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My main research interest is free will and moral responsibility, and more generally, the relationship between the metaphysics of agency and normativity. My current work is centered around the metaphysical-existential outlook inherent in a broadly naturalistic and compatibilist picture of human agency. In metaphysics and action theory, my research has focused on two themes: reductionism and the metaphysics of abilities, especially how abilities relate to dispositions, causation, and counterfactuals. In ethics and moral psychology, my research focuses on the ethics of praise and blame, whether the aptness of certain moral emotions requires agentive control, and how emotions can help or hinder our agency. My research also often intersects with (or directly addresses) issues in the philosophy of mind, philosophy of religion, and social and political philosophy. Please see below for more information about my published journal articles and book chaptersbook reviews, and public philosophy.

Journal Articles and Book Chapters:

Journal Articles

Can I Both Blame and Worship God?

Forthcoming in The Philosophy of Worship: Divine and Human Aspects, Aaron Segal & Samuel Lebens (eds.),  Cambridge University Press.
Link to accepted manuscript. Please cite the published version.

Abstract: In a well-known apocryphal story, Theresa of Avila falls off the donkey she was riding, straight into mud, and injures herself. In response, she seems to blame God for her fall—and a playful if indignant back and forth between the two ensues. But this is puzzling. Theresa should never think that God is blameworthy. Why? Well, it seems that one cannot blame what one worships. For to worship something is to show it a kind of reverence, respect, or adoration. To worship is, at least in part, to praise. Indeed, Paul counsels against “back-talk” against God, suggesting we lack the standing to blame our creator (Romans 9:20). Drawing on Strawsonian theorizing about praise and blame, this paper argues that a person can both blame and worship God. It argues that blameful worship is a non-paradigmatic and possibly epistemically akratic kind of worship. This irrationality, however, may sometimes be acceptable given our nature as finite, emotional beings. Blaming God might be the best way we have to stand with God’s goodness despite apparent evidence of evil in the world. This suggestion, I’ll argue, should change the way we think about the problem of evil by highlighting its interpersonal and moral psychological dimensions, thus changing the costs and benefits of various attempts to resolve the problem.

Compatibilism as Non-Ideal Theory: A Manifesto

Forthcoming. Oxford Studies in Agency and Responsibility, Volume 8, eds. David Shoemaker, Santiago Amaya, and Manuel Vargas. Oxford University Press. 
Link to accepted manuscript. Please cite the published version.

Abstract: This paper articulates and responds to a challenge to contemporary compatibilist views of free will. Despite the popularity and appeal of compatibilist theories, many are left with lingering doubts about compatibilism. This paper explains this doubt in terms of the absurdity challenge: because a compatibilist accepts that they do not have causal access to all the actual sufficient causal sources of their own agency, the compatibilist can find their own agency absurd. By taking a cue from political philosophy, this paper argues that a non-ideal construction of the problem of free will allows compatibilists to overcome this existential-metaphysical challenge, and by doing so, perhaps adopt a metaphysically progressive picture of human agency.

Agentive Modals and Agentive Modality: A Cautionary Tale (with Timothy Kearl)

Forthcoming. American Philosophical Quarterly.
Link to accepted manuscript. Please cite the published version.

Abstract: In this paper, we consider recent attempts to metaphysically explain agentive modality in terms of conditionals. We suggest that the best recent accounts face counterexamples, and more worryingly, they take some agentive modality for granted. In particular, the ability to perform basic actions features as a primitive in these theories. While it is perfectly acceptable for a semantics of agentive modal claims to take some modality for granted in getting the extension of action claims correct, a metaphysical explanation of agentive modality cannot, at least not in the way that conditional approaches to agentive modality do. We argue that this problem was present even in the classical conditional analysis. By a pessimistic induction, we suggest that, probably, no conditional approach to agentive modality will succeed.

Agency: Let's Mind What's Fundamental

2023. Philosophical Issues, Online First: 1-14
Link to publication. 
Link to accepted manuscript. 

Abstract: The standard event-causal theory of action says that an intentional action is caused in the right way by the right mental states. This view requires reductionism about agency. The causal role of the agent must be nothing over and above the causal contribution of the relevant mental event-causal processes. But commonsense finds this reductive solution to the “agent-mind problem”, the problem of explaining the relationship between agents and the mind, incredible. Where did the agent go? This paper suggests that this challenge against event-causal reductionism is importantly related to debates about fundamentality. It also suggests that extant event-causal answers to the agent-mind problem, ones that suggest that part of an agent’s mind can stand proxy for the agent herself, fail against the challenge. It sketches an alternative reductive view that appeals to entity grounding. This view resolves the commonsense challenge and promises to be theoretically fruitful with respect to other longstanding problems with the event-casual view. The paper concludes with a burden-shifting argument against emergentist agent-causal theories and non-reductive event-causal theories of agency.

2023. Erkenntnis, 88 (7): 2763–2785
Link to publication. Link to accepted manuscript.

Abstract: A common compatibilist view says that we are free and morally responsible in virtue of the ability to respond aptly to reasons. Many hold a version of this view despite disagreement about whether free will requires the ability to do otherwise. The canonical version of this view is reductive. It reduces the pertinent ability to a set of modal properties that are more obviously compatible with determinism, like dispositions. I argue that this and any reductive view of abilities faces a significant challenge: it cannot adequately explain the freedom-grounding element of this ability. The problem has the form of a dilemma. This leaves reasons-responsive compatibilists with two options: abandon theories of free will grounded in abilities or abandon reductive theories of abilities.

2022. The Journal of Ethics. 26 (3): 455–480.
Link to publication. Link to accepted manuscript.

Abstract: P.F. Strawson’s account of moral responsibility in “Freedom and Resentment” has been widely influential. In both that paper and in the contemporary literature, much attention has been paid to Strawson’s account of blame in terms of reactive attitudes like resentment and indignation. The Strawsonian view of praise in terms of gratitude has received comparatively little attention. Some, however, have noticed something puzzling about gratitude and accountability. We typically understand accountability in terms of moral demands and expectations. Yet gratitude does not express or enforce moral demands or expectations. So, how is it a way to hold an agent accountable? In a more general manner, we might ask if there is even sense to be made of the idea that agents can be accountable—i.e., “on the hook”—in a positive way. In this paper, I clarify the relationship between gratitude and moral accountability. I suggest that accountability is a matter of engaging with others in a way that is basically concerned with their feelings and attitudes rather than solely a matter of moral demands. Expressions of gratitude are a paradigmatic form of this concerned engagement. I conclude by defending my view from the objection that it leads to an overly generous conception of holding accountable and suggest in reply that moral responsibility skeptics may not help themselves to as many moral emotions as they might have thought.

The Tension in Critical Compatibilism

2021. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 21 (1): 321-332.  Symposium Article on Paul Russell's The Limits of Free Will. 
Link to publication. Link to accepted manuscript.

Abstract: Paul Russell’s The Limits of Free Will is more than the sum of its parts. Among other things, Limits offers readers a comprehensive look at Russell’s attack on the problematically idealized assumptions of the contemporary free will debate. This idealization, he argues, distorts the reality of our human predicament. Herein I pose a dilemma for Russell’s position, critical compatibilism. The dilemma illuminates the tension between Russell’s critical and compatibilist commitments. The problem is not obviously insurmountable, and as a compatibilist who is sympathetic to the view, my aim is to spark further discussion.

On Not Blaming and Victim Blaming (with Joel Chow Ken Q)

2020. Teorema: International Journal of Philosophy, 39 (3): 95-128.
Link to open access publication.

Abstract: In this paper we show that being blameworthy for not blaming and being blame-worthy for victim blaming are structurally similar. Each involve the two traditional con- tours of moral responsibility: a knowledge condition and a control condition. But interestingly, in these cases knowledge and control are importantly interrelated. Being in a relationship with another person affords us varying degrees of knowledge about them. This knowledge in turn affords agents in relationships varying degrees of influence over one another. Cases where an agent is especially blameworthy for failing to blame a friend, a close colleague, or a spouse highlight this. The interdependence of these two conditions in interpersonal relationships sheds (partial) light on why victim blaming is morally wrong. We argue that victim blamers suffer from a kind of moral myopia by only focus- ing on what the victim could do, in virtue of their being in a relationship of some sort with their abuser, to avoid abuse. We focus specifically on cases where such moral myo- pia is fueled by misogynistic and hierarchical gender schema and scripts.

2019. Philosophical Studies, 176 (10): 2705-2727.
Link to publication. Link to accepted manuscript.

Abstract: P.F. Strawson’s compatibilism has had considerable influence. However, as Gary Watson has argued in “Responsibility and the Limits of Evil” (1987), his view appears to have a disturbing consequence: extreme evil exempts an agent from moral responsibility. This is a reductio of the view.  Moreover, in some cases our emotional reaction to an evildoer’s history clashes with our emotional expressions of blame.  Anyone’s actions can be explained by his or her history, however, and thereby can conflict with our present blame. Additionally, we too might have been evil if our history had been like the unlucky evildoer’s. Thus, our emotional response to the evildoer compromises our standing to blame them. Since Strawsonian views demarcate moral responsibility by moral emotional responses, his view appears to be self-defeating. In this paper, I defend the Strawsonian view from the reductio and self-defeat problems. I argue that  moral disgust is a reactive attitude, but expresses neither blame nor exemption from responsibility. Instead, moral disgust presupposes blameworthiness but is a distinct response to extreme wrongdoing. Secondly, moral disgust involves self-directed attitudes that explain away our apparent lack of standing to blame the evildoer. I highlight a similar puzzles along the positive dimension of responsibility, and solve them by appeal to an emotion that Jonathan Haidt has called “elevation”, a feeling of moral inspiration. I conclude by defending my view from objections about the moral appropriateness of disgust.

Moral Diversity and Moral Responsibility (with Brian Kogelmann)

2018. The  Journal of The American Philosophical Association, 4 (3): 371-389.
Link to publication. Link to accepted manuscript.

Abstract: In large, impersonal moral orders many of us wish to maintain good will towards our fellow citizens only if we are reasonably sure they will maintain good will towards us. The mutual maintaining of good will, then, requires we somehow communicate our intentions to one another. But how do we actually do this? This paper argues that when we engage in moral responsibility practices – that is, when we express our reactive attitudes by blaming, praising, and resenting – we communicate a desire to maintain good will to those in the community we are imbedded in. Participating in such practices alone won’t get the job done, though, for expressions of our reactive attitudes are often what economists call cheap talk. But, when we praise and blame in cases of moral diversity, expressions of our reactive attitudes act as costly signals capable of solving our social dilemma. 

Book Reviews

Review of Daniel Dennett and Gregg D. Caruso,  Just Deserts: Debating Free Will 

2023. The Journal of Moral Philosophy 20: 182-185.
Link to accepted manuscript.

Book Reviews:

Public Phil

Public Philosophy:

Compassion and Moral Responsibility in Avatar: The Last Airbender: “I was never angry; I was afraid that you had lost your way”

2023. In Helen De Cruz & Johan De Smedt (eds.), Avatar: The Last Airbender and Philosophy. Wisdom from Aang to Zuko. Wiley-Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series. 197-205.
Link to accepted manuscript.

Abstract: This chapter discusses how moral responsibility practices are modeled in Avatar: The Last Airbender. It is my first foray into more public-facing philosophy.


Interview at The Free Will Show (Ep. 60): "Compatibilism and Reduction with Robert Wallace"

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