•  1404
    Sterba’s Argument From Non-Question-Beggingness for the Rationality of Morality
    International Journal of Applied Philosophy 28 (1): 171-189. 2014.
    James Sterba describes the egoist as thinking only egoist reasons decide the rationality of choices of action, the altruist, only altruistic reasons, that each in effect begs the question of what reasons there are against the other, and that the only non-question-begging and therefore rationally defensible position in this controversy is the middle-ground position that high-ranking egoistic reasons should trump low ranking-altruistic considerations and vice versa, this position being co-extensi…Read more
  •  1228
    David Gauthier suggested that all genuine moral problems are Prisoners Dilemmas (PDs), and that the morally and rationally required solution to a PD is to co-operate. I say there are four other forms of moral problem, each a different way of agents failing to be in PDs because of the agents’ preferences. This occurs when agents have preferences that are malevolent, self-enslaving, stingy, or bullying. I then analyze preferences as reasons for action, claiming that this means they must not target…Read more
  •  567
    Preference-Revision and the Paradoxes of Instrumental Rationality
    Canadian Journal of Philosophy 22 (4): 503-529. 1992.
    To the normal reasons that we think can justify one in preferring something, x (namely, that x has objectively preferable properties, or has properties that one prefers things to have, or that x's obtaining would advance one's preferences), I argue that it can be a justifying reason to prefer x that one's very preferring of x would advance one's preferences. Here, one prefers x not because of the properties of x, but because of the properties of one's having the preference for x. So-revising one…Read more
  •  526
    Retaliation Rationalized: Gauthier's Solution to the Deterrence Dilemma
    Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 72 (1): 9-32. 1991.
    Gauthier claims: (1) a non-maximizing action is rational if it maximized to intend it. If one intended to retaliate in order to deter an attack, (2) retaliation is rational, for it maximized to intend it. I argue that even on sympathetic theories of intentions, actions and choices, (1) is incoherent. But I defend (2) by arguing that an action is rational if it maximizes on preferences it maximized to adopt given one's antecedent preferences. (2) is true because it maximized to adopt preferences …Read more
  •  502
    Intransitive Preferences, Vagueness, and the Structure of Procrastination
    In Chrisoula Andreou & Mark D. White (eds.), The Thief of Time, Oxford University Press. 2010.
    Chrisoula Andreou says procrastination qua imprudent delay is modeled by Warren Quinn’s self-torturer, who supposedly has intransitive preferences that rank each indulgence in something that delays his global goals over working toward those goals and who finds it vague where best to stop indulging. His pair-wise choices to indulge result in his failing the goals, which he then regrets. This chapter argues, contra the money-pump argument, that it is not irrational to have or choose from intransit…Read more
  •  395
    While Autonomous Weapons Systems have obvious military advantages, there are prima facie moral objections to using them. By way of general reply to these objections, I point out similarities between the structure of law and morality on the one hand and of automata on the other. I argue that these, plus the fact that automata can be designed to lack the biases and other failings of humans, require us to automate the formulation, administration, and enforcement of law as much as possible, includin…Read more
  •  393
    Susan Okin read Robert Nozick as taking it to be fundamental to his Libertarianism that people own themselves, and that they can acquire entitlement to other things by making them. But she thinks that, since mothers make people, all people must then be owned by their mothers, a consequence Okin finds absurd. She sees no way for Nozick to make a principled exception to the idea that people own what they make when what they make is people, concluding that Nozick’s theory of entitlement must be fal…Read more
  •  376
    If one can get the targets of one's current wants only by acquiring new wants (as in the Prisoner's Dilemma), is it rational to do so? Arguably not. For this could justify adopting unsatisfiable wants, violating the rational duty to maximize one's utility. Further, why cause a want's target if one will not then want it? And people "are" their wants. So if these change, people will not survive to enjoy their wants' targets. I reply that one rationally need not advance one's future wants, only cur…Read more
  •  349
    Ideal Moral Codes
    Southern Journal of Philosophy 28 (3): 389-408. 1990.
    Ideal rule utilitarianism says that a moral code C is correct if its acceptance maximizes utility; and that right action is compliance with C. But what if we cannot accept C? Rawls and L. Whitt suggest that C is correct if accepting C maximizes among codes we can accept; and that right action is compliance with C. But what if merely reinforcing a code we can't accept would maximize? G. Trianosky suggests that C is correct if reinforcing it maximizes; and that right action is action that has the …Read more
  •  334
    David Braybrooke argues that meeting people’s needs ought to be the primary goal of social policy. But he then faces the problem of how to deal with the fact that our most pressing needs, needs to be kept alive with resource-draining medical technology, threaten to exhaust our resources for meeting all other needs. I consider several solutions to this problem, eventually suggesting that the need to be kept alive is no different in kind from needs to fulfill various projects, and that needs may h…Read more
  •  324
    Gerald Vision and Indexicals
    with Julia Colterjohn
    Analysis 47 (1): 58-60. 1986.
    The indexical thesis says that the indexical terms, “I”, “here” and “now” necessarily refer to the person, place and time of utterance, respectively, with the result that the sentence, “I am here now” cannot express a false proposition. Gerald Vision offers supposed counter-examples: he says, “I am here now”, while pointing to the wrong place on a map; or he says it in a note he puts in the kitchen for his wife so she’ll know he’s home even though he’s gone upstairs for a nap, but then he leaves…Read more
  •  285
    Theories of practical rationality say when it is rational to form and fulfill intentions to do actions. David Gauthier says the correct theory would be the one our obeying would best advance the aim of rationality, something Humeans take to be the satisfaction of one’s desires. I use this test to evaluate the received theory and Gauthier’s 1984 and 1994 theories. I find problems with the theories and then offer a theory superior by Gauthier’s test and immune to the problems. On this theory, it i…Read more
  •  254
    Quentin Smith argues that if God exists, He had a duty to ensure life's existence; and He couldn't rationally have done so and made a big bang unless a counter-factual like "If God had made a big bang, there would have been life," was true pre-creation. But such counter-factuals are not true pre-creation. I argue that God could have made a big bang without irrationality; and that He could have ensured life without making big bangs non-random. Further, a proper understanding of the truth-conditio…Read more
  •  247
    Gauthier and Hobbes reduce Prisoners Dilemmas to co-ordination problems (CPs). Many think rational, face-to-face agents can solve any CP by agreed fiat. But though an agent can rationally use a symmetry-breaking technique (ST) to decide between equal options, groups cannot unless their members' STs luckily converge. Failing this, the CP is escapable only by one agent's non-rational stubbornness, or by the group's "conquest" by an outside force. Implications: one's strategic rationality is group-…Read more
  •  239
    David Gauthier thinks agents facing a prisoner's dilemma ('pd') should find it rational to dispose themselves to co-operate with those inclined to reciprocate (i.e., to acquire a constrained maximizer--'cm'--disposition), and to co-operate with other 'cmers'. Richmond Campbell argues that since dominance reasoning shows it remains to the agent's advantage to defect, his co-operation is only rational if cm "determines" him to co-operate, forcing him not to cheat. I argue that if cm "forces" the a…Read more
  •  171
    Partial convergence and approximate truth
    British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 45 (1): 153-170. 1994.
    Scientific Realists argue that it would be a miracle if scientific theories were getting more predictive without getting closer to the truth; so they must be getting closer to the truth. Van Fraassen, Laudan et al. argue that owing to the underdetermination of theory by data (UDT) for all we know, it is a miracle, a fluke. So we should not believe in even the approximate truth of theories. I argue that there is a test for who is right: suppose we are at the limit of inquiry. Suppose that we then…Read more
  •  110
    Autonomous and automatic weapons would be fire and forget: you activate them, and they decide who, when and how to kill; or they kill at a later time a target you’ve selected earlier. Some argue that this sort of killing is always wrong. If killing is to be done, it should be done only under direct human control. (E.g., Mary Ellen O’Connell, Peter Asaro, Christof Heyns.) I argue that there are surprisingly many kinds of situation where this is false and where the use of Automated Weapons Systems…Read more
  •  101
    Prudence and the reasons of rational persons
    Australasian Journal of Philosophy 79 (3). 2001.
    Hume said that the reasons that determine the rationality of one's actions are the desires one has when acting: one's actions are rational iff they advance these desires. Thomas Nagel says this entails calling rational, actions absurdly conflicting in aims over time. For one might have reason, in one's current desires, to begin trying to cause states one foresees having reason, in one's foreseen desires, to prevent. Instead, then, real reasons must be timeless, so that current and foreseen reaso…Read more
  •  100
    The Impossibility of Quine’s Indeterminacy Theory
    Philosophie Et Culture: Actes du XVIIe Congrès Mondial de Philosophie 3 22-26. 1988.
  •  80
    Co-operative solutions to the prisoner's dilemma
    Philosophical Studies 64 (3). 1991.
    For the tradition, an action is rational if maximizing; for Gauthier, if expressive of a disposition it maximized to adopt; for me, if maximizing on rational preferences, ones whose possession maximizes given one's prior preferences. Decision and Game Theory and their recommendations for choice need revamping to reflect this new standard for the rationality of preferences and choices. It would not be rational when facing a Prisoner's Dilemma to adopt or co-operate from Amartya Sen's "Assurance G…Read more
  •  64
    Prudence and the Temporal Structure of Practical Reasons
    In Sarah Stroud & Christine Tappolet (eds.), Weakness of Will and Practical Irrationality, Oxford University Press. pp. 230--250. 2003.
    I reject three theories of practical reason according to which a rational agent's ultimate reasons for acting must be unchanging: that one is rationally obliged in each choice (1) to be prudent--to advance all the desires one foresees ever having (the self-interest theory), rather than just those one has at the time of choice, or (2) to cause states of affairs that are good by some timeless, impersonal measure (Thomas Nagel), or (3) to obey permanent, universalizable deontic principles (Kant). W…Read more
  •  57
    Modality, Mechanism and Translational Indeterminacy
    Dialogue 28 (3): 391-. 1989.
    Ken Warmbrod thinks Quine agrees that translation is determinate if it is determinate what speakers would say in all possible circumstances; that what things would do in merely possible circumstances is determined by what their subvisible constituent mechanisms would dispose them to do on the evidence of what alike actual mechanisms make alike actual things do actually; and that what speakers say is determined by their neural mechanisms. Warmbrod infers that people's neural mechanisms make trans…Read more
  •  56
    Logically Private Laws: Legislative Secrecy in "The War on Terror"
    In Claire Finkelstein & Michael Skerker (eds.), Sovereignty and the New Executive Authority, Oxford University Press. pp. 225-251. 2019.
    Wittgenstein taught us that there could not be a logically private language— a language on the proper speaking of which it was logically impossible for there to be more than one expert. For then there would be no difference between this person thinking she was using the language correctly and her actually using it correctly. The distinction requires the logical possibility of someone other than her being expert enough to criticize or corroborate her usage, someone able to constitute or hold her …Read more
  •  54
    This paper argues that culture itself can be a weapon against the disentitled within cultures, and against members of other cultures; and when cultures are unjust and hegemonic, the theft of and destruction of elements of their culture can be a justifiable weapon of self-defense by the oppressed. This means that in at least some conflicts, those that are really insurgencies against oppression, such theft and destruction should not be seen as war crimes, but as legitimate military maneuvers. The …Read more
  •  29
    Two Gauthiers?
    Dialogue 28 (1): 43-. 1989.
    David Gauthier claims that it can be rational to co-operate in a prisoner's dilemma if one has adopted a disposition constraining one's self from maximizing one's individual expected utility, i.e., a constrained maximizer disposition. But I claim cooperation cannot be both voluntary and constrained. In resolving this tension I ask what constrained maximizer dispositions might be. One possibility is that they are rationally acquired, irrevocable psychological mechanisms which determine but do not…Read more