One overarching research project is to determine the extent of our moral knowledge and virtue, whether concerning ordinary interactions with others (e.g. lying, stealing) or disputed moral issues (e.g. abortion, euthanasia, genetic enhancement, racial and gender bias). Whether we know right from wrong and act virtuously depends greatly on our moral psychology. Based on an adequate understanding of the sources of our moral beliefs and actions, we can assess whether we’re justified in holding particular moral views and properly motivated to do what’s right. Against a rising pessimism, I argue that ordinary moral thought and action are ultimately rational enterprises that aren’t fundamentally flawed. Nevertheless, there is room for improvement, and I’m also interested in how we can make ourselves more virtuous. (My views are thus largely “rationalist” and “non-skeptical.”)
Regard for Reason in the Moral Mind (forthcoming with Oxford University Press)
Abstract: The burgeoning science of ethics has produced a trend toward pessimism. Ordinary moral thought and action, we’re told, are profoundly influenced by arbitrary factors and ultimately driven by unreasoned feelings. This book counters the current orthodoxy on its own terms by carefully engaging with the empirical literature. The result is a cautious optimism grounded in the pervasive role of reason in our moral minds. While the science suggests that moral knowledge and virtue don’t come easily, we needn’t reject ordinary moral psychology as fundamentally flawed or in need of serious repair.
Note: Article titles link to penultimate drafts (or self-archived finals if open access); journal titles link to final version if available. Both links contain abstracts.
- May, J. (forthcoming). “The Limits of Emotion in Moral Judgment.” The Many Moral Rationalisms, eds. K. Jones & F. Schroeter, Oxford University Press.
- Feltz, A. & May, J. (2017). “The Means/Side-Effect Distinction in Moral Cognition: A Meta-Analysis.” Cognition 166: 314–327.
- May, J. (2017). “Getting Less Cynical about Virtue” (commentary on C. D. Batson), Moral Psychology, Vol. 5: Virtue & Character, W. Sinnott-Armstrong & C. Miller (eds.), MIT Press, pp. 45-52.
- May, J. (2016). “Emotional Reactions to Human Reproductive Cloning.” Journal of Medical Ethics 42(1):26-30. [Selected as Editor’s Choice with a discussion piece | featured on Bookforum | blog discussion]
- May, J. (2016). “Repugnance as Performance Error: The Role of Disgust in Bioethical Intuitions.” The Ethics of Human Enhancement: Understanding the Debate, S. Clarke, et al. (eds.), Oxford University Press.
- May, J. (2014). “Does Disgust Influence Moral Judgment?” Australasian Journal of Philosophy 92(1): 125–141. [Featured on Bookforum]
- May, J. (2014). “On the Very Concept of Free Will” Synthese 191(12): 2849-2866. [Blog discussion | featured on Bookforum | replication]
- May, J. (2014). “Moral Judgment and Deontology: Empirical Developments.” Philosophy Compass 9(11): 745-755. [Featured on Bookforum]
- Shepard, J. & May, J. (2014). “Does Belief in Dualism Protect against Maladaptive Psycho-social Responses to Deep Brain Stimulation?” American Journal of Bioethics Neuroscience 5(4): 40–42.
- Allen, T. & May, J. (2014). “Does Opacity Undermine Privileged Access?” International Journal of Philosophical Studies 22(4): 617–629. [Critical notice]
- May, J. (2013). “Skeptical Hypotheses and Moral Skepticism” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 43(3): 341–359. [Featured on Bookforum]
- May, J. (2013). “Because I Believe It’s the Right Thing to Do” Ethical Theory & Moral Practice 16(4): 791–808.
- May, J. & Holton, R. (2012). “What in the World Is Weakness of Will?” Philosophical Studies 157(3): 341–360. [Blog discussion | replication]
- May, J. (2011). “Egoism, Empathy, and Self-Other Merging” Southern Journal of Philosophy 49(S1): 25–39, Spindel Supplement: Empathy & Ethics, R. Debes (ed.). [Emerging Scholar Prize Essay; other contributors include: S. Darwall, J. Deigh, P. Goldie, J. Prinz, M. Slote.]
- May, J. (2011). “Relational Desires and Empirical Evidence against Psychological Egoism” European Journal of Philosophy 19(1): 39–58.
- May, J., Sinnott-Armstrong, W., Hull, J. G. & Zimmerman, A. (2010). “Practical Interests, Relevant Alternatives, & Knowledge Attributions” Review of Philosophy & Psychology 1(2): 265–273, Special Issue ed. by E. Machery, T. Lombrozo, & J. Knobe. [Blog discussion | replications: 1, 2, 3]
- May, J. & Kumar, V. (forthcoming). “Moral Reasoning and Emotion.” The Routledge Handbook of Moral Epistemology, eds. K. Jones, M. Timmons, & A. Zimmerman, Routledge.
- May, J. (2017). “Empathy and Intersubjectivity.” The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Empathy, Heidi Maibom (ed.), Routledge.
- May, J. (2017) “Moral Psychology, Empirical Work In.” Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. [Updated and expanded on 2012 version.]
- May, J. (2011). “Psychological Egoism.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
- “A Limited Skeptical Threat”, commentary on John Doris’s Talking to Our Selves, forthcoming in Behavioral and Brain Sciences.
- Review of Bound: Essays on Free Will & Responsibility (2015, OUP) by Shaun Nichols, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 9, No. 2 (2016): 416-17. [More detailed thoughts in this blog post.]
- Review of Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil by Paul Bloom (2013, Crown), Metapsychology, Vol. 18, No. 33 (2014).
- Review of Experimental Philosophy ed. by Knobe & Nichols (2008, OUP), Philosophical Psychology, Vol. 23, No. 5 (2010), pp. 711-715.
- Review of Willing, Wanting, Waiting by Richard Holton (2009, OUP), Metapsychology, Vol. 13, No. 23 (2009).
- Review of A Very Bad Wizard: Morality behind the Curtain by Tamler Sommers (2009, McSweeney’s), Metapsychology, Vol. 13, No. 53 (2009). [Featured on Arts & Letters Daily.]
(If not already provided, drafts may be available upon request.)
- “How to Debunk Moral Beliefs” (w/Victor Kumar, under review)
- “Moral Responsibility and Mental Illness: A Call for Nuance.” (w/Matt King, under review, featured on Bookforum)
- “The Limits of Appealing to Disgust” (drafted for The Moral Psychology of Disgust, eds. Victor Kumar & Nina Strohminger)
- A series of studies on intuitions about decision-theory puzzles (in progress)
- A series of experiments about moral exemplars (early stages)
- A paper on correcting for implicit bias (very early stages)
In some of my work, I have had the privilege of collaborating with some excellent scientists and philosophers, including: