Skip to Main Content
The Harvard Review of Philosophy
» Online First
Journals & Series
Books & Digital Media
Societies & Associations
Terms and Conditions
Production & Typesetting
The Harvard Review of Philosophy
ONLINE FIRST ARTICLES
Articles forthcoming in in this journal are available Online First prior to publication. More details about Online First and how to use and cite these articles can be found
Sign up for free email updates!
October 12, 2021
Victims’ Reasons and Responses in the Face of Oppression
first published on October 12, 2021
Victims of oppression often disagree amongst themselves on how best to respond to their oppression. Often, these disagreements are cast as disagreements about what strategies of resistance would be most effective. In this article, I argue that victims have a wider repertoire of responses to their oppression which reflect the different underlying reasons they have to respond. I outline three distinct reasons for action—self-respect, assistance, and justice—and the respective responses to oppression—rejection, assistance, and resistance—that these reasons call for. I then provide some general comments on how these distinct reasons and responses relate to one another. Appreciating a wider repertoire of reasons and responses can illuminate the nature of disagreement amongst victims, points to the unavoidability of conflict, and provides for a more nuanced understanding of resistance and its alternatives—an understanding that can aid in better responding to injustice.
October 9, 2021
The Tolerant Animal Advocate
first published on October 9, 2021
One of the recurring problems of animal rights advocacy in recent years has been the difficulty of matching up such advocacy with the broadly liberal political environment in which it operates. Animal advocates may score high on compassion for the animal victims of injustice, but much lower when it comes to political compassion for opponents. Fairly or otherwise, those with a robust, partisan commitment to animal rights have secured a reputation for intolerance. So much so, that it may even be difficult to form a plausible picture of what tolerant animal advocacy would look like, without compromising the partisanship of advocates. This paper attempts to unify partisanship and tolerance within a picture of the tolerant animal advocate as someone whose agency is marked by at least two significant constraining features. Firstly, they will engage in negative appraisals of dietary practices, but will not ordinarily move from such appraisals to any overall judgment of the character of others. Hence, they will be in no position to hold that vegetarians or vegans are in some sense better people than meat eaters. Secondly, they will deploy charges of hypocrisy rarely and with caution.
October 6, 2021
On Anonymous Civil Disobedience
first published on October 6, 2021
The rise of digital technologies has made possible a variety of anonymous acts of disobedience. Although the use of anonymity in political contestation is not new, online anonymous disobedience—such as that of the hacktivist collective Anonymous—urges political thinkers to reexamine the concept of civil disobedience. Important questions need to be asked about the extent to which anonymous, principled law-breaking is compatible with the definition, tradition, and justification of civil disobedience. This article argues that the understanding of civil disobedience employed by liberal thinkers, which rejects the notion that anonymous actions can be classified as civil disobedience, should be reviewed. Both the context in which actors break the law and the extreme risks they might face for doing so in illiberal and undemocratic societies need to be considered when thinking about what constitutes civil disobedience. The article takes these factors into account and offers a radical democratic account of civil disobedience according to which anonymous disobedience is indeed compatible with civil disobedience.
October 5, 2021
A Dialectical Taxonomy of Resistance
first published on October 5, 2021
Working from Adorno’s notion of negative dialectics, this essay charts a dialectical course of resistance toward a horizon of universal freedom. Rather than propose relations between ideal types of resistance, it emphasizes the ineliminable historical dimensions of not only real-world resistance movements but also the philosophical and political theorizing that attempts to make sense of them. In doing so it brings out certain conceptual relations that emerge or recede as the context of resistance shifts. The first moment considers the dichotomy between reform and revolution, the second moment delves into modes of reform, and the third looks to modes of revolution. Along the way the essay discusses the work of such varied figures and organizations as Rosa Luxemburg, John Rawls, Martin Luther King, Jr., Candice Delmas, Robin Celikates, Kimberlee Brownlee, Emma Goldman, Students for a Democratic Society and the Weather Underground, and the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army. In the end, the essay is written in the service of understanding the stakes and presuppositions of resistance, in theory and practice.
September 10, 2021
William A. Edmundson
"In Such Ways as Promise Some Success"
first published on September 10, 2021
This year is the centenary of the birth of philosopher John Rawls (1921–2002) and the semi-centenary of his monumental A Theory of Justice (1971). This essay explores the differences between political opposition and political resistance as reflected in his work. Rawls is remembered for the careful conditions he imposed in the Vietnam-War era upon justifiable civil disobedience in “nearly just” societies. It is less well known that he came to regard the United States as a fundamentally unjust society. The nation has shown itself not merely unserious about political equality—the cornerstone of Rawls’s theory of justice as fairness—but hostile to it. The Supreme Court’s campaign finance jurisprudence sanctifies spending as speech and denies Congress the power to try to level the electoral playing field. In the Supreme Court’s Constitution, substantive political equality is of no value. The upshot is that civil disobedience, conceived as an appeal to a just constitution, is no longer possible in the United States. Political resistance may be permissible, however, within the bounds of right, “in such ways as promise some success.” This essay ekes out Rawls’s suggestive remarks about the justification of political resistance and attempts to extend them to current conditions.
August 6, 2021
Politically Motivated Property Damage
first published on August 6, 2021
Can politically inspired property damage or destruction be justified? This question is hardly of mere academic interest, in light of recent political protests in Hong Kong, the USA, and elsewhere. Against some contemporary writers, I argue that placing property damage under an open-ended rubric of uncivil disobedience does not generate the necessary conceptual and normative distinctions. Drawing on Martin Luther King, Jr., I instead argue that property damage should not be equated or conflated with violence against persons; it also takes a variety of quite different forms. Anyone hoping to pursue politically motivated property damage should meet preconditions whose stringency will be determined by a key question: Do their acts generate or at least plausibly relate to violence against persons? Our answer to the question provide some space for legitimate, politically motivated property damage. Although some theories of property resist the strict delineation of violence to persons from property damage I defend, they fail to capture the realities of property ownership in existing societies, including the USA and, as such, do not undermine my defense, under existing conditions, of limited property damage.
August 3, 2021
The Politics of Protest Policing
Neutrality, Impartiality, and “Taking the Knee”
first published on August 3, 2021
The dramatic fallout from the siege of the US Capitol by supporters of Donald Trump has included extensive debate about the role of law enforcement before and during the events. The apparent lack of adequate preparation and deployment fits with disturbing trends in protest policing, reflecting pervasive discrepancies between police responses to protests by right-wing or white supremacist movements and their responses to Black Lives Matter (BLM) or left-wing movements. This article addresses the ethical and political implications of these discrepancies by making the case for impartiality rather than neutrality in protest policing. The principle of impartiality is preferred because of its comparative advantages in expressing and encouraging rights-respecting forms of protest policing. The case for impartiality is also related to calls for a broader overhaul of protest policing, including a reversal of trends that pose a serious threat to the rights of assembly and protest.
July 14, 2021
Michele Bocchiola, Emanuela Ceva
Whistleblowing, or the Resistance to Institutional Wrongdoing from Within
first published on July 14, 2021
The article discusses the resort to whistleblowing as a form of resistance to institutional wrongdoing that comes from within an institution. The resort to whistleblowing can take either an individual or an institutional form. As an individual act of resistance, whistleblowing has often been presented as a last resort against institutional wrongdoing whose justification draws on normative arguments for civil disobedience. The institutional form we present in this article shows a nontrivial sense in which a “normalized resort” to whistleblowing can be morally justified as an ordinary practice to resist institutional wrongdoing. Whistleblowing is thus a component of an institutional ethics of office that calls on officeholders’ responsibility to engage in practices of self-scrutiny and self-correction of institutional dysfunctions. The integration of the justification of the resort to whistleblowing within this framework emphasizes the importance of entrusting the oversight of institutional action primarily to institutional members.
October 17, 2020
Determinacy of Content
The Hard Problem about Animal Intentionality
first published on October 17, 2020
Few arguments against intentional states in animals have stood the test of time. But one objection by Stich and Davidson has never been rebutted. In my reconstruction it runs: Ascribing beliefs to animals is vacuous, unless something counts as an animal believing one specific “content” rather than another; Nothing counts as an animal believing one specific content rather than another, because of their lack of language; Ergo: Ascribing beliefs to animals is vacuous. Several attempts to block the argument challenge the first premise, notably the appeals to “naked” belief ascriptions and alternative representational formats. This essay defends the first premise and instead challenges the second premise. There are non-linguistic “modes of presentation”; these can be determined by attributing to animals specific needs and capacities—a “ hermeneutic ethology” based on lessons from the debate about radical translation/interpretation in the human case. On that basis we can narrow down content by exclusion. What remains is an “imponderability of the mental” which does not rule out attributions of intentional states to animals.
October 3, 2020
Making Our Thoughts Clear
first published on October 3, 2020
We often get clear on our thoughts in the process of putting them into words. I investigate the nature of this process by posing the question, “Do you know which thought you are trying to articulate, before successfully articulating it?” and rejecting two answers to the dilemma it yields. The first is that the answer is yes, and that articulation is either the recollection of prior knowledge or the mere acquisition of a skill or ability rather than of propositional knowledge. The second is that the answer is no, and that your thought is unknown in that it is not yet fully realized. Clarity, according to this response, is a metaphysical property of the thought rather than the thinker’s epistemic relation to it. I offer a third solution: you start out with implicit knowledge of your thought but lack explicit knowledge of it. The process of articulation moves you from implicit to explicit knowledge.
October 2, 2020
Filling In and the Nature of Visual Experience
first published on October 2, 2020
This essay begins with a discussion of the phenomenon of filling in. It is argued that filling in is naturally accounted for by taking visual experiences to be importantly like drawn pictures of the world outside. An alternative proposal is then considered, one that models visual experiences on incomplete descriptions. It is shown that introspection does not favor the pictorial view. It is also shown that the phenomenon of blurriness in visual experience does not provide a good reason for favoring the pictorial view either. Why, then, be a pictorialist? It is argued that visual experiences conform to what have been called “the laws of appearance” and that their conformity to these laws gives us an excellent reason for preferring the pictorial account.
July 29, 2020
How Not to Think of Perception
first published on July 29, 2020
Perception seems like it puts us directly in touch with real things in our environment. But according to a popular view, perception actually does no such thing. Perceptual experiences are internally generated imagery, and we don’t see what is really out there. I call this view “the Hard-Nosed View,” and I argue that it is deeply problematic. In fact, the view is self-defeating: it undermines the very evidence supposed to establish or support the view. Indeed, if perceptual experiences are just internally generated images that generally don’t reflect what is really out there, the very notion of a scientific finding is put in jeopardy. So, the Hard-Nosed View had better be false.
July 28, 2020
Colour Relations in Black and White
first published on July 28, 2020
I argue that it is possible to perceptually represent colour relations between two objects, without perceptually representing their colours. Such primitive relational colour representation (PRCR) goes against the orthodox view that we represent colour relations by virtue of representing colours. I first argue that under certain assumptions, PRCR is conceptually and even nomically possible. I then compare two possible models of PRCR: the linguaform model and chromatic edge model, the latter involving iconic rather than discursive representation. I argue that the chromatic edge model gives a better account of putative cases of PRCR in cerebral achromatopsia, a rare disorder of colour consciousness.
Felipe De Brigard
The Explanatory Indispensability of Memory Traces
first published on July 28, 2020
During the first half of the twentieth century, many philosophers of memory opposed the postulation of memory traces based on the claim that a satisfactory account of remembering need not include references to causal processes involved in recollection. However, in 1966, an influential paper by Martin and Deutscher showed that causal claims are indeed necessary for a proper account of remembering. This, however, did not settle the issue, as in 1977 Malcolm argued that even if one were to buy Martin and Deutscher’s argument for causal claims, we still don’t need to postulate the existence of memory traces. This paper reconstructs the dialectic between realists and anti-realists about memory traces, suggesting that ultimately realists’ arguments amount to inferences to the best explanation. I then argue that Malcolm’s anti-realist strategy consists in the suggestion that causal explanations that do not invoke memory traces are at least as good as those that do. But then, Malcolm, I argue that there are a large number of memory phenomena for which explanations that do not postulate the existence of memory traces are definitively worse than explanations that do postulate them. Next, I offer a causal model based on an interventionist framework to illustrate when memory traces can help to explain memory phenomena and proceed to substantiate the model with details coming from extant findings in the neuroscience of memory.
July 27, 2020
Learning from What Color Experiences Are Good For
first published on July 27, 2020
Color is an incredibly controversial topic. Here is a sample of views taken seriously: colors are dispositions to look coloured; colors are physical properties of surfaces or of light; colors are properties of certain mental states, which get projected onto the surfaces of objects or onto reflected or transmitted light; colors are an illusion; colors are sui generis. One hopes to break the impasse by finding a compelling starting point—one drawing on obvious points that are common ground—which naturally evolves into the theory of color one likes. I start with remarks about the utility of having mental states with a phenomenology, remarks which are, I urge, non-controversial. I develop them into the theory of color I favor. According to it, colors are properties of objects as objective as their shapes. The final section explains how the theory handles the best argument for subjectivism about color.
October 23, 2019
J. L. A. Garcia
Race as a Social Construction
first published on October 23, 2019
This paper raises serious problems for the commonly held claim that races are socially constructed. The first section sketches out an approach to our construction of institutional phenomena that, taking Searle’s general approach, restricts social construction proper to cases where we adopt rules that bind relevant parties to treat things of a type in certain ways, thus constituting important roles in, and parts of, our social lives. I argue this conception, construction-by-rules, helps distinguish genuine construction from other activities and relations and also solves a problem raised against simplistic conceptions. The second shows why and how Sally Haslanger, Linda Alcoff, and Glenn Loury have explained race as a social construct. The next points out problems for their and other accounts, including circularity, difficulties arising from conceptual and linguistic history, and non sequiturs. After returning to Haslanger in more detail, I proceed critically to engage work by Ian Hacking, Lawrence Blum, Luc Faucher and Edouard Machery, and Charles Mills. The following sections move from specific accounts in the literature to offer general arguments that viewing races as products of social construction threatens to mislead in numerous ways. At the end, I discuss the significance of the issue and challenge whether social constructionist accounts are genuinely liberating.
October 9, 2019
Four Ways of Thinking about Race
first published on October 9, 2019
This essay presents four ways of thinking about race. They consist of four related but distinct race concepts: the racialist concept of race, which is the traditional, pernicious, essentialist, and hierarchical concept of race; the concept of socialrace, which is the antiracist concept of race as a social construction; the minimalist concept of race, which is the deflationary concept of biological race that represents race as a matter of color, shape and geographical ancestry; and the populationist concept of race, the race concept that represents races as populations, deriving from geographically separated and reproductive isolated founding populations. Taken together, the four concepts can help us better navigate our way through the murky conceptual domain of “race.”
October 8, 2019
Frank J. Costa
The Restorative Proportionality Theory
A New Approach to Affirmative Action
first published on October 8, 2019
This article offers a normative framework for affirmative action. It argues that affirmative action is not about diversity, but correcting historical injustice. The theory’s presumption is that racial groups would perform equally if not for history, because talent and hard work do not vary by race. The article explores the implications of that premise in answering the most provocative criticisms of affirmative action. Should white students pay for historical wrongs? Should African immigrants benefit from affirmative action? Are Asian Americans unfairly disadvantaged? The article proposes proportional representation as a limiting principle of affirmative action, because preferential treatment beyond proportionality contradicts the theory’s presumption of equal performance. The article proceeds to argue that some groups, like Asian Americans, rebut the presumption by fairly outperforming others and should not be penalized. Finally, the article argues that groups should not be classified on race per se, rather on a shared experience of injustice.
Paul C. Taylor
The Influence of Dewey on Race Theory
first published on October 8, 2019
I once planned to write an essay detailing the advantages of a Deweyan approach to philosophical race theory. This essay would have developed my views in a way that highlighted their distinctly Deweyan resonances and debts. A recent essay by Ron Mallon gave me the opportunity to set this plan in motion, as Mallon’s reflections on social constructionism seemed likely to benefit from Deweyan insights. Unfortunately, or fortunately, setting to work on the project led to the distressing but edifying realization that this plan carried with it certain risks, risks made particularly dire by the race-theoretic context. “The Influence of Dewey on Race Theory” will credit this background with an argument that unfolds in two intertwined registers. It will interrogate (and resist) the impulse to work through Dewey, and it will use the lessons from this exercise—lessons, broadly, about parochialism and politics—as resources for critically engaging Mallon’s argument.
October 5, 2019
Intersection Theory as Progressive
Philosophy of Race, Feminism, and Antisemitism
first published on October 5, 2019
Many are already familiar with the idea of intersectionality. Intersection Theory can be conceived as encompassing other progressive theories, such as Philosophy of Race and Feminism. In Philosophy of Race, the ultimate explanatory concept is race; in Feminism, the ultimate explanatory term is gender. This discrepancy has given rise to Black Feminism. Intersection Theory can also be contextualized and expanded to include more detailed intersections when there is inequality within intersected groups. But, intersectionality does yet address unpredictable violence, either against blacks or normally advantaged groups, such as United States Jews. For such cases, it is useful to posit a new intersectional factor of regressive violence, to account for counter-revolutionary response to decades of progress for minorities. Overall, the flexibility of Intersection Theory allows for creative analysis. However, not all intersections yield politically viable identities and those that would might require governmental recognition of group rights.
September 24, 2019
Reflections on Brown vs. Board of Education and School Integration Today
first published on September 24, 2019
The Brown vs. Board of Education decision of 1954 mandated school integration. The decision also to recognize that inequalities outside the schools, of both a class- and race-based nature, prevent equality in education. Today, the most prominent argument for integration is that disadvantaged students benefit from the financial, social, and cultural “capital” of middle class families when the children attend the same schools. This argument fails to recognize that disadvantaged students contribute to advantaged students’ educational growth, and sends demeaning messages to the disadvantaged students and messages of unwarranted superiority to the advantaged. Parents, teachers, and schools can adopt a justice perspective that avoids these deleterious aspects of the capital argument, and helps create a community of equals inside the integrated school. Struggles for educational justice must remain closely linked with struggles of both a class- and race-based nature for other forms of justice in the wider society.
July 18, 2019
Rasmus Grønfeldt Winther
A Beginner’s Guide to the New Population Genomics of Homo sapiens
Origins, Race, and Medicine
first published on July 18, 2019
It is important to understand the science underlying philosophical debates. In particular, careful reflection is needed on the scientific study of the origins of Homo sapiens, the division of current human populations into ethnicities, populations, or races, and the potential impact of genomics on personalized medicine. Genomic approaches to the origins and divisions of our species are among the most multi-dimensional areas of contemporary science, combining mathematical modeling, computer science, medicine, bioethics, and philosophy of biology. The best evidence suggests that we are a young species, with a cradle in Africa. While prejudice, misunderstanding, and violence grow in many corners of the world, our best genomic science suggests a deep biological connection among all peoples.
October 5, 2018
first published on October 5, 2018
The rise of physicalism and naturalism, the development of cognitive science, and the explosion and popularization of knowledge about animal behavior has brought us to see that most of the properties that were once thought to distinguish humans from other animals are shared with other animals. Many people now see properties that are morally relevant to how it is permissible to treat animals, such as sentience, as widely distributed. Agency, however, is one area in which the retreat from human uniqueness is halting. In this essay I suggest that we should feel the same pressure to bring together accounts of human and animal agency that we feel with respect to sentience and other such characteristics. I go on to diagnose the resistance, and briefly sketch how things might look if we were to see agency as continuous.
September 29, 2018
Wild Game Changer
Regarding Animals in Chinese Culture
first published on September 29, 2018
For the last two decades, the world has seen the rise of China. With its rise, unfortunately, has come the fall, retreat, and demise of some animals and animal species. China is often singled out for special attention in terms of animal destruction and endangerment. With an increasingly globalized economy and world, we now have a globalized wildlife crisis. This essay focuses on the exploitation of wild animals in China. It argues that the plight of wildlife in China stems from an underlying position in Chinese culture that animals are instruments for human benefits, and such an instrumentalist approach has always dominated the Chinese landscape. This is the case despite the fact that animals and humans are considered to be organically connected in the moral universe in Chinese traditional philosophy in contrast to the segregated approach to humans and non-humans in Western philosophical traditions. It is suggested that to achieve substantive progress in the protection of wildlife and other animals in China, a fundamental change of thinking and acting toward animals by the Chinese to recognize the intrinsic value of animals would be imperative.
Animal Agency, Captivity, and Meaning
first published on September 29, 2018
Can animals be agents? Do they want to be free? Can they have meaningful lives? If so, should we change the way we treat them? This paper offers an account of animal agency and of two continuums: between human and nonhuman agency, and between wildness and captivity. It describes how human activities impede on animals’ freedom and argues that, in doing so, we deprive many animals of opportunities to exercise their agency in ways that can give meaning to their lives.
September 26, 2018
Do Apes Attribute Beliefs to Predict Behavior?
first published on September 26, 2018
I defend a Mengzian version of the Social Intelligence Hypothesis, according to which humans think about one another’s beliefs and desires—and reasons for action—in order to solve our social living problems through cooperation, rather than through competition and deception, as the more familiar Machiavellian version has it. Given this framework, and a corresponding view about the function of belief attribution, I argue that while apes need not attribute propositional attitudes to pass the “false belief task,” we should not conclude that apes may be behaviorists. Rather, the Mengzian Social Intelligence Hypothesis perspective offers another interpretation of ape behavior, intermediate between behaviorist and propositional attitude schemas. I argue that the false belief task can be solved by individuals who have an agency schema which takes others to be minded beings who have goals, emotions, and perceptions, but who fail to consider propositional attitudes or reasons for behavior. I then argue that a true test of belief attribution in great apes would be one that shows they seek explanations in terms of reasons for behavior. However, no such test yet exists.
September 25, 2018
Consciousness as a Biological Phenomenon
An Alternative to Panpsychism
first published on September 25, 2018
Reversing centuries of methodological caution and skepticism, philosophers have begun to explore the possibility that experience in some form is widely distributed in the universe. It has been proposed that consciousness may pertain to machines, rocks, elementary particles, and perhaps the universe itself. This paper shows why philosophers have good reason to suppose that experiences are widely distributed in living nature, including worms and insects, but why panpsychism extending to non-living nature is an implausible doctrine.
September 12, 2018
Should We Offer Assistance to Both Wild and Domesticated Animals?
first published on September 12, 2018
In this paper, I consider whether we should offer assistance to both wild and domesticated animals when they are suffering. I argue that we may have different obligations to assist wild and domesticated animals because they have different morally-relevant relationships with us. I explain how different approaches to animal ethics, which, for simplicity, I call capacity-oriented and context-oriented, address questions about animal assistance differently. I then defend a broadly context-oriented approach, on which we have special obligations to assist animals that we have made vulnerable to or dependent on us. This means that we should normally help suffering domesticated animals, but that we lack general obligations to assist wild animals, since we are not responsible for their vulnerability. However, we may have special obligations to help wild animals where we have made them vulnerable to or dependent on us (by habitat destruction or by captivity, for instance). I consider some obvious difficulties with this context-oriented approach, and I conclude by looking more closely at the question whether we should intervene, if we could do so successfully, to reduce wild animal suffering by reducing predation.
June 2, 2018
Michael Allen Fox
The Ideology of Meat-Eating
first published on June 2, 2018
A network of beliefs and values (an ideology) underlies much of our behavior. While meat-eaters may not acknowledge that they have an ideology, I argue that they do by attempting to identify and deconstruct its elements. I also include numerous historical and philosophical observations about the origins of meat-eaters’ ideology. Explaining and examining ideologies may encourage discussion about a particular area of life (for example, dietary choice) and stimulate change in relation to it. Both adherents to vegetarian/vegan approaches and meat-eaters who wish to become less dependent on animal food sources (for ethical and environmental reasons) can benefit from the broader understanding that such an analysis provides.
May 23, 2018
The Moral Problem of Other Minds
first published on May 23, 2018
In this paper I ask how we should treat other beings in cases of uncertainty about sentience. I evaluate three options: (1) an incautionary principle that permits us to treat other beings as non-sentient, (2) a precautionary principle that requires us to treat other beings as sentient, and (3) an expected value principle that requires us to multiply our subjective probability that other beings are sentient by the amount of moral value they would have if they were. I then draw three conclusions. First, the precautionary and expected value principles are more plausible than the incautionary principle. Second, if we accept a precautionary or expected value principle, then we morally ought to treat many beings as having at least partial moral status. Third, if we morally ought to treat many beings as having at least partial moral status, then morality involves more cluelessness and demandingness than we might have thought.
June 28, 2017
The Contractualist Dilemma
first published on June 28, 2017
In moral and political philosophy many contractualist views appeal to hypothetical consent when justifying their proposed normative contents. In this paper I argue that all of them fail. In particular, I defend three claims. First, I consider and develop what I call the common objection to contractualism: that the stipulation of a hypothetical consent adds nothing to the independent reasons offered in contractualist procedures in favor of the normative content in question. Second, I hold that this objection gives rise to what I call the contractualist dilemma. Third, in light of the dilemma, I argue that contractualism should be understood in a non-justificatory way. These three claims might sound familiar to readers versed on the contractualist tradition. It is striking, however, how many contemporary authors continue to defend contractualism as a method of justification despite these arguments. This paper is thus a strong invitation to finally abandon the justificatory interpretation of this view.
June 17, 2017
What Is Philosophy?
A Cross-cultural Conversation in the Crossroads Court of Chosroes
first published on June 17, 2017
Three rival conceptions of philosophy overlap, we may imagine, in the Sassinid court of Chosroes (r. 531–579). One is due to Priscian, a refugee from Athens after Justinian’s closing of the philosophical schools. A second and third are from India: the Buddhist conception of Vasubandhu and the Nyāya view of Vātsyāyana. I will argue that the rivalry between these three understandings of philosophy ultimately rests in three different conceptions of what makes an inner life one’s own.
June 14, 2017
first published on June 14, 2017
Peter van Inwagen’s Consequence Argument makes salient the difficulties facing attempts to reconcile determinism and agency. Others go further. Derk Pereboom, for instance, contends that science provides compelling evidence that no action is free, and Galen Strawson argues that conditions for genuinely free action are flatly unsatisfiable. Against such skepticism about free will, the paper introduces considerations in support of the idea that there are probably good reasons to think that conditions for free actions—real agency—are sometimes satisfied, that ascriptions of agency are sometimes true, but that truthmakers for these ascriptions could be wholly deterministic in a way that might seem to, but does not in fact, place them at odds with the possibility of genuinely free action.
June 10, 2017
Starting from Injustice
Justice, Applicative Justice, and Injustice Theory
first published on June 10, 2017
Political philosophers have traditionally focused on justice and regarded equality as an ideal despite its lack of factual support; normative universal human equality is a new, twentieth-century regulative moral construct. The theoretical focus on justice overlooks what most people care about in reality—injustice. In modern democratic society, formal or legal equality now co-exists with real inequality. One reason is that justice is not applied to all groups in society and applicative justice––applying justice to those who don’t now receive it––is a remedy. But injustice theory also includes other forms of injustice such as legal, humanitarian, and injustice without blame or responsibility.
May 23, 2017
Maria Svedberg, Torbjörn Tännsjö
Consequentialism and Free Will
The Conditional Analysis Resuscitated
first published on May 23, 2017
Many moral theories incorporate the idea that when an action is wrong, it is wrong because that there was something else that the agent could and should have done instead. Most notable among these are consequentialist theories. According to consequentialism an action A is wrong if and only if there was another action B that the agent could have performed such that, if the agent had performed B instead of A, the consequences would have been better. Relatively little attention has been given to the question of how to understand the meaning of ‘could have’ in this specific context. However, without an answer to this question, consequentialist theories fail to yield determinate verdicts about the deontic status of actions in real scenarios. It is here argued that the following conditional analysis provides the required answer and gives us the most plausible version of consequentialism: the agent could have done B instead of A if and only if, there is a decision such that had the agent made this decision, then she would have done B, and not A. Such a conditional analysis has been universally rejected as an analysis of the general meaning of ‘could have’, but we show that in the specific context of specifying the meaning of ‘could have’ in a consequentialist criterion of right and wrong action, all the standard objections to it fail.
May 10, 2017
The Dialogue as an Adventure
first published on May 10, 2017
How can believers and unbelievers engage in a fruitful dialogue? In order to answer this question from a postsecular position, it is claimed that a profound dialogue between believers and unbelievers requires them to go beyond openness and reach adventurousness.
October 26, 2016
John R. Searle
The Ontology of Human Civilization
first published on October 26, 2016
The basic elements in the ontology of human civilization are status functions. Those are functions that can be performed not in virtue of physical structure alone but only in virtue of collective acceptance by the community of a certain status. Money, property, government and marriage are all examples of status functions. Status functions are all created by repeated applications of the same logical operation, in a preliminary formulation: X counts as Y in context C. On examination it emerges that all status functions are created by a certain kind of representation that has a logical form of a speech act that I call a “Status Function Declaration.” These are explained. This lecture was delivered without notes and the current publication is very informal. I hope the reader will forgive the informality.
October 18, 2016
On the Philosophical Interest and Surprising Significance of the Asshole
first published on October 18, 2016
The term “asshole” might be of interest to philosophers for several reasons. It displays the power of philosophy to expose the implicit structure of ordinary thought. It suggests why we should not be able to answer certain skeptics on their own terms. It corroborates the idea of an “internal” connection between moral judgment and motivation. And it raises doubts about expressivism where it has the best chance of being true.
October 15, 2016
Stanley Cavell on Recognition, Betrayal, and the Photographic Field of Expression
first published on October 15, 2016
The ideas of expression and expressiveness have been central to Stanley Cavell’s writing from the beginning, joining themes from his more strictly philosophical writing to the role of human expression as projected in cinema. This paper explores a thread running through several different parts of his writing, relating claims he makes about the photographic medium of film and its implications for the question of expression and expressivity in film There is an invocation of notions of necessity and control in the context of cinema that should be understood in the context of related ideas in his writings on Wittgenstein and others. The paper pursues some thoughts about the power of the camera, the themes of activity and passivity in expression, and the human face as the privileged field of such activity and passivity.
October 13, 2016
Personal and Omnipersonal Duties
first published on October 13, 2016
This paper’s main aim is to discuss the relations between our duties and moral aims at different times, and between different people’s moral aims and duties. The paper is unfinished because it was written as part of an intended chapter in the third volume of my book On What Matters, and I later decided to drop this chapter. That is why this paper asks some questions which it doesn’t answer. But though this paper does not end with some general conclusions, it defends some particular conclusions.