"Time Constraints and Pragmatic Encroachment on Knowledge," Episteme, 2014.
A paper on blameworthiness and blame: I argue against a popular way of analyzing blameworthiness in terms of the negative reactive attitudes.
A paper on self and other blame: I explore a new tool for thinking about theories of blame and various issues pertaining to the ethics of blame.
A paper on mistaken normative beliefs and the norms of apologies (and forgiveness) in non-ideal situations.
Works In Progress
No Self-Directed Wrongs
According to popular theories of right action such as Utilitarianism and Kantian Deontology, we can wrong ourselves. I present arguments that suggest we cannot. In the first place, if self-directed wrongs are possible, then we should expect there to be situations in which an agent must make amends in relation to herself. I argue that there are no such cases. Further I contend that we must self-blame whenever we’re in an appropriate position to do so. However, I argue that there are no situations in which an agent must blame himself, for something he has done which solely impacts himself. Finally, I argue that where wronging a person is possible, it is also possible to conceive of situations in which such wrong is committed with an excuse. However, I argue that there are no clear cases in which an agent wrongs herself and has an excuse (i.e., is not blameworthy). Hence, there is evidence that there are no self-directed wrongs. Along the way, I explore what this means for the nature of right and wrong.
Blaming, Judging, and Moral Standing
A considerable body of literature is dedicated to exploring the nature and ethics of blame. Curiously very little has been said about a related folk concept, moral judging or judgment. While both blaming and judging seem to be familiar responses to moral wrongdoing (and vices), to be accused of judging another is to be accused of moral impropriety. That is, judging seems to be a morally thick and negatively valenced concept. The same is not true of blaming. I develop a theory of moral judging according to which we judge A for X just in case we morally grade A for X. Further, to morally grade A for X in the relevant sense is to be disposed to respond in certain characteristic ways in virtue of the belief that A is a good/bad (or virtuous/vicious) person for X-ing. I argue that except in rare cases, we have strong moral reasons to abstain from such grading of one another. In brief, we often lack the moral standing to make such wholesale appraisals of one another on the basis of particular actions performed in particular circumstances. Additionally, I connect these considerations to issues surrounding blame and the norms of blaming. Once we have distinguished judging from blaming, much of what has been written about issues concerning the so-called moral standing to blame are better conceived of as issues concerning the moral standing to judge.
Doing Good and Feeling Bad
It has been suggested that when an agent performs the right thing for the wrong reasons, her action lacks positive moral worth. However, that one’s action lacks (positive) moral worth does not entail that one is morally criticizable for what one has done. Still, there are times when we feel negative attitudes towards agents who do what is right. For instance, an agent that performs an act of charity solely (or primarily) for the sake of her own benefit (e.g., good press) acts permissibly, but also may elicit in us a degree of resentment or indignation. Likewise, we may experience guilt and shame upon reflecting on the fact that we helped another solely (primarily) for reasons of self-interest. It appears that the agent has done nothing wrong. What is more, to be motivated to perform a permissible action, primarily by reasons of self-interest does not itself constitute or suggest a vice. Nevertheless, our agents are subject to responses intimately associated with blameworthy wrongdoing or vice. Thus, it seems something in our initial observations must give. Either these agents must be doing something wrong, instantiating (indicating) a vice, or we can be subject to negative reactive attitudes despite having done no wrong nor instantiating (indicating) any vice. I explore each avenue and conclude that the most promising approach is that the relevant agents do something wrong in doing what is right for reasons of self-interest. The wrongful act is putting oneself in a position to receive underserved moral praise or credit. Along the way, I explore why such credit is valuable and what it is that makes the purported wrong morally problematic.
Must We Blame Epistemically?
Recently, some authors have argued that there is such a thing as blame that is specifically epistemic. In each case, epistemic blame is closely modeled after the author’s favored theory of moral blame. One thing to note about moral blame is that not only is it sometimes morally appropriate, but there are also situations in which we should (pro tanto) blame wrongdoers. Given that theories of epistemic blame tend to be modeled closely after theories of moral blame, it would be surprising if there were not also situations in which we must (pro tanto) epistemically blame agents for purely epistemic errors. This suggests desiderata on theories of epistemic blame and thus a way to adjudicate between competing accounts. That is, a good theory of epistemic blame should predict that sometimes we must (pro tanto) blame epistemically and provide a plausible explanation as to why this is so. Thus, using the desiderata I consider the viability of various theories of epistemic blame.
Epistemic Norms: Doing the Right Thing for the Right/Wrong Reasons
I challenge recent efforts to extend the domain of epistemic norms so as to include norms concerning actions or activities such as gathering evidence and pursuing inquiry. My argument depends on the plausible idea that when it comes to our evaluations of agents for performing actions, the reasons for which they act is evaluatively significant. Plausibly, both epistemic and moral agents who do the right things for the right reasons are in some sense to be positively appraised, while their counterparts who do the right thing for the wrong reasons are not. For instance, to believe the right thing (the truth or what your evidence most supports), for the right reasons (because your evidence supports it) renders one’s belief justified, epistemically rational or reasonable. Alternatively, an agent who believes what is true but contrary to their evidence may be epistemically blameworthy while a counterpart who believes the same thing in accordance with her evidence is not. I apply these various epistemically evaluative concepts to the proposal that we can have epistemic reasons to carry out actions such as gathering evidence. However, I argue that our standard epistemically evaluative concepts are not up to the task of distinguishing between epistemic agents who say, gather evidence for the right reasons from their counterparts who do the very same things for the wrong reasons such as out of prudential or moral concerns. This suggests that the view that epistemic norms extend to actions is radical in a way that has not yet be appreciated.
Culpability Encroachment: Who Would be to Blame?
On any plausible theory of right/wrong action, the fact that our action will (or is likely to) harm another is a moral reason to abstain from that action. However, for A to harm another person B by X-ing, B must be vulnerable in particular ways. In many cases, our actions and attitudes can make us vulnerable to harm. Further, the actions and attitudes which make us vulnerable to particular harms can be morally objectionable and we may be subject to blame for them. For instance, an individual may experience psychological discomfort at the sight of an interracial couple holding hands in public due to her own racist attitudes. I argue that it is part of commonsense morality that we may sometimes discount the harms that our actions will (likely) cause others. Such occasions arise when part of the reason that a person will be harmed is that they hold an objectionable attitude or have done something wrong for which they are morally responsible. This suggests that (according to commonsense morality) whether an action is morally permissible can depend in part on whether the harmed party would (partially) be at fault for her being harmed. That is, facts concerning who would be to blame (culpability) can sometimes encroach on facts about the permissibility of an action.
Blameworthiness as Fit for Guilt?
I argue that the prospects of analyzing blameworthiness in terms of the fitting target of the negative reactive attitudes (such as resentment or indignation) faces a considerable challenge. This is because it’s possible for an agent to be the fitting target of one person’s resentment or indignation (for X at t) and not that of another (for X at t). In contrast, blameworthiness, at least as it is standardly conceived, does not admit to such relationality. In light of this challenge, I suggest that champions of the foregoing analysis may attempt to get around my worry with the following theory: A is blameworthy for X at t if and only if A is the fitting target of guilt for X at t. In fact some recent work offers independent reasons to favor an account of this kind. I consider the prospects of such a theory and find that it will require a significant departure from standard views on the nature of blameworthiness. According to the standard view, the facts that render an agent blameworthy have to do with facts about her qua agent. In contrast, whether an agent is the fitting target of guilt or any other negative reactive attitude depends in part on facts about the (potential) subject of those attitudes. Even though in cases of guilt, the agent and the subject are one and the same individual, we should distinguish between facts concerning her qua agent from those that concern her qua subject of guilt. In drawing this distinction, we find that to analyze blameworthiness in terms of “fitting target of guilt” makes an agent’s blameworthiness dependent on the wrong sorts of facts.
Forgiveness Without Wrongdoing?
There are situations in which an individual mistakenly believes that she has been wronged by an agent. For example, Ms. Watson, upon learning that Huck Finn helped Jim escape, mistakenly believes that she has been wronged. I explore whether it is possible for persons in these circumstances to forgive. That is, I consider whether there can be forgiveness without wrongdoing. I present several arguments to suggest that A can forgive B for X only if X is wrong. Firstly, I contend that forgivers are often admirable for forgiving particularly when the offense is serious. However, I argue that if we suppose agents like Ms. Watson can forgive, she is not admirable for doing so and this is evidence against the view that such agents can forgive. Secondly, I argue that, in the event that individuals like Ms. Watson become disabused of their mistaken moral beliefs, the apt response is to feel embarrassed or ashamed that they once thought that they had forgiven the agent. However, if forgiveness had occurred, such a response would be inappropriate. Finally, given the close relationship between forgiveness, repentance, atonement/reconciliation, I suggest that if we accept that forgiveness can happen without wrongdoing, then there is pressure to admit that these related states of affairs can obtain without wrongdoing which I submit is a bullet to bite.