Latest Research

Human Rights as Fundamental Conditions for a Good Life

What grounds human rights? How do we determine that something is a genuine human right? In this paper, I offer a new answer: human beings have human rights to what I call the fundamental conditions for pursuing a good life. These are certain goods, capacities and options that human beings qua human beings need whatever else they (qua individuals) might need in order to pursue a characteristically good human life. I call this the Fundamental Conditions Approach. Among other things, I explain how this way of grounding human rights is better than James Griffin’s Agency Approach and Martha Nussbaum’s Central Capabilities Approach, and I also show how it can be compatible with the increasingly popular Political Conceptions of human rights defended by John Rawls, Charles Beitz and Joseph Raz. [In Cruft, R., Liao, S. M., and M. Renzo (eds.), The Philosophical Foundations of Human Rights, Oxford University Press, 2015] [pdf | html]

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Intentions and Moral Permissibility: The Case of Acting Permissibly with Bad Intentions

Many people believe in the intention principle, according to which an agent’s intention in performing an act can sometimes make an act that would otherwise have been permissible impermissible, other things being equal. Judith Jarvis Thomson, Frances Kamm and Thomas Scanlon have offered cases that seem to show that it can be permissible for an agent to act even when the agent has bad intentions. If valid, these cases would seem to cast doubt on the intention principle. In this paper, I point out that these cases have confounding factors that have received little attention in the literature. I argue that these confounding factors undermine the putative force of these cases against the intention principle. Indeed, when cases without these confounding factors are considered, it becomes clear, so I argue, that intentions can be relevant for the permissibility of an act. [Law and Philosophy, forthcoming] [pdf | html]

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Political and Naturalistic Conceptions of Human Rights: A False Polemic?

What are human rights? According to one longstanding account, the Naturalistic Conception of human rights, human rights are those that we have simply in virtue of being human. In recent years, however, a new and purportedly alternative conception of human rights has become increasingly popular. This is the so-called Political Conception of human rights, the proponents of which include John Rawls, Charles Beitz, and Joseph Raz. In this paper we argue for three claims. First, we demonstrate that Naturalistic Conceptions of human rights can accommodate two of the most salient concerns that proponents of the Political Conception have raised about them. Second, we argue that the theoretical distance between Naturalistic and Political Conceptions is not as great as it has been made out to be. Finally, we argue that a Political Conception of human rights, on its own, lacks the resources necessary to determine the substantive content of human rights. If we are right, not only should the Naturalistic Conception not be rejected, the Political Conception is in fact incomplete without the theoretical resources that a Naturalistic Conception characteristically provides. These three claims, in tandem, provide a fresh and largely conciliatory perspective on the ongoing debate between proponents of Political and Naturalistic Conceptions of human rights. [Journal of Moral Philosophy 9(3) 2012: 327-352, with Adam Etinson] [pdf | html]

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Why Children Need to Be Loved

I have argued elsewhere that children have a moral right to be loved. Mhairi Cowden challenges my arguments. Among other things, Cowden believes that children do not need to be loved. In this paper, I explain why Cowden’s arguments fail and I offer additional evidence for why children need to be loved. [Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy 15(3) 2012: 347-358] [pdf | html]

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The Genetic Account of Moral Status: A Defense

Christopher Grau argues that my genetic basis for moral agency account of rightholding is problematic because it fails to grant all human beings the moral status of rightholding; it grants the status of rightholding to entities that do not intuitively deserve such status; and it assumes that the genetic basis for moral agency has intrinsic/final value, but the genetic basis for moral agency only has instrumental value. Grau also argues that those who are inclined to hold that all human beings are rightholders should reconsider speciesism. In this paper, I argue that Grau’s objections do not undermine the genetic basis for moral agency account of rightholding, and I also offer criticisms of Grau’s defense of speciesism. [Journal of Moral Philosophy 9(2) 2012: 265-277] [pdf | html]

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Putting the Trolley in Order: Experimental Philosophy and the Loop Case

In recent years, a number of philosophers have been conducting empirical studies that survey people’s intuitions about various subject matters in philosophy. Some have found that intuitions vary accordingly to seemingly irrelevant facts: facts about who is considering the hypothetical case, the presence or absence of certain kinds of content, or the context in which the hypothetical case is being considered. Our research applies this experimental philosophical methodology to Judith Jarvis Thomson’s famous Loop Case, which she used to call into question the validity of the intuitively plausible Doctrine of Double Effect. We found that intuitions about the Loop Case vary according to the context in which the case is considered. We contend that this undermines the supposed evidential status of intuitions about the Loop Case. We conclude by considering the implications of our findings for philosophers who rely on the Loop Case to make philosophical points and for philosophers who use intuitions in general. [Philosophical Psychology, forthcoming, with Alex Wiegmann, Joshua Alexander and Gerard Vong] [pdf | html]

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Parental Love Pills: Some Ethical Considerations

It may soon be possible to develop pills that allow parents to induce in themselves more loving behavior, attitudes and emotions towards their children. In this paper, I consider whether pharmacologically-induced parental love can satisfy reasonable conditions of authenticity; why anyone would be interested in taking such parental love pills at all, and whether inducing parental love pharmacologically promotes narcissism or results in self-instrumentalization. I also examine how the availability of such pills may affect the duty to love a child. [Bioethics, forthcoming] [pdf | html]

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Bias and Reasoning: Haidt’s Theory of Moral Judgment

According to Haidt’s Social Intuitionist Model (SIM) of moral judgment, most moral judgments are generated by the intuitive process and the purpose of reasoning is to provide a post hoc and biased basis for justification. The SIM is of great importance for moral philosophers because if the SIM were an accurate description of how we arrive at our moral judgments, the evidential weight of most of our moral judgments may be undercut. In this paper, I question Haidt’s claim that reasoning provides a biased basis for justification by challenging his claim that reasoning is biased. After presenting the tendencies that, according to Haidt, make reasoning biased, I draw on the literature on epistemic justification to show that these tendencies are not always biases. If I am right, it is premature to claim that our reasoning is biased, and that the purpose of reasoning is to provide a biased basis for justification. [In New Waves in Ethics, ed. Thom Brooks. Palgrave, forthcoming] [pdf | html]

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Agency and Human Rights

What grounds human rights? How do we determine that something is a human right? James Griffin has persuasively argued that the notion of agency should determine the content of human rights. However, Griffin’s agency account faces the question of why agency should be the sole ground for human rights. For example, can Griffin’s notion of agency by itself adequately explain such human rights as that against torture? Or, has Griffin offered a plausible explanation as to why one should not broaden the ground for human rights to include other elements of a good life such as freedom from great pain, understanding, deep personal relations, and so on? These concerns have been raised regarding Griffin’s agency account, but in his new book, On Human Rights, Griffin has offered new arguments in support of his view that agency is the sole ground for human rights. In this paper, I examine these new arguments, and I argue that Griffin’s arguments are ultimately unsuccessful. [Journal of Applied Philosophy 27(1) 2010: 15-25] [pdf | html]

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Twinning, Inorganic Replacement, and the Organism View

In explicating his version of the Organism View, Eric Olson argues that you begin to exist only after twinning is no longer possible and that you cannot survive a process of inorganic replacement. Assuming the correctness of the Organism View, but pace Olson, I argue in this paper that the Organism View does not require that you believe either proposition. The claim I shall make about twinning helps to advance a debate that currently divides defenders of the Organism View, while the claim I shall make about inorganic replacement will help to put the Organism View on a par with its rival views by allowing it to accommodate a plausible intuition that its rivals can accommodate, namely, the intuition that you can survive a process of inorganic replacement. Both claims, I shall also argue, are important for those who are interested in the identity condition of a human organism, even if they do not hold the view that you are essentially an organism. [Ratio, forthcoming] [pdf | html]

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