Value and Fittingness

“Neutral and Relative Value”, in Iwao Hirose and Jonas Olson (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Value Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), pp. 96-116.

This essay examines the distinction that is sometimes drawn between neutral and relative attributions of value. It asks whether a plausible interpretation can be found for claims about relative value; whether an interpretation can be found for claims about neutral value which best captures the thoughts that people express by using this distinction; whether the distinction can be used to produce a satisfactory way of formulating a relative-value consequentialist theory; and whether a theory of that kind is plausible. A positive answer is given to the first three questions, but a negative one to the fourth.

“Exceptions in Nonderivative Value”, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (online publication 7 April 2017, doi: 10.1111/phpr.12397).

According to most substantive axiological theories – theories telling us which things are good and bad – pleasure is nonderivatively good. This seems to imply that it is always good, even when directed towards a bad object, such as another person’s suffering. This implication is accepted by the Mainstream View about misdirected pleasures: it holds that when someone takes pleasure in another person’s suffering, his being pleased is good, although his being pleased by suffering is bad. This view gains some of its popularity from the advantages of an axiological theory that is structured in the way advocated by Brentano. However, I argue that we should reject the Mainstream View, in favour of an alternative suggested by Aristotle: this distinguishes between nonderivative goodness and exceptionless goodness. When it is good, being pleased is good nonderivatively – but it is not always good. The aim of the paper is to show how a Brentano-style theory can be modified to accommodate this alternative view, and how that supports a case for accepting it.

“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.

Concern, Respect and Cooperation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), Chapter 2.

What kind of elements provide the foundations of morality? The answer defended in this chapter is “norms of presumptive fitness”. This is explained and defended by contrasting it with Ross’s more familiar answer: “prima facie duties”. “Fitness” is a name for the relation that desire bears to the desirable and praise to the praiseworthy. Presumptive fitness is the relation of being fit-unless-undermined. The case for grounding morality on norms of this kind is that it offers to rectify the ways in which Ross’s view is too self-contained, too narrow, too shallow, too unqualified and too simple. In the course of explaining this, the chapter provides an account of the relationship between wrongness, reasons, value and importance.

Book Reviews

“John Broome, Weighing Lives”, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews,


Work in Progress

“Reasons and Fittingness”