My research focuses on ethics, moral psychology, and the history of Late Modern philosophy, with special attention to Kant and Post-Kantian European thought. I'm especially interested in issues at the intersection between value theory and the philosophy of mind, including in particular the nature of emotional intentionality and the role of the emotions in moral knowledge, social cognition, and practical agency. In approaching these issues, my work looks to rehabilitate historically overlooked contributions to ethical theory from Late Modern philosophy, with an emphasis on the history of sentimentalist reactions to Kant in 19th and early 20th Century European thought. My recent papers draw upon converging insights from early 20th century phenomenology, contemporary intuitionist epistemology, and current trends in cognitive science in order to advance a 'sentimental perceptualist' form of moral realism.
“Emotion and the Ethical A Priori: A Schelerian Case” Forthcoming in Phänomenologische Forschungen, Felix Meiner Verlag
According to a common prejudice in ethical theory that finds its apotheosis in Kant, emotional experience cannot ground foundational moral principles unless we are to forfeit an a priori foundation for ethics. This prejudice in ethics is often buttressed by a formalist assumption about the a priori in general, according to which the unconditional necessity of all a priori truth must ultimately redound to those purely formal faculties that justify propositions irrespective of the material content of experience. 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 contingent empirical facts. 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 for Scheler 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.
“Objective Purport, Relational Confirmation, and the Presumption of Moral Objectivism: A Probabilistic Argument from Moral Experience” Forthcoming in Southwest Philosophy Review
All else being equal, can an objective-seeming character of moral experience support a presumption in favor of some form of moral objectivism? Don Loeb (2007) has argued that even if we grant that moral experience appears to present us with a realm of objective moral fact—something he denies we have reason to do in the first place—the objective purport of moral experience cannot by itself provide even prima facie support for moral objectivism. In this paper, I contend against Loeb that granting the objective-seeming character of ordinary moral experience is sufficient to shift a presumptive case in favor of moral objectivism, and this by constituting non-explanatory, comparative confirmation that incrementally raises the prima facie likelihood that moral facts exist. More specifically, I appeal to a modest confirmation principle shared by Likelihoodists and Bayesians in an effort to show that (i) at a minimum, moral experience establishes a middling scrutable probability for a sufficient but not necessary condition of moral objectivism being true, and that (ii) this moderate probability in turn constitutes evidence that makes it prima facie more probable than not that some form of moral objectivism is true.
UNDER REVIEW AND COMMISSIONED PAPERS
“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.
“Value Perception: 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.
“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.
“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. On Fine’s proposal, all necessary truths can be traced to a domain of explanatorily primitive essences, which determine both regionally-specific necessary truths as well as absolute metaphysical necessities that hold for all possible objects in all possible worlds. I argue that Scheler’s account of the material a priori not only anticipates the picture of essence-based modality suggested by Fine, but moreover offers resources with the potential to resolve key challenges for the Finean program. In particular, Fine’s account runs into severe problems in explaining how formal logical necessities are to be grounded in essences, a challenge that Scheler understands his own account of essence-based modality to dissolve. In section I, I outline Fine’s argument against the modal account of essence and his attempt to analyze necessity in terms of a domain of explanatorily primitive essences. In section II, I highlight the challenge Fine’s account faces in accounting for formal logical necessity, and I show why Fine’s preferred proposal to evade this problem leads him back to the same problems facing the modal account of essence. As we’ll see, these problems will place pressure on the Finean essentialist to claim that logical principles are true in virtue of essences that are non-propositional in nature. In Section III, I show how one such picture can be found in Scheler’s notion of the material a priori, according to which all necessary propositional truth, including formal logical principles, can be traced to a realm of experientially given yet a priori “phenomenological facts”—namely, essences and the essential interconnections between them. After showing the rapprochement between Scheler’s and Fine’s accounts of modality, I then turn in section IV to address Scheler’s explanation of the essential grounds of formal logical principles. Here I develop Scheler’s neglected account of “functionalization,” according to which all formal concepts and principles are ultimately the products of a gradual process of internalizing our intuition of essences.
“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 realism, 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.