4th Annual Felician Ethics Conference

I have presented at two of these conferences and each time it has been a fun and rewarding experience. I strongly encourage people to submit something!

The fourth annual meeting of the Felician Ethics Conference will be held at the Rutherford campus of Felician College on Saturday, April 24, 2010, from 9 am – 6 pm. (Felician’s Rutherford campus is located at 223 Montross Ave., Rutherford NJ, 07070.)

The plenary speaker is Christopher Morris (University of Maryland, College Park), speaking on the topic, “Why Be Just?”

Submissions on any topic in moral philosophy (broadly construed) are welcome, not exceeding 25 minutes’ presentation time (approximately 3,000 words). Please send submissions via email in format suitable for blind review by Feb. 1, 2010 to:felicianethicsconference@gmail.com.

Alternatively, send surface mail to:

Irfan Khawaja, Conference Coordinator

Dept. of Philosophy

Felician College

262 S. Main St.

Lodi, NJ 07644

Undergraduate submissions are invited for a proposed session consisting of undergraduate papers.

If you have any questions, or would be interested in serving as a commentator and/or chair for individual sessions, please contact Irfan Khawaja, (201) 559-6000 (x6288), orfelicianethicsconference@gmail.com.

Expressivism and the T-Schema

Expressivist like Blackburn like to invoke deflationary accounts of truth as a way to save the common sense intuition that moral judgements can be straightforwardly true or false. I have elsewhere argued that this strategy fails to absolve the espressivist from giving an account of justification and, without some kind of modification, the expressivist is committed to relativism. Blackburn’s expressivism collapses into pure autobiography.

Here is another way to make the argument. Take the following claim: Eating meat is immoral. According to the deflationist this will be true just in case eating meat is immoral. This can be put in terms of the T-Schema as so,

“Eating meat is immoral’ is true if and only if eating meat is immoral

But what are to make of the right hand side of this bi-conditional? We cannot take it as naming some fact according to the expressivist. It seems we must, then, give it the expressivist meaning. Doing so yeilds the B-schema

“Eating meat is immoral’ is true if and only if Boo eating meat

This makes it clear that deflationsim about truth cannot help the Blackburns of the world avoid giving a real theory of moral justification.

Or is there some other interpretationof the right hand side of the bi-conditional?

Breaking Promises

Consider two scenrios

1. I promise to pick you up from the airport but then my mom dies and I have to leave town before you get to the airport. I feel bad that I cannot honor my obligation but I figure I’ll call before you get to the airport and explain. Hopefully you can take the subway.

2. I promise to pick you up from the airport but then Don’t Forget the Lyrics comes on and I decide to watch it. It is the season finale and though I have Tivo it is so much better to see it live. I feel bad about not honoring my obligation, but hey you can take the subway and I’ll explain later.

It seems clear that in the second scenerio I have broken a promise to you. But have I done so in the first case? It doesn’t seem that way to me. True I do not keep my promise to you, but I do not break it either; I am excused from the obligation all together. What exactly constitutes an excuse from an obligation is soemthing that we debate about a lot, but the point is that these kinds of cases do not threaten the universality of ‘it is always wrong to break your promises’. This is because in the kinds of caes that we normally describe as cases of breaking promises that morally good are really misdescribed. The promise is not being broken since one is excused from the obligation.

The very same thing happens in the case of lying. Everyone recognizes a duty to tell the truth and that lying is wrong (indeed, as I argue ‘lying is wrong’ is analytic) but we think there are some circumstances where one can be excused from this duty and so can tell a falsehood. Now what counts as a proper excuse is something that we can debate, but that there is this distinction seems undeniable. I have suggested that we opt for a bit of reformationism and reserve ‘lie’ for ‘unjustified falshood’. This way someone who tells a justified falsehood doesn’t lie (this was Knat’s position).

So what do you think? Do you think I have broken my promise to you in scenerio 1?

The Terminator and Philosophy: Call for Abstracts

The Terminator and Philosophy

Edited by Richard Brown and Kevin S. Decker

The Blackwell Philosophy and Popular Culture Series

Please circulate and post widely.

Apologies for Cross-posting.

To propose ideas for future volumes in the Blackwell series please contact the Series Editor, William Irwin, at wtirwin@kings.edu.

Abstracts and subsequent essays should be philosophically substantial but accessible, written to engage the intelligent lay reader. Contributors of accepted essays will receive an honorarium.

Possible themes and topics might include, but are not limited to, the following:

“Can We Really Change the Future?” or “Killing Sarah Connor”: Cyberdyne Systems, time travel and the grandfather paradox; Skynet and John Connor: philosophy of technology and creating our own enemies; “Sentience, Sapience, and Self-Awareness”: issues in philosophy of mind; Neural Net to Supercomputer to ‘Software in Cyberspace’: Skynet and multiple realization;“Is Skynet Justified in Defending Itself?” the ethics of war and artificial intelligence; “Irrefutable Delusions”: Sarah Connor, Delusional Beliefs, and Standards of Evidence in T2;“Stop Miles Bennett Dyson”: Sarah Connor’s transformation into a killer (is violence contagious?) or Sarah Connor’s transformation from ‘80’s ditz to Feminist Icon; “Judgment Day is Unavoidable” or “No Fate but what we Make”: eternalist vs. presentist perspectives on the original versus modified timelines; “John Connor is the Most Important Person in the World”: causality and the meaning of life; “To Preserve and Protect”: the contrastive values of human versus artificial life; “What is a Terminator?”: The Ontology of Fictional Objects; “I Have Data Which Could be Interpreted as Pain”: machines, consciousness, and simulated perception; The T-1000: adaptable machines and emergence; How Did They Build Skynet?: “truthmakers” and knowledge with no source; Andy and the Turk: killing the innocent to save the innocent or Are scientists responsible for their inventions?; “Terminatrix”: the T3 gynoid , feminism, and trangressive cyborgs; “Should we Stop the Future?”: Conservatism and the “Terminator Argument” in bioethics; “The Closest Thing to a Father I Have”: John Connor & the Terminator; “Desire is Irrelevant, I am a MACHINE”: Who is Responsible for the Terminator’s Actions? Or freewill vs determinism; “Assume the Shape of Anything it Touches”: The Metaphysics of Transformation in T2 & T3; The Govinator: Fantasy and reality in politics; Does the Future Exist now?: The nature of spacetime and reality; Embodied Artificial Intelligence: Is AI actually possible, and if so, how close are we to creating it?; Monstrous Technology: From Frankenstein to the Terminator.

Submission Guidelines:

1. Submission deadline for abstracts (100-500 words) and CV(s): September 8, 2008.

2. Submission deadline for drafts of accepted papers: November 3, 2008.

Kindly submit by e-mail (with or without Word attachment) to: Richard Brown at onemorebrown@yahoo.com

The Variability of Reasons?

I was reading the entry on moral particularism over at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (my adviser is a particularist which is bad ’cause I’m generally a Kantian and he has been making me read Toulmin’s ‘the Place of Reason in Ethics’). So anyway, here is an argument that is presented as an argument for moral particularism,

Particularists suppose that this doctrine [about the variability of reasons] is true for reasons in general, so that its application to moral reasons is just part and parcel of a larger story. For an example that comes from a non-moral context, suppose that it currently seems to me that something before me is red. Normally, one might say, that is a reason (some reason, that is, not necessarily sufficient reason) for me to believe that there is something red before me. But in a case where I also believe that I have recently taken a drug that makes blue things look red and red things look blue, the appearance of a red-looking thing before me is reason for me to believe that there is a blue, not a red, thing before me. It is not as if it is some reason for me to believe that there is something red before me, but that as such a reason it is overwhelmed by contrary reasons. It is no longer any reason at all to believe that there is something red before me; indeed it is a reason for believing the opposite.

This strikes me as a very implausible claim.  First it isn’t clear what the ‘seems’ there is supposed to mean. Does it mean that I have a red phenomenal experience? Or is it that I have a phenomenal belief? If the former it then becomes odd to think of a red experience as a reason of any kind (especially if one is influenced by Sellers’ work)…but let us waive that. Is it really true that the appearence of a red-looking-thing is reason to believe that there is something blue out there? Well, only in light of my belief about the influence of the drug I am on. Buit then it sounds like we are doing exactly what is being denied here. The appearence of a red-looking thing before me is a reason to believe that there is something red out there UNLESS this reason is trumped by some other reason (like the belief in the example).

Given this very plausible interpretation of what is going on here the particularist cannot base his case on examples like this without further argument.

Not as a Means Only

In an earlier post I argued that the categorical imperative entails that we are not allowed to use sentient beings as a means only. The semantic Terrorist challenged me on this (and other things) and argued that I couldn’t really mean it. But I did, and I still do. But what does it mean to not treat something as a means only?

Let’s start with the human case. Does the categorical imperative entail that I cannot ride the bus? Afterall, don’t I use the bus driver as a means when I ride it to work or the club or whatever? Not necessarily. I certainly treat him as a means, but I needn’t treat him as a means only. So, what the categorical imperative entails is that I recognize that he is an individual. This requires no more than a friendly smile, or greeting, and perhaps a ‘thank you’ upon exiting. What this will actually mean in detail will depend on the actual relationships that one has to these individuals. So, one has a duty to treat ones wife as an end in itself, and so too with the bank teller. But what it will actually end up meaning is quite different because of the relationship that one has. So there will be ways that you could treat the bank teller that might count as respecting his being an end in himself, but those same actions would not count as treating your wife as an end in herself, and vice versa.

It seems to me that this general idea can be extended to animals. We have a duty not to treat them as means only, which clearly rules out the way that we treat them now.  But we can treats them as means, but we are obligated to do so in a way that respects their sentient capacities. So, we are not morally required not to use the donkey or horse as a pack animal but we are obligated to recognize that the animal deserves to be treated with respect and in a way that does not cause it unecessary harm or suffering. It also seems that what ones duties are depends on the relation one has to the animal. So, one may be obligated to treat ones pet in ways that do not come up with respect to wild animals (that is, beyond the basics due to all sentient beings).