|Critica by Julio Ruelos|
In 1865, John Stuart Mill published one of his more obscure works. It was a book length critique of the Scottish philosopher Sir William Hamilton. If you are interested in mid-19th century disputes about metaphysics and empirical philosophy, then it might be worth a gander. If not, it's probably best to give it a miss. I discuss it here, however, not for its content but for something that happened after its publication. Mill's colleague and occasional mentee, Hebert Spencer, decided to publish a critique of Mill's critique in the Fortnightly Review. Upon learning this, Mill wrote to Spencer in friendly terms. Rather than trying to disabuse Spencer of his criticisms, Mill welcomed the attack:
Nothing could be more agreeable to me than to hear that you are going to answer me in the Fortnightly Review. I hope you will not spare me.
This is just one of several examples of Mill's graciousness when it came to scholarly critiques of his work. In his entertaining biography of Mill, Richard Reeves documents several similar incidents, each testifying to Mill's openness to criticism and celebration of intellectual pluralism (the one exception to this being Mill's sensitivity to critiques of his relationship with Harriet Taylor). One would expect nothing less from the most celebrated defender of free speech in modern philosophy.
Why do I bring all this up? Well, I have been publishing academic articles for nearly a decade a now. And although I find that my work has been cited many times (not a huge number of times, to be clear), it has very rarely been directly critiqued. In other words, until recently I did not know of anyone who had published a sustained critique of an argument I had made in one of my published papers.
That's all now changed. In the past year or so, a few papers have come out that directly critique or develop upon stuff that I have written. In the spirit of Mill, I am, of course, grateful that people have taken the time to do this, and welcome the critical scrutiny.
Here are the abstracts and links to the papers that do this, along with links to the relevant papers of my own. I haven't had time to fully digest these critical discussions yet, but I hope to do so in the near future. If you know of any other direct critical engagements with my published work, please let me know.
1. "Debunking (the) Retribution (Gap)" by Steven J. Kraaijeveld
Abstract: Robotization is an increasingly pervasive feature of our lives. Robots with high degrees of autonomy may cause harm, yet in sufficiently complex systems neither the robots nor the human developers may be candidates for moral blame. John Dana-her has recently argued that this may lead to a retribution gap, where the human desire for retribution faces a lack of appropriate subjects for retributive blame. The potential social and moral implications of a retribution gap are considerable. I argue that the retributive intuitions that feed into retribution gaps are best understood as deontological intuitions. I apply a debunking argument for deontological intuitions in order to show that retributive intuitions cannot be used to justify retributive punishment in cases of robot harm without clear candidates for blame. The fundamental moral question thus becomes what we ought to do with these retributive intuitions , given that they do not justify retribution. I draw a parallel from recent work on implicit biases to make a case for taking moral responsibility for retributive intuitions. In the same way that we can exert some form of control over our unwanted implicit biases, we can and should do so for unjustified retributive intuitions in cases of robot harm.
- Responds to: Robots, Law and and the Retribution Gap - My initial gloss on Kraaijeveld is that, even though it critiques part of my argument, it's primarily an interesting way of repurposing and refining the argument to present more general scepticism about retributivism. I wouldn't disapprove of this at all.
2. "AI Assistants and the Paradox of Internal Automaticity" by William A. Bauer and Veljko Dublević
Abstract: [Unfortunately, I can't seem to find an open access version of this paper] What is the ethical impact of artificial intelligence (AI) assistants on human lives, and specifically how much do they threaten our individual autonomy? Recently, as part of forming an ethical framework for thinking about the impact of AI assistants on our lives, John Danaher claims that if the external automaticity generated by the use of AI assistants threatens our autonomy and is therefore ethically problematic, then the internal automaticity we already live with should be viewed in the same way. He takes advantage of this paradox of internal automaticity to downplay the threats of external automaticity to our autonomy. We respond in this paper by challenging the legitimacy of the paradox. While Danaher assumes that internal and external automaticity are roughly equivalent, we argue that there are reasons why we should accept a large degree of internal automaticity, that it is actually essential to our sense of autonomy, and as such it is ethically good; however, the same does not go for external automaticity. Therefore, the similarity between the two is not as powerful as the paradox presumes. In conclusion, we make practical recommendations for how to better manage the integration of AI assistants into society.
- Responds to: "Towards and Ethics of AI Assistants: An Initial Framework" - Bauer and Dublević's paper is a more straightforward critique of something I wrote in this article. I'll probably need to respond at greater length sometime since I disagree with their interpretation of my argument. All I will say now is that I wrote another paper in which I argue that internal forms of augmentation are better than external forms, which contains ideas that are somewhat similar in nature to the arguments presented by Bauer and Dublević. So I am not entirely consistent about the ethical differences between internal and external forms of cognitive assistance across my own work.
3. "Do we Owe God Worship?" by Hugh Burling
Abstract: [Again, no open access version of this seems to be available] This article responds to recent arguments that worshipping God cannot be obligatory. It shows how a respect-based account of worship is compatible with the claim that only God is worthy of worship, and compatible with the view that worship is very different from attitudes we owe to creatures. Then, it develops a respect-based account in enough detail to show how our moral motivations to respect creatures generate an obligation to worship God. The upshot is an analysis of worship which can weather recent arguments that worshipping God is not morally motivated.
- Responds to: "Stumbling on the Threshold: A Reply to Gwiazda on Threshold Obligations" - Burling's article deals with quite a few objections to the claim that we can owe God a duty of worship but does respond at some length to the argument I presented in this paper. This paper was, incidentally, one of the first academic papers I wrote. I am quite far removed from the issues underlying it so I'm not sure how I would respond to Burling's critique. His claim is that our duty of respect scales with the degree of perfection of the being to whom we owe respect such that when it comes to God (the most perfect being) we owe Him a duty of worship. I'm just not sure why the duty of respect should scale in that way, particularly if worship undermines a duty of self-respect, which I think it does. A lot of this hinges, however, on what you think the duty of worship entails.