Elizabeth Harman
Photo Credit: Gerard Vong.

Elizabeth Harman

1879 Hall, Room 120
Department of Philosophy
University Center for Human Values
Princeton University
Princeton, NJ 08544-1006

Phone: 609-258-4291
Fax: 609-258-1502
Email: eharman@princeton.edu

  • CV.

  • References

  • Courses

  • Networking and Mentoring Workshop for Graduate Student Women in Philosophy

  • Research
    (last updated on 03/31/15)
    I am currently working on five projects, each encompassing several papers.

    Morally Permissible Moral Mistakes

    Moral Ignorance, Moral Uncertainty, and Blameworthiness

    Practical Reasoning, Future Desires, and Regret

    Moral Epistemology and Moral Methodology

    Moral Status, Harm, and the Ethics of Procreation

    Morally Permissible Moral Mistakes

    The first project introduces a new category of actions (and omissions) which has been ignored by ethicists, though it is implicitly recognized in ordinary moral thinking: morally permissible moral mistakes. These are behaviors that one should not engage in, all things considered, for moral reasons, but that are not morally wrong. I introduce and argue for the existence of morally permissible moral mistakes in two papers:

    • "Morally Permissible Moral Mistakes." Ethics, forthcoming in 2016.  Abstract.  Paper.

    • "Morality Within the Realm of the Morally Permissible" Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics, forthcoming in 2015.  Abstract.  Paper.

    I use the notion of a morally permissible moral mistake to discuss two specific moral questions in these papers:

    • "Eating Meat as a Morally Permissible Moral Mistake" Philosophy Comes to Dinner, Andrew Chignell, Terence Cuneo, and Matt Halteman, eds., Routledge, forthcoming in 2015.  Abstract.  Paper.

    • "Gamete Donation as a Laudable Moral Mistake" 

    I have two more papers in progress as part of the first project.  One paper uses the notion of a morally permissible moral mistake to discuss the topic of keeping promises one is not morally required to keep.  The other paper addresses the debate between "Actualism" and "Possibilism" in ethics (Does how one would act in the future matter to how one should (or must) act now?).

    Moral Ignorance, Moral Uncertainty, and Blameworthiness

    The second project discusses the significance of moral ignorance. This project began with these papers:

    • "Does Moral Ignorance Exculpate?" Ratio 2011. Paper.

    • "Discussion of Nomy Arpaly's Unprincipled Virtue," Philosophical Studies, 2007. Paper.

    One of my new papers develops and argues for a view on which moral ignorance does not exculpate. I argue that although ethics is hard, and so it is easy to fall into false moral beliefs, this does not have the implications regarding blameworthiness that some people think it does. I argue, in particular, that while non-moral false belief tends to exculpate, moral false belief does not.

    • "Ethics is Hard! What Follows?" Abstract.  Paper.

    I then go on to discuss how agents should act when caught in the grip of moral uncertainty. There is an interesting recent literature on this question, which presupposes that agents caught in the grip of moral uncertainty should be guided by their moral credences. I argue that this view is false, because it is committed to the view that false moral belief is exculpatory, though this commitment has not been recognized. I argue that the view that one's moral credences are irrelevant to how one should act has a lot going for it, and cannot be easily dismissed:

    • "The Irrelevance of Moral Uncertainty" Oxford Studies in Metaethics, forthcoming in 2015. Paper.

    I have two further papers in progress as part of the second project:  "When is Failure to Realize Something Exculpatory?" and "Does False Religious Belief Exculpate?"

    Practical Reasoning, Future Desires, and Regret

    The third project discusses a kind of practical reasoning that I argue is common:  "If I do this, then I'll be glad I did it.  So I should do it."  I argue that this is often good reasoning, but that sometimes it is bad reasoning.  In particular, it is bad reasoning when one's predicted future preference would be a result of a reasonable attachment to the actual.

    This project began with this paper:  

    • "'I'll Be Glad I Did It' Reasoning and the Significance of Future Desires," Philosophical Perspectives, 2009. Paper.

    It continues with this paper:  

    • "Transformative Experiences and Reliance on Moral Testimony," Res Philosophica Special issue on transformative experiences, forthcoming in 2015.  Abstract.  Paper.

    Another of my papers also addresses backwards-looking desires and regret:  

    • "Fischer and Lamenting Nonexistence," Social Theory and Practice 37, 2011. Paper.

    Moral Epistemology and Moral Methodology

    The fourth project is in moral epistemology and methodology in moral philosophy.  I argue that there is nothing wrong with a practice often called "relying on intuitions in ethics" (though I argue that this is a bad term for that practice) in this paper:

    • "Is It Reasonable to 'Rely on Intuitions' in Ethics?"Norton Introduction to Philosophy, Alex Byrne, Joshua Cohen, Gideon Rosen, and Seanna Shiffrin, eds., 2015. Paper.

    Three of my papers mentioned above also address issues in moral epistemology:  "Does Moral Ignorance Exculpate?", "Ethics is Hard!  What Follows?", and "The Irrelevance of Moral Uncertainty."

    Moral Status, Harm, and the Ethics of Procreation

    The fifth project is my longstanding project on moral status, the significance of harm, and the ethics of procreation. Many of my published papers are part of this project. Several of the papers mentioned above are part of this project, including "Eating Meat as a Morally Permissible Moral Mistake," "Gamete Donation as a Laudable Moral Mistake," "'I'll Be Glad I Did It' Reasoning and the Significance of Future Desires," and "Transformative Experiences and Reliance on Moral Testimony."
    The following recent papers also continue this project:

    • "The Moral Significance of Animal Pain and Animal Death" in The Oxford Handbook on Ethics and Animals, Tom L. Beauchamp and R. L. Frey, eds., New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Paper.

    • "Review of The Limits of Morality by Caspar Hare," Ethics, forthcoming in 2015.  Paper.

    • "Embryos and Expectation:  Does Identity Matter in the Survival and Flourishing of an Embryo?"  Paper. Abstract.

    I also have a paper in progress on the relationship between the ethics of abortion and the non-identity problem.

    My other papers on moral status, harm, and procreation are:

    • "Critical Notice of Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence by David Benatar," Nous, December 2009. Paper.

    • "Harming as Causing Harm," in Harming Future Persons, Melinda Roberts and David Wasserman, eds., Springer, 2009. Paper.

    • "How is the Ethics of Stem Cell Research Different from the Ethics of Abortion?" Metaphilosophy, April 2007. AbstractPaper.

    • "Sacred Mountains and Beloved Fetuses: Can Loving or Worshipping Something Give It Moral Status?" Philosophical Studies, March 2007.  AbstractPaper.

    • "Can We Harm and Benefit in Creating?" Philosophical Perspectives, 2004. Paper.

    • "The Potentiality Problem," Philosophical Studies, May 2003: AbstractPaper.

    • "Creation Ethics: The Moral Status of Early Fetuses and the Ethics of Abortion," Philosophy and Public Affairs, Fall 1999: AbstractPaper.
  • Courses at Princeton:

    • "Designing Life: The Ethics of Creation and Its Control." Freshman Seminar. Spring 2012, Fall 2012 and Spring 2015. Syllabus.

    • "Dissertation Seminar." Spring 2012 and Spring 2015.

    • "Morality in the Face of Moral Ignorance." Graduate Seminar. Spring 2009 and Fall 2014. Spring 2009 Syllabus.  Fall 2014 Syllabus.

    • "Ethics." Graduate Seminar. Spring 2013. Co-taught with Sarah-Jane Leslie and Sarah McGrath.Syllabus.

    • "The Ethics of Sex and Love." Undergraduate Course. Spring 2013.Syllabus.

    • "How Demanding is Morality?" Graduate Seminar. Fall 2011. Syllabus.

    • "Sex and Ethics." Undergraduate Course. Spring 2011. Co-taught with Gideon Rosen.

    • "Ethics and ..." Graduate Seminar. Spring 2011. Syllabus. Co-taught with Sarach McGrath.

    • "Can We Rely on Intuitions in Ethics?" Junior Seminar. Fall 2008. Syllabus.

    • "Perfecting Life: Designing Persons, Designing Memories, Designing Death." Undergraduate Course. Fall 2008. Also co-taught with Adam Elga in Fall 2007. Syllabus.

    • "The Ethics of Desire." Graduate Seminar. Spring 2008. Syllabus.

  • Courses at NYU:

    • "Causation." Graduate Seminar. Spring 2006. Syllabus.

    • "Ethics." Undergraduate Course. Spring 2006, Fall 2004, and Fall 2003. Syllabus.

    • "Senior Honors Seminar." Undergraduate Course. Fall 2005. Syllabus.

    • "Ethics Across Time." Graduate Seminar, co-taught with Derek Parfit. Fall 2005-Spring 2006. Syllabus.

    • "Proseminar." Graduate Seminar, co-taught with Sharon Street. Fall 2005. Syllabus.

    • "Topics in Ethics." Undergraduate Course. Spring 2004. Syllabus.

    • "Ethics: Selected Topics." Graduate Seminar. Fall 2004. Syllabus.

  • Alex Guerrero