Due to ongoing uncertainty about the possibility of international travel and large gatherings in July 2021, the Mind Association, the Aristotelian Society and the local organisers at the University of Hertfordshire will hold the 95th Joint Session online. The conference will run from 16th to 18th July, with the symposia, postgraduate, and SWIP sessions taking place live over zoom. The open sessions and Mind fellows talk will be prerecorded videos, linked from the conference website, with with speakers finding time to respond to your comments and questions over the course of the weekend.
In addition to the regular symposia and talks, comedian Robert Newman will give a talk on ‘Wittgenstein’s Joke Book- notes on the philosophy of laughter’. Philosopher, literary critic, and poet Christopher Norris will read from his Socrates at Verse and Other Philosophical Poems and debut some new philosophical poetry. There will also be live interactive social events using wonder.me.
There will be no registration fee for this year’s conference. Pre-recorded sessions will be available for to all who wish to view, and live sessions will require a Zoom link which will be sent to all registered participants. We kindly ask that participants who are not currently members of either the Aristotelian Society or the Mind Association join at least one of these prior to attendance.
For full details and to participate in the conference, and for updates on the format and program, please see the official conference website.
By Their Own Lights: A Coincidence Problem for Constructivists
Gratitude for Rights-Conforming Actions
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.
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.
Tez Clark is a second-year PhD student at New York University, with interests in epistemology, metaethics, and meta-normativity. Before starting her PhD, Tez completed an undergraduate degree in philosophy at Harvard University and an MPhil in history and philosophy of science at the University of Cambridge. Within epistemology, Tez’s interests are in inquiry, understanding, and the ethics of belief. She is also interested in meta-normative questions about how different normative categories (reasons, value, rules, fit) and normative domains (particularly the moral and the epistemic) relate to each other, and about how our first-order commitments may constrain our meta-normative commitments (and vice versa).
Romy is a PhD candidate in philosophy at Stockholm University, based in the Stockholm Centre for the Ethics of War and Peace, where she is supervised by Helen Frowe and Gunnar Björnsson. Before starting the PhD, she obtained a BPhil in Philosophy from the University of Oxford, and a BA in Philosophy and BA in History from Utrecht University. Romy works primarily in normative ethics and political philosophy, with a focus on the ethics of emotions, moral partiality and duties to rescue. Her PhD thesis consists of several papers on these topics. Romy is also the editor of The Public Ethics Blog of the Stockholm Centre for the Ethics of War and Peace.
Lack of Character Is No Problem for Character Ethics
Compensation, Proportionality, and Permissions to Harm
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.
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.
Thomas Lambert is a fifth-year PhD candidate at Princeton University. He has an MA from Princeton and a BA from St. Olaf College. Thomas is interested in ethics, metaethics, philosophy of action, and the history of philosophy. His dissertation, supervised by Alexander Nehamas, explores the relationship between strength of will and freedom in the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche.
Joseph Moore is completing his PhD at Princeton University, specializing in ethics, political philosophy, and the history of philosophy. His thesis advances a novel form of eudaimonist ethical theory centered around a value-based conception of human flourishing, in contrast to traditional virtue-based conceptions. He also works on moral motivation, the nature of normativity, the justification of the state, and educational policy.
Linda is a DPhil candidate in Political Theory at the University of Oxford and a Fellow in Residence at Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics. Her work is in moral, political, and legal philosophy, and focuses on issues in normative and practical ethics, global and rectificatory justice, and the ethics of artificial intelligence.
Belief, Credence, and the Monotonicity Principle
Uniqueness and Epistemic Obligation
This paper is concerned with the so-called Monotonicity Principle (Monotonicity): the view that if an agent believes a proposition, X, and if she considers another proposition Y to be at least as probable as X, then she should also believe Y. 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 X, suspend judgment on Y, and assign a low probability to X given Y (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.
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.
Tazo Tokhadze is a PhD student at the University of Sussex. His main research interests lie at the intersection of formal and traditional epistemology. His dissertation is on the Uniqueness thesis: the view that there is always one, unique rational response to any body of evidence. He defends a hybrid approach to doxastic rationality where Uniqueness is true if we think about belief in a coarse-grained, qualitative manner; but Uniqueness is false if we think about belief in a fine-grained, numerical manner. Before coming to Sussex, Tazo did his MA at the University of Tartu and BA at the Ilia State University, his hometown university in Tbilisi.
Francesco Praolini is a PhD candidate at the Cologne Center for Contemporary Epistemology and the Kantian Tradition (CONCEPT) at the University of Cologne. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Leuven and Master’s degree in philosophy from the Universities of St Andrews and Stirling. He is interested in a variety of issues in traditional and formal epistemology related to the nature and value of knowledge and justification. He also has interests in ethics, logic, and the philosophy of language.
Ability’s Two Dimensions of Robustness
Belief ascriptions are ambiguous
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.
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.
Sophie Kikkert is a PhD candidate at the London School of Economics, with research interests in metaphysics and epistemology, modal semantics and social philosophy. Her PhD thesis centres on what it means to have and exercise abilities, and questions how abilities relate to the options and opportunities people have. Her most recent research draws on insights from the philosophy of disability to learn what role social norms and context-sensitivity play when we try to determine whether someone has an ability or not. Sophie has previously completed a MA in Philosophy at King’s College London, and a BA in Liberal Arts at University College Maastricht.
Tomasz Zyglewicz is a philosophy PhD student at the Graduate Center, CUNY. Prior to moving to New York City, he obtained Master’s Degrees in philosophy and law from the University of Warsaw. His research interests include philosophy of language, experimental philosophy, feminist philosophy, and environmental philosophy. Tomasz is a co-organizer (along with Shannon Brick) of the “Towards a Feminist X-phi” project, which aims to promote the application of empirical methods to questions in feminist philosophy (broadly construed), as well as improve experimental philosophy by equipping people well-versed in feminist philosophy with the tools necessary to produce and engage with it.