My work in ethics advances a naturalistics and humanistic understanding of values and normativity: “Norms are made for humankind, not humankind for norms.” Norms – including those of ethics, epistemology, and rationality – are created by us, have a legitimate claim to govern us only insofar as they are practically useful to us, and remain always open to revision.
I’m currently engaged in two projects that speak to this vision. One is in metaethics. Many philosophers have argued that norms need to be construed as robustly objective in order to be normatively legitimate or authoritative. I argue that we should reject this view – we can view norms are legitimate even though they were invented by us and our ancestors, in order to solve the contingent problems that creatures like us happen to have in living together.
The second is in normative ethics and the theory of rationality, in which I argue that this functionalist account of norms should lead us to a kind of pragmatism about rightness, reasons and rationality. Central to this project is a focus on utilitarianism, in which I argue that a basically utilitarian account of moral goodness is correct, but incompatible with the traditional act-utilitarian view of reasons for action.
In addition to my work in value theory, I also have an ongoing collaboration with Luca Barlassina on the nature of valenced or affective mental states such as pleasures and pains. We argue for Reflexive Imperativism – a naturalistic and intentionalist account of valence according to which such states feel good or bad in virtue of saying “have more of me!” or “have more of me!”
[Invited, currently in progress]
“Normative Authority” (with Caroline Arruda) – Philosophy Compass
[Email me for drafts]
“Terrestrial Ethics” [why we shouldn’t be sad if ethics isn’t objective]
“How to be a Moral Anti-Objectivist” [two arguments to undercut the supposed advantages of moral objectivism]
“Nothing is Absolutely Wrong” [if we take the core, welfarist, insight of utilitarianism seriously, we should conclude that there are no fixed answers to deontic questions about rightness and reasons]
“Coordination, Disutility and Trust” [the Hi-Lo game and similar coordination puzzles demonstrate that we should abandon the act-utilitarian account of reasons for action; instead, reasons to cooperate and trust are rationally basic]
“Structural Rationality, Agency and Sociality” [norms of rationality are grounded in interpersonal facts]
“In Praise of Akrasia” [why akrasia can be a virtue]
I care a lot about food, and when I’m not writing philosophy or teaching, I am engaged in epic pursuit of the most delicious mapo tofu. I’ve come close on a couple of occasions (see below), but have yet to attain the ideal.