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Volume 49 • Number 1

January 2012



 

 

Recipes for Moral Paradox


by Andrew Sneddon


Paradoxes play famous roles in philosophy. Mark Sainsbury's well-known definition is that a paradox is "an apparently unacceptable conclusion derived by apparently acceptable reasoning from apparently acceptable premises." Michael Clark has argued that some important paradoxes do not fit this model, and that hence we should have a more ecumenical notion of paradox. Either way, the philosophical import of paradoxes is clear.

Saul Smilansky notes that, despite the famous role of paradoxes in philosophy, very few moral paradoxes have been developed and assessed. Smilansky's point is particularly apt if we concentrate on paradoxes about values or moral reasons. Some paradoxes that have been examined by ethicists concern neither, at least in certain formulations. For instance, the toxin paradox and paradoxes of deterrence have interested ethicists, but their subject matter is philosophical psychology: by invoking scenarios in which agents will not later want to do something that they now have reason to intend to do, these paradoxes probe questions of the nature of and relations between intention, desire, and knowledge. Smilansky offers ten moral paradoxes to fill this gap. However, Smilansky's general observation is well-taken: despite his efforts, ethicists have not examined very many moral paradoxes.


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ISSN: 2152-1123