Neurofunctional Prudence and Morality: A Philosophical Theory (Routledge, 2020): This book outlines a unified theory of prudence and morality that merges a wide variety of findings in behavioral neuroscience with philosophically sophisticated normative theorizing. Chapter 1 lays out the emerging behavioral neuroscience of prudence and morality. Chapter 2 then outlines a new theory of prudence as fairness to oneself across time. Chapter 3 then derives a revised version of my 2016 moral theory--Rightness as Fairness--from this theory of prudence, showing how the theory of prudence defends Rightness as Fairness against various critiques and unifies prudence, morality, and justice. Chapter 4 then argues that this theory explains a variety of normative philosophical and empirical neuroscientific phenomena better than alternatives. Finally, Chapter 5 responds to potential objections and explores future research avenues.
Rightness as Fairness: A Moral and Political Theory (Palgrave MacMillan, 2016): This book argues that in order to reliably arrive at moral truth, moral philosophy must be based upon seven scientific principles of theory-selection. It then argues that our best empirical evidence reveals morality to be a matter of acting in ways that our present and future selves can rationally agree upon across time. I show that this agreement—Rightness as Fairness—requires us to be fair to ourselves and to others, including animals. Further, the Four Principles of Fairness comprising this agreement reconcile a variety of traditionally opposed moral and political frameworks. Finally, Rightness as Fairness provides a uniquely fruitful method for resolving applied moral and political issues: a method of ‘principled fair negotiation’ that requires merging principled debate with real-world negotiation.
Selected Articles (full list of publications here)
Allies Against Oppression: Intersectional Feminism, Critical Race Theory, and Rawlsian Liberalism
Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy, forthcoming.
Liberalism is often claimed to be at odds with feminism and critical race theory (CRT). This article argues, to the contrary, that Rawlsian liberalism supports the central commitments of both. Section 1 argues that Rawlsian liberalism supports intersectional feminism. Section 2 argues that the same is true of CRT. Section 3 then uses Young’s ‘Five Faces of Oppression’—a classic work widely utilized in feminism and CRT to understand and contest many varieties of oppression—to illustrate how Rawlsian liberalism supports diverse feminist and CRT projects, and why it may be critical to achieve solidarity between feminism, CRT, and Rawlsian liberalism. Finally, Section 4 responds to five objections.
Educational Justice and School Boosting
Social Theory and Practice, forthcoming.
School boosters are tax-exempt organizations that engage in fundraising efforts to provide public schools with supplementary resources. This paper argues that prevailing forms of school boosting are defeasibly unjust and should be either banned or substantially reformed.
Nonideal Justice as Nonideal Fairness
Journal of the American Philosophical Association, 2019.
This article argues that diverse theorists have reasons to theorize about fairness in nonideal conditions, including theorists who reject fairness in ideal theory. It then develops a new all-purpose model of ‘nonideal fairness', illustrating why diverse theorists should find the model and its output principles attractive.
Metaphysics & Philosophy of Mind
Panpsychism and A.I. Consciousness
(w/Corey J. Maley)
This article uses the distinction between analog and digital representation to argue that if panpsychism is true, then there are grounds for thinking that digitally-based artificial intelligence (AI) may be incapable of having coherent macrophenomenal conscious experiences. We then use our argument to raise new doubts about Giuilo Tononi’s Integrated Information Theory (IIT) theory of consciousness. If our argument is sound, then IIT may not be true: (coherent) macroconsciousness may not involve information integration simpliciter, but instead a yet-to-be-understood kind of analog micro-physical-phenomenal information integration.
Two New Doubts about Simulation Arguments
Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 2022.
Various theorists contend that we may live in a computer simulation. David Chalmers in turn argues that the simulation hypothesis is a metaphysical hypothesis about the nature of our reality, rather than a sceptical scenario. We use recent work on consciousness to motivate new doubts about both sets of arguments. First, we argue that if either panpsychism or panqualityism is true, then the only way to live in a simulation may be as brains-in-vats, in which case it is unlikely that we live in a simulation. We then argue that if panpsychism or panqualityism is true, then viable simulation hypotheses are substantially sceptical scenarios. We conclude that the nature of consciousness has wide-ranging implications for simulation arguments.
The Philosophical Forum, 2013.
This paper shows that several live philosophical and scientific hypotheses – including the holographic principle and multiverse theory in quantum physics, and eternalism and mind-body dualism in philosophy – jointly imply an audacious new theory of free will. This new theory, "Libertarian Compatibilism", holds that the physical world is an eternally existing array of two-dimensional information – a vast number of possible pasts, presents, and futures – and the mind a nonphysical entity or set of properties that "read" that physical information off to subjective conscious awareness (in much the same way that a song written on an ordinary compact-disc is only played when read by an outside medium, i.e. a CD-player). According to this theory, every possible physical “timeline” in the multiverse may be fully physically deterministic or physically-causally closed but each person’s consciousness still entirely free to choose, ex nihilo, outside of the physical order, which physically-closed timeline is experienced by conscious observers. Although Libertarian Compatibilism is admittedly fantastic, I show that it not only follows from several live scientific and philosophical hypotheses, I also show that it (A) is a far more explanatorily powerful model of quantum mechanics than more traditional interpretations (e.g. the Copenhagen, Everett, and Bohmian interpretations), (B) makes determinate, testable empirical predictions in quantum theory, and finally, (C) predicts and explains the very existence of a number of philosophical debates and positions in the philosophy of mind, time, personal identity, and free will.
(When) Are Authors Culpable for Causing Harm?
Journal of Moral Philosophy, forthcoming.
To what extent are authors morally culpable for harms caused by their published work? Can authors be culpable even if their ideas are misused, perhaps because they failed to take precautions to prevent harmful misinterpretations? Might authors be culpable even if they do take precautions—if, for example, they publish ideas that others can be reasonably expected to put to harmful uses, precautions notwithstanding? Although complete answers to these questions depend upon controversial views about the right to free speech, this paper argues that five notions from philosophy of law and legal practice—liability, burden of proof, legal causation, mens rea, and reasoning by precedent—can be adapted to provide an attractive moral framework for determining whether an author’s work causes harm, whether and how culpable the author is for causing such harm, steps authors may take to immunize themselves from culpability, and how to responsibly develop new rules for publishing ethics.
From Rational Self-Interest to Liberalism: A Hole in Cofnas's Debunking Argument of Moral Progress
Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy, forthcoming.
Michael Huemer argues that cross-cultural convergence toward liberal moral values is evidence of objective moral progress, and by extension, evidence for moral realism. Nathan Cofnas claims to debunk Huemer’s argument by contending that convergence toward liberal moral values can be better explained by ‘two related non-truth-tracking processes’: self-interest and its long-term tendency to result in social conditions conducive to greater empathy. This article argues that although Cofnas successfully debunks Huemer’s convergence argument for one influential form of moral realism—Robust Moral Realism, which holds that moral facts are non-natural, stance-independent normative facts—Cofnas’s debunking argument broadly supports a second type of moral realism: Enlightened Self-Interest Realism, the view that moral facts are reducible to stance-dependent requirements of instrumental (‘means-end’) rationality. Finally, this article argues that insofar as different Enlightened Self-Interest Realist theories make specific predictions about the intra- and inter-personal mechanisms behind moral convergence toward liberalism, empirical observations of cross-cultural convergence can provide independent support for Enlightened Self-Interest Realism. I conclude that this is an important mark in favor of Enlightened Self-Interest Realism over Robust Moral Realism.
Morality as an Evolutionary Exaptation
Empirically Engaged Evolutionary Ethics (Springer – Synthese Library), 2021.
The dominant theory of the evolution of moral cognition across a variety of fields is that moral cognition is a biological adaptation to foster social cooperation. This chapter argues, to the contrary, that moral cognition is likely an evolutionary exaptation: a form of cognition where neurobiological capacities selected for in our evolutionary history for a variety of different reasons—many unrelated to social cooperation—were put to a new, prosocial use after the fact through individual rationality, learning, and the development and transmission of social norms. This chapter begins with a brief overview of the emerging behavioral neuroscience of moral cognition. It then outlines a novel theory of moral cognition that I have previously argued explains these findings better than alternatives. Finally, it shows how the evidence for this theory of moral cognition and human evolutionary history together suggest that moral cognition is likely not a biological adaptation. Instead, like reading sheet music or riding a bicycle, moral cognition is something that individuals learn to do—in this case, in response to sociocultural norms created in our ancestral history and passed down through the ages to enable cooperative living.
The Philosophical Forum, 2021.
The Duhem-Quine thesis famously holds that a single hypothesis cannot be confirmed or disconfirmed in isolation, but instead only in conjunction with other background hypotheses. This article argues that this has important and underappreciated implications for metaethics. Section 1 argues that if one begins metaethics firmly wedded to a naturalistic worldview—due (e.g.) to methodological/epistemic considerations—then normativity will appear to be reducible to a set of social-psycho-semantic behaviors that I call the ‘normative stance.’ Section 2 then argues that while the normative stance may appear to naturalists to successfully explain normativity, it will not appeal to those who come to meta-ethics with different background commitments. I conclude that naturalists should take the normative stance to be a promising metaethical theory of normativity, and that whether it is a true theory of normativity is something that can only be ascertained by determining which background hypotheses—naturalistic or otherwise—we should have when doing meta-ethics.
The Dark Side of Morality: Group Polarization and Moral Epistemology
The Philosophical Forum, 2019.
This article argues that philosophers and laypeople commonly conceptualize moral truths or justified moral beliefs as discoverable through intuition, argument, or some other purely cognitive or affective process. It then contends that three empirically well-supported theories all predict that this ‘Discovery Model’ of morality plays a substantial role in causing social polarization. The same three theories are then used to argue that an alternative ‘Negotiation Model’ of morality of the sort I defend in Rightness as Fairness promises to reduce polarization by fostering a progressive willingness to ‘work across the aisle’ to settle moral issues cooperatively. Finally, I outline avenues for further empirical and philosophical research.
Varieties of Artificial Moral Agency and the New Control Problem
Humana.Mente, 2022 - Special issue, edited by Oisín Deery
This paper argues that there are three different types of artificial moral agents (AMAs) that developers might create, that each type of AMA poses unique control and value-alignment problems which are as-yet unresolved and may be irresolvable, and that human-like AMAs pose a New Control Problem: that of ensuring that neither humans nor human-like AMAs subjugate the other. I conclude that the New Control Problem also poses problems that may be unresolvable.
Mental time-travel, semantic flexibility, and A.I. ethics
AI and Society, 2019.
This article argues that existing approaches to programming ethical AI fail to resolve a serious moral-semantic trilemma, generating interpretations of ethical requirements that are either too semantically strict, too semantically flexible, or overly unpredictable. It then demonstrates how human beings resolve the dilemma via the moral psychology I defend in Rightness as Fairness. The paper concludes that ethical AI must be programmed with this same moral psychology in order to resolve the trilemma and produce moral behavior that aligns with human values and expectations.
Philosophy of Science and Philosophy of Physics
(w/Remco Heesen & Liam Kofi Bright)
British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, forthcoming.
Peer review is often taken to be the main form of quality control on academic writings. Usually this is carried out by journals. Parts of math and physics appear to have now set up a parallel, crowd-sourced model of peer review, where papers are posted on the arXiv to be publicly discussed. In this paper we argue that crowd-sourced peer review is likely to do better than journal-solicited peer review at sorting papers by quality. Our argument rests on two key claims. First, crowd-sourced peer review will lead to there being on average more reviewers per paper than journal-solicited peer review. Second, due to the wisdom of the crowds, more reviewers will tend to make better judgments than fewer. We make the second claim precise by looking at the Condorcet Jury Theorem as well as two related, novel jury theorems developed specifically to apply to the case of peer review.
A Unified Explanation of Quantum Phenomena? The Case for the Peer‐to‐Peer Simulation Hypothesis as an Interdisciplinary Research Program
The Philosophical Forum, 2014.
In my 2013 article, “A New Theory of Free Will”, I argued that several serious hypotheses in philosophy and modern physics jointly entail that our reality is structurally identical to a peer-to-peer (P2P) networked computer simulation. The present paper outlines how quantum phenomena emerge naturally from the computational structure of a P2P simulation. §1 explains the P2P Hypothesis. §2 then sketches how the structure of any P2P simulation realizes quantum superposition and wave-function collapse (§2.1.), quantum indeterminacy (§2.2.), wave-particle duality (§2.3.), and quantum entanglement (§2.4.). Finally, §3 argues that although this is by no means a philosophical proof that our reality is a P2P simulation, it provides ample reasons to investigate the hypothesis further using the methods of computer science, physics, philosophy, and mathematics.
The Peer-to-Peer Simulation Hypothesis and a New Theory of Free Will
Scientia Salon, 2015.
An overview of my work arguing that peer-to-peer computer networking (the Peer-to-Peer Simulation Hypothesis) may be the best explanation of quantum phenomena and a number of perennial philosophical problems.
Philosophy of Language and Philosophy of Psychology
Trans Women, Cis Women, Alien Women, and Robot Women Are Women: They Are All (Simply) Adults Gendered Female
Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy
Alex Byrne contends that women are (simply) adult human females, claiming that this thesis has considerably greater initial appeal than the justified true belief (JTB) theory of knowledge. This paper refutes Byrne’s thesis in the same way the JTB theory of knowledge is widely thought to have been refuted: through simple counterexamples. Lessons are drawn. One lesson is that women need not be human. A second lesson is that biology and physical phenotypes are both irrelevant to whether someone is a woman, and indeed, female in a gendered sense. A third lesson is that trans women, cis women, alien women, and robot women are all women because to be a woman is to be an adult gendered female. This paper does not purport to settle complex normative questions of ethics or justice, including whether the ordinary meaning of “woman” ought to be retained or changed—though I do note plausible implications for these debates. This paper does purport to settle what the ordinary meaning of “woman” is, and in that regard contribute to important conceptual ground-clearing regarding what constitutes an ameliorative or revisionary definition of “woman.”
How to rationally approach life's transformative experiences
Philosophical Psychology, 2015.
L. A. Paul argues that transformative experiences challenge culturally and philosophically traditional views about how to rationally make major life-decisions. The present paper argues that because major life-decisions are transformative, the only rational way to approach them is to become resilient people: people who do not “over-plan” their lives or expect their lives to play out “according to plan”—people who understand that beyond a certain limit, life cannot be rationally planned and must be accepted as it comes.
A Better, Dual Theory of Human Rights
The Philosophical Forum, 2014.
In my 2012 article, “Reconceptualizing Human Rights”, I argued that human rights theorists and practitioners have falsely supposed that the concept of “human right” picks out a single, unified class of moral entitlements, arguing instead that they pick out two very different types of entitlements: (A) international human rights, which are universal human moral entitlements to coercive international protections, and (B) domestic human rights, which are universal human moral entitlements to coercive domestic protections. The article outlines a dual theory of human rights that aims to ground both types of right in a revised version of James Griffin's conception of personhood.
Reconceptualizing human rights
Journal of Global Ethics, 2012.
This paper defends several highly revisionary theses about human rights. Section 1 shows that the phrase 'human rights' refers to two distinct types of moral claims. Sections 2 and 3 argue that several longstanding problems in human rights theory and practice can be solved if, and only if, the concept of a human right is replaced by two more exact concepts: (A) International human rights, which are moral claims sufficient to warrant coercive domestic and international social protection; and (B) Domestic human rights, which are moral claims sufficient to warrant coercive domestic social protection but only non-coercive international action.
Bad News for Conservatives? Moral Judgments and the Dark Triad Personality Traits: A Correlational Study, Neuroethics, 2013.
A Lot More Bad News for Conservatives, and a Little Bit of Bad News for Liberals? Moral Judgments and the Dark Triad Personality Traits: A Follow-up Study, Neuroethics, 2013.
Two empirical studies linking conservative moral and political viewpoints with the Dark Triad personality traits (Machiavellianism, Narcissism and Psychopathy).