Erika López Prater and the Assault on Academic Freedom

I could belabor this case, but I’ll refrain. This New York Times article tells you what you need to know. A summary:

Erika López Prater, an adjunct professor at Hamline University, said she knew many Muslims have deeply held religious beliefs that prohibit depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. So last semester for a global art history class, she took many precautions before showing a 14th-century painting of Islam’s founder.

In the syllabus, she warned that images of holy figures, including the Prophet Muhammad and the Buddha, would be shown in the course. She asked students to contact her with any concerns, and she said no one did.

In class, she prepped students, telling them that in a few minutes, the painting would be displayed, in case anyone wanted to leave.

Then Dr. López Prater showed the image — and lost her teaching gig.

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How to Keep Christ in Christmas: A Parable

A couple of weeks ago, during Advent, I decided to do something ostensibly “nice” for myself. I decided that it was time, despite my newly-found vocation as a perpetually depressed and isolated widower, to get out and do something enjoyable for a change. Music is something I enjoy, and so, I reasoned, I ought to get out and see a musical performance. In grad school at Notre Dame, I made it a habit each week on Sunday afternoons to watch a classical performance that took place right by the library where I did my studies. “Right by the library” literally meant a few paces from the library, so while the concert took place in the middle of the afternoon–premium study time–I couldn’t easily appeal to transit costs as an excuse for not going. Continue reading

Preferential Treatment in the ER?

Today’s New York Times has a well-written, informative, and potentially explosive article, “How NYU’s Emergency Room Favors the Rich.” Here’s a summary, but read the whole thing for the full scoop:

In New York University’s busy Manhattan emergency department, Room 20 is special.

Steps away from the hospital’s ambulance bay, the room is outfitted with equipment to perform critical procedures or isolate those with highly infectious diseases.

Doctors say Room 20 is usually reserved for two types of patients: Those whose lives are on the line. And those who are V.I.P.s.

NYU Langone denies putting V.I.P.s first, but 33 medical workers told The New York Times that they had seen such patients receive preferential treatment in Room 20, one of the largest private spaces in the department. One doctor was surprised to find an orthopedic specialist in the room awaiting a senior hospital executive’s mother with hip pain. Another described an older hospital trustee who was taken to Room 20 when he was short of breath after exercising.

The privileged treatment is part of a broader pattern, a Times investigation found. For years, NYU’s emergency room in Manhattan has secretly given priority to donors, trustees, politicians, celebrities, and their friends and family, according to 45 medical workers, internal hospital records and other confidential documents reviewed by The Times.

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“Cities After COVID”

For your interest: a mini-symposium on “Cities After COVID” in TPM: The Philosophers’ Magazine. Yours truly has a bite-sized contribution about two-thirds of the way down, “The Pedestrian Death Crisis at the Intersection”: hyper-applied philosophy offered pro bono publicum. Thanks to Ian Olasov for putting the symposium together, and to everyone who’s had to endure the traffic/pedestrian safety rants that led to my essay. But don’t stop at that particular intersection; drive through and check out the whole thing.


I think Scanlon’s main thing, his account of moral wrongness, asserts an implausible explanatory relationship. Arguably, it says something like this: morally wrong actions are those actions that would be disallowed according to a principle of public, collective disallowing (“discouraging”) that, if followed, would not result in anyone being wronged (mistreated, abused, etc.). 

This is funny at least because morally wrong actions that are wrongings of persons seem to be morally wrong because the actions themselves are wrongings of persons. Why should something like [the public, collective disallowing of an action] not being a wronging of a person be relevant to the disallowed action being morally wrong?

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Scanlon and “Justifiability to Others”

T. M. (“Tim”) Scanlon is best known for his advocacy, especially in his book What We Owe to Each Other (1998), of the moral theory of contractualism. Contractualism is broadly the idea that morality is based on a social agreement or “contract.” It can in principle refer to any contract-based moral theory, within a certain range to be described in a moment, but in practice it refers to Scanlon’s theory unless the context makes clear that something else is meant. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP) article on “Contractualism” by Elizabeth Ashford and Tim Mulgan says that contractualism is distinguished from contractarianism by being grounded in the equal moral status of persons. Contractarianism, especially of the sort identified with Hobbes and Gauthier and Buchanan, tries to derive morality from an agreement that individuals make based on their own self-interest. A contractarian theory imagines people forming an agreement which each sees as maximizing his own personal self-interest and nothing else, and in particular without regard to the interests of anyone else. By contrast, contractualism imagines that people are deciding mutually agreed-upon principles from a position in which each person accepts every other person as a rational autonomous agent of equal moral importance with himself. Scanlon claims (5) that this conception of the social contract can be traced back to Rousseau.

The key concept of contractualism seems to be justifiability to others. In what follows, I shall explain what “justifiability to others” means in Scanlon’s contractualism and why I think it lies at the root of a serious deficiency of the theory.

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MacIntyre, Individualism, and Modern Moral Philosophy

In 1981, Alasdair MacIntyre published the book that would make him famous (in the small world of professional philosophy): After Virtue. I read it soon after it was published, and it was way over my head. The book promoted the importance of history of philosophy, Greek philosophy in particular, and virtue ethics. Indeed, I believe it was a major stimulus to the revival of virtue ethics in analytic philosophy that took place soon thereafter. I recall it having the status of an “it book.” Still, the book’s main argument was abstract and somewhat obscure, so that although I was eager to be persuaded, I was left feeling that I mainly just didn’t understand it very well. I also figured it was my fault, because I didn’t know enough to comprehend the historical argument.

I still have my original copy of After Virtue, full of my marginal comments and handwritten notes shoved between the pages. But I haven’t reviewed any of it now. Instead, this post is stimulated by my happening upon a brief passage at the end of MacIntyre’s discussion of Joseph Butler in his 1966 book, A Short History of Ethics. This passage presents what seems to me a précis of the argument of After Virtue. It may be that this is not fair. To the extent that it isn’t, then obviously the comments and criticisms I make here will be inapplicable to the argument of After Virtue. That’s all right: the argument given in A Short History of Ethics is interesting in itself and worth commenting on. That will be my task in what follows.

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why (and in what sense) is there always reason to object when there is reason to resent?

Here’s a puzzle. Or at least something that we might want to have a good explanation of. Intuitively, one having reason to have some particular type of attitude (including some particular type of moral, reactive attitude) is tightly, necessarily or essentially connected to one having reason to do things that one tends to do when one has the attitude (or that tend to “go along with” having the attitude). For example, when I have reason to resent you for how you have treated me, I have reason to object to you (or the community at large) for your treating me this way (and also: complain, protest, resist, demand apology, demand compensation, etc.). Plausibly, if it is appropriate for me to resent, then necessarily it is appropriate (in some related way) for me to object (even if, all things considered, I have more reason to refrain from objecting than to object); and, conversely, if it is appropriate for me to object (in the requisite way), then necessarily it is appropriate for me to resent. Yet: we have two distinct responses here, PHI-ing and PSI-ing and, if this is all the information we have, we should suppose that having reason to PHI and having reason to PSI are not connected in any necessary or essential (or even systematic but conceptually or metaphysically contingent) way. Why does having reason to resent have anything at all to do with having reason to object?

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Hart, Nationalism, and the “Invention of Tradition”

After a hiatus of a few months, we’re back to discussing H.L.A Hart’s The Concept of Law in our MTSP Discussion Group, so I thought I’d throw out some ideas I’d had on the past few discussions on chapters 8 and 9 of the book, “Justice and Morality,” and “Law and Morals,” respectively. This post is on chapter 8. I’m hoping to revisit chapter 9 at some point. Continue reading

Desert and Merit (4)

In a previous post, I criticized George Sher’s view that merit-based desert is based on (the recognition of) existing conventions of merit. In these cases, the existing rules are already fashioned to reward merit in a justified way, so that justice (in the sense of rewarding desert) consists simply in acknowledging that a given person satisfies the criteria of merit, and acknowledging that in accepting the convention, we accept the further implication that the person deserves what the rules say they deserve. Continue reading