Works in Progress

“I’ll Bet You Think This Blame Is About You” Festschrift for Gary Watson (forthcoming)

There seems to be widespread agreement that to be responsible for something is to be deserving of certain consequences on account of that thing.  Call this the “merited-consequences” conception of responsibility.  I think there is something off, or askew, in this conception, though I find it hard to articulate just what it is.  The phenomena the merited-consequences conception is trying to capture could be better captured, I think, by noting the characteristic way in which certain minds can rightly matter to other such minds—the way in which certain minds can carry a certain kind of importance, made manifest in certain sorts of responses.  Mattering, not meriting, seems to me central.  However, since I cannot yet better articulate an alternative, I continue in the merit-consequences framework.  I focus on a particular class of consequences: those that are non-voluntary, in a sense explained.  The non-voluntariness of these reactions has two important upshots.  First, questions about their justification will be complex.  Second, they are not well thought of as consequences voluntarily imposed upon the wrongdoer by the responder.  By focusing on merited consequences and overlooking non-voluntariness, we risk misunderstanding the significance of moral criticism and of certain reactions to moral failure.

“Reasoning First,” Routledge Handbook of Practical Reasoning (in process)

Many think of reasons as facts, propositions, or considerations that stand in some relation (or relations) to attitudes, actions, states of affairs.  The relation may be an explanatory one or a “normative” one—though some are uncomfortable with irreducibly “normative” relations.  I will suggest that we should, instead, see reasons as items in pieces of reasoning.  They relate, in the first instance, not to psychological states or events or states of affairs, but to questions.  That relation is neither explanatory nor “normative.”  If we must give it a label, we could call it “rational”—but that will mean, I think, only that the consideration bears on the question.  By thus putting reasoning first, we not only avoid a handful of difficulties that have plagued thinking about reasons, but we also bring back to center-stage the importance of rational agency.

Freedom, Resentment, and the Metaphysics of Morals (monograph, under review)

Fifty-five years after its publication, P. F. Strawson’s “Freedom and Resentment” continues to inspire important work.  Its main legacy has been the notion of “reactive attitudes.”  Surprisingly, Strawson’s central argument—an argument to the conclusion that no general thesis (such as the thesis of determinism) could provide us reason to abandon these attitudes—has received little attention.  When the argument is considered, it is often interpreted as relying on a claim about our psychological capacities: we are simply not capable of abandoning the reactive attitudes, across the board, in something like the way we are simply not capable of remembering everything we are told.  A different line interprets Strawson as relying on something like a conceptual point: you can neither support nor call into question the whole of a practice using notions that are, themselves, constituted by that practice.  Neither interpretation would lead to you to expect what you will find, looking at the central text:  Strawson twice accuses his opponent of being caught in some kind of contradiction.  So neither interpretation, on its own, is correct.  By providing a close reading of the central text, I do my best to articulate Strawson’s more interesting, and more powerful, argument.  The argument depends on an underlying picture of the nature of moral demands and moral relationships—a picture that has gone largely unnoticed, that is naturalistic without being reductionistic, and that is, I think, worthy of serious consideration. 

“Strawson’s Descriptive Metaphysics of Morals and some upshots” 

This is radically shortened version of the monograph above, prepared for the occasion of T. M. Scanlon’s retirement from teaching.  Rather than argue for the interpretation of Strawson, it simple states the view attributed to him and then defends it against objections.


Minds that Matter  (draft is not yet available)

The immodest ambition of this book is to unwind the traditional problem of free will and moral responsibility.  I think the problem can be unwound, because I believe it is a philosophical one—that is to say, I believe the problem is created by certain philosophical pictures to which we are naturally (or culturally) prone.  We model our experiences in certain ways, and we end up in paradox and difficulty.  One such picture is what I will call the ordinary notion of control, another is what I will call the merited-consequences conception of responsibility.  Both are natural, and fine for certain purposes, but together they lead to the traditional problem of free will and moral responsibility.  The solution, I believe, is to do some remodeling: to revisit these models, understand what has gone wrong, and replace them with something better.  This is what I will attempt.  The replacements I will advocate are, I believe, still natural models of our experience.  I believe the replacements are better models than those that lead us into difficulty—and not just because they avoid the difficulty.  I believe they have a greater claim to being correct.

Chapters in progress include, “The Intuitive Problem of Free Will and Moral Responsibility,” “Standpoints and Freedom,” “The Embodiment of Agency,” and “I’ll Bet You Think This Blame Is About You.”

“Extrinsic Reasons, Alienation, and Moral Philosophy” (draft is not posted) 
In the last few decades virtue ethics has become a staple in introductory ethics courses, taking its place alongside consequentialism and deontology. These three comprise the default syllabus. Recent interest in virtue ethics is due, in no small part, to a spate of criticisms directed against the perceived alternatives, utilitarianism and Kantianism. In this paper I hope, not to revisit these familiar debates, but rather to point out a familiar but overlooked fact about action, a fact with implications that can be understood to unify and underwrite many of the criticisms against modern moral philosophy. The overlooked fact, once appreciated, does indeed tell against a particular approach to moral philosophy.

“Attempting Virtue” (draft is not posted)
This long-neglected paper displays the role of each form of control in our attempts at moral self-improvement. It examines the way in which trying to believe can be self-defeating, and shows that the attempt to perform a virtuous action or adopt a virtuous attitude will be self-defeating in just the same sense.