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A Difficulty Concerning Compensation

We sometimes harm people legitimately, by standing in front of them in the queue at the cinema and buying the last available ticket, for instance, or by acting in self-defense. If we harm them illegitimately, however, we ostensibly have a moral obligation to compensate them for the harm done. And the more we harm them, the greater the compensation that, prima facie, we need to offer. But if the harm increases further, at some point we will need to offer less compensation. Yet more harm, and it is quite likely that no compensation at all will be morally expected. In such situations, the greater the harm, the better off we will be, morally, in one important respect. This is morally absurd but, I claim, true, and it does not appear to have received significant philosophical attention. I explore the issue.


Journal of Moral Philosophy: An International Journal of Moral, Political and Legal Philosophy

"A Difficulty Concerning Compensation", Journal of Moral Philosophy 10 (2013 ): 329-337.

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A Hostage Situation

Moral life sometimes involves life-and-death decisions, and philosophers often consider them by examining intuitions about ideal cases. Contemporary philosophical discourse on such matters has been dominated by Trolley-type cases, which typically present us with the need to make decisions on whether to sacrifice one person in order to save a larger number of similar others. Such cases lead to a distinct view of moral dilemmas, and of moral life generally. The case I present here, "Hostage Situation", is quite unlike them, and should generate intuitions that differ greatly from those brought forth by standard Trolley-type cases. The implications are surprising, and suggest that familiar and widely-prevalent perceptions of the normative field are inadequate.


Journal of Philosophy

"A Hostage Situation", Journal of Philosophy 116 (2019): 447-466.

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A Problem about the Morality of Some Common Forms of Prayer

At a time of acute danger, people commonly petition God for help for themselves or their loved ones; such as praying that an avalanche heading in one's direction be diverted, or that an organ donor be found for one's dying child. Such prayer seems natural and, indeed, for believers, reasonable and acceptable. It seems perverse to condemn such typical prayer, as wrong. But once we closely examine what is actually happening in such situations, we shall see that frequently prayer of this sort is morally problematic. I argue that such prayer ought to be seen as a form of action (rather than, say, mere hope), thereby needing to meet the higher moral standards that apply to actions; and that the assumption of the benevolence of the deity does not suffice to make such prayer legitimate.


Ratio: An International Journal of Analytic Philosophy

"A Problem about the Morality of Some Common Forms of Prayer", Ratio 25 (2012 ): 207-215.

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A Puzzle About Self-Sacrificing Altruism

I present a puzzle concerning individual self-sacrificing altruism (SSA) that, to the best of my knowledge, has not been considered before. I develop an argument that challenges the common sense attitudes towards self-sacrificial altruism in typical, paradigmatic cases. I consider SSA involving sacrificing one’s life for other human beings, focusing, for the sake of simplicity, on saving a single person. We have reasons to think that many paradigmatic acts of SSA may, on reflection, be irrational, that typical moral heroes are mistaken, that dispositional self-sacrificers should perhaps resist their good urges to keep saving people, and that the enchantments of heroism should regularly be resisted.


Journal of Controversial Ideas

"A Puzzle About Self-Sacrificing Altruism", Journal of Controversial Ideas 1 (2021):  10.35995/jci01010007

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Black Magic and Respecting Persons - Some Perplexities

Black magic (henceforth BM) is acting in the attempt to harm human beings through supernatural means. Examples include the employment of spells, the use of special curses, the burning of objects related to the purported victim, and the use of pins with voodoo dolls. For the sake of simplicity, we shall focus on attempts to kill through BM. The moral attitude towards BM has not been, as far as we know, significantly discussed in contemporary analytic philosophy. Yet the topic brings up interesting questions and poses challenges, raising perplexities and occasionally even reaching the level of paradoxes. Ideas of respecting persons, in particular, will be seen to be challenged by this form of magic. The notion of respecting persons will be treated here broadly and pluralistically. Indeed part of the interest in the discussion will be the unfolding of the diverse ways in which this term needs to be understood, and the contrasts between its various uses. Often, as we shall see, respect for persons and disrespect for them, in different senses, will co-exist, and the dilemma will be one where avoiding some forms of disrespect will involve us in disrespect in other senses.



(Saul Smilansky and Juha Räikkä) "Black Magic and Respecting Persons - Some Perplexities", Ratio 33 (2020): 173-183.

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Encyclopaedia of Ethics 2nd Edition

"Blackmail", Encyclopaedia of Ethics 2nd Edition. London: Routledge, 2001.

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Choice-Egalitarianism and the Paradox of the Baseline

Choice-egalitarianism (or CE) is, broadly, a version of egalitarianism that gives free choice a pivotal role in justifying any inequality. Choice-egalitarianism is a particularly attractive form of egalitarianism, for it ties in with the high value that many put on choice and responsibility. I argue that the very emphasis on choice leads to a paradox, which creates severe principled and pragmatic difficulties for choice-egalitarianism.



"Choice-Egalitarianism and the Paradox of the Baseline", Analysis 63 (2003 ): 146-51.

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Choice-Egalitarianism and the Paradox of the Baseline: A Reply to Manor

I made two claims against CE. First, that under careful analysis, CE compels us to bring about states of affairs so unacceptable that the position becomes absurd. By virtue of its very conceptual structure, CE gives us manifestly wrong instructions. Second, that CE?s hope of reconciling a strong egalitarianism with robust personal choice and something like the prevailing market economy is a chimera. Manor?s paper does not dispute my second claim. Indeed, his own claim, that in fact CE leads to something close to strict equality, supports my pessimism about CE?s reconciliation project. My reply to Manor therefore focuses on his denial of my ?rst claim, that choice-egalitarianism leads to absurdity.



"Choice-Egalitarianism and the Paradox of the Baseline: A Reply to Manor", Analysis 65 (2005): 333-337.

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Contribution, Replaceability and the Meaning of Our Lives

I explore some surprising results concerning positive individual contributions, focusing on those made in one's job or in the position one holds. The replaceability of most people on the job or in positions of influence threatens our common sense notion of contribution. Two concepts of contribution are distinguished, and help to limit the sense of paradox, but do not completely eliminate it. The ideal of making a contribution that would not be made were one not to make it is seen as both highly threatening and potentially very important for acquiring meaning in one's life. Finally, some hazards of our conclusions are seen to lead to thoughts about the dangers of open disclosure.



Contribution, Replaceability and the Meaning of Our Lives. Theoria.

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Determinism and Prepunishment: The Radical Nature of Compatibilism

I argue that compatibilism cannot resist in a principled way the temptation to prepunish people. Compatibilism thus emerges as a much more radical view than it is typically presented and perceived, and is seen to be at odds with fundamental moral intuitions. The traditional compatibilist stance, according to which determinism does not really change anything, morally, is thereby 'shown' to be false.



"Determinism and Prepunishment: The Radical Nature of Compatibilism", Analysis 67 (2007 ): 347-349.

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Gratitude: The Dark Side



Perspectives on Gratitude

"Gratitude: The Dark Side", in David Carr, ed., Perspectives on Gratitude. New York: Routledge, 2016.

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Hard Determinism and Punishment: A Practical Reductio

How can hard determinism deal with the need to punish, when coupled with the obligation to be just? I argue that even though hard determinists might find it morally permissible to incarcerate wrongdoers apart from lawful society, they are committed to the punishment's taking a very different form from common practice in contemporary Western societies. Hard determinists are in fact committed to what I will call funishment, instead of punishment. But, by its nature funishment is a practical reductio of hard determinism: it makes implementing hard determinism impossible to contemplate. Indeed, the social practices that hard determinism requires turn out to be morally bad even according to hard determinism itself. I conclude by briefly reflecting upon the implications.


Law and Philosophy: An International Journal for Jurisprudence and Legal Philosophy

"Hard Determinism and Punishment: A Practical Reductio", Law and Philosophy 30 (2011 ): 353-367.

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