Philosophical Papers

Epistemology

Compassionate Phenomenal Conservatism  Full Text |
I defend Phenomenal Conservatism, on which appearances provide prima facie justification for belief. I reject the demand for a metajustification for this principle, I find no reason for privileging introspective or intuitive over perceptual appearances, and I argue that the denial of Phenomenal Conservatism is self-defeating. (Philosophy & Phenomenological Research 74 (2007): 30-55.)
Phenomenal Conservatism & Internalism  Full Text |
Externalist theories of justification allow there to be cases in which two propositions appear to one the same in all relevant respects, yet one proposition is justified and the other not. But as internalists argue, it would seem irrational in these cases to affirm one proposition and not the other. The internalist intuition supports a specific internalist theory, Phenomenal Conservatism. (American Philosophical Quarterly 43 (2006): 147-58.)
There Is No Pure Empirical Reasoning  Full Text |
The force of empirical reasoning always depends upon some synthetic, a priori justification. We must begin with justified substantive constraints on the prior probability of the conclusion and certain conditional probabilities; otherwise, all possible degrees of belief in the conclusion are left open given the premises. (Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 95 (2017):592-613.)
Explanationist Aid for Inductive Logic  Full Text |
I use the notion of explanatory priority to resolve some of the alleged inconsistencies of the Principle of Indifference and refute inductive skepticism. (British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 60 (2009): 1-31.)
When Is Parsimony a Virtue?  Full Text |
I review four accounts of why parsimony is a virtue of scientific theories. None of the accounts extends naturally to typical philosophical cases. This suggests that in typical philosophical contexts, ontological simplicity has no evidential value. (Philosophical Quarterly 59 (2009): 216-36.)
Why You Are Probably Not a Brain in a Vat  Full Text |
Skeptical hypotheses such as the brain-in-a-vat hypothesis provide extremely poor explanations of our evidence, because these hypotheses accommodate virtually any possible set of evidence. Serious empirical theories make reasonably specific predictions about the evidence and are then well supported when these predictions are satisfied. (Philosophical Studies 173 (2016): 1031-52.)
Probability & Coherence Justification  Full Text |
Suppose two witnesses independently report some observation. I show that their agreement provides evidence of their veracity only if each witness had some initial credibility. This is analogous to the fact that coherence can provide justification for beliefs only if beliefs have some initial, foundational justification. (Southern Journal of Philosophy 35 (1997): 463-72.)
Confirmation Theory  Full Text |
Discussion of the problem of induction, some failed solutions to it, and my favored approach: inference to the best explanation. (Unpublished.)
Problem of Defeasible Justification  Full Text |
Inductive skepticism and brain-in-a-vat skepticism are instances of a general skepticism about defeasible justification, which follows from three premises: (1) To be justified in believing H on the basis of E, one must have grounds for rejecting every alternative to H; (2) if E does not entail H, then there are scenarios that entail (E and ~H); (3) if P entails E, then E is not grounds for rejecting P. (Erkenntnis 54 (2001): 375-97.)
Problem of Memory Knowledge  Full Text |
When one recalls that P, how is one justified in believing that P? I argue that the justification of the belief is a product of both the initial justification for adopting it and the justification for retaining it provided by memory experiences. Three alternative theories are discussed and refuted. (Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 80 (1999): 346-57.)
Sense Data  Full Text |
Explains the concept of sense data and arguments for and against them. (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Summer 2004.)
Is Critical Thinking Epistemically Responsible?  Full Text |
Most people should not try to think through controversial issues for themselves. Instead, they should either trust experts or just withhold judgment. Given the obvious intellectual superiority of experts, relying on one’s own judgment would be irrational. (Metaphilosophy 36 (2005): 522-31.)
Direct Realist Account of Perception  Full Text |
Perception is a form of direct awareness of external phenomena, viz., awareness that is not based on awareness of any non-external phenomena. Perceptual experiences provide non-inferential justification for believing some propositions about the external world. This theory avoids arguments for external-world skepticism. (PhD Dissertation.)

Politics & Law

The Duty to Disregard the Law  Full Text |
In the practice of jury nullification, a jury votes to acquit a defendant in disregard of the factual evidence, usually because they believe the law itself to be unjust. The practice is widely condemned by courts and prosecutors, yet the usual arguments against it are laughably weak. I argue that, given the wrongness of causing unjust harms to others, jurors are often morally obligated to disregard the law. (Criminal Law and Philosophy 12 (2018): 1-18.)
Why We Are Irrational About Politics  Full Text |
The best explanation for pervasive political disagreement is that most people are irrational about politics and not, e.g., that political issues are too difficult to resolve. I discuss how this irrationality works and why we are irrational about politics in particular. (Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (Oxford University Press, 2015), pp. 456-67.)
Is There a Right to Own a Gun?  Full Text |
I argue that individuals have a prima facie right to own firearms. This right is not overridden by the social harms of private gun ownership, which have been greatly exaggerated and are probably considerably smaller than its benefits. Furthermore, the harms would have to be at least several times greater than the benefits in order to render gun prohibition permissible. (Social Theory and Practice 29 (2003): 297-324.)
Gun Rights and Noncompliance  Full Text |
Most gun control laws face two problems: first, they violate the rights of law-abiding citizens. Second, the individuals whose behavior they are meant to change simply will not comply with the laws. (The Critique, 7/14/2016.)
America’s Unjust Drug War  Full Text |
Drug prohibition is commonly defended on the ground that drugs harm the user or the user’s family, friends, and coworkers. But the harms that drugs may cause are not of the kind that would normally justify criminal sanctions, even if one directly, deliberately brought them about. Furthermore, drug laws violate individuals’ rights to control their own bodies. (The New Prohibition, ed. Bill Masters (Accurate Press, 2004), pp. 133-44.)
Is There a Right to Immigrate?  Full Text |
Immigration restrictions are both coercive and harmful and thus constitute prima facie rights-violations. The reasons typically offered in defense of these restrictions—including appeals to economic, fiscal, and cultural values—fall far short of the standards normally required to justify acts of harmful coercion. (Social Theory and Practice 36 (2010): 429-61.)
The Right to Move Versus the Right to Exclude  Full Text |
Native born citizens possess (1) a right to freedom of association, (2) rights to control public resources, (3) a right to defend themselves from harmful policies. I explain, however, why none of these rights gives rise to a right to exclude potential immigrants from the country.
In Praise of Passivity  Full Text |
Political actors, including voters, activists, and leaders, are often ignorant of basic facts relevant to policy choices. Even experts have little understanding of the working of society and little ability to predict future outcomes. As a result, the best advice is often to stop trying to solve social problems, since solutions not based on precise understanding are likely to do more harm than good. (Studia Humana 1 (2012): 12-28.)
Devil’s Advocates: On Unjust Legal Advocacy  Full Text |
I argue that it is morally wrong for a lawyer to pursue a legal outcome that he knows to be unjust, such as the acquittal of a guilty client or the triumph of the wrong side in a lawsuit. (Ethics in Politics (Routledge, 2017), pp. 285-304.)
Is Wealth Redistribution a Rights Violation?  Full Text |
Taxation for redistributive purposes is a property rights violation. I address arguments claiming that individuals lack ownership of their pretax incomes, either because we do not earn these incomes purely through our own actions, or because property rights do not exist independent of the state. (Routledge Handbook of Libertarianism (Routledge, 2017), pp. 259-71.)
Statistics on the Costs of Government  Full Text |
Deaths and monetary costs caused by governments, compared with those due to private crime. (Unpublished.)
The Theory of Economic Value  Full Text |
Explains the standard (neoclassical) theory of prices, then contrasts it with Marx’s labor theory of value. Explains what is wrong with Marx’s theory of value, along with his theories of surplus value and exploitation. (Unpublished teaching material.)
The TV Contract  Full Text |
A parody of the social contract theory. What would happen if someone offered to sell you a television, on terms analogous to those of the putative “social contract”? (Unpublished.)

Ethical Theory

Dialogues on Vegetarianism  Part 4   Part 3   Part 2   Part 1  |
A meat-eater and a vegan discuss the ethics of meat consumption. Standard arguments on both sides are reviewed, especially the argument that meat-consumption supports extreme cruelty. Also discussed: how conflicting intuitions ought to be weighed, whether meat-eating is comparable to participating in a holocaust, why ethical arguments often fail to change our behavior, and how vegans should interact with non-vegans. (Between the Species, forthcoming.)
Against Equality  Full Text |
I deploy three premises: (1) The distribution of utility across time within an individual’s life is intrinsically neutral; (2) the non-instrumental value of an event supervenes on its intrinsic character; (3) value adds across disjoint time periods. (3) must be accepted to avoid decision-theoretic paradoxes. From these, it follows that equality has no intrinsic value. (A longer version appears in “Non-Egalitarianism”, Philosophical Studies 114 (2003): 147-71.)
Against Equality and Priority  Full Text |
I deploy three premisses: (1) If possible world X is better than world Y for every individual who exists in either world, then X is better than Y; (2) if X has a higher average utility, a higher total utility, and no more inequality than Y, then X is better than Y; (3) that better than is transitive. From these, it follows that equality has no intrinsic value. (Utilitas 24 (2012): 483-501.)
In Defence of Repugnance  Full Text |
I defend the “Repugnant” Conclusion that for any possible population of happy people, a population containing a sufficient number of people with lives barely worth living would be better. Four lines of argument converge on this conclusion, and the conclusion has a simple, natural theoretical explanation. Several theories have been devised to avoid the Repugnant Conclusion, but each generates even crazier consequences. (Mind 117 (2008): 899-933.)
A Paradox for Weak Deontology  Full Text |
Deontologists hold that there is a way of harming others such that it is wrong to harm others in that way for the sake of producing a comparable but greater benefit for others. This principle leads to paradoxical cases in which it can be wrong to do A, wrong to do B, but permissible to do A and B. (Utilitas 21 (2009): 464-77.)
Lexical Priority & the Problem of Risk  Full Text |
Lexical Priority theories hold that some normative reasons are infinitely more important than others. These views have trouble dealing with cases in which it is uncertain whether a given reason applies. In such cases, Lexical Priority theories are in danger of becoming irrelevant to decision-making, becoming absurdly demanding, or generating paradoxical cases in which each of a pair of actions is permissible yet the pair is impermissible. (Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 91 (2010): 332-51.)

Meta-ethics

Moral Objectivism  Full Text |
Discussion of arguments for and against objectivism, the definition of “objectivism”, and how subjectivism undermines morality. Undergraduate paper from about 1992. This paper convinced Bryan Caplan of moral realism. (Unpublished.)
Liberal Realist Answer to Debunking Skeptics  Full Text |
Debunking skeptics claim that our moral beliefs have causes unsuited to identifying objective facts, such as emotions inculcated by our genes and culture. But the debunkers cannot explain the pervasive liberalization of values over human history. The best explanation is the realist’s: humanity is growing more liberal because liberalism is objectively correct. (Philosophical Studies 173 (2016): 1983-2010.)
An Ontological Proof of Moral Realism  Full Text |
If there is any chance that moral realism is true, then we have a reason for behaving in the ways that would most likely be objectively required, if moral realism were true. This reason itself, it will turn out, is an objective, moral reason. Thus, if moral realism might be true, then it is true. (Social Philosophy and Policy 30 (2013): 259-79.)
Revisionary Intuitionism  Full Text |
Ethical intuitionists should disown a wide range of common moral intuitions that are likely influenced by bias. We should typically give preference to abstract, formal intuitions over more substantive ethical intuitions. In place of the common sense morality with which intuitionism has traditionally allied, sophisticated intuitionists should be open to revisionary ethical theories. (Social Philosophy and Policy 25 (2008): 368-92.)
Critique of “The Objectivist Ethics”  Full Text |
Detailed list of problems in Ayn Rand’s article, “The Objectivist Ethics”. (Unpublished.)
A Critique of the Kantian Ethics  Full Text |
A very critical exposition of the Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals. (Unpublished.)

Metaphysics & Mind

A Proof of Free Will  Full Text |
Three premises are deployed: first, that we should avoid believing falsehoods; second, the “ought” implies “can” principle; third, the proposition that I believe I have free will. From these, it follows that I have free will. The first premise is a presupposition of rational thought. (Unpublished.)
Causation as Simultaneous and Continuous  Full Text |
All actual causes are simultaneous with their direct effects, as illustrated by both everyday examples and the laws of physics. We contrast this view with the sequential conception of causation, according to which causes must precede their effects. The key difference between the two views of causation lies in differing assumptions about the structure of time. (With Ben Kovitz. Philosophical Quarterly 53 (2003): 556–65.)
What Is the Mind/Body Problem?  Full Text |
The mind/body problem arises from five theses: (1) Every feature of a whole is a logically necessary consequence of the properties and relations of its parts. (2) People are made of atoms. (3) Atoms have only physical properties and relations. (4) People have minds. (5) The existence of minds is not a logically necessary consequence of any purely physical descriptions. Each of these seems obvious, but all cannot be true. (Unpublished.)
Philosophical Complaint against Emergence  Full Text |
The idea of emergent properties might solve the mind/body problem, if such properties were possible. But a priori, emergent properties seem metaphysically impossible. (Unpublished.)
Modal Claims & Possible Worlds  Full Text |
A criticism of David Lewis’ mad theory of possible worlds. If Lewis were correct, it would be analytic that other worlds exist. But the existence of a concrete object is never analytic. (Unpublished.)
An Argument Against Nominalism  Full Text |
It would have been possible for all the presently red things to be white and all the presently white things to be red. Nominalists cannot accommodate this fact. (Unpublished.)

Other

Why I Am Not an Objectivist  Full Text |
Explains many points where I differ with the philosophy of Ayn Rand. Rand is mistaken about the nature of meaning, the analytic/synthetic distinction, a priori knowledge, universals, the foundations of ethics, ethical egoism, and free will. (Unpublished.)
Quantum Mechanics for Philosophers  Full Text |
Explains basic stuff you need to know to think about the interpretation of quantum mechanics. Why do people say QM implies that observers create reality, etc.? Also, explains why Bohm’s interpretation is better than the Copenhagen Interpretation. (Unpublished.)
Why Relativity & QM Are False  Full Text |
Message posted to a usenet newsgroup. It explains the EPR paradox and Bell’s Theorem in simple terms. For “QM” read “the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics”. (Unpublished informal discussion.)
The Mysteries of Existence  Full Text |
There really aren’t as many mysteries as philosophers claim. In most cases, the “argument” that a theory should be rejected because it is “mysterious” is completely vacuous. (Unpublished.)
Student Evaluations  Full Text |
Reviews some of the literature on student evaluations of professors. Identifies several serious problems with their use. (Unpublished.)
Correct Resolution of the Twin Paradox  Full Text |
Resolves the Twin Paradox of Special Relativity. A pair of twins start out the same age. One flies around in a spaceship near the speed of light for twenty years. Due to his high speed, the space twin ages slower and returns looking younger than the Earth twin. Why can’t the space twin argue that the Earth twin should have aged slower because he was moving near the speed of light? (Unpublished.)

Lesser papers

These papers are very old and not important enough to have abstracts.

The Need for Social Coercion
The Subjectivist’s Dilemma
Reason, Objectivity, and Goodness
Reflections on Prichard
The Primacy of Existence
The Objectivist Theory of Free Will
The Cartesian Circle Persists
On Objective Being in the Intellect
Aristotle and Incontinence
An Examination of Aristotle’s Ethics
Problems from Kant