Publications

'Rethinking the Asymmetry', forthcoming in the Canadian Journal of Philosophy.

According to the Asymmetry, we've strong moral reason to prevent miserable lives from coming into existence, but no moral reason to bring happy lives into existence. This procreative asymmetry is often thought to be part of commonsense morality, however theoretically puzzling it might prove to be. I argue that this is a mistake. The asymmetry is merely prima facie intuitive, and loses its appeal on further reflection. Mature commonsense morality recognizes no fundamental procreative asymmetry. It may recognize some superficially similar theses, but we will see that they derive from more familiar principles, and are compatible with there being moral reason to bring happy lives into existence.

'Knowing What Matters' (2017), in P. Singer (ed.), Does Anything Really Matter? Parfit on Objectivity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Parfit's On What Matters offers a rousing defence of non-naturalist normative realism against pressing metaphysical and epistemological objections. He addresses skeptical arguments based on (i) the causal origins of our normative beliefs, and (ii) the appearance of pervasive moral disagreement. In both cases, he concedes the first step to the skeptic, but draws a subsequent distinction with which he hopes to stem the skeptic's advance. I argue, however, that these distinctions cannot bear the weight that Parfit places on them. A successful moral epistemology must take a harder line with the skeptic, insisting that moral knowledge can be had by those with the right kind of psychology -- no matter the evolutionary origin of the psychology, nor whether we can demonstrate its reliability over the alternatives.

'Virtue and Salience' (with Helen Yetter-Chappell), Australasian Journal of Philosophy (2016), 94 (3): 449-463.

This paper explores two ways in which evaluations of an agent's character as virtuous or vicious are properly influenced by what the agent finds salient or attention-grabbing. First, we argue that ignoring salient needs reveals a greater deficit of benevolent motivation in the agent, and hence renders the agent more blameworthy. We use this fact to help explain our ordinary intuition that failing to give to famine relief is in some sense less bad than failing to help a child who is drowning right before your eyes, in a way that's compatible with the contention that there's no principled reason to see the one life-saving act as any more or less choiceworthy than the other. Second, we argue that alleged ‘virtues of ignorance’ are better understood as ‘virtues of salience’. Rather than placing demands on what we believe, these virtues place demands on what we find salient.

'Incentivizing Patient Choices: The Ethics of Inclusive Shared Savings', Bioethics (2016), 30 (8): 597-600.

Is it ethical to pay patients for selecting cheaper medical treatments? The healthcare system in the United States is notoriously profligate, at least in part because when insurers foot the bill, patients have little incentive to avoid wasteful treatments. One familiar means for dealing with this problem is for insurers to offer reduced co-pays to patients who select cheaper treatments. Would it be ethical to take this one step further, beyond the zero bound, sharing the savings of cheaper treatments by positively paying the patients who select them? Schmidt & Emanuel recently proposed this policy of ‘Inclusive Shared Savings’. This article examines various ethical objections to the idea.

'Against "Saving Lives"', Bioethics (2016), 30 (3): 159-164.

Bioethicists often present “saving lives” as a goal distinct from, and competing with, that of extending lives by as much as possible. I argue that this usage of the term is misleading, and provides unwarranted rhetorical support for neglecting the magnitudes of the harms and benefits at stake in medical allocation decisions, often to the detriment of the young. Equal concern for all persons requires weighting equal interests equally, but not all individuals have an equal interest in “life-saving” treatment.

'Value Receptacles', Noûs (2015), 49 (2): 322–332.

Utilitarianism is often rejected on the grounds that it fails to respect the separateness of persons, instead treating people as mere “receptacles of value”. I develop several different versions of this objection, and argue that, despite their prima facie plausibility, they are all mistaken. Although there are crude forms of utilitarianism that run afoul of these objections, I advance a new form of the view—‘token-pluralistic utilitarianism’—that does not.

'Mind-Body Meets Metaethics: A Moral Concept Strategy' (with Helen Yetter-Chappell), Philosophical Studies (2013), 165 (3): 865-878.

The aim of this paper is to assess the relationship between anti-physicalist arguments in the philosophy of mind and anti-naturalist arguments in metaethics, and to show how the literature on the mind-body problem can inform metaethics. Among the questions we will consider are: (1) whether a moral parallel of the knowledge argument can be constructed to create trouble for naturalists, (2) the relationship between such a "Moral Knowledge Argument" and the familiar Open Question Argument, and (3) how naturalists can respond to the Moral Twin Earth argument. We will give particular attention to recent arguments in the philosophy of mind that aim to show that anti-physicalist arguments can be defused by acknowledging a distinctive kind of conceptual dualism between the phenomenal and the physical. This tactic for evading anti-physicalist arguments has come to be known as the Phenomenal Concept Strategy. We will propose a metaethical version of this strategy, which we shall call the `Moral Concept Strategy'. We suggest that the Moral Concept Strategy offers the most promising way out of these anti-naturalist arguments, though significant challenges remain.

'Fittingness: The Sole Normative Primitive', Philosophical Quarterly (2012), 62 (249):684–704.

This paper draws on the ‘Fitting Attitudes’ analysis of value to argue that we should take the concept of fittingness (rather than value) as our normative primitive. I will argue that the fittingness framework enhances the clarity and expressive power of our normative theorising. Along the way, we will see how the fittingness framework illuminates our understanding of various moral theories, and why it casts doubt on the Global Consequentialist idea that acts and (say) eye colours are normatively on a par. We will see why even consequentialists, in taking rightness to be in some sense determined by goodness, should not think that rightness is conceptually reducible to goodness. Finally, I will use the fittingness framework to explicate the distinction between consequentialist and deontological theories, with particular attention to the contentious case of Rule Consequentialism.


Works in Progress

'Willpower Satisficing' (descendant of RoME 2013 Young Ethicist Prize paper, 'Satisficing by Effort'.)

Satisficing Consequentialism is often rejected as hopeless. Perhaps its greatest problem is that it risks condoning the gratuitous prevention of goodness above the baseline of what qualifies as "good enough". I propose a radical new willpower-based version of the view that avoids this problem, and that better fits with the motivation of avoiding an excessively demanding conception of morality. I further demonstrate how, by drawing on the resources of an independent theory of blameworthiness, we may obtain a principled specification of what counts as "good enough".

'Why Care About Non-Natural Reasons?'

Are non-natural properties worth caring about? I consider two (related) objections to metaethical non-naturalism. According to the "intelligibility" objection, it would be positively unintelligible to care about non-natural properties that float free from the causal fabric of the cosmos. According to the "ethical idlers" objection, there is no compelling motivation to posit non-natural normative properties because the natural properties suffice to provide us with reasons. In both cases, I argue, the objection stems from misunderstanding the role that non-natural properties play in the non-naturalist's understanding of normativity. The role of non-natural properties is not to be responded to, but to mark which natural properties it is correct for us to respond to in certain ways.

'Moral Symmetry and Two Dimensional Semantics'

This paper explores how insights from two-dimensional semantics can be brought to bear on debates surrounding (realist) metaethical naturalism. It defends two central claims. (1) A plausible principle of 2-D symmetry for normative terms provides us with reason to reject standard forms of synthetic metaethical naturalism. (2) Moore's Open Question Argument can be powerfully revived within the framework of 2-D semantics. I approach these issues by diagnosing how Attitudinal Semanticists' use of 2-D semantics--to account for moral objectivity--goes wrong. I argue that their "rigidification" strategy doesn't resolve, but merely pushes under the rug, the fundamental concerns that robust moral realists have with Attitudinal Semantics. These concerns re-emerge when we consider the intuitive symmetry between the primary and secondary intensions of normative terms. Attempts to restore symmetry via super-rigidity are subsequently shown to pose "Open Question" problems for (realist) metaethical naturalism more broadly.

'There is No Problem of Collective Harm'

Collective harm cases are ones in which "enough people acting in a certain way leads to bad consequences and yet no single act seems to make a difference." (Nefsky 2011, 364) Familiar examples include greenhouse gas emissions, over-fishing, and buying factory-farmed meat. If it's really true that no single act makes a difference in these cases, then individualistic moral theories such as Act Consequentialism cannot proscribe those acts. That would be a problem for such theories. But I will argue that we have good reason to reject appearances in collective harm cases. If a collection of acts produces a harmful result, so must some of the individual increments that comprise the collection. The apparent problem of collective harm is thereby nipped in the bud.

Comments welcome!    Email me at r.chappell@gmail.com