Joshua May University of Alabama, Birmingham
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About me
Most of my research is on moral and epistemic thought, reasoning, and motivation (what you might call "normative psychology"). I try to figure out what's going on in our heads when we think about what to do and what to believe. In July of 2011, I began a 3-year position at Monash University in Australia. This was cut a year short, however, to start as an Assistant Professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in August of 2013.
My works
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  1. Joshua May (forthcoming). Moral Judgment and Deontology: Empirical Developments. Philosophy Compass.
    A traditional idea has it that moral judgment involves more than calculating the consequences of actions; it also requires an assessment of the agent’s intentions, the act’s nature, and whether the agent uses another person as a means to her ends. I survey experimental developments suggesting that ordinary people often tacitly reason in terms of such deontological rules. It’s now unclear whether we should posit a traditional form of the Doctrine of Double Effect. However, further research suggests that a range (...)
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  2. Timothy Allen & Joshua May (2014). Does Opacity Undermine Privileged Access? International Journal of Philosophical Studies 22 (4):617-629.
    Carruthers argues that knowledge of our own propositional attitudes is achieved by the same mechanism used to attain knowledge of other people?s minds. This seems incompatible with ?privileged access? ? the idea that we have more reliable beliefs about our own mental states, regardless of the mechanism. At one point Carruthers seems to suggest he may be able to maintain privileged access, because we have additional sensory information in our own case. We raise a number of worries for this suggestion, (...)
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  3. Joshua May (2014). Does Disgust Influence Moral Judgment? Australasian Journal of Philosophy 92 (1):125-141.
    Recent empirical research seems to show that emotions play a substantial role in moral judgment. Perhaps the most important line of support for this claim focuses on disgust. A number of philosophers and scientists argue that there is adequate evidence showing that disgust significantly influences various moral judgments. And this has been used to support or undermine a range of philosophical theories, such as sentimentalism and deontology. I argue that the existing evidence does not support such arguments. At best it (...)
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  4. Joshua May (2014). On the Very Concept of Free Will. Synthese 191 (12):2849-2866.
    Determinism seems to rule out a robust sense of options but also prevent our choices from being a matter of luck. In this way, free will seems to require both the truth and falsity of determinism. If the concept of free will is coherent, something must have gone wrong. I offer a diagnosis on which this puzzle is due at least in part to a tension already present in the very idea of free will. I provide various lines of support (...)
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  5. Joshua May (2014). Review of Just Babies by Paul Bloom. [REVIEW] Metapsychology 18 (33).
    The scientific study of moral thought and action is flourishing, even if still in its infancy. In his recent book, Just Babies, Paul Bloom provides a valuable contribution to this movement with a focus on, well, infants (and other young children). I anxiously awaited this next installment from one of my favorite psychologists, and it met my high expectations. This should be unsurprising given the quality of his other books that popularize fascinating research on the mind, including Descartes' Baby and (...)
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  6. Jason Shepard & Joshua May (2014). Does Belief in Dualism Protect Against Maladaptive Psycho-Social Responses to Deep Brain Stimulation? An Empirical Exploration. American Journal of Bioethics Neuroscience 5 (4):40–42.
    We provide empirical evidence that people who believe in dualism are more likely to be uncomfortable with Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) and to view it as threatening to their identity, humanity, or self. It is (neurocentric) materialists—who think the mind just is the brain—that are less inclined to fear DBS or to see it as threatening. We suggest various possible reasons for this connection. The inspiration for this brief report is a target article that addresses this issue from a theoretical (...)
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  7. Joshua May (2013). Because I Believe It's the Right Thing to Do. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 16 (4):791-808.
    Our beliefs about which actions we ought to perform clearly have an effect on what we do. But so-called “Humean” theories—holding that all motivation has its source in desire—insist on connecting such beliefs with an antecedent motive. Rationalists, on the other hand, allow normative beliefs a more independent role. I argue in favor of the rationalist view in two stages. First, I show that the Humean theory rules out some of the ways we ordinarily explain actions. This shifts the burden (...)
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  8. Joshua May (2013). Skeptical Hypotheses and Moral Skepticism. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 43 (3):341-359.
    Moral skeptics maintain that we do not have moral knowledge. Traditionally they haven’t argued via skeptical hypotheses like those provided by perceptual skeptics about the external world, such as Descartes’ deceiving demon. But some believe this can be done by appealing to hypotheses like moral nihilism. Moreover, some claim that skeptical hypotheses have special force in the moral case. But I argue that skeptics have failed to specify an adequate skeptical scenario, which reveals a general lesson: such arguments are not (...)
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  9. Joshua May, Empirical Work in Moral Psychology. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
    Provides an overview of empirical research relevant to philosophical questions about moral thought, feeling, reasoning, and motivation. Topics include: free will and moral responsibility, egoism and altruism, moral judgment and motivation, weakness and strength of will, and moral intuitions.
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  10. Joshua May & Richard Holton (2012). What in the World is Weakness of Will? Philosophical Studies 157 (3):341–360.
    At least since the middle of the twentieth century, philosophers have tended to identify weakness of will with akrasia—i.e. acting, or having a disposition to act, contrary to one‘s judgments about what is best for one to do. However, there has been some recent debate about whether this captures the ordinary notion of weakness of will. Richard Holton (1999, 2009) claims that it doesn’t, while Alfred Mele (2010) argues that, to a certain extent, it does. As Mele recognizes, the question (...)
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  11. Joshua May (2011). Egoism, Empathy, and Self-Other Merging. Southern Journal of Philosophy 49 (s1):25-39.
    [Emerging Scholar Prize Essay for Spindel Supplement] Some philosophers and psychologists have evaluated psychological egoism against recent experimental work in social psychology. Dan Batson (1991; forthcoming), in particular, argues that empathy tends to induce genuinely altruistic motives in humans. However, some argue that there are egoistic explanations of the data that remain unscathed. I focus here on some recent criticisms based on the idea of self-other merging or "oneness," primarily leveled by Robert Cialdini and his collaborators (1997). These authors argue (...)
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  12. Joshua May, Psychological Egoism. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
    Provides an overview of the theory of psychological egoism—the thesis that we are all ultimately motivated by self-interest. Philosophical arguments for and against the view are considered as well as some empirical evidence.
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  13. Joshua May (2011). Relational Desires and Empirical Evidence Against Psychological Egoism. European Journal of Philosophy 19 (1):39–58.
    Roughly, psychological egoism is the thesis that all of a person's intentional actions are ultimately self-interested in some sense; psychological altruism is the thesis that some of a person's intentional actions are not ultimately self-interested, since some are ultimately other-regarding in some sense. C. Daniel Batson and other social psychologists have argued that experiments provide support for a theory called the "empathy-altruism hypothesis" that entails the falsity of psychological egoism. However, several critics claim that there are egoistic explanations of the (...)
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  14. Joshua May (2010). Review of Experimental Philosophy Ed. By Knobe & Nichols. [REVIEW] Philosophical Psychology 23 (5):711-715.
    Experimental philosophy is a new and somewhat controversial method of philosophical inquiry in which philosophers conduct experiments in order to shed light on issues of philosophical interest. This typically involves surveying ordinary people to find out their "intuitions" (roughly, pre-theoretical judgments) about hypothetical cases important to philosophical theorizing. The controversy surrounding this methodology arises largely because it departs from more traditional ways of doing philosophy. Moreover, some of its practitioners have used it to argue that the more traditional methods are (...)
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  15. Joshua May, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Jay G. Hull & Aaron Zimmerman (2010). Practical Interests, Relevant Alternatives, and Knowledge Attributions: An Empirical Study. [REVIEW] Review of Philosophy and Psychology 1 (2):265–273.
    In defending his interest-relative account of knowledge in Knowledge and Practical Interests (2005), Jason Stanley relies heavily on intuitions about several bank cases. We experimentally test the empirical claims that Stanley seems to make concerning our common-sense intuitions about these bank cases. Additionally, we test the empirical claims that Jonathan Schaffer seems to make in his critique of Stanley. We argue that our data impugn what both Stanley and Schaffer claim our intuitions about such cases are. To account for these (...)
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  16. Joshua May (2009). Review of Richard Holton's Willing, Wanting, Waiting. [REVIEW] Metapsychology 13 (23).
    In an all too familiar part of our lives, we are sometimes strongly tempted to do things we think we shouldn’t do. Consider the burning desire to eat one of the donuts your coworker brought to work while you are on a diet. Often times we surrender to temptation. But sometimes we fight the urges and refrain—we exhibit will-power. Much of our ordinary thinking involves reference to “the will” in this sort of way. Yet for quite some time many contemporary (...)
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  17. Joshua May (2009). Review of A Very Bad Wizard: Morality Behind the Curtain by Tamler Sommers. [REVIEW] Metapsychology 13 (53).
    A Very Bad Wizard is a collection of delightful interviews or conversations conducted by philosopher Tamler Sommers. Sommers interviews an array of researchers--from psychologists to primatologists to philosophers--who all have one thing in common: their work has direct implications for the study of morality. The distinguished interviewees are Galen Strawson, Philip Zimabrdo, Franz De Waal, Michael Ruse, Joseph Henrich, Joshua Greene, Liane Young, Jonathan Haidt, Stephen Stich, and William Ian Miller. I read the book on my flights back to the (...)
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