Dear Representative Boehner

Since you describe yourself as a conservative, and I can't think of anything more important to conserve than our environment both for ourselves and for future generations, I can't understand why you oppose President Obama's policy in that respect. And even though you speak of jobs, not only can jobs be devoted to its protection, but companies responsible for pollution can be taxed to provide the necessary funds. Thus, despite your initial objection to his policy I trust that you will end up by supporting it. It's time now for Republicans to join Democrats with the added advantage of preserving the grand old party's reputation. I look forward to seeing your response and hope that you will agree with me, or if not that you will give me your reasons for not doing so.

Let me add that although my wife and I started with very limited funds, we are now worth many millions, and that owing to the law of diminishing returns we favor increasingly progressive taxation. When we started, a thousand dollars made a great deal of difference, but it makes very little difference now. Furthermore, I assume that you are a Christian, and this is in accord with Christ's doctrine of universal love. I look forward to seeing your response and hope that you will agree with me, or if not that you will give me your reasons for disagreeing.
I should also add that I regard you as a true conservative and that the Republican party is not, as a pessimistic friend of mine once suggested, the party of the egotistical rich, the suckers, and the religious fundamentalists.

Best regards,

Richard I. Sikora
Professor emeritus of the University of British Columbia

Unforeseeable Consequences

D. A. Lloyd Thomas’s paper, ‘Consequences’ (Analysis, March, 1968) includes a clear summary of a traditional criticism of act utilitarianism (which I will refer to henceforth as AU):
The act utilitarian holds that an act is right if it is that action which has the best consequences out of the alternatives available. Thus, if we are to know which action is right we need to know what the consequences of each of the alternative courses of action will be. Quite often we have a good idea as to what the immediate consequences of an action will be. But the consequences of an action may extend on into the future indefinitely, and we cannot foresee what these consequences will be. Hence one never knows whether any action one performs is right, and so act utilitarianism is unworkable (p. 133).

Confirmability and Meaningfulness

R. G. Swinburne attempts to show by means of counter-examples that the confirmability criterion of meaningfulness (which he calls the ‘confirmationist principle’) is false (‘Confirmability and Factual Meaningfulness’, Analysis 33.3, pp. 71-6) [I am grateful to John Heintz and Richard Robinson for their comments and suggestions]. He holds that although the following statement which he labels p1 cannot be confirmed or disconfirmed by any conceivable kind of evidence, it is nonetheless meaningful. I would like to argue, on the contrary, that it can be confirmed or disconfirmed.
p1: Among possible claims about the pre-human past which the best evidence ever to be obtained by man makes highly improbable some are nevertheless true (p. 74).

Rorty's Mark of the Mental and His Disappearance Theory

In “Incorrigibility as the Mark of the Mental” [The Journal of Philosophy (June 25, 1970). Unless otherwise noted, all quotations will be from this article], Richard Rorty argues that although there is no characteristic that marks off everything that is mental, the contents of the stream of consciousness (thoughts and sensations) may be considered as that which is paradigmatically mental, and they are distinguished by the fact that sincere first-person reports about them are currently treated as incorrigible. (From now on, “incorrigible” will stand for “treated as incorrigible”.) He adds that “beliefs, desires, moods, emotions, intentions, etc”. (p. 491) are also taken to be mental because reports about them are almost incorrigible.

Facts, Promising and Obligation

John Searle attempts to show through a consideration of promising that at least some ‘ought’ statements can be derived from ‘is’ statements ['How to Derive “Ought” from “Is”’, Philosophical Review, 73, 1964, pp. 48-58]. He thinks (1) that you can determine on purely factual grounds that a person has made a promise, and (2) that it follows logically from the statement that a person has made a promise that he has at least a prima facie obligation to do the thing he promised to do. I agree with (2) but not with (1) [I follow Antony Flew in this, but my strategy is in other respects different (A. G. N. Flew, ‘On Not Deriving “Ought” from “Is”’, Analysis, 25, 1964)].

Utilitarianism: The Classical Principle and the Average Principle


Act Utilitarianism has traditionally been regarded as the view that you should always perform the action that will bring about the greatest possible excess of happiness over unhappiness or, if there is no such alternative, the least possible excess of unhappiness over happiness [I am indebted in this paper, as is often the case, to D.C. Brown. The paper has also benefited by comments and criticism from William Anglin]. Following Rawls, I shall call this the classical principle. An alternative which Rawls calls the average principle is the view that you should always do the thing that will bring about the highest possible average happiness level. Rawls, Rescher and Broad [John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Harvard University Press, 1971), p. 162ff; Nicholas Rescher, Distributive Justice (The Bobbs-Merrill Company Inc., 1966), p. 27ff; C.D. Broad, Five Types of Ethical Theory (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1930), p. 250] regard the average principle as superior to the classical principle, and there are considerable grounds for supposing that Mill accepted the average principle [Cf. Gunnar Myrdal, The Political Element in the Development of Economic Theory, trans. Paul Streeten (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, Ltd., 1953), p. 38]. Smart favors the classical position but confesses that if someone doesn’t feel the same way, he doesn’t know how to argue with him [J.J.C. Smart and Bernard Williams, Utilitarianism for and Against (Cambridge University Press, 1973), p. 28]. It is not immediately apparent that an action can be right in terms of one of the two principles but wrong in terms of the other. They do not, indeed, conflict in cases where the population will not be altered by one’s action, because in such cases the average level of happiness is a function of the total amount of happiness and of nothing else. But in cases where the population will be altered by the action, the two principles would frequently dictate different actions. For example, an action that led to an increase in the population might increase the excess of happiness over unhappiness but decrease the average level of happiness.

Rorty's New Mark of the Mental

Professor Rorty has claimed (‘Incorrigibility as the Mark of the Mental’, The Journal of Philosophy, June 25,1970) that the only thing that distinguishes events in the stream of consciousness (henceforth ‘mental events’) from physical ones is that sincere first-person reports of mental events are treated as incorrigible; he argues that because of this, mental events may eventually “disappear” even though life somehow continues much as it is now. I have argued (‘Rorty’s Mark of the Mental and His Disappearance Theory’, Canadian Journal of Philosophy, September 1974) that incorrigibility is not the mark of the mental; and if it is not, the view that it is obviously gives no support to his disappearance thesis. In response to this, Rorty has offered a new mark of the mental (‘More on Incorrigibility’, ibid.). I shall argue that his new theory of what distinguishes the mental is incompatible with his view that mental events may eventually disappear.

Classical Utilitarianism and Parfit’s Repugnant Conclusion: A Reply to McMahan

Jeff McMahan’s review article on Obligations to Future Generations is an important addition to the literature on population ethics. I am glad to have a chance to respond to his criticisms of my own contribution to the anthology. From my point of view they are ideal: I have rebutted them, but they have helped me clarify my position.

McMahan first discusses my response to two objections to classical utilitarianism (which he calls the Total View). Classical Utilitarianism tells us to seek the greatest total of happiness. In some cases, this could involve an obligation to add happy people to the world; in others, given the dangers of nuclear war and pollution, an obligation to refrain from doing things that might prevent the existence of future generations.

Argument from Analogy Is Not an Argument for Other Minds

The most common and for many the most forceful objection to the argument from analogy for other minds is that it must rely on a single case, namely, one’s own. The argument is held to be weak because it must generalize from that one case to a vast number of other cases. A standard reply (used by Ayer and many others) is that we do not need to proceed from a single case of one mind correlated with one body, that we can proceed instead from an enormous number of correlations between instances of behavior and experiences. The experiences and the instances of behavior all belong to the same person, but this does not preclude there being an enormous number of correlations between the two sorts of event. I think that this response is basically correct although it has been thought to suffer from certain weaknesses which I shall consider in some detail.