Top News, Articles, and Interviews in Philosophy

Is Objective List Theory "Spooky"?

[I'm currently working on a new introduction to theories of welfare for utilitarianism.net, and am wondering whether to include the following.  Two big questions: Do you agree that "spookiness" worries seem like a common basis (especially amongst students / non-specialists) for rejecting objective list theories?  And if so, do you find the substantive discussion here to be helpful?]Resistance to objective list theories may sometimes stem from the sense that there is something metaphysically extravagant, disreputable, or “spooky” about the objective values that it posits. But competing theories of welfare are arguably in no better position with regard to such metaethical concerns. Wellbeing is an inherently normative notion: it is that which is worth pursuing for an individual’s sake. (If you are not describing something that matters in this way, then whatever it is that you are giving an account of, it cannot truly be welfare. A thoroughgoing normative skeptic or nihilist must deny that there is any such thing.)^[Expressivists may give an anti-realist gloss on what “mattering” amounts to. But then they can just as comfortably extend this gloss to the kind of first-order “objectivity” posited by objective list theories.]Utilitarians, especially, regard welfare as objectively valuable: if someone claims that others' interests don't matter, we think they're making a serious moral mistake. Given this ultimate commitment to a kind of first-order normative objectivity, [More]

Public Goods

[New Entry by Julian Reiss on July 21, 2021.] The government plays a significant role in providing goods such as national defence, infrastructure, education, security, and fire and environmental protection almost everywhere. These goods are often referred to as "public goods". Public goods are of philosophical interest because their provision is, to varying degrees, essential to the smooth functioning of society - economically, politically, and culturally - and because of their close connection to problems concerning the regulation of externalities [More]

New Introduction to Population Ethics

I recently took over as the lead editor for utilitarianism.net, where we've just published a new introduction to population ethics.  Check it out!  (And feel free to email me with any suggestions or corrections.)My favourite bit was translating Johan Gustafsson's critical range view into the colloquial idiom of "meh" lives and "value blur" (with thanks to Helen for suggesting the term 'meh').  Here's a selection, minus footnotes and illustrations...Adding an individual makes an outcome better to the extent that their wellbeing exceeds the upper end of a critical range, and makes an outcome worse to the extent that their wellbeing falls below the lower limit of the critical range. [...]What about lives that fall within the critical range? Life within this range may strike us as meh: neither good nor bad, but also not precisely equal to zero in value, either. After all, some meh lives (those toward the upper end of the range) are better than others (those toward the lower end), so it cannot be that adding any life in this range results in an equally valuable outcome. Instead, the outcome’s value must be incomparable or on a par with that of the prior state: neither better, nor worse, nor precisely equal in value. Note that it may be better to add an upper-range meh life to the world than to add a lower-range meh life, even though adding either life is merely "meh", or results in an outcome that is incomparable with the world in which neither life is [More]

Absolute and Relational Space and Motion: Post-Newtonian Theories

[Revised entry by Nick Huggett, Carl Hoefer, and James Read on July 19, 2021. Changes to: Main text, Bibliography, machs-bucket.jpg, notes.html] What is the nature of motion in physical theories and theorising, and is there any significance to the distinction between 'absolute' and 'relative' motion? In the companion article, on absolute and relational space and motion: classical theories, we discussed how such questions were addressed in the history of physics from Aristotle through to Newton and Leibniz. In this article, we explore the ways in which the selfsame issues have been taken up [More]

93 - Will machines impede moral progress?

Thomas Sinclair (left), Ben Kenward (right)Lots of people are worried about the ethics of AI. One particular area of concern is whether we should program machines to follow existing normative/moral principles when making decisions. But social moral values change over time. Should machines not be designed to allow for such changes? If machines are programmed to follow our current values will they impede moral progress? In this episode, I talk to Ben Kenward and Thomas Sinclair about this issue. Ben is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Oxford Brookes University in the UK. His research focuses on ecological psychology, mainly examining environmental activism such as the Extinction Rebellion movement of which he is a part. Thomas is a Fellow and Tutor in Philosophy at Wadham College, Oxford, and an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Oxford's Faculty of Philosophy. His research and teaching focus on questions in moral and political philosophy. You can download the episode here or listen below. You can also subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify and other podcasting services (the RSS feed is here).  Show NotesTopics discussed incude:What is a moral value?What is a moral machine?What is moral progress?Has society progress, morally speaking, in the past?How can we design moral machines?What's the problem with getting machines to follow our current moral consensus?Will people over-defer to machines? Will they outsource their moral [More]