Cornell University
Department of Philosophy
PhD, 1994
Los Angeles, California, United States of America
Areas of Specialization
  •  488
    The aim of belief
    Philosophical Perspectives 36 (s16): 267-97. 2002.
    It is often said, metaphorically, that belief "aims" at the truth. This paper proposes a normative interpretation of this metaphor. First, the notion of "epistemic norms" is clarified, and reasons are given for the view that epistemic norms articulate essential features of the beliefs that are subject to them. Then it is argued that all epistemic norms--including those that specify when beliefs count as rational, and when they count as knowledge--are explained by a fundamental norm of correct be…Read more
  •  478
    Plato's Theory of Knowledge
    In David Brink, Susan Sauvé Meyer & Christopher Shields (eds.), Virtue, Happiness, Knowledge: Themes from the Work of Gail Fine and Terence Irwin, Oxford University Press. pp. 33-56. 2018.
    An account of Plato’s theory of knowledge is offered. Plato is in a sense a contextualist: at least, he recognizes that his own use of the word for “knowledge” varies – in some contexts, it stands for the fullest possible level of understanding of a truth, while in other contexts, it is broader and includes less complete levels of understanding as well. But for Plato, all knowledge, properly speaking, is a priori knowledge of necessary truths – based on recollection of aspects of the Forms – an…Read more
  •  459
    The fundamental argument for same-sex marriage
    Journal of Political Philosophy 7 (3). 1999.
    This paper offers an argument in favour of the conclusion that it is seriously unjust to exclude same-sex couples from the institution of civil marriage. The argument is based on an interpretation of what the institution of marriage essentially is, and of its essential rationale; the crucial claim is that although marriage is a legal institution, it is also a social institution, involving a "social meaning" -- a body of common knowledge and expectations about marriage that is generally shared th…Read more
  •  402
    Internalism Explained
    Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 65 (2): 349-369. 2002.
    According to epistemological internalism, the rationality of a belief supervenes purely on "internal facts" about the thinker's mind. But what are "internal facts"? Why does the rationality of a belief supervene on them? The standard answers are unacceptable. This paper proposes new answers. "Internal facts" are facts about the thinker's nonfactive mental states. The rationality of a belief supervenes on such internal facts because we need rules of belief revision that we can follow directly, no…Read more
  •  382
    Conceptual role semantics for moral terms
    Philosophical Review 110 (1): 1-30. 2001.
    This paper outlines a new approach to the task of giving an account of the meaning of moral statements: a sort of "conceptual role semantics", according to which the meaning of moral terms is given by their role in practical reasoning. This role is sufficient both to distinguish the meaning of any moral term from that of other terms, and to determine the property or relation (if any) that the term stands for. The paper ends by suggesting reasons for regarding this "conceptual role semantics" app…Read more
  •  373
    The Pitfalls of ‘Reasons’
    Philosophical Issues 25 (1): 123-143. 2015.
    Many philosophers working on the branches of philosophy that deal with the normative questions have adopted a " Reasons First" program. This paper criticizes the foundational assumptions of this program. In fact, there are many different concepts that can be expressed by the term 'reason' in English, none of which are any more fundamental than any others. Indeed, most of these concepts are not particularly fundamental in any interesting sense
  •  320
    The Nature of Normativity
    Oxford University Press. 2007.
    This is a book about normativity -- where the central normative terms are words like 'ought' and 'should' and their equivalents in other languages. It has three parts: The first part is about the semantics of normative discourse: what it means to talk about what ought to be the case. The second part is about the metaphysics of normative properties and relations: what is the nature of those properties and relations whose pattern of instantiation makes propositions about what ought to be the case …Read more
  •  310
    Justified Inference
    Synthese 189 (2): 273-295. 2012.
    What is the connection between justification and the kind of consequence relations that are studied by logic? In this essay, I shall try to provide an answer, by proposing a general conception of the kind of inference that counts as justified or rational.
  •  292
    The normative force of reasoning
    Noûs 40 (4). 2006.
    What exactly is reasoning? Like many other philosophers, I shall endorse a broadly causal conception of reasoning. Reasoning is a causal process, in which one mental event (say, one’s accepting the conclusion of a certain argument) is caused by an antecedent mental event (say, one’s considering the premises of the argument). Just like causal accounts of action and causal accounts of perception, causal accounts of reasoning have to confront a version of what has come to be known as the problem of…Read more
  •  278
    The moral evil demons
    In Richard Feldman & Ted Warfield (eds.), Disagreement, Oxford University Press. 2010.
    Moral disagreement has long been thought to create serious problems for certain views in metaethics. More specifically, moral disagreement has been thought to pose problems for any metaethical view that rejects relativism—that is, for any view that implies that whenever two thinkers disagree about a moral question, at least one of those thinkers’ beliefs about the question is not correct. In this essay, I shall outline a solution to one of these problems. As I shall argue, it turns out in the en…Read more
  •  254
    Sensing values?
    Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 63 (1): 215-223. 2001.
    This is a reply to Mark Johnston's paper "The Authority of Affect", Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (2001).
  •  246
    Objective and Subjective 'Ought'
    In Nate Charlow & Matthew Chrisman (eds.), Deontic Modality, Oxford University Press. pp. 143-168. 2016.
    This essay offers an account of the truth conditions of sentences involving deontic modals like ‘ought’, designed to capture the difference between objective and subjective kinds of ‘ought’ This account resembles the classical semantics for deontic logic: according to this account, these truths conditions involve a function from the world of evaluation to a domain of worlds (equivalent to a so-called “modal base”), and an ordering of the worlds in such domains; this ordering of the worlds itself…Read more
  •  244
    The normativity of the intentional
    In Ansgar Beckermann & Brian P. McLaughlin (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of the Philosophy of Mind, Oxford University Press. 2009.
    Many philosophers have claimed that the intentional is normative. (This claim is the analogue, within the philosophy of mind, of the claim that is often made within the philosophy of language, that meaning is normative.) But what exactly does this claim mean? And what reason is there for believing it? In this paper, I shall first try to clarify the content of the claim that the intentional is normative. Then I shall examine a number of the arguments that philosophers have advanced for this claim…Read more
  •  241
    The meaning of 'ought'
    In Russ Shafer-Landau (ed.), Oxford Studies in Metaethics: Volume 1, Clarendon Press. pp. 127-160. 2006.
    In this paper, I apply the "conceptual role semantics" approach that I have proposed elsewhere (according to which the meaning of normative terms is given by their role in practical reasoning or deliberation) to the meaning of the term 'ought'. I argue that this approach can do three things: It can give an adequate explanation of the special connection that normative judgments have to practical reasoning and motivation for action. It can give an adequate account of why the central principles of …Read more
  •  231
    The "Good" and the "Right" Revisited
    Philosophical Perspectives 23 (1). 2009.
    Moral philosophy has long been preoccupied by a supposed dichotomy between the "good" and the "right". This dichotomy has been taken to define certain allegedly central issues for ethics. How are the good and the right related to each other? For example, is one of the two "prior" to the other? If so, is the good prior to the right, or is the right prior to the good?
  •  228
    Rational 'ought' implies 'can'
    Philosophical Issues 23 (1): 70-92. 2013.
    Every kind of ‘ought’ implies some kind of ‘can’ – but there are many kinds of ‘ought’ and even more kinds of ‘can’. In this essay, I shall focus on a particular kind of ‘ought’ – specifically, on what I shall call the “rational ‘ought’”. On every occasion of use, this kind of ‘ought’ is focused on the situation of a particular agent at a particular time; but this kind of ‘ought’ is concerned, not with how that agent acts at that time, but with what beliefs or intentions the agent has at the tim…Read more
  •  226
    Akrasia and Uncertainty
    Organon F: Medzinárodný Časopis Pre Analytickú Filozofiu 20 (4). 2013.
    According to John Broome, akrasia consists in a failure to intend to do something that one believes one ought to do, and such akrasia is necessarily irrational. In fact, however, failing to intend something that one believes one ought to do is only guaranteed to be irrational if one is certain of a maximally detailed proposition about what one ought to do; if one is uncertain about any part of the full story about what one ought to do, it could be perfectly rational not to intend to do something…Read more
  •  218
    Outright Belief
    Dialectica 66 (3). 2012.
    Sometimes, we think of belief as a phenomenon that comes in degrees – that is, in the many different levels of confidence that a thinker might have in various different propositions. Sometimes, we think of belief as a simple two-place relation that holds between a thinker and a proposition – that is, as what I shall here call "outright belief".
  •  217
    Instrumental rationality
    Oxford Studies in Metaethics 6 280-309. 2011.
    Is there any distinctive aspect of rationality that deserves the label of “instrumental rationality”? Recently, Joseph Raz (2005) has argued that instrumental rationality is a “myth”. In this essay, I shall give some qualified support to Raz’s position: as I shall argue, many philosophers have indeed been seduced by certain myths about instrumental rationality. Nonetheless, Raz’s conclusion is too strong. Instrumental rationality is not itself a myth: there really is a distinctive aspect of rati…Read more
  •  212
    The Coherence of Thrasymachus
    Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 53 33-63. 2017.
    In Book I of the Republic, or so I shall argue, Plato gives us a glimpse of sheer horror. In the character, beliefs, and desires of Thrasymachus, Plato aims to personify some of the most diabolical dangers that lurk in human nature. In this way, the role that Thrasymachus plays for Plato is akin to the role that for Hobbes is played by the bellum omnium contra omnes, the war of all against all, which would allegedly be the inevitable result of a "state of nature", where human beings have no gove…Read more
  •  210
    Must rational intentions maximize utility?
    Philosophical Explorations 20 (sup2): 73-92. 2017.
    Suppose that it is rational to choose or intend a course of action if and only if the course of action maximizes some sort of expectation of some sort of value. What sort of value should this definition appeal to? According to an influential neo-Humean view, the answer is “Utility”, where utility is defined as a measure of subjective preference. According to a rival neo-Aristotelian view, the answer is “Choiceworthiness”, where choiceworthiness is an irreducibly normative notion of a course of a…Read more
  •  207
    Normativism defended
    In Brian P. McLaughlin & Jonathan D. Cohen (eds.), Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Mind, Blackwell. pp. 85--102. 2007.
    The aim of this chapter is to defend the claim that “the intentional is normative” against a number of objections, including those that Georges Rey has presented in his contribution to this volume. First, I give a quick sketch of the principal argument that I have used to support this claim, and briefly comment on Rey’s criticisms of this argument. Next, I try to answer the main objections that have been raised against this claim. First, it may seem that the claim that “the intentional is normat…Read more
  •  206
    Gandalf's solution to the Newcomb problem
    Synthese 190 (14). 2013.
    This article proposes a new theory of rational decision, distinct from both causal decision theory (CDT) and evidential decision theory (EDT). First, some intuitive counterexamples to CDT and EDT are presented. Then the motivation for the new theory is given: the correct theory of rational decision will resemble CDT in that it will not be sensitive to any comparisons of absolute levels of value across different states of nature, but only to comparisons of the differences in value between the ava…Read more
  •  195
    A Priori Bootstrapping
    In Albert Casullo & Joshua Thurow (eds.), The A Priori In Philosophy, Oxford University Press. pp. 226-246. 2013.
    This paper explores the problems that are raised by a certain traditional sceptical paradox. The conclusion will be that the most challenging problem raised by this paradox does not primarily concern the justification of beliefs; it concerns the justification of belief-forming practices. This conclusion is supported by showing that if we can solve the sceptical problem for belief-forming practices, then it will be a relatively straightforward matter to solve the problem that concerns the justifi…Read more
  •  186
    Defending double effect
    Ratio 24 (4): 384-401. 2011.
    This essay defends a version of the Doctrine of Double Effect (DDE) – the doctrine that there is normally a stronger reason against an act that has a bad state of affairs as one of its intended effects than against an otherwise similar act that has that bad state of affairs as an unintended effect. First, a precise account of this version of the DDE is given. Secondly, some suggestions are made about why we should believe the DDE, and about why it is true. Finally, a solution is developed to the…Read more
  •  174
    This paper gives a new interpretation of the central section of Plato's Symposium (199d-212a). According to this interpretation, the term "καλóν", as used by Plato here, stands for what many contemporary philosophers call "intrinsic value"; and "love" (ἔρως) is in effect rational motivation , which for Plato consists in the desire to "possess" intrinsically valuable things - that is, according to Plato, to be happy - for as long as possible. An explanation is given of why Plato believes that "po…Read more
  •  162
    Review: Kieran Setiya: Reasons without Rationalism (review)
    Mind 117 (468): 1130-1135. 2008.
    This is a review of Kieran Setiya's book, "Reasons without Rationalism" (Princeton University Press, 2007).
  •  159
    Choosing Rationally and Choosing Correctly
    In Sarah Stroud & Christine Tappolet (eds.), Weakness of Will and Practical Irrationality, Oxford University Press. pp. 201--229. 2003.
    Let us take an example that Bernard Williams (1981: 102) made famous. Suppose that you want a gin and tonic, and you believe that the stuff in front of you is gin. In fact, however, the stuff is not gin but petrol. So if you drink the stuff (even mixed with tonic), it will be decidedly unpleasant, to say the least. Should you choose to drink the stuff or not?
  •  158
    Scanlon on Double Effect (review)
    Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 83 (2): 464-472. 2011.
    In this new book Moral Dimensions, T. M. Scanlon (2008) explores the ethical significance of the intentions and motives with which people act. According to Scanlon, these intentions and motives do not have any direct bearing on the permissibility of the act. Thus, Scanlon claims that the traditional Doctrine of Double Effect (DDE) is mistaken. However, the way in which someone is motivated to act has a direct bearing on what Scanlon calls the act's "meaning". One particularly important kind of "…Read more