Published articles

Imagining Others.
Atelier de l’Ethique, 5:1, 34-49 (2010).

It is often argued that the ability to imagine what others think and feel is central to moral functioning. In this paper, I consider to what extent this is true. I argue that neither the ability to think of others as having representational mental states, nor the ability to imagine being in their position, is necessary for moral understanding or moral motivation. I go on to argue that the area in which thinking about others’ thoughts and feelings appears to play the largest role is that of supererogatory actions. Being able to get on well with others seems to be importantly predicated on our ability to think about their thoughts and feelings and being able to take up their perspective. However, when it comes to grosser moral norms and restrictions, such as harm norms, there is little reason to think that thinking about others’ thoughts and feelings plays a central role in understanding such norms or being motivated by them.

The Descent of Shame,
Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, LXXX, 566-94 (2010).

Shame is a painful emotion concerned with failure to live up to certain standards, norms, or ideals. The subject feels that she falls in the regard of others; she feels watched and exposed. As a result, she feels bad about the person that she is. The most popular view of shame is that someone only feels ashamed if she fails to live up to standards, norms, or ideals that she, herself, accepts. In this paper, I provide support for a different view, according to which shame is about failure to live up to public expectations. Such a view of shame has difficulties explaining why an audience is central to shame, why shame concerns the self as a whole, and the social rank of someone affects their ability to shame others. These features, I argue, are best explained by reference to the descent of shame in the emotion connected with submission in nonhuman animals. The function of submission—to appease relevant social others—also throws light on the sort of emotion that shame is. From the point of view of other people, a subject who experiences shame at her own failing is someone who is committed to living together with others in a socially sanctioned way. The argument is not that we must understand the nature of shame in terms of what it evolved for, but that its heritage is important to understanding the emotion that shame has become.

Feeling for Others: Empathy, Sympathyand Morality.
Inquiry, 52 483-99 (2009).

An increasingly popular suggestion is that empathy and/or sympathy plays a foundational role in understanding harm norms and being motivated by them. In this paper, I argue these emotions play a rather more moderate role in harms norms than we are often led to believe. Evidence from people with frontal lobe damage suggests that neither empathy, nor sympathy is necessary for the understanding of such norms. Furthermore, people’s understanding of why it is wrong to harm varies and is by no means limited to considerations of welfare arising from the abilities to sympathize and/ or empathize. And the sorts of considerations of welfare that are central to sympathy and, to some extent empathy, are often already moralized. As such, these considerations cannot form the non-moral foundation of harm norms. Finally, empathy and sympathy are not the only emotions that motivate harm norms. Indeed, much of the evidence that has been adduced in favor of the motivational force of empathy and sympathy are studies on helping, which is quite a different behavior than aggression inhibition. Understanding and being motivated by harm norms are complex abilities. To understand them better, we need to move beyond the current fixation on empathy and sympathy.

Patriotic Virtue.
Political Studies (w. Fred Bennett), 57, 639-59 (2009).

Some philosophers argue that the state and its citizens stand in a morally privileged position vis-à-vis one another but not towards other states or citizens. However, many of those people, particularly philosophical liberals, also hold that morally insignificant differences, such as place of birth, sex, or ethnicity, should not affects rights, liberties, and life prospects. On the face of it, these two sets of ideas appear incompatible and point to a conflict in some liberal thought. Liberal philosophers, like John Rawls, have attempted to reconcile these conflicting ideas. His attempt has attracted a great deal of criticism, especially from those liberals attracted to a more cosmopolitan point of view. In this paper, we use Aristotelian virtue ethics as the basis upon which to reconcile liberalism and patriotism. We argue that the state should be understood as an agent that stands in a special relationship to its citizens (of philia). The state’s virtue depends, in part, on it giving those citizens preferential treatment with regard to justice compared to citizens of other countries. Similarly, if the citizen is to be just in her relations with her own state, she must behave in special ways towards that state as compared to other states. Certain forms of justice only arise in relationships of particular kinds.

In Defence of (Model) Theory Theory.
Journal of Consciousness Studies, 16, 360-78 (2009).

In this paper, I present a version of theory theory, so-called model theory, according to which theories are families of models, which represent real-world phenomena when combined with relevant hypotheses, best interpreted in terms of know-how. This form of theory theory has a number of advantages over traditional forms, and is not subject to some recent charges coming from narrativity theory. Most importantly, practice is central to model theory. Practice matters because folk psychological knowledge is knowledge of the (empirical) world only if it is combined with knowledge of how to apply it. By combining the general and the particular in this way, model theory gives a deep and explanatorily satisfactory account of the centrality of practice. Model theory accounts not just as well as, but better than, narrativity theory for the fact that our folk psychological explanations appear to contain, or form part of, narratives.

The Mad, the Bad, and the Psychopath.
Neuroethics, 1, 167-84 (2008).

It is common for philosophers to argue that psychopaths are not morally responsible because they lack some of the essential capacities for morality. In legal terms, they are criminally insane. Typically, however, the insanity defense is not available to psychopaths. The primary reason is that they appear to have the knowledge and understanding required under the M’Naghten Rules. However, it has been argued that what is required for moral and legal responsibility is ‘deep’ moral understanding, something that psychopaths do not have either due to their lacking empathy or practical reason. In the first part of the paper, I argue that psychopaths do not lack the abilities required for deep moral understanding, although they have deficits in those areas. According the M’Naghten Rules, therefore, psychopaths are not insane. Under a less strict formulation of the insanity plea, like the Model Penal Code, however, there is a good case to be made for their lacking substantial capacity. I argue that because psychopathy is an essentially moral disorder, and because of the nature of psychopathic violence, psychopaths should not be excused under the insanity plea. It would be tantamount to excusing someone for committing a crime because they are bad. Arguably, this contravenes the entire system of law.

Social Systems.
Philosophical Psychology, 20, 557-78 (2007).

It used to be thought that folk psychology is the only game in town. Focusing merely on what people do will not allow you to predict what they are likely to do next. For that, you must consider their beliefs, desires, intentions, etc. Recent evidence from developmental psychology and fMRI studies indicates that this conclusion was premature. We parse motion in an environment as behavior of a particular type, and behavior thus construed can feature in systematizations that we know. Building on the view that folk psychological knowledge is knowledge of theoretical models, I argue that social knowledge is best understood as lying on a continuum between behavioral and full-blown psychological models. Between the two extremes, we have what I call ‘social models’. Social models represent social structures in terms of their overall purpose and circumscribe individuals’ roles within them. These models help us predict what others will do or plan what we should do without providing information about what agents think or want. Thinking about social knowledge this way gives us a more nuanced picture of what capacities are engaged in social planning and interaction, and gives us a better tool with which to think about the social knowledge of animals and young children.

The Presence of Others.
Philosophical Studies, 132, 161-90 (2007).

Hybrid accounts of folk psychology maintain that we sometimes theorize and sometimes simulate in order to understand others. An important question is why this is the case. In this paper, I present a view according to which simulation, but not theory, plays a central role in empathy. In contrast to others taking a similar approach to simulation, I do not focus on empathy’s cognitive aspect, but stress its affective-motivational one. Simulating others’ emotions usually engages our motivations altruistically. By vicariously feeling what others are feeling, we directly come to be motivated by their projects and concerns. Simulation contrasts with more theoretical approaches to psychological attribution that help us understand and explan others, but that do not move us altruistically. This helps us see why we would posit two different folk psychological approaches instead of merely one.

Moral Unreason: The Case of Psychopathy.
Mind & Language, 20, 237-57 (2005).

Psychopaths are renowned for their immoral behavior. They are ideal candidates for testing the empirical plausibility of moral theories. Many think the source of their immorality is their emotional deficits. Psychopaths experience no guilt or remorse, feel no empathy, and appear to be perfectly rational. If this is true, sentimentalism is supported over rationalism. Here, I examine the nature of psychopathic practical reason and argue that it is impaired. The relevance to morality is discussed. I conclude that rationalists can explain the moral deficits of psychopaths as well as sentimentalists. In the process, I identify psychological structures that underpin practical rationality.

The Mindreader & The Scientist.
Mind & Language, 18, 2003, 296-315 (2003).

Among theory theorists it is commonly thought that folk psychological theory is tacitly known. However, folk psychological knowledge has none o the central features of tacit knowledge. But if it is ordinary knowledge, why is it that we have difficulties expressing anything but a handful of folk psychological generalizations? The reason is that our knowledge is of theoretical models and hypotheses, not of universal generalizations. Adopting this alternative view of (scientific) theories, we come to see that, given time and reflection, we can say what we know.

Tacit Knowledge & Folk Psychology.
Danish Yearbook of Philosophy, 35, 2001, 95-114 (2001).

In contrast to prevalent views of theory of mind, I argue that we do not have tacit knowledge of a psychological theory or set of psychological generalizations. What we know about psychological properties is informationally promiscuous, consciously accessible, and conceptual. These features stand in contrast to what Stich and Davies regard as being properties of tacit knowledge. Consequently, although we plausibly do have knowledge of some psychological theory, this knowledge is explicit or, if you like, ordinary.


Encyclopedia entries

Philosophy of Mind – Fundamentals. A. Barber & R. Stainton (Eds.) The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics. London: Elsevier Publishers.


Invited Commentary

The Will to Conform. W. Sinnott-Armstrong (Ed.) Moral Psychology, Volume 3: The Neuroscience of Morality: Emotion, Disease, and Development. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008, 565-83.