Top News, Articles, and Interviews in Philosophy

Epistemological Problems of Testimony

[New Entry by Nick Leonard on April 1, 2021.] [Editor's Note: The following new entry by Nick Leonard replaces the former entry on this topic by the previous author.] So much of what we know about the world, e.g., history, science, politics, one another, etc., comes from the testimony of others. But while testimony is clearly an indispensable source of [More]

Anti-Asian Racism: 2021 Edition

In a recent mass shooting in Atlanta, eight people were killed. Among them were six women of Asian descent, leading many to suspect racism was a factor. The suspect claimed that he was motivated by his sexual addiction and acted to eliminate his temptations.  The fact that the suspect did not explicitly claim a racist [More]

Pufendorf’s Moral and Political Philosophy

[Revised entry by Michael Seidler on March 31, 2021. Changes to: Main text, Bibliography] Samuel Freiherr von Pufendorf (1632 - 1694) was almost as unknown during most of the 19th and 20th centuries as he had been familiar during the preceding hundred years and more. His fate shows well how philosophical interests shape historical background narratives. More or less consciously, individual thinkers and the traditions they spawn frame themselves in terms of an edited past which - as in other forms of genealogy - they either appropriate, reject, revise, or ignore. Thus intellectual ancestry is always more controversial [More]

Technology and the Value of Trust: Can we trust technology? Should we?

Can we trust technology? Should we try to make technology, particularly AI, more trustworthy? These are questions that have perplexed philosophers and policy-makers in recent years. The EU’s High Level Expert Group on AI has, for example, recommended that the primary goal of AI policy and law in the EU should be to make the technology more trustworthy. But some philosophers have critiqued this goal as being borderline incoherent. You cannot trust AI, they say, because AI is just a thing. Trust can exist between people and other people, not between people and things. This is an old debate. Trust is a central value in human society. The fact that I can trust my partner not to betray me is one of the things that makes our relationship workable and meaningful. The fact that I can trust my neighbours not to kill me is one of the things that allows me to sleep at night. Indeed, so implicit is this trust that I rarely think about it. It is one of the background conditions that makes other things in my life possible. Still, it is true that when I think about trust, and when I think about what it is that makes trust valuable, I usually think about trust in my relationships with other people, not my relationships with things. But would it be so terrible to talk about trust in technology? Should we use some other term instead such as ‘reliable’ or ‘confidence-inspiring’? Or should we, as some blockchain enthusiasts have argued, use technology to create a ‘post-trust’ system of social [More]

Is Effective Altruism "Inherently Utilitarian"?

A recent post at the Blog of the APA claims so.  Here's why I disagree...It's worth distinguishing three features of utilitarianism (only the weakest of which is shared by Effective Altruism):(1) No constraints.  You should do whatever it takes to maximize the good -- no matter the harms done along the way.(2) Unlimited demands of beneficence: Putting aside any intrinsically immoral acts, between the remaining options you should do whatever would maximize the good -- no matter the cost to yourself.(3) Efficient benevolence: Putting aside any intrinsically immoral acts, and at whatever magnitude of self-imposed burdens you are willing to countenance: you should direct your selected resources (time, effort, money) that are allocated for benevolent ends in whatever way would do the most good.EA is only committed to feature (3), not (1) or (2).  And it's worth emphasizing how incredibly weak claim (3) is.  (Try completing the phrase "no matter..." for this one.  What exactly is the cost of avoiding inefficiency?  "No matter whether you would rather support a different cause that did less good?" Cue the world's tiniest violin.)Most of the objections to utilitarianism instead relate to features 1 and 2, which simply do not carry over to EA at all.  So I think it's straightforwardly false and misleading to claim that EA is "inherently utilitarian" or inherits the putative "problematic structural features" of utilitarianism.  (EA is not [More]