The Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy is a peer-reviewed online journal in moral, social, political, and legal philosophy. The journal welcomes submissions of articles in any of these and related fields of research. The journal is interested in work in the history of ethics that bears directly on topics of contemporary interest, but does not consider articles of purely historical interest.The Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy aspires to be the leading venue for the best new work in the fields that it covers, and applies a correspondingly high editorial standard.


The library contains articles of Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy as of vol. 1(2005) to current.

Recent Submissions

  • Reply to Mark Lance, Ásta, and Marya Schechtman

    Lindemann, Hilde (USC School of Philosophy, 2019-12-13)
    Abstract here.
  • The Eligibility of Rule Utilitarianism

    Mokriski, David (USC School of Philosophy, 2019-12-13)
    According to the eligibility theory of meaning, often attributed to David Lewis, the referent of a predicate is the property that best balances the twin constraints of charity (i.e. fit with our usage of the term) and eligibility, where eligibility is a function of metaphysical naturalness (i.e. how much of a natural kind the property is). This sort of metasemantics, which is motivated by its ability to resolve problems of indeterminacy and secure shared reference between disputing parties, can be somewhat friendly towards revisionary (i.e. counterintuitive) theories, since highly natural properties can act as “reference magnets,” securing our reference despite some mismatch with usage. In this paper, I apply these considerations to normative ethics and argue that the theory of rule utilitarianism achieves a high balance of charity and eligibility. I proceed by comparing rule utilitarianism to two of its well-known rivals, act utilitarianism and Rossian pluralism (a.k.a. “Commonsense Morality”). I show how the former achieves a high degree of eligibility but only at a significant cost of charity, while the latter does the opposite, fitting very nicely with our considered judgments but at the price of very low eligibility. Rule utilitarianism, on the other hand, strikes a good balance between these extremes; it assigns to our core moral term (‘moral permissibility’) a relatively natural property without doing too much damage to our moral convictions. Thus, rule utilitarianism should be regarded as a promising moral theory by any philosopher who takes seriously considerations of eligibility and naturalness.
  • Sorting Out Solutions to the Now-What Problem

    Jaquet, François (USC School of Philosophy, 2019-12-13)
    Moral error theorists face the so-called “now-what problem”: what should we do with our moral judgments from a prudential point of view if these judgments are uniformly false? On top of abolitionism and conservationism, which respectively advise us to get rid of our moral judgments and to keep them, three revisionary solutions have been proposed in the literature: expressivism (we should replace our moral judgments with conative attitudes), naturalism (we should replace our moral judgments with beliefs in non-moral facts), and fictionalism (we should replace our moral judgments with fictional attitudes). In this paper, I argue that expressivism and naturalism do not constitute genuine alternatives to abolitionism, of which they are in the end mere variants—and, even less conveniently, variants that are conform to the very spirit of abolitionism as formulated by its proponents. The main version of fictionalism, by contrast, provides us with a recommendation to which abolitionists cannot consistently subscribe. This leaves us with only one revisionary solution to the now-what problem.
  • It's Complicated: The Complexity and Power of Lindemann's Narrative Framework

    Schechtman, Marya (USC School of Philosophy, 2019-12-13)
    Abstract here.
  • Counter the Counterstory: Narrative Approaches to Narratives

    Lindemann, Hilde (USC School of Philosophy, 2019-12-13)
    Abstract here.
  • Counterstories, Stock Characters, and Varieties of Narrative Resistance: Response to Lindemann

    Lance, Mark (USC School of Philosophy, 2019-12-13)
    Abstract here.
  • Ideological Absorption and Countertechniques: Comments on Lindemann

    Asta (USC School of Philosophy, 2019-12-13)
    Abstract here.
  • The Ambitions of Consequentialism

    McElwee, Brian (USC School of Philosophy, 2019-12-13)
    Consequentialism is most famously a theory of right action. But many consequentialists assume, and some have explicitly argued, that consequentialism is equally plausible as a direct theory of the right rules, motives, character traits, institutions, and even such things as climates and eye colours. In this paper, I call into question this ‘Global Consequentialist’ extension of consequentialist evaluation beyond the domain of action. Consequentialist treatments of evaluands other than action are most plausible when they are interpreted as claims about reasons for action; other key ethical concepts involve claims about what there is reason to feel, which makes a consequentialist treatment of them implausible.
  • Does Initial Appropriation Create New Obligations?

    Spafford, Jesse (USC School of Philosophy, 2020-01-16)
    A popular argument against the unilateral appropriation of unowned resources maintains that such appropriation is impossible because it implies a power to unilaterally impose novel obligations on others—a power which people cannot have given that they are moral equals. However, Bas van der Vossen has recently argued that initial appropriation does not create obligations in this way; rather, it merely alters the empirical facts that, together with obligations, determine people’s practical moral requirements. This paper argues that van der Vossen is mistaken. Specifically, it contends that the creation of obligations is accompanied by a distinctive kind of variation in the obliged party’s practical requirements across possible worlds. Given that initial appropriation entails such variation, the paper argues that such appropriation does, in fact, create obligations.
  • Freedom and Actual Interference

    Goldwater, Jonah (USC School of Philosophy, 2019-12-13)
    Liberal and republican conceptions of freedom differ as to whether freedom consists in noninterference or non-domination. Pettit defends the republican non-domination conception on the grounds that one can be unfree without being interfered with if one is dominated, and that one can be interfered with yet free if not dominated. I show that these claims mistake the scope of actual interference. In particular, I show that cases said to involve unfreedom without interference do involve interference, and that cases said to involve freedom despite interference— in particular, cases involving government regulations—are cases in which some interference is outweighed by protection from even greater interference. The liberal noninterference conception of freedom, therefore, can account for what Pettit claims can only be accounted for by freedom as non-domination.
  • Error Theory, Unbelievability and the Normative Objection

    Bruno, Daniele (USC School of Philosophy, 2020-01-16)
    One of the most formidable challenges to the Error Theory is the Normative Objection, according to which the Error Theory ought to be rejected because of its deeply implausible first-order normative implications. Recently, Bart Streumer has offered a novel and powerful defence of the Error Theory against this objection. Streumer argues that the Error Theory’s plausibility deficit when viewed against the background of our normative beliefs does not show the theory’s falsity. Rather, it can be explained by the fact that this theory, though true, cannot be believed. In this paper, I argue that Streumer’s defence does not succeed. I show that, even if we grant Streumer that we cannot believe the Error Theory, we can still formulate what I call the Undermining Normative Objection, an argument that proceeds only from believable premises to a believable conclusion and shows that the arguments supporting the Error Theory cannot all be sound.
  • Do We Have Reasons to Obey the Law?

    Flanigan, Edmund Tweedy (USC School of Philosophy, 2019-12-13)
    Instead of the question, ‘Do we have an obligation to obey the law?,’ we should first ask the easier question, ‘Do we have reasons to obey the law?.’ This paper offers a new account of the notion of what Hart called the content-independence of legal reasons in terms of the normative grounding relation. That account is then used to mount a defense of the claim that we do indeed have content-independent, genuinely normative reasons to obey the law (because it is the law), and that these reasons do sometimes amount to an obligation to so-act.
  • Social Reform in a Complex World

    Barrett, Jacob (USC School of Philosophy, 2019-12-13)
    Our world is complex—it is composed of many interacting parts—and this complexity poses a serious difficulty for theorists of social reform. On the one hand, we cannot merely work out ways of ameliorating immediate problems of injustice, because the solutions we generate may interact to set back the achievement of overall long-term justice. On the other, we cannot supplement such problem solving with theorizing about how to make progress towards a long-term goal of ideal justice, because the very interactions that render problem solving unsatisfactory raise insurmountable epistemic difficulties for this latter approach. To accommodate complexity, we must therefore give up on ideal theory, and instead supplement problem solving with a new sort of theorizing that aims to work out how to make our institutional arrangements more progressive: more conducive to further improvements in general, though not necessarily to the achievement of any antecedently specified goal. More concretely, we must identify ways of improving our capacity to flexibly experiment with many promising solutions to problems as they arise, to select for those solutions that prove successful while eliminating those that do not, and to learn from both our successes and our inevitable failures.
  • The Importance of Roles in the Skill Analogy

    Dougherty, Matthew Ryan (USC School of Philosophy, 2019-12-13)
    This paper argues for a reinterpretation of the skill analogy in virtue ethics. It argues that the skill analogy should not be understood as proposing that being virtuous is analogous to possessing a practical skill but, rather, as proposing that being virtuous is analogous to being a good occupant of a skill-involving role. The paper argues for this by engaging with various standard objections to the analogy, two recent defences of it, and Aristotle’s treatment of it in developing his account of virtue in the Nicomachean Ethics. It aims to show that neither virtue nor the skill analogy is correctly understood without recourse to the notion of a role and that once we have recourse to that notion, many objections to the analogy are met.
  • Judicial Corporal Punishment

    Moen, Ole Martin (USC School of Philosophy, 2019-10-18)
    Most of us think that states are justified in incarcerating criminals, sometimes for decades. In this paper I suggest that if states are justified in this, they are also justified in inflicting certain forms of corporal punishment. Many forms of corporal punishment are less burdensome than long-term incarceration, and arguably, they are also cheaper, fairer, more deterring, and less destructive of the social and economic networks that convicts often depend on for future reintegration into society. After presenting a pro tanto case for corporal punishment, I consider a number of objections. I conclude that although there are genuine downsides to corporal punishment that must be taken very seriously, the case for the judicial use of this punishment method is much stronger than what is commonly assumed.
  • Humility and Ethical Development

    Mason, Cathy (USC School of Philosophy, 2019-12-13)
    Humility can seem like a somewhat ‘unfashionable’ virtue: the word can conjure an image of cringing servility, unduly romanticised feelings of inferiority, or a level of self-denial which seems ill-placed in a life well-lived. But the term can also capture something of great ethical importance. In this paper, I will propose an account of humility that attempts to capture this moral significance. I will then explore the connection between humility and ethical development, seeking to argue that humility has an important role in ethical improvement. If such a connection is vindicated, it suggests that humility is valuable twice over: it has intrinsic worth but is also instrumentally valuable, enabling us to become better people.
  • There are No Easy Counterexamples to Legal Anti-positivism

    Atiq, Emad H (USC School of Philosophy, 2019-10-18)
    Legal anti-positivism is widely believed to be a general theory of law that generates far too many false negatives. If anti-positivism is true, certain rules bearing all the hallmarks of legality are not in fact legal. This impression, fostered by both positivists and anti-positivists, stems from an overly narrow conception of the kinds of moral facts that ground legal facts: roughly, facts about what is morally optimific—morally best or morally justified or morally obligatory given our social practices. A less restrictive view of the kinds of moral properties that ground legality results in a form of anti-positivism that can accommodate any legal rule consistent with positivism, including the alleged counter-examples. This form of “inclusive” anti-positivism is not just invulnerable to extensional challenges from the positivist. It is the only account that withstands extensional objections, while incorporating, on purely conceptual grounds, a large part of the content of morality into law.
  • Income Redistribution, Body Part Redistribution, and Respect for the Separateness of Persons

    Mazor, Joseph (USC School of Philosophy, 2019-10-07)
    This article considers the question of why labor income may be permissibly redistributed to the poor even though non-essential body parts should generally be protected from redistribution to the infirm – the body-income puzzle.  It argues that proposed solutions that affirm self-ownership but reject ownership of labor income are unsuccessful.  And proposed solutions that grant individuals entitlements to resources based on the centrality of those resources to the individual’s personal identity are also unsuccessful.  Instead, this article defends a solution to the body-income puzzle based on a novel conception of respect for the separateness of persons.  This conception holds that the sphere of moral authority protected from interference by respect for the separateness of persons includes both the body and labor income.  And the strength of the negative rights constituting this sphere vary based on these rights' importance to the personal identity of the right-holder.  It is shown that a commitment to helping the disadvantaged tempered by this conception of respect for the separateness of persons can solve the body-income puzzle.
  • Can Streumer Simply Avoid Supervenience?

    Elson, Luke (USC School of Philosophy, 2019-10-07)
    In his defence of an error theory for normative judgements, Bart Streumer presents a new ‘reduction’ argument against non- reductive normative realism. Streumer claims that unlike previous versions, his ‘simple moral theory’ version of the argument does not rely on the supervenience of the normative on the descriptive. But this is incorrect; without supervenience the argument does not succeed.
  • Can 'More Speech' Counter Ignorant Speech?

    Lepoutre, Maxime Charles (USC School of Philosophy, 2019-10-07)
    Ignorant speech, which spreads falsehoods about people and policies, is pervasive in public discourse. A popular response to this problem recommends countering ignorant speech with more speech, rather than legal regulations. However, Mary Kate McGowan has influentially argued that this ‘counterspeech’ response is flawed, as it overlooks the asymmetric pliability of conversational norms: the phenomenon whereby some conversational norms are easier to enact than subsequently to reverse. After demonstrating that this conversational ‘stickiness’ is an even broader concern for counterspeech than McGowan suggests—it applies not just to oppressive or hateful speech, but also to ordinary policy-related misinformation—I argue that a more sophisticated account of counterspeech can nevertheless overcome it. First, the stickiness objection overlooks the distinction between ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ counterspeech. Instead of directly negating a distorted proposition, positive counterspeech affirms a correct proposition that is inconsistent with the falsehoods at hand. This, I contend, allows it to counter ignorant speech without triggering the properties that render it sticky. Second, the stickiness objection presupposes an unrefined conception of counterspeech’s temporality. Counterspeech should be understood as a diachronic process, which not only follows, but also pre-empts, ignorant utterances. Drawing on speech-act theories of silencing, I argue that pre-emptive counterspeech can condition the conversational context so as to prevent subsequent ignorant utterances from enacting sticky conversational norms. Thus, this theoretically-refined conception of counterspeech helps appreciate how verbal responses might overcome the stickiness of conversational norms; and, in doing so, it reveals that this stickiness need not provide reasons to prefer legal remedies to counterspeech.

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