Oxford University
Faculty of Philosophy
DPhil, 1989
Princeton, New Jersey, United States of America
Areas of Specialization
Value Theory
  •  734
    Instrumental desires, instrumental rationality
    Supplement to the Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 78 (1): 93-109. 2004.
    The requirements of instrumental rationality are often thought to be normative conditions on choice or intention, but this is a mistake. Instrumental rationality is best understood as a requirement of coherence on an agent's non-instrumental desires and means-end beliefs. Since only a subset of an agent's means-end beliefs concern possible actions, the connection with intention is thus more oblique. This requirement of coherence can be satisfied either locally or more globally, it may be only on…Read more
  •  690
    The Moral Problem
    Blackwell. 1994.
    What is the Moral Problem? NORMATIVE ETHICS VS. META-ETHICS It is a common fact of everyday life that we appraise each others' behaviour and attitudes from ...
  •  532
    Internal reasons
    Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 55 (1): 109-131. 1995.
    The idea that there is such an analytic connection will hardly come as news. It amounts to no more and no less than an endorsement of the claim that all reasons are 'internal', as opposed to 'external', to use Bernard Williams's terms (Williams 1980). Or, to put things in the way Christine Korsgaard favours, it amounts to an endorsement of the 'internalism requirement' on reasons (Korsgaard 1986). But how exactly is the internalism requirement to be understood? What does it tell us about the nat…Read more
  •  473
    Minimalism and truth aptness
    with Frank Jackson and Graham Oppy
    Mind 103 (411). 1994.
    This paper, while neutral on questions about the minimality of truth, argues for the non-minimality of truth-aptness.
  •  357
    Absolutist Moral Theories and Uncertainty
    with Frank Jackson
    Journal of Philosophy 103 (6): 267-283. 2006.
  •  342
    Rational Capacities, or: How to Distinguish Recklessness, Weakness, and Compulsion
    In Sarah Stroud & Christine Tappolet (eds.), Weakness of Will and Practical Irrationality, Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 17-38. 2003.
    We ordinarily suppose that there is a difference between having and failing to exercise a rational capacity on the one hand, and lacking a rational capacity altogether on the other. This is crucial for our allocations of responsibility. Someone who has but fails to exercise a capacity is responsible for their failure to exercise their capacity, whereas someone who lacks a capacity altogether is not. However, as Gary Watson pointed out in his seminal essay ’Skepticism about Weakness of Will’, the…Read more
  •  254
    In On What Matters Derek Parfit argues that facts about reasons for action are grounded in facts about values and against the view that they are grounded in facts about the desires that subjects would have after fully informed and rational deliberation. I describe and evaluate Parfit's arguments for this value-based conception of reasons for action and find them wanting. I also assess his response to Sidgwick's suggestion that there is a Dualism of Practical Reason. Parfit seems not to notice th…Read more
  •  246
    Global Consequentialism
    with Philip Pettit
    In Brad Hooker, Elinor Mason & Dale Miller (eds.), Morality, Rules and Consequences: A Critical Reader, Edinburgh University Press. 2000.
  •  238
    Freedom in belief and desire
    with Philip Pettit
    Journal of Philosophy 93 (9): 429-449. 1996.
    People ordinarily suppose that there are certain things they ought to believe and certain things they ought not to believe. In supposing this to be so, they make corresponding assumptions about their belief-forming capacities. They assume that they are generally responsive to what they think they ought to believe in the things they actually come to believe. In much the same sense, people ordinarily suppose that there are certain things they ought to desire and do and they make corresponding assu…Read more
  •  234
    Beyond the error theory
    In Richard Joyce & Simon Kirchin (eds.), A World Without Values, Springer. 2010.
    Mackie's argument for the Error Theory is described. Four ways of responding to Mackie's argument—the Instrumental Approach, the Universalization Approach, the Reasons Approach, and the Constitutivist Approach—are outlined and evaluated. It emerges that though the Constitutivist Approach offers the most promising response to Mackie's argument, it is difficult to say whether that response is adequate or not.
  •  202
    Is there a nexus between reasons and rationality?
    Poznan Studies in the Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities 94 (1): 279-298. 2007.
    When we say that a subject has attitudes that she is rationally required to have, does that entail that she has those attitudes for reasons? In other words, is there a deep nexus between being rational and responding to reasons? Many have argued that there is. For example, Derek Parfit tells us that 'to be rational is to respond to reasons '. But I am not so sure. I begin by considering this question in the domain of theoretical rationality. The question in this domain is whether, when a subject…Read more
  •  201
    Alexander Miller objects to the argument for moral judgement internalism that I provide in _The Moral Problem. Miller's objection suggests a misunderstanding of the argument. In this reply I take the opportunity to restate the argument in slightly different terms, and to explain why Miller's objection betrays a misunderstanding
  •  184
    Desires…and beliefs…of one's own
    with Geoffrey Sayre-McCord
    Much work in recent moral psychology attempts to spell out what it is for a desire to be an agent’s own, or, as it is often put, what it means for an agent to be identified with certain of her desires rather than others. The aim of such work varies. Some suggest that an account of what it is for a desire to be an agent’s own provides us with an account of what it is for an agent to value something. Others suggest that an account of what it is for a desire to be an agent’s own tells us what it is…Read more
  •  182
    Frog and toad lose control
    with Jeanette Kennett
    Analysis 56 (2). 1996.
    It seems to be a truism that whenever we do something - and so, given the omnipresence of trying (Hornsby 1980), whenever we try to do something - we want to do that thing more than we want to do anything else we can do (Davidson 1970). However, according to Frog, when we have will power we are able to try not to do something that we ‘really want to do’. In context the idea is clearly meant to be that what we really want to do and what we most want to do are one and the same. But how is this mea…Read more
  •  165
    Reasons with rationalism after all
    Analysis 69 (3): 521-530. 2009.
    Kieran Setiya begins Reasons Without Rationalism by outlining and arguing for a schema in terms of which he thinks we best understand the nature of normative reasons for action. This is: " Reasons: The fact that p is a reason for A to ϕ just in case A has a collection of psychological states, C, such that the disposition to be moved to ϕ by C-and-the-belief-that-p is a good disposition of practical thought, and C contains no false beliefs. " As Setiya points out, Reasons contrasts with both the …Read more
  •  159
    Moral obligation, accountability, and second-personal reasons (review)
    Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 81 (1): 237-245. 2010.
  •  157
    The Possibility of Philosophy of Action
    In Jan Bransen & Stefaan Cuypers (eds.), Human Action, Deliberation and Causation, Kluwer Academic Publishers. pp. 17--41. 1998.
    This article was conceived as a sequel to “The Humean Theory of Motivation.” The paper addresses various challenges to the standard account of the explanation of intentional action in terms of desire and means-end belief, challenges that didn’t occur to me when I wrote “The Humean Theory of Motivation.” I begin by suggesting that the attraction of the standard account lies in the way in which it allows us to unify a vast array of otherwise diverse types of action explanation. I go on to consider…Read more
  •  150
    Ethical particularism and patterns
    with Frank Jackson and Philip Pettit
    In Brad Hooker & Margaret Olivia Little (eds.), Moral Particularism, Oxford University Press. pp. 79--99. 2000.
  •  143
    Practical unreason
    with Philip Pettit
    Mind 102 (405): 53-79. 1993.
    Some contemporary theories treat phenomena like weakness of will, compulsion and wantonness as practical failures but not as failures of rationality: say, as failures of autonomy or whatever. Other current theories-the majority see the phenomena as failures of rationality but not as distinctively practical failures. They depict them as always involving a theoretical deficiency: a sort of ignorance, error, inattention or illogic. They represent them as failures which are on a par with breakdowns …Read more
  •  140
    Synchronic self-control is always non-actional
    with Jeanette Kennett
    Analysis 57 (2). 1997.
  •  139
    Russ Schafer-Landau’s ‘Moral judgement and normative reasons’ is admirably clear and to the point (Schafer-Landau 1999). He presents his own version of the argument for the practicality requirement on moral judgement – that is, for the claim that those who have moral beliefs are either motivated or practically irrational – that I gave in The Moral Problem (Smith 1994), and he then proceeds to identify several crucial problems. In what follows I begin by making some comments about his presentatio…Read more
  •  136
    Kinds of consequentialism
    In Ernest Sosa & Enrique Villanueva (eds.), Metaethics, Wiley Periodicals. pp. 257-272. 2009.
    No Abstract
  •  136
    Backgrounding desire
    with Philip Pettit
    Philosophical Review 99 (4): 565-592. 1990.
    Granted that desire is always present in the genesis of human action, is it something on the presence of which the agent always reflects? I may act on a belief without coming to recognize that I have the belief. Can I act on a desire without recognizing that I have the desire? In particular, can the desire have a motivational presence in my decision making, figuring in the background, as it were, without appearing in the content of my deliberation, in the foreground? We argue, perhaps unsurprisi…Read more
  •  126
    The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Philosophy (edited book)
    with Frank Jackson
    Oxford University Press UK. 2005.
    Oxford Handbooks offer authoritative and up-to-date surveys of original research in a particular subject area. Specially commissioned essays from leading figures in the discipline give critical examinations of the progress and direction of debates. Oxford Handbooks provide scholars and graduate students with compelling new perspectives upon a wide range of subjects in the humanities and social sciences. The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Philosophy is the definitive guide to what's going on in …Read more
  •  120
    Michael Smith has written a series of seminal essays about the nature of belief and desire, the status of normative judgment, and the relevance of the views we take on both these topics to the accounts we give of our nature as free and responsible agents. This long awaited collection comprises some of the most influential of Smith's essays. Among the topics covered are: the Humean theory of motivating reasons, the nature of normative reasons, Williams and Korsgaard on internal and external reaso…Read more