Research and Individual Projects

Our core faculty cover all areas of ethics, including normative theory, axiology, metaethics, and applied ethics, and issues of normativity as they relate to epistemology, metaphysics, action theory, mind and language. We also have very strong representation in philosophy of law and social and political philosophy.


My research lies in the general areas of the philosophy of practical reason, value theory (including ethics, metaethics, legal and political theory, and implicated aspects of epistemology, mind, metaphysics), and the philosophy of action. Some topics I’ve written on or have interests in include value pluralism, the conflict between morality and prudence, the relation between desires and reasons for action, the sources of normativity, the structure of values, the role of the will in rational agency, special obligations deriving from relationships, the reasons for and objects of love, political conflict and social choice in liberal democracies, legal reasons and reasoning, incommensurability, incomparability, and ‘parity’ among alternatives for choice, hard choices, and what it is to be a rational agent.

Selected Publications

  • Making Comparisons Count (2001), New York: Routledge, Studies in Ethics, series ed. Robert Nozick, 187 pp.
  • Incommensurability, Incomparability and Practical Reason (1997), editor, with an introduction, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • ‘The Possibility of Parity,’ (2002) Ethics, 112, July, pp. 659-688.
  • ‘Grounding Practical Normativity: Going Hybrid,’ (2013) Philosophical Studies, 164 (1), pp. 163-187,
  • ‘Hard Choices’, The American Philosophical Association Journal of Philosophy, 92: 586-620.


I'm primarily interested in metaethical issues at the intersection of philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, and metaphysics: how do we make sense of our ordinary moral thought and talk in a way that doesn't saddle us with a lot of unpalatable metaphysical commitments?  A lot of my research has been directed toward making sense of failures of objectivity in various domains of our thought and talk, and I'm interested in exploring the prospects for a non-catastrophic kind of moral relativism.  I'm also interested in expressivist views, both in ethics and elsewhere.  Finally, I'm interested in moral issues about individual food choices and food policy.  Right now this is a teaching interest more than a research interest, but there are a lot of really interesting philosophical issues that come up around food choices and food policy, and I'd be surprised if I could resist the temptation to write something about some of them for very long.


My research is in political philosophy, ethics, philosophy of law, and social epistemology.  One issue I am particularly interested in is the interaction between our epistemic limitations and our moral and political ideals.  For example, in political philosophy, I argue that we the people do not know enough to hold our elected representatives meaningfully accountable, resulting in captured political institutions that work on behalf of the most powerful members of our society, rather than for all of us.  I am working on a book that argues that a lottocratic political system—which employs selection of political officials by lottery, combined with institutionally well-designed incorporation of expertise—would be better along all normatively relevant dimensions than existing electoral representative systems.  In ethics, I am interested in what follows from the facts that we often have false but (arguably) justified beliefs about morality, and that we regularly find ourselves uncertain about which of several options is morally correct.  How should we proceed under these circumstances?  When are we legally and morally responsible for getting it wrong?    

Some other topics and questions I am working on: Are there moral experts?  Are there political experts?  What would it be to be a political expert?  How can non-experts decide which experts, if any, to rely on?  If we have to choose whether to save the life of a young child or a young adult, which should we choose?  What is consent?  When is it appropriate to act as if someone has consented?  Is it always inappropriate to use someone merely as a means?  Why?  Is there a good reason for legal institutions to treat violent crime categorically differently than non-violent crime?

Selected Publications

  • “Don’t Know, Don’t Kill: Moral Ignorance, Culpability, and Caution,” Philosophical Studies, Vol. 136, pp. 59-97 (2007).
  • “The Paradox of Voting and the Ethics of Political Representation,” Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 38, pp. 272-306 (2010).
  • “Against Elections: The Lottocratic Alternative,” Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 42, pp. 135-178 (2014).
  • “Intellectual Difficulty and Moral Responsibility,” in Responsibility: The Epistemic Condition (ed. by Jan Willem Wieland & Philip Robichaud, Oxford University Press, 2016).


I am interested in all areas of legal philosophy and its intersection with ethics, but my central focus is on the connections between the substantive criminal law and moral philosophy.  My own approach to these issues requires knowledge of existing criminal law, so I spend a fair amount of time (for a philosopher) learning the law as it is.  My objective, however, is to improve the criminal law from a moral perspective, so my ultimate concern is with the law as it ought to be.  In particular, I defend a theory of criminalization to argue that many existing penal offenses cannot be justified.  Drug policy involves the area of the criminal law I believe needs to be reformed most urgently.  I try to inform myself about the effects of drugs by drawing from pharmacology, neuroscience, psychology, sociology, economics, criminology, and history.  At the present time, I am responding to friendly criticism by refining and qualifying the principles of criminalization I defended in my 2008 book Overcriminalization. 

Selected Publications

  • Overcriminalization (Oxford University Press, 2008)
  • The Legalization of Drugs, co-authored with Peter de Marneffe (Cambridge University Press, For & Against Series, 2005)
  • Legalize This! The Case for Decriminalizing Drugs (London: Verso, 2002)
  • Drugs and Rights (Cambridge University Press, 1992)
  • The Philosophy of Criminal Law (Rowman & Littlefield, 1987)
  • Globalizacion y Drogas: Politicas Sobre Drogas, Derechos Humanos y Reduccion de Riesgos, edited by Xabier Arana, Douglas Husak and Sebastian Scherrer (Dykinson: Instituto Internacional De Sociologia Juridica De Onati, 2003)


My primary areas of specialization are social and political philosophy, African American philosophy, and applied ethics. Most of my research has focused on an examination of liberalism and problems concerning theories of compensatory justice, collective responsibility, and distributive justice, especially as these theories relate to persons who have (or are experiencing) experienced discrimination and subjugation. I am also interested in developing philosophical accounts of the virtues, in particular, forgiveness. Recently, I have been exploring philosophical themes found in the works of prominent 19th and 20th Century African American social and political thinkers and public education and equality of opportunity.

Selected Publications

  • My Larger Education, Howard McGary, introduction, Booker T. Washington, author, New York: Humanity Books, 2004.
  • Race and Social Justice, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1999.
  • Social Justice and Local Development Policy, with Robert Mier, R P. Giloth, K. J. Moe, L. Alpen, B. Harrison, I. Sherr, T. Vietorisz, W. Wiewel, London: Sage Publications, 1993.
  • Between Slavery and Freedom: Philosophy and American Slavery, with Bill E. Lawson, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992.


I am interested in most areas of value theory, though I specialize in ethics and political philosophy. A major strand of my research has been on the topic of equality. I have argued for a pluralistic conception of egalitarianism that is intimately connected to comparative fairness, that focuses on individuals rather than groups, and that is extraordinarily complex. I have also defended egalitarianism against rival views, including the sufficiency view and prioritarianism, as well as against anti-egalitarian objections like the leveling down objection. A second major strand of my research addresses problems of aggregation and develops impossibility arguments that challenge transitivity and other premises of expected utility theory. More generally, much of my work challenges some of our deepest beliefs about the nature of the good, moral ideals, and practical reasoning. I have also written on obligations to the needy, health-care distribution, and worries about extending lifespans.  As for other interests, and there are many both philosophical and otherwise, my wife, Meg, and three wonderful children, Daniel, Andrea, and Becky, top the list--by far!

Selected Publications

  • Rethinking the Good:  Moral Ideals and the Nature of Practical Reasoning, Oxford University Press, 2012 (paperback, 2015).
  • Inequality, Oxford University Press, 1993 (paperback, 1996).
  • “Thinking about the Needy, Justice, and International Organizations,” and “Thinking about the Needy:  A Reprise,” Journal of Ethics, 8, pp. 349-395 and 409-458, 2004.
  • “A Few Concerns about Bioethics,” Ethics, Medicine and Public Health, 2016, 1141-1216;
  • “Rationality with Respect to People, Places, and Times,” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 45, 5-6, pp. 576-606, 2015; doi: 0.1080/00455091.2015.1122386.


  • Rutgers Junior Second Beinecke Scholar in School History

    Triple major Nate Serio to pursue PhD in philosophy, linguistics and cognitive science Nate Serio arrived at Rutgers three years ago with lofty goals: publish a paper as an undergrad, graduate summa cum laude and earn a scholarship to help him pursue his PhD. His plan was to shoot for the stars and if he landed on the moon, that wasn’t half bad either. Today Serio’s star is still rising. A triple major in the School of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers-New Brunswick, he is on track to graduate with...

Why Philosophy?

button why philosophy




revised grad student thumbnail IMG 4813


COPY faculty thumbnail IMG 1250