My book – “Motivation Ethics” (2017 Bloomsbury Academic) – is just out, an overview and some early reviews can be found here


Hempel, Grue and the Logical Empiricist Baseline

July 2017, Erkenntnis

A logical empiricist “baseline statement” can formalize some propositions established by a body of evidence or set of observations. However, it may not necessarily capture, of two propositions it entails, whether all the subsets of the evidence that establish one proposition also establish the other, vice versa, or neither. Yet, according to this paper, which obtains should sometimes matter for confirmation. It illustrates by showing how these facts can be used to address one of the paradoxes of induction, doing so still within a very simple neo-Hempelian framework.

Classifying States: Instrumental rhetoric or a compelling normative theory?

June 2017, Ethics and Global Politics. (with P. Maffettone)

Many states use a classificatory approach to foreign policy: they put other states into particular categories and structure their engagement and relations partly as a result. And there is one prominent modern international political theory – Rawls’ Law of Peoples – that seems to adopt this approach as an account of justified state behaviour. But should we expect this type of theory to ultimately prove attractive, justified and philosophically distinct compared to more instrumentalist rivals? This paper explores the challenges generic to any such account, not merely those relating to Rawls’ specific version, and surveys possible responses and their shortcomings.

Interpersonal Comparisons of the Good: Epistemic not Impossible

Sept 2016 Utilitas. Published version is here.

To evaluate the overall good/welfare of any action, policy or institutional choice we need some way of comparing the benefits and losses to those affected: we need to make interpersonal comparisons of the good/welfare. Yet sceptics have worried either: (1) that such comparisons are impossible as they involve an impossible introspection across individuals, getting ‘into their minds’; (2) that they are indeterminate as individual-level information is compatible with a range of welfare numbers; or (3) that they are metaphysically mysterious as they assume the existence either of a social mind or of absolute levels of welfare when no such things exist. This article argues that such scepticism can potentially be addressed if we view the problem of interpersonal comparisons as fundamentally an epistemic problem – that is, as a problem of forming justified beliefs about the overall good based on evidence of the individual good.

“Markets on the Margin: Sweatshops” (chapter) in “Politics, Philosophy & Economics: The Key Readings” 

2015 Oxford University Press, Eds Anomaly, Brennan, Munger, Sayre-McCord (based on Coakley & Kates 2013).

The Ethical and Economic Case for Sweatshop Regulation

Oct 2013, Journal of Business Ethics, (with M Kates). Published version is here.

Three types of objections have been raised against sweatshops. According to their critics, sweatshops are (1) exploitative, (2) coercive, and (3) harmful to workers. In “The Ethical and Economic Case Against Sweatshop Labor: A Critical Assessment,” Powell and Zwolinski critique all three objections and thereby offer what is arguably the most powerful defense of sweatshops in the philosophical literature to date. This article demonstrates that, whether or not unregulated sweatshops are exploitative or coercive, they are, pace Powell and Zwolinski, harmful to workers.

On the Value of Political Legitimacy

Nov 2011, Politics, Philosophy & Economics. Published version is here.

Theories of political legitimacy normally stipulate certain conditions of legitimacy: the features a state must possess in order to be legitimate. Yet there is obviously a second question as to the value of legitimacy: the normative features a state has by virtue of it being legitimate (such as it being owed obedience, having a right to use coercion, or enjoying a general justification in the use of force). I argue that it is difficult to demonstrate that affording these to legitimate states is morally desirable, and that obvious alternative conceptions of the value of legitimacy (notably epistemic and instrumental) are not without problems of their own. The intuitive triviality of establishing the value of normative legitimacy may mask a serious problem.