Jonathan Jacobs Research

Moral Psychology, Metaethics, Criminal Justice, History of Philosophy

 Professor Jacobs has longstanding interests in the nature of moral agency and the nature of moral reasons. These interests include questions concerning the extent to which an individual’s character is voluntary, the role of character in moral reasoning, the nature of the virtues and vices, and also the relations between ethical issues and fundamental concerns of political theory.

 Much of his work involves explicating the role of resources from the history of philosophy in addressing contemporary issues. He has written extensively on these topics, including considerable work on ancient and medieval philosophy and the relevance of their insights and arguments to the persistent issues of moral philosophy. Among his works are:


Reason, Religion, and Natural Law: From Plato to Spinoza (editor and contributor, Oxford University Press, fall 2012)

Law, Reason, and Morality in Medieval Jewish Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 2010)

Dimensions of Moral Theory: An Introduction to Metaethics and Moral Psychology (Blackwell, 2002)

Choosing Character: Responsibility for Virtue and Vice, (Cornell U. Press (2001)

Articles and Chapters:

“The Epistemology of Moral Tradition: A Defense of a Maimonidean Thesis,” The Review of Metaphysics, September 2010

“Forgiveness and Perfection,” in Ancient Forgiveness, edited by Charles Griswold and David Konstan,  Cambridge University Press, 2012

“Character, Liability, and Morally Unreachable Agents,” in Criminal Justice Ethics, Summer/Fall (2007)

“The Exercise of Liberty and the Moral Psychology of Justice” in Liberty and Justice, a volume from The Hoover Institution, July 2006 (invited) pp. 41-82.

“Retributivism and Public Norms” in St. Andrews Studies in Philosophy and Public Affairs, 2004

 “Some Tensions Between Autonomy and Self-Governance,” in Social Philosophy and Policy, Summer  2003 and in Autonomy, edited by Ellen Frankel Paul, Fred D. Miller, Jr., and Jeffrey Paul, Cambridge University Press, 2003, pp. 221-244.

“Metaethics and Teleology,”in The Review of Metaphysics, September, 2001

 From a recent review of Law, Reason, and Morality in Medieval Jewish Philosophy

 “Jacobs is rapidly distinguishing himself as our foremost go-between able to contrast and explain the moral theories of classical Greek philosophy, Christian Scholasticism, and philosophical Judaism to one another, resisting facile, simplistic comparisons in favor of a respectfully precise and artistically responsive appreciation of the inner spirit and distinctive characteristics of each. He here tackles the question raised by such thinkers as Marvin Fox, David Bleich, and David Novak as to what extent philosophical Judaism as represented by Saadia, Bahya, and Maimonides may be considered a ‘natural law’ philosophy. Jacobs uses this question to explore a variety of side-questions, in the process providing one of the most encompassing, sensitive, and helpful appreciations of Judaism’s covenant-based but legalistically-structured relationship with the deity available today. Along the way Jacobs corrects a host of misconceptions.”

(Patrick Madigan, Editor, The Heythrop Journal, University of London)