•  126
    How we know what ought to be
    Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 106 (1). 2006.
    This paper outlines a new approach to the epistemology of normative beliefs, based on a version of the claim that “the intentional is normative”. This approach incorporates an account of where our “normative intuitions” come from, and of why it is essential to these intuitions that they have a certain weak connection to the truth. This account allows that these intuitions may be fallible, but it also seeks to explain why it is rational for us to rely on these intuitions in forming normative beli…Read more
  •  245
    The meaning of 'ought'
    In Russ Shafer-Landau (ed.), Oxford Studies in Metaethics: Volume 1, Clarendon Press. pp. 127-160. 2006.
    In this paper, I apply the "conceptual role semantics" approach that I have proposed elsewhere (according to which the meaning of normative terms is given by their role in practical reasoning or deliberation) to the meaning of the term 'ought'. I argue that this approach can do three things: It can give an adequate explanation of the special connection that normative judgments have to practical reasoning and motivation for action. It can give an adequate account of why the central principles of …Read more
  •  117
    Contextualism about justified belief
    Philosophers' Imprint 8 1-20. 2008.
    This paper presents a new argument for a form of contextualism about ‘justified belief’, the argument being based on considerations concerning the nature of belief. It is then argued that this form of contextualism, although it is true, cannot help to answer the threat of scepticism. However, it can explain many other puzzling phenomena: it can give an account of the linguistic mechanisms that determine how the extension of ‘justified belief’ shifts with context; it can help to defuse some puzzl…Read more
  •  459
    The fundamental argument for same-sex marriage
    Journal of Political Philosophy 7 (3). 1999.
    This paper offers an argument in favour of the conclusion that it is seriously unjust to exclude same-sex couples from the institution of civil marriage. The argument is based on an interpretation of what the institution of marriage essentially is, and of its essential rationale; the crucial claim is that although marriage is a legal institution, it is also a social institution, involving a "social meaning" -- a body of common knowledge and expectations about marriage that is generally shared th…Read more
  •  75
    This is a review of Elizabeth Brake's book Minimizing Marriage: Marriage, Morality, and the Law (Oxford University Press, 2012).
  •  159
    Scanlon on Double Effect (review)
    Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 83 (2): 464-472. 2011.
    In this new book Moral Dimensions, T. M. Scanlon (2008) explores the ethical significance of the intentions and motives with which people act. According to Scanlon, these intentions and motives do not have any direct bearing on the permissibility of the act. Thus, Scanlon claims that the traditional Doctrine of Double Effect (DDE) is mistaken. However, the way in which someone is motivated to act has a direct bearing on what Scanlon calls the act's "meaning". One particularly important kind of "…Read more
  •  134
    The Right Thing to Believe
    In Timothy Chan (ed.), The Aim of Belief, Oxford University Press. pp. 123-139. 2013.
    Many philosophers have claimed that “belief aims at the truth”. But is there any interpretation of this claim on which it counts as true? According to some philosophers, the best interpretation of the claim takes it as the normative thesis that belief is subject to a truth-norm. The goal of this essay is to clarify this normative interpretation of the claim. First, the claim can be developed so that it applies to partial beliefs as well as to flat-out full beliefs. Secondly, an answer is given t…Read more
  •  213
    The Coherence of Thrasymachus
    Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 53 33-63. 2017.
    In Book I of the Republic, or so I shall argue, Plato gives us a glimpse of sheer horror. In the character, beliefs, and desires of Thrasymachus, Plato aims to personify some of the most diabolical dangers that lurk in human nature. In this way, the role that Thrasymachus plays for Plato is akin to the role that for Hobbes is played by the bellum omnium contra omnes, the war of all against all, which would allegedly be the inevitable result of a "state of nature", where human beings have no gove…Read more
  •  244
    The normativity of the intentional
    In Ansgar Beckermann & Brian P. McLaughlin (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of the Philosophy of Mind, Oxford University Press. 2009.
    Many philosophers have claimed that the intentional is normative. (This claim is the analogue, within the philosophy of mind, of the claim that is often made within the philosophy of language, that meaning is normative.) But what exactly does this claim mean? And what reason is there for believing it? In this paper, I shall first try to clarify the content of the claim that the intentional is normative. Then I shall examine a number of the arguments that philosophers have advanced for this claim…Read more
  •  209
    Normativism defended
    In Brian P. McLaughlin & Jonathan D. Cohen (eds.), Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Mind, Blackwell. pp. 85--102. 2007.
    The aim of this chapter is to defend the claim that “the intentional is normative” against a number of objections, including those that Georges Rey has presented in his contribution to this volume. First, I give a quick sketch of the principal argument that I have used to support this claim, and briefly comment on Rey’s criticisms of this argument. Next, I try to answer the main objections that have been raised against this claim. First, it may seem that the claim that “the intentional is normat…Read more
  •  176
    This paper gives a new interpretation of the central section of Plato's Symposium (199d-212a). According to this interpretation, the term "καλóν", as used by Plato here, stands for what many contemporary philosophers call "intrinsic value"; and "love" (ἔρως) is in effect rational motivation , which for Plato consists in the desire to "possess" intrinsically valuable things - that is, according to Plato, to be happy - for as long as possible. An explanation is given of why Plato believes that "po…Read more
  •  110
    The internal and external components of cognition
    In Robert J. Stainton (ed.), Contemporary Debates in Cognitive Science, Blackwell. pp. 307-325. 2006.
    Timothy Williamson has presented several arguments that seek to cast doubt on the idea that cognition can be factorized into internal and external components. In the first section of this paper, I attempt to evaluate these arguments. My conclusion will be that these arguments establish several highly important points, but in the end these arguments fail to cast any doubt either on the idea that cognitive science should be largely concerned with internal mental processes, or on the idea that cogn…Read more
  •  54
    The diversity of topics discussed in this book reflects the breadth of Judith Jarvis Thomson's philosophical work. Throughout her long career at MIT, Thomson's straightforward approach and emphasis on problem-solving have shaped philosophy in significant ways. Some of the book's contributions discuss specific moral and political issues such as abortion, self-defense, the rights and obligations of prospective fathers, and political campaign finance. Other contributions concern the foundations of …Read more
  •  113
    The a priori rules of rationality
    Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 59 (1): 113-131. 1999.
    Both these ideas are intuitively plausible: rationality has an external aim, such as forming a true belief or good decision; and the rationality of a belief or decision is determined purely by facts about the thinker’s internal mental states. Unlike earlier conceptions, the conception of rationality presented here explains why these ideas are both true. Rational beliefs and decisions, it is argued, are those that are formed through the thinker’s following ‘rules of rationality’. Some rules count…Read more
  •  145
    Review of Being Realistic about Reasons, by T. M. Scanlon (review)
    Philosophical Quarterly 66 (262): 213-217. 2016.
    This is a review of T. M. Scanlon's book "Being Realistic about Reasons", which is based on the Locke Lectures that Scanlon gave in Oxford in 2009.
  •  40
    Review of Jacobs and Potter, hate crimes: Criminal law and identity politics (review)
    Journal of Homosexuality 45 (1): 152-159. 2003.
    This is a review of Hate Crimes: Criminal Law and Identity Politics, by James B. Jacobs and Kimberly Potter; it is argued that the arguments of that book completely fail to establish the book's principal conclusions.
  •  73
    The Price of Non‐Reductive Physicalism
    Noûs 34 (3): 400-421. 2000.
    Nonreductive physicalism faces a serious objection: physicalism entails the existence of an enormous number of modal facts--specifically, facts about exactly which physical properties necessitate each mental property; and, it seems, if mental properties are irreducible, these modal facts cannot all be satisfactorily explained. The only answer to this objection is to claim that the explanations of these modal facts are themselves contingent. This claim requires rejecting "S5" as the appropriate l…Read more
  •  125
    Practical reason and desire
    Australasian Journal of Philosophy 80 (3). 2002.
    Many philosophres have attempted to argue from the "Humean Theory of Motivation" (HTM) and the "Internalism Requirement" (IR) to the "Humean Theory of Practical Reason" (HTPR). This argument is familiar, but it has rarely been stated with sufficient precision. In this paper, I shall give a precise statement of this argument. I shall then rely on this statement to show two things. First, the HTPR is false: it is incompatible with some extremely plausible assumptions about weakness of will or akra…Read more
  •  80
    Christopher Peacocke's The Realm of Reason (review)
    Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 74 (3): 776-791. 2007.
    In this book, Christopher Peacocke proposes a general theory about what it is for a thinker to be entitled to form a given belief. This theory is distinctively rationalist: that is, it gives a large role to the a priori, while insisting that the propositions or contents that can be known a priori are not in any way “true in virtue of meaning” (and without in any other way denigrating these propositions as “trivial”, or as propositions that “tell us nothing about the world”, or the like). Peacock…Read more
  •  75
    Review of David Enoch, "Taking Morality Seriously: A Defense of Robust Realism" (review)
    Philosophical Quarterly 63 (251): 389-393. 2013.
    This is a review of David Enoch's book "Taking Morality Seriously: A Defense of Robust Realism".
  •  386
    Conceptual role semantics for moral terms
    Philosophical Review 110 (1): 1-30. 2001.
    This paper outlines a new approach to the task of giving an account of the meaning of moral statements: a sort of "conceptual role semantics", according to which the meaning of moral terms is given by their role in practical reasoning. This role is sufficient both to distinguish the meaning of any moral term from that of other terms, and to determine the property or relation (if any) that the term stands for. The paper ends by suggesting reasons for regarding this "conceptual role semantics" app…Read more
  •  43
    The fundamental principle of practical reasoning
    International Journal of Philosophical Studies 6 (2). 1998.
    The fundamental principle of practical reasoning (if there is such a thing) must be a rule which we ought to follow in all our practical reasoning, and which cannot lead to irrational decisions. It must be a rule that it is possible for us to follow directly - that is, without having to follow any other rule of practical reasoning in order to do so. And it must be a basic principle, in the sense that the explanation of why we rationally ought to follow this rule lies purely in the structure of o…Read more