Hesperus is Bosphorus

A group blog by philosophers in and from Turkey

Talk at Bilkent by Katherina Nieswandt (Stanford): “Practice Views Revisited”

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Katherina Nieswandt
Center for Ethics in Society
Stanford University

“Practice Views Revisited”

DATE: Thu 11 February 2016
TIME: 15:40-17:30
PLACE: G-160, Bilkent University, Ankara

Short abstract:

Thomas Scanlon and others have argued that ‘practice views’ give
the wrong kind of reasons for moral duties, which shows up in the fact
that they identify the wrong addressees of these duties. The reason
why I must not break my promise to you, for instance, should lie in
the harm that this does to you—rather than in the harm that it does to
the practice of promising or to our community. I demonstrate that the
wrong reason objection indeed applies to some practice views, notably
rule-conquentialism and (Hobbes’) contractarianism.  Drawing on ideas
by Elizabeth Anscombe, however, I offer an alternative understanding of
the role of the practice in ethical justifications.

Long abstract:

According to “conventionalist” or “practice views,” at least some moral
duties exist within social practices, and these practices play an important
role in justifying the respective duties. Among others, the theories of Hobbes,
Gauthier, Hooker and Rawls are commonly classified as practice views.

Thomas Scanlon has levelled a formidable and widely used objection against
practice views: They give the wrong reasons for our duties, which shows up
in the fact that they identify the wrong addressees. The reason why I must
not break my promise to you, for instance, should lie in the harm that this
does to you—rather than in the harm it does to the practice of promising or
to all the participants in that practice.

I grant that Scanlon’s objection applies to the mentioned theories. But I offer
a surprising diagnosis: (i) I argue that the conventionalism of these theories
is superficial. (ii) I show that the objection applies to them precisely because
they are not genuinely conventionalist and that (iii) any genuinely conventionalist
theory gives the correct reasons and identifies the correct addressees of our duties.
As a last step, (iv) I outline one such theory, using the understanding of the practice
in moral justifications that I find in Elizabeth Anscombe’s work. (v) My particular
proposal has an interesting application to rights: It enables us to be conventionalists
about rights without being cultural relativists about rights.

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Written by István Aranyosi

February 4, 2016 at 8:28 am

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