Interests

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I am interested in the history of ethical thought, and in contemporary ethical theory with a special focus on the nature of value. Questions about the nature of value tend to go together with questions about what is good and why. One moves back and forth between thinking about what value is and what things are of value. In my book I investigate the nature of our valuethe value of humanity.

Questions about the value of humanity led me to Kant. What it means to be a Kantian in ethics is a central topic for me, as well as what commitments might lead one away from Kantianism. This has led me to think more generally about rationalism in ethics, and how better to understand the role of reason in ethical theory, especially in relation to value. I investigate the possibility that goodness is relational in the sense that it is always goodness for someone. Some relational value theorists contend that there is no such thing as being good, only being good for someone, or being good in a way. According to the view I develop, by contrast, being relationally valuable is a way of being valuable: it is an explanation of something's status as practically significant. While I think we should approach questions about goodness in terms of the relation of benefit, I don't think this approach renders interest in the good ill-conceived. Indeed, for me, the good is the starting point for ethics.

Apart from foundational topics in the theory of value I have various side-interests in normative ethics. A new project is on the nature of excellence. I am interested in what can be said for the idea that mortality is the basis for the development of whatever is best in human beings, so that we do well in our own lives, and well in our interactions with others, to the extent that we fully come to terms with our capacities and limitations as mortal beings. That mortality is the mark of humanity is a preoccupation in strands of ancient Greek thought, and in ancient culture the idea of mortality finds its point in contrast with immortality, so that we are mortal as opposed to godly. My question is how to understand (and strive for) a mortal excellence.