Top News, Articles, and Interviews in Philosophy

Puzzling Conditional Obligations

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If you make a promise (and haven't been released from it), then you're obliged to keep your promise.  The obligation is, in a sense, conditional. Note that you've no moral reason to go around making extra promises just so that you can keep them.  Keeping promises isn't a good to be promoted in this way.  (We might instead think that keeping a promise is neutral, while breaking one is bad.)It's natural to think that obligations that are in this way "conditional" should mimic this axiological structure: being bad to violate, but neutral between complying and cancelling. For if they were positively good to comply with, that reason would seem to transmit up the conditional and yield us an unconditional reason to get yourself into a position where the obligation (applies and) can be met.With this in mind, the following putatively conditional obligations begin to look puzzling:(1) The obligation of the rich to donate significant amounts of money to charity.Giving to charity is straightforwardly good.  So there's just as much reason to become rich in order to give more to charity, as there is to give to charity once already rich. (I think Peter Unger was the first to make this point?)  For a concrete illustration, suppose a talented young person is choosing between two life paths: (i) a struggling artist earning $40k and donating 10% of it, or (ii) a financial trader earning $500k per year and donating just 1% of it.  People in general will be more likely to condemn the person for "selfishness" if they choose the second path, when in fact it's the more generous of the two. (Suppose that, even as a struggling artist, they could at any time switch to trading and earning vastly more, but simply prefer not so.)The upshot: we focus overly much on actual income, and not enough on potential income, when it's really the latter that's morally significant.(2) The supposed obligation of (well-off) parents to send their kids. . .

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News source: Philosophy, et cetera

Deficit & Dependency II: The Dependency Argument

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In response to the progressive proposals to provide new and expanded benefits to Americans, the right has made use of two stock arguments. The first is the deficit argument, which I addressed in my previous essay. The second is the Dependency argument. The gist of the Dependency argument is that if people get assistance or benefits of a certain sort, such as unemployment benefits or childcare, from the state, then they risk becoming dependent upon the state. Since this dependence is claimed to have negative consequences, such assistance and benefits should be limited or not provided. This can be seen as a utilitarian argument. There are numerous variations of this argument which tend to focus on specific alleged harms. For example, it might be contended that if unemployment benefits are too generous then people will not want to work. As a specific illustration, in  April, 2020 Senator Lindsey Graham argued that public financial relief for the coronavirus would incentivize workers to leave their jobs. Other alleged harms include damage to the moral character of the recipients of such benefits and, on a larger scale, the creation of  a culture of dependency and a culture of entitlement. While this argument is passionately advanced by many on the right, there are two main issues that need to be addressed. The first is whether the argument is being made in good faith. The second is whether the argument is a good one from a logical standpoint. Bad faith argumentation can occur in a variety of ways. One way is for a person to knowingly use fallacies or rhetoric as substitutes for good reasoning. Interestingly, a person can use fallacies and rhetoric in good faith when they do so unintentionally. In such cases, they are using bad logic in good faith. Another way is for a person to use premises they believe are untrue. Naturally, a person can make untrue claims in good faith—they do not realize their claims are untrue. Another way a person can argue in bad faith is to. . .

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News source: A Philosopher's Blog

Bolzano’s Logic

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[Revised entry by Jan Šebestik on October 12, 2021. Changes to: Bibliography] Bernard Bolzano (1781 - 1848), of Italian-German origin, was born and died in Prague. He spent his entire life in Bohemia (today part of the Czech Republic), which remained part of the Austrian Empire until 1918. He studied philosophy, mathematics and theology and became a Catholic priest and professor of the science of religion at the University of Prague. He devoted his life to the reform of the backward semi-feudal Austrian society and of the a priori sciences: logic, mathematics and theology. Because of his unorthodox views on the constitution and the government, he was removed in 1819...

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News source: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

How can we solve the energy crisis and mitigate climate change?

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Symptoms of the looming climate crisis abound: 50-year extreme heat events happening every year, melting of polar ice sheets, forest fires that encircle the globe, tropical cyclones of greater size, intensity and, as was very evident in Hurricane Ida’s recent visit to New York, unprecedented levels of precipitation. These are all expected outcomes of the increasing quantities of greenhouse gases we have been pumping into the atmosphere, and they are going to get worse. Nothing we are doing suggests that we will keep global temperatures within 2°C of pre-industrial levels—a goal of the Paris Agreement. An increase of 2°C would be extremely unpleasant. An increase of 5°C by 2100—predicted by some of the business-as-usual models and compatible with our current trajectory—would be planet-changing. Temperatures will not stop rising just because we have hit the arbitrary cut-off point of 2100, and what may happen thereafter is truly frightening.Solving the impending crisis requires amending our energy choices, but we must appreciate how restricted our options are. Any energy choice ultimately lives or dies by its EROI: energy returned on (energy) invested. A seam of coal might supply a given quantity of energy. Against this there is the amount of energy we must invest to extract it—energy expended by miners, energy put into building tools, etc. The EROI of this coal is the ratio of the energy it yields to the energy we invested in its extraction. Both material and social features of a society depend on the EROI of its energy sources. To maintain a society recognizably akin to ours in terms of its material comforts is estimated to require an EROI in the range 11-14. To maintain a society with some of the hallmarks of successful liberal democracies—high scores on the Human Development Index, childhood health, gender equality, female literacy—may require a societal EROI of around 25.Mitigating climate change while maintaining energy sources with the required EROIs. . .

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News source: OUPblog » Philosophy

Croce’s Aesthetics

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[Revised entry by Gary Kemp on October 8, 2021. Changes to: Main text, Bibliography] The Neapolitan Benedetto Croce (1860 - 1952) was a dominant figure in the first half of the twentieth century in aesthetics and literary criticism, and to lesser but not inconsiderable extent in philosophy generally. But his fame did not last, either in Italy or in the English speaking world. He did not lack promulgators and willing translators into English: H. Carr was an early example of the former, R. G. Collingwood was perhaps both, and D. Ainslie did the latter service for most of Croce's principal works. But his star...

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News source: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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