Abstract: Ludwig Wittgenstein has often been called a quietist. His work has inspired a rich and varied array of theories in moral philosophy. Some other prominent moral philosophers have also been called quietists, or ‘relaxed’ as opposed to ‘robust’ realists, sometimes with explicit reference to Wittgenstein in attempts to clarify their views. In this paper, I compare and contrast these groups of theories and draw out their importance for contemporary meta-ethical debate. All of these theorists represent countercultures to contemporary meta-ethics. That is, they reject in different ways one or more of the common assumptions that, whilst not universally shared, shape how to understand and engage in contemporary meta-ethical debate. I argue that the ‘quietist’ label has obscured the views it is used to describe, the crucial differences between them, and the challenge that they offer to the predominant culture of meta-ethical enquiry. That challenge is this: there are plausible different ways of understanding and doing meta-ethics to those of the meta-ethical orthodoxy. We ignore such heterodoxy at our own peril.
Abstract: Derek Parfit defended Non-Realist Cognitivism. It is an open secret that this meta-ethical theory is often thought at best puzzling and at worst objectionably unclear. Employing truthmaker theory, I provide an account of Non-Realist Cognitivism that dispels charges of objectionable unclarity, clarifies how to assess it, and explains why, if plausible, it would be an attractive theory. I develop concerns that the theory involves cheating into an objection that ultimately reveals Non-Realist Cognitivism faces a dilemma. Whether it can escape demands further attention. In bridging meta-ethics and the truthmaking literature, I illustrate the importance of greater meta-metaphysical reflection in meta-ethics.
Abstract: Is the notion of grounding arguably prevalent throughout moral philosophy the same as that found in metaphysics? Selim Berker has argued it is. This, he claims, has a ‘surprising’ consequence: many central claims in normative ethics become claims within both normative ethics and meta-ethics. I argue that whatever important consequences the unity of grounding may have for moral philosophy, it does not, pace Berker, entail anything significant regarding the relationship between normative ethics and meta-ethics.
Abstract:The moral error theory, it seems, could be true. The mere possibility of its truth might also seem inconsequential. But it is not. For, I argue, there is a sense in which the moral error theory is possible that generates an argument against both non-cognitivism and moral naturalism. I argue that it is an epistemic possibility that morality is subject to some form of wholesale error of the kind that would make the moral error theory true. Denying this possibility has three unwelcome consequences such that allowing for and explaining it is an adequacy condition on meta-ethical theories. Non-cognitivism and moral naturalism, I argue, cannot capture the epistemic possibility of wholesale moral error and so are false. My argument additionally provides independent reason to accept Derek Parfit’s claim that if moral non-naturalism is false then nothing matters. I conclude that whether wholesale moral error is epistemically possible may be, in Richard Rorty’s words, ‘one of those issues which puts everything up for grabs at once’ and that even if so, and even if non-cognitivists and moral naturalists remain unmoved by an argument based upon it, this only helps to highlight the significance of my argument.
Abstract: Many actions we perform affect the chances of fulfilling our moral obligations. The moral status of such actions is important and deeply neglected. In this paper, I begin rectifying this neglect by asking: under what conditions, if any, is it morally wrong to perform an action that will lower the chance of one fulfilling a moral obligation? In §1, I introduce this question and motivate concern with its answer. I argue, in §2, that certain actions an agent has good reason to believe will drastically lower their chances of fulfilling a moral obligation in the future, relative to at least one alternative action available, are pro tanto morally wrong. This answer, I argue, captures our intuitions in a range of cases, avoids the problems that other views considered here face, and can be plausibly defended against some independent objections. I conclude in §3 by noting some consequences for normative and practical ethics of the moral wrongness of at least some actions that lower the chances of fulfilling our moral obligations, and by raising a series of important questions regarding these actions for future consideration.
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Abstract: Jody Azzouni argues that whilst it is indeterminate what the criteria for existence are, there is a criterion that has been collectively adopted to use ‘exist’ that we can employ to argue for positions in ontology. I raise and defend a novel objection to Azzouni: his view has the counterintuitive consequence that the facts regarding what exists can and will change when users of the word ‘exist’ change what criteria they associate with its usage. Considering three responses, I argue Azzouni has best reason to take one that ultimately renders unsuccessful his arguments against mathematical abstracta.
– Included as a Notable Writing in the 2019 edition of The Best Writing on Mathematics, edited by Mircea Pitici, from Princeton University Press.
My primary research interests are in (meta-)metaphysics, moral philosophy, and their intersections. My DPhil thesis concerns a range of issues at their intersections. In particular, it addresses questions about how to understand and engage in metaphysical disputes about morality, questions I take to be forcefully raised by a recent form of moral non-naturalism some call relaxed/quietist moral realism.
I have other research interests in, and in the relations between some of, political philosophy, epistemology, meta-philosophy, practical ethics, the philosophy of the classical Islamic period, transformative experience, the philosophies of culture, race, and education, and the history of philosophy.
I have written a brief biography for the Oriel College website on the life and work of the great philosopher and former Provost of Oriel Sir William David Ross. You can find it here.
I have also written two posts for the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics blog, one on my research on the morality of actions that affect our chances of fulfilling our obligations, and another for the Pandemic Ethics series regarding freedom, moral rights, and pandemic mitigating measures (e.g. mask wearing, lockdowns, movement restrictions). You can find them here and here.