I am an Assistant Professor of Law & Philosophy at Cornell Law School and the Sage School of Philosophy in the College of Arts and Sciences at Cornell.
I received a PhD in Philosophy from Princeton University. Before that, I was at Yale Law School, where I earned a JD, and prior to that I completed an Mphil in Philosophy at the University of Cambridge. My BA, which was also at Princeton, was in Economics and Applied Mathematics. You can view my CV here.
My primary research lies in meta-ethics and philosophy of law. In meta-ethics, I defend a heterodox version of quasi-realist expressivism about normative thought and talk. The view is distinctive in its commitments concerning normative supervenience, expressivism's ethical implications, the precise relationship between normative judgment and motivation, and what distinguishes quasi-realism from realism about normativity. The view is motivated based on considerations in moral epistemology. In philosophy of law, I apply the results of meta-normative investigation to practical legal problems. I argue that meta-normative theorizing is crucial for understanding legal rules in American common and constitutional law, including rules govering the differential treatment of normative questions in contract law and tort law, the classification of normative questions that arise at trial as factual, and the scope of juridical obligations to follow the law. I have written, also, on the ethics of legal incentives and the influence of folk metaphysics in criminal law.
I have secondary research interests in general metaphysics, concerning metaphysical dependence, essence, and simple objectivism about the colors.
- Legal Obligation and its Limits. Law & Philosophy (forthcoming).
Judges do not always have a legal obligation to follow the law. This result follows from ecumenical assumptions about the nature of law and legal obligation.
- On Ground as a Guide to Realism. Ratio 31 (2):165-178 (2018).
I argue that a property can be real and fundamental without needing to be invoked in grounding explanations of true nonbasic propositions involving it. Among other things, this entails that Kit Fine's ground-theoretic criterion for realism, which has been influential in metaethics, must be rejected.
- Legal vs. Factual Normative Questions. Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics, & Public Policy (2018) 38.
I argue that the distinction between convention-dependent normative quesitons and convention-independent ones explains the differential classification of norms in contracts and torts as legal or factual under the common law
- The Limits of Law in the Evaluation of Mitigating Evidence (with Erin Miller) American Journal of Criminal law (2018) 45:167–201.
We argue that judicial evaluation of the weight of mitigating evidence at capital sentencing based on precedential reasoning or legal rules violates the Constitution. The Constitution demands moral not legal consideration of mitigating evidence. We clarify the difference between these two modes of consideration.
- What Unconditional Credence in Individual Desert Claims Does Retributivism Require? Illinois Law Review Onl. (2018) 138.
Punishing a person based on low unconditional credence in their deservingness to be punished is consistent with retributivist deontological principles. Negative retributivism absolutely prohibits the intentional or knowing infliction of undeserved harm on individuals identified as undeserving, not the intentional or knowing infliction of risks of undeserved harm on individuals. Meanwhile, the knowing infliction of undeserved harm on some unidentified individuals generates not overriding reasons against punishment, but pro tanto reasons against punishment that are to be weighed against other non-overriding reasons for punishment like crime prevention. The upshot is that uncertainty regarding any identified person’s deservingness to be punished does not entail that punishment is generally impermissible if negative retributivism is true. One might be misled into thinking that impossibly high levels of unconditional credence in individual desert claims is morally required by failing to distinguish our actual criminal law practices, which are extremely harsh and unjustifiable, from criminal law as it ought to be.
- How to Be Impartial as a Subjectivist. Philosophical Studies (2016) 173:757–779.
The metaethical subjectivist claims there is nothing more to a moral disagreement than a conflict in the desires of the parties involved. Recently, David Enoch has argued that metaethical subjectivism has unacceptable ethical implications. If the subjectivist is right about moral disagreement, then it follows, according to Enoch, that we cannot stand our ground in moral disagreements without violating the demands of impartiality. For being impartial, we’re told, involves being willing to compromise in conflicts that are merely due to competing desires–the parties to such conflicts should decide what to do on the basis of a coin flip. I suggest that Enoch is mistaken in his conception of what it means to be impartial. Once impartiality is properly construed, standing one’s ground in desire-based conflicts, whether or not moral values are at stake in the conflict, is consistent with being impartial. I defend a view on which impartiality can be understood in terms of features of our desiring attitudes. An agent acts impartially in desire-based conflicts whenever she is motivated by a final (i.e. non-instrumental) desire that aims at promoting the wellbeing of persons in a way that is insensitive to the identities of persons and their morally arbitrary features like their gender or skin color. Based on the account, I explain where Enoch’s discussion of the argument goes wrong, as well as why responses to the argument from Enoch’s critics have so far missed the mark.
- Why Motives Matter. Yale Law Journal (2014) 123:1070–1116
Legal rules and regulations are routinely rationalized by appeal to the incentives they create. This Note examines an important but misunderstood fact about incentives–namely, that they often "crowd out" the natural motivations that citizens have to engage in socially valued behavior, such as a sense of civic duty, a commitment to personal growth, and charity towards others. The “crowding out effect” of incentives has traditionally been viewed as problematic because of cases where it renders incentives counter-productive–when fear of legal sanction or desire for financial reward substitutes for other forms of motivation in agents, this often leads to less of the socially valued behavior regulators sought to incentivize. In contrast, I explore whether the effect of legal incentives on our motivational psychology might be inherently regrettable in some cases, quite apart from the effect on behavioral outcomes. I show that a reframing of the crowding out effect that takes seriously the inherent value that resides in our "higher motives" generates insights into a variety of legal phenomena, including doctrinal rules in intellectual property, contracts, and torts; and a neglected theory for legal reformation, one that bears on the choice between rule- and standard-based legal directives and on the strategic use of the law to improve the way citizens conceptualize their obligations to each other.
- How Folk Beliefs about Free Will Influence Sentencing. New Criminal Law Review (2013) 16:449–493.
Do results in neuroscience and psychology that portray our choices as predetermined threaten to undermine the assumptions about free will that drive criminal law? This Article answers in the affirmative and explains why a revision in the law’s assumptions is morally desirable. Problematic assumptions about free will have a role to play in criminal law not because they underlie substantive legal doctrine or retributive theory, but because everyday actors in the sentencing process are authorized to make irreducibly moral determinations outside of the ordinary doctrinal framework. Jurors, judges, and legislators are each required, at key points in the sentencing process, to make moral judgments that cannot be reached without reference to the person’s own understanding of free will. As a result, sentencing actors give legal effect to widely-held folk beliefs about free will, beliefs that the evidence suggests are scientifically suspect and morally distorting. The relevant beliefs make adjudicators less likely to attend to the underlying causes of crime, such as social deprivation; a tendency that biases adjudicators against relevant arguments for mitigation in sentencing. Modern science could have an important corrective effect in this context.
Work in Progress:
- The Hard Problem of Supervenience (under review)
- Legal Humility & Judicial Authority
- Ordinary Ethical Confidence
- The Normative Distinction between Realism & Quasi-Realism
- Varieties of Contractual Unconscionability
- A Master Argument for Color Primitivism
If you would like to watch a video recording of a lecture I gave for an introductory course in Metaphysics & Epistemology at Princeton University, as an example of my teaching, you can watch the video here.
If you're interested in my teaching evaluations, click here. The downloadable file includes all the comments and feedback I've received from students to date. It is not a curated list of greatest hits.
Upcoming courses (Fall 2018):
- LAW 5041 Contracts
- PHIL 6411 Philosophy of Law (w/ Andrei Marmor)
- PHIL 7000 Tutorial - Recent Work in Metaethics