Resting on Your Laurels:  Deserting Desert in Paradise?

Coauthored with Brian Boeninger.

In Paradise Understood:  New Philosophical Essays about Heaven, edited by R. Byerly and E. Silverman.

Oxford University Press, 2017.  More information about the volume HERE.

We analyze an apparent incompatibility between a traditional theistic view of heaven and theodicies that centrally appeal to libertarian free will in responding to the problem of evil. Towards resolving this incompatibility, leading strategies (i) deploy a tracing (historical or externalist) account of freedom and moral responsibility along with the related distinction between occurrent (or direct) freedom and derivative (or indirect) freedom, (ii) hold that freedom makes possible the realization of “freedom goods,” goods uniquely actualized by freedom and of such an outweighing value that they (at least partly) justify God’s permission of evil, and (iii) hold that heavenly acts manifest freedom goods by being derivatively free.  We argue that these strategies for reconciling the alleged incompatibility founder on ambiguities in how they employ the notion of derivative freedom, and that available disambiguations both fail to show the requisite compatibility, and face significant and unnoticed objections to their possible success.

Tropes as Character-Grounders

Australasian Journal of Philosophy 94 (3), 2016, pp. 499-515.

Permalink HERE.  Please email me if you would like a copy.

There is a largely unrecognized ambiguity concerning the nature of a trope. Disambiguation throws into relief two fundamentally different conceptions of a trope and provides two ways to understand and develop each metaphysical theory that put tropes to use. In this paper I consider the relative merits that result from differences concerning a trope’s ability to ground the character of ordinary objects. I argue that on each conception of a trope, there are unique implications and challenges concerning character-grounding.



Two Ways to Particularize a Property

 Journal of the American Philosophical Association 1 (4), 2015, pp. 635-652.



Trope theory is an increasingly prominent contender in contemporary debates about the existence and nature of properties.  But it suffers from an ambiguity concerning the nature of a trope.  Disambiguation reveals two fundamentally different concepts of a trope:  modifier tropes and module tropes.  These types of tropes are unequally suited for metaphysical work.  Modifier tropes are better suited to be powers, relations, and fundamental determinables.  Module tropes are better suited to ground the character of objects and to play a direct role in causation and perception.  Thus, the choice between modifier tropes and module tropes is significant and divides the advantages of trope theory simpliciter.  In addition, each resulting trope theory is unstable:  modifier trope theory threatens to collapse into a version of realism and module trope theory threatens to collapse into austere nominalism.  This invites reflection on the stability of trope theory in general.


Tropes as Divine Acts:  The Nature of Creaturely Properties in a World Sustained by God

European Journal for Philosophy of Religion 7(3), 2015, pp. 105-30.


I aim to synthesize two issues within theistic metaphysics.  The first concerns the metaphysics of creaturely properties and, more specifically, the nature of unshareable properties, or tropes.  The second concerns the metaphysics of providence and, more specifically, the way in which God sustains creatures, or sustenance.  I propose that creaturely properties, understood as what I call modifier tropes, are identical with divine acts of sustenance, understood as acts of property-conferral.  I argue that this theistic conferralism is attractive because it integrates trope theory and the doctrine of sustenance in a mutually enhancing way.  Taking modifier tropes to be divine acts mitigates certain weaknesses of trope theory and safeguards divine sustenance from the threat of both deism and occasionalism.

Is it Possible to Care for Ecosystems? Policy Paralysis and Ecosystem Management

Coauthored with Jonathan Newman.

Forthcoming.  Ethics, Policy & Environment


Conservationists have two (non-mutually exclusive) types of arguments for why we should conserve ecosystems, instrumental and intrinsic value arguments. Instrumental arguments contend that we ought to conserve ecosystems because of the benefits that humans, or other morally relevant individuals, derive from ecosystems. Conservationists are often loath to rely too heavily on the instrumental argument because it could potentially force them to admit that some ecosystems are not at all useful to humans, or that if they are, they are not more useful than alternative configurations of those ecosystems. Consequently, conservationists often resort to an intrinsic value argument, contending that ecosystems are objectively valuable as ends in themselves, rather than merely as means to an end. If ecosystems have intrinsic value, then they have moral standing, which means that we must consider their needs and interests in any decisions we make about them. This paper concerns the significance of this move for individual and collective action on behalf of ecosystems. We show that even if there were ecosystems that had moral standing, we would lack adequate practical reasons to act on their behalf.

Is Trope Theory a Divided House?

In The Problem of Universals in Contemporary Philosophy, edited by Gabriele Galluzzo and Michael Loux. Cambridge University Press, 2015.

In this paper I explore Michael Loux’s important distinction between “tropes” and “tropers”.  First, I argue that the distinction throws into relief an ambiguity and discrepancy in the literature, revealing two fundamentally different versions of trope theory.  Second, I argue that the distinction brings into focus unique challenges facing each of the resulting trope theories, thus calling into question an alleged advantage of trope theory—that by uniquely occupying the middle ground between its rivals, trope theory is able to recover and preserve the insights of these views. Ultimately, the distinction suggests that trope theory is a divided house.

An early draft of this was titled "Moderate Nominalism: Tropes vs. Tropers" and is cited as such in Heil (The Universe as We Find It) and Koons & Pickavance (Metaphysics: the Fundamentals).

Philosophical Relativism and Philosophical Idling

Ratio (28)1, 2015, pp. 51-64.  

final  |  preprint

Hesburgh Library, Notre Dame

Peter Unger has challenged philosophical objectivism, the thesis that traditional philosophical problems have definite objective answers.  He argues from semantic relativity for philosophical relativity, the thesis that for certain philosophical problems, there is no objective answer.  I clarify, formulate and challenge Unger’s argument.  According to Unger, philosophical relativism explains philosophical idling, the fact that philosophical debates appear endless, philosophical disagreements seem irresolvable, and very little substantial progress seems made towards satisfactory and definite answers to philosophical problems.  I argue, however, that the reality of philosophical idling is doubtful and, ironically, undermined by philosophical relativism.  I then raise problems for several steps in Unger’s argument for philosophical relativity. I conclude by arguing that philosophical relativism can avoid self-defeat only by an ad hoc limitation of its scope.

Toward Intellectually Virtuous Discourse: Two Vicious Fallacies and the Virtues that Inhibit Them

Coauthored with Nathan King, in Intellectual Virtues and Education: Essays in Applied Virtue Epistemology, edited by Jason Baehr. Routledge, 2016.

rio de janeiro, brasil

We have witnessed the athleticization of political discourse, whereby debate is treated like an athletic contest in which the aim is to vanquish one's opponents.  When political discourse becomes as zero-sum game, it is characterized by suspicions, accusations, belief polarization, and ideological entrenchment.  Unfortunately, athleticization is ailing the classroom as well, making it difficult for educators to prepare students to make valuable contributions to healthy civic discourse.  Such preparation requires an educational environment that fosters the intellectual virtues that characterize an examined life.  This, in turn, requires an amicable and hospitable atmosphere in which a student enjoys the freedom to discover and articulate what she believes, how well her beliefs hang together, and what underlying assumptions or biases might be at work—without the fear that her self-disclosure will trigger immediate accusations and pigeonholing from fellow students.  Educating for intellectual virtue is crucial for meeting these challenges and in this chapter we contribute to this strategy by offering some tools and guidance for promoting productive discussion of controversial issues.  In the first two sections, we identify and explain two fallacious patterns of thought that often encumber discussion of controversial issues: assailment-by-entailment and the attitude-to-agent fallacy.  In effect, these sections diagnose two diseases of discourse. We conclude each section with practical suggestions—in the form of thinking routines—for curing these ills.  We will argue that part of the cure is to be found in the intellectual virtues. In particular, we will discuss how the virtues of intellectual charity, humility and carefulness can inoculate the mind against the fallacies we identify.

Can a Case for Naturalism be Naturalized?

Aporía - Revista Internacional de Investigaciones Filosóficas. (10), pp. 4-11.


Acerca de ‘Particularizar una Propiedad’: Tropos Como Modificadores y Tropos Como Módulos

Forthcoming in Poderes Causales, Tropos, y Otras Criaturas Extrañas: Ensayos de Metafísica Analítica, edited by Ezequiel Zerbudis.  Blatt & Ríos.  

Spanish translation by Ezequiel Zerbudis.  This paper has not appeared elsewhere in English.  

Available by request.

La caja negra de la teoría del haz: desafíos explicativos para la teoría de la sustancia como haz de propiedades

Quaderns de Filosofia 1 (2):55-72 (2014)


This is a spanish translation, by Ezequiel Zerbudis, of my 2014 article in Acta Analytica, "Bundle Theory's Black Box".

Towards a Just Solar Radiation Management Compensation System: A Defense of the Polluter Pays Principle

Ethics, Policy & Environment 17 (2), 2014, pp. 178-182.

Preprint here.

In their ‘Ethical and Technical Challenges in Compensating for Harm Due to Solar Radiation Management Geoengineering’ (2014), Toby Svoboda and Peter Irvine (S&I) argue that there are significant technical and ethical challenges that stand in the way of crafting a just solar radiation management (SRM) compensation system. My aim in this article is to contribute to the project of addressing these problems. I do so by focusing on one of S&I’s important ethical challenges, their claim that the polluter pays principle (PPP) is too problematic to be useful in determining responsibility for SRM compensation. Their argument for the latter claim consists in a series of allegations, mostly in the form of questions, that are thought to indicate serious difficulties standing in the way of using the PPP to craft a just compensation system. I argue that S&I fail to substantiate these allegations: the PPP is not as problematic as S&I suggest, and moreover, is a viable candidate for determining responsibility for SRM compensation. S&I raise five allegations against the PPP. I discuss each in turn.

Bare Particulars and Constituent Ontology

Acta Analytica, 29(2), 2014, 149-159.

Preprint here.

My general aim in this paper is to shed light on the controversial concept of a bare particular. I do so by arguing that bare particulars are best understood in terms of the individuative work they do within the framework of a realist constituent ontology. I argue that outside such a framework, it is not clear that the notion of a bare particular is either motivated or coherent. This is suggested by reflection on standard objections to bare particulars. However, within the framework of a realist constituent ontology, bare particulars provide for a coherent theory of individuation—one with a potentially significant theoretical price tag, but one that also has advantages over rival theories.

Bundle Theory’s Black Box: Gap Challenges for the Bundle Theory of Substance

Philosophia, 42(1), 2014, pp. 115-26.

Preprint here.

My aim in this article is to contribute to the larger project of assessing the relative merits of different theories of substance. An important preliminary step in this project is assessing the explanatory resources of one main theory of substance, the so-called bundle theory. This article works towards such an assessment. I identify and explain three distinct explanatory challenges an adequate bundle theory must meet. Each points to a putative explanatory gap, so I call them the Gap Challenges. I consider three bundle-theoretic strategies for meeting these challenges. I argue that none of them goes very far. The upshot is that, absent other strategies for meeting the challenges, bundle theory involves a significant amount of stipulation. This black box makes bundle theory relatively weak with respect to its explanatory power—unless, of course, rival theories of substance are unable to do better.

Descartes’s Independence Conception of Substance and His Separability Argument for Substance Dualism

Journal of Philosophical Research, 39, 2014, pp. 165-190.

Preprint here.

I critically examine the view that Descartes’s independence conception (IC) of substance plays a crucial role in his “separability argument” for substance dualism. I argue that IC is a poisoned chalice. I do so by considering how an IC-based separability argument fares on two different ways of thinking about principal attributes. On the one hand, if we take principal attributes to be universals, then a separability argument that deploys IC establishes a version of dualism that is unacceptably strong. On the other hand, if we take principal attributes to be tropes, then IC introduces challenges which undermine the argument. This is partly because the assumption of tropes makes it possible to distinguish several versions of substance dualism, versions which differ with respect to their degree of generality. I argue that taking principal attributes to be tropes makes it challenging to establish any of these versions by way of an IC-based separability argument. I conclude the paper by suggesting a way forward for the proponent of the separability argument.

Closing in on Causal Closure

Journal of Consciousness Studies 21 (1-2), 2014, pp. 96-109.

Preprint here.

ugarloaf, Rio de Janeiro 2013

I examine the meaning and merits of a premise in the Exclusion Argument, the causal closure principle that all physical effects have physical causes.  I do so by addressing two questions.  First, if we grant the other premises, exactly what kind of closure principle is required to make the Exclusion Argument valid?  Second, what are the merits of the requisite closure principle?  Concerning the first, I argue that the Exclusion Argument requires a strong, “stringently pure” version of closure.  The latter employs two qualifications concerning the physical sufficiency and relative proximity of the physical cause required for every physical effect.  The second question is addressed in two steps.  I begin by challenging the adequacy of the empirical support offered by David Papineau for closure.  Then I assess the merits of “level” and “domain” versions of stringently pure closure.  I argue that a domain version lacks adequate and non-question-begging support within the context of the Exclusion Argument.  And I argue that the level version leads to a puzzling metaphysics of the physical domain.  Thus, we have grounds for rejecting the version of closure required for the Exclusion Argument.  This means we can resist the Exclusion Argument while avoiding the implausible implications that come with rejecting one of its other premises.  That is, because there are grounds to reject causal closure, one can reasonably affirm the non-overdeterminative causal efficacy of conscious mental states while denying that the latter are identical with physical states. 


Tropes and Dependency Profiles:  Problems for the Nuclear Theory of Substance

American Philosophical Quarterly 51(2),  2014, pp. 167-76.

Preprint here.

J demonstrates a dependency profile , Santa Cruz 2013

In this article I examine the compatibility of a leading trope bundle theory of substance, so-called Nuclear Theory, with trope theory more generally.  Peter Simons (1994) originally proposed Nuclear Theory (NT), and continues to develop (1998, 2000) and maintain (2002/03) the view.  Recently, building on Simons’s theory, Markku Keinänen (2011) has proposed what he calls the Strong Nuclear Theory (SNT).  Although the latter is supposed to shore up some of NT’s weaknesses, it continues to maintain NT’s central tenet, the premise that tropes are variously existentially interdependent.  I argue that the central tenet of NT frustrates several important aims of trope theory.  If my arguments go through, they also implicate SNT.  Because of this, I largely set aside other aspects of NT and SNT and focus on their shared central tenet.  I begin by outlining NT’s strategy for meeting two challenges a trope bundle theory faces in accounting for the hallmark features of substance.  Crucial to the strategy is NT’s central tenet that tropes are variously existentially interdependent.  In the second section I argue that, given NT’s central tenet, a trope has what I call a dependency profile.  In the third and fourth sections I argue for a principle I call Inheritance—that two tropes are exactly similar only if their dependency profiles are exactly similar.  In the fifth section I argue that, given Inheritance, NT jeopardizes several important aims of trope theory.

Is God’s Benevolence Impartial?

Southwest Philosophy Review, 29(1), 2013, pp. 23-30.

Preprint here.

In this paper I consider the intuitive idea that God is fair and does not play favorites. This belief appears to be held by many theists. I call it the Principle of Impartial Benevolence (PIB) and put it as follows: As much as possible, for all persons, God equally promotes the good and equally prevents the bad. I begin with the conviction that there is a prima facie tension between PIB and the disparity of human suffering. My aim in this paper is to clarify this tension and show that it runs deep. More specifically, I argue that PIB imposes stringent demands—including a patient-centered theodicy—on the sorts of reasons that would justify God in permitting suffering, and, that the historical disparity of suffering indicates that these demands are not met. I conclude that theists should disavow PIB or at least consider it sub judice.

Getting Our Minds Out of the Gutter:  Fallacies that Foul Our Discourse (and Virtues that Clean it Up)

Coauthored with Nathan King

In Virtues in Action: New Essays in Applied Virtue Theory, edited by Michael W. Austin. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013, pp. 190-206.

Contemporary discourse is littered with nasty and derailed disagreements.  In this paper we hope to help clean things up.  We diagnose two patterns of thought that often plague and exacerbate controversy.  We illustrate these patterns and show that each involves both a logical mistake and a failure of intellectual charity.  We also draw upon recent work in social psychology to shed light on why we tend to fall into these patterns of thought. We conclude by suggesting how the intellectual virtues can militate against these fallacies, focusing on the virtues of charity and humility.

Preprint here.

Platonism and the Haunted Universe

in Loving God with Your Mind: Essays in Honor of J. P. Moreland, edited by Paul M. Gould and Richard Brian Davis. Moody Publishers, 2013, pp. 35-50.

Platonism plays an important role in the Christian philosophy of J. P. Moreland.  In this paper I show how Platonism can be understood within the context of Moreland's broader aims as a Christian philosopher and, in particular, as a fundamental part of his critical engagement with philosophical naturalism. To disentangle these ideas, I proceed as follows. In the first section I sketch naturalism, underscore its discord with Christian theism, and describe three lines of attack J.P. has mounted against naturalism. The third line of attack involves J.P.'s defense of Platonism; I focus on this in the subsequent section. In the final section, I tie things together by discussing how thinking about Platonism can catalyze integration.  

available upon request.

Book sold here.


Is Goodness Without God Good Enough? A Debate on Faith, Secularism, and Ethics

edited and introduced by Robert K. Garcia and Nathan L. King. Rowman & Littlefield, 2009.

Morality and religion: intimately wed, violently opposed, or something else? Discussion of this issue appears in pop culture, the academy, and the media—often generating radically opposed views. At one end of the spectrum are those who think that unless God exists, ethics is unfounded and the moral life is unmotivated. At the other end are those who think that religious belief is unnecessary for—and even a threat to—ethical knowledge and the moral life. This volume provides an accessible, charitable discussion that represents a range of views along this spectrum. The book begins with a lively debate between Paul Kurtz and William Lane Craig on the question, Is goodness without God good enough? Kurtz defends the affirmative position and Craig the negative. Following the debate are new essays by prominent scholars. These essays comment on the debate and advance the broader discussion of religion and morality. The book closes with final responses from Kurtz and Craig.

Introduction available here.

Book sold here.

Artificial Intelligence and Personhood

in Cutting Edge Bioethics: A Christian Exploration of Technology and Trends, edited by John Kilner, Christopher Hook, and Diane Uustal. Eerdmans, 2002, pp. 39-51.

I argue that Artificial Intelligence (AI) has serious ethical implications in virtue of it implying a functional criterion for personhood. My overall burden is to critique two versions of AI on ethical and philosophical grounds. It seems prudent to state my conclusions outright. First, AI views are untenable because they require a theory of the mind whose implications conflict with certain ethically-important beliefs which seem to be true or highly justified, namely, the beliefs that certain individuals (e.g., infants) are persons, and that reason and meaning play a significant role in human mental processes (e.g., decision making).  Second, contra AI, it seems impossible that something can be a mind or mental state in virtue of it being a computer or computational process.

Available upon request.



Minds Sans Miracles: Colin McGinn’s Naturalized Mysterianism

Philosophia Christi, 2(2), 2000, pp. 227-242.

In this paper, I discuss Colin McGinn’s claim that the mind is not miraculous but merely mysterious, and that this mystery is due to the limits of our cognitive faculties.  To adequately present the flow and unity of McGinn’s overall argument, I offer an extended and uninterrupted précis of his case, followed by a critique.  I argue that McGinn’s argument is unsuccessful if it is intended to persuade non-naturalists, but nevertheless may be a plausible position for a naturalist, qua naturalist, to take on the mind. 

Preprint here.