This paper discusses a challenge for many views of the value of meaning in life. According to these views, meaning is a distinct kind of final value of lives. The challenge is to explain how meaning could be both a kind of final value and distinct from other kinds, such as well-being or virtue. The paper argues in favour of one way of responding to this challenge, which is to accept that the value of meaning in life is purely instrumental.
This paper distinguishes three conceptions of group-based reasons: reasons to play one’s part in some pattern of action that the members of some group could perform, because of the good features of the pattern. According to the agency-first conception, there are no group-based reasons in cases where the relevant group is not or would not be itself an agent. According to the behaviour-first conception, what matters is that the other members of the group would play their parts in the relevant pattern, not whether they would have the cooperative intentional states constitutive of group agency in doing so. The paper argues against these conceptions and in favour of the powers-first conception, according to which what matters is that the members of the group have practically relevant powers.
Surveys discussion of hybrid theories of well-being, and suggests some new directions. Sam Wren-Lewis interviews me about this at his excellent well-being blog.
(2013) The Common Structure of Kantianism and Act Utilitarianism. Utilitas, 25:2, 246-265. DOI: 10.1017/S0953820812000489
Claims that Kantianism, Act Utilitarianism, and other important ethical views are profitably understood as theories of pattern-based reasons, and thus as sharing a common structure. Discusses related proposals, such as the Consequentializing Idea and Michael Ridge’s Consequentialist Kantianism. Copyright Cambridge University Press. Available at Cambridge Journals Online.
Criticises the tripartite classification of theories of welfare (as hedonist, desire theory, or objective list theory) and suggests an alternative typology of theories. Published as Open Access.
Examines the idea of an extended unit of action, or of pattern-based reasons, as it is used in four contexts in which rationality is discussed. The final publication is available at www.springerlink.com
Discusses Bernard Williams’ famous case of Jim. The paper argues that if we wish to explain Jim’s reason not to shoot we should not focus on Jim’s relationship with his own projects or commitments. Instead we should shift attention to Pedro, and on how what he could do matters for Jim’s reasons.
Argues (1) that the debate between actualists and possibilists in deontic logic distorts what is really at issue, and (2) that reframing the debate as being about reasons strongly suggests that those with possibilist sympathies should adopt more moderate claims. Not, as some seem to have thought, a defence of actualism.
Claims that compliance-based forms of Rule Consequentialism are properly understood as theories of pattern-based reasons, but that this leaves them open to a new objection, based on their implicit claims about the interaction of pattern-based and act-based reasons. The published version is available at www.springerlink.com
A survey, in the ‘Recent Work’ series.
This is a very early version of my ideas on pattern-based reasons. My views have since changed.
Argues that G.A. Cohen’s critique of the incentives argument for inequality has significance for ideal theory generally, and that it survives the basic structure objection.
Attempts to clarify the concept of acquiescence and discuss its ethical significance. Discusses its relationship to coercion and duress.
Reprint of (1998).
Discusses different ways of connecting the concepts of responsibility and justice, and examines the merits of different possible interpretations of their connection in Rawls’s work.