- “Non-Ideal Prescriptions for the Morally Uncertain,” Philosophical Studies (forthcoming).
- “Dispensing with the Subjective Moral ‘Ought’,” Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics, Volume 11 (forthcoming).
- “Moral Hedging and Responding to Reasons,” Pacific Philosophical Quarterly (2019).
- “Moral Uncertainty and Value Comparison,” in Oxford Studies in Metaethics, Volume 13 (2018).
- “A Priorism in Moral Epistemology” (with Michael DePaul) in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2016).
- “Particularism Doesn't Flatten,” in the Journal of Moral Philosophy (2016).
1. False Moral Beliefs and Exculpation
It's intuitive that some, but not all, false moral beliefs can exculpate one for moral wrongdoing. Horrifying false moral beliefs—false moral beliefs that are "beyond the pale"—are not plausibly exculpatory; but other false moral beliefs are still respectable, and thus are plausibly exculpatory. I've written a paper in which I develop a framework for thinking about exculpation via false belief that vindicates these intuitive claims.
Exculpation by False Moral Belief
According to one account of exculpation, a false moral belief can never exculpate someone for moral wrongdoing. According to an alternative account, 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 allows us to avoid the counterintuitive consequences of both of those accounts. I suggest (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 high quality deliberative outlook; (b) that there are constraints on which deliberative outlooks count as high quality; and (c) that high quality deliberative outlooks can lead agents to form certain types of false moral beliefs (beliefs with the "right type" of content), but cannot lead agents to form other types of false moral beliefs (beliefs with the "wrong type" of content). I conclude that some, but not all, false moral beliefs can exculpate.
A draft of this paper is available upon request.
2. Non-Ideal Moral Obligations
Here are two claims that I find plausible:
- Normative ethical theories are supposed to issue verdicts about what actual people, in the actual world, are morally obligated to do.
- Ought implies can, where we interpret this to mean "if one is morally obligated to φ, then one can motivate oneself to φ while remaining a cohesive agent."
All Moral Norms for Action are Norms of Compensation
A moral norm of perfection allegedly expresses what one ideally ought to do (morally speaking), whereas a moral norm of compensation expresses what one ought to do (morally speaking) given the continued existence of certain non-ideal states of affairs. I'm interested in exactly how we should characterize these norms, and I'm interested in what we should do in cases in which these two types of norms seem to conflict with each other. In this paper (currently in development), I argue that when we attempt to carefully characterize the concept of a moral norm of perfection, it turns out that such a norm cannot be a norm for action; instead, moral norms of perfection are best understood as expressing axiological (not deontic) claims. This delivers the result that norms of perfection do not conflict with norms of compensation, and that one's moral obligations are always expressed by norms of compensation. Some norms of compensation appear to conflict with each other, but those conflicts are illusory.
`Ought Implies Can' and the Prescription of Action`
There are many alleged counterexamples to the claim that 'ought implies can.' In this paper (currently in development), I use a framework for non-ideal moral obligations to defend a robust version of 'ought implies can' (a version according to which 'ought implies can' means 'if one is morally obligated to φ, then one can form a reason-responsive intention to φ while remaining a cohesive agent') from these counterexamples. I argue that only this robust version of 'ought implies can' can vindicate an intuitive link between moral norms and practical deliberation.
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 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.
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.