"The accident of where one is born is just that, an accident; any human being might have been born in any nation"
Martha Nussbaum, 'Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism' in For Love of Country (Beacon Press, 2002)

Thursday, 31 July 2008

Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society now on JSTOR

The Aristotelian Society is delighted to announce that the Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 1896-2002 are now available on JSTOR.

WTO talks collapse

A couple of good comment pieces from the Guardian's blog site on the collapse of the WTO talks and the structure of the world trade system here and here

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

CFP: Third International Applied Ethics Conference - Hokkaido

2nd Call for Papers
Third International Applied Ethics Conference in Sapporo
21-23 November 2008
Center for Applied Ethics and Philosophy (CAEP)
Hokkaido University

We are delighted to announce the Third International Applied Ethics Conference on 21-23 November 2008 at Hokkaido University, Sapporo, Japan. We invite the submission of papers on the following topics:
Meta-Normative Ethics
Bio/Medical Ethics
Engineering Ethics
Ethics of Science and Technology
Information Ethics
Environmental Ethics
Business Ethics
International/Global Ethics

Confirmed keynote speakers include:
Ruth Chadwick (Cardiff University, UK)
Lee Shui Chuen (National Central University, Taiwan)
Andrew Light (University of Washington, USA)
Michael Seigel (Nanzan University, Japan)

Those participants who wish to present a paper are asked to submit a 300-500 word abstract by 6th September, and a full paper by 31st October to CAEP. All accepted papers are considered for publication in the printed and electronic formats.

Conference Chair: Takahiko Nitta (Director, CAEP)
Program Chair: Shunzo Majima (Deputy Director, CAEP)

CFP: Societies Without Borders

Call for Papers

Societies Without Borders
Human Rights & the Social Sciences

Societies Without Borders is an official tri-annual journal of Sociologists Without Borders, published by Brill. What the world's peoples have in common - not withstanding the borders that divide them - is the aspiration to achieve human rights - the rights to food, housing, health care, education, decent work, free speech, to speak one's conscience, as well as the right to a fair trial, to a safe environment, and the right to peace. What the world's people are beginning to discover is that this aspiration is not only a common one, but it can only be pursued collectively in disregard of the borders that divide people. People may live in societies, derive their identities from their societies, but the pursuit of human rights is pursued and coordinated across borders. The journal, Societies without Borders, aims for high caliber scholarly analysis and also encourages submissions that address pioneering thought in human rights, globalism, and collective goods.
Authors are cordially invited to submit articles to the journal editors Judith Blau and Alberto Moncada, and books for review to the Associate Editor Keri Iyall Smith.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Friday, 25 July 2008

Impartiality and 'one thought too many'

Yesterday I gave a talk within our department to fellow graduate students on the topic of impartiality in moral and political philosophy, and more specifically, on Bernard Williams’ famous ‘one thought too many objection’. I’ve been working on the subject on and off for a while, but this is the first time that I’ve collected my thoughts on the matter into a coherent(ish) whole. Below is a precis of my talk.
The classic problem raised against impartiality is that it clashes with our commonsense understanding of how we can, and should, act towards specific other people, most obvious in the case of friends and family. A crude version of impartial morality requires me to take the interests of my family and strangers to have equal importance, and forbids me from giving special preference to the needs of those close to me. This is intuitively wrong, and so any moral theory that implies such a conclusion must be wrong also. The most common response to this type of objection against impartialist morality is to make a distinction between first-order and second-order impartiality. Brian Barry's argument in Justice as Impartiality hinges on this distinction, in fact, he claims that once we have made it properly, the debate between partialists and impartialists will be neutralised. First-order impartiality refers to the level of action, whereas second-order impartiality refers to the level of principle. Barry argues that most critics of impartiality are directing their attacks at first-order impartiality, when in fact, most impartialists do not endorse this demanding form of impartiality in the first place.
Second-order impartiality demands that principles of morality are justified impartially. For a contractarian like Barry this is done by ensuring that principles cannot be reasonably rejected by any individual. Moral principles that are justified impartially will not necessarily require impartial action - for example, a principle requiring that parents favour their own children over the children of strangers could be justified impartially. What is different about partiality that is impartially justified at the level of principle is that is must hold equally for everyone - so if I think that I am right to favour my own children over those of others then I must recognise that other parents will also be right to favour their children over mine.
Once we accept the distinction between first and second-order impartiality the problems impartialists face do fade somewhat - second-order impartiality is much less demanding and conflicts less with our intuitively valuable personal relationships. However anti-impartialists are still critical. Probably the most famous criticism of impartialist approaches to ethics comes from Bernard Williams. Williams accepts that a second-order impartialist can explain why it is permissible for a husband to save his wife from drowning when faced with a choice between saving her and a stranger. But he argues that the attempt to justify his partiality by reference to a higher order principle is inappropriate, because all the justification that is needed is 'because she is my wife'. Any further justification, such as 'and in these situations it is permissible to save one's wife' is 'one thought too many'.
In the example of saving one’s wife then it seems that Williams is right that further justification is not needed, and that we think badly of someone who offered the further justification without prompting. But this doesn't mean that no justification is provided - by saying 'because she is my wife' the husband appeals to the obligations implicit within that relationship. If a passing alien who had no grasp of the concept of marriage enquired why the husband chose to save his wife over the other casualty then it wouldn't be out of place for him to offer the further justification that Williams wants to avoid. And, importantly, there are some cases in which it is at least an open question whether the husband would be justified in saving his wife over a stranger (if the stranger is someone extremely important to the survival of the human race, say). So we can examine the relationship of marriage and question how much partiality between spouses is legitimate.
However I think anti-impartialists like Williams would respond that this examination, and search of justification of partiality, is itself inappropriate. Natural sentiments and personal relationships are by nature not subject to demands for justification – and if we do so then we threaten the nature of these relationships.
It seems to me that this argument trades on confusion over what is being justified. Williams is right that love itself can’t be justified (and that we shouldn’t try), but this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t justify it when love affects the distribution of goods and resources between people. The distribution of love doesn’t need justification, but the effect that love can have on the distribution of other goods does. When I fall in love with someone I don’t have reasons that are fully spelled out and it would be inappropriate to try and provide them. I don’t have to justify being in love with X rather than Y. But once I am in love with X rather than Y I do have to justify how I allow this to affect distribution of goods between me, X, and Y. If I want to spend all my money on luxuries for X whilst leaving Y to starve then I should justify this to Y, and if I can’t, then I am not free to do so.
It seems likely that ‘I am in love with X’ carries a certain justificatory weight, but also likely that this will be capable of being outweighed in some circumstances. It is certainly the case that I am not justified in favouring X in all circumstances just because I am in love with them – if I am a judge of a competition that X is taking part in then the fact that I am in love with X is not relevant at all. This is an obvious case, and other cases are obvious in the other direction. The one’s in the middle are the ones that we have to think about. So to bring the example of the husband saving the wife back in, he has to justify how he distributes his ability to save people between his wife and the stranger. Given that he can only save one person he is fully justified in saving his wife most of the time. But the fact that this is justified with reference to higher order impartial principles does not denigrate in any way the relationship between the husband and wife.
I have futher thoughts on how relevant the husband's motivation is, and whether it is problematic if his motivation and reasons are in conflict, but I will save those for another day.

CFP: International Theory

Call for papers from International Theory...

International Theory: A Journal of International Politics, Law and

International Theory (IT) promotes theoretical scholarship about the positive, legal, and normative aspects of world politics respectively. IT is open to theory of absolutely all varieties and from all disciplines, provided it addresses problems of politics, broadly defined and pertains to the international. IT welcomes scholarship that uses evidence from the real world to advance theoretical arguments. However, IT is intended as a forum where scholars can develop theoretical arguments in depth without an expectation of extensive empirical analysis. IT’s over-arching goal is to promote communication and engagement across theoretical and disciplinary traditions. IT puts a premium on contributors’ ability to reach as broad an audience as possible, both in the questions they engage and in their accessibility to other approaches. This might be done by addressing problems that can only be understood by combining multiple disciplinary discourses, like institutional design, or practical ethics; or by addressing phenomena that have broad ramifications, like civilizing processes in world politics, or the evolution of environmental norms. IT is also open to work that remains within one scholarly tradition, although in that case authors must make clear the horizon of their arguments in relation to other theoretical approaches.

International Theory invites authors to submit original theoretically oriented articles on the positive, legal, and/or normative aspects of world politics. Because IT is multidisciplinary with a broad intended audience, contributions must be as accessible as possible to readers from a wide range of disciplines and theoretical traditions. Papers that are primarily empirical or policy oriented are not a good fit.

More details and submission guidelines can be found here.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Online Reading Group: John Broome's 'Weighing Lives'

The moral philosophy department at St Andrews are hosting a reading group focusing on John Broome's book Weighing Lives. For those who live near enough there will be physical discussion sessions, but for everyone else there will also be an online discussion forum. The reading group will conclude with a symposium to be held at St Andrews in October. Further details can be found here.

Conference: Human Rights in Theory and Practice

From Public Reason...

Human Rights in Theory and Practice

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations in 1948, and in recognition of the UDHR’s 60th anniversary, the Institute for Law and Philosophy will host a one-day conference featuring panels on a range of philosophical and legal aspects of human rights. Committed participants include Charles Beitz (Princeton), Allen Buchanan (Duke), Roger Clark (Rutgers-Camden), James Nickel (Arizona State), Thomas Pogge (Yale), and Joseph Raz (Columbia/Oxford), with ther additions still to come. Details to follow.
Registration is required, and there is a registration fee of $25 ($10 for students). To rgister, please e-mail and send a check, payable to Rutgers University, to: John Oberdiek, Rutgers University School of Law-Camden, 217 North 5th Street, Camden, NJ 08102.

Monday, 21 July 2008

BPPA Conference

I'm sure that the BPPA won't mind me sharing the news that next year's British Postgraduate Philosophy Conference will be hosted by King's College, London. I'm disappointed that Sheffield has missed out on the opportunity to host the conference, but wish to congratulate King's on their success - I'm sure it will be a great event.

G. A. Cohen Conference

Conference announcement courtesy of the Brooks Blog...

Rescuing Justice and Equality: Celebrating the Career of G.A. Cohen

On January 23-24 2009, with the generous support of Philosophy and Public Affairs, the Centre for the Study of Social Justice will be hosting a conference to celebrate the career of G.A. Cohen, who is retiring after 23 years as Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory.
Over the two days there will be eight papers covering various themes raised by Professor Cohen’s contribution to the field, each given, and commented on, by a colleague, friend, and/or former student.

The full list of confirmed speakers is:

• Professor Richard Arneson (UC San Diego)
• Dr Paula Casal (University of Reading)
• Professor Joshua Cohen (Stanford University)
• Professor Gerald Dworkin (UC Davis)
• Professor David Estlund (Brown University)
• Professor Cecile Fabre (University of Edinburgh)
• Professor David Miller (University of Oxford)
• Professor Michael Otsuka (University College London)
• Professor Joseph Raz (University of Oxford)
• Professor John Roemer (Yale University)
• Professor Tim Scanlon (Harvard University)
• Professor Seana Shiffrin (UC Los Angeles)
• Professor Hillel Steiner (University of Manchester)
• Professor Wayne Sumner (University of Toronto)
• Professor Philippe Van Parijs (Universit√© Catholique de Louvain)
• Professor Andrew Williams (University of Warwick)

There is no conference fee but places for the conference are limited. Please register your interest by emailing Kate Candy: kate.candy@politics.ox.ac.uk. Please state your name, title and affiliation in the email. Further information will be posted online at http://social-justice.politics.ox.ac.uk/events/Cohen/index.asp as soon as it is available.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Future Ethics Workshop

The report from the first Future Ethics workshop is now online here. Future ethics is a workshop series on climate change, political action and the future of the human being held at The University of Manchester 2008-09. The report includes papers, film footage, feedback from group work, and notes from small discussion groups. 

Philosophers' Carnival

Welcome to the new edition of the Philosophers' Carnival. Interest was high this fortnight, with nearly 30 submissions, so unfortunately I couldn't include them all. Sorry to those who missed out, and I hope people enjoy the selections I've made.

Here we go...


Possibly Philosophy sheds light on the Paradox of Rational Believability here, and replies to comments here and here.

Noah Greenstein focuses on the truth aspect of knowledge with A Note on Epistemology here, and his argument is well summarised in a comment here.

Also writing On Truth (and Correspondence) is Movement of Existence who shares his thoughts here.

Finally in epistemology, the well-titled This is the Name of This Blog Bashes Bonjour on Basicality here.

Logic and Language:

Aidan McGlynn at The Boundaries of Language weighs in on Grice and Doxastic Voluntarism here.

Think it Over comments on Quine's discussion of the Linguistic Theory of Logical Truth here.

And finally in logic and language, a fellow Sheffield alumni at Snow is White writes on McDowell's 'On the Sense and Reference of a Proper Name' here.


The Real World writes on Relativity and the Present here.

Roman Altshuler at The Ends of Thought comments on Davidson on Pro-Attitudes here.

And Avery Archer at The Space of Reasons writes on Why-Questions and Minimal Causal Accounts here.


Previous Carnival host Thom Brooks writes at his eponymous Brooks Blog on public service privatisation in the case of prisons here.

The Uncredible Hallq (aka Chris Hallquist) provides an introductory lecture on Consequentialism and the problem of harming one to save many here.


And finally, in the 'other' category we have posts on ranging from Aesthetics to Physics...

Sportive Thoughts seeks to find a definition of 'good' for art here.

Soul Physics tells us How Special Relativity Thwarts Eternalism (and more) here.

The last selection is a musing from The Coriolis Effect on how creative philosophers can be, here.

That's it for this edition of the Philosophers' Carnival, the next edition will be hosted by Enigmania on July 28th. Follow this link to submit to the next edition.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Ban Ki-moon

The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, has written an opinion piece in the Guardian today ahead of the Hokkaido Toyako G8 summit. Read it here.
It's interesting (although not in a good way) to see a reference to Malthusian thinking on global hunger and resource scarcity in such a piece. One would hope that such thinking had been discredited a long time ago.

Philosophy in Schools

Interesting article in today's Guardian urging that philosophy should be taught in schools (read it here) in order to increase pupils' critical thinking skills.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Philosophers' Carnival - Call for submissions

The next Philosophers' Carnival will take place here on July 14th. Please submit entries to the carnival via this link, any topic is welcome!