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Ethics and Political Philosophy Group Talk (Christopher M. Howard, McGill)

Friday April 21, 2023, 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm

The Ethics and Political Philosophy Research Group is pleased to welcome as guest speaker Christopher M. Howard, an assistant professor of Philosophy at McGill University. Dr. Howard works mostly at the intersection of normative ethics and metaethics, but he also enjoys writing and talking about issues in political philosophy, moral psychology, and the history of ethics. Increasingly, he has also become interested in issues surrounding the ethics of technology, particularly those to do with virtual and mixed reality.

Talk Title

Goodness Is Relative

Talk Abstract

It’s widely held that goodness and betterness (simpliciter) are impartial, agent-neutral evaluative properties. I argue that we should reject this and hold instead that they’re fundamentally agent-relative, such that whenever something is good or better, it’s good or better relative to some person or group. Holding that betterness is relative rather than neutral provides the best answer to a puzzle about fitting partiality. Plausibly, it can be fitting to be partial in our valuing attitudes. For example, even if all else is equal, it’s fitting for me to prefer the outcome where my partner is saved over the incompatible outcome where yours is. But if betterness is agent-neutral, the former outcome isn’t better. So if betterness is neutral, it can be fitting for me to prefer an outcome that isn’t better. But that seems false: what’s better is what’s preferable and what’s preferable is what’s fitting to prefer. The answer is to reject that betterness is agent-neutral. The outcome where my partner is saved is better relative to me; the outcome where yours is saved is better relative to you. Hence, it’s fitting for me to prefer the former and for you to prefer the latter. It follows that goodness is relative, too.

About the Ethics and Political Philosophy Group

The Ethics and Political Philosophy Group meets periodically throughout the year to discuss topics in value theory and related fields, including meta-ethics, normative ethics, applied ethics, social and political philosophy, philosophy of law, moral psychology, practical reason, agency, and identity.



Friday April 21, 2023
3:00 pm - 5:00 pm
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Andrew Franklin-Hall


Jackman Humanities Building, Room 418
170 St. George Street
Toronto, Ontario M5R 2M8 Canada
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