. This is true even though they are blameworthy for those flawed credences, and the credences they should have strongly recommend a different action. The paper also argues that epistemic notions of justification, rationality, and knowledge play a much less important role in ethics than many philosophers believe.
This paper gives argues that good normative epistemic theories must allow us to, in some cases, "sacrifice" one belief to save many others - they must permit forming incoherent beliefs, or beliefs that go against our evidence, if doing so leads to sufficient long term benefits. In previous discussions of this issue, some have thought that deontological approaches to epistemology can avoid this problem. The paper argues that they cannot. It considers different accounts of why epistemic prescriptions are normative to see if any can avoid this problem.
Decision theory for deontologists
Deontological ethics needs an account of the wrongness and permissibility of decisions made under uncertainty. Ideally, this account would tell us that it is wrong to definitely murder someone in order to cure a vast number of headaches, but that it is permissible to produce a headache cure that has a small enough chance of killing someone. It should also say that some acts are supererogatory. This paper considers three approaches, all of which (it has been suggested) satisfy these criteria: using diminishing marginal value, using hyperreal numbers, and using lexical (semi-)ordering. It argues that something in the vicinity of lexical (semi-)ordering is the best approach.