The Postgraduate Session
This zoom call will kindly be hosted by Greene's Tutorial College, Oxford.
Theresa Clark (NYU)
By Their Own Lights: A Coincidence Problem for Constructivism
Normative constructivists hold that normative facts are grounded in our evaluative attitudes. As a result, constructivists avoid a "coincidence problem" shared by realist theories of normativity. Whereas realists must explain how we have access to normative facts that, on their view, exist independent of us, constructivists can offer an easy explanation: our attitudes track the normative facts because the normative facts just are grounded in our attitudes. In this paper, I argue that constructivists face a different kind of coincidence problem. Constructivists hold that an agent’s evaluative attitudes are constrained by constitutive requirements. In addition, it's natural to think (as some constructivists have argued) that moral constructivists should also give a constructivist account of rational normativity— the normativity of what we should believe or intend. What's striking is that the constitutive requirements that, according to constructivism, constrain our evaluative attitudes align ever so nicely with our rational norms. In particular: as I argue, we use rational norms to come to many of our normative judgements. Additionally, lest they be skeptics about our normative reasons, constructivists must hold that our normative judgements—the judgements made by applying our rational norms—align with our actual valuing practice. But what accounts for this alignment? I consider several responses on behalf of the constructivist, but offer worries for each response. Along the way, I consider (i) differences between substantive and structural norms of rationality and (ii) whether our meta-normative commitments constrain which first-order rational norms we can adopt, and vice versa.
Tamaz Tokhadze (Sussex)
The Monotonicity of Belief
This paper is concerned with the so-called Monotonicity Principle (Monotonicity): the view that if an agent believes a proposition, , and if she considers another proposition to be at least as probable as , then she should also believe . While Monotonicity seems highly plausible, I argue that it entails an overly restrictive view of rational belief. My argument is based on the following surprising result: if Monotonicity is true and given some standard normative constraints on rational belief and credence, then it is irrational to simultaneously believe proposition , suspend judgment on , and assign a low probability to given (a probability less than 1/2). As an alternative to Monotonicity, I put forward a new thesis, Partial Monotonicity, which avoids the restrictiveness worry and captures important plausible aspects of the original principle. According to Partial Monotonicity, an agent may violate Monotonicity, but only with respect to, what I call, an inferentially trivial disjunction: a disjunction which is probable solely because its individually improbable disjuncts are jointly probable.
Romy Eskens (Stockholm)
Gratitude for Rights-Conforming Actions
Most philosophers of gratitude endorse what I call the No-Right Requirementfor gratitude’s being owed. According to this requirement, we do not owe gratitude to benefactors if we have a right that they perform the beneficial act. In this paper, I argue that we should reject the No-Right Requirement. I distinguish two views that seem to underpin the requirement. The first holds that rights-conforming beneficial acts are not morally outstanding, and that only morally outstanding beneficial acts can call for gratitude (the Moral Exceptionality View). The second holds that we can permissibly construe the agents of rights-conforming acts as not having benefitted us (by using a rights-baseline to measure welfare), and that we owe someone gratitude only if we construe them as having benefitting us (the Rights-Baseline View). I argue that both views are mistaken. The Moral Exceptionality View is mistaken because, sometimes, rights-conforming beneficial acts are morally outstanding. The Rights-Baseline View is mistaken because, sometimes, we owe gratitude to people whom we do not construe as having benefitted us.
Francesco Praolini (CONCEPT)
Uniqueness and Epistemic Obligations
: In an influential paper, Mark T. Nelson has argued that: (No Positive Epistemic Obligations) no one ever has epistemic obligations to hold individual doxastic attitudes toward propositions. Accepting No Positive Epistemic Obligations plausibly requires endorsing the thesis that: (Epistemic Justification as Epistemic Permission) epistemic justification is a species of permission. Interestingly, Benjamin Kiesewetter and Clayton Littlejohn have presented the outline of an argument purporting to show that No Positive Epistemic Obligations, Epistemic Justification as Epistemic Permission, and the following widely debated thesis are jointly inconsistent: (Uniqueness) one never has justification to hold more than one doxastic attitude toward a proposition. In the first part of this paper, I argue that their argument fails. It fails because it has a missing premise. The missing premise is that one sometimes has an epistemic obligation to commit to a view on a proposition; that is, an epistemic obligation to have some doxastic attitude or another toward a proposition. I advance an argument to this conclusion in the second part of this paper. The argument that I develop relies almost exclusively on a version of the dominance principle. We can then repair Kiesewetter’s and Littlejohn’s argument. However, once we do, it becomes clear that, pace Nelson, we should reject No Positive Epistemic Obligations.
Thomas Lambert & Joseph Moore (Princeton)
Lack of Character Is No Problem for Character Ethics
John Doris’s Lack of Character: Personality and Moral Behavior purports to be an empirically-informed polemic against character ethics. Its main contention is that “situationist” results in experimental psychology indicate that most people do not possess robust character traits, traits such as virtues of courage or compassion. Doris claims that these results contradict a central, descriptive psychological commitment of character ethics, namely that most people have and act on the basis of such robust character traits. We contend, against Doris, that some major historical strains of character ethics lack this supposed commitment. In fact, as we show, both Aristotle and Nietzsche, two major character ethicists working nearly at opposite ends of the history of Western philosophy, believe that character is quite rare and predict that most people lack character. We also suggest that this shared assumption of the rarity of character is not merely the result of objectionable elitism, something contemporary character ethicists would do well to avoid. Rather, this empirical assumption fits well with ordinary expectations about the prevalence of excellence in most domains of human activity. We conclude, therefore, that viable versions of character ethics are immune to Doris’s challenge of empirical psychological adequacy.
Sophie Kikkert (LSE)
Ability's two dimensions of robustness
This paper individuates two dimensions along which abilities can be modally robust. Robustness along the first dimension helps distinguish the successful exercise of an ability, which requires local control, from cases of lucky success. Just as the safety condition for knowledge ensures an agent’s lucky true beliefs do not count as knowledge, robustness along this dimension secures that the agent’s lucky successful acts do not count as exercises of an ability. The second dimension of robustness concerns the global availability of the kind of acts the ability is an ability to perform. Able agents often have the option to perform these acts not just in a single scenario, but across a range of circumstances. I present a framework which captures the two dimensions and their interaction, explain how this clarifies the relation between having abilities and their exercise, and employ the framework to resolve a point of tension in the literature regarding the modal strength of the robustness ability requires.
Linda Eggert (Oxford)
Compensation and Permissions to Harm
This paper elucidates how the prospect of compensation ex post affects permissions to harm non-liable people ex ante. It first considers the possibility that the prospect of compensation renders an otherwise disproportionate and impermissible harm proportionate and, to that extent, permissible, and argues that we should reject this possibility. Instead, it argues, we should separate compensation as a requirement of rectificatory justice from the question of whether harms are compensable as a consideration relevant to questions of proportionality. This means that whether harms are compensable should itself play a role in proportionality calculations. This has two implications. First, it explains precisely how compensation ex post bears on permissions to harm ex ante, without implying that harming is permissible so long as victims will be compensated. Second, the proposed account renders the proportionality requirement sensitive to considerations of individual rights in a way that is currently missing.
Tomasz Zyglewicz (CUNY)
Belief ascriptions are ambiguous
I argue that belief ascriptions are ambiguous in a hitherto underappreciated way. More specifically, I distinguish an explanatory sense and an evidential sense. The function of the former is to explain or predict the ascribee’s behavior. The function of the latter is to provide evidence about the world external to the ascribee. My preferred view is a modification of Kyle Blumberg’s and Harvey Lederman’s recent account of “revisionist reporting.” According to them, the truth of belief ascriptions is systematically dependent on the information unavailable to the ascribee (Blumberg and Lederman 2021). Furthermore, they seem to presuppose that this ascriber-sensitive lexical entry for “believe” captures the only meaning of the word. I disagree and show that a related polysemous view better captures the relevant data. I conclude by presenting a general argument for expecting attitude verbs to be ambiguous, to wit: (P1) Natural kind terms are ambiguous. (P2) Attitude verbs are (very much like) natural kind terms. (C) Attitude verbs are ambiguous.