Mark van Roojen's Philosophy Page

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I'm Mark van Roojen, a professor of philosophy at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln. I just finished a book, Metaethics: A Contemporary Introduction for Routledge and it is now out. I mainly teach and publish in the areas of ethics, metaethics and political philosophy. I've also recently (as of July 2013) started as book reviews editor for the journal Ethics, and it keeps me pretty busy.

I should probably say a bit more about my published work here, and I'll organize what I say by general area.


Most of my publications have been on metaethics. For those who don't know what metaethics is, it is a reasonably abstract field of ethics having to do with issues surrounding the nature of moral judgements, moral properties and moral reality. Sometimes these issues are pursued by arguing for views about the nature of the subject matter of ethics but sometimes philosophers also pursue these issues by giving an account of what it is to make moral judgements that express one's views about ethics. That's probably not all that helpful unless you started out with some idea of the topic already. One of the difficulties I had to cope with in writing a textbook is precisely about how to help outsiders and newcomers understand what metaethics is all about. It seems better to show people what metaethics is than to tell them.

My own work in metaethics has focused especially on the connections between moral judgements, moral truths, reasons for acting and motivations for acting. Rationalism is the view that moral truths are truths about practical rationality. Very roughly on the version I like an action is morally right if it is what a practically rational person would do in the circumstances. Reasons are features of the situation that contribute to rationalizing a course of action, and when all goes well a rational person is motivated by the reasons that make the course of action in question rational. I think this means that beliefs about the reasons that make moral claims true must also be able to motivate agents. All of this is controversial and parts of my argument for the resulting view are spread throughout a number of my metaethics papers. When I get done with the textbook I hope to write a monograph putting the main ideas together in one place. In the meantime, my 2010 Ethics paper, "Moral Rationalism and Rational Amoralism" has a number of the ideas working together.

Over the years I've written a fair number of papers on noncognitivism for someone who is not a noncognitivist. In particular, the Frege-Geach challenge to noncognitivism got my interest rather early on because everyone cited it as a problem for noncognitivism without really helping me to understand how the objection worked. As I now think of it that problem is about providing a compositional semantics for all ordinary moral constructions that makes sense of how we use them and of their logical connections to one another. The issue gets pretty technical. A bit of work related to this that is supposed to be more accessible to a general audience is an entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on the topic of Non-cognitivism. It was originally posted in January of 2004 and I thought that version had a nice narrative structure while getting in most of what mattered. Subsequent work by clever people extended that narrative in unexpected ways. I was obliged by prior agreement to revise the entry in 2009 to take subsequent developments into account. I was never very happy with that version. It didn't tell the story well and made some mistakes (at least by my later lights). So I was really happy to revise it with the new improved 2013 version on December 4, 2013. I'm happy to have it up, even though what is in one sense the heart of the amendations to the story, the longer discussion of responses to the Frege-Geach problem, is now in a long appendix that one could read in place of what is section 4.1.1-4.1.3 in the main entry. My advice is in fact to read the appendix in place of those sections - it won't interrupt the narrative flow and may better explain the direction of current developments. Many thanks to the editors for their help with that revision (and for their patience with me because it was hard to get back into what had been a big project when I first wrote it).

There's a bit more metaethics work on my work in progress page, but not as much as you might reasonably expect. Working on the book has meant fewer papers in shape to have people look at.

Normative Ethics and Political Philosophy

I also have interests in Normative Ethics and Political Philosophy. With respect to normative ethical theory I am quite interested in the debates between consequentialists and non-consequentialists and in particular in the best ways to defend non-consequentialism. My paper on satisficing and maximizing that is in the Michael Byron volume by Cambridge University Press ( pdf here) summarized at abstracts page is probably the best example of my work on such issues. I'm also pretty happy with a paper defending Scanlon's account of promising from the Kolodny/Wallace circularity objection that recently came out in Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics, Volume 3. A draft of that is still available on my work in progress page until I figure out if I can put the final version up here.

I can't claim to be up on all of political philosophy, but I find it pretty interesting and I teach it fairly regularly. I am most interested in issues of distributive justice, though I am also trying to get a handle on democratic theory. I have a paper I've been working for some time that argues that a Rawlsian conception of justice according to which the smallest representative share of social goods should be as great as possible is in fact required by the proper understanding of our prima facie duty not to harm other people. A version of that came out in Acta Analytica, but I have a longer version of it that can be downloaded from the abstracts page linked below.

Getting Access to My Published Work

If you are interested in any of this, you can check out a page with more details on individual published papers along with links to pdfs of most of them. There are a couple of more things I should be adding soon.

Current Work

As I've explained above, the textbook was my main focus until recently. In the meantime, most of the papers I had in progress made their way to publication and the rest has a long ways to go before publication. I'm a little embarrassed about that, but I guess that goes with the territory. You can find PDFs of some version or other of papers papers that aren't out yet on my As Yet Unpublished Papers page but many of them are now out.

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