My current research program primarily concerns the moral importance of judgment-sensitive non-cognitive attitudes. I argue that some of the moral properties that people have argued apply only to actions and character traits apply also to individual judgment-sensitive non-cognitive attitudes (e.g., moral worth and moral virtue/vice). In my work, I develop novel theories of morally worthy attitudes and virtuous/vicious attitudes by appealing to the relation of moral fittingness. An attitude is morally fitting when it is fitting in virtue of its object’s moral or morally-relevant properties. I argue that examining morally worthy attitudes and morally virtuous/vicious attitudes can help illuminate topics in moral psychology (i.e., our moral accountability practices), metaethics (i.e., moral deference), normative ethics (i.e., the conflict between partiality and morality), and environmental ethics (i.e., what attitudes are fitting toward nature). While my approach to philosophy is primarily done from a Western analytic philosophical perspective, it is also influenced by my interest in Confucian ethics. 

Normative Ethics and Moral Psychology

Morally Worthy Attitudes and Moral Accountability
There is a booming literature on the moral worth of actions. However, as I argue in “Morally Worthy Attitudes” (complete draft), this literature overlooks the fact that our individual judgment-sensitive non-cognitive attitudes (e.g., desire, hope, resentment, gratitude, being pleased, etc.) can intuitively have moral worth in the same sense that our actions can. These attitudes can have moral worth only when they are held for the morally right reasons, which involves being sensitive to certain moral reasons as sufficient moral reasons to hold these attitudes. Recognizing that our attitudes can have moral worth is also essential for our accountability practices. This is because one can only properly hold ourselves and others accountable if the attitudes in virtue of which we do this (e.g., remorse, resent, gratitude, etc.) have moral worth. This is, in part, because we only fully and adequately hold others accountable for something if we hold the fitting reactive attitudes non-accidentally and it’s a constitutive feature of morally worthy attitudes that they are held non-accidentally.

I plan to apply to this research on moral worth, reactive attitudes, and proactive attitudes to our online practices of holding people morally accountable as when we engage in “moral grandstanding” or use the Facebook response buttons (e.g., “Like” and “Angry”) and the Twitter “Like” or retweet buttons. Part of this project will be to show that such activities often lack moral worth and so fail to adequately hold others morally accountable or affirm others’ value.

Morally Worthy Attitudes and Moral Deference
In “Moral Deference and Morally Worthy Attitudes” (under review), I argue that the problem with moral deference is that it doesn’t put one in a position to form or sustain these morally worthy non-cognitive attitudes. I argue that forming morally worthy attitudes requires being sensitive to certain moral reasons as sufficient moral reasons to hold these attitudes and that this sensitivity is a kind of know-how or ability. However, I argue, one cannot acquire this kind of ability simply by deferring about moral propositions.

Morally Vicious Attitudes and Partiality

 

Vicious Attitudes and Partiality
In “Friendship and Non-Cognitive Partiality” (in progress), I argue that in virtue of being a good friend with someone, it can be fitting qua friend to hold morally vicious attitudes. For example, if one’s close friend wants something badly (e.g., a job), then, even if one knows they don’t deserve it, being a good friend requires one to hope they get it and to be pleased if they do. But this means that it is fitting for one to hope for and be pleased by an unjust or unfair state of affairs, which is morally vicious. Moreover, I argue that it is not only fitting qua friend to have these attitudes, but fitting all-things-considered to have these attitudes. Finally, I argue that this conclusion follows from the fact that we finally value our friends as ultimate ends in themselves.

In, “On the Morality of Befriending Immoral People” (under review), I explore how one goes wrong in befriending a person one knows to be seriously and unrepentantly immoral. I argue against the Confucian philosopher Dai De 戴德 who thinks that befriending a vicious person involves the risk of one also becoming vicious and against Jessica Isserow who argues that such a friendship involves prioritizing non-moral values over moral ones. I then argue that the problem is that the attitudes and dispositions required for sincerely forging a close friendship with a person are incompatible with the attitudes and dispositions that it is morally fitting to have toward a seriously and unrepentantly immoral person. Sincerely forging a close friendship with a person requires one to have heightened goodwill toward them and a positive orientation toward engaging in friendship-building interactions. However, the most morally fitting response to this kind of person is some level of moral contempt, which requires at least a partial withdrawal of goodwill and a negative orientation toward interacting with them. Therefore, when one forges a new friendship with a seriously and unrepentantly immoral person, one manifests a kind of vicious moral indifference. 

Environmental Ethics


While environmental ethics has primarily been concerned with how we’re morally required to treat nature, my research is primarily concerned with what judgment-sensitive non-cognitive are (morally or otherwise) fitting to have toward nature. In “Resenting Nature” (in progress), I argue that it cannot be fitting to resent nature because resentment is only fitting in response to expressions of insufficient goodwill or ill-will and nature cannot have such attitudes. More fundamentally, resentment is a reactive attitude and the reactive attitudes are the primary means by which we hold moral agents accountable, but nature is not a moral agent and thus it cannot be fitting to have any reactive attitude toward nature. I then draw the distinction between prepositional resentment (i.e., resenting A for PHI-ing) and propositional resentment (i.e., resenting that p). I argue that propositional resentment is a morally fitting response to a morally bad state of affairs and thus one can have morally fitting propositional resentment concerning nature. For example, one can resent that our environment or ecosystems produce innumerable intrinsically bad events (e.g., natural disasters). Given that this state of affairs is morally bad, it’s possible to have morally worth propositional resentment concerning nature. However, I argue that, even though propositional resent to nature can be morally fitting, there is moral reason to try to not resent nature. This is because doing so can interfere with what Confucians refer to as ming 命, i.e., acceptance of or equanimity toward what is not in one’s control, which is required for being a junzi 君子 (i.e., virtuous person).

 

Epistemology

While epistemologists have traditionally only been concerned with the epistemic assessment of attitudes (e.g., belief, suspension, and credences), and the application of certain properties (rationality, justification, warrant, entitlement, and knowledge) to these attitudes, my research focuses on the epistemic assessment of actions and on whether there is uniquely epistemic kind of blame.

 

In “Right Reason Accounts of the Norm of Assertion” (under review), I argue that Right Reason Accounts of the norm of assertion fail because they do not allow for the possibility of asserting the epistemically right thing only for the wrong reason. In “Epistemic Blame and Quality of Will” (in progress), I argue for a uniquely epistemic kind of blame. What makes this blame appropriate is that the blameworthy agents express an insufficient concern for epistemic values (e.g., truth, evidence, rationality, knowledge, etc.) in forming/sustaining their beliefs or making their assertions. In “The Knowledge Norm of Assertion: Keep It Simple” (Synthese, forthcoming), I argue, inter alia, that this account of epistemic blame can explain what is intuitively problematic with assertions made on the basis of bad epistemic reasons (e.g., random guesses or spite).

UNIVERSITY OF HELSINKI
DEPARTMENT OF PHILOSOPHY

MAX LEWIS