J. David Velleman

J. David Velleman
New York University | NYU · Department of Philosophy

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108
Publications
27,377
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4,440
Citations
Citations since 2016
4 Research Items
1870 Citations
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2016201720182019202020212022050100150200250300
2016201720182019202020212022050100150200250300

Publications

Publications (108)
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The ethics of treating future persons.
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At the end of December 1940, the Head Office of the SS Judiciary assigned Morgen to its court in Cracow, the seat of German administration in the General Gouvernement, which comprised the portion of Poland that was not incorporated into the Reich. The General Gouvernement was initially slated to be a source of slave labor. Later it was designated f...
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Morgen’s investigative report to the SS Judiciary now passes from crimes of corruption to murder. His account of the “murder complex” under Koch begins with a review of the legal state of play.1 Concentration camps like Buchenwald were prison camps, not extermination centers: killing was not their purpose. The power of life or death over a concentr...
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In September 1945, Morgen surrendered himself to the Army Counter-Intelligence Corps in Mannheim Seckenheim, Germany.1 He told the Americans that he was a witness to war crimes; they suspected that he might be a war criminal himself.
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Eleonore Hodys was a political prisoner from Austria who came to Auschwitz in 1942. No sooner had she arrived than the commandant, Rudolf Höss, began to show an interest in her. He arranged for her to work in his household repairing carpets and making tapestries for his wife. In 1942, while his wife was away, Höss began making overtures to her. Hös...
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Morgen installed an investigative commission in Auschwitz in the fall of 1943. He then opened an investigation into Maximilian Grabner, Chief of the Auschwitz Gestapo, on suspicion of murdering roughly 2000 inmates of the camp’s arrest bunker. Grabner was tried by a Special Purpose Court (Gericht zur besonderen Verwendung) that Himmler had establis...
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What can we make of the case of Konrad Morgen? In what sense was Konrad Morgen a “fanatic for justice”?
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In the fall of 1944, the SS Judiciary Head Office was bombed and forced to move to Prien am Chiemsee, a lakeside resort in Bavaria, about 80 km from Munich. While working in Prien, Morgen was often melancholic. Even in rural Bavaria the war could now be felt. In a letter to his fiancée, Maria Wachter, he writes,1 It is not only the oncoming fall wh...
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Buchenwald, July 1943.1 Morgen’s examination of Buchenwald soon focused on the previous commandant, Karl-Otto Koch, the commandant under whom conditions had been “entirely different,” according to Pister. By the time of Morgen’s visit, Koch had moved on to command the camp Majdanek, in Lublin—a post from which he was subsequently dismissed—and much...
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Morgen had come to Buchenwald as a specialist in crimes of corruption, delegated by Himmler to clean up rampant theft and fraud on the part of SS officers in the concentration camps. In the course of investigating Buchenwald’s commandant, he was repeatedly stymied by a lack of live witnesses. Prisoners who could have testified to the commandant’s c...
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As we have seen, Morgen must have known fairly early about the mass execution of Jews on the Eastern Front. As he was investigating Hermann Fegelein in Cracow, Fegelein was involved in the execution of 14,000 Jews in the Pripyat marshes.1 Even if Morgen believed, as was claimed, that Fegelein’s victims were partisans, he certainly knew in 1942 that...
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Morgen’s work in Lublin gradually divided into two distinct lines of inquiry. Looking into the Jewish wedding, he was led to Christian Wirth, from Wirth to the hoard of valuables, and from there to suspicions of “something monstrous.” Looking into crimes at Buchenwald, Morgen was led to Majdanek, where Karl Otto Koch had served briefly as commandan...
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In targeting the men responsible for the “Final Solution,” Morgen eventually set his sights on Adolf Eichmann, who played the crucial role of organizing the deportation of victims to the extermination centers. Morgen recounts the episode in his testimony at Nuremberg:1 I petitioned the SS Court at Berlin to carry out the investigations into Eichman...
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In March 1942, Morgen reached a crisis. Invited to lead a new court in Lemberg (Lvov), he writes to the personnel department of the SS Judiciary Head Office in Munich asking to be spared the assignment. He asks instead to be transferred out of the General Gouvernement, preferably to Norway or the Balkans.1 In support of this request, he recites the...
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We have already seen Morgen’s 1964 testimony about how he found his way to Auschwitz. Customs inspectors discovered clumps of gold that had been shipped from Auschwitz to a private address, and they suspected criminal activity.1 It was no secret that concentration camps harvested gold from the teeth of corpses and sent it to the Reichsbank, but so...
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The recollections of surviving prisoners make clear that Koch’s subordinate Martin Sommer was not only a murderer but a sadist.1 In addition to killing prisoners by beating, injection, and strangulation, he devised brutal tortures, such as “tree hanging,” in which the victim’s hands were tied behind his back and then hoisted until his feet cleared...
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Morgen’s experience with Fegelein, Fassbender, and Sauberzweig turned him into a specialist in corruption, a category of crime whose name also stands for a deficiency of moral character.1 These particular criminals exemplified corruption in both senses of the word. By specializing in corruption as a crime that manifests bad character, Morgen was in...
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The SS and Police Judiciary (SS- und Polizeigerichtsbarkeit) was not an arm of the Reich Judiciary but a special judicial system set up within the SS to try criminal offences by members of the Waffen-SS, of police task forces (the Einsatzgruppen), and of the Security Police. It was established in October 1939,1 ostensibly on the grounds that civil...
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Morgen’s memo on the Kleesattel case raises the issue of race, when he speaks of the SS officers in Debica who “trampled a Jew literally to death without good reason.” Morgen argues that the officers should have been prosecuted, but only “to preserve the purity of our own ranks, not to protect the rights of an enemy people.” The murderers of a Jew...
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On the value of a having a faculty of intention.
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Just as our scientific inquiries are framed by our prior conception of what can be observed – that is, of observables – so our practical deliberations are framed by our prior conception of what can be done, that is, of doables. And doables are socially constructed, with the result that they vary between societies. I explore how doables are construc...
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The first of two lectures on moral relativism. I use an analogy with linguistic relativism (as I call it) to argue that local mores have the normative force of morality.
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A Fanatic for Justice is the biography of Georg Konrad Morgen (1909–1982), an SS judge who investigated and prosecuted crimes committed by members of the SS in German concentration camps, including Buchenwald, Dachau, and Auschwitz. Delegated by Heinrich Himmler to root out corruption in the camps, he went on to prosecute camp officers for the murd...
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Some people hope to die in their sleep. Not me. I don't regret having been oblivious at my birth, but I don't want death to catch me napping.
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I comment on the three main themes in Our Stories: the harm of death, the narrative structure of life, and the value of immortality. I begin with a subsidiary theme, namely, the use of narrative examples in philosophy.
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How can I, who am thinking about the entire, centerless universe, be anything so specific as this: this measly creature existing in a tiny morsel of space and time? This metaphysically self-deprecating question, posed by Thomas Nagel, holds an insight into the nature of personhood and the ordinary ways we value it, in others and in ourselves. I art...
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On Helen Fremont's After Long Silence: A Memoir (New York: Dell Publishing, 1999).
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I show that different communities can indeed be subject to incompatible moralities, because their local mores are rationally binding. At the same time, I explain why the mores of different communities, even when incompatible, are still variations on the same moral themes. I thus map out a universe of many moral worlds without, as I put it, 'moral b...
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As a philosopher of action, I might be expected to believe that the will is a good thing. Actually, I believe that the will is a great thing—awesome, in fact. But I’m not thereby committed to its being something good.
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Why it's irrational to regret what might have been.
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We discuss some implications of the Holocaust for moral philosophy. Our thesis is that morality became distorted in the Third Reich at the level of its social articulation. We explore this thesis in application to several front-line perpetrators who maintained false moral self-conceptions. We conclude that more than a priori moral reasoning is requ...
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The terms ‘endurance’ and ‘perdurance’ are commonly thought to denote distinct ways for an object to persist, but it is surprisingly hard to say what these are. The common approach, defining them in terms of temporal parts, is mistaken, because it does not lead to two coherent philosophical alternatives: endurance so understood becomes conceptually...
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Why donor conception is wrong.
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On the possibility of self-fulfilling beliefs.
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Kant's distinction between dignity and price, as it applies to assisted suicide.
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In her excellent critique of my book Self to Self (2006), Catriona Mackenzie highlights three gaps in my view of the self. First, my effort to distinguish among different applications of the concept ‘self’ is not matched by any attempt to explain the interactions among the selves so distinguished. Second, in analyzing practical reasoning as aimed a...
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Participants in online "virtual worlds" such as Second Life create alternative selves compounded of real minds and fictional bodies; as these alternative selves, they perform fictional actions. This process can be compared to the psychoanalytic transference, in which the analysand and analyst perform fictional actions as alternative selves. In argu...
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This is the manuscript of a book on meta-ethics. From the Introduction: Maybe the grounding of morality lies closer to the social surface than philosophers like to think, neither in the structure of practical reason nor in a telos of human nature but rather in our mundane ways of muddling through together - that is, in how we get along. Our ways of...
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I offer a new interpretation of Harry Frankfurt's philosophy of action, as it was presented in his book The Importance of What We Care About. I then suggest that kinds of activity celebrated in the Daoist doctrine of wu wei and in Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi's theory of "flow" would qualify as instances of "higher wantonness" under Frankfurt's theory.
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In this paper I offer an argument against establishing an institutional right to die, but I do not consider how my argument fares against countervailing considerations, and so I do not draw any final conclusion on the subject. The argument laid out in this paper has certainly inhibited me from favoring a right to die, and it has also led me to reco...
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Buddhists believe that the existence of an enduring self is an illusion and that this illusion is the root of the suffering inherent in the human condition. I want to explore whether this particular Buddhist thought can be understood in terms familiar to analytic philosophy. How might the illusion of an enduring self lie at the root of human suffer...
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What it is to be a mensch.
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This book brings together essays on personal identity, autonomy, and moral emotions by the distinguished philosopher J. David Velleman. Although each of the essays was written as an independent piece, they are unified by an encompassing thesis, that there is no single entity denoted by –the self,— as well as by themes from Kantian ethics, psychoana...
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We explore the possibility of deliberating about what to believe. Ultimately, we defend an expressivist theory of belief-attribution.
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Many philosophers have thought that human autonomy includes, or perhaps even consists in, a capacity for self-constitution – a capacity, that is, to define or invent or create oneself. Unfortunately, self-constitution sounds not just magical but paradoxical, as if the rabbit could go solo and pull himself out of the hat. Suspicions about the very i...
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Why Adam and Eve are ashamed of their nakedness.
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Peer Reviewed http://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/2027.42/43368/1/11098_2004_Article_5510.pdf
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Peer Reviewed http://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/2027.42/43367/1/11098_2004_Article_5506.pdf
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Practical conflicts pervade human life. Agents have many different desires, goals, and commitments, all of which can come into conflict with each other. How can practical reasoning help to resolve these practical conflicts? In this 2004 collection of essays a distinguished roster of philosophers analyse the diverse forms of practical conflict. Thei...
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This major volume of original essays maps the place of emotion in human nature, through a discussion of the relation between consciousness and body; by analysing the importance of emotion for human agency by pointing to the ways in which practical rationality may be enhanced, as well as hindered, by emotions; and by exploring questions of value in...
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Introduction: The Worry One can feel guilty without thinking that one actually is guilty of moral wrongdoing. For example, one can feel guilty about eating an ice cream or skipping aerobics, even if one doesn't take a moralistic view of self-indulgence. And one can feel guilty about things that aren't one's doing at all, as in the case of survivor'...
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How narratives explain.
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I explore the social-psychological literature on self-consistency theories (cognitive dissonance, attribution theory) and tie them to a philosophical theory of practical reasoning.
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I offer an account of how ideals motivate us. My account suggests that although emulating an ideal is often rational, it can lead us to do irrational things. This is the third in a series of four papers on narrative self-conceptions and their role in moral motivation. In the first paper, “The Self as Narrator” (to appear in Autonomy and the Challen...
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By "deciding how to decide," I mean using practical reasoning to regulate one's principles of practical reasoning. David Gauthier has suggested that deciding how to decide is something that every rational agent does. According to Gauthier, we assess rival principles of practical reasoning, which tell us how to choose among actions.One of my goals i...
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This paper explores the sense in which belief "aims at the truth". In this course of this exploration, it discusses the difference between belief and make-believe, the nature of psychoanalytic explanation, the supposed "normativity of meaning", and related topics.
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How the Freudian Superego might be rational.
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On the relation between love and Kantian respect.
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An interpretation of Kant's notion of universalization.
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Existing accounts of shared intention (by Bratman, Searle, and others) do not claim that a single token of intention can be jointly framed and executed by multiple agents; rather, they claim that multiple agents can frame distinct, individual intentions in such a way as to qualify as jointly intending something. In this respect, the existing accoun...
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Splitting the difference between internalism and externalism about reasons.
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A theory of personal identity.
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For some patients, a right to receive euthanasia will not enhance autonomy in the morally relevant sense. Even if these patients choose wisely whether to exercise their right to die, they will still be harmed by having been given it. Perhaps, then, physicians should have permission to administer voluntary euthanasia, but patients should not have a...
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Decision theory comprises, first, a mathematical formalization of the relations among value, belief, and preference; and second, a set of prescriptions for rational preference. Both aspects of the theory are embodied in a single mathematical proof. The problem in the foundations of decision theory is to explain how elements of one and the same proo...
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“What do you see when you look at your face in the mirror?” asks J. David Velleman in introducing his philosophical theory of action. He takes this simple act of self-scrutiny as a model for the reflective reasoning of rational agents: our efforts to understand our existence and conduct are aided by our efforts to make it intelligible. Reflecti...
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Agent causation supervenes on event causation.
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Action is not performed under the guise of the good.
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https://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/2027.42/138420/1/papq00410.pdf

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