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"A Solution for Buridan's Ass" (Ethics, January 2016)
Abstract: Buridan’s Ass faced a choice between two identical bales of hay; governed only by reason, the donkey starved, unable to choose. It seems clear that we face many such cases, and resolve them successfully. Our success seems to tell against any view on which action and intention require evaluative preference. I argue that these views can account for intention and intentional action in cases like that of Buridan’s Ass. A decision to act nonintentionally allows us to resolve these cases without their being a damaging theoretical counterexample.
"Moore's Paradox and Akratic Belief" (Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, May 2016; published version here -- access required)
Abstract: G.E. Moore noticed the oddity of statements like: “It’s raining, but I don’t believe it.” This oddity is often seen as analogous to the oddity of believing akratically, or believing what one believes one should not believe. It has been appealed to in denying the possibility of akratic belief. I describe a Belief Akratic’s Paradox, analogous to Moore’s Paradox and centered on sentences such as: “I believe it’s raining, but I shouldn’t believe it.” I then defend the possibility of akratic belief against appeals to this analogy. I argue both that akratic belief does not require belief-akratic-paradoxical belief, and that the latter is importantly different from Moorean belief. I conclude by considering the implications of these arguments for an understanding of both Moorean and akratic belief.
"Akratic Action under the Guise of the Good" (Canadian Journal of Philosophy, July 2020)
Abstract: Many philosophers have thought that human beings do or pursue only what we see as good. These “guise-of-the-good” views face powerful challenges and counterexamples, such as akratic action, in which we do what we ourselves believe we ought not do. I propose a new way for guise-of-the-good views to address this central counterexample by appealing to conflicting beliefs. I then answer concerns that this appeal is insufficiently explanatory, attributes too much conflict, leaves out an essential asymmetry in action against one’s ‘better’ judgment, attributes systematic error about one’s own beliefs, and is too implausible.
"Blame and Protest" (The Journal of Ethics, June 2019; published version here -- access required)
Abstract: In recent years, philosophers have developed a novel conception of blame as a kind of moral protest. This view faces doubts about its intelligibility: can we make sense of inner ‘protest’ in cases of unexpressed blame? It also faces doubts about its descriptive adequacy: are all blaming reactions cases of protest? I argue that the protest view of blame can successfully answer the first kind of doubt, but not the second. Contemptful or unexpressed blame may not be protest, just as ‘nonviolent’ protest can avoid blame. I then defend an alternative view of the connection between protest and blame, characteristic of nonviolent resistance. On that alternative, the connection is not descriptive but practical; rather than understanding blame as a kind of protest, we should aim, in many cases, to replace blame with protest.
"Scanlon's Theories of Blame" (The Journal of Value Inquiry, September 2020; published version here -- access required)
T.M. Scanlon has recently offered an influential treatment of blame as a response to the impairment of a relationship. I argue, first, that Scanlon’s remarks about the nature of blame suggest several sharply diverging views, so different that they can reasonably be considered different theories: a judgment-centered theory, on which blame is the reaction the blamer judges appropriate; an appropriateness-centered theory, on which blame is any reaction that is actually appropriate; and a substantive list theory, on which blame is any of a list of reactions, such as anger or loss of trust. Once distinguished, each theory faces a series of formidable challenges that neither Scanlon nor his commentators have addressed. I argue that the notion of directed attention, central in Scanlon’s earlier work, can be used to address these challenges, while preserving the spirit of Scanlon’s discussion of blame.
"Causal Blame" (American Philosophical Quarterly, October 2021)
Abstract: We blame faulty brakes for a car crash, or rain for our bad mood. I argue that such “merely causal” blame is crucial for understanding interpersonal blame. The two are often difficult to distinguish, in a way that plagues philosophical discussions of blame. And interpersonal blame is distinctive, partly in its causal focus: its attention to a person as cause. Causal focus helps explain several central characteristics of interpersonal blame: its tendency to exaggerate a person’s causal role, its weakening through attention to personal history or thoughts about determinism, its characteristic “force” or “sting,” and our sense that blame is often harmful or unfair.
"How Can Belief be Akratic?" (Synthese, December 2021; published version here)
Abstract: Akratic belief, or belief one believes one should not have, has often been thought to be impossible. I argue that the possibility of akratic belief should be accepted as a pre-theoretical datum. I distinguish intuitive, defensive, systematic, and diagnostic ways of arguing for this view, and offer an argument that combines them. After offering intuitive examples of akratic belief, I defend those examples against a common argument against the possibility of akratic belief, which I call the Nullification Argument. I then offer an Argument from Belief Attribution, using a discussion of the marks by which we typically attribute belief to defend attributions of akratic belief. I conclude by offering a way to explain what is puzzling about akratic belief, while allowing that it is possible.
"The Role of Philosophers in Climate Change" (Journal of the American Philosophical Association, December 2022; published version here)
Abstract: Some conceptions of the role of philosophers in climate change focus mainly on theoretical progress in philosophy, or on philosophers as individual citizens. Against these views, I defend a Skill View: philosophers should use our characteristic skills as philosophers to combat climate change by integrating it into our teaching, research, service, and community engagement. A focus on theoretical progress, citizenship, expertise, virtue, ability, social role, or power, rather than on skill, can allow for some of these contributions. But the Skill View, I argue, uniquely captures the breadth of philosophers’ role in climate change; promises to make us more effective in practice; and offers a compelling way to overcome our own lingering climate denial by integrating climate change into all aspects of philosophical activity.
"Virtues of Willpower" (Synthese, October 2023; published version here)
Abstract: Drawing on recent work in psychology, I argue that there are not one but several distinct virtues pertaining to willpower or strength of will: (1) the disposition to exercise willpower; (2) a distinctively volitional kind of modesty, or moderation in exposing oneself to volitional strain; and (3) a distinctively volitional kind of confidence, or proper inattention to the possibility of volitional failure. A multiple-virtue conception of willpower, I argue, provides a useful framework for cultivating a good relationship to one’s own volitional limitations; resists an unhealthy emphasis on ‘powering through’ volitional obstacles; and avoids controversial empirical assumptions without giving up on making progress in ethical thought about willpower. I answer objections that the latter two virtues are incompatible, and that they add little of value to hope or belief in success. I then argue that combining these virtues requires a kind of flexible attention which, while difficult, is both psychologically possible and desirable.
"The Whitewashing of Blame" (forthcoming in European Journal of Philosophy; published version here)
Abstract: I argue that influential recent discussions have whitewashed blame, characterizing it in ways that deemphasize or ignore its morally problematic features. I distinguish “definitional,” “creeping,” and “emphasis” whitewash, and argue that they play a central role in overall endorsements of blame by T.M. Scanlon, George Sher, and Miranda Fricker. In particular, these endorsements treat blame as appropriate by definition (Scanlon), or as little more than a wish (Sher), and infer from blame’s having one useful function that it is a good practice overall (Fricker). I use an analogy with revenge to illustrate the mechanisms of whitewashing, including broadening a concept to include available alternatives to it and inference from one feature of a practice to an overall conclusion about that practice. Several features of blame make it particularly prone to whitewashing, including blamers’ personal or emotional stake in blaming and widespread disagreement about the nature of blame. I argue that a non-whitewashing treatment of blame must pay closer attention both to blame’s harms, and to comparisons between blame and alternative, non-blaming reactions.