Research

My primary research interests lie in value theory at the intersection of metaethics and normative ethics, though I have nascent interests in applied ethics as well. One question that is central to my research is: "What is goodness?" I defend the view that all goodness is end-relational. That is, I argue that something is good just in case, and because, it promotes some goal. One of the most striking consequences of this view is that nothing is good for its own sake, or ‘intrinsically good.’ My view is thus at odds with the orthodox view in philosophy that asserts not only that there are intrinsic goods, but also that these goods occupy a privileged position in our moral theories and our practical lives. 

I am currently pursuing a couple of projects related to the claim that nothing is intrinsically good. First, I am working on identifying the roles within our moral and practical lives that intrinsic goodness purportedly plays and then considering how end-relational goodness might fill those roles instead. Second, I am working on identifying features of intrinsic goodness that are independently problematic to use in arguments against the existence of intrinsic goodness. These arguments not couched in, nor dependent upon, my account of end-relational goodness.

In addition to my interests in value theory, I am also working on projects in moral theory and in applied ethics. You can view short abstracts of my current work by clicking the titles below. Longer abstracts, and drafts of the papers, are available by request.

Papers Under Review or In Preparation

Why We Do Not Need Intrinsic Goodness
The orthodox view on how goodness relates to reasons is that there are two kinds of goodness—intrinsic and instrumental—and that we have reasons to pursue things that are intrinsically good and, consequently, whatever is instrumentally good relative to those things. Recently a handful of philosophers have denied the existence of intrinsic value, so they must also reject the orthodox view of the relation between goodness and reasons. I offer these philosophers an alternative. Instead of positing two kinds of value, I posit two kinds of goals—those that we cannot help but care about, and those that are optional for us. The main idea is this: in ordinary cases, when I have the goal to X, I consequently have (some) reason to pursue and/or favor those things that promote X (without frustrating other goals I have or care about). If I want to build a desk, for instance, I have reason to purchase lumber that is durable and attractive. Were I not to have the goal of building a desk, I might not have reason to purchase lumber. My reasons for purchasing lumber are hypothetical—I could escape these reasons by abandoning the goal of building a desk. Hypothetical reasons are contrasted with Categorical reasons--reasons that are inescapable, and that apply to everyone regardless of what goals or desires they have. Intrinsic goods are often thought to generate categorical reasons. According to my proposal, the categoricity of reasons can be preserved by appealing to goals we cannot help but have. If I cannot abandon the goal to X—that is if I cannot help but have that goal—then I consequently would not be able to escape the reasons to favor those things that promote X. I conclude that an end-relational account of goodness can preserve the categorical nature of moral reasons without the claim that some goals are good for their own sake.
The Moral Insignificance of Intrinsic Value
The goal of this paper is to introduce an overlooked problem facing a wide swath of moral theories. My thesis is that the following two widely held claims are incompatible: (A) It is a matter of great significance whether we act morally or not. (B) A large part of what makes our moral actions so significant is the ways in which they make the world an intrinsically better or worse place. Many moral theorists accept both these claims. If I am right, they need to deny (at least) one of them. I demonstrate this incompatibility by constructing a model that estimates the impact our moral actions have on the total intrinsic value of the world. I show that even when the estimations are made to be as generous as plausible in favor of exaggerating the significance of our moral actions, it still follows that even seriously immoral actions (like murder) are vastly insignificant in terms of the intrinsic value they contribute or subtract from the world. To be clear, I do not deny that the world would be a better place if that murder did not occur. The problem is that the difference in value between the world where the murder occurs and the one where it does not is so incredibly small that it is insignificant. Thus, if we accept (B), then we must accept that it does not matter if we murder or not. If on the other hand we accept (A), then we must deny that the effect murder has on the intrinsic value of the world explains why it is a matter of great significance whether or not we murder. Therefore, (A) and (B) are incompatible.
Reinterpreting the Mere Means Principle
The Mere Means Principle (henceforth, 'MMP') says an action is wrong just in case it involves treating someone as a mere means. Many counterexamples have allegedly shown that it is not a necessary condition for acting wrongly that one treats a person as a mere means. Recently, Derek Parfit purports to give a counterexample that shows that violating the MMP is not a sufficient condition for acting wrongly either. However, Parfit’s counterexample is only successful if we adopt a particular understanding of what it means to treat someone merely as a means that is incongruent with the commonsense notion of what it is to treat someone as a mere X. To truly evaluate the plausibility of the the MMP I propose that we first attempt to understand the more general notion of treating someone as a mere X. Once this notion is understood properly, we can then formulate a more plausible interpretation of the MMP—one that is no longer susceptible to Parfit’s alleged counterexample. When MMP is understood the way I suggest, it is also no longer vulnerable to the familiar counterexamples to its necessity either. Properly understood, the Mere Means Principle is a contender for the supreme moral principle.
When We Should Blame the Victim
A person engages in victim-blaming whenever he/she states (or perhaps merely implies) that the victims of a crime or misfortune share in the responsibility for their victimization. Two places where victim-blaming is common are in the discussion of sexual assault or rape, and discussions of police violence against people of color. Paradigmatically, the victims of these crimes face scrutiny into their actions, characters, and personal history to determine if they in some way ‘provoked’ or 'deserved' their attack. This is clearly morally wrong. Perhaps due to these paradigmatic cases, those discussing victim-blaming on blogs and social media write as if it is always morally impermissible. The philosophical literature on the ethics of victim-blaming is sparse, but seems to share this view. For this reason, I will speak as if the standard view on the ethics of victim-blaming is that it is always wrong. The goal of this paper is to argue that the standard view is mistaken. In some cases, it is permissible to blame the victim. To be as clear as possible from the outset: In a majority of cases, I agree with those who think that victim-blaming is wrong. For instance, I agree that blaming the victims of police violence, rape, and sexual assault is wrong. However, I argue that there are features that make victim-blaming wrong in these cases; victim-blaming is not wrong as such. Accordingly, my project is to examine the paradigmatic cases of obviously impermissible victim-blaming and identify both (a) what makes them cases of victim-blaming, and (b) what makes them wrong. If my discussion of these two points is correct, it turns out to be possible for an action to have all the features necessary to be properly categorized as an instance of victim-blaming, while lacking the features that would make it impermissible. Thus, there can be cases of permissible victim-blaming. I end by considering some real-world examples. Even if it is sometimes permissible to blame the victim, there might nonetheless be weighty reasons to never do so. It might be harmful, rude, inconsiderate, nasty, etc. (but to an insufficient degree for moral wrongness). That is, it might not be wrong to blame the victim in these cases, but it is still something we should not do. In the second part of the paper, I argue that in some cases of permissible victim-blaming there can be sufficiently weighty reasons to blame the victim. So there are cases when we should blame the victim. I end by considering some real-world examples.

Published Papers

  • REVIEW: Joseph Mendola's Human Interests: or Ethics for Physicalists

Published in Ethics, January 2016 (vol. 126, no.2), pp.517-521.

In Human Interests: or Ethics for Physicalists, Joseph Mendola develops and defends a new form of direct consequentialism, rooted in a simple desire-based account of wellbeing, which is compatible with Physicalism. He calls this theory ‘Material Morality’ (or ‘MM’). Initially, it might be hard to imagine how a plausible moral theory could result from joining these three views, as each is susceptible to familiar objections: Direct consequentialism holds that it is sometimes required that we perform intuitively immoral actions like murder. Simple desire-based accounts of wellbeing state that all and only the things that we actually desire are good for us, when intuitively, we can actually desire things that are bad for us (and we can fail to desire things that are good for us). Physicalism states that all that there is in the world is particles and void, and it is not clear how we can generate the normativity that is characteristic of moral properties from mere particles and void. What makes this book so exciting is that Mendola offers new answers to these familiar objections, and consequently succeeds at offering a plausible moral theory composed of these apparently implausible components.  CLICK HERE FOR FULL PAPER