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Nils Sylvan defends his thesis


Date: Friday 17 December 2021

Time: 15.00 – 17.30

Location: Auditorium 8, Södra huset, hus D

Nils Sylvan defends his thesis on December 17, 15:00–17:30 in Auditorium 8, Södra huset, hus D

Nils Sylvan
Academic dissertation for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Philosophy at Stockholm University to be publicly defended on Friday 8 December 2021 at 13.00 in auditorium 8, hus D, Universitetsvägen 10 A.

Faculty opponent: Graham Oddie (CU Boulder)




Value, Fittingness and Partiality: On the Partiality Problem for Fitting Attitude Analyses of Value


This dissertation is about the partiality problem for fitting attitude (FA) analyses of value. More specifically, it is about whether and how the problem might be resolved. In Chapter 1, I set the stage by offering a short introduction to the topic and a rationale for investigating it. I then give a more detailed account of FA analyses of value in Chapter 2, including a brief outline of their history and appeal, before explaining more thoroughly just what the partiality problem is for such analyses in Chapter 3, where I distinguish between several different versions of the problem, identify two broad strategies for resolving it and put forward six evaluation criteria in terms of which the plausibility of a resolution can be assessed.

According to FA analyses of value, what it is for something to have value is, roughly, for it to be fitting to have a certain sort of attitude toward it. To have a positive value, such as being good, is to be something that it is fitting to favor (to have a pro-attitude toward); to have a negative value, such as being bad, is to be something that it is fitting to disfavor (to have a con-attitude toward); and to have a relational or comparative value like being better than, worse than, equally good as or equally bad as something else is to be something that it is fitting to favor more than, disfavor more than, favor equally much as or disfavor equally much as the other thing.

The partiality problem is, roughly, that there are situations in which two things seem to have equal value, which, if things are as they seem and FA analyses of value are correct, means that it is fitting to respond to them equally – to be impartial between them. However, in these situations, there are some people for whom it does not seem fitting to respond in that way because they stand in a certain relationship to one of the bearers of value. For these people, it seems that the fitting response is an unequal or partial response, not an impartial one. If such intuitions about fitting partiality and value are veridical, then how can FA analyses of value be correct?

The rest of the dissertation is then a critical, in-depth study of a wide range of responses to the partiality problem. In Chapter 4, I examine the first of the two response strategies, which is to deny the veracity of at least one of the intuitions that generate the problem without making any changes to the FA analyses themselves. I then turn to the second strategy, which is to try to accommodate the intuitions by revising the FA analyses in some suitable manner. In Chapters 5–13, I consider the possibility and plausibility of solving the problem by revising the FA analyses on the basis of: the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic properties (Chapter 5), the notion of basic value (Chapter 6), the notion of agent-relative value (Chapter 7), the notion of an impartial observer (Chapter 8), the distinction between moral and non-moral fittingness (Chapter 9), a sui generis notion of fittingness (Chapter 10), the distinction between pro tanto and overall fittingness (Chapter 11), the distinction between actions and attitudes (Chapter 12) and the notions of evaluative distance and perspective (Chapter 13). My assessment is that none of these responses is entirely plausible. Thus, in Chapter 14, I conclude that although the partiality problem may not be irresolvable, it is yet to receive a fully plausible resolution. I also discuss the ramifications of this conclusion.