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ABSTRACTS and Links to Papers:
"Moral Intuitionism, Experiments and Skeptical Arguments" Intuitions Booth and Rowbottom (eds.) (Oxford; Oxford University Press, 2013). (Link is to penultimate draft)
Ethical intuitionism is a species of foundationalism for which the outputs of intuition function as justificational regress-stoppers and relatedly also to provide an independent basis for choosing between equally coherent moral theories. The leading contemporary ethical intuitionists characterize intuitions as resulting from a non-inferential process whose outputs provide justification sufficiently strong to rationally license belief in the contents of intuition, at least in the absence of defeaters. Various critics have used experimental arguments to suggest that the target judgements are unreliable and hence unable to provide such justification. The empirical evidence varies in strength, but it is reasonable to conclude that certain allegedly intuitive judgements are not reliable enough to warrant belief all by themselves. I argue that intuitionists should moderate their key claims in response to the evidence. Intuitions may well not provide justification strong enough to rationalize belief in the outputs of intuition absent confirming evidence. Even so they can be fit to play both the regress-stopping and theory-testing roles. Such very weakly justified judgements which cohere with one another can be sufficiently justified to constitute knowledge as a function of both their initial intuitive plausibility and the coherence relations amongst the set. Furthermore, there is no need to define intuitions as non-inferential. A partly inferential process can still provide materials for testing theories without introducing vicious circularity into the overall method of justification.
"Scanlon’s Promising Proposal and the Right Kind of Reasons to Believe," in Timmons, ed. Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics, Vol. 3 (Oxford; Oxford University Press, 2013), 59-78.
T. M. Scanlon suggests that the binding nature of promises itself plays a role in allowing a promisee rationally to expect follow through even while that binding nature itself depends on the promisee’s rational expectation of follow through. Kolodny and Wallace object that this makes the account viciously circular. The chapter defends Scanlon’s theory from this objection. It argues that the basic complaint is a form of wrong kinds of reason objection. The thought is that the promisee’s reason to expect compliance are undermined if the promise is binding only when the promisee forms that very expectation. The chapter suggests that other uncontroversially rational processes of multi-person coordination involve beliefs with the very same feature. Focal point reasoning in the theory of games is one example. In coordination situations it can be rational to believe that another person will do something precisely because that person expects you to believe what one does about what they’ll do. An examination of the reasoning in such cases motivates a group reflection principle that vindicates the reasoning employed in Scanlon’s account.
"Moral Rationalism and Rational Amoralism" Ethics,120 (April 2010) pp. 495-525.
Moral rationalism identifies right action with rational action. As a result it seems incompatible with rational immorality and also with amoralists of the sort highlighted by David Brink among others. This paper argues that this is an illusion. When rationalism is coupled with resources from the philosophy of mind and language independently motivated to capture Frege's well-known puzzle along with a variant of the familiar distinction between subjective and objective rationality, rationalism can explain these phenomena. Furthermore the explanation generates two recognizable though moderate internalist theses. Since these theses can be independently motivated, the resulting package generates an argument for rationalism as the best explanation of these sorts of internalism.
“A Fork in the Road for Expressivism,” review essay on Mark Schroeder’s Being For; Evaluating the Semantic Program of Expressivism, in Ethics 120 (Jan. 2010) 357-381.
Gives and overview of Schroeder's theory and argument for it in the book under review, and then makes a few relatively general comments on what we should take away from the discussion.
"Some Advantages of One Form of Argument for the Maximin Principle," Acta Analytica, Volume 23, No. 4 (2008) 319-335, http://www.wpringerlink.com/content/e5n153g878777708/.
This paper presupposes a certain non-consequentialist argument for Rawls’s conclusion that we should distribute primary social goods so that the least representative share is as attractive as possible. The basic idea of that argument is that aiming for such distributions is justified as falling out of the prima facie duty not to harm. That argument is controversial but it will get only minimal direct defense in this paper. Rather I will argue that if we presuppose this rationale for a Rawlsian theory we are in a good position to rebut many standard and seemingly forceful objections to the Rawlsian theory. The objections include the claim that the theory is too demanding, that it puts too much weight on the interests of the less well off, that it is insufficiently egalitarian and that it is unfair to the handicapped to use primary social goods as a measure.
"Knowing Enough to Disagree: A New Response to the Moral Twin Earth Argument," Oxford Studies in Metaethics, Volume I ed. by Russ Shafer-Landau (Oxford; Oxford University Press, 2006).
Terrence Horgan and Mark Timmons' moral twin-earth thought experiment has been used to refute Boyd-style realist semantics for moral terms on the grounds that causal regulation by differing properties is insufficient to create a difference in meaning of moral terms. This paper presents a Boyd-inspired theory according to which epistemic (but not necessarily causal) regulation by natural moral kinds determines the content of moral claims. Moral terms refer to those moral kinds of which speakers in a community express knowledge using those terms. The theory explains one plausible kind of motivational internalism highlighted by the twin-earth example.
"Expressivism, Supervenience and Logic," Ratio (2005) 190-205.
Expressivist analyses of evaluative discourse characterize unembedded moral claims as functioning primarily to express noncognitive attitudes. The most thorny problem for this project has been explaining the logical relations between such evaluative judgements and other judgements expressed using evaluative terms in unasserted contexts, such as when moral judgements are embedded in conditionals. One strategy for solving the problem derives logical relations among moral judgements from relations of "consistency" and "inconsistency" which hold between the attitudes they express. This approach has been accused of conflating inconsistency with mere pragmatic incoherence. In reaction such criticisms several recent theorists have attempted to use alternative resources. The most sophisticated noncognitivists have often propounded theories with secondary descriptive components in addition to their primary expressive meanings. Recent independent suggestions by Frank Jackson and Stephen Barker attempt to solve the embedding problem by utilizing such descriptive components of moral utterances. Unfortunately, this strategy fails to handle a certain sort of example using just the descriptive resources available to noncognitivists. For it must rule valid arguments invalid in virtue of equivocation in the secondary descriptive meanings. The present paper explains the problem and suggests a moral for expressivist theories.
"The Plausibility of Satisficing and the Role of the Good in Ordinary Thought," in Satisficing and Maximizing; Moral Theorists on Practical Reason ed. by Michael Byron(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).
Satisficing without thereby maximizing is rational provided that non-consequentialism is rational and provided that the preferred characterization of non-consequentialism is not one in which right action is justified in virtue of maximizing agent-relative value. Rather, the non-consequentialism which can serve to defend satisficing should be one in which the best characterization of certain reasons to act does not involve maximization of value of any sort, whether agent-relative or agent neutral. I argue there are reasons to prefer this sort of non-consequentialism to theories which defend non-consequentialism by construing value as agent-relative. An upshot is that satisficing cannot be well-defended within an overall consequentialits framework.
"Humean and Anti-Humean Internalism about Moral Judgements," Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, LXV, No. 1 (July 2002).
Motivational internalism about moral judgements is the plausible view that accepting a moral judgement is necessarily connected to motivation motivation. However, it conflicts with the Humean theory that motives must be constituted by desires. Simple versions of internalism run into problems with people who do not desire to do what they believe right. This has long been urged by David Brink. Hence, many internalists have adopted more subtle defeasible views, on which only rational agents will have a desire to act. I will argue that more complex versions run into problems with self-effacing values of the sort Parfit highlights in another context. Such values can only be attained indirectly. After proposing a general account of motivation suited to the internalist thesis, I argue that Anti-Humeanism is better suited to accommodating the internalist insight.
Robust moral rationalism has long been regarded as incompatible with the Humean Theory of Motivation which requires desires to ground motives. Recently this orthodoxy has been challenged on the ground that rationality itself might require certain desires. This strategy does not remove the tension between rationalism and the Humean Theory. If rationalism is correct, new normative beliefs should engender new motives - motives not grounded in a means-ends fashion in rationally required existing desires. Thus the motivational responses we should expect would be ruled out by the Humean Theory, even when supplemented by rationally required desires. Anti-Humeans about rationality should not be Humeans about motivation.
"Motivational Internalism; A Somewhat Less Idealized Version," Philosophical Quarterly (April 2000).
Contemporary internalists postulate a defeasible yet necessary connection between values and motives. Typically they idealize the conditions for motivation, claiming for example that motivation must be present in rational persons under certain conditions. Robert Johnson convincingly argues that these versions of internalism have trouble avoiding the "conditional fallacy". They overlook ways in which the conditions in the antecedent of the conditional expressing the analysis are incompatible with the claim under analysis. Moreover, avoiding the fallacy decouples internalism from its use to explain and justify moral action. This paper uses Johnson's arguments to motivate a new proposal for defining central internalist claims. The proposal involves modifying the conditions in which motivation must be manifest so that it is less idealized. We can specify conditions which are ideal enough to ensure motivation but which are not so ideal as to be incompatible with the grounds of an agent's reasons.
"Reflective Moral Equilibrium and Psychological Theory," Ethics (July 1999) pp. 846-857.
Tamara Horowitz criticizes the use of thought experiments by Warren Quinn and others to support a version of the Doctrine of Doing and Allowing. She argues that because a competing empirical explanatory hypothesis for our common agreement on the correct outcome in those thought experiments is true we should conclude that our intuitions concerning those examples do not provide support for the Doctrine of Doing and Allowing. Other authors have reached similar conclusions. I argue that the argument misconstrues the role of higher order reflection on first order intuitive moral judgements in moral thinking. Appropriately appreciating that role will require us to reject Horowitz's claim that she has undermined arguments from Quinn's examples to the conclusion that there is a morally significance difference between doing and allowing.
"Affirmative Action, Non-consequentialism and Responsibility for the Effects of Past Discrimination," Public Affairs Quarterly (July 1997), pp. 281-301.
One popular criticism of affirmative action is that it discriminates against those who would otherwise have been offered jobs without it. This objection must rely on the non- consequentialist distinction between what we do and what we merely allow to claim that doing nothing merely allows people to be harmed by the discrimination of others, while preferential programs actively harm those left out. It fails since the present effects of past discrimination result from social arrangements which result from actions of ours. We can be responsible for the effects of past discrimination, even without having discriminated, if we are responsible for that discrimination having those effects.
"Expressivism and Irrationality," The Philosophical Review (July 1996), pp. 322-335.
Geach's problem, the problem of accounting for the fact that judgements expressed using moral terms function logically like other judgements, stands in the way of most noncognitive analyses of moral judgements. The non-cognitivist must offer a plausible interpretation of such terms when they appear in conditionals that also explains their logical interaction with straightforward moral assertions. Blackburn and Gibbard have offered a series of accounts each of which interprets such conditionals as expressing higher order commitments. Each then invokes norms for the coherent acceptance of attitudes to explain why we hold certain combinations inconsistent. Against these accounts the paper presses two related objections: (1) The norms needed to do the explanatory work cannot be strong enough to do that work without also ruling clearly consistent attitudes inconsistent. And (2), the norms of rational attitude acceptance do not neatly track the distinction between consistent and inconsistent attitudes.
"Moral Functionalism and Moral Reductionism," The Philosophical Quarterly (January 1996), pp. 77-81.
Jackson and Pettit propose a "functionalist" analysis of evaluative content in service of a naturalistic reduction of moral terms. Though a broadly functionalist account may be correct, it does not immediately lead to a naturalistic theory for two reasons. First, a naturalistic theory should make clear in what sense the properties in question are naturalistic. The paper raises some doubts that this can be done consistent with the functionalist reduction. Second, even if we can construct true Ramsey sentences containing only naturalistic vocabulary and variables for moral terms, this will not ensure that the satisfiers for those variables are naturalistic.
"Humean Motivation and Humean Rationality," Philosophical Studies 79 (1995), pp. 37-57.
The paper examines the Humean Theory of Motivation as a reason to accept an instrumental conception of rationality, and Michael Smith's "direction of fit" arguments for the Humean theory. These arguments must show that there can be no besires, attitudes that combine the functional roles of belief and desire by both responding to evidence and motivating action. Because of rationality constraints on the proper attribution of attitudes the issue turns on the correct theory of rationality. Thus, arguments for the Humean Theory of Motivation must pre-suppose a Humean or instrumental theory of rationality.
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