Institutions and Consequentialist Demands
EURIAS Research Fellowship, 2016-2017, Collegium Helveticum, ETH/University of Zurich, Switzerland
Abstract. Consequentialists hold that the right course of action is the one that produces the best results as judged from an impartial perspective. However, it is often claimed that this requirement is excessively demanding. The objective of the project is to discuss an unexamined response to this objection. The core idea is to direct attention to the ability of institutions to reduce moral demands on individuals. The project argues for this idea by showing that a division of labour is justifiable: the demanding moral principles regulate institutions, whereas individuals have the duty to set up and maintain these institutions.
Participants: Attila Tanyi (PI, Philosophy, Liverpool); Andras Miklos (CoPI, Simon Business School, Rochester).
Reasons and Their Ontology
Abstract. This project engages with the debate on the ontology of reasons. The three leading positions in this debate is that practical reasons are states of affairs, that they are mental states or that they are propositions. The project's ultimate aim is to show that this last position is the correct one. One existing research paper considers the debate between those who hold that normative practical reasons are propositions and those who think that they are states of affairs, defending the former position against Jonathan Dancy's recent attacks. Another research paper clarifies the connection between reasons and beliefs, this time, in a positive tone, suggesting how the idea that reasons are states of affairs can best be defended. A third paper is also in preparation that would connect our position on practical reasons to the corresponding debate about the ontology of epistemic reasons.
Participants: Attila Tanyi (PI, Philosophy, Liverpool); Matteo Morganti (CoPI, Philosophy, Rome).
Consequentialism and Its Demands: On the Authority of Consequentialism
DFG (German Science Foundation) research grant (Sachbeihilfe), 2011-2015
Abstract. According to consequentialism the right action is the one that produces the best results as judged from an impersonal point of view. It is often claimed that this requirement is so demanding that it is unacceptable for any agent to follow it. The project aims to break with current trends in discussing this so-called Overdemandingness Objection by focusing on a less investigated aspect of consequentialist demands: their authority. The Objection thus takes the following form: consequentialism is overdemanding because it requires us, with decisive force, to do things that we do not have decisive reason to perform. The project argues that this is the only defensible interpretation of the Objection and, accordingly, responding to the Objection will require us to deny this interpretation. In doing so, the project assesses the truth of three claims that are needed for the Objection to go through: there are reasons to act morally; there are reasons to act as consequentialism requires; consequentialist reasons override other conflicting reasons of the agent. The project argues for the truth of the first two claims, but rejects the third claim as false. In its approach this is a moral enterprise, but in its significance it is also political. In our world the demands of consequentialism are real: pressing moral questions with clear practical implications arise in both the national and the international arena; answering them makes examination of the Objection an important task.
Participants: Attila Tanyi (PI, Philosophy, Konstanz, project); Vuko Andric (Philosophy, Konstanz, doctoral student).
Overdemanding Consequentialism? Experiments on Moral Intuitions’
Zukunftskolleg (University of Konstanz, Germany) co-funding grant, 2010-2012
Abstract. In several studies, we have tested the proposition that there exists a widely shared intuition that at least some consequentialist demands are unreasonably extreme. Based on the philosophical literature discussing the Overdemandingness Objection, we initially expected that (a) Hypothesis 1: increasing demands would be associated with higher levels of rejection of the consequentialist course of action and (b) Hypothesis 2: that at least in some cases the consequentialist course of action would be perceived as overly demanding by most if not all participants. Our experiments have confirmed Hypothesis 1, but were not in line with Hypothesis 2.
Participants: Martin Bruder (PI, Psychology, Konstanz), Attila Tanyi (CoPI, Philosophy, Konstanz).
PROJECTS UNDER PREPARATION
Too Much of a Good Thing? An Experimental Inquiry Into the Intuitive Basis of the Overdemandingness Objection to Consequentialism
AHRC funding bid, near submission
Abstract. What we want to do is to see how much people are willing to sacrifice for morality’s sake. There is an objection to the moral theory known as consequentialism/utilitarianism (roughly: you ought to do as much good as possible) that says it demands too much. We would like to see if this is indeed so and to this end, we want to draw up, as it were, a map of consequentialist demands vs. non-moral projects: at what point do people “check out” and opt to follow non-moral considerations? We take it that answering this sort of question(s) should be helpful to charities and in general evidence-based fundraising efforts. Moreover, we want to carry out this investigation in a novel way, in part relying on people’s moral emotions (because we think that there is a strong connection between moral intuitions and emotions). This should also be useful since it could inform fundraisers about, e.g., what drives people in their moral decision-making. Emotions are often underrated as non-rational or irrational and this might be true of some of them - but it is certainly not true of all of them. Our research should provide useful information on these crucial elements of moral decision-making.
Participants: Attila Tanyi (PI, Philosophy, Liverpool, project leader); Joseph Sweetman (CoI, Psychology, Exeter), supporting staff (research assistants)
The Role of Reasons in the Ethics of the Allocation of Health-Care Resources
Abstract. The idea is that once we have an account of reasons and their weight, we can employ this knowledge in facing the challenges of resource allocation. We can try to limit the demands on health care resources not on the basis of the content of the reasons employed, i.e., the demands generated by different theories in the field, but by the weight these theories attach to competing reasons. Alternatively, if, for instance, the above solution does not work, we can employ our newly gained knowledge in seeing what reasons and with what weight can the agent employ in his bid for resources in the public, democratic debate.
Participants: Attila Tanyi (PI, Philosophy, Konstanz); Andras Miklos (CoI, Simon Business School, University of Rochester).