My research is primarily in ethics and metaphysics. I am particularly interested in a number of interrelated issues at the intersection of these two fields concerning human agency, including free will, moral responsibility, and allied notions such as blame, desert, forgiveness, and punishment. Below you’ll find some papers I’ve published on these issues.
- The Flicker of Freedom: A Reply to Stump
Forthcoming in The Journal of Ethics
- Eleonore Stump has argued that while the “flicker of freedom defense” is the best available strategy for defending the principle of alternative possibilities against the threat posed to that principle by the Frankfurt cases, the defense is ultimately unsuccessful. In this article I identify a number of difficulties with Stump’s criticism of the flicker strategy. Along the way, I also clarify various nuances of the strategy that often get overlooked, and I highlight the advantages of one version of it in particular.
- Gut-wrenching Choices and Blameworthiness
Forthcoming in the Journal of Value Inquiry
- It has traditionally been assumed that freely doing what you know to be wrong despite being aware that it is within your power to do the right thing instead would suffice to render you blameworthy. I call this the sufficiency thesis. The sufficiency thesis is plausible, but it is not beyond dispute. Reflection on certain situations in which a person can do the right thing but only at great personal sacrifice highlights some particularly pressing difficulties for it. My principal aim in this article is to show that those difficulties are not insuperable. Along the way, I also make some observations about the sorts of considerations that can limit the amount of blame of which a person is worthy without rendering the person entirely blameless.
- Mitigating Soft Compatibilism
Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 87 (2013): 640−663
- I develop and defend (but do not endorse) a novel brand of compatibilism, which I call mitigating soft compatibilism. According to it, determinism and moral responsibility are compatible, though determinism does mitigate responsibility. My principal aim in the paper is to explicate the view and to explore ways in which it can be deployed in defense of the more general compatibilist thesis. I also discuss one of the most pressing challenges facing a compatibilist view of this sort, and I offer some suggestions as to how proponents of the view might attempt to address that challenge.
- Blameworthiness Without Wrongdoing
Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 93.3, pp. 417−437
- Here I argue that, contrary to a seemingly plausible and widely accepted thesis, it is possible to be blameworthy for doing something that was not objectively morally wrong. If I am right, this would have implications for several debates at the intersection of metaphysics and moral philosophy. I then float an alternative view about which actions can serve as legitimate bases for blame that allows for the possibility of blameworthiness without objective wrongdoing and also suggests an explanation for the initial appeal of the commonly held view that blameworthiness requires objective wrongdoing.
- Action, Responsibility and the Ability to Do Otherwise
Philosophical Studies 158 (2012): 1-15.
- Not everything we do, in some loose sense, is a genuine action of ours. For example, yesterday I tripped and fell down the stairs, but my doing so was not a genuine action of mine. What, then, does it take for something to count as a genuine action? One claim that has recently been made is that in order for something a person “does” to count as a genuine action of his, the person must have been able to refrain from doing it. I argue that this claim is mistaken. If I am right, then two recent defenses of the principle of alternative possibilities, a version of which says that a person is morally responsible for what he has done only if he could have refrained from doing it, are unsuccessful.
- The W-Defense.
150 (2010): 61-77.
- I consider a defense of the principle of alternative possibilities known as the W-defense. I criticize three recent objections to the W-defense on the way to developing my own objection. The root of the problem with Widerker’s argument, I contend, is that it presupposes a dubious account of what is involved in blaming someone.
- Can Downward Causation Save Free Will?
Philosophia 38 (2010): 131-142.
- I argue, contra Trenton Merricks, that the possession of irreducible, “downward causal powers” by human persons is not sufficient for free will.