David Brink

I am Distinguished Professor in the Philosophy Department at the University of California, San Diego and Director of our Summer Program for Women in Philosophy.

Research Interests

  • Ethical theory
  • History of ethics
  • Moral psychology
  • Jurisprudence

My work in ethics focuses on foundational issues about objectivity (whether there are right answers to moral issues) and normativity (why we should care about morality); practical reason, the good, and the nature of moral demands; and rights and justice. My approach blends historical concern with the views of important figures and traditions in the history of ethics and systematic concern with the clearest and most plausible formulations of first principles. My work in jurisprudence focuses on traditional issues in analytical jurisprudence about the nature of law, legal interpretation, and determinacy in the law; issues in constitutional jurisprudence about interpretation, individual rights, and judicial review; and issues in criminal jurisprudence about responsibility and excuse.


Recent Work

Some recent publications:

  • Mill's Progressive Principles reflects 25 years of thinking, teaching, and writing about John Stuart Mill's contributions to the utilitarian and liberal traditions.  I defend novel interpretations of Mill's concepts of motivation, happiness, duty, proof, harm and the harm principle, freedom of expression, anti-paternalism, representative democracy and weighted voting, and sexual equality. However, the most distinctive aspect of my reading of Mill is the case it makes for a perfectionist reading of his conception of happiness and the significance this has for other aspects of his utilitarian and liberal commitments.
  • "Aristotelian Naturalism and the History of Ethics" is my 2014 review essay of Terence Irwin's magisterial three-volume work The Development of Ethics.  It's the product of a four-quarter graduate sequence in the history of ethics that I taught with my colleagues Don Rutherford and Sam Rickless and pays a substantial debt I owe to Terry's work and mentorship.  Anyone who has looked at Terry's three volumes will appreciate how big an accomplishment it is just reading it cover-to-cover, much less reviewing the whole.
  • "Responsibility, Incompetence, and Psychopathy" is the published version of my 2013 Lindley lecture and is representative of my work at the intersection of moral psychology and criminal jurisprudence.  It develops the fair opportunity conception of responsibility and applies it to incompetence excuses, such as insanity, and psychopathy. 
  • "Originalism and Constructive Interpretation" reconstructs and defends Ronald Dworkin's commitments to the normative dimensions of legal interpretation, the determinacy of hard cases, and an originalism of principle.  

Current Work

I am working on several article-length projects in the history of ethics, ethical theory, moral psychology, and jurisprudence (see Work in Progress).  In addition, I am working on two larger projects.  Fair Opportunity, Responsibility, and Excuse is located at the intersection of moral psychology and criminal jurisprudence.  It articulates and defends a fair opportunity conception of moral and criminal responsibility and applies it to issues of partial responsibility involving insanity and psychopathy, immaturity, addiction, and provocation and crimes of passion.  Self & Others is a long-term project at the intersection of ethical theory and history of ethics that engages issues about (a) practical reason, personal identity, and the good; (b) the demands of morality, especially the relation between partial and impartial demands; and (c) the normativity of ethics.  It defends a perfectionist conception of the personal good, the importance of associational duties, and a rationalist conception of the authority of morality.


Fall Quarter 2016 Don Rutherford and I co-taught a graduate seminar about the content, justification, and implications of perfectionist ideals in the history of philosophy.  We focused on Aristotle, Aquinas, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, Mill, Green, and Nietzsche.  In conjunction with the seminar, we hosted a conference on this theme, Perfectionism: Ancient and Modern, which included presentations by Susan Sauvé Meyer (University of Pennsylvania), Katja Vogt (Columbia University), Terence Irwin (Oxford University), Steven Nadler (University of Wisconsin, Madison), Thomas Hurka (University of Toronto), Gwen Bradford (Rice University), Don, and myself.

In other local news, I'm the recipient of both the 2016 Chancellor's Associates' Faculty Excellence Award for Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences and the 2016 Faculty Senate Research Lecturer Award in the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. There's a brief video produced in connection with the first award (below), and in connection with the second award I gave a public lecture on Partial Responsibility.  I'm donating part of the cash award to the Summer Program for Women in Philosophy.  

Click to view video