Research

Publications:

“Gun Control, the Right to Self-Defense, and Reasonable Beneficence to All” (with Philip Swenson), Ergo (forthcoming).

Please email me for a draft of this paper.

One of the strongest arguments against the implementation of gun control measures is that such measures violate the right to self-defense or security against attack. The argument, defended by Michael Huemer and others, claims that even if a particular gun control measure has good results overall, it infringes, in a manner which is prima facie seriously wrong, the rights of those who end up being killed or significantly harmed due to their resultant inability to defend themselves. We claim that uncertainty on the part of the government about who will be harmed by a particular gun control measure underwrites a strong response to this argument. If gun control measures save lives on balance, then they may increase each person’s chance of remaining safe relative to the information available to the government, even if they will cause some people to be harmed who otherwise would not have been. We draw on Caspar Hare’s arguments for the claim that there are no conflicts between morality and reasonable beneficence to contend that this fact would vindicate gun control policies.

“Equality as a Moral Basis for Progressive Politics,” in Ethics: Left and Right, ed. by Bob Fischer, Oxford University Press (forthcoming).

A (nearly) final draft of this paper can be read here.

My mandate for this chapter was, roughly speaking, to explore some of the major philosophical commitments which underlie leftist thought. In it, I sketch of version of so-called “social egalitarianism” and explore some of its implications. Social egalitarians think that egalitarian justice requires that people enjoy equal social relationships of a certain sort with one another, leading them to be wary of social hierarchies. I explain some of the types of hierarchical oppression which social egalitarians oppose, explain how social egalitarians see these types of oppression as being present in modern American society, and explain how concern for combating these types of oppression helps justify left-wing positions on a range of issues.

“Moral Indulgences: When Offsetting is Wrong” (with Rebecca Chan), Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion 9, 68-95, 2019.

This paper can be read here.

We introduce the concept and explore the permissibility of moral indulgences. Roughly speaking, an agent is morally indulgent when they do something that, absent a defeater, is wrong, and, in order to offset this, do something that is supererogatory and more good than the bad action was bad. We then seek to explain why and when being morally indulgent is permissible. For some cases, being morally indulgent appears permissible (as when one buys a large carbon offset after polluting more than one’s fair share), while for others, it appears impermissible (as when murdering one but, otherwise unrelatedly, saving two to make up for it). Our explanation for when being indulgent is permissible appeals to universalizability of the sort found in certain forms of Kantianism, contractualism, and rule consequentialism. Finally, we explore the implications of our account for what God should do, and why, if there are no unsurpassable possible worlds.

“Expression and Indication in Ethics and Political Philosophy,” Res Publica 25(3), 387-406, 2019.

This paper can be read here.

We sometimes have reasons to perform actions due to what they would communicate. Those who’ve discussed such reasons have understood what an action “communicates” as what it conventionally expresses. Brennan and Jaworski argue that when a convention ensures that expressing the appropriate thing would be costly, we should change or flout the convention. I argue that what really matters is often what attitudes we indicate rather than conventionally express, using social science to show that indicating our attitudes is often unavoidably costly, and sometimes worth the cost. I use this account to defend communicative arguments for egalitarian distributive policies.

“Eschatology for Creeping Things (And Other Animals),” invited chapter in The Lost Sheep in Philosophy of Religion: New Perspectives on Disability, Gender, Race, and Animals, ed. by Kevin Timpe and Blake Hereth, Routledge, 2019, 141-162.

A draft of this paper can be read here.

This chapter evaluates six arguments for the claim that if theism is true, then animal universalism, the view that all non-human animals with interests will eventually receive eternal, infinitely good afterlives, is also true. One argument is original to me, while the others have been defended elsewhere. I find some of these arguments unsatisfactory, but claim that others are compelling, or can be modified in ways which make them compelling. I conclude that the compelling arguments together provide a very strong case for animal universalism. One recurring theme in the discussion is that the literature on animal universalism must pay more attention to the diversity among non-human animals: some of the arguments I discuss fail to establish animal universalism because they appeal to features which may only be possessed by some non-human animals. This represents an affinity with my earlier work, where I claimed that philosophers of religion working on the problem of evil must likewise pay more attention to the diversity among non-human animals.

“Sufferer-Centered Requirements on Theodicy and All-Things-Considered Harms,” Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion, 8, 71-95, 2017.

A preprint of this paper can be read here.

Both Marilyn Adams and Eleonore Stump have endorsed requirements on theodicy which, if true, imply that we can never suffer all-things-considered harms.  William Hasker has offered a series of arguments intended to show that this implication is unacceptable.  In this paper, I evaluate Hasker’s arguments and find them lacking.  However, I also argue that Hasker’s arguments can be modified or expanded in ways that make them very powerful.  I close by considering why God might not meet the requirements endorsed by Stump and Adams and show how they can modify their requirements to avoid the untenable implications about harm while still respecting the concerns that motivated their requirements in the first place.

“The Problem of Evil and the Suffering of Creeping Things,” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 82(1), 71-88, 2017.

This paper can be read here.

Even philosophers of religion working on the problem of non-human animal suffering have ignored the suffering of creatures like insects. Sensible as this seems, it’s mistaken. I am not sure whether creatures like these can suffer, but it is plausible, on both commonsensical and scientific and philosophical grounds, that many of them can. If they do, their suffering makes the problem of evil much worse: their vast numbers mean the amount of evil in the world will almost certainly be increased by many, many orders of magnitude, the fact that disproportionately many of them live lives which are nasty, brutish, and short means that the proportion of good to evil in the world will be drastically worsened, and their relative lack of cognitive sophistication means that many theodicies, including many specifically designed to address animal suffering, would apply to their suffering only with much greater difficulty, if at all. Philosophers of religion should therefore more seriously investigate whether these beings can suffer and what, if anything, could justify God in allowing as much.

“Wealth, Well-Being, and the Danger of Having too Much,” Religions 8(5), 2017.

This paper can be read here. It was an invited paper for a special issue on economic inequality; a description of the special issue by the editors can be found here.

It’s impossible for an agent who is classically economically rational to have so much wealth that it’s harmful for them, since such an agent would simply give away their excess wealth.  Actual agents, vulnerable to akrasia and lacking full information, are not economically rational, but economists and political philosophers have nonetheless mostly ignored the possibility that having too much might be harmful in some ways.  I survey the major philosophical theories of well-being and draw on ethics and the social sciences to point out several ways in which, on the most plausible of these theories, having too much, relative to other members of one’s society, might be harmful to oneself (for instance, by making it harder for one to have appropriate relationships with others, or by making it more likely that one will develop undesirable character traits.)  I argue that because egalitarian policies prevent these harms and provide the advantaged with other benefits (such as access to public goods which help rich and poor alike,) egalitarian policies are not as harmful to the rich as is commonly supposed, and may even be helpful to them on balance.  I close by discussing the practical implications of this.

“‘We are Here to Help Each Other’: Religious Community, Divine Hiddenness, and the Responsibility Argument,” Faith and Philosophy 32(1), 45-62, 2015.

A preprint of this paper can be read here.

Richard Swinburne and Travis Dumsday have defended what J.L. Schellenberg calls “the responsibility argument” as a response to the problem of divine hiddenness. Schellenberg, meanwhile, has levied various objections against the responsibility argument. In this paper, I develop a version of the responsibility argument and discuss some advantages it has over those defended by either Swinburne or Dumsday. I then show how my version can withstand Schellenberg’s criticisms.