Birkbeck College, University Of London
Birkbeck, University of London
Areas of Interest
Normative Ethics
  •  2815
  •  1126
    Smith on moral fetishism
    Analysis 57 (3). 1997.
    In his book The Moral Problem and in a recent issue of this journal, Michael Smith claims to refute any theory which construes the relationship between moral judgements and motivation as contingent and rationally optional. Smith’s argument fails. In showing how it fails, I shall make three claims. First, a concern for what is right, where this is read de dicto, does not amount to moral fetishism. Second, it is not always morally preferable to care about what is right, where this is read de re. T…Read more
  •  784
    Moral error theory
    Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 104 (2). 2004.
    The paper explores the consequences of adopting a moral error theory targeted at the notion of reasonable convergence. I examine the prospects of two ways of combining acceptance of such a theory with continued acceptance of moral judgements in some form. On the first model, moral judgements are accepted as a pragmatically intelligible fiction. On the second model, moral judgements are made relative to a framework of assumptions with no claim to reasonable convergence on their behalf. I argue th…Read more
  •  772
    Debunking morality: Evolutionary naturalism and moral error theory
    Biology and Philosophy 18 (4): 567-581. 2003.
    The paper distinguishes three strategies by means of which empirical discoveries about the nature of morality can be used to undermine moral judgements. On the first strategy, moral judgements are shown to be unjustified in virtue of being shown to rest on ignorance or false belief. On the second strategy, moral judgements are shown to be false by being shown to entail claims inconsistent with the relevant empirical discoveries. On the third strategy, moral judgements are shown to be false in vi…Read more
  •  691
    Values of Art and the Ethical Question
    British Journal of Aesthetics 48 (4): 376-394. 2008.
    Does the ethical value of a work of art ever contribute to its aesthetic value? I argue that when conventionally interpreted as a request for a conceptual analysis the answer to this question is indeterminate. I then propose a different interpretation of the question on which it is understood as a substantial and normative question internal to the practice of aesthetic criticism.
  •  655
    The Nature and Ethics of Indifference
    The Journal of Ethics 21 (1): 17-35. 2017.
    Indifference is sometimes said to be a virtue. Perhaps more frequently it is said to be a vice. Yet who is indifferent; to what; and in what way is poorly understood, and frequently subject to controversy and confusion. This paper presents a framework for the interpretation and analysis of ethically significant forms of indifference in terms of how subjects of indifference are variously related to their objects in different circumstances; and how an indifferent orientation can be either more or …Read more
  •  610
    Davidson on value and objectivity
    Dialectica 61 (2). 2007.
    According to one version of objectivism about value, ethical and other evaluative claims have a fixed truth-value independently of who makes them or the society in which they happen to live (c.f. Davidson 2004, 42). Subjectivists about value deny this claim. According to subjectivism so understood, ethical and other evaluative claims have no fixed truth-value, either because their truth-value is dependent on who makes them, or because they have no truth-value at all
  •  533
    Reproduction, partiality, and the non-identity problem
    In M. A. Roberts & D. T. Wasserman (eds.), Harming Future Persons, Springer Verlag. pp. 231--248. 2009.
    Much work in contemporary bioethics defends a broadly liberal view of human reproduction. I shall take this view to comprise (but not to be exhausted by) the following four claims.1 First, it is permissible both to reproduce and not to reproduce, either by traditional means or by means of assisted reproductive techniques such as IVF and genetic screening. Second, it is permissible either to reproduce or to adopt or otherwise foster an existing child to which one is not biologically related. Thir…Read more
  •  521
    The Epistemology of Ethical Intuitions
    Philosophy 86 (2): 175-200. 2011.
    Intuitions are widely assumed to play an important evidential role in ethical inquiry. In this paper I critically discuss a recently influential claim that the epistemological credentials of ethical intuitions are undermined by their causal pedigree and functional role. I argue that this claim is exaggerated. In the course of doing so I argue that the challenge to ethical intuitions embodied in this claim should be understood not only as a narrowly epistemological challenge, but also as a substa…Read more
  •  493
    Darwin’s treatment of morality in The Descent of Man has generated a wide variety of responses among moral philosophers. Among these is the dismissal of evolution as irrelevant to ethics by Darwin’s contemporary Henry Sidgwick; the last, and arguably the greatest, of the Nineteenth Century British Utilitarians. This paper offers a re-examination of Sidgwick’s response to evolutionary considerations as irrelevant to ethics and the absence of any engagement with Darwin’s work in Sidgwick’s main et…Read more
  •  468
    Constructivism and the Error Theory
    In Christian Miller (ed.), The Continuum Companion to Ethics, Continuum. 2011.
    This paper presents a comparative evaluation of constructivist and error theoretic accounts of moral claims. It is argued that constructivism has distinct advantages over error theory
  •  401
    Facts, Ends, and Normative Reasons
    Journal of Ethics 14 (1): 17-26. 2010.
    This paper is about the relationship between two widely accepted and apparently conflicting claims about how we should understand the notion of ‘reason giving’ invoked in theorising about reasons for action. According to the first claim, reasons are given by facts about the situation of agents. According to the second claim, reasons are given by ends. I argue that the apparent conflict between these two claims is less deep than is generally recognised.
  •  371
    Autonomy, Value and the First Person
    In Lubomira Radoilska (ed.), Autonomy and Mental Disorder, Oxford University Press. 2012.
    This paper explores the claim that someone can reasonably consider themselves to be under a duty to respect the autonomy of a person who does not have the capacities normally associated with substantial self-governance.
  •  370
    Moral Cognitivism
    Philosophical Papers 31 (1): 1-25. 2002.
    Abstract The paper explicates a set of criteria the joint satisfaction of which is taken to qualify moral judgements as cognitive. The paper examines evidence that some moral judgements meet these criteria, and relates the resulting conception of moral judgements to ongoing controversies about cognitivism in ethics
  •  369
    This paper concerns a prima facie tension between the claims that agents have normative reasons obtaining in virtue of the nature of the options that confront them, and there is a non-trivial connection between the grounds of normative reasons and the upshots of sound practical reasoning. Joint commitment to these claims is shown to give rise to a dilemma. I argue that the dilemma is avoidable on a response dependent account of normative reasons accommodating both and by yielding as a substantia…Read more
  •  339
    This paper explores the prospects of different forms of moral error theory. It is argued that only a suitably local error theory would make good sense of the fact that it is possible to give and receive genuinely good moral advice
  •  325
    In this chapter I critically discuss the dismissal of the philosophical significance of facts about human evolution and historical development in the work of W. D Ross. I address Ross’s views about the philosophical significance of the emerging human sciences of his time in two of his main works, namely The Right and the Good and The Foundations of Ethics. I argue that the debate between Ross and his chosen interlocutors (Herbert Spencer, Emile Durkheim and Lucien Levy-Bruhl) shows striking simi…Read more
  •  323
    In recent years there has been a growing interest among mainstream Anglophone moral philosophers in the empirical study of human morality, including its evolution and historical development. This chapter compares these developments with an earlier point of contact between moral philosophy and the moral sciences in the early decades of the Twentieth century, as manifested in some of the less frequently discussed arguments of G. E. Moore and W. D. Ross. It is argued that a critical appreciation of…Read more
  •  308
    The doctrine of internal reasons
    Journal of Value Inquiry 34 (4): 507-516. 2000.
    According to advocates of internalism about reasons for action, there is an interesting connection between an agent’s reasons and the agent’s present desires. On the simplest version of this view, an agent has a reason to act a certain way at some time if and only if acting that way would promote his present desires. Let us call this the sub-Humean model.1 The sub-Humean model is widely regarded as too simple on the grounds that there are adverse conditions, such as massive confusion, in which d…Read more
  •  303
    The aim of this paper is to trace the development of a particular current of thought known under the label ‘pragmatism’ in the last part of the Twentieth century and the beginning of the Twenty-first. I address three questions about this current of thought. First, what is its actual historical development? Second, does it constitute a single, coherent, philosophical outlook? Third, in what form, if any, does it constitute an attractive philosophical outlook. In the course of addressing these q…Read more
  •  282
    I—Hallvard Lillehammer: Moral Testimony, Moral Virtue, and the Value of Autonomy
    Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 88 (1): 111-127. 2014.
    According to some, taking moral testimony is a potentially decent way to exercise one's moral agency. According to others, it amounts to a failure to live up to minimal standards of moral worth. What's the issue? Is it conceptual or empirical? Is it epistemological or moral? Is there a ‘puzzle’ of moral testimony; or are there many, or none? I argue that there is no distinctive puzzle of moral testimony. The question of its legitimacy is as much a moral or political as an epistemological questio…Read more
  •  280
    According to moral error theory, morality is something invented, constructed or made; but mistakenly presents itself to us as if it were an independent object of discovery. According to moral constructivism, morality is something invented, constructed or made. In this paper I argue that constructivism is both compatible with, and in certain cases explanatory of, some of the allegedly mistaken commitments to which arguments for moral skepticism appeal. I focus on two particular allegations that a…Read more
  •  266
    Who needs bioethicists?
    Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 35 (1): 131-144. 2003.
    Recent years have seen the emergence of a new brand of moral philosopher. Straddling the gap between academia on the one hand, and the world of law, medicine, and politics on the other, bioethicists have appeared, offering advice on ethical issues to a wider public than the philosophy classroom. Some bioethicists, like Peter Singer, have achieved wide notoriety in the public realm with provocative arguments that challenge widely held beliefs about the relative moral status of animals, human foet…Read more
  •  242
    The Idea of a Normative Reason
    In P. Schaber & R. Huntelmann (eds.), Grundlagen der Ethik, . pp. 41--65. 2003.
    Recent work in English speaking moral philosophy has seen the rise to prominence of the idea of a normative reason1. By ‘normative reasons’ I mean the reasons agents appeal to in making rational claims on each other. Normative reasons are good reasons on which agents ought to act, even if they are not actually motivated accordingly2. To this extent, normative reasons are distinguishable from the motivating reasons agents appeal to in reason explanations. Even agents who fail to act on their norm…Read more
  •  239
    Revisionary dispositionalism and practical reason
    The Journal of Ethics 4 (3): 173-190. 2000.
    This paper examines the metaphysically modest view that attributionsof normative reasons can be made true in the absence of a responseindependent normative reality. The paper despairs in finding asatisfactory account of normative reasons in metaphysically modestterms.
  •  223
    Minding your own business? Understanding indifference as a virtue
    Philosophical Perspectives 28 (1): 111-126. 2014.
    Indifference is sometimes described as a virtue. Yet who is indifferent; to what; and in what way is poorly understood, and frequently subject to controversy and confusion. This paper proposes a framework for the interpretation and analysis of ethically acceptable forms of indifference in terms of how different states of indifference can be either more or less dynamic, or more or less sensitive to the nature and state of their object.