My current work is on foundational questions about the value of humanity. This is a Kantian topic but I develop a proposal in a non-Kantian framework. I argue that to be a Kantian in ethics is to be committed to rationalism, but that the foundations of ethics should take account of the nature of human beings and our circumstances in the world. I develop a non-Kantian theory in which the value of human beings is no different, metaphysically speaking, from the value of other valuable things. Human beings have value, just as anything of value has value: because we are capable of being good-for something or someone. Most fundamentally, I argue that we are capable of being good-for ourselves. I propose that human beings have value in virtue of a capacity for having final ends, and that the capacity for having final ends makes us valuable because it makes us capable of living a good life, a life that is valuable because it is good-for the person who leads it. I show how the value of human beings gives everyone reason to treat human beings in certain ways. In particular, I show how everyone has reason not to destroy the capacity of human beings to have final ends, and, more positively, to help others realise their ends.
For future research projects see here.
Papers in progress
‘On the Value Simpliciter of Human Beings By Regress’
I examine a common argument schema for the value simpliciter of human beings. It begins with an argument for value simpliciter. There must be something of value simpliciter for anything to have value; the chains of dependence between values must come to an end. According to prominent versions of this argument, put forward by Joseph Raz and others, human beings meet the criteria for having value simpliciter. I reject this argument schema, and the notion of value simpliciter as theoretically superfluous. If we reject value simpliciter, the chains of dependence between values must be such that human beings are valuable either: (i) because we are good-for objects or activities of value; (ii) because we are good-for human beings (or other beings); or (iii) because we are good-for ourselves. I give reason to favour (iii). I argue that objects and activities of value have value because they are good-for human beings (or other beings), and that human beings have value because we are capable of standing in a relation to ourselves, a relation of being good-for ourselves. This makes the value of human beings non-derivative on the value of something else, but without invoking the notion of value simpliciter.
‘On the Value of Human Beings’
I give a positive account of the value of human beings. I take the basis of human value to be that we are capable of having final ends, that is, interests, projects and relationships that are pursued for their own sake. By working through a proposal by Samuel Scheffler, I argue that to have a final end is (i) to believe that the end is valuable, (ii) to be guided by the end in long-range deliberation, (iii) to be engaged with the end in a sustained way over time, and (iv) to be emotionally susceptible to successes and failures in pursuit of the end. The capacity for having final ends confers value on us, I argue, because it makes us capable of leading a good life. And a good life is valuable because it is valuable for the person whose life it is. The most fundamental explanation of the value of having final ends, then, is that it makes us good-for ourselves. The explanation has the air of a paradox. For one, it raises a question about the reasons we have to respond to human beings. If the capacity to have final ends makes us valuable because it makes us good-for ourselves, what reason should others have to respond to us? This is an instance of a more general worry, raised by Donald H. Regan, about the normative force of goodness-for. I argue that the worry rests on a misunderstanding about the theoretical role of goodness-for. That human beings are valuable because we are good-for something or someone explains the value of human beings. That is, it explains how human beings genuinely have value—value which gives everyone reason to interact with human beings in specifiable ways. In particular, I argue that we have reason (i) not to destroy the capacity of human beings to pursue their own ends, and (ii) to help others pursue their ends.
‘Kant’s Commitment to Metaphysics of Morals’ (Forthcoming: European Journal of Philosophy).
A definitive feature of Kant’s moral philosophy is its rationalism. Kant insists that moral theory, at least at its foundation, cannot take account of empirical facts about human beings and their circumstances in the world. This is the core of Kant’s commitment to ‘metaphysics of morals’, and it is what he sees as his greatest contribution to moral philosophy. The paper clarifies what it means to be committed to metaphysics of morals, why Kant is committed to it, and where he thinks empirical considerations may enter moral theory. The paper examines recent work of contemporary Kantians (Barbara Herman, Allen Wood and Christine Korsgaard) who argue that there is a central role for empirical considerations in Kant’s moral theory. Either these theorists interpret Kant himself as permitting empirical considerations to enter moral theory, or they propose to extend Kant’s theory so as to allow them to enter. I argue that these interpretive trends are not supported by the texts, and that the proposed extensions are not plausibly Kantian. Kant’s insistence on the exclusion of empirical considerations from the foundations of moral theory is not an incidental feature of his thought which might be modified while the rest remains unchanged. Rather, it is the very center of his endeavors in moral philosophy. If we disagree with it, I argue, we have grounds for moving to a distinctly different theoretical framework.
‘Responsibility and the Value of Noumenal Beings’
Kant may be thought committed to a dilemma about responsibility: either we are never responsible for morally bad actions, or we are always responsible for morally bad actions. We are never responsible for bad actions because, for Kant, we are only fully agents when we act as we morally should, not when we fail to do so. We are always responsible for bad actions, for Kant, because we are always capable of moral agency, and therefore always responsible for failing to live up to it. I consider whether either horn of the dilemma may be seized by appealing to lines of argument in David Velleman and Christine Korsgaard. Ultimately, I conclude that these arguments fail. The dilemma is generated by Kant’s non-empirical conception of agency, and we should reject this conception. While it is true that we are rational agents, I argue that our empirical nature is also taken, and is right to be taken, as practically relevant. We relate to one another as rational beings, but also as beings with failings and vulnerabilities.