Thoughts such as ‘It would be wrong for me to PHI’ and ‘You would be wrong in PHI-ing’ seem to be special in that, in addition to having an essential cognitive function as ordinary beliefs do, they seem to have an essential motivating function as well.  (And we might say similar things about other bits of moral thought or moral thought in general, but I’ll focus on ‘wrong’ here.)  So, in this sort of way, the concept ‘wrong’ appears to be essentially motivating as well as essentially descriptive or cognitive.

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Is Knowledge metaphysically (or conceptually) prior to belief?

Coming out soon, J. Adam Carter, Emma C. Gordon and Benjamin Jarvis have an anthology on the “knowledge first” approach to epistemology and mind (based on the work of Timothy Williamson in his Knowledge and Its Limits).  (Maybe the volume is already is out, but I could not find it on the interwebs.)  Their introductory essay contains some clear and insightful explanatory summary of various knowledge-first theses (including what they take to be the central one) and discusses a central motivation for the knowledge-first approach (and what they take to be its central thesis).  Here is that essay:


And here are some excerpts/summary from this text and some commentary from me (in bold).  

(If there is a theme to my recent philosophical commentary here at PoT, it is the importance, in many cases, of understanding how things function (or what their function is) in order to understand better what they are.)

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Some thoughts on coercion and the moral requirement not to coerce others

[The following is loosely inspired by a compare-and-contrast re-reading of Scanlon’s material on coercion in his Moral Dimensions (p. 74, 78, 108-111) and Michael Huemer’s initial discussion of coercion – in his stipulative sense that simply means exercising or threatening to exercise physical violence or control over another person – in his The Problem of Political Authority (pp. 9-10).]

 1.  One might coerce someone by doing things that impact or interfere with their exercise of their agency in a ways that are never permissible.  One might also coerce someone by doing things that impact or interfere with their exercise of their agency in ways that are permissible if the patient consents – but they have not consented (and in the right circumstances like having full information and with the conditions of consent or non-consent not themselves being coercive).  Both sorts of coercion presuppose antecedent moral requirements, moral requirements not to do specific things that negatively impact the ability of others to exercise their agency.  So the requirement not to coerce would seem to be a generalization over particular ways of interfering with the agency of others that are of these two types (absolutely forbidden, forbidden unless the patient consents).

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Haidt, TRM, chs. 9 & 10

In chs. 9 and 10, Haidt begins his defense of his third principle of empirical moral psychology:

(III) Morality binds and blinds.

The other two (with my interpolations), already defended in the book, are:

(I) Intuitions come first [in moral thinking] strategic reasoning [to moral conclusions] second

(II) There’s more to morality [moral thinking] than harm and fairness.

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Admirability (etc.): reasons and getting fitting attitudes right (PEA Soup discussion of Gert’s recent article)

It is fitting or appropriate to admire the admirable (and similarly, it is fitting to value the valuable).  According the the fitting attitudes account (FA) of an action or person being admirable, admirability is nothing more than fittingness to be admired.  And according to the reasons account of an attitude being fitting (RFA), an attitude being fitting is nothing more than the balance of reasons (of the right sort) favoring having the attitude toward the object.  This gives rise the the “wrong kind of reason” problem:  we need to say which reasons are the right reasons for admiring to make for admirability because a person or action is not rendered admirable by, say, my threatening her (or God threatening everyone) should she (or any given person) fail to admire, say, children torturing cats.  Nor are these sorts of reasons relevant to it being admirable to help someone in need at some significant expense to oneself (e.g.).  

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Another issue from Derek’s TCJ, Part 1

1.1(3) (part 1, para. 1, line 3 of Derek Bowman’s “The Circumstances of Justice” 

We owe (or are due) things from each other and there are general principles (of justice) that specify just what it is that we owe to each other.  That the verb here is ‘specify’ suggests a normative, explanatory role:  the general principles explain why each of us owes it to each other to refrain from PHI-ing, but not to refrain from PSI-ing (or perhaps why each of us owes it to each other to refrain from PHI-ing in certain circumstances but not others).  However, one of several to-me controversial things that Rawls’ characterization of justice suggests is that these general principles do not do this work, but rather some slightly different work – the work of justifying the adoption (perhaps the public adoption) of a prescriptive norm (or a nested set of prescriptive norms with a certain structure).  That might go something like this:  each of us is to refrain from PHI-ing with respect to each other person (and all of us is to stand ready to enforce the prescription to refrain from PHI-ing by demanding that potential rule-breakers don’t break the rule and by punishing actual rule-breakers).  On this second way in which the general principles might work, they do something like specify conclusive reasons to construct a particular social practice.   Continue reading

Haidt, The Righteous Mind, ch5&ch6


5.1  WEIRD people (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic people) are statistical outliers in the group of humans – and therefore bad samples for generalizing about the group of humans.  They are perhaps most obviously outliers in that, at least in cases not involving other-harming or unfair action, they resist inferring from feelings of disgust upon considering a social situation to that situation being morally bad or involving someone doing something morally wrong.  For example, they are much less inclined to say that someone having sex with a chicken carcass and then eating it is (universally, morally) wrong.  Similarly for other “harmless taboo” cases.  Therefore, good empirical moral psychology should not sample only WEIRDos (e.g., university students in the United States – hard to get much WEIRDer). Continue reading


David Potts and I are reading, summarizing and commenting our way through Jonathan Haidt’s THE RIGHTEOUS MIND: WHY GOOD PEOPLE ARE DIVIDED BY POLITICS AND RELIGION.  Non-readers are invited to follow along and comment – or better read along as well.  This is an important and good book.  All the cool kids have already read it.  Here is the format:  six weeks, summary/commentary on two chapters each week, David and I alternating.  I’m starting off.  What follows is longer and less simple and clear than I would like, but in the interests of getting things rolling, here we go. 



Haidt presents and marshals evidence against (what was until recently) the predominant “rationalist” view of moral psychology (the study of what moral thinking is like and how it

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We speak as if people have (normative) claims against social institutions.  For example, perhaps I have a claim against U.S. society that it provide sufficient opportunity – access to relevant material and social resources – for me to advance my (reasonable) interests and welfare.  On the other side of the coin, society would owe me this.

What are individual claims against social institutions (or social institutions owing one something or being obligated to do or provide something)?  This, it seems to me, is a good place to start the most general kind inquiry into what social – or more broadly institutional – justice is. Continue reading