Papers (click to expand)
For a detailed description of my research program, click here.
Published and Forthcoming
Acting and Believing Under the Guise of Normative Reasons. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (2019) 99(2): pp. 409-430.
This paper defends an account of the reasons for which we act, believe, and so on for any φ such that there can be reasons for which we φ. Such reasons are standardly called motivating reasons. I argue that three dominant views of motivating reasons all fail to capture the ordinary concept of a motivating reason. I show this by drawing out three constraints on what motivating reasons must be, and demonstrating how each view fails to satisfy at least one of these constraints. I then propose and defend my own account of motivating reasons, which I call the Guise of Normative Reasons Account. On the account I defend, motivating reasons are propositions. A proposition is the reason for which someone φs when she represents that proposition as a normative reason to φ, and her representation explains, in the right way, her φing. As I argue, the Guise of Normative Reasons Account satisfies all three constraints on what motivating reasons must be, and weathers several objections that might be leveled against propositionalist views.
Moral Worth, Credit, and Non-accidentality. Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics, vol. 10 (2020).
This paper defends an account of moral worth. Moral worth is a status that some, but not all, morally right actions have. Unlike with merely right actions, when an agent performs a morally worthy action, she is necessarily creditworthy for doing the right thing. First, I argue that two dominant views of moral worth have been unable to fully capture this necessary connection. On one view, an action is morally worthy if and only if its agent is motivated by the features of the action that make it right. On the other, an action is morally worthy if and only if its agent is motivated by the action’s rightness itself. Neither of these views captures the connection between moral worth and creditworthiness, because each view leaves room for cases of accidentally doing the right thing. Next, I develop a new account, which I call the Guise of Moral Reasons Account. On my account, morally worthy actions are right actions that are motivated by moral reasons as such. This account rules out cases of accidentally doing the right thing, thus capturing the necessary connection between moral worth and creditworthiness for doing the right thing.
Evidentialism Doesn't Make an Exception for Belief. Early online in Synthese.
Susanna Rinard has recently offered a new argument for pragmatism and against evidentialism. According to Rinard, evidentialism must hold that the rationality of belief is determined in a way that is different from how the rationality of other states is determined. She argues that we should instead endorse a view she calls Equal Treatment, according to which the rationality of all states is determined in the same way. In this paper, I show that Rinard’s claims are mistaken, and that evidentialism is more theoretically virtuous than its opponents sometimes give it credit for. Not only does evidentialism not make an exception for belief, but it fits naturally into a unified, explanatorily powerful account of the rationality of intentional mental states. According to such an account, the rationality of all intentional mental states, including belief, is determined by the right kind of reasons for those states. Since the right kind of reasons for belief just are evidential considerations, this unified account entails evidentialism. I conclude, contra Rinard, that evidentialism can be (and often is) situated within a general account of rationality that is at least as theoretically virtuous as pragmatism, if not more so.
Published version (online early access)
Published version (online early access)
Anscombe on Acting for Reasons. Routledge Handbook of Practical Reason,eds. Ruth Chang and Kurt Sylvan (2020).
This chapter discusses some of Anscombe’s contributions to the philosophy of practical reason. It focuses particularly on Anscombe’s view of what it is to act for reasons. I begin by discussing the relationship between acting intentionally and acting for reasons in Anscombe's theory of action. I then further explicate her view by discussing her rejection of two related views about acting for reasons: causalism (the view that reasons are a kind of cause of actions) and psychologism (the view that reasons are mental states like desires and beliefs). In the process, I try to show that Anscombe’s rejection of these theses does not leave us with mystery, but rather sheds light on an interesting and serious heterodox view of acting for reasons. I conclude by suggesting that though Anscombe's views have been taken sufficiently seriously by philosophers of action, they could be taken more seriously by philosophers of practical reason as an alternative to Davidsonian dogmas.
Rationality and Kinds of Reasons. Forthcoming in Australasian Philosophical Review.
This paper is a response to John Broome's "Rationality versus Normativity" in a issue dedicated to discussion thereof. In it, I critique Broome's arguments against the view that rationality is normative because it consists in responsiveness to reasons. I argue that Broome's arguments succeed only against views on which reasons and normativity are univocal. Once we admit of multiple kinds of reasons, some fact-given and others non-factive, a version of the reasons-responsiveness view emerges that is untouched by Broome's arguments. This not only shows that Broome has not refuted reasons-responsiveness views wholesale, but provides a justification for preferring non-univocal versions of reasons-responsiveness views to univocal ones.
Penultimate draft coming soon.
Penultimate draft coming soon.
Review of John Schwenkler's Anscombe’s Intention: A Guide. Ethics (2020).
Penultimate draft and link to published version coming soon.
What's in an Aim? Forthcoming in Oxford Studes in Metaethics, vol. 17.
Metaethical constitutivists seek to ground normativity in facts about what is constitutive of agency. One strand of constitutivism locates the foundations of normativity in constitutive aims, which are standardly conceived of in teleological terms. In this paper, I show that the teleological conception of constitutive aims is inadequate for the constitutivist project. I challenge the teleological conception of constitutive aims in three ways. The first is that it cannot account for normative authority. The second challenge is that the teleological conception it is insufficiently generalizable to attitudes. And the third challenge is that the teleological conception conflates the aims of agents with the aims of actions/attitudes. In light of these challenges, I conclude that if the appeal to constitutive aims is to succeed, constitutivists need a different conception thereof. I provide such an alternative by developing a commitment-based conception of constitutive aims. On this conception, actions and attitudes constitutively represent their objects as having certain properties, and their constitutive aims are fixed by the accuracy-conditions of these representations. Because such representations constitutively involve a commitment on the part of the agent to the object’s having the relevant property, they have normative authority for the agent. So, unlike the teleological conception, the commitment-based conception yields a unified constitutivism that delivers authoritative normative standards for both actions and attitudes.
Penultimate draft coming soon.
Penultimate draft coming soon.
Vice and Virtue in Sikh Ethics. Forthcoming in The Monist.
Abstract and draft coming soon.
A paper about discrimination (with Daniel Wodak) (title redacted)
After being subject to anti-Mexican harassment, Nathanial Burrage quit his job at FedEx in 2010 and sued under Title VII. The District Court dismissed his case on the grounds that Burrage wasn’t Mexican, so this mistreatment couldn’t be discrimination. Such cases of misperception discrimination have received scant attention in legal commentary, and are almost entirely ignored in the philosophical literature on discrimination. Yet misperception discrimination raises three deep philosophical issues:
- Is misperception discrimination a form of discrimination?
- If so, is it on the same basis as veridical discrimination?
- If so, is it wrong in the same core ways as veridical discrimination?
There is No Pragmatic Encroachment
This paper argues that there is no pragmatic encroachment on epistemic justification. Pragmatic encroachers motivate their view using a conception of belief on which part of what it is to believe p is to rely on p in one’s reasoning. To succeed in this, they need a very strong version of this reliance-involving conception of belief, according to which relying on p in one’s reasoning means acting on the assumption that p is true and thereby discounting the possibility that it is not. However, this strong version is cannot be right, because unless one is justifiedly certain that p, one is never justified in completely discounting the possibility that p is false. It is argued that the strong version should be rejected in favor of a more modest version of the reliance-involving conception. However, once we accept the modest version, the case for pragmatic encroachment is undermined.
The Paradox of Consequentialism
This paper argues that consequentialism faces a paradox akin to the traditional paradox of deontology. The paradox of deontology is supposed to arise from the fact that deontology prohibits violating certain restrictions even when doing so would minimize violations of that very restriction. It can be presented as an inconsistent triad consisting of three claims: two that are part of deontology, and one putatively commonsense claim. I argue that consequentialism faces a paradox with the same sort of inconsistent triad structure: two claims that are part of consequentialism, and one putatively commonsense claim. The paradox of consequentialism, however, arises from the fact that consequentialism requires promoting certain goods even when their value consists not in meriting promotion, but in meriting some other response. I conclude that if this structure of paradox, consisting of a mix of claims that are internal to a theory and at least one commonsense claim that is not, makes for a good objection to that theory, then consequentialism is no better off than deontology in this regard. In fact, if anything, consequentialism is worse off, because the commonsense claim behind the paradox of consequentialism is more commonsensical than the one behind the paradox of deontology.
How Can Coherence be Distinctively Normative?
Coherence requirements are rational requirements on how our attitudes fit together. Because they require or prohibit certain combinations of attitudes as such, they differ from what might be called substantive rational requirements, which require particular attitudes (or actions) given the reasons for and against them. Insofar as they truly require or prohibit things of agents, coherence requirements seem to be normative. However, it turns out to be surprisingly difficult to explain how coherence requirements could be distinctively normative -- that is, how there could be reasons to be coherent per se. One answer is that coherence requirements are not distinctively normative; their apparent normativity can be explained (or explained away) in terms of substantive rational requirements not to hold particular attitudes in the incoherent set. This strategy comes in both reductionist and error theoretic versions. But either way, it is unsatisfying, for both versions struggle to make sense of cases in which a set of attitudes is objectionably incoherent even though no attitude in the set is substantively irrational. In this paper, I develop an alternative view that vindicates the distinctive normativity of coherence. First, I bring out an important feature of coherence that has been underappreciated: if a set of attitudes is incoherent, then it’s a priori knowable that it's impossible for every attitude in that set to be correct. I then argue that there are distinctive reasons to be coherent because there are distinctive reasons against holding sets of attitudes that one is in a position to know contain incorrect attitudes.
Rationality and Correctly Responding to Reasons
According to an increasingly influential family of views, rationality is a matter of correctly responding to one’s reasons. Though this is a promising approach, there’s a problem with many extant versions of it: they rely on dispositionalist accounts of correctly responding to reasons. I argue in this paper that such accounts are inadequate for the task of analyzing rationality. This is because they fail to capture a central feature of rationality: that in acting or holding attitudes rationally, the agent thereby deserves credit for acting or holding attitudes as she does. Dispositionalism cannot capture this feature because agents are not creditworthy for manifesting reasons-sensitive dispositions unless those dispositions are themselves attributable to them. After explaining why dispositionalism fails, I clear space for a representationalist account of correctly responding to reasons by showing how it can explain the necessary connection between creditworthiness and responsiveness to reasons. In doing so, I dispel several anti-representationalist myths perpetuated by dispositionalists.
You of All People: Acquaintance, Wrong Action, and Blame (with Joshua Blanchard)
It is widely agreed that one’s degree of blameworthiness for performing a wrong action is lower under conditions of non-culpable ignorance than under conditions of knowledge. One might also ask, however, whether there are conditions under which one’s degree of blameworthiness is higher than it would be under conditions of mere knowledge. One such condition is satisfied when the agent has not just moral knowledge, but moral acquaintance. Intuitively, all else equal, the acquainted wrongdoer is more blameworthy than the unacquainted (but still knowledgeable) wrongdoer. Our goal in this paper is to explain why this is the case. We consider and reject three proposals that attempt to explain the phenomenon by appeal to normatively significant features not unique to acquaintance. We then develop our own proposal: the phenomenological possession account. According to the phenomenological possession account, moral acquaintance heightens blameworthiness for wrongdoing because it uniquely puts the agent in a position to phenomenologically possess reasons against the wrong action. When an agent possesses a reason not just intellectually but phenomenologically, her grasp of that reason is stronger. We contend that given plausible connections between blameworthiness and the possession of reasons against wrong actions, phenomenological possession heightens blameworthiness. After developing the phenomenological possession account, we conclude by considering three applications of our view to debates in normative theory, as well as responding to three objections.
This paper introduces the category of normative achievements and defends its importance. There are myriad normative standards that our actions and attitudes may or may not accord with - right action, true belief, and so on. But while there is a kind of success involved in satisfying these standards, such success is not always to our credit. An agent might perform a right action, or believe the truth, without the relevant form of success being attributable to her as an agent. When an agent does deserve credit for acting rightly, believing the truth, or satisfying some other normative standard, her action or attitude is thereby a normative achievement. I argue that moral worth, knowledge, and rationality are all normative achievements. By theorizing about the category of normative achievements in general, we can shed light on all three of them. I then defend a reasons-based account of normative achievements, according to which creditworthiness for satisfying normative standards is a matter of correctly responding to the reasons that ground these standards. Finally, I argue that the unique ability of reasons to explain both normative standards and their corresponding achievements makes a strong case for the centrality of reasons in normative theory.
Reflective Knowledge as a Normative Achievement
This paper argues that reflective knowledge consists in creditworthiness for believing the truth. Furthermore, creditworthiness for believing the truth consists in believing for reasons that are appropriately connected to the truth of the belief. I argue that this view has several advantages. First, it uses Ernest Sosa's distinction between reflective and animal knowledge to make sense of how creatures that lack reflective agency can possess a kind of knowledge without having the capacity for robust reasons-responsiveness. Second, by connecting creditworthiness to the reasons for which we believe, it makes progress over previous credit-based views in dealing with objections and counterexamples. Third, and finally, by illuminating a composite but non-conjunctive structure for knowledge, it undermines primeness arguments for knowledge-first views in epistemology.