- “Moral Uncertainty and Value Comparison,” in Oxford Studies in Metaethics, Volume 13, ed. Russ Shafer-Landau (forthcoming)
- “A Priorism in Moral Epistemology” in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- “Particularism Doesn't Flatten,” in the Journal of Moral Philosophy
Moral Hedging and Responding to Reasons
When one engages in “moral hedging,” one exercises caution under conditions of moral uncertainty. However, some philosophers have recently argued that moral hedging requires that one exhibit the wrong kind of moral concern (namely, de dicto, as opposed to de re, moral concern). Call this objection the “fetishism objection” to moral hedging. Proponents of the fetishism objection often draw from a reasons-responsiveness account of the moral worth of actions, according to which (roughly) an action has moral worth only if one is motivated to perform that action by the reasons that morally justify the action.
In my paper, I examine the relationship between the reasons-responsiveness view and the moral fetishism objection. I argue that one can consistently accept the reasons-responsiveness view while also accepting that one ought to exercise caution when morally uncertain; one can accept both by adopting a particular account of what we have moral reason to do.
Ultimately, I hope to show that those of us who accept reasons-responsiveness views about moral worth can accommodate the idea that epistemic humility—even about moral matters— can have moral worth.
False Moral Beliefs and Exculpation
According to one view, a false moral belief never exculpates someone for moral wrongdoing. According to an alternative view, any false moral belief could, in principle, exculpate someone for moral wrongdoing. In this paper, I develop a new framework for thinking about exculpation that avoids the counterintuitive consequences of both views. I argue (a) that whether one is exculpated for moral wrongdoing on the basis of a false moral belief depends on whether that belief reflects the use of a praiseworthy deliberative outlook; (b) that there are constraints on which deliberative outlooks count as praiseworthy; but (c) that praiseworthy deliberative outlooks can sometimes lead agents to form false moral beliefs. I conclude that some, but not all, false moral beliefs can exculpate.
Moral Obligation and Non-Ideal Agents
We sometimes distinguish between “subjective” and “objective” moral obligations. Subjective moral obligations, roughly, are moral obligations that are sensitive to one's beliefs, credences or evidence; whereas one's objective moral obligations are simply determined by the true first-order normative ethical theory. In this paper (currently in development), I argue that the moral obligations that ethicists often classify as subjective might in fact be objective, because one's objective moral obligations could be sensitive to one's beliefs, credences, and evidence.
The basic structure of my argument is this. Ethicists usually introduce a supplemental theory of subjective moral obligation in order to account for a certain phenomena (phenomena such as dual moral assessments, exculpation, and action guidance). However, we should introduce a supplemental theory of subjective obligation only if the best first-order normative ethical theory can't adequately account for those phenomena. I argue that when we examine the basic structure of—and desiderata for—normative ethical theories, it becomes much more plausible that an adequate normative ethical theory can account for those phenomena.
Moral Recklessness and Collective Action
I plan to argue that the rational and moral permissibility of taking moral uncertainty into account in the course of moral deliberation (in an attempt to avoid moral recklessness) can justify certain kinds of consumer behavior. Consequentialists often try to justify boycotting insensitive markets (markets that do not respond to the demands of an individual consumer, or to the demands of a small number of consumers) by appealing to the existence of thresholds at which reduced consumer demand will reduce production. However, I argue that these appeals to thresholds fail—in order for one to justify boycotting an insensitive market by appealing to the existence of such a threshold, one would also have to make one of several implausible assumptions about the behavior of other consumers. However, I do not conclude that it's irrational for one to boycott an insensitive market when one is uncertain about the behavior of other consumers; instead, I argue that one can reasonably boycott such a market in an attempt to avoid moral recklessness.
The Burden of Proof in Moral Debates
I plan to argue that moral recklessness—even moral recklessness that results from a failure to attend to one's moral uncertainty—can affect on whom the burden of proof falls in moral debates. There are plausible, often ignored dialectical principles that suggest that when one party in a moral debate is behaving in a way that’s prima facie reckless, the burden of proof falls on that party. The combination of these views—that one can be reckless under conditions of moral uncertainty, and that recklessness affects on whom the burden of proof falls—challenges the standard view about the burden of proof in moral debates, and has implications for how we answer certain questions in applied ethics.
Moral Uncertainty and Value Comparison
Several philosophers have recently argued that decision-theoretic frameworks for rational choice under risk fail to provide prescriptions for choice in cases of moral uncertainty (where moral uncertainty is an epistemic state in which one's credences are divided between moral propositions). They conclude from this that there are no rational norms that are “sensitive” to moral uncertainty. This conclusion is surprising; if it's correct, then there's no rational requirement that moral uncertainty affect one's moral deliberation, even if one cares about acting in accordance with moral norms.
In this paper, I argue that one has a rational obligation to take one's moral uncertainty into account in the course of deliberation (at least in some cases). I first provide positive motivation for the view that one's moral beliefs can affect what it's rational for one to choose. I then address the problem of value comparison, which shows that when we're uncertain between competing moral propositions, we cannot determine the expected moral value of our actions. I argue that we should not infer from the problem of value comparison that there are no rational norms governing choice under moral uncertainty; even if there is no way of determining the “expected moral value” of one's actions in cases of moral uncertainty, a morally-motivated decision-maker can still have preferences over lotteries that entail the existence of rational requirements for choice.
The A Priori in Moral Epistemology
My doctoral dissertation was on moral particularism, the view (roughly speaking) that moral generalizations shouldn’t play a role in moral theory.
There are two kinds of moral particularism: eliminativism, according to which there exist no true moral principles, and abstinence, according to which one should never use moral principles in moral deliberation. In my dissertation, I argue that while at least one version of eliminativism is defensible, abstinence is untenable; however, I only take a few steps towards developing what I think is a good particularist theory of moral deliberation.
I published a paper in the Journal of Moral Philosophy titled “Particularism Doesn't Flatten,” which was based on a chapter of my dissertation.