Moral Psychology

“Sympathy, Discernment, and Reasons”, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 68 (2004), pp. 37-62.

According to “the argument from discernment”, sympathetic motivation is morally faulty, because it is morally undiscriminating. Sympathy can incline you to do the right thing, but it can also incline you to do the wrong thing. And if so, it is no better as a reason for doing something than any other morally arbitrary consideration. The only truly morally good form of motivation — because the only morally non-arbitrary one — involves treating an action’s rightness as your reason for performing it. In this paper, I attack this argument and argue for the contrary conclusion. Treating the rightness of an action as your reason for doing it might amount to various things; but each of them involves a kind of pharisaism that makes it morally objectionable.

“As You Were? Moral Philosophy and the Aetiology of Moral Experience”, Philosophical Explorations 9 (2006), pp. 117-32, Special Issue on “Empirical Research and the Nature of Moral Judgment”.

What is the significance of empirical work on moral judgement for moral philosophy? Although the more radical conclusions that some writers have attempted to draw from this work are overstated, few areas of moral philosophy can remain unaffected by it. The most important question it raises is in moral epistemology. Given the explanation of our moral experience, how far can we trust it? Responding to this, the view defended here emphasizes the interrelatedness of moral psychology and moral epistemology. On this view, the empirical study of moral judgement does have important implications for moral philosophy. But moral philosophy also has important implications for the empirical study of moral judgement.

“Stupid Goodness”, in Karen Jones and Francois Schroeter (eds), The Many Moral Rationalisms (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), pp. 227-46.

In Paradise Lost, Satan’s first sight of Eve in Eden renders him “Stupidly good”: his state is one of admirable yet inarticulate responsiveness to reasons. Turning from fiction to real life, I argue that this is an important moral phenomenon, but one that has limits. The essay examines three questions about the relation between having a reason and saying what it is – between normativity and articulacy. Is it possible to have and respond to morally relevant reasons without being able to articulate them? Can moral inarticulacy be good, and if so, what is the value of moral articulacy? And thirdly, can moral philosophy help us to be good? I argue that morality has an inarticulacy-accepting part, an articulacy-encouraging part, an articulacy-surpassing part and an articulacy-discouraging part. Along the way, an account is proposed of what it is to respond to the reasons that make up the substance of morality.

“Agency and Policy”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 104 (2004), pp. 315-25. [co-authored with Philip Gerrans]

A critique of Michael Bratman’s account of an agent’s authority over, and endorsement of, his actions.

Book Reviews

“R. Jay Wallace, Responsibility and the Moral Sentiments”, Mind 106 (1997), pp. 803-7.