Sample Published Work

14. “The Importance of Being Ernie”, Thought, Volume 10, Issue 4, 257-263.

Alfred Mele presents an influential argument for incompatibilism which compares an agent, Ernie, whose life has been carefully planned by the goddess Diana, to normal deterministic agents. The argument suggests both that Ernie is not free, and that there is no relevant difference between him and normal deterministic agents in respect of free will. In this paper, I suggest that what drives our judgement that Ernie is not free in the Diana case is that his actions are merely an extension of Diana’s—he is akin to a tool, which she uses solely for her own purposes, and his behaviour occurs only because of the interest Diana takes in its occurring. This contrasts with normal deterministic universes, in which normal agents are not such tools.

13. “Barking up the Wrong Tree: On Control, Transformative Experiences and Turning Over a New Leaf”, forthcoming in Monist.

I argue that we do not intentionally and rationally shape our character and values in major ways. I base this argument on the nature of transformative experiences, that is, those experiences which are transformative from personal and epistemological points of view. The argument is roughly this. First, someone who undergoes major changes in her character or values thereby undergoes a transformative experience. Second, if she undergoes such an experience, her reasons for changing in a major way are inaccessible to her beforehand. Third, if such reasons are inaccessible beforehand, she cannot act on them and thus cannot rationally and intentionally shape her character or values. I also explore some consequences of my argument, especially those related to control and responsibility.

12. “Transformative Moral Luck”, forthcoming in Midwest Studies in Philosophy.

I shall argue that we should embrace a certain type of moral luck that I call “transformative moral luck.” This is a kind of luck that concerns transformative choices; those choices that typically lead to having transformative experiences. I shall further argue that, while there is plausibly such luck, the blameworthiness or praiseworthiness of an agent who is subject to this type of moral luck is greatly diminished. By the end of the paper, I hope to have made plausible that transformative moral luck not only likely exists, but that it is a significant, distinctive, and disturbing type of moral luck.

11. “Trigger Warning: No Proximal Intentions Required for Intentional Action”, 2018, Philosophical Explorations, 21:3, 364-383.

I argue that intentional actions are sometimes not triggered by proximal intentions; i.e. there are actions which are intentional, but lack relevant proximal intentions in their immediate causal history. More specifically, I first introduce various properties of intentions. I then argue that some actions (such as some spontaneous actions) are triggered by mental states which lack properties typically ascribed to intentions, yet these actions are still intentional. The view that all intentional actions are triggered by proximal intentions is thus false.

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10. “Difficult Circumstances: Situationism and Ability”, Journal of Ethical Urban Living 2 (1): 63–91.

Certain aspects of our situations often influence us in significant and negative ways, without our knowledge (call this claim “situationism”). One possible explanation of their influence is that they affect our abilities. In this paper, we address two main questions. Do these situational factors rid us of our abilities to act on our sufficient reasons? Do situational factors make it more difficult for us to exercise our abilities to act for sufficient reasons? We argue for the answer ‘sometimes’ to both these questions. We then explore the consequences of this view for moral responsibility.

Available here.

9. “Can Moral Authorities be Hypocrites?”, 2018, Moral Expertise: New Essays from Theoretical and Clinical Perspectives, eds. Jamie Carlin Watson and Laura Guidry-Grimes.

Empirical research suggests that professional ethicists do not exhibit morally better behaviour than other academic professionals (Schwitzgebel and Rust (2010, 2014)). These findings are problematic if professional ethicists are to be considered moral authorities, i.e. those who are mandated—by their (moral) expertise—to give advice on moral matters, and to whose views on such matters we ought to give significant weight. In this chapter, I propose that being a moral authority requires not only knowing the relevant moral facts, but also applying these facts in practice (i.e. acting morally). More specifically, I argue that moral authorities are not hypocrites. That is, if one is a moral authority, one rarely (or never) acts hypocritically—against one’s own good advice to others—but instead, generally, follows one’s own (good) moral advice. As such, those that regularly fail to display morally good behaviour (which they recognize as morally good and prescribe to others) are not moral authorities. This argument rests on two core claims which I defend throughout the chapter. First, if one is a moral authority, then one is a trustworthy source of reliable moral advice. Second, if one is a trustworthy source of reliable moral advice, then one is not a hypocrite. The arguments for the latter rest on considerations about systematicity of moral motivation and the non-trustworthiness of hypocrites.

8. “Mind Control: Self-Control and Decision-Making”, (with Stephen Kearns), forthcoming in the Philosophy and Science of SelfControl Project volume, Oxford University Press.

In this paper, we explore the relationship between self-control and decision-making. In particular, we examine various problems with the idea that agents can (and do) exercise self-control over their decisions. Two facts about decisions give rise to these problems. First, decisions do not result from intentions to make those very decisions. Second, decisions are often made when agents are uncertain what to do (it is precisely on such occasions when decisions are called for), and thus when agents lack best judgments. On the common understanding of self-control as an ability to act in line with an intention or best judgment (in the face of counter-motivation), decisions are not, and perhaps cannot, be the subject of self-control. In light of this, we propose that this common conception of self-control needs revision. As well as commitment-based self-control, we argue that there is also non-commitment-based self-control—the type of self-control over an action that need not involve any prior evaluative or executive commitment. We spell out the details of such a conception and how it applies in particular to decision-making.

7. “Self-Control and Mechanisms of Behavior: Why Self-Control is not a Natural Mental Kind”, 2017, Philosophical Psychology 30 (6): 731-762.

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.

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6. “This is a Tricky Situation: Situationism and Reasons-Responsiveness” (with Stephen Kearns), 2017, The Journal of Ethics 21 (2): 151–183.

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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5. “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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4. “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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3. “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.

Available here.

2. “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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1. “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.

Available here.

 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.