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RS 181 - William MacAskill on "Moral Uncertainty"

Release date: April 2nd, 2017

William MacAskill

This episode introduces "moral uncertainty," the idea that you shouldn't be overly confident in your moral judgments -- like whether it's okay to eat meat, for example, or whether it's okay to abort a baby. The episode's guest is Will MacAskill, a founder of the effective altruism movement and Oxford professor of philosophy. Julia and Will discuss how to take multiple moral systems into account when making a decision, and how to deal with "absolutist" theories that insist some actions have infinite badness, like lying.

Will's Pick (in response to 'what's a book you disagree with but respect?'): "Anarchy, State, and Utopia" by Robert Nozick

Will's Other Pick: "Common Objections to Pascal’s Wager" by Amanda Askell

Edited by Brent Silk

Music by Miracles of Modern Science


Full Transcripts 

Reader Comments (6)

Very difficult to imagine perfect empirical knowledge. That means you know and can calculate absolutely every single consequence. Including heaven? And you know perfectly the mental states of all beings and their preference functions? I find it difficult to grasp what kind of uncertainty could possibly be left. Many moral theories are just like thinking tools or rather interventions. Like people hope that thinking in terms of virtue ethics make people develop their character, and the consequences of that are good.
Sorry to show my football supporter colors after topic like this. I'm definitely not confident but really confused.
April 3, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterET
Yesterday, I posted this an attempt to tackle a coarser kind of moral uncertainty in clear and simple language, and aided by a cartoon.
Am not sure to what extent I was successful, but wondered whether the contrast might be useful.
April 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAlan
Thank you for sharing the talk! It's great to know!!
July 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterCheryl
As Julia points out, ANY action you take has positive and negative potentials. Everyone makes choices about risk every day. As for eating meat, abstaining usually cost very little, since you have high quality foods such as dairy and eggs to replace the meat. However, if you have had no food for three days, and you and your family and close friends are starving, killing the chicken and eating it will certainly look like a compelling idea. Therefore, the possible benefit of a choice must compare favorably to the burden of that choice.
December 3, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJameson
I expect to see more from you in the future with nice information like this one.
March 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterIvan
There's a lot to take in and really think about in this episode. Probably will have to revisit this one a few more times for sure. Thankz
September 11, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterErnesto

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