My research focuses on debates between libertarians, socialists, and anarchists over the moral status of the market and the state. I’m also interested in rights, consent, philosophical anarchism, luck egalitarianism, self-ownership, private property, initial appropriation, and Analytical Marxism. My long-term project is to provide a normative defense of a heterodox variety of anarchism.
My book, Social Anarchism and the Rejection of Moral Tyranny, is an extended elaboration and defense of the egalitarian anarchist moral position. It’s open access, so you can read the whole thing for free by following the previous link! (If you want a physical copy, you can get a 20% discount by entering the code SATRMT23 at checkout).
“When ‘Enough and as Good’ Is Not Good Enough.” (forthcoming) Res Publica.
Under what circumstances can people convert natural resources into private property? John Locke famously answered this question by positing what has become known as the Lockean proviso: a person has the power to unilaterally appropriate natural resources “at least where there is enough and as good left in common for others.” This Lockean proviso has been widely embraced by right-libertarians who maintain that a relevant act appropriates only if others are not left worse off. However, this proviso is multiply ambiguous with there being various ways of specifying its distinct elements. Daniel Attas has argued that all proposed specifications render the proviso either implausible or unsatisfied. However, there are three seemingly plausible specifications that he either fails to consider or does not adequately address. This paper attempts to show that these specifications are either unacceptable, go unsatisfied, or fail to support right-libertarianism.
“Self-Ownership and the Duty to Assist.” (2022) Journal of Applied Philosophy 39(5): 857-69.
Libertarians are attracted to the self-ownership thesis because it seems to satisfy four important theoretical desiderata. First, the thesis treats all persons equally by assigning them the same initial set of rights. Second, the thesis gives people the strongest set of ownership rights possible. Third, it assigns persons a determinate set of rights. And, finally, it grounds the libertarian rejection of a duty to assist, benefit, or rescue others. This paper argues that these four desiderata cannot be simultaneously satisfied. Specifically, it contends that the first three desiderata can be jointly satisfied only if the thesis merely gives people the right to include their owned bodies in various actions (as opposed to a stronger version of the thesis that gives people permissions to do things with their bodies). However, such an interpretation of the thesis will not satisfy the final desideratum. Thus, libertarians face a tetralemma when defining the self-ownership thesis.
“Luck Egalitarianism Without Moral Tyranny.” (2022) Philosophical Studies 179(2): 469-93.
Luck egalitarianism assigns a person a smaller share of advantage than others if and only if she makes certain sanctionable choices. It does this to avoid strict egalitarianism’s moral tyranny problem. According to strict egalitarianism, each person is entitled to an equal share irrespective of her past actions. For example, a person who ceaselessly destroys her holdings is still entitled to an equal share of advantage; thus, to comply with the theory, everyone else would have to keep redistributing resources to her until they are left with nothing. To state the moral tyranny problem generally: strict egalitarianism allows people to leave others worse off conditional on full compliance with the moral theory. By contrast, luck egalitarians contend that the destroyer chooses sanctionably, thereby forfeiting any claim to redistribution. However, some general theory of sanctionable choice is needed to support this contention. This paper proposes such a theory and argues that it resolves three influential objections to standard luck egalitarianism (including the objection that luck egalitarianism still licenses moral tyranny).
“Explanation, Justification, and Egalitarianism.” (2021) Synthese 199(3-4): 9699-9724.
Suppose that there is some existing inequality that cannot be justified. Many egalitarians would conclude that this inequality is unjust. But why think that an inequality is unjust absent justification? In other words, why presume that inequality demands justification (in a way that equality does not)? This paper answers these questions by arguing that there is a consistent parallelism between the properties of justification and the properties of explanation such that one can infer that any property of explanation has a counterpart property of justification. It then presents two properties of explanation, the justificatory analogs of which vindicate the egalitarian presumption.
“Does Initial Appropriation Create New Obligations?” (2020) The Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 17(2): 228-38.
The standard libertarian position is that people can convert unowned resources into private property via acts of initial appropriation. However, this view seemingly grants people a problematic moral power to impose new duties on others without their consent. In reply to this objection, Bas van der Vossen has argued that initial appropriation does not impose new duties on others; rather, it changes the particular requirements of their already-existing duties. This makes appropriation of a kind with various unproblematic actions like growing out ones hair. When a person grows out new hair, people gain a new requirement to not touch this hair without her consent. However, this is not a new duty but, rather, an implication of the already-existing duty to not touch a person’s body without consent. Similarly, van der Vossen contends that appropriation’s imposed requirements simply follow from an already-existing duty to respect appropriators’ property claims. He thereby concludes that there is nothing uniquely problematic about initial appropriation. Against his reply, this paper argues that unproblematic acts like hair growing do not impose new requirements on others. Thus, even if appropriation does not impose new general duties, it is still uniquely allows people to impose novel requirements on people without their consent. Special skepticism of the power to appropriate therefore remains warranted.
“An Anarchist Interpretation of Marx’s ‘Ability to Needs’ Principle.” (2020) The Journal of Value Inquiry. 54(2): 325-43.
Marx famously declared that, under communism, goods and services would flow from each person according to her ability to each according to her needs. Interestingly, this slogan has been embraced by a number of prominent anarchists who otherwise reject Marx’s views. This paper explains this phenomenon by arguing that there is a distinctive anarchist interpretation of Marx’s “ability to needs” principle: goods and services ought to be provided unconditionally. The paper then argues that this interpretation is entailed by the proposition that freedom diminishment is (at least prima facie) morally objectionable.
“Community as Socialist Value.” (2019) Public Affairs Quarterly 33(3): 215-42.
Socialists often appeal to community as a foundational value. However, few socialist philosophers have attempted to develop a detailed account of the concept. This paper remedies this oversight by providing a positive account of community qua socialist value. According to this account, greater community is said to exist among the members of some groups to the extent that they have a greater disposition to enhance (and a weaker disposition to diminish) one another’s welfare. In defense of this account, the paper posits three desiderata that any theory of community should satisfy. It then argues that the account successfully satisfies these desiderata whereas the major rival accounts of community discussed in the literature do not. Finally, it argues that capitalism undermines community by pitting people against one another. Specifically, it identifies three ways in which capitalist markets make it so that people can only advance their interests at others’ expense.
“Social Anarchism and the Rejection of Private Property.” (2021) in The Routledge Handbook of Anarchy and Anarchist Thought, edited by Gary Chartier and Chad Van Schoelandt, Routledge.
Anarchists of all varieties believe that the state lacks political authority—i.e., a special right to be obeyed and to coercively rule its subjects. However, anarchists disagree about whether people have private property rights. This chapter defends the social anarchist rejection of such rights. Specifically, it takes Michael Huemer’s argument against state authority and redeploys it against private property. Huemer begins with the observation that the state coerces people in ways that are prima facie impermissible. He then considers the most prominent justifications for state coercion and argues they do not succeed. Similarly, this chapter notes that property owners coerce others in ways that are prima facie impermissible. It then argues that the most prominent justifications for property-related coercion do not succeed. Thus, just as Huemer concludes that states lack the right to coerce, the chapter concludes that property owners lack the right to coerce.
“Book Review of Gerald Lang’s Strokes of Luck: A Study in Moral and Political Philosophy.” (2023) Ethics, 133(3):429-34.
The main philosophical contribution of this review is its critical discussion of luck egalitarianism’s Boring Problem. Luck egalitarians want to draw a distinction between inequalities that are due to luck and inequalities that are controlled by the worse-off party. More specifically, they want to say that the former are unjust while the latter are just. This allows them to maintain that a person who imprudently wastes her resources and ends up worse off than another as a result is not the victim of injustice and is, thus, not entitled to equalizing transfers. The Boring Problem threatens to collapse this distinction. It contends that all inequalities are due to luck because any given inequality is not merely a function of the worse-off party’s will but also the better-off party’s will: had the latter also made some imprudent choice, then there would be no inequality (as both parties would be equally badly off). If this is right, luck egalitarians lose their ability to declare some inequalities controlled and, therefore, just. Against this conclusion, the review argues that there are two senses in which a person might control an outcome. She weakly controls the outcome if it is a function of her will. By contrast, she strongly controls the outcome if she both weakly controls it and also weakly controls every other state of affairs on which that outcome depends. The review then notes that all inequalities are due to luck only if one takes luck to be the absence of strong control. However, it argues that luck egalitarians have three good reasons to insist that luck is merely the absence of weak control. Thus, the Boring Problem fails to undermine their posited distinction between just, controlled inequalities and unjust, luck-based inequalities.