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Nick Smyth
Fordham University
Nicholas Smyth
University of Adelaide
  1. The Function of Morality.Nicholas Smyth - 2017 - Philosophical Studies 174 (5):1127-1144.
    What is the function of morality? On this question, something approaching a consensus has recently emerged. Impressed by developments in evolutionary theory, many philosophers now tell us that the function of morality is to reduce social tensions, and to thereby enable a society to efficiently promote the well-being of its members. In this paper, I subject this consensus to rigorous scrutiny, arguing that the functional hypothesis in question is not well supported. In particular, I attack the supposed evidential relation between (...)
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  2. What Is the Question to Which Anti-Natalism Is the Answer?Nicholas Smyth - 2020 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 23 (1):1-17.
    The ethics of biological procreation has received a great deal of attention in recent years. Yet, as I show in this paper, much of what has come to be called procreative ethics is conducted in a strangely abstract, impersonal mode, one which stands little chance of speaking to the practical perspectives of any prospective parent. In short, the field appears to be flirting with a strange sort of practical irrelevance, wherein its verdicts are answers to questions that no-one is asking. (...)
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  3. Nothing Personal: On the Limits of the Impersonal Temperament in Ethics.Nicholas Smyth - 2022 - Journal of Value Inquiry 56 (1):67-83.
    David Benatar has argued both for anti-natalism and for a certain pessimism about life's meaning. In this paper, I propose that these positions are expressions of a deeply impersonal philosophical temperament. This is not a problem on its own; we all have our philosophical instincts. The problem is that this particular temperament, I argue, leads Benatar astray, since it prevents him from answering a question that any moral philosopher must answer. This is the question of rational authority, which requires the (...)
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  4. Moral Disagreement and Non-Moral Ignorance.Nicholas Smyth - 2019 - Synthese 1 (2):1-20.
    The existence of deep and persistent moral disagreement poses a problem for a defender of moral knowledge. It seems particularly clear that a philosopher who thinks that we know a great many moral truths should explain how human populations have failed to converge on those truths. In this paper, I do two things. First, I show that the problem is more difficult than it is often taken to be, and second, I criticize a popular response, which involves claiming that many (...)
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  5.  68
    The Hesitant Empiricist: Why Moral Epistemology Needs Real History.Nicholas Smyth - 2022 - Analysis 82 (1):190-200.
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  6. Moral Knowledge and the Genealogy of Error.Nicholas Smyth - 2017 - Journal of Value Inquiry 51 (3):455-474.
    In this paper, I argue that in order to explain our own moral reliability, we must provide a theory of error for those who disagree with us. Any story that seeks to vindicate our own reliability must also explain how so many others have gone wrong, otherwise it is not actually a vindicatory story. Thus, we cannot claim to have vindicated our own moral reliability unless we can explain the unreliability of those who hold contrary beliefs. This, I show, requires (...)
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  7. When Does Self‐Interest Distort Moral Belief?Nicholas Smyth - forthcoming - Analytic Philosophy.
    In this paper, I attack the widely shared idea that self-interest necessarily distorts moral belief-formation. I then offer a principle which can help us to sort cases in which self-interest distorts moral belief from cases in which it does not. As it turns out, we cannot determine whether such distortion has occurred from the armchair, rather, we must inquire into mechanisms of social power and advantage before declaring that some moral position is distorted by self-interest.
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  8. A Moral Critique of Psychological Debunking.Nicholas Smyth - 2021 - Journal of Social Philosophy 1 (2):255-272.
    It is extremely common to hear a person's speech criticized on the grounds that it is the product of hidden and unsavory psychological forces. This type of argumentative move is often criticized as committing something called the "genetic fallacy", but this is mistaken. The real problem with psychological debunking is not that it commits a logical fallacy. The problem is that there are powerful moral reasons to refrain from doing it, reasons that are of increasing social urgency. In this paper (...)
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  9.  61
    Structural Injustice and the Emotions.Nicholas Smyth - 2021 - Res Publica 27 (4):577-592.
    A structural harm results from countless apparently innocuous interactions between a great many individuals in a social system, and not from any agent’s intentionally producing the harm. Iris Young has influentially articulated a model of individual moral responsibility for such harms, and several other philosophers have taken it as their starting point for dealing with the phenomenon of structural injustice. In this paper, I argue that this social connection model is far less realistic and socially effective than it aims to (...)
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  10. Integration and Authority: Rescuing the ‘One Thought Too Many’ Problem.Nicholas Smyth - 2018 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 48 (6):812-830.
    Four decades ago, Bernard Williams accused Kantian moral theory of providing agents with ‘one thought too many’. The general consensus among contemporary Kantians is that this objection has been decisively answered. In this paper, I reconstruct the problem, showing that Williams was not principally concerned with how agents are to think in emergency situations, but rather with how moral theories are to be integrated into recognizably human lives. I show that various Kantian responses to Williams provide inadequate materials for solving (...)
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  11. Socratic Reductionism in Ethics.Nicholas Smyth - 2020 - European Journal of Philosophy 28 (4):970-985.
    In this paper, I clarify and defend a provocative hypothesis offered by Bernard Williams, namely, that modern people are much more likely to speak in terms of master-concepts like “good” or “right,” and correspondingly less likely to think and speak in the pluralistic terms favored by certain Ancient societies. By conducting a close reading of the Platonic dialogues Charmides and Laches, I show that the figure of Socrates plays a key historical role in this conceptual shift. Once we understand that (...)
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