I am Professor of Ethics and Epistemology at the University of Edinburgh. My research is focused on social-ethical-political theory, epistemology, philosophy of language, and especially the intersections between these.
Ph.D. Philosophy, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2006, M.A. 2002; B.A. Rice University, Houston Texas, 1999.
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-
Deputy Head of School of Philosophy, Psychology, and Language Sciences, 2018-2019
Eidyn Research Centre, Steering CommitteeMember, 2012-2017
Head of Philosophy, 2015-2018
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)
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
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, Castañeda, and the nature of ideology.
Current PhD students supervised
Past PhD students supervised
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 concerns:
- Social-Political Philosophy, especially the epistemic role of public discourse, the justification/critique of democracy, social-political conditions for knowledge and freedom of belief, civil and uncivil dissent.
- Epistemology, especially epistemic norms, the nature of doxastic agency and virtue, the nature of belief, self-knowledge, and the role of ideology and propaganda on belief.
- Ethical theory, especially the discursive role of ethical statements, the meaning of ‘ought’, the nature of rules and norms, action theory, and normative knowledge.
- Philosophy of Language, especially the theory of meaning, theories of truth, the interaction between semantics and metasemantics, the meaning of imperatives, and speech-act theory.
For an overview of my research, my inaugural professorial lecture is a good place to start : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SvVEgJVwp4
My book The Meaning of 'Ought': Beyond Descriptivism and Expressivism in Metaethics was published by Oxford University Press in 2016.
My textbook What Is This Thing Called Metaethics? was published with Routledge in 2016.
I edited Deontic Modality (with Nate Charlow) for Oxford University Press in 2016.
I am a member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh's Post-Covid Futures Commission, contributing to the working group on Public Debate & Participation. https://www.rsecovidcommission.org.uk/expertise-and-the-popular-will/
I am leading the Responsible Debate Project for the Young Academy of Scotland, whose initial workshop for a draft charter of responsible public debate for Scotland was held on May 13, 2019, with follow up events at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Festival of Politics at the Scottish Parliament. https://www.youngacademyofscotland.org.uk/creating-a-charter-for-responsible-public-debate/
I developed the Wireless Philosophy video "Obligations to Obey the Law" (2018): https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=RMrTqHc15kk
With Alice König and Sarah Virgo, I wrote “Politics in Scotland” for the Young Academy of Scotland Brexit Report (2017): https://www.youngacademyofscotland.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/BREXIT_the_impact_on_scotland.pdf
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 https://edinburghfestival.list.co.uk/event/464404-should-you-trust-what-you-hear-about-science-an-enlightenment-debate-hume-vs-reid/
I helped to develop and continue to contribute to Introduction to Philosophy a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC): www.coursera.org/course/introphil.
With members of the MOOC team, we have developed a popular book Philosophy for Everyone (Routledge 2014, expanded 2nd edition 2016) 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).