Published and Forthcoming Papers
Three Kinds of Agency and Closed-Loop Neural Devices
American Journal of Bioethics: Neuroscience
Personhood and Natural Kinds: Why Cognitive Status Need not Affect Moral Status
Journal of Medicine and Philosophy
Abstract: Lockean accounts of personhood propose that an individual is a person just in case that individual is characterized by some advanced cognitive capacity. On these accounts, humans with severe cognitive impairment are therefore not persons. Some accept this result – I do not. In this paper, I therefore advance and defend an account of personhood that secures personhood for humans who are cognitively impaired. On the account for which I argue, an individual is a person just in case that individual belongs to a natural kind that is normally characterized by advanced cognitive capacities. Since ‘human’ is just such a natural kind, individual humans can therefore be persons even when they do not themselves have advanced cognitive capacities.
Is Neuroscience Relevant to Our Moral Responsibility Practices?
2014. Journal of Cognition and Neuroethics 2(2): 61-82.
Abstract: Some psychologists and philosophers have argued that neuroscience is importantly relevant to our moral responsibility practices, especially to our practices of praise and blame. For consider: on an unprecedented scale, contemporary neuroscience presents us with a mechanistic account of human action. Furthermore, influential studies – most notoriously, Libet et al. (1983) – seem to show that the brain decides to do things (so to speak) before we consciously make a decision. In light of these findings, then – or so some have argued – we ought to revise our practices of praise and blame. In the current paper, I argue that this conclusion is unwarranted. The reason is that the argument for it depends on controversial non-empirical premises, premises we need not accept. I suggest, however, that neuroscience does bear on our moral responsibility practices in one important, if less revisionary, way. In particular, neuroscience offers a new kind of evidence for determining when agents should be held exempt from our normal moral responsibility practices.
Recent and Upcoming Presentations
How Sparse Properties Save Nicod's Principle
American Philosophical Association--Pacific Division--Main Program. April 12-15, 2017
Abstract: Nicod’s Principle says that observations of Fs that are Gs confirm ‘all Fs are Gs.’ As Hempel observed, however, it follows from Nicod’s Principle that the sentence ‘all ravens are black’ is confirmed by my observation of a red rose. Generally, it follows from Nicod’s Principle that my observation of any non-F non-G confirms ‘all Fs are Gs.’ This implication is counterintuitive and counts as a strike against Nicod’s Principle—call the strike Hempel’s Challenge. To meet Hempel’s Challenge, most philosophers have (understandably) developed more sophisticated theories of induction. In this paper, however, I suggest that Hempel’s Challenge can alternatively be met by doing some metaphysics. Specifically, I argue that we can save Nicod’s Principle by scrutinizing our metaphysics of properties, that anyone who endorses a sparse conception of properties gains a principled strategy for resolving Hempel’s Challenge.
When Does Consciousness Matter? Lessons from the Minimally Conscious State
Illinois Philosophical Association Meeting. November 4-5, 2016.
Abstract: Patients in a minimally conscious state fall into an importantly different diagnostic category than patients in the more familiar persistent vegetative states. Not only are minimally conscious patients conscious in some sense—they have a higher chance for recovery than patients in a persistent vegetative state. Because of these differences, Joseph Fins has argued that we owe minimally conscious patients something more than what we owe patients with more severe disorders of consciousness. I agree. In this paper, however, I argue Fins’s recommendations don’t go far enough. The reason is that we must justify our differential treatment of minimally conscious patients partly on their potential for consciousness—we are partly justified treating minimally conscious patients differently than other patients because minimally conscious patients are potentially conscious while other patients are not. But if the potential for consciousness is morally salient in this way, the recommendations Fins makes ultimately fall short.