ARTicles and book chapters

"How Wrong Is Paternalism?" Journal of Moral Philosophy, 2018.

In this paper, I argue against the commonly held view that paternalism is all things considered wrong when it interferes with a person’s autonomy. I begin by noting that the plausibility of this view rests on the assumption that there is a morally relevant difference in the normative reasons concerning an intervention in a person’s self-regarding actions and an intervention in his other-regarding actions. I demonstrate that this assumption cannot be grounded by wellbeing reasons, and that autonomy-based reasons of non-interference also cannot adequately explain the difference. Following this, I propose that the difference in the reasons related to an intervention in a person’s self-regarding actions and an intervention in his other-regarding actions can be explained by the value of holding a person responsible for his choices. Nonetheless, this does not result in paternalistic behavior that interferes with autonomy being all things considered wrong. Instead, I show that the reason to hold a person responsible for a diminution of his wellbeing does not necessarily defeat the wellbeing reasons that count in favor of paternalistic behavior.

"Can Neurointerventions Communicate Censure? (And So What If They Can't?)" in David Birks & Tom Douglas (eds.) Treatment For Crime: Philosophical Essays on Neurointerventions in Criminal JusticeOxford University Press, 2018.

According to some philosophers, a necessary condition of morally permissible punishment is that it communicates deserved censure for the offender’s wrongdoing. The author calls this the Communicative Condition of punishment. The chapter considers whether the use of mandatory crime-preventing neurointerventions is compatible with the Communicative Condition. The author argues that it is not. If we accept the Communicative Condition, it follows that it is impermissible to administer mandatory neurointerventions on offenders as punishment. The author then considers whether it is permissible to offer an offender a neurointervention as a replacement for incarceration or in exchange for a shorter sentence. He notes that this could meet the Communicative Condition, although, somewhat oddly, only in cases where the neurointerventions have harmful effects.

"Punishing Intentions and Neurointerventions" American Journal of Bioethics Neuroscience, 2018 (with Alena Buyx).

How should we punish criminal offenders? One prima facie attractive punishment is administering a mandatory neurointervention—interventions that exert a physical, chemical or biological effect on the brain in order to diminish the likelihood of some forms of criminal offending. While testosterone-lowering drugs have long been used in European and US jurisdictions on sex offenders, it has been suggested that advances in neuroscience raise the possibility of treating a broader range of offenders in the future. Neurointerventions could be a cheaper, and more effective method of punishment. They could also be more humane. Nevertheless, in this paper we provide an argument against the use of mandatory neurointerventions on offenders. We argue that neurointerventions inflict a significant harm on an offender that render them a morally objectionable form of punishment in a respect that incarceration is not. Namely, it constitutes an objectionable interference with the offender’s mental states. However, it might be thought that incarceration also involves an equally objectionable interference with the offender’s mental states. We show that even if it were the case that the offender is harmed to the same extent in the same respect, it does not follow that the harms are morally equivalent. We argue that if one holds that intended harm is more difficult to justify than harm that is unintended but merely foreseen, this means neurointerventions could be morally objectionable in a significant respect that incarceration is not.

  • Replies to the paper are here.

"Neuroscience and Social Problems: The Case of Neuropunishment" Cambridge Healthcare Quarterly: Clinical Neuroscience, 2018 (with Alena Buyx).

Neuroscientific interventions are increasingly proposed as solutions for social problems, beyond their application in biomedicine. For example, there is increasing interest, particularly from outside commentators, in harnessing advances in neuroscience as an alternative method of punishing criminal offenders. Such neuropunishments are seen as a potentially more effective, less costly, and more humane alternative to incarceration, with overall better results for offender, communities and societies. This paper considers whether the neurosciences should engage more actively with such proposals, and whether more research should be done to explore the use of neurointerventions for punishment. It concludes that neuroscientists and clinicians should actively shape the debates.

"Two Ways to Frustrate a Desire" The Journal of Value Inquiry, February 2017 (with Tom Douglas).

In this article we evaluate the view that it is in one respect more pro tanto wrong to internally frustrate another person's desire than to externally frustrate it—that is, the view that it is in one respect more pro tanto wrong to prevent another person's desire from being satisfied by altering that desire than to prevent the satisfaction of the desire by altering the environment. We call this view the Internal-External Principle (IEP). We consider whether and how IEP might be modified to accommodate a range of case-based intuitions. This leads us to replace IEP with a more modest variant. We argue that, though this modified variant of IEP is able to contend with a range of cases, the most plausible explanation for its correctness appeals to a dubious thesis concerning the value of autonomous thought. Thus, we suggest, the principle may require further modification. We then show that this final modified version of IEP lacks the most significant practical implications of the original version.  

“Moral Status and the Wrongness of Paternalism” Social Theory and Practice, July 2014.

Paternalistic behaviour is often considered wrong when it interferes with a person’s autonomy. This view has been subject to criticism from a growing number of philosophers, and there are grounds for doubting that autonomy can adequately account for the wrongness of paternalism. In this paper, I consider an alternative account of the wrongness of paternalism, namely, the view that paternalism is wrong when it demeans or diminishes the paternalizee’s moral status (the Moral Status Argument). I argue that we should reject the Moral Status Argument because it is simultaneously both too narrow and too broad. It is too narrow in that it fails to account for the wrongness of a number of paternalistic interventions that are commonly considered the most objectionable. It is too broad in that it fails to account for the view that some interventions are more wrong than others, and is therefore indiscriminate in its claims that paternalistic interventions are wrong. As a result of these objections, the Moral Status Argument is an inadequate replacement for the autonomy-based view of the wrongness of paternalism.

Wellbeing, Schizophrenia, and Experience Machines” Bioethics, February 2013. 

In the USA and England and Wales, involuntary treatment for mental illness is subject to the constraint that it must be necessary for the health or safety of the patient, if he poses no danger to others. I argue against this necessary condition of administering treatment and propose that the category of individuals eligible for involuntary treatment should be extended. I begin by focusing on the common disorder of schizophrenia and proceed to demonstrate that it can be a considerable harm to a person's life without causing the person to be a danger to himself. I illuminate this claim by constructing a thought experiment concerning a person who slips on a banana peel and falls into a malfunctioning version of Robert Nozick's experience machine. I propose that the reasons why we should remove the person from the machine are the same reasons why we should administer involuntary treatment to individuals with schizophrenia. I rebut three objections to the analogy and conclude that if we believe that we have a duty to provide treatment for reasons relating to a person's wellbeing, it follows that we should reject the health or safety requirement and instead broaden the category of individuals who are eligible for involuntary treatment.


Treatment For Crime: Philosophical Essays on Neurointerventions in Criminal JusticeOxford University Press, 2018 (edited with Tom Douglas).

Crime-preventing neurointerventions (CPNs) are increasingly being used or advocated for crime prevention. There is increasing use of testosterone-lowering agents to prevent recidivism in sexual offenders, and strong political and scientific interest in developing pharmaceutical treatments for psychopathy and anti-social behaviour. Recent developments suggest that we may ultimately have at our disposal a range of drugs capable of suppressing violent aggression, and it is not difficult to imagine possible applications of such drugs in crime prevention. But should neurointerventions be used in crime prevention, and may the state ever permissibly impose CPNs as part of the criminal justice process? It is widely thought that preventing recidivism is one of the aims of criminal justice, yet existing means of pursuing this aim are often poorly effective, restrictive of basic freedoms, and harmful. Incarceration, for example, tends to be disruptive of personal relationships and careers, detrimental to physical and mental health, highly restrictive of freedom of movement and association, and rarely more than modestly effective at preventing recidivism. Neurointerventions hold the promise of preventing recidivism in ways that are more effective and more humane, but the use of CPNs in criminal justice raises several ethical concerns. CPNs could be highly intrusive and may threaten fundamental human values, such as bodily integrity and freedom of thought, and humanity has a track record of misguided, harmful, and unwarrantedly coercive use of neurotechnological ‘solutions’ to criminality. This collection brings together original contributions from emerging scholars and internationally renowned moral and political philosophers to address these issues.

Contributors: Christopher Bennett, David Birks, Jan Christoph Bublitz, Emma Bullock, Matthew Clayton, Tom Douglas, Lisa Forsberg, Hallie Liberto, Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen, Matt Matravers, Jeff McMahan, John McMillan, Emily McTernan, Andres Moles, Jonathan Pugh, Jesper Ryberg, Elizabeth Shaw, Zofia Stemplowska, and Peter Vallentyne.