Intentions and Moral Permissibility: The Case of Acting Permissibly with Bad Intentions

    Many people believe in the intention principle, according to which an agent’s intention in performing an act can sometimes make an act that would otherwise have been permissible impermissible, other things being equal. Judith Jarvis Thomson, Frances Kamm and Thomas Scanlon have offered cases that seem to show that it can be permissible for an agent to act even when the agent has bad intentions. If valid, these cases would seem to cast doubt on the intention principle. In this paper, I point out that these cases have confounding factors that have received little attention in the literature. I argue that these confounding factors undermine the putative force of these cases against the intention principle. Indeed, when cases without these confounding factors are considered, it becomes clear, so I argue, that intentions can be relevant for the permissibility of an act. [Law and Philosophy, forthcoming] [pdf | html]

Featured Articles

Human Engineering and Climate Change

Anthropogenic climate change is arguably one of the biggest problems that confront us today. There is ample evidence that climate change is likely to affect adversely many aspects of life for all people around the world, and that existing solutions such as geoengineering might be too risky and ordinary behavioural and market solutions might not be sufficient to mitigate climate change. In this paper, we consider a new kind of solution to climate change, what we call human engineering, which involves biomedical modifications of humans so that they can mitigate and/or adapt to climate change. We argue that human engineering is potentially less risky than geoengineering and that it could help behavioural and market solutions succeed in mitigating climate change. We also consider some possible ethical concerns regarding human engineering such as its safety, the implications of human engineering for our children and for the society, and we argue that these concerns can be addressed. Our upshot is that human engineering deserves further consideration in the debate about climate change. [Ethics, Policy and the Environment 15 (2) 2012: 206-221, with Anders Sandberg and Rebecca Roache] [pdf | html]

The Buck-Passing Account of Value: Lessons from Crisp

T. M. Scanlon’s buck-passing account of value (BPA) has been subjected to a barrage of criticisms. Recently, to be helpful to BPA, Roger Crisp has suggested that a number of these criticisms can be met if one makes some revisions to BPA. In this paper, I argue that if advocates of the buck-passing account accepted these revisions, they would effectively be giving up the buck-passing account as it is typically understood, that is, as an account concerned with the conceptual priority of reasons or the right vis-à-vis value or the good. I conclude by addressing some of the broader implications of my arguments for the current debate about the buck-passing account of value. [Philosophical Studies 151(3) 2010: 421-432] [pdf | html]

The Loop Case and Kamm’s Doctrine of Triple Effect

Judith Jarvis Thomson’s Loop Case is particularly significant in normative ethics because it calls into question the validity of the intuitively plausible Doctrine of Double Effect, according to which there is a significant difference between harm that is intended and harm that is merely foreseen and not intended. Recently, Frances Kamm has argued that what she calls the Doctrine of Triple Effect (DTE), which draws a distinction between acting because-of and acting in-order-to, can account for our judgment about the Loop Case. In this paper, I first argue that even if the distinction drawn by DTE can be sustained, it does not seem to apply to the Loop Case. Moreover, I question whether this distinction has any normative significance. The upshot is that I am skeptical that DTE can explain our judgment about the Loop Case. [Philosophical Studies 146(2) 2009: 223-231] [pdf | html]

The Right of Children to Be Loved

A number of international organizations have claimed that children have a right to be loved, but there is a worry that this claim may just be an empty rhetoric. In this paper, I seek to show that there could be such a right by providing a justification for this right in terms of human rights, by demonstrating that love can be an appropriate object of a duty, and by proposing that biological parents should normally be made the primary bearers of this duty, while all other able persons in appropriate circumstances have the associate duties to help biological parents discharge their duties. I also consider some policy implications of this right. [The Journal of Political Philosophy 14(4) 2006: 420-440] [pdf | html] [ Related Link ]

A Defense of Intuitions

Radical experimentalists argue that we should give up using intuitions as evidence in philosophy. In this paper, I first argue that the studies presented by the radical experimentalists in fact suggest that some intuitions are reliable. I next consider and reject a different way of handling the radical experimentalists’ challenge, what I call the Argument from Robust Intuitions. I then propose a way of understanding why some intuitions can be unreliable and how intuitions can conflict, and I argue that on this understanding, both moderate experimentalism and the standard philosophical practice of using intuitions as evidence can help resolve these conflicts. [Philosophical Studies 140(2) 2008: 247-262] [pdf | html]

Latest Research

Political and Naturalistic Conceptions of Human Rights: A False Polemic?

What are human rights? According to one longstanding account, the Naturalistic Conception of human rights, human rights are those that we have simply in virtue of being human. In recent years, however, a new and purportedly alternative conception of human rights has become increasingly popular. This is the so-called Political Conception of human rights, the proponents of which include John Rawls, Charles Beitz, and Joseph Raz. In this paper we argue for three claims. First, we demonstrate that Naturalistic Conceptions of human rights can accommodate two of the most salient concerns that proponents of the Political Conception have raised about them. Second, we argue that the theoretical distance between Naturalistic and Political Conceptions is not as great as it has been made out to be. Finally, we argue that a Political Conception of human rights, on its own, lacks the resources necessary to determine the substantive content of human rights. If we are right, not only should the Naturalistic Conception not be rejected, the Political Conception is in fact incomplete without the theoretical resources that a Naturalistic Conception characteristically provides. These three claims, in tandem, provide a fresh and largely conciliatory perspective on the ongoing debate between proponents of Political and Naturalistic Conceptions of human rights. [Journal of Moral Philosophy 9(3) 2012: 327-352, with Adam Etinson] [pdf | html]

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