20 February 2014
University of Gothenburg
"Moral Responsibility without Causation?"
In contrast to many philosophers who believe that there’s a very tight link between moral responsibility and causation, I argue in my book From Morality to the End of Reason (OUP, 2013) that what we are basically responsible for – that is, what we’re responsible for without being responsible for it in virtue of being responsible for something else – doesn’t involve causation. The role of causation in responsibility is rather to extend responsibility from what we are directly responsible. To substantiate this claim, I’ll look at cases when we don’t achieve what we try or believe we’ll achieve, some cases of collective action, and cases of letting happen by omitting or refraining from action.
13 March 2014
University of Melbourne
"Rightmaking and wrongmaking properties, evil, and God"
This paper discusses an evidential argument from evil against the existence of God, advanced by Michael Tooley in his book (co-authored with Alvin Plantinga), Knowledge of God. Whereas Tooley's main earlier argument from evil had been formulated in axiological terms - the goodness or badness of states of affairs - in Knowledge of God he favours a deontological formulation, which focuses on the rightness and wrongness of actions and on rightmaking and wrongmaking properties. I argue that both Tooley's conceptual apparatus and his inductive reasoning are defective, and that his argument is therefore unsuccessful. I then provide an alternative probabilistic analysis that reaches a conclusion incompatible with Tooley's argument while retaining some connection with it.
3 April 2014
Norwegian University of Science and Technology
"Thought Experiments and Real Experiments in Semantics"
Thought experiments have played a central role in theories of reference, especially since Kripke's and Putnam's classic papers from the 1970's. Recently this “method of cases” has, however, come under heavy attack, not least from experimental philosophers who have claimed to find substantial cross-cultural variation in the kind of semantic judgements (or “intuitions”) that have played a central role in discussions of reference. In this paper I will argue that much of the recent debate surrounding the role of thought experiments and “real” experiments in philosophical semantics rests on a questionable assumption about what determines reference: the assumption that our referential judgements and dispositions track independently existing facts about reference. I will argue, on the contrary, that our referential judgements and dispositions should be thought of as determining the relevant facts, albeit in a complex way. I will conclude by showing how, on this picture, both thought experiments and real experiments can be relevant for developing theories of reference.
8 May 2014
"Conscientious Objection of Roman Catholic Doctors and Cooperation in Wrongdoing: a New Solution to an Old Problem"
I will discuss the problem of complicity in wrongdoing in the case of health care practitioners (and in particular Roman Catholic ones) who do not perform abortions, but who are nonetheless required to facilitate abortions by informing their patients about this option and by referring them to a willing colleague. Although this solution is widely supported by the literature and is also widely represented in legislations, I argue that it fails to both (1) safeguard the wellbeing of the patients and (2) protect the moral integrity of health care practitioners. I finally propose a new solution to this kind of conflict between patients and health care practitioners which is based on a ratio of conscientious objectors to non-conscientious objectors in a hospital or in a given geographic area.
15 May 2014
"Intuitions, emotions, and reasons: what is it to be rational in bioethics? The case of the enhancement debate"
One influential strand of bioconservatism appeals to the “wisdom” of some emotions (for instance repugnance) and/or intuitions to ground opposition to human bioenhancement and biotechnologies more in general. Many bioliberals see this reliance on immediate reactions as a form of irrationality. Because of this fundamental methodological disagreement, a proper debate is often replaced by a merely ideological divide. I will try to lay the foundation for a possible dialogue between bioliberals and bioconservatives by trying to bridge the methodological differences between their approaches. I will use an empirically informed analysis based on the most recent theories in moral psychology to provide a correct understanding of the interplay of intuitions, emotions and reasons in moral judgments. Applied to the enhancement debate, this correct understanding recommends more caution when claiming that certain bioethical views are rational or irrational, wise or unwise. I will provide examples to show that both bioconservatives and bioliberals have their intuitive and emotive stances and are exposed to the risk of biases. Evidence from experimental psychology showS that intuitions and emotions can be the expression of automatized reflection and reason-giving. On this basis, I will integrate the two approaches in a way that holds promises for fostering an authentic dialogue between bioliberals and bioconservatives, by assigning reasons, emotions and intuitions their proper place in (bio)ethical discussion.
5 June 2014
"Intrinsically valuing the extrinsically valuable"
In this paper I describe and defend a type of valuing stance that I call ‘constructive intrinsic valuation’, in instances of which it is appropriate to intrinsically value some thing, x, despite the fact that x’s value to the valuer is, ultimately, merely extrinsic. I characterise this kind of intrinsic valuation by contrasting it with two other kinds of intrinsic valuation. In a fitting ‘Moorean’ intrinsic valuation of x it is unintelligible to value x extrinsically. In a fitting ‘Kantian’ intrinsic valuation of x one has a moral duty not to value x merely extrinsically. By contrast, in a fitting constructive intrinsic valuation of x, it is both intelligible and permissible to value x extrinsically, but this valuing stance inhibits x’s value from redounding to the valuer. My chief aim, in presenting an account of constructive intrinsic valuation, is to add to the conceptual resources that are available to us in defending our intrinsic valuations of things – a task for which we are at present inadequately equipped, so I contend, given our reliance upon the Moorean and Kantian approaches to thinking about intrinsic value.
17 July 2014
University of Colorado/CAPPE
"The Obligation to Know: Information and the Burdens of Citizenship"
Contemporary persons are daily confronted with enormous quantities of information, some of which reveal causal connections between their actions and harm that is visited upon distant others. Given their limited cognitive and information processing capacities, persons cannot reasonably be expected to respond to every cry for help or call to action, but neither can they defensibly refuse to hear and reflect upon any of them. Persons have a limited obligation to know, I argue, which requires that they inform themselves and others about their role in harmful social practices, with a view toward challenging the norms that sustain such practices. In this paper, I explore this obligation to know, and the related idea of excusable ignorance, offering accounts of the epistemic burden that it entails for persons in their capacities as citizens and in the context of global climate change and of reproach as a potentially effective tool for rectifying rather than excusing ignorance.
26 July 2014 (Saturday)
Jeff McMahan (Rutgers/Oxford), Daniel Halliday (Melbourne), Robyn Kath (Sydney), Luara Ferracioli (Amsterdam), Daniel Cohen (CSU)
"Workshop on 'The Procreation Asymmetry'"
2 October 2014
University of Melbourne