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 library contains vol. 1(2005) to current.

Recent Submissions

  • Making Peace with Moral Imperfection: The Problem of Temporal Asymmetry

    Golub, Camil (USC School of Philosophy, 2019-08-21)
    How can we rationally make peace with our past moral failings, while committing to avoid similar mistakes in the future? Is it because we cannot do anything about the past, while the future is still open? Or is it that regret for our past mistakes is psychologically harmful, and we need to forgive ourselves in order to be able to move on? Or is it because moral mistakes enable our moral growth? I argue that these and other answers do not properly resolve the problem of temporal asymmetry in our attitudes toward moral imperfection, and I defend an alternative response, centered on our personal attachments and our biographical identity.
  • Can 'More Speech' Counter Ignorant Speech? Tackling the Stickiness of Verbal Ignorance

    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.
  • Territorial Exclusion: An Argument against Closed Borders

    Weltman, Daniel (USC School of Philosophy, 2021-03-29)
    Supporters of open borders sometimes argue that the state has no pro tanto right to restrict immigration, because such a right would also entail a right to exclude existing citizens for whatever reasons justify excluding immigrants. These arguments can be defeated by suggesting that people have a right to stay put. I present a new form of the exclusion argument against closed borders which escapes this “right to stay put” reply. I do this by describing a kind of exclusion that has not been discussed in depth, which I call “territorial exclusion.” Territorial exclusion is the process according to which the group that wishes to exclude current citizens secedes from the territory in which those citizens reside. I argue that the wrongness of territorial exclusion explains why there is no pro tanto right for a state to exclude immigrants, because otherwise there would be a pro tanto right for the state to kick people out by seceding from the territory they inhabit. Because kicking people out like this is typically wrong, borders cannot be closed.
  • Is Deontic Evaluation Capable of Doing What it is For?

    Sharadin, Nathaniel; van Someren Greve, Rob (USC School of Philosophy, 2021-03-29)
    Many philosophers think the distinctive function of deontic evaluation  is to guide action. This idea is used in arguments for a range of substantive claims. In this paper, we entirely do one completely destructive thing and partly do one not entirely constructive thing. The first thing: we argue that there is an unrecognized gap between the claim that the function of deontic evaluation is to guide action and attempts to put that claim to use. We consider and reject four arguments intended to bridge this gap. The interim conclusion is thus that arguments starting with the claim that the function of deontic evaluation is to guide action have a lacuna. The second thing: we consider a different tack for making arguments of this sort work. We sketch a methodology one could accept that would do the trick. Unfortunately, as we’ll explain, although this methodology would bridge the gap in arguments that put claims about the function of deontic evaluation to work, it would do so in a way that vitiates any interest we might have in such arguments. As an aside, we’ll also point out how epistemologists, who have recently become interested in the function of epistemic evaluation, appear to already recognize this fact. The conclusion is hence a dilemma: either arguments from deontic function to substance have a lacuna or such arguments lack teeth.
  • An Occasionalist Response to Korman and Locke

    Killoren, David (USC School of Philosophy, 2021-03-29)
    Dan Korman and Dustin Locke argue that non-naturalists are rationally committed to withhold moral belief. A main principle in their argument, which they call EC*, can be read in either of two ways, which I call EC*-narrow and EC*-wide. I show that EC*-narrow is implausible. Then I show that, if Korman and Locke rely on EC*-wide to critique non-naturalism, then the critique fails. I explain how the availability of a view that I like to call moral occasionalism can be used to respond on the non-naturalist’s behalf to the EC*-wide version of the argument. I also show how moral occasionalism is more useful for this purpose than an alternative third-factor account, namely David Enoch’s pre-established harmony view.
  • The Welfare-Nihilist Arguments against Judgment Subjectivism

    Kelley, Anthony Bernard (USC School of Philosophy, 2021-03-29)
    Judgment subjectivism is the view that x is good for S if and only if, because, and to the extent that S believes, under the proper conditions, that x is good for S. In this paper, I offer three related arguments against the theory. The arguments are about what judgment subjectivism implies about the well-being of welfare nihlists, people who do not believe that there are any welfare properties, or at least that none are instantiated. I maintain that welfare nihlists can be benefited and harmed. Judgment subjectivism is implausible because it implies otherwise. 
  • Does Deportation Infringe Rights?

    Draper, Kaila (USC School of Philosophy, 2021-03-29)
    Many of those who argue that a state has the right to control its borders claim that, barring exceptional circumstances, the migrant who illegally enters a foreign state thereby infringes the state’s right to decide whom to admit to its territory. If they are correct, then the state enforces rights that the migrant infringes when it deports the migrant who has illegally crossed an international border. By contrast, proponents of “open borders” typically deny that a state has the right to exclude noncitizens from its territory. Many of them argue that, barring exceptional circumstances, the process of deportation is an infringement of the migrant’s right to freedom of movement. On this view, deportation infringes rather than enforces rights. The aim of this paper is not to determine which side in this debate has the correct answer to the question of whether deportation enforces rights or infringes them. Rather its more modest aim is to point the discussion of this question in the right direction, partly by arguing that certain prominent approaches to finding an answer cannot succeed, and partly by identifying some of the theoretical issues that cannot be avoided if a defensible answer is to be found.
  • Resisting Wrongful Explanations

    Shahvisi, Arianne (USC School of Philosophy, 2021-02-08)
    In this paper I explore a method for refusing uptake when explanations are morally and epistemically troubling. Gaile Pohlhaus Jr (2011) has shown that imploring marginalised people to “understand” marginalising practices amounts to a request that they legitimise their own marginalisation. In this paper, I expand upon this analysis with the aim of describing a method for withholding understanding. First, I analyse understanding through its association with explanation. Drawing on pragmatic theories, I describe explanations as speech acts whose success depends on the explainee granting the explainer uptake by revising their background assumptions. Those background assumptions sometimes reference troubling generalisations, and in those cases, the explanation must be blocked. Accordingly, I formalise a form of explanatory resistance in which the explainee feigns misunderstanding to corner the explainer into exposing the problematic assumptions upon which their explanation depends. Second, I situate wrongful requests for understanding within the epistemic injustice schema as “explanatory injustices,” emphasising the fact that marginalised groups are also specifically marginalised within the explanation economy. I conclude that we should be more cognisant of the way in which explanations track power, and be prepared to undertake resistance in order to expose moral and epistemic shortcomings in how we explain.
  • Political Disagreement and Minimal Epistocracy

    Gibbons, Adam F. (USC School of Philosophy, 2021-02-08)
    Despite their many virtues, democracies suffer from well-known problems with high levels of voter ignorance. Such ignorance, one might think, leads democracies to occasionally produce bad outcomes. Proponents of epistocracy claim that allocating comparatively greater amounts of political power to citizens who possess more politically relevant knowledge may help us to mitigate the bad effects of voter ignorance. In a recent paper, Julian Reiss challenges a crucial assumption underlying the case for epistocracy. Central to any defence of epistocracy is the conviction that we can identify a body of political knowledge which, when possessed in greater amounts by voters, leads to substantively better outcomes than when voters lack such knowledge. But it is not possible to identify such a body of knowledge. There is simply far too much controversy in the social sciences, and this controversy prevents us from definitively saying of some citizens that they possess more politically relevant knowledge than others. Call this the Argument from Political Disagreement. In this paper I respond to the Argument from Political Disagreement. First, I argue that Reiss conflates social-scientific knowledge with politically relevant knowledge. Even if there were no uncontroversial social-scientific knowledge, there is much uncontroversial politically relevant knowledge. Second, I argue that there is some uncontroversial social-scientific knowledge. While Reiss correctly notes that there is much controversy in the social sciences, not every issue is controversial. The non-social-scientific politically relevant knowledge and the uncontroversial social-scientific knowledge together constitute the minimal body of knowledge which epistocrats need to make their case. 
  • Supersession, Reparations, and Restitution

    harrison, caleb (USC School of Philosophy, 2021-02-08)
    Jeremy Waldron argues that claims to reparation for historic injustices can be superseded by the demands of justice in the present. For example, justified Maori claims to reparation resulting from the wrongful appropriation of their land by European settlers may be superseded by the claim to a just distribution of resources possessed by the world’s existing inhabitants. However, if we distinguish between reparative and restitutive claims, we see that while claims to restitution may be superseded by changes in circumstance, this does not entail that claims to reparation are. In contrast, claims to reparation are robust to changes in circumstance.
  • Contractualism, Complaints, and Risk

    Steuwer, Bastian (USC School of Philosophy, 2021-02-08)
    How should contractualists assess the permissibility of risky actions? Both main views on the question, ex ante and ex post, fail to distinguish between different kinds of risk. In this article, I argue that this overlooks a third alternative that I call “objective ex ante contractualism”. Objective ex ante substitutes discounting complaints by epistemic risk in favor of discounting by objective risk. I further argue in favor of this new view. Objective ex ante contractualism provides the best model of justifiability to each.
  • Objectified Women and Fetishized Objects

    Keller, Paula (USC School of Philosophy, 2021-01-26)
    Sexual objectification is commonly defined as treating a person as if she were primarily a sexual object. I call this the moral sense: sexual objectification of this kind is morally bad. But there is a second notion of sexual objectification: forming a belief that a person is as one sexually desires her to be. We might call this the epistemic sense: this kind of desire- driven belief formation is epistemically dodgy when belief is supposed to fit the world. In this paper I connect the moral and the epistemic sense with one another. I argue that this combined account of sexual objectification is analogous to commodity fetishism as theorised by Marx: both phenomena play a status quo maintaining role, both involve agents forming false beliefs about inherent properties of commodities or women and both beliefs produce evidence for themselves. This comparison is important to better understand the functionings of the social world generally and of sexual objectification specifically.
  • Games and the Good Life

    Ridge, Michael (USC School of Philosophy, 2021-01-26)
    It is widely agreed that play and games contribute to the good life.  One might naturally wonder how games in particular so contribute?  Granted, games can be very good, what exactly is so good about them when they are good?  Although a natural starting point, this question is perhaps naive.  Games come in all shapes and sizes, and different games are often good in very different ways.  Chess, Bridge, Bingo, Chutes and Ladders, Football, Spin the Bottle, Dungeons & Dragons, Pac-Man, Minecraft and Charades are all games, and can all contribute to a good life, but each will characteristically enrich someone’s life in its own distinctive way.  Some games facilitate socializing and sociability, other games improve physical fitness, some develop a sense of fair play and reciprocity, while others enhance concentration and analytic skills.  Asking ‘what is good about games?’ and assuming a simple answer is as naïve as asking ‘what is good about fiction?’ or ‘what is good about sex?’ However, a less naïve question and philosophically interesting question is not hard to formulate.  Plausibly, much of the heterogeneity of the value of games stems from the different kinds of instrumental value of different games.  Perhaps we should therefore ask in what ways the activity of playing games is characteristically good for its own sake.             Unfortunately, the philosophical literature on the non-instrumental value of playing games is sparse. One of the few sustained treatments of the topic can be found in an underappreciated exchange between Thomas Hurka and John Tasioulas.  Interestingly, despite taking different views of what it is to play a game, they both make room for the non-instrumental value of play and achievement in game play and they both argue that these two goods stand in important an important explanatory relation. However, they take diametrically opposed views as to which of these good is more basic.  Roughly, on Hurka’s view, the good of achievement is more basic, and it is because of the non-instrumental value of achievement that what Hurka calls “playing in a game,” which involves playing (full-stop), is itself non-instrumentally good because of the non-instrumental value of achievement.  The idea is that if something is non-instrumentally good then loving that thing is also non-instrumentally good, and that playing in a game involves loving the activity for its own sake. In this way, the value of achievement in a game grounds the value of playing in a game.  Tasioulas takes exactly the opposite approach. He argues that there must be something independently good about playing a game which grounds the value of achievement in that game.  On his view, the typical grounding good or “framing value” of games is play itself – what I am here calling “playing (full-stop).”             In this essay, I raise some objections to both Hurka’s view and Tasioulas’s view and develop a positive alternative conception of the non-instrumental value of games.  I argue that while each view is insightful in its own way, neither gets things exactly right.  For a start, the way in which they characterize the key concepts is problematic.  Hurka’s definition of ‘play a game’, which he lifts from Suits, is problematic (for reasons Tasioulas notes), while both of their characterizations of play are problematic for reasons I rehearse here.  They also take an unduly narrow view of the possible role of achievement in game play, both effectively conflating achievement with “excellence.”  I argue, by contrast, that there is an important sense in which even someone who is not very good at the game by any objective standard can still reap the goods of achievements in games.  At the same time, those who play games typically do not do so for the sake of achievements as such, though they may do something which is in a sense tantamount to this, or so I shall argue.  Finally, I argue that neither Hurka’s “achievement first” order of explanation nor Tasioulas’s “play first” order of explanation is fully correct.  I argue for what I call a “variable priority” view. On this view, the value of play (at least partly) sometimes grounds the value of achievement in a game, while in other cases the independently grounded value of achievement in a game provides a further ground for the value of play, though even in that case play is independently good for its own sake. I begin by laying out Hurka’s and Tasioulas’s views.  
  • The Moral Closure Argument

    Lutz, Matt (USC School of Philosophy, 2021-01-26)
    Abstract here.
  • Blaming for Unreasonableness: Accountability without Ill Will

    Ayars, Alisabeth A (USC School of Philosophy, 2021-01-26)
    Quality of will accounts of moral responsibility hold that ill will is necessary for blameworthiness. But all such accounts are false to ordinary moral practice, which licenses blame for agents who act wrongly from epistemically unreasonable ignorance even if the act is not ill willed. This should be especially concerning to Strawsonians about moral responsibility, who think the genuine conditions of blameworthiness are derived from the standards internal to our practice. In response, I provide a theory of moral blameworthiness on which ill will is not necessary for blameworthiness. On the view I defend, “Rational Capacitarianism,” agents are blameworthy whenever they act wrongly from an unreasonable attitude which is attributable to them, where an attitude is attributable to an agent just in case she has the capacity to assess reasons for and against the attitude and modulate the attitude in light of these assessments. Acting from unreasonable ignorance is just a special case of acting from an unreasonable attitude.  My theory contrasts both with both quality of will accounts of blameworthiness (Strawson, Wallace, Rosen, McKenna) and the Capacitarian view (Sher, Rudy-Hiller, Clarke), which specifies that agents who act wrongly from ignorance are culpable if they could and should have known better. On Capacitarianism, a variety of awareness-relevant capacities are pertinent, including memory; on my view it is only failures of rational capacities that render the agent culpable, because only failures of rational capacities are attributable to the agent.
  • Skeptical Hypotheses and Moral Skepticism: A Reply to May

    Licon, Jimmy Alfonso (USC School of Philosophy, 2020-04-30)
    May (2013) argues that moral skepticism is less plausible than perceptual skepticism if it’s formulated using epistemic closure (hereafter the implausibility thesis). In this paper, I argue we should be skeptical of the implausibility thesis. Moral skepticism can be formulated using closure if we combine moral nihilism with a properly formulated evolutionary scenario. Further, I argue that pace May, the phenomenon of ‘imaginative resistance’ isn’t an issue for the moral skeptic; she has an evolutionary explanation of the phenomenon. Thus, we should be skeptical of the implausibility thesis.
  • Doing and Allowing Harm to Refugees

    Hillier-Smith, Bradley (USC School of Philosophy, 2020-06-13)
    Most theorists working on moral obligations to refugees conceive of western states as innocent bystanders with duties to aid refugees if they can do so at little cost to themselves. This paper challenges this dominant theoretical framing of global displacement by highlighting for the first time certain practices of western states in response to refugee flows such as border violence, detention, encampment and containment which may make us question whether states who engage in such practices are indeed innocent. This paper provides the first normative analysis of these practices by seeking to classify them as either doing or allowing harm and invoking the fundamental moral imperative central to core common moral commitments - not to harm innocent people - to suggest that certain western states are not merely failing to aid refugees and allowing harm to come to them, but are instead responding to their calls for aid by harming them.
  • Planning on a prior intention

    Alonso, Facundo (USC School of Philosophy, 2020-03-25)
    Intention plays a central role in coordinating action. It does so, it is commonly thought, by allowing one to plan further actions for the future on the basis of the belief that it will be executed. Doxasticists about intention (Harman, Velleman) conclude from this that accounting for this role of intention requires accepting the thesis that intention involves belief. Conativists about intention (Bratman, Brunero, Mele) reject that conclusion. I argue that Doxasticists are right in calling attention to the existence of a cognitive aspect to intention-based coordination, but that such an aspect is better understood in terms of the attitude of reliance than of belief. I also argue that an appeal to reliance affords Conativists with useful resources for explaining that aspect of intention-based coordination in a way that is compatible with their rejection of the thesis that intention involves belief.
  • Risking Civilian Lives to Avoid Harm to Cultural Heritage?

    Bülow, William (USC School of Philosophy, 2020-04-30)
    This paper investigates the circumstances under which it is morally permissible to impose non-negligible risks of serious harm (including lethal harm) on innocent civilians in order not to endanger tangible cultural heritage during armed conflict. Building on a previous account of the value of cultural heritage, it is argued that tangible cultural heritage is valuable because of how it contributes to valuable and meaningful human lives. Taking this account as the point of departure I examine the claim that commanders should be prepared to risk lives of innocent civilians in order to avoid harm to tangible cultural heritage. I argue that imposing high risks of serious harm on innocent civilians without their consent constitutes a wrong that can be justified only in order to avoid a greater evil. It is then argued that damage to cultural heritage sites rarely constitutes the greater evil when weighed against the imposition of non-consensual risks of serious harm on innocent civilians, especially when the risk is substantial. Still, imposing substantial risks might be morally permissible under the condition that they are consensually imposed, even if they are not the lesser evil. However, I argue that even if one has reason to suspect that there are civilians who might consent to at least some significant risks in order to avoid damage to their cultural heritage, it is not clear that commanders should take this into account when deciding what to do. Unless all of those who are at risk consent, the fact that some of those whose lives are at risk consent to the risk of being killed do not make it morally permissible to impose this risk on the group as a whole.
  • Addressed Blame and Hostility

    De Mesel, Benjamin; 85917 (University of Southern California, 2020-08-01)
    Benjamin Bagley ('Properly Proleptic Blame', Ethics 127, July 2017) sets out a dilemma for addressed blame, that is, blame addressed to its targets as an implicit demand for recognition. The dilemma arises when we ask whether offenders would actually appreciate this demand, via a sound deliberative route from their existing motivations. If they would, their offense reflects a deliberative mistake. If they wouldn't, addressing them is futile, and blame's emotional engagement seems unwarranted. Bagley wants to resolve the dilemma in such a way that addressed blame's distinctive elements of hostility and emotional engagement can be accounted for. I argue that Bagley's focus on the proleptic character of addressed blame helps to avoid the dilemma, but that Bagley has difficulties accounting for the element of hostility in addressed blame. I suggest that an alternative account of addressed blame makes better sense of Bagley's paradigm example, avoids Bagley's dilemma in the way Bagley's original solution does, because it preserves addressed blame's proleptic character, and can account for addressed blame's elements of emotional engagement and hostility.

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