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A Difficulty Concerning Compensation

We sometimes harm people legitimately, by standing in front of them in the queue at the cinema and buying the last available ticket, for instance, or by acting in self-defense. If we harm them illegitimately, however, we ostensibly have a moral obligation to compensate them for the harm done. And the more we harm them, the greater the compensation that, prima facie, we need to offer. But if the harm increases further, at some point we will need to offer less compensation. Yet more harm, and it is quite likely that no compensation at all will be morally expected. In such situations, the greater the harm, the better off we will be, morally, in one important respect. This is morally absurd but, I claim, true, and it does not appear to have received significant philosophical attention. I explore the issue.


Journal of Moral Philosophy: An International Journal of Moral, Political and Legal Philosophy

"A Difficulty Concerning Compensation", Journal of Moral Philosophy 10 (2013 ): 329-337.

A Hostage Situation

Moral life sometimes involves life-and-death decisions, and philosophers often consider them by examining intuitions about ideal cases. Contemporary philosophical discourse on such matters has been dominated by Trolley-type cases, which typically present us with the need to make decisions on whether to sacrifice one person in order to save a larger number of similar others. Such cases lead to a distinct view of moral dilemmas, and of moral life generally. The case I present here, "Hostage Situation", is quite unlike them, and should generate intuitions that differ greatly from those brought forth by standard Trolley-type cases. The implications are surprising, and suggest that familiar and widely-prevalent perceptions of the normative field are inadequate.


Journal of Philosophy

"A Hostage Situation", Journal of Philosophy 116 (2019): 447-466.

A Problem about the Morality of Some Common Forms of Prayer

At a time of acute danger, people commonly petition God for help for themselves or their loved ones; such as praying that an avalanche heading in one's direction be diverted, or that an organ donor be found for one's dying child. Such prayer seems natural and, indeed, for believers, reasonable and acceptable. It seems perverse to condemn such typical prayer, as wrong. But once we closely examine what is actually happening in such situations, we shall see that frequently prayer of this sort is morally problematic. I argue that such prayer ought to be seen as a form of action (rather than, say, mere hope), thereby needing to meet the higher moral standards that apply to actions; and that the assumption of the benevolence of the deity does not suffice to make such prayer legitimate.


Ratio: An International Journal of Analytic Philosophy

"A Problem about the Morality of Some Common Forms of Prayer", Ratio 25 (2012 ): 207-215.




Encyclopaedia of Ethics 2nd Edition

"Blackmail", Encyclopaedia of Ethics 2nd Edition. London: Routledge, 2001.

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Can Deontologists Be Moderate?

There is a widespread view according to which deontology can be construed as a flexible, reasonable view, able to incorporate consequentialist considerations when it seems compelling to do so. According to this view, deontologists can be moderate, and their presentation as die-hard fanatics, even if true to some historical figures, is basically a slanderous and misleading philosophical straw man. I argue that deontologists, properly understood, are not moderate. In the way deontology is typically understood, a deontology, as such, conceptually needs to be overriding. The error I point out has pernicious implications, which are noted.


Utilitas: A Journal of Utilitarian Studies

"Can Deontologists Be Moderate?", Utilitas 15 (2003 ): 71-5.

Can a Determinist Respect Herself?



Freedom and Moral Responsibility: General and Jewish Perspectives

"Can a Determinist Respect Herself?", in C. H. Manekin and M. Kellner, eds., Freedom and Moral Responsibility: General and Jewish Perspectives. College Park: University of Maryland Press, 1997: 85-98.

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Choice-Egalitarianism and the Paradox of the Baseline

Choice-egalitarianism (or CE) is, broadly, a version of egalitarianism that gives free choice a pivotal role in justifying any inequality. Choice-egalitarianism is a particularly attractive form of egalitarianism, for it ties in with the high value that many put on choice and responsibility. I argue that the very emphasis on choice leads to a paradox, which creates severe principled and pragmatic difficulties for choice-egalitarianism.



"Choice-Egalitarianism and the Paradox of the Baseline", Analysis 63 (2003 ): 146-51.

Choice-Egalitarianism and the Paradox of the Baseline: A Reply to Manor

I made two claims against CE. First, that under careful analysis, CE compels us to bring about states of affairs so unacceptable that the position becomes absurd. By virtue of its very conceptual structure, CE gives us manifestly wrong instructions. Second, that CE?s hope of reconciling a strong egalitarianism with robust personal choice and something like the prevailing market economy is a chimera. Manor?s paper does not dispute my second claim. Indeed, his own claim, that in fact CE leads to something close to strict equality, supports my pessimism about CE?s reconciliation project. My reply to Manor therefore focuses on his denial of my ?rst claim, that choice-egalitarianism leads to absurdity.



"Choice-Egalitarianism and the Paradox of the Baseline: A Reply to Manor", Analysis 65 (2005): 333-337.

Compatibilism: The Argument From Shallowness

The compatibility question lies at the center of the free will problem. Compatibilists think that determinism is compatible with moral responsibility and the concomitant notions, while incompatibilists think that it is not. The topic of this paper is a particular form of charge against compatibilism: that it is 'shallow'. This is not the typical sort of argument against compatibilism: most of the debate has attempted to discredit compatibilism completely. The 'argument from shallowness' maintains that the compatibilists do have a case. However, this case is only partial, and shallow. This limited aim proves itself more powerful against compatibilists than previous all-or-nothing attempts.


Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition

"Compatibilism: The Argument From Shallowness", Philosophical Studies 115 (2003 ): 257-282.

Control, Desert, and the Difference Between Distributive and Retributive Justice

Why is it that we think today so very differently about distributive and retributive justice? Why is the notion of desert so neglected in our thinking about distributive justice, while it remains fundamental in almost every account of retributive justice? I wish to take up this relatively neglected issue, and put forth two proposals of my own, based upon the way control functions in the two spheres.


Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition

"Control, Desert, and the Difference Between Distributive and Retributive Justice", Philosophical Studies 131 (2006 ): 511-524.

Determinism and Prepunishment: The Radical Nature of Compatibilism

I argue that compatibilism cannot resist in a principled way the temptation to prepunish people. Compatibilism thus emerges as a much more radical view than it is typically presented and perceived, and is seen to be at odds with fundamental moral intuitions. The traditional compatibilist stance, according to which determinism does not really change anything, morally, is thereby 'shown' to be false.



"Determinism and Prepunishment: The Radical Nature of Compatibilism", Analysis 67 (2007 ): 347-349.

Did James Deceive Himself about Free Will?

I argue that William James indulged in self-deception with regard to the free will problem. My argument differs from previous ones in two ways: firstly, in pointing out specific features of James's philosophical writing with indicate the self-deception. Secondly, in presenting an integrated case, based not only on the much discussed issue of his "Will to Believe" position, but on James's autobiographical writing as well as on specific features of his philosophical writing. The conclusion is said to cast doubts about the "Will to Believe" position. Finally, I briefly consider the general issue of philosophical self-deception.


Transactions of the C.S. Peirce Society

"Did James Deceive Himself about Free Will?", Transactions of the C.S. Peirce Society 28 (1992 ): 767-779.