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2013 seminars

12 March 2013
Chris Gyngell
"Stocking the Genetic Supermarket"
A popular model for regulating access to genetic engineering technologies (GETs) is the ‘genetic supermarket’. In the genetic supermarket parents are free to make decisions about which genes to select for their children with little state interference. This model for regulating access to GETs is often contrasted with ‘eugenic’ practices of the past, in which there was a strong state influence over reproductive decisions. However we have good moral reasons to restrict some choices in the genetic supermarket. Parents should not be allowed to access technologies which would greatly harm their children for instance. The challenge with the genetic supermarket, then, is to specify what should, and what should not, be stocked. In this paper I argue that one class of GETs that should not be stocked in the genetic supermarket are those that present collective action problems. This may include GETs that target height, immunity and certain cognitive traits.
19 March 2013
Hallie Liberto
University of Connecticut
"Misfires, Pass-Backs, Blocks, and Interceptions: A Metaphysics of Failed Promises"
Many philosophers believe there is an authority condition on promise-making that needs to be met by a promise-maker in order for an utterance to be a felicitous promise (Austin). Others think that there is a certain normative authority held by the promisee over the promise-maker after a successful promise has been made (Darwall, Owens). I argue that both are true and that this authority (perhaps best describes in terms of claim-rights) is the same authority, and successful promises transfer this authority between persons. In order to accept this view, we must reject certain popular explanations of what generates promissory obligation- an accepted invitation to trust, a generated expectation- but at no cost (or very little cost). In fact, this proposal is capable of resolving a variety of problems with promising related to agency, chronology, promising too much, and what I call the bootstrapping problem for promises.
26 March 2013
Sadjad Soltanzadeh
"To be or not to be? It's a matter of degree! An action-based account of the metaphysics of technologies"
In their paper “Actions versus functions: a plea for an alternative metaphysics of artifacts”, Wybo Houkes and Pieter Vermaas criticize the prevailing function-based accounts of the metaphysics of artifacts and call for an alternative, action-based account. Even though nine years have passed since the publication of that paper, the field of the metaphysics of technology still suffers from the same bias against action-based theories as it used to. My aim in this piece is to explore the metaphysics that Houkes and Vermaas have suggested and to refute another bias which is prevalent in the field. This bias is in the form of an unquestioned assumption that to be a technology is a matter of kind and not one of degree. The definition of technology that I provide in my action-based account would be “X is a technology if X is (intended to be) used to help its user(s) achieve a certain goal by virtue of X’s special physical properties”. I discuss two important implications of this definition and argue that a) technologies are inherently open to evaluative and comparative judgments, and that b) even though one can make a sharp distinction between technologies and ordinary objects, to be a technology is a matter of degree.
2 April 2013
Seumas Miller
"Targeted Killing, Assassination and Drones: The Ethical Issues"
In recent years the ethics of assassination and targeted killing has come to the fore. This paper seeks to identify, and clarify the relationships between, the moral issues arising from the targeted killing of suspected terrorists. Moral issues include, but are not restricted to, the ethics of political assassination, the moral principles governing the use of lethal force against known terrorist-combatants in de facto theatres of war, reliance on drone technology (including so-called 'autonomous' drones), pre-emptive strikes against suspected terrorist groups and the epistemic or knowledge requirements involved in targeted killing.
23 April 2013
Josh May
Monash University
"Two Concepts of Free Will"
30 April 2013
Graeme McLean
"Faith, Reason, and the Foundations of Knowledge (I)"
7 May 2013
Graeme McLean
"Faith, Reason, and the Foundations of Knowledge (II)"
14 May 2013
Graeme McLean
"Faith, Reason, and the Foundations of Knowledge (III)"
21 May 2013
Toby Handfield
Monash University
"Rational choice and the transitivity of betterness"
If A is better than B and B is better than C, then A is better than C, right? Larry Temkin and Stuart Rachels say: No! Betterness is nontransitive, they claim. In this paper, I discuss the central type of argument advanced by Temkin and Rachels for this radical idea, and argue that, given this view very likely has sceptical implications for practical reason, we would do well to identify alternative responses. I propose one such response, which employs the idea that rational agents might regard some options as incommensurate in value, and will reasonably employ a heuristic of status quo maintenance to avoid suboptimal choices from incommensurate goods.
28 May 2013
Tristram McPherson
University of Melbourne/Virginia Tech
"A Moorean defense of the omnivore?"
The moral vegetarian can seem to have all of the arguments in animal ethics. However, these arguments have strikingly revisionary implications for the moral beliefs of most people. And that suggests an important but neglected reply on behalf of the omnivore. This 'Moorean' reply begins by appealing to intuitive claims like: it is not wrong to drink a glass of milk. It then issues a methodological challenge: surely it is reasonable to be more confident in a clear intuitive judgment of the permissibility of drinking milk than one is in the conjunction of the premises of any moral argument for vegetarianism. I offer a two-pronged reply to this Moorean challenge. First, I compare this challenge to canonical instances of Moorean arguments, and argue that it is less compelling on general methodological grounds than the canonical cases. Then, I argue that the vegetarian is better able to debunk the omnivore's intuitive premises than the omnivore is able to debunk hers. I conclude that while the Moorean gambit raises serious doubts about the vegetarian's argument, it nonetheless likely fails to vindicate the omnivore's lifestyle.
4 June 2013
Neil Levy
University of Melbourne/Oxford
"McKenna's Challenge to Skepticism"
In Conversation and Responsibility , Michael McKenna issues a powerful challenge to the moral responsibility skeptic. He argues that because the justification of blame does not entail the justification of punishment, it is easier to justify than the skeptic thinks. Given this lower threshold for the justification of blame, he argues that it is amply justified. In response, I argue that blaming is more harmful than McKenna recognizes, and that therefore he has set the threshold for its justification too low. More importantly, he has mischaracterized what the skeptic is committed to: the skeptic need not deny that we may be morally required to blame; the skeptic claims only that blaming is moral cost, even if it is one we are required to pay. With this claim in mind, I assess McKenna's attempts to justify blame. I argue that his attempts to justify blame in the absence of basic desert at best justify only that agents be exposed to the risk of being blamed, but justifying the risk of being blamed is not enough to justify blame itself. Some of McKenna's attempt to justify blame by justifying a basic desert thesis face analogous problems: they show that the risk of blame, or practices that expose agents to blame, are justified, not that blame is itself justified; his other attempted justifications are compatible with holding that blame is an unfortunate necessity.
11 June 2013
Greg Bognar
University of Latrobe
"Individual Responsibility for Health"
Thursday 18 July 2013
No Seminar
Thursday 25 July 2013
Neil Sinhababu
National University of Singapore
"Desire's Explanations"
I defend a Humean account of motivation according to which desire drives all action and practical reasoning. Opponents of such views often argue that Humeans can't explain various psychological phenomena. For example, John Searle argues that Humean views can't account for akrasia, while Richard Holton and Chandra Sripada argue that Humeans can't account for willpower. Noting the way that desire is intensified by vivid representations of its object, I present a simple and unified Humean account of procrastination, willpower, and akrasia.
Thursday 1 August 2013
Steve Clarke
"A Religious Conception of Evil"
Many religious people use the term 'evil' to describe or explain actions and worldly events by appeal to a metaphysics involving the supernatural. A person performed a particular action because they were possessed by Satan; an apparent coincidence was no such thing but was the result of an intervention in the world by a demon, etc. It might be thought that because different religions postulate different supernatural ontologies, there would be a diversity of religious conceptions of evil. However, recent research in the cognitive science of religion suggests that there are very strong similarities in the conceptual commitments made by apparently very distinct religions. On the basis of such research I identify a shared religious conception of evil. This turns out to have much in common with the treatment of evil that falls out of Durkheim's classic analysis of the sacred.
Thursday 8 August 2013
Steve Vanderheiden
CAPPE/University of Colorado
"Global Justice and Natural Resources: Three Potential Appeals"
Philosophers have noted the role that disparities in access to natural resources plays in global justice, often calling for more equitable distribution of such resources as required by egalitarian commitments. But in doing so, they have rarely acknowledged the difference between resource stocks and flows, much less explored the implications for justice of this distinction, or considered how different justice frameworks might entail different remedial measures when some are deprived of natural resources to which they are entitled. In this talk, I will explore the stock/flow distinction in natural resources, arguing for its relevance in specifying which kinds of resources might form the basis for remedial redistribution, and do so by weighing three potential justice-based appeals available to those deprived of critical resources: the appeals to historical injustice, to human rights, and to resource equality. I will then argue that it matters which of the three are appealed to by considering the remedy that each implies.
Thursday 15 August 2013
Connal Lee
“Justified Responses to meet Emergencies: Communicating the threat of Infectious Disease”
Infectious diseases have the potential to cause large loss of life and threaten society on a variety of levels. This threat, and the subsequent emergency that might result, requires effective and ethical communication from government, media and between citizens. In this paper, I explore the issues of justice, vulnerability and responsibility that surround an emergency response, including the need for a communication strategy to mitigate the potentially devastating and unjust impact of a global pandemic.
Thursday 22 August 2013
Shannon Ford
“A Positive Duty to Forcefully Intervene”
I put forward an argument for a positive duty to forcefully intervene in some cases where an innocent person is threatened with deadly violence. I argue that there is a general duty to use forceful intervention to protect an innocent person in cases where the use of defensive force against an unjust attacker is permissible and a potential intervener has a duty to rescue the defender. As the well-known example of a child drowning in a pond demonstrates, in some circumstances there is a positive duty to rescue (or protect) the lives of innocent persons. If this is the case then let’s imagine that the child (an innocent person), instead of drowning due to an inability to swim, is being held under the water by a murderous adult who is wrongfully trying to drown them (an unjust attacker). The only way to rescue the innocent person is to use forceful intervention against the unjust attacker. If we are justified in doing a proportionate amount of harm to the unjust attacker in order to save the innocent person's life then it seems reasonable to conclude that the duty to rescue also applies to these cases of forceful intervention. Consequently, if we believe that we have a duty to rescue the innocent person then I argue it is plausible to conclude, in combination with the permissibility of killing the unjust attacker, that we are duty bound to forcefully intervene by killing the unjust attacker if that is the level of force necessary to save the innocent person.
Thursday 12 September 2013
John Kleinig
“Happiness and Virtue”
This paper is a response to Vitrano's forthcoming The Nature and Value of Happiness. People intending to attend may like to contact Emma Rush (erush@csu.edu.au) to be sent a brief background to the paper.
Thursday 19 September 2013
Sagar Sanyal
CAPPE/University of Melbourne
“From humanitarian intervention to anti-imperialism”
The humanitarian intervention framework was developed within policy circles of powerful states. Understandably, it focuses on the state as agent, and targets states which fail to stop mass killings within their borders. This talk discusses whether the cosmopolitan intuitions underlying the policy can also support a duty on the part of citizens of an imperial power to oppose its government's complicity in mass killings abroad.
Tuesday 24 September 2013
Graham Oppy
Monash University
"Logical Arguments from Evil and Free Will Defences"
Thursday 3 October 2013
Daniel Halliday
University of Melbourne
“Justice and Positional Competition: Some Preliminaries”
There is wide agreement that coercive state power can be justified as a necessary means of overcoming collective action problems that would otherwise prevent the supply of public goods necessary to maintain social order and keep us out of the state of nature. But recent political philosophy has proceeded rather as if collective action problems are of little interest once social order has been realised. Political philosophers thus turn their attention to whether state coercion can be extended in pursuit of other goals, such as redistribution. My contention is that this counts as something of a wrong turn. Political philosophers have failed to appreciate that the existence of a liberal state can create collective action problems that replace those it removes. This can be traced to the hypothesis that liberal societies place gradually increasing importance on positional goods. This generates collective action problems that are among the hardest to solve. This paper is an attempt to show what sort of place should be given to regulating positional competition in a theory of justice. I will do this mainly by comparing and contrasting different accounts of exactly why unregulated positional competition should be troubling.
Tuesday 8 October 2013
George Tsai
University of Hawaii
"Rational Persuasion as Paternalism"
In the contemporary literature on paternalism, it is widely assumed that one cannot act paternalistically in rationally persuading someone to do something. Against this assumption, I argue that it is possible to rationally persuade someone to do something, yet treat her paternalistically (or disrespectfully). My argumentative strategy is to first clarify our normative reactions to familiar cases of paternalism and then show that some cases involving rational persuasion warrant the same sort of normative reactions. I'll make the case that rational persuasion may be paternalistic when motivated by distrust in the target’s capacity to adequately recognize or weigh reasons and evidence that bear on her good. Sometimes, the provision of reasons can be objectionably intrusive and convey insult, conflicting with respect for a person’s agency and autonomy.
Thursday 17 October 2013
Suzanne Uniacke
Criminalizing Unknown Defence
Should a plea of self-defence require an 'awareness component'? An 'awareness component' implies a relationship between the external circumstances in which an actor averts an otherwise unavoidable danger to herself or another person, and the actor's beliefs about those circumstances at the time of action; an 'awareness component" requires that the actor was aware of the otherwise unavoidable danger at the time of action. Some people argue that in cases of so called unknown defence, where an actor in fact averts an otherwise unavoidable danger to himself or another person although unaware at the time of action that this is what s/he is doing, the objective facts alone should allow a justification defence such as self-defence. Cases of unknown defence raise issues that are highly significant to identifying the grounds of justification and of liability. In this paper I bring some of the relevant issues to the fore and I offer an account of why cases of unknown defence are appropriately subject to criminal liability.