Below are abstracts for some of my recently published articles in moral and political philosophy.
Giving the Dead Their Due
[Ethics, October, 2003, volume 114, pp. 38-59]
The legacy of monstrous social injustices outlive their immediate victims.
Such injustices often give rise to claims of duties of reparation. Such claims
strike a deep chord and should not be dismissed lightly. On the other hand,
attempts to provide a philosophical defense of such duties has been
surprisingly difficult. In light of the difficulties plaguing existing
approaches, I propose an unorthodox alternative that easily avoids those
difficulties. On the proposed account, duties of reparation sometimes are owed
to the dead themselves.
Mill's Intentions and Motives
[Utilitas, March, 2002, 14: 54-70]
One might have thought that any right-thinking utilitarian would hold that motives and intentions are morally on a par, as either might influence the consequences of one's actions. However, in a neglected passage of Utilitarianism, John Stuart Mill claims that the rightness of an action depends 'entirely upon the intention' but does not at all depend upon the motive. In this paper I try to make sense of Mill's initially puzzling remarks about the relative importance of intentions and motives in a way that highlights the importance of other elements of his moral philosophy and action theory.
Saving Scanlon: Contractualism and Agent-Relativity
[Journal of Political Philosophy, 2001, 9: 472-481]
T.M. Scanlon's contractualist moral theory holds that an action is wrong just in case it would be forbidden by principles nobody could reasonably reject for the general unforced regulation of behavior. Scanlon's critics (including Simon Blackburn, Colin McGinn, and Philip Pettit) argue as follows. If we understand wrongness in terms of reasonable rejectability then we had better understand the reasons for rejection as distinctively moral reasons - otherwise the theory will no longer seem plausible as a moral theory of right and wrong. If, however, we antecedently have helped ourselves to a conception of moral reasons then the contractualist machinery looks otiose. The basic idea is that whenever principles allowing an action are reasonably rejectable because such actions have feature F, such actions are wrong simply in virtue of having F and not because their having F makes principles allowing them reasonably rejectable. This standard objection rests on a pervasive misunderstanding of Scanlon's account. If Scanlon's theory held that the grounds on which one might reasonably reject principles had to be agent-neutral, then the objection might be sound. However, on Scanlon's view the reasons which ground reasonable rejection not only can be agent-relative, they must be. This underappreciated element of Scanlon's theory refutes the critics' standard objection.
Agent-Neutral Consequentialism From the Inside-Out: Concern For Integrity Without Self Indulgence
[Utilitas: Special Issue on Character and Consequentialism, edited by Julia Driver, July 2001, 13: 236-254]
The inside-out/outside-in distinction (introduced into philosophical parlance by Stephen Darwall) provides a useful frame for thinking about whether there is a justification of concern for one's own integrity that is inaccessible to consequentialists. It is important, however, to distinguish two ways of understanding what is involved in the inside-out approach, which I shall call the "synchronic account" and the "diachronic account." Whereas the synchronic account is one that a consequentialist can and should embrace, the diachronic account is one that the consequentialist should reject. This, however, is no embarrassment for the consequentialist. For the diachronic account commits one to an implausible kind of moral self-indulgence (section two). I argue that there is a further important sense in which a moral theory might be understood as justified from the inside-out, and that consequentialism can, in principle, be defended in this way (section three). This defense would, however, come at a price. Contemporary consequentialists distinguish principles as "decision-procedures" from principles as "standards," and argue that consequentialism is the latter rather than the former. Indeed, this move can seem essential for the consequentialist to avoid objections to the effect that relying on consequentialism as a decision procedure is unlikely to be optimal. However, a defense of consequentialism from the "inside-out" requires conceiving the theory as providing, in the first instance, a decision-procedure.
Taking Solipsism Seriously: Nonhuman Animals and Meta-Cognitive Theories of Consciousness
[Philosophical Studies, 2001, 103: 315-340]
Somewhat surprisingly, discerning the possibility of a sort of solipsistic perspective is crucial to understanding one way in which a seductive argument for the view that nonhuman animals have no conscious mental states goes wrong. The argument has been developed at length by Peter Carruthers, and is strongly suggested by the work of a number of other philosophers of mind. The problem with the argument is that it simply assumes without argument that it is not the case that some nonhuman animals have a solipsistic theory of the mind.
Modesty as a Virtue
[American Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 37, no. 3, pp. 269-284, July, 2000]
Certain apparent virtues are puzzling, in that their analysis makes it difficult to see why anyone would consider them to be virtues. Good examples include tolerance, humility, mercy and patriotism. Since we should not be too quick to dismiss the common sense view that these traits are virtues, such "paradoxical virtues" are ripe for analysis. Modesty is another such virtue, and one that has not received the attention it deserves. My aim in this paper is to defend an account of modesty that can both make sense of why it should be taken to be a virtue and plausibly distinguish genuine modesty from false modesty.
How to Avoid Being Driven to Consequentialism: A Comment on Norcross
[Philosophy and Public Affairs, Volume 27, No. 1., Winter, 1998]
This is a brief reply to Alstair Norcross's argument that consequentialists should not be troubled by certain prima facie implausible implications of their view. Norcorss argues that we are already committed, in light of certain common sense moral views, to accepting those sorts of implications in any case. I argue that the common sense views to which Norcross appeals do not, in fact, commit us to accepting those implications, and argue that consequentialism's having those implications should still be seen as a vice of that theory, though perhaps not a decisive one.
[American Philosophical Quarterly, Volume 35, No. 2, April, 1998]
In this paper I argue for the Humean view that intentions are reducible to a cluster of beliefs and/or desires. Although I defend a particular family of reductive analyses corresponding to different useful senses of 'intention', my primary aim is to provide a general recipe for producing such analyses in light of any reasonable anti-reductionist complaints about the possibility of such reduction.
Hobbesian Public Reason
[Ethics, Volume 108, Issue 3, pp. 538-568, April, 1998]
In this paper I explore the possibility of a plausible account of public reason for a broadly Hobbesian moral and political theory. I argue that neither Hobbes' own account nor any recognizably Hobbesian modification of it will be able to avoid the force of a powerful dilemma. Either the theory gives the sovereign absolute power, as Hobbes' own theory does, in which case the risk of "creating a monster," becomes to great, *or* the theory constrains the sovereign's power in some way, in which case the Hobbesian is robbed of the ability consistently to deoploy Hobbes' "regress argument" against competing theories that, so to speak, put public principles before a public person (a sovereign). David Gauthier's recent account of public reason falls prey to the second horn of this dilemma, or so I argue. I conclude with some remarks about what alternatives to the Hobbesian account we should explore.
OTHER RECENT WORKS:
||"Contractualism and the New and Improved Redundancy Objection," Analysis, October, 2003, pp. 337-342.