Since the majority of ethics research centres are dedicated solely to applied ethics issues, the Fundamental Ethics axis is an important asset of the CRÉ. Even if the central question of ethics is to know what to do in a necessarily particular context, it is crucial, in order to know how to answer it, to understand the concepts and the presuppositions around which they revolve. In order to advance reflection on the ethical issues of the different spheres of human activity, the projects in this axis aim to clarify these concepts and assumptions, to clarify the complex debates they give rise to and to develop the principles that should inform deliberation and practice.
Managers: Mauro Rossi and Natalie Stoljar
THEME I – The Nature of Morality
Leaders: Stephanie Leary, Jonathan Simon and Patrick Turmel
Other contributors: Christopher Howard, Stéphane Lemaire, Jonas Olson, Mauro Rossi, Sarah Stroud and Christine Tappolet
This theme concerns the fundamental ingredients of morality. The first project will study the debate between realism and moral anti-realism, whether moral facts are part of an objective reality or relative to a person or a society. In particular, we will see whether there are objective moral properties, and, if so, what kind of properties they are. In the second project, we consider an important objection to moral realism: the “evolutionary” objection, according to which the best explanation of our moral certainties appeals not to the idea of an objective moral reality, but to that of individual interests. Our purpose is to examine and defend certain solutions proposed in response to this objection. In the third project, we will see whether metaethics and substantive ethical theories are independent, as has traditionally been argued, or whether there is a closer connection between the two.
Project 1.1. – The nature of moral properties
Leader: Stephanie Leary
Other contributors: Christopher Howard, Stéphane Lemaire, Jonas Olson, Mauro Rissi, Sarah Stroud, Christine Tappolet and Patrick Turmel
The debate between moral realists and anti-realists is the debate between those who defend the thesis that there are objective moral properties, whether natural or unnatural, and those who deny this thesis. The first part of this project aims to clarify some fundamental terms of the debate, on which there is still a deep disagreement in the literature. What does it mean to say that a property is objective? What is a natural/unnatural property? In the second part of this project, we propose to examine in detail three competing metaethical theories: non-naturalistic realism, error theory, and moral constructivism.
Project 1.2. – The “evolutionary” objection against moral realism
Leaders: Jonathan Simon
Other contributors: Christopher Howard, Stephanie Leary, Stéphane Lemaire, Jonas Olson, Mauro Rossi, Sarah Stroud, Christine Tappolet et Patrick Turmel
It is plausible to think that our moral beliefs are, at least in part, the result of evolutionary pressure. However, if evolution is a process insensitive to moral truths, then most of the moral beliefs we have developed are unjustified. Worse, we have reason to believe that the thesis that our moral beliefs represent, for the most part correctly, a moral reality independent of us is false. This argument – often referred to as the “debunking” argument – is a strong objection to moral realism. The aim of this project is to examine this argument in detail and to propose a series of new solutions.
Project 1.3. – Metaethics and moral theory
Leader: Patrick Turmel
Other contributors: Christopher Howard, Stephanie Leary, Jonas Olson, Mauro Rossi, Jonathan Simon, Sarah Stroud et Christine Tappolet
Metaethics has long been considered a discipline practiced in isolation and having no bearing on ordinary life, whether at the level of normative theories, which seek to specify what we should do, or political philosophy. More recently, this view has been questioned. Thus, some contemporary metaethical arguments take normative theses as their premises, while moral psychology looks more and more towards social psychology. This project aims to examine the back and forth between the more abstract questions of metaethics and substantive ethical questions.
THEME II – Personal and public good
Leaders: Mauro Rossi and Christine Tappolet
Other contributors: Peter Dietsch, Luc Faucher, Pablo Gilabert, Ian Gold, Iwao Hirose, Christopher Howard, Stéphane Lemaire, Bruce Maxwell, Jonas Olson, Constantine Sandis, Jonathan Simon, Sarah Stroud, Fabrice Teroni et Patrick Turmel
This theme concerns the nature of the individual good and the collective good. The first project focuses on individual well-being and its relationship to an individual’s psychological happiness and emotional states. The second project focuses on the possibility of developing emotional intelligence with the aim of promoting well-being. A third project concerns the question of how ill-being should be measured and aggregated. Finally, the third project deals with the relationship between the good of an individual and the good of the political community to which the individual belongs.
Project 2.1. – Well-being and psychological happiness
Leaders: Mauro Rossi and Christine Tappolet
Other contributors: Luc Faucher, Pablo Gilabert, Iwao Hirose, Christopher Howard, Sarah Stroud and Fabrice Teroni
Several philosophers have recently suggested that the concept of well-being, understood as the concept of what is good for the individual, is distinct from the concept of psychological happiness and the concept of good life. This raises the question of what exactly well-being is and how it relates to happiness and the good life. In this project, we pursue four objectives: 1) to provide an analysis of the concept of “good for”, which is essential to understanding the notion of well-being; 2) provide an original theory of well-being, which also sheds light on the nature of the ill-being; 3) explain the relationship between psychological well-being (and, more generally, between well-being and affective states, including emotions); 4) explain the place of well-being in a life worth choosing.
Project 2.2. – Emotional intelligence, education and well-being
Leaders: Bruce Maxwell and Christine Tappolet
Other contributors: Luc Faucher, Ian Gold, Iwao Hirose, Mauro Rossi, Jonathan Simon, Sarah Stroud and Fabrice Teroni
Emotional intelligence is a set of skills: the ability to recognize one’s own emotional reactions as well as those of others, the ability to use emotions to help us solve problems, and the ability to understand the causes of emotions and the ability to regulate our emotions. These skills are considered to contribute significantly to the well-being of individuals. The question is whether they are fixed or whether emotional intelligence is something that can progress. More generally, it is questionable whether emotional intelligence should be the focus of our education programs.
Project 2.3. – The measurement of well-being and ill-being
Leader: Iwao Hirose
Other contributors: Peter Dietsch, Luc Faucher, Mauro Rossi, Sarah Stroud and Christine Tappolet
How should we assess or measure lack of well-being or ill-being? This issue is of great practical importance, as illustrated by the World Health Organization’s definition of “disability-adjusted life expectancy (DALY)” in terms of “years lost of healthy life”. The WHO then refers to the “sum of these DALYs in the population as a measure of the gap between current and ideal health status.” The aim of this project is to examine the question of measuring and aggregating the negative value of mortality, morbidity and disability. This project overlaps ethics, philosophy of science and biostatistics.
Project 2.4. – The role of the political community in the good life
Leader: Christine Tappolet
Other contributors: Peter Dietsch, Pablo Gilabert, Iwao Hirose, Mauro Rossi, Sarah Stroud, Christine Tappolet and Patrick Turmel
According to Aristotle and Plato, we are “political animals,” incapable of leading a fully happy life outside of a political community. This is obviously true in an instrumental sense: many goods that contribute to the quality of our lives, for example advanced medical knowledge, could not be obtained by isolated individuals. The traditional position, however, is more ambitious. It holds that the individual good and the good of the community are aligned and that the good of the community is, in fact, one of the constitutive elements of the good of individuals. In this project, we examine the following questions. In what sense is it impossible to lead a good life outside a community? Why does the community concerned have to be “political”? Why should the individual good be aligned with the good of the political community, in a well-ordered society or, a fortiori, in an oppressive society?
THEME III – Ethics and practical rationality
Leaders: Christopher Howard and Jonathan Simon
Other contributors: Aude Bandini, Marc-Antoine Dilhac, Luc Faucher, Ian Gold, Stephanie Leary, Stéphane Lemaire, Jocelyn Maclure, Dominic Martin, Mauro Rossi, Constantine Sandis, Natalie Stoljar, Sarah Stroud, Christine Tappolet, Fabrice Teroni and Patrick Turmel
The question of human rationality is crucial to how to evaluate human activity, especially with regard to deliberation and decision-making. Thus, we intend to work on the theme of standards of accuracy and requirements of rationality applying to attitudes. The first project examines the different types of reasons – theoretical reasons, instrumental reasons, etc. – that weigh for or against our attitudes. A second project will be an opportunity to question the very nature of these reasons and their relationship to practical rationality, which concerns action. Finally, a third project raises the question of whether, and how, theories of human practical rationality, such as “perceptualism”, can be applied to artificial intelligence.
Project 3.1. – The ethics of attitudes
Leader: Christopher Howard
Other contributors: Aude Bandini, Luc Faucher, Stephanie Leary, Stéphane Lemaire, Jocelyn Maclure, Dominic Martin, Mauro Rossi, Constantine Sandis, Jonathan Simon, Natalie Stoljar, Sarah Stroud, Christine Tappolet, Fabrice Teroni and Patrick Turmel
This project is about what attitudes we should have, that is, what our mental life should look like from a normative point of view. The aim is to develop a pluralistic ethic of attitudes, according to which the attitudes we should adopt depend both on considerations concerning the fittingness of these attitudes and on pragmatic considerations concerning the benefits that these attitudes could bring us.
Project 3.2. – Reasons and practical rationality
Leader: Christine Tappolet
Other contributors: Aude Bandini, Christopher Howard, Stephanie Leary, Stéphane Lemaire, Mauro Rossi, Constantine Sandis, Jonathan Simon, Sarah Stroud, Christine Tappolet and Patrick Turmel
The question of what constitutes a normative reason has been the subject of intense debate in recent years. Four main theories have emerged: (i) The reasons for doing A are proofs that we must do A. (ii) The reasons for doing A are facts that explain why one should do A. (iii) Reasons are primitive: the notion of reason cannot be explained. (iv) Reasons for doing A are facts that can serve as a premise in a good reasoning that leads to doing A. These theories can be compared according to different dimensions, for example according to their ability to explain why reasons are “defeasible”, in the sense that they can be invalidated by contrary reasons, why they can be weighed, why we can reason based on reasons, etc. This project aims to compare and contrast the main theories of reasons present in the literature, with the aim of identifying the most promising theory.
Project 3.3. – Rationality and artificial intelligence
Leader: Jonathan Simon
Other contributors: Aude Bandini, Marc-Antoine Dilhac, Luc Faucher, Ian Gold, Jocelyn Maclure, Dominic Martin, Mauro Rossi and Christine Tappolet
According to a promising theory, called “perceptualism”, practical rationality concerns the passage from perception to action, just as theoretical rationality concerns the passage from perception to belief: we “see” that an action is “to be done” and it is from this perception that we perform this action. One of the questions for perceptualism is to clarify what is the relationship between the perception of the value of an action and the “reward signal” as defined in cognitive psychology. Indeed, reward plays an important role in AI, as it guides reinforcement learning systems like AlphaGo or AlphaZero, which manage to play Go or chess better than human experts. The objective of this project is to examine whether it is possible to extend the perceptualist conception of practical rationality to the descendants of AlphaGo.
THEME IV – Ethics in the Social Context
Leader: Natalie Stoljar
Other contributors: Aude Bandini, Amandine Catala, Ryoa Chung, Luc Faucher, Pablo Gilabert, Ian Gold, Naïma Hamrouni, Iwao Hirose, Jocelyn Maclure, Bruce Maxwill, Mauro Rossi, Constantine Sandis, Jonathan Simon, Sarah Stroud, Christine Tappolet, Fabrice Teroni, Patric Turmel and Kristin Voigt
The theoretical themes described above raise a number of problems of application, two of which are dealt with here. The first project highlights how discussions of rationality, practical deliberation, and individual autonomy often neglect to consider the role of social context, particularly the impact of oppressive or unjust social conditions on agent deliberation. The second project explores the implications that attention to social context has on the ethics of psychiatric illness and the relationship between pathology and moral responsibility.
Project 4.1. – Oppression, rationality and autonomy
Leader: Natalie Stoljar
Other contributors: Amandine Catala, Ryoa Chung, Pablo Gilabert, Naïma Hamrouni, Sarah Stroud, Christine Tappolet and Kristin Voigt
This project focuses on the ways in which conditions of injustice and oppression interfere with the rationality and autonomy of individuals. One example is the phenomenon of “adaptive preferences”, in which agents unconsciously adapt their preferences to the conditions of sexism, racism or economic injustice in which they live. Are adaptive preferences irrational or non-autonomous? The project also explores the consequences of certain phenomena identified by feminist philosophers and race theorists, such as silencing, which interferes with the recognition of the voices of oppressed people, and “objectification”, which inappropriately instrumentalizes and attributes a lack of autonomy to oppressed groups.
Project 4.2. – Neuro-ethics and ethics of psychiatry
Leaders: Luc Faucher and Ian Gold
Other contributors: Aude Bandini, Jocelyn Maclure, Bruce Maxwell, Mauro Rossi, Jonathan Simon, Natalie Stoljar, Christine Tappoet and Fabrice Teroni
This project focuses on the important ethical implications of empirical findings from neuroscience and psychiatry. One example is the role of neuroscientific imagery in assessing moral and criminal responsibility. Another is how social conditions, such as persistent exposure to racism, increase the risk of serious psychiatric illnesses such as schizophrenia. These findings raise the question of the intersection between psychological and social dimensions and, therefore, the ethical obligation to focus on improving social influences on our brains.