Published work
Unpublished work
Work in progress

Here you can, should you be surprisingly so inclined, sample my distinctive brand of philosophical writing, which combines excessive length and airless grammatical complexity with an absence of philosophical imagination and novelty, a profound inability to see the bigger picture, and a nose for questions that many others have already written much better articles and books about.



‘Are we conditionally obligated to be effective altruists?’ (submitted | published)
Philosophy & Public Affairs vol. 46, issue 1, pp. 36–59

It seems that you can be in a position to rescue people in mortal danger and yet have no obligation to do so, because of the sacrifice to you that this would involve. At the same time, if you do save anyone, then you must not leave anyone to die whom it would cost you no additional sacrifice to save. On the basis of this, Theron Pummer and Joe Horton have recently defended a ‘conditional obligation of effective altruism’, which requires one to give to the most cost-effective charity if one is going to make a charitable donation at all, all other things equal. I argue that their inferences don’t go through, and moreover that this sort of argument in general is unlikely to work as a way to defend effective altruism.

‘The Power of Public Positions’ (submitted | published)
Sobel, Vallentyne, and Wall (eds.), Oxford Studies in Political Philosophy Volume 4 (Oxford University Press)

The Kantian account of political authority holds that the state is a necessary and sufficient condition of our freedom. We cannot be free outside the state, Kantians argue, because any attempt to have some of the rights necessary for our freedom, such as rights of private property, implicates us in relations of dependence on private judgment. These relations are morally objectionable, and that defeats the attempt to have the rights. Only in the state can this problem be overcome.

This account seems to me very appealing as a way to make sense of the authority of the state. However, the state is just a bunch of institutions, which is to say a bunch of people following some rules together. It's not really very clear how this is supposed to make the necessary difference, and neither Kant nor influential contemporary Kantians whose work on this I've read seem to me to have explained it very compellingly. So in this paper I describe an explanation that Kantians might hope to deploy in order to give the required explanation. The key idea is that only under the institutions of an appropriately constituted state can a person make the necessary claims of what Kant calls 'acquired right' without presupposing that she's naturally exceptional, which is of course just the kind of thing that Kantian ethics condemns.



‘Preventing Optimific Wrongings’ (submitted | published)
Utilitas vol. 29, issue 4, pp. 453–473

An ‘optimific wronging’ is, roughly speaking, a rights-violation that brings about a better outcome than respecting the right in question would have brought about. So, for example, if you wallop me on the arm with a baseball bat so as to prevent someone else from walloping two other people on their arms with a baseball bat, that's an optimific wronging, all other things equal. (I'm assuming that we all have rights not to be walloped.) To take seriously the idea that people have rights is to accept that we ought not, in general, to perform optimific wrongings, despite their optimificity.

However, Andreas Mogensen has suggested that it might nevertheless be morally permissible to stand by and let others wrong people if the wrongings are optimific.

This article is a response to Mogensen. In the first half of the article, I suggest that Mogensen's argument isn't really about optimific wrongings in general, but about optimific wrongings in the kind of case that's usually used to illustrate the Doctrine of Double Effect (DDE); then I argue that people who accept the DDE in the first place aren't going to agree that you may stand by and allow the optimific wronging to go ahead in such cases. I don't defend the DDE myself, though. In the second half of the paper, I discuss the idea that standing by and allowing a wronging to go ahead might be morally worse than standing by and allowing an equivalently harmful but non-wrongful event to go ahead. The discussion's a bit sketchy here, but it does include examples of lethal self-driving ambulances and dogs pushing people off bridges.



‘The Limits of Background Justice’ (submitted | published)
Social Philosophy and Policy vol. 30, issue 1–2, pp. 352–372

The argument from background justice is that conformity to Lockean principles of justice in agreements and transactions does not preclude the development of inequalities that undermine the freedom and fairness of those very transactions, and that, therefore, special principles are needed to regulate society's 'basic structure'. Rawls offers this argument as an important reason for taking the basic structure to be the primary subject of justice. Here I explore the background justice argument and its implications for questions about the 'scope' of distributive justice (i.e. the set of individuals for the distribution of benefits and burdens among whom distributive justice sets a standard).

As it turns out, I claim, the background justice argument can offer no independent support for conclusions about the scope of distributive justice. For the special principles that it justifies inherit their scope from conclusions that must be established or assumed in advance. These prior conclusions are precisely what is at issue in debates about global justice. Most of the article is taken up with the distinction and assessment of various interpretations of the argument from background justice, which leaves hardly any room for exploration of its implications for questions about the scope of distributive justice. So the part of the article on the latter topic is lamentably hurried.