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

  • Law and Violence

    Guerrero, Alexander (USC School of Philosophy, 2022-05-27)
    The law marks a significant difference between violent and non-violent criminal actions. Violent crimes are typically met with more severe punishments and consequences than non-violent crimes. Even in discussions of criminal justice reform, the refrain remains: violent crime is different; those convicted of violent crimes are different; and it is appropriate to respond to violent crime differently. This article argues that the violent/non-violent distinction cannot bear the normative weight placed on it and that we should jettison violence and move to thinking about objectionable harm caused and risked. There are moral constraints on punishment from considerations of proportionality and equality, these are connected to wrongful harm and facts about agent culpability, and there is no consistent relationship between violence and wrongful harm nor between violence and culpability. The article concludes by offering an error-theory concerning our commitment to treating violent crime differently and suggests that morally better categorizations are available.
  • The Limits of Instrumental Proceduralism

    Monaghan, Jake (USC School of Philosophy, 2022-05-27)
    According to instrumental proceduralism, political power is justified when it is the output of a reliable procedure. In this paper, I examine how procedures are supposed to confer normative properties. Based on this assessment, I conclude that many proceduralists set the reliability bar too low. Next, I motivate two additional requirements for instrumental procedures. I introduce the notion of “predictable” procedural failure and argue that in order for a procedure to confer legitimacy or other normative properties on its output, it must not have failed predictably. Finally, I argue that even when procedures are highly reliable, it must not be the case that their failures fall disproportionately on certain people. The goal is to develop an instrumental proceduralism that is more sensitive to the failures of real institutions.
  • Moral Decision Guides: Counsels of Morality or Counsels of Rationality?

    Smith, Holly M. (USC School of Philosophy, 2022-05-27)
    In a two-tiered, or Dual Oughts, moral theory, the objective account of right and wrong is supplemented by decision guides (such as “Maximize expected value”) designed to enable an agent, uncertain about the circumstances or consequences of her possible actions, to indirectly apply the objective theory by using an appropriate decision guide. But are the decision guides counsels of morality or counsels of rationality?  Peter Graham argues they are counsels of pragmatic rationality.  This paper shows Graham’s view is unsuccessful, and argues, based on the approach recently developed in [Author] that decision guides must be seen as moral principles. An explanation is provided for why we may be tempted to interpret decision guides as principles of rationality.
  • Constrained Fairness in Distribution

    Hausman, Daniel (USC School of Philosophy, 2022-05-27)
    In “Weighing Up Weighted Lotteries: Scarcity, Overlap Cases, and Fair Inequalities of Chance”, Gerard Vong addresses intriguing problems in which it is impossible to give an equal chance of receiving a good to a set of equal claimants, because goods can be distributed only via groups which have overlapping membership. Vong proposes a rule for distributing chances that he argues is sensitive to both comparative and absolute fairness. This comment discusses some formal difficulties with Vong’s proposal and argues that it is better to separate the two concerns and to allow the tradeoffs between them to depend on characteristics of the goods to be distributed.
  • The Equivalence of Egalitarianism and Prioritarianism

    Enflo, Karin (USC School of Philosophy, 2022-05-27)
    In this essay I argue that even though egalitarianism and prioritarianism are different theories of social welfare, they can use the same social welfare measures. I present six different arguments for this thesis. The first argument is that conceptual connections between egalitarianism and prioritarianism ensure that any measure that works for either theory works for both. The second argument is that conditions necessary and sufficient to identify egalitarian and prioritarian measures, respectively, are equivalent. The third argument is that both egalitarianism and prioritarianism can use two standard measures, typically proposed for only one theory. The fourth to sixth arguments contend that four properties that have been proposed as distinctive of either egalitarian or prioritarian measures cannot distinguish between them. I conclude that any egalitarian measure is also a prioritarian measure, and vice versa.
  • What is the Incoherence Objection to Legal Entrapment?

    Hill, Daniel J.; McLeod, Stephen K.; Tanyi, Attila (USC School of Philosophy, 2022-05-27)
    Some legal theorists say that legal entrapment to commit a crime is incoherent. So far, there is no satisfactorily precise statement of this objection in the literature: it is obscure even as to the type of incoherence that is purportedly involved. (Perhaps consequently, substantial assessment of the objection is also absent.) We aim to provide a new statement of the objection that is more precise and more rigorous than its predecessors. We argue that the best form of the objection asserts that, in attempting to entrap, law-enforcement agents lapse into a form of practical incoherence that involves the attempt simultaneously to pursue contrary ends. We then argue that the objection, in this form, encompasses all cases of legal entrapment only if it is supplemented by appeal to the premise that law-enforcement agents have an absolute duty never to create crimes.
  • Well-Being as Need Satisfaction

    Fardell, Marlowe (USC School of Philosophy, 2022-03-28)
    This paper presents a new analysis of the concept of non-instrumental need, and, using it, demonstrates how a need-satisfaction theory of well-being is much more plausible than might otherwise be supposed. Its thesis is that in at least some contexts of evaluation a central part of some persons’ well-being consists in their satisfying certain “personal needs”. Unlike common conceptions of other non-instrumental needs, which make those out to be moralised, universal, and minimal, personal needs are expansive and particular to particular persons, generated rather by persons’ non-moral personal commitments. Against objections to the contrary, I show how these are genuine necessities, since unlike mere desires and freely escapable aims, personal needs constitute objective, inescapable, and non-compensable practical requirements. The personal-need-satisfaction theory of well-being combines objectivity with subject-dependence in novel ways, and motivates well-being pluralism at the level of individual agency. Implicating necessity as it does in the structure of individual well-being, this account presents a robust challenge to ethical and political theories that rely on the intrapersonal aggregation of well-being to be unproblematic.
  • Voter Motivation

    Lovett, Adam (USC School of Philosophy, 2022-03-28)
    Voters have many motivations. Some vote on the issues. They vote for a candidate because they share that candidate's policy positions. Some vote on performance. They vote for a candidate because they think that candidate will produce the best outcomes in office. Some vote on group identities. They vote for a candidate because that candidate is connected to their social group. This paper is about these motivations. I address three questions. First, which of these motivations, were it widespread, would be best for intrinsic democratic values? Second, how do the motivations of actual American voters affect the value of American democracy? Third, what motivations should individual American voters have? I argue that widespread issue voting would be best, followed by performance voting, followed by group voting. I argue that American voters do not much contribute to the value of American democracy. Their behavior makes it hard to achieve many democratic values. Finally, I argue that, were America an ideal democracy, American voters would have reason to vote on the issues. But, in their non-ideal democracy, American voters merely have reason to avoid voting on privileged group identities.
  • Why Paternalists Must Endorse Epistocracy

    Brennan, Jason; Freiman, Christopher (USC School of Philosophy, 2022-03-28)
    Recent findings from psychology and behavioral economics suggest that we are “predictably irrational” in the pursuit of our interests. Paternalists from both the social sciences and philosophy use these findings to defend interfering with people's consumption choices for their own good. We should tax soda, ban cigarettes, and mandate retirement savings to make people healthier and wealthier than they’d be on their own. Our thesis is that the standard arguments offered in support of restricting people’s consumption choices for their own good also imply support for “epistocratic” restrictions on people’s voting choices for their own good. Indeed, the philosophical case for paternalistic restrictions on voting choices may be stronger than the case for restricting personal consumption choices. So, paternalists face a dilemma: either endorse less interference with consumption choices or more interference with voting choices.
  • What is the Bad-Difference View of Disability?

    Crawley, Thomas (USC School of Philosophy, 2022-03-28)
    The Bad-Difference View (BDV) of disability says, roughly, that disability makes one worse off. The Mere-Difference View (MDV) of disability says, roughly, that it doesn’t. In recent work, Barnes – a MDV proponent – offers a detailed exposition of the MDV. No BDV proponent has done the same. While many thinkers make it clear that they endorse a BDV, they don’t carefully articulate their view. In this paper, I clarify the nature of the BDV. I argue that its best interpretation is probabilistic and comparative: it is the view that a person is likely to be, all things considered, worse off with a disability than without. As such, Barnes – who criticises the version of the BDV that disability by itself, intrinsically or automatically makes a person worse off – misses an opportunity to attack the most plausible and relevant version of the BDV, and the best version remains unchallenged. 
  • Normative Uncertainty without Unjustified Value Comparisons: A Response to Carr

    Aboodi, Ron (USC School of Philosophy, 2022-03-28)
    Jennifer Rose Carr [AJP, 2020] proposes a method to maximize expected value under normative uncertainty without Intertheoretic Value Comparison (IVC). Carr argues that this method avoids IVC because it avoids theories: the agent’s credence is distributed among a normative hypotheses of a particular type, which don’t constitute theories. However, I argue that Carr’s method doesn’t avoid or help to solve what I consider as the deeper problem of IVC, which isn’t specific to comparing theories as such. This threatens the implementability of Carr’s method. Fortunately, I also show how Carr’s method can nevertheless be implemented. I identify a type of normative uncertainty where the deeper problem of IVC is not a necessary obstacle to maximizing expected value: uncertainty that stems from indecisive normative intuitions. In some of the cases that feature such uncertainty, the agent could justifiably construct each normative hypothesis by reference to the same unit of value. This (positive) part of my argument complements not only Carr’s argument, but also some moderate defenses of IVC. The combination of Carr’s paper and mine illuminates the conditions for maximizing expected value under normative uncertainty without unjustified value comparison.
  • An Account of Normative Stereotyping

    Barnes, Corey (USC School of Philosophy, 2022-03-28)
    Adrian Piper provides an excellent way of thinking about both what motivates discrimination and the relationship between stereotyping and discrimination. Piper elucidates two kinds of political discrimination, namely first- and higher-order political discrimination. The relationship between discrimination and stereotyping can be captured by a form that I call “discrimination from descriptive stereotyping.” Here, stereotypical properties are taken to be possessed by and principally define individuals because of groups to which they belong; they are descriptive properties explain what group-members must be like. Discrimination results from and is thought to be justified by the perception that group-members must unfailingly possess certain negatively valued attributes because they belong to targeted groups. In this article I add a form of discrimination as related to stereotyping that has been rather overlooked, call it “discrimination from normative stereotyping.” Here, stereotypes prescribe criteria for what legitimate members of some group are like, and thus which attributes group-members ought to possess. Discrimination results from a failure of group-members to possess these stereotypical attributes. And thus negative evaluations that lead to discrimination are not made insofar as persons are thought to possess some negatively valued attribute. Herein I take discrimination from normative stereotyping to explain the use of particular slurs, namely race-traitor terms such as “Uncle Tom” and “Nigger Lover.” Targets of these slurs are discriminated against in some sense because they are perceived as failing to be legitimate group-members. 
  • The Goal Problem in the 'Now What' Problem

    Zhao, Xinkan (USC School of Philosophy, 2022-03-28)
    In this discussion note, I argue that the philosophers who propose solutions to the 'now what' problem for error theory typically face a goal problem. The problem has its root in the argument they back up their proposal with, which is one of instrumental reason, consisting of two premises. First, we as normal agents have a certain set of goals; second, agents with this set of goals instrumentally should accept their proposal. I argue that when we specify the set of goals with sufficient detail so that the second premise comes out true, the first premise will most likely come out false. These philosophers could retreat to a conditional solution, but that comes with the cost of the solution being less non-trivial; instead, they may try to establish the truth of the first premise, but that requires sufficient empirical investigation that no armchair speculation will suffice.
  • Is Epistocracy Irrational?

    Gibbons, Adam (USC School of Philosophy, 2022-02-28)
    Proponents of epistocracy worry that high levels of voter ignorance can harm democracies. To combat such ignorance, they recommend allocating comparatively more political power to more politically knowledgeable citizens. In response, some recent critics of epistocracy contend that epistocratic institutions risk causing even more harm, since much evidence from political psychology indicates that more politically knowledgeable citizens are typically more biased, less open-minded, and more prone to motivated reasoning about political matters than their less knowledgeable counterparts. If so, perhaps epistocratic institutions will perform worse epistemically than corresponding democratic institutions. Call this 'the problem of epistocratic irrationality'. This paper argues that the problem of epistocratic irrationality can be overcome. First, I argue that critics of epistocracy have overlooked several complications regarding the psychological data they claim shows that more knowledgeable citizens are less politically rational. Second, I argue that appropriately designed epistocratic institutions could overcome the problem of epistocratic irrationality even if such critics have interpreted the data correctly. I first explore whether refined selection mechanisms could allow epistocrats to avoid empowering less rational citizens, before assessing the prospects of implementing only those epistocratic institutions with a solid track record of reliable performance.
  • All Reasons are Fundamentally for Attitudes

    Way, Jonathan; McHugh, Conor (USC School of Philosophy, 2022-02-28)
    As rational agents, we are governed by reasons. The fact that there’s beer at the pub might be a reason to go there and a reason to believe you’ll enjoy it. As this example illustrates, there are reasons for both action and for belief. There are also many other responses for which there seem to be reasons – for example, desire, regret, admiration, and blame. This diversity raises questions about how reasons for different responses relate to each other. Might certain such reasons be more fundamental than others? Should certain reasons and not others be treated as paradigmatic? At least implicitly, many philosophers treat reasons for action as the fundamental or paradigmatic case. In contrast, this paper articulates and defends an alternative approach, on which reasons for attitudes are fundamental, and reasons for action are both derivative and, in certain ways, idiosyncratic. After outlining this approach, we focus on defending its most contentious thesis, that reasons for action are fundamentally reasons for intention. We offer two arguments for this thesis, which turn on central roles of reasons: that reasons can be responded to, and that reasons can feature as premises of good reasoning.  We then examine objections to the thesis and argue that none succeed. We conclude by sketching some ways in which our approach is significant for theorising about reasons.
  • Freedom to Roam

    Brinkmann, Matthias (USC School of Philosophy, 2022-02-28)
    Some European countries legally recognise a “right to roam”—a right to freely traverse across land, even if privately owned. Political philosophers have paid little attention to the right, and have often conceptualised property rights to include strong claim-rights to exclude others. I offer an account of the right to roam, and consider whether it can be philosophically justified on a left-liberal account of property. After finding a defence in terms of the interests served by the right lacking, I suggest that the most promising defence of the right to roam is that it serves as a symbolic reminder of a fundamental type of social equality.
  • Practical Commitment in Normative Discourse

    Vayrynen, Pekka (USC School of Philosophy, 2022-02-28)
    Many normative judgments play a practical role in our thought. This paper concerns how their practical role is reflected in language. It is natural to wonder whether the phenomenon is semantic or pragmatic. The standard assumption in moral philosophy is that at least terms which can be used to express “thin” normative concepts – such as good, right, and ought – are associated with certain practical roles somehow as a matter of meaning. But this view is rarely given explicit defense or even articulation. I’ll consider several versions of the view, and argue that even the most promising among them are problematic. Terms like ought are often used in ways where their customary practical role is absent. Such cases give us a choice: either offer some plausible explanation of why the relevant practical upshots don’t show up in these cases despite featuring in our semantic theory for these expressions, or else don’t build them into that theory. I argue that plausible explanations of the requisite sort aren’t forthcoming in either descriptive semantics or metasemantics for normative language. In closing I briefly consider the prospects for a pragmatic account of the phenomenon and some broader ramifications for metaethics and the philosophy of normativity.
  • Other-Sacrificing Options: Reply to Lange

    Eskens, Romy (USC School of Philosophy, 2022-02-28)
    In “Other-Sacrificing Options” (2020), Benjamin Lange argues that, when distributing benefits and burdens, we may discount the interests of the people to whom we stand in morally negative relationships relative to the interests of other people. Lange’s case for negative partiality proceeds in two steps. First, he presents a hypothetical example that commonly elicits intuitions favourable to negative partiality. Second, he invokes symmetry considerations to reason from permissible positive partiality towards intimates to permissible negative partiality towards adversaries. In this paper, I argue that neither the intuition elicited by Lange’s example nor the invoked symmetry considerations support a permission for negative partiality. This does not mean that negative partiality is unjustified. It means only that the justification, if there is one, must take a different form. I end by suggesting an alternative justification of negative partiality, one that mirrors gratitude-based justifications of positive partiality rather than justifications based on intimacy. 
  • The Indefensible Self-Defense Argument

    Hewitt, Howard (USC School of Philosophy, 2022-02-28)
    The self-defense argument maintains that, even if a fetus is a person, (pre-viable) abortion on demand is morally permissible on the grounds that the fetus is using his mother’s body in an intimate way, and, in an unwanted pregnancy, without her ongoing consent.  According to the argument, this sort of use justifies lethal self-defense on the part of the mother against her unwanted fetus.  I produce a counterexample to one of the premises of this argument and show that it cannot be successfully revised.  I further show the underlying commitments of the self-defense argument lead to the absurd conclusion that a woman who has consensual sex that results in pregnancy thereby violates the fetus’ right to bodily autonomy and so such an act would be morally impermissible.  We thereby have good reason to abandon the argument.
  • On the Normative Connection Between Paternalism and Rights

    Sheintul, Stephanie (USC School of Philosophy, 2022-02-28)
    Some scholars working on the ethics of paternalism are interested in whether there is a systematic normative connection between hard paternalism and people’s moral rights. One affirmative view is that hard paternalism is pro tanto wrong inasmuch as it always involves a rights infringement. Daniel Groll defends this view on the grounds that hard paternalism always infringes a competent adult’s right to be the only one to act only (or overridingly) for his own good. I call this right the right to self-beneficence. In this note, I argue that Groll misidentifies a right that competent adults have. Rather than the right to self-beneficence, I argue that if hard paternalism infringes any particular right, it is a right that a competent adult has against others “taking over” matters that fall within his sphere of legitimate agency or, by extension, the legitimate exercise of his agency. I call this right the right against legitimate agency interference.

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