Can an OUGHT follow from no ISs?

August 28, 2010

Suppose murder just is wrongful killing. Then it seems that Sally ought not murder Bob follows from no premises, the empty set of premises. Trivially, the empty set of premises is a set containing only descriptive premises, in Hume’s sense. But then, Sally ought not murder Bob, a substantive normative claim, follows from a set of purely descriptive sentences. So, you can derive an ought from iss. Take that, is-ought gap.

I have some half-baked potential responses in mind, but let’s see what you think.

Boo Surveys?

August 21, 2010

Brian Weatherson has written a post prompted by the New York Times symposium on experimental philosophy. The post makes a lot of valuable points (the Austin bit is particularly interesting, and not something I’ve thought of), but there’s also a line that touched a pet peeve of mine. So I wrote a comment. Since the line is something I’ve heard around these parts, I decided to reproduce the comment here. Let me know what you think!

It seems that “I like the idea of experimental philosophy, but it just relies too much on the survey method” has become a common refrain in criticisms of experimental philosophy. I’ve always found this line of attack a bit puzzling, or at the very least, imprecise.

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Evidential Decision Theory’s Misstep

August 6, 2010
Lewis 1981 writes:
Within a single dependency hypothesis, so to speak, V-maximising is right. It is rational to seek good news by doing that which, according to the dependency hypothesis you believe, most tends to produce good results. That is the same as seeking good results. Failures of V-maximising appear only if, first, you are sensible enough to spread your credence over several dependency hypotheses, and second, your actions might be evidence for some dependency hypotheses and against others. That is what may enable the agent to seek good news not in the proper way, by seeking good results, but rather by doing what would be evidence for a good dependency hypothesis. That is the recipe for Newcomb problems. (p. 11)

This, I think, is not right. It misdiagnoses evidential decision theory’s mistake. I’ll save what I take to be a better diagnosis for another post. For now, I’ll try to outline a counterexample that shows Lewis to be on the wrong track.

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When does a rule engender an outcome?

August 5, 2010

Say a rule R establishes some outcome O if it explicitly calls for the realization of O. Say R engenders O if the realization of O is merely a forseeable consequence of R. (Cf. Pogge 1989, p. 38) It seems obvious to judge a rule unjust if it establishes an unjust outcome. It’s perhaps more controversial in some cases but not uncommon to judge a rule unjust if it engenders an unjust outcome.

Suppose someone claims that a rule R (and our enforcement of it) is unjust because the rule incentivizes predatory conduct on the part of state leaders under certain domestic conditions C. (Thomas Pogge and Leif Wenar make such a claim with respect to the “international resource privilege”; see Pogge 2002 and Wenar 2008.) Suppose that R induces the predatory conduct only in the presence of C; in the absence of C, no predatory conduct ensues. In some cases, I want to claim that R does not engender the predatory conduct even if it does generate incentives to engage in predation. Here’s the argument.

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