THOMAS BYRNE

I'm a 5th year PhD student in philosophy at MIT. Before coming here, I did my BA and MPhil Stud., both in philosophy, at King's College London.

I work on normative ethics, the metaphysics of ethics and applied ethics. At King's, I spent most of my time thinking about G.E. Moore and goodness. Here is my CV.

Email me at tjbb@mit.edu.

PUBLICATIONS

Making Metaphysics Philosophers' Imprint (forthcoming)

We can cause windows to break and we can break windows; we can cause villages to flood and we can flood villages; and we can cause chocolate to melt and we can melt chocolate. Each time these can come apart: if, for example, A merely instructs B to break the window, then A causes the window to break without breaking it herself. Each instance of A breaking, melting or burning, etc. something, is an instance of what I call making. I argue that making is an independent, theoretically important notion—akin but irreducible to causing—and metaphysicians should pay attention to it.

Might anything be plain good? Philosophical Studies (2016)

No matter how many ostensible counterexamples there might be, the consequentialist insists that the right thing to do is always whatever maximises plain goodness. Geach and Thomson argued that while many things might be good for or as a so-and-so—a good toaster, for instance—there is no sense to the idea of anything being plain good. And if there is no sense to the idea of anything being plain good, there can't be any sense to the idea of maximising (plain) goodness and so consequentialism is a nonsense. Almotahari and Hosein recently sought to plug a hole in Geach's and Thomson's argument. I show that their plug doesn't hold and that Geach's and Thomson's argument is invalid.

WORKS IN PROGRESS

[A paper on the trolley problem] (under review)

Philippa Foot said that it was impermissible to kill one person in order to save five others. Judith Thomson's famous Bystander case is thought to be a counterexample to Foot's view because it is thought that the bystander permissibly kills the one in order to save the five. I argue that the bystander doesn't kill and that Foot was right, all along.

[A paper on the ethics of carbon offsetting] (under review)

John Broome says that if we offset all our greenhouse gas emissions (that is, if we make it such that the total amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is as if we hadn't emitted any ourselves) then those affected by climate change in the future will have no complaint of justice against us. His view is not popular: offsetting has been compared to the Catholic practice of indulgences (by Robert Goodin), to throwing a beer can into the Grand Canyon having first paid a $100 fee to do so (by Michael Sandel) and George Monbiot has called the very notion of offsetting "pernicious and destructive nonsense." I defend Broome's view.

Legal Causation (with Joseph Byrne)

I propose a new formalist account of legal (/proximate) causation—one that holds legal causation to be a matter of amoral, descriptive fact. The account starts with a metaphysical relation, akin to but distinct from common-sense causation, and it argues that legal causation aligns exactly with the relation; it is unified and principled.

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