My main research interest is free will and moral responsibility. I am particularly interested in the relationship between these topics and, more generally, the relationship between the metaphysics of agency and ethics broadly construed. My current work is motivated by a concern for the kind of metaphysical-existential outlook inherent in a broadly compatibilist picture of human agency. My work on the metaphysics of free will focuses on how ontological considerations play a role in the current free will debate, including the metaphysics of abilities and their relationship to dispositions, causation, and the laws of nature. In ethics and moral psychology, I am interested in the role that emotions play in interpersonal morality and what kind of agency is required by our moral practices. I am also interested in the ethics of praise and blame and how the metaphysics of free will intersects with social and political philosophy. Please see below for more information about my published journal articles, book chapters, and book reviews.
P.F. Strawson’s account of moral responsibility in “Freedom and Resentment” has been widely influential. In both that paper and in the contemporary literature, much attention has been paid to Strawson’s account of blame in terms of reactive attitudes like resentment and indignation. The Strawsonian view of praise in terms of gratitude has received comparatively little attention. Some, however, have noticed something puzzling about gratitude and accountability. We typically understand accountability in terms of moral demands and expectations. Yet gratitude does not express or enforce moral demands or expectations. So, how is it a way to hold an agent accountable? In a more general manner, we might ask if there is even sense to be made of the idea that agents can be accountable—i.e., “on the hook”—in a positive way. In this paper, I clarify the relationship between gratitude and moral accountability. I suggest that accountability is a matter of engaging with others in a way that is basically concerned with their feelings and attitudes rather than solely a matter of moral demands. Expressions of gratitude are a paradigmatic form of this concerned engagement. I conclude by defending my view from the objection that it leads to an overly generous conception of holding accountable and suggest in reply that moral responsibility skeptics may not help themselves to as many moral emotions as they might have thought.
A common compatibilist view says that we are free and morally responsible in virtue of the ability to respond aptly to reasons. Many hold a version of this view despite disagreement about whether free will requires the ability to do otherwise. The canonical version of this view is reductive. It reduces the pertinent ability to a set of modal properties that are more obviously compatible with determinism, like dispositions. I argue that this and any reductive view of abilities faces a significant challenge: it cannot adequately explain the freedom-grounding element of this ability. The problem has the form of a dilemma. This leaves reasons-responsive compatibilists with two options: abandon theories of free will grounded in abilities or abandon reductive theories of abilities.
"The Tension in Critical Compatibilism"
2021. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 21 (1): 321-332. Symposium Article on Paul Russell's The Limits of Free Will.
Link to publication. Link to accepted manuscript.
Abstract: Paul Russell’s The Limits of Free Will is more than the sum of its parts. Among other things, Limits offers readers a comprehensive look at Russell’s attack on the problematically idealized assumptions of the contemporary free will debate. This idealization, he argues, distorts the reality of our human predicament. Herein I pose a dilemma for Russell’s position, critical compatibilism. The dilemma illuminates the tension between Russell’s critical and compatibilist commitments. The problem is not obviously insurmountable, and as a compatibilist who is sympathetic to the view, my aim is to spark further discussion.
"On Not Blaming and Victim Blaming" (with Joel Chow Ken Q)
2020. Teorema: International Journal of Philosophy, 39 (3): 95-128.
Link to open access publication.
In this paper we show that being blameworthy for not blaming and being blame-worthy for victim blaming are structurally similar. Each involve the two traditional con- tours of moral responsibility: a knowledge condition and a control condition. But interestingly, in these cases knowledge and control are importantly interrelated. Being in a relationship with another person affords us varying degrees of knowledge about them. This knowledge in turn affords agents in relationships varying degrees of influence over one another. Cases where an agent is especially blameworthy for failing to blame a friend, a close colleague, or a spouse highlight this. The interdependence of these two conditions in interpersonal relationships sheds (partial) light on why victim blaming is morally wrong. We argue that victim blamers suffer from a kind of moral myopia by only focus- ing on what the victim could do, in virtue of their being in a relationship of some sort with their abuser, to avoid abuse. We focus specifically on cases where such moral myo- pia is fueled by misogynistic and hierarchical gender schema and scripts.
Abstract: P.F. Strawson’s compatibilism has had considerable influence. However, as Gary Watson has argued in “Responsibility and the Limits of Evil” (1987), his view appears to have a disturbing consequence: extreme evil exempts an agent from moral responsibility. This is a reductio of the view. Moreover, in some cases our emotional reaction to an evildoer’s history clashes with our emotional expressions of blame. Anyone’s actions can be explained by his or her history, however, and thereby can conflict with our present blame. Additionally, we too might have been evil if our history had been like the unlucky evildoer’s. Thus, our emotional response to the evildoer compromises our standing to blame them. Since Strawsonian views demarcate moral responsibility by moral emotional responses, his view appears to be self-defeating. In this paper, I defend the Strawsonian view from the reductio and self-defeat problems. I argue that moral disgust is a reactive attitude, but expresses neither blame nor exemption from responsibility. Instead, moral disgust presupposes blameworthiness but is a distinct response to extreme wrongdoing. Secondly, moral disgust involves self-directed attitudes that explain away our apparent lack of standing to blame the evildoer. I highlight a similar puzzles along the positive dimension of responsibility, and solve them by appeal to an emotion that Jonathan Haidt has called “elevation”, a feeling of moral inspiration. I conclude by defending my view from objections about the moral appropriateness of disgust.
"Moral Diversity and Moral Responsibility" (with Brian Kogelmann)
2018. The Journal of The American Philosophical Association, 4 (3): 371-389.
Link to publication. Link to accepted manuscript.
Abstract: In large, impersonal moral orders many of us wish to maintain good will towards our fellow citizens only if we are reasonably sure they will maintain good will towards us. The mutual maintaining of good will, then, requires we somehow communicate our intentions to one another. But how do we actually do this? This paper argues that when we engage in moral responsibility practices – that is, when we express our reactive attitudes by blaming, praising, and resenting – we communicate a desire to maintain good will to those in the community we are imbedded in. Participating in such practices alone won’t get the job done, though, for expressions of our reactive attitudes are often what economists call cheap talk. But, when we praise and blame in cases of moral diversity, expressions of our reactive attitudes act as costly signals capable of solving our social dilemma.
Compassion and Moral Responsibility in Avatar: The Last Airbender: “I was never angry; I was afraid that you had lost your way”
In Helen De Cruz & Johan De Smedt (eds.), Avatar: The Last Airbender and Philosophy. Wisdom from Aang to Zuko. Wiley-Blackwell (forthcoming)
Link to accepted manuscript.
Abstract: This chapter discusses how moral responsibility practices are modeled in Avatar: The Last Airbender. It is my first foray into more public-facing philosophy.