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.

2019

Journal of Philosophy

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

Free Will Denial and Deontological Constraints

Recent free will denialism (FWD) tends to be optimistic, claiming that not only will the rejection of the belief in free will and moral responsibility not make matters dreadful, but that we are indeed better off without them. I address the denialist claim that FWD has the philosophical resources to effectively safeguard human rights and respect for persons in the context of punishment, even without belief in free will, moral responsibility and desert. I raise seven reasons for doubt concerning the ability of FWD to maintain deontological constraints. Together they present a strong case for doubting the optimism of FWD.

2019

Free Will Skepticism in Law and Society

"Free Will Denial and Deontological Constraints", in Elizabeth Shaw, Derk Pereboom, and Gregg D. Caruso, eds. Free Will Skepticism in Law and Society. New York: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming.

The Nonidentity Problem: United and Unconquered

The nonidentity problem (henceforth NIP) is one of the great moral discoveries of the 20th century; and a philosophical classic. It is a single, simple, powerful, philosophical conundrum. It has in many cases a solution, but cannot be dismissed, and retains its paradoxical force. I will aim to present my own take on it, and defend the NIP from the original and challenging attack by Melinda Roberts and David Wasserman in "Dividing and Conquering the Nonidentity Problem" (this volume). In the process, I will reject the positions they offer on each of the two alleged problems into which they divide the NIP, offering some less familiar arguments, particularly about individual contribution and the special role of parenting. I will also explicate why I think that it is in any case a mistake to see the NIP as composed of two distinct problems, showing both its unity and the broadness of its manifestations; illustrate how my recent "historical" exploration of this problem is helpful; and will conclude by defending the idea that the nonidentity problem typically has a solution but is nevertheless a large and significant problem, an "existential paradox".

2017

Current Controversies in Bioethics

"The Nonidentity Problem: United and Unconquered", in S. Matthew Liao and Colin O'Neil, eds., Current Controversies in Bioethics. New York: Routledge, 2017.

free will: nonstandard views

TBA

2017

The Routledge Companion to Free Will

"Nonstandard Views", in Meghan Griffith, Neil Levy and Kevin Timpe, eds., The Routledge Companion to Free Will. New York: Routledge, 2017.

Free Will as a Case of 'Crazy Ethics'

I introduce the term �crazy ethics� (or CE), which I use in a semi-descriptive and non-pejorative way to refer to some views that we ourselves hold, or that we think might be true. I claim that some true ethical views are, in this interesting sense, crazy. After explicating what makes such views crazy, I explore the free will problem and show why viewing it as a case of CE is fruitful. I show that many of the prevailing positions in the debate are "crazy" in this sense, and that the views I hold to be most plausible are also so. I then reflect on what this means, particularly for morality, personal and social integrity, and the role of philosophy.

2013

Exploring the Illusion of Free Will and Moral Responsibility. Lexington Books

"Free Will as a Case of 'Crazy Ethics'", in Gregg Caruso, ed., Exploring the Illusion of Free Will and Moral Responsibility. Lexington Books, 2013.

The Paradox of Moral Complaint

In "The Paradox of Moral Complaint" I took up the question whether a person who has wronged others in certain ways may morally complain if other people then harm him illegitimately in similar ways. I argued that there are strong grounds for saying both 'yes' and 'no' here and, therefore, that our considered moral views are paradoxical. In her reply, Talia Shaham disagrees with the no part of my position. She presents two appealing philosophical arguments, and concludes that there is no 'paradox of moral complaint', seeking in particular to defend the unconditional moral 'right' of wronged wrongdoers to complain, as against my claims. I attempt to defend my position against her arguments.

2013

Utilitas: A Journal of Utilitarian Studies

"The Paradox of Moral Complaint", Utilitas 18 (2006 ): 284-290.

The Paradox of Moral Complaint: A Reply to Shaham

In "The Paradox of Moral Complaint" I took up the question whether a person who has wronged others in certain ways may morally complain if other people then harm him illegitimately in similar ways. I argued that there are strong grounds for saying both 'yes' and 'no' here and, therefore, that our considered moral views are paradoxical. In her reply, Talia Shaham disagrees with the no part of my position. She presents two appealing philosophical arguments, and concludes that there is no 'paradox of moral complaint', seeking in particular to defend the unconditional moral 'right' of wronged wrongdoers to complain, as against my claims. I attempt to defend my position against her arguments.

2013

Utilitas: A Journal of Utilitarian Studies

"The Paradox of Moral Complaint: A Reply to Shaham", Utilitas 25 (2013 ): 277-282.

On the Common Lament, That a Person Cannot Make Much Difference in This World

In some ways, virtually every individual can make a difference because even the ?small' differences that we can undoubtedly make do often matter, and sometimes our actions can have wider effects. In the larger scheme of things, however, most individuals will not matter much, if at all. I have sought to offer a broad outline of ways whereby the fact (when it is a fact) that one single person cannot make much difference in this world is significant and, surprisingly, in many ways positive. The illusion that it is otherwise can be conducive to our happiness but here the truth also has its benefits. Frequently, our impotence is a piece of good fortune.

2012

Philosophy: The Journal of the Royal Institute of Philosophy

"On the Common Lament, That a Person Cannot Make Much Difference in This World", Philosophy 87 (2012 ): 109-122.

Free Will: Some Bad News

The free-will debate is characterized by an effort to see the bright side of things. This feature is shared by almost all participants, irrespective of their other disagreements. We are not self-critical enough about this (natural) tendency. There is some good news, even if we don't have libertarian free will. But in different ways, the free will issue is very bad news. I illustrate this, and discuss what it implies.

2010

Action, Ethics, and Responsibility

"Free Will: Some Bad News", in Joseph Keim Campbell, Michael O?Rourke, and Harry S. Silverstein, eds., Action, Ethics and Responsibility. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2010.

Moral Demands, Moral Pragmatics, and Being Good

I point out an odd consequence of the role that broadly pragmatic considerations regularly (and reasonably) play in determining moral demands. As a result of the way in which moral demands are formed, it turns out that people will frequently become morally good in a strange and rather dubious way. Because human beings are not very good, we will lower our moral demands and, as a result, most people will turn out, in an important sense, to be morally good. Our relative badness, by giving us good reasons to limit moral demands, makes us morally good.

2010

Utilitas: A Journal of Utilitarian Studies

"Moral Demands, Moral Pragmatics, and Being Good", Utilitas 22 (2010 ): 303-308.

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.

2006

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.

Some Thoughts on Terrorism, Moral Complaint, and the Self-reflexive and Relational Nature of Morality

The contemporary discussion of terrorism has been dominated by deontological and consequentialist arguments. Building upon my previous work on a paradox concerning moral complaint, I try to broaden the perspectives through which we view the issues. The direction that seems to me as most promising is a self-reflexive, conditional, and, to some extent, relational emphasis. What one is permitted to do to others would depend not so much on some absolute code constraining actions or on the estimate of what would optimize overall the resulting well-being but on the precedents that the past actions of those others provided, on the relationships among the participants, on tacit or explicit offers and possible agreements among them, and on the reciprocity (or lack thereof) that ensues.

2006

Philosophia: Philosophical Quarterly of Israel

"Some Thoughts on Terrorism, Moral Complaint, and the Self-reflexive and Relational Nature of Morality", Philosophia 34 (2006): 65-74.