Global Priorities Guest Seminar (Friday - Week 1, TT19)


Some ethical theorists train their evaluation on the world as common-sense morality conceptualizes it, i.e. in terms of "consent", "promises", "property", "voluntary action", "doing/allowing", and so on. Others think that the path to moral knowledge lies in "looking under the hood" of these categories, in training our evaluation on less-familiar conceptualizations with which the common-sense ones are semantically or metaphysically linked. As Jonathan Bennett put it, they would have us take "warm, familiar aspects of the human condition and look at them coldly and with the eye of a stranger". Bennett's work in normative ethics exemplifies this latter orientation. He proposes to analyze the distinction between doing and allowing harm in terms of the number of ways in which the agent could have moved her body such that the harm would have occurred when and how it did. Finding this "number of ways" business morally insignificant, he adopts the revisionary view that the doing/allowing distinction is likewise morally insignificant. I favour this "cold", "eye-of-a-stranger" approach to moral and political theory, but I have not yet seen a persuasive argument for it. This talk is an elaboration and defence of this approach, using Bennett's argument about doing and allowing as a case study.

Global Priorities seminar webpage:

Global Priorities Seminar Convenors: Hilary Greaves and Rossa O'Keeffe-O'Donovan