School of Historical, Philosophical & Religious Studies
975 S. Myrtle Ave
Tempe, AZ 85287-4302
Office: 3362 Coor Hall
Office Hours: On sabbatical.
I am Professor of Philosophy in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies at Arizona State University. I'm also an Associate Editor for Ethics: An International Journal of Social, Political and Legal Philosophy. My research focuses mainly on morality, rationality, and the interconnections between the two, but I have also written on well-being, posthumous harm, and the non-identity problem. Currently, I am completing a book entitled Opting for the Best: Oughts and Options, which is in press with Oxford University Press. The book concerns what I take to be the least controversial normative principle concerning action: you ought to perform your best option — best, that is, in terms of whatever matters. The book sets aside the question of what matters so as to focus on more basic issues, such as: What are our options? Which options do we assess directly in terms of their goodness and which do we assess in terms of their relations to the goodness of other options? What do we hold fixed when assessing how good an option is? Do we, for instance, hold fixed the agent’s present beliefs, desires, and intentions? And do we hold fixed the agent’s predictable future misbehavior? Lastly, what is it for something to matter? That is, what, in the most general terms, determines the goodness of an option?
One of the book's more controversial theses is that we have obligations not only to voluntarily perform certain actions, but also to non-voluntarily form certain reasons-responsive attitudes (e.g., desires, beliefs, and intentions). For, as I argue, agents have, in the relevant sense, just as much control over which attitudes they form as which acts they perform. This is important because what effect an act will have on the world depends not only on which acts the agent will simultaneously and subsequently be performing, but also on which attitudes she will simultaneously and subsequently be forming. And this all leads me to adopt a new type of practical theory, which I call rationalist maximalism. On this theory, we first evaluate the entire set of things over which the agent exerts control, where this includes the formation of certain attitudes as well as the performance of certain acts. And, then, we evaluate an individual act as being permissible if and only if there is such a set that is itself permissible and that includes that act as a proper part. Importantly, this theory has two unusual features. First, it is not exclusively act-orientated, for it requires more from us than just the performance of certain voluntary acts. It requires, in addition, that we non-voluntarily form certain attitudes. Second, it is attitude-dependent in that it holds that which acts we’re required to perform depends on which attitudes we’re required to form. These features are, I argue, crucial both to understanding the sense in which morality must be collectively successful (or morally harmonious) and to solving various puzzles concerning what we ought to do, including those involving overdetermined outcomes, indeterminate outcomes, intransitive preferences, predictable future misbehavior, and acts that are versions of other acts.
My other book — Commonsense Consequentialism: Wherein Morality Meets Rationality (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011) — defends a version of consequentialism that both comports with our commonsense moral convictions and shares with other consequentialist theories the same compelling teleological conception of practical reasons. Although the primary aim of the book is to defend a particular consequentialist theory (viz., commonsense consequentialism), it defends this theory as part of a coherent whole concerning our commonsense views about the nature and substance of both morality and rationality.
I am also the author of several journal articles, appearing in Noûs, Mind, Ethics, Ratio, Utilitas, Philosophical Studies, Philosophy Compass, Journal of Philosophy, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, American Philosophical Quarterly, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Philosophy & Phenomenological Research, Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics, Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, and the Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy.
Before coming to Arizona State University in 2005, I taught at the College of Charleston from 1998-2000 and at California State University, Northridge from 2000-2005. During the 2008-09 academic year, I was a Faculty Fellow at the Center for Ethics and Public Affairs, Murphy Institute, Tulane University. During the summer of 2015, I was a Visiting Fellow within the School of Philosophy, Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University. And during the 2016-17 academic year, I was a Laurance S. Rockefeller Visiting Faculty Fellow at the University Center for Human Values, Princeton University.
I received a bachelor's degree in philosophy and political science from the University of California, San Diego in 1991, and master's and doctorate degrees in philosophy from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1993 and 1998, respectively. Also, as a graduate student, I spent 1994 at Monash University to study with Michael Smith and Peter Singer among others. Before all that, I attended elementary school at Ahuimanu Elementary School, middle school at Le Jardin Academy, and high school at Punahou School and Torry Pines High School. Lastly, I am one of the founders of, and a past contributor to, PEA Soup— a blog dedicated to the discussion of philosophy, ethics, and academia.