Areas of Specialization: Moral Psychology, Philosophy of Mind
Areas of Concentration: Ethics, Bioethics, Philosophy of Language, Wittgenstein
Dissertation: A Propositional Attitude Approach to Emotions
I am primarily interested in moral judgment. In my dissertation, directed by Nancy Sherman, I explain how one can develop a propositional attitude account of emotions. If emotions are propositional attitudes, then they are poised to play a role in moral judgment because propositional attitudes bear inferential connections to facts and other mental states. If I feel guilty about my behavior and the content of that state is that I have failed to live up to my moral obligations, then the guilt: can be an appropriate response to the fact that I behaved badly, can support the belief that I have behaved badly, and can support the desire to behave differently in the future and/or the desire to redress the harm I caused.
Despite the benefits of the propositional attitude view, theorists have been wary of endorsing it. Three main difficulties have caused theorists to be wary of the view. First, theorists worry that if emotions have propositional content, then organisms without linguistic capacities, such as beasts and babies, cannot have emotions. Second, the phenomenological properties of emotions are critical aspects of these mental states. Many worry, however, that this is false of
propositional attitudes. Third, some claim that proponents of propositional attitude views fail to consider the empirical data coming from the cognitive sciences. I argue that none of these worries are well-motivated and provide a schema for a view that avoids them.
I also concentrate on issues in bioethics. In my paper, “What really separates casuistry from principlism in biomedical ethics” I argue that casuistry and principlism are not substantially distinct moral methodologies. There are metaethical differences between the two views, such as their respective accounts of the semantics of moral principles, but these differences do not affect how casuists and principlists handle cases.
I have designed and taught ten courses: Critical Thinking, Beginning Logic, Introduction to Logic, Introduction to Philosophy, Introduction to Ethics, Moral Epistemology, Bioethics, Emotions, Philosophy of Language, and Philosophy of Mind.
Areas of Specialization: Bioethics, Feminist Philosophy, Science and Values
Areas of Competence: Philosophy of Science, Philosophy of Food, Phenomenology, Foucault, Fat Studies
Dissertation: Eating, Agency, and Healthism
My research explores how experiences of ourselves as embodied—as queer, fat, fragile, or even “normal”—are formed, maintained, and transformed, and the effects of these experiences on us as moral and epistemic agents. My current work explores experiences of ourselves as good or bad eaters.
My dissertation, Eating, Agency, and Healthism, supervised by Rebecca Kukla, offers a new account of eating as a self-shaping activity: how we understand and practice eating shape not only our experiences as eaters, but our agency, affects, capacities, values, and other important aspects of the self. To develop this account, I analyze and critique the view that good eating is healthy eating, and good eaters eat for health above all else. Current bioethical critiques of such ‘healthism’ do not account for the self-shaping effects of eating and so lack a complete analysis of the ethical and epistemic impacts of healthism. Through an extended critique of diet research on the link between eating disorders and vegetarianism, I show that healthist assumptions and ignoring the self-shaping effects of eating can distort scientific research and clinical practice on eating. This work draws attention to the ethical and epistemic importance of eating itself, and develops conceptual tools for analyzing the effects of eating that can be put to use in food ethics, bioethics, diet research, and public conversations about how we should eat. My dissertation is supported by fellowships from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Mellon Sawyer Foundation, and Georgetown University.
My other ongoing projects critique conceptions of eating in various arenas of diet research, food ethics, clinical practice, and public debate. I am currently working on papers engaging popular and psychological understandings of “mindless eating,” the account of eating implicit in public health food interventions, and a coauthored paper on the clinical ethics of covert drugging in food. My next major project will engage with accounts of good and bad eating in the context of climate change.
I have taught Bioethics and Philosophy of Science, and am prepared to teach courses in Feminist Philosophy, 19th and 20th century Continental Philosophy, Philosophy of Food, and on topics relating to the body, such as Fat Studies and disability. My teaching is grounded in my commitment to recognizing and supporting diversity in the classroom and in the profession.
Areas of Specialization: Meta-Ethics, Normative Ethics, and Applied Ethics (esp. Bioethics and Environmental Ethics)
Areas of Concentration: Social and Political Philosophy, Philosophy of Law, Modern Philosophy, Philosophy of Mind
Dissertation: On Moral Reasons to Parent One’s Infant Children
My research is in normative philosophy and related areas, with a particular focus on problems that range across multiple levels of ethical inquiry. My dissertation, advised by Margaret O. Little, develops a new account of procreators’ moral responsibility to care for their progeny. On my view, procreators’ parental obligations are located in the harm their progeny would suffer by being created and then inadequately cared for. Despite being intuitive, this harm-based account faces two significant challenges. First, how could merely creating someone harm her, since harm seems to require making the sufferer worse off than she otherwise would have been? Second, why must procreators provide further aid to their progeny, given that creation itself usually imparts the expected benefit of a life well worth living? I solve these problems by arguing, first, that agents have moral reasons to keep others from suffering noncomparative harms—states that are intrinsically bad for someone but not necessarily worse than any available alternative. Second, I argue that benefiting a moral patient can never fully justify thwarting her potential for autonomous choice, since she could not possibly consent to such a harm. On my account, then, procreators have strong moral reasons to ensure their progeny develop their autonomous capacities, lest they be unjustifiably harmed by being created.
I also have an active research program on procreative rights and environmental ethics, in which I defend population control as a policy tool for addressing environmental problems. A paper on this topic by my co-authors and me was recently featured in a piece on NPR. In the future, I will pursue further research on the nature of special moral reasons and on the moral authority of social conventions.
I have taught Introduction to Ethics, Bioethics, Ethics and Children, and Free Will. I am also prepared to teach Introduction to Philosophy, Logic, Environmental Ethics, Political Philosophy, Modern Philosophy, and Philosophy of Law, among other courses.
Areas of Specialization: Epistemology, Autonomy and Free Will, Philosophy of Mind
Areas of Competence: Philosophy of Language, Kantian Philosophy, German Idealism, Feminist Epistemology
Dissertation: Get Good: Self-regulation, Education and Epistemic Agency
In my dissertation, advised by Bryce Huebner, I defend a unified account of knowledge and use it to articulate and resolve a number of problems in social epistemology. I argue that to know how to Φ is to have a self-regulated ability to live up to the norms that govern Φ-ing, and I argue that propositional knowledge is success through cognitive know how. I next address the kinds of social relations that sustain or undermine good epistemic practice. First, I focus on the problem of hermeneutical injustice, which occurs when members of a social group are unjustly prevented from developing or spreading new conceptual skills for making sense of the world. Second, I explore the empirical literature on what’s known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, which explains the tendency of unskilled individuals to over-estimate their abilities, to describe a novel form of skepticism. If you lack the conceptual skills to make sense of some feature of the world, that very lack can, to some extent, prevent you from recognizing your ignorance. In response to both, I develop a theory of educational practices. I argue that we develop new conceptual skills and come to recognize gaps in our epistemic resources by coming together in joint practices of self-regulation.
Currently I’m working on two articles. First, using my work on conceptual skills and the concept of “epistemic echo chambers”, I develop and address a novel, practical form of skepticism. In the second, use my work on educational theory to develop a specifically non-testimonial form of epistemic dependence involved in teaching and argue that we depend on each other much more deeply than epistemologists currently recognize.
I have taught Introduction to Philosophy, Logic, Epistemology, Philosophy of Language, Free Will and Philosophy of Mind. I am prepared to teach topics in Philosophy of Science, philosophy of education and Kantian and Post-Kantian Philosophy.
Areas of Specialization: Ethics, Applied Ethics (especially Bioethics and Environmental Ethics)
Areas of Concentration: Metaethics, Political Philosophy
Dissertation: Sacrifices: The Paradigmatic, the Demanding, and the Heroic
I defended my dissertation, advised by Judy Lichtenberg, in the Spring of 2014. There I take up a number of tasks centered on the concept of sacrifice. I develop a novel account of what it is to make a sacrifice, focused on a set of objective and subjective conditions an agent meets in paradigmatic cases. I then argue that some such account is indispensable for articulating and responding to the problem of overly demanding duties in moral theory. Finally, I address cases of morally heroic sacrifices, often accompanied by the claim (made by the heroic agent) that the sacrifices were in some sense required. I argue against a deflationary explanation of this phenomenon, and also against a moralizing explanation. I suggest that a more promising account of the sense of requirement in question has its roots in heroic character, which manifests in practical necessity.
My interests extend to the more general question of how we become bound to act in certain ways and what it is that binds us. One avenue of research this has led me down concerns the nature of promises, where I have argued that a variety of non-standard promises (single-party promises, oaths, vows) should be taken seriously and are difficult to give a reasonable account of on some influential views of promising.
I am currently a visiting professor at Beloit College, WI, where I am enjoying, among other things, an incredibly dedicated and supportive environment for experimentation in teaching, an institutional directive to emphasize the liberal arts in practice, and cheese curds.
Areas of specialization: Phenomenology, Philosophy of Emotion, Latin American Philosophy
Areas of concentration: Social and Political Philosophy, Ethics
Dissertation: The Phenomenology of Moods: Time, Place, and Normative Grip
My research examines the nature of moods, the relationship between moods and emotions, the way moods influence our experience (individually and collectively), and the role that moods play in our efforts to live well. My work engages with ongoing debates in contemporary analytic and continental philosophy while drawing freely from European, Latin American, and Latinx phenomenological traditions.
In my dissertation, directed by William Blattner and supported by the Ford Foundation Dissertation Completion Fellowship, I develop a novel account of how moods influence our experience. I argue that a change in mood does not necessarily alter the content of our evaluative perceptions or beliefs about the properties of the things we encounter, as theorists often claim. After all, when we are in an irritable mood, we may perceive the beauty of a landscape but remain emotionally unmoved by it, while in a tranquil mood we may judge that it is dangerous to float out to sea but find that our judgment fails to grip us with any force. To better understand such experiences, I offer an alternative account, according to which changes in our mood alter our interpretation of the situational context as a whole. By systematically modifying our experience of time, place, and normative grip, moods establish our holistic sense of what is at stake, here and now. In this way, moods influence our emotional responses to particular objects without necessarily altering our evaluations of their properties.
I also have an active research program on the work of the Mexican phenomenologist Jorge Portilla, who investigates into the ways that collective moods sustain group practices and group identities. Portilla argues that although collective moods can be quite powerful forces in our lives, they also remain vulnerable to breakdowns, and when this sort “affective dis-integration” occurs, it can have dramatic social and political consequences. Together with Carlos Sánchez, I am preparing a book manuscript on these issues, tentatively titled, The Disintegration of Community: Essays After Jorge Portilla.
I have designed and taught eight courses: Moral Psychology; Introduction to Phenomenology; Ethics of the Americas; Philosophy of Emotions; Existentialism; Moral Philosophy; Logic; and Clear & Critical Thinking. In each case, I strive to create a classroom atmosphere that can bring out the best in students from all backgrounds.
Dissertation: The Language of Emotion
My research examines the nature and norms of emotional expression.
In my dissertation, which I defended in January of 2016, I developed an analysis of emotional expression and then used it to rule out various theses in the philosophy of language. On my view, behaviors express emotions by enabling the perception of them. Thus, a smile is an expression of joy because observers who see this smile can see joy, and a snarl is an expression of anger because observers who hear this snarl can hear anger. I then argued that emotional expressions play a critical role in the structuring normative space—by instituting, enforcing, and challenging social and moral norms within groups.
I have since expanded upon this project by developing a theory of "emotional agency," or the ability to manage one's emotions and expressions in accordance with social norms. I argue that emotional agency is vital to moral development, and I examine the ways in which people can be wronged in their capacity as emotional agents.
In addition to teaching Introduction to Philosophy and Introduction to Ethics, I have taught Bioethics, Logic, Critical Thinking, Moral Psychology, Philosophy of Language, Philosophy of Emotion, and Plato. I am also prepared to teach topics in the Philosophy of Mind, Philosophy of Science, and 19th-20th century German and American Philosophy.
Dissertation: Microaggressions and Moral Responsibility
My research illuminates the ways in which individual actions sustain and are sustained by structural inequalities, and it explores how these overarching oppressive norms and systems constrain possibilities for individual empowerment and broader social change.
My dissertation, advised by Rebecca Kukla, is supported by a Mellon Mays Predoctoral Development Research Grant and focuses on the concept of “microaggressions”—acts of racism, sexism, and homophobia that are communicated implicitly. While this concept is popular among social scientists and in social justice circles, it has received relatively little attention from philosophers. A focus on microaggressions not only helps us understand how oppression operates on both a structural and individual level; it also prompts us to rethink commonly held views about moral responsibility. I lay out and defend a definition of “microaggression” that I argue social scientists ought to adopt when conducting research on microaggressions. I highlight the harms associated with microaggressions by focusing first on the challenges they can pose for relationships and second on the psychological damage they lead to by promoting internalized oppression. The fact that microaggressions have the potential to cause so much interpersonal harm prompts the question of whether perpetrators can be held morally responsible for their microaggressive behaviors. The answer to this question is complicated by the fact that many microaggressors do not know the effects their behaviors can have and do not intend any harm. Despite this fact, I argue that perpetrators of microaggressions can often be held both attributively and accountably morally responsible for their microaggressions.
I also work on issues in bioethics and feminist ethics and am currently working on a project about racial passing in the workplace and its effects on the moral agency of employees.
I have taught Philosophy of Race, Moral Psychology, Theory of Knowledge, Bioethics, and Applied Ethics and am committed to making philosophy accessible and exciting to students from all backgrounds.
Areas of Specialization: 20th Century European Philosophy (esp. Heidegger), Existentialism
Areas of Concentration: Ancient Philosophy (esp. Plato and Aristotle), Ethics, Death and Dying
Dissertation: Heidegger’s Investigation of Death: Human Finitude and the Final End
My research focuses on human finitude—what it is, how it contributes to human self-understanding, and how it enables us to meaningfully engage with things in the world. Philosophers tend to understand human finitude in one of two ways: (1) as our mortality—we are certain to die; (2) as the fallibility, fragility, or vulnerability of our cognitive abilities. While Martin Heidegger’s early work is typically read along these lines, I argue that he articulated a novel conception of human finitude: we are finite insofar as the intelligibility of our existence is non-transparently grounded in its end or limit.
I argue that this end or limit is a self-understanding that functions as the final end of our understanding relation to meaningful things in the world. In understanding and engaging with meaningful things—and, indeed, in understanding ourselves—we begin with this final end. This is what makes us finite.
I put forward death as our final end. I make the case that Heidegger took death to be a self-understanding that looks ahead to the time when the full span of one’s existence will have already passed—when one will have been born, have existed, and have passed away. Such a glimpse ahead includes and integrates the entirety of one’s existence, grounding and unifying all of one’s particular, determinate self-understandings, which themselves ground the intelligibility of our everyday engagement with things in the world.
I have designed and taught courses on Aristotle’s ethics, the distinction between rhetoric and dialogue in Plato, existentialism, well-being, applied ethics, and death.
Areas of Specialization: Philosophy of Language, Epistemology
Areas of Competence: 20th-century Continental Philosophy; Feminist Philosophy; Pragmatism; Jewish Philosophy; Philosophy of Social Science
Dissertation: The Pragmatics and Epistemology of Conceptual Disagreement
In my research I aim to understand what speakers are doing when they disagree over how to understand concepts. In my dissertation, advised by Mark Lance, I address the following puzzle: can speakers rationally resolve disagreements about concepts that play a fundamental role in how they make sense of the world? I solve this puzzle by giving an account of what speakers are doing when they defend or articulate an understanding of a concept – what kind of speech act they are performing. I argue that speakers are carrying out acts of stipulation, a speech act to which philosophers and linguists have paid little attention. On my account, to stipulate something is to say that it will be useful to inferentially entitle all relevant speakers to the content of that stipulation. Acts of stipulation are therefore ends-directed. I then apply this account to cases where speakers argue over how to understand a particular concept. I interpret these speakers as stipulating their preferred understanding of the concept. This application of my account shows that, while we may lack theoretical reasons in certain cases of conceptual disagreement, we will always have access to practical reasons for resolving such disagreements because we are engaging in stipulative acts. The epistemological worries prompted by conceptual disagreements are, in turn, defused
I also consider questions of conceptual disagreement and change from the perspective of the pragmatist and 20th-century Continental traditions, where I have papers in progress on Hannah Arendt, Martin Heidegger, and Richard Rorty’s treatment of these questions. In feminist philosophy, I apply my views in speech act theory and metasemantics to recent work on theorizing and changing oppressive social structures. In Jewish philosophy, I apply these views to ongoing debates within the Jewish community over group membership and identity.
I have designed and taught courses on the philosophy of language, epistemology, introductory logic for majors and non-majors, and Jewish philosophy. I am prepared to teach in all my areas of competence, among other courses. In my teaching, I work to create a welcoming environment for all students and strive for diversity of thought and representation in my course materials.