Meet the project: 'The Profoundest Problem in Ethics: Handling Practical Reasons in Conflict (PROFOUND)'

As we face the accelerating challenges of climate change, wars, and mass poverty, many grapple with moral dilemmas that pull between personal well-being and broader societal ethical obligations.


Global challenges, from climate change and wars to pervasive poverty, present not only geopolitical and socio-economic problems but also intense ethical dilemmas that perforate through individual and collective decision-making. Striking a balance between personal well-being and the ethical imperatives arising from societal crises is the focal point of the PROFOUND project, led by Senior Lecturer Mathea Slåttholm Sagdahl from the University of Oslo and Professor Attila Tanyi from the UiT The Arctic University of Norway.


Unraveling Ethical Complexities 

Mathea Slåttholm Sagdahl, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the Department of Philosophy, Classics, History of Art and Ideas, University of Oslo (UiO). Photo: Camilla K. Elmar / CAS

Embarked upon a journey to unravel the conflicts between moral and prudential reasons, Sagdahl and Tanyi navigate through decisions that pit individual well-being against collective moral obligations. 'To give an example,' they illustrate, 'you can have a good prudential reason to go on holiday to Thailand (to have a rest, to encounter other cultures, to reduce stress) but also a moral reason not to go (to reduce your carbon footprint, for example).' This dialectic, they emphasize, is 'omnipresent in our lives,' especially given the pervasive global challenges we encounter: 'Thus we encounter the pull of the two kinds of reasons in many of our decisions. Our project aims to examine what models we can use to resolve such conflicts and whether a satisfying resolution is at all possible.'


A Meticulously Comprehensive Approach

When queried about what distinguishes PROFOUND from parallel research initiatives, Sagdahl and Tanyi clarify: 'Our project is comprehensive in its approach and to an extent at least, original in its aims,' even though the project connects with substantial preceding work in the field. They strategically 'attack’ ethical problems from diverse angles, some of which are less explored in existing literature, providing the problem, deemed by some as 'the profoundest problem in ethics,' a uniquely wide scope.


CAS: A Conducive Space for Exploration

CAS provides an environment conducive to in-depth exploration, and the PROFOUND team is leveraging it to its fullest. Sagdahl and Tanyi intend to 'analyze new approaches to the conflict of moral and prudential reasons,' while also cultivating a discourse amongst experts and enthusiasts through workshops, public talks, and events. Part of their outreach involves engaging entities, like the ethical decision-making committee of the Norwegian oil fund, which perpetually grapple with these moral-prudential conflicts.


Attila Tanyi, Professor in Philosphy at the UiT The Arctic University of Norway. Photo: Camilla K. Elmar / CAS

Advocating Fundamental Research

Reflecting on the essence of fundamental research, they assert: '"Standing on the shoulders of giants," goes the saying.' Highlighting the symbiotic relationship between applied and fundamental research, they stress that the real-world applicability emanating from applied research is deeply rooted in foundational studies. They underscore, 'We are just and simply a curious species, after all. (Which, we should note, also helps our survival…)' illuminating the intrinsic value embedded in the quest for knowledge.


Projecting Impactful Outcomes

Looking toward the future, the PROFOUND team envisages that their 'comprehensive approach, based partly on teamwork, will reinvigorate research on and thinking about moral-prudential conflicts,' starting with the publication of a pivotal anthology featuring expertise from eminent thinkers in the field. Striving to weave theory and practice, the project will culminate in a workshop that synergizes scientists and practitioners, infusing theoretical insights with practical wisdom.


Early Days at CAS: A Conglomeration of Minds

Their initial weeks at CAS have been imbued with productivity and intellectual synergy. With a formidable team from Norway and abroad, they’ve inaugurated their first workshop and embarked on the PROFOUND seminar series. Humorously, they remark: 'We are philosophers; we just sit down and discuss with each other!'




Published 10 October 2023, 11:00 | Last edited 01 February 2024, 9:34