The Cambridge Companion to Utilitarianism
Cambridge University Press, 2014
John Stuart Mill and the Art of Life
Oxford University Press, 2011
“Mill’s Moral Standard”
A Companion to Mill, edited by Christopher Macleod and Dale E. Miller (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2017), pp. 358–373
A book chapter (about 7,000 words, plus references) on the interpretation of Mill’s criterion of right and wrong, with particular attention to act utilitarianism, rule utilitarianism, and sanction utilitarianism. Along the way, major topics include Mill’s thoughts on liberalism, supererogation, the connection between wrongness and punishment, and breaking rules when doing so will produce more happiness than complying with them will.
“The Number of Preference Orderings: A Recursive Approach”
The Mathematical Gazette, vol. 99, no. 544 (March 2015), pp. 21–32
This article discusses approaches to the problem of the number of preference orderings that can be constructed from a given set of alternatives. After briefly reviewing the prevalent approach to this problem, which involves determining a partitioning of the alternatives and then a permutation of the partitions, this article explains a recursive approach and shows it to have certain advantages over the partitioning one.
“Accounting for the Data: Intuitions in Moral Theory Selection”
Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, vol. 17, no. 4 (August 2014), pp. 761–774
Reflective equilibrium is often credited with extending the idea of accounting for the data from its familiar home in the sciences to the realm of moral philosophy. But careful consideration of the main concepts of this idea—the data to be accounted for and the kind of accounting it is appropriate to expect of a moral theory—leads to a revised understanding of the “accounting for the data” perspective as it applies to the discipline of moral theory selection. This revised understanding is in tension with reflective equilibrium and actually provides more support for the alternative method of moral theory selection that has been termed ‘practical equilibrium’.
The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Utilitarianism, edited by James E. Crimmins (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2013), pp. 6–8
“Paradox of Happiness”
The International Encyclopedia of Ethics, edited by Hugh LaFollette (Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2013), pp. 3794–3799
“Rejecting the Publicity Condition: The Inevitability of Esoteric Morality”
The Philosophical Quarterly vol. 63, no. 250 (January 2013), pp. 29–57
It is often thought that some version of what is generally called the publicity condition is a reasonable requirement to impose on moral theories. In this article, after formulating and distinguishing three versions of the publicity condition, I argue that the arguments typically used to defend them are unsuccessful and, moreover, that even in its most plausible version, the publicity condition ought to be rejected as both question-begging and unreasonably demanding.
The Encyclopedia of Applied Ethics, 2nd edition, edited by Ruth Chadwick (Elsevier, 2012), vol. 4, pp. 452–458
“Rules and Their Reasons: Mill on Morality and Instrumental Rationality”
John Stuart Mill and the Art of Life, edited by Ben Eggleston, Dale E. Miller, and David Weinstein (Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 71–93
This chapter addresses the question of what role Mill regards rules as playing in the determination of morally permissible action by drawing on his remarks about instrumentally rational action. First, overviews are provided of consequentialist theories and of the rule-worship or incoherence objection to rule-consequentialist theories. Then a summary is offered of the considerable textual evidence suggesting that Mill’s moral theory is, in fact, a rule-consequentialist one. It is argued, however, that passages in the final chapter of A System of Logic suggest that Mill anticipates and endorses the rule-worship or incoherence objection to rule-consequentialist theories. The chapter concludes by exploring some ways in which this tension in Mill’s thought might be resolved.
John Stuart Mill and the Art of Life, edited by Ben Eggleston, Dale E. Miller, and David Weinstein (Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 3–18
“Practical Equilibrium: A Way of Deciding What to Think about Morality”
Mind vol. 119, no. 475 (July 2010), pp. 549–584
Practical equilibrium, like reflective equilibrium, is a way of deciding what to think about morality. It shares with reflective equilibrium the general thesis that there is some way in which a moral theory must, in order to be acceptable, answer to one’s moral intuitions, but it differs from reflective equilibrium in its specification of exactly how a moral theory must answer to one’s intuitions. Whereas reflective equilibrium focuses on a theory’s consistency with those intuitions, practical equilibrium also gives weight to a theory’s approval of one’s having those intuitions.
“The Problem of Rational Compliance with Rules”
The Journal of Value Inquiry vol. 43, no. 1 (March 2009), pp. 19–32
The problem of rational compliance with rules is the problem of how it can be rational for an agent to follow a rule with a purely consequentialist justification in a case in which she knows that she can do more good by breaking it. This paper discusses two ways in which responses to this problem can fail to address it, using Alan Goldman’s article “The Rationality of Complying with Rules: Paradox Resolved” as a case study.
“Mill’s Misleading Moral Mathematics”
Southwest Philosophy Review vol. 24, no. 1 (January 2008), pp. 153–161
The debate over whether Mill is better read as an act or a rule utilitarian began in the 1950s and has continued ever since. We argue that in certain passages in which Mill initially appears to be endorsing the act-utilitarian moral theory, he is really doing something quite different. Insofar as he is endorsing any particular view at all, it is not act utilitarianism—nor is it even a moral theory. Instead, it is a view about how to assess individual actions that informs, but does not translate without modification into, Mill’s rule-utilitarian moral theory.
“Genetic Discrimination in Health Insurance: An Ethical and Economic Analysis”
The Human Genome Project in College Curriculum: Ethical Issues and Practical Strategies, edited by Aine Donovan and Ronald M. Green (University Press of New England, 2008), pp. 46–57
Current research on the human genome holds enormous long-term promise for improvements in health care, but it poses an immediate ethical challenge in the area of health insurance, by raising the question of whether insurers should be allowed to take genetic information about customers into account in the setting of premiums. It is widely held that such discrimination is immoral and ought to be illegal, and the prevalence of this view is understandable, given the widespread belief, which I endorse, that every individual in a society as affluent as ours has a basic right to affordable health care. But prohibiting genetic discrimination in health insurance is not an effective way to protect this right. On the contrary, I argue that because of the nature of insurance as a product sold in a competitive market, such a prohibition is misguided, and its worthy aims must, instead, be pursued through reforms in our country’s system of publicly provided health care.
“Conflicts of Rules in Hooker’s Rule-Consequentialism”
Canadian Journal of Philosophy vol. 37, no. 3 (September 2007), pp. 329–349
In his recent book Ideal Code, Real World: A Rule-consequentialist Theory of Morality, Brad Hooker recognizes that his theory, like most rule-consequentialist theories, must answer the question of how agents are to resolve conflicts that may arise among the rules his theory endorses. Here I examine Hooker’s answer to this question, and I argue that his answer fails to solve a serious problem that arises from such conflicts.
“India House Utilitarianism: A First Look”
Southwest Philosophy Review vol. 23, no. 1 (January 2007), pp. 39–47
Among the most thoroughly debated interpretive questions about the moral philosophy of John Stuart Mill is whether he should be understood as an act utilitarian or as an ideal-code rule utilitarian. We argue that neither of these interpretations fits the textual evidence as well as does a novel view we call ‘India House utilitarianism’. On this view, an act is right if and only if it is not forbidden by the code of rules the agent is justified in believing to be the one, of those she can reasonably be expected to be aware of, whose general acceptance would produce the most happiness.
“Reformulating Consequentialism: Railton’s Normative Ethics”
Philosophical Studies vol. 126, no. 3 (December 2005), pp. 449–462
A critical examination of the chapters on normative ethics in Peter Railton's Facts, Values, and Norms: Essays Toward a Morality of Consequence. It is argued that Railton’s theory of sophisticated consequentialism effectively handles issues of pollution and moral dilemma that Railton discusses, and that Railton’s more recent proposal of “valoric consequentialism,” if coupled with a non-act-utilitarian standard of rightness of the kind Railton discusses, is vulnerable to objections to which sophisticated consequentialism is immune.
“The Ineffable and the Incalculable: G. E. Moore on Ethical Expertise”
Ethics Expertise: History, Contemporary Perspectives, and Applications, edited by Lisa Rasmussen (Springer, 2005), pp. 89–102
According to G. E. Moore, ethical expertise requires abilities of several kinds: (1) the ability to factor judgments of right and wrong into (a) judgments of good and bad and (b) judgments of cause and effect, (2) the ability to use intuition to make the requisite judgments of good and bad, and (3) the ability to use empirical investigation to make the requisite judgments of cause and effect. Moore’s conception of ethical expertise is thus extremely demanding, but he supplements it with some very simple practical guidance.
“Procedural Justice in Young’s Inclusive Deliberative Democracy”
Journal of Social Philosophy vol. 35, no. 4 (Winter 2004), pp. 544–549
In her book Inclusion and Democracy, Iris Marion Young offers a defense of a certain model of deliberative democracy and argues that political institutions that conform to this model are just. I argue that Young gives two contradictory accounts of why such institutions are just, and I weigh the relative merits of two ways in which this contradiction can be resolved.
“Everything Is What It Is, and Not Another Thing: Comments on Austin”
Southwest Philosophy Review vol. 19, no. 2 (July 2003), pp. 101–105
In his paper defending ethical intuitionism, Michael W. Austin offers a reply to W. D. Hudson’s objection that to say that one knows something by intuition is not really to explain how one knows it at all. I press Hudson’s objection against Austin and argue that the responses suggested by Austin’s paper are either inadequate or unavailable to a genuine ethical intuitionist.
“Does Participation Matter? An Inconsistency in Parfit’s Moral Mathematics”
Utilitas vol. 15, no. 1 (March 2003), pp. 92–105
Consequentialists typically think that the moral quality of one’s conduct depends on the difference one makes. But consequentialists may also think that even if one is not making a difference, the moral quality of one's conduct can still be affected by whether one is participating (even if only ineffectually, or redundantly) in an endeavor that does make a difference. Derek Parfit discusses this issue—the moral significance of what I call ‘participation’—in the chapter of Reasons and Persons that he devotes to what he calls ‘moral mathematics’. In my paper, I expose an inconsistency in Parfit’s discussion of moral mathematics by showing how it gives conflicting answers to the question of whether participation matters. I conclude by showing how an appreciation of Parfit’s error sheds some light on consequentialist thought generally, and on the debate between act- and rule-consequentialists specifically.
“The Toxin and the Tyrant: Two Tests for Gauthier’s Theory of Rationality”
Twentieth-Century Values (Conference on Value Inquiry, 2002, online), edited by Kenneth F. T. Cust
“Should Consequentialists Make Parfit’s Second Mistake? A Refutation of Jackson”
Australasian Journal of Philosophy vol. 78, no. 1 (March 2000), pp. 1–15
Frank Jackson claims that consequentialists should hold the view that Derek Parfit labels the second ‘mistake in moral mathematics’, which is the view that “If some act is right or wrong because of . . . effects, the only relevant effects are the effects of this particular act.” But each of the three arguments that Jackson offers is unsound. The root of the problem is that in order to argue for the conclusion Jackson aims to establish (that consequentialists should not regard the second “mistake” as a mistake), one must presuppose an overly narrow, and hence distorted, understanding of what consequentialism is.
Review of Capital in the Twenty-First Century, by Thomas Piketty
Utilitas vol. 27, no. 2 (June 2015), pp. 254–256
Review of An Introduction to Decision Theory, by Martin Peterson
Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, January 5, 2010
Review of The Demands of Consequentialism, by Tim Mulgan
Utilitas vol. 21, no. 1 (March 2009), pp. 123–125
Review of An Introduction to Mill’s Utilitarian Ethics, by Henry West
Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, June 5, 2004
Review of Practical Rules: When We Need Them and When We Don’t, by Alan H. Goldman
Utilitas vol. 16, no. 1 (March 2004), pp. 113–115
Review of Sorting Out Ethics, by R. M. Hare
Mind vol. 109, no. 436 (October 2000), pp. 930–933
Review of Routledge Philosophy GuideBook to Mill on Utilitarianism, by Roger Crisp; Utilitarianism, by Geoffrey Scarre; and Contemporary Ethics: Taking Account of Utilitarianism, by William H. Shaw
Mind vol. 109, no. 436 (October 2000), pp. 873–879
Review of Ethics: The Big Questions, edited by James P. Sterba
A.P.A. Newsletter on Teaching Philosophy vol. 99, no. 2 (Spring 2000), pp. 273–274
Review of Welfare, Happiness, and Ethics, by L. W. Sumner
International Journal of Philosophical Studies vol. 7, no. 2 (June 1999), pp. 270–272