Princeton University
Department of Philosophy
PhD, 1995
Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
  •  2522
    The Exception Proves the Rule
    Journal of Political Philosophy 18 (4): 369-388. 2010.
    When faced with a rule that they take to be true, and a recalcitrant example, people are apt to say: “The exception proves the rule”. When pressed on what they mean by this though, things are often less than clear. A common response is to dredge up some once-heard etymology: ‘proves’ here, it is often said, means ‘tests’. But this response—its frequent appearance even in some reference works notwithstanding1—makes no sense of the way in which the expression is used. To insist that the exception …Read more
  •  1416
    What in the World is Weakness of Will?
    with Joshua May
    Philosophical Studies 157 (3). 2012.
    At least since the middle of the twentieth century, philosophers have tended to identify weakness of will with akrasia—i.e. acting, or having a disposition to act, contrary to one‘s judgments about what is best for one to do. However, there has been some recent debate about whether this captures the ordinary notion of weakness of will. Richard Holton (1999, 2009) claims that it doesn’t, while Alfred Mele (2010) argues that, to a certain extent, it does. As Mele recognizes, the question about an…Read more
  •  977
    Intention as a Model for Belief
    In Manuel Vargas & Gideon Yaffe (eds.), Rational and Social Agency: Essays on the Philosophy of Michael Bratman, Oxford University Press. 2014.
    This paper argues that a popular account of intentions can be extended to beliefs. Beliefs are stable all-out states that allow for planning and coordination in a way that is tractable for cognitively limited creatures like human beings. Scepticism is expressed that there is really anything like credences as standardly understood.
  •  712
    Intention and Weakness of Will
    Journal of Philosophy 96 (5): 241. 1999.
    Philosophical orthodoxy identifies weakness of will with akrasia: the weak willed person is someone who intentionally acts against their better judgement. It is argued that this is a mistake. Weakness of will consists in a quite different failing, namely an over-ready revision of one's intentions. Building on the work of Bratman, an account of such over-ready revision is given. A number of examples are then adduced showing how weakness of will, so understood, differs from akrasia.
  •  591
    Facts, Factives, and Contrafactives
    Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 91 (1): 245-266. 2017.
    Frege begins his discussion of factives in ‘On Sense and Reference’ with an example of a purported contrafactive, that is, a verb that entails, or presupposes, the falsity of the complement sentence. But the verb he cites, ‘wähnen’, is now obsolete, and native speakers are sceptical about whether it really was a contrafactive. Despite the profusion of factive verbs, there are no clear examples of contrafactive propositional attitude verbs in English, French or German. This paper attempts to give…Read more
  •  430
    The standard account of weakness of will identifies it with akrasia, that is, with action against one's best judgment. Elsewhere I have argued that weakness of will is better understood as over-readily giving up on one's resolutions. Many cases of weak willed action will not be akratic: in over-readily abandoning a resolution an agent may well do something that they judge at the time to be best. Indeed, in so far as temptation typically gives rise to judgment shift -- to a tendency to change one…Read more
  •  425
    Deciding to trust, coming to believe
    Australasian Journal of Philosophy 72 (1). 1994.
    Can we decide to trust? Sometimes, yes. And when we do, we need not believe that our trust will be vindicated. This paper is motivated by the need to incorporate these facts into an account of trust. Trust involves reliance; and in addition it requires the taking of a reactive attitude to that reliance. I explain how the states involved here differ from belief. And I explore the limits of our ability to trust. I then turn to the idea of trusting what others say. I suggest that we sometimes decid…Read more
  •  389
    The Addict in Us All
    Frontiers in Psychiatry 5 (139): 01-20. 2014.
    In this paper, we contend that the psychology of addiction is similar to the psychology of ordinary, non-addictive temptation in important respects, and explore the ways in which these parallels can illuminate both addiction and ordinary action. The incentive salience account of addiction proposed by Robinson and Berridge (1993; 2001; 2008) entails that addictive desires are not in their nature different from many of the desires had by non-addicts; what is different is rather the way that addict…Read more
  •  334
    Partial belief, partial intention
    Mind 117 (465): 27-58. 2008.
    Is a belief that one will succeed necessary for an intention? It is argued that the question has traditionally been badly posed, framed as it is in terms of all-out belief. We need instead to ask about the relation between intention and partial belief. An account of partial belief that is more psychologically realistic than the standard credence account is developed. A notion of partial intention is then developed, standing to all-out intention much as partial belief stands to all-out belief. Va…Read more
  •  261
    What is the role of the self in self-deception?
    Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 101 (1): 53-69. 2001.
    The orthodox answer to my question is this: in a case of self-deception, the self acts to deceive itself. That is, the self is the author of its own deception. I want to explore an opposing idea here: that the self is rather the subject matter of the deception. That is, I want to explore the idea that self-deception is more concerned with the self’s deception about the self, than with the self’s deception by the self. The expression would thus be semantically comparable to expressions like ‘self…Read more
  •  241
    Determinism, Self-Efficacy, and the Phenomenology of Free Will
    Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 52 (4): 412-428. 2009.
    Some recent studies have suggested that belief in determinism tends to undermine moral motivation: subjects who are given determinist texts to read become more likely to cheat or engage in vindictive behaviour. One possible explanation is that people are natural incompatibilists, so that convincing them of determinism undermines their belief that they are morally responsible. I suggest a different explanation, and in doing so try to shed some light on the phenomenology of free will. I contend th…Read more
  •  216
    The act of choice
    Philosophers' Imprint 6 1-15. 2006.
    Choice is one of the central elements in the experience of free will, but it has not received a good account from either compatibilists or libertarians. This paper develops an account of choice based around three features: (i) choice is an action; (ii) choice is not determined by one's prior beliefs and desires; (iii) once the question of what to do has arisen, choice is typically both necessary and sufficient for moving to action. These features might appear to support a libertarian account, bu…Read more
  •  212
    How is strength of will possible?
    In Christine Tappolet & Sarah Stroud (eds.), Weakness of Will and Practical Irrationality, Oxford University Press. pp. 39-67. 2003.
    Most recent accounts of will-power have tried to explain it as reducible to the operation of beliefs and desires. In opposition to such accounts, this paper argues for a distinct faculty of will-power. Considerations from philosophy and from social psychology are used in support.
  •  209
    Leapfrogging and Scope: Reply to Pickles
    Mind 104 (415): 583-584. 1995.
  •  205
    David Lewis's philosophy of language
    Mind and Language 18 (3). 2003.
    Lewis never saw philosophy of language as foundational in the way that many have. One of the most distinctive features of his work is the robust confidence that questions in metaphysics or mind can be addressed head on, and not through the lens of language.
  •  190
    Attitude ascriptions and intermediate scope
    Mind 103 (410): 123-130. 1994.
    Quantification into a belief ascription has often been taken to indicate that the believer knows who (or what) their belief is about. Here it is shown, by means of some iterated ascriptions, that this cannot be the correct interpretation of such quantification. In conclusion it is suggested that it should rather be interpreted as indicating that the belief has its source in the object denoted by the quantifier.
  •  187
    Rational resolve
    Philosophical Review 113 (4): 507-535. 2004.
    Empirical findings suggest that temptation causes agents not only to change their desires, but also to revise their beliefs, in ways that are not necessarily irrational. But if this is so, how can it be rational to maintain a resolution to resist? For in maintaining a resolution it appears that one will be acting against what one now believes to be best. This paper proposes a two-tier account according to which it can be rational neither to reconsider the question of what one is going to do nor …Read more
  •  178
    Ramsey on saying and whistling: A discordant note
    with Huw Price
    Noûs 37 (2). 2003.
    In 'General Propositions and Causality' Ramsey rejects his earlier view that universal generalizations are infinite conjunctions, arguing that they are not genuine propositions at all. We argue that his new position is unstable. The issues about infinity that lead Ramsey to the new view are essentially those underlying Wittgenstein's rule-following considerations. If they show that generalizations are not genuine propositions, they show that there are no genuine propositions. The connection rais…Read more
  •  175
    Addiction Between Compulsion and Choice
    with Kent Berridge
    In Neil Levy (ed.), Addiction and Self-Control, Oxford University Press. forthcoming.
    We aim to find a middle path between disease models of addiction, and those that treat addictive choices as choices like any other. We develop an account of the disease element by focussing on the idea that dopamine works primarily to lay down dispositional intrinsic desires. Addictive substances artifically boost the dopamine signal, and thereby lay down intrinsic desires for the substances that persist through withdrawal, and in the face of beliefs that they are worthless. The result is cravin…Read more
  •  172
    Dispositions all the way round
    Analysis 59 (1): 9-14. 1999.
    Simon Blackburn has argued that science finds only dispositional properties. If true, this is surprising: we think of the world as containing categorical properties too. But Blackburn thinks that our difficulties go further than this: that the idea of a world containing just dispositional properties is not simply surprising, but incoherent. The problem is made clear, he argues, when we have a counterfactual analysis of dispositions, and then understand counterfactuals in terms of possible worlds…Read more
  •  171
    Minimalism and Truth-Value Gaps
    Philosophical Studies 97 (2): 137-168. 2000.
    The question is asked whether one can consistently both be a minimalist about truth, and hold that some meaningful assertoric sentences fail to be either true or false. It is shown that one can, but the issues are delicate, and the price is high: one must either refrain from saying that the sentences lack truth values, or else one must invoke a novel non-contraposing three-valued conditional. Finally it is shown that this does not help in reconciling minimalism with emotivism, where this latter …Read more
  •  145
    Willing, Wanting, Waiting
    Oxford University Press UK. 2009.
    Richard Holton provides a unified account of intention, choice, weakness of will, strength of will, temptation, addiction, and freedom of the will. Drawing on recent psychological research, he argues that, rather than being the pinnacle of rationality, the central components of the will are there to compensate for our inability to make or maintain sound judgments. Choice is understood as the capacity to form intentions even in the absence of judgments of what action is best. Weakness of will is …Read more
  •  138
    Primitive Self-Ascription: Lewis on the De Se
    In Barry Loewer & Jonathan Schaffer (eds.), The Blackwell Companion to David Lewis, Blackwell. forthcoming.
    There are two parts to Lewis's account of the de se. First there is the idea that the objects of de se thought (and, by extension of de dicto thought too) are properties, not propositions. This is the idea that is center-stage in Lewis's discussion. Second there is the idea that the relation that thinkers bear to these properties is that of self-ascription. It is crucial to LewisÕs account that this is understood as a fundamental, unanalyzable, notion: self-ascription of a property is not ascrip…Read more
  •  119
    Self-control in the modern provocation defence
    with Stephen Shute
    Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 27 (1): 49-73. 2007.
    Most recent discussion of the provocation defence has focused on the objective test, and little attention has been paid to the subjective test. However, the subjective test provides a substantial constraint: the killing must result from a provocation that undermines the defendant's self-control. The idea of loss of self-control has been developed in both the philosophical and psychological literatures. Understanding the subjective test in the light of the conception developed there makes for a f…Read more
  •  116
    Disentangling the Will
    In Al Mele, Kathleen Vohs & Roy Baumeister (eds.), Free Will and Consciousness: How Might They Work?, Oxford University Press. pp. 82. 2010.
    It is argued that there are at least three things bundled up in the idea of free will: the capacity manifested by agents whenever they act freely; the property possessed by those actions for which an agent in morally responsible; and the ability to do otherwise. This paper attempts some disentangling.
  •  114
    Particularism and Moral Theory: Principles and Particularisms: Richard Holton
    Supplement to the Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 76 (1): 191-209. 2002.
    Should particularists about ethics claim that moral principles are never true? Or should they rather claim that any finite set of principles will not be sufficient to capture ethics? This paper explores and defends the possibility of embracing the second of these claims whilst rejecting the first, a position termed principled particularism. The main argument that particularists present for their position - the argument that holds that any moral conclusion can be superceded by further considerati…Read more
  •  112
    Freedom, coercion and discursive control
    In Michael Smith, Robert Goodin & Geoffrey Geoffrey (eds.), Common Minds, Oxford University Press. pp. 104. 2007.
    If moral and political philosophy is to be of any use, it had better be concerned with real people. The focus need not be exclusively on people as they are; but it should surely not extend beyond how they would be under laws as they might be. It is one of the strengths of Philip Pettit’s work that it is concerned with real people and the ways that they think: with the commonplace mind. In this paper I examine Pettit’s recent work on free will.2 Much of my concern will be to see how his contentio…Read more
  •  112
    Empathy and animal ethics
    with Rae Langton
    In Dale Jamieson (ed.), Singer and His Critics, Oxford University Press. 1998.
    In responding to the challenge that we cannot know that animals feel pain, Peter Singer says: We can never directly experience the pain of another being, whether that being is human or not. When I see my daughter fall and scrape her knee, I know that she feels pain because of the way she behaves—she cries, she tells me her knee hurts, she rubs the sore spot, and so on. I know that I myself behave in a somewhat similar—if more inhibited—way when I feel pain, and so I accept that my daughter feels…Read more