I explore three main areas in normative ethics and social philosophy: (1) moral standing/authority, (2) punishment, and (3) conscientious objection. The key theme running through my work in each area is that of consistency. To have the moral standing to blame, for instance, one must not be hypocritical in blaming others. The explanation for this, I argue, lies in the fact that in one’s dispositions to blame inconsistently, one rejects the equality of persons–the very grounding of one’s right to blame in the first place. Similarly, I argue that the state’s moral authority to punish is seriously undermined by the inconsistency in the way it punishes individuals for the same crimes. People of color and impoverished offenders are punished more often and more severely than white or wealthy offenders who commit the same crimes. Consistency is important for our policies regarding conscientious objection as well. Although many states in the US allow health care professionals to refuse to provide an abortion on grounds of conscience, the same privileges are not included in recent heartbeat laws that have been passed in the South outlawing abortion after a heartbeat can be detected. I argue that if we protect a professional’s right to refuse to provide an abortion for reasons of conscience, consistency demands that we also protect a professional’s right to provide an abortion for reasons of conscience where it is otherwise illegal.
Below I include a full list of publications with abstracts, followed by work in progress. Please cite published versions of papers.
“Unjustified Asymmetry: Positive Claims of Conscience and Heartbeat Bills,” forthcoming in American Journal of Bioethics.
In 2019, several US states passed “heartbeat” bills. Should such bills go into effect, they would outlaw abortion once an embryonic heartbeat can be detected, thereby severely limiting an individual’s access to abortion. Many states allow health care professionals to refuse to provide an abortion for reasons of conscience. Yet heartbeat bills do not include a positive conscience clause that would allow health care professionals to provide an abortion for reasons of conscience. I argue that this asymmetry is unjustified. The same criteria that justify protecting conscientious refusals to provide abortion also justify protecting positive conscientious appeals regarding abortion. Thus, if the law provides legal exemptions for health care professionals who, as a matter of conscience, refuse to provide abortions where it is legal, it should also provide exemptions for health care professionals who, as a matter of conscience, feel obligated to provide abortions where it is illegal.
“When Hypocrisy Undermines the Standing to Blame: A Reply to Rossi,” (with Daniel Miller) (2019). Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 22(2): 379-384.
In Fritz and Miller 2018, we offer an argument for the Nonhypocrisy Condition on the moral standing to blame. Benjamin Rossi 2018 raises several criticisms of our view. He argues that our account of hypocrisy fails, and thus that we cannot explain why certain hypocrites lack the standing to blame. Here we defend our account from Rossi’s criticisms and emphasize the account’s unique advantage, namely, explaining why hypocritical blamers lack the standing to blame.
“The Unique Badness of Hypocritical Blame,” (with Daniel Miller) (2019). Ergo 6(19): 545-569.
It is widely agreed that hypocrisy can undermine one’s moral standing to blame. According to the Nonhypocrisy Condition on standing, R has the standing to blame some other agent S for a violation of some norm N only if R is not hypocritical with respect to blame for violations of N. Yet this condition is seldom argued for. Macalester Bell points out that the fact that hypocrisy is a moral fault does not yet explain why hypocritical blame is standingless blame. She raises a challenge: one must explain what is distinct about hypocritical blame such that the hypocritical blamer lacks the standing to blame, even if the arrogant or petty blamer does not. Of those writing on hypocrisy, only we offer a direct response to Bell’s challenge. Recently, however, our account has come under criticism. We argue here that (1) our account can handle these criticisms and that (2) no other rival account adequately addresses Bell’s challenge of explaining what is uniquely objectionable about hypocritical blame. Because answering Bell’s challenge is a necessary component of any plausible account of the relationship between hypocrisy and standing, our account remains the best on offer.
“Hypocrisy, Inconsistency, and the Moral Standing of the State,” (2019). Criminal Law and Philosophy 13(2): 309-327.
Several writers have argued that the state lacks the moral standing to hold socially deprived offenders responsible for their crimes because the state would be hypocritical in doing so. Yet the state is not disposed to make an unfair exception of itself for committing the same sorts of crimes as socially deprived offenders, so it is unclear that the state is truly hypocritical. Nevertheless, the state is disposed to inconsistently hold its citizens responsible, blaming or punishing socially deprived offenders more often or more harshly than other offenders, even when the crimes are the same. The state’s stable disposition to inconsistently hold offenders responsible undermines its standing to hold offenders responsible for the same reasons that hypocrisy undermines standing; instead of making an unfair exception of itself, the state makes an unfair exception of others. Strikingly, this means that the state lacks the standing to hold anyone responsible for a crime for which it is unfairly disposed to hold citizens responsible inconsistently, not just socially deprived offenders. Thus, it is even more urgent that the state regain its moral standing by working toward a justice system that holds offenders responsible consistently.
“Moral Responsibility, Voluntary Control, and Intentional Action,” (2018). Philosophia 46(4): 831-855.
Many theorists writing about moral responsibility accept that voluntary control is necessary for responsibility. Call such theorists volitionists. Recently, volitionism has been called into question by theorists I call nonvolitionists. Yet neither volitionists nor nonvolitionists have carefully articulated a clear volitionist thesis, nor have they sufficiently explained the concept of voluntary control that somehow seems connected to volitionism. I argue that attempts to explain the volitionist thesis, voluntary control, and their relation are more problematic than have previously been recognized. Instead, I recommend understanding volitionism in terms of intentional actions and omissions. This understanding has several benefits. It clarifies the debate and its parameters, it avoids the problematic notion of voluntary control while relying on the clearer notion of intentional action, and it highlights that the debate between volitionists and nonvolitionists essentially concerns the nature and scope of obligations. As a result, understanding volitionism in terms of intentional actions and omissions can help breathe new life into the volitionist debate.
“Hypocrisy and the Standing to Blame,” (with Daniel Miller) (2018). Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 99(1): 118-139. (online 2015)
Hypocrites are often thought to lack the standing to blame others for faults similar to their own. Although this claim is widely accepted, it is seldom argued for. We offer an argument for the claim that nonhypocrisy is a necessary condition on the standing to blame. We first offer a novel, dispositional account of hypocrisy. Our account captures the commonsense view that hypocrisy involves making an unjustified exception of oneself. This exception‐making involves a rejection of the impartiality of morality and thereby a rejection of the equality of persons, which we argue grounds the standing to blame others.
Substantive Discussion in:
Lippert-Rasmussen, Kasper. (forthcoming). “Why the Moral Equality Account of the Hypocrite’s Lack of Standing to Blame Fails.” Analysis.
Piovarchy, Adam. (forthcoming). “Hypocrisy, Standing to Blame, and Second-Personal Authority.” Pacific Philosophical Quarterly.
King, Matt. (forthcoming). “Attending to Blame.” Philosophical Studies.
Rossi, Benjamin. (forthcoming). “Feeling Badly Isn’t Good Enough.” Ethical Theory and Moral Practice.
Todd, Patrick. (2019). “A Unified Account of the Moral Standing to Blame.” Nous 53(2): 347-374.
Riedener, Stefan. (2019). “The Standing to Blame, or Why Moral Disapproval Is What It Is.” Dialectica 73: 183-210.
Rossi, Benjamin. (2018). “The Commitment Account of Hypocrisy.” Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 21: 553-567.
Roadevin, Cristina. (2018). “Hypocritical Blame, Fairness, and Standing.” Metaphilosophy 49: 137-152.
“Responsibility for Wrongdoing Without Blameworthiness: How it Makes Sense and How it Doesn’t,” (2014). Philosophical Quarterly 64(257): 569-589.
Some writers, such as John Fischer and Michael McKenna, have recently claimed that an agent can be morally responsible for a wrong action and yet not be blameworthy for that action. A careful examination of the claim, however, suggests two readings. On one reading, there are further conditions on blameworthiness beyond freely and wittingly doing wrong. On another innocuous reading, there are no such further conditions. Despite Fischer and McKenna’s attempts to offer further conditions on blameworthiness in addition to responsibility for wrongdoing, I argue that only the innocuous reading is plausible. Once we distinguish between blame being deserved and blame being all-things-considered appropriate, we need not appeal to further conditions on blameworthiness. This discussion has important upshots regarding how compatibilists respond to certain manipulation arguments and how proponents of derived responsibility respond to criticism that agents are responsible even for outcomes that are not reasonably foreseeable.
Below are brief descriptions of projects I’m currently working on. If you’d like to read any drafts of work in progress, please contact me.
“The Overweighted Integrity Problem: Referrals, Complicity, and Moral Standing”
Some have argued that if conscientious objections are not honored, individuals may be forced to be complicit in wrongdoing. This complicity, like hypocrisy, would undermine the individual’s moral standing. I argue that this reasoning rests on a mistake regarding the nature of hypocrisy and how it undermines moral standing.
“Change of Mind, Hypocrisy, and the Challenge for Authentic Leadership”
The ability to be open with followers about one’s moral growth and change of mind is important for authentic leadership, yet recent psychological studies suggest that such openness will likely lead to followers seeing such a leader as inauthentic. This presents a significant challenge to how we should understand authentic leadership.
“Prisons are a Thorn in the Retributivist’s Side”
Retributivists believe that punishment must be deserved and proportional to the offense. While many have focused on whether punishment is deserved, I argue that the proportionality constraint creates a significant problem for retributivists when it comes to prisons.
“A Standing Asymmetry Between Blame and Forgiveness” (with Daniel Miller)
One is able to successfully blame even if one lacks the standing to do so. Yet one cannot successfully forgive without standing. What explains this asymmetry? Few have explained the notion of standing in the literatures on blame and forgiveness, but our careful analysis suggests the standing to blame is (or is required for) one sort of Hohfeldian right, whereas the standing to forgive is (or is required for) a different sort of Hohfeldian right. Yet perhaps surprisingly, we argue that this difference in rights does not fully explain the asymmetry. Instead, the asymmetry is explained by a fundamental difference between the nature of forgiveness and blame.
“The Problem of Nonvoluntary Blame” (with Daniel Miller)
It can be impermissible to blame some agent, even if they are blameworthy. This view leads to a dilemma regarding the nature of obligation, since blame can be voluntary or nonvoluntary. Ultimately, we argue that neither solution to the dilemma is without its costs.