William J. FitzPatrick

Gideon Webster Burbank Professor of Intellectual and Moral Philosophy, University of Rochester


Undergraduate Adviser


Associate Editor for Ethics (July, 2013 to present)


Current Courses


Philosophy 103: Moral Problems

Philosophy 517: Topics in Contemporary Moral Philosophy


Philosophy 103: Moral Problems

Philosophy 225: Ethical Decisions in Medicine


 Research Areas

Moral Philosophy:

Metaethics: I am interested in defending a robust form of ethical realism that involves a non-naturalistic metaphysics of ethical facts and properties as well as an external reasons theory that allows for the categoricity of moral requirements. In addition to critiquing neo-Kantian constructivism, neo-Humean theories of reasons, and naturalistic forms of realism, I also have particular interests in critiquing common appeals to natural teleology and/or evolution in metaethical or ethical arguments. I have recently focused especially on providing a realist response to evolutionary debunking arguments (and similar arguments stemming from work in cognitive science and empirical moral psychology), and on related issues in moral epistemology. Finally, I work on problems concerning normative ignorance and moral responsibility.

Normative Ethical Theory: Much of my work in normative ethics has focused on resisting consequentialism, particularly through defenses of the Doctrine of Double Effect against various recent objections.

Applied Ethics: My work in applied ethics has been mainly in bioethics (the moral status of embryos, non-reproductive cloning, ethical issues in human subjects research) and in environmental ethics (the non-instrumental value of nature; climate change and the rights of future generations).



Morality and Evolutionary Biology, Korean translation of Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry of the same title, published in book form in fall, 2018.


Teleology and the Norms of Nature (New York: Garland, 2000).


Articles and Chapters:


"Open Question Arguments and the Irreducibility of Ethical Normativity,” forthcoming in The Naturalistic Fallacy, ed. by Neil Sinclair (Oxford University Press, 2019).


"Cognitive Science and Moral Philosophy: Challenging Scientistic Overreach," in J. de Ritter, R. Peels and R. van Woudenberg eds., Scientism: Prospects and Problems (Oxford University Press, 2018).


"Representing Ethical Reality: A Guide for Worldly Non-Naturalists," Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 48:3-4, 548-568 (2018).

"The Value of Life and the Dignity of Persons," in Sebastian Muders ed., Human Dignity and Assisted Death (Oxford University Press, 2018).


"Human Altruism, Evolution, and Moral Philosophy," Royal Society Open Science, 2017; 4(8):170441. (Open access)


Ontology for an Uncompromising Ethical Realism,” Topoi, Nov. 2016.


“Unwitting Wrongdoing, Reasonable Expectations and Blameworthiness,” forthcoming in Responsibility: The Epistemic Condition, ed. by Philip Robichaud and Jan Willem Wieland (Oxford University Press, 2017).


"Why Darwinism Does Not Debunk Objective Morality," in The Cambridge Handbook of Evolutionary Ethics, ed. by Michael Ruse and Robert J. Richards (Cambridge University Press, 2017).


Misidentifying the Evolutionary Debunker’s Error: Reply to Mogensen,” Analysis, published online September, 2016.


"Scientific Naturalism and the Explanation of Moral Beliefs: Challenging Evolutionary Debunking," in Kelly Clark, ed., The Blackwell Companion to Naturalism (Wiley Blackwell, 2016).


"Debunking Evolutionary Debunking of Ethical Realism," Philosophical Studies, March, 2015.


"Skepticism about Naturalizing Normativity: In Defense of Ethical Non-Naturalism," Res Philosophica (October 2014), special issue on ethical non-naturalism, edited by Terence Cuneo. Winner of 2014 Res Philosophica Essay Prize. (This article is freely available by clicking on the above link and then clicking the ‘SHOW DOCUMENT’ box.)


"Evolutionary Theory and Morality: Why the Science Doesn’t Settle the Philosophical Questions, " Philosophic Exchange, Vol 44, No. 1 (2014). Open Access.


"Why There is No Darwinian Dilemma for Ethical Realism," in M. Bergmann and P. Kain eds., Challenges to Moral and Religious Belief: Disagreement and Evolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).


"How Not To Be an Ethical Constructivist: A Critique of Korsgaard’s Neo-Kantian Constitutivism," in C. Bagnoli, ed., Constructivism in Ethics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013). 


"Intention, Permissibility, and Double Effect," Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics, Vol. 2 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).


"Worth/Dignity," in the International Encyclopedia of Ethics (2012).


"The Doctrine of Double Effect: Intention and Permissibility,” in Philosophy Compass, 7(3): 183-196 (March, 2012).


"Biology, Evolution, and Ethics," in the Continuum Companion to Ethics (London: Continuum, 2011).


"Ethical Non-Naturalism and Normative Properties," in Michael Brady ed., New Waves in Metaethics (Palgrave MacMillan, 2010).


"Recent Work on Ethical Realism," Analysis Reviews 69:4 (October, 2009).


"Thomson's Turnabout on the Trolley," Analysis 69:4 (October, 2009).


"Morality and Evolutionary Biology," Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (December 2008).


"Moral Responsibility and Normative Ignorance: Answering a New Skeptical Challenge," Ethics, Vol. 118, No. 4 (July, 2008).


"Robust Ethical Realism, Non-Naturalism and Normativity," Oxford Studies in Metaethics, Vol. 3 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).


"Teleology," International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, ed. William A. Darity, Jr., Vol. 8. 2nd ed. (Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2008).


"Climate Change and the Rights of Future Generations: Social Justice Beyond Mutual Advantage," Environmental Ethics, Vol. 29, No. 4 (Winter 2007).


"The Intend/Foresee Distinction and the Problem of Closeness," Philosophical Studies, Vol. 128, No. 3 (April, 2006).


"The Practical Turn In Ethical Theory: Korsgaard's Constructivism, Realism, and the Nature of Normativity," Ethics Vol. 115, No. 4 (July, 2005).


"Valuing Nature Non-Instrumentally," The Journal of Value Inquiry, Vol. 38 (2004).


"Reasons, Value, and Particular Agents: Normative Relevance Without Motivational Internalism," Mind Vol. 113, Issue 450 (April, 2004).


"Ethical Pluralism Without Complementarity," Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, Vol. 47, No. 2 (Spring 2004).


"Totipotency and the Moral Status of Embryos: New Problems for an Old Argument," Journal of Social Philosophy, Vol. 35 No. 1 (Spring 2004).


"Acts, Intentions, and Moral Permissibility: In Defense of the Doctrine of Double Effect," Analysis, 63:4 (October 2003).


"Surplus Embryos, Non-Reproductive Cloning, and the Intend/Foresee Distinction," The Hastings Center Report 33:3 (May/June 2003). *Reprinted in Ethical Issues in Modern Medicine, 7th edition, ed. by Bonnie Steinbock, Alex John London and John D. Arras (McGraw Hill, 2007).


"O'Neill and Korsgaard on the Construction of Normativity," with Eric Watkins, The Journal of Value Inquiry, Vol. 36, Nos. 2-3 (summer, 2002).


"Ethical Concerns Over Testing on Human Subjects," Human and Ecological Risk Assessment: Vol. 7, No. 6 (2001).




Review of Philip Kitcher, The Ethical Project (Harvard University Press), Ethics, Vol. 123, No. 1 (October, 2012).


Review of Judith Jarvis Thomson, Normativity (Chicago: Open Court, 2008), Ethics, Vol. 120, No. 2 (January, 2010).


Review of Richard Dean, The Value of Humanity in Kant's Moral Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), Mind, Vol. 116, Issue 464 (October, 2007).


Review of Michael Byron, ed., Satisficing and Maximizing: Moral Theorists on Practical Reason (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), Philosophical Books (July, 2007): http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1468-0149.2007.00449_9.x


Review of Giovanni Boniolo and Gabriele De Anna, eds., Evolutionary Ethics and Contemporary Biology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, April 2, 2007: http://ndpr.nd.edu/review.cfm?id=9205


Review of Joseph Raz, The Practice of Value (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), Ethics, Vol. 116, No. 4 (July, 2006).


Work in Progress:


Ethical Realism (book under contract with Cambridge University Press, for the Elements of Ethics series);

"Negligence, Reasonable Expectations and Blameworthiness" (for a volume on negligence and responsibility);

"Moral Progress" (for Analyse & Kritic);

"Beyond Ethical Naturalism: Secular Non-Naturalist Realism, Theistic Supernaturalism, and the Grounding of Human Dignity and Rights"

 Essay Prizes

2014 Res Philosophica Essay Prize for "Skepticism about Naturalizing Normativity: In Defense of Ethical Non-Naturalism". (Follow link and click on ‘SHOW DOCUMENT’.)

2000 Aristotle Prize from The Metaphysical Society of America for "Metaphysics and Ethical Realism".

 Teaching Awards

2015 Edward Peck Curtis Teaching Award, University of Rochester

2008-09 Certificate of Teaching Excellence, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, Virginia Tech

Contact Information

Email address: william.fitzpatrick@rochester.edu

Office address and phone: 525 Lattimore Hall; (585) 275-8107

Biographical Information










AB, with Honors



 Prior Teaching:

Virginia Tech, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies: 2005-2010

Virginia Tech, Assistant Professor: 1999-2005

Yale University, Lecturer: 1996-1999

UCLA, Instructor: 1991-1994