Hale Ethics Series, 2010-11

Sponsored by the Hale Chair in Applied Ethics


Thursday, October 14th, 4-5:30, Liberal Arts Auditorium (LBR or #6 by the old identification system - A205)

Human Dignity: The Authority of Empathy

Dr. Remy Debes (Philosophy, University of Memphis)

Empathy has recently come to the fore in many areas of philosophical ethics. This paper continues that trend by claiming empathy can underwrite a normative standard for emotion itself. I dub this species of evaluation, “empathic justification.” The argument proceeds as follows: I first build a prima facie account by plumping the intuitive, everyday ways we use empathy to pass judgment on the emotions of others. Also, although superficial in many respects, I argue that this preliminary sketch demonstrates why empathy has a sufficiently robust psychological structure to support such normative judgments. From here I make a few refinements to the prima facie account in order to both obviate a few objections and flesh out the basic thesis. In the third and final full section, however, I argue that the kind of empathic justification I’m proposing is philosophically valid: it has an objective basis of authority. I claim that emotional assessments based on empathy derive their normative authority from an under-appreciated aspect of human dignity – an affective aspect. Part of the fundamental worth of human persons is essentially affectively constituted and this aspect of the value, or dignity, of persons underwrites the normative authority of empathy itself.

Thursday, October 28th, 4-5:30, Liberal Arts Auditorium (LBR or #6 by the old identification system - A205)

Are there Duties to the Dead?

Dr. Walter Ott (Philosophy, Virginia Tech)

Some philosophers hold that the dead can be harmed and hence that we can have duties and obligations to them. On George Pitcher’s view, for example, events that contravene a person’s interests, even when they occur after that person’s death, can count as harms. I argue that such views run into what I call the ‘symmetry problem’: if post-mortem harms are possible, then so are ante-partum harms, and this is absurd. If I can be harmed after my death, there seems to be no good reason why I also can’t be harmed centuries before my birth. I take up the more recent views of Steven Luper and Ben Bradley and conclude that duties to the dead cannot, in the end, be made sense of.

On Friday, October 29th, from 3-4:30, Dr. Ott will be discussing the following with students from the Philosophy Seminar and the Philosophy Honors Seminar. This is not an open session, but if you wish to attend, please contact the Hale Chair, Wade Robison.

Is there a Good Argument for Occasionalism?

Even considered in its own intellectual context, occasionalism – the doctrine that God is the only cause – seems pretty hard to take seriously. Malebranche takes himself, however, to have a number of persuasive arguments to back it up. Many scholars consider the ‘no necessary connection’ argument his most important piece of artillery. Roughly, the argument runs in this way: a true cause is such that the mind perceives a necessary connection between it and its effect; only in the case of God and his effects do we find such a connection; therefore, the only true cause is God. I argue that contemporary readings of this argument rob it of even prima facie argumentative force. I go on to suggest a novel reading of this argument (and a few others). Properly understood, Malebranche’s arguments are powerful, if not ultimately persuasive. Finally, I reply to some recent criticisms of my interpretation.


Thursday, December 9th, 4-5:30, Carlson Auditorium (76-1125)

Why Does International Health Research Cause Problems?

Dr. Janet Borgerson (Business, Exeter)

I am concerned with the ethics of international health research involving human subjects. I will begin with the pedagogic rhetoric of the program itself and then move to related issues regarding a standard of care and the ‘least advantaged members of society.’ The geography in international health research is so vast, and the boundaries of countries and the boundaries of acceptability so porous and moveable, that the concern for the human being, apparently so fundamental and the ground of original concerns, may lose centrality. Inequalities leave the least advantaged members of any potential global society at considerable risk of continued exploitation. Indeed, a crucial point in international health research involving human subjects is the ease with which human beings become research subjects and are represented as research subjects, particularly as these subjects tend to exist outside ‘contexts of care.’



Thursday, April 28th, 4-5:30, Carlson Auditorium (76-1125)

Pure Love: Moral Motivation in Malebranche

Dr. Tad Schmaltz (University of Michigan)

In his Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals, Hume attacks Malebranche for introducing an "abstract theory of morals," according to which "all right [is] founded on certain rapports or relations." But though Malebranche does indeed endorse the view of the "moral rationalist" that reason on its own can discover moral relations, he also offers a complex theory of moral motivation that allows a significant role for considerations involving our own pleasure or happiness. The significance of this role is clear from his response to those who claimed to derive from his moral views the consequence that we can be motivated to act out of a "pure love" of God that involves no concern for the happiness of any creature, including ourselves. Though Malebranche differs from Hume in rejecting the view of the "moral internalist" that the recognition of moral distinctions must itself be able to motivate action, he nonetheless agrees with Hume in holding that no apprehension of rational relations that is unconnected to our natural love of ourselves and others can motivate us to act.

Friday, April 29th, 3-4:30, Liberal Arts, Room 3214 (6-3214)

Causes to Laws: Descartes, Malebranche, Berkeley

Dr. Tad Schmaltz

Stillman Drake has claimed that the history of science from Aristotle to Galileo involves "a process by which causes gave way to laws." Without endorsing this general thesis, I emphasize a particular development in early modern thought that does reflect a progression toward the view that the laws invoked in science (—then called natural philosophy—) do not concern real causality in nature. I begin with a consideration of the pre-modern context for later discussions of causes and laws in natural philosophy, and particularly in physics. Then I turn to the interrelated discussions of physical laws in the writings of three overlapping early modern figures: Descartes, Malebranche, and Berkeley. On my (controversial) interpretation, Descartes endorses an account of laws on which they reflect the intrinsic powers in bodies to bring about changes in motion due to collision. Given his occasionalist view that God is the only real cause, Malebranche is committed to rejecting the claim that bodies have such powers. However, his identification of laws with God's "general volitions" reveals that Malebranche retains the view that laws are tied to real causal efficacy (albeit in God rather than in nature). Though his views on natural philosophy are indebted to Malebranche's occasionalism (as modified by immaterialism), Berkeley takes a turn away from both Descartes and Malebranche in holding that physical laws involve mere correlations among phenomena, and that the natural philosopher is concerned with such laws as opposed to real causes (the latter of which are the subject of the distinct discipline of metaphysics).

Thursday, May 5th, 4-5:30, Carlson Auditorium (76-1125)

Ethics, Norms, Exceptions

Dr. Ugo Perone (Humanities, Università del Piemonte Orientale, Vercelli, Italy)

Our tradition has mainly charged ethics with the task of elaborating norms having universal validity. Ethics has therefore assumed a prescriptive character that precedes concrete moral actions and that seems to retain more of a social validity (the constitution of a collective ethos) than of a real help to the individual who is confronted with ethically relevant questions. Although I do not intend to deny that there is a part of ethics concerned with the general determination of norms, I will focus my attention on the concrete dimension of ethical action; within this dimension, the attention is not on the rule but on the exception. How should one accept exceptions at the ethical level and not turn them into an unmotivated suspension of the rule? How to valorize, still at the ethical level, the individuals’ ability to offer behavioral exceptions that may nevertheless constitute ethical models?


These presentations are free
and open to all.

If you need interpreting services, contact Cassandra Shellman as early as you can at 585.475.2057 or via e-mail.

Presentations for previous years