My research takes an historically-informed approach into issues at the intersection between value theory, moral psychology, and the philosophy of mind, including in particular the relationship between emotional experience, moral knowledge, and the nature of moral agency. In particular, my work aims to rehabilitate historically-overlooked contributions to ethical theory from post-Kantian European thought and bring them to bear on issues in contemporary debate, with special attention to the work of Max Scheler. I also have abiding interets in Kant's moral psychology and the Kantian legacy in the history of ethics.
My recent work draws upon converging insights from early 20th century phenomenology and recent trends in cognitive science in order to advance a perceptualist form of moral realism. Against traditional representationalist models of perception, I develop the case that our emotional experiences at once constitute and disclose the evaluative features of the world, and that value properties are the felt aspects and motivational affordances that things in the world possess when considered from the situated perspective of lived emotional engagement.
Below you will find abstracts of recent papers:
“Emotion and the Ethical A Priori: A Schelerian Case”
According to a common prejudice in ethical theory, emotional experience cannot ground foundational moral principles unless we are to forfeit an a priori foundation for ethics. Underlying this prejudice is the assumption that the domain of a priori truth is conterminous with the domain of formal rationality. Upon this view, even if we were to grant world-disclosive intentionality to the affective contents of acts of feeling, the epistemic relevance of such contents would be limited to disclosing those features of reality owing to its contingent natural arrangement. In this paper, I aim to make some headway in overcoming this prejudice though a novel appropriation of Max Scheler’s material a priori account of values. According to the latter, law-like constraints on evaluative judgments are grounded in the a priori essences of emotional phenomena, which constitute a unique domain of a priori experiential facts alongside those pertaining to all other experiential modalities (e.g. color, tone, space, etc.). In an effort to motivate a broadly Schelerian model of the material a priori, I first provide a case study of color incompatibility knowledge, arguing that traditional formalist analyses from Wittgenstein and Schlick fail to adequately explain the a prioricity of color incompatibility claims. After developing Scheler’s account of the material a priori as a corrective model of color incompatibility knowledge, I then turn to argue that phenomenological reflection on emotionally given evaluative phenomena also reveals self-evident objective laws grounded in the nature of emotional experience itself: for instance, the fact that different value kinds are positively and negatively valenced, and hierarchically ordered by nature, which is self-evidently given through the experience of preference. I conclude by providing an account of how material a priori value essences can generate deontic constraints on agency needed for a robust action-guiding form of moral realism.
“From Moral Seeming to Moral Seeing: A Phenomenological Case for Moral Intuitionism”
Prevailing intuitionist accounts of moral knowledge rely upon a model of noninferential justification in terms of “true-seeming” conceptual contents. I argue that by foreclosing the world-directed intentionality and epistemic relevance of non-conceptual content, such theories leave us with no resources to account for the distinction between the merely conceptual act of thinking that some evaluative proposition is true and an immediate awareness of the very conditions in virtue of which that proposition is true. Looking to recent accounts of perceptual justification inspired by Husserl, I present an alternative model of moral intuition according to which our emotions constitute immediate epistemic access to the truthmakers of evaluative propositions, and this by way of non-conceptual intentional content. On the broadly Husserlian account I defend, propositionally formulated moral judgments are merely empty acts of thought which, on their own, provide no justification whatsoever for believing their contents. In order to yield a reason for belief, such acts must be aided by intuitive acts of intentional feeling, which disclose the evaluative matter in question by way of irreducibly affective, non-conceptual mental contents. On this view, a moral intuition properly speaking consists not in the propositionally articulated thought that p, nor in the corresponding justified belief that p, but rather in the felt givenness of the evaluative matter itself—that is, in an evaluative presentation, which can include both the simple perception of concrete particulars as well as the grasping of abstract universal facts. Building upon Husserl’s account of noninferential justification, I argue that it is in the joint recognition that things are immediately given in feeling as they are propositionally meant—namely, in acts of evaluative fulfillment—that we enjoy noninferential justification for our evaluative beliefs.
“Moral Feeling and Moral Self-Awareness: The Phenomenological Role of Respect in Kant’s Moral Psychology”
Kant's inclusion of a peculiar “feeling of respect” [Gefühl der Achtung] in an otherwise rationalistic moral psychology has puzzled critics and proponents alike. Among those sympathetic to Kant's theory of moral motivation, the traditional dispute over the role of this so-called moral feeling in generating moral deeds has been waged almost exclusively over its status as a mechanistic psycho-physiological force capable of impelling the subject to action: “Affectivists” maintain that some host of mechanistic affective forces must be operative in the etiology of moral action; “Intellectualists” deny this, arguing that a purely intellectual apprehension of the moral law must be sufficient for moral motivation if we are to preserve the coherence of Kant's framework. In this paper, I do not attempt to resolve this dispute, but rather aim to show how a faithful treatment of Kant's moral-motivational account must exceed its scope altogether, and this insofar as the motivational contribution of moral feeling cannot be decided by determining its status as a mechanistic force. In particular, the traditional debate has paid insufficient attention to the phenomenological role that moral feeling serves in Kant’s account—specifically, to its role as a conscious experience internal to the subject's first-person deliberative perspective. To this end, I argue that moral feeling is necessary for moral motivation insofar as it enables a distinctive self-awareness which not only conditions the possibility of our very concept and representation of duty, but also plays a constitutive role in the execution of dutiful action itself.
“Essence, Modality, and the Material A Priori: Scheler and Contemporary Essentialism”
This paper aims to demonstrate Scheler’s anticipation of and relevance to a recent trend of essence-based accounts of modality, chief among them being Kit Fine’s 1994 “Essence and Modality,” according to which “real” or “definitional” essence is explanatorily prior to metaphysical necessity. Though Fine does not give a positive account of essence, his strategy is abductive: Since analyzing essence in terms of metaphysical necessity leads to implausible results—e.g. If a necessary truth about O is sufficient to constitute part of O’s essence, then we must say that it belongs to the essence of Socrates that 2+2=4—then the reduction of essence to modal terms must be false. In an attempt to articulate an alternative to the modal account of essence, Fine concludes by sketching a picture of a “relativized form of necessity,” according to which facts about essences determine both regionally-specific necessities as well as global modal truths. In this paper, I argue that Scheler’s material a priori account of essences provides a positive foundation for the picture of modality that Fine suggests. On Scheler’s account, the relationship between formal ontology and regional ontology is not a “top down” imposition of empty formal laws of thought on to material content, but a “bottom up” constitution of pre-ordered regions of “phenomenological facts” whose coinciding essential interconnections together compose the laws governing objects in general. After showing how Scheler’s and Fine’s accounts can be synthesized into a unified picture, I then attempt to show how this model can explain both the necessity and a prioricity of certain allegedly analytic necessities. As a paradigm case, I focus on color incompatibility knowledge: e.g. “The same patch cannot both be red and green at the same time.”
“Buck-Passing and Brentano's Bind: Why Fit-Based Buck Passing Fails”
Some recent attempts to rescue the reductive buck-passing analysis of value (BPA) from the so-called “wrong kind of reason problem” (WKR) have tried to marry it to the Brentanian notion of a “correct” [richtig] attitude. On these broadly Brentanian accounts, “goodmaking” or right-kind reasons for an attitude towards an object X are said to be natural facts that make a pro-attitude towards X “correct” or “fitting.” In response to the WKR problem, the fit-based buck passer will argue that only fit-making reasons are goodmaking reasons. Thus, while it may be true that there are cases in which we have some reason to have a pro-attitude towards things we would not therefore call “good”, it also seems clear that such attitudes are not fitting with respect to their objects, and thus we can avoid WKR problems without positing substantive value properties to serve as object-side constraints on goodmaking attitudes. In this paper, I argue that the putative appeal of the fit-based BPA rests upon the equivocal use of an unclarified notion of attitudinal fittingness. In order to properly assess the prospects of fittingness for the BPA, I distinguish and clarify three different and often conflated ways in which this notion can be understood: F1. Adequation; F2. Deontic Satisfaction; F3. Unanalyzability. Tracing Brentano’s own difficulties in defending a reductive analysis of value from criticisms from Husserl and Meinong, I argue that all three accounts fail to help the BPA escape the WKR problem without either (i) making backhanded appeal to substantive value terms, thereby failing to provide a properly reductive analysis of value, or else (ii) appealing to intrinsically normative properties that incur the same charges of explanatory profligacy and queerness leveled against value-based axiologies, thereby forfeiting the alleged advantage of demystifying values and with it one of the principle motivations in favor of the BPA.
“Only Values Ought to Be: Scheler and the Ought”
This paper provides a reconstruction of Scheler’s value-based account of the Ought and charts the ways in which Scheler’s account anticipates contemporary efforts to problematize the reduction of values to deontic terms. I begin by distinguishing between two different reconstructions of Scheler’s claim that “all oughtness has its foundation in values” and thus that “only values ought or ought not to be”: (i) The “Layer-Cake” reading, endorsed by Scheler, according to which deontic terms supervene on values alone, yet the oughtness of values remains an irreducible category; and (ii) what can be called “Reductive Values Fundamentalism,” according to which deontic terms are ultimately reducible without residue to modal facts about values and their existence conditions. In view of Scheler's rejection of an independent “ought-being” [Soll Sein] as well as his overarching anti-formalist agenda, I argue that the latter view provides a more cohesive foundation for value-based moral realim, and that pairing this reading with Scheler’s endorsement of the objective order of value preference provides the resources to explain a range of foundational ethical concepts. On this picture, for example, the Ought-to-be can be analyzed as a modal fact about what must be the case in order to realize some set of preferred values relative to a range of alternative possibilities; Likewise, the practical ought, or the “Ought-to-do,” would be reducible to a modal fact about what a practically-capable subject must do in order to satisfy the condition of aiming to realize preferred values relative to a range of practically-attainable possibilities. I conclude by showing how Scheler’s value-based ought is able to avoid the problems that beset contemporary buck-passing and fitting attitude analyses of value inspired by Brentano.