1. "What a Loaded Generalization! Generics and social cognition'' (w/ S.J. Leslie and M. Rhodes), Philosophy Compass (2015) 10 (9): 625-635.
This paper explores the role of generics in social cognition. First, we explore the nature and effects of the most common form of generics about social kinds (descriptive generics). Second, we discuss the nature and effects of a less common but equally important form of generics about social kinds (normative generics). Finally, we consider the implications of this discussion for how we ought to use language about the social world. (Link.)
2. "The Mark of the Plural: Generic Generalizations and Race'' (w/ S.J. Leslie), Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Race (P.C. Taylor, L.M. Alcoff and L. Anderson, eds.) (2017): 277-289.
3. "Expressivism and Varieties of Normativity'', Oxford Studies in Metaethics, volume 12 (R. Shafer-Landau, ed.) (2017), pp. 265-293.
The expressivist advances a view about how we explain the meaning of a fragment of language, such as claims about what we morally ought to do. Critics evaluate expressivism on those terms. This is a serious mistake. We don’t just use that fragment of language in isolation. We make claims about what we morally, legally, rationally, and prudentially ought to do. To account for this linguistic phenomenon, the expressivist owes us an account not just of each fragment of language, but of how they weave together into a broader tapestry. I argue that expressivists face a serious, neglected challenge in providing such an account: either they fail to explain the univocality of normative terms like "ought", or they fail to explain intuitive data about when normative statements are and aren't inconsistent. (Link.)
4. "Why realists must reject normative quietism",
Philosophical Studies (2017) 174(11): pp. 2795-2817.
The last two decades have seen a surge of support for normative quietism: most notably, from Ronald Dworkin [1996, 2011], Tom Nagel [1996, 1997], Derek Parfit [2011a,b] and T.M. Scanlon [1998, 2014]. Detractors like David Enoch  and Tristram McPherson  object that quietism is incompatible with realism about normativity. The resulting debate has stagnated somewhat. In this paper I explore and defend a more promising way of developing that objec- tion: I’ll argue that if normative quietism is true, we can create reasons out of thin air, so normative realists must reject normative quietism. (Link.)
5. “Can Objectivists Account for Subjective Reasons?”, Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy (2017) 12 (3): pp. 259-279.
The distinction between objective and subjective reasons is intuitive, in part because the two seem to play different roles in normative thought. But the distinction raises the question of how objective and subjective reasons are related. Does one reduce to the other? If so, how does the re- duction go? Objectivism, which is perhaps the most popular view on this issue, claims that subjective reasons reduce to objective reasons. In this paper I advance two objections—which concern probability and possibil- ity, respectively—to current objectivist accounts of subjective reasons; I also offer a diagnosis of why objectivists face these problems. [Since I published this it has been pointed out to me that at one point I write about "creedal states". This is either a typo or a technical term for degrees of confidence as expressed by Scott Stapp. You can choose.] (Link.)
The legal reasons that bind a judge and the moral reasons that bind all persons can sometimes pull in different directions. There is perhaps no starker example of such judicial dilemmas than in criminal sentencing where mandatory minimum sentences are triggered: here a judge can be forced to impose sentences that even the judge deems to be “immensely cruel, if not barbaric.” When faced with such a judicial dilemma—a powerful tension between the judge’s legal and moral reasons—the primary question is what a judge can do to resolve it. We argue that the two standard responses—sacrificing morality to respect the law (“legalism”), or sacrificing the law to respect morality (“moralism”)—are unsatisfying. Instead, this Article defends an underexplored third response: rather than abandoning one ideal to maximally promote the other, we argue that judges should seek to at least minimally satisfy the demands of both. Judges should, in other words, look for and employ what we dub Satisficing Options. These are actions that enjoy sufficient support from both the legal reasons and the moral reasons, and thus are both legally and morally permissible—even if the acts in question would not strictly count as optimal by the lights of the law or morality. (Link.)
7. “What Does ‘Legal Obligation’ Mean?”, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly (2018).
What do normative terms like ‘obligation’ mean in legal contexts? On one view, which H.L.A. Hart may have endorsed, ‘obligation’ is ambiguous in moral and legal contexts. On another, which is dominant in jurisprudence, ‘obligation’ has a distinctively moralized meaning in legal contexts. On a third view, which is often endorsed in philosophy of language, ‘obligation’ has a generic meaning in moral and legal contexts. After making the nature of and disagreements between these views precise, I show how linguistic data militates against both rivals to the generic meaning view, and argue that this has significant implications for jurisprudence. (Link.)
8. "Mere Formalities: Normative Fictions and Normative Authority", Canadian Journal of Philosophy (2018).
It is commonly said that some standards, such as morality, are ‘normatively authoritative’ in a way that other standards, such as etiquette, are not; standards like etiquette are said to be ‘not really normative’. Skeptics deny the very possibility of normative authority, and take claims like ‘etiquette is not really normative’ to be either empty or confused. I o er a di erent route to defeat skeptics about authority: instead of focusing on what makes standards like morality special, we should focus on what makes standards like etiquette ‘not really normative’. I defend a ctionalist theory on which etiquette is ‘not really normative’ in roughly the same way that Sherlock is ‘not really a detective’, and show that ctionalism about some normative standards helps us explain the possibility of normative authority. (Link.)
[Since publishing this I realized that I somehow overlooked something terrible: that the copy-editor cut the acknowledgements from the article. This is especially bad since the list of acknowledgements was unusually long as this paper had been kicking around in various versions for a long time. So here's all the people who I remembered to thank (which is probably far fewer than all the people I ought to have thanked: sorry to anyone that I forgot!):
This paper is descended from a project I started in my second year of graduate school. As such, there are more people to whom I owe thanks than I expect I will be able to remember. I have benefited enormously from discussing this material with many generous philosophers, including: Derek Baker, Jonathan Dancy, Shamik Dasgupta, Matti Eklund, David Enoch, David Faraci, Steve Finlay, Daniel Fogal, Johann Frick, Mark Harris, Eric Hubble, Jeff Kaplan, Sari Kisilevsky, Yena Lee, Adam Lerner, Errol Lord, Barry Maguire, Sarah McGrath, Tristram McPherson, Michaela McSweeney, Douglas Portmore, David Plunkett, Sam Preston, Pamela Robinson, Nic Southwood, Jack Woods, and Alex Worsnip, as well as audiences as Princeton University, Humboldt Universitat, Hamilton University, Stanford University, the University of Michigan, and SLACRR. I would also like to thank the two anonymous reviewers and the editors at this journal.]
9. “Moral Perception, Inference, and Intuition”, Philosophical Studies (forthcoming).
Sarah McGrath argues that moral perception has an advantage over its rivals in its ability to explain ordinary moral knowledge. I disagree. After clarifying what the moral perceptualist is and is not committed to, I argue that its rivals are both more numerous and more plausible than McGrath suggests: specifically, I argue that (a) inferentialism can be defended against McGrath’s objections; (b) if her arguments against inferentialism succeed, we should accept a different rival that she neglects, intuitionism; and (c), reductive epistemologists can appeal to non-naturalist commitments to avoid McGrath’s counterexamples. (Link.)
10. “Mandatory Minimums and the War on Drugs”, Palgrave Handbook of Philosophy and Public Policy (2018).
Mandatory minimum sentencing provisions have been a feature of the U.S. justice system since 1790. But they have expanded considerably under the war on drugs, and their use has expanded considerably under the Trump Administration; some states are also poised to expand drug-related mandatory minimums further in efforts to fight the current opioid epidemic. In this paper I outline and evaluate three prominent arguments for and against the use of mandatory minimums in the war on drugs—they appeal, respectively, to proportionality, consistency, and efficiency. I ultimately defend the view that the use of mandatory minimums in the war on drugs is unjust. (Penultimate draft; final version.)
In this paper, we defend two main claims. The first is a moderate claim: we have a negative duty not to use binary gender-specific pronouns (he or she) to refer to genderqueer individuals. We defend this with an argument by analogy. It was gravely wrong for Mark Latham to refer to Catherine McGregor, a transgender woman, using the pronoun he; we argue that such cases of misgendering are morally analogous to referring to Angel Haze, who identifies as genderqueer, as he or she. The second is a radical claim: we have a negative duty not to use any gender-specific pronouns to refer to anyone, regardless of their gender identity. We offer three arguments in favor of this, which appeal to concerns about inegalitarianism and risk, invasions of privacy, and reinforcing essentialist ideologies (respectively). We also defend the compatibility of the the moderate and radical claim, in the face of the seemingly damning objections to the contrary. Before concluding, we examine common concerns about incorporating either they or a neologism such as ze as a third-person singular gender-neutral pronoun. These concerns, we argue, do not provide sufficient reason to reject either the moderate or radical claim. (Link.)
12. "What if Well-Being Measurements are Non-Linear?", The Australasian Journal of Philosophy 97(1) 2019: 29-45.
Well-being measurements are frequently used to support conclusions about a range of philosophically important issues. This is a problem, because we know too little about the intervals of the relevant scales. I argue that it is plausible that well-being measurements are non-linear, and that common beliefs that they are linear are not truth-tracking, so we are not justified in believing that well-being scales are linear. I then argue that this undermines common appeals to both hypothetical and actual well-being measurements; I first focus on the philosophical literature on prioritarianism and then discuss Kahneman’s Peak-End Rule as a systematic bias. Finally, I discuss general implications for research on well-being, and suggest a better way of representing scales. (Link.)
13. "The Expressive Case Against Plurality Rule", The Journal of Political Philosophy (forthcoming).
The U.S. election in November 2016 raised and amplified doubts about first-past-the-post (“plurality rule”) electoral systems. Arguments against plurality rule and for alternatives like preferential voting tend to be consequentialist: it is argued that systems like preferential voting produce different, better outcomes. After briefly noting why the consequentialist case against plurality rule is more complex and contentious than it first appears, I offer an expressive alternative: plurality rule produces actual or apparent dilemmas for voters in ways that are morally objectionable, and avoidable under preferential voting systems. This expressive case against plurality rule is both simpler and more ecumenical than its consequentialist counterpart, and it provides strong reasons to prefer alternatives to plurality rule. Moreover, it suggests a distinct way of evaluating different alternatives like preferential voting. (Link.)
14. "How Much Gender is Too Much Gender" (w/ R. Dembroff), in Khoo and Sterken (eds.) Routledge Handbook of Social and Political Philosophy of Language (forthcoming)
Argues that natural languages like English should be no more gendered than they are currently racialized: i.e., they should have no gender-specific pronouns, honorifics, suffixes, etc., just as English currently no race-specific pronouns, honorifics, suffixes, etc.
15. "An Objectivist's Guide to Subjective Reasons", Res Philosophica 96 (2):229-244 (2019)
This is a follow up to 'Can Objectivists Account for Subjective Reasons?'. It aims to provide a novel objectivist account of subjective reasons that addresses both the problems raised in that JESP paper and concerns about the unity of reasons. The key move is to make reasons for attitudes (in particular, epistemic reasons) prior to reasons for action. (Link)
16. "Redundant Reasons", The Australasian Journal of Philosophy (forthcoming)
Argues that rewards for doing the right thing can be reasons to do the right thing, without thereby (a) explaining why it is the right thing to do, or (b) being evidence that it is the right thing to do. This is a negative project: (a) undermines a view held by Broome and many others, while (b) undermines a view held by Judy Thomson and Kearns and Star,
17. "Who's on First?", Oxford Studies in Metaethics (forthcoming)
Much ink has been spilled in the internecine dispute between ‘X-Firsters’. But little has been said about whether or why we should think that any X—reasons, values, fittingness, or what have you—is normatively first.
I have two goals in this paper. First, I provide a fairly simple argument that one shouldn’t be an X-Firster about the normative domain. The central move is to show that X-First theories have dubious merits when applied to a range of analogous domains. Second, I offer an alternative to X-First views. I develop an approach—taking normativity to be a determinable—that provides a stark contrast with X-First views, especially in how it treats the structure and unity of normativity.
It's commonly thought that normative claims like "Antigone ought not bury Polynices" can be relative to two things: to different standards ("Legally, ... ", "Morally, ...") and to different bodies of information ("Given the facts, ...", "Given what she knew, ..."). Most of my work in metaethics explores issues raised by this simple observation.
First, how normative claims are relative to standards. I've argued that this phenomenon poses challenges to deflationary views about normativity generally and morality in particular. By deflationary views, I include quietism ("Why Realists Must Reject Normative Quietism"), expressivism ("Expressivism and Varieties of Normativity"), and deflationary normative pluralism ("Mere Formalities"). The latter paper also contains my own positive view about how to think about the natural thought that some of the standards to which ought can be relativized (morality) are "authoritative" in a way that others are not (etiquette).
Second, how normative claims are relative to information. This prompts many to distinguish between objective and subjective "oughts" and "reasons". I've posed some problems for views about how they interrelate in "Can Objectivists Account for Subjective Reasons?", and I'm continuing that discussion in a two current drafts ("An Objectivist's Guide to Subjective Reasons", and "Objective Reasons and Subjective Probabilities").
My work on these issues has also prompted a new project on how we should think about the unity of normativity. This includes a new paper that challenges the debate between Reasons First, Values First, and Fittingness First theories ("Who's on First?"), which I'm presenting at the Madison Metaethics Workshop in 2018.
A final research interest in this area concerns some issues in moral epistemology, including about intuitions ("Moral Perception, Inference, and Intuition") and testimony ("Normative Testimony Gives Us Reasons for Attitudes", which is under review).
Philosophy of Law
I'm interested in two main areas in philosophy of law.
First, I'm interested in debates about what law is. I'm sympathetic to very outdated views about this. So to build towards them, I'm slowly trying to chip away at common views about the relevant problems and the resources legal positivists have to solve them. So far I've argued against certain positivists' commitment to a moral semantics for legal language (see "What Does 'Legal Obligation' Mean?"). I'm currently finishing up two drafts that challenge teleological commitments about law ("Is Law Pointless?"), and the common thought that Hume's Law is a central challenge to legal positivism ("Is Hume's Law a Threat to Positivism and Naturalism?", with Sam Chilovi).
Second, I'm interested in judicial obedience. Do judges face conflicts between their moral and legal duties? If so, what should they do? I think mandatory minimums generate such conflicts pervasively (see my "Mandatory Minimums and the War on Drugs" for why). Though I think there's a reasonable case that the conflicts aren't always intractable if we accept satisficing views ("Resolving Judicial Dilemmas", with Alex Sarch). I'm hoping to write another paper soon on why I think the conflicts expose an interesting difficulty for common views about justifying legal obedience in general, such as Joseph Raz's.
Social and Political Philosophy
One of my research projects in social and political philosophy concerns communication about social groups. With Robin Dembroff, I argue that we should not use gender-specific pronouns due to how they essentialize genders and generate dilemmas for minority groups, even if that requires the violation of grammatical norms (‘He/She/They/Ze’; ‘How Much Gender is Too Much Gender?’, promised to Khoo and Sterken (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Social and Political Philosophy of Language). Robin and I also wrote an op-ed for The Guardian about common objections to using the gender-neutral 'they' for genderqueer people. My interest in this general area drew on prior work with Sarah-Jane Leslie on how generic generalizations--claims like "Women shave their legs"--have harmful effects on social cognition ("What a Loaded Generalization" and "The Mark of the Plural"; Marjorie Rhodes is also a co-author on the first piece). I am in the early stages of a new project building off the above, arguing for a non-error theoretic eliminitivism about terms for certain social groups.
A second research project concerns communication in political contexts. I argue that the use of numerals in well-being measurements is often misleading in public policy and moral philosophy (‘What if Well-Being Measurements are Non-Linear?’). I argue that first-past-the-post voting systems should be rejected once we recognize the (felt) moral importance of expressive norms that militate against voting for and thereby endorsing ‘lesser evil’ candidates (‘The Expressive Case Against Plurality Rule’).
I also defend a view about why we should escape political echo chambers (‘Fake News and Echo Chambers’, under review). I argue that we have a duty to diversify the partisan alignment of the media we consume. I discussed this on the podcast Hi-Phi Nation. This has led to a new collaboration with Barry Lam and Andrei Cimpian on political sincerity; that project is still in its infancy.
Work in Progress
NB: some titles below have been changed from the submitted versions to ensure anonymity; drafts are available on request.
1. The puzzle of normative testimony (under review)
Argues that normative testimony gives us reasons to believe, blame, admire, act, and so on; explains how this undermines common solutions to the puzzle of normative testimony, and suggests an alternative (quite deflationary) solution.
2. On Partisan Media Consumption (under review)
Argues that we should diversify the partisan media we consume to hedge our bets politically, for the same reason that one should diversify their investments to hedge their bets financially: to reduce the risk of poverty.
3. Gender terms and (freedom of) speech (promised to Chambers, Earp, and Watson (eds.), Routledge Companion to the Philosophy of Sex)
On contemporary debates about gender and speech.
4. Positivism, Naturalism, and Hume's Law (w/ S. Chilovi) (under review)
Hume’s Law—roughly, that one cannot derive an “ought” from an “is”—has been invoked repeatedly in philosophy of law and metaethics as posing a serious challenge to legal positivism and moral naturalism. But it's unclear why Hume's Law (a logical thesis about entailment relations between sentences) would pose a problem for positivism or naturalism (metaphysical theses about grounding relations between facts). We reconstruct what the problem is supposed to be, and explore several ways out.
5. Does Law Have a Function?
Philosophers of law disagree extensively about what the function of law is. Is it a moral function, such as to justify coercion (Dworkin), or is it a descriptive function, such as to guide action (Hart)? Claims to the effect that the function of law is to F have played a key role in debates about the nature of law, being invoked to challenge positivism or anti-positivism, and varieties thereof. Against this background of disagreement, it is striking how much agreement there is that law, unlike pebbles, is not pointless. Philosophers of law with wildly divergent theoretic commitments assume that there is some F that is the function of law, such that for x to be for Fing is part of what it is for x to be a law (or legal system). I have two central aims in this paper. The first is to argue that we should not assume that law has a function: that assumption has been left obscure, and once clarified it is both counter-intuitive and implausible. The second is to argue that common commitments about the function of law are incompatible with legal positivism; insofar as positivism is independently well motivated, this should make us skeptical about the assumption that law has a function.