Major Williams Hall

Room 217

Blacksburg, VA



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Knowing Yourself and Being Worth Knowing

Journal of the American Philosophical Association, 2018

Penultimate draft available here.

Philosophers have often understood self-knowledge’s value in instrumentalist terms. Self-knowledge may be valuable as a means to moral self-improvement and self-satisfaction, while its absence can lead to viciousness and frustration. These explanations, while compelling, do not fully explain the value that many of us place in self-knowledge. Rather, we have a tendency to treat self-knowledge as its own end. In this paper, I vindicate this tendency by identifying a moral reason that we have to value and seek self-knowledge that is independent of the reason that we have to value the beneficial ends that it helps us achieve. I argue that we are in an inescapable relationship with ourselves that requires both self-love and self-respect. Self-love gives us a non-instrumental reason to know ourselves, while self-respect demands that we take this reason seriously. To carefully pursue a project of self-discovery for its own sake, then, is part of what it is to stand in a loving and respectful relationship with ourselves.

Agent-Regret and the Social Practice of Moral Luck

Res Philosophica, 1:95-117 (2017)

Penultimate draft available here.

Agent-regret has often been thought to give rise to a philosophical problem. If we accept a theory of moral responsibility that says that we should not be held responsible, or hold ourselves responsible, for that which is out of our control (the ‘Standard View’), then our experiences of agent-regret—which involve both self-blame and a desire to make amends—seem rationally indefensible. And yet, despite this apparent rational indefensibility, agent-regret still strikes most of us as an entirely reasonable, and indeed a virtuous reaction to cases of bad moral luck. In this paper, I argue that we can successfully resolve the apparent conflict between agent-regret and the Standard View by appreciating a feature of agent-regret that has been overlooked in the literature. Specifically, I argue that we ought to understand agent-regret as one component of a larger social practice that helps us navigate our way through cases of bad moral luck. That agent-regret is merely one component of this practice puts limits on the sorts of questions that we can justifiably ask about it. We can ask whether a specific experience of agent-regret is rational given the standards set by the social practice of which it is a part, just as we can ask whether it is rational to drive on a particular side of the road in a particular country. We can also ask whether the specific practice of which agent-regret is a part is rational, just as we can ask whether it is rational to legislate that all drivers drive on a particular side of the road. What we cannot ask is whether agent-regret is in and of itself rational, just as we cannot ask whether driving on the left side of the road is in and of itself rational.


Genetic Information, the Principle of Rescue, and Special Obligations

With S. Matthew Liao, The Hastings Center Report 48(3):18-19 (2018)

In "Genetic Privacy, Disease Prevention, and the Principle of Rescue," Madison Kilbride argues that patients have a duty to warn biological family members about clinical actionable adverse genetic findings. This duty, Kilbride argues, follows from the principle of rescue, which holds that one ought to prevent, reduce, or mitigate the risk of harm to another person when the expected harm is serious and the cost or risk to oneself is sufficiently modest. While we agree with Kilbride that patients often have a duty to warn, we argue that that this duty does not follow from the principle of rescue. Instead, we suggest that Kilbride may have underappreciated the role that the special obligations we have towards family members could play in generating a duty to warn.

Self-Deception as Self-Defeat (in progress)

In this paper, I argue that self-deception constitutes a particular type of valuing failure. Specifically, self-deception not only reflects and is motivated by an agent’s values, but also serves as the means through which that agent comes to distort and disrespect those very same values. Thus, self-deception, is not only undesirable from a detached, third-personal perspective, but also from a perspective that is both available to, and endorsed by, the self-deceiver.

Respect, Practical and Epistemic (in progress)


The question of why we ought to respect ourselves has often been answered in broadly rationalist terms. To be a person is, at least in part, to be a rational agent capable of making decisions and acting autonomously, and this status makes us worthy of respect from others and from ourselves. I believe that rationalist accounts of respect, for all their plausibility, suffer from an overly narrow conception of rationality. While philosophers writing in this tradition have emphasized the respect-worthiness of practical rationality, they have largely overlooked epistemic rationality as itself potentially deserving of respect. In this paper, I argue that the same reasons that we have for seeing practical rationality as a quality of personhood that ‘commands’ or makes us worthy of respect apply equally to epistemic rationality. This has significant implications for our understanding of what it means to treat people with recognition respect. Specifically, it implies that, just as respecting people requires that we respect their suboptimal life choices because they are theirs, so too does it require that we respect their suboptimal beliefs because they are theirs. This limits the tactics that we can use to try to change the minds of the bigots, anti-vaxxers and climate change deniers in our lives: while we can try to change their minds through rational discourse, the respect that we must have for them as epistemic agents forbids us from using scare tactics or presenting misleading information, even if the latter forms of dissuasion turn out to be much more likely to succeed than the former.

May Surrogates Request Physician-Assisted Death?

With Adam Lerner

In October 2018, Audrey Parker, a Canadian woman with terminal cancer, requested physician aid in dying (“PAD”). Her request came months before her predicted demise. While Parker reported that she would have “liked to have really lived until Christmas”, she ultimately decided to end her life prematurely out of fear that she would soon become ineligible for PAD. She had this fear because in Canada and the United States, terminally ill patients must be competent at the time they wish to end their lives in order to be granted access to PAD. Had Parker had become mentally incapacitated at some point after October 2018, she would have been ineligible for PAD.


This paper argues we ought to waive the requirement that patients be mentally competent at the time they receive PAD. In Part I, we argue as follows:

  1. It can be permissible for physicians to provide PAD to competent patients.

  2. It can be permissible for physicians to provide withdrawal of care (“WOC”) to incompetent patients when they have a surrogates’ consent.

  3. If it can be permissible for physicians to provide PAD to competent patients, and it can be permissible for physicians to provide WOC to incompetent patients when they have a surrogates’ consent, then it can be permissible for physicians to provide PAD to incompetent patients when they have a surrogates’ consent.

  4. Therefore, it can be permissible for physicians to provide PAD to incompetent patients when they have a surrogates’ consent.


Part I focuses primarily on motivating Premise 3. We begin by considering the reasons in favor of thinking surrogate-WOC can be permissible. We then argue that the reasons that favor surrogate-WOC also favor surrogate-PAD just as if not more strongly than they favor surrogate-WOC. It follows that if surrogate-PAD is nevertheless impermissible, there must be reasons strong enough to outweigh or undercut the reasons that appear to favor surrogate-PAD. We argue that every proposal for what these reasons might be faces a dilemma: either they imply the existence of arbitrary limits on surrogates’ power to make decisions on behalf of patients, or else they are incompatible with the permissibility of patient-PAD. For example, opponents of surrogate-PAD cannot cite a deontic side constraint against killing patients to show that surrogate-PAD must be wrong, because the permissibility of patient-PAD implies that killing patients can at times be permissible.

            In Part II, we consider whether allowing surrogate-PAD might be too harmful in practice, even if it is permissible in principle. We concede that allowing surrogate-PAD carries unique risks, but we argue that the overall potential for harm from allowing surrogate-PAD is lower than that of merely allowing surrogate-WOC and patient-PAD for two reasons. First, the unique risks of surrogate-PAD can be mitigated by placing legal limits on surrogate-PAD: prohibiting PAD when the surrogate was not appointed by the patient or the patient expresses a desire to live. Second, allowing surrogate-PAD also carries unique benefits: specifically, it allows patients to obtain additional wellbeing and greater autonomy over one of the most important decisions of their life.

[Title Omitted Because Paper Under Review]

In the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant declares that self-knowledge is the “First Command” of all self-regarding, and by extension, other-regarding duties. This is surprising given Kant’s frequently attested skepticism about the very possibility of self-knowledge. In this paper I offer an interpretation of the duty that does justice to its status as a First Command at the center of Kant’s ethical system, while remaining consistent with Kant’s broader commitment to moral self-opacity. I distinguish two questions about the ‘First Command’. The ‘Consistency Question’ asks how we can make Kant’s ‘First Command’ exegetically consistent with his position on moral self-opacity. The ‘Priority Question’ addresses the duty’s status as a ‘First Command’. In answer to Priority Question, I build on insights from Grenberg (2005) to argue that the duty of self-knowledge is a practical analogue to the transcendental unity of apperception. Fulfilling it gives us a ‘moral unity’ that is a prerequisite for the proper representation of our moral duties as categorical obligations. This suggests a new answer to the Consistency Question, according to which the duty aims at the attainment of a form of self-knowledge that is not ruled out by our self-opacity.