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The John Locke Lectures - A Standard of Judgement

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Professor Michael Smith (Princeton University)

"Here is the beginning of philosophy: a recognition of the conflicts between men, a search for their cause, a condemnation of mere opinion…and the discovery of a standard of judgment." –Epictetus, Discourses, II:11


How much can we learn from the armchair? The answer turns out to be quite a lot. The aim is to show how it is possible for us to to know, from the armchair, that we are agents in a spatio-temporal world that may well contain other agents; that there are things that we ought to do simply in virtue of being agents; that many of these things correspond to what we ordinarily take to be moral requirements; that there may well be other things we ought to do that correspond to what we ordinarily take to be requirements of love and friendship, and that these nearly always have, but are not exhausted by, a moral dimension; and that there may well be yet other things still that we ought to do that express the interests we have in art objects and aspects of nature. When we leave the armchair and remind ourselves that we are embodied human beings who live among others in a complex physical and social world, we further discover that we are typically subject to all of these requirements, and we also discover, disappointingly, that we have a limited capacity to act in accordance with them. This sets the scene for a number of practical problems. We solve some of these problems by developing and exercising our capacity for self-control, and we solve others by cooperating with other agents to develop and implement formal and informal ways of regulating our interactions with each other and with the non-agential parts of the world.

From the Human Condition to a Standard of Judgement (more details...)
  • Professor Michael Smith
From a Standard of Judgement to Moral Rationalism (more details...)
  • Professor Michael Smith
The Best Form of Moral Rationalism (more details...)
  • Professor Michael Smith
Moral Reasons vs Non-Moral Reasons (more details...)
  • Professor Michael Smith
A Normative Theory of Blame (more details...)
  • Professor Michael Smith
Loose Ends (more details...)
  • Professor Michael Smith