Work in Progress
Please feel free to email me to request drafts of any of the below.
Promises, Offers, Requests, Agreements
If I promise to pick you up at the airport, I thereby become obligated to do so. But this is not the only way I could undertake this obligation. If I offer to pick you up at the airport, and you accept my offer, I become obligated to pick you up in much the same way. I would also undertake similar obligations if you asked me to pick you up, and I accepted your request, or if we agreed that I’ll pick you up and in exchange you’ll cook me dinner.
How do we explain the similar moral effects of promises, offers, requests, and agreements? I argue that we can’t answer this question by reducing offers, requests, and agreements to the better-studied phenomenon of promises. Instead, I propose that we see promises, offers, and requests as all resulting in agreements. If we adopt this ‘agreements-first’ view, the similarities between promises, offers, requests and agreements are easy to explain.
Ethics and the Limits of Armchair Sociology
I raise an epistemic objection to theories that explain the truth of moral principles by appeal to claims about what would happen if those principles were widely adopted - a group I take to include rule consequentialism, contractualism, and Kant’s Formula of Universal Law.
Distinguishing Directed Obligation
I investigate the idea of directed obligations: obligations that are owed to someone in particular. I argue that directed obligation cannot be reductively explained in terms of two more familiar moral concepts, rights and moral obligation. In place of these reductive accounts, I propose that directed obligation and moral obligation are parallel phenomena, distinguished by the reasons from which they arise.
Promises as Proposals in Joint Practical Deliberation
Noûs, forthcoming. Published in Early View on 12 September 2018
This paper argues that promises are proposals in joint practical deliberation, the activity of deciding together what to do. More precisely: to promise to ϕ is to propose (in a particular way) to decide together with your addressee(s) that you will ϕ. I defend this deliberative theory by showing that the activity of joint practical deliberation naturally gives rise to a speech act with exactly the same properties as promises. A certain kind of proposal to make a joint decision regarding one's own actions turns out to have the very same normative effects, under the very same conditions, as a promise. I submit that this cannot be a coincidence: we should conclude that promises and the relevant kind of proposals in joint practical deliberation are one and the same.
Moral Psychology as Accountability (with Stephen Darwall)
In Moral Psychology and Human Agency: Philosophical Essays on the Science of Ethics, edited by Justin D'Arms and Daniel Jacobson, 40-83. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. 2014.
We argue that experimental work on moral motivation both lends support to and is illuminated by certain philosophical theses about the conceptual connections between moral obligation, blame and guilt, and interpersonal accountability.
The Addict in Us All (with Richard Holton)
Frontiers in Psychiatry, 5(149): 1-20. 2014.
We propose a unified model of self-control conflict that aims to capture the psychological mechanisms underlying both addiction and ordinary temptation. The upshot of our model is that the self-control challenge faced by addicted persons is not different in kind from that faced by non-addicted persons, though of course the former is far more difficult.
Vox.com, March 2018
One of 5 winners of the 2019 APA Public Philosophy Op-Ed Contest
Argues that many harmful-but-persistent ways of thinking about addiction may be implicitly based in the Socratic assumption that people always do what they think is best. Suggests that attending to the divided nature of the mind might help us adopt a more sympathetic and productive approach to addiction.
Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics Blog, December 2017
Tries to explain why James Lenman's paper "Consequentialism and Cluelessness" has me completely stumped.