Loyola University Chicago

Department of Philosophy

Professors Emeriti and Others

Thomas L. Carson, PhD

Title/s:  Professor

Email: tcarson@luc.edu

CV Link: Tom Carson CV

External Webpage: http://thomaslcarson.weebly.com


Thomas L. Carson is Professor of Philosophy at Loyola University Chicago. He taught previously at Virginia Tech (1977–1985) and UCLA (1976). Carson received his BA from Saint Olaf College in 1972 and his PhD from Brown University in 1977. He held an NEH Fellowship during 1980–81.

Carson's teaching and research are in the general area of ethics. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on the concept of happiness. His book The Status of Morality (Reidel, 1984) discusses the foundations of ethics and defends a version of the ideal observer theory. His book Value and the Good Life (Notre Dame, 2000) addresses the nature of a good life and defends the rational desire satisfaction theory of value and he argues that the most plausible version of this theory is the divine preference theory of value.

Carson’s book, Lying and Deception: Theory and Practice (Oxford University Press, 2010), consists of three parts.  Part I addresses conceptual questions and offers definitions of lying, deception, and related concepts such as withholding information and “half truths.” Part II deals with questions in ethical theory. Carson defends a version of the golden rule and argues that there is a moral presumption against lying and deception that cause harm - a presumption at least as strong as that endorsed by act-utilitarianism. Part III discusses practical moral questions including: lying, deception, and withholding information in business and other professions; lying and deception by leaders as a pretext for fighting wars; and lying and deception about the historical record. The book concludes with a qualified defense of the view that honesty is a virtue.

Carson’s book Lincoln's Ethics was published by Cambridge University Press in 2015.  Unlike most other important historical figures, Abraham Lincoln is generally regarded as a singularly good and morally virtuous human being.  Lincoln's Ethics addresses the question of whether Lincoln deserves this reputation.  Lincoln made many morally fraught decisions regarding slavery and the rights of African-Americans. Some of these decisions and policies have been the subject of considerable criticism. His actions and policies as Commander in Chief during the Civil War have also generated much criticism. Carson defends the morality of most of Lincoln’s decisions and policies in question. Lincoln possessed several important moral virtues, such as kindness and magnanimity, to a very high degree. Despite this, there are also grounds to question the goodness of his character. Many fault him as a husband, father, and son. In addition, many people claim that he was a racist and that his racism detracted greatly from his moral goodness.  Carson argues that Lincoln was, on balance, a very good person and that he was morally exemplary, in most respects.

Together with Paul Moser, Carson has co‑edited two anthologies: Morality and the Good Life (Oxford, 1997), and Moral Relativism (Oxford, 2001). He has published papers on utilitarianism, the concept of happiness, metaethics, ethical relativism, W.D. Ross, Rawls, God and morality, the problem of evil, the golden rule, Kant's Perpetual Peace, and Nietzsche. Carson has written many papers on business and professional ethics dealing with such topics as bluffing, deception in advertising, bribery, corporate social responsibility, conflicts of interest, self-dealing, and sales. Carson's papers have appeared in Philosophy & Public Affairs, Mind, Noûs, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Philosophical Studies, Religious Studies, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, Business Ethics Quarterly, Erkenntnis, Theoria, Encyclopedia of Ethics, The MacMillian Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2nd ed., Wiley-Blackwell’s International Encyclopedia of Ethics, The Oxford Handbook of Business Ethics, The Blackwell Companion to Business Ethics,  Ethical Theory: An Anthology, Second edition, The Philosophy of Deception, Lying: Language, Knowledge, and Ethics, and The Oxford Handbook of Lying.

Carson works mainly in the Anglo‑American tradition, but he also has serious interests in continental philosophy, particularly Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Scheler, and Brentano.

Carson has a life‑long interest in history and makes extensive use of historical examples in his teaching and his book on lying and deception. Lincoln Ethics also combines his interests in history and moral philosophy. He plans to broaden and continue the work he did in Lincoln’s Ethics in a project about making moral judgments about people from the past (of special interest are people whose moral beliefs differed greatly from our own and who took part in practices that we now regard as immoral, such as slavery).

Carson was previously a member of the editorial boards of American Philosophical Quarterly, Public Affairs Quarterly, Journal of Happiness Studies, and Business Ethics Quarterly.

In addition to his philosophical work, Carson is a train enthusiast and has published articles on baseball history. He is a Chicago native and a passionate, but despairing, Cubs fan. Carson is married and has two children.


PhD, Brown University
MA, Brown University
BA, Saint Olaf College

Research Interests

Ethics and Theory of Value, History and Ethics, Metaethics, Business Ethics, Political Philosophy, Morality and Religion, History of Ethics, Existentialism

Selected Publications

Authored Books 

The Status of Morality (Reidel, Philosophical Studies Series in Philosophy, 1984).

Value and the Good Life (University of Notre Dame Press, 2000). Pages 222-239 and 304-305 are reprinted as “Rationality and Full Information,” in Ethical Theory: An Anthology, Second edition, Russ Shafer-Landau, Wiley Blackwell. 2013, pp 277-285.

Lying and Deception: Theory and Practice (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2010; Paperback Edition with corrections, 2012). 

Lincoln’s Ethics (Cambridge University Press, 2015).

Recent Publications 

"My Correspondence with Milton Friedman about the Social Responsibilities of Business," Business and Society Review 123 (2018): 217-242. 

"Frankfurt and Cohen on Bullshit, Bullshiting, Deception, Lying, and Concern with the Truth of What One Says," Pragmatics & Cognition, 23 (2016): 54-68.

"Lincoln the Man and the Myth: A Question of Character," Bulletin of the Lincoln Fellowship of Wisconsin, April 2014, Historical Bulletin Number 68.

"Free Exchange for Mutual Benefit: Sweatshops and Maitland’s ‘Classical Liberal Standard," Journal of Business Ethics 112 (2013): 127-135.

"Divine Will/Divine Command Moral Theories and the Problem of Arbitrariness," Religious Studies 48 (2012): 445-468.