•  342
    Explanatory Pluralism in Normative Ethics
    Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics. forthcoming.
    Some theorists of normative explanation argue that we can make sense of debates between first-order moral theories such as consequentialism and its rivals only if we understand their explanations of why the right acts are right and the wrong acts are wrong as generative (e.g. grounding) explanations. Others argue that the standard form of normative explanation is, instead, some kind of unification. Neither sort of explanatory monism can account for all the explanations of particular moral facts …Read more
  •  517
    Moral Generalism and Moral Particularism (2nd ed.)
    In Christian B. Miller (ed.), The Bloomsbury Handbook of Ethics, Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 381-396. 2023.
    This paper is a survey of the generalism-particularism debate in ethics. It's an updated version of "Moral Particularism", in Christian B. Miller (ed.), The Continuum Companion to Ethics (Continuum, 2011), pp. 247-260.
  •  654
    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
  •  715
    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
  •  575
    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
  •  613
    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
  •  662
    Normative explanation unchained
    Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 103 (2): 278-297. 2020.
    [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
  •  1030
    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
  •  910
    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
  •  920
    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.
  •  138
    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).
  •  1655
    Normative Explanation and Justification
    Noûs 55 (1): 3-22. 2019.
    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
  •  773
    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
  •  1081
    Normative Commitments in Metanormative Theory
    In Jussi Suikkanen & Antti Kauppinen (eds.), Methodology and Moral Philosophy, Routledge. pp. 193-213. 2018.
    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
  •  1924
    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
  •  286
    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).
  •  127
    Particularism and default reasons
    Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 7 (1): 53-79. 2004.
    This paper addresses a recent suggestion that moral particularists can extend their view to countenance default reasons (at a first stab, reasons that are pro tanto unless undermined) by relying on certain background expectations of normality. I first argue that normality must be understood non-extensionally. Thus if default reasons rest on normality claims, those claims won't bestow upon default reasons any definite degree of extensional generality. Their generality depends rather on the contin…Read more
  •  89
    Thick Concepts and Underdetermination
    In Simon Kirchin (ed.), Thick Concepts, Oxford University Press. pp. 136-160. 2013.
    Thick terms and concepts in ethics somehow combine evaluation and non-evaluative description. The non-evaluative aspects of thick terms and concepts underdetermine their extensions. Many writers argue that this underdetermination point is best explained by supposing that thick terms and concepts are semantically evaluative in some way such that evaluation plays a role in determining their extensions. This paper argues that the extensions of thick terms and concepts are underdetermined by their m…Read more
  •  106
    Slim Epistemology with a Thick Skin
    Philosophical Papers 37 (3): 389-412. 2008.
    The distinction between “thick” and “thin” value concepts, and its importance to ethical theory, has been an active topic in recent meta-ethics. This paper defends three claims regarding the parallel issue about thick and thin epistemic concepts. (1) Analogy with ethics offers no straightforward way to establish a good, clear distinction between thick and thin epistemic concepts. (2) Assuming there is such a distinction, there are no semantic grounds for assigning thick epistemic concepts priori…Read more
  •  350
    Moral Particularism
    In Christian Miller (ed.), Continuum Companion to Ethics, Continuum. pp. 247-260. 2011.
    This paper is a survey of the generalism-particularism debate in ethics.
  •  6
    This is a review of Christian Illies: The Grounds of Ethical Judgement: New Transcendental Arguments in Moral Philosophy (Clarendon Press, 2003).
  •  134
    Grounding and Normative Explanation
    Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 87 (1): 155-178. 2013.
    This paper concerns non-causal normative explanations such as ‘This act is wrong because/in virtue of__’. The familiar intuition that normative facts aren't brute or ungrounded but anchored in non- normative facts seems to be in tension with the equally familiar idea that no normative fact can be fully explained in purely non- normative terms. I ask whether the tension could be resolved by treating the explanatory relation in normative explanations as the sort of ‘grounding’ relation that receiv…Read more
  •  109
    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
  •  145
    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
  •  24
    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
  •  123
    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
  •  245
    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
  •  100
    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
  •  629
    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