•  2782
    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.
  •  2749
    Reasons and Moral Principles
    In Daniel Star (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Reasons and Normativity, Oxford University Press. pp. 839-61. 2018.
    This paper is a survey of the generalism-particularism debate and related issues concerning the relationship between normative reasons and moral principles.
  •  2388
    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
  •  1974
    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
  •  1699
    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
  •  1597
    The Supervenience Challenge to Non-Naturalism
    In Tristram Colin 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.
  •  1300
    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
  •  1228
    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
  •  1130
    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
  •  1125
    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
  •  871
    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
  •  856
    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
  •  824
    Usable moral principles
    In Matjaž Potrc, Vojko Strahovnik & Mark Lance (eds.), Challenging Moral Particularism, Routledge. pp. 75-106. 2007.
    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
  •  815
    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
  •  804
    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
  •  801
    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
  •  747
    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
  •  747
    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
  •  705
    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
  •  685
    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
  •  671
    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
  •  668
    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
  •  652
    Against Moral Contingentism
    Thought: A Journal of Philosophy 10 (3): 209-217. 2006.
    [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
  •  640
    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
  •  633
    A Wrong Turn to Reasons?
    In Michael Brady (ed.), New Waves in Metaethics, Palgrave-macmillan. 2010.
    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.
  •  608
    Shapelessness in Context
    Noûs 48 (3): 573-593. 2012.
    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
  •  602
    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
  •  596
    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
  •  588
    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
  •  566
    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.