Me

I work primarily in ethics, including meta-ethics and moral psychology. My present research focuses on desires, reasons, happiness, wellbeing, and more recently, disability.

I sometimes get the chance to expose the wider world to a bit of philosophy. Amongst other things, I have advised an an an NHS funding priorities committee and an NHS research ethics committee, and have given numerous talks to the public on various aspects of ethics including on the value of pleasure, the ethics of genetic testing, and on human altruism. I am always happy to hear from anyone who is interested in me or my work.

My CV as of April 2017.

Book

I'm finishing a book-length defence of desire-as-belief, under contract with Oxford University Press.

According to desire-as-belief, the word “desire” just picks out a special subset of our beliefs: beliefs about reasons. On this view, wanting to do something is just the same thing as believing that there is reason to do it. This view allows us to see how human behaviour should be explained: by appeal to our desires, which is to say, our beliefs about reasons. This view also allows us to see how desires matter for rationality: because we ought to live up to our conscience. On these issues, desire-as-belief delivers a satisfying middle ground between Humean views on which our desires are all that matter, and anti-Humean views on which our desires never matter.

Email me if you'd like to see a draft.

Papers

Click titles for more information and downloads.

Disability as Inability

Forthcoming. The Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy.

If we were to write down all those things that we ordinarily categorise as disabilities, the resulting list might appear to be extremely heterogeneous. What do disabilities have in common? In this paper I defend the view that disabilities should be understood as particular kinds of inability. I show how we should formulate this view, and in the process defend the view from various objections. For example, I show how the view can allow that common kinds of inability are not disabilities, can allow that minor kinds of inability are rightly not described as disabilities, and can allow that socially imposed inabilities need not be disabilities. In the second half of the paper, I show that this theory is superior to rival theories. I criticize the wellbeing theory of disability (Kahane and Savulescu 2009, Savulescu and Kahane 2011, Harris 2001) and conventionalist theories of disability (e.g. Barnes 2016). Finally, I show how the inability theory is consistent with the best versions of the social model of disability.

Disability and Well-Being

2019. The International Encyclopedia of Ethics, LaFollette, H. (Ed.). Wiley-Blackwell.

This entry discusses the relationship between disability and well-being. Disabilities are commonly thought to be unfortunate, but whether this is true is unclear, and, if it is true, it is unclear why it is true. The entry first explains the disability paradox, which is the apparent discrepancy between the level of well-being that disabled people self-report, and the level of well-being that nondisabled people predict disabled people to have. It then turns to an argument that says that disabilities must be bad, because it is wrong to cause them in others. Later sections discuss whether disabilities might be intrinsically bad or even bad by definition. The final section addresses the claim that disabilities are bad only because society discriminates against people with disabilities.

Why Do Desires Rationalize Actions?

2018. Ergo 5:40

I begin the paper by outlining one classic argument for the guise of the good: that we must think that desires represent their objects favourably in order to explain why they can make actions rational (Quinn 1995; Stampe 1987). But what exactly is the conclusion of this argument? Many have recently formulated the guise of the good as the view that desires are akin to perceptual appearances of the good (Stampe 1987; Oddie 2005; Tenenbaum 2007). But I argue that this view fails to capitalize on the above argument, and that the argument is better understood as favouring a view on which desires are belief-like states. I finish by addressing some countervailing claims made by Avery Archer (2016).

How Verbal Reports of Desire May Mislead

2017. Thought 6:4 pp.241-249.

Ascriptions of desire can be misleading: "I don't want P" can mean "I fail to want P" or "I want not P". And sometimes desires are too obvious to be worth mentioning. I show how these two phenomena have led people to make mistakes, especially in rejecting the claim that all motivation requires desire, and in their estimations of how much divergence there is between desire and normative judguent.

Are All Normative Judguents Desire-like?

2017. The Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 12:1 pp.29-55.

Normative judguents play a distinctive motivational role. This might seu like a reason to adopt non-cognitivism. But non-cognitivism is committed to the implausible claim that other-regarding (and logically non-atomic) normative judguents are desires. Desire-as-belief explains the motivational role of first-personal (atomic) normative judguents without implausibly entailing that all normative judguents play a similar motivational role.

Might Desires Be Beliefs About Normative Reasons For Action?

2017. The Nature of Desire, Deonna, J. and Lauria, F. (eds). OUP pp.201-217.

I defend the view that desires just are beliefs about reasons for action from some of the most common objections. I consider objections from the notion of direction of fit, the existence of appetites, weakness of will, and addiction. I also object to nearby views that treat desires as more like perceptual states.

Reasons as Good Bases

2016. Philosophical Studies 173:9 pp.2291–2310

I offer a new theory of normative reasons: they are good instances of motivating reasons ("bases"). Just as many functional itus can be evaluated by thinking about how good they are as mubers of their kind, I suggest that a good reason to do something just is a motivating reason to do it that is a good instance of its kind. This theory has various interesting implications. This paper is a kind of follow-up to the paper on buck passing, below.

Hedonism

2016, The Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy of Well-Being, Fletcher, G. (Ed.). Routledge

In this entry, I explain the hedonistic theory of wellbeing, and common arguments for and against it.

A Very Good Reason To Reject The Buck Passing Account

2014. The Australasian Journal of Philosophy 92:2 pp.287-303

The buck passing account analyses values (goodness) in terms of reasons. But reasons can be better or worse than one another - indeed, this is the normal way we pick out normative reasons, as good reasons. That suggests that the buck passing account implicitly appeals to the very thing it is trying to explain. Perhaps the main complication for this argument is the distinction between predicative and attributive value: I argue that buck passers should be buck passers about both. I then sketch the theory of reasons that I defend in the paper above.

The Guise of Reasons

2013. American Philosophical Quarterly 50:1 pp.63-72

The guise of the good says that desires somehow represent goodness. The guise of reasons says that they represent normative reasons. These theories are very similar in that both say that desires are representational, and that they represent normative properties. But the difference between thu might nonetheless be significant. I show that it is and that the latter view is superior. This is independently interesting but also shows how sympathisers of this general kind of view can avoid some standard objections.

Changing Direction On Direction of Fit

2012. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 15:5 pp.603-614

I argue against Smith and Humberstone's analyses of the direction of fit metaphor. Instead, I argue for a normative interpretation of the metaphor, on which beliefs ought to fit the world, and the world ought to fit our desires. Making these claims more precise and plausible occupies much of the paper.


Reviews
2015. Steve Finlay's A Confusion of Tongues in Analysis 75:4 pp.687-689
2013. Fred Feldman's What is this thing called Happiness? in Mind 122:487 pp.820-823
2012. Andrew Reisner and Asbjørn Steglich-Petersen (eds.), Reasons for Belief in NDPR.
2009. Mark Schroeder's Slaves of the Passions in Ratio 22:2 pp.250-257

Other

The Gregorian Emporium? The Gregarious Warehouse?

These assorted links are works-in-progress, and will open new pages.



Contact

Dr Alex Gregory, Department of Philosophy, University of Southampton, Avenue Campus, Southampton, SO17 1BF, United Kingdom
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