•  11
    On the desire to make a difference
    with Hilary Greaves, Teruji Thomas, and William MacAskill
    Philosophical Studies 181 (6): 1599-1626. 2024.
    True benevolence is, most fundamentally, a desire that the world be better. It is natural and common, however, to frame thinking about benevolence indirectly, in terms of a desire to make a difference to how good the world is. This would be an innocuous shift if desires to make a difference were extensionally equivalent to desires that the world be better. This paper shows that at least on some common ways of making a “desire to make a difference” precise, this extensional equivalence fails. Whe…Read more
  •  76
    When our choice affects some other person and the outcome is unknown, it has been argued that we should defer to their risk attitude, if known, or else default to use of a risk‐avoidant risk function. This, in turn, has been claimed to require the use of a risk‐avoidant risk function when making decisions that primarily affect future people, and to decrease the desirability of efforts to prevent human extinction, owing to the significant risks associated with continued human survival. I raise ob…Read more
  •  104
    The Hinge of History Hypothesis: Reply to MacAskill
    Analysis 84 (1): 47-55. 2023.
    Some believe that the current era is uniquely important with respect to how well the rest of human history goes. Following Parfit, call this the Hinge of History Hypothesis. Recently, MacAskill has argued that our era is actually very unlikely to be especially influential in the way asserted by the Hinge of History Hypothesis. I respond to MacAskill, pointing to important unresolved ambiguities in his proposed definition of what it means for a time to be influential and criticizing the two argum…Read more
  •  163
    Given plausible assumptions about the long-run impact of our everyday actions, we show that standard non-consequentialist constraints on doing harm entail that we should try to do as little as possible in our lives. We call this the Paralysis Argument. After laying out the argument, we consider and respond to a number of objections. We then suggest what we believe is the most promising response: to accept, in practice, a highly demanding morality of beneficence with a long-term focus. GPI Workin…Read more
  •  257
    True benevolence is, most fundamentally, a desire that the world be better. It is natural and common, however, to frame thinking about benevolence indirectly, in terms of a desire to make a difference to how good the world is. This would be an innocuous shift if desires to make a difference were extensionally equivalent to desires that the world be better. This paper shows that at least on some common ways of making a “desire to make a difference” precise, this extensional equivalence fails. Whe…Read more
  •  196
    This paper aims to open a dialogue between philosophers working in decision theory and operations researchers and engineers whose research addresses the topic of decision making under deep uncertainty. Specifically, we assess the recommendation to follow a norm of robust satisficing when making decisions under deep uncertainty in the context of decision analyses that rely on the tools of Robust Decision Making developed by Robert Lempert and colleagues at RAND. We discuss decision-theoretic and …Read more
  •  229
    I argue that moral philosophers have either misunderstood the problem of moral demandingness or at least failed to recognize important dimensions of the problem that undermine many standard assumptions. It has been assumed that utilitarianism concretely directs us to maximize welfare within a generation by transferring resources to people currently living in extreme poverty. In fact, utilitarianism seems to imply that any obligation to help people who are currently badly off is trumped by obliga…Read more
  •  172
    When our choice affects some other person and the outcome is unknown, it has been argued that we should defer to their risk attitude, if known, or else default to use of a risk avoidant risk function. This, in turn, has been claimed to require the use of a risk avoidant risk function when making decisions that primarily affect future people, and to decrease the desirability of efforts to prevent human extinction, owing to the significant risks associated with continued human survival. I raise ob…Read more
  •  230
    Some believe that the current era is uniquely important with respect to how well the rest of human history goes. Following Parfit, call this the Hinge of History Hypothesis. Recently, MacAskill has argued that our era is actually very unlikely to be especially influential in the way asserted by the Hinge of History Hypothesis. I respond to MacAskill, pointing to important unresolved ambiguities in his proposed definition of what it means for a time to be influential and criticizing the two argum…Read more
  •  225
    How should we weigh suffering against happiness? This paper highlights the existence of an argument from intuitively plausible axiological principles to the striking conclusion that in comparing different populations, there exists some depth of suffering that cannot be compensated for by any measure of well-being. In addition to a number of structural principles, the argument relies on two key premises. The first is the contrary of the so-called Reverse Repugnant Conclusion. The second is a prin…Read more
  •  67
    According to the Asymmetry, adding lives that are not worth living to the population makes the outcome pro tanto worse, but adding lives that are well worth living to the population does not make the outcome pro tanto better. It has been argued that the Asymmetry entails the desirability of human extinction. However, this argument rests on a misunderstanding of the kind of neutrality attributed to the addition of lives worth living by the Asymmetry. A similar misunderstanding is shown to underli…Read more
  •  186
    Given the inevitability of scarcity, should public institutions ration healthcare resources so as to prioritize those who contribute more to society? Intuitively, we may feel that this would be somehow inegalitarian. I argue that the egalitarian objection to prioritizing treatment on the basis of patients’ usefulness to others is best thought of as semiotic: i.e. as having to do with what this practice would mean, convey, or express about a person’s standing. I explore the implications of this c…Read more
  •  216
    I argue that many of the priority rankings that have been proposed by effective altruists seem to be in tension with apparently reasonable assumptions about the rational pursuit of our aims in the face of uncertainty. The particular issue on which I focus arises from recognition of the overwhelming importance and inscrutability of the indirect effects of our actions, conjoined with the plausibility of a permissive decision principle governing cases of deep uncertainty, known as the maximality ru…Read more
  •  195
    This paper considers the argument according to which, because we should regard it as a priori very unlikely that we are among the most important people who will ever exist, we should increase our confidence that the human species will not persist beyond the current historical era, which seems to represent a crucial juncture in human history and perhaps even the history of life on earth. The argument is a descendant of the Carter-Leslie Doomsday Argument, but I show that it does not inherit the c…Read more
  •  27
    Greaves and MacAskill argue for ​axiological longtermism​, according to which, in a wide class of decision contexts, the option that is ​ex ante best is the option that corresponds to the best lottery over histories from ​t onwards, where ​t ​is some date far in the future. They suggest that a ​stakes-sensitivity argument may be used to derive ​deontic longtermism from axiological longtermism, where deontic longtermism holds that in a wide class of decision contexts, the option one ought to choo…Read more
  • Life years at stake : justifying and modelling acquisition of life-potential for DALYs
    In Espen Gamlund & Carl Tollef Solberg (eds.), Saving People from the Harm of Death, Oxford University Press. 2019.
    In quantifying the global burden of disease in terms of Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALYs), we must determine both Years of Life Lost (YLLs) and Years Lost to Disability (YLDs). In setting priorities for global health, many have felt that YLLs should not always simply equal life expectancy at death. To this end, Dean Jamison and colleagues recommend the use of a DALY metric that incorporates Acquisition of Life Potential (ALP). When an individual dies, the YLLs that we would otherwise count …Read more
  •  26
    Population ethical intuitions
    with Lucius Caviola, David Althaus, and Geoffrey P. Goodwin
    Cognition 218 (C): 104941. 2022.
  •  66
    It has been argued that evolutionary considerations favour utilitarianism by selectively debunking its competitors. However, evolutionary considerations also seem to undermine the practical significance of utilitarianism, since commonsense beliefs about well-being seem like prime candidates for evolutionary debunking. We argue that the practical significance of utilitarianism is not undermined in this way if we understand the requirements of practical rationality as sensitive to normative uncert…Read more
  •  73
    Moral demands and the far future
    Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 103 (3): 567-585. 2020.
    Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, EarlyView.
  •  428
    This paper aims to open a dialogue between philosophers working in decision theory and operations researchers and engineers working on decision-making under deep uncertainty. Specifically, we assess the recommendation to follow a norm of robust satisficing when making decisions under deep uncertainty in the context of decision analyses that rely on the tools of Robust Decision-Making developed by Robert Lempert and colleagues at RAND. We discuss two challenges for robust satisficing: whether the…Read more
  •  65
    The only ethical argument for positive δ? Partiality and pure time preference
    Philosophical Studies 179 (9): 2731-2750. 2022.
    I consider the plausibility of discounting for kinship, the view that a positive rate of pure intergenerational time preference is justifiable in terms of agent-relative moral reasons relating to partiality between generations. I respond to Parfit's objections to discounting for kinship, but then highlight a number of apparent limitations of this approach. I show that these limitations largely fall away when we reflect on social discounting in the context of decisions that concern the global com…Read more
  •  181
    The Paralysis Argument
    Philosophers' Imprint 21 (15). 2021.
    Many everyday actions have major but unforeseeable long-term consequences. Some argue that this fact poses a serious problem for consequentialist moral theories. We argue that the problem for non-consequentialists is greater still. Standard non-consequentialist constraints on doing harm combined with the long-run impacts of everyday actions entail, absurdly, that we should try to do as little as possible. We call this the Paralysis Argument. After laying out the argument, we consider and respond…Read more
  •  27
    Contingency Anxiety and the Epistemology of Disagreement
    Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 97 (4): 590-611. 2016.
    Upon discovering that certain beliefs we hold are contingent on arbitrary features of our background, we often feel uneasy. I defend the proposal that if such cases ofcontingency anxietyinvolve defeaters, this is because of the epistemic significance of disagreement. I note two hurdles to our accepting thisDisagreement Hypothesis. Firstly, some cases of contingency anxiety apparently involve no disagreement. Secondly, the proposal may seem to make our awareness of the influence of arbitrary back…Read more
  •  96
    Maximal Cluelessness
    Philosophical Quarterly 71 (1): 141-162. 2021.
    I argue that many of the priority rankings that have been proposed by effective altruists seem to be in tension with apparently reasonable assumptions about the rational pursuit of our aims in the face of uncertainty. The particular issue on which I focus arises from recognition of the overwhelming importance and inscrutability of the indirect effects of our actions, conjoined with the plausibility of a permissive decision principle governing cases of deep uncertainty, known as the maximality ru…Read more
  •  27
    Across eight experiments (N = 2310), we studied whether people would prioritize rescuing individuals who may be thought to contribute more to society. We found that participants were generally dismissive of general rules that prioritize more socially beneficial individuals, such as doctors instead of unemployed people. By contrast, participants were more supportive of one-off decisions to save the life of a more socially beneficial individual, even when such cases were the same as those covered …Read more
  •  180
    Is identity illusory?
    European Journal of Philosophy 29 (1): 55-73. 2021.
    Certain of our traits are thought more central to who we are: they comprise our individual identity. What makes these traits privileged in this way? What accounts for their identity centrality? Although considerations of identity play a key role in many different areas of moral philosophy, I argue that we currently have no satisfactory account of the basis of identity centrality. Nor should we expect one. Rather, we should adopt an error theory: we should concede that there is nothing in reality…Read more
  •  37
    Meaning, Medicine, and Merit
    Utilitas 32 (1): 90-107. 2020.
    Given the inevitability of scarcity, should public institutions ration healthcare resources so as to prioritize those who contribute more to society? Intuitively, we may feel that this would be somehow inegalitarian. I argue that the egalitarian objection to prioritizing treatment on the basis of patients’ usefulness to others is best thought of as semiotic: i.e. as having to do with what this practice would mean, convey, or express about a person's standing. I explore the implications of this c…Read more
  •  85
    I argue that there are cases in which ecumenical expressivism cannot distinguish between endorsement of certain trivial and substantive normative judgments. I consider the extent to which this problem generalizes across different formulations of the ecumenical view. I suggest that we may not be able to escape the problem if we hope to retain the ability to solve the Frege-Geach problem in the way promised by ecumenical expressivism.