I did most of the work below while a graduate student in philosophy at the University of Colorado at Boulder. I received my Ph.D in the summer of 2009.
An edited version of this dissertation is now available in paperback and ebook versions: Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame.
My dissertation, written for my philosophy Ph.D from the University of Colorado at Boulder, is entitled Better Good Than Lucky: An Aristotelian Solution to the Problem of Moral Luck. It concerns moral responsibility and moral judgment, particularly the problem of moral luck. The dissertation was directed by Dr. Michael Huemer. I successfully defended it before my committee in June 2009.
Philosopher Thomas Nagel casts doubt on our ordinary moral judgments of persons by his arguments for the existence of "moral luck." We intuitively accept that moral responsibility requires control, yet we seem to routinely praise and blame people for actions, outcomes, and character substantially shaped by luck. This challenge to moral judgment rests on a faulty view of the conditions for moral responsibility and the process of moral judgment. The morally responsible person must satisfy the control and epistemic conditions originally identified by Aristotle in Book Three of the Nicomachean Ethics. When those conditions are adequately explained and developed, moral responsibility clearly tracks a person's voluntary actions, outcomes, and character. Nagel's questions about whether a person might have done otherwise given better or worse luck are irrelevant to the praise and blame a person deserves for his actual voluntary doings. This account of moral responsibility and moral judgment eliminates the appearance of moral luck in the puzzling cases raised by Nagel and others. We can conclude that our ordinary moral judgments of persons are warranted: they do not depend on luck in any problematic way.
Published Academic Papers
"Egoism Explained: A Review of Tara Smith's Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist" – Published in the Spring 2007 issue of The Objective Standard.
"Dursley Duplicity: The Morality and Psychology of Self-Deception" – Published in the 2004 anthology Harry Potter and Philosophy, Open Court, pages 22-37.
"False Excuses: Honesty, Wrongdoing, and Moral Growth" – Published in 2004 in the Journal of Value Inquiry, Volume 38, Number 2, pages 171-185.
Academic Conference Papers
False Excuses and Moral Growth – Paper presented at the 6th International Carnegie Mellon-University of Pittsburgh Graduate Philosophy Conference. Given on 20 March 2004. 4215 words. Also: PowerPoint Presentation.
Analytics on the Mind – Paper for an Objectivist academic conference on the commonalities and conflicts between analytic philosophy and Objectivism, with the goal of sketching a plausible philosophy of mind consistent with Objectivism. Completed on 1 June 2003. 10,806 words.
Graduate Course Papers
These papers were written for graduate courses at CU Boulder.
Stillborn Ends – Paper for Contemporary Moral Theories (Ben Hale, Spring 2006) on the major defects in David Schmidtz's attempt to ground final ends in "maieutic ends." Completed on 3 May 2007. 5663 words.
Descartes and Newton on Body – Paper for Medieval Origins of Modern Philosophy (Robert Pasnau, Spring 2006) on Descartes' account of the nature of body and Newton's criticisms thereof. Completed on 15 April 2007. 6660 words.
Locke on Human Action – Paper for Locke (Dan Kaufman, Fall 2004) on Locke's mechanistic theory of the generation of human action. Completed on 14 March 2007. 6758 words.
Better Good Than Lucky: The Illusion of Constitutive Moral Luck – 5th Semester Qualifying Paper on the failure of Nagel's constitutive moral luck in the face of Aristotle's account of moral responsibility for character. Completed on 7 December 2006. 10717 words.
The Scope Problem in Punishment – Paper for Philosophy of Law (David Boonin, Spring 2005) on how common theories of punishment fail to justify punishment for all and only criminal offenders. Completed on 11 May 2006. 6242 words.
On the Margins of Humanity – Paper for Animals and Ethics (David Boonin, Fall 2004) on the marginal humans argument for animal rights. Completed on 19 December 2005. 6598 words.
The Inevitability of Alternative Possibilities – Paper for Freedom and Responsibility (McKenna, Spring 2005) on the defects of contemporary compatibilist arguments against alternative possibilities. Completed on 6 May 2005. 5643 words.
Animal Wrongs – Paper for Environmental Philosophy (Alan Carter, Spring 2004) on the common failures of Tom Regan's arguments for animal rights and Peter Singer's arguments for animal liberation. Completed on 4 May 2005. 9908 words.
Better Morally Good Than Morally Lucky: The Illusion of Constitutive Moral Luck – Paper for Topics in Values (Phil 5290, David Boonin) on an Aristotelian response to Thomas Nagel's arguments for constitutive moral luck. Completed on 4 May 2005. 8376 words.
Desire, Reason, and Action – Paper for Aristotle (Christopher Shields, Fall 2003) on Aristotle's action theory. Completed on 13 December 2004. 8844 words.
Hume the Cause, Kant the Effect – Paper for Kant (Robert Hanna, Fall 2004) on Kant's theory of causation as a response to Humean skepticism. Completed on 14 December 2004. 3948 words.
Kant on Unity in Experience – Paper for Kant (Robert Hanna, Fall 2004) on Kant's theory of the transcendental unity of apperception. Completed on 15 November 2004. 4766 words.
Kant on Time – Paper for Kant (Robert Hanna, Fall 2004) on Kant's theory of time as a form of sensibility. Completed on 28 September 2004. 3231 words.
Demons and Dreams – Paper for Epistemology (Michael Huemer, Fall 2003) on skepticism and certainty. Completed on 12 December 2003. 5018 words.
Minds in Action – Paper for Mental Causation and Intentional Action (Robert Hanna, Spring 2003) on Searle's action theory. Completed on 7 May 2003. 3062 words.
Ethics as a Science – Paper for Ethics (Luc Bovens, Spring 2003) on Kant's and Mill's ethics. Completed on 3 May 2003.7301 words.
Actions and Causes – Paper for Mental Causation and Intentional Action (Robert Hanna, Spring 2003) on Frankfurt's action theory. Completed on 8 April 2003. 2523 words.
Mental Causation Through Constitution – Paper for Mental Causation and Intentional Action (Robert Hanna, Spring 2003) on non-reductive materialism. 6 March 2003. 4149 words.
The Habits of Aristotle – Paper for Aristotle (Thomas Robinson, Fall 2002) on Aristotle's theory of moral habits. Completed on 13 December 2002. 3733 words.
Functions and Qualia – Paper for Philosophy of Mind (Robert Hanna, Fall 2002) on functionalism. Completed on 12 November 2002. 3757 words.
The Soul of Aristotle – Paper for Aristotle (Thomas Robinson, Fall 2002) on Aristotle's philosophy of mind. Completed on 29 October 2002. 3650 words.
Doubting the Doubt: An Analysis of the Internal Tensions of Cartesian Substance Dualism – Paper for Philosophy of Mind (Robert Hanna, Fall 2002) on Descartes' philosophy of mind. Completed on 8 October 2002. 3709 words.
The Substance of Early Aristotle – Paper for Aristotle (Thomas Robinson, Fall 2002)on Aristotle's views of substance. Completed on 1 October 2002. 1924 words.
Graduate Course Presentations
These presentations were given in graduate courses at CU Boulder.
Defending Alternative Possibilities – Presentation for Freedom and Responsibility (Michael McKenna, Spring 2005) on defenses of the principle of alternative possibilities. Given on 1 February 2005.
The Initiation of Action – Presentation for Aristotle (Christopher Shields, Fall 2003) on Aristotle's action theory. Given on 10 December 2003. Also: PowerPoint Presentation.
Adaptationism, Schmadaptationism – Presentation for Environmental Philosophy (Alan Carter, Spring 2004) on adaptationism. Given on 27 January 2004.
Virtue Ethics: Theory or Not, Here I Come! – Presentation for Ethics (Luc Bovens, Spring 2003) on Sloate's version of virtue ethics. Given on 1 May 2003.
Definitions of Fallacies – Compiled in August 1995.