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.
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.
"Blackmail", Encyclopaedia of Ethics 2nd Edition. London: Routledge, 2001.
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.
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.
"Gratitude: The Dark Side", in David Carr, ed., Perspectives on Gratitude. New York: Routledge, 2016.
Hard Determinism and Punishment: A Practical Reductio
How can hard determinism deal with the need to punish, when coupled with the obligation to be just? I argue that even though hard determinists might find it morally permissible to incarcerate wrongdoers apart from lawful society, they are committed to the punishment's taking a very different form from common practice in contemporary Western societies. Hard determinists are in fact committed to what I will call funishment, instead of punishment. But, by its nature funishment is a practical reductio of hard determinism: it makes implementing hard determinism impossible to contemplate. Indeed, the social practices that hard determinism requires turn out to be morally bad even according to hard determinism itself. I conclude by briefly reflecting upon the implications.
Law and Philosophy: An International Journal for Jurisprudence and Legal Philosophy
"Hard Determinism and Punishment: A Practical Reductio", Law and Philosophy 30 (2011 ): 353-367.
If Knowledge Is Good, We Are Always Born Too Early
Knowledge is a significant good. With time, human beings broadly acquire more and better knowledge. Hence, it seems, it is prima facie better to be born later. We conduct a thought experiment as to when one should wish oneself born. This yields a paradox, and some other interesting results about our feelings towards people who lived in the past, about our own lives, and about the value of knowledge.
Journal of Value Inquiry
"If Knowledge Is Good, We Are Always Born Too Early", Journal of Value Inquiry 44 (2010 ): 55-59.
"Illusionism", in Derk Pereboom and Dana Nelkin, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Moral Responsibility. New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming.
May We Stop Worrying About Blackmail?
The serious moral condemnation and legal penalization of blackmail has often been considered paradoxical. This practice, after all, often simply combines two fairly innocuous elements; asking for money or other favors, and threatening to do something which one is "allowed" to do. Michael Clark has recently argued that previous discussions of this issue were fundamentally mistaken, and that there is no paradox about blackmail. The relation between the two elements, Clark argues, brings forth something new, and thus there is nothing paradoxical about the fact that "in themselves" the elements which make up the practice of blackmail are permissible. I argue for the paradoxality of blackmail in a different way, which considers the practice as a whole, and is not based only on the permissibility of the elements of ordinary blackmail when taken separately.
"May We Stop Worrying About Blackmail?", Analysis 55 (1995 ): 116-120.