Research

 

(For further information (or comments) on any of these, please feel free to  e-mail me: pjwerner1[at]gmail.com)

Publications:

 

"Which Moral Properties are Eligible for Perceptual Awareness?", 2019, Journal of Moral Philosophy

Moral perception has made something of a comeback in recent work on moral epistemology. Many traditional objections to the view have been argued to fail upon closer inspection. But it remains an open question just how far moral perception might extend. In this paper, I provide the beginnings of an answer to this question by assessing the relationship between the metaphysical structure of different normative properties and a plausible constraint on which properties are eligible for perceptual awareness which I call the Counterfactual Strengthening Test. Along the way I consider and reject a few other possible constraints on perceptual awareness. I defend the view that moral perception is restricted to the perception of evaluative and pro tanto deontic properties. I conclude with a few gestures toward what this limitation on moral perception may mean for broader moral epistemology.

 

"You Oughta Know: A Defence of Obligations to Learn" (with Teresa Bruno-Niño), forthcoming in Australasian Journal of Philosophy

Most of us spend a significant portion of our lives learning, practising, and performing a wide range of skills. Many of us also have a great amount of control over which skills we learn and develop. From choices as significant as career pursuits to those as minor as how we spend our weeknight leisure time, we exercise a great amount of agency over what we know and what we can do. In this paper we argue, using a framework first developed by Carbonell (2013) that in many real-world circumstances we have moral obligations to develop some skills rather than others.

 

"An Epistemic Argument for Liberalism about Perceptual Content", 2018 in Philosophical Psychology

This paper concerns the question of which properties figure in the contents of perceptual experience. According to conservatives, only low-level properties figure in the contents of perceptual experience. Liberals, on the other hand, claim that high-level properties, such as natural kind properties, artifacts, and even moral properties, can figure in the contents of perceptual experience. I defend a novel argument in favor of liberalism, the Epistemic Argument, which hinges on two crucial claims. The first is that many perceptual experiences of even neurotypical human beings can justify beliefs in high-level properties without providing justification for their low-level constituents. The second claim, roughly, is that any experience that alone provides (defeasible) justification for beliefs about some property p, other things being equal, has p as part of its content. In short, certain perceptual experiences represent high-level but not low-level properties, which entails that liberalism is true.

 

"Why conceptual competence won t help the non naturalist epistemologist", 2018 in the Canadian Journal of Philosophy.

Abstract: Non-naturalist normative realists face an epistemological objection: They must explain how their preferred route of justification ensures a non-accidental connection between justified moral beliefs and the normative truths. One strategy for meeting this challenge begins by pointing out that we are semantically or conceptually competent in our use of the normative terms, and then argues that this competence guarantees the non-accidental truth of some of our first-order normative beliefs. In this paper, I argue against this strategy by illustrating that this competence based strategy undermines the non-naturalist's ability to capture the robustly normative content of our moral beliefs.

 

"Moral Perception Without (Prior) Background Knowledge", 2018 in the Journal of Moral Philosophy.

Abstract: Proponents of impure moral perception claim that, while there are perceptual moral experiences, these experiences will epistemically depend on a priori justified moral knowledge. Proponents of pure moral perception claim that moral experiences can justify independently of substantive a priori moral knowledge. Some philosophers, most notably David Faraci (forthcoming), have argued that the pure view is mistaken, since moral perception requires previous moral background knowledge, and such knowledge could not itself be perceptual. I defend pure moral perception against this objection. I consider two ways to understand the notion of “background knowledge” that is crucial to the objection. On a (stronger) reading, the claim that background knowledge is necessary for moral perception is likely false. On a second and weaker reading, the claim is true, but the background knowledge in question could be perceptual, and thus compatible with pure moral perception. Thus, the objection fails.

 

"A Posteriori Ethical Intuitionism and the Problem of Cognitive Penetrability", 2017 in the European Journal of Philosophy. 

Abstract: According to a posteriori ethical intuitionism (AEI), perceptual experiences can provide non-inferential justification for at least some moral beliefs. Moral epistemology, for the defender of AEI, is less like the epistemology of math and more like the epistemology of tables and chairs. One serious threat to AEI comes from the phenomenon of cognitive penetration. The worry is that even if evaluative properties could figure in the contents of experience, they would only be able to do so if prior cognitive states influence perceptual experience. Such influences would undermine the non-inferential, foundationalist credentials of AEI. In this paper, I defend AEI against this objection. Rather than deny that cognitive penetration exists, I argue that some types of cognitive penetrability are actually compatible with AEI’s foundationalist structure. This involves teasing apart the question of whether some particular perceptual process has justification conferring features from the question of how it came to have those features in the first place. Once this distinction is made, it becomes clear that some kinds of cognitive penetration are compatible with the non-inferential status of moral perceptual experiences as the proponent of AEI claims.

 

"Moral Perception and the Contents of Experience", 2016 in the Journal of Moral Philosophy.

Abstract: I defend the thesis that at least some moral properties can be part of the contents of experience. I argue for this claim using a contrast argument, a type of argument commonly found in the literature on the philosophy of perception. I first appeal to psychological research on what I call emotionally empathetic dysfunctional individuals (EEDIs) to establish a phenomenal contrast between EEDIs and normal individuals in some moral situations. I then argue that the best explanation for this contrast, assuming non-skeptical moral realism, is that badness is represented in the normal individual’s experience but not in the EEDI’s experience. I consider and reject four alternative explanations of the contrast.

 

"Self-ownership and non-culpable proviso violations", 2015 in Politics, Philosophy and Economics. https://ppe.sagepub.com/content/early/2013/08/23/1470594X13496754

Abstract: Left and right libertarians alike are attracted to the thesis of self-ownership (SO) because, as Eric Mack says, they ‘believe that it best captures our common perception of the moral inviolability of persons’. Further, most libertarians, left and right, accept that some version of the Lockean Proviso (LP) restricts agents’ ability to acquire worldly resources. The inviolability of SO purports to make libertarianism more appealing than its (non-libertarian) egalitarian counterparts, since traditional egalitarian theories cannot straightforwardly explain why, e.g. forced organ donation and forced labor are serious wrongs even when they generate more equitable outcomes or benefit the greater good. I argue that, when SO is coupled with LP, this appeal is unfounded. SO, as usually construed, allows for the possibility of justified incursions of non-culpable agents up to and including forced organ donation. I conclude by considering a few possible responses on behalf of the libertarian, assessing each one’s plausibility.

 

"Character (alone) Doesn't Count: Phenomenal Character and Narrow Intentional Content", 2015 in American Philosophical Quarterly. 

Abstract: Proponents of phenomenal intentionality share a commitment that, for at least some paradigmatically intentional states, phenomenal character constitutively determines narrow intentional content. If this is correct, then any two states with the same phenomenal character will have the same narrow intentional content. Using a twin-earth style case, I argue that two different people can be in intrinsically identical phenomenological states without sharing narrow intentional contents. After describing and defending the case, I conclude by considering a few objections which help to further illustrate the problem.

 

"Seemings: still dispositions to believe", 2013 in Synthese.  

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11229-013-0363-4

Abstract: According to phenomenal conservatism, seemings can provide prima facie justification for beliefs. In order to fully assess phenomenal conservatism, it is important to understand the nature of seemings. Two views are that (SG) seemings are a sui generis propositional attitude, and that (D2B) seemings are nothing over and above dispositions to believe. Proponents of (SG) reject (D2B) in large part by providing four distinct objections against (D2B). First, seemings have a distinctive phenomenology, but dispositions to believe do not. Second, seemings can provide a non-trivial explanation for dispositions to believe, which wouldn’t be possible if seemings were dispositions to believe. Third, there are some dispositions to believe that are not seemings. Fourth, there are instances of seemings which are not dispositions to believe. I consider and reject each of these objections. The first and third objections rely on a misunderstanding of (D2B). The second objection fails because there are contexts in which an appeal to a previously unknown identity can provide an interesting explanation. The fourth objection overlooks the possibility of finkish and masked dispositions, phenomena which are widely accepted in the dispositions literature. I conclude that (D2B) escapes these common objections unscathed.

 

 Book Review: Explanation in Ethics and Mathematics, edited by Uri Leibowitz & Neil Sinclair.  (2017 in Ethics)

 

My dissertation, "Seeing Right from Wrong: A Defense of A Posteriori Ethical Intuitionism" (2016), is available here.