We are all in this world together

Many people find themselves ruminating on the existence of others, and wishing that they had not been born. This may come about innocently enough, as when one is stuck in traffic and laments that there are so many other drivers on the road to where one is intending to go; but also exists in more ominous form, when people wish that whole groups had not been born or, at least, had not been in one’s vicinity: the poor or the rich, immigrants or locals, people of a certain ethnicity or religion. I call these thoughts "preferences for others' nonexistence" (PON). I show that the Nonidentity problem or effect by and large excludes PON thoughts, showing them to be (given plausible assumptions) irrational, and indeed self-defeating. The self is held hostage by the other. We come to exist together, or not at all.

2020

Iyyun

"We Are All in this Life Together", Iyyun 68 (2020): 85-93.

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.

2019

Journal of Philosophy

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

Punishing the Dead

TBA

2018

Journal of Value Inquiry

"Punishing the Dead", Journal of Value Inquiry, special issue on death, 52 (2018): 169-177.

Gratitude: The Dark Side

TBA

2016

Perspectives on Gratitude

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

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Reflections on Equality, Value and Paradox

I consider two difficulties which have been presented to egalitarianism: Parfit?s ?Levelling Down Objection? and my ?Paradox of the Baseline?. I show that making things worse for some people even with no gain to anyone is actually an ordinary and indeed necessary feature of our moral practice, yet nevertheless the LDO maintains its power in the egalitarian context. I claim that what makes the LDO particularly forceful in the case against egalitarianism is not the very idea of making some people worse off with no gain to others, but the disrespect for value inherent in egalitarianism; and similarly that the POB is a reductio of choice -egalitarianism because of its inversion of the intuitively correct attitude to the generation of value. I conclude that in the light of the absurdity and paradox so frequently lurking in moral and social life, and particularly with the complexity of modern life and obliquity of change, we need to be much more modest than egalitarians have been in putting forth ambitious moral and social models.

2015

Res Cogitans

"Reflections on Equality, Value and Paradox", special issue in honor of Juha Raikka, Res Cogitans 10 (2015 ): 45-60.

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.

2013

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.

Morally, Should We Prefer Never to Have Existed?

We can morally compare possible alternative states of affairs, judging that various actual historical occurrences were bad, overall -- the Holocaust, World War I, and slavery, for example. We should prefer that such events had not occurred, and regret that they had occurred. But the vast majority of people who now exist would not have existed had it not been for those historical events. A 'package deal' is involved here: those events, together with oneself; or, the absence of the historical calamity, and the absence of oneself. So, all considered, ought one to prefer never to have existed, and to regret that one exists? Not in itself, of course, but as part of the conjunction? There seems to be a strong case for saying that morally one must wish and prefer that certain historical events had not occurred, even if that would have meant that one would never have existed. One ought to regret, all considered, that the aggregate state of affairs that includes one's existence is the one that materialized. After setting out this idea, I explore arguments against it, and attempt to reach a conclusion.

2013

Australasian Journal of Philosophy

"Morally, Should We Prefer Never to Have Existed?", Australasian Journal of Philosophy 91 (2013 ): 655-666.

The Paradox of Moral Complaint

In "The Paradox of Moral Complaint" I took up the question whether a person who has wronged others in certain ways may morally complain if other people then harm him illegitimately in similar ways. I argued that there are strong grounds for saying both 'yes' and 'no' here and, therefore, that our considered moral views are paradoxical. In her reply, Talia Shaham disagrees with the no part of my position. She presents two appealing philosophical arguments, and concludes that there is no 'paradox of moral complaint', seeking in particular to defend the unconditional moral 'right' of wronged wrongdoers to complain, as against my claims. I attempt to defend my position against her arguments.

2013

Utilitas: A Journal of Utilitarian Studies

"The Paradox of Moral Complaint", Utilitas 18 (2006 ): 284-290.

The Paradox of Moral Complaint: A Reply to Shaham

In "The Paradox of Moral Complaint" I took up the question whether a person who has wronged others in certain ways may morally complain if other people then harm him illegitimately in similar ways. I argued that there are strong grounds for saying both 'yes' and 'no' here and, therefore, that our considered moral views are paradoxical. In her reply, Talia Shaham disagrees with the no part of my position. She presents two appealing philosophical arguments, and concludes that there is no 'paradox of moral complaint', seeking in particular to defend the unconditional moral 'right' of wronged wrongdoers to complain, as against my claims. I attempt to defend my position against her arguments.

2013

Utilitas: A Journal of Utilitarian Studies

"The Paradox of Moral Complaint: A Reply to Shaham", Utilitas 25 (2013 ): 277-282.

Why Moral Paradoxes Matter: ?Teflon Immorality? and the Perversity of Life

"Teflon immorality'' (or TI) is immorality that goes on unchecked -- the wrongdoing is not stopped and its perpetrators, beyond the reach of punishment or other sanction, often persist in their immoral ways. The idea that the immoral prosper has been recognized as morally (and legally) disturbing presumably for as long as humanity has been reflective, and can be found already in the Bible. The reasons behind a great deal of successful immorality are important practically, but uninteresting philosophically. Sometimes, however, we face events that are more interesting philosophically, and Teflon immorality results from oddities such as moral paradoxes and perversions. These, however, have remained largely unnoticed. I will outline a tentative survey of this topic. After showing its pervasiveness and importance, I will briefly reflect on its relevance to the way we should think about morality and about the means to further it, and confront possible objections.

2013

Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition

"Why Moral Paradoxes Matter: ?Teflon Immorality? and the Perversity of Life", Philosophical Studies, 165 (2013 ): 229-243.

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.

2012

Ratio: An International Journal of Analytic Philosophy

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

On the Common Lament, That a Person Cannot Make Much Difference in This World

In some ways, virtually every individual can make a difference because even the ?small' differences that we can undoubtedly make do often matter, and sometimes our actions can have wider effects. In the larger scheme of things, however, most individuals will not matter much, if at all. I have sought to offer a broad outline of ways whereby the fact (when it is a fact) that one single person cannot make much difference in this world is significant and, surprisingly, in many ways positive. The illusion that it is otherwise can be conducive to our happiness but here the truth also has its benefits. Frequently, our impotence is a piece of good fortune.

2012

Philosophy: The Journal of the Royal Institute of Philosophy

"On the Common Lament, That a Person Cannot Make Much Difference in This World", Philosophy 87 (2012 ): 109-122.