Essays by Stuart Rachels


Here are some essays you can download.

  "Vegetarianism," to appear in The Oxford Handbook of Ethics and Animals, edited by Tom Beauchamp and Raymond Frey.

Abstract:   Over the last fifty years, traditional farming has been replaced by industrial farming. Unlike traditional farming, industrial farming is abhorrently cruel to animals, environmentally destructive, awful for rural America, and wretched for human health. In this essay, I document those facts, explain why the industrial system has become dominant, and argue that we should boycott industrially produced meat. Also, I argue that we should not even kill animals humanely for food, given our uncertainty about which creatures possess a right to life. In practice, then, we should be vegetarians. To underscore the importance of these issues, I use statistics to show that industrial farming has caused more pain and suffering than the Holocaust.

  "On Three Alleged Theories of Rational Behavior," Utilitas, Vol. 21, Issue 4 (December 2009), pp. 506-520.

Abstract:   What behavior is rational? It's rational to act ethically, some think. Others endorse instrumentalism about rational behavior. Still others say that acting rationally always involves pursuing one's self-interest. Many philosophers have given each of these answers. But these answers don't really conflict; they aren't vying to describe some shared concept or to account for some common subject matter. Insofar as this matter is debated, it is a pseudo-debate. The different uses of 'rational action' differ merely in meaning.

  "The Reviled Art," in Philosophy Looks at Chess, edited by Benjamin Hale (Open Court Press, 2008), pp. 209-225.

Abstract: This is an essay for the general public about the beauty of chess and why the game is so unpopular in America.

  "Nothing Matters in Survival" (with Torin Alter), The Journal of Ethics, Vol. 9, No. 3-4 (October, 2005), pp. 311-330.

Abstract:   Do I have a special reason to care about my future, as opposed to yours? We reject the common belief that I do. Putting our thesis paradoxically, we say that nothing matters in survival: nothing in our continued existence justifies any special self-concern. Such an "extreme" view is standardly tied to ideas about the metaphysics of persons, but not by us. After rejecting various arguments against our thesis, we conclude that simplicity decides in its favor.
      Throughout the essay we honor Jim Rachels, whose final days exemplified his own unselfish morality as well as the "neutralist" ideal we espouse. As an appendix, we include the last original work to be published by James Rachels, in which he criticizes Sidgwick's most famous defense of egoism.

  "Six Theses About Pleasure," Philosophical Perspectives 18: Ethics (December, 2004), pp. 247-267.

Abstract:   I defend these claims: (1) 'Pleasure' has exactly one English antonym: 'unpleasure'. (2) Pleasure is the most convincing example of an organic unity. (3) The hedonic calculus is a joke. (4) An important type of pleasure is background pleasure. (5) Pleasures in bad company are still good. (6) Higher pleasures aren't pleasures (and if they were, they wouldn't be higher). Thesis (1) merely concerns terminology, but theses (2)-(6) are substantive, evaluative claims.

  "Repugnance or Intransitivity: A Repugnant But Forced Choice," The Repugnant Conclusion: Essays on Population Ethics, Jesper Ryberg and Torbjorn Tannsjo, eds. (Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2004), pp. 163-186.

Abstract:   A set of arguments shows that either the Repugnant Conclusion and its variants are true or the better-than relation isn't transitive. Which is it? This is the most important question in population ethics. The answer will point the way to Parfit's elusive Theory X.

  "Epistemicism and the Combined Spectrum" (with Torin Alter), Ratio, Vol. XVII, No. 3 (September 2004), pp. 241-255.

Abstract:   Derek Parfit's combined-spectrum argument seems to conflict with epistemicism, a viable theory of vagueness. While Parfit argues for the indeterminacy of personhood, epistemicism denies indeterminacy. But, we argue, the linguistically based determinacy that epistemicism supports lacks the sort of normative or ontological significance that concerns Parfit. Thus, we reformulate his argument to make it consistent with epistemicism. We also dispute Roy Sorensen's suggestion that Parfit's argument relies on an assumption that fuels resistance to epistemicism, namely, that "the magnitude of a modification must be proportional to its effect."

  "A Defense of Two Optimistic Claims in Ethical Theory," Philosophical Studies, Vol. 112, No. 1, January (I) 2003, pp. 1-30.

Abstract:   I aim to show that (i) there are good ways to argue about what has intrinsic value; and (ii) good ethical arguments needn't make ethical assumptions. I support (i) and (ii) by rebutting direct attacks, by discussing nine plausible ways to argue about intrinsic value, and by arguing for pain's intrinsic badness without making ethical assumptions. If (i) and (ii) are correct, then ethical theory has more resources than many philosophers have thought: empirical evidence, and evidence bearing on intrinsic value. With more resources, we can hope to base all of our moral beliefs on evidence rather than on, say, emotion or mere intuition.

  "Nagelian Arguments Against Egoism." Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 80, No. 2 (June 2002), pp. 191-208.

Abstract:   On ethical egoism, the fact that I would suffer is no reason by itself for you not to torture me. This may seem implausible--monstrous, even--but what evidence can we offer against it? Here I examine several arguments which receive some expression in Thomas Nagel's work. Each tries to show that a normative reason to end my pain is a reason for all agents. The arguments in Section 1 emphasize reasons that don't entail agents and thus purportedly apply to all agents. In Section 2, I examine the Argument from Dissociation, according to which my pain seems bad upon reflection, even without reflecting on its relation to me. Section 3 examines the Argument from Inability, which claims that my occurrent pains would seem bad to me, even if I couldn't think about their relation to me. Finally, I discuss the Argument from Introspection, according to which I seem, introspectively, to have a reason to end my pain, a reason that has nothing to do with the pain's being mine. All but one of these arguments fail utterly. The Argument from Introspection provides some grounds for rejecting egoism.

  "A Set of Solutions to Parfit's Problems." Nous, Vol. 35, No. 2 (June 2001), pp. 214-238. Perhaps this is my best paper.

Abstract:   In Reasons and Persons, Derek Parfit cannot find a theory of well-being that solves the Non-Identity Problem, the Repugnant Conclusion, the Absurd Conclusion, and all forms of the Mere Addition Paradox. I describe a "Quasi-Maximizing" theory that solves them. This theory includes (i) the denial that being better than is transitive and (ii) the "Conflation Principle," according to which alternative B is hedonically better than alternative C if it would be better for someone to have all the B-experiences. (i) entails that Quasi-Maximization is not a maximizing theory, but (ii) ensures that its evaluations will often coincide with such theories.

  "Is Unpleasantness Intrinsic to Unpleasant Experiences?" Philosophical Studies, Vol. 99, No. 2, May (II) 2000, pp. 187-210.

Abstract:   Unpleasant experiences include backaches, moments of nausea, moments of nervousness, phantom pains, and so on. What does their unpleasantness consist in? The unpleasantness of an experience has been thought to consist in: (1) its representing bodily damage; (2) its inclining the subject to fight its continuation; (3) the subject's disliking it; (4) features intrinsic to it. I offer compelling objections to (1) and (2) and less compelling objections to (3). I defend (4) against five challenging objections and offer two reasons to believe it. Hence, I advocate "Intrinsic Nature," the idea that unpleasantness is intrinsic to unpleasant experiences.

  "Chapter 4: Is it Good to Make Happy People?"

This is the fourth chapter of my dissertation, Hedonic Value (Director: Jonathan Bennett), Syracuse University, August, 1998. It is an unpublished revision of my "Is It Good to Make Happy People?" Bioethics 12 (April 1998), pp. 93-110. I have no link to the published version.
Abstract:   I argue Yes.

  "Counterexamples to the Transitivity of Better Than." Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 76, No. 1 (March 1998), pp. 71-83.

Abstract:   Ethicists and economists commonly assume that if A is all things considered better than B, and B is all things considered better than C, then A is all things considered better than C. Call this principle Transitivity. Although it has great conceptual, intuitive, and empirical appeal, I argue against it. Larry S. Temkin explains how three types of ethical principle, which cannot be dismissed a priori, threaten Transitivity: (a) principles implying that in some cases different factors are relevant to comparing A to C than to comparing A to B or B to C; (b) principles of limited scope; (c) principles implying that morally relevant differences in degree can amount to differences in kind. My counterexamples employ a principle of type (c): pleasures and pains enormously different in intensity differ in kind. Temkin has also endorsed this type of counterexample, using arguments based on earlier drafts of this paper.

  "Chapter 5: Counterexamples to the Transitivity of Being Better Than."

This is the fifth chapter of my dissertation, Hedonic Value (Director: Jonathan Bennett), Syracuse University, August, 1998. It is an unpublished revision of my "Counterexamples to the Transitivity of Better Than." (The link to that is above.) For the bibliography, see the link below.

  "Dissertation Bibliography."

This supplements two links above. My dissertation is Hedonic Value (Director: Jonathan Bennett), Syracuse University, August, 1998.

  Review of Tim Mulgan, Future People: A Moderate Consequentialist Account of our Obligations to Future Generations (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006), Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 85, Issue 3 (2007), pp. 499-509 .

  Review of Mary Warnock, Making Babies: Is there a Right to Have Children? The Philosophical Review, Vol. 114, No. 2 (April 2005), pp. 130-132.

  Review of Christine M. Koggel, Perspectives on Equality: Constructing a Relational Theory, Mind, Vol. III, No. 442 (April 2002), pp. 443-446.

  Review Essay of Contingent Future Persons, Jan C. Heller and Nick Fotion, eds., Bioethics 13 (1999), pp. 160-167.

Abstract:   This essay critically comments on Contingent Future Persons (1997), an anthology of thirteen papers on the same topic as Obligations to Future Generations (1978), namely, the morality of decisions affecting the existence, number and identity of future persons. In my discussion, I identify the basic point of dispute between R. M. Hare and Michael Lockwood on potentiality; I criticize Nick Fotion's thesis that the Repugnant Conclusion is too far-fetched to be philosophically valuable; I object to Clark Wolf's "Impure Consequentialist Theory of Obligation"; and I discuss the Non-Identity Problem in connection with essays by Robert Elliot and Ingmar Persson.

  "Introduction," The Journal of Ethics, Vol. 9, No. 3-4 (October, 2005), pp. 308-309. "A Special Issue in Honor of James Rachels."

  "Intransitivity," in Volume II of the Encyclopedia of Ethics (second edition), edited by Lawrence C. Becker, Mary Becker and Charlotte Becker (Routledge: 2001), pp. 877-879.