"Optimism about Moral Responsibility," Philosophers' Imprint (forthcoming).
Optimists about moral responsibility believe that our moral responsibility practices are justified by their beneficial consequences. Although historically prominent versions of optimism face serious challenges, I argue that the position, suitably modified, provides both a plausible justification of our practices and a fruitful framework for evaluating potential reforms.
"Punishment and Disagreement in the State of Nature," Economics and Philosophy (forthcoming).
I analyze Hobbes's and Locke's states of nature through the lens of classical and experimental game theory, drawing especially on evidence concerning the effects of punishment in public goods games. My analysis suggests that we need government not to keep wicked or relentlessly self-interested individuals in line, but rather to maintain peace among those who disagree about morality.
"Efficient Inequalities," Journal of Political Philosophy 28, no. 2 (2020): 181-198. (No direct link due to publisher embargo. Published version available here.)
T. M. Scanlon has recently agued that inequalities are unjust unless they are efficient in a way that benefits everyone. I show that this view is inconsistent given only a few very mild assumptions. If inequalities are justified when they benefit everyone, then they may also be justified by their production of a sufficient number of total benefits—regardless of how these benefits are distributed.
“Laws, Norms, and Public Justification: The Limits of Law as an Instrument of Reform” (with Gerald Gaus) in S. A. Langvatn, M. Kumm, & W. Sadurski (Eds.), Public Reason and Courts. Cambridge University Press (2020), 201-228.
We argue that laws are only effective at regulating behavior when they cohere with social norms, and that social norms are only stable when they align with personal moral convictions. And we employ this position to respond to a prominent objection to public reason liberalism—namely, that a commitment to the public justification of law hamstrings the pursuit of social reform.
"Social Reform in a Complex World," Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 17, no. 2 (2020): 103-132.
There are two major approaches to theorizing about social reform: problem solving and ideal theory. Drawing on considerations of social complexity, I argue that the former is unsatisfactory and the latter infeasible. And I defend a new sort of theorizing that focuses on how to make institutions more "progressive": better at getting better, or more conducive to further improvements in general.
“Is Maximin Egalitarian?” Synthese 197, no. 2 (2020): 818-837.
According to the Maximin criterion of justice, one society is more just than another if the worst off member in the first society is better off than the worst off member in the second. Maximin is often interpreted as a highly egalitarian criterion that balances a concern with equality against a concern with efficiency. I argue that this interpretation is mistaken. Maximin is not an egalitarian view.
“Interpersonal Comparisons with Preferences and Desires,” Politics, Philosophy & Economics 38, no. 3 (2019): 219-241.
Many argue that interpersonal comparisons of welfare are either conceptually incoherent or hopelessly subjective, at least if one adopts the popular view that an individual's welfare consists in her preference satisfaction. I agree, but argue that such comparisons are much less problematic if welfare is understood in terms of desire rather than preference satisfaction.
Review of Kevin Vallier, Must Politics be War? Restoring our Trust in the Open Society, Journal of Moral Philosophy (forthcoming).
Dissertation: Social Ideals and Social Reform
Committee: Gerald Gaus (Chair), Allen Buchanan, Thomas Christiano, Connie Rosati, David Schmidtz
What, if anything, does our conception of the ideally just society tell us about how we should improve our own? I argue, against most ideal theorists, that it tells us hardly anything: it provides us neither with a benchmark for evaluating nonideal societies nor with a long-term target for reform. But if the ideal can’t guide us, then should political philosophers instead engage in problem solving—identifying present instances of injustice, diagnosing their causes, and prescribing targeted solutions—as some self-described nonideal theorists have recently suggested? While problem solving has its place, I argue that it is not enough: problem solving is a good way to identify short-term improvements but not long-term ones. So how, then, should we theorize about long-term reform? I argue that we must supplement problem solving with an attempt to work out how to make our society more progressive: better at getting better, or more conducive to further improvements in general though not necessarily to the achievement of any antecedently specified goal. I offer an account of progressiveness emphasizing experimentation, learning (epistemic feedback), and selection (practical feedback). And I begin to explore some concrete ways of improving the progressiveness of existing societies.