At the Congress

Monday, 3 June: left our hotel early, caught the “complimentary” shuttle and anticipated (incorrectly) that it would convey me to the Congress site at the University of Victoria. Instead, it dropped us at a downtown bus stop where we caught a city bus to UVic. Once on campus, registration was quick and easy and I was able to make it to my first session on time.
I’m here attending the sessions of the Canadian Society of Practical Ethics and hope to live blog all the sessions I attend.

Alex Lenferna:Climate Change and Historic Responsibility: three eras of UN response to CC: mitigation, adaptation, and reparations for loss and damage.

What harms are there? agricultural, political, economic, social, environmental, etc. But hard to attribute causal responsibility.

US is the largest producer of CO2, and ranks highly per capita. Emitted 65000 million tonnes 1800-1990, 58000 tonnes after 1990.
Pledged twice (Kyoto, Copenhagen) to reduce emissions; increased them instead. Fossil fuel industry political contributions increased to $30 million. Despite this, the US still has a moral responsibility to ensure is actions do not affect other nations. Case in point: drought and flooding in Niger. Drop in rainfall; rain is now erratic. Temperature are rising due to anthropogenic climate change.

Where does the burden of proof lie? Should Niger prove that the US is responsible for its woes? Or should the US prove its innocence?

Conclusion: US is culpable; this emergency requires a Kuhnian legal paradigm shift. The population in the Sahel is expected to increase by 600m accompanied by a temperature rise of 8 degrees by 2100.

Comments: Not much detail on what this paradigm shift would look like. And while it’s clear that the US is powerful and rich, while Niger is not (hence supporting at least in part a claim of victimization), the case is perhaps wholly muddied by the fact that desertification in the Sahel antedates by several decades evidence of Climate Change. Still, the UN agreements requiring nations not to harm other nations may prove a critical weapon to force reparations due to climate change.

Melanie Banks: CC and Future People. CC is a problem with huge effects over long periods of time. Collective responsibility iff group “knowingly and voluntarily” harms another, even if victim does not exist.

Future generations (df): extends beyond offspring. Problems of ignorance about future generations, lack of temporal common location.
Three theories:

1. Parental view of the future
2. Future people have rights
3. Responsibility of powerful to powerless

collective action (df):
1. common purpose
2. membership
3. responsibility
4. distribution

harm: harm may be uncertain, to a currently non-existent person, or may only occur in the distant future.

Conclusion: Harms of future people are relevant.

Comments: it’s necessary to take some care to state this thesis in a way that doesn’t render abortion immoral. Still, while it’s true that it’s perhaps impossible to know ow our curent actions will affect future generations, the widespread (close to universal) human inability to suffer losses to benefit future generations may prove the greatest barrier to this argument. After all, if it’s psychologically impossible for communities as a whole to seriously and jointly undertake actions for the benefit f future generations, is it still a moral duty for them to do so?

Christian Dimitriu: Should we honour debts incurred by past governments?

Developing countries are crippled by national debts. African debt exceeds foreign debt by $700 billion. Debt prevents development. Why should governments honour debts incurred by past governments?
James Buchanan says current generations did not agree to past debts, so have no duty to repay them. We not agree to such an arrangement behind a Rawlsian veil of ignorance. But if current generations can repudiate past debts, they can also repudiate treaty obligations.

Analogy: under Roman law, heirs inherit responsibilities from the deceased, just as they inherit benefits. The heir may inherit $100K, but also assumes duty to pay off $60K, for example. This argument is reinforced in those cases where the deceased incurred the debt in part to benefit the heirs.
This is strictly analogous to the role of successive governments, where officials make decisions on behalf of the population as a whole. Conclusion: we are not responsible for debts incurred when an agent acts outside his authority. Or when a lender makes a loan in bad faith, knowing the borrower (or its successors) cannot make repayment.

Comments: Odious debt is obviously a huge concern in Latin American and African nations which have been impoverished, in part, by wasteful governmental borrowing. A second-order reason to support duties to repay might be a pragmatic concern to avoid retaliation by lender bodies.

Jay Drydyk: What is Global Ethics? Two senses of “global”

Descriptive: global in scope.

forward-looking: We need a global ethics to regulate our living “abroad” just as we need a social ethic for living at home. Universal values that apply to all humans.

Hans Kung: common beliefs of different religions is evidence of a common human morality.

Dower: critical endeavour to become clearer about what a global ethic is.

Hutchings: addresses problems due to globalization (e.g., war and peace, aid, trade, development). But this analysis ignores problems not caused by interconnection and
interdependence (e.g., earthquake disasters)

Drydyk: includes ethical discussions of global problems (df) states of affairs that require
cross-border action to prevent, mitigate, or stop.

Two principles of global legitimacy:

1. Global inclusivity: due consideration to everyone’s values and moral thinking, impartiality.
2. Global solidarity: equal consideration for everyone’s well-being and agency.

backward-looking: right prior wrongs

Normative: global in legitimacy.

Afternoon sessions:

Nikoo Najand: Parental Obligations and Adoption.

argues for a pluralist definition of parenthood, based on consent, rather than genetic or gestational criteria. Genetic conditions seem overridden by contract births by surrogate mothers. Social conceptions of parenthood can be too broad, in cases of disputed parenthood.

Pluralist conception: no necessary and sufficient conditions for parenthood. Causal or voluntarist?
Causal accounts would exclude adoptive parents and some forms of pregnancy caused by reproductive technology. And might implicate some doctors as causally responsible. Gamete donors are only responsible to ensure the child gets some home. Hence, causation is not sufficient for parental responsibility. Intention is also relevant (but sufficient??)

Conclusion: voluntarist accounts of parenthood are preferable to biological ones.

Comments: probably the most thought-provoking paper of the day. Najand seems to want to supplant the traditional (biological) conception of parenthood with the adoptive model. But that model requires not only consent, but a test of parental competence. Why not import this standard as well. In conversation, Najand indicated her views on two obvious problem cases: (1) the biologcal father who does not consent to assume parenthood duties. Here, Najand concedes that in cases where the father has taken reasonable precautions to avoid parenthood, he is not liable. But why not use the self-same criteria to prevent female abdication of parental responsibility? (2) the man who consents to parenthood on the mistaken belief that the child is biologically his own.Finally, I asked Najand whether the biological, social, and political facts that confer the burdens of pregnancy, childbirth, abortion, and child-rearing disproportionately on women would force an asymmetric position on parenthood. She agreed that this was an important complication to be addressed in another chapter of her dissertation.

Neil McArthur: Virtual Child Pornography

VCP is illegal in US and Canada.
Community standards (the test of moral legalism) condemns VCP, but moral legalism is untenable. See J.S. Mill, for example.

Standard CP harms children so is uncontroversially wrong. But the harms from VCP is indirect.


1. VCP incites child abuse. But the specialist literature does not demonstrate a causal link. The oft-cited Buttner study showed that some offenders abused children before viewing CP. Similarly, adult pornography is much more graphic and prevalent and yet no corresponding rise in rape.

2. VCP compromises autonomy/rationality. But even if plausible, reduces offender’s responsibility.

3. Soft paternalism: ban VCP to protect our own paternalism.

4. Preventative punishment: creeping moralism.

If pedophilia is a sexual orientation, and sexual orientation is essential to one’s personhood/conception of the good, then the viewing of harmless CP should be legally permissible.

Conclusion: VCP should be banned since it symbolizes a value we want to reject.
Comments: McArthur seems to be confronted by a dilemma on VCP: (1) either we respond to VCP because it is in some way causally responsible for some social harm or (2) because (his preferred position) VPC is an affront to socially held values, independent f any causal harm to children. (2) appears, to me, to be a restatement of Nozick’s idea of symbolic utility.

In conversation, McArthur agreed with a suggestion that McKinnon’s 1980s view that pornography should be condemned because it plays a role in patriarchal oppression of women could be employed in an analogical way against VCP. But this seems another, more sophisticated, version of the causal argument, which McArthur had already rejected because of the shaky evidence for the claim that VCP cases child abuse, and even if it does, to admit this would undermine belief in the autonomy of pedophiles and render them less culpable (“VCP made me do it!”) My response to both objections is to hand the problem over to social scientists. If our intent is to prevent harm, they are better equipped than philosophers to determine how to do so. And punishment could be justified by its role in preventing harm, not by moral desert. So there’s not much work left for moral philosophers to do. And perhaps the existence or extent of human autonomy is better determined by he investigation of the social/environmental/genetic causes of actions, rather than a priori philosophical noodling.

On the other hand, the symbolic argument seems to be a retreat to the now-discredited notion of “community standards”. And it makes me queasy because a precedent of this sort wold allow the victimization of multiple sub-populations whose only offence is to violate community standards (“values”) without harming anything more concrete. GLBTs, mothers who breast-feed in public, polyamorists, nudists, etc have all been subject to this sort of persecution. Now, child abuse very obviously causes harm, but in the theroteical case that McArthur invokes, it’shard to see that the mere consumption of VCP could be blameworthy unless it’s causally implicated with harm to a child – no matter how offensive and repugnant it may appear to the rest of us.

Tuesday, 4 June

CPA symposium on epistemology

Patrick Rysiew: are internalists and externalists talking past each other?

Sosa: defends reflective knowledge over animal knowledge since the former evinces virtue reliabilism. But there are counterexamples: RK can sometimes be unreliable, and AK can be reliable. Still, when reliabilism works, it seems to confer more merit on the agent. Otherwise – if the agent hits on the truth by unguided luck – then, by definition, it’s not knowledge.

Sosa promotes coherence since it yields integrated understanding and reliabilist understanding. But none of this explains why internalist knowledge is is better than its externalist cousin. A suggestion: maybe Sosa and other internalists prefer internalism, not because it ensures that that the agent has access to his/her reasons for knowing, but because they’re worried about preserving the agent’s autonomy.


Yves Bouchard: Second-Hand Knowledge

1. KK thesis (df): S knows that P iff she knows that she knows P. Problem: some forms of knowledge are compatible with the KK thesis; others are not.
Hintinkka: KK thesis is logically equivalent to K thesis.
Lemmon: S knows P does not imply that S knows she knows P.
So (following Hintinkka) the KK thesis is uninformative or (Lemmon) we must reject it. But both responses rely on a univocal definition of knowledge. So we should adopt an epistemologically contextualised definition of knowledge.

M. Kasaki: Unity of Reasons. Practical and theoretical rationality must converge. If S has a reason to believe P, she also has a reason to do P.
Questions: what sort of things are reasons ontologically? What relations obtain between reasons, actions, and subjects?

Wednesday, 5 June

Mike Raven: Vindicating Testimonial Acquaitance
Definitions: to think de dicto about something indirectly via a correct description (e.g., “the tallest spy”)
to think de re about something indendently of any description.

S is acquainted with x iff S can think de re about x.

Conclusion: Sometimes, believers have de re thoughts without phenomenological awareness of them. Example: Landlord wants to evict all tenants, but doesn’t know their identities. So he wants to evict Doris, even though he doesn’t know it. The central question seems to be: what features must a name possess to allow successful reference to an object?

Rima Basu: Practical Rationality and Practical Success.

Standard account of practical rationality is defeated by Newcomb’s problem and the toxin puzzle where an agent will do better at maximizing utility by forming intentions thta violate rational norms. So do we abandon rationality in favour of irrationality or revise the standard account?

Conclusion: It’s not clear that revising the standard account does any better than embracing irrationalism.

Comments: I’m not sure of the value of these sorts of puzzle cases. Basu’s starting point is Nozick’s Nature of Rationality where he doesn’t actually discuss the “nature” of rationality, instead focussing on a normative account of what rationality ought to be. (Se e.g., e Kahnemann and Tversky for the former.) But why ought we to think that consistency in intention or action is the sine qua non of rationality? Surely if in some cases if inconsistent responses achieve better results (e.g., forming intents to perform an action that we know we won’t perform), we should embrace them. But why then do do we value consistency over success in possible worlds that don’t exist?

Hector MacIntyre: Category Cognition and Dennett’s Design Stance.

Design Stance (df): an object “behaves as it designed to behave under various circumstances.”

Objection: people categorize objects by appeal to “essences.” Common features set the essential attributes of natural kinds, intuitions about designer intentions set essences for artifact kinds.

Dennett: people use optimality, rather than intent, to ascribe function to artifacts.

Descriptive: Studies show children much more likely to ascribe function to natural objects/parts. Hence, children much more teleologically inclined. But they can distinguish between intended functions and co-opted functions. Empirical studies show cross-cultural reliance on intent. Desgn stance appears after four years. But theory has some critics.

Normative: The function of the Antikthera device was determined by affordances, since the intentions could not be determined. But the Baghdad Battery affords electricity, even though electricity was unknown. But maybe its afforc=dances are relevant?

Conclusion: perhaps we should restrict the design stance to biological entities, as Dennett intended.

Comments: Maybe some discussion of the system within which the artifact is embdded might resolve the intent/affordances debate.

Luck, Moral Responsibility, and Distributive Justice.

Justice demands equal access to opportunity and requires us to distinguish between lives shaped by choice rather than bad luck. For example, is there a difference between disabilities acquired through genetics, heroic decisions, and foolish decisions? If not, then all such disabled people deserve to be compensated. But given a shortage of resources, we may want to prioritize. Kymlicka argues that individuals self-determine when they are entitled to compensation to avoid the penalty of “shameful revelation.”

Comments: I’m not sure we can differentiate between misfortunes incurred by choice or luck. Sure, there seems to be a clear divide between a disability incurred by heroism (a firefighter, e.g.), genetics, or foolishness ( a stunt motorcycle rider). But imagine a homosexual who is disabled by gay-bashing? Is his condition, even in part, due to his”choices”? Does it even matter whether it was a choice or a matter of genetics or something else? I’m not this question of moral desert can even be answered if we can’t meaningfully distinguish between choice and chance.


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