I am an associate professor in the philosophy department at the University of Maryland, College Park. I write about moral and political philosophy, and occasionally about art and religion as well. The classes i teach range from Introduction to Philosophy to graduate seminars in ethics.
Justice and the Wealth of Nations: a New England Libertarianism
Oxford University Press, accepted for publication
This book takes a fresh look at economic justice through a libertarian lens. Libertarians of all stripes champion individual liberty and free markets, but the “New England” version that I defend is unusual in two respects. First, libertarianism is often presented as resting on very strong assumptions about individual rights. (E.g., “The state may not tax us because of our absolute right to private property.”) By contrast, the first part of the book argues that libertarianism emerges from everyday moral beliefs we have about what we can demand from one another. If we recognize even modest strictures on harm, if we acknowledge even easily defeated claims to ownership, we quickly run into at least a moderate libertarianism. This is because it turns out to be very hard to justify shifting our burdens onto others in the way that an expansive welfare state requires.
Second, political philosophy has become an increasingly narrow and insular field, disconnected from work in economics, history, and political practice. This book bucks that trend. In the second part, it shows how both economic theory and empirical research should influence our thinking about economic justice, for instance by illuminating the role that luck plays in wealth distribution, and the way in which economic growth is related to happiness. And in the third part, I consider economic history and disputes about how growth has been achieved, prompting calls for reparations in some quarters. Libertarians have often ignored these hard cases, but we can't make sense of economic justice without trying to resolve them. The book then concludes by considering two political questions. We will reject libertarianism if we interpret it as a political utopia, and many feel affronted by the politically incorrect discourse libertarians engage in, for instance when they seem to victim-shame. But neither of these makes for the kind of objection sometime supposed. Libertarians can be incrementalists, and there is no easy alternative to political incorrectness.
Select papers by theme:
Political and economic philosophy
The cliché is that political correctness tramples on rights to free-speech, as if the potential loss were merely expressive; the real issue is that in filtering public discourse, political correctness may defeat our own substantive aims. Journal of Practical Ethics, forthcoming PDF
Most philosophical discussions of property have followed Locke in focusing on natural resources as the key to wealth. But in modern economies wealth is mainly generated by services. This casts doubt on philosophical programmes predicated on the natural resource paradigm, and makes wealth transfers harder to justify. Philosophy and Economics, forthcoming PDF
Philosophers often emphasize injustices in trying to make sense of global poverty, but they tend to overlook the fact that poverty has been the default option for nearly all of human history. And the so-called Great Divergence that brought wealth to some but not others wasn't itself caused by morally culpable factors. This should lead us to reconsider normative accounts of global poverty. Public Affairs Quarterly 2014 PDF
"Faced with a pick of accountants at a firm, sound epistemology overwhelmingly suggests barreling past attractive, polite workers and urgently seeking out the ugliest, shortest, most boorish one available, yet this strategy is rarely even considered." Thought 2013 PDF
The Easterlin paradox says that higher income makes individuals happier within a country, even though the population of a country doesn’t seem to get happier with higher average income. The Disability paradox says that people with significant disabilities experience far less of an impact on their happiness than one would predict. I argue that these results can’t easily be dismissed, and that they tell us something interesting about the nature of happiness and practical reasoning. Philosophy & Public Affairs 2011 PDF
Art & the emotions
What we should do is often subject to our affective shifts, at least if how much we care about something is an important element of practical reasoning. Journal of Moral Philosophy 2014 PDF
A lot of art and the rest of life is pretty boring, but philosophers and critics tend to avoid admitting it. I offer an account of the boring, using Wagner as a case-study. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 2014PDF
I argue that anticipated emotions like regret give us little or no reason to act. I also argue that the valence of emotions is a function of the sensations they involve. Includes a discussion of death-bed regrets, and of whether teenagers should listen to their annoying parents. Philosopher's Imprint 2011 PDF
I explore various reasons we might have for regretting our resilience to loss, both because of what resilience tells us about our ultimate significance to others, and because resilience may render us incapable of comprehending the true nature of a loss. The Journal of Philosophy 2007 PDF
Ethics and religion
Reasonable people will admit that there is a non-trivial possibility that one of the arguments against abortion goes through. That seems to leave room for worrying about moral risk–the thought that abortion is risky even if we believe the pro-life position to be wrong. Philosophy 2011 PDF
God seems to have had many more options by which to bring about life than were available under natural selection. If so, then mundane features of the world, like that the earth is very old, would actually be evidence that the world was not designed, since that outcome was "optional" on the design hypothesis but nearly inevitable on natural selection. Theists like myself might find this evidence unwelcome, but as I stress, this is only one piece of evidence among many. Religious Studies 2010 PDF
Consider the Bachelor's Argument: assume that marriage involves a promise to be in a lifelong relationship with another person. Either that promise has lifelong binding force or it doesn't. If it does, marriage is crazy, since it commits us to a relationship with someone even if we cease to love or even like them. Alternatively, if the promise loses its force once we cease to love our spouse, then the commitment lacks authority in the only circumstance in which it is needed and is therefore pointless. People should get married (the author did!), but not for reasons related to oaths and vows. Philosophy 2003 PDF