My dissertation investigates joint practical deliberation, the activity of deciding together what to do. Its central thesis is that several ethically important speech acts - promises, offers, demands, requests, agreements, and consent - are all best understood as proposals within joint practical deliberation. Promises and offers are proposals to make joint decisions regarding what I will do. Demands and requests are proposals to make joint decisions regarding what you will do. Agreements are joint decisions regarding what we will do. And consent is a proposal to retract a standing joint decision regarding what you will do.
This 'deliberative theory' enables us to predict and explain otherwise puzzling features of these speech acts by appeal to our theory of joint practical deliberation. I argue for this claim by developing a theory of joint practical deliberation and showing how it allows us to predict the properties of these speech acts. For example, the deliberative theory can help us explain the fact that promises elicited by coercion or deception don't have their typical moral significance, or the fact that my partner has the standing to demand that I wash the dishes while my neighbor does not. More generally, the deliberative theory opens up the possibility of explaining the moral significance of promises, demands, consent, and so on by appeal to a single idea: the importance of joint decisions.
In future work, I plan to explore the role that joint practical deliberation plays in other moral phenomena, including collective action, interpersonal relationships, blame, and obligation.
A second strand of my research has focused on the intersection between empirical psychology and the philosophy of human motivation and action. In "Moral Psychology as Accountability," which I coauthored with Stephen Darwall, we argue that recent philosophical work emphasizing the close connection between morality and interpersonal accountability is both confirmed by and illuminates empirical data on the moral emotions and motives. In "The Addict in Us All," coauthored with Richard Holton, we utilize empirical data from neuroscience and social psychology to develop a model of self-control conflict that encompasses both addiction and ordinary temptation, explaining both how these conflicts arise and what can be done to overcome them.
Related topics I hope to explore in future work include: the philosophical implications of the ego depletion results; the distinction between the attitudes we reflectively endorse and those we disown or are alienated from (e.g. addictive desires and implicit biases); the implications of empirical data for the nature of intention; and the connection between virtue and self-control.
de Kenessey, Brendan, and Stephen Darwall. 2014. Moral Psychology as Accountability. In Moral Psychology and Human Agency: Philosophical Essays on the Science of Ethics, edited by Justin D'Arms and Daniel Jacobson, 40-83. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. (Originally published as Brendan Dill). [abstract] [pdf]