My research primarily addresses questions at the intersection of ethics and science, in an effort to understand the development, breakdown, and improvement of moral knowledge and virtue.
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.”)
Agency in Mental Disorder: Philosophical Dimensions, co-edited w/Matt King (Oxford University Press, under contract)
Regard for Reason in the Moral Mind (Oxford University Press, 2018)
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.
2018: King, M. & May, J. “Moral Responsibility and Mental Illness: A Call for Nuance.” Neuroethics 11(1): 11-22. [Featured on Bookforum]
2017: Feltz, A. & May, J. “The Means/Side-Effect Distinction in Moral Cognition: A Meta-Analysis.” Cognition 166: 314–327.
2016: May, J. “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 | data]
2014: May, J. “Moral Judgment and Deontology: Empirical Developments.” Philosophy Compass 9(11): 745-755. [Featured on Bookforum]
2014: Shepard, J. & May, J. “Does Belief in Dualism Protect against Maladaptive Psycho-social Responses to Deep Brain Stimulation?” American Journal of Bioethics Neuroscience 5(4): 40–42.
2011: May, J. “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.]
2011: May, J. “Relational Desires and Empirical Evidence against Psychological Egoism” European Journal of Philosophy 19(1): 39–58.
2010: May, J., Sinnott-Armstrong, W., Hull, J. G. & Zimmerman, A. “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 | data | replications: 1, 2, 3]
Forthcoming: May, J., Workman, C., Haas, J. & Han, H. “The Neuroscience of Moral Judgment: Empirical and Philosophical Developments.” Neuroscience & Philosophy, eds. F. de Brigard & W. Sinnott-Armstrong. MIT Press.
2016: May, J. “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, pp. 43-57. [review]
2017: May, J. “Empathy and Intersubjectivity.” The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Empathy, Heidi Maibom (ed.), Routledge, pp. 169-179. [The volume won CHOICE’s Outstanding Academic Title of the Year 2018.]
2020: “Experimental Philosophical Bioethics” (w/B. Earp et al.), AJOB Empirical Bioethics 11(1): 30-33.
2016: Review of Bound: Essays on Free Will & Responsibility (2015, OUP) by Shaun Nichols, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 9, No. 2: 416-17. [More detailed thoughts in this blog post.]
2014: Review of Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil by Paul Bloom (2013, Crown), Metapsychology, Vol. 18, No. 33.
2010: Review of Experimental Philosophy ed. by Knobe & Nichols (2008, OUP), Philosophical Psychology, Vol. 23, No. 5, pp. 711-715.
2009: 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. [Featured on Arts & Letters Daily.]
(If not already provided, drafts may be available upon request.)
A book monograph on neuroethics (in progress)
A paper on bias and motivated reasoning in science (drafted)
A paper on motivated moral reasoning in charitable giving (in progress)
A paper on moral rationalism and neuroscience (in progress)
A paper on how moral exemplars motivate emulation (in progress)
An experimental paper on intuitions about decision-theory puzzles (in progress)