papers in progress

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Busting the Ghost of Neutral Counterparts [download from PhilPapers]

Philosophers have nearly universally assumed that some highly general semantic relationship obtains between slurs and so-called “neutral counterpart” terms. This assumption has been fleshed out in different ways. On all extant accounts, however, it implies an unmotivated distinction between paradigmatic slur/“neutral counterpart” pairs and many pairs that theorists haven’t considered, including `chick flick’/`romantic comedy’, `stoner’/`cannabis user’, and `liberal’/`libtard’. For pairs like these, the most intuitive theory of the target relationship involves overlap––both in (presumed) extension and associated stereotypes. Since (I argue) we have no good reason to distinguish pairs like `chick flick'/`romantic comedy’ from paradigmatic slur/“neutral counterpart” pairs, we have good reason to accept an overlap thesis about those pairs, too. An overlap thesis can accommodate the intuitions behind more orthodox views of slurs. It also paves the way for a more sophisticated understanding of the mechanisms of ordinary bigotry. 

Doxastic Anxiety and Doxastic Courage: When Evidence Isn't Enough

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 Susan 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 state’s coercive power to enforce it––would permit various forms of gender injustice within the family. In this paper, I try to pin down this feminist suspicion in a new way. I argue that previous (unsuccessful) objections concerning the socialization of girls shed light on the ways in which Rawls's citizen, as a person regarded as free and equal, is fundamentally gendered. Rawls, I submit, makes are two assumptions in characterizing the moral psychology of citizens—what I call just entitlement and internalized assurance—which sexist socialization practices tend to keep girls and women from satisfying. Such practices inculcate and enforce norms of femininity, including self-minimization and “going along to get along,” which compromise girls’ and women’s ability to take advantage of the rights and opportunities afforded to them. Moreover, such norms foster conditions of artificial political stability. But if this is right, then systematic gender inequalities may develop and persist, even in the “well-ordered” society. 

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

Expressivism, in its most general form, is the view that sentences have their meanings in virtue of the mental states they express. Since A.J. Ayer, expressivists have assumed that their theories of moral language could easily extend to aesthetic terms. In this paper, I question this assumption. In particular, I question the assumption that aesthetic discourse “tracks” the putative ontological fact/value distinction in the way that moral language is taken to, where that distinction is between descriptions (i.e., properties “out there in the world”) and evaluations. Following Frank Sibley and Alan Goldman, I first observe that many aesthetic terms do not plausibly express evaluative attitudes in the first place. I then argue that some intuitively “aesthetic” terms do not plausibly express attitudes of approval or disapproval, even if they are are in some relevant sense “non-descriptive”. This compromises the comparative adequacy of aesthetic expressivism, as a semantic theory of all aesthetic terms. Moreover, I suggest, it challenges the assumption that “a simple modification" to moral expressivism is all that is required for an expresssivist theory of 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 and Apology

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.


Jennifer Foster
Last Updated: January 2021