Published Papers

Rational Reflection

Are there plausible synchronic constraints on how a subject thinks of herself extended over time? At first glance, Bas van Fraassen’s principle of Reflection seems to prescribe the sort of epistemic authority one’s future self should be taken by one to have over one’s current epistemic states. (The gist of this principle is that I should now believe what I’m convinced I will believe tomorrow.) There has been a general consensus that, as a principle concerning epistemic authority, Reflection does not apply to epistemically non-ideal agents. I agree with this, but argue here that it misses the point of Reflection. Rather than an epistemic principle concerning reasons for belief, Reflection concerns the semantics of belief avowal. I present a non-factual interpretation of Reflection, argue that the principle provides a constraint on the ways in which one can reflectively endorse one’s future epistemic self, and say something about the logic governing such an interpretation. 

Link to article published online by Synthese May 2012

Forthcoming in Synthese

 Altruism and the Experimental Data on Helping Behavior

Philosophical accounts of altruism that purport to explain helping behavior are vulnerable to empirical falsification. John Campbell argues that the Good Samaritan study adds to a growing body of evidence that helping behavior is not best explained by appeal to altruism, thus jeopardizing those accounts. I propose that philosophical accounts of altruism can be empirically challenged only if it is shown that altruistic motivations are undermined by normative conflict in the agent, and that the relevant studies do not provide this sort of evidence. Non-normative, purely causal, psychological factors would be empirically relevant only if the notion of altruism is broadened to include the requirement that one recognize certain situations as calling for altruism. But even in that case, the relevant studies are not designed in such a way that could threaten philosophical theories of altruism.

Forthcoming in Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

The Special Status of Instrumental Reasons 

The rationality of means-end reasoning is the bedrock of the Humean account of practical reasons. But the normativity of such reasoning cannot be taken for granted. I consider and reject the idea that the normativity of instrumental reasoning can be explained - either in terms of its being constitutive of the very notion of having an end, or solely in terms of instrumental considerations. I argue that the instrumental principle is itself a brute norm, and that this is consistent with a Humean account of practical reasons.

Philosophical Studies (2007) 134: 255-287

The Choice between Current and Retrospective Evaluations of Pain

Daniel Kahneman and his colleagues have made an interesting discovery about people’s preferences. In several experiments, subjects underwent two separate ordeals of pain, identical except that one ended with an added amount of diminishing pain. When asked to evaluate these episodes after experiencing both, subjects generally preferred the longer episode—even though it had a greater objective quantity of pain. These data raise an ethical question about whether to respect such preferences when acting on another’s behalf. John Broome thinks that it is wrong to add extra pain in order to satisfy a person’s preference for a better ending. His explanation for this intuition is that pain is intrinsically bad. I argue against this explanation, and raise several doubts about the moral intuition Broome endorses. In doing so, I offer alternate interpretations of Kahneman’s data, and show that these each yield different values which are relevant to the ethical question.

> Link to article in PDF

Philosophical Psychology (2000) 13, 1: 97-110

Book Review
Jon Elster's Alchemies of the Mind: Rationality and the Emotions

> Link to article in PDF

The Journal of Philosophy (2004) 101, 9: 484-491

Work in Progress 

Comments are always appreciated. Please do not quote or cite from these papers without clearing it with me first...

E-mail me at : sbeardman AT gmail DOT com

The View From Now Here

It is often thought that we have desire-independent reason to promote our future well-being. In arguing that this thought is mistaken, I examine relations between diachronic rationality and conceptions of the self and of agency. I defend a Humean account of prudence and argue against Thomas Nagel’s view of practical reasons as ‘timeless’. My account of practical reason is grounded in the perspective of deliberative agency. Christine Korsgaard also has an allegiance to this perspective. But I do not agree with her understanding of it. The central aim of this paper is to show that the proper conception of agency, and of the deliberative standpoint, requires a distinctively Humean conception of reasons.

Rationalizing Explanations

Practical reasons must be able to make sense of – to rationalize – action in terms of intentional psychological factors. In a widely influential paper, Warren Quinn has argued that desires are not sufficient to rationalize action. Many take his argument to be devastating to the Humean position. I argue here that it fails on several fronts, and that it does so in ways that help to illuminate the nature of rationalizing explanations. i) A crucial distinction in the structure of rationalizing explanations is conflated, thereby also obscuring the distinction between explanation and justification. ii) Affective desires can play an essential role in rational motivation, and a ‘thick’ Humeanism can meet the required rationalizing condition on practical reasons. iii) Quinn’s method of argument itself is problematic, since it would show that even evaluative beliefs cannot rationalize.