Most of my work in political philosophy concerns the principle of fair play and its application to political problems. According to that principle, if a person accepts benefits from a cooperative scheme conducted according to rules, then she incurs an obligation to the scheme's members to submit to those rules. I argue that this principle has been widely misunderstood, as both its critics and advocates have often overlooked the role of rules in playing fair. Rules turn out to be crucial for generating the rights of political legitimacy, and for answering many common objections to the principle. I draw on this insight to develop a fair play account of legitimacy that does not require the voluntary acceptance of state benefits. I am working on extending this account to explain the territorial rights of states, and to argue for a moral right to secede.
I'm also working on a long-term project on the morality of public discourse with my co-author Brandon Warmke. Our book, Grandstanding: The Use and Abuse of Moral Talk, was published in July 2020 with Oxford University Press. We also have a contract with Routledge to write a book titled Why It's OK to Mind Your Own Business.
Abstract: Moral grandstanding is a pervasive feature of public discourse. Many of us can likely recognize that we have engaged in grandstanding at one time or another. While there is nothing new about the phenomenon of grandstanding, we think that it has not received the philosophical attention it deserves. In this paper, we provide an account of moral grandstanding. We then show that our account, with support from some standard theses of social psychology, explains the characteristic ways that grandstanding is manifested in public moral discourse. We conclude by arguing that there are good reasons to think that moral grandstanding is typically morally bad and should be avoided.
Abstract: Moral grandstanding, or the use of moral talk for self-promotion, is a threat to free expression. When grandstanding is introduced in a public forum, several ideals of free expression are less likely to be realized. Popular views are less likely to be challenged, people are less free to entertain heterodox ideas, and the cost of changing one’s mind goes up.
Abstract: There is an emerging consensus among political philosophers that state legitimacy involves something more than—or perhaps other than—political obligation. Yet the principle of fair play, which many take to be a promising basis for political obligation, has been largely absent from discussions of the revised conception of legitimacy. This paper shows how the principle of fair play can generate legitimate political authority by drawing on a neglected feature of the principle—its stipulation that members of a cooperative scheme must reciprocate specifically by submitting to the scheme’s rules.
Abstract: The principle of fair play is widely thought to require simply that costs and benefits be distributed fairly. This gloss on the principle, while not entirely inaccurate, has invited a host of popular objections based on misunderstandings about fair play. Central to many of these objections is a failure to treat the principle of fair play as a transactional principle—one that allocates special obligations and rights among persons as a result of their interactions. I offer an interpretation of the principle of fair play that emphasizes its similarities to another transactional principle: consent. This interpretation reveals that playing fair requires one to reciprocate specifically by following the rules of the cooperative scheme from which one benefits, just as consent requires one to act according to the terms of an agreement. I then draw on the comparison with consent to reply to some popular and persistent objections to the principle.
Abstract: The philosophical literature on state legitimacy has recently seen a significant conceptual revision. Several philosophers have argued that the state’s right to rule is better characterized not as a claim right to obedience, but as a power right. There have been few attempts to show that traditional justifications for the claim right might also be used to justify a power right, and there have been no such attempts involving the principle of fair play, which is widely regarded as the most promising basis for a claim right to obedience. William Edmundson argues that the principle of fair play cannot generate power rights, and so any attempt at a fair play account of legitimacy must fail. I explain how fair play could generate a power right, owing to its stipulation that the rules of a cooperative scheme specify the form of participants’ repayment.