Jacob Ross

Associate Professor
USC School of Philosophy
3709 Trousdale Parkway
Los Angeles, CA 90089-0451
Office: 115 Stonier Hall
Email: jacobmro [at] usc [dot] edu
USC Department Website

Curriculum Vitae

I am an associate professor of Philosophy at the University of Southern California. I received my BA in Philosophy from the University of Toronto, and was a graduate student in Philosophy at Rutgers University, where I received my PhD in 2006. My research is mainly in ethics, epistemology, and practical reason.

Published and Forthcoming

  • Knowledge Dethroned
    (with Andreas Mueller) Forthcoming, Analytic Philosophy
    This paper criticises the Knowledge First view of practical reasoning, according to which one should reason only on the basis of what one knows. One well-known objection to this view is the problem of partial belief: it seems that partial beliefs or credences that do not constitute knowledge can figure in good practical reasoning. While a number of ingenious solutions to this problem have been proposed, we argue that none can succeed and hence that the problem of partial belief is insurmountable.

  • Knowledge, Safety, and Meta-Epistemic Belief
    Forthcoming, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly
    This paper raises problems both for the view that safe belief is necessary for knowledge and for the view that it is sufficient. Focusing on “meta-epistemic beliefs,” or beliefs about the epistemic status of one’s own beliefs, it is shown that the necessity claim has counterintuitive implications and that the sufficiency claim implies a contradiction. It is then shown that meta-epistemic beliefs raise similar problems for a wide range of accounts of knowledge, and hence that they provide a powerful test for theories of knowledge.

  • Idealism and Fine Tuning
    Forthcoming, Idealism: New Essays in Metaphysics, edited by T. Goldsmith and K. Pearce
    This paper argues that, given certain background assumptions, a kind of idealism follows from a version of the fine-tuning thesis. In particular, it argues that a strong version of the fine-tuning thesis, together with a unificationist account of explanation, imply what I call explanatory idealism, which is the view that the mental has explanatory priority (though not ontological ontological priority) over the physical.

  • Moral Skepticism
    (with Matt Lutz) 2017, Routledge Handbook of Metaethics, edited by T. McPherson and D. Plunkett
    We argue that central to many of the arguments for moral skepticism is the idea that our moral beliefs do not have the right kind of explanatory connection to the moral truths they purport to represent. We then formulate what we take to be the strongest argument of this kind, which we call the Explanatory Trilemma Argument. We conclude by critically examining a variety of responses to this kind of argument.

  • On Losing Disagreements: Spencer's Attitudinal Relativism
    (with Mark Schroeder) 2016, Mind
    Here we respond to Jack Spencer, who claims to have resolved the dilemma we posed in "Reversibility or Disagreements." His attempted solution turns on a view about belief that he calls "attitudinal relativism." we argue that this view fails to solve our dilemma. In particular, the relativist who adopt this view will sacrifice the claims about disagreement that motivate her position.

  • Rethinking the Person-Affecting Principle
    2015, Journal of Moral Philosophy
    This paper concerns person-affecting principles (on which a first outcome can be better than a second only if it is better for someone) and their implications for the transitivity of the better-than relation. I argue that standard formulations of such principles face serious problems, and I propose an alternative formulation in their place. I conclude by arguing that plausible versions of the principle can be reconciled with the transitivity of identity.

  • Divided We Fall: Fission and the Failure of Self Interest
    2014, Philosophical Perspectives
    Cases involving personal fission raise a challenge for the Self-Interest Thesis, i.e., the view that we have special reason to be concerned about our own welfare. Several philosophers have attempted to offer metaphysical solutions to this challenge: they have argued that, if we adopt the right view about what happens in fission cases, we can hold on to the Self-Interest Thesis while avoiding counter-intuitive implications. I argue that no such solution can succeed.

  • The Principle of Sufficient Reason and the Grand Inexplicable
    2014, The Puzzle of Existence: Why is There Something Rather than Nothing, edited by Tyron Goldschmidt.
    It has been argued that the Principle of Sufficient Reason must be false. For, assuming there are any contingent propositions at all, it has been argued that there must be some contingent proposition (call it the "Grand Inexplicable"), for which there is no explanation. I defend the Principle of Sufficient Reason against arguments of this kind.

  • Belief, Credence and Pragmatic Encroachment
    (with Mark Schroeder) 2014, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (with Mark Schroeder)
    We compare two alternative theories of outright belief and its relation to credence. We criticize one view, which we call pragmatic credal reductivism, according to which believing a proposition consists in having sufficient credence in it for practical purposes. And we propose and defend an alternative view, which we call the reasoning disposition account, according to which believing a proposition consists in having a defeasible disposition to treat it as true in reasoning.

  • Reversibility or Disagreement
    (with Mark Schroeder) 2013, Mind
    This paper concerns the debate between contextualists and relativists over a family of expressions that includes both epistemic and deontic modals (“might,” “must,” “ought,” etc.). We argue that these expressions all display an important but largely overlooked feature that we call reversibility: they give rise to sentences that one can rationally and sincerely assertively utter while knowing that one will later rationally and sincerely assertively utter their negations. We argue that this phenomenon undermines claims about disagreement that have been used to support relativism.

  • Repeatable Artwork Sentences and Generics
    (with Shieva Kleinschmidt) 2013, Art and Abstract Objects, edited by Christy Mag Uidhir
    This paper concerns repeatable artwork sentences, such as "the Moonlight Sonata has three movements," as well as generic sentences, such as "the polar bear has four paws." we argue that these kinds of sentences should be given a uniform treatment, and that neither one has the subject predicate form it appears to have. Consequently, the truth of these sentences does not entail that there is anything referred to by "the polar bear" or "the Moonlight Sonata."

  • Rationality, Normativity, and Commitment
    2012, Oxford Studies in Metaethics, Volume 7, edited by Russ Shafer-Landau.
    I consider three challenges to the normativity of rationality: the ignorance problem (which concerns cases where we are rationally required to do what we have most objective reason not to do), the wrong kind of reasons problem (which concerns cases where we seem to have overwhelming pragmatic reason to have irrational attitudes), and the mere incoherence problem (which concerns cases where a combination of attitudes is rationally prohibited, and yet we have sufficient reason for each of the constituent attitudes). After criticizing traditional responses to each of these challenges, I offer an account of the connection between rationality and reasons that answers all of them and that has considerable explanatory power.

  • Actualism, Possibilism and Beyond
    2012, Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics, Volume 2, edited by Russ Shafer-Landau.
    How should we act when we don't currently have perfect deliberative control over our future conduct? Actualists say that we should f when f-ing would be preferable to what we would do otherwise, whereas possibilists say that we should ? when all our maximally preferable options involve f-ing. I argue that neither of these views can succeed, and I propose an alternative view that avoids the difficulties facing each.
  • Sleeping Beauty, Countable Additivity, and Rational Dilemmas
    2010, Philosophical Review. (Selected for the 2010 Philosopher's Annual)
    I argue that the main arguments for the 1/3 solution to the Sleeping Beauty problem entail a more general principle (what I call the Generalized Thirder Principle) which conflicts with the principle of countable additivity. I argue that the most plausible response to this conflict is to accept both principles and to maintain that, in cases where they conflict, rational dilemmas arise.
  • How to Be a Cognitivist about Practical Reason
    2009, Oxford Studies in Metaethics, Volume 4, edited by Russ Shafer-Landau.
    Cognitivism about practical reason is the view that intentions involve beliefs and that rational norms on intentions can be explained in terms of rational norms on the beliefs they involve. This paper provides a detailed examination of the prospects of cognitivism and of the challenges it faces. In it I argue that the self-referential account of intentions typically adopted by cognitivists will not serve their purposes, and I propose an alternative account which, I argue, is more promising.
  • Should Kantians Be Consequentialists?
    2009, Ratio.
    Parfit argues that Rule Consequentialism can be derived from the most plausible formulation of Kantian ethics, and hence that Kantians should be consequentialists. I argue that there is strong reason to reject two of the assumptions that figure in this derivation.
  • Derek Parfit
    2009, 12 Modern Philosophers, edited by Christopher Belshaw and Gary Kemp, Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Rejecting Ethical Deflationism
    2006, Ethics.
    I consider what I call deflationary ethical theories, including Nihilism and Relativism. Drawing a distinction between practical acceptance and rejection, on the one hand, and belief and disbelief, on the other, I argue that we have strong reason to reject these theories from the practical point of view even if we don't have reason to disbelieve them.

In Preparation

Comments welcome. Please don't quote without permission.

  • From Moral Wrongess to Moral Blame
    I sketch a sentimentalist account of moral wrongness. On this account, moral blame is conceptually prior to moral wrongness, and morally wrong actions are to be understood as the kind of actions which, if done responsibly or without an excuse, would be worthy of moral blame. An essential component of this approach, which I defend in the paper, is a noncognitivist view of moral blame that does not define this attitude in terms of judgments of moral wrongness
  • Time Travel, Subjunctive Conditionals, and the Limits of Rational Choice
    Andy Egan has argued that Causal Decision Theory has unacceptable implications time-travel cases where one's circumstances of action are affected by one's choice. I argue that this objection to Causal Decision Theory is based on highly questionable assumptions. The real challenge posed by these past- affecting choice situations is not that Causal Decision Theory misevaluates our options, but rather that it cannot evaluate our options at all.
  • Consequentialism and Actual Rules
    I defend a version of rule consequentialism according to which the rules we have reason to follow are not those whose general acceptance would have good consequences, but rather those whose general acceptance in fact has good consequences. I then consider the problem of how this moral theory could be derived from more fundamental principles. ace


Other Work