"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.
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 upon request]
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.
"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!
"Blameworthiness for Negligence"
I outline and examine arguments for the claim that we cannot be blameworthy for certain kinds of cases of inadvertently causing harm. There are several versions of the sceptical argument for the conclusion that we are only blameworthy when we choose to harm or willingly cause harm depending on the different reasons for thinking that willingly causing harm is necessary for being blameworthy. Some think that control is necessary for blameworthiness and that control requires the ability to choose otherwise. Others have argued that we are only blameworthy for some conduct when that conduct expresses our agency. Yet others maintain that we are only blameworthy for conduct that reveals our character or the kind of person we are. I show that none of these arguments are successful. I then consider a different sceptical argument according to which the agents in the non-tracing cases of inadvertence are not blameworthy because ignorance exculpates. This requires inquiring into agents’ doxastic states in non-tracing cases of inadvertence. One upshot of this discussion is that exploring the conditions of doxastic blameworthiness may be necessary to answer questions about blameworthiness for inadvertently causing harm in the non-tracing cases.
"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.