Abstracts of my current research projects. I am more than happy to provide current drafts or answer any questions. Please reach out if anything strikes your interest!
In this paper, I first introduce a series of cases illuminating a connection between excusing others for their poor behavior and the relative strength of external psychological forces which determined that behavior. I defend the experiential and ethical grounds for this excusing practice and explain how deterministic forces are at the heart of our normative evaluations. Taking this excusing practice as a central feature of our responsibility practices broadly, I examine if prominent incompatibilist theories of responsibility can coherently understand this phenomenon. I then examine agent-causal libertarianism and argue that the theory cannot make sense of how external psychological forces would determine poor behavior in such a way that warrants excusal from being held responsible. Next, I argue that hard determinism likewise cannot coherently understand this practice because the theory implicitly endorses libertarianism as its success condition for apt responsibility practices. The previous section, though, explained in detail why agent-causal powers cannot explain how we go about excusing others. Finally, I argue that hard incompatibilism fails to understand our practices as well. Both pillars—that responsibility is incompatible with both determinism and indeterminism—collapse into either hard determinism or libertarianism, neither of which can coherently understand how we excuse others. Thus, none of the prominent incompatibilist theories of responsibility can understand the natural and normative way we excuse others. I conclude by briefly defending a metaphysical amendment to Strawson’s thesis that we hold others responsible (or excuse them from responsibility) based on internal standards specifically germane to any attitude or emotion.
I argue that Christine Korsgaard must be logically committed to holding others morally responsible, without exception, due to her views on subjective agency and her interpretation of and adherence to Kantian ethics. In response to her subjective claims, I raise a direct, phenomenological objection that demonstrates a capacity to view ourselves under the guise of determinism. I leverage P.F. Strawson’s language of reactive and objective attitudes to challenge Korsgaard’s commitment; I argue that her theoretical groundwork logically entails a ubiquitous hold on responsibility. Korsgaard explicitly shies away from this absolute conclusion for compelling reasons, but I argue those reasons are incompatible with her formal grounding. Highlighting this incompatibility leads to a presentation of two cases to which I argue the Kantian tradition, as inherited by Korsgaard, ought to capitulate. The first case is one in which I hold the objective attitude towards one who has consented to this view – whether myself or another. The second case is one in which deterministic circumstances demand the objective attitude, cases in which a key variable negates even Korsgaard’s grounds for practical responsibility. I raise a variant of Korsgaard’s central thought experiment to provide a reductio against her explicit eschewal of determinism’s relevance for responsibility judgements and make the case for a more compatibilist turn within the Kantian tradition, seen through the eyes of Korssgard’s work on responsibility.
When faced with an impossible situation, out natural response is to remove ourselves from it, or otherwise deal with it in an effective manner. But there are circumstances where impossibilities take the form of persons, not situations. In these cases, when extricating oneself is not a viable option, I argue that the objective stance can be a moral tool in alleviating interactions with another. In this paper, I raise both pragmatic and moral reasons why the objective attitude should be taken towards two types of persons: (1) A person who has been mentally degraded or changed such that they no longer have the ability to engage in reactivity in an effective or ethical manner, and (2) a person who has brought the objective stance on himself; this person exists in a separate and isolated moral community, immune to moral address from those outside it. In taking the objective attitude towards these persons, though, one incurs a moral cost. The one who suspends reactivity must damage the moral standing of the other as a “free and rational agent,” instead viewing him as an object to be dealt with; taking this attitude may remove the possibilities of many things which make relationships worthwhile. While this cost is a terrible one, I conclude that it may be morally necessary to take the objective stance to preserve an irreparable relationship that cannot be terminated.
Tamler Sommers has defended the objective attitude as a moral and psychological default, arguing that we both could and should take this view towards everyone, including ourselves. In defending the ubiquitous objective attitude from its detractors, Sommers put forth an unassuming version of how P.F. Strawson originally defined the objective stance. Sommers asserted that the objective attitude entails nothing more than the suspension of praise and blame attributions. Strawson – and his supporters like Susan Wolf and Thomas Nagel – require a second, deeper aspect: to take the objective stance is to view someone in wholly objectifying terms; to view him as a variable, susceptible to manipulation by mechanistic inputs. In this paper, I align with and defend those who believe the objective attitude must entail this deeper and more serious condition. I do so, however, without overtly disavowing any particular use of the objective attitude – I only push back on the claim that it may be adopted as a constant state of mind. I argue that Sommers (or those taking up his mantle) ought to include this second aspect of the objective attitude because of its necessity in understanding precisely why one may not deserve praise or blame. I attempt to bring a correct moral and psychological calibration to the objective attitude’s allies and adversaries alike.
In “Freedom and Resentment,” P.F. Strawson inaugurated a new branch of the moral responsibility debate with his juxtaposition of the “Reactive” and “Objective” Attitudes. Strawson identified the reactive attitudes as those which we helplessly express when seeing others as agential, fit recipients of our natural emotions: blame, praise, empathy, love, gratitude, forgiveness, and the like. The experience and expression of these attitudes build and constitute interpersonal, moral life. Contrasting and excluding these attitudes is the objective stance; when viewing another through this lens, one precludes the possibility of natural engagement with another, as someone is degraded from a source of actions to an outcome of prior causation. One is seen as an object, not an agent. In Strawson’s words, taking the objective attitude is “to see [someone], perhaps, as an object of social policy; …as something certainly to be taken account, perhaps precautionary account, of; to be managed or handled or cured or trained; perhaps simply to be avoided.” The objective attitude induces “dealing with” others, whereas the reactive stance invites the potential for reciprocal interaction.
I believe that both the reactive and objective stances have moral costs and benefits, which have been insightfully discussed elsewhere. In this paper, I hope to investigate a specific way in which the objective stance can be used as a reactive weapon: when one reveals to his recipient that he has been utilizing the objective attitude.
There is a dangerous and counterproductive allure associated with revealing that one has successfully used the objective stance to manipulate, manage, or deal with another. Normally, from our default state of reactivity, harm is done to others by verbal insult or physical attack; a natural impulse can be to lash out at another. But in specific circumstances, this attack may take the form of the objective attitude itself! After having successfully utilized the objective stance to manage or manipulate someone – either for their own good or for selfish ends – there can be a narcissistic dissatisfaction with merely succeeding at this task. This impulse may manifest in an exclamation from the attitude-taker to his recipient: “Ah hah, you fool! Don’t you understand I’ve been manipulating you this whole time?” What this revealer fails to grasp, however, is that this revelation itself is sinisterly born of malicious reactive attitudes: to insult or belittle someone or to capitulate to self-aggrandizement.
For this malignant puppeteer, the successful use of the objective lens is not enough to satisfy – whether it was used for the good of the recipient or the profit of the attitude-taker. While this impulse may appear as an obvious downside of the objective lens – thus lending favor to those who argue for its intrinsic immorality – there is a deeper truth: to reveal the use of the objective lens is itself an attack resulting from ugly reactive attitudes – pride, disgust, and contempt. This revelation is not a child of the objective lens; instead, the impulse is a manifestation of heinous, negative reactive attitudes.
Blaming others for their beliefs is a common practice. For instance, I have blamed others for their political, moral, and religious beliefs. A burgeoning literature on epistemic blame has investigated (1) the distinct nature of this epistemic dimension of blame, (2) various accounts of what it means to epistemically blame others, (3) the normatively correct conditions to be genuinely epistemically blameworthy, and (4) the appropriate target of epistemic blame—i.e., that which one is blamed for. There are a variety of defensible replies to the first three questions, but a monolithic consensus on the appropriate target of blame. Normative epistemologists have assumed that beliefs are the appropriate target of epistemic blame—that we are right to blame others for their beliefs. In response to this consensus, I raise a concern around resultant luck from the moral blame literature and defend the “rationalist’s” response to this concern, concluding that any appropriate target of blame must be immune to resultant luck. I apply this generalized principle to the epistemic domain, arguing that the widely assumed target of epistemic blame must be revised. In other words, beliefs are an inappropriate target of epistemic blame because they are subject to epistemic resultant luck. I propose and defend a new, appropriate target of epistemic blame: epistemic character. I conclude by suggesting that epistemic character can be thought of in terms of epistemic vice and virtue, drawing from the literature on moral character and virtue epistemology, and unpack what my argument entails for our blaming practices.
Thomas Kelly has defended a specific view of how belief polarization emerges and why it is rational to see this phenomenon occur. Kelly defines belief polarization as being more confident in one’s opinion after examining a body of mixed evidence. He has argued that belief polarization specifically due to selective scrutiny is practically rational, where selective scrutiny is the act of asymmetrically analyzing contradictory evidence to your beliefs while accepting confirming evidence. This ties Kelly to asserting that selective scrutiny is a rational practice. He reaches this view by juxtaposing selective scrutiny to its much-maligned alternative, Kripkean Dogmatism, which is the act of dismissing any evidence that conflicts with one’s existing belief. While Kelly’s views are interesting and provocative, I believe they are misguided in their reach; I aim to create a differentiation between what I coin vicious and virtuous scrutiny, and argue that vicious scrutiny is irrational for the same three reasons as dogmatism. The first is that both dogmatism and vicious scrutiny make the agent ignorant of potentially belief-altering information. Both practices also preclude the use of the totality of an agent’s available evidence. And finally, both dogmatism and vicious scrutiny succumb to an irrational self-predictability – the agent can know what evidence she will dismiss before knowing any details about it, simply by being told if it conflicts or confirms her current belief. These irrationalities in vicious scrutiny thus temper Kelly’s optimism about the rationality of selective scrutiny and its resulting belief polarization.
Moral duty implies a set of requirements constituting a “hard line” below which we may not travel without giving up our decency. Susan Wolf, though, suggests we view duty as a dotted line, proposing that it may be reasonable to violate trivial moral duties for great personal value. I argue this view entails seeing someone who lived below the line of duty—someone who neverconformed with duty for reasonable personal considerations—as morally decent. I find this conclusion implausible. I suggest three replies: (1) a hard-lined reply which lowers the line of duty, (2) a hard-lined reply which embraces the “indecent conclusion” that only the flawless are morally decent, and (3) a dotted-lined reply. I defend the third reply, accepting that one cannot decently live below the line of duty but maintaining that one may vacationbelow the dotted line without giving one’s decency. Moral decency should be seen as the proportion of time spent above or below the line of duty. As one traverses either side of the dotted line, moral decency hinges on the area under or above the curve. This analogy implies that both the duration of time spent under the line and the magnitude of one’s trespassescontribute to how tenuously one’s decency hangs. When we trespass below the line, even for reasonable causes, it is up to us to subsequently live above the line in such a way that swings the balance back towards decency. This revised account provides an avenue for moral redemption.