Selected Papers

Forthcoming. "Principle, Pragmatism, and Piecework in On Liberty," Utilitas.

In a well-known passage in chapter V of On Liberty, J. S. Mill notes that while economic competition is generally socially beneficial and should be permitted, this “Free Trade” doctrine does not follow from the liberty or harm principle because “trade is a social act.” In a largely overlooked passage in chapter IV of the same essay, however, Mill contends that for society to coercively prohibit the practice of piecework – paying workers by the unit rather than by the hour or day – does violate this principle. In this short note, I demonstrate that Mill's reasoning in these two passages is contradictory. 

2022. “‘We May Stand Aloof’: Mill’s Natural Penalties,Journal of the History of Philosophy 60:3, pp. 453–73.

In On Liberty, J. S. Mill says that even though individuals should not be punished for their character traits and actions when these do not harm anyone else, people who disapprove of an individual’s “self-regarding” traits and actions may still respond to that individual in various ways that reflect their disapproval and that the individual does not welcome. He calls these permissible disapproving responses “natural penalties.” Despite some recent work on the topic, Mill’s treatment of the natural penalties remains understudied. I propose an account of how he distinguishes between these penalties and punishments and elucidate several other aspects of his treatment. I also consider whether Mill should have disallowed the natural penalties.

2021. The Place of the ‘The Liberty of Thought and Discussion’ in On Liberty,” Utilitas 33:2, pp. 133–49 (in a symposium on Mill and freedom of speech edited by Piers Norris Turner). 

I consider whether Mill intends for us to see the arguments that constitute his defense of the “Liberty of Thought and Discussion” in chapter 2 of On Liberty as a part of his larger case for the “harm” or “liberty” principle (LP). Several commentators depict this chapter as a digression that interrupts the flow between his introduction of this principle in the first chapter and his exposition and defense of it in the final three. I will argue instead for a reading of On Liberty on which chapter 2 is well integrated with the rest of the essay and is in fact where Mill starts constructing his case for LP. 

2021. “Moral Education and Rule Consequentialism.” The Philosophical Quarterly 71:1, pp. 120–40, DOI: 10.1093/pq/pqaa023. 

Rule consequentialism holds that an action’s moral standing depends on its relation to the moral code whose general adoption would have the best consequences. Heretofore rule consequentialists have understood the notion of a code’s being generally adopted in terms of its being generally obeyed or, more commonly, its being generally accepted. I argue that these ways of understanding general adoption lead to unacceptable formulations of the theory. For instance, Brad Hooker, Michael Ridge, and Holly Smith have recently offered different answers to the question of what “acceptance rate” we should build into our formulation of rule consequentialism, and all are unsatisfactory. I argue instead for a novel approach to formulating rule consequentialism, “uniform-moral-education” rule consequentialism, on which what it means for a moral code to be generally adopted is not for it to be generally followed or generally accepted, but instead for it to be generally taught

2020. “Introduction,” in Moral Theory and Climate Change: Ethical Perspectives on a Warming Planet, pp. 1–5.

2020. “The Rule-Consequentialist Response to Climate Change,” in Moral Theory and Climate Change: Ethical Perspectives on a Warming Planet, pp. 78–98. 

This chapter considers what rule consequentialism says about our moral obligations in the face of climate change. The chapter opens with an introduction to the approach that draws attention to some of the many ways in which it is possible to formulate rule-consequentialist theories. It then discusses, at a fairly high level of abstraction, what rule consequentialism might entail that we are morally required to do to address climate change; it becomes clear here that what formulation of the view we settle on makes an important difference to its implications. The chapter closes by examining in somewhat more concrete and specific terms what one particular version of rule consequentialism might say is morally demanded of us in order to avert the dangers of climate change, insofar as this is still possible.

2019. "Harriet Taylor Mill." The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2019 Edition), ed. Edward N. Zalta.

2018. “Compunction, Second-Personal Morality, and Moral Reasons.” Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 21:3, pp. 719–33, DOI: 10.1007/s10677-018-9918-2. 

In The Second-Person Standpoint and subsequent essays, Stephen Darwall develops an account of morality that is "second-personal" in virtue of holding that what we are morally obligated to do is what others can legitimately demand that we do, i.e., what they can hold us accountable for doing through moral reactive attitudes like blame. Similarly, what it would be wrong for us to do is what others can legitimately demand that we abstain from doing. As part of this account, Darwall argues for the proposition that we have a distinctive "second-personal reason" to fulfill all of our obligations and to avoid all wrong-actions, an "authority-regarding" reason that derives from the legitimate demands the "moral community" makes of us. I show that Darwall offers an insufficient case for this proposition. My criticism of this aspect of Darwall's account turns in part on the fact that we have compunction-based or "compunctive" reasons to fulfill all of our obligations and to avoid all wrong actions, a type of reason that Darwall seemingly overlooks. 

2017. “Mill's Act-Utilitarian Interpreters on Utilitarianism Chapter V Paragraph 14,” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 47:5, pp. 674–93, DOI: 10.1080/00455091.2017.1286822.

In the fourteenth paragraph of the fifth chapter of Utilitarianism, J. S. Mill writes that ‘We do not call anything wrong, unless we mean to imply that a person ought to be punished in some way or other for doing it; if not by law, by the opinion of his fellow-creatures; if not by opinion, by the reproaches of his own conscience.’ I criticize the attempts of three commentators who have recently presented act-utilitarian readings of Mill – Roger Crisp, David Brink, and Piers Norris Turner – to accommodate this passage. 

2017. “Mill on the Family,” A Companion to Mill, pp. 472–87.

2016. “Reluctant Florists, Same-Sex Weddings, and Mill’s Doctrine of Liberty,” Public Affairs Quarterly 30:4, pp. 287–311. 

2016. “Mill’s ‘Nature’: Reply to Piers H. G. Stephens,” Environmental Ethics 38:1, pp. 127–8.

2015. “The Place of Plural Voting in Mill’s Conception of Representative Government,” Review of Politics 77:3, pp. 399–423, DOI: 10.1017/S0034670515000340.

Should college graduates get more votes? J. S. Mill says yes. It may not be surprising that Mill’s “plural voting” proposal for awarding more votes to citizens with more education has few contemporary supporters. But it is surprising that so many interpreters take him to regard plural voting as merely a temporary measure meant to ease the transition period while the poorly educated working class was gaining the vote in Britain. Against numerous political philosophers and political theorists, I show that Mill believes that once a polity is ready to adopt plural voting it should retain it permanently.  

2015. “Mill’s Conception of Pleasure: Meeting West in the Middle,” Southwest Philosophy Review 31:1, pp. 157–66, DOI: 10.5840/swphilreview201531116.

In this short paper I look at some differences between between Henry West's understanding of Mill's conception of pleasure and the reading one that I offered in J. S. Mill: Moral, Social and Political Thought. I tentatively proposed a new reading that combines elements of each. 

2014. “‘Freedom and Resentment’ and Consequentialism: Why ‘Strawson’s Point’ Is Not Strawson's Point,” Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 8:2, pp. 1–22. DOI: 10.26556/jesp.v8i2.79.

In The Second-Person Standpoint, Stephen Darwall offers an interpretation of P. F. Strawson’s “Freedom and Resentment” according to which the essay advances the anti-consequentialist thesis that good consequences are the “wrong kind of reason” to justify “practices of punishment and moral responsibility.” Darwall names this thesis “Strawson’s Point.” I argue for a different reading of Strawson, one according to which he does not in fact hold this thesis and, more generally, he is not the unequivocal critic of consequentialism that Darwall makes him out to be. I further contend that Strawson’s account of the reactive attitudes, as he presents it in “Freedom and Resentment” and the later Skepticism and Naturalism, can potentially be a useful resource for consequentialists. 

2014. “John Stuart Mill’s Moral, Social, and Political Philosophy,” Oxford Handbook of British Philosophy in the Nineteenth Century, ed. William Mander (Oxford University Press), pp. 365–82, DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199594474.013.025.

This chapter is (effectively) a précis of my 2010 book J. S. Mill: Moral, Social and Political Thought

2014. “Rule Utilitarianism,” The Cambridge Companion to Utilitarianism, pp. 146–65, DOI: 10.1017/CCO9781139096737.008.

2014. “Introduction,” with Ben Eggleston, The Cambridge Companion to Utilitarianism, pp. 1–15, DOI: 10.1017/CCO9781139096737.001.

2014. “Reactive Attitudes and the Hare-Williams Debate: Towards a New Consequentialist Moral Psychology,” The Philosophical Quarterly 64:254, pp. 39–59, DOI: 10.1093/pq/pqt010.

Bernard Williams charges that the moral psychology built into R M. Hare’s utilitarianism is incoherent in virtue of demanding a bifurcated kind of moral thinking that is possible only for agents who fail to reflect properly on their own practical decision making. I mount a qualified defence of Hare’s view by drawing on the account of the ‘reactive attitudes’ found in P. F. Strawson’s ‘Freedom and Resentment’. Against Williams, I argue that the ‘resilience’ of the reactive attitudes ensures that our taking an instrumental view of our dispositions to experience guilt and compunction, as Hare calls for us to do while engaged in ‘critical’ moral thinking, will not prevent us from experiencing these feelings as people ordinarily do while we are thinking ‘intuitively’. I also consider the implications of my argument for consequentialism more generally and (briefly) Kantianism.

2013. “Hooker on Rule Consequentialism and Virtue,” Utilitas 25:3, pp. 421–32, DOI: 10.1017/S0953820812000416.

In Ideal Code, Real World, Brad Hooker proposes an account of the relation between his rule consequentialism and virtue according to which the virtues (1) have intrinsic value and (2) are identical with the dispositions that are ‘essential parts of accepting the rules’ of the ideal code. While it is not clear whether Hooker actually intends to endorse this account or only intends to moot it for discussion, I argue that for him to adopt it would be a mistake. Not only would this mean that his moral theory was no longer properly a consequentialist view at all, but it would commit him to inconsistent views about how normative theories—in particular theories of morality in the deontic sense and theories of virtue—are justified. 

2012. “Consequentialism and Utilitarianism,” Routledge Companion to Political and Social Philosophy, eds. Gerald Gaus and Fred D’Augustino (Routledge), pp. 329–41, DOI: 10.4324/9780203092231.

2012. “Mill’s Division of Morality,” Mill On Justice, ed. Leonard Kahn (Palgrave Macmillan), pp. 70–89, DOI: 10.1057/9780230354975_4. 

2011. “Mill, Rule Utilitarianism, and the Incoherence Objection,” John Stuart Mill and the Art of Life, pp. 94–116, DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195381245.001.0001.

This chapter argues that the “incoherence” or “rule-worship” objection to rule utilitarianism is best understood as asserting that rule utilitarians are committed to inconsistent claims about practical reasons: they are committed to an “act-utilitarian” view of practical reason by their arguments for their theory, while the theory itself commits them to a contradictory view—at least if an action's being wrong is a reason not to do it. It also offers suggestions about how to argue for a form of rule utilitarianism, albeit an idiosyncratic one, without opening oneself to the incoherence objection. Mill enters into the discussion in two ways. First, his Art of Life is used to illustrate how rule utilitarianism can fall victim to the incoherence objection, for his version does. Second, Mill provides the premises of the approach to defending rule utilitarianism that the chapter proposes, although it is an approach that he would reject. 

2011. “Introduction,” with Ben Eggleston and David Weinstein, John Stuart Mill and the Art of Life, pp. 3–18, DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195381245.003.0001.

2010. “Brown on Mill's Moral Theory: A Critical Response,” Politics, Philosophy and Economics 9:1, pp. 47–66, DOI: 10.1177/1470594X09345857. 

In this article, I argue that the reading of Mill that D.G. Brown presents in "Mill’s Moral Theory: Ongoing Revisionism" is inconsistent with several key passages in Mill’s writings. I also show that a rule-utilitarian interpretation that is very close to the one developed by David Lyons is able to account for these passages without difficulty.

2008. “Mill’s Misleading Moral Mathematics,” with Ben Eggleston, Southwest Philosophy Review 24:1, pp. 153–61, DOI: 10.5840/swphilreview200824131.

The debate over whether Mill is better read as an act or a rule utilitarian began in the 1950s and has continued ever since. We argue that in certain passages in which Mill initially appears to be endorsing the act-utilitarian moral theory, he is really doing something quite different. Insofar as he is endorsing any particular view at all, it is not act utilitarianism—nor is it even a moral theory. Instead, it is a view about how to assess individual actions that informs, but does not translate without modification into, Mill’s rule-utilitarian moral theory.

2007. “India House Utilitarianism: A First Look,” with Ben Eggleston, Southwest Philosophy Review 23:1, pp. 39–47, DOI: 10.5840/swphilreview20072314.

Among the most thoroughly debated interpretive questions about the moral philosophy of John Stuart Mill is whether he should be understood as an act utilitarian or as an ideal-code rule utilitarian. We argue that neither of these interpretations fits the textual evidence as well as does a novel view we call ‘India House utilitarianism’. On this view, an act is right if and only if it is not forbidden by the code of rules the agent is justified in believing to be the one, of those she can reasonably be expected to be aware of, whose general acceptance would produce the most happiness.  

2006. “Mill’s Theory of Sanctions,” Blackwell Guide to Mill’s Utilitarianism, ed. Henry West (Blackwell), pp. 159–73, DOI: 10.1002/9780470776483.ch11.

2006. “Utilitarianism and the Headache That Just Won’t Go Away: Reply to Cain,” Southwest Philosophy Review 22:2, pp. 147–9, DOI: 10.5840/swphilreview200622246. 

2005. “Moral Expertise: A Millian Perspective,” Ethics Expertise: History, Contemporary Perspectives, and Applications, ed. Lisa M. Rasmussen (Springer), pp. 73–87, DOI: 10.1007%2F1-4020-3820-8_5.

2005. “Reparations for Emancipation: Mill’s Vindication of the Rights of Slave Owners,” Southern Journal of Philosophy XLIII:2, pp. 245–65, DOI: 10.1111/j.2041-6962.2005.tb01953.x.

John Stuart Mill maintains that when a state abolishes slavery the former slave owners have a right to compensation for the loss of their “property.” He does not argue explicitly for this claim, and so after presenting a brief summary of his views on slavery itself I attempt to reconstruct his reasoning. While the thought of slaveholders being rewarded for holding human beings in  bondage is not a pleasant one, I contend that the argument I attribute to Mill is at the very least plausible and also that its conclusion may be less repugnant than it initially appears. I also consider, albeit briefly, the wider implication of Mill’s argument for cases of transitional justice and for organizational reforms of all kinds. 

2004. “Terminating Employees for Their Political Speech,” Business and Society Review 109:2, pp. 225–43, DOI: 10.1111/j.0045-3609.2004.00193.x.

Is ever morally permissible for a company to terminate an employee because of his or her political speech, and if so, when? By way of working toward an answer to these questions, I shall propose a set of criteria for judging when the policy that governs a company’s responses to political speech by its employees is morally acceptable. These criteria represent an attempt to strike a balance between the public’s interest in healthy democratic government and the legitimate concerns of private business enterprises. I illustrate the application of these criteria through applying them to the termination of Michael Italie, a Socialist Workers Party candidate for mayor of Miami, by Goodwill Industries of South Florida. 

2004. “One Meat-Eater’s Modus Ponens...: Response to Norcross,” Southwest Philosophy Review 20:2, pp.175–7, DOI: 10.5840/swphilreview200420242.

2003. “Sympathy Versus Spontaneity: A Tension in Mill’s Conception of Human Perfection,” The International Journal of Politics and Ethics 3:2, pp. 173–88.

2003. “Mill’s ‘Socialism,’” Politics, Philosophy and Economics 2:2, pp. 213–38, DOI: 10.1177/1470594X03002002004.

Insofar as John Stuart Mill can be accurately described as a socialist, his is a socialism that a classical liberal ought to be able to live with, if not to love. Mill's view is that capitalist economies should at some point undergo a `spontaneous' and incremental process of socialization, involving the formation of worker-controlled `socialistic' enterprises through either the transformation of `capitalistic' enterprises or creation de novo. This process would entail few violations of core libertarian principles. It would proceed by way of a series of voluntary transactions. Capitalists' property rights would be respected throughout. The process would take place within a national system of laws that permits private ownership of productive property and competition, and would not result in that system's overthrow. And, if we accept some basic tenets of Mill's social philosophy, the outcome at which we should expect the process to arrive is a `patchwork' economy in which capitalistic and socialistic enterprises exist side by side.

2003. “Actual-Consequence Act Utilitarianism and the Best Possible Humans,” Ratio XVI:1, pp. 49–62, DOI: 10.1111/1467-9329.00205.

After critiquing some earlier attempts (including those of Marcus Singer and Frances Howard-Snyder) to ground objections to actual-consequence act utilitarianism (ACAU) on human cognitive limitations, I present two new objections with this same foundation. Both start with the observation that, because human cognitive abilities are not up to the task of reliably recognizing utility-maximizing actions, any agents who are recognizably human—including the best possible humans, morally speaking—are certain to perform many actions every day that ACAU says are wrong, and to perform some actions over the course of their lives that it says are very wrong. The first objection is that, if Mill’s analysis of what it means to call an action wrong is accurate, then ACAU entails a conclusion that no one will accept, viz., that the morally-best humans possible ought to undergo constant punishment. The second objection is that ACAU entails that even the morally-best humans possible are in some respect bad moral agents. This conclusion, while unpalatable, is not so obviously unacceptable as the first. However, I do briefly consider some ways in which it might be possible to demonstrate that it is false and thereby complete a reductio of ACAU. 

2003. “On Millgram on Mill,” Utilitas 16:1, pp. 96–108, DOI: 10.1017/S0953820803001080.

In a recent article in Ethics, Elijah Millgram presents a novel reconstruction of J. S. Mill's ‘proof’ of the principle of utility. Millgram's larger purpose is to critique instrumentalist approaches to practical reasoning. His reading of the proof makes Mill out to be an instrumentalist, and Millgram thinks that the ultimate failure of Mill's argument usefully illustrates an inconsistency inherent in instrumentalism. Yet Millgram's interpretation of the proof does not succeed. Mill is not an instrumentalist. Millgram may be right that instrumentalism is incoherent, but he has chosen the wrong figure to illustrate the point. 

2003. “Axiological Actualism and the Converse Intuition: Response to Parsons,” Australasian Journal of Philosophy 81:1, pp. 123–5.

2002. “Campaign Ethics: Civic Responsibility or Self-Interest ?,” with Stephen K. Medvic, Shades of Gray: Perspectives on Campaign Ethics, eds. Candice J. Nelson, Stephen K. Medvic and David A. Dulio (Brookings Institute), pp. 18–38. 

2001. “Atomists, Liberals, and Civic Republicans: Taylor on the Ontology of Citizenship,” Australasian Journal of Philosophy 79:4, pp. 465–78, DOI: 10.1080/713659303.

Charles Taylor contends that civic republicanism is inconsistent with “ontological” atomism, which comprises two tenets: methodological individualism and ‘axiological individualism’ (i.e., welfarism).  In fact, although many leading liberal theorists (including Mill and Rawls) are ontological atomists, Taylor denies that ontological atomism is consistent with liberalism or any other nondespotic political doctrine.  Contra Taylor, I show that atomists can subscribe to civic republicanism without inconsistency.  Further, I show that Taylor gives us no reason to doubt that atomists can be liberals, and I eliminate at least one possible reason for thinking that the best-known liberal theories are inconsistent with civic republicanism. 

2000. “Hooker’s Use and Abuse of Reflective Equilibrium,” Morality, Rules, and Consequences: A Critical Reader, pp. 156–78.

2000. “Introduction,” with Brad Hooker and Elinor Mason, Morality, Rules, and Consequences: A Critical Reader, pp. 1–5.

2000. “John Stuart Mill’s Civic Liberalism,” History of Political Thought XXI:1, pp. 88–113.

Although it is frequently overlooked, J.S. Mill's political philosophy has a significant civic component; he is a committed believer in the value of active and disinterested participation in public affairs by the citizens of liberal democracies, and he advocates a programme of civic education intended to cultivate public spirit. In the first half of this essay I present a brief but systematic exploration of his thought's civic dimension. In the second half I defend Mill's civic liberalism against various critics who have explicitly or implicitly charged that the civic and liberal components of his political philosophy are inconsistent.

1998. “Internal Sanctions in Mill’s Moral Psychology,” Utilitas 10:1, pp. 68–81, DOI: 10.1017/S0953820800006002.

Mill's discussion of 'the internal sanction' in chapter III of Utilitarianism does not do justice to his understanding of internal sanctions; it omits some important points and obscures others. I offer an account of this portion of his moral psychology of motivation which brings out its subtleties and complexities. I show that he recognizes the importance of internal sanctions as sources of motives to develop and perfect our characters, as well as of motives to do our duty, and I examine in some detail the various ways in which these sanctions give rise to motivating desires and aversions.