I am an assistant professor of philosophy at Macalester College, in St. Paul, MN. My main research area is the intersection of moral philosophy and the philosophy of action, but my research touches on questions in epistemology, metaethics, bioethics, and the philosophy of law. I have side interests in the philosophy of race and gender and political philosophy.
Most of my research concerns philosophical questions about fundamental concepts used in ethical thinking, whether in moral philosophy itself, or in related areas such as clinical bioethics 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. These concepts generate a host of philosophical puzzles, and my goal is to contribute to our understanding of them.
I've also spent a lot of time thinking about the normative and evaluative concepts we use in moral philosophy and related areas, including the concept of a good reason to do something (or a "normative reason"). My approach to these concepts is a version of what's called the Reasoning View. It provides a (more or less) unified account of a range of normative and evaluative concepts, though a central theme of this part of my research is that these issues are messy and complicated.
At Macalester I teach courses in ethics, bioethics, metaethics, epistemology, and the philosophy of race and gender. In spring 2019 I'm on leave.
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 he judged his lingering in bed to be 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 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 compatible with Rational Internalism. The upshot: if you're currently an Objectivist but you want to have a plausible theory of action, 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. Currently under review are papers on the distinctive practical attitude theory of intention, the causal theory of action, and reasons internalism. In the pipeline are papers on belief, desire, and rationality.
Fig. 2: Winter in St. Paul, Minnesota
keywords: samuel asarnow, sam asarnow, asarnow