Professor James Griffin’s outstanding and important book, On Human Rights, has now been published by Oxford University Press. Professor Griffin is the White’s Professor of Moral Philosophy, Emeritus, at Oxford University, and currently holds appointments at Oxford, Rutgers University and Australian National University.

Dr. John Tasioulas (Oxford) has some wonderful remarks regarding Professor Griffin’s book, which he presented at Professor Griffin’s book launch on January 23, 2008, and which can be found here.

Professor Griffin’s address to the audience at the book launch, in which he shares his motivation for writing the book, can also be found here.

Brown on A Life Worth Living
By S. Matthew Liao

Dr. Campbell Brown from University of Edinburgh gave a talk recently at the Oxford Moral Philosophy Seminar on “How to Live a Life Worth Living.” An abstract of his talk is as follows:

Although ubiquitous in population ethics, the notion of a “life worth living” resists easy analysis. Intuitively, one wants to say that a life is worth living just in case living it is better than living no life at all. On reflection, though, this seems mysterious. To live no life at all is simply not to exist, to be nothing. But then it seems we have an instance of the “better than” relation in which one of the relata is absent; we’re trying to compare something, a life, with nothing. This paper proposes an analysis of lives worth living that avoids such mysterious comparisons.

12:43PM Closing Remarks. Great conference! Great job by John Oberdiek, Jerry Vildostegui, and Jane Rhodes for putting this event together.

12:40PM Doug Husak: It’d be good to have a better account of responsibility, so that it is not being used to do so many things.

12:22PM Question: In Scan, Jim is actively finding out what the Captain is thinking. This is different from overhearing, as in Stated Intention Cases.

Frances: this distinction shouldn’t matter in terms of assigning responsibility.

5:42PM Reconvene tomorrow at 9:00AM. I’ll continue the live-blogging then. :)

5:31PM Tim Scanlon asks Frances: What is the motivation for ‘downstreamism’? If harm is downstream from greater good, then it’s ok. But the other way is not ok, according to Frances. Why?

Frances: harm is necessary to produce the good. (The word ‘downstreamish’ may someday end up in the Oxford English Dictionary). Why try to develop a theory at the start when five minutes later you may come up with another case that undermines the theory? It’s better to examine a variety of cases first before developing a theory.

The latest issue of Utilitas features three fantastic articles from a symposium on Frances Kamm’s Intricate Ethics and a reply from Frances. Kamm Aficionados especially should check them out :)

Off Her Trolley? Frances Kamm and the Metaphysics of Morality
Utilitas, Volume 20, Issue 01, March 2008, pp 65 – 80

Discerning Subordination and Inviolability: A Comment on Kamm’s Intricate Ethics
Utilitas, Volume 20, Issue 01, March 2008, pp 81 – 91

Double Effect, Triple Effect and the Trolley Problem: Squaring the Circle in Looping Cases
Utilitas, Volume 20, Issue 01, March 2008, pp 92 – 110

New Blog: Practical Ethics
By S. Matthew Liao

Readers of Ethics Etc might be interested in a new blog called Practical Ethics, which “provides a daily ethical analysis of the latest developments in science, technology and other current affairs.”

The authors are drawn from researchers at three research centres at the University of Oxford, the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, the Program on the Ethics of the New Biosciences, and the Future of Humanity Institute.

What is unique about this blog is that the ideas expressed in the posts are intended to be one possible angle regarding ethical issues arising out of the new sciences, and DOES NOT necessarily reflect the opinion of the authors. Do check it out :)

The Appiah Reading Group will start in early March. In each session, a commentator will provide a summary of a chapter and some points for consideration. The post will then be open for discussion, and we welcome your thoughts on any aspect of the chapter.

Some ‘off-line’ sessions will also be held in Oxford during this time. Please contact me if you are interested in attending the off-line sessions, as the numbers will be limited to ensure a smooth running of the reading group. ** Note: It is NOT necessary to have attended the off-line sessions in order to contribute to the online sessions. **

In “Reasons as Evidence” and “Reasons: Explanations or Evidence?”, Daniel Star and I argue that a normative reason to A is evidence that one ought to A. In “Reasons”, John Broome argues that a normative reason to A is (part of) an explanation of why one ought to A (this characterisation is only rough). What both analyses have in common is that reasons are analysed in terms of oughts and not vice versa. I just wanted to ask what people think the prospects are for analysing oughts in terms of reasons. Here are a few natural ways to do this:

Professor Richard Holton (MIT) will be giving a talk on “Determinism, self-efficacy, and the phenomenology of free will,” this coming Monday, 11th February 2008, at the Oxford Moral Philosophy Seminar, and he has kindly offered to circulate his paper before the seminar.


Some recent studies have suggested that belief in determinism tends to undermine moral motivation: subjects who are given determinist texts to read become more likely to cheat or to go in for vindictive behaviour. One possible explanation is that people are natural incompatibilists, so that convincing them of determinism undermines their belief that they are morally responsible.

Dr. Neil Sinclair from University of Nottingham gave a talk this past week at the Oxford Moral Philosophy Seminar on “Presumptive arguments for moral realism.” An abstract of his talk is as follows:

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