I am an assistant professor of philosophy at Macalester College, in St. Paul, Minnesota. Previously, I was a graduate student at Stanford and an undergraduate at Swarthmore, with some time off in between.
I specialize in ethics, action theory, and metaethics. My research also touches on questions in epistemology, the philosophy of 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.
I am currently pursuing three research projects. One develops the Reasoning View about normative reasons, an alternative to familiar "objectivist" and "subjectivist" views. Another concerns a set of underdiscussed problems in the theory of intention. The third is an attempt to make the causal theory of action cool again.
I regularly teach courses in ethics, bioethics, metaethics, epistemology, and the philosophy of race and gender. In fall 2019, I'm teaching epistemology and our senior seminar.
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.
"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.
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 paper on subjective reasons and the Reasoning View.
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