Please email me if you would like a copy of one of these papers; alternatively you can download most of them here.

How To Be An Ethical Naturalist, in John Hacker Wright, ed., Philippa Foot on Goodness and Virtue, Palgrave-Macmillan, 2018, pp. 47-84.

The ethical naturalist asks us to take seriously the idea that practical norms are a species of natural norms, such that moral goodness is a kind of natural goodness.  The ethical naturalist has not demonstrated, however, how it is possible for a power of reason to be governed by natural norms, because her own attempts to do this have led her into a dilemma.  If she takes the first horn and stresses that ethical naturalism provides objective, natural norms of the species, then she fails to show how such norms are practical.  If she takes the second horn and stresses that ethical naturalism yields a picture of knowledge of human life that is practical because it comes through virtuous dispositions of intellect and will, then she fails to have an account of how it is knowledge of facts about a life form, potentially accessible to a non-human knower.  In this paper, I argue that one potential resolution to this dilemma can be found in the writings of Thomas Aquinas.

Aquinas on Sin, Self-Love, and Self-Transcendence, in Self-Transcendence and Virtue: Perspectives from Philosophy, Psychology, and Theology.  Edited by Jennifer A. Frey and Candace Vogler, Routledge, 2018.

A longstanding charge against Aristotelian virtue theory is that it is egoist, because it holds that the ultimate aim of anyone’s life is one’s own happiness. In this paper, I attempt to answer this old charge in a new way–by looking not to virtue and good action but to vice and sin. The paper proceeds as follows. In section I, I discuss Aquinas’s account of being in order to explain his privative theory of evil. In section II, I discuss sin generally as an act that lacks due order to its end. In section III, I discuss sin in the sense of moral fault, and in section IV I discuss the sources of this kind of sin, with a special focus on malice and vice. I argue that whereas Aquinas understands virtue as a self-transcendent orientation that leads to happiness, vice is a self-centered orientation that prioritizes individual or private over common goods. In section V, I discuss Aquinas’s view that vice, like all sin, springs from inordinate love of one’s private good to the detriment of the good of others.

Anscombe on the Analogical Unity of Intention in Perception and Action (co-authored with Christopher Frey), in Analytic Philosophy

In this paper, we explore Elizabeth Anscombe’s idea that there is a fundamental unity to all our uses of the concept of intentionality.  We discuss three salient features of intentionality to anchor our discussion.  First, that intentional objects are given by expression that employ a “description under which”; second, that intentional descriptions are typically vague and indeterminate; and third, that intentional descriptions may be false.  Exploring these features as they are discussed in Anscombe’s work on perception and action, we argue that intentionality is a grammatical concept which can only be understood by way of an investigation into the human praxis in which it is made manifest.  When one competently makes a correct move within the linguistic/social practice in question, one demonstrates one’s grammatical understanding of intentionality.  We conclude with a discussion of the form of unity of thought this understanding displays.

“Was Leibniz an Egoist?” in The Journal of the History of Philosophy

Recent scholarship is nearly unanimous in attributing some form of egoism to Leibniz’s moral philosophy.  In this paper, I argue that there are substantive reasons to reject this status quo. First, I argue that any non-trivial form of egoism must take all of an agent’s ends to be self-directed, and that this is incompatible with Leibniz’s theory of justice.  Second, I argue that a rational psychology is non-trivially hedonist only if it understands pleasure as a separately identifiable aim of all actions, and that this is incompatible with Leibniz’s account of pleasure.

Practical Knowledge and Double Effect” forthcoming in Intention and Double Effect, edited by John O’Callaghan, University of Notre Dame Press.

I argue that what we do intentionally and voluntarily tracks what we have a peculiar practical sort of knowledge of–a mode of knowledge that is productive of what it cognizes under the general aspect of the good.  In this paper I develop this account of knowledge and argue that it can help us to think about the distinction between intention and side effects in a more principled way.  I further argue that this account of knowledge ought to lead us to revise our account of the doctrine of double effect.

Analytic Philosophy of Action: A Very Brief History. Philosophical News (7), November 2013.

This paper is about exactly what you’d expect from the title.

Neo-Aristotelian Ethical Naturalism, forthcoming in Tom Angier (ed) The Cambridge Companion to Natural Law Ethics, 2019.

This paper discusses the principle claims of “neo-Aristotelian ethical naturalism,” which is an approach within analytic virtue that is distinguished by adherence to the following theses: (1) virtues are necessary for the attainment of specifically human happiness or flourishing; (2) a correct account of human flourishing needs to be grounded in some universal conception of human form; and (3) the virtuous person is the rule and measure of acting well, because she alone embodies the principles of right practical reasoning in her actions.  The paper also discusses in what sense ethical naturalism should be understood as a development of the natural law tradition identified with the thought of Thomas Aquinas.

Against Autonomy: Why Practical Reason Cannot Be PureManuscrito 41 (4): 159-193, 2018.

The perennial appeal of Kantian ethics surely lies in its conception of autonomy.  Kantianism tells us that the good life is fundamentally about acting in accordance with an internal rather than an external authority: a good will is simply a will in agreement with its own rational,  self-constituting law.  In this paper, I argue against Kantian autonomy, on the grounds that it excessively narrows our concept of the good, it confuses the difference between practical and theoretical modes of knowing the good, and it cannot respect the essential efficacy of the principles of practical reason

Aquinas and Constitutivism, Philosophical Explorations, edited by Erasmus Mayr and Matthias Haase, Volume 22 (2), 2019. 

Constitutivism is an ambitious meta-ethical thesis which aims to settle disputes about the nature, scope, and authority of practical reason; it claims that the requirements under which any particular action is judged good or bad are both internal to and constitutive of acting intentionally, just as the requirements under which a particular move in chess is judged good or bad by rules internal to and constitutive of the activity of playing the game. A constitutive principle is one that simultaneously defines some thing and provides it with a measure of success or failure. Thus, if we want to understand what it is to be practically rational, or to act in a distinctively intentional or practically rational sense, then we must grasp the constitutive principles of this activity. Or so the constitutivist argues.

In this paper, I want to explore the possibilities for a novel form of constitutivism, one that can be found in the writings of Thomas Aquinas.  I argue that Aquinas’s ethical theory counts as a kind of constitutivism, insofar as he understands human beings as agents that act for the sake of an end that both defines and measures their form of life: happiness. For Aquinas, happiness as the constitutive aim of human life is what makes human acts properly human or “moral” and what sets them apart from animal movement in general. Unlike many contemporary constitutivists, however, Aquinas thinks this end is the natural and necessary goal of human action, and thus a natural and necessary end of the human power of will; it also counts as a constitutive end, because like all natural ends, it defines the activity and provides it with its own measure of success or failure. Thus Aquinas’s constitutivism is in keeping with his ethical naturalism, according to which practical reason and will are powers of a living being to realize its own form of life, according to its own self-knowledge of and desire for that very form.

Practical Knowledge, Action, and the Good [under review]

Two well known and widely discussed tenets of Elizabeth Anscombe’s classic monograph Intention are first, that intentional actions are objects of a peculiarly practical form of cognition, and second, that intentional actions are pursued by agents sub specie boni, or under the guise of the good.  Let us call these the knowledge requirement and the goodness requirement on action explanation.  Although each thesis has its supporters and detractors, few have noticed that for Anscombe they are not independently intelligible, and stand or fall together.  In this paper, I argue that the reason an agent must know what she is doing when she acts intentionally is that intentional actions are the ones done for practical reasons; that is, unlike other events, actions are constituted by a practical order of reason, an order whose inner structure shows how the action is good in a specifically practical sense.  Thus knowing what one is doing and why one is doing it just is to know it’s good—its role in the achievement of the ends that constitute the agent’s life, ends conceived of and pursued through the use of practical reason.

Revisiting Samuel Clarke’s Rationalism [in progress]

Christine Korsgaard has popularized a reading of Samuel Clarke’s ethics that makes him out to be a “dogmatic rationalist.” The charge is that Clarke held that moral obligations are part of a non-natural order of intrinsically normative facts, knowledge of which is sufficient for right action.  Rational agents are in contact with this order in the same way they are in contact with mathematical facts–by relying upon intuitive powers of theoretical reason.  Against Korsgaard, I offer a new interpretation of Clarke’s moral philosophy, according to which ethical norms and principles are grounded, not in some non-natural Platonic heaven, but in the ends and good of our own nature, which we grasp through practical reflection, rather than theoretical intuition.