NORMATIVE ETHICS


The Dual Aspects of Normative Reasons

It is a platitude that good people do the right thing for the right reasons. Taken at face value, this platitude implies that some motivating reasons are the right reasons, given that our motivating reasons are the ones for which we act. More particularly, the platitude implies that normative reasons and motivating reasons are the same kind of entity. I argue that philosophers have misunderstood the significance of this claim. It is generally taken to show that we must shape our conception of motivating reasons to resemble our antecedent conception of normative reasons. However, I argue that satisfying the claim actually requires our normative reasons to more closely resemble the historically dominant conception of motivating reasons as pairs of beliefs and desires. I call this view the dual aspect account of normative reasons. I conclude by demonstrating how adopting this novel account of normative reasons provides new resources for defending the commonsense thought that virtue amounts to no more than doing the right thing for the right reasons.

Link to draft

Just Say ‘No!’ to Desiring What’s Right, De Dicto

Smith argues that desiring what's right, where this is read de dicto, is a moral vice, which he calls "moral fetishism". I argue that this claim is too strong. Such "de dicto motivation" is sometimes an important source of instrumental motivation in cases where our desires for the features that make an act right are too weak to move us to act in that way. Rather, Smith should instead conceive of "moral fetishism" as the desire to do what's right, independently from a desire to promote the features that make the act right.

Link to draft

What Does the Moral Fetishist Fetishize?

A debate is emerging, which looks a bit intractable, about whether desiring rightness is a particular kind of moral vice (what Michael Smith (1994) calls “moral fetishism”) or whether it’s a precondition on acting virtuously -- in particular, on acting with moral worth. The debate is surprising. That a kind of motivation could be, for all we know, either virtuous or vicious is a testament to how poorly it is understood. I argue that disagreement over the cases in this debate is only apparent. It originates in an inadequate appreciation of an important dimension in moral motivation, namely, whether an agent’s desire for rightness itself is intrinsic or instrumental. When we’re sensitive to the distinction between intrinsic and instrumental motivation and when we pair that distinction with a second distinction between desiring an act’s good effects and desiring an act’s rightness as such, the debate dissolves.

Link to draft

Reducing Duty to Virtue Through Goals

This paper offers a new defense of virtue theory in normative ethics, the view that one's moral duty is to be understood as the act that the person of good character would perform in one's circumstances. It begins by conceding that virtue theory, as standardly conceived, is vulnerable to two well-known objections: first, the Euthyphronic objection that virtue theory is either arbitrary or superfluous, and, second, that agents lack stable character traits, and so lack virtuous character traits as a special case. However, I show that both of these criticisms can be evaded by defending the claim that virtuous action is analytically prior to virtuous character, explaining the former in terms of doing the right thing for the right reasons. Virtuous character, I argue, is merely the disposition to do the right thing for the right reasons. On the view ultimately defended, moral duties are understood in terms of virtuous actions, and virtuous action is understood in terms of acting for the right reasons.

Down for redraft

Primary Reasons as Normative Reasons

This paper argues that analyses of moral rightness in terms of the balance of competeing reasons require that reasons are more finely grained than facts. It then argues that Donald Davidson's primary reasons, initally conceived of as motivating reasons or the rationalizing causes of our actions, are consistent with weighing explanations and that independent linguistic data suggests that they play this role.

Link to draft


METAETHICS


Sentimentalism About Moral Understanding

Some philosophers, so-called pessimists, have found that deference to moral testimony money is objectionable. According to this view, there's something sub-optimal in forming one's moral beliefs strictly on another's word. Hills (2009) argues that moral deference is defective in this way because it fails to impart moral understanding, which is the ability to offer moral explanations of a certain type. I argue that we should instead conceive of moral understanding as a partly non-cognitive phenomenon and offer independent reason for thinking that the very best kinds of moral actions require it.

Link to draft

The World Is Not Enough (with N. G. Laskowski)

Throughout much of his career, Derek Parfit suggests that anyone who possesses normative concepts is in a position to know, on the basis of their competence with such concepts alone, that reductive realism in ethics is not even possible. The small amount of attention that this ambitious claim has received has been exclusively critical. We argue that, while Parfit comes up short of establishing it, Parfit's claim does provide the raw materials for advancing a new and interesting challenge to reductivists, one that clarifies what's at stake in the debate between them and non-reductivists. On our reading of Parfit, reductivists can make sense of a class of analytic claims without collapsing into a form of non-reductivism only if reductivism is packaged with either a radical brand of particularism or contingentism.

Down for redraft

Factualists Can’t Solve The Wrong Kind of Reason Problem

The wrong kind of reason (WKR) problem is a problem for attempts to analyze normative properties using facts about the balance of normative reasons. This paper argues that this problem cannot be solved if factualism is true -- that is, if each normative reason is numerically identical with some fact, proposition, or state-of-affairs. Solving the WKR problem requires a wholly disjoint distinction between the right- and wrong-kind reasons for an attitude. I argue that some facts give both right- and wrong-kind reasons for an attitude. Consequently, no such distinction between the two types of reasons is wholly disjoint if reasons are facts, or the like. I conclude by suggesting that reasons are instead partly constituted by facts or fact-like entities.

Link to draft


EPISTEMOLOGY


Beyond Bad Beliefs

Some people's beliefs in well-evidenced, true racial generalizations seem objectionable. An increasingly popular explanation of why they're objectionable, known as moral encroachment, is already emerging (see Fritz (2017), Schroeder (2017), Bolinger (2018), Moss (2018; fc), Basu (fc), and Basu and Schroeder (fc)). The approach holds that whether a claim is backed by suffcient evidence isn’t strictly a function of the evidence; it is also a function of the moral stakes engendered by the belief. According to it, though the statistical correlation between being an attendant and being black is strong, it is not strong enough to propositionally justify the woman’s belief given the high moral stakes that belief engenders. I argue that many of the cases that motivate the moral encorachment view are actually better explained by a different theory according to which bad beliefs are bad not because they lack propositional justification, as moral encroachment theorists hold, but because they lack doxastic justification. On the view I propose, the racist's true, well-evidenced beliefs are the product of wishful thinking, so they are not doxastically justified.

Link to extended abstract


PHILOSOPHY OF LANGUAGE


Should is Subjunctive Must

Many non-English languages like Greek, Hungarian, and French lack a discrete lexical item for weak necessity, expressed in English by 'should' and 'ought'. Rather, weak necessity in these languages is realized by combining a strong necessity term, like English's 'must' or 'have to', with the subjunctive mood. Put simply, the challenge is to explain how weak necessity is sometimes the product of strong necessity and the subjunctive mood. von Fintel and Iatridou (2008) argue that counterfactual conditionals offer the correct model for understanding how strong necessity combines with the subjunctive to produce weak necessity; Silk (2016) argues that the correct model is provided by presupposition. I argue that both of these approaches fail and that modal subordination provides the correct model. I develop a semantics that explains how weak necessity is the product of these two, more basic components through modal subordination.

Link to draft

World-relational Expressivism

This paper is in its early stages. Elsewhere I argue that modal terms have an independent pronoun-like world parameter, whose reference is fixed by context. The main objection to this approach is that it must posit extremely strong pragmatic effects in the determination of that reference. I show how the semantics for modal terms I develop combines with the recent expressivist approach of MacFarlane and Williams (2016) and Charlow (forthcoming) to overcome this objection and offer a new expressivist semantics for deontic language.

No Presuppositional Disagreement for Metaethical Contextualists

Contextualist semantics often have trouble explaining how people disagree when they use context-sensitive terms. Recently, contextualists have sought to ground disagreement over modal utterances in their associated presuppositions. This paper focuses on the proposals of Silk (2016a,b,c) and Perl (2016), who undertake this strategy in defense of their semantics for deontic (and epistemic) modals. I argue that their proposals suffer from related flaws. First, both proposals locate moral disagreement in a proposition describing what is morally required, independently of what the disputants believe is morally required, which I call the objectivity proposition. I argue that objectivity propositions make their contextualist proposals redundant. Second, I argue that both proposals’ attempts to secure disagreement go too far, predicting disagreement where disputants are intuitively talking past one another. I conclude by diagnosing the source of these defects in the particular way that each proposal deviates from the seminal semantics of Kratzer (1977, 1981, 1991, 2012) on which they are based.

Link to draft