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selected papers 

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Busting the Ghost of Neutral Counterparts | Ergo, 2023
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Slurs have been standardly assumed to bear a very direct, very distinctive semantic relationship to what philosophers have called “neutral counterpart” terms. I argue that this is mistaken: the general relationship between paradigmatic slurs and their “neutral counterparts” should be assumed to be the same one that obtains between ‘chick flick’ and ‘romantic comedy’, as well a huge number of other more prosaic pairs of derogatory and “less derogatory” expressions. The most plausible general relationship between these latter expressions — and thus, I argue, between paradigmatic slurs and “neutral counterpart” terms — is one of overlap in presumed extension, grounded in overlap in associated stereotypes. The resulting framework has the advantages of being simple, unified, and, unlike its orthodox rivals, neatly accommodating of a much wider range of data than has previously been considered. More importantly, it positions us to better understand, identify, and confront the insidious mechanisms of ordinary bigotry.

Normative Inference Tickets, with Jonathan Ichikawa | Episteme, 2023
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We argue that stereotypes associated with concepts like he-said–she-said, conspiracy theory, sexual harassment, and those expressed by paradigmatic slurs provide “normative inference tickets”: conceptual permissions to automatic, largely unreflective normative conclusions. These “mental shortcuts” are underwritten by associated stereotypes. Because stereotypes admit of exceptions, normative inference tickets are highly flexible and productive, but also liable to create serious epistemic and moral harms. Epistemically, many are unreliable, yielding false beliefs which resist counterexample; morally, many perpetuate bigotry and oppression. Still, some normative inference tickets, like some activated by sexual harassment, constitute genuine moral and hermeneutical advances. For example, our framework helps explain Miranda Fricker’s notion of “hermeneutical lacunae”: what early victims of “sexual harassment” — as well as their harassers — lacked before the term was coined was a communal normative inference ticket — one that could take us, collectively, from “this is happening” to “this is wrong.”

Defining Moral Realism, with Mark Schroeder | The Oxford Handbook on Moral Realism, 2023

Wherever philosophers disagree, one of the things at issue is likely to be what they disagree about, itself. So also with moral realism, or metanormative realism more broadly. In addition to asking whether moral realism is true, and which forms of moral realism are more likely to be true than others, we can also ask what it would mean for some form of moral realism to be true—we can try to de6ne “moral realism” and each of its standard variants “naturalism,” “non-naturalism,” and so on. The usual aspiration of such inquiry is to find definitions that all can agree on, so that we can use terms in an unambiguous and uniform way. But we doubt that this aspiration is always possible, or even necessarily desirable. It will be our goal in this essay to sketch out some of our reasons for such skepticism, and to lay out a picture of what philosophical inquiry can look like in metaethics and beyond, even when it is impossible to reach uniform agreement on the terms of the debate.

Doxastic Anxiety and Doxastic Courage: When Evidence Isn't Enough | featured on PhilosophyTube

In this chapter of my dissertation, I defend the application of ordinary, virtue-theoretic notions of courage and cowardice to belief formation and suspension. Characteristically, courage involves (a) defying fear or anxiety for (b) the sake of a moral good. (Cowardice, by contrast, involves capitulating to fear or anxiety in spite of a moral good.) So, to argue that there is a distinctive kind of doxastic courage, I draw first on the work of psychologist Arie Kruglanski to show (A): that there is a kind of fear or anxiety which is related to belief formation; and that this fear or anxiety is something which we can plausibly defy (or capitulate to). I call this doxastic anxiety. I then show (B): that whether we defy (or capitulate to) doxastic anxiety is, in at least some cases, apt for normative appraisal; and that the nature and upshot of this appraisal is, in at least some cases, intuitively moral.

Are Women 'Free and Equal' in Rawls's Well-Ordered Society?

Feminists have long worried that Rawls’s political liberalism cannot secure justice for women. Following Okin, many have worried that Rawlsian toleration of sexist but otherwise “reasonable” comprehensive doctrines––i.e., doctrines which accept gender hierarchy but do not seek to use the coercive power of the state to enforce it––would permit various forms of gender injustice within the family. In this paper, I try to pin down this familiar feminist suspicion in a new way. I argue that previous feminist critiques, while themselves strictly unsuccessful, shed light on the ways in which Rawls’s citizen, as a person regarded as free and equal, is fundamentally gendered. In characterizing the moral psychology of citizens, Rawls makes two assumptions—what I call felt entitlement and internalized assurance—which sexist socialization practices tend to keep girls and women from satisfying. Such practices inculcate, from an early age, norms of self-minimization, doubt, and “going along to get along”, making those subject to them systematically less likely to “cash in” on their rightful political and economic entitlements. More insidiously still, the resulting inequalities are likely to be stable. Rawls’s liberalism, even at its most idealized, is compatible with widespread, persistent inequalities along gendered lines.

The Good, the Sad, and the Ugly: A Challenge for Expressivism?

Metaethicists often assume that what goes for moral language will, with some minor adjustments, go straightforwardly for aesthetic language as well. Call this the “buy one get one” assumption, or “BOGO.” In this paper, I question BOGO for expressivist theories in particular. In the moral case, expressivist theories standardly hold that predicates like ‘good’, ‘right’, ‘wrong’, and ‘courageous’ semantically express noncognitive “desire-like” attitudes of approval or approval, rather than (solely) “belief-like” representational content. They also purport to be adequate theories, in this sense that they capture all moral terms. So if BOGO is true, and some form of moral expressivism is true, then a corresponding form of aesthetic expressivism should also be true — and should also capture all aesthetic terms. Following Frank Sibley and Alan Goldman, however, I observe that many aesthetic terms seemingly “cut across” moral expressivism’s neat “fact”/’value” distinction. These “value-variant” terms (as I call them) include aesthetic predicates like ‘sad’, ‘muted’, ‘loud’, ‘garish’, and ‘brutal’. Like so-called moral “thick” terms (like ‘lewd’ and ‘courageous’), such expressions have plausibly fixed “descriptive” content in addition to clear evaluative application and import. But unlike moral “thick” terms, value-variant aesthetic terms do not, in the abstract, have semantically fixed valence. Their evaluative import — the aesthetic “goodness” or “badness” of the quality in question — must be contextually resolved. Thus, at least some aesthetic terms do not plausibly express “built-in” noncognitive attitudes of approval or disapproval. This challenges BOGO’s promise of an adequate expressivist theory of all aesthetic terms.

Not-At-Issue: The Normative “Flavor” of Instrumental Necessities

Stephen Finlay argues for a reductive analysis of the normative “flavor” of instrumental necessity conditionals like "If Rachel is going to avoid checkmate, she has to move her rook". That is, he aims to give necessary and sufficient conditions for a sentence’s having instrumentally normative “flavor” that do not appeal to any unanalyzed normative concepts. He argues that the normative flavor of these instrumental necessities can be explained in terms of their peculiar temporal structure, and that the “necessity” of the modal ‘has (to)’ is just ordinary, alethic necessity. In this paper, I propose an alternative analysis of instrumental necessities that compromises Finlay’s reductionist picture. I suggest that instrumental necessities featuring the progressive construction ‘is going to’ express two propositions, one at-issue and the one not-at-issue. The at-issue contents of instrumental necessities, I grant, are given by Finlay’s analysis of ordinary, alethic necessity. But their not-at-issue contents, I suggest, involve conversationally salient desires, intentions, or aims. This connection to desire, intention, or aim is, contra Finlay, plausibly responsible for the sentences’ instrumentally normative “flavor.”

'Persuade-or-Obey' as Terms of Agreement: Reconciling Plato's Crito & Apology | McCann Prize for History in Philosophy

The Socrates of the Crito and the Socrates of the Apology seem to disagree radically about obedience to the law. This apparent tension has spurred a proliferation reconciliation attempts, of which this paper is one more. Following a handful of previous scholars, principally A.D. Woozley and Robert Kraut, I appeal to the so-called "persuade-or-obey doctrine" as the key to reconciling Plato's texts. This doctrine, enunciated three times in the Crito, is standardly interpreted as expressing Socrates' political duty to the Athenian Laws. But it need not be interpreted thus, as stating the duty's content. Instead, I argue, we should interpret the persuade-or-obey doctrine as stating the terms and conditions  under which Socrates has agreed to submit to the Athenian Laws. According to this agreement, Athenian citizens have an obligation to obey state mandates only if the state allows citizens the opportunity to openly challenge those mandates, with a view to revising them, when they judge them unjust. This interpretation has significant advantages over previous "persuade or obey" solutions to the textual puzzle. First, it is consistent with and supported by the actual text of the Crito, and does not attribute anachronistic views to Socrates. Second, in accounting for both his hypothetical refusal to cease philosophizing and his actual refusal to arrest Leon of Salamis, it provides a more parsimonious solution than has been previously given.

doxastic courage
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