•  126
    Varieties of Normative Explanation
    In David Copp & Connie Rosati (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Metaethics, Oxford University Press. forthcoming.
    Philosophers pursue a number of different explanatory projects when explaining various sorts of normative phenomena. This chapter takes some steps towards understanding this variety. I lay some general ground about explanation. I describe some key axes of debate about explanations that first-order normative inquiry typically seeks to state and defend. And I briefly discuss how two other sorts of normative explanation that seem more concerned with the foundations of normative domains like ethics …Read more
  •  345
    Practical Commitment in Normative Discourse
    Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 21 (2). 2022.
    Many normative judgments play a practical role in our thought. This paper concerns how their practical role is reflected in language. It is natural to wonder whether the phenomenon is semantic or pragmatic. The standard assumption in moral philosophy is that at least terms which can be used to express “thin” normative concepts – such as 'good', 'right', and 'ought' – are associated with certain practical roles somehow as a matter of meaning. But this view is rarely given explicit defense or even…Read more
  •  279
    Normative Naturalism on Its Own Terms
    Organon F: Medzinárodný Časopis Pre Analytickú Filozofiu 28 (3): 505-530. 2021.
    Normative naturalism is primarily a metaphysical doctrine: there are normative facts and properties, and these fall into the class of natural facts and properties. Many objections to naturalism rely on additional assumptions about language or thought, but often without adequate consideration of just how normative properties would have to figure in our thought and talk if naturalism were true. In the first part of the paper, I explain why naturalists needn’t think that normative properties can be…Read more
  •  297
    Against Moral Contingentism
    Thought: A Journal of Philosophy 10 (3): 209-217. 2021.
    [This paper is available as open access from the publisher.]The conventional wisdom in ethics is that pure moral laws are at least metaphysically necessary. By contrast, Moral Contingentism holds that pure moral laws are metaphysically contingent. This paper raises a normative objection to Moral Contingentism: it is worse equipped than Moral Necessitarianism to account for the normative standing or authority of the pure moral laws to govern the lives of the agents to whom they apply. Since moral…Read more
  •  354
    Normative explanation unchained
    Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 103 (2): 278-297. 2021.
    [This paper is available as open access from the publisher.] Normative theories aim to explain why things have the normative features they have. This paper argues that, contrary to some plausible existing views, one important kind of normative explanations which first-order normative theories aim to formulate and defend can fail to transmit downward along chains of metaphysical determination of normative facts by non-normative facts. Normative explanation is plausibly subject to a kind of a just…Read more
  •  744
    Thick Concepts: Where’s Evaluation?
    Oxford Studies in Metaethics 7 235-70. 2012.
    This chapter presents an alternative to the standard view that at least some of the evaluations that the so-called “thick” terms and concepts in ethics may be used to convey belong to their sense or semantic meaning. After introducing the topic and making some methodological remarks, the chapter presents a wide variety of linguistic data that are well explained by the alternative view that at least a very wide range of thick terms and concepts are such that even the evaluations that are most clo…Read more
  •  559
    A Theory of Hedged Moral Principles
    Oxford Studies in Metaethics 4 91-132. 2009.
    This paper offers a general model of substantive moral principles as a kind of hedged moral principles that can (but don't have to) tolerate exceptions. I argue that the kind of principles I defend provide an account of what would make an exception to them permissible. I also argue that these principles are nonetheless robustly explanatory with respect to a variety of moral facts; that they make sense of error, uncertainty, and disagreement concerning moral principles and their implications; and…Read more
  •  690
    Resisting the buck-passing account of value
    Oxford Studies in Metaethics 1 295-324. 2006.
    I first distinguish between different forms of the buck-passing account of value and clarify my target in other respects on buck-passers' behalf. I then raise a number of problems for the different forms of the buck-passing view that I have distinguished.
  •  124
    Review of Moral Particularism (ed. Brad Hooker and Margaret Little) (review)
    Philosophical Review 111 (3): 478-483. 2002.
    This is a short review of Moral Particularism, ed. Brad Hooker and Margaret Little (Oxford University Press, 2002).
  •  1272
    Normative Explanation and Justification
    Noûs 55 (1): 3-22. 2021.
    Normative explanations of why things are wrong, good, or unfair are ubiquitous in ordinary practice and normative theory. This paper argues that normative explanation is subject to a justification condition: a correct complete explanation of why a normative fact holds must identify features that would go at least some way towards justifying certain actions or attitudes. I first explain and motivate the condition I propose. I then support it by arguing that it fits well with various theories of n…Read more
  •  497
    Reasons why in normative explanation
    Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 62 (6): 607-623. 2019.
    Normative explanations, which specify why things have the normative features they do, are ubiquitous in normative theory and ordinary thought. But there is much less work on normative explanation than on scientific or metaphysical explanation. Skow (2016) argues that a complete answer to the question why some fact Q occurs consists in all of the reasons why Q occurs. This paper explores this theory as a case study of a general theory that promises to offer us a grip on normative explanation whic…Read more
  •  794
    Normative Commitments in Metanormative Theory
    In Jussi Suikkanen & Antti Kauppinen (eds.), Methodology and Moral Philosophy, Routledge. pp. 193-213. 2019.
    First-order normative theories concerning what’s right and wrong, good and bad, etc. and metanormative theories concerning the nature of first-order normative thought and talk are widely regarded as independent theoretical enterprises. This paper argues that several debates in metanormative theory involve views that have first-order normative implications, even as the implications in question may not be immediately recognizable as normative. I first make my claim more precise by outlining a gene…Read more
  •  1463
    A Simple Escape from Moral Twin Earth
    Thought: A Journal of Philosophy 7 (2): 109-118. 2018.
    This paper offers a simple response to the Moral Twin Earth (MTE) objection to Naturalist Moral Realism (NMR). NMR typically relies on an externalist metasemantics such as a causal theory of reference. The MTE objection is that such a theory predicts that terms like ‘good’ and ‘right’ have a different reference in certain twin communities where it’s intuitively clear that the twins are talking about the same thing when using ‘good’. I argue that Boyd’s causal regulation theory, the original targ…Read more
  •  89
    Review of Ethical Intuitionism: Re-evaluations (review)
    European Journal of Philosophy 14 (1): 159-63. 2006.
    This piece is a short review of a volume of papers on ethical intuitionism (Ethical Intuitionism: Re-evaluations, ed. Philip Stratton-Lake, Oxford University Press, 2002).
  •  598
    Some Good and Bad News for Ethical Intuitionism
    Philosophical Quarterly 58 (232). 2008.
    The core doctrine of ethical intuitionism is that some of our ethical knowledge is non-inferential. Against this, Sturgeon has recently objected that if ethical intuitionists accept a certain plausible rationale for the autonomy of ethics, then their foundationalism commits them to an implausible epistemology outside ethics. I show that irrespective of whether ethical intuitionists take non-inferential ethical knowledge to be a priori or a posteriori, their commitment to the autonomy of ethics a…Read more
  •  1014
    Doubts about Moral Perception
    In Anna Bergqvist & Robert Cowan (eds.), Evaluative Perception, Oxford University Press. pp. 109-28. 2018.
    This paper defends doubts about the existence of genuine moral perception, understood as the claim that at least some moral properties figure in the contents of perceptual experience. Standard examples of moral perception are better explained as transitions in thought whose degree of psychological immediacy varies with how readily non-moral perceptual inputs, jointly with the subject's background moral beliefs, training, and habituation, trigger the kinds of phenomenological responses that moral…Read more
  •  84
    In addition to thin concepts like the good, the bad and the ugly, our evaluative thought and talk appeals to thick concepts like the lewd and the rude, the selfish and the cruel, the courageous and the kind -- concepts that somehow combine evaluation and non-evaluative description. Thick concepts are almost universally assumed to be inherently evaluative in content, and many philosophers claimed them to have deep and distinctive significance in ethics and metaethics. In this first book-length tr…Read more
  •  477
    Normative Appeals to the Natural
    Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 79 (2). 2009.
    Surprisingly, many ethical realists and anti-realists, naturalists and not, all accept some version of the following normative appeal to the natural (NAN): evaluative and normative facts hold solely in virtue of natural facts, where their naturalness is part of what fits them for the job. This paper argues not that NAN is false but that NAN has no adequate non-parochial justification (a justification that relies only on premises which can be accepted by more or less everyone who accepts NAN) to …Read more
  • Ruling Reasons: A Defense of Moral Generalism
    Dissertation, Cornell University. 2002.
    Moral particularism denies that moral reasons present in particular cases depend on any suitable provision of moral principles. If they did, there should be invariable reasons. But reasons are holistic: whether a consideration is a reason may vary with the context. This work responds to particularism with a moderate form of generalism, according to which it is compatible with reasons holism that moral reasons are fundamentally determined by moral principles. The holism of reasons is explained by…Read more
  •  149
    Thick Ethical Concepts
    Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2016.
    [First published 09/2016; substantive revision 02/2021.] Evaluative terms and concepts are often divided into “thin” and “thick”. We don’t evaluate actions and persons merely as good or bad, or right or wrong, but also as kind, courageous, tactful, selfish, boorish, and cruel. The latter evaluative concepts are "descriptively thick": their application somehow involves both evaluation and a substantial amount of non-evaluative description. This article surveys various attempts to answer four fund…Read more
  •  574
    Thick Concepts and Variability
    Philosophers' Imprint 11 1-17. 2011.
    Some philosophers hold that so-called "thick" terms and concepts in ethics (such as 'cruel,' 'selfish,' 'courageous,' and 'generous') are contextually variable with respect to the valence (positive or negative) of the evaluations that they may be used to convey. Some of these philosophers use this variability claim to argue that thick terms and concepts are not inherently evaluative in meaning; rather their use conveys evaluations as a broadly pragmatic matter. I argue that one sort of putative …Read more
  •  1016
    Ethical theories and moral guidance
    Utilitas 18 (3): 291-309. 2006.
    Let the Guidance Constraint be the following norm for evaluating ethical theories: Other things being at least roughly equal, ethical theories are better to the extent that they provide adequate moral guidance. I offer an account of why ethical theories are subject to the Guidance Constraint, if indeed they are. We can explain central facts about adequate moral guidance, and their relevance to ethical theory, by appealing to certain forms of autonomy and fairness. This explanation is better than…Read more
  •  1278
    The Supervenience Challenge to Non-Naturalism
    In Tristram McPherson & David Plunkett (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Metaethics, Routledge. pp. 170-84. 2017.
    This paper is a survey of the supervenience challenge to non-naturalist moral realism. I formulate a version of the challenge, consider the most promising non-naturalist replies to it, and suggest that no fully effective reply has yet been given.
  •  607
    Objectionable thick concepts in denials
    Philosophical Perspectives 23 (1): 439-469. 2009.
    So-called "thick" moral concepts are distinctive in that they somehow "hold together" evaluation and description. But how? This paper argues against the standard view that the evaluations which thick concepts may be used to convey belong to sense or semantic content. That view cannot explain linguistic data concerning how thick concepts behave in a distinctive type of disagreements and denials which arise when one speaker regards another's thick concept as "objectionable" in a certain sense. The…Read more
  •  435
    Shapelessness in Context
    Noûs 48 (3): 573-593. 2014.
    Many philosophers believe that the extensions of evaluative terms and concepts aren’t unified under non-evaluative similarity relations and that this “shapelessness thesis” (ST) has significant metaethical implications regarding non-cognitivism, ethical naturalism, moral particularism, thick concepts and more. ST is typically offered as an explanation of why evaluative classifications appear to “outrun” classifications specifiable in independently intelligible non-evaluative terms. This paper ar…Read more
  •  488
    A Wrong Turn to Reasons?
    In Michael Brady (ed.), New Waves in Metaethics, Palgrave-macmillan. 2011.
    This paper argues that the recent metaethical turn to reasons as the fundamental units of normativity offers no special advantage in explaining a variety of other normative and evaluative phenomena, unless perhaps a form of reductionism about reasons is adopted which is rejected by many of those who advocate turning to reasons.
  •  519
    Usable moral principles
    In Vojko Strahovnik, Matjaz Potrc & Mark Norris Lance (eds.), Challenging Moral Particularism, Routledge. pp. 75-106. 2008.
    One prominent strand in contemporary moral particularism concerns the claim of "principle abstinence" that we ought not to rely on moral principles in moral judgment because they fail to provide adequate moral guidance. I argue that moral generalists can vindicate this traditional and important action-guiding role for moral principles. My strategy is to argue, first, that, for any conscientious and morally committed agent, the agent's acceptance of (true) moral principles shapes their responsive…Read more
  •  528
    Moral Generalism: Enjoy in Moderation
    Ethics 116 (4): 707-741. 2006.
    I defend moral generalism against particularism. Particularism, as I understand it, is the negation of the generalist view that particular moral facts depend on the existence of a comprehensive set of true moral principles. Particularists typically present "the holism of reasons" as powerful support for their view. While many generalists accept that holism supports particularism but dispute holism, I argue that generalism accommodates holism. The centerpiece of my strategy is a novel model of mo…Read more
  •  1864
    This paper is a survey of the generalism-particularism debate and related issues concerning the relationship between normative reasons and moral principles.
  •  844
    Essential Contestability and Evaluation
    Australasian Journal of Philosophy 92 (3): 471-488. 2014.
    Evaluative and normative terms and concepts are often said to be "essentially contestable". This notion has been used in political and legal theory and applied ethics to analyse disputes concerning the proper usage of terms like democracy, freedom, genocide, rape, coercion, and the rule of law. Many philosophers have also thought that essential contestability tells us something important about the evaluative in particular. Gallie (who coined the term), for instance, argues that the central struc…Read more