Research

My research interests are primarily in moral philosophy and my DPhil thesis was on evolutionary debunking arguments in ethics, considering whether evolutionary explanations for human moral beliefs might require us to revise our moral outlook. Below you can find my thesis and some of my papers.

Publications

“Giving Isn’t Demanding” (with Will MacAskill and Toby Ord) in Woodruff, ed. Philanthropy and Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press), forthcoming

“The Brave Officer Rides Again” Erkenntnis, forthcoming

“Disagreements in Moral Intuition as Defeaters”  The Philosophical Quarterly, forthcoming

“Moral Testimony Pessimism and the Uncertain Value of Authenticity” Philosophy & Phenomenological Research, forthcoming

“Do Evolutionary Debunking Arguments Rest on a Mistake About Evolutionary Explanations?” Philosophical Studies 173 (2016), 1799-1817

Should We Prevent Optimific Wrongs?” Utilitas 28 (2016), 215-226

“Contingency Anxiety and the Epistemology of Disagreement” Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 97 (2015)

“Evolutionary Debunking Arguments and the Proximate/Ultimate Distinction” Analysis 75 (2015), 196-203

 

Papers in progress/under review

“Ethics, Evolution, and the Coincidence Problem: a Skeptical Appraisal”

Abstract: It may seem to require an extraordinary coincidence if the moral beliefs that have evolved under natural selection turn out also reliably to be true, given that matters of truth and falsity are irrelevant in accounting for the selection-pressures shaping human moral psychology. According to Street, this Coincidence Problem represents a serious objection to meta-ethical realism. I identify a number of problems facing her argument, suggesting that the appearance of a problem is misleading: a commitment to a coincidence of this kind need not be unacceptable for the realist. Central to my argument will be an analogy between the Coincidence Problem and the Fine-Tuning Problem in the philosophy of cosmology. I show that the seriousness of the Coincidence Problem as an objection to realism depends ultimately on controversial questions in the philosophy of probability, Bayesian epistemology, and the philosophy of religion.

 

DPhil thesis

Evolutionary Debunking Arguments in Ethics

Abstract: I consider whether evolutionary explanations can debunk our moral beliefs. Most contemporary discussion in this area is centred on the question of whether debunking implications follow from our ability to explain elements of human morality in terms of natural selection, given that there has been no selection for true moral beliefs. By considering the most prominent arguments in the literature today, I offer reasons to think that debunking arguments of this kind fail. However, I argue that a successful evolutionary debunking argument can be constructed by appeal to the suggestion that our moral outlook reflects arbitrary contingencies of our phylogeny, much as the horizontal orientation of the whale’s tail reflects its descent from terrestrial quadrupeds.