Research

My research addresses questions at the intersection of ethics and cognitive science, in an effort to understand moral controversies and social change. Two interlocking questions have guided much of my work.

(1) Moral psychology: How trustworthy are our gut feelings and reasoning in ethics? Based on an adequate understanding of the sources of our attitudes and decisions (our moral psychology and neurobiology), we can assess whether they are biased and mere rationalization. I’ve argued that our moral decisions are largely responsive to reasons. Although human agency is often automatic and unconscious, it is nonetheless diverse and flexible. (My views are thus largely rationalist and non-skeptical.)

(2) Moral Progress: How can we become more virtuous and better equipped to tackle great societal challenges of the 21st century? The challenges I focus on are addiction, mental illness, climate change, and the mistreatment of animals. On my view, humans are deeply social animals who act for reasons. So, although social change requires appreciation of moral arguments, that takes time and only works when ideas can spread through networks of mutual trust and respect. Effective changes to individual behavior (and the systems in which they operate) should thus combat overconfidence, motivated reasoning, intolerance, and tribalism. (My views here are thus optimistic but incrementalist.)

Books

Neuroethics: Agency in the Age of Brain Science (Oxford University Press, 2023)
Reviewed in The Biologist, Choice.

Agency in Mental Disorder: Philosophical Dimensions, co-edited w/Matt King (Oxford University Press, 2022)
Reviewed in Ethics.

Regard for Reason in the Moral Mind (Oxford University Press, 2018)
Summary | blog post | Reviewed in Australasian Journal of Philosophy,  Behavioral & Brain Sciences  (symposium), CHOICE, Ethics, Heythrop JournalMetapsychologyand Utilitas

Journal Articles

Engaging Charitable Giving: The Motivational Force of Narrative Versus Philosophical Argument (forthcoming). Philosophical Psychology.
[co-authored with Eric Schwitzgebel & Chris McVey | data | blog post]

Moral Progress for Better Apes (2023)
Biology & Philosophy.

Harnessing Moral Psychology to Reduce Meat Consumption (2023) Journal of the American Philosophical Association.
[co-authored w/Victor Kumar | 5 min video summary | related op-ed | interview w/WBUR | discussions at Brink, Faunalytics, & CSM]

Moral Rationalism on the Brain (2023) Mind & Language.
[Best Paper Prize in Philosophy, Italian Society for Neuroethics | video abstract | 10 min talk]

Which Moral Exemplars Inspire Prosociality? (2022) Philosophical Psychology.
[co-authored w/Han, Workman, Scholtens, Dawson, Glenn, & Meindl | data | podcast]

Bias in Science: Natural and Social (2021) Synthese.
[video abstract | blog post]

Experimental Philosophical Bioethics (2020) AJOB Empirical Bioethics.
[co-authored w/Earp et al]

Précis of Regard for Reason in the Moral Mind (2019) Behavioral & Brain Sciences.
[Target discussion to appear with 21 commentaries and my replies.]

Moral Responsibility and Mental Illness: A Call for Nuance (2018) Neuroethics.
[co-authored w/M. King | featured on Bookforum]

The Means/Side-Effect Distinction in Moral Cognition: A Meta-Analysis (2017) Cognition.
[co-authored w/A. Feltz | data]

Emotional Reactions to Human Reproductive Cloning (2016) Journal of Medical Ethics.
[Selected as Editor’s Choice with a discussion piece | featured on Bookforum | blog post | data]

Does Disgust Influence Moral Judgment? (2014) Australasian Journal of Philosophy.
[Related bog post | Featured on Bookforum]

On the Very Concept of Free Will (2014) Synthese.
[Blog discussion | featured on Bookforum | datareplication]

Moral Judgment and Deontology: Empirical Developments (2014) Philosophy Compass.
[Featured on Bookforum]

Does Belief in Dualism Protect against Maladaptive Psycho-social Responses to Deep Brain Stimulation? (2014) American Journal of Bioethics Neuroscience.
[co-authored w/J. Shepard]

Does Opacity Undermine Privileged Access? (2014) International Journal of Philosophical Studies.
[Critical notice, co-authored w/T. Allen]

Skeptical Hypotheses and Moral Skepticism (2013) Canadian Journal of Philosophy.
[Featured on Bookforum; reply in JESP]

Because I Believe It’s the Right Thing to Do (2013) Ethical Theory & Moral Practice.

What in the World Is Weakness of Will? (2012) Philosophical Studies.
[co-authored w/R. Holton | blog discussion | datareplication]

Egoism, Empathy, and Self-Other Merging (2011) Southern Journal of Philosophy.
[Emerging Scholar Prize Essay; other contributors include: S. Darwall, J. Deigh, P. Goldie, J. Prinz, M. Slote.]

Relational Desires and Empirical Evidence against Psychological Egoism (2011) European Journal of Philosophy.

Practical Interests, Relevant Alternatives, & Knowledge Attributions (2010) Review of Philosophy & Psychology.
[co-authored w/Sinnott-Armstrong, Hull, & Zimmerman | blog discussion | data | replications: 1, 2, 3]

Book Chapters

The Neuroscience of Moral Judgment: Empirical and Philosophical Developments (2022) In Neuroscience & Philosophy.
[co-authored w/Workman, Haas, & Han | review]

How to Debunk Moral Beliefs (2019) In Methodology and Moral Philosophy.
[co-authored w/V. Kumar | review]

The Limits of Emotion in Moral Judgment (2018) In The Many Moral Rationalisms.
[review]

The Limits of Appealing to Disgust (2018) In The Moral Psychology of Disgust.

Getting Less Cynical about Virtue (2017) In Moral Psychology, Vol. 5: Virtue & Character.
[commentary on C. D. Batson]

Repugnance as Performance Error: The Role of Disgust in Bioethical Intuitions (2016) In The Ethics of Human Enhancement.
[review]

Reference Works

Moral Reasoning and Moral Progress (forthcoming) In D. Copp & C. Rosati (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Meta-ethics. Oxford University Press.
[co-authored w/Victor Kumar | related op-ed]

Moral Reasoning and Emotion (2018) The Routledge Handbook of Moral Epistemology
[co-authored w/V. Kumar]

Empathy and Intersubjectivity (2017) The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Empathy
[The volume won CHOICE’s Outstanding Academic Title of the Year 2018]

Empirical Work in Moral Psychology (2017) Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
[Updated and expanded on 2012 version.]

Psychological Egoism (2011) Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Op-eds & Public-facing Articles

A Ban on Lab-grown Meat Would Take a Bite Out of Freedom 
AL.com (2024) [co-authored w/Victor Kumar]

What Can We Learn from Those Who Have a Moral Change of Heart? Psyche (2023)

Can Relationship Science Teach Us to Talk Politics Again? 
The Prindle Post (2023)

The Thing that Could Finally Get Us to Eat Less Meat is—Meat
The Boston Globe (2023) [co-authored w/Victor Kumar]

Why Bother with Political Arguments?
The Prindle Post (2023) [co-authored w/Victor Kumar]

You Don’t Have to be a Vegan to Save the Earth.
WBUR’s Cognoscenti (2022) [co-authored w/V. Kumar]

The Impossible Whopper, Reviewed
Al.com (2019)

Why Do Politicians Appeal to Our Disgust? 
Al.com (2016)

What’s the Real Threat to Family Values? A Workforce that Devalues Parenting 
The Birmingham News (2015)

Book Reviews & Commentaries

Review of Rational Rules : A Theory of Moral Learning by Shaun Nichols, in Ethics 133, 3 (2023): 434-440.

A Limited Skeptical Threat, commentary on John Doris’s Talking to Our Selves (2018) Behavioral & Brain Sciences.

Review of Bound: Essays on Free Will & Responsibility by Shaun Nichols (2016) Australasian Journal of Philosophy.
[More detailed thoughts in this blog post.]

Review of Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil by Paul Bloom (2014) Metapsychology.

Review of Experimental Philosophy ed. by Knobe & Nichols (2010) Philosophical Psychology.

Review of Willing, Wanting, Waiting by Richard Holton (2009) Metapsychology.

Review of A Very Bad Wizard: Morality behind the Curtain by Tamler Sommers (2009) Metapsychology.
[Featured on Arts & Letters Daily]

In Progress

Journal article on the ethics of meat consumption (drafted)

Journal article on neurodiversity (drafted)

A book project on the end of factory farming (w/Victor Kumar, early stages)

A public philosophy piece on neurodiversity (early stages)

A paper on moral learning and human rights (early stages)