Thursday, February 28, 2008

Can't we negotiate?

Suppose you teach at a university that charges about $981/credit hour. Your typical course is 3 credit hours and your typical enrollment is 45 students. We're looking at $132,435 in tuition coming in per class. Give lecturers $4000 for the class and you've made yourself a tidy sum. Have them teach four of those courses per semester and you'll take in $513,740 while they take in $16,000.

Looking at the numbers this way, it looks like lecturers should be asking for a slightly larger piece of the pie. Just a thought. You'd think with all the egalitarians in higher ed, lecturers would never have the opportunity to ask. In a sense, they don't. The numbers for adjuncts are too depressing to contemplate, so I'll stick with lecturers.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Hypological and Deontological

Think of the hypological as having to do primarily with responsibility and the deontological as having to do with permissibility primarily. What sort of relationship is there between the hypological and deontological?

A view that I think is defended by G.E. Moore and possibly Judith Thomson is that there's no real relationship between the two. An evaluation of an agent's motivating reasons might serve as the basis for some hypological judgment, but questions concerning the rightness or wrongness of an action are left open. (Most of us think that claims about permissibility leave open claims about responsibility.) A view that I think is more popular among epistemologists, at least those with internalist sympathies, is that there cannot be more to deontological judgments that what is involved in hypological judgments. There cannot be more to the justification of a belief, say, than that which the agent can be faulted for failing to take account of. Facts that are obscure to the agent oughtn't serve as the basis for judgments about responsibility and for that very reason they oughtn't serve as the basis for our judgments concerning the justification of another's attitudes.

Two questions.

Isn't there a middle way?

If there's a middle way and that's the right way, what significance does this have for epistemic internalists?

I'm somewhat inclined to think that the facts that serve as the basis of our hypological judgments do have deontic significance, but also think that the facts that have deontic significance are not limited to those with hypological significance. I'm also somewhat inclined to think that the internalists (at least the one's I've read) deny this. I'm also somewhat inclined to think that they must if they're to be consistent. It's not that you can argue from, say, the fact that there's more to the deontic than there is to the hypological that internalist supervenience theses are false. Someone could just say that both the hypological and deontic facts both supervene on facts about our mental states while saying that the set of facts relevant to the hypological are a proper subset of the facts that have deontic significance. The reason I think internalists are committed to a view on which the deontically relevant facts are just the facts relevant to hypological judgments is that the arguments most often offered for internalism assume this thesis.

The reason I think there's something worth exploring here is that I've never really understood why other externalists are externalists. I remember being attracted to reliabilism at some point, but I think I came to be a reliabilist for roughly the reason kids take up smoking. We gave into peer pressure and the wrong sorts of people where pressuring us. I'm planning on writing up a pair of posts. In the first, I'll explain why I suspect those who adopt the Moorean view are guilty of the negative existential reasons fallacy. (Thanks to Errol Lord for drawing my attention to a paper of Mark Schroeder's on this fallacy.) In the second, I'll set out my three case argument against a view of the deontic/hypological relationship that I think doubles as an argument against most internalists' views if not internalism itself.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Hack attack

From Kekes' "On the Supposed Obligation to Relieve Famine":
The question is whether there is a moral obligation to [contribute to famine relief efforts], and, if there is, how strong is this supposed obligation. Singer's moralism enters with vengeance in his answer. Since 'allowing someone to die is not intrinsically different from killing someone, it would seem that we are all murderers.' This is not a slip or a momentary exaggeration. Singer really means it. When we stay at home after work and read a book, listen to music, watch TV, or, God forbid, go out to a restaurant, instead of ... writing a check to Oxfam, we are allowing someone to die, we are murderers (2002: 505)


Kekes never backs off the claim that Singer equates going to a restaurant with picking off peasants on the far side of the globe with a rifle for kicks. Here's what Singer actually said in Practical Ethics:
[Because] allowing someone to die is not intrinsically different from killing someone, it would seem that we are all murderers. Is this verdict too harsh? Many will reject it as self-evidently absurd. They would sooner take it as showing that allowing to die cannot be equivalent to going over to Ethiopia and shooting a few peasants. And no doubt, put as bluntly as that, the verdict is too harsh. There are several significant differences between spending money on luxuries instead of using it save lives, and deliberately shooting people (1993: 222).

Singer then goes on and offers five reasons to think that the verdict Kekes claims is Singer's verdict is too harsh.

Dishonest much?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Reasons and pretzels

I think reasons are pretzels. Not literally, of course. Of course, the person who accused me of that probably thinks I might as well literally think of reasons as pretzels. Maybe I'll explain why at a later date. Consider three views about what reasons require. Tell me if any suits your fancy.

1. So long as you've A-d rationally/reasonably, there is nothing left over that the reasons that bear on whether to A could demand.

2. Reasons to A require conformity. So long as you A by some means or other, those reasons require nothing further.

3. Reasons require compliance. If R is a reason to A, the reason requires you to conform for that very reason (i.e., R).

I'll talk about a 4th soon. Comments are open.

Brian Leiter.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Ought and context

Brian has a nice little post on a paper written by MacFarlane and Kolodny on 'ought'. He favors a kind of contextualism on which the truth-conditions we assign to a speaker's assertive utterance of 'S ought to X' in a context is going to capture the idea that:

KD: What you oughta do is relative to what is known.

Whose knowledge do we make reference to in KD? That's where the trickiness comes in. Suppose some miner's went down into mine A when it starts to rain. They radio up to the ground and say:

(1) You ought to close off shaft A.

Doing so would ensure that the water all goes down into shaft B where the miners know that no one is working. Doing otherwise will lead to disaster. Meanwhile on the ground, the guy at the switchboard doesn't know where the miners are. It's not his fault. The radio transmission didn't make it out of the mine. The board that is supposed to tell him where the miners are has been stolen. He knows they have to be in mine A or mine B without knowing which. He can choose to close off A entirely or B entirely, but in doing so all of the water would wash into the other mine shaft killing any miner that happens to be working below. He can press a C button that will close off most of the opening and that should allow most of the miners to survive. Unfortunately, he knows enough of the water will wash down the shaft to drown one of the ten that are in the mines working.

There's a strong intuition that the guy ought to cut his losses. If the guy at the switchboard thinks it over, he'd think:

(2) I ought to press the C button rather than close off A or B completely.

While that seems true (or, not obviously incorrect), we have a problem that it seems some version of contextualism is well-suited to solve. We think (1) is true because relative to what is known to the miners that seems optimal. We think that (2) is true because relative to what the guy at the switches knows, pressing the C button will maximize expected utility.

Here's what bothers me. I haven't been reading enough of the literature on contextualism. I thought (but could be mistaken) that the standard contextualist attitude towards, say, 'knows' is something like this. There will be certain claims about the connection between, say, knowledge and the elimination of counterpossibilities that will be true in every context. So, in every context it will be true that knowledge that p requires eliminating all possibilities in which ~p. What varies from one context to the next is _not_ the connection between knowledge and counterpossibility elimination. What varies are the counterpossibilities that need elimination. In normal contexts, the possibility that I'm demonically deceived into thinking I have hands will not be a possibility I'll need to eliminate. In sceptical contexts, I'll have to eliminate that possibility.

If this is right, it suggests that while we might have variation from one context to the next in terms of whose knowledge matters (the miners' knowledge? God's knowledge? the switchboard operator's knowledge?), there will not be contexts in which KD is false. The link between doing what you oughta and knowing will remain constant. Yet, that seems false. I think there are situations in which we use 'ought' where the truth of knowledge ascriptions doesn't matter. If I'm right about that and right that KD will be one of the fixed points in a contextualist account of 'ought', the contextualist account is in trouble.

An Example
* Imperfect self-defense. In cases of imperfect self-defense, one uses force on another in the belief that such force is necessary for self-defense when the party you harm is not an aggressor (e.g., mistaking a jogger with a flashlight for a mugger with a club and macing the guy).

Cases of imperfect self-defense are often offered as cases in which the agent's actions were all things considered wrong, but excusable. The agent's ignorance is an excuse. I don't see any straightforward way of accommodating the claim that ignorance often constitutes an excuse with KD since we typically think that:

DW: What you oughta do is avoid acting against undefeated reasons, excusably or not.

Now, maybe I'm just wrong to think that the contextualist cannot accommodate this. Maybe DW is true in some contexts and KD is true in others. That seems very much unlike the proposals I've seen put forward for 'ought' and seem structurally quite different than the accounts put forward for 'knowledge'. I think Goldman is right that there is a use of 'knows' on which 'S knows p' is acceptable if S believes truly that p. However, I wouldn't have thought that someone who took the relevant form of acceptability to involve true assertion to say that we ought to say that in only some contexts knowledge requires evidence, justification, the absence of Gettiering conditions.

Maybe we have a case of ambiguity. Maybe there's an 'ought' that the contextualists are right about and an 'ought' that the invariantists are right about. I really don't like that idea for reasons Thomson adduces in Goodness and Advice. (Note to self: I should really rethink those reasons since that's the book that messed me up in the first place.)

I think we're not making much progress on this problem.