Works in Progress

Abstracts of Published Articles | Phil Papers

Welfare, Meaning, and Worth

I provide a theory of worth and to show where such a concept fits in the taxonomy of axiology. I argue that the notion of worth captures matters of importance that no plausible theory of welfare can account for. Worth is a higher-level kind of value.

The book is divided into two parts: theory and applications. The first part develops an axiology of lives. Here I defend a theory of worth, a theory of meaning, and a theory of well-being. I devote a chapter to each form of value. The second part of the book explores the implications of this axiology for some issues in ethics and the philosophy of art. I discuss five topics: morality, immortality, painful art, taste, and pessimism. I devote a chapter to each topic.

[TOC and Overview]

Philosophy of Film: A Contemporary Introduction

(Routledge, under contract)

In this book, I provide a critical overview of the literature on eleven different issues in the philosophy of film, from "What is Film?" to "Can Film Do Philosophy?" I aim to provide an objective overview of the principal arguments on each side of the issues. The set of issues includes all of the most important topics as well as some that are less well represented in the discipline, such as whether the power of cinema derives from its similarity to dreams. Each chapter includes a summary, an annotated bibliography for further reading, and a short annotated filmography of illustrative examples.

[Web site]

"Pleasurably Regarding the Pain of Fictional Others"

Is it ever bad to take pleasure in the suffering of fictional characters? I think so. I attempt to show when and why. I defend a quasi Moorean view on the issue: It is intrinsically bad to enjoy evil, actual or merely imagined. In support, I offer three thought experiments. Then I present two powerful objections to my view: (1) engaging with fiction is akin to morally unproblematic autonomous fantasy, and (2) since no one is harmed, it is morally unproblematic. I reply to these objections and argue against Moore's claim that it is equally as bad to delight in fictional suffering as it is to enjoy actual suffering. Although I think that it is bad to enjoy imagined suffering, the power of fiction is often mitigating. The moral problems are more often with the works of fiction than with the audience.

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"A Life Worth Living"

Theories of well-being tell us what makes a life good for the one who lives it. But they do not tell us the entire story about what makes a life worth living. I defend an objective list account of the worth of a life: the most worthwhile lives are those net high in various objective goods. These principally include welfare and meaning. A life worth living (LWL) must pass the pre-existence test—given a synoptic pre-view, a benevolent caretaker should allow one to be born rather than to never have been. A life worth avoiding (LWA) is one that a benevolent caretaker should disallow. We care about the worth of our lives, and we are right to do so. The worth of a life is a reason giving and morally significant kind of value.

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"Love and Free Will"

In this paper, I argue that love would be largely unaffected if we came to deny free will, not simply because we cannot shake the reactive-attitude, but because love is not chosen, nor do we want it to be. Here, I am not alone; others have reached similar conclusions. But the details have yet to be explored. Even if hard determinism is true, not all love is equal. Although we have only minimal control over love, it can more or less authentic. I develop my position by considering the fictional trope of love potions and the implications of a futuristic psychotropic, Lovezac—Viagra for the heart. But I am not as optimistic as some. Even though free will skepticism would not jeopardize love the feeling, there are good reasons to worry that loving relationships would not survive unscathed.

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"In Defense of the No-Reasons View of Love"

I argue that although we can try to explain why we love, we can never justify our love. Love is neither based on reasons, responsive to reasons, nor can it be assessed for normative reasons. Love can be odd, unfortunate, fortuitous, or even sadly lacking, but it can never be fitting or unfitting. We may have reasons to act on our love, but we cannot justify our loving feelings. Shakespeare's Bottom is right: "Reason and love keep little company together now-a-days." Indeed, they keep none and the never kept any: there are no justifying reasons for love.

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"Emotional Proportionality: A Problem for Assessing the Appropriateness of Emotions"

It is widely assumed that the emotions can be meaningfully evaluated in terms of the normative notion of appropriateness. Much of the discussion has focused on one kind of appropriateness, that of fittingness. An emotional response is appropriate only if it fits its object. For instance, fear only fits dangerous things. There is another dimension of appropriateness that has been relatively ignored—proportionality. For an emotional reaction to be appropriate not only must the object fit, the reaction should be of the appropriate intensity. It should be proportional. The problem for any attempt to develop norms of appropriateness is that proportionality is a factor of how much the person cares about the focus. But, as I argue, it is not clear that care can be normatively assessed. We might be able to say that an emotion is abnormally intense, but normality does not give us normativity.