Friday, December 20, 2013

My TED talk on moral luck

Here's the video of my TED talk back in October. (Really, TEDxNTU, which is kind of the minor league version of TED, at a local university.) They wanted me to talk about moral luck, so that's what I did. I suggest that consequentialists should address moral luck by judging people's virtue and blameworthiness by their motives, while still judging the rightness of actions by their consequences.

Friday, December 13, 2013

How-in-the-world did they miss that?

The heartwarming story of Being and his friend Tim, brought to you by unusually bad copy editing.
(the typo has since been corrected)

Friday, November 29, 2013

Modal Spice was my favorite

I've updated the wikipedia page on anankastic conditionals so that the example, "If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends", is accurately rendered and properly referenced.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Ernst Zermelo would've commented

What would Bertrand Russell have posted about liking your own posts on Facebook? Perhaps, "I like all and only those posts that aren't liked by their own authors." 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Six degrees of Francis Bacon

If your objection to Lewis' modal realism is that the Chronicles of Narnia are bad fantasy novels, you're probably making an ad homonym argument.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The new poem of induction

If Goodman thought what good men ought,
then for all Hume ever knew
every green he'd ever seen
was a missing shade of grue.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

TEDxNTU talk on moral luck


I gave a TED talk on moral luck Saturday at Nanyang Technological University. Probably the most fun example was about some hypothetical German cannibals a century ago, one of whom killed and ate some ordinary people, and one of whom killed and ate Hitler. They both had the same bad intentions, but on a straightforward consequentialist view (plus a few assumptions about history) the Hitler-eater kind of saves the 20th century. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Joint intention

I'm trying to figure out whether to add a section on shared agency to my book. I'd love to have an example where Harold and Kumar want to smoke together, so when Harold brings the rolling papers and Kumar brings the marijuana, they're acting on a joint intention.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Treating the rear end as a mere means

Kant could hold that actions have immoral worth if they're done from the motive of booty, as the will is then determined by a posteriori principles.

Friday, September 27, 2013

[Null, as limericks typically don't have titles]

There once was a [person] from [place]
Who [had quite an unusual case]
[An attempt to react
 to the ‘forementioned fact]
 [Caused a punchline that fits in this space]

 -Elisabeth Helen Cohen

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Achieving youdaimonia

I kind of like the view that morality is other-regarding, so moral value excludes prudential value. On this view, it's morally praiseworthy for me to accept severe pain to cause you slight pleasure. But it's still better from the standpoint of overall value and prudential value for me not to go through this pain for you. If I accepted this view, my moral theory would be youtilitarianism. (In my own life, the theory of sexual morality it supports is shedonism.)

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Still, inventing the predicate calculus entitles you to call yourself Fr∃g∃

Øystein Linnebo was my logic TA (or TF, as they call it) at Harvard. For years I thought he wrote his name with the empty set symbol because he loved logic so much, until I learned that it was a real Norwegian letter.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Backhanded footnotes

Footnotes saying "I thank an anonymous referee for raising this issue" sometimes make me wonder if the author wants to say, "Look, I know this is irrelevant -- I'm only discussing it because a clueless referee made me."

Monday, May 13, 2013

50 Shades of Grue

The heroine of "50 Shades of Grue" is a masochist before time t and a sadist after time t. I don't like how the book glamorizes treating her sexuality as a property.

(I much prefer this poem about grue love.)

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

At Sheffield

After many drinks, one of the grad students asked me, "What are you, fundamentally?" I said, "I'm a werewolf."

Friday, May 03, 2013

You "...speak for more than one contemporary naturalist"

Somehow I went all these years without reading "Naturalism and Prescriptivity", despite having absorbed a lot of the views and forcefully defended them. I just checked sportswear websites to see how much I'd have to pay for a Michigan football jersey that says "Railton" on the back.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

OUEC moral judgment paper

David Killoren of Coastal Carolina University, who organized a bunch of those split-screen PhilosophyTV and Bloggingheads debates years ago, asked me to comment on a paper for an Online Undergraduate Ethics Conference. The idea was for undergraduates to submit papers and faculty to comment on the best ones.

He sent me a nice paper from Quitterie Gounot of Swarthmore defending a Humean, externalist, and cognitivist approach to moral judgment. Following Peter Railton, I think that's exactly the way to go. There was a nifty point in her paper about the term "prescriptivity", often used as a necessary feature of moral judgment by internalists about the connection between moral judgment and motivation: real prescriptions that doctors give you actually are externalist in the way they motivate action and provide reasons. You can see her presenting her paper and me responding here.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Yongming Han to Brown for Ph.D

I'm really proud of my student Yongming Han, who is defending a Humean account of willpower in his undergraduate thesis, and who has recently accepted an offer to join the Ph.D program at Brown. He had offers from several good Masters and Ph.D programs.

We have a lot of excellent undergraduates at NUS, and Yongming was an awesome example. He read lots of opponents of mine that I hadn't read yet and laid out excellent ways to respond to them, and helped me learn about lots of recent psychological experiments that I didn't know. Working with him was not only wonderful from a teaching standpoint, but a boon to my research. I think he and the excellent people working on motivation and action at Brown will be able to do great things together.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

"Possible Girls" in the Washington Post!

Thanks to Harvard philosophy major and excellent policy journalist Dylan Matthews, who provides a wonderful explanation of my paper at Ezra Klein's blog. 

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Or maybe it was my ontological views?

Two weeks ago I was working on my computer in the airport when a woman pointed in my general direction and said to her friend, "So thin!"

 I thought to myself, "Yeah, I'm kind of skinny... maybe they like skinny guys?" And then I realized she was pointing to my MacBook Air.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Elijah Millgram's paper becomes "Was Hume a Gunman?"

Autocorrect on my new phone was set to change "Humean" to "Gunman". I suppose the Gunman theory of motivation might provide sufficient conditions for when action is motivated.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

2013 schedule of talks

Thanks to generous support from the National University of Singapore (and from my Head of Department, who lets me teach more classes in some semesters to get other semesters off) I'll be traveling through the US, UK, and Australia to give talks on my research in 2013. Between colloquia, guest appearances at classes, and conference talks, I've got 61 appearances scheduled so far. It'll be a great way to get feedback on a book defending a Humean account of motivation (tentatively titled Desire's Explanations) and on a number of papers. This schedule will be updated as I get more invitations and fill in more details.

January 4 - University of California, San Diego - Ethical Reductionism
January 10 - Arizona State University - Virtue and Desire
January 16 - Utah State University - Zarathustra's Metaethics
January 17 - Weber State University - Divine Fine-Tuning vs. Electrons in Love
January 18 - University of Utah - Emotional Perception of Morality
January 25 - University of New Mexico - Zarathustra's Metaethics
January 29 - University of Central Arkansas - guest lecture
January 29 - University of Central Arkansas - Emotional Perception of Morality
January 30 - University of Arkansas, Little Rock - Emotional Perception of Morality
February 1 - University of Nevada, Las Vegas - Emotional Perception of Morality
February 5 - Biola University - Divine Fine-Tuning vs. Electrons in Love
February 7 - Claremont College - Desire's Explanations
February 8 - University of California, Riverside -  Desire's Explanations
February 12 - Old Dominion University - Divine Fine-Tuning vs. Electrons in Love
February 13 - Virginia Commonwealth University - Desire's Explanations
February 15 - University of Virginia - Virtue and Desire
February 21 - George Mason University - Virtue and Desire
February 22 - William and Mary - Desire's Explanations
February 25 - Coastal Carolina University - The Epistemic Argument for Hedonism
February 26 - Coastal Carolina University (class) - guest appearance
February 26 - University of North Carolina, Wilmington - Divine Fine-Tuning vs. Electrons in Love
February 28 - University of Texas (class) - The Desire-Belief Account of Intention Explains Everything
March 7 - Yale Moral Philosophy Group - Desire's Explanations
March 9 - Dartmouth College - Emotional Perception of Morality
March 13 - Williams College (class) - Humean Theory of Motivation Reformulated & Defended
March 15 - Brandeis University (graduate colloquium) - Desire's Explanations
March 19 - Brandeis University (class) - The Desire-Belief Account of Intention Explains Everything
March 21 - Bridgewater State University - Desire's Explanations (properties of desire)
March 29 - Kansas State University (faculty colloquium) - Desire's Explanations
April 1 - Kansas State University (undergraduate club) - Divine Fine-Tuning vs. Electrons in Love
April 2 - Northern Illinois University (class) - The Desire-Belief Account of Intention Explains Everything
April 3 - Northern Illinois University - Desire's Explanations
April 5 - University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee - Desire's Explanations
April 10 - Swarthmore College - Desire's Explanations
April 11 - Franklin and Marshall College - Desire's Explanations
April 12 - University of Pennsylvania - Desire's Explanations
April 16 - University College Dublin - Desire's Explanations
April 17 - Cardiff University - Desire's Explanations
April 22 - Oxford Moral Philosophy Seminar - Desire's Explanations
April 24 - University of York - Desire's Explanations
April 26 - University of Sheffield - Desire's Explanations
April 30 - University of Stirling (undergraduate club) - Emotional Perception of Morality
May 2 - University of Stirling - Desire's Explanations
May 6 - University of Aberdeen - Desire's Explanations
May 10 - University of Edinburgh - Desire's Explanations
May 14 - University of Glasgow - Desire's Explanations
May 15 - University of Nottingham - Desire's Explanations
May 18-19 - Character Workshop - Virtue and Desire
May 23 - University of California, Santa Cruz - Desire's Explanations
May 30 - Portland State University - Desire's Explanations
June 4 - University of New South Wales - Desire's Explanations
June 7 - University of Auckland - Virtue and Desire
June 19 - University of Auckland - Desire's Explanations
July 7-12 - Australasian Association of Philosophy - The Humean Theory of Procrastination
July 15 - Queensland Club - Emotional Perception of Morality
July 25 - Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga - Desire's Explanations
July 30 - Australia National University - Desire's Explanations
July 31 - Australia National University - Unequal Vividness and Double Effect
August 2 - University of Adelaide - Desire's Explanations
August 7 - Murdoch University - Emotional Perception of Morality
August 9 - University of Western Australia - Ethical Reductionism