Pattern-Based Reasons

Most of my research has been about what I call ‘pattern-based reasons’. These are reasons for action of the following form:

There is a reason for the agent to do A because it is part of some favoured pattern of action P.

An example might be a reason to decline a doughnut now, because doing so is part of a diet. It’s the whole diet that has the good effect, or at any rate not merely this present bit of abstinence. This is a plan-based reason: the sort of pattern-based reason in which P consists of actions all of which are performable by the primary agent. But we might think also about group-based reasons, in which P consists of actions some of which are performable only by others. For example, we might think that there are reasons of this sort to cut down on one’s own carbon emissions, because doing so is playing one’s part in a pattern of action that involves many people and that would have good effects.

My distinctive contribution to the literature on pattern-based reasons has been to frame more familiar debates using this idea, and to present the skeleton form of my own theory of such reasons. And the distinctive feature of the latter is that it rejects all versions of the idea that a pattern P can support reasons only in cases where the agents who could perform the actions that P consists of would be willing to do so (an idea that I call the Willingness Requirement). The Willingness Requirement has often been taken for granted, and there are important worries associated with rejecting it (for example, to do with proliferation of reasons and recklessness) that I try to disarm.

If you are interested in my work on pattern-based reasons, the best place to look is probably my book. Alternatively, please just contact me.


My larger research project is to develop and defend a distinctive form of utilitarianism. This has two main components: the skeletal theory of pattern-based reasons defended in my book, and a theory of well-being that I have been working on more recently. According to this theory of well-being, what is good for me is determined by my preferences and my affective reactions. This is a pluralistic form of well-being subjectivism.

My aim is to combine these two components, and figure out their implications for a range of issues in ethics and political philosophy. My idea is that many standard objections to utilitarianism would not work against the resulting theory. I am currently working on a book for OUP, provisionally titled Taking Utilitarianism Seriously, developing this idea. In 2016-17 my work on this project is being supported by a Research Fellowship funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

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