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How can we deal with decision making under ignorance of probabilities when all possible negative or positive outcomes of one alternative are equal to that of the other(s)? I put forth the following example: Let's say that I can choose either to deal with a current personal security matter, which might otherwise bring about death, or to deal with a health issue that, if left untreated, might have the same consequence; and let's suppose that I have no access to the probability of mortality from any problem, nor to the probability of mortality provided that I assess either of them. As I see it, normative accounts for these instances, such as the maximin, minimax, maximax, and Laplace criteria would hold the alternatives to be equally good, as they have the same expected utility. But I am sincerely dissatisfied with the idea of making choices at random, so I want to know what you think. I also see the possibility of the decision making process being tainted by an "anything goes" type of mentality, as coming...

If I understand your question correctly, it's this: in a case where the available considerations don't favor one alternative over another, how can we choose rationally what to do, where "rational" entails that anyone in the same situation (same preferences, values, information, probabilities or lack thereof...) would choose the same way? Unless I'm missing something, you can't choose rationally in this case in that sense. The way you've set the situation up leaves no room for singling out one alternative. One possibility is to add "do nothing" to the list of alternatives. If that's better, or likely better than each of the alternatives, do nothing. But if doing nothing is worse overall, then the obvious question is: what's wrong with picking randomly? After all, picking randomly only in cases where you need to make a choice and there's no principled way to do it isn't the same as thinking that anything goes in any circumstance. That should be clear in general. But an artificial example may help....

Why are non-material objects not causally efficacious? Or, why can’t non-material objects partake in causality? Is there a reason other than simply saying that non-material objects are as such by definition? Thank you!

The first point is that not everyone would accept the presupposition of your question. Most obviously, theists wouldn't. According to many varieties of theism, the First Cause of the material world is not a material thing. Needless to say, not everyone agrees. But you can deny that there is a non-physical First Cause without denying that the very idea is incoherent. There are homelier examples. On at least some views, the fact that something was absent can be a cause. Absences, however, aren't material objects. (In fairness, they aren't non-material objects either.) So the first point is that it isn't simply agreed by the parties to the dispute that only material objects are causally efficacious. We could also add that even among materialists, broadly understood, most would say that events rather than objects are what do the causing, but it's at least arguable that events are in space and time and so even if they aren't material objects , they're physical in a broader sense. The...

It is now known that perpetual motion machines are scientifically impossible because of the Principle of Conservation of Energy. Now, suppose someone is able to create a perpetual motion machine. This would entail that a known law of nature has been violated. My question then is this: should that particular act be considered a miracle?

If someone figured out how to build a perpetual motion machine, this would mean that something formerly but falsely believed to be law of nature would have been found not to be. It wouldn't mean that a bona fide law of nature had been violated. Or at least that's a reasonable thing to say. But I've assumed that God has nothing to do with the Ever-Whirling Whirligig. If there's a God, that complicates things. There's a view that says there can't be miracles because by definition, miracles are violations of laws of nature and by definition, a false generalization isn't actually a law of nature, but that's a poor argument. If there is a supernatural God, then the reasonable way to understand laws of nature is that they're generalizations that hold true without special divine intervention. A good analogy (can't remember who offered it) is that the laws of nature are like the working of a clock when nothing messes with its mechanism. If God messes with the natural mechanisms and suspends them in...

Hi! I was wondering if I could ask a few moral questions related to Brett Kavanaugh. 1. Is it morally bad to profit from a crime; and, if so, why? It seems to me that most traditional moralities seem to proscribe against acts (like "Thou shalt not murder"), and sometimes against the emotional motivation for acts (greed, lust, pride), but that they aren't focused on the consequences of acts. It also seems to me that act utilitarianism wouldn't regard profiting from a crime as bad per se. If anything, the resulting happiness is a good: it's just that it needs to be weighed together with the resulting suffering. 2. In the case of Brett Kavanaugh, let's assume: (a) that he did commit assaults while drunk 40 years ago; and (b) that, after college, he went on to lead an unimpeachable life. In this scenario, would the assaults then constitute a moral reason not to confirm him to the Supreme Court? What does the panel make of the following claims? -- (a) He's a different person now, so there is no moral...

You ask if it's morally bad to profit from a crime. Since the answer seems pretty clearly to be yes, I'm a bit unsure what would count for you as saying why, but let's try an example: Robin's spouse carries a large life insurance policy. Robin kills him—a morally bad thing, I hope you'll agree—and then gets the payout from the policy, thereby profiting from the crime. Sounds bad to me. Consider two cases. (1) someone commits a crime—a theft, let's say— but they do it in order to help some desperate but otherwise innocent person. (2) Someone commits the same crime, but they do it simply because they want the money, which in fact they manage to get away with keeping and using. Most of us would say that the first case is less egregious, the wrongdoer of less bad character, and the act more forgivable. Is there a deeper explanation? More than one, no doubt. If my profit flows from a crime, then I don't deserve the benefit I got, and we care about whether people deserve what they're getting. Also, if we...

Is it ethical to favour one soccer team over another?

The answer is surely that it's not unethical or wrong or immoral to favor one team over another. But there's an interesting issue in the background. At least some views of what morality calls for say that we should be impartial. If I'm a utilitarian, then everyone's pleasure and pain count equally. If I'm a Kantian, then I should act only on maxims that I could will to be universal laws. But in that case, it seems, I can't favor particular people—or particular sports teams. Whether this is really what utilitarianism or Kantianism call for, this would be crazy. It's also an issue that comes up in an important essay by the British philosopher Bernard Williams ("Persons, Character and Morality," 1976.) Toward the end of the essay, he considers a hypothetical raised by another philosopher, Charles Fried. Fried imagines a man who is in a position to save one of two people, one of whom is his wife. Fried is clear that it should be acceptable for the man to save his wife instead of the stranger. But Williams...

Lots of science today (meteorology, cosmology) is based on computer simulation or modeling for those phenomena that are difficult to observe directly. If a computer simulation gives me a result consistent with what we can see (star distribution for two galaxies that collide) can we infer that the underlying process is the same in the simulation and in physical world? The simulation is just numbers (or symbols) input as data about the system(s) modeled. Are numbers the underlying "stuff" of objects, too, rather than atomic particles, etc.?

Suppose that instead of a computer producing a simulation, we have an army of thousands of worker-bee science grad students performing and assembling vast numbers of calculations matching all the steps that a computer simulation would call for. Suppose the results are consistent with observation. We wouldn't ask whether what's being simulated is really nothing but desperate grad students chained to desks doing tedious math. Computer simulations are ways of finding out what our equations and assumptions entail. In an example where it would be feasible to calculate the behavior of the model by hand, we wouldn't doubt that the real target of the exercise is external-world stuff—particles or economic agents or pathogens or whatever. That doesn't change if we move to cases where there's no serious possibility of doing the calculations by hand. The computer simulation doesn't represent itself . It represents what it simulates. If we've done things right, the representation will be more or less accurate....

I recently watched a tv show that produced a line of questioning in my head on the virtue of reality. How do we define reality? What's the difference between reality and a world that is the perfect replication of reality? What would be the difference between the two worlds? Is it truly possible to know when we are living in reality? I guess I'm mostly asking if there is work form past philosophers that I could read on the subject?

A perfect replica of reality would be like reality in all respects. It would contain trees—real trees. It would contain people—real people. It would contain fake butter—real fake butter. And if it were a perfect replica, everything in reality would be in the replica. So in every sense that matters, it would be real. But I have the feeling you're worried about how you can know that you're not systematically deluded or deceived about more or less everything. This was Descartes' question in Meditations . He thought that there was one thing he couldn't be deceived about: that he was having doubts and therefore that he, the doubter existed. From there to anything substantial, like trees and people and electrons and burritos is a long way. Descartes thought that just by reasoning about it, he could prove that there's a God who is not a deceiver, and therefore that even though he was no doubt wrong about some things, he wasn't systematically wrong. Most philosophers don't think his argument was very good....

Do people owe a debt for investments made in them which they never had an option to refuse? Some examples might be: Debt to society for paying for your childhood education Debt to parents for raising you Should it be considered ungrateful for someone to discontinue their affiliation with the investor if they feel that the relationship isn't beneficial to them?

You pose the question twice: first by asking if people owe a debt and second by asking if behaving in certain ways would be ungrateful . I think the difference matters. I don't know whether a child owes a debt to her parents—at least not in a certain strict sense. The primary use of the language of debt deals with contracts, promises and, in any case, cases of mutual consent. There are other uses, but the further they are from the primary ones, the harder it is to be sure of their force. Fortunately, it doesn't matter. Suppose we agree that the child doesn't literally owe her parents a debt for raising her—even if they did it lovingly, conscientiously and well. But would it be ungrateful for her to turn her back on her parents because, say, her new social circle made it embarrassing for her to have these people as parents? I think the answer is obvious enough. Asking what the daughter owes to her parents invites quibbles and evasion. But moral language is broader and more supple than...

We've been pondering the Problem of Evil. How can a good God allow evil to exist? I think the solution is right there in opening pages of the Book of Genesis. According to the Bible, after six days' labor, God needed to rest to regain his strength. When God is enjoying some necessary down time, then evil takes advantage and spreads. Is this a convincing argument?

This argument is a variation on solutions that assume a non-omnipotent God. If God doesn't have the power to prevent all evil, then the fact that there is evil would be no surprise. This version's variation is just that God gets tired and sometimes has to rest. For the moment, leave aside the point that this is far too anthropomorphic a conception of God for most theologians' tastes. And leave aside that at least some theologians would say that anything less than an omnipotent god doesn't deserve the label "God" to begin with. (I'm sympathetic to the first point, less so to the second.) Ask instead what patterns of evil we might expect if we accept this explanation. Suppose there's a flood and people are drowned. Is the idea that if God hadn't been napping, they would have been saved? Suppose some crazy person walks into a school with a gun and kills a bunch of people. Are we suppose to say that they would have been saved if God hadn't been tired? It's probably safe to say that at every single minute...

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