A Journal of Philosophy, Applied to the Real World

Volume 4 Number 2. December 2016


The Greatest Vice?
Journal of Practical Ethics 4(2): 1-24
History teems with instances of “man’s inhumanity to man.” Some wrongs are perpetrated by individuals; most ghastly evils were committed by groups or nations. Other horrific evils were established and sustained by legal systems and supported by cultural mores. This demands explanation. I describe and evaluate four common explanations of evil before discussing more mundane and psychologically informed explanations of wrong-doing. Examining these latter forms helps isolate an additional factor which, if acknowledged, empowers us to diagnose, cope with, and prevent many ordinary and serious moral wrongs. In so doing, I do not assert that the explanations of first call are never appropriate. I claim only that their role is smaller than many of us reflexively suppose, and that the role of the later feature I identify is more significant, in part, because it supports and amplifies the more mundane and psychologically informed factors prompting wrong-doing.
Ignorance, Humility and Vice
Journal of Practical Ethics 4(2): 25-30
LaFollette argues that the greatest vice is not cruelty, immorality, or selfishness. Rather, it is a failure on our part to ‘engage in frequent, honest and rigorous self-reflection’. It is that failure which, on his view, explains the lion’s share of the wrongdoings we commit towards one another. In this short reply, I raise (in a sympathetic spirit) some questions about the task of identifying the greatest vice, and draw out some of the implications of LaFollette’s account of moral ignorance.
Humanity’s Collective Ownership of the Earth and Immigration
Journal of Practical Ethics 4(2): 31-66
In my 2012 book On Global Justice, I argued that humanity’s collective ownership of the earth should be central to reflection on the permissibility of immigration. Other philosophers have recently offered accounts of immigration that do without the kind of global standpoint provided by collective ownership. I argue here that all these attempts fail. But once we see how humanity’s collective ownership of the earth can deliver a genuinely global standpoint on immigration, we must also consider two alternative ways of offering such a standpoint. First, some have argued that any given generation should be regarded as inheriting both the natural and the societal wealth of humanity. The second alternative invokes ethno-geographic communities characterized by particular land-use patterns. This approach would deliver a global standpoint on immigration by determining which community gets to select the land-use pattern for a given location. I argue that thinking about immigration from the standpoint of collective ownership of the earth is superior to both of those alternatives. While advancing a standpoint from which to think about questions of immigration/migration, this article also offers explanations to situate its themes in the current philosophical debate and cover quite a range of topics in the debate about immigration. No prior acquaintance with On Global Justice is presupposed here.
Twenty Questions
Journal of Practical Ethics 4(2): 67-78
In the first of this new series for the journal, Peter Singer responds to questions from the editors and Theron Pummer.
Necessity and Liability: On an Honour-Based Justification for Defensive Harming (Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Graduate)
Journal of Practical Ethics 4(2): 79-93
This paper considers whether victims can justify what appears to be unnecessary defensive harming by reference to an honour-based justification. I argue that such an account faces serious problems: the honour-based justification cannot permit, first, defensive harming, and second, substantial unnecessary harming. Finally, I suggest that, if the purpose of the honour based justification is expressive, an argument must be given to demonstrate why harming threateners, as opposed to opting for a non-harmful alternative, is the most effective means of affirming one’s honour. Along the way, I also suggest why I think that internalism about the constraints on defensive harming (the view that the satisfaction of the necessity constraint is a necessity condition of a threatener’s liability) is correct. Most importantly, externalism implies that threateners can be liable to suffer gratuitous harm. I take this to be an unattractive consequence of the view.
Consistent Vegetarianism and the Suffering of Wild Animals (Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Undergraduate)
Journal of Practical Ethics 4(2): 94-102
Ethical consequentialist vegetarians believe that farmed animals have lives that are worse than non-existence. In this paper, I sketch out an argument that wild animals have worse lives than farmed animals, and that consistent vegetarians should therefore reduce the number of wild animals as a top priority. I consider objections to the argument, and discuss which courses of action are open to those who accept the argument.