David McCarthy

Before moving to Hong Kong I worked at Edinburgh, Bristol, and Melbourne. Before that I did a postdoc at Johns Hopkins, a PhD at USC with Barbara Herman and started out as an undergrad at Oxford in mathematics.

For a full CV click here. For abstracts of publications click here. More information about my research is on my academia.edu webpage. For citations see here.


My main research interests are in ethics, in particular the fundamental evaluative and normative questions of when one situation is better than another, and what we ought to do. Questions about risk and uncertainty are deeply implicated in both of these topics, so I also have strong interests in decision theory, game theory, and philosophy of probability.

My current focus is on the evaluative question, in particular the central question for the ethics of distribution: when is one distribution of goods better than another? In my view, two things are fundamental to answering this question. First, one has to talk about risk or uncertainty from the outset. Second, utilitarianism is the key to the universe.

Much moral philosophy in the last 50 years has articulated a variety of distributive views by contrasting them with a strawman characterization of utilitarianism. Unfortunately, this ignores major developments in utilitarian theory in welfare economics and social choice theory. My main claim is that a proper understanding of utilitarianism provides a better taxonomy of all the alternatives to it, and a better appreciation of why utilitarianism itself is so plausible.

I have been working on this theme for some time. Recent articles in this vein are `Distributive equality’ and `The priority view’. But the centrepiece, with much help from my coauthors Kalle Mikkola and Teruji Thomas, is `Utilitarianism with and without expected utility’. Some of this work is fairly technical, but I manage to teach the material to undergraduates, and I am slowly preparing a more accessible book *The Structure of Good*, under contract with OUP.

Before I complete the book, however, I hope to finish projects on ex ante and ex post egalitarianism; personal and impersonal value; the value of existence; the expected utility axioms; social choice theoretic arguments; egalitarianism and nonexpected utility theory; infinite populations; evaluative measurement; and vagueness and incomparability.

An overarching theme of this project is the immense value of conceptual and mathematical methods developed in disciplines such as welfare economics and decision theory. In a more slowly developing project, I am pursuing the same kind of approach to normative theories. Here, there are very valuable tools in game theory and interactive epistemology.


  • McCarthy, D. The Structure of Good. Oxford University Press, forthcoming.
  • McCarthy, D. 'Probability in ethics.' In A. Hájek and C. Hitchcock eds. The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Probability, forthcoming. pdf
  • McCarthy, D. `The priority view.' Economics and Philosophy, forthcoming. pdf
  • McCarthy, D, K. Mikkola, and T. Thomas `Utilitarianism with and without expected utility' MPRA Paper No. 72578 (2016) pdf
  • McCarthy, D. 'Distributive equality.' Mind, 124(496) (2015): 1045-1109.
  • McCarthy, D. 'Risk-free approaches to the priority view.' Erkenntnis (2013) 78(2) (2013): 421-449. doi:10.1007/s10670-012-9377-4 pdf
  • McCarthy, D. 'Utilitarianism and prioritarianism II.' Economics and Philosophy 24(1) (2008): 1-33. pdf
  • McCarthy, D. 'Measuring life's goodness.' Philosophical Books 48(4) (2007): 303-319. pdf
  • McCarthy, D. 'Utilitarianism and prioritarianism I.' Economics and Philosophy 22(3) (2006): 335-363. pdf
  • McCarthy, D. 'Intending harm, foreseeing harm and failures of the will.' Noûs 36(4) (2002): 622-642. pdf
  • McCarthy, D. 'Harming and allowing harm.' Ethics 110(4) (2000): 749-779. pdf
  • McCarthy, D. 'Actions, beliefs and consequences.' Philosophical Studies 90(1) (1998): 57-77. pdf
  • McCarthy, D. 'Rights, explanation, and risk.' Ethics 107(2) (1997): 205-222. pdf
  • Arntzenius, F. and D. McCarthy 'Self-torture and group beneficence.' Erkenntnis 47(1) (1997): 129-44. pdf
  • Arntzenius, F. and D. McCarthy 'The two envelope paradox and infinite expectations.' Analysis 57(1) (1997): 42-50. pdf
  • McCarthy, D. 'Liability and risk.' Philosophy and Public Affairs 25(3) (1996): 238-262. pdf


As well as any topics related to my research interests, I'm happy to supervise postgraduate students in a range of topics in ethics, decision theory, philosophy of probability, metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of social science, and political philosophy. I am happy to supervise on the application of formal methods to philosophical problems. Potential postgraduate students should get in touch well in advance of application.


mccarthy hku.hk