Recent Research Highlights

Princeton University Press, 2019

This book develops and defends a relational interpretation of morality. According to this interpretation, moral demands are owed to other individuals, who have claims against the agent to compliance with them. Interpersonal morality, so conceived, is the domain of what we owe to each other, just insofar as we are each persons with equal moral standing.

The book argues for the advantages of this way of understanding the moral domain; explores some of the important theoretical and practical presuppositions of relational moral duties; and considers the normative implications of understanding morality in relational terms.

The Moral Nexus features a novel defense of the relational approach to morality, which emphasizes the special significance that moral requirements have, both for agents who are deliberating about what to do and for those who stand to be affected by their actions. The book argues that relational moral requirements can be understood to link us to all individuals whose interests render them vulnerable to our agency, regardless of whether they stand in any prior relationship to us. It also offers fresh accounts of some of the moral phenomena that have seemed to resist treatment in relational terms, showing that the relational interpretation is a viable framework for understanding our specific moral obligations to other people.

  • “Wonderfully clear, absorbingly written, and ambitious, The Moral Nexus is an excellent book on a subject of the first importance in moral philosophy. Although it is unlikely that this book will put an end to arguments and debates about relational morality, it takes every aspect of those debates to a new, higher level. It will be a must-read for people working in moral, legal, and political philosophy.”—Arthur Ripstein, University of Toronto

  • R. Jay Wallace's book brilliantly explores, with nuance and in detail, the reasons embedded in ordinary moral thought that undergird the appeal of a relational interpretation of moral reasoning....a major contribution to moral theory.—Rahul Kumar, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews; Pea Soup "NDPR Forum" Discussion on this review

  • “Es gelingt ihm, in einem Paraderitt eine völlig neue Perspektive auf die Domäne der Moral und ihrer spezifischen Normativität zu lenken…. Keine Auseinandersetzung mit diesen grundlegenden Themen der Moral wird in Zukunft ohne seine Theorie auskommen. In diesem Sinne kann sein Buch als wirklich bahnbrechend bezeichnet werden.”—Monika Betzler, Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie

  • APA Recently Published Book Blog Interview on The Moral Nexus

Oxford University Press, 2013

Must we always later regret actions that were wrong for us to perform at the time? Can there ever be good reason to affirm things in the past that we know were unfortunate? This book shows that the standpoint from which we look back on our lives is shaped by our present attachments-to persons, to the projects that imbue our lives with meaning, and to life itself. Through a distinctive “affirmation dynamic”, these attachments commit us to affirming the necessary conditions of their objects. The result is that we are sometimes unable to regret events and circumstances that were originally unjustified or otherwise somehow objectionable.

The book traces these themes through a range of examples. A teenage girl makes an ill-advised decision to conceive a child - but her love for the child once it has been born makes it impossible for her to regret that earlier decision. The painter Paul Gauguin abandons his family to pursue his true artistic calling (and eventual life project) in Tahiti—which means he cannot truly regret his abdication of familial responsibility. The View from Here offers new interpretations of these classic cases, challenging their treatment by Bernard Williams and others. It culminates in an argument to the effect that our attachments inevitably commit us to affirming historical conditions that we cannot regard as worthy of being affirmed—a modest form of nihilism.

  • “Interesting, careful and occasionally outrageous.”—Thomas Nagel, London Review of Books

  • “An intelligent and sophisticated treatment of a comparatively neglected topic within moral psychology that deserves to be widely read by anyone with an interest in ethics or political philosophy.”--Alan Thomas, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

  • “Bristles with insightful and well-parsed observations about practical thought.... Wallace's arguments are measured and unexpectedly convincing.”—Luke Brunning, Analysis

  • “The View from Here is a book that contains exceptionally deep insights. It offers an illuminating and sharp analysis, it is groundbreaking in its results, and it will be inspiring for those who still believe that philosophy can help us to understand both the reach and the limits of human existence. It is, therefore, a truly exceptional book and bound to shape our future thinking about the intricate embeddedness of the reasons that arise from our attachments.” —Monika Betzler, Ethics

  • Philosophy Talk episode on “The Logic of Regret”

Publication List


—Chaps. 2 and 3 reprinted in John Martin Fischer, ed., Free Will (London: Routledge, 2005).

—Excerpts from chaps. 2 and 3 reprinted in Michael McKenna and Paul Russell, eds., Free Will and Reactive Attitudes: Perspectives on P. F. Strawson’s “Freedom and Resentment” (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008).

—German translation, Der moralische Nexus (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 2021).

Edited Books.

Papers and Articles

—Reprinted in Wallace, ed., Reason, Emotion and Will.

—Reprinted as Chapter 1 of Wallace, Normativity and the Will.

—Spanish translation, “Cómo Argumentar sobra la Razón Práctica”, Cuadernos de Crítica 53 (UNAM, Mexico, 2006).

—Chinese translation, in Xiangdong Xu, ed., Practical Reason, (Hangzhou: Zhejiang University Press, 2012).

—Reprinted as Chapter 11 of Wallace, Normativity and the Will.

  • “Reason and Responsibility”, in Garrett Cullity and Berys Gaut, eds., Ethics and Practical Reason (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), pp. 321-344.

—Reprinted as Chapter 6 of Wallace, Normativity and the Will.

  • “Moral Motivation”, in Edward Craig, ed., The Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (London: Routledge, 1998), pp. 522-528.

  • “Moral Sentiments”, in Craig, ed., The Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, pp. 548-550.

  • “Introduction”, in Wallace, ed., Reason, Emotion and Will (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Company, 1999), pp. xi-xxiv.

  • “Three Conceptions of Rational Agency”, Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 2 (1999), pp. 217-242.

—Reprinted as Chapter 2 of Wallace, Normativity and the Will.

—German translation, “Drei Konzeptionen rationalen Handelns”, in Erich Ammereller and Wilhelm Vossenkuhl, eds., Rationale Motivation (Paderborn: Mentis, 2005), pp. 29-56.

—Chinese translation, in Xiangdong Xu, ed., Practical Reason (Hangzhou: Zhejiang University Press, 2012).

  • “Addiction as Defect of the Will: Some Philosophical Reflections”, Law and Philosophy 18 (1999), pp. 621-654.

—Reprinted in Gary Watson, ed., Free Will, Second Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), pp. 424-452.

—Reprinted as Chapter 8 of Wallace, Normativity and the Will.

—Reprinted as Chapter 7 of Wallace, Normativity and the Will.

  • “Caring, Reflexivity, and the Structure of Volition”, in Monika Betzler and Barbara Guckes, eds., Autonomes Handeln (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2000), pp. 213-234.

—Reprinted as Chapter 9 of Wallace, Normativity and the Will.

—Reprinted as Chapter 5 of Wallace, Normativity and the Will.

—German translation, “Normativität, Festlegung und instrumentelle Vernunft”, in Christoph Halbig and Tim Henning, eds., Die neue Kritik der instrumentellen Vernunft (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 2012), pp. 103-152.

  • “Practical Reasoning”, in Neil J. Smelser and Paul B. Baltes, eds., International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences (Oxford: Elsevier Science, 2001).

  • “Scanlon’s Contractualism”, contribution to a Symposium on T. M. Scanlon’s What We Owe to Each Other (with a reply by Scanlon), Ethics 112 (April 2002), pp. 429-470.

—Reprinted as Chapter 12 of Wallace, Normativity and the Will.

—Reprinted as Chapter 3 of Wallace, Normativity and the Will.

—Reprinted as Chapter 13 of Wallace, Normativity and the Will.

  • “Normativity and the Will”, in John Hyman and Helen Steward, eds., Agency and Action (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 195-216.

—Reprinted (in part) as Chapter 4 of Wallace, Normativity and the Will.

  • “Moral Psychology”, in Frank Jackson and Michael Smith, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).

  • “Vernunft, praktische”, in Stefan Gosepath, Wilfried Hinsch, and Beate Rössler, eds., Handbuch der politischen Philosophie und Sozialphilosophie (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2008), pp. 1419-1425.

  • “Moral Motivation”, in James Dreier, ed., Contemporary Debates in Moral Theory (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2005).

  • Ressentiment, Value, and Self-Vindication: Making Sense of Nietzsche’s Slave Revolt”, in Brian Leiter and Neil Sinhababu, eds., Nietzsche and Morality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), pp. 110-137.

—Reprinted as Chapter 10 of Wallace, Normativity and the Will.

—Includes material published as “Response to Raz” in the Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy, URL = 1 (December 2005).

—Shorter and modified version in Axel Honneth and Gunnar Hindrichs, eds., Freiheit. Stuttgarter Hegel Kongress 2011 (Frankfurt a.M.: Vittorio Klostermann, 2013), pp. 213-231.