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A Virtue Ethics Response to Implicit Bias Implicit Bias and Philosophy, Volume 2: Moral Responsibility, Structural Injustice, and Ethics. Ed. Michael Brownstein and Jennifer Saul. Oxford: OUP. (2016).
Virtue ethics faces two challenges based in ‘dual-process’ models of cognition. The classic situationist worry is that we just do not have reliable motivations at all. One promising response invokes an alternative model of cognition which can accommodate evidence cited in support of dual-process models without positing distinct systems for automatic and deliberative processing. The approach appeals to the potential of automatization to habituate virtuous motivations. This response is threatened by implicit bias which raises the worry that we cannot avoid habituating reliably vicious motivations. I argue that the alternative model of cognition also offers the virtue ethicist a promising response to this second challenge. In particular, the virtue ethicist can respond to the implicitly biased by counselling the habituation of egalitarian virtue, rather than merely the control of anti-egalitarian vice. Research shows both the importance of automatized individual egalitarian commitments and the potential of habituation to automatize deliberatively endorsed egalitarian goals. However, individuals’ ability to sustain and implement their commitments depends crucially on hospitable environments. Communities which themselves embody egalitarian values and which encourage and support their members’ egalitarian commitments are therefore essential. As Aristotle said, individual virtue requires a virtuous community.
Better Lie! Analysis 74.1: 59-64 (2014).
I argue that lying is generally morally better than mere deliberate misleading because the latter involves the exploitation of a greater trust and more seriously abuses our willingness to fulfil epistemic and moral obligations to others. Whereas the liar relies on our figuring out and accepting only what is asserted, the mere deliberate misleader depends on our actively inferring meaning beyond what is said in the form of conversational implicatures as well. When others’ epistemic and moral obligations are determined by standard assumptions of communicative cooperation and no compelling moral reason justifies mere deliberate misleading instead, one had better lie.
Automaticity in Virtuous Action. With Jonathan Webber. The Philosophy and Psychology of Virtue, ed. Nancy Snow and Franco Trivigno (Routledge, 2014).
Virtuous action depends on automaticity of motivation, not of skill. Attitude and goal psychology provide a cognitive architecture which can support the habituation of virtuous motivations.
Are intelligible agents square? Philosophical Explorations (online 2013).
In How We Get Along, J. David Velleman argues for two related theses: first, that “making sense” of oneself to oneself and others is a constitutive aim of action; second, that this fact about action grounds normativity. Examining each thesis in turn, I argue against the first that an agent may deliberately act in ways which make sense in terms of neither her self-conception nor others’ conceptions of her. Against the second thesis, I argue that some vices are such that the agents concerned would make more sense to neither themselves nor others if they were to reform, and, furthermore, that an agent may make more sense to herself and others by becoming more, rather than less, vicious. I conclude that both theses should be rejected.
Constancy, Fidelity, and Integrity. With Jonathan Webber. The Handbook of Virtue Ethics, ed. Stan van Hooft (Acumen, 2013).
Integrity consists in constancy of commitment, fidelity to commitments, fidelity to getting it right, and concern with the balance of these attitudes.
Reclaiming the Conscience of Huckleberry Finn. The Experience of Philosophy, sixth edition, ed. Daniel Kolak and Raymond Martin (OUP, 2006).
Huck Finn’s emotional responses constitute perfectly good moral reasons not to betray his friend, even though Huck is unable to recognise them as such.