Resolutions and vows
Endorsements and commitments
Works in progress
- Permissible Promise-Making Under Uncertainty (Journal of the APA, forthcoming)
- I outline four conditions on permissible promise-making: the promise must be for a morally permissible end, must not be deceptive, must be in good faith, and must involve a realistic assessment of oneself. I then address whether promises that you are uncertain you can keep can meet these four criteria, with a focus on campaign promises as an illustrative example. I argue that uncertain promises can meet the first two criteria, but that whether they can meet the second two depends on the source of the promisor’s uncertainty. External uncertainty stemming from outside factors is unproblematic, but internal uncertainty stemming from the promisor’s doubts about her own strength of leads to promises that are in bad faith or unrealistic. I conclude that campaign promises are often subject to internal uncertainty, and are therefore morally impermissible to make, all else being equal.
- Consequentialism and Promises (Oxford Handbook of Consequentialism, forthcoming)
- I explore the debate about whether consequentialist theories can adequately accommodate the moral force of promissory obligation. I outline a straightforward act consequentialist account grounded in the value of satisfying expectations, and raise and assess three objections to this account: that it counterintuitively predicts that certain promises should be broken when commonsense morality insists that they should be kept, that the account is circular, and Michael Cholbi’s argument that this account problematically implies that promise-making is frequently obligatory. I then discuss alternative act consequentialist accounts, including Philip Pettit’s suggestion that promise-keeping is an intrinsic good and Michael Smith’s agent-relative account, and raise a challenge Brad Hooker’s rule consequentialist account. I conclude that appeals to intuitions about cases will not settle the dispute, and that consequentialists and their critics must instead engage in substantive debate about the nature and stringency of promissory obligation.
Resolutions and vows
- On the Rationality of Vow-Making (Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, forthcoming)
- Winner of the 2016 Canadian Philosophical Association Annual Meeting Non-tenured Professor, Lecturer, Sessional Faculty Essay Prize
- I offer a philosophical account of vowing and the rationality of vow-making. I argue that vows are most productively understood as exceptionless resolutions that do not have any excusing conditions. I then articulate an apparent problem for exceptionless vow-making: how can it be rational to bind yourself unconditionally, when circumstances might change unexpectedly and make it the case that vow-keeping no longer makes sense for you? As a solution, I propose that vows can be rational to make only if they are implicitly conditional on a personal identification or social role that is itself escapable.
- Reconsidering Resolutions (Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy, 2016)
- I elaborate upon an intuitive but underdeveloped objection to Richard Holton’s view of resolutions. I appeal to independently compelling principles – principles that Holton should accept, because they help fill an important explanatory gap in his account – to demonstrate why this objection succeeds. I then sketch an alternative account of resolutions, and argue that my account is not susceptible to the same objection.
Endorsements and commitments
- "But I Voted for Him for Other Reasons!": Moral Permissibility and the Doctrine of Double Endorsement (Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics, forthcoming)
- Many people presume that you can permissibly support the good features of a symbol, person, activity, or work of art while simultaneously denouncing its bad features. I refine and assess this commonsense (but under-theorized) moral justification for supporting problematic people, projects, and political symbols, and proposes an analogue of the Doctrine of Double Effect called the Doctrine of Double Endorsement (DDN). DDN proposes that when certain conditions are met, it is morally permissible to directly endorse some object in virtue of its positive properties while standing against its negative properties, even though it would be morally impermissible to directly endorse those negative properties themselves.
- Commitment: Worth the Weight (with Mark Schroeder) (Weighing Reasons ed. Errol Lord & Barry Maguire, OUP 2016)
- We assess the role that commitments, or rational obligations that are self-imposed on the basis of your particular beliefs and intentions, play in determine what agents ought to do. We argue that commitments combine to determine what an agent ought to do overall in a more sophisticated way than it might first seem. This is because beliefs and intentions that are poorly grounded do not have the same weight in deliberation as they would have if they were well grounded; your belief that P entails Q does not play the same role in determining what you should believe all-things-considered if it is based on faulty evidence that it would play if it were well supported.
- Wrongness, Responsibility, and Conscientious Refusal in Health Care (Bioethics, 2017)
- Winner of the Young Ethicist Prize at the Rocky Mountain Ethics Congress, 2016
- I address what kinds of claims are of the right kind to ground conscientious refusals in health care. I argue that we must permit HCPs to come to their own subjective conclusions about what they take to be morally wrong and what they take themselves to be morally responsible for; however, these subjective assessments of wrongness and responsibility must be constrained in several important ways. I argue that the sources of these constraints are the basic epistemic, relational, and normative competencies needed to function as a minimally decent professional, and that my framework shows us that the objection raised by the plaintiffs in Zubik v. Burwell is of the wrong sort.
- Disability, Sex Rights, and the Scope of Sexual Exclusion (Journal of Medical Ethics, 2018)
- I critique a paper arguing that disabled people should receive a special exemption to the general prohibition of prostitution in order to have their sexual needs met. I argue that the paper falsely presumes that we never have good reasons to restrict someone’s sexual liberty rights. More importantly, I highlight a major flaw in the way that several recent papers on this topic frame their accounts. They focus on disability as a proxy for sexual exclusion, when these categories should be pulled apart: some are sexually excluded who are not disabled, while some who are disabled are not sexually excluded. I conclude that it would be less socially harmful and more productive to focus directly on sexual exclusion per se rather than on disability as a proxy for sexual exclusion.
- A Promise Acceptance Model of Organ Donation (Social Theory and Practice, 2015)
- I analyze the way in which the act of becoming an organ donor changes the normative situation, and the effect this has on whether it is permissible for a family veto to override an individual’s wish to donate organs posthumously. I defend a model that construes becoming an organ donor as accepting a promise the state makes to you to use your organs. Based on conceptual analysis of what promise acceptance involves, I argue that this model—which implies that family vetoes are generally impermissible—is the best option, because it captures data about donor autonomy and the conditions for revoking donor status that models based in consent, gift-giving, or promise-making struggle to accommodate.
- Medical Crowdfunding, Political Marginalization, and Government Responsiveness: A Reply to Larry Temkin (Journal of Practical Ethics, 2019)
- Larry Temkin draws on the work of Angus Deaton to argue that countries with poor governance sometimes rely on charitable giving and foreign aid in ways that enable them to avoid relying on their own citizens; this can cause them to be unresponsive to their citizens’ needs and thus prevent the long-term alleviation of poverty and other social problems. I argue that the implications of this “lack of government responsiveness argument” (or LOGRA) are both broader and narrower than they might first appear. I explore how LOGRA applies more broadly to certain types of charitable giving in developed countries, with a focus on medical crowdfunding. I then highlight how LOGRA does not apply to charitable giving aimed at alleviating the suffering of the absolutely politically marginalized, or those especially vulnerable people to whom governments are never responsive.
- Effective Altruism and Christianity: Possibilities for Productive Collaboration (Essays in Philosophy, 2017)
- I explore possibilities for productive collaboration between effective altruists (EAs) and Christian givers. I argue that Christians are obligated from their own perspective to give radically in terms of quantity and scope to alleviate the suffering of the poor and needy. I raise two important potential stumbling blocks for EA-Christian collaboration, and I conclude with some tentative suggestions about how Christians who are sympathetic to EA might become more effective in their giving.
- Philosophers Folding Origami: Illustrating Essential Strategies for Learner-Centered Teaching (with Jennifer Mulnix) (Teaching Philosophy, 2017)
- We discuss an exercise that I facilitated among participants at a Teaching and Learning workshop sponsored by the American Association of Philosophy Teachers (AAPT). The exercise was designed to place participants in the role of inadequately supported learners by asking them to fold an origami crane with varying levels of instruction and feedback. The failure of many participants to successfully fold cranes functioned as a striking analogy for student failures to learn without explicit how-to instruction, goal-directed practice, and targeted feedback. In reflecting on the activity, participants developed strategies to become more learner-centered and better support student success through transparent alignment, explicit how-to instruction, and frequent, targeted feedback.
Works in progress
- For Better or For Worse: When Are Uncertain Wedding Vows Permissible? (conditionally accepted for a special issue of Social Theory and Practice)
- In this paper, I answer two questions: (1) what are people doing when they exchange conventional wedding vows? and (2) under what circumstances are these things morally and rationally permissible to do? I argue that wedding pledges are public proclamations that are simultaneously both private vows and interpersonal promises, and that they are often subject to uncertainty. I argue that the permissibility of uncertain wedding promises depends on whether the uncertainty stems from doubts about one’s own internal weakness of will and susceptibility to temptation or from the expectation that external circumstances might change. I then explain why uncertainty is a prima facie challenge for unconditional wedding vows, and I offer a solution: rational wedding vows are unconditional in their content but implicitly conditional in their structure; the spouse pledges to act in certain ways unconditionally, so long as they remain in the spousal role. I respond to objections to my view (including Elizabeth Brake's claim that the permissibility of unilateral divorce undermines an understanding of wedding vows as promises), and conclude with some suggestions about what marrying couples should do to ensure permissible pledges.
- "I Feared for My Life:" Police Killings, Epistemic Injustice, and Social Distrust (non-final draft for an upcoming volume on the philosophy of social trust; please do not cite)
- Police officers who shoot unarmed civilians often attempt to defend themselves by claiming to have feared for their lives, and such fear excuses are generally successful. In many cases, this fear is greatly out of proportion with the officer’s evidence about the actual risk of harm, and any fear felt by the officer was not epistemically justified. The most obvious and important wrong that results from inappropriate acceptance of the fear excuse is that victims of police shootings do not receive justice. Less obvious are the pervasive epistemic harms that stem from acceptance of the fear excuse, and I explore how the fear excuse leads to epistemic injustices of multiple sorts. In particular, I illustrate how widespread acceptance of the fear excuse enables and encourages the dominant group to maintain false beliefs, which harms them as knowers by making it harder for them to learn the truth; I argue that this is an instance of a particular kind of epistemic injustice against dominant groups that I call ignorance bolstering. I then investigate the ways in which ignorance bolstering and other forms of epistemic injustice are likely to undermine the preconditions for social trust between people of color and the police and between the people of color and the white majority.
- New project on the ethics of non-hindrance
- Title/abstract changed to facilitate anonymous reviewing; please contact me if you'd like to see a draft
- I've been thinking about the various ways in which it is wrong to make it unnecessarily harder for someone to fulfill a moral, epistemic, or prudential obligation, and how this applies in a wide range of areas (including incarceration, healthcare, education, and corporate polices/marketing)
- My dissertation, The Mental States First Theory of Promising, argues that we can derive the normativity of a promise from the normativity of the underlying mental state expressed by that promise. By doing so, we can explain promissory obligation in a wider variety of cases than typical theories can accommodate, as well as explaining when and why promise breaking is permissible. Moreover, I argue that the norms on a wide variety of speech acts (including apology and forgiveness) can be explained by appeal to the mental states the acts express in a similar way, which lends support to my theory and suggests a promising avenue for further research. Mark Schroeder was my supervisor.