Seminar: Dr Toby Ord, "Moral uncertainty"

Past Event

18 November 2009, 4:00pm - 6:00pm

Lecture Theatre, Oxford Martin School
34 Broad Street (corner of Holywell and Catte Streets), Oxford, OX1 3BD

Abstract: We often don’t know what we ought to do. This can be because of descriptive uncertainty, where we are ignorant of certain descriptive facts such as what would happen were we to perform certain actions; or because of moral uncertainty, where we are ignorant of certain moral facts such as which moral theory is correct. Much has been written on descriptive uncertainty, but very little has been written about moral uncertainty. This is particularly worrying given that (i) we are all in situations of moral uncertainty, and (ii) the most common approach to moral uncertainty — acting on the theory you find most plausible — can be shown to be unacceptable. I will explore several approaches to moral uncertainty, explain some interesting puzzle cases, and consider the question of how it could be reconciled with non-cognitivist metaethics.

Dr Toby Ord's research interests encompass both theoretical and practical ethics. He is currently focusing on a number of questions concerning the nature of consequentialism, its connection to practical decision making, and its relationship to other normative theories. In addition, he is looking at the moral status of the human embryo and at techniques to identify and overcome biases in ethical decision making.

Toby Ord has recently been awarded a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship, which provides funding for three years to pursue a major research topic, 'Moral Uncertainty': the study of how we are to act when we are uncertain about the relevant moral issues. The BA Fellowship is held in conjunction with a Junior Research Fellowship at Balliol College. He is also a research associate at two of Oxford's research centres in ethics: the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, and the Future of Humanity Institute, and is a member of Christ Church College. He has undertaken a BPhil and a DPhil in Philosophy at Oxford, and prior to that he studied for a Bachelor of Science and a Bachelor of Arts, with majors in philosophy, computer science and mathematics, at the University of Melbourne.