I am an assistant professor of philosophy at Macalester College, in St. Paul, MN. I primarily work in ethics, metaethics, and action theory. I'm also interested in epistemology, biomedical ethics, and philosophy of law.
Most of my research concerns philosophical questions about fundamental concepts used in moral philosophy and related areas (such as biomedical ethics and the criminal law). My current focus is on concepts relating to human motivation, including forward-looking concepts like that of a person's intention to do something in the future, and backward-looking concepts like a person's reason for having done something in the past.
I've also spent a lot of time thinking about what it means to say that something is a good reason (or "normative reason") for doing something. My account of what that means is a version of the Reasoning View about normative reasons.
At Macalester I teach courses in ethics, bioethics, metaethics, epistemology, and the philosophy of race and gender. In fall 2018, I'm teaching bioethics and our senior seminar.
E-mail? sasarnow [at] macalester [dot] edu.
Asarnow? uh-SAR-no (/ʌˈsɑr noʊ/).
Fig. 1: Standing in front of art
"On Not Getting Out of Bed"
Philosophical Studies (vol. and pages TBA) [final; draft]
Like me, William James had trouble getting out of bed on cold mornings. He could "resolve" to get up, but his resolution could not "burst the resistance" supplied by his desire to stay in bed. Yet his lingering in bed seemed irrational. On one interpretation, James is reporting that he formed the intention to get out of bed, but he did not execute it. I argue that this phenomenon -- the irrational failure to execute an intention -- is real. Then I argue that it raises a puzzle for Mentalists about rationality, who think rationality supervenes on the mind. I try, but fail, to solve the puzzle. Let me know if you figure it out!
"The Reasoning View and Defeasible Practical Reasoning"
Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 95, 3: 614-636 (2017) [final; draft]
I am a proponent of a theory of normative reasons for action called the Reasoning View. This paper shows that other peoples' versions of that theory face a really serious (but overlooked) problem. I show that the problem could be avoided if it were to turn out that the norms of practical reasoning were defeasible, in a sense I make precise. Happily, I argue that that idea is independently motivated. Whew!
Ethics 127, 1: 147-178 (2016) [final]
A lot of people think that the idea of a normative reason for action can be analyzed in terms of some independently-specified class of normative facts.I call that I idea Objectivism. I argue that it's hard to square Objectivism with a plausible action-theoretic principle, which I call the Rational Internalism principle. I then point out that the Reasoning View satisfies the most common motivations that people have for being Objectivists, but is much more plausible on action-theoretic grounds. The upshot: if you're an Objectivist, you should probably consider converting to the Reasoning View.
Note on Work In Progress and Under Review
To facilitate anonymity in the review process, I do not post the titles of my unpublished work here.
In progress, or currently under review, are papers on reasons for action, intention and normative judgment, normative intuitions, and the causal theory of action. Currently on hiatus are papers about rational belief and shared agency.
Fig. 2: Winter in St. Paul, Minnesota
keywords: samuel asarnow, sam asarnow, asarnow