Is a Unified Theory of the Good Possible?

  • Date: –16:00
  • Location: SCAS, Thunbergssalen Linneanum, Thunbergsvägen 2, Uppsala
  • Lecturer: Graham Oddie, Fellow, SCAS and Professor of Philosophy, University of Colorado, Boulder
  • Website
  • Organiser: Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study (SCAS)
  • Contact person: Sandra Maria Rekanovic
  • Seminarium

We make a multitude of value judgements, every day, on just about every conceivable matter.  We attribute goodness and badness to persons, character traits, dispositions, actions, states of affairs, institutions, performances, paintings, poems, proofs and practices.  In addition to the thin evaluative concepts—such as good, bad and better—we  employ a vast stock of thick evaluative concepts.  We evaluate people—as courageous, compassionate, callous and cruel; actions—as generous, vindictive, kind and foolhardy; performances—as brilliant, execrable, riveting, boring and delightful; character traits—as noble, demeaning, destructive, and virtuous; remarks—as tendentious, salacious, witty, craven, hurtful, sarcastic and helpful, and so on.  Even purely abstract entities—like numbers, classes and functions—may be ascribed evaluative attributes: for example, the number 10 billion may be dangerously large for the number of people on earth; the class of Nobel prize winners this year may be extraordinarily accomplished; the function that takes times to GHG levels in the atmosphere might be growing alarmingly.  Taken at face value, these examples suggest that just about any kind of entity is a value-bearer, and that our evaluative vocabulary invokes a cornucopia of value concepts.  The diversity of the value phenomena is undeniable. The question I raise is whether there might be a plausible unified theory of such diverse value phenomena. I outline desiderata for a unified theory of value, sketch an outline of an approach to the problem that seems at least promising, and consider a couple of prominent arguments against the very possibility of any such theory.

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