MICHAL MASNY

 

Overview

My research program is centred around a belief in the normative significance of the passage of time. Our lives are situated between the past and the future, extended in time, and constrained by time, and my work aims to advance our philosophical understanding of the ways in which these features affect what is valuable and what we have reasons to do. Much of this research lies within four areas of ethics: preserving the valuable, well-being, the future of humanity, and the ethics of technology. But I also maintain side interests and have published articles in epistemology and the history of philosophy.

Click here to access to my Research Statement.

Dissertation: "Preserving the Valuable"

Many people believe that we have a distinctive moral reason to preserve certain non-instrumentally valuable things -- such as beautiful paintings, important traditions, and loving relationships -- even when a superior replacement is available. G. A. Cohen (2012) dubbed this view 'conservatism about value'.

My dissertation offers a systematic discussion of this position, traversing normative ethics, metaethics, and bioethics. On the theoretical side, I examine what explains the presence of conservative reasons, how strong these reasons are, which things we have reasons to conserve, and who these reasons apply to. On the practical side, I argue that this view illuminates old and new puzzles about the shape of a life, the significance of progress, how to navigate different stages of life, how long we should wait before moving on from a loss, and the emerging technologies of life extension.

Publications

2020

On Parfit's Wide Dual Person-Affecting Principle
The Philosophical Quarterly, 70 (278): 114-139.

Abstract: In 'Future People, the Non-Identity Problem, and Person-Affecting Principles' (2017), Derek Parfit presents a novel axiological principle which he calls the Wide Dual Person-Affecting Principle and claims that it does not imply the Repugnant Conclusion. This paper shows that even the best version of Parfit's principle cannot avoid this conclusion. That said, accepting such a principle makes embracing the Repugnant Conclusion more justifiable.

2020

Friedman on Suspended Judgment
Synthese, 197 (11): 5009-5026.

Abstract: In a series of articles, Jane Friedman argues that suspended judgment is a sui generis first-order question-directed attitude and that one suspends judgment on some matter if and only if one genuinely inquires into this matter. This paper responds to Friedman's arguments against reductive higher-order propositional accounts of this attitude and raises worries about the details of her positive claim that one suspends iff one inquires. It subsequently defends a novel reductive higher-order propositional account of suspended judgment.

2021

Schopenhauer on Suicide and Negation of the Will
The British Journal for the History of Philosophy, 29 (3): 494-516.

Abstract: Schopenhauer's argument against suicide has served as a punching bag for many modern-day commentators. Dale Jacquette, Sandra Shapshay, and David Hamlyn all argue that the premises of this argument or its conclusion are inconsistent with Schopenhauer's wider metaphysical and ethical project. This paper defends Schopenhauer from these charges. Along the way, it examines the relations between suicide, death by voluntary starvation, negation of the will, compassion, and Schopenhauer's critiques of cynicism and stoicism.

2021

What Should We Agree on about the Repugnant Conclusion?
Utilitas, 33 (4): 379-383. With John Broome and 27 co-authors.

Abstract: The Repugnant Conclusion served an important purpose in catalyzing and inspiring the pioneering stage of population ethics research. We believe, however, that the Repugnant Conclusion now receives too much focus. Avoiding the Repugnant Conclusion should no longer be the central goal driving population ethics research, despite its importance to the fundamental accomplishments of the existing literature.

forth.

Wasted Potential: The Value of a Life and the Significance of What Could Have Been
Philosophy & Public Affairs

Abstract: According to the orthodox view, the goodness of a life depends exclusively on the things that actually happened within it, such as its pleasures and pains, the satisfaction of its subject’s preferences, or the presence of various objective goods and bads. In this paper, I argue that the goodness of a life also depends on what could have happened, but didn’t. I then propose that this view helps us resolve ethical puzzles concerning the standards for a life worth living for animals and the significance of a life’s shape.

forth.

Healthspan Extension, Completeness of Life, and Justice
Bioethics

Abstract: Recent progress in geroscience holds the promise of significantly slowing down or even reversing ageing and age-related diseases, and thus increasing our healthspans. In this paper, I offer a novel argument in favour of developing such technology and making it unconditionally available to everyone. In particular, I argue that justice requires that each person be provided with sufficient opportunities to have a ‘complete life’, that many people currently lack such opportunities, and that we would substantially improve the status quo by giving them access to anti-ageing technology.

Manuscripts

R&R

A paper on the significance of progress

Abstract: Some philosophers believe in progress: they think that our current situation is better than that of our ancestors and that future generations will fare even better. Others believe in decline: they argue that the human condition has deteriorated and will continue to do so. What has been neglected, however, is a purely normative question of whether it is better if the history of humanity displays a pattern of improvement rather than deterioration, other things equal. Many people have the intuition that it is. This paper offers a theoretical rationale for this judgment which appeals to a broadly conservative view about value and explores the implications of this view for matters related to the future of humanity.

Under review

A paper on conserving prudential goods

Abstract: This paper lays out the view that we have a moral reason to conserve certain existing ingredients of our well-being—such as loving relationships and important personal projects—even when a superior replacement is available. The first part examines the ground, scope, content, and strength of our reasons to conserve. The second part shows that this view can elucidate a number of puzzling issues, such as how to balance exploration and commitment at different stages of life, whether the reluctance to start new projects and relationships in old age is justified, why we sometimes shouldn’t extend our life, when it is permissible to move on from a loss, and why an improving life seems better than a deteriorating one.

R&R

A paper on epistemic demandingness

Abstract: Epistemic consequentialism has been challenged on the grounds that it is overly demanding. According to the Epistemic Junk Problem, this view implies that we are often required to believe junk propositions such as ‘the Great Bear Lake is the largest lake entirely in Canada’ and long disjunctions of things we already believe. According to the Numerosity Problem, this view implies that we are frequently required to have an enormous number of beliefs. This paper puts forward a novel version of epistemic consequentialism which avoids these twin demandingness problems. The key is to recognise, first, that the final epistemic value of a true belief depends at least in part on the duration for which it is retained by the agent and, second, that our cognitive make-up places important constraints on which beliefs are retained and for how long.

If you are interested in reading any of these papers, email me. I would be greatful for any comments, large or small.