David Copp Portrait

Position Title
Distinguished Professor Emeritus

2281 Social Science and Humanities Building


  • Ph.D., Philosophy, Cornell University, 1976
  • M.A., Philosophy, Cornell University, 1973
  • Honours B.A., Philosophy and Sociology, Glendon College, York University, Toronto, 1970


David Copp is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Davis. He has taught previously at Simon Fraser University, the University of Illinois at Chicago, Bowling Green State University (BGSU), and the University of Florida. He moved to UC Davis in 2009 and served as department chair from 2010 to 2015. He also served as department chair at BGSU and University of Florida, and previously at UC Davis, between 1994 and 1996. Professor Copp served as president of the Pacific Division of the American Philosophical Association (2014-2015). He has been a visiting professor at Stanford University and at Leiden University in the Netherlands. He previously served as an editor of the Canadian Journal of Philosophy (1982-1992), as an associate editor of Ethics (1991-2008), and as editor for the meta-ethics subject area of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2003-2013). He currently is editor of Oxford Ethical Theory, a monograph series with Oxford University Press. He is author of Morality, Normativity, and Society (Oxford University Press, 1995) and Morality in a Natural World (Cambridge University Press, 2007) and he has edited several anthologies, including The Oxford Handbook of Ethical Theory (OUP, 2006). He has published and lectured widely on topics in moral and political philosophy.

Research Focus

The main goal of Professor Copp’s current research is to develop and defend a general theory of normativity, which he calls pluralist-teleology. The basic idea is set out in “Toward a Pluralist and Teleological Theory of Normativity” (2009). The society-centered theory of morality that he developed and defended in his first two books illustrates the general idea. The society-centered theory is a realist and naturalist theory of morality. Pluralist-teleology is a realist and naturalist theory of normativity in general. It extends and generalizes the basic idea about normative morality that is developed in the society-centered theory.

The society-centered theory is a version of naturalistic moral realism. t implies that there are moral truths that ascribe moral properties to things and that these properties are a kind of natural property. Many of Professor Copp’s papers defend naturalistic moral realism against objections, such as Derek Parfit’s recent objections. His work has also extended moral realism by pointing out that it can be combined with the view that moral judgments express attitudes, such as moral disapproval.

The society-centered approach to moral theory has informed much of Professor Copp’s work in ethical theory, applied ethics, and political philosophy. Examples are his work on ethical issues about the treatment of non-human animals and his paper on the idea of a legitimate state. He nevertheless defends the standard intuition-driven methodology in moral and political philosophy against objections from “experimental philosophy.”

Professor Copp believes that moral and political philosophy, and especially theories of distributive justice, have not taken proper account of the fact that people have certain basic needs. He has contended that people have reason to seek to meet their basic needs. He has also proposed and defended a principle called the basic needs principle according to which a society in favorable circumstances has a duty of justice to enable its members to meet their basic needs.

Professor Copp has argued that analytic moral and political philosophy does not pay adequate attention to group phenomena. He argues that collective entities such as corporations and states have duties and bear moral responsibility. He is interested in the moral status of nations, such as the Québecois, that do not have the status of a state but that have political aspirations. The members of nations as well as members of other groups typically share a kind of “identity” that can set them apart psychologically from their fellow citizens. This fact presents a challenge to individualistic liberal political philosophy. Professor Copp has provided an account of the relevant notion of identity and he has discussed how liberal political philosophy can be amended to address it.


  • Copp, D. (2016) Normative naturalism and normative nihilism: Parfit’s dilemma for naturalism, in Simon Kirchin (Ed.) Reading Parfit On What Matters (London: Routledge).
  • Copp, D (2015) Explaining normativity, Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, Volume 89, pp. 48-73.
  • Copp, D. (2012) Experiments, intuitions, and methodology in moral and political theory, in Russ Shafer-Landau (Ed.) Oxford Studies in Meta-Ethics, vol. 8, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 1-36.
  • Copp, D. (2009) Toward a pluralist and teleological theory of normativity, Philosophical Issues, 19, pp. 21-37.
  • Copp, D. (2008) Darwinian skepticism about moral realism, Philosophical Issues, 18, pp. 184-204.
  • Copp, D (2007) Realist-expressivism: A neglected option for moral realism, in Copp, Morality in a Natural World (Cambridge University Press). Originally published in Social Philosophy and Policy, Volume 18 (2001), pp. 1-43.
  • Copp, D. (2007) Four epistemological challenges to ethical naturalism: Naturalized epistemology and the first-person perspective, in Copp, Morality in a Natural World (Cambridge University Press, 2007). Originally published in Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Supplementary Volume 26 (2001), pp. 31-74.
  • Copp, D. (2005) International justice and the basic needs principle, in Gillian Brock and Harry Brighouse (Eds.), The Political Philosophy of Cosmopolitanism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), pp. 39-54.


Professor Copp teaches undergraduate and undergraduate courses in moral and political philosophy including the upper division course in meta-ethics.


Professor Copp has been a Research Fellow in the Philosophy Program in the Research School of Social Science at the Australian National University, Josephus Daniels Fellow at the National Humanities Center, North Carolina, Senior Research Fellow at the Social Philosophy and Policy Center at B.G.S.U., a fellow of the Center for Applied Ethics at U.B.C., and he has held a research fellowship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.