I joined the University of Edinburgh as a Lecturer in Philosophy in 2006. I was promoted to Reader in 2013, and I was made Professor of Ethics and Epistemology in 2017.
My research and teaching focuses on social-ethical-political theory, epistemology, philosophy of language, and especially the intersections between these. I have published the following books:
- Belief, Agency, and Knowledge: Essays on Epistemic Normativity, Oxford University Press (2022).
- Charter for Responsible Debate: Discussing Contentious Issues with Common Purpose, (edited with Alice König, John O'Connor & Peter McColl), The Young Academy of Scotland (2021).
- What Is This Thing Called Metaethics, Routledge (2017).
The Meaning of ‘Ought’: Beyond Expressivism and Descriptivism in Metaethics, Oxford University Press (2016).
- Deontic Modality (edited with Nate Charlow), Oxford University Press (2016).
- Philosophy for Everyone, (co-authored with Duncan Pritchard, et. al.), Routledge (2014), expanded 2nd edn. Routledge (2017).
Ph.D., M.A. Philosophy, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
B.A. Rice University, Houston Texas
Responsibilities & affiliations
Subject Editor (Value Theory) for Thought: A Journal of Philosophy, 2018-
Member of the Young Academy of Scotland, Royal Society of Edinburgh, 2016-2021
Deputy Head of School of Philosophy, Psychology, and Language Sciences, 2018-2019
Head of Philosophy, 2015-2018
Eidyn Research Centre, Steering CommitteeMember, 2012-2017
Senior Tutor for School of Philosophy, Psychology, and Language Sciences 2012-2014
I routinely teach the following undergraduate courses at the University of Edinburgh:
- Morality and Value (first year lectures)
- Moral Philosophy (third year course)
- Meta-Ethics (fourth year course)
- Environmental Ethics (fourth year course)
- Social Epistemology (fourth year course)
My textbook What Is This Thing Called Metaethics? was published with Routledge in 2017.
I have taught the following masters-level courses at the University of Edinburgh:
- Advanced Philosophical Method
- Further Topics in Meta-Ethics
- Further Topics in Normative Ethics and Political Philosophy
- Further Topics in Political Philosophy
- Environmental Ethics
Open to PhD supervision enquiries?
Areas of interest for supervision
I welcome applications from students wishing to pursue research projects on any of my main areas of research interest. I would be especially interested in projects on doxastic agency and autonomy, systems of socially distributed knowledge and collective action, the semantics and logic of imperatives, the ethics of persuasion, the ethical-political importance of institutions of mutual recognition, comparative/critical genealogies of deontic modal concepts, inferentialist theories of meaning, Hector-Neri Castañeda, and the nature of ideology.
Current PhD students supervised
Past PhD students supervised
- Lilith Lee (2021): An Examination of the Problems of False Consciousness (secured employment as a Lecturer in Philosophy at Nanyang Technological University (NTU).
- James Brown (2020): Expressivism, Normative Content, and Propositions (secured employment as a 3-year British Academy postdoctoral fellow at the University of Sheffield)
- Silvan Wittwer (2018): Evolution and the Possibility of Moral Knowledge (secured employment as a 2-year postdoc at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University)
- John O’Connor (2016): Moral Naturalism and Self-Constitution (secured employment as the Prior of Blackfriars Oxford; and then Assistant Editor, New Blackfriars and a Member of Pastoral Team, St Albert’s University Chaplaincy and Parish)
- Alan Wilson (2015): On the Nature, Identity and Possibility of the Moral Virtues (secured employment as Visiting Lecturer, University of Glasgow; and then postdoc Wake Forest University, then lecturer at Bristol University)
- Sebastian Köhler (2014): Beyond Frege Geach - Neglected Challenges for Expressivism (secured employment as lecturer at Princeton University and then Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter at Universität Duisburg-Essen, then assistant professor at Frankfurt School of Finance & Management).
- Ashley Taylor (2014): The Circumstances of Justice: An Alternative Account (secured employment as lecturer at University of Toronto, and then lecturer at University of Sheffield)
- Sam Wilkinson (2013): Monothematic Delusions and the Nature of Belief (secured employment as 2-year postdoc at Durham University, 4-year postdoc at University of Edinburgh, then lecturer at University of Exeter)
- Raymond Critch (2010): Autonomy, Fraternity, and Legitimacy: Foundations for a New Communitarianism (secured employment as assistant professor, Memorial University of Newfoundland)
My research primarily concerns social-political philosophy, epistemology, ethics, and the philosophy of language. These topics figure centrally in the following:
- Belief, Agency, and Knowledge: Essays on Epistemic Normativity was published by Oxford University Press in 2022.
- The Meaning of 'Ought': Beyond Descriptivism and Expressivism in Metaethics was published by Oxford University Press in 2016.
- Deontic Modality (edited with Nate Charlow) was published by Oxford University Press in 2016.
- My inaugural professorial lecture provides an overview of my research up to 2017.
Below are descriptions of particular interests in these research areas and some representative papers in each area:
Social-Political Philosophy. I am especially interested in the epistemic role of public discourse, the justification/critique of democracy, social-political conditions for knowledge and freedom of belief, civil and uncivil dissent. See for example,
- “Freedom of Belief, Political not (just) Metaphysical” (draft available upon request)
- “Discursive Integrity and the Principles of Responsible Public Debate” Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy (forthcoming).
- “‘The Language of the Unheard’: Rioting as a Speech Act” Philosophy and Public Affairs 49 (2021) (with Graham Hubbs).
Epistemology. I am especially interested in epistemic norms, the nature of doxastic agency and virtue, the nature of belief, self-knowledge, and the role of ideology and propaganda on belief. See for example,
Ethics. I am especially interested in the discursive role of ethical statements, the meaning of ‘ought’, the nature of rules and norms, the moral psychology of action, and the possibility of normative knowledge. See for example,
- “A (Peircean Inferentialist) Alternative to Expressivism in Metaethics” (draft available upon request).
- “Knowing What One Ought to Do” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 111 (2015).
- “Expressivism, Truth, and (Self-) Knowledge” Philosophers’ Imprint 9 (2009).
“Expressivism, Inferentialism, and Saving the Debate” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 77 (2008).
Philosophy of Language. I am especially interested in the theory of meaning, theories of truth, the interaction between semantics and metasemantics, the meaning of deontic modals and imperatives, and applied speech-act theory. See for example,
- “Metanormative Theory and the Meaning of Deontic Modals” in Nate Charlow & Matthew Chrisman (eds.), Deontic Modality, Oxford University Press (2016).
- “‘Ought’ and Control” Australasian Journal of Philosophy 90 (2012).
- “The Normative Evaluation of Belief and the Aspectual Classification of Belief and Knowledge Attributions” Journal of Philosophy 109 (2012).
All of my published papers can be found through:
I am leading the Responsible Debate Project for the Young Academy of Scotland, who published a Charter for Responsible Debate, which you can view and sign in support here: We have hosted numerous public events, including workshops at The Royal Society of Edinburgh, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and the Scottish Parliament.
With the Young Academy of Scotland, I published a report Charter for Responsible Debate: Discussing contentious issues with common purpose (edited with Alice König, John O'Connor & Peter McColl) which contains two pieces I helped to write:
- “Participatory Democracy and Responsible Debate,” which you can read in blog form here.
- “Social Media and Responsible Debate” (with Peter McColl), which you can read in blog form here.
I was a member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s Post-Covid Futures Commission in 2020-21, contributing to the working group on Public Debate & Participation, for whom I wrote a few pieces on expertise and democracy in public policy.
I wrote “Politics in Scotland” (with Alice König and Sarah Virgo) for the Young Academy of Scotland Brexit Report (2017).
I organised Should You Trust What You Hear (About Science): An Enlightenment Debate: Hume vs. Reid, a public debate at the Edinburgh International Science Festival in 2015.
I helped to develop and continue to contribute to Introduction to Philosophy a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC).
With members of the MOOC team, we have developed a popular book Philosophy for Everyone (Routledge 2014, expanded 2nd edition 2017) on the basis of this course.
Current project grants
In 2020-22, I am a British Academy Mid-Career Fellow, working on a project called "Thinking for Ourselves: Freedom in Believing and Social Norms for Belief." This project aims to improve understanding of how our beliefs are formed and contribute to wider agreement of standards for constructive contribution to public debate. The main research goal is to complete a book articulating and motivating a novel philosophical theory of freedom of belief and norms for belief. This philosophical theory also informs and motivates civic outreach efforts, which are part of my ongoing work with the Young Academy of Scotland to create a charter for responsible public debate.
Past project grants
In 2015-17, I was the PI on Foundations of Normativity (www.foundationsofnormativity.wordpress.com) an International and Interdisciplinary Research Grant funded through the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, to pursue an international and interdisciplinary research network across Philosophy, Law, and Politics between University of Edinburgh and several other institutions. This resulted in four annual Foundations of Normativity Workshops and associated events: Epistemic, Legal, and Moral Rules (2015), Moral and Legal Normativity (2016), Political, Legal, and General Norms (2017), Contemporary Moral Epistemology (2018).
In 2010-11, I was an AHRC Early-Career Fellow, working on a project called "The Expressive Role of 'Ought'". The goal of this project was to work on a novel semantics for the normative term par excellence 'ought' and to use this to develop foundations for a new metanormative theory of meaningfulness of normative discourse. This project resulted in my book The Meaning of 'Ought': Beyond Descriptivism and Expressivism in Metaethics (Oxford University Press, 2016).
Belief, Agency, and Knowledge: Essays on Epistemic Normativity
Research output: › Book (Published)
Norms and Necessity, by Amie Thomasson
Research output: Contribution to Journal › Review article (Published)
“The Language of the Unheard”: Rioting as a speech act
Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol. 49, pp. 379-401
Research output: Contribution to Journal › Article (Published)
Charter for Responsible Debate: Discussing contentious issues with common purpose
Research output: › Commissioned report (Published)
Participatory democracy and responsible debate
Research output: › Chapter (peer-reviewed) (Published)
Social Media and Responsible Debate
Research output: › Chapter (peer-reviewed) (Published)
Research output: › Digital or Visual Products (Published)
Discursive integrity and the principles of responsible public debate
Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy
Research output: Contribution to Journal › Article (Accepted/In press)
Protest and speech act theory
Research output: › Chapter (Published)
Believing as we ought and the democratic route to knowledge
Research output: › Chapter (Published)