Sometimes it is vague what one ethically ought to do. The question I ask in this paper is whether there is a sense of 'ought' (perhaps an ought of practical rationality) which determinately yields verdicts about what to do in some of these borderline ethical cases. I outline an approach to the rational 'ought' which requires one to maximize expected moral value
in cases of ethical vagueness. I close by using this approach to show that the ratioanl requirements on action in vague cases differ substantially given various alternative theories of what vagueness is.
Proponents of evolutionary debunking arguments in ethics often help their case by drawing analogies with familiar examples of epistemic luck. I ask whether epistemic luck is in the end helpful to the debunker's case, or whether the support from luck-based considerations derives from a conflation of epistemically benign and epistemically problematic forms of luck. I conclude that the answer to this question hinges on the precise details of the correct empirical theory of the evolutionary origins of ethical belief.
In the late 13th Century, Duns Scotus put the theory of Divine Illumination to rest. Roughly, this was the view that we could not have knowledge via sensation unless God regularly intervened in our mental lives in certain ways. This paper discusses one of Scotus's main arguments against Divine Illumination, showing that it employs a principle that is very similar to 'anti-luck' principles in contemporary epistemology. This makes Scotus's argument remarkably resistant to criticisms from contemporary scholars, and also sheds light on how to understand contemporary applications of anti-luck epistemology in certain problem cases.
Frank Jackson's supervenience argument against non-naturalism fails, because its premises entail that non-naturalism is false even under the supposition that the normative fails
to supervene on the natural. But non-naturalism is clearly true
under such a supposition. Jackson's premises are too strong, and I develop an under-explored approach on which non-naturalists can reject the conjunction of these premises.
Expressivism, even of a quasi-realist variety, has metaphysical commitments that differ from realism, since it has different consequences for the naturalness or eliteness of the normative.
Whither Anankastics? (with Alex Silk; in Philosophical Perspectives)
So-called 'anankastic conditionals' (such as If you want to go Harlem, you ought to take the A-train
) have been used to motivated a variety of substantive views about obligation and linguistic views about the semantics of ought
. We isolate the key structual features of anankastics and argue that these same features are present in a wide range of constructions that do not contain deontic modals. We conclude that this shows that anakastics cannot be used to motivate the substantive linguistic and normative views in question.
Scepticism (with John Hawthorne; forthcoming in The Oxford Handbook of Epistemology and Theology)
To what extent are theological questions knowable? We outline some tools for addressing this question by first giving some plausible structural constraints on knowledge. Then we use these constraints to explore the relationship between the possibility (or impossibility) of theological knowledge and various issues including private interpretation, faith, the problem of evil, religious diversity, and morally good action.
Realism and Objectivity (forthcoming in The Routledge Handbook of Metaethics)
Philosophers have debated whether realism
about ethics is true, and have asked whether ethics is objective
. But less attention has been directed to what realism and objectivity are. I outline some issues for existing substantive views on these questions, and sketch answers to the questions of how and whether theorizing about realism and objectivity ought to be pursued.
The theoretical benefits of analyzing the modal operators ☐ and ♢ in quantificational terms have been
assumed to come with an ontological cost. The cost is an ontology of “possible worlds”, which may be either the concrete worlds of David Lewis, or else some kind of abstract entity. I show how, with two independently motivated resources, we can reject the assumption that the benefits of quantificational analyses require this ontology. The resources in question are primitive second-order quantifiers, which bind variables in predicate-position and have no analysis in terms of first-order
quantifiers, and a hyperintensional connective like 'in virtue of'.
Much of contemporary experimental philosophy involves taking surveys of 'folk' concepts. The results of these surveys are often claimed to be surprising, and treated as evidence that the relevant folk intuitions cannot be predicted from the 'armchair'. We conducted an experiment to test these claims, and found that a solid majority of philosophers could predict even results that were claimed to be surprising in the literature. We discuss some methodological implications as well as some possible explanations for the common surprisingness claims.
Some expressivists (most notably, Simon Blackburn) have claimed that expressivists can adopt a piecemeal strategy
to show that all of the sentences realists accept are consistent with expressivism. I argue that the project cannot be carried out in the way Blackburn describes. This is because Blackburn's claims about the meaning of the realist's sentences commit him to claims about the meaning of the parts of these sentences— commitments the realist does not share.
This paper explains how reference magnetism, when grounded in metaphysical fundamentality, provides a solution to the Moral Twin Earth argument from Horgan and Timmons.
Is the possible that relative
naturalness (in Lewis's sense) is perfectly
natural? I outline an argument that it is not, which is inspired by Sider's 'Purity' constraint. Distinguishing between what I call 'horizontal' and 'vertical' conceptions of naturalness, however, shows that Purity does not necessarily rule out perfectly natural relative naturalness.
Objectivity and Triviality (To be superceded by a current project, tentatively titled 'Ground and Knowledge: Epistemological Motivations for Anti-Realism')
It is frequently claimed that, by grounding normative facts in familiar facts about our mental lives, Constuctivists are able to explain how we can know, or justifiably believe, normative truths. This is a comparative advantage for the Constructivist view because many think that ordinary realist views of the normative struggle to explain the same epistemological facts. This paper is an extended argument that these perceived epistemological advantages of Constructivism are in fact illusory.