“Nothing to Fear: Swap Cases and Personal Identity”, 2016, Analytic Philosophy 57: 315–337.
So-called “swap cases” are powerful thought experiments that have been used both to cast doubt on animalist views of personal identity and in support of psychological views of personal identity. In this paper, I examine three challenges to what I refer to as the Classic View of swap cases, according to which such cases do indeed present good evidence against animalist views and for personal continuity views. The first two challenges claim that swap cases themselves, or our judgments about them, rely on faulty assumptions and/or reasoning, and thus our judgments about swap cases should be dismissed. The third challenge rests on an argument according to which swap cases support animalist accounts of personal identity just as well as, or perhaps even better than they support psychological continuity accounts. I conclude that all three challenges against the Classic View fail. This constitutes a (partial) defense of the Classic View of swap cases.
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“Are intentions in tension with timing experiments?”, 2016, Philosophical Studies Volume 173, Issue 3, 573–587.
Libet’s timing experiments (Brain 106:623–642, 1983; Mind time. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 2004) have resulted in some strong and unsavoury claims about human agency. These range from the idea that conscious intentions are epiphenomenal to the idea that we all lack free will. In this paper, I propose a new type of response to the various sceptical conclusions about our agency occasioned by both Libet’s work and other experiments in this testing paradigm. Indeed, my argument extends to such conclusions drawn from fMRI-based prediction experiments. In what follows, I will provide a brief description of these experiments, sketch arguments one may be tempted to draw on their basis, and argue that such arguments rely on a questionable premise: that experimental subjects have relevant proximal intentions (which, thus far, both proponents and opponents of these arguments agree on).
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“What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You: Situationism, Conscious Awareness, and Control”, 2016, Journal of Cognition and Neuroethics 4 (1): 45–71.
The thesis of situationism says that situational factors can exert a significant influence on how we act, often without us being consciously aware that we are so influenced. In this paper, I examine how situational factors, or, more specifically, our lack of conscious awareness of their influence on our behavior, affect different measures of control. I further examine how our control is affected by the fact that situational factors also seem to prevent us from becoming consciously aware of our reasons for action. I argue that such lack of conscious awareness decreases the degree of control that agents have. However, I propose that while being influenced by situational factors in such ways may impair and diminish one’s control, it (typically) does not eradicate one’s control. I further argue that being influenced by situational factors, in the way set out above, also decreases one’s degree of moral responsibility.
“Get lucky: situationism and circumstantial moral luck” (with Stephen Kearns), 2015, Philosophical Explorations 18 (3): 362-377.
Situationism is, roughly, the thesis that normatively irrelevant environmental factors have a great impact on our behaviour without our being aware of this influence. Surprisingly, there has been little work done on the connection between situationism and moral luck. Given that it is often a matter of luck what situations we find ourselves in, and that we are greatly influenced by the circumstances we face, it seems also to be a matter of luck whether we are blameworthy or praiseworthy for our actions in those circumstances. We argue that such situationist moral luck, as a variety of circumstantial moral luck, exemplifies a distinct and interesting type of moral luck. Further, there is a case to be made that situationist moral luck is perhaps more worrying than some other well-discussed cases of (supposed) moral luck.
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“Simply Irresistible: Addiction, Responsibility, and Irresistible Desires”, 2015, Journal of Cognition and Neuroethics 3 (1): 195–216.
In this paper I set out to investigate the claim that addicts lack sufficient control over their drug-taking and are thus not morally responsible for it. More specifically, I evaluate what I call the Simply Irresistible Argument, which proceeds from the claim that addictive desires are irresistible to the conclusion that addicts are not responsible for acting on such desires. I first propose that we have to disambiguate the notion of an irresistible desire according to temporal criteria, and revise the original argument accordingly in two different ways; one involving proximally irresistible desires and one involving permanently irresistible desires. I propose that both versions of the Simply Irresistible Argument fail, and, as a result, that considerations about irresistible desires and control cannot extricate addicts from responsibility for their drug-taking.
“This is a Tricky Situation: Situationism and Reasons-Responsiveness” (with Stephen Kearns), forthcoming in The Journal of Ethics.
Situations are powerful: the evidence from social psychology suggests that agents are hugely influenced by the situations they find themselves in, often without their knowing it (this, roughly-speaking, is the thesis of situationism). In our paper, we evaluate how situational factors affect our reasons-responsiveness (as conceived of by Fischer and Ravizza (1998)) and, through this, how they also affect moral responsibility. We argue that the situationist experiments suggest that situational factors impair, among other things, our moderate reasons-responsiveness, which is plausibly required for moral responsibility. However, even though we argue that situational factors lower the degree of our reasons-responsiveness, we propose that agents remain moderately reasons-responsive to the degree required for moral responsibility. Nonetheless, those (adversely) affected by situational factors are arguably less morally responsible than those who are not subject to similar situational factors (in arguing for this, we make use of the account of degrees of reasons-responsiveness in Coates and Swenson (2013)). We further evaluate an understanding of reasons-responsiveness (developed in the light of situationist data) which relativizes reasons-responsiveness to agents’ circumstances (Vargas (2013)). We argue that the situationist data do not warrant this kind of divergence from Fischer’s and Ravizza’s account. We conclude by discussing what situationist experiments tell us about our relationship to non-reasons.
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“Self-Control and Mechanisms of Behavior: Why Self-Control is not a Natural Mental Kind”, forthcoming in Philosophical Psychology.
In this paper, I argue for two main hypotheses: that self-control is not a natural mental kind and that there is no dedicated mechanism of self-control (indeed, the latter claim forms part of my argument for the former). By the first claim, I simply mean that those behaviors we label as “self-controlled” are a somewhat arbitrarily selected hodgepodge that do not have anything in common that distinguishes them (and them alone) from other behaviors. In other words, self-control is a gerrymandered property that does not correspond to a natural mental or psychological kind. By the second claim, I mean that self-controlled behaviors are not produced by a mechanism (or a set of them) that is not utilized in the production of other (non-self-controlled) behaviors. There is no mechanism (such as willpower), then, that is dedicated to producing self-controlled behavior.
“Can Moral Authorities be Hypocrites?”, forthcoming in Moral Expertise: New Essays from Theoretical and Clinical Perspectives, eds. Jamie Carlin Watson and Laura Guidry-Grimes.
Recent empirical research suggests that professional ethicists do not exhibit morally better behaviour than other academic professionals (Schwitzgebel 2012, 2014, 2015). These findings are problematic if professional ethicists are considered to be moral authorities, i.e. those mandated – by their (moral) expertise – to give advice on moral matters and to whose views on such matters we ought to give significant weight. I propose that we have good reasons to believe that being a moral authority requires not only knowing the relevant moral facts, but also applying these facts in practice (i.e. acting morally). I defend two main arguments in support of this position; both of these draw on the fact that a moral authority is a reliable source of good moral advice.
First, if one’s behaviour fails to be guided by the relevant moral facts, this indicates a lack of good (moral) judgment on one’s part. This can happen when one fails to be sufficiently motivated by these facts or does not recognise that moral facts apply in particular circumstances. I propose that, in both cases, the subject fails to be appropriately sensitive to the existence of the relevant moral facts, their implications, or their weight. This in turn undermines the subject’s standing as a reliable source of good moral advice. I further support this point by arguing that in the cases of moral knowledge in particular, no sharp distinction can be drawn between knowing moral facts and applying them in practice. Second, we should be able to trust that someone who is a moral authority will reliably dispense good moral advice. Someone who fails to be appropriately guided by moral facts (and, perhaps, acts intentionally contrary to such facts), is not trustworthy in the relevant way. (The second argument, unlike the first one, does not rely on the truth of motivational internalism).
As such, the above arguments constitute a partial defence of the “practical wisdom model” of moral expertise (Dancy 1994, McDowell 1978). At the end of the paper, I discuss possible problem cases for my view (e.g. an apparent moral expert who suffers from depression and is thereby not moved by the relevant facts).
Recent Book Reviews
Book Review of Ishtiyaque Haji’s Luck’s Mischief: Obligation and Blameworthiness on a Thread, 2016, Ethics, Volume 127, Number 2. Available with subscription here.
Book Review of Andy Clark, Julian Kiverstein, and Tilllmann Vierkant (eds.) Decomposing the Will, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. Available here.
Full CV with a complete list of publications available on request.