"Conjuring Ethics from Words"
with Jonathan McKeown-Green & Glen Pettigrove
Noûs, 49(1), 2015: 71-93
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.
“Burdens of Proof and the Case for Unevenness”
with Imran Aijaz & Jonathan McKeown-Green
Argumentation, 27 (3), 2013: 259-282
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.
PAPERS UNDER REVIEW
Titles have been changed from the submitted versions to ensure anonymity.
"Racism and Shame"
[draft available upon request]
Some targets of report feeling shame in response to a racist incident. However, this phenomenon seems puzzling since plausibly, the target of racism has nothing to feel shame about. I draw on David Velleman’s analysis of shame to claim to explicate the nature of shame that is sometimes experienced in response to racism. I propose 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. Given that certain racialised identities are stigmatised, I argue that targets of racism should be able to choose when race is made salient. Hence my account of shame can both capture the phenomenology of some who feel shame in response to racism and deliver the verdict that it is sometimes appropriate to feel shame in response to racism. My account also highlights emotional and cognitive costs of racism that have their root in shame felt in response to racism as well as a new form of hermeneutical injustice and distinctive communicative harm, contributing to a fuller picture of what is morally objectionable about racism.
"Are We Blameworthy for Negligence?"
[draft available upon request]
Some have argued that we are never blameworthy for negligence when the negligence is not caused by some prior blameworthy decision or action. In this paper, I examine arguments that argue that we are not blameworthy for negligence. One argument appeals to the idea that negligent agents fails to be aware of some relevant information and that they are not blameworthy for such failures. The other argument appeals to the idea that ignorance exculpates. I conclude that even if these arguments succeed, they do so at the cost of undermining the claim that we can be and often are blameworthy for recklessness. I also show that the success of the arguments about our blameworthiness for negligence depend on there being no salient difference between moral and nonmoral ignorance. However, if there is no salient difference between moral and nonmoral ignorance, then this puts pressure on our blameworthiness more globally.
"Torts vs Crimes: Responsibility and Rights"
[draft available upon request]
The Demarcation Question asks whether there is a principled framework that makes sense of the differences between tort and criminal law. My answer takes clues from substantive doctrines. I argue that some affirmative defences (such as insanity) that are available in criminal law are not available in tort law. I also examine the content of intention that is required to satisfy the intention element in the two domains. These suggest that criminal law implicates blameworthiness whereas tort law implicates a weaker account of responsibility. I propose a two-pronged answer where the first prong appeals to different notions of responsibility and the second prong appeals to different rights that are protected by the two domains (to account for the fact that some rights recognised by tort law are not recognized by criminal law (such as the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress) and vice versa (for example, criminal attempts).
"Disability, Impairment, and Marginalised Functioning"
with Katharine Jenkins
Some accounts of the metaphysics of disability introduce a distinct category of impairment. It is widely assumed that in order for this move to be worth making, impairment must be conceived of as a natural, non-social kind. The purpose of invoking impairment so conceived is to anchor an account of disability in natural bodily difference, without having to identify disability with natural bodily difference. This means that any view that includes a distinct notion of impairment faces the challenge of cashing out this notion in naturalistic terms. As Elizabeth Barnes (2016) has convincingly argued, this is an impossible task because no such account can distinguish impairment from mere atypicality without invoking value-laden considerations. We challenge the widely held assumption that impairment must be a natural kind if it is worth distinguishing it from disability by offering an account of impairment as a social kind that we call marginalised functioning. We argue that this account avoids the problems faced by naturalistic accounts of impairment whilst also giving a more satisfactory account of disability than Barnes’ own account.
WORKS IN PROGRESS
"Autonomy and Agency: Lessons from Marginalised Identities"
[promised to Oxford Studies in Agency and Responsibility (Vol. 7)]
We are heavily influenced by social factors in myriad ways. Moreover, many kinds of socialisation are normatively problematic. To the extent that we are socialised to adopt, internalise, or even endorse problematic, oppressive norms, it becomes challenging to find autonomy in actual human agents. Hence, one desideratum of an adequate account of autonomy is that our autonomy may be undermined by oppressive socialisation. I argue that this desideratum means that we should accept a substantive account of autonomy (and reject a procedural account) and that what counts as autonomy-undermining social factors is a purely substantive normative issue.
We distinguish between autonomy and agency. I also argue that our notion of agency should take seriously the fact of our socialisation. Hence I argue that we should understand our agency as located in the exercise of our ability to negotiate between different features, some of some of which will be causally influenced by social factors (including many of our desires) and some of which will be constituted by social factors (gender, race, etc.). One negotiates between different features by considering them, feeling conflicted by them, endorsing some, and rejecting others as well as feeling ambivalent about some. Importantly, one can negotiate between conflicting features without resolving that conflict. Hence, on this view, I exercise my agency when I act on my desire to conform to a gendered norm (to shave my legs, for instance) even when I feel conflicted about this desire.On my view, exercising our agency involves exercising our skill of negotiating with the world. This notion of agency is related to (substantive) autonomy because exercising agentic skills is instrumental for achieving autonomy.
My social account of agency, coupled with a substantive account of autonomy, can satisfy the desideratum that oppressive socialisation undermines autonomy. Since one’s ability to negotiate between different features depends on being clear-eyed about those features, my account can accommodate the fact that learning about the fact of oppressive socialisation can boost one's agency. Moreover, those who are in privileged positions may have less agency than those who are marginalised but are (more) aware of socialisation.
"How Demanding are Morality and Rationality?"
[draft available upon request]
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 that set the standards of right action and rational decision from norms against which agents should be judged. My account also has a lot to say about cakes!