I currently teach at Washington University, St. Louis. Starting in Fall 2018, I will be at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
PhD in philosophy from the University of Southern California (2002-2009)
J.D. from U.C. Berkeley (1998)
B.A. (in philosophy) from U.C. Berkely (1995)
Epistemology, ethics, and philosophical methodology.
Philosophy of law, political philosophy, ethics and applied ethics, epistemology
(forthcoming in Nous
Accuracy-first epistemology cannot show that coherence is a general rational requirement. Accuracy-first epistemology starts from the plausible claim that accuracy is epistemically valuable, and tries to vindicate norms of rationality by showing how conformity with them is beneficial. Jennifer Carr has shown that this approach faces a problem parallel to the Repugnant Conclusion in population ethics. This paper argues that accuracy first epistemology must solve this problem if it is to actually vindicate norms of rationality, and the only solution is to say either that accurate credences in some propositions have no value or infinitesimal value. From this it follows that certain incoherent credal states are not dominated by any coherent credal states. Thus the standard argument in accuracy-first epistemology for probabilism fails. The paper considers alternative ways of vindicating probabilism by appeal to the value of accuracy, and argues that none give a universal vindication.
Collective Action Problems and Conflicting Obligations
(forthcoming in Philosophical Studies
Enormous harms, such as climate change, often occur as the result of large numbers of individuals acting separately. In collective action problems, individuals have so little chance of making a difference to these harms that changing their behavior has insignificant expected utility. Even so, it is intuitive that individuals in many collective action problems should not be parts of groups that cause these great harms. This paper gives an account of when we do and do not have obligations to change our behavior in collective action problems. It also addresses a question insufficiently explored in the literature on this topic: when obligations arising out of collective action problems conflict with other obligations, what should we do? The paper explains how to adjudicate conflicts involving two collective action problems and conflicts involving collective action problems and other sorts of obligations.
The Best Argument for "Ought Implies Can" is a Better Argument Against "Ought Implies Can"
One of the most powerful arguments that ought implies can starts from the idea that obligations must be able to guide action, and claims that obligations that cannot be fulfilled cannot guide. This paper discusses a range of ways in which unfulfillable obligations can guide action, and argues that denying the principle that ought implies can gives us a better account of how obligations guide action than affirming it. The paper then considers the worry that, if we deny that ought implies can, we get too many obligations and too much guidance; it shows that this is no more of a worry for theories that deny ought implies can than for theories which affirm it.
When robots should do the wrong thing
, with Ryan Jenkins and Duncan Purves, in Robot Ethics 2.0
, forthcoming from Oxford University Press
Robots should act in accordance with some version of consequentialism, even if consequentialism is false. However, this by itself does not make it permissible for robot designers to build consequentialist robots. We argue that certain kinds of uncertainty about the future do license robot designers to build robots that comply with false moral theories.
Replaceable Lawyers and Guilty Defendants
(forthcoming in The Journal of Moral Philosophy
Many criminal lawyers should expect that, were they to not defend a certain client, someone no less capable would do so. It is morally wrong for such attorneys to defend defendants who should be punished. This is true no matter how strong the defendant's rights are and no matter how important the benefits of defending the defendant are, and does not rely on endorsing any particular theory of punishment. It is true because the fact that the attorney expects to be replaced by someone equally capable has an asymmetric effect on the reasons for and against defending. The reasons that justify defending become extremely attenuated by this expectation, no matter what they are, while the reasons against defending are much less affected, no matter what they are.
Why so negative? Evidence aggregation and armchair philosophy
The use of intuitions by so-called armchair philosophers has been criticized on empirical grounds. However, debates between armchair philosophers and their empirical critics would benefit from great precision. This paper discusses a set of probability-based tools for determining what we can and cannot learn from intuitions in various conditions. These tools can tell us whether beliefs can be justified by armchair practices, and what empirical findings would have to show to undermine the use of intuitions in philosophy. Using these tools, the paper shows that armchair philosophy makes sense in a broad range of situations, and that it is quite plausible that we are in those situations at the moment.
Truth Promoting Non-Evidential Reasons for Belief
Sometimes a belief that p promotes having true beliefs, whether or not p is true. This gives reasons to believe that p; call these reasons to believe "truth promoting non-evidential reasons for belief." This paper argues that three common views in epistemology, taken together, entail that reasons of this sort can epistemically justify beliefs. These three claims are: epistemic oughts are normative, epistemic oughts have a source, and the source of epistemic oughts is an end that has true belief as a necessary component. These claims would be hard for many epistemologists to deny, but accepting them, and thus accepting that truth promoting non-evidential reasons can justify beliefs, has significant consequences for epistemology.
Reforming Intuition Pumps: When Are the Old Ways the Best?
There have been a number of calls for reform of traditional
philosophical methods such as gathering intuitions from bizarre thought
experiments and using them as evidence in deductive arguments. In this
paper I argue that those who accept certain common meta-philosophical
views have reasons to embrace some 'old fashioned' philosophical
methods, such as the use of intuitions as data and the use of bizarre
thought experiments; these reasons are especially strong for those that
agree with these calls for reform.
The Irrelevance of Folk Intuitions to the "Hard Problem" of Consciousness
(Consciousness and Cognition
Recently, a number of philosophers have turned to folk intuitions
about mental states for data about whether or not humans have qualia or
phenomenal consciousness. In this paper I argue that this is
inappropriate. Folk judgments studied by these researchers are most
likely generated by a certain cognitive system - System One - that will
ignore qualia when making judgments, even if qualia exist. If
experimental research has any hope of shedding light into the existence
of qualia, it needs to be better founded in an understanding of how we
The Irrelevance of Dispositions and Difficulty to the "Hard Problem" of Consciousness
(Consciousness and Cognition
I respond to Justin Sytsma, Edouard Machery, and Bryce Huebner's
arguments against the view I put forth in "The Irrelevance of Folk
Intuition..." I argue that judgments about mental states are likely to
be insensitive to qualia (if they exist) because these judgments are either too
easy or too hard.
Psychology and the Use of Intuitions in Philosophy
(2009, Studia Philosophical Estonica
special edition on the use of intuitions in philosophy)
I argue that
there are legitimate concerns about the use of intuitions in philosophy,
and that these concerns cannot be fully responded to using the
traditional methods of philosophy; we need a psychologically-informed
understanding of how intuitions are generated. I explore how such an
understanding is likely to impact a range of philosophical projects,
including conceptual analysis, the study of (non-conceptual) "things
themselves," and experimental philosophy.
Student Relativism: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
I present a novel approach to teaching students who are moral
relativists. I argue that we should not try to convince students to
abandon relativism. We can show moral relativists why they should
care about studying ethics rigorously and engaging with the views of
others, and an openness to relativism actually encourages better
Interest as a Starting Place for Philosophy
(Essays in Philosophy
2012, special edition on philosophical methodology)
beliefs that are widely shared among philosophers, such as the belief
that skepticism is false, are often held with extreme confidence.
However, this confidence is not justified if these beliefs are based on
what are traditionally seen as the sources of philosophical evidence,
such as intuitions or observation (or reasoning on these bases).
Charity requires that we should look for some other basis for these
beliefs. I argue that these beliefs are based on our knowledge of what
we find interesting. Further, I argue that this is a good basis for
belief. Knowing what we find interesting allows us to tune our inquiry
in ways we could not otherwise.
Papers almost finished or under review
(I'm using different titles and abstracts here than on the actual papers to ensure that these are blind reviews. Please contact me if you would like copies or more information.)
This paper argues that a good normative epistemic theory must allow us to, in some cases, "sacrifice" one belief to save many others - it must permit forming incoherent beliefs, or beliefs that go against our evidence, if doing so is sufficiently beneficial. This is true whether we prefer consequentialist or deontological approaches to normative epistemology. No mainstream epistemic theory allows this, so no mainstream epistemic theory is a good normative epistemic theory.
Consequentializing the impossible
Some have argued that any deontological moral theory can be consequentialized: turned into a consequentialist theory by giving the right account of value. On some recent accounts, consequentializing moral theories is necessary for moral decision making under uncertainty. It is known that theories which deny that "ought" implies "can" are difficult to consequentialize, and there are three current approaches to dealing with this difficulty. This paper shows that none of these work, and suggests an approach that might.