On belief

Clearing Space for Doxastic Voluntarism’, The Monist, 85:3, 436–45 (2002)

Criticizes Williams’ influential argument against voluntary belief. The criticism is a reductio ad absurdum: if correct, his argument implies that any activity that is guided by a constitutive norm––including paradigmatic voluntary activities such as building a house, and, possibly intentional action itself––is involuntary.

How Truth Governs Belief’, The Philosophical Review, 112:4, 447–82 (2003)

Why is the first-personal deliberative question whether to believe that p transparent to the question whether p? I argue that Velleman’s naturalistic teleological claim that belief aims at truth cannot adequately explain this fact. The correct explanation is the following: it is a conceptual truth about belief that its normative standard of correctness is truth.

Doxastic Deliberation’, with J. David Velleman, The Philosophical Review, 114:4, 497–534 (2005)

Defends and elaborates the account of deliberation, judgment, and belief in ‘How Truth Governs Belief.’ The paper contains an expressivist account of belief ascriptions that I now have grave doubts about (see ‘Mental Agency and Metaethics’).

A New Argument for Evidentialism’, The Philosophical Quarterly, 56: 225, 481–498 (2006)

Argues that resolving the central dispute in the ethics of belief between evidentialists and pragmatists turns on the correct explanation of the first-personal deliberative perspective on belief. Although evidentialism does not follow directly from the mere psychological truth that we cannot believe for non-evidential reasons, it does follow directly from the conceptual truth about belief that explains why we cannot do so.

Can Reasons for Belief be Debunked?’ in: Reasons for Belief, eds. Andrew Reisner and Asbjorn Steglich-Petersen, Cambridge University Press, (2011)

A sequel to ‘A New Argument for Evidentialism.’ This time I defend the evidentialist not against the pragmatist, who thinks that there are non-evidential reasons for belief, but against a more radical opponent, the error-theorist, who denies that there are any reasons for belief. I argue that just as the first-personal deliberative perspective on belief is inconsistent with the claim that there are pragmatic reasons for belief, it is also inconsistent with the error-theorist’s claim that all our ascriptions of reasons for belief are false. I conclude by rebutting the objection that this is an invalid transcendental argument.

The Normativity of Belief and Self-Fulfilling Normative Belief’, in Belief and Agency, ed. David Hunter, supplement to the Canadian Journal of Philosophy.

Argues that the proposition ‘There is at least one true normative proposition’, like the proposition ‘Someone is thinking’, is true anytime anyone believes it, and, in an important sense, it is made true by someone’s believing it. Although this claim may appear to express the anti-realist position that normative facts are constructed out of our attitudes or judgments, I argue that the key premise from which it is derived is inconsistent with a fully general constructivist position about normative facts. The paper concludes by rehearsing the argument for this premise (originally presented in ‘How Truth Governs Belief’) and defending the argument against two types of objections that recently have been leveled against it.

Why we reason the way we do’, Philosophical Issues, 23, 311-325.

I argue that there is an important sense in which reasoning is fundamentally reflective. Along the way, I (1) explain why believing at will is impossible; (2) offer a new, more convincing argument that teleological accounts of belief cannot capture the authority of the truth norm; (3) argue that the features of reasoning, such as rule-following, that appear to rule out a reflective account of reasoning do not in fact do so; and (4) respond to objections to my account of the role of the truth norm in reasoning.

On intention

How Action Governs Intention’, Philosophers’ Imprint, 8:5, 1–19 (2008)

Why is it that (as Bratman has pointed out) when one deliberates about the future, one’s focus is on what to do in the future, not on what to intend now? I argue that the concept of intention includes a standard of correctness pertaining to the desirability of the intended action rather than the desirability of the intention itself. Uncovering this feature of intention is the key to solving the toxin puzzle.

On metaethics

The Metaethics of Belief: An Expressivist Reading of “The Will to Believe”’, with Jeffrey Kasser, Special Issue of Social Epistemology, 20:1, 1–17 (2006)

Argues that James approaches questions about our intellectual obligations from two quite different standpoints. He first defends an expressivist interpretation of judgments of intellectual obligation; they are “only expressions of our passional life.” Only then does James argue against evidentialism, and both his criticisms of Clifford and his defense of a more flexible ethics of belief presuppose this independently defended expressivism.

Misunderstanding Metaethics: Korsgaard’s Rejection of Realism’, with Nadeem Hussain, in: Oxford Studies in Metaethics, vol. 1, ed. Russ Shafer-Landau, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 265–94 (2006)

Argues against Korsgaard’s claim that her Kantian ethical theory is an alternative to moral realism; the claims that comprise her view are in fact consistent with realism.

Metaethics and its Discontents: A Case Study of Korsgaard’, with Nadeem Hussain, in: Constructivism: For and Against, ed. Carla Bagnoli, Cambiridge University Press

Examines the widespread discontent with mainstream metaethics shared by many Kantians. We argue that Korsgaard’s influential attempt to transcend metaethics through her Kantian claims about agency, the will, and practical reasoning, fail.

Mental Agency and Metaethics’, with Matthew Evans, in: Oxford Studies in Metaethics, Vol. 7, ed. Russ Shafer-Landau.

Argues that none of the traditional anti-realist metaethical views––constructivism, expressivism, and error-theory––can fully accommodate certain central features of mental agency. We also suggest that, in the end, it may be impossible for any metaethicist to accommodate these features and yet still achieve the kind of detached understanding of the practice of normative judgment that every metaethicist would like.

The Limits of Normative Detachment’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 110:3, 347-71.

Explores the metaethical implications of the Kantian strategy of showing that certain normative judgments are inescapable. I argue against the coherence of combining the Kantian strategy with a constructivist account of normative truth. But I go on to argue that even absent an account of normative truth, the Kantian strategy may be invulnerable to any completely general argument that all of our normative judgments are false.

Reasoning in Stages’, with Matthew Silverstein, Ethics, 124, 101-113.

Mark Schroeder has recently presented apparent counterexamples to the standard account of the distinction between the right and the wrong kinds of reasons. We argue that these examples appear to refute the standard account only because they blur the distinction between two kinds of reasoning: reasoning about whether to intend or believe that p and reasoning about whether to take up the question of whether to intend or believe that p.