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Reading Notes

PHIL 440

Table of contents
  1. Utilitarianism
    1. “Welfare, Happiness and the Good”, William Shaw
    2. “Extreme and Unrestricted Utilitarianism”, J. J. C. Smart
    3. “The Case for Longtermism”, Greaves & MacAskill
    4. “Additive Aggregation and The Repugnant Conclusion”, Forcehimes & Semaru
    5. “The Non-Identity Problem”, Parfit
  2. Contractualism
    1. The Structure of Contractualism, Scanlon
    2. “Contractualism”, Ashford and Mulgan (SEP)
    3. “Wronging Future People: A Contractualist Proposal”, Rahul Kumar
    4. “Intergenerational Distribution” (Ch. 4), Finneron-Burns
    5. “Procreation” (Ch. 5), Finneron-Burns
    6. “Population Size” (Ch. 6), Finneron-Burns
  3. Virtue Ethics
    1. “Virtue Ethics”, Julia Annas
    2. “Modern Moral Philosophy”, Anscombe
    3. “Utilitarianism and the Virtues”, Foot
    4. “Meaning and Value Across the Generations”, Scheffler
    5. “Living Well Wherever You Are”, Kenneth Shockley
    6. “Way to Go, Me”, Andreou
    7. “Respect for Nature: Learning from Indigenous Values”, Cuomo


“Welfare, Happiness and the Good”, William Shaw

  • Utilitarianism: morality is dependent on the outcomes of our actions.
  • Consequences are measured by their benefit for humans (sentient creatures).
  • Welfarism: individual welfare should be valued for itself.
  • Alternative human values are good only because they contribute to well-being.
  • Aristotle: life would be vacuous if all good was good because its true good is commuted to some other object.
  • Utilitarians stop the chain of commutation at welfare, well-being: the only thing that is good for people for its own sake.
  • Bentham and Mill: equate happiness with pleasure, unhappiness with pain, welfare with happiness.
    • “greatest happiness principle”

Bentham’s Hedonism

  • Bentham: happiness is the enjoyment of pleasure and security from pain.
  • Hedonistic doctrine: pleasure is the ONLY absolute good; pain is the ONLY absolute bad.
  • Bentham: a crude hedonic calculus?
  • Can we compare suffering?
  • Good is aggregative: we can derive an overall welfare assessment.

All pleasures are equal

  • Bentham holds that all pleasures are equal; there is no intrinsic deviation.
  • Complex activities which engage our minds bring us more pleasure in the long term.
  • Bentham: we can include malicious or sadistic pleasures, but the pain may outweigh it.
  • “Pleasure is pleasure whatever its nature of source”
  • G. E. Moore: it is intrinsically bad to enjoy something evil or ugly.
  • J. J. C. Smart: a universe with a deluded sadist is better than one with a deluded mourner
  • Can pleasure be anti-utilitarian (rest on the unhappiness of others)?


  • Bentham: we should include the pleasure and pain of animals
  • Bentham: the question is not can they reason or talk but can they suffer? (*)
  • Many previous moralists like Kant opposed animal curelty on anthropocentric terms.
  • Bentham believed that we still could kill animals for food.
  • Utilitarian case against eating meat?
  • Narrowing of focus from sentient creatures to humans “affects nothing of philosophical substance”… really?

Mill’s View of Pleasure and Happiness

  • Mill also advocated for hedonism.
  • Mill believed that we could rank pleasures; there are higher pleasures.

Quantity and Quality

  • Appeal to the experience of those who have tried two pleasures of equal pleasure to determine qualitative superiority
  • Kinds of pleasures are absolute: it is better to be a dissatisfied human than a satisfied pig.
  • Criticisms:
    • We do not know if a pig or a fool has a more pleasurable existence than we do.
    • Inferiority judgements implicitly subscribe to broader utilitarian considerations.
  • Does Mill’s discourse on higher and lower pleasures repudiate hedonism? We care about things other than pleasure.

An Expanded Conception of Happiness

  • Mill: A happy life is one with few pains and many pleasures.
  • The utilitarian thesis that happiness is the only intrinsic good does not entail people do not desire anything else for its own sake: people might not ‘understand what is really important’.
  • Happiness is more than the sum of its constituent pleasures
  • When someone comes to value something other than happiness in and of itself, it becomes a principal ingredient to that individual’s happiness: nothing is desired except happiness.
    • However, this seems like defining happiness to be a vacuous truth.
  • Two responses:
    • Sidgwick: no other way to define a coherent and wide theory of happiness.
    • Happiness is closely linked to pleasure.
  • We do not necessarily obtain the object of desire for its pleasure, even though we may be made happy by it.

A Problem for Mental-State Accounts of Well-Being

  • B&M equate well-being with happiness: pleasure in a state of consciousness.
  • Is pleasure an experience?
  • Pleasure is an action one desires to prolong.
  • Classical utilitarianism offers a mental-state account of well-being.
  • We might conceive of other mental theories of well-being.
  • Is well-being entirely a function of mental life? Idealist thesis: what matters is only how things affect our state of consciousness. What about the state of reality?
  • Robert Nozick: technological granted ultimate pleasure. We want to remain in ‘reality’, we do not want interference by ‘artificial machines’. Seems to be but is not really incompatible with mentalism.
  • Questioning the idea that machines can even give us experiences indistinguishable from reality.
  • Is it right to tell the truth to a happily deceived person?

Well-Being as the Satisfaction of Desire

  • Bentham: normatively, people bring about what maximizes pleasure.
  • What matters is that people satisfy the objects of their desire.
  • Economists / game theorists: desires are “preferences”
  • Satisfaction doesn’t mean one feels satisfied: just that what was desired has been obtained.
  • Utilitarianism therefore promotes people getting as much of what they want as they can.
  • Desire-satisfaction is the dominant view of welfare among most social scientists and scholars.
    • Modern economic theory: aimed at utility maximization.
    • It doesn’t tell people what they should or shouldn’t want. (Kind of – this is questionable.)
    • Makes welfare less psychological than a mental-state theory: we can observe that objects of desire have physically been satisfied.
  • Challenges:
    • People’s desires change.
    • Desires may be based on false beliefs.
    • A person’s desires can be satisfied without them registering it.
    • There is no guarantee that I will enjoy the satisfaction of my desire.
    • Suggests the cultivation of easily satisfied desires.
  • Modifications: exclude x undesirable desire
  • There is more to well-being than the satisfaction of desire.

Objective Theories fo Well-Being

  • What should people want, regardless of what they do want?
  • Objective-list approach: well-being is a combination of objectively valuable things.
  • We should understand good normatively, rather than descriptively.
  • Objective-list theorists try to understand what it means for a person to flourish. They make intuitive value judgements.
  • John Finnis: knowledge is intrinsically good for us.
  • Is scientific or theoretical knowledge valuable even when it cannot be ‘used practically’?
  • Lists seem to reflect different authors’ tastes.
  • “Objective-lists” are “subjective-lists”


  • Aristotle: we should assess an individual’s good by the standard of the group “to which they belong”.
  • Full development of human capacities constitutes an excellent human.
  • Nietzsche’s perfectionism: ubermensch, the ideal existence. Questionable value judgements.
  • Problems:
    • How to identify certain traits as ideal? And do humans even have an essential function(s) or a teleology?
    • Loses contact with the goodness of the individual’s life.

Beyond Welfare?

  • Perfectionism breaks with utilitarianism’s welfarism
  • Many philosophers who reject welfarism still hold on to consequentialism
  • Goodness of states of affairs are not functions of individual well-being
  • Is beauty valuable in and of itself if no one is conscious of it?
  • G. E. Moore: isolation to determine value
  • Utiltiarians would argue that isolation tests are really hitting at impact on human beings.

Where This Lack of COnsensus Leaves Utilitarianism

  • Utilitarians judge a person’s life to be morally good, even if the overall welfare level is not very high.
  • Utilitarians aim to increase general well-being.
  • Happiness and mental-state theories emphasize the role of experience in well-being.

New Directions

  • Mix mental-state and informed desire-satisfaction theoreis of well-being.
  • Informed-gratification theory: preferences given full information. Circumvents the experience-machine problem.
  • Happiness: not the sense of being happy, but the long-term quality of living a happy life.
  • Happiness is a matter of life satisfaction.
  • Happiness cannot be a function of conditioning, indoctrination: welfare is “authentic happiness”.

Open-Ended Utilitarianism

  • Philosophers need to draw from human scientists
  • Shortcomings in understandings of what is good pose problems for normative domains like law and economics.
  • Utilitarianism is still viable as an incomplete theory.
  • Utility is complex nad indefinite – Mill

Reading Preparation Notes

Shaw argues that utilitarianism, broadly speaking, is concerned with promoting actions whose outcomes increase well-being. Thinkers have proposed many different understandings of what constitutes well-being, including happiness, pleasure (including repulsive or immoral pleasure), satisfaction of desire, and fulfillment of ‘objective’ collective potential. This disagreement, Shaw asserts, does not render utilitarianism impotent as an applicable ethical theory: there are multiple vectors of development, inside and outside of the site of debate.


  • Pleasure. Pleasure is an individualist mental experience conceptually decorrelated with others’ pleasure. Hedonist utilitarianism is committed to the maximization of aggregated pleasure.
  • Well-being. Well-being is an abstracted conceptual attempt to capture what we might want in addition to or beyond the mental domain of pleasure. Well-being considers truth-hood, material realization of desire, and goodness as a function of entities greater than the individual’s mental states.

Comprehension Questions:

  • What are objections to Hedonism and what alternative understandings of well-being are proposed?
  • How do different utilitarian thinkers approach contexts in which different members of a social group have antithetical paths towards well-being? (That is, one’s pleasure may be at the expense of another’s pain.)

Philosophical Questions:

  • Do theories of utilitarianism need to be descriptively and materially coherent (‘practical’) to truly be normative? In simpler terms: should “should” imply “can”? If the answer is yes, then arguably utilitarian theories which rely upon unmeasurable or otherwise unimplementable ideals should not even be considered ‘real’ normative theories.
  • At the conclusion of the article, Shaw declares that philosophers need to draw from the social sciences to develop substantive ethical theories. A question we might ask in response/addition is: how central is ‘intuition’ to the formulation of (utilitarian) ethical theory – even if it is wrapped in many layers of formality – and to what extent is this ethical and/or moral ‘intuition’ already derived from materiality? Can and do mental states and ethical theories exist in a void? To employ Moore’s ‘isolation test’: are ethical theories themselves ‘inherently’ valuable? To what extent does (utilitarian) ethical theory reflect (and possibly perpetuate) the world it was conceived in, and to what extent does it offer the potential for change?

“Extreme and Unrestricted Utilitarianism”, J. J. C. Smart


  • Utilitarianism: the goodness of actions is to be judged by their consequences.
  • Differences in how we interpret what constitutes an action yields two different utilitarianisms.
    • Action as individual actions. Extreme utilitarianism.
    • Action’s goodness as determined by falling under a certain rule; the rule’s goodness is considered by evaluating the consequences of the rule. Restricted utilitarianism.
  • Different distinction from hedonistic and ideal utilitarianism. Extreme/restricted utilitarianism can be hedonistic or ideal.
    • Ideal utilitarianism: pleasure is not even a necessary condition of the good.
  • Universalization principle: is it good if everyone does it? – hypothetical. Is it that one person’s action causes others to also do it? – causal.
  • Extreme utilitarianism: causal universalization; restricted utilitarianism: hypothetical form.
  • How to approach morality? Not the “milk and water” approach; common morality is superstitious, morally bad, logically confused.


  • Extreme utilitarian: moral rules are “rules of thumb”; rules themselves are not sancrosanct
    • To rescue Hitler or not when he is drowning? We can follow rules and justify trusting instincts
    • Extreme utilitarians may praise actions which we ‘know to be wrong’
    • Extreme utilitarians may choose to follow moral rules because of lack of time, to avoid personal bias, etc. – connection with morality of common sense.
  • Should an extreme utilitarian propagate extreme utilitarians among the public?

The extreme utilitarian, then, regards moral rules as rules of thumb and as sociological facts that have to be taken into account when deciding what to do, just as facts of any other sort have to be taken into account. But in themselves they do not justify any action.


  • Restricted utilitarian: moral rules are there to short-cuit calculations of consequences.
  • Consequences are not relevant in particular cases: only relevant to rules
  • Restricted utilitarianism is “monstrous” – superstitutious worship of the rule
  • When would an extreme utilitarian go agains ta conventional moral rule? “For the greater good”
    • Prisoner’s dilemmas: what is the harm if just I make a change? “A right action may be rationally condemned”
  • What is the duty of an extreme utilitarian in an extreme utilitarian (not a non-utilitarian) society? It is irrational to take the rational choice if you know everyone else will take it.
  • Egoistic game theory does not suffice because extreme utilitarians attempt to derive the best outcomes for humanity as a whole.
  • Rules are not logical reasons; they must be contextualized to determine whether or not they should be followed.
  • Moral rules are rules of thumb only.
  • Conceives of ethics as a study of what the most rational action is.
  • In ordinary language, “right” and “wrong” are associated with “praiseworthy” and “unpraiseworthy”

Reading Preparation Notes

First, Smart asserts two forms of utilitarianism: ‘extreme utilitarianism’ and ‘restricted utilitarianism’. The latter, Smart writes, is appealing because it appears to reconcile utilitarianism with intuitionistic accounts of ethical decision-making. Smart argues that restricted utilitarianism encourages irrational adherence to rules, even in cases where they cannot be argued to serve any purpose except their own existence. Given that Smart views ethics as the study of rational (rather than praiseworthy) actions, Smart believes that restricted utilitarianism fails to live up to its normative ethical promise.


  • Extreme utilitarianism. A utilitarian perspective which advocates that rules are merely guidelines and may be violated if the consequences of doing so are favorable. Extreme utilitarianism views rules as potentially useful mechanisms for making quick or less biased ethical decisions in service of a more fundamental entity (preferable outcomes/consequences).
  • Restricted utilitarianism. A utilitarian perspective which views rules as strict requirements, to which individual actions must abide by. The rules themselves are subjected generally to a consequentialist judgment.

Comprehension Questions

  • How does Smart address Prisoner’s Dilemma-type problems with extreme utilitarianism and how does his conception of rationality differ from the classical individualist account of rationality employed by “egoistic” game theory?
  • To what extent does the restricted utilitarian believe in the absolute nature of rules? Can restricted utilitarianism be viewed as a modification of extreme utilitarianism in which the unit of agency is relocated from the individual (individuals make decisions depending on the estimated consequences in extreme utilitarianism) to the team (all individuals abide by the same rules), and if so, to what extent are they fundamentally different?(Smart does not give very much real estate towards the justification of restricted utilitarianism, so this point is unclear to me.)

Philosophical Questions

  • Throughout the piece, Smart writes about the ‘common man’ as influenced by idealistic worship and pursuing praiseworthiness rather than rationality. That is, the practice of restricted utilitarianism contains an irreducible kernel of unquestionable faith or adherence to a rule. One may ask to what extent all ethical judgements, and perhaps even all philosophical statements, contain this irreducible kernel.
  • What is the metaphysical or ontological status of a rule? Are rules ‘real’, and who is responsible for enforcing them? Are all rules derivatives of ‘natural rules’, and who or what (Nature, God, …) creates these ‘natural rules’?

“The Case for Longtermism”, Greaves & MacAskill


  • Just how early are we in the history of civilization?
  • Most political discussions are centered on the now.
  • Longtermism: ensuring the far future goes well, and that it is the most important feature of our contemporary decisions.

Precisifying strong longtermism

  • Axiological strong longtermism (ASL): far-future effects are the most important determinant of what we ought to do.
    • Every option that is near-best overall is near-best for the far future.
    • Every option that is near-best overall delivers much larger benefits in the far future than in the near future
  • ASL is not concerned with objective value of options and actual effects: rather, focused with predictions.
  • ASL only makes comparative claims
  • Benefit Ratio (BR): The highest far-future ex ante benefits that are attainable without net near-future harm are many times greater than the highest attainable near-future ex ante benefits.
  • Open-minded philanthropist: not limited. Axiological longtermism: the highest-expected value options come from effects more than 100, 1000, etc. years in the future.

A plausibility argument for axiological longtermism

  • The size of the future, potentially enormous numbers of future people and other bearers of moral status.
  • If you want to evaluate long term vs short term answers, you need to consider the long term effects.
  • Most entities which control resources pick short-term over long-term low-hanging fruit.
  • Axiological longermism is true.

Empirical objection

  • There could be complete causal disconnection between the short term and the long term.
  • Washing-out hypotheses: the magnitude of average effects of one’s actions decays over time
  • Extinction risk mitigation – totalism: complete well-being. Premature human extinction as very bad. Anything to reduce extinction risk could save more lives than aleviating poverty in the near term.
  • Increases the general well-being of the future by speeding up progress or changing the trajectory of progress.
  • Speeding up progress: humanity is on upward trajectory. Does longtermism follow? Dependent on the shape of the trajectory.
  • Trajectory changes. Attractor states – moments of temporal gravity. Some political arrangements, agents, climates, value-systems

Axiological objections

  • Population axiology
    • Totalism is controversial because it treats currently existing people the same as creating new lives.
    • Interventions to improve general future well-being: population axiology will agree that the proposition is valuable
  • Discounting future welfare
    • Dampens the important of the future
    • Longtermism is false given future-discounting utilitarianism
    • It is not appropriate to discount future lives in this way – appeals to consensus among moral philosophers
  • Non-aggregationism
    • Utilitarianism aggregates well-being across individuals
    • Ex post (possible effects) or ex ante (effect on expected welfare)
  • Is it immoral to consider indirect effects?

Deontic longtermism

  • Consider someone who doesn’t have the explicit goal of longtermism.
  • Move towards larger scale organizing boies: result becomes more storngly consequentialist

The scope of longtermism

  • Fixed-cause area philanthropy – what should we do within a cause area
  • Career choice

Summary and conclusion

  • Axiological longtermism: main question is an empirical one. Is understanding the future sufficiently tractable?
  • Invest resources into research to understand tractability in the first place
  • Most of longtermism does not presuppose totalism or utilitarianism

Reading Notes

Greaves argues for axiological longtermism, an ethical position in which actions which maximize long-term should be pursued over those which only maximize short-term benefits, because the ‘size’ (given by the quantity of beings with moral status) of the far future is much larger than that of the near future. The truthhood of axiological longtermism, Greaves asserts, is not deterred by the empirical or axiological objections.

Terms and Concepts

  • Empirical objection. A category of arguments against axiological longtermism which object to its assumptions on how the near- and far-future behave – for instance, that one’s present actions have decaying or negligible causal influence on the long-term, or that it is intractable to even evaluate such causal influences. Greaves responds by asserting that there are plausible pathways towards changing the world trajectory by shifting the world from one attractor state to another.
  • Axiological objection. A category of arguments against axiological longtermism which object to various aspects of its utilitarianism, such as the equation of a small quantity of high-magnitude utility with a high quantity of low-magnitude utility or the aggregation of utility itself. Greaves responds by either asserting that the targets of such objections are not structural to axiological longtermism or that such objections are not strictly relevant to axiological longtermism, although they may concern other forms of longtermism.

Comprehension Questions

  • Greaves asserts that the non-aggregationism is a valid objection against longtermism, but that it targets deontic rather than axiological longtermism. Why exactly is non-aggregationism a matter of choice rather than of outcomes? What is choice but comparison of outcomes? Is this property Greave’s interpretation or inherent to the formulation of non-aggregationism?
  • Exactly why is discounting future welfare generally regarded as an incorrect approach by moral philosophers, and is this appeal to consensus a philosophically sound way to address this objection?

Philosophical Questions

  • Given the scarcity of resources, does longtermism deprive the presently oppressed of the means of existence in the name of maximizing the existence and utility of future beings? If this is so, does longtermism participate in an implicit eugenics campaign?
  • Axiological longtermism rests on the assumption that we care about the well-being of future beings, but why should we believe so? How might axiological longtermism reconcile itself with anti-natalist arguments?

“Additive Aggregation and The Repugnant Conclusion”, Forcehimes & Semaru


  • To evaluate a group of outcomes, we can not just have knowledge of individual goodness: we need a combinatorial principle.
  • Additive aggregation: the overall value of a complete system is the sum of its individual goodnesses.
  • Modeling worlds: individual well-being comes at the cost of population size.
  • Repugnant conclusion: additive aggregation makes it such that a world with a large number of moral beings with poor lives is better than a world with a small number of moral beings with good lives.

The Argument from the Repugnant Conclusion

  • Welfarism: all episodes of well-being are basically good.
  • Welfarism does not force us to arrive at the RC. Equal amounts of well-being are not all equally basically good.
  • Proportionalism: the basic goodness of well-being is dependent on its relative reception by the subject.
  • The goodness of a complete state of affairs, under the repugnant conclusion, becomes strictly proportional to the total amount of welfare.
  • If the repugnant conclusion is false, then either welfarism, proportionalism, or additive aggregation is false.

The Argument against Additive Aggregation

  • Positive lives are good: if well-being exceeds ill-being, then one’s existence is good.
  • Additive aggregation and positive lives are good arrive at the repugnant conclusion.

The Argument to Accept Repugnance

  • Those who deny the repugnant conclusion must also deny additive aggregation.
  • What are alternatives to additive aggregation?
  • Average view: improve the average state of living. – avoids the repugnant conclusion. However, it does not take into account population size. World A and populous-World A are equally good.
  • Average view must deny that more intrinsic goods are better
  • Lexical view: the overall value of a complete system cannot be evaluated on a numerical scale. – avoids the repugnant conclusion.
    • There are different natures to goodness and badness: lollipops and falling in love, both are good but no amount of lollipops will be as good as the good of falling in love.
    • Lexical view denies the positive life continuity: contribution of each life may not be comparable. But the positive life continuity seems to be necessarily true for gradually decreasing worlds/goods.
    • Lexical dominance requires a critical radical break
  • The argument to accept repugnance?

The Argument for the Unreliability of Repugnance

  • The Repugnant Conclusion is certainly unwelcome: but is our resistance justified?
  • Are our lives like those on World-Z?
  • We should not have reason to trust our intuition on the morality of the repugnant conclusion.
  • The argument for the unreliability of repugnance


  • Additive Aggregation at the root of the Repugnant Conclusion

As the passage suggests, the rejection of Positive Life Continuity depends on the plausibility of a nonmonistic theory of welfare with incomparable goods. But is such a position defensible?


Forcehimes and Semaru present the Repugnant Conclusion as the assertion that any quantity of people with high quality of life can be outweighed in goodness by a sufficiently larger quantity of people with very low but positive quality of life. They argue that if we accept Additive Aggregation, we must also accept the Repugnant Conclusion. However, alternatives to Additive Aggregation which evade the Repugnant Conclusion force us to accept similarly unintuitive assertions. Lastly, Forcehimes and Semaru speculate that we may not be justified in our reluctance to accept the Repugnant Conclusion.

Terms and Concepts:

  • Additive Aggregation. The assertion that the value of a system can be quantitatively determined by summing individual positive or negative values. Importantly, Additive Aggregation rejects the lexical position that there are different untraversable types of good and maps all good on a single continuous scale.
  • Positive Life Continuity. The assertion that sufficiently high quantity of low-welfare lives can always result in a better net goodness than a single high-welfare life. Positive Life Continuity is the core logic of Additive Aggregation and is rejected by the lexical view.

Comprehension Questions

  • How do Forcehimes and Semaru infer from proportionalism that each unit of well-being on a world is equal to a unit of ‘basic goodness’ when proportionalism asserts that the goodness of well-being is dependent on the good it provides for its subject and therefore a relative entity? Is the act of asserting goodness in terms of fundamental units already doing ‘part of the work’ of an aggregative/combinatory principle?

Philosophical Questions

  • Is it justified to accept a problematic ethical principle if it is the least problematic of ethical principles we can accept? Are we obligated to accept Additive Aggregation because it is arguably optimal compared to averaging or the lexical view, even though it results in the Repugnant Conclusion? If not, then many of the arguments throughout the text which rely upon acceptance of the optimal proposition may not be sound.
  • The implicit premise throughout the exploration of Additive Aggregation is that, in the context of moral determination, it acts upon individuals as the core unit of goodness-experiences. Is it possible, however, to apply Additive Aggregation to different units of goodness-experiences, such as families, nations, and body parts, and does such an application contradict with or support an application of Additive Aggregation to individuals?

“The Non-Identity Problem”, Parfit

  • Each of us may never have existed – how do we understand our identity, and future identities?

How our identity in fact depends on when we were conceived

  • Time-dependence claim: if any particular person had not been conceived when he was conceived, it is ‘in fact’ true that he would never have existed.
  • The TDC is not true – it is a reductionist view about personal identity: not about personal identity through time, but identity in different possible histories.
  • It is not true that questions of identity must be answered in a binary fashion. Identity may be indeterminate.
  • TD2: If any particular person had not been conceived within a month of the time when he was in fact conceived, he would in fact never have existed.
    • In fact true, but not necessarily true
  • \(P\): a distinctive and necessary property.
    • Origin View: each person has a \(P\) – growing from a particular pair of cells. But fails to account for identical twins. Compatible with TD2.
    • Featureless Carteisan View: individuals are particular Cartesian Egos with no \(P\)s.
    • Descriptive View: each person has several \(P\)s, but do not include the origin view.
    • Descriptive Name View: each person’s name is associated with particular \(P\)s.
    • Backward Variation View: reference does not need to be the point of origin, but to any point in a person’s life – and maybe we have a different origin.
  • Descriptive views: do not account for the different ways in which we live our lives.
    • Reply: properties are not necessary but distinctive.
  • Tolstoy: history does not depend on the decisions made by particular people. Author dismisses this view :(
  • TDC applies to all views.

The Three Kinds of Choice

  • There will be people living later who do not exist now.
  • We can affect identities of future people.
  • Would all and only the same people ever live in the same outcomes?
    • Yes: same people choices
    • No: different people choices; would the same number of people ever live in both outcomes?
      • Yes: same number choices
      • No: different number choices

What weight should we give to the interests of future people?

  • Most moral thinking is about same people choices
  • We can morally ignore different people choices and same/different number choices because we cannot predict them.
  • Sometimes we can predict harm.
  • Do moral principles only encompass people who can reciprocate? We should reject this.
  • Social discount rate, discounting the value of the future.
  • SDR is indefensible, Parfit argues.
  • Can we conceive of time as a spatial dimension, just like shooting an arrow?

A young girl’s child

  • Future people:
    • Will future people have a life worth living?
    • Do we benefit the person if an act of ours is a necessary part of their existence?
  • Non-Identity problem: in different outcomes, different people would be born.
  • We use the phrases ‘her child’ to cover any child whicht he girl may have, but she has different children.
  • Same number quality claim, Q

How lowering the quality of life might be worse for no one

  • Different polices will affect who marries who, and what children will come out.
  • The problem of depletion: we must choose which resources to deplete.
  • If particular people live lives that are worth livign, is it worse for these people than if they had never existed? – No. It does not matter what decision we make – we will benefit all future people
  • One idea: what is bad must be bad for someone. But we should not morally choose depletion.
  • Non-identity problem: the identities of people in the further future can be easily influenced. While it arises superficially in terms of reproduction, it is also real: it is not true that the same people exist.

Why an appeal to rights cannot wholly solve the problem

  • 14-y/o girl: every child has a right to a good start in life, which this girl is violating by choosing to give birth to him early.
  • Even if a child has a right, it can not be fulfilled at a later point in time.
  • We often waive rights: we do not expect them always to be fulfilled.
  • The mother should have waited, not because of some innate right, but because of what she could have done.
  • People do not have rights to a share of some resource.
  • We cause people to exist with rights that cannot be fulfilled.
  • Are you glad to be alive? Perhaps you waive the violation of your rights
  • Is utilitarianism a theory of rights? Rights rather constrain the principle of utility; principle of beneficence (theory X)

Does the fact of non-identity make a moral difference?

  • Do our choices make a moral difference if our choice is worse for no one?
  • No-difference view: no difference between accepting and rejecting the non-identity problem.
  • Accept the No-Difference View: causing someone to exist with a life worth living benefitss this person.
  • Two views:
    • Person-affecting view: V
    • It would be bad if the same number of people would live and the ones who do live worse off than those who would have lived.
  • V is wrong – draws moral distinctions where no moral distinctions should be drawn.
  • In Same People Choices, \(Q = V\). For Same Number Choices, they conflict and we shoulda ccept \(Q\) over \(V\).
  • X and V will conflict when we make same and different number choices.
  • Causing to exist cannot benefit.

Causing predictable catastrophes in the further future

  • The non-identity problem cannot be solved by an appeal to rights
  • If people live lives that are worse living, our choice for the risky policy is worse for no one.
  • “A choice cannot have a bad effect if the choice is bad for no one” – disproven by the risky policy
  • We may have harmed these people even though our choice is not worse for people struck by the catastrophe.
  • We can deserve blame for harming others, even when i tis not worse for them.
  • To assign blame, we need to consider predictable and not actual effects.
  • Criticism based on beliefs stand even if our belief is false.
    • What is the real nature of this criticism?
  • Maybe the best thing to do is to conceal the non-identity problem: perhaps it is better that people believe falsely.
  • Consent and infringements to autonomy
  • People who owe their existence to choices
  • We can easily affect the identities of future people.
  • Depletion can be bad even though it is worse for no one.


Utilitarian evaluations of decisions which have disparate outcomes in the future often treat the people in question as if their identities remain the same across all actions. However, Parfit argues that such evaluations run into the non-identity problem: an individual’s identity is specific to their biological conditions of origination, and therefore no individual existing in the sufficiently far future from action A could also exist in the sufficiently far future from action B. It is then possible that enacting a decision which only reduces the quality of life of future individuals (while still being worth living) is not harmful to anyone, because otherwise these individuals would not exist. Parfit asserts that an argument for rights does not solve the non-identity problem because we can still prefer to live overall well-off lives with some violated rights than to not exist. Lastly, Parfit suggests that a (mysterious) Theory X is needed to understand decisions which affect both different types and quantities of people in the future, which will truly solve the non-identity problem.

Terms and Concepts

  • Time-dependence claim. An individual’s identity is unique to the time at which they are conceived, such that an individual which hypothetically was not conceived at the time in which they really were conceived does not exist. Parfit argues that multiple views on the status of identity are all compatible with the time-dependence claim.
  • Q (Same number quality claim). Given two distinct actions in a decision affect the same number of people who would be brought into existence, then it is bad if the people who are brought into existence by an action live worse off than if another action was chosen and they never existed. Parfit argues that Q does not solve the non-identity problem because it does not handle cases in which different types or numbers of people can be affected.

Comprehension Question

  • Parfit writes that the non-identity problem, while arising from ‘superficial’ features of human reproductive biology, is still a ‘real problem’. I have trouble understanding how: Parfit is writing in the domain of deciding between two social or economic policies, so why does he focus on a biologically oriented conception of identity rather than a socially or economically informed one? What is Parfit’s argument that the non-identity problem is significant to the difficult issues he attempts to apply it to?

Philosophical Questions

  • Is an individual which would have been conceived at some point in time but was not of the same status of inexistence as an individual who never was going to be conceived at any time (of which there are theoretically infinitely many)? If there is a difference, then how is it that our intentions constitute a different form of inexistence?
  • Throughout his numerous examples, Parfit assumes that the adverse effects of a current decision on a future individual’s life can be isolated from the well-being that said individual has been defined as having. But is this a reasonable assumption? – is it not that knowing about such adverse effects can cause serious psychological harm, and that we are much more attuned to the ills and injustices done upon us than the good we reap from the world?


The Structure of Contractualism, Scanlon


  • An act is right iff it can be justified to others
  • Justifiability is elementary: it is the normative basis of morality.
  • Contractualism: when we decide morality, we decide firstly which principles cannot be reasonably rejected.
  • Alternative views: appeal to rationality.
    • Gauthier: rationality is the fulfillment of one’s aims
    • Hare: rationality is maximum satisfaction of present preferences as conforming to truth
    • Kant: actions are morally if it can hold as a universal law
    • Rawls: veil of ignorance
  • Thee theories: we can reach conclusions by asking what is rational or note. We hasve to consider the interests of others.
  • Contractualism – finding principles which could not be reasonably rejected.
  • Appeals to reasonableness rather than rationality.


  • What does it mean to reasonable?
  • The distinction between reasonable and rational actions is semantically significantly.
  • Rationality in group reasoning yields more complex answers in realistic scenarios where gain comes at a cost.
  • Deciding on the right or wrong of an action requires a judgement on whether objections to moral principles are reasonable.
  • Reasonability is not about advancing interests or producing agreements, but on th suitability of principles.
  • Reasonability guides our common morality; it has moral content.
  • Is reasonability a circular theory? We put in moral elements to get morality?
  • Is it wrong to do X in circumstances C? Consider if a principle which allows one to do X in C can be rejected.
  • Concept: a threshold of reasonable rejection. This is generally incorrect.
  • How do we deal with evenly balanced strong objections from opposing parties?
  • Objections are symmetrical, and allow us to derive unrejectable principles.


  • An act is wrong if it would be disallowed by a principle that no one could reasonably reject.
  • What is a principle?
  • Act and rule utilitarianism
  • Why should we understand actions through principles to begin with? To justify an action is always to defend a principle.
  • Contractualism heavily emphasizes the rule of justification. – an act is wrong not just because it is, but for some reason.
  • We rarely see that an action is wrong without knowing why. (Is this really treu though?)
  • What is a principle? They are general conclusions about the status of various kinds of reasons for action. They leave room for interpretation – otherwise it would be too narrow and there would be few moral principles.
  • Familiar moral principles are succint labels for more complex ideas. But also, what are the areas wide principles cover which people agree on?
    • In making judgements, we draw upon these understandings.
  • How many valid moral principles are there? Scanlon says an infinite number.


  • Are there standpoints other than our own from which principles we consider can be reasonably rejected?
  • What is a standpoint?
  • We need an abstractperspective – we need to take into account consequences of actions and other implications – we need many individuals’ perspectives.
  • Acts can have different effects on individuals – especially because they may trigger or not trigger other actions.
  • We must rely on commonly available information – generic reasons.
  • Reasonable rejection is dependent on alternatives
  • We experience a pressure to make principles more fine-grained. But these also create greater uncertainty.
  • Moral theory – correct biases. Justifying our actions to others helps to gradually refine intuitive moral categories.

Generality and Fairness

  • It is natural to take into account the likelihood that a person will benefit or suffer from a principle. How to respond?
    • Those who cannot benefit should more wholly register the concerns of the benefactors.
    • How to take others into account? If one needs it, should one be called upon to do so, generic costs, generic benefits
  • Two actions may differ in harm is not consequentialist; we can accept prohibiton against intentionally inflicting serious harm.
  • Moral principles and proper names? Exclusions and generality?
    • Rawls: veil of ignorance
    • Hare: moral principles may contain no proper names. But we cannot tell if they are ‘rigged’ or not.
  • When to free-ride? Prisoner’s dilemma. Should everyone who benefits contribute?
  • Rawl’s principle: everyone who accepts the benefits of participation in a fair scheme should also comply with its requirements.
    • Each of us has reason to prefer exemptions favoring us, but we have no reason to prefer a neutral policy over one biased in anothers’ favor.
    • However, these are arbitrary: choice is arbitrary, and the principle is rejectable.
  • Inclusion by reason is all that matters.

Reasonable rejection

  • We need to determine whether a principle can be reasonably rejected by considering it from multiple different angles.
  • Must we set aside certain assumptions about other rights?
  • Contractualism: does not assume that there is some elementary justification in which only well-being matters.
    • Claims of well-being are given a privileged status over other moral considerations
  • Does contractualism become self-circular if it doesn’t rely upon an irreducible core?
  • Circularity
    • We object to principles because they are unfair: this is understandable, it is a reason.
  • Contractualism, as opposed to utilitarianism and other views which center well-being, it can account for multiple different moral notions without reductionism.
  • Why do people have reason to insist on principles?
  • The judgement that any consideration constitutes a relevant reason for rejecting a principle is already a judgmenent with moral content.
  • Contractualism – goal is to provide a unified account

Impersonal values

  • There must be a standpoint from which people can refuse to accept the principle.
  • Rejection on impersonal grounds: not tied to well-being, individuals, etc.
  • Contractualist formula describes ideas concerning what we owe each other – concerned with what we owe to other individuals. But impersonal reasons are not concerned with what we owe each other.
  • Things really depend on impersonal reasons, which depend on value.; they do not give us a moral compass
  • Impersonal values are what we owe each other, even though they indirectly affect us.

Priority for the Worst Off

  • The worst off take priority – in contractualist arguments, this is an element of the generic reasons and not a general feature of contractualism.
  • Rescue Principle
  • Judgements are required, and cannot be provided for by contractualism.
  • Helpfulness: take others’ interest into account.
  • Contractualism – key point is what is reasonable


  • The justifiability of a moral principle depends on individuals’ reasons for objecting to a principle and its laternatives.
  • Utilitarianism uses aggregative justification
  • Contractualism does not suffer from Repugnant Conclusion-type results
  • Reasons can also take into account claims arising from groups of individuals. But this move exposes us to problems with additive aggregation.
  • We can use a contractualist argument to reject a moral principle whicha llows indiviudals to choose evenly between saving larger and smaller groups of people.
  • There are other principles which satisfy positive and equal weight to each person’s life, such as weighted lottery.
  • Contractualism supports principles in which the larger number of people should be supported given equally harmed groups of people.
  • The rightness of actions depends only on the robustness to criticism (rejections) of principles from individual standpoints.
    • Claims to individuals – appealing feature of the view


  • Contractualist theory should avoid upwards, constructivist judgements – but rather downwards, negative argumetns. Do not appeal to what is reasonable, but what cannot be rejected.
  • Is the point of a theory to avoid appeals towards what is reasonable?
  • Welfarist contractualism cannot yield a plausible account for morality. Judgements of well-being are contextually situated.
  • We should not think that the goal of moral theory is to find how to decide moral questions without appealing to intuition.
  • Contractualism provides a process through wihch moral principles are justified.

Personal Notes

Scanlon argues for contractualism, which outlines the process by which actions can be morally judged: an action is bad or wrong if and only if it is not allowed by principles which cannot be reasonably rejected, across an array of standpoints. By focusing on the framework by which individuals work out what they owe each other rather than specifying the specific principles by which they should do so, Scanlon argues, contractualism becomes more flexible to variations in context and standpoint than alternative ethical theories such as utilitarian. This allows contractualism to robustly avoid problems in (additive) aggregation such as the Repugnant Conclusion while being inclusive of fairness and distributive considerations.

Terms and Concepts

  • Reasonable. In contractualism, the reasonability of a principle (or its rejection) is core to determining the moral judgment of an action. Reasonability is concerned with whether a given principle is congruent with intuition and suitably regulates or maps upon the context in question. Scanlon distinguishes reasonability from rationality: rationality is instead concerned with what individuals invested in maximizing their utility should pursue, but due to the configuration of their environmental conditions, this path may not be one which is reasonable.
  • Principle. To justify any action, Scanlon asserts, is to support a principle. Principles are generalized rules which supply us with justifications to pursue certain actions over others. However, Scanlon emphasizes that principles must be sufficiently large/open to allow for interpretation. Scanlon asserts that while many individuals from different standpoints may find high agreement in such open principles.

Comprehension Questions

  • Scanlon mentions egalitarianism sparingly throughout, but is egalitarianism a structural assumption of contractualism (i.e. does it ‘break’ without the assumption that all people are inherently equal, or is it flexible enough even to operate outside of or without it)? Throughout, it seems that Scanlon’s examples are premised on people with equal ‘life-worth’ but different amounts of suffering, and it is contractualism helps us reconcile disparities in such suffering. But what about, say, people who actively harm vs help (whatever those two could mean) society?

Philosophical Questions

  • If the main advantages of contractualism come from its confirmation of our intuition, insofar as ‘reasonability’ seems to be a funnel for intuition on the personal and group fairness or suitability of a principle, then can it really ever advance ethics past what we can already intuit? That is, what does contractualism offer beyond what intuition could without contractualism?
  • Can and should contractualism convincingly consider the standpoints of the mentally disabled, the physically disabled, and the ‘anti-social’ (anarchists, revolutionaries, radicals, subversives) – all groups for whom the expression of standpoints/reasonability judgements is either technically difficult (in the case of the disabled) or possibly not compatible with ‘social’ reasonability (in the case of the ‘anti-social’). What about infants, animals, the unconscious, and future generations – all groups which we must ‘speak for’ in terms of reasonability judgements? Epistemically, are we ever justified in speaking for groups which cannot speak for themselves?

“Contractualism”, Ashford and Mulgan (SEP)

What is contractualism?

  • Scanlon’s contractualism is not just about right and wrong, but about what forms of reasoning are justifiable.
  • Wrongness is being unjustifiable. Wrongness is a higher-order property of being unjustifiable.
  • Wrong is the primary moral predicate; right is not wrong.
  • Kant – people are never means but ends in themselves.
  • Which principles can not be reasonably rejected support an action?

How does contractualism differ from other social contract theories?

  • Morality comes from agreement between those in the moral domain.
  • Contractarianism – Hobbes, self-interest: morality is a form of cooperative behavior which is mutually advantageous for self-interested agents to pursue.
  • Contractualism requires all persons to have equal moral status – the capacity for rational, autonomous agency.
  • Contractualism – rooted in Rosseau
  • Under contractualism, I pursue my interests in a way I can justify to others.
  • Kant – rational agents agree. Abstracts away from concreteness. Contractualism is based on a relation of mutual respect, rather than abstraction to a greater point of view. Focus on lack of disagreement rather than agreement.
  • Scanlon’s contractualism has kantian elements.
  • John Rawls: more Kantian, political (liberal society) – veil of ignorance, liberal neutrality
  • Contractualism: I know my circumstances. But it is my role to justify myself to other people.
  • Contractualism aims at a non-utilitarian theory

How does contractualism differ from utilitarianism?

  • Contractualism is (theoretically) impartial
  • Utilitarianism is consequentialism

Differences between contractualism and utilitarianism

applicable to all domains of moralityonly applicable to what we owe to each other
aggregated utilitiesfocuses on standpoints
well-being is the moral predicatepersonal reasons accepted
  • Assessment of strength of reasons individuals have for rejecting principles, compared to their alternatives.
  • Reasonable rejection
    • I must have objection to a principle in order to reasonably reject it.
    • If I am reasonable, I withdraw my objection if your reason is more pressing.
    • Contractualism – presupposes individuals are also motivated by respect for others
    • There can be multiple rational attitudes towards values – contractualism can accomodate consequentialism without being wholly consequentialist
    • Mutual respect
  • Reasons beyond well-being
    • I can reject a principle for reasons beyond my well-being.
    • Failure to respect my status as a person as an example objection to racist principles
    • Contractualist reasons are flexible

How does contractualism differ from other non-consequentialist ethical theories?

  • Nonconsequentialism often distinguishes itself from consequentialism by emphasizing intensions.
  • Intention is not directly relevant to permissibility.
  • Intentions have predictive significance, but they are fundamentally indirect.
  • Moral reaction vs substantive responsibility.
  • Contractualist blame only functions within a relationship
  • Even those who are not concerned with justifiability retain basic moral rights.
  • Blame is a reaction to attitudes, not concerned with control over attitudes.

The convergence argument

  • Parfit: rule consequentialism, contractualism, Kant’s moral theory – all coincide, triple theory
  • Parfit’s improvements to Scanlonian contractualism:
    • Individualist: rejections must appeal to affects on single people only
    • Impersonalist: we cannot appeal to claims about impersonal goodness or badness
  • Kantian rule consequentialism: everyone should follow principles where everyone could rationally will to be universal laws.
  • Can contractualism cope with new challenges without collapsing into rule consequentialism?

Is contractualism circular or redundant?

  • Logical structure of contractualism: is it circular or incomplete?
  • objection: the apparatus of reasonable rejection is redundant. A principle no one can reasonably reject is one which permits no actions which are wrong; but what is wrong is given by a principle which no one can reasonably reject…
    • Response: “because it is wrong’ is not a reason which can be used in contractualist discourse – wrongness is constructed out of reasons

Is contractualism too tidy?

  • Can there really be a unified account of wrongness?
  • Pluralist: morality is irreducibly plural
  • What is most morally relevant is suffering brought through another’s agency: affront to human dignity.
  • Contractualism: “could reasonably reject”, not “does reject”

Can contractualism really avoid aggregation?

  • Coin-tossing for mutually interventionist trolley problems?
  • Choosing a singular over a multiple choice devalues individuals in the multiple.
  • Individualist restriction as an essential feature of contractualism

What does contractualism demand?

  • Impartial theories are accused of being unreasonably demanding.
  • Is it doing wrong if you do not follow the utilitarian calculus of wealth redistributionism?
  • It may be impossible to construct any principles no one can reasonably reject.
  • Bite the bullet? Morality is demanding.
  • Any impersaonl reformulatio nof contractualism is more demanding than contractualism.

The contractualist account of substantive responsibility

  • Forefeiture view: by disregarding warnings, one forfeits their right to alleviate their burden of harm.
  • Availability of choice matters, not the actual choice.
  • There are symbolic reasons for pursuing actions which may result in worse outcomes.

How does contractualism deal with risk?

  • Contractualism should prohibit all activities which carry any risk of harm.
  • One response: contractualism only deals with certain harms.
  • Second response: risky social activities are indeed never permitted.
  • Third response: favors ex ante or hybrid ex ante ex post evaluation.
  • Does contractualism collapse into consequentialism in an ex-ante evaluation?
  • Contractualism: focus on broader principles rather than specific ones.

Can contractualism protect animals?

  • Social contract theories leave out nonhuman animals.
  • Scope: contractualism is restricted to persons.
  • Trustees: proposed principles can be offered on behalf of animals.

Can contractualism protect future people?

  • Assymetry between responsibility: posterity cannot do anything to or for us.
  • Contractarian: morality is an agreement for mutual advantage. We have no obligations to future people.
  • Contractualism: we can justify ourselves to others, whether they are currently existing or not.
  • Who can reject to a decision, though? Non-identity problem
  • My grounds for rejecting a principle are not confined to my well-being.
  • Mary fails to show respect for her future child, whoever that might be.
  • Impersonalism does not allow contractualism with individualism to accomodate non-identity problems.
  • Parfit: contractualists need personal and impartial reasons for reasonable rejections
    • Impartial: grounded in moral claims or well-being of individuals
    • We should appeal to the impartial reasons had by people who do exist
  • Does incorporating impartial reasons abandon contractualist’s core character?

“Wronging Future People: A Contractualist Proposal”, Rahul Kumar

Can Future People Resent Us?

  • Some moral wrongs are interpersonal, but some are impersonal.
  • An action can be morally wrong even if no one is wronged.
  • Most people believe that obligations to future generations should be characterized in impersonal terms.
  • Derek Parfit, the non-identity problem: we cannot frame policy choice based on the well-being of future beings.
  • We need impersonal terms to reason about moral defensibility for future generations.
  • Should we really accept that members of the future have no reason to resent us?
  • A positive case for interpersonal obligations to the future from Scanlonion contractualist theory.
  • Scanlonion contractualism allows us to understand what is morally wrong in interpersonal terms. A wrongs B by failing to consider B’s interests to the extent they are entitled.
  • Scanlonion contractualism offers us a way of thinking about obligations

Non-Consequentialist Wronging and the Non-Identity Problem

  • How one person relates to another has strong moral significance, even if the consequences don’t pan out.
  • Is having been harmed a necessary condition of having been wrong? No. This much is clear.
  • Non-consequentialists understand wronging in a way which the non-identity problem cannot get started on.
  • But we still have the question: how can someone who is wronged by another person make an honest claim about wrongdoing when the wrongdoing brought them into existence?

Contractualism: Basic Framework

  • We need to move away from general non-consequentialism towards Scanlonian contractualism to reconcile with the non-identity problem
  • One person wrongs another by relating to them in a way which is disallowed by principles that no one could reasonably reject.
  • What is the ‘value of a person’? People are capable of recognizing and acting upon reasons; persons must govern how they live their life actively.
  • Second-order evil: consciousness
  • To wrong another: the failure to respect legitimately entitled deliberation
  • Failing to recognize the value of life, failing to consider interests to which individuals are entitled
    • Different than the ‘worse off view’, but does not require anything to have happened to a person

Immunity to the Non-Identity Problem?

  • Contractualism claims to offer an interpersonal characterization of wronging
  • A type of person is not a particular determinate person. It is merely a way of referring to normatively significant characteristics.
  • Legally: we can think about what principles regulate how employers relate to employees.
  • The token identity is in fact quite irrelevant because the principle is dependent on normative features.
  • Is it possible, though, for us to identiy our normatively significant relations to future generations?

In What Relation Do We Stand to Those Who Will Live in the Farther Future?

  • We don’t stand in a concretely characterizable relationship with those who will live in the further future. But this doesn’t have to undermine our case.
  • Impartial moral justification – each person’s life is no more importan than another.
  • Can a person assess reasons and justifications? – as assessed from their standpoint, they have no reason to reject the principle. They have licensed you.
  • Does justifiability make sense when talking about people who do not yet exist?
  • There may be no existing individuals which can be understood as forming a type. But their standpoint still matters.
  • If an individual were to come into existence who fits into a type, then we should have given consideration to that individual.
  • Those who live in the farther future form relevant interests.
  • Can we assess the interests of those living in the future?

The Relevance of Reparations

  • How to understand reparations for slavery?
  • Wrongdoing has to do with choices which are not consistent with the respect for human value; all tokens of a type claim to be wronged.
  • If one has been wronged but not harmed, is anything owed to them?
  • If one is entitled to reparations for past wrongdoing, then it would be better if the wrongdoing had not been done: assumption of non-identity ethics.
  • A justification in contractualist terms should be available for why those wronged many generations ago should be given material redress.


  • Those who end up living in the far future can be wronged, even if they cannot be harmed.
  • Temporal distance has no bearing on if a person can be wronged.
  • Most questions around obligations to future generations are in fact substantive: how much should we demand of ourselves?
  • Is it moral to ensure that no one lives in the far future?


Parfit’s Non-Identity Problem seems to show that obligations to care for future generations must be formulated impersonally. Kumar, however, asserts that such obligations can be formulated interpersonally using Scanlonian contractualism without significant extensions. Kumar asserts that contractualism is concerned not necessarily with relations between particular individuals but rather with what is owed between certain types of individuals in certain types of contexts. Even if a type of individual or context is not materially actualized, under contractualism’s principle of impartial justification to all persons, such standpoints still warrant consideration.

Terms and Concepts

  • Types. Kumar uses the term ‘type’ to abstract away from the specific material bodies of individuals towards their more normatively relevant characteristics. A ‘type’ of individual is a group of similar such relevant features which aptly describe their interests with respect to the context. Scanlonian contractualism, Kumar argues, is premised upon considering types of individuals’ standpoints.
  • Interpersonal wronging. The Non-Identity Problem asserts that any formulation of our obligations to future generations must not be formulated in terms of effects or harms done to future persons: that is, such a formulation must be impersonal. On the other hand, Kumar argues that Scanlonian contractualism allows us to develop an interpersonal understanding of wronging, which allows us to understand relationships between individuals as the basis for ethical decision-making.

Comprehension Question

  • It seems that one of Kumar’s important philosophical moves here is to suggest that contractualism is really about relationships between types of individuals rather than the fleshy bodies of individuals per se. While I think that this is the right move to make, is it true then that Kumar is not really talking on the same grounds as Parfit, since Parfit explicitly assumes a ‘fleshy body’ interpretation of an individual? If so, then can Kumar really say that this approach ‘is immune’ to the Non-Identity Problem so much as it rewrites the premises?

Philosophical Questions

  • Kumar talks about reparations for individuals in groups who inherited and currently bear the burden of systematic historical oppression. However, given Kumar’s application of Scanlonian contractualism in this article, do we also have an obligation to past generations themselves (not considering their current descendants for the purpose of the question)? Must we respect their legacy, protect them from libel, and faithfully execute their posthumous instructions? Do dead individuals fall out of the domain of contractualism or has Kumar’s introduction of the ‘type’ given them a certain immortality?
  • Consider a policy which, if enacted, will allow humans to progressively transition into porcupines who live very happy lives but are not rational deliberators; if it is not enacted, humans will continue to pursue ecological destruction and live lives which are barely worth living (to borrow Parfit’s phrase): how does Kumar’s understanding of contractualism handle this, if it can at all? This is the Non-Identity Problem, but with a twist which makes it relevant to contractualism (i.e. personhood). This scenario is an entirely improbable reality, but the question is philosophically asking: can contractualism be applied to future generations who will no longer be within the domain of contractualism, or does it require some sort of ethical continuity throughout time? Does contractualism recommend its own perpetuation in future generations, or is it capable of recommending ‘suicidal’ decisions? This could possibly be used to understand how contractualism would deal with policies that can affect the prominence of explicitly anti-contractualist thought (e.g. anti-liberal authoritarianism) which would need to be excluded from the contractualist domain, particularly in international politics.

“Intergenerational Distribution” (Ch. 4), Finneron-Burns

  • Do we have oglibations to future generations? – what obligations do we have to future people and how should we distribute resources intergenerationally?
  • Richard Arneson, opportunity for welfare – a chance of getting a good if one seeks it

How to distribute intergenerationally?

  • Intergenerational egalitarianism – an important idea.
  • Intrinsic egalitarians value equality for its own sake: inequality is bad by itself.
  • Intrinsic egalitarians prefer that intergenerational inequality is eliminated.
  • Intergenerational egalitarianism as conservatism?
  • To be intergeneral egalitarians, we might want to reduce our current level.
  • ‘leveling down objection’ against intrinsic equality
  • We exclude reasons that support principles which require us to level down.
  • Contractualism does not accept impersonal reasons
  • We choose equality because of its impact on persons
  • Impersonal values per se are not independently admissible reasons.
  • Why should we condemn inequality?
    • Humanitarianism – not egalitarian. Instead, the worst off should be adequate. & does not apply intergenerationally
    • Status - does not apply intergenerationally
    • Domination - does not apply intergenerationally. We need incremental change.
    • Procedural fairness - no institutions to govern procedural fairness
    • Equal benefits - there is no authority for the distribution of intergenerational wealth
  • We cannot translate Scanlon’s non-intrinsic reasons to intergenerational contexts.
  • Intergenerational egalitarianism – dismissed!
  • Sufficientarianism – concerned with absolute well-being

Sufficientarianism: Lexical Priority Below the Threshold

  • Morally, whatm atters is that people should live above a certain threshold; distributions above do not matter.
  • Strict sufficientarians: bringing a person to sufficiency threshold has absolute priority over welfare gains
  • Moderate sufficientarians: priority to those further from the threshold
  • Sufficientiarianism has unintuitive implications
    • Disproportionality
    • Upward transfers
    • Indifference above the threshold
  • Are our ethical duties fulfilled when people are sufficiently well-off?
  • Reason-balanced sufficiency

Contractualism: Reason-Balanced Sufficiency

  • Finding principles no one can reject – balancing different parties’ reasons
  • Reasons are dependent on conditions
  • Helpfulness – take others’ interests into account when we can easily do so, and this is morally required
  • There are no reasons which always outweigh other reasons
  • When sufficiency is given high importance, it can not outweigh every other consideration
  • Sufficiency thresholds should not be determinative, but rather serve as guides.
  • Prioritarianism – there is no specific absolute amount of well-being
  • We can let future people live sufficiently good lives.
  • Sufficient resources
  • Contractualism does not require us to be completely impartial

When sufficient resource scannot be satisfied

  • If the current generaiton is well off, they are morally obligated to save for the future.


  • A contractualist solution with sufficientarian intuition which is not lexical

“Procreation” (Ch. 5), Finneron-Burns

  • When is it permissible and impermissible for individuals to procreate?
  • What are the sacrifices current people need to bear to allow future people to have certain qualities of life?
  • Even though there are different burdens in conservation vs procreation, we still can apply similar analyses.
  • Contractualism disallows the creation of people born with lives not worth living.

When is it permissible to procreate?

  • Free procreation: a person is morally permitted to procreate whenever they want to.
  • Principle of Procreative Beneficence: a person should create the child with the best possible life
  • Non-rejectable principle of permissible procreation: needs to take into consideration expected well-being of chid, magnitude of extra well-being, magnitude of sacrifices.
  • Absolute sufficiency – a poor criteria.
  • A threshold of well-being which determines the permissibility of procreation? Not supportable by contractualism.
    • This does not tell us how to procreate above the threshold. Pure sufficientarianism is not explanatory.
    • There is a gradient quality of life, and of permissibility.
  • Very bad lives
  • What does it mean to have a very bad life?
  • The child can reasonably reject any principle which allows it to have a very bad life. (Non-Identity Problem???)
  • Can we make serious sacrifices when they significantly damage our own well-being?
  • Robert Goodin – the child’s unique vulnerable state.
  • What are the conditions of the child you create? Parents have obligations to procreate.
  • “parent freely choosing to bring a child into existence” – what about coercion, both explicit (e.g. rape) or implicit (e.g. culture, heritage, etc.)
  • A person can have a reason to reject a principle even if it caused them to exist.
  • What about children who have good lives?
  • Is it morally obligatory to create a child with a better quality of life even if a child will have a decent one?
  • Helpfulness principle – it is morally required
  • Question – is it morally required to participate in helping others through contractualism if those individuals fail to be part of the contractualist framework to begin with?
  • Parents do not need to make large sacrifices to create better-off children.
  • Good lives – one should always create the best possible child if the sacrifice to do so is less significant than the gain in well-being.

The Asymmetry of Reproduction

  • When might we be required (not just permitted) to procreate?
  • We have an obligation not to create children who will have bad ideas but no obligation to create children who will have very good lives.
  • Having a life worth living is not on its own a good reason to exist.
  • Non-Obligatory Creation – not morally required to create a child because they will have a good life. Not rejectable.
  • Obligatory creation – morally required. Rejectable: violates autonomy, removes the element of choice and freedom,
  • In both non-obligatory creation and in very bad lives there is a violation of reproductive autonomy, but it is about the balance of reasons


  • Very bad lives
  • Good lives
  • Asymmetry, non-obligatory creation

“Population Size” (Ch. 6), Finneron-Burns

  • Population size – the number of people who exist at any particular time, not who will ever live.
  • The number of people who will exist is not fixed.

Human Extinction and the Repugnant Conclusion

  • What is the optimal population size? Certainly not the physical limit
  • What about Parfit’s repugnant conclusion? As large as people have lives worth living?
  • Contractualism should reject human extinction and the repugnant conclusion. There is no optimal population size, but permisiveness.

Human Extinction

  • Is it bad for the human species to end?
  • There might be psychological and physical damage done due to human extinction.
  • Why might we find the human species to be bad?
    • Many people would not be born
    • Loss of intelligent life and intellectual progress
    • Possible physical pain to current people
    • Possible psychological traumas

Contractualism’s Response

  • Whether or not contractualism supports principles which lead to human extinction depend foremost on the nature of the extinction and its effects on current people.
  • Preventing people from being born: it is wrong to prevent people from existing (they cannot object and are not owed justification), or lost value of lives: however this is not itself a reason for rejecting a HE principle.
  • If there is no intelligent life, who is there to lament its loss? We must use an impersonal approach, but principles cannot be reasonably rejected on impersonal grounds.
  • There are many ways in which human extinction can cause harm to current people.
  • Psychological effects of current people
  • Human extinction can only be wrong insofar as it negatively impacts current people’s interests.
  • A natural cause of extinction is not wrong, or if it is brought about voluntarily and unanimously.
  • Contractualism is concerned only with interpersonal relationships

The Repugnant Conclusion(s)

  • Repugnant conclusion: claim about relative value of two populations on opposite ends of the size and well-being scale
  • One state being better does not mean we should realize that state.
  • Repugnant Obligation Conclusion – normative, not axiological
  • Contractualism is concerned with the rejectability of principles.
  • Choosing A over Z – contractualist response
  • “We already live in world Z” – Finneron-Burns REJECTS this
  • Failing to commit suicide does not mean that we do not find our lives not worth living
  • Contractualism considers the perspective of the agent advocating for a principle
  • Information about who will exist is not available at the time of acting.
  • How to reduce or limit population sizes? Restrictions on reproduction, genocide, sterilization
  • Principles requiring or even permitting Population Z to be created can be reasonably rejected.
  • Why is the repugnant conclusion rejected?
  • What is wrong with the repugnant conclusion is the disrespect to population Z. Contractualism coherently explains why we want to avoid Z.


  • No one lives, vs. as many people as possible live.
  • Contractualism is not against human extinction itself.
  • We can balance sacrifices and gains.
  • Contractualism is not susceptible to problems in the extremes of population size.
  • Contractualism is flexible!

Virtue Ethics

“Virtue Ethics”, Julia Annas

  • Ethical theory before modern ethical debate from Kant onwards has been focused on virtue ethics.
  • Virtue ethics has been discredited by analytical ethical philosophy. But has re-emerged recently.
  • Virtue ethics comes much from Aristotle, but it is not archetypically Aristotelian

Virtue Ethics: The Whole Picture

  • Virtue: state or disposition of a person to act for reasons
  • Decision: a choice which endorses a disposition
  • An agent’s practical reasoning is important to how virtue is constructed and exercised.
    • Perhaps classical VE is elitist.
  • Is practical reason available to everyone?
  • Affective and intellectual aspect of virtue
  • Affective: virtue requires both the right action and the right reason.
    • Is there a distinction?
    • Question: what exactly is the distinction between affective and intellectual aspects?
    • What is the attitude?
  • A moral education should encourage the pupil to think for themselves about the reasons for their actions,e ven if at first they are directed towards authoritative top-down moral fragments.
  • Becoming just is like becoming a builder – it is learnable.
  • Classical account: criticized because it relies so heavily on disposition and character.
  • Virtues are character traits, but not necessarily vice versa.
  • Virtues are commitments to multiple values.
  • Virtues contribute to how I live my life in a certain way.
  • Living virtuously will allow me to live well.
  • Eudaimonia: the goal of virtues, its ‘telos’ – ‘flourishing’, ‘happiness’
  • How do we get to eudaimonia? It is an ordinary way of thinking about our lives – my actions reflect what I am
  • I do actions for their own sake – nothing else. Actions are not instruments for other ends.
  • Eudaimonia cannot consist in things, stuff, passive states: I aim to live in a certain way
  • Virtue ethics tells us the eudaimonia cn only be achieved by living in accordance with virtues.
  • Disagreement about virtues is the beginning of ethical discussion
  • Is virtue needed for flourishing? Perhaps it is naive. But virtue ethics begins from flourishing as a concept which is already built upon virtues.
  • Virtue is not just one value in life: it is necessary and sufficient for a flourishing life. It is not an alternative: it is.
  • Perhaps it is egoistic? A virtuous person lives virtuously for themselves? No – living in a flourishing way is an activity.
  • What is the right thing to do?
  • Virtue ethics considers your current state
  • Reflection about our ethical views shows them to be inadequate.
  • Ethical thought is an aspiration to be better than we are.
  • We need to become better people – and this is a realization which can certainly apply universally.
  • I have to improve myself. (Is this reasonable? Or is it an ethical rendition of neoliberal entrepreneurship of the self?)
  • Some theories give us a theory of right and wrong actions – ethical thinking becomes like reading a computer manual, and this is unrealistic. There is no theory of right action. The virtuous person does not take shape in the void.
  • What I should do if I were brave is to be braver than I am.
  • Is virtue ethics ethically conservative? However, virtue theory is committed to virtue as an ideal, and that we must aspire to it.
  • Perhaps virtue ethics is not applicable to moral problems. Virtue ethics cannot mechanically give us an answer. But it does more service to moral discourse and psychology.
  • Is virtue ethics naturalistic? – Aristotelian, broadly scientific understanding of human nature? No: virtue ethics is not bound to be naturalistic.
  • Flourishing requires humans to live in a virtuous way. Because this is human nature.
  • Ethics emerges from how we live.
  • Contemporary virtue ethics looks towards modern understandings of human nature – biology, psychology, etc. (Question – does this really hold up, and how far does this dependency go?)
  • Neo-Aristotelian virtue theory: it benefits humans to have virtues. Takes as a fact that we are rational animals. Will we wend up with a Stoic rather than Aristotelian way of living?
  • What kind of theory of justice does virtue ethics need?

Reduced Versions of Virtue Ethics

  • Practical reasoning: you are not virtuous unless you have thought through and understood why you act.
  • Can we remove this? The virtue is just a disposition to act.
  • Humean virtue ethics: I have a disposition to do good to me or others. A disposition does good. Why does it matter if I endorse the disposition with my practical reflective reasoning?
  • Virtues are dispositions to act which produce good – but not quite, because practical reasoning links virtue to an agent’s nature: the virtue is part of their life, not instrumental to some other consequentialist means.
  • Consequentialism trivializes virtue
  • Kant: virtue is a strength of your will to do your duty.
  • Our final end is defined by formal constraints rather than content: this is bizarre to modern ethical philosophy.
  • Must we define eudaimonia in a way independent from virtues? Doing so makes it prone to certain attacks.
  • Virtues as means to an independently specified end: consequentialists, ATTACK!
  • The role of practical reasoning is important to establish the connection between the agent and the virtue.
  • Can we reject a telos, a goal?
  • A revival of interest in virtues in recent times.
  • Virtues are developed in existing traditions and societies: but do we fall here into relativism?

Unreduced Modern Virtue

  • Not all modern virtue ethics attempt to dilute virtue.
  • Foot and HUrsthouse: develop a neo-Aristotelian theory of virtue, or a neo-Stoic one
  • Practical reasoning is essential to the practice of virtue.


  • Why has virtue ethics been neglected?
  • Consequentialism has dominated ethical theory
  • Consequentialism and deontology – assumed only major forms of ethical theory, focus on actions in isolation from agents
  • Meta-ethics: problematizes naturalism
  • Is it true that metaphysics is the first philosophy for work in ethics? Virtue ethics challenges the primacy of metaphysics
    • First get ethics right, then ask about metaphysical implications
    • The ethical relationship as primal
  • What is the connection between flourishing and practical reasoning?

“Modern Moral Philosophy”, Anscombe

  • We should not do moral philosophy until we haave an adequate philosophy of psychology.
  • The modern way of talking about moral goodness, etc. is very specific.
  • Thinkers in ethics – serious flaws
    • Butler: conscience can prescribe vile things.
    • Hume: truth as indpeendnet from ethical judgmeent
    • Kant: legislating for oneself
    • Bentham and Mill: pleasure is a tricky concept
  • Hume as a ‘mere’ sophist
  • What does obligation mean? The transition from is to owes

page 4

“Utilitarianism and the Virtues”, Foot

  • Utilitarianism continues to haunt us, even if we do not believe in it. Utilitarianism is in a central place in moral philosophy. Rule utilitarianism, for most people, is an unstable compromise.
  • What is most wrong about utilitarianism is consequentialism, but this is also what makes it compelling.
  • Rightness is determined by the goodness of states of affairs.
  • Previous problems with utilitarianism: welfarism, or aggregationism.
    • Modifications chase after objections, but they can never quite catch up.
  • Amartya Sen: the respecting or violating of rights should be counted as a good or evil. Goal rights fail to deal with many other forms of actions.
  • Consequentialism of any form gives us ‘unacceptable’ conclusions.
  • Why is consequentialism so intuitive? It does not make sense to prefer a worse set of states to another.
  • Where have we gone wrong from this intuition towards unacceptable conclusions?
  • We go wrong in thinking that there are better and worse states of affairs to begin with.
  • What does it mean to have a good state of affairs? That certain affairs can be better than others?
  • What is a ‘better’ or ‘good’ state of affairs?
  • We use expressions on the goodness and badness of states on a daily basis.
  • Our conceptions of good and bad are not impersonally used.
  • We also generally use statements which are dependent on speakers, or which do not fully consider the best possible outcome.
  • A good state of affairs is one which is generally advantageous: well sure, but we want to say something about maximum welfare.
  • What we care about is good and bad from the moral point of view. But this doesn’t really help us at all. What is the moral point of view? From the legal point of view? From a social point of view? etc.
  • Why does it make sense to talk about morally good and bad affairs?
  • Harsanyi: the only rational morality is one where rightness/wrongness of an action is judged by its relation to an outcome.
  • Non-conseqwuentialisms accept questions.
  • With no reference to morality, talking about good states of affairs is relative to the speaker. If we add a moral point of view, it means nothing because it is recursive / circular.
  • Yet it is significant that people find themselves driven towards consequentialism on the basis that we can not choose worse outcomes. This is an inescapable idea.
  • Benelovence is a virtue. Benelovent persons want the good of others and call things good on this basis. This is a solution, and we have found the result within morality, not outside of it. Benelovence is only one of the virtues, only part of morality. And even benelovence has its limits.
  • Impartial sympathetic observer: defined from the utilitarian point of view, moral assessment is being defined in utilitarian terms.
  • There is a place within morality for the concept of better and worse states of affairs – it is a virtue. And it may be inhibited by other virtues.
  • “Best outcome” and “good state of affairs” – have no special meaning in a moral context other than what virtues give them.
  • We should not take an end which makes up good actions and turn it into a guide for action.
  • It is illegitimate to move what is within morality to a position outside of it (to judge morality by).
  • However we need to judge morality by factors outside. How shallw e deal with this objection? Morality as tacit legislation, with the aim of general good
  • Consequentialism in some form is always reinstated. We need something to judge with, that there are better and worse states of affairs
  • Perhaps the concept of a good state of affairs is an axiom of our system. Perhaps this is too hasty.
  • Mill: how do we pass from “the end of each is the good of each” to “the end of all is the good of all”? is there such thing as a shared end?
  • The truth? We don’t have a satisfactory theory of morality.
  • Scanlon: the real answer to utilitarianism is the development of alternatives.
  • But we still should not feel pressured to accept consequentialism.
  • We should not surrender to consequentialism by uncritically accepting its key idea.

“Meaning and Value Across the Generations”, Scheffler

  • Even though we cannot clearly relate to future generations, future generations should matter.

Our relations to future generations

  • How to avert threats to future generations? It is an important problem.
  • What are our relations to future generations?
  • Ethical norms are there to help guide us through the social world.
  • While we cannot engage in reciprocated relationships with future generations, we have large causal power.
  • Future generations are not just receivers of our causal impacts (utilitarian premises – they are the consequences of our actions).
  • What would happen if we faced human extinction without pain? We might lose passion in our activities, towards the advancement of long-term goals.
  • Would it be a catastrophe if no new people came into existence?
  • We have a direct concern for humanity’s survival.
  • We have self-interested reasons to want human succession to continue.
  • Humanity’s imminent destruction is a source of grief in its own right.
  • The future of humanity matters
    • our interests depend on it
    • it is part of our concern for humanity irreducible to a love of individuals
    • value itself is contingent on the continuity of humanity
  • Many of us have a concern for the future of humanity
  • Imminent demise sets back our interests and corrupts our live and thriving. We cannot flourish without continuity.
  • We are also dependent on future generations in certain ways.
    • Future generations are causally and existentially dependnet on us
    • We are emotionally dependent on them
  • Questions o fintergenerational ethics are often framed as our obligations to them; future generations ar eneedy and vulnerable. We should not exclusively focus on the asymmetric dimensions of power by privileging causality.
  • Have we lost sight of our significance in the participation of the generational chain? Do we ascribe importance autonomously to the continuity of the species?
  • Historicist sensibility: situation of activities within historical traditions
    • We tend towards temporal individualism; we do not assign value to relations towards people before and after us
  • Anyway, future generations matter to us.

A motiviational deficit?

  • Moral motivation: people have a moral oglibation
  • Moral motivation is not itself sufficient to overcome popular motivations.
  • We do no not have much agreement about the norms of intergenerational ethics.
  • People do not have the motives to address problems; this is a motivational deficit.
  • We have a love of humanity and the meaning of our activitiesa re in many cases contingnet on the future of humanity.
  • Do asymmetrical benefits (causal vs rational) count as genuine reciprocity?
  • Four reasons: interest, love, value, reciprocity
  • Do we really have a motivational deficit?
  • Reasons have a normative force
  • Reasons have bearing on our decisions.
  • The motivational significance of the ways that future generations matter to us is large.
  • Consensus may strengthen the sense of obligation
  • Intergenerational ethics is in a quite early stage of development, but there is a political dimension


  • Relations to our successors are rich and varied; they have complex tones.
  • Motivational deficit is less of an obstacle than we might have thought it was.

“Living Well Wherever You Are”, Kenneth Shockley

The Need for Hope

  • How to understand hope in our new world?
  • What does it mean to flourish?
  • What should we hope for? This is not a useful question. It is in fact, what things might be appropriate objects of hope?
  • Can we hope without a clear object?
  • Is there a role for derivative or anomolous hope without objects?
  • Radical hope: characterized by refusal to tie to an object
  • We should think of radical hope in terms of its leadership qualities
  • Connecting hope and motivation
  • What should we hope for?
  • Radical hope as the possibility of having a distinctive object. Radical hope can provide us the object and motivate us to pursue the good life.
  • Previous work on radical hope are confused.
  • Shockley will provide us the object of radical hope, even if we cannot see the specific conditions to hope for.
  • Balance between being specific enough to be a valid object of hope and being loose enough to accomodate flux.
  • Capabilities: what people are able to do (freedoms and opportunities), rather than states of affairs.
  • The most appropriate objects for radical hope are associated with substantial freedoms.

Facing Instability

  • Anthropocene
  • IPCC reports: future climates will not be like the past.
  • How do we understand human flourishing?
  • The dominant feature of the Anthropocene is instability

Hope, Generally

  • The hoped object is a possible future state of affairs
  • Hope is not just desire – what we want the world to be like. Hope is an attention to probability, moreover a desire to treat the object in a way which additively distorts this probability.
  • Hope requires a mental image – this is not true. What if I have a negative hope?
  • Radical hope requires a different type of mental approach than just hope.
  • Cognitive resolve: reflects our taking of a stance. It is not necessarily that we deceive ourselves.
  • Adrienne Martin: hoping is a way of responding to one’s attitudes in a way which incorporates our attitude towards that object. Hope involves arranging our ends, to pursue actions towards ends.
  • Hope must express the significance of the object.
  • Presentational phenomenology – perceptually experiencing the world gets you to experience the world in a specific way.
  • Hope provides encouragement; it motivates and provides opposition to despair

“HOPE: to hope for an outcome, X, is to have a desire for X, to believe that X has some probability less than 1 and more than 0, and to be encouraged by the possibility of the occurrence of X.”

  • Our encouragement can take many different forms – inspiring mental image, adjustment of reasons, cognitive resolve, etc.
  • Take perspective of a future in which the problem has been resolved in a preferable way – it provides encouragement and motivates me.
  • Motivation of hope
  • How are we to hope when we do not have a determinate future?
  • What should be the proper object of radical hope?

Radical Hope Reconsidered

  • Catastrophic threats to social stability are not contemporary.
  • Ontological vulnerability
  • Radical hope: a hope that people will flourish in a new world. Not just wishing for a way of life – wishing does not come with encouragement (we can wish with the impossible but not hope for it).
  • Radical hope points towards the possibility of an object. We will find a meaningful existence withouot usual constraints.
  • We can imagine a good life in climate induced instability.
  • A stance of commitment to possibility, even if this is indeterminate and unimaginable.
  • Hope requires an object. Radical hope requires an object, but this object is possibility.
  • We need more than an appeal to a nostalgic past
  • Radical hope as a way of addressing human life: making sense of ourselves amidst environmental conditions.
  • Hope is focused on states of affairs
  • Radical hope that there was a proper object of hope that could be foundd.
  • How can we become disposed to radical hope? – is it virtuous to adopt radical hope?
  • Distinguishing virtue from hope:
  • Radical hope; hope with an under specified object.

RADICAL HOPE: to have radical hope for Y is to have hope that there will be a suitable object X such that we would HOPE for X, where the probability of X occurring may be estimated, and where X is one of a set of objects that would satisfy a set of unspecified conditions, A, B, C, some conjunction of which would satisfy Y.

  • Background conditions will allow one to develop a life which one can find the object of hope.
  • We should radically hope for conditions which allow us to be ourselves.

What to hope for: Ideals, Capabilities, and the Good Life

  • Radical hope is a form of hope, complete with an object
  • How might we live well under environmental circumstances which are unfamiliar?
  • What opportunities allow us to flourish in any context?
  • Encouragement of hope: confidence in our aiblity to thrive across a wide range of conditions.
  • The capabilities for a good life. Amartya Sen: capabilities. Freedoms and opportunities needed to enact ideasl fo a complete life, and to have security without fear. Functionings – states of being, ways of doing. There are many ways to do functionings. Functionins are basic to human flourishing.
    • Functionings are contrasted with material resources
    • We need more than opportunities: capacity to access opportunities (opportunity for opportunity)
  • Food vs food security, money vs wealth
  • Capabilities express human flourishing wherever and however we are.
  • The good life captures the ideal sense of home, life without fear.
  • What are the conditions A, B, CC? – unspecified possibilities, capabilities.
  • Possible occurrence of ideals provides encouragement
  • Encouragement: means for making sense of our motivations subjectively
  • Radical hope – a foundation for the motivation needed to promote ideals.

Conclusion: What we should hope for in a time of great change

  • Despair reigns in the Anthropocene.
  • Hope is not just cognitive resolve, but a source of encouragement. It needs an object for, but this object is not findable in uncertain futures. So we must instead adopt radical hope: we hope for conditions which may provide us with objects to hope for. We should hope for substantial freedoms.
  • We can acknowledge and identify important qualities of good lives across outcomes: freedoms and capabilities
  • Perhaps the world was never as stable as we might imagine it to have been.
  • The veneer of stability

“Way to Go, Me”, Andreou

  • “Way to go, you” on Starbucks cups
  • What mindset does this tap into?

Climate Change as a Creeping Environmental Problem

  • Creeping: problem where serous damage is realized by individually trivial contributions
  • There is no local preference because of its individually trivial difference.

Different Orientations

  • Oriented towards groups or individuals? These make differences (team reasoning)
  • Team reasoning allows individuals to reward and punish themselves on the basis of collective positive and negative action.

Switching Between Orientations and Mindset

  • Perhaps we should not look towards orientations but rather whether individualistic or group-oriented takes facilitate praiseworthiness.
  • Mindset M – the target for feel-good buying: feel good about individually trivial contributions but do not feel bad about individually trivial contributions to negative outcomes.
  • Our perception is often motivated by our self worth
  • Cultures can vary by valuation of collective and individual priorities
  • We may vary between individual and group oriented takes by whichever is beneficial to us.
  • Individuals can spin how they see the world when blame is at stake. The motivation to blame prevails.
  • Moral image and self-/blame
  • Mental acrobatics
  • Can we really simultaneously sustain individualist and group oriented directions at the same time?
  • Each view is fairly credible, and they are not necessarily directly conscious for discussions of consistency.

Seeking Self-Praise versus Avoiding Self-Blame

  • Individuals may be acting by assessments of their own behavior.
  • Positive and negative praiseworthiness activate different motivations.
  • It may be that self-praise can be a useful instrument.
  • M is a force to be reconciled with


  • Maybe the future is not to reconcile the inconsistency but to try and prompt different thoughts through M.
  • Some inconsistency can facilitate our goals of action across multiple individuals.

Preparation Notes

  1. Statement of Central Argument (2-5 sentences) Provide a clear, accurate summary statement of the reading’s central argument or claims.

Andreou argues that individual responses to campaigns intended to address some aspect of climate change can be understood as seeking praise rather than as group vs. individual-oriented behavior. When individuals seek praise, they are likely to identify with individual-oriented thinking when a result is positive (such that they maximize the praise given to them) and with group-oriented thinking when a result is negative (such that they minimize the scorn cast upon them individually). Knowing this, Andreou suggests, may allow campaigns for climate change to better engage individuals.

  1. Terms and Concepts (2-4 sentences) Provide a brief explanation of 2 key terms or concepts from the readings which are central for understanding.

Way to go, me/you (Mindset M). A congratulatory phrase representative of praise-seeking behavior, or Mindset M. In Andreou’s example, it gives voice to the suggestion that you should feel individually good for supporting a company which ethically sources its coffee but obscures the possibility you might feel bad for doing so by using a disposable cup.

Creeping environmental problem. By ‘creeping’, Andreou means that a large amount of damage is done by many individuals committing individually marginal damages, rather than, for example, one individual or entity committing significant damage. It is significant that Andreou studies climate change from a ‘creeping’ perspective because every individual must relate to the group in some way, and the impact of this relating at an aggregate level can be substantially positive or negative.

  1. Comprehension Questions (1-4 sentences) Raise 1-2 significant comprehension questions.

Andreou talks about how mindset M can be used positively, for instance to encourage individuals to vote for environmental protection legislation. However, does Andreou address how to, if at all, ensure that abuses of mindset M – such as in the Starbucks example raised at the beginning – are prevented?

  1. Philosophical Question #1 (2-5 sentences) Raise an important philosophical question about the reading.

Andreou is careful to make clear that she is not attempting to make any normative claims, but rather that mindset M is a descriptive reality and we should find ways to run more successful campaigns given this information. However, is it possible that this framing itself commits itself to consequentialism and its many associated problems? Moreover, borrowing from Foot, is there really a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ consequence in the sense that Andreou assumes? For instance, Andreou provides the example that an individual driven by self-praise might vote for an environmentally friendly measure which may have a large positive impact. But more broadly, can we navigate a troubled world sustainably with populations which only vote when it is convenient to out of the pursuit of self-praise? – surely another nonconsequentialist approach is needed.

  1. Philosophical Question #2 (2-5 sentences) Raise an important philosophical question about the reading.

Perhaps the most interesting part of mindset M is that it allows individuals to switch between adopting individual- and group-oriented attitudes on the basis of self-praise. What is praise? Is praise fundamentally something which can only be understood at root as being given to or received by individuals? Does it make sense to conceive of praise for a group which is not reducible to a simultaneous praise of the individuals within that group? If it is possible, then can we develop campaigns which appeal to this group-oriented sense of praise which are more sustainable and virtuous than those which appeal to an individual-oriented sense of praise?

“Respect for Nature: Learning from Indigenous Values”, Cuomo

  • Environmental ethics is often described in terms of novel ideals.
  • However, this is misleading because there is substantial work on environmental ethics from indigeneity.
  • Respect for earth as a superior value in indigenous ethics.
  • Traditional knowledge
  • Virtues are commitments which can provide grounding needed for the practice of ethical development

More than a Feeling

  • ‘Respect for nature’ – captures an important part of environmental moral consciousness.
  • Kantian respect for moral value in all living things
  • Respect for nature is a set of dispositions embodied in character (like virtues)
  • How to consider another animal’s viewpoint without anthropocentrism
  • Respect for nature as an attitude? No – virtues must be deep, substantial. Attitudes are a small part of what we do.
  • How to actively respect, and respect virtuously?

Land, Autonomy, and Active Respect

  • Indigenous philosophers – respect for nature as an approach to life which can restore health and integrity.
  • Respect requires tangible effort, more than an attitude.
  • Personhood is built on a fundamental responsibility within relationships
  • Native sovereignty and treaty rights are important to supporting ethical autonomoy of indigenous communities

Indigenous Values in Context: Perspectives from Northern Alaska

  • Iñupiaq values from Arctic Alaska
  • Promoting respect for nature as an ethical value in subsistence culture

From Ancsa to Npra-a

  • Capitalist-militaristic institutions do not embody a respect for nature
  • (in)corporation of indigenous communities
  • Native corporations

Inupiaq Values and Respect for Nature

  • Respect for nature as a basic commitment and active practice
  • Ideals and ways of living
  • Respect for nature is tied to other fundametnal values and social virtues
  • Nature’s wisdom
  • Practicing virtue by learning from and communicating with animals
  • Refrain from greed an dwaste

Complex Politics of Respect

  • Alaska Federation of Natives
  • Support and coalition
  • Institutionalization of active caring


  • Virtues of ecological sustainability are antagonistic to the practices of capitalism
  • Virtues need to be laid out and embodied.
  • Virtue requires us not only to reject exloitation but to embody better ways of being.
  • Environmental ethics as a return to basic values?
  1. Statement of Central Argument (2-5 sentences) Provide a clear, accurate summary statement of the reading’s central argument or claims.

An ethics focused on respecting and sustaining the environment is often treated in Western ethical discourse as being a radical or new proposition, when in fact such ideas have been long developed and adopted by indigenous communities. Respect for nature can be and is often discussed as an abstract value or attitude, but Cuomo emphasizes that they should be, must be, and are actively lived and practiced as virtues. We can look towards indigenous communities’ interactions with capitalist and militaristic disruptions as inspiration for living and practicing of respect for nature as a virtue. Lastly, we can work to practice respect for nature even deep within Western capitalist society.

  1. Terms and Concepts (2-4 sentences) Provide a brief explanation of 2 key terms or concepts from the readings which are central for understanding.

Respect for nature. Respect for nature is a concept which has often been discussed in ethics, but frequently has been reduced to an attitude, feeling, or disposition. Cuomo argues that this is not properly respect: respect instead requires our active involvement in living out our commitments to nature and the environment.

Indigenous resistance. Indigenous communities have a long history of often violent interaction with Western intellectual, economic, and militaristic forces. Despite this, they often resisted the erosion of their intellectual values in relation to the conditions they found themselves in. The history of indigenous resistance can also give us inspiration for how to live a life in accordance with the virtue of respecting nature.

  1. Comprehension Questions (1-4 sentences) Raise 1-2 significant comprehension questions.

Do different indigenous traditions around the world have different conceptions of nature? How can we incorporate these other perspectives? Should indigenous virtues be considered universally or as locally and historically situated?

  1. Philosophical Question #1 (2-5 sentences) Raise an important philosophical question about the reading.

Is it possible for individuals entrenched within Western consumerist society to truly adopt respect for nature as an active praxis beyond an attitude if their sole means of sustenance come from sources which do not respect nature? Cuomo suggests that individuals may engage in protests, but ability to protest is also unevenly distributed. More broadly, can virtues be authentically actively lived in environmental conditions which are hostile to them?

  1. Philosophical Question #2 (2-5 sentences) Raise an important philosophical question about the reading.

Why should we adopt the virtue of respect for nature? If we adopt the virtue in service of the ‘greater’ end of a better future for humans rather than as a way of living to be lived by itself, then have we truly adopted it at all (qua Annas)? Will any invocation of the virtue of respect for nature in the context of the immediacy and potential devastation of climate change appropriate respect for nature as a proxy for the betterment of human lives?