Professor Simon Kirchin is the Director of the Division of Arts & Humanities. Prior to that he was Dean of the Faculty of Humanities from July 2013.
Simon has completed a long-standing project on thick evaluative concepts. Thick Evaluation was published by OUP in 2017 and was the first OUP philosophy monograph to be open access. An edited collection Thick Concepts was released in 2013, also with OUP. He published a textbook, Metaethics, in 2012 with Palgrave Macmillan.
Simon is also a founding member of SoNG (the Southern Normativity Group), a member of Kent’s Aesthetics Research Centre, and a current member of the Executive Committee of the British Philosophical Association. From 2008 to 2014, he was President of the British Society for Ethical Theory, which is the leading society in the UK for moral philosophy. He co-edits a book series, Bloomsbury Ethics, with Thom Brooks. He also served as Associate Editor of Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 2007-13.
In 2020, Simon was the local co-organiser of the Joint Session of the Aristotelian Society and Mind Association conference at Kent.
Simon's research interests are mainly in metaethics and normative ethics, although he also has longstanding interests in aesthetics, medical ethics, metaphysics, political philosophy, and epistemology. He is currently starting two research projects: one on money and finance, and one on agreement and disagreement.
Simon supervises a number of postgraduate students, many of whom have gone on to have successful careers in academia and beyond. Recent and current topics include:
- Transhumanism, Boredom and Optimism
- Metaethics, Epistemology and Theology
- Aesthetic Concepts
- Group Agency
- Thick Concepts and the Law
- Ignorance, Responsibility and Blame
- Error Theory, Biology and Care Ethics
- Virtue Ethics and Character
- Moral Particularism.
Simon teaches across a number of philosophical areas, mainly centred on ethics, metaethics and aesthetics, and some figures in the history of philosophy.
Kirchin, S. (2013). II—Simon Kirchin: Evaluation, Normativity and Grounding. Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume [Online] 87:179-198. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8349.2013.00225.x.
I consider the ‘normative relevance’ argument and the idea of grounding. I diagnose why there appears to be a tension between the conclusion that we are tempted to reach and the intuition that the normative is grounded in or by the non-normative. Much of what I say turns on the idea of the normative itself. In short, I think that concentrating on this idea can help us see how the tension arises. My aim is to encourage people to reconceptualize the debate so as to begin to offer additional insight. To that end, I spend some time contrasting normativity with evaluation, and then think how the debate may alter if we run it with the latter. I doubt that doing so will solve any problem, and I suspect that what I say will be controversial anyway. But there is some value to changing matters nonetheless. The idea that runs through this paper is that the whole issue is so complex and deep that we should not narrowly construe it with reference only to normativity.
Kirchin, S. (2010). The Shapelessness Hypothesis. Philosophers’ Imprint [Online] 10:1-28. Available at: http://www.philosophersimprint.org/.
In this paper I discuss the shapelessnesss hypothesis, which is often referred to and relied on by certain sorts of ethical and evaluative cognitivist, and which they use primarily in arguing against a certain, influential form of noncognitivism. I aim to (i) set out exactly what the hypothesis is; (ii) show that its original and traditional use is left wanting; and (iii) show that there is some rehabilitation on offer that might have a chance of convincing neutrals.
Kirchin, S. and Joyce, R. (2007). Introduction. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice [Online] 10:421-425. Available at: http://www.springerlink.com/content/84667l451270w777/.
Introduction to a co-edited edition of the journal Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, on 'Mackie's Error Theory'. (The papers here, plus others, will appear in a special edited collection in 2009.)
Kirchin, S. (2007). Moral Particularism: An Introduction. Journal of Moral Philosophy [Online] 4:8-15. Available at: http://mpj.sagepub.com/cgi/reprint/4/1/8.
An introduction to a special edition of the Journal of Moral Philosophy on the subject of 'Moral Particularism'. I was the co-editor. The papers were originally given as talks at a conference in Kent in December 2004.
Kirchin, S. (2007). Particularism and Default Valency. Journal of Moral Philosophy [Online] 4:16-32. Available at: http://mpj.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/4/1/16.
In this paper, which draws on some of the distinctions I made and thoughts I gave in my 'Moral Particularism: An Introduction', elsewhere in the volume of JMP, I concentrate on the notion of default valency. In §1 I outline a recent debate that shows why the notion is important for particularists to have up their sleeves, although I do not give a detailed defence of its legitimacy. In §2 I use this notion to comment on how anyone, but particularly particularists, might distinguish reason-generating features into different types. My main aim is not to argue for a specific way of dividing such features into types but to present various taxonomical options.
Kirchin, S. (2005). What is Intuitionism and Why be an Intuitionist?. Social Theory and Practice 31:581-606.
This paper examines the advantages and disadvantages of ethical intuitionism and is an extended critical discussion of an edited collection Rethinking Intutionism (ed.) Stratton-Lake (OUP) that has been much discussed. (My piece is one of the first discussions of it.) Along other matters, I argue for the original and fairly controversial claim that in order for intuitionism to hold water, we must allow that what is involved in full moral understanding can differ from person to person, rather than thinking that if a claim can be intuited rather than proved, everyone who intuits it understands it in the same way.
Kirchin, S., Edwards, S. and Ashcroft, R. (2004). Research Ethics Committees: Differences and Moral Judgement. Bioethics 18:408-427.
Kirchin, S., Edwards, S. and Huxtable, R. (2004). Research Ethics Committees and Paternalism. Journal of Medical Ethics [Online] 30:88-91. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/jme.2002.000166.
Kirchin, S. (2003). Particularism, Generalism and the Counting Argument. European Journal of Philosophy 11:54-71.
In this paper I argue for a particularist understanding of thick evaluative features, something that is rarely done and is fairly controversial. That is, I argue that sometimes that the fact that an act is just, say, could, in certain situations, provide one with a reason against performing the action. Similarly, selfishness could be right-making. To show this, I take on anti-particularist ideas from two much-cited pieces (by Crisp, and by McNaughton and Rawling), in the influential Moral Particularism anthology (eds.) Hooker and Little (OUP). My paper has already been cited by other people working in the field.
Kirchin, S. (2003). Ethical Phenomenology and Metaethics. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 6:241-264.
In this piece I try to nail a train of thought that is offered, typically by realists against anti-realists, as a reason for thinking that our raw moral phenomenology provides a reason to prefer moral realism. This idea is referred to often, but is rarely detailed. I argue that various arguments that one can devise which are in keeping with this train of thought fail. I conclude by saying, controversially, that moral phenomenology is fairly irrelevant when thinking about metaethics. This paper has been cited by a number of people in their recent work (for example, Horgan and Timmons, Loeb).
Kirchin, S. and Edwards, S. (2002). Rationing, Randomising and Researching in Health Care Ethics. Journal of Medical Ethics 28:20-23.
In this paper the need for valid evidence of the cost-effectiveness of treatments that have not been properly evaluated, yet are already available, albeit in short supply, are examined. Such treatments cannot be withdrawn, pending proper evaluation, nor can they be made more widely available until they have been shown to be cost-effective. As a solution to this impasse the argument put forward recently by Toroyan et al is discussed. They say that randomised controlled trials of such resources could be done but only if resources are randomly allocated independently of a research context. Relevant outcome data could then be collected for research, given this opportunity. (There are already few investigators who have turned limited resources, health service provision, to their advantage in this way.) We agree. We disagree with Toroyan et al on a number of points, First, they claim that no ethical issue relating to equipoise arises. We disagree and this disagreement depends on our showing that equipoise should be maintained in a relationship that they do not consider. Secondly, they say that consent to data collection is always needed. Again we disagree. Thirdly, they claim that the previous two issues are the only possible ethical issues that could arise. We argue, instead, that there is a further conflict of interests that has ethical import.
Kirchin, S. (2017). Thick Evaluation. [Online]. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Available at: https://global.oup.com/academic/product/thick-evaluation-9780198803430?cc=gb&lang=en.
This is an open access title available under the terms of a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence. It is free to read at Oxford Scholarship Online and offered as a free PDF download from OUP and selected open access locations.
We use evaluative terms and concepts every day. We call actions right and wrong, teachers wise and ignorant, and pictures elegant and grotesque. Philosophers place evaluative concepts into two camps. Thin concepts, such as goodness and badness, and rightness and wrongness have evaluative content, but they supposedly have no or hardly any nonevaluative, descriptive content: they supposedly give little or no specific idea about the character of the person or thing described. In contrast, thick concepts such as kindness, elegance and wisdom supposedly give a more specific idea of people or things. Yet, given typical linguistic conventions, thick concepts also convey evaluation. Kind people are often viewed positively whilst ignorance has negative connotations.
The distinction between thin and thick concepts is frequently drawn in philosophy and is central to everyday life. However, very few articles or books discuss the distinction. In this full-length study, Simon Kirchin discusses thin and thick concepts, highlighting key assumptions, questions and arguments, many of which have gone unnoticed. Kirchin focuses in on the debate between 'separationists' (those who think that thick concepts can be separated into component parts of evaluative, often very 'thin', content and nonevaluative content) and 'nonseparationists' (who deny this).
Thick Evaluation argues for a version of nonseparationism, and in doing so argues both that many concepts are evaluative and also that evaluation is not exhausted by thin positive and negative stances.
Kirchin, S. (2012). Metaethics. Palgrave Macmillan.
This book, designed for high-level undergraduates, postgraduates and fellow researchers, introduces the reader to the main areas of metaethical work today. As we as introducing familiar positions and arguments, Kirchin argues clearly and engagingly for a set of distinctive and arresting views.
Kirchin, S. (2017). Introduction. In: Kirchin, S. T. ed. Reading Parfit. London, UK: Routledge (Taylor and Francis).
Introduction to my edited collection 'Reading Parfit' (London: Routledge, 2017). Approx. 4,500 words.
Kirchin, S. (2017). Reflections from Wolf and Wood: Incommensurability, Guidance and the ’Smoothing Over’ of Ethical Life. In: Kirchin, S. T. ed. Reading Parfit. London, UK: Routledge (Taylor and Francis), pp. 10-27. Available at: https://www.routledge.com/Reading-Parfit-On-What-Matters/Kirchin/p/book/9780415529495.
In this chapter I argue that Derek Parfit's ambition of trying to combine (versions of) rule-consequentialism, Kantian deontology and Scanlonian contractualism - his so-called 'Triple Theory' misses out on important aspects of the ethical life. I uses work from Susan Wolf and Allen Wood to show where Parfit goes wrong. This raises significant issues not just about Parfit's work, but about the point of moral philosophy and the methodology employed.
Kirchin, S. (2015). Self-evidence, Theory and Anti-theory. In: Chappell, S.-G. ed. Intuition, Theory, and Anti-Theory in Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 167-185.
In this article I consider the recent revival of moral intuitionism and focus on its prospects, especially by thinking about what it means to understand a moral claim. From this I consider the implications for both generalists and particularists in normative ethical theory, or at least those who are also intuitionists. I conclude that the prospects for both theoretical families are bleak, and hence that intuitionism itself is in trouble and has some work to do.
Kirchin, S. (2013). Introduction: Thick and Thin Concepts. In: Thick Concepts. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kirchin, S. (2013). Thick Concepts and Thick Descriptions. In: Thick Concepts. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 60-77.
In this article I compare Ryle's notion of a thick description with Williams' notion of a thick concept so as to illuminate our understanding of both. In doing so I suggest lines of thought that show us that the notion of 'evaluation' in play in many people's writings should be broadened. Doing so will help to lessen the credibility of separationist notions of thick concepts.
Joyce, R. and Kirchin, S. (2010). Introduction. In: Joyce, R. and Kirchin, S. T. eds. A World Without Values: Essays on J. L. Mackie’s Moral Error Theory. Dordrecht: Springer, p. ix-xxiv.
Introduction to "A World without Values....".
Kirchin, S. (2010). A Tension in the Moral Error Theory. In: Joyce, R. and Kirchin, S. T. eds. A World Without Values: Essays on J L Mackie’s Moral Error Theory. Dordrecht: Springer, pp. 167-182.
I highlight a tension within the moral error theoretic stance. Although I do not show that it is fatal, I believe the tension is problematic. In stating the tension I outline a conception of the common moral background against which it arises. I also discuss aspects of the similar error theories developed by John Mackie and Richard Joyce in order to show the tension at work.
Kirchin, S. (2017). Reading Parfit: On What Matters. [Online]. Kirchin, S. T. ed. London, UK: Routledge (Taylor and Francis). Available at: https://www.routledge.com/Reading-Parfit-On-What-Matters/Kirchin/p/book/9780415529495.
Derek Parfit was one of the world’s leading philosophers. His On What Matters was the most eagerly awaited book in philosophy for many years. Reading Parfit: On What Matters is an essential overview and assessment of volumes 1 and 2 of Parfit’s monumental work by a team of international contributors, and includes responses by Parfit himself. It discusses central features of Parfit’s book, including the structure and nature of reasons; the ideas underlying moral principles; Parfit’s discussions of consequentialism, contractualism and Kantian deontology; and his metaethical ideas and arguments.
Kirchin, S. (2013). Thick Concepts. [Online]. Kirchin, S. T. ed. USA: Oxford University Press. Available at: http://ukcatalogue.oup.com/product/9780199672349.do.
What is the difference between judging someone to be good and judging them to be kind? Both judgements are typically positive, but the latter seems to offer more description of the person: we get a more specific sense of what they are like. Very general evaluative concepts (such as good, bad, right and wrong) are referred to as thin concepts, whilst more specific ones (including brave, rude, gracious, wicked, sympathetic, and mean) are termed thick concepts. In this volume, an international team of experts addresses the questions that this distinction opens up. How do the descriptive and evaluative functions or elements of thick concepts combine with each other? Are these functions or elements separable in the first place? Is there a sharp division between thin and thick concepts? Can we mark interesting further distinctions between how thick ethical concepts work and how other thick concepts work, such as those found in aesthetics and epistemology? How, if at all, are thick concepts related to reasons and action? These questions, and others, touch on some of the deepest philosophical issues about the evaluative and normative. They force us to think hard about the place of the evaluative in a (seemingly) nonevaluative world, and raise fascinating issues about
Kirchin, S. (2010). A World Without Values: Essays on J. L. Mackie’s Moral Error Theory. Joyce, R. and Kirchin, S. T. eds. Dordrecht: Springer.
For centuries, certain moral philosophers have maintained that morality is an illusion, comparable to talking of ghosts or unicorns. These moral skeptics claim that the world simply doesn’t contain the sort of properties (such as moral badness, moral obligation, etc.) necessary to render moral statements true. Even seemingly obvious moral claims, such as "killing innocents is morally wrong" fail to be true. What would lead someone to adopt such a radical viewpoint? Are the arguments in its favor defensible or plausible? What impact would embracing such a view have on one’s practical life?
Taking as its point of departure the work of moral philosopher John Mackie (1917-1981), A World Without Values is a collection of essays on moral skepticism by leading contemporary philosophers, some of whom are sympathetic to Mackie’s views, some of whom are opposed. Rather than treating moral skepticism as something to dismiss as quickly as possible, this anthology is a comprehensive exploration of the topic, and as such will be a valuable resource for students of moral philosophy at all levels, as well as professionals in the field of meta-ethics. A World Without Values presents state-of-the-art arguments that advance the ongoing philosophical debate on several fronts, and will enjoy an important place on any meta-ethicist’s bookshelf for some years to come.
Kirchin, S.T. and Fisher, A. eds. (2006). Arguing About Metaethics. Oxford: Routledge.
A work that comprises some of the most influential papers in metaethics. 32 previously published pieces in 11 sections, with 50,000 words of introductory material.
Jansen, C. (2018). Moral Objectivity: Kant, Hume and Psychopathy.
Moral objectivity is about genuinely better or worse courses of action and states of affairs in
the moral domain. It seems good to aim at an identification of objective moral justifications
that is maximally independent of subjectivity (at least if the threat of relativism is to be
avoided). Having said that, it seems problematic to accept objective discriminations or
justifications that are devoid of subjectivity. Every account of objective moral justifications
seems in need of some sort of relationship with naturalistic human minds. How else could
such justifications enter the universe?
In this study I build towards arguments for deciding when claims about the status of
moral objectivity are overambitious. I offer three lines of argument that point to moral
objectivity being essentially anti-realist and (as such) mind-dependent. The first is grounded
in Hume's (exclusively psychological) conception of 'reason'. It is paradigmatically well
illustrated by Kant's philosophy.
The second and third lines of argument are grounded in research about the nature
and etiology of psychopathy. The second is about conceptual relativity regarding normative
judgements about good practical lives. The third is about libertarian freedom over innately
given components, components crucial to the psychological possibility of taking account of
others in evaluative decision-making. Due to conceptual and empirical problems about
(possible worlds of) human nature, which will be laid out, these two lines of argument need
further conceptual and empirical attention.
Additional to my constructive theory about the limits of moral objectivity, my study
contains a critical reflection on methodological aspects of the contemporary meta-ethical
debate. Overall, my study is a critical call for better reflection on the concept 'reason' and a
deeper involvement with theoretical claims about human nature.
Trofimov, A. (2016). Should Have Known Better: Responsibility, Ignorance and Reasons.
Sometimes, we accept "I'm sorry, I didn't know" as an excuse, but at other times we do not. When are we justified in claiming that a person should have known better and that they are, therefore, responsible and blameworthy for their ignorant wrongdoing?
Through a detailed investigation of ignorant wrongdoing, I establish conditions of responsibility for ignorant wrongdoing that not only provide a coherent justification for many of our standard judgements regarding responsibility and blame but also enable me to defend those judgements against objections and revisionist perspectives.
I argue that:
(1) Persons are responsible for their ignorant wrongdoing if and only if they are responsible for their ignorance.
(2) Persons are responsible for their ignorance if and only if:
(a) They possess the rational capacity to accurately appreciate the relevant reasons.
(b) There are no limitations in their circumstances that make it unreasonably difficult for them to accurately appreciate the relevant reasons.
I argue that if both conditions (a) and (b) are met, then it is reasonable to claim that a person should have known better because they have had fair opportunity to avoid both their ignorance and their wrongdoing that results. In developing this account of responsibility for ignorant wrongdoing, I argue that internalist accounts of practical reasons are untenable from the perspective of responsibility and blame.