Hilary Greaves' home page

I am a Tutorial Fellow in Philosophy, at Somerville College in the University of Oxford.

My current research focusses on various issues in ethics. My interests include: foundational issues in consequentialism ('global' and 'two-level' forms of consequentialism), the debate between consequentialists and contractualists, aggregation (utilitarianism, prioritarianism and egalitarianism), moral psychology and selective debunking arguments, population ethics, the interface between ethics and economics, and the analogies between ethics and epistemology.

I also have interests in formal epistemology. My earlier research (until 2011) focussed mainly on philosophy of physics; these interests are now dormant.

Contact information
My papers

Contact information

Email: hilary dot greaves at philosophy dot ox dot ac dot uk.
Mailing address:Somerville College
Oxford OX2 6HD

Email is the quickest and most reliable way to reach me.

My papers

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  • 'Antiprioritarianism'. In preparation.

    Abstract: Prioritarianism is normally motivated via an appeal to the intuition that it is better, or more urgent, to benefit the worse off. This paper argues that that intuition provides no support for the prioritarian thesis. The argument proceeds via the observation that an equally compelling intuition of caution --- that in the presence of uncertainty, it is better or more urgent to improve the worse possible outcomes --- leads, via the methods that take the prioritarian to prioritarianism, to the precise op- posite of prioritarianism. The moral of the story is that those methods are bad ones.

  • 'Ethics, climate change and the role of discounting' (review article). To appear in WIREs Climate Change. Draft

    Abstract: This article reviews the debate over the value of the social discount rate, with a particular focus on climate change and on ethical aspects of the discussion. The review covers the Ramsey equation and its relation- ship to observed interest rates, the controversy over the rate of pure time preference, and the discussion of the low discount rate used in the Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change.

  • 'The social disvalue of premature deaths'. To appear in a Festschrift for John Broome, Oxford University Press. Draft

    Abstract: Much public policy analysis requires us to place a monetary value on the badness of a premature human death. Currently dominant approaches to determining this �value of a life� focus exclusively on the �self-regarding� value of life --- that is, the value of a person�s life to the person whose death is in question --- and altogether ignore effects on other people. This procedure would be justified if, as seems intuitively plausible, other-regarding effects were negligible in comparison with self-regarding ones. I argue that in the light of the issue of overpopulation, that intuitively plausible condition is at best highly questionable. Unless the world is in fact underpopulated, the social disvalue of a premature death is likely to be significantly lower than the current estimates.

  • 'The CPT theorem'. With Teruji Thomas. Forthcoming in Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics. Preprint

    Abstract: We provide a rigorous proof of the CPT theorem within the framework of �Lagrangian� quantum field theory. This is in contrast to the usual rigorous proofs in purely axiomatic frameworks, and non-rigorous proof-sketches within the Lagrangian framework.

  • 'Epistemic decision theory'. Forthcoming in Mind. Preprint

    Abstract: I explore the prospects for modelling epistemic rationality (in the probabilist setting) via an epistemic decision theory, in consequentialist spirit. Previous work has focussed on cases in which the truth-values of the propositions in which the agent is selecting credences do not depend, either causally or merely evidentially, on the agent's choice of credences. Relaxing that restriction leads to a proliferation of puzzle cases and theories to deal with them, including epistemic analogues of evidential and causal decision theory, and of the Newcomb problem and `Psycho Johnny' problem. A variant of causal epistemic decision theory deals well with most cases. However, there is a recalcitrant class of problem cases for which no epistemic decision theory seems able to match our intuitive judgments of epistemic rationality. This lends both precision and credence to the view that there is a fundamental mismatch between epistemic consequentialism and the intuitive notion of epistemic rationality; the implications for understanding the latter are briefly discussed.

  • 'Empirical consequences of symmetries'. With David Wallace. Forthcoming in British Journal for the Philosophy of Science. Preprint

    Abstract: It is widely recognised that `global' symmetries, such as the boost invariance of classical mechanics and special relativity, can give rise to direct empirical counterparts such as the Galileo-ship phenomenon. How- ever, conventional wisdom holds that `local' symmetries, such as the dif- feomorphism invariance of general relativity and the gauge invariance of classical electromagnetism, have no such direct empirical counterparts. We argue against this conventional wisdom. We develop a framework for analysing the relationship between Galileo-ship empirical phenomena on the one hand, and physical theories that model such phenomena on the other, that renders the relationship between theoretical and empirical symmetries transparent, and from which it follows that both global and local symmetries can give rise to Galileo-ship phenomena. In particular, we use this framework to exhibit an analog of Galileo's ship for the local gauge invariance of electromagnetism.

  • 'In search of spacetime structuralism'. Philosophical Perspectives 25(1): 189�204, December 2011. Preprint

    Abstract: Structuralism is supposed to be a dissolver of metaphysical pseudo- debates. This paper is a search for the thesis behind the rhetoric. Taking `spacetime structuralism' as a case study, I identify six di er- ent theses that seem to share this name. My conclusions are largely negative: that those theses that are new are not plausible, and vice versa. The exception is structuralism as a rejection of the fundamen- tality of the object/property/relation framework, but in this case it is as yet unclear what the positive thesis might be.

  • 'Towards a geometrical understanding of the CPT theorem' (2010). British Journal for the Philosophy of Science (2010) 61 (1): 27-50. Preprint

    Abstract: The CPT theorem of quantum eld theory states that any rela- tivistic (Lorentz-invariant) quantum eld theory must also be invari- ant under CPT, the composition of charge conjugation, parity reversal and time reversal. This paper sketches a puzzle that seems to arise when one puts the existence of this sort of theorem alongside a stan- dard way of thinking about symmetries, according to which spacetime symmetries (at any rate) are associated with features of the spacetime structure. The puzzle is, roughly, that the existence of a CPT theo- rem seems to show that it is not possible for a well-formulated theory that does not make use of a preferred frame or foliation to make use of a temporal orientation. Since a manifold with only a Lorentzian metric can be temporally orientable|capable of admitting a tempo- ral orientation|this seems to be an odd sort of necessary connection between distinct existences. The paper then suggests a solution to the puzzle: it is suggested that the CPT theorem arises because temporal orientation is unlike other pieces of spacetime structure, in that one cannot represent it by a tensor field. To avoid irrelevant technical details, the discussion is carried out in the setting of classical field theory, using a little-known classical analog of the CPT theorem.

  • 'Everett and Evidence'. With Wayne Myrvold. In Many Worlds? Everett, Quantum Theory, & Reality, ed. Saunders, Barrett, Kent and Wallace, Oxford University Press (2010). Preprint

    Abstract: Much of the evidence for quantum mechanics is statistical in na- ture. The Everett interpretation, if it is to be a candidate for serious consideration, must be capable of doing justice to reasoning on which statistical evidence in which observed relative frequencies that closely match calculated probabilities counts as evidence in favour of a the- ory from which the probabilities are calculated. Since, on the Everett interpretation, all outcomes with nonzero amplitude are actualized on di�erent branches, it is not obvious that sense can be made of ascribing probabilities to outcomes of experiments, and this poses a prima facie problem for statistical inference. It is incumbent on the Everettian either to make sense of ascribing probabilities to outcomes of experi- ments in the Everett interpretation, or to �nd a substitute on which the usual statistical analysis of experimental results continues to count as evidence for quantum mechanics, and, since it is the very evidence for quantum mechanics that is at stake, this must be done in a way that does not presuppose the correctness of Everettian quantum me- chanics. This requires an account of theory con�rmation that applies to branching-universe theories but does not presuppose the correct- ness of any such theory. In this paper, we supply and defend such an account. The account has the consequence that statistical evidence can confirm a branching-universe theory such as Everettian quantum mechanics in the same way in which it can confirm a probabilistic theory.

  • 'Time reversal in classical electromagnetism' (2009). With Frank Arntzenius. In British Journal for the Philosophy of Science (2009) 60 (3): 557-584. Preprint

    Abstract: Richard Feynman has claimed that anti-particles are nothing but particles `propagating backwards in time'; that time reversing a particle state always turns it into the corresponding anti-particle state. According to standard quantum eld theory textbooks this is not so: time reversal does not turn particles into anti-particles. Feynman's view is interesting because, in particular, it suggests a nonstandard, and possibly illuminating, interpretation of the CPT theorem. This paper explores a classical analog of Feynman's view, in the context of the recent debate between David Albert and David Malament over time reversal in classical electromagnetism.

  • 'On the Everettian epistemic problem' (March 2007). In Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 38(1), March 2007, pp.120-152. Preprint

    Abstract: Recent work in the Everett interpretation has suggested that the problem of probability can be solved by understanding probability in terms of rationality. However, there are two problems relating to probability in Everett�one practical, the other epistemic�and the rationality-based program directly addresses only the practical problem. One might therefore worry that the problem of probability is only �half solved� by this approach. This paper aims to dispel that worry: a solution to the epistemic problem follows from the rationality-based solution to the practical problem.

  • 'Probability in the Everett interpretation' (January 2007). In Philosophy Compass 2(1), 109-128. Preprint

    Abstract: The Everett (many-worlds) interpretation of quantum mechanics faces a prima facie problem concerning quantum probabilities. Research in this area has been fast-paced over the last few years, following a controversial suggestion by David Deutsch that decision theory can solve the problem. This article provides a non-technical introduction to the decision-theoretic program, and a sketch of the current state of the debate.

  • 'Justifying conditionalization: Conditionalization maximizes expected epistemic utility' (July 2006). With David Wallace. In Mind 115(459):607-632, July 2006. Preprint

    Abstract: According to Bayesian epistemology, the epistemically rational agent updates her beliefs by conditionalisation: that is, her posterior subjective probability after taking account of evidence X, p_new, is to be set equal to her prior conditional probability p_old(.|X). Bayesians can be challenged to provide a justification for their claim that conditionalisation is recommended by rationality - whence the normative force of the injunction to conditionalise?

    There are several existing justifications for conditionalisation, but none directly addresses the idea that conditionalisation will be epistemically rational if and only if it can reasonably be expected to lead to epistemically good outcomes. We apply the approach of cognitive decision theory to provide a justification for conditionalisation using precisely that idea. We assign epistemic utility functions to epistemically rational agents; an agent's epistemic utility is to depend both upon the actual state of the world and on the agent's credence distribution over possible states. We prove that, under independently motivated conditions, conditionalisation is the unique updating rule that maximizes expected epistemic utility.

  • 'Understanding Deutsch's probability in a deterministic multiverse' (September 2004). In Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 35(3), September 2004, pp.423-456. Preprint

    Abstract: Difficulties over probability have often been considered fatal to the Everett interpretation of quantum mechanics. Here I argue that the Everettian can have everything she needs from 'probability' without recourse to indeterminism, ignorance, primitive identity over time or subjective uncertainty: all she needs is a particular rationality principle.

    The decision-theoretic approach recently developed by Deutsch and Wallace claims to provide just such a principle. But, according to Wallace, decision theory is itself applicable only if the correct attitude to a future Everettian measurement outcome is subjective uncertainty. I argue that subjective uncertainty is not available to the Everettian, but I offer an alternative: we can justify Everettian decision theory on the basis that an Everettian should care about all her future branches. The probabilities appearing in the decision-theoretic representation theorem can then be interpreted as the degrees to which the rational agent cares about each future branch. This reinterpretation, however, reduces the intuitive plausibility of one of the Deutsch-Wallace axioms (Measurement Neutrality).

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    Reading lists

    I update my reading lists virtually every time I teach in response to new literature and student suggestions; the following may not be my most recent versions. If you're one of my students, use the version on Weblearn rather than those below. Those on this page are for the convenience of other interested parties.

  • General Philosophy
  • FHS 102: Knowledge and Reality
  • FHS 103: Ethics
  • FHS 117: Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein
  • FHS 120: Intermediate Philosophy of Physics: Philosophy of Special Relativity
  • FHS 120: Intermediate Philosophy of Physics: Philosophy of Quantum Mechanics
  • FHS 124: Philosophy of Science
  • FHS 128: The philosophy and economics of the environment

    Last updated: 28 June 2013