Philosophy at St Andrews

Ben Sachs

Lecturer in Philosophy

Ben Sachs

Phone: 0133 446 4439

Office: B09


Applied Ethics; Political Philosophy; Normative Ethics; Philosophy of Law; Metaethics


See also the PURE research profile.

Academic qualifications

2006: PhD in Philosophy (University of Wisconsin). Thesis title: Does Rationality Ever Require Immorality?

2004: MA in Philosophy (University of Wisconsin)

2001: BA in Philosophy (University of Illinois)

Previous appointments

2009-12: Assistant Professor/Faculty Fellow in the Program in Environmental Studies and the Center for Bioethics at New York University

2007-09: Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Bioethics, Warren G. Magnuson Clinical Center, National Institutes of Health (USA)

Selected publications


Explaining Right and Wrong: A New Moral Pluralism and its Implications (Routledge, forthcoming 2018)

  • Ch. 1, "Normative Ethical Theorizing as an Explanatory Project": Our arguments about which normative ethical theory to accept make sense if and only if normative ethical theorizing is an explanatory project, specifically, the project of putting forward explanations of what seem to us to be the verdictive ethical facts. 
  • Ch. 2, "How Should We Choose Between Competing Explanatory Stories?": We should demand of normative ethical theories that they offer a compelling picture of how each individual verdictive ethical fact is grounded and a good holistic picture of how the set of verdictive ethical facts is grounded.  This demand isn't less important than the demand that the theory be consistent with what seems to us to be the verdictive ethcal facts.
  • Ch. 3, "Against Monism": The most prominent versions of moral monism--consequentialism, Kantianism, and contractarianism/contractualism--fail miserably on the criteria laid out in Ch. 2.
  • Ch. 4, "Against Rossian Pluralism": The most prominent version of moral pluralism, Rossian pluralism, fails miserably on the criteria laid out in Ch. 2.
  • Ch. 5, "Non-Rossian Pluralism": We should accept non-Rossian pluralism, the view on which (1) there are multiple kinds of non-normative fact that can ground verdictive facts (hence "pluralism"), and (2) when a grounding relation holds between a non-normative fact and a verdictive fact the relation is direct as opposed to being mediated by pro tanto duties or moral reasons (hence "non-Rossian").
  • Ch. 6, "The Question of Scope, Part I: Distributive Moral Concerns": The best version of non-Rossian pluralism denies that facts as to the distribution of well-being (or any other item whose moral importance stems from its relation to well-being) do any moral grounding work.
  • Ch. 7, "The Question of Scope, Part II: Non-Distributive Moral Concerns": The best version of non-Rossian pluralism denies that facts as to 'moral status', 'moral standing', 'moral considerability, 'membership in the moral community', etc. do any moral grounding work.  Nevertheless, non-Rossian pluralism can be formulated so as to say quite sensible things about how humans morally ought to treat animals and severely cognitively disabled humans.
  • Ch. 8, "Doing Harm and Failing to Rescue": An action's harmfulness can ground its wrongness.  An action's constituting a failure to rescue cannot ground its wrongness.  Because of this, harmful medical research on animal subjects is morally wrong no matter the benefit it delivers.
  • Ch. 9, "The Distribution of Health Care Resources": Once we acknowledge that neither moral reasons/pro tanto duties nor facts as to the distribution of well-being do any grounding work, it becomes impossible to formulate philosophical questions about the distribution of health care resources such that those questions are targeted at the real-world problem of the distribution of health care resources and can be answered using the tools of moral theorizing.  The upshot here is that we need to narrow our ambitions somewhat regarding what our best moral theory will deliver and perhaps look to political philosophy, especially non-ideal theory in political philosophy, to solve real-world problems regarding the distribution of health care resources.
  • Ch. 10, "Conclusion"



Papers on Contractarianism

  • 'Contractarianism as a Political Morality', Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 161:1 (2016):49-67. Contractarianism is not plausible as a theory of the legitimacy of the state, nor as a theory of individuals' obligations to each other, nor as a theory of justice.  What, then, is it good for?  I argue that the state has two kinds of obligations, obligations-qua-agent and obligations-qua-state, and that contractarianism is well-suited to provide an account of the state's obligations-qua-state.  Contractariaism, so understood, is a political morality. 
  • (in progress) ‘Teleological Contractarianism.  Contractarianism gets criticized for having implausible implications regarding the scope of the state's obligations--specifically, whether it has any obligations to animals and severely mentally disabled humans.  I argue that only a teleological political morality can give an answer to this scope question, that we should reject all political moralities that give no answer, and that contractarianism is the best teleological political morality.
  • (in progress) 'Reversing the State of Nature Thought Experiment'.  Every version of contractarianism contains a state of nature thought experiment.  One classic worry is that there is no single correct way of describring the state of nature and the parties to it, and so any particular verison of the thought experiment will necessarily be arbitrary.  I argue that the contractarian can avoid this criticism by reversing the thought experiment.  This means treating the state of nature not as a situation we're in and trying to escape, but rather as a situation we're not in and trying to remain not in.

Papers on Distributive Justice

  • 'Fair Equality of Opportunity in Our Actual World', Theory and Research in Education 14:3 (2016):277-94.  An explanation of how it can make sense to advocate fair equality of opportunity while taking meritocracy and broad liberty within the family as given, and a defense of a narrow principle of fair equality of opportunity against objections by Arneson and others.
  • 'The Relevance of Distributive Justice to International Climate Change Policy'Ethics, Policy & Environment 17:2 (2014):208-24. A criticism of Climate Change Justice by Eric Posner and David Weisbach.  Distinguishes teleological and non-teleological approaches to distributive justice, and shows why that distinction is important in thinking about global warming.
  • 'The Limits of Fair Equality of Opportunity'Philosophical Studies 160:2 (2012):323-43.  The principle of fair equality of opportunity, once all the variables are filled in, is quite narrow and consequently will justify only a narrow range of social policies.
  •  ‘Lingering Problems of Currency and Scope in Daniels’s Argument for a Societal Obligation to Meet Health Needs’The Journal of Medicine & Philosophy 35:4 (August 2010):402-14.  A critique of Daniels's theory of justice in health care as presented in his book, Just Health Care.
  • ‘Extortion and the Ethics of “Topping Up”’The Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 18:4 (October 2009):443-5. In countries that have a single-payer health care system there should be no rule against the private purchase of supplemental health services.
  • ‘The Liberty Principle and Universal Health Care’, The Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 18:2 (June 2008):149-72.  Justice, specifically the liberty principle, requires universal health care.

Papers on Coercion

  • 'The Crime of Self-Solicitation' Ratio Juris 28:2 (June 2015):180-203. The criminal law should be designed in such a way that judges and juries are never required to determine whether an individual has issued a threat.  It should simply allow for the criminal punishment of anyone who announces an intention to commit a crime, regardless of whether that announcement is a threat.
  • 'Why Coercion is Wrong when it's Wrong'Australasian Journal of Philosophy 91:1 (2013):63-82. What makes coercion wrong when it's wrong is not that it causes fear or that it is autonomy-compromising.  Rather, it's that the coercer makes herself more likely to do wrong.

 Papers on Animal Ethics

  • 'Non-Consequentialist Theories of Animal Ethics', Analysis Reviews 75:4 (2015):638-54.  Most of this will be reprinted in Ch. 3 of my Explaining Right and Wrong (see above).
  • 'The Status of Moral Status'Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 91:1 (March 2011):87-104. Most of this will be reprinted in Ch. 7 of my Explaining Right and Wrong (see above).
  • ‘Morality, Adapted’, Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 53:4 (Fall 2010):624-9. 

 Papers on Normative Ethics

  • 'Non-Consequentialist Theories of Animal Ethics'.  See description above.
  • 'Direct Moral Grounding and the Legal Model of Moral Normativity’Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 18:4 (2015):703-16.  To be reprinted in Ch. 5 of my Explaining Right and Wrong (see above).
  • 'Reasons Consequentialism'Journal of Moral Philosophy 10:5 (2013):671-82. A review article on Douglas Portmore's Commonsense Consequentialism, a book that combines the idea that morality requires us to maximize the good with the idea that goodness is grounded in reasons.
  • 'Consequentialism's Double-Edged Sword'Utilitas 22:3 (September 2010):258-71. Although consequentialism may be flexible enough to yield an intuitively compelling set of case-specific verdicts, this doesn't help to show that the best version of consequentialism will be better than the best version of non-consequentialism.

Papers on Philosophy of Law

  • 'Political Theory and the Criminal Law's Agenda'. I argue that political theory is prior to that part of legal theory concerned with the criminal law.  To determine whether there is a case to be made in favor of a certain class of criminal laws--for instance, any of the four classes that occupied Feinberg's attention, including laws criminalizing harming others and laws criminalizing harmless wrongdoing--we have to do political theory and infer our answer from that theory.  The negative corollary of this thesis is that the criminal law has no internal logic.  In other words, there is no hope of discovering the criminal law's agenda by gaining a better understanding of what the criminal law is, does, and could be.
  • 'Direct Moral Grounding and the Legal Model of Moral Normativity’Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 18:4 (2015):703-16.  See description above.
  • 'The Crime of Self-Solicitation' Ratio Juris 28:2 (June 2015):180-203.  See description above.

Papers on Environmental Ethics

 Papers on the Ethics of Research on Human Subjects

  • 'Two Kinds of Rule Regulating Human Subjects Research', Journal of Law and the Biosciences 2:2 (2015):431-37. Alan Wertheimer has argued that bodies that promulgate rules for the conduct of human subjects research should take into account the consequences of such promulgation with respect to some of those rules.  Wertheimer is right, I argue, but his argument doesn't go through unless he distinguishes the ethics of promulgating ethical rules from the ethics of promulgating policy.
  • ‘Going from Principles to Rules in Research Ethics'Bioethics 25:1 (January 2011):9-20. Most of the canonical rules of research ethics cannot be supported by appeal to the canonical principles of bioethics.
  • 'The Case for Evidence-Based Rulemaking in Human Subjects Research'The American Journal of Bioethics 10:6 (June 2010):3-13. Most of the canonical rules of research ethics should be understood as rules of policy, not rules of ethics, and therefore should be seen as having a purpose.
  • ‘Response to Comments on “The Case for Evidence-Based Rulemaking”’, The American Journal of Bioethics 10:6 (June 2010):W1-3
  • ‘The Exceptional Ethics of the Investigator-Subject Relationship’, The Journal of Medicine & Philosophy 35:1 (February 2010):64-80. Most of the canonical rules of research ethics are exceptional when seen against the backdrop of the widely-accepted rules governing other activities. 

Papers on Health Care Justice 

  •  ‘Lingering Problems of Currency and Scope in Daniels’s Argument for a Societal Obligation to Meet Health Needs’. See description above.
  • ‘Extortion and the Ethics of “Topping Up”’The Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 18:4 (October 2009):443-5.  See description above.
  • ‘The Liberty Principle and Universal Health Care’, The Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 18:2 (June 2008):149-72.  See description above.


  • ‘Reasons and Requirements’Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 11:1 (February 2008):73-83.

Research interests

My book, Explaining Right and Wrong: A New Moral Pluralism, is forthcoming from Routledge in 2018!  See the description below.

At the moment I'm working on a variety of topics in applied ethics, political philosophy and philosophy of law.  And speaking of political philosophy and philosophy of law, my main project is writing a book defending contractarianism in political philosophy and its implications in philosophy of law and distributive ethics.

Research students

I am currently supervising Vladimiros Dagkas-Tsoukalas, Janis Schaab and Saranga Sudarshan.


ID1004: Great Ideas II

PY5315: Philosophy of Law

PY1011: Moral and Political Controversies

PY1901: Morality and Human Nature

PY4635: Contemporary Moral Theory

PY4604: Political Philosophy

PY4647: Humans, Animals, and Nature


Additional information

I am very happy to supervise most topics within normative ethics, applied ethics and political philosophy.  Please get in touch if you are interested in being supervised by me as a full-time, part-time, or visiting PhD/MPhil student.

<- back to staff list