My primary research interests are in action and ethics. Much of my work ultimately boils down to applying an Anscombian approach to action to puzzles and problems in ethical theory. I am also convinced of the ancient mandate that philosophy, when done right, must deal with living well. This has led me to significant interest in both philosophy of religion and philosophy of education. Philosophy of religion because it is necessary to identify the good life and philosophy of education because it teaches us how to get there.
My current research projects are described below.
There are actions, like intentionally killing the innocent, that are always wrong. Interestingly, many, if not most, ethicists don't seem to realize this. Many find the very idea of a constraint implausible or incoherent, and many of those who admit constraints are reticent to say they are absolute.
I believe much of this opposition to absolute constraints is a reaction to the contemporary way that constraints are understood and justified (which is admittedly implausible), but the opposition dissolves when we consider the classical accounts of constraints (such as those in Aristotle, Thomas or Kant).
What is the difference between the contemporary and classical accounts? I argue that contemporary accounts take 'I would violate a constraint' as a further evil and reason against acting that should figure in my practical deliberation. Thus, three people dying may be worse than one person dying, but still I cannot kill one to save three because one killing could be worse than three dyings, given the peculiar badness of using someone as a means or sullying oneself with evil. The classical picture, in contrast, does not treat 'that I would violate a constraint' as itself a substantive consideration to be included while deliberating. Instead, the fact that there is a constraint against some action falls out from formal elements of how we deliberate about what to do. For Aquinas, I cannot murder because of the badness in human death, not because of some additional badness in murder that I seek to avoid.
In my work on constraints I aim to show that...
A) The contemporary account cannot possibly succeed in vindicating constraints. Any contemporary style articulation will fall prey to either the paradox of deontology or the clean hands problem.
And B) That we can vindicate a theory of action which makes possible constraints falling out formally from proper practical reasoning.
There is something strange going on in forgiveness. When we look at forgiveness philosophically there seem to be all sorts of weird and paradoxical issues that crop up. When we look at forgiveness in the world, it seems to be a perfectly familiar and intelligible part of fruitful human relationships. In my work on forgiveness I try to clarify what forgiveness really amounts to and dissolve some of the paradoxes that surround it.
There are currently two parts to this project. First, I try to use the Hofeldian schema to give a more rigorous account of forgiveness which creates distinctions that dissolve some of the paradoxes. Second, I try to clarify the formal relation between means and ends in order to understand why forgiving must be done for certain kinds of reasons.
THE NEW CREATION
If humans will ultimately live forever in God's perfected kingdom, that destiny should probably impact our current understanding of ethics. Oddly, however, the new creation does not seem to play a particularly central role even in religious work on ethics.
One place this is particularly striking is in work on the virtues. Most explanations of the value of the virtues cite the role virtues play in ameliorating evil conditions and maintaining good ones. For example, courage seems to principally helps us deal with a world in which death is a reality. But this poses a problem for the Christian ethicist. It seems that the virtues would lose their value once we enter the new creation. For example, what use is courage when we will no longer confront death nor pain?
In my work, I try to give a principled explanation of how our understanding of the new creation can fruitfully inform our understanding of virtue. In my preliminary work, I have argued that the four cardinal virtues are each necessary to enjoy one aspect of the ideal conditions of paradise. In future work, I plan on expanding on this picture and showing its broader explanatory power (especially on issues like divine judgement).