One-Day Kamm Workshop in Oxford
By S. Matthew Liao

The Programme on the Ethics of the New Biosciences and the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, Faculty of Philosophy, Oxford University, are hosting a one-day workshop on themes from Professor Frances Kamm’s work.

“Nonconsequentialism, Moral Responsibility, and Permissible Harm: Themes from Frances Kamm”
Saturday 29 November, 2008 , 11am to 7:00pm
Lecture Room, 10 Merton Street, Faculty of Philosophy, Oxford University

Professor Kamm – the Littauer Professor of Philosophy and Public Policy as well as the Professor of Philosophy in the Faculty of Arts & Sciences at Harvard University, and this year’s Uehiro Lecturer – will attend, and presentations will be given by:

Readers of Ethics Etc, especially participants of the Kamm Reading Group, might be interested in a paper of mine entitled “The Loop Case and Kamm’s Doctrine of Triple Effect,” which has recently been accepted for publication in Philosophical Studies. Participants of the Kamm Reading Group are gratefully acknowledged in the paper. The paper can be found here, and an abstract of the paper is as follows:

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

Erica Roedder and I are writing about possible analogies between linguistics and moral theory. One such analogy is between the development of generative grammar and the approach to moral theory by Frances Kamm, which has received considerable discussion in Ethics, Etc. An early draft of our (highly speculative) paper is available online at and Erica and I will be extremely grateful for any comments and suggestions.

Gil Harman

The Near-Then-Far Case Poll
By S. Matthew Liao

Here’s a case from Frances Kamm which we have discussed previously:

The Near-Then-Far Case: You are passing near a child drowning in a pond, a child whom you are able to help. But, through no fault of yours, all of the following are true: You do not know that you are near the person, you do not know that he is in danger, and you do not know that you can help. After you are far away, you learn that you were near him when he was in danger, and you could have helped. You can still save him from that danger, in the way you could have when near, by putting $500 in a device that will activate a machine to scoop him out (377-78).

Chapter 16 of Intricate Ethics turns to an examination of Scanlon’s Contractualist moral theory. Focusing on particular themes that Kamm has discussed in the previous chapters, the aim here is to consider whether contractualism, as a metaethical theory of wrongness, offers a way of getting at the kinds of normatively relevant non-consequentialist distinctions that Kamm has identified as important without recourse to the careful scrutiny of cases. In what follows, I won’t try and summarize all the points Kamm makes in this chapter; rather, I’ll stick to what I take to be the points that have the most direct bearing on contractualism’s non-consequentialist credentials, namely what role the appeal to ‘wrongness’ is playing in the contractualist account and the kinds of considerations that are meant to be relevant for the reasonable rejection of a principle.

Chapter 15, ‘Harms, Losses and Evils in Gert’s moral Theory,’ applies one of the upshots of the discussion in Chapter 14 to Bernard Gert’s moral theory. The chapter is very short and is perhaps best understood as a continuation of the discussion in Chapter 14 of the consequences of the distinction between harming/not-aiding and losses/no-gains for moral theory. In what follows I assume Kamm’s distinction as it is made out in Chapter 14.

Chapter 14, entitled ‘Moral Intuitions, Cognitive Psychology, and the Harming/Not-Aiding Distinction’, engages with well-known empirical studies by Kahneman and Tversky that are thought to cast doubt on the reliability of our judgments about what ought to be done in particular cases. Kahneman and Tversky argue that such judgments are unreliable because they are susceptible to ‘framing effects’. A person’s judgments are subject to a framing effect if he comes to a different conclusion about what ought to be done in a given set of circumstances when presented with a different true description (i.e., framing) of the available options. One and the same policy can, for example, be described as protecting against losses or as yielding gains. According to Kahneman and Tversky, people tend to regard the sacrifice that is justifiable for the sake of preventing losses as greater than the sacrifice that is justifiable for the sake of securing equivalent gains. Hence their judgments shift if one and the same policy is (accurately) described (a) as protecting from losses or (b) as yielding gains:

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