Born and raised in Australia, Michael Smith studied philosophy at Monash University (1972-1979), and then became an English and Politics teacher at Melbourne Boys High School (1980-1981). The award of a Commonwealth Overseas Scholarship enabled him to continue his studies at Oxford University (1981-1984). While at Oxford, Smith read for the BPhil and DPhil in philosophy, working closely with R. M. Hare, Jennifer Hornsby, and Simon Blackburn. Blackburn supervised his DPhil thesis, so his philosophy family tree traces back, via Blackburn, to Casmir Lewy, and G. E. Moore.
After a period as Stipendiary Lecturer at Wadham College during his final year at Oxford, Smith went on to teach philosophy at Monash University (1984-5), Princeton University (1985-9), and Monash University again (1989-94), before moving to a full-time research position in philosophy at the Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University (1995-2004). (The latter move occasioned his then-colleague at Monash, Richard Holton, to write some amusing doggerel for him.)
Appointed initially to a Senior Fellowship in RSSS, Smith became Professor of Philosophy at RSSS in 1997, and Head of the Division of Philosophy and Law at RSSS in 1998. He was elected Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities in 1997, and Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia in 2000. In 2003, he was awarded the Centenary Medal for service to Australian society and humanities in the study of philosophy.
In 2004, Smith returned to teach at Princeton, where he was named McCosh Professor of Philosophy in 2009, and served as Chair of the Department 2012-18. (You can find out a little about McCosh's own philosophical work by reading David Sanford's very funny introduction when Smith gave the Claire Miller Lecture at Chapel Hill in 2011. Whatever you make of his philosophical achievements, as Princeton’s eleventh president (1868-88) McCosh was a vocal critic of slavery and the Confederacy, so much so that he clashed with white southern students attending the college after the Civil War.)
At Princeton, Smith is also Associated Faculty Member in the Department of Politics; a member of the Executive Committee of the University Center for Human Values 2004-present, serving as Acting Director of UCHV 2020-21; and a member of the Committee for Film Studies 2014-present, serving as Chair 2019-2021. Smith was elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2013. In 2016 he received the Distinguished Alumni Award for the Faculty of Arts at Monash University. In 2017 he became Distinguished Visiting Focus Professor in Monash University Philosophy Department's Focus Program on Belief, Value, and Mind, a position he will occupy until the end of 2022.
Smith's current research focuses on topics in ethics, moral psychology, philosophy of action, political philosophy, philosophy of law, and aesthetics. His John Locke Lectures, given at Oxford University in 2017, span all these topics, and those lectures will appear in due course under the title A Standard of Judgement. Smith is also the author of The Moral Problem (1994) (which won the American Philosophical Association Book Prize), and Ethics and the A Priori: Selected Essays on Moral Psychology and Meta-Ethics (2004) (which was the subject of an off-beat review by Constantine Sandis). He is also the co-author of Mind, Morality and Explanation: Selected Collaborations (2004), a collection of papers written in various combinations by Smith and his two long-time colleagues, Frank Jackson and Philip Pettit (whose collaborative work inspired David Estlund to make a morphing gif of the three of them).
Smith has been known to sing and play guitar at Philosophy Department parties, events elsewhere on the Princeton campus, and at various philosophy conferences. Here is a video of him singing and playing his wife's favorite song at Princeton's Reunions long weekend in 2015. This musical Reunions' event was organized by his colleague Robby George, with whom Smith has co-taught and played guitar for many years. Here is a video of them playing together. A video of him accompanying Nomy Arpaly can be seen here.
For more information about Michael Smith, see the entry about him in Companion to Philosophy in Australia (2010), or the interview with him in The Antipodean Philosopher Volume 2: Interviews with Australian and New Zealand Philosophers (2012). A video of his talk at Reasons and Rationality: Epistemic and Practical, a workshop held at St Andrews, Scotland, in 2013, can be seen here. Smith's Philosophy Alumni Lecture, given at Princeton via Zoom in 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic, can be seen here.
Some larger format photos can be found by clicking on the smaller versions below.
A partial list of the PhD students Smith has supervised is available on David Chalmers' Australasian Philosophy Family Tree, and a list of the students whose PhDs he has advised at Princeton is available here.
Since he has been at Princeton, Smith has taught the following graduate classes:
PHI551_SU2021 Practical Normativity: Reasons, Value, and Fittingness, co-taught with Thomas Schmidt (Humboldt University)
PHI551_SU2020 Practical Normativity: Online, co-taught with Thomas Schmidt (Humboldt University)
PHI551_SU2019 Practical Normativity: Morality, co-taught with Seth Lazar (ANU) and Thomas Schmidt (Humboldt University)
PHI551_SU2018 Practical Normativity: Reasons, co-taught with Thomas Schmidt (Humboldt University)
PHI518 Part One and PHI518 Part Two Ethical Sentimentalism vs Ethical Rationalism, co-taught with Thomas Schmidt (Humboldt University)
PHI599 Dissertation Seminar (Fall 2015)
PHI525 Recent Work in Metaethics and Moral Philosophy (Spring 2015)
POL563/PHI526 Philosophy of Law, co-taught with Robert P. George (Spring 2014)
PHI524 Systematic Ethics: Seminars on topics in Moral Psychology, Meta-Ethics, and Normative Ethics, co-taught with Frank Jackson and Philip Pettit (Fall 2012)
PHI523 Problems of Philosophy: Topics in Normative Ethics, Meta-Ethics, Moral Psychology, and Moral Methodology (Spring 2012)
AY 2010-11 on leave
Readings for Judith Jarvis Thomson's graduate seminar (Fall 2009)
PHI523 Problems of Philosophy: Topics in Normative Ethics, Meta-Ethics, Moral Psychology, and Moral Methodology (Fall 2009)
PHI524 Systematic Ethics: Themes from Setiya, Bratman, and Dancy (Fall 2008)
PHI524 Systematic Ethics: Themes from Railton, Raz, and Scanlon (Fall 2007)
PHI599 Dissertation Seminar (Fall 2006)
PHI524 Systematic Ethics: Themes from Velleman, Herman, and Langton (Fall 2006)
PHI524 Systematic Ethics: Themes from Darwall, Wallace, and Watson (Spring 2006)
PHI524 Systematic Ethics: Themes from Copp, Sayre-McCord, and Wolf (Spring 2005)
Selected forthcoming and published papers - for a complete list
see my CV
"From Knowledge of Our Existence to Normative Knowledge" forthcoming in Morality and Civilization (translated into Chinese by Zhen Chen)
"Gary Watson: Strawsonian" in Oxford Studies in Agency and
Responsibility edited by Justin Coates, David Shoemaker, and Neil
Tognazzini (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019) pp.110-126.
"Three Kinds of Moral Rationalism" in The Many Moral Rationalisms
edited by Karen Jones and Francois Schroeter (Oxford: Oxford University
Press 2018) pp.48-69.
"Parfit's Mistaken Metaethics"
in Does Anything Really Matter? Parfit
on Objectivity edited by Peter Singer (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
"Function and Truth in Ethics" in The Philosophy of Philip Kitcher edited by Mark Couch and Jessica Pfeifer (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016) pp.253-267.
"Religion and Metaethics" in Handbook of Philosophy of Religion edited by Graham Oppy (London and New York: Routledge/Taylor and Francis, 2015) pp.305-315.
"Desires...and Beliefs...of One's Own" in Rational and Social Agency: Essays on the Philosophy of Michael Bratman edited by Manuel Vargas and Gideon Yaffe (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014) pp.129-151 (co-authored with Geoffrey Sayre-McCord)
"The Ideal of Orthonomous Action, Or: The How and Why of BuckPassing" in Thinking About Reasons: Essays in Honour of Jonathan Dancy edited by David Bakhurst, Brad Hooker, and Margaret Little (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), pp.50-75.
"A Constitutivist Theory of Reasons: Its Promise and Parts" in LEAP: Law, Ethics, and Philosophy (1) 2013, pp.9-30.
"Agents and Patients, Or: What We Learn about Reasons for Action by Reflecting on Our Choices in Process-of-Thought Cases" in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, CXII, 2012, pp.309-330.
"Naturalism, Absolutism, Relativism" in Ethical Naturalism: Current Debates edited by Susana Nuccetelli and Gary Seay (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012) pp.226-244.
"Four Objections to the Standard Story of Action (and Four Replies)" in Philosophical Issues, 22, Action Theory, 2012, pp.387-401.
"Deontological Moral Obligations and Non-Welfarist Agent-Relative Values" in Ratio, XXIV, 2011 pp.351-363
"Beyond Belief, Desire, and Rationality, Or: The Unsettling Truth about the Conditions of Responsibility" in Compatibilist Responsibility: Beyond Free Will and Determinism edited by Nicole Vincent, Ibo van de Poel, and 3 Jeroen van den Hoven (New York: Springer Publishing, 2011) pp.53-70
"Scanlon on Desire and the Explanation of Action" in Reasons and Recognition: Essays on the Philosophy of T.M. Scanlon, edited by Samuel Freeman, Rahul Kumar, and R. Jay Wallace (New York, Oxford University Press, 2011) pp.79-97.
"The Value of Making and Keeping Promises" in Promises and Agreements: Philosophical Essays, edited by Hanoch Sheinman (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011) pp.198-216
"On Normativity" in Analysis, 70, 2010 pp. 715-731
"Moral Obligation, Accountability, and Second-Personal Reasons" in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 81, 2010 pp.237–245 (coauthored with Jada Twedt Strabbing)
"Beyond the Error Theory" in A World Without Values: Essays on John Mackie's Moral Error Theory edited by Richard Joyce and Simon Kirchin (New York: Springer, 2010) pp.119-139.
"Reasons With Rationalism After All" in Analysis Reviews, 69, 2009, pp.1-10.
"Consequentialism and the Nearest and Dearest Objection" in Minds, Ethics, and Conditionals: Themes from the Philosophy of Frank Jackson edited by Ian Ravenscroft (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009) pp.237-266.
"The Explanatory Role of Being Rational" in Reasons for Action edited by David Sobel and Steven Wall (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009) pp.58-80.
"Two Kinds of Consequentialism" in Philosophical Issues, 19, 2009, Metaethics, pp. 257-272.
"Desires, Values, Reasons, and the Dualism of Practical Reason" in Ratio Special Issue: Parfit's On What Matters edited by John Cottingham and Jussi Suikkanen, 22, 2009, pp.98-125.
"The Truth About Internalism" in Moral Psychology Volume 3: The Neuroscience of Morality: Emotion, Brain Disorders, and Development edited by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008) pp.207-215
"Is there a Nexus between Reasons and Rationality?" in Moral Psychology edited by Sergio Tenenbaum (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2007) pp.279-298. (The published version of this paper is garbled for some reason, so I am making the proofs available instead.)
"Is That All There Is?" in The Journal of Ethics (10) 2006, Special Issue on Joel Feinberg, pp.75-106.
"Moore on the Right, the Good, and Uncertainty" in Metaethics After Moore edited by Terence Horgan and Mark Timmons (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), pp.133-148.
"External Reasons" in McDowell and His Critics edited by Cynthia Macdonald and Graham Macdonald (Oxford: Blackwell, 2006) (coauthored with Philip Pettit) pp.140-168.
"Absolutist Moral Theories and Uncertainty" in Journal of Philosophy, 103, 2006, pp.267-283 (co-authored with Frank Jackson).
"Metaethics" in Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Philosophy edited by Frank Jackson and Michael Smith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005) pp.3-30.
"Instrumental Desires, Instrumental Rationality" in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume (78) 2004, pp.93-109.
"The Truth in Deontology" in Reason and Value: Themes from the Moral Philosophy of Joseph Raz edited by R.Jay Wallace, Philip Pettit, Samuel Scheffler and Michael Smith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), pp.153-175 (co-authored with Philip Pettit).
"The Structure of Orthonomy" in Action and Agency (Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement: 55) edited by John Hyman and Helen Steward (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004) pp.165-193.
"Humean Rationality" in The Handbook of Rationality edited by Alfred Mele and Piers Rawling (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), pp.75-92.
"Neutral and Relative Value after Moore" in Ethics, Centenary Symposium on G.E.Moore's Principia Ethica, 113, 2003, pp.576-598.
"Is There a Lockean Argument Against Expressivism?" in Analysis, 63, 2003, pp.76-86 (co-authored with Daniel Stoljar).
"Which Passions Rule?" in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 65, 2002, pp.157–63.
"Bernard Gert's Complex Hybrid Conception of Rationality" in Rationality, Rules, and Ideals: Critical Essays on Bernard Gert's Moral Theory edited by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong and Robert Audi (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002), pp.109-123.
"Immodest Consequentialism and Character" in Utilitas, Special Issue on Consequentialism and Character edited by Julia Driver, 13, 2001 pp.173-194.
"Some Not-Much-Discussed Problems for Non-Cognitivism in Ethics" in Ratio, 14, 2001, pp.93-115 (starred contribution).
"Irresistible Impulse" in Intention in Law and Philosophy edited by Ngaire Naffine, Rosemary Owens and John Williams (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2001) pp.37-56.
"Responsibility and Self-Control" in Relating to Responsibility: Essays in Honour of Tony Honore on his 80th Birthday edited by Peter Cane and John Gardner (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2001), pp.1-19.
"The Resentment Argument" in Exploring Practical Philosophy edited by Dan Egonsson, Jonas Josefsson, Björn Petersson, Toni RønnowRasmussen (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2001), pp.109-122.
"Global Consequentialism" in Morality, Rules, and Consequences: A Critical Reader edited by Brad Hooker, Elinor Mason and Dale E. Miller (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000) pp.121-133 (co-authored with Philip Pettit).
"Search for the Source" in Philosophical Quarterly 49, 1999, pp.384-394.
"Morality and Law" in The Philosophy of Law: An Encyclopedia edited by Christopher B.Gray (New York: Garland, 1999) pp.567a-570b.
"The Definition of 'Moral'" in Singer and His Critics edited by Dale Jamieson (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999) pp.38-63.
"The Non-Arbitrariness of Reasons: Reply to Lenman" in Utilitas, 11, 1999 pp.178-193.
"Global Response-Dependence and Noumenal Realism" in The Monist, Special Issue on Secondary Qualities Generalized edited by Peter Menzies, 81, 1998, pp.85-111 (co-authored with Daniel Stoljar)
"Galen Strawson and the Weather Watchers" in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 58, 1998, pp.449-454
"Response-Dependence Without Reduction" in European Review of Philosophy, Special Issue on Response-Dependence edited by Roberto Casati and Christine Tappolet, 3, 1998, pp.85-108.
"Synchronic Self-Control is Always Non-Actional" in Analysis, 57, 1997, pp.123-131 (co-authored with Jeanette Kennett)
"How not to be Muddled by a Meddlesome Muggletonian" in Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 75, 1997, pp.511-527 (co-authored with John Bigelow)
"Normative Reasons and Full Rationality: Reply to Swanton" in Analysis, 56, 1996, pp.160-168.
"The Argument for Internalism: Reply to Miller" in Analysis, 56, 1996, pp.175-184.
"Reply to Ingmar Persson's Critical Notice of The Moral Problem" in Theoria, 61, Part 2, 1995, pp. 159-181.
"Internal Reasons" in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 55, 1995, pp.109-131.
"Why Expressivists About Value Should Love Minimalism About Truth" in Analysis, 54, 1994, pp.1-12.
"Minimalism, Truth-Aptitude, and Belief" in Analysis, 54, 1994, pp.21-26.
"Colour, Transparency, Mind-Independence" in Reality, Representation, and Projection edited by John Haldane and Crispin Wright (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), pp.269-277.
"Valuing: Desiring or Believing?" in Reduction, Explanation, and Realism edited by David Charles and Kathleen Lennon (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), pp.323-360.
"Realism" in Companion to Ethics edited by Peter Singer (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991), pp. 399-410.
"Dispositional Theories of Value" in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume (63) 1989, pp.89-111.
"Reason and Desire" in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society (88) 1987-8, pp.243-256.
"The Humean Theory of Motivation" in Mind (96) 1987, pp.36-61
"Peacocke on Red and Red´" in Synthese 68, 1986, pp.559-576.
"Actions, Attempts, and Internal Events" in Analysis 43, 1983, pp.142-146.
"Did Socrates Kill Himself Intentionally?" in Philosophy, 55, 1980, pp.253-254.
"Descartes, God, and the Evil Spirit" in Sophia, 17, 1978, pp.33-36 (co-authored with Robert Elliot).
"Individuating Actions: A Reply to McCullagh and Thalberg" in Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 75, 1977, pp.209-212 (co-authored with Robert Elliot).
Department of Philosophy
Princeton, NJ 08544-1006
Room 113 1879 Hall
Office telephone: +1-609-258-4306 (recorded messages are e-mailed)
Department telephone: +1-609-258-4289
Department fax: +1-609-258-1502