Philosophical Disquisitions #3
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Thought Experiment of the Month: The Briber's Dilemma

Suppose you have just been caught speeding, pulled over to the side of the road and are about to be issued a ticket. You would like to avoid this outcome. You have three options: (i) say nothing and hope for the best; (iii) offer an indirect bribe (e.g. "hey officer maybe we could sort this out without the paperwork?") or (ii) offer an overt bribe (e.g. “If you scrap the ticket, I’ll give you 50 bucks!”). These three choices lead to different outcomes, depending on the values of the cop. If the cop is honest, then he won’t accept a bribe. If he’s dishonest, he will accept a bribe. If he's unsure what you are saying, he might not realise you are offering an indirect bribe. What should you do? This thought experiment comes from Steven Pinker and James Lee's theory of indirect speech. Their argument is that the indirect bribe is the rational choice in this scenario. See why by reading about their theory: 

Necessary Moral Truths and Theistic Metaethics

An older paper of mine looking at religious moral philosophy.

Abstract:  Theistic metaethics usually places one key restriction on the explanation of moral facts, namely: every moral fact must ultimately be explained by some fact about God. But the widely held belief that moral truths are necessary truths seems to undermine this claim. If a moral truth is necessary, then it seems like it neither needs nor has an explanation. Or so the objection typically goes. Recently, two proponents of theistic metaethics — William Lane Craig and Mark Murphy — have argued that this objection is flawed. They claim that even if a truth is necessary, it does not follow that it neither needs nor has an explanation. In this article, I challenge Craig and Murphy’s reasoning on three main grounds. First, I argue that the counterexamples they use to undermine the necessary truth objection to theistic metaethics are flawed. While they may provide some support for the notion that necessary truths can be explained, they do not provide support for the notion that necessary moral truths can be explained. Second, I argue that the principles of explanation that Murphy and Craig use to support theistic metaethics are either question-begging (in the case of Murphy) or improperly motivated (in the case of Craig). And third, I provide a general defence of the claim that necessary moral truths neither need nor have an explanation.

Read it for free on Philpapers or If you want the official version, drop me an email.

Best of the Blog

  • Pornography and Subordination: The Contextual View - Feminist critiques of pornography tend to fall into two views: (i) the constitutive view (which holds that pornography is itself a form of harm to women) and (ii) the causal view (which holds that pornography causes harm to women). This post looks at Matt Drabek's argument for a third view which holds that pornography is only harmful in certain contexts.
  • Does Death Make Us the Lucky Ones? - My attempt to analyse and defend Richard Dawkins' claim that 'we are going to die and that makes us the lucky ones'. Roughly corresponds to the contents of a talk I delivered on November 3rd in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
  • Technological Unemployment and the Search for Meaning - This is the text of a keynote address I gave at the W-JAX conference in Munich on the 8th of November. I look at the crisis of meaning that may be kicked off by technological unemployment and consider one possible solution to that crisis: video games and virtual reality.
  • What is Utopia? The Meta-Utopian Argument - A look at Robert Nozick's oft-neglected analysis of utopianism and his argument in favour of a meta-utopia (an institutional mechanism that allows people to build their own utopias).


Did you know that I am doing a podcast as part of my Algocracy and Transhumanism Project? You can subscribe here and here. Here the two episodes released in the past month (click on the titles to listen):

  • Episode #13 Laura Cabrera on Human Enhancement, Communication and Values - In this episode I interview Dr Laura Cabrera. Laura is an Assistant Professor at the Center for Ethics & Humanities in the Life Sciences at Michigan State University where she conducts research into the ethical and societal implications of neurotechnology. I ask Laura how human enhancement can affect inter-personal communication and values and talk about the issues in her recent book Rethinking Human Enhancement : Social Enhancement and Emergent Technologies.
  • Episode #14 Aaron Wright on Blockchain Technology and the Law - In this episode I interview programmer and lawyer Aaron Wright. Aaron is an expert in corporate and intellectual property law, with extensive experience in Internet and new technology issues. He is a professor at Cardozo Law School and the Director of the School’s Tech Startup Clinic. I speak to Aaron about the issues arising from his forthcoming book about blockchain technology and the law (co-authored with Primavera De Filippi) that will be published by Harvard University Press

Recommended Reading 


  • The Wealth of Humans: Work and Its Absence in the Twenty-First Century (Ryan Avent) - You might think that we don't need another book about automation and unemployment, but this one is surprisingly good. Avent provides a good overview of the current debate, drawing together several strands of data, and also provides some interesting insights into the existing labour glut and the importance of social capital in the modern economy. Definitely recommended.


A lot of my article-reading gets folded back into my blogging, but two papers that I've recently enjoyed and not yet had the chance to blog about are:
  • A Plea for Anti-Anti Individualism by Alex Madva - A lot of people argue that social problems are caused by systemic/structural failings, not individual ones. As a result, they resist policy interventions that are targeted at the individual level. Madva pushes back against this emerging orthodoxy, arguing that individualistic solutions are integral to systemic solutions.

Algorithmic States to Algorithmic Brains Workshop Write Up

Back in September, I hosted a two-day workshop on the social and political issues arising from increased technological outsourcing and increased technological integration. The workshop was part of the Algocracy and Transhumanism project. Pip Thornton (the research assistant on the project) wrote an excellent summary of the talks that took place that you can read here.
Distributed on a Creative Commons License (Non-commercial-attribution)

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