Philosophy 290-6

Spring 2008

Number Title Instructor Days/time Room
290-6 Graduate Seminar: Permissibility and Meaning Wallace/Kolodny M 2-4 234 Moses Hall

Permissibility and Meaning. Themes from the Recent Work of T. M. Scanlon What are we thinking about, when we think about the “morality” of actions? A theme of T.M. Scanlon’s recent work is that we may be thinking about more than one thing. On the one hand, we may be trying to decide what to do. Within this deliberative perspective, Scanlon suggests, we focus on questions of permissibility. On the other hand, we may be trying to come to terms with what someone’s action says about him, or about his relations to others. Within this evaluative perspective, we focus on questions of meaning. Scanlon suggests that sustained and careful attention to the distinction between permissibility and meaning, or more broadly between the deliberative and evaluative perspectives, promises to illuminate several central questions in ethics. Does what we intend affect the morality what we do? How should we understand the resonant idea that morality is a matter of treating people as “ends, not means”? What is blame? When is it appropriate? Only when it is for something freely chosen? Does what we ought to do depend on the facts, or only the evidence available to us? Does intending something affect what we have reason to do? To provide background, we will begin by reviewing the central chapters of Scanlon’s What We Owe to Each Other. Then we will focus on Scanlon’s unpublished book, Dimensions of Moral Assessment: Meaning, Permissibility, and Blame