Research

Published papers

When a Free Act Costs a Motive: Clearing Consequentialism of Conflict (forthcoming), Utilitas

Consequentialist theories that directly assess multiple focal points face an important objection: that one right option may conflict with another. Robert Adams raises an instance of this objection regarding the possibility that the right act conflicts with the right motives. Whereas only partial responses have previously been given, assuming particular views of the relation between motives and acts, an exhaustive treatment is in order. Either motives psychologically determine acts, or they do not—and I defend direct consequentialism on each assumption. Crucially, if motives determine acts, this may be compatible with the ability to act otherwise, but there remains a defense for consequentialism even on these assumptions. What clears consequentialism of conflict is not necessarily that the apparently right act is unavailable, but rather that its outcome is suboptimal once we account for necessary motives. Even if the agent remains free to perform the act, the act costs too much. (publisher's version)

In progress

The Dualism of Being For and Bringing About

I advance a new dualism in moral theory: there are two fundamental standards of rightness, one regarding motives and the other outcomes. For instance, when a loving parent takes on a sacrificial yet foolish risk for their child, the risk-taking is both right and wrong; when a friend spitefully reveals an important truth, the truth-telling is both wrong and right. Many philosophers have tried to derive the significance of one standard from within the framework of the other—reducing motives to outcomes or vice versa—but these reductionist approaches always miss some element essential to ethics. I argue that we should embrace the radical dualism of two separate and equally fundamental moral standards. (draft)

Against Motive Fatalism

The phenomenology of motivation seems to suggest, and many philosophers agree, that motives cannot be controlled at will. Nonetheless, I argue that agents do indeed have direct control over motives (acquiring, strengthening, weakening, and losing motives) rather than being merely passive subjects. There are high stakes for this claim. For example, an old miser like Ebenezer Scrooge ought to help others out of his abundant resources, yet he cares neither for morality nor for other people. If Scrooge has no control over his (lack of) motives, we could not explain how he is able, and indeed ought, to help others. Moreover, the usual appeals to moral motivation implicitly rely on control over motives, as do compatibilist accounts of ability to act otherwise. Thus, agents must enjoy some form of control over motives, which in turn enables voluntary control over their actions. (draft)

Amnesia and Punishment

The literature on punishment mostly overlooks the plight of offenders who face punishment for crimes they cannot remember committing. Does their amnesia give reason for less punishment? The few philosophers who have addressed this question suggest a straightforward answer: remembering one’s crime is a necessary condition for deserving punishment. Yet that answer relies on implausible assumptions about the justification of punishment and personal identity. Instead, I argue that because amnesiacs cannot link punishment to their past agency, punishment would deprive them of a narrative arc by which to understand their own lives. These are grounds for mercy. (draft)

Squeezing God into Fitting-Response Theories of Value

I motivate a novel approach to the question of God’s value along the lines of a fitting-response theory of value. In order more fully to understand the ways in which God’s value is distinctive, we must look to certain responses that are uniquely fitting towards God, such as awe and prayer. Because such responses are neither positively nor negatively valenced, however, I argue that we should loosen our grip on a valenced notion of value and instead think more broadly about how God matters.

The Cheap Considerateness of Social Media

Spontaneously thinking of others—remembering their birthdays, thinking to check in on them—used to matter for our relationships. Philosophers have explained the significance of such "considerateness" for a variety of ethical frameworks, but I highlight the corrosive effect of recent technologies. The significance of considerateness has now been cheapened, in particular, by social media with its automatic reminders. One might think that the solution is to increase our voluntary efforts—say, by recording much more elaborate birthday messages for our friends—but I caution that this cannot replace the lost significance of spontaneous attention.

Loving Your Enemy

Start with the thought that you ought to love your enemy. That sounds attractive, but it generates a puzzle. Your enemy is someone whom you find hateful: even if you don’t hate them, you think at least that hate would be appropriate. And, love and hate being opposing orientations, strong reason in favor of one tends to count against the other. Insofar as your enemy is hateful, other things equal, love makes no sense to you. I argue that it can nonetheless be fitting to love your enemy on the basis of the fact (if it is one) that you yourself have received unmerited love.