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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.
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