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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.

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A Puzzle About Self-Sacrificing Altruism

I present a puzzle concerning individual self-sacrificing altruism (SSA) that, to the best of my knowledge, has not been considered before. I develop an argument that challenges the common sense attitudes towards self-sacrificial altruism in typical, paradigmatic cases. I consider SSA involving sacrificing one’s life for other human beings, focusing, for the sake of simplicity, on saving a single person. We have reasons to think that many paradigmatic acts of SSA may, on reflection, be irrational, that typical moral heroes are mistaken, that dispositional self-sacrificers should perhaps resist their good urges to keep saving people, and that the enchantments of heroism should regularly be resisted.


Journal of Controversial Ideas

"A Puzzle About Self-Sacrificing Altruism", Journal of Controversial Ideas 1 (2021):  10.35995/jci01010007

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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.

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Contribution, Replaceability and the Meaning of Our Lives

I explore some surprising results concerning positive individual contributions, focusing on those made in one's job or in the position one holds. The replaceability of most people on the job or in positions of influence threatens our common sense notion of contribution. Two concepts of contribution are distinguished, and help to limit the sense of paradox, but do not completely eliminate it. The ideal of making a contribution that would not be made were one not to make it is seen as both highly threatening and potentially very important for acquiring meaning in one's life. Finally, some hazards of our conclusions are seen to lead to thoughts about the dangers of open disclosure.



Contribution, Replaceability and the Meaning of Our Lives. Theoria.

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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.

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Does the Free Will Debate Rest on a Mistake?

At the core of the free will debate lies the Compatibility Question', the question of whether there can be moral responsibility in a deterministic world; or in a world without libertarian free will. Compatibilists affirm and incompatibilists deny such a possibility. This question is almost invariably discussed under an Assumption of Exclusiveness', the assumption that one must be either a compatibilist or an incompatibilist. After giving various examples of the prevalence of this assumption in contemporary analytic philosophy, I attempt to show why it is mistaken. And I try to indicate how the acceptance of the Assumption of Exclusiveness' has hindered progress in the free will debate. I conclude by outlining a Dualistic' position with regard to the Compatibility Question', a position which attempts to extract the significant insights both of compatibilism and of hard determinism, while avoiding their inadequacies.


Philosophical Papers

"Does the Free Will Debate Rest on a Mistake?", Philosophical Papers 22 (1993 ): 173-188.

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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.


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.

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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.


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.

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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.


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.

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Gratitude, Contribution and Ethical Theory

I attempt to sketch in general terms an alternative moral perspective that goes beyond the traditional normative theories, a moral perspective called ?contributivism?. This focuses on contribution: caring about one's contribution, I claim, lies at the centre of moral cncern. First I illustrate the need for a contribution-focussed moral theory, primarily by considering gratitude, the typical required response to altruism. Second, I point out some of the motivational resources of such a contribution-based view. I conclude by showing how focusing on contributions can uncover neglected areas of moral significance, which both broaden our recognition of altruistic behavious, and raise questions concerning the moral centrality of altruism


Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy

"Gratitude, Contribution and Ethical Theory", CRISPP: Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy 5 (2002 ): 34-48.

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The Oxford Handbook of Moral Responsibility

"Illusionism", in Derk Pereboom and Dana Nelkin, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Moral Responsibility. New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming.

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Is Justice Binary? A Free Will-Related Exploration

This article asks whether justice is binary, whether matters are either-or with respect to it. This question has been inexplicably neglected, and the elementary conceptual work has not been done. We consider this question through exploring the implications of free-will-related justice. We see that there are actually two questions of very different scope here, and that two distinct notions of binarity need to be distinguished. In the process, the plausibility of considering justice as a binary notion is evaluated.



"Is Justice Binary? A Free Will-Related Exploration", Metaphilosophy 34 (2003 ): 476-487.

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