Moralities Much of contemporary moral philosophy presupposes a view of how we should think about moral difference, disagreement and conflict. Are we constrained to argue 'as though the truth is single?' Do moral disagreements bottom out in contingent differences between people, times and places? Is there necessarily a single true morality, or are moralities more helpfully thought of as contingent and plural? Are moralities objects of thought to be discovered through intellectual inquiry, or are they cultural artifacts we make? Moral philosophers have often regarded variation, difference and disagreement as something that an acceptable moral theory should ideally iron out. Are they right?
I am currently working on a series of papers in which I pursue these, and other, questions in both a historical and contemporary context. One of these papers, entitled 'Projection, Indeterminacy and Moral Skepticism' was published in Diego Machuca (ed.) Moral Skepticism: New Essays (Routledge, 2018), and can be downloaded here:
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Debunking Morality Reflection on the fact that morality is a natural phenomenon gives rise to the question how we should respond to empirical discoveries about the origins of that phenomenon and its place in nature. Given the relative openness of our moral sensibility to the discovery of new facts, it is natural to think that our moral sensibility should be responsive to the discovery of facts about that sensibility itself. What form should this responsiveness take? Over the a number of years I have explored this topic in an evolving series of papers, focusing specifically on evolutionary explanations of moral thought; the reception of the emerging human and social sciences in moral philosophy in the late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century; and thematic parallels in contemporary metaethics. The most recent paper in the series, entitled 'Ethics, Evolution and the a priori: Ross on Spencer and the French Sociologists' appeared in The Cambridge Handbook of Evolutionary Ethics, ed. R. Richards & M. Ruse (Cambridge 2017). A draft version can be accessed here.
Rethinking Responsibility Many discussions of moral responsibility are focused on cases where the prior agency of the persons held responsible can safely be presupposed. Yet some attributions of moral responsibility involve states of affairs where there is no obviously relevant prior exercise of agency on the part of the persons held responsible. Do such attributions of responsibility make sense, or are they based on a mistaken conception of moral agency that fails to respect the nature and value of personal autonomy?
Over a number of years, I have been involved in a number of interdisciplinary collaborations on these issues involving philosophers, anthropologists and historians of moral and political thought, for example this conference on Hierarchy, Egalitarianism and Responsibility at Cambridge in 2016. I am currently working on a series of papers in which I pursue these and other questions in both a historical and contemporary context, focusing mainly on the idea of circumstantial moral luck, or features of ethical evaluation that depend on facts about our circumstances that we are either unable to understand or control.