papers

Home    CV    Papers

Papers (Paper titles link to official versions when open access, almost final drafts otherwise; journal titles link to official versions).


'What is Reasoning?' Co-authored with Conor McHugh. Mind 127 (505), 2018: 167-196

Reasoning is a certain kind of attitude-revision. What kind? The aim of this paper is to introduce and defend a new answer to this question, based on the idea that reasoning is a goodness-fixing kind. Our central claim is that reasoning is a functional kind: it has a constitutive point or aim that fixes the standards for good reasoning. We claim, further, that this aim is to get fitting attitudes. We start by considering recent accounts of reasoning due to Ralph Wedgwood and John Broome, and argue that, while these accounts contain important insights, they are not satisfactory: Wedgwood’s rules out too much, and Broome’s too little. We then introduce and defend our alternative account, discuss some of its implications and attractions, and, finally, consider objections.


'What is Good Reasoning?' Co-authored with Conor McHugh. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 96 (1), 2018: 153-74

What makes the difference between good and bad reasoning? In this paper we defend a novel account of good reasoning - both theoretical and practical - according to which it preserves fittingness or correctness: good reasoning is reasoning which is such as to take you from fitting attitudes to further fitting attitudes, other things equal. This account, we argue, is preferable to two others that feature in the recent literature. The first, which has been made prominent by John Broome, holds that the standards of good reasoning derive from rational requirements. The second holds that these standards derive from reasons. We argue that these accounts face serious difficulties in correctly distinguishing good from bad reasoning, and in explaining what’s worthwhile about good reasoning. We then propose our alternative account and argue that it performs better on these counts. In the final section, we develop certain elements of the account in response to some possible objections.


'Objectivism and Perspectivism about the Epistemic Ought'. Co-authored with Conor McHugh. Ergo 4 (5), 2017: 121-45,

What ought you believe? According to a traditional view, it depends on your evidence: you ought to believe (only) what your evidence supports. Recently, however, some have claimed that what you ought to believe depends not on your evidence but simply on what is true: you ought to believe (only) the truth. In this paper, we present and defend two arguments against this latter view. We also explore some of the parallels between this debate in epistemology, and the debate in ethics about whether how you ought to act depends on your epistemic position, or on all the facts.

'Creditworthiness and Matching Principles'. In Mark Timmons (ed), Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics, Volume 7, 2017: 207-228

You are creditworthy for φ-ing only if φ-ing is the right thing to do. Famously though, further conditions are needed too – Kant’s shopkeeper did the right thing, but is not creditworthy for doing so. This case shows that creditworthiness requires that there be a certain kind of explanation of why you did the right thing. The reasons for which you act – your motivating reasons – must meet some further conditions. In this paper, I defend a new account of these conditions. On this account, creditworthiness requires that your motivating reasons be normative reasons, and that the principles from which you act match normative principles.

'Perspectivism and the Argument from Guidance'. Co-authored with Daniel Whiting. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 20 (2), 2017: 361-74.

Perspectivists hold that what you ought to do is determined by your perspective, that is, your epistemic position. Objectivists hold that what you ought to do is determined by the facts irrespective of your perspective. This paper explores an influential argument for perspectivism which appeals to the thought that the normative is action guiding. The crucial premise of the argument is that you ought to φ only if you are able to φ for the reasons which determine that you ought to φ. We show that this premise can be understood in different ways. On one reading, it provides no support for perspectivism. On another reading, the premise lacks support. So, the argument fails. An important upshot of the paper is that the objectivist can embrace the thought about guidance.

'Reasons and Guidance (Or, Surprise Parties and Ice-Cream)'. Co-authored with Daniel Whiting. Analytic Philosophy, 57 (3), 2016: 214-35

Many philosophers accept a response constraint on normative reasons: that p is a reason for you to φ only if you are able to φ for the reason that p. This constraint offers a natural way to cash out the familiar and intuitive thought that reasons must be able to guide us, and has been put to work as a premise in a range of influential arguments in ethics and epistemology. However, the constraint requires interpretation and faces putative counter-examples due to Julia Markovits, Mark Schroeder, and others. This paper develops and motivates an interpretation of the response constraint that avoids the putative counter-examples.

'Against the Taking Condition'. Co-authored with Conor McHugh. Philosophical Issues, 26 (1), 2016: 314-31

According to Paul Boghossian and others, inference is subject to the taking condition: it necessarily involves the thinker taking his premises to support his conclusion, and drawing the conclusion because of that fact. Boghossian argues that this condition vindicates the idea that inference is an expression of agency, and that it has several other important implications too. However, we argue in this paper that the taking condition should be rejected. The condition gives rise to several serious prima facie problems and the reasons which have been offered in favour of it fail to convince. 

'Two Arguments for Evidentialism', The Philosophical Quarterly66 (265), October 2016: 805-18

Evidentialism is the thesis that all reasons to believe p are evidence for p. Pragmatists hold that pragmatic considerations – incentives for believing – can also be reasons to believe. Nishi Shah, Thomas Kelly and others have argued for evidentialism on the grounds that incentives for belief fail a ‘reasoning constraint’ on reasons: roughly, reasons must be considerations we can reason from, but we cannot reason from incentives to belief. In the first half of the paper, I show that this argument fails: the claim that we cannot reason from incentives is either false or does not combine with the reasoning constraint to support evidentialism. However, the failure of this argument suggests an alternative route to evidentialism. Roughly, reasons must be premises of good reasoning, but it is not good reasoning to reason from incentives to belief. The second half of the paper develops and defends this argument for evidentialism.
In this paper, we claim that, if you justifiably believe that you ought to perform some act, it follows that you ought to perform that act. In the first half, we argue for this claim by reflection on what makes for correct reasoning from beliefs about what you ought to do. In the second half, we consider a number of objections to this argument and its conclusion. In doing so, we arrive at another argument for the view that justified beliefs about what you ought to do must be true, based in part on the idea that that the epistemic and practical domains are uniform, in a sense we spell out. We conclude by sketching possible implications of our discussion for the debates over what is wrong with akrasia and pragmatic encroachment on justified belief and knowledge

'Fittingness First'. Co-authored with Conor McHugh. Ethics126 (2), April 2016: 575-606

According to the fitting-attitudes account of value, for X to be good is for it to be fitting to value X. But what is it for an attitude to be fitting? A popular recent view is that it is for there to be sufficient reason for the attitude. In this paper we argue that proponents of the fitting-attitudes account should reject this view and instead take fittingness as basic. In this way they avoid the notorious ‘wrong kind of reason’ problem, and can offer attractive accounts of reasons and good reasoning in terms of fittingness.

'Reasons as Premises of Good Reasoning'. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 98 (2), 2017: 251-70.

Many philosophers have been attracted to the view that normative reasons are premises of good reasoning – that for some consideration to be a normative reason to φ is for it to be the premise of good reasoning towards φ-ing. However, while this reasoning view is indeed attractive, it faces a problem accommodating outweighed reasons. In this paper, I argue that the standard solution to this problem is unsuccessful, and propose an alternative, which draws on the idea that good patterns of reasoning can be defeasible. I conclude by drawing out some implications of the resulting view for the debate over pragmatic reasons for belief and other attitudes and one influential form of reductionism about the normative.

'Broome on Reasoning'. Co-authored with Conor McHugh.Teorema, 34 (2), Spring 2015: 131-40.

Among the many important contributions of John Broome’s Rationality Through Reasoning is an account of what reasoning is and what makes reasoning correct. In this paper, we raise some problems for both of these accounts and recommend an alternative approach.          

'Reasons and Rationality'. In Daniel Star (ed), Oxford Handbook of Reasons and Normativity, Oxford University Press, 2018. 

This chapter explores the recent debate about the relationship between reasons and rational requirements of coherence – e.g. requirements to be consistent in one’s beliefs and intentions. Such requirements seem plausible because they explain what is wrong with incoherence. But it is unclear whether there are always reasons to comply with such requirements and plausible that, if there are not, then there are no such requirements. The first half of this chapter defends these claims. The second half of the chapter discusses an alternative view of what is wrong with incoherence, defended by Kolodny and others. On this view, the problem with incoherence is that it guarantees that you have some attitude that you should not have or that you lack some attitude that you should have. The chapter raises and discusses three problems for this view.


Something is wrong with akrasia, means-end incoherence, and intention inconsistency. This observation has lead many philosophers to postulate 'wide-scope' requirements against these combinations of attitudes. But some philosophers have argued that this is unwarranted. They claim that we can explain what is wrong with these combinations of attitudes by appealing only to plausible independent claims about reasons for particular beliefs and intentions. In this paper, I argue that these philosophers may well be right about akrasia but that they are wrong about means-end incoherence and intention inconsistency. While it is plausibly impossible to be akratic while having no specific attitude (or lack of an attitude) that you should not have, it is possible to be means-end incoherent or to have inconsistent intentions while having no specific attitude you should not have. There is thus a strong motivation for accepting wide-scope requirements against means-end incoherence and intention inconsistency which does not apply to akrasia. This result give some support to the view of means-end coherence developed in 'Explaining the Instrumental Principle' and 'Defending the Wide-Scope Approach to Instrumental Reason'.

'Value and Reasons to Favour'. In Russ Shafer-Landau (ed), Oxford Studies in Metaethics, Volume 8 (Oxford, 2013).


This paper defends a 'fitting attitudes' view of value on which what it is for something to be good is for there to be reasons to favour that thing. The first section of the paper defends a 'linking principle' connecting reasons and value. The second and third sections argue that this principle is better explained by a fitting-attitudes view than by 'value-first' views on which reasons are explained in terms of value.

'Instrumental Rationality', Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2013.

This is a short introductory article. I focus on three questions: What is instrumental rationality? What are the principles of instrumental rationality? Could instrumental rationality be all of practical rationality?

'Explaining the Instrumental Principle', Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 90 (3), September 2012: 487-506

The Wide-Scope view of instrumental reason holds that you should not intend an end without also intending what you believe to be the necessary means. This, the Wide-Scoper claims, provides the best account of why failing to intend the believed means to your end is a rational failing. But Wide-Scopers have struggled to meet a simple Explanatory Challenge: why shouldn’t you intend an end without intending the necessary means? What reason is there not to do so? In the first half of this paper, I argue that the Wide-Scope view struggles to meet the Explanatory Challenge because it takes the principles of instrumental reason to have unlimited application – to apply to all agents, in all circumstances. I then go on to offer an new account of these principles. The new account is very much in the spirit of the Wide-Scope view, and shares its central advantages, but lacks its unlimited application. This view should, therefore, find the Explanatory Challenge more tractable. In the second half of the paper, I argue that this prediction is confirmed. If the requirements of instrumental reason apply only when a means is, or is believed to be, necessary for your end, then plausible independent claims about reasons, rationality, and intentions, explain why failing to intend the necessary means to your ends is a rational failing.

'Transmission and the Wrong Kind of Reason'Ethics, 122 (3), April 2012: 489-515

This paper defends fitting-attitudes accounts of value against the wrong kind of reason problem. I argue for the skeptical view that putative reasons of the wrong kind are reasons to want and bring about certain attitudes but not reasons for those attitudes. The argument turns on the transmission of reasons: the familiar fact that there is often reason for one action or attitude because there is reason for another. I argue that putative reasons of the wrong kind transmit in a different way to the right kind of reasons, and that this fact is best explained by the skeptical view. 

'The Symmetry of Rational Requirements', Philosophical Studies, 155 (2), September 2011: 227-239.

Some irrational states can be avoided in more than one way. For example, if you believe that you ought to A you can avoid akrasia by intending to A or by dropping the belief that you ought to A. This supports the claim that some rational requirements are wide-scope. For instance, the requirement against akrasia is a requirement to: [intend to A or not believe that you ought to A]. But some writers object that this ignores asymmetries between the different ways of avoiding irrationality. In this paper I defend the wide-scope view against recent objections of this sort from Mark Schroeder and Niko Kolodny. I argue that wide-scopers can accept that particular attitudes can be rationally required, and that the rationality of an attitude is partly determined by the reasons for which it is formed and sustained. Once we acknowledge these points, we see that Schroeder and Kolodny's objections fail.

'The Normativity of Rationality', Philosophy Compass, 5 (12), December 2010: 1057-1068
.

This article is an introduction to the recent debate about whether rationality is normative – that is, very roughly, about whether we should have attitudes which fit together in a coherent way. I begin by explaining an initial problem – the “detaching problem” – that arises on the assumption that we should have coherent attitudes. I then explain the prominent “wide-scope” solution to this problem, and some of the central objections to it. I end by considering the options that arise if we reject the wide-scope solution.

'Defending the Wide-Scope Approach to Instrumental Reason', Philosophical Studies 147 (2), January 2010: 213-33.

The Wide-Scope approach to instrumental reason holds that the requirement to intend the necessary means to your ends should be understood as a requirement to either intend the means or else not intend the end. In this paper I explain and defend a neglected version of this approach. I argue that three serious objections to the Wide-Scope approach turn on a certain assumption about the nature of the reasons that ground the Wide-Scope requirement. The version of the Wide-Scope approach defended here allows us to reject this assumption, and so defuse the objections.

'Two Accounts of the Normativity of Rationality', Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy, December 2009.

Recent views of reasons and rationality make it plausible that it can sometimes be rational to do what you have no reason to do. A number of writers have concluded that if this is so, rationality is not normative. But this is a mistake. Even if we assume a tight connection between reasons and normativity, the normativity of rationality does not require that there is always reason to be rational. The first half of this paper illustrates this point with reference to the subjective reasons account of rationality. The second half suggest that this point may have been missed because of certain similarities between the subjective reasons account and the importantly different transparency account. On the transparency account, rationality seems not to be normative. I think it is often assumed that what goes for the transparency account goes for the subjective reasons account as well. But I argue that this is a mistake. A corollary is that the subjective reasons account has an important advantage over the transparency account, given how plausible it is that rationality is normative.

'Self-Knowledge and the Limits of Transparency', Analysis 67 (July 2007): 223-30.

A number of recent accounts of our first-person knowledge of our attitudes give a central role to transparency - our capacity to answer the question of whether we have an attitude by answering the question of whether to have it. In this paper I raise a problem for such accounts, by showing that there are clear cases of first-person knowledge of attitudes which are not transparent.

Reviews (titles link to almost final drafts; journal titles link to official versions).

Review of Weighing Reasons (OUP, 2016), ed. Errol Lord and Barry Maguire. Forthcoming in European Journal of Philosophy

Review of Morality and the Emotions (OUP, 2011), ed. Carla Bagnoli. The Philosophical Quarterly, 63 (252), 610-12