Monday, May 18, 2015

First and Final Post

Back in July 2004, when I was a grad student at UT-Austin, I started a blog called "The Ethical Werewolf". I wrote mostly about politics and philosophy, since that's most of what I spent my time thinking about, apart from smart ladies from various possible worlds. The blog unexpectedly propelled me into 2008 Democratic primary politics, thanks to interest from a bunch of smart young bloggers who are now superstar journalists at Vox. Later on, it basically became my academic homepage, with occasional posts outlining my travel plans and making silly philosophy jokes. I also wrote at a lot of other places with a lot of nice people, most notably at Donkeylicious with Nicholas Beaudrot. 

I called the blog "The Ethical Werewolf" in part because I've always identified with helpful wolfy characters (Oz from Buffy, Perrin Aybara from Wheel of Time, and Remus Lupin from Harry Potter who is a role model for teaching). It also had to do with my views concerning moral motivation. David Brink once emailed me about why I gave my blog that name, and after making the Buffy / Harry Potter references, here's what I told him:
...I think humans have a lot more in common with the higher mammals, at least as far as the psychology of motivation is concerned, than most philosophers thinking about motivation allow. This is a basically Humean view -- we're all passion-driven, desire-belief-motivated creatures.  The differences between humans and animals aren't to be found in the structure of motivation -- they concern other things like our capacity for abstract concepts which allows us to have a theory of mind, and how much working memory we have.  Our motivational continuity with the animals is kind of werewolfy.  I also think that if an animal had a strong desire to avert others' suffering and promote their pleasure, it would be a perfectly good example of a moral agent. And that's what I am -- a mostly-animal moral agent, or to be poetic, an ethical werewolf. (If I actually turned into a big powerful beast under the full moon and did socially beneficial deeds, that would be awesome, but unfortunately I haven't been bitten by the right person yet.)
Christine Korsgaard attacks a "picture of the virtuous human being as a sort of Good Dog, whose desires and inclinations have been so perfectly trained that he always does what he ought to do spontaneously and with tail-wagging cheerfulness and enthusiasm". But that's exactly the kind of animal I aspire to be! And I guess the ultimate Good Dog would be an Ethical Werewolf.

I still like the name, the view about motivation, and the fictional werewolves. But now I'm planning to start blogging again, I'm thinking it's best to set up an eponymous blog that's better integrated with my new academic homepage at So I'm putting this up as the final Ethical Werewolf post, and the first post at If you're looking for the kinds of posts you used to see at The Ethical Werewolf ten years ago, that's the place to go!

I sort of have a plan for a schedule of posts. On Mondays I'll post something that runs at least a few paragraphs (philosophy? politics? Philippa Foot fanfic?). On Wednesdays I'll post something nifty I found on the internet. On Fridays I'll post some music I like. Probably a lot of the Monday posts are going to be inside-baseball stuff about philosophy, especially in the beginning. I'm hoping for a core audience of philosophers and people who don't mind chatting with philosophers. If that's you, come on over! 


  1. "I also think that if an animal had a strong desire to avert others' suffering and promote their pleasure, it would be a perfectly good example of a moral agent."
    Do you have a favorite reference (or 2 or 3) articulating and defending this view -- either something you've written, or by other folks?
    Thanks a bunch!

    1. Thanks for asking, Greg! The last section of my "Virtue, Desire, and Silencing Reasons" embraces this conclusion for reasons that I mention above.

      There's also a book by Mark Rowlands called "Can Animals be Moral?" that I only know via reviews, but which seems to defend such a view at more length.

    2. Thanks for that reference to your paper! I ask because I am actually working through that Rowlands book right now with a student. Rowlands actually argues that animals are _not_ moral agents, but he argues that they _are_ (what he calls) moral subjects. (Rowlands' definitions: A moral agent is something that can be morally responsible, i.e. the appropriate target of praise or blame; a moral agent, on the other hand, is something that has (genuinely) moral motivations.)

      And my student and I are trying to go one step beyond Rowlands, and argue that (at least some) animals are not just moral subjects, but also moral agents, by arguing that Rowlands' arguments that animals are not moral agents don't work in the end.

      Thanks again... and I'm glad to see you are blogging again!


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