Papers

Journal Articles

The Matter of Motivating Reasons | Forthcoming in Philosophical Studies

It is now standard in the literature on reasons and rationality to distinguish normative reasons from motivating reasons. Two issues have dominated philosophical theorising concerning the latter: (i) whether we should think of them as certain (non-factive) psychological states of the agent – the dispute over Psychologism; and (ii) whether we should say that the agent can Φ for the reason that p only if p – the dispute over Factivism. This paper first introduces a puzzle: these disputes look very much like merely verbal disputes about the meaning of phrases like `S’s reason’ in motivating reasons ascriptions, and yet charity requires us to think that something substantive is afoot. But what? The second aim of the paper is to extract substantive theses from certain natural argument for Psychologism and Anti-Factivism – theses which are versions of a controversial view of the nature and normative structure of rationality. The paper ends by arguing against these substantive theses on phenomenological and ethical grounds. The upshot is that proponents of Psychologism and Anti-Factivism are either engaged in the project of defending merely verbal theses or they’re engaged in the project of defending false substantive ones.

Moral Worth and Knowing How to Respond to Reasons | Forthcoming in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research

It’s one thing to do the right thing. It’s another to be creditable for doing the right thing. Being creditable for doing the right thing requires that one does the right thing out of a morally laudable motive and that there is a non-accidental fit between those two elements. This paper argues that the two main views of morally creditable action – the Right Making Features View and the Rightness Itself View – fail to capture that non-accidentality constraint: the first because it morally credits agents who make heavy-duty moral mistakes; the second because it fails to generalise and is too conservative – a point which this paper gives renewed defence. The paper then goes on to defend and develop an alternative according to which moral worth is mediated by the agent’s knowing how to respond to the reasons of the type which make acting in that way right. It’s argued that this view avoids the problems for the alternatives, and it’s shown that in order for the view to avoid collapsing into a problematic form of Reliabilism we’ll have to think of states of knowing how as essentially successful in character.

The Basis of Debasing Scepticism | Forthcoming in Erkenntnis

This paper purports to provide a fresh cashing out of Debasing Scepticism: the type of Scepticism put on the map in a recent article by Jonathan Schaffer, with a view to demonstrating that the Debasing Sceptic's argument is not so easily dismissed as many of Schaffer's commentators have thought. After defending the very possibility of the Deception Sceptic's favoured sceptical scenario, I lay out a framework for thinking of the agent's power to hold their beliefs in the light of reasons which I argue has initial plausibility. I then attempt to show that with this framework in tow, the Debasing Sceptic has an argument for their sceptical conclusion available to them which Schaffer's commentators have failed to undermine, and which is independently interesting.

Knowledgeably Responding to Reasons | 2020. Erkenntnis 85(3): 673--692

Jennifer Hornsby has defended the Reasons-Knowledge Thesis (RKT): the claim that Φ-ing because p requires knowing that p, where the `because' at issue is a rationalising `because'. She defends (RKT) by appeal to the thought that it provides the best explanation of why the subject in a certain sort of Gettier Case fails to be in a position to Φ because p. Dustin Locke and, separately, Nick Hughes, present some modified barn-façade cases which (a) seem to constitute counterexamples to (RKT) and (b) undermine Hornsby's way of motivating it by rendering their alternative Reasons-Explanation Thesis (RET) a better explanation of Hornsby's datum. This paper defends (RKT) and Hornsby's argument for it against those objections. First, I point out that their supposedly intuitive verdict about the relevant barn-façade cases is not as intuitive as they think. Second, I point out that even if we share the intuition: we have strong reason to doubt the verdict anyway. And finally I point out that since (RET) is independently implausible, the two problems can be tackled anyway.

Is Believing for a Normative Reason a Composite Condition? | 2019. Synthese 196 (9): 3889--3910

Here is a surprisingly neglected question in contemporary epistemology: what is it for an agent to believe that p in response to a normative reason for them to believe that p? On one style of answer, believing for the normative reason that q factors into believing that p in the light of the apparent reason that q, where one can be in that kind of state even if q is false, in conjunction with further independent conditions such as q's being a normative reason to believe that p. The primary objective of this paper is to demonstrate that that style of answer cannot be right, because we must conceive of believing for a normative reason as constitutively involving a kind of rationality-involving relation that can be instantiated at all only if there is a known fact on the scene, which the agent treats as a normative reason. A secondary objective, achieved along the way, is to demonstrate that in their `Prime Time (for the Basing Relation)' Errol Lord and Kurt Sylvan do not succeed in undermining the factoring picture in general, only a simple-minded version of it.

The Formulation of Disjunctivism about Φ-ing for a Reason | 2019. Philosophical Quarterly 69 (275): 235--257

We can contrast rationalising explanations of the form S Φs because p with those of the form S Φs because S believes that p. According the Common Kind View, the two sorts of explanation are the same. The Disjunctive View denies this. This paper sets out to elucidate the sense in which the Common Kind Theorist asserts, but the Disjunctivist denies, that the two explanations are the same. I suggest that, in the light of the distinction between kinds of explanation and particular explanations, the relevant sameness thesis is ambiguous, thus giving us two distinct versions of the Common Kind View. I then argue that the only direct arguments for Disjunctivism available in the literature fail because they only succeed in undermining one version of the Common Kind View. I finish, however, by providing a fresh argument for the Disjunctive View which aims to undermine both versions of its competitor.

Reflective Epistemological Disjunctivism | 2016. Episteme 13 (1): 111--132

It is now common to draw a distinction between Epistemological and Metaphysical Disjunctivism. It is also common to suggest that a commitment to the former doesn’t obviously require a commitment to the latter. The former, it seems, is neutral on the metaphysics of experience. In this paper I focus on the type of Epistemological Disjunctivism associated with Duncan Pritchard (2012) and John McDowell (2013), which I call Reflective Epistemological Disjunctivism, or (RED). I argue that there is a prima facie plausible principle linking knowability by introspection with the nature of phenomenal character that gives us the result that (RED) is committed to Metaphysical Disjunctivism. Moreover, I put on the map a way of modifying the Internalist element of (RED) and attempt to demonstrate that, even with that modification in place, the proponent of (RED) is still committed to Metaphysical Disjunctivism.

Book Chapters

Are Perceptual Reasons the Objects of Perception? | 2018. In: Johan Gersel, Morten Thaning, Søren Overgaard, and Rasmus Jensen (eds.) In the Light of Experience: Essays on Reasons and Perception, Oxford: Oxford University Press

This paper begins with a Davidsonian puzzle in the epistemology of perception and introduces two solutions to that puzzle: the Truth-Maker View (TMV) and the Content Model. The paper goes on to elaborate (TMV), elements of which can be found in the work of Kalderon (2011) and Brewer (2011). The central tenant of (TMV) is the claim that one's reason for one's perceptual belief should, in all cases, be identified with some item one perceives which makes the proposition believed true. I defend an argument against (TMV) which appeals to (a) the claim that the reason for which one believes should always to be identified with the explanans of the rationalising explanation to which one's belief is subject and (b) the claim that the explanantia of rationalising explanations must be identified with truths. I finish by replying to two objections to the argument.

Book Reviews

Eva Schmidt's Modest Nonconceptualism | 2017. Philosophical Psychology 30 (1-2): 205-208

This review provides an overview of Eva Schmidt's impressively thorough and detailed book on the Conceptualist/Nonconceptualist debate in the philosophy of perception, and briefly sketches two objections to Schmidt. First, I suggest that a certain dilemma for the Conceptualist Schmidt raises in the context of her discussion of the fineness of grain argument is surmountable. Second, I question whether Schmidt's response to the epistemological motivation for Conceptualism is sound.

Susanne Mantel's Determined by Reasons | Forthcoming in The Philosophical Quarterly

The primary focus of Susanne Mantel’s excellent Determined by Reasons is to develop a distinctive abilities-based account of acting in response to normative reasons, one which is clearly modelled on extant ability-theoretic accounts of knowledge. This review sketches Mantel’s account and raises a worry: that the account fails to characterise the sort of abilities constitutively involved in responding to reasons because it allows that agents can act for the reason that p even if their belief that p is not accessible to conscious reasoning.

Under Review

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In the ontology of normative reasons, the orthodox view is that they are facts. In a recent paper, Nathan Robert Howard argues against this orthodoxy in favour of the view that normative reasons are partly individuated by goals. On Howard's view, my reason to feed the cat is not just that she is hungry, but that fact plus the goal to keep her healthy, or some such. This reply piece aims to defend factivism. First, I confront Howard's two-aspect view of normative reasons with a dilemma centred on the idea that only correct goals have a chance of individuating normative reasons. Second, I attempt to refute Howard's three arguments against factivism one-by-one. A common theme of my critical engagement with these arguments is that they fail to recognise that the factivist wants to identify normative reasons not with single, discrete facts but with complex clusters of facts.