I am an assistant professor of philosophy at Macalester College, in St. Paul, Minnesota. I received my PhD from Stanford and my BA from Swarthmore.
I specialize in ethics, action theory, and metaethics. The primary focus of my research is the metaphysics and ethical significance of human motivation. My research also touches on questions in epistemology, the philosophy of mind, bioethics, and the philosophy of law. I have side interests in the philosophy of race and gender and political philosophy, and nascent interests in free will and the philosophy of psychiatry.
In spring 2020, I'm teaching ethics and philosophy of race and gender. I also regularly teach courses in bioethics, metaethics, and epistemology.
Besides philosophy, I like to play and listen to música Brasileira.
E-mail? sasarnow [at] macalester [dot] edu
Asarnow? uh-SAR-no (/ʌˈsɑr noʊ/)
Fig. 1: Standing in front of art
"Internal Reasons and the Boy Who Cried Wolf"
Ethics 130, 1: 32-58 (2019) [final]
This is my attempt to explain why you shouldn't be a reasons internalist (or a subjectivist about normative reasons, for that matter). In brief: seemingly powerful sources of appeal for that view evaporate once you get clear about the distinction between objective and subjective reasons.
You can find a critical precis and discussion of this paper on the Pea Soup blog.
"On Not Getting Out of Bed"
Philosophical Studies 176, 6: 1639-1666 (2019) [final; draft]
[Published online in March 2018]
How does intention lead to action? I have no idea. This paper tries to capture my confusion about that question by describing a new puzzle about intentions. Please let me know if you think of a solution!
"The Reasoning View and Defeasible Practical Reasoning"
Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 95, 3: 614-636 (2017) [final; draft]
This paper presents my favorite version of the Reasoning View about normative reasons, and argues that the norms of practical reasoning are defeasible or non-monotonic (just like the norms of theoretical reasoning).
Ethics 127, 1: 147-178 (2016) [final]
This is my attempt to explain why you shouldn't accept an objectivist ("value based") theory of normative reasons. In brief: you should accept the Reasoning View instead, as the Reasoning View is compatible with the standard motivations for objectivism while being far more plausible from an action-theoretic perspective.
"Review of Tim Henning, From a Rational Point of View"
Ethics 130, 1: 113-118 (2019) [final]
This book develops a semantic theory for sentences that embed both propositional attitude words and deontic modals. What I like is that it provides a more fully compositional explanation of the behavior of those sentences than anyone else has been able to, as far as I know. It doesn't solve 100% of the philosophical questions in metaethics (though who could expect it to?).
"Review of David Sobel, From Valuing to Value"
The Philosophical Review 128, 2 (246-249) (2019) [final; draft]
This book collects 15 of Sobel's excellent essays on normative reasons, welfare, and consequentialism. What it does well: present a unified and appealing view of a wide swath of ethics. What it doesn't do: explain why subjectivism is better than the Reasoning View.
Fig. 2: Winter in St. Paul, Minnesota
Work in Progress
To help preserve anonymity in the review process, I don't post the titles of my unpublished work here. But if you're looking for a visiting speaker or referee, this should give you a sense of what I'm working on. In some cases drafts are available upon request.
Papers currently under review
A paper on intention and normative judgment.
A paper on shared agency and cognitive sophistication.
A paper on motivating reasons and the Reasoning View.
A paper on subjective reasons and the Reasoning View.
Work (more or less) in progress
A paper on reasons-responsiveness theories of moral responsibility.
A paper laying out the master argument for the Reasoning View.
A paper on functionalism and the requirements of rationality.
A handbook article on motivational internalism and desire.
A paper on moral responsibility and psychosis.
A paper on permissivism and irrationality.
A paper on squeamishness.
A paper on forgetfulness.
A book about the Reasoning View.
A collection of essays on my favorite vices.
A book explaining why I am not a consequentialist.
Fig. 3: Winter in São Paulo, Brasil
keywords: samuel asarnow, sam asarnow, asarnow