Research

Drafts are available on request, and comments are most welcome, so please reach out.

Under review

The Dualism of Being For and Bringing About
When a parent selflessly puts their children first but they all tragically die as a result, or when one friend tells another an important truth out of spite, they act rightly in one respect and wrongly in another. One of the moral standards here assesses an act according to the motives from which the agent acts, while the other standard assesses the act according to the outcome that is produced. The distinction underlying these two standards—between being for what matters and bringing about what matters—cuts across familiar divides like consequentialist versus non-consequentialist as well as deontological versus non-deontological. Each of the standards has distinguished contemporary defenders: I discuss the theories of Michael Slote and Elizabeth Anderson, on the one hand, and Julia Driver, Tom Hurka, and W.D. Ross, on the other. Despite recognizing the powerful attraction of the other standard, defenders of each standard attempt to address the significance of the other standard from within their own views. I argue that these attempts all fail. Rather than surrender the deep judgments that support either standard, we should embrace dualism in moral theory. Our twin interests in being for and bringing about what matters are each morally significant, fundamental, and distinct.

 

When a Free Act Costs a Motive: Clearing Consequentialism of Conflict
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. I argue that, if motives do not determine how one acts, then whatever conflict there is between the right act and the right motives is not especially objectionable for consequentialism. If motives do determine acts, on the other hand, then the apparently right act cannot in fact be right because it is ruled out by the right motives. However, previous ways of articulating this point on behalf of consequentialism have provoked a new worry: that whatever act is determined by one’s motives must be the only available act, so it cannot be wrong no matter how bad. I argue that this need not follow by reflecting on the nature of availability and of outcomes. What clears consequentialism of conflict is not the claim that the apparently right act is unavailable, but rather that its outcome is suboptimal once we account for the motives required for the act. The agent remains free to perform the act—but the act costs too much.

In progress

Against Motive Fatalism
Do we control our motives? Set aside the possibility of managing motives via voluntary action, which I take to be an indirect form of control. Many philosophers seem to think that we lack any immediate form of control over motives—call this thesis Motive Fatalism. Given the significance of its implications, especially for free will, ethics, and political philosophy, it’s striking how little scrutiny Motive Fatalism has received. For instance, Motive Fatalism is regularly assumed, with little support, as a premise against ethical theories that require that agents have or act from good motives: such theories, it is claimed, violate the principle that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’, given that agents lack control over their motives. In this paper, I raise doubts for Motive Fatalism by drawing attention to some of its counterintuitive implications in ethics more generally. First, Motive Fatalism implies that agents lack control over whether they act in praiseworthy or blameworthy fashion. And, perhaps more shockingly, Motive Fatalism implies that agents lack control over whether they act as they ought—according to any ethical view, not just motive-based ones. To defend Motive Fatalism from these implications, one response might be to draw on the motive of duty to rescue us; another response might be to offer a compatibilist account of control over acts. I argue that these responses are dialectically unsatisfying. Finally, I make some positive suggestions as to what might constitute immediate control over motives.

 

Amnesia and Punishment
On October 2, 1964, Robert Wilson committed a string of gunpoint robberies that ended in a car crash following a high-speed chase. In the crash, Wilson sustained head injuries that caused him to lose all memory of the day’s events, including the crimes he committed. The question I examine is this: does a lack of memory of one’s crimes bear on the reasons for and against punishment? There are a number of issues to be separated out here. Stipulate that Wilson had the requisite mens rea, meaning that his mental state was fully culpable at the time of the crime; also stipulate (pace Locke) that Wilson-during-the-crime is numerically identical to Wilson-after-the-crime, given that his amnesia is localized and he possesses overall psychological continuity. Set aside the usual utilitarian considerations bearing on punishment (such as rehabilitation, deterrence, etc.); also set aside the issue of competency to stand trial, which is threatened by Wilson’s lack of access to details that might strengthen his defense. Intuitively, there remains something distinctively troubling about punishment in this case. On the other hand, Wilson might seem no less deserving of punishment than any other person who committed the same crimes. I seek to honor both reactions. Wilson is no less liable to punishment than a similar offender without amnesia, I argue. However, undergoing punishment without memory of his crimes involves a special harm: not fully understanding the reasons for his suffering. This further harm that the state brings about is a significant consideration counting against punishment.

 

Squeezing God into Fitting-Response Accounts of Value
Abstract available on request

 

Models for Motive Control
Abstract available on request