Many claims about conceptual matters are often represented as, or inferred from, claims about the meaning, reference, or mastery, of words. But sometimes this has led to treating conceptual analysis as though it were nothing but linguistic analysis. We canvass the most promising justifications for moving from linguistic premises to substantive conclusions. We show that these justifications fail and argue against current practice (in metaethics and elsewhere), which confuses an investigation of a word’s meaning, reference, or competence conditions with an analysis of some concept or property associated with that word.
“Conjuring Ethics from Words”
Noûs, 49(1), 2015: 71-93; with Jonathan McKeown-Green & Glen Pettigrove
“Burdens of Proof and the Case for Unevenness”
Argumentation, 27 (3), 2013: 259-282; with Imran Aijaz & Jonathan McKeown-Green
Works in Progress
Titles of papers that are under review have been changed from the submitted versions to ensure anonymity
"Racism and Shame"
[Draft available on request]
"Can We Describe Doctrine of Double Effect Cases Without Intentions?"
[Draft available on request]
"How Demanding are Morality and Rationality?"
"Relegating Determinism" with Jonathan McKeown-Green
Dissertation: Responsibility and Rights: A Search for a Principled Distinction between Criminal Law and Tort Law
A Search for a Principled Distinction between Criminal Law and Tort Law
Chapter 1 - Defendant's Choice in Tort and Criminal Law
Chapter 2 - Intention and Excuses in Tort and Criminal Law
Chapter 3 - Criminal Negligence
Chapter 4 - Responsibility in Tort Law
Chapter 5 - Rights and Responsibility: Two Points of Difference
To motivate the Doctrine of Double Effect (DDE), writers provide pairs of cases where the only alleged moral difference between the agents is that one intends to bring about some bad outcome whereas the other merely foresees it. Since the descriptions of these cases appeal to agents’ intentions and lack thereof, they may appear to corroborate particular accounts of intention. Since there don’t seem to be differences in desire-belief combinations of agents, one may reject a Desire-Belief account of intention. One might even conclude that intentions do not supervene on any other mental states. I resist these conclusions by showing that we can capture a moral difference between the agents in the DDE cases in terms of their preference orderings. I also argue that we should not be so quick to think that intentions are playing an important role in our moral theorising about these cases.
It is still widely assumed that the possibility of determinism either threatens free agency or constrains the kind of agency we could have. This paper argues, however, that the issue of whether determinism is true is irrelevant to questions about the prospects for free agency. If our actions are ultimately caused only by factors that are beyond our control, this may well have a bearing on the likelihood and nature of free will, but the falsity of determinism is compatible with this hypothesis. Meanwhile, nomological determinism (a thesis about the laws of nature) is compatible with both this hypothesis and its denial. Causal determinism (a thesis about causal processes) entails the hypothesis, but nothing of significance to theorising about free will turns on whether ultimate causes are deterministic or not. Of course, the relevance of determinism to debates about free will could derive from some problem other than the worry that our actions are ultimately due only to forces beyond our control, but we find no such other problem and we conclude that theorising about determinism has no distinctive role to play in theorising about free will. Hence we should direct our attention away from nomological or causal determinism when thinking about the ways in which facts about the world might count as evidence against the claim that we are free agents. Relatedly, continuing to focus our attention on nomological or causal determinism obscures the fact that obstacles faced by a compatibilist are also faced by at least some incompatibilists.
How is the burden of proof to be distributed among individuals who are involved in resolving a particular issue? Under what conditions should the burden of proof be distributed unevenly? We distinguish attitudinal from dialectical burdens and argue that these questions should be answered differently, depending on which is in play. One has an attitudinal burden with respect to some proposition when one is required to possess sufficient evidence for it. One has a dialectical burden with respect to some proposition when one is required to provide supporting arguments for it as part of a deliberative process. We show that the attitudinal burden with respect to certain propositions is unevenly distributed in some deliberative contexts, but in all of these contexts, establishing the degree of support for the proposition is merely a means to some other deliberative end, such as action guidance, or persuasion. By contrast, uneven distributions of the dialectical burden regularly further the aims of deliberation, even in contexts where the quest for truth is the sole deliberative aim, rather than merely a means to some different deliberative end. We argue that our distinction between these two burdens resolves puzzles about unevenness that have been raised in the literature.
One common emotional response to racism is shame. However, this phenomenon seems puzzling since, according to a common view of shame, the target of racism has nothing to feel shame about. I argue against existing accounts of shame that render shame in response to racism either unintelligible or inappropriate. I then draw on David Velleman’s analysis of shame to claim that when an individual is racialised as non-white and stereotyped in a racist incident, she can feel shame about her inability to choose when race is made salient. Moreover, given that certain racialised identities are stigmatised, I argue that targets of racism should be able to choose when race is made salient. My novel account of racial shame can both capture the phenomenology of those who are on the receiving ends of racism as well as delivering the verdict that it is sometimes appropriate to feel shame in response to racism. My account of shame can also highlight emotional and cognitive costs of racism that have their root in shame felt in response to racism. In addition, focusing on the content of racial shame allows us to appreciate that those who are targets of racism face a new form of hermeneutical injustice and suffer distinctive communicative harms. Hence my account of the nature of shame felt in response to racism contributes to a fuller picture of what is morally objectionable about racism.
I cannot determine whether a 14-premise argument is valid in less than a second even if a computer can. Am I, to this extent, irrational? Would I be more rational if I could? I argue that "yes" is a good answer, if we want the concept of rationality to play a worthwhile theoretical role in an account of reasoning. My argument exploits parallels between this issue and analyses of the demandingness objection against many ethical theories. Just as rationality on my account seems too hard to achieve, so, it is argued, ethical theories which require me to give to charity until it hurts are too demanding to be taken seriously. My argument is a response to worries about both rationality and morality. It distinguishes norms which are worth pursuing from norms against which the performance of agents should be measured. My account also has a lot to say about cakes!
aness [dot] webster [at] nottingham [dot] ac [dot] uk