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

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

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.

How To Be An Ethical Naturalist [invited contribution to edited volume on Philippa Foot, submitted to editor]

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.

Neo-Aristotelian Ethical Naturalism [invited contribution to The Cambridge Companion to Natural Law Ethics]

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 [in progress]

To be autonomous, the Kantians tell us, is to act in accordance with the norms constitutive of our capacity to reason practically.  And to exercise this capacity well, the Kantians assure us, is not to recognize some purportedly due authority—God, the State, Tradition, or Nature—over our practically deliberative powers, but simply to determine our own conception of how to be and live in accordance with the formal principles that constitute its proper exercise.  Let us call this the autonomy of practical reason thesis.  Though it doubtlessly presents us with a gratifying self-image, in this paper I will argue that it is almost certainly false, and that this can be shown on a priori grounds.

Happiness and Constitutivism in Thomas Aquinas [invited contribution to an edited volume on constitutivism]

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.

Aquinas on Sin and Self-Love [under review]

This paper explores Aquinas’s account of sin from a philosophical perspective. For Aquinas, sin is just bad action, but sin in the sense of moral failure is action that is against right reason with respect to human life as a whole. Aquinas argues that sins are acts against right practical reason, and that the cause of sin is inordinate self-love. Aquinas understands this self-love in terms of a general pride and covetousness that is the root of all bad human acts. Aquinas sees that even the virtuous sin, whether from ignorance, weakness, or even clear-eyed malice. Vicious action, however, is sin par excellence, because vice is a settled disposition that inclines the will to sin with ease and pleasure—without regret or compunction.

In this paper, I will argue that Aquinas was correct to identify selfishness as the ultimate source of much human unhappiness, as inordinate self-love impedes the full realization of our human nature.   I argue that whereas the virtues orient us to living well (or human happiness) by relating our individual good to the common good, the vices orient us to think, act, and feel in ways that give the individual good an undue pride of place in practical reasoning and the vision of the good life. Vice, like sin in general, is selfish and ultimately self-destructive, because the deeper meaning and purpose of human life is to achieve communion with others.

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.