My primary philosophical interests lie in normative ethics, rationality, emotions, and free will and moral responsibility. I am especially interested in philosophical problems at the intersections of these areas. 

Research

There has recently been a rise in interest in moral uncertainty and its implications for normative ethics and metaethics. Much of this literature focuses on whether and how our moral uncertainty bears on what is appropriate for us to do. Here, I am asking whether and how our moral uncertainty bears on what is appropriate for us to feel. Specifically, we sometimes feel a great deal of negative affect—not unlike anxiety—toward an impending moral decision. We may, for example, feel this emotion when deciding whether or not we should lie to someone close to us for the sake of consequential benefit. This paper is about that emotion, which I call scrupulosity, that we sometimes feel when faced with a decision under moral uncertainty. In this paper, I argue for the surprising conclusion that scrupulosity is often fitting in everyday life primarily due to the pervasiveness of moral uncertainty regarding high-stakes moral decisions. Moreover, I argue that the fitting size of scrupulosity toward an outcome is a direct function of the subjective likelihood of the outcome and its perceived disvalue by the morally uncertain agent. I thus argue that not only is scrupulosity fitting, but the appropriate size of such scrupulosity is often substantial. In other words, according to the norms of fittingness, it is appropriate for us to feel extremely scrupulous about acting wrongly in many everyday moral decisions.

Some philosophers have recently argued that a decision-theoretic model of rational choice can guide us to the answer of what it is appropriate to do in situations of moral uncertainty (i.e., uncertainty about what one ought to do). By proposing and defending this view, these philosophers aim to show how decision-theoretic procedures provide us with action guidance even when we have yet to settle all of the issues in normative ethics. In this paper, I argue that decision theory is never action-guiding in cases of moral uncertainty. I thus suggest that because of this limitation on decision theory’s action-guiding capacities, it fails to fulfill the role that these philosophers hope to show that it has. I consider several objections to my argument and reply to each of them.

Some philosophers deny that uncertainty and ignorance about the relevant facts for our moral decisions have a bearing on what our moral obligations are. That is, they claim that our obligations are not epistemically sensitive. This view is known as the Objective View. Still, many philosophers hold that the principle of Ought Implies Can (OIC) is true. I suggest that what we can do is often contingent on our epistemic circumstances. So, combined with OIC, what we ought to do is contingent on our epistemic circumstances, and thus the Objective View is false. In this paper, I explore how our obligations plausibly depend on a notion of “can,” relevant for OIC, that is epistemically sensitive. I then show that a version of the Objective View that attempts to avoid this conclusion by denying our obligations to some act-types would imply that we have very implausible obligations.

Tourette Syndrome (TS) involves disruptive ‘ticcing’ behavior. People afflicted by TS vary in their capacity to control ticcing, and situations vary in the obligation to control ticcing. Hence, TS offers an opportunity to test sequential models of blame, which suggest that people consider obligation before capacity when assigning blame. Across two studies, we manipulated a man with Tourette Syndrome’s obligation and capacity to refrain from ticcing and measured participants’ perceptions of the man’s capacity, obligation, blame, and moral character. We found that, contrary to the implications of sequential models, perceived capacity and obligation independently increased blame. These data suggest both people do not engage in a sequential process of first considering obligation and only then capacity—instead, people may consider each element independently. These results also suggest that people believe those afflicted with TS have at least some obligation and capacity to control ticcing. Informing people about capacity may influence blame in TS.

Presentations