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: 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.
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: Normative Ethics, Moral Psychology
Areas of Concentration: Applied Ethics, Social and Political Philosophy, Philosophy of Law, Ancient Philosophy
Dissertation: Obligations of Gratitude and Correlative Rights
My research focuses on gratitude, moral obligations, and moral rights. My dissertation, written under the mentorship of Dr. Margaret Little, begins with a puzzle about these three concepts: most obligations we owe to others (like promissory obligations) correlate to rights those others hold against us. Yet despite the fact that we can owe obligations of gratitude to benefactors, it seems benefactors do not have a right to their beneficiaries’ gratitude. I resolve this puzzle by arguing that despite appearances, benefactors do indeed have a certain morally important kind of right to gratitude—what I call an imperfect right.
In the future, I intend to take up further questions of gratitude (e.g., how it is distinct from appreciation; how it contributes to wellbeing), as well as imperfect rights more generally. Moral psychology aside, my philosophical interests also include military ethics and just war theory, and Hellenistic philosophy (especially Cynicism and Epicureanism).
I have taught introductory-level courses on logic and ethics, and more advanced courses on political philosophy, just war theory, Hellenistic philosophy, and gratitude.
Areas of Specialization: Political Philosophy, Critical Social Theory, and Islamic Political Thought
Areas of Concentration: Normative and Applied Ethics
My research is primarily concerned with the place and role religion should have in the public realm in order to best realize the emancipatory ideals of freedom, equality and justice. Islamic Politics: Emancipation, Authoritarianism, and Democracy (currently under review by Edinburgh University Press), deepens, develops and expands my dissertation’s argument for a conception of politics that is radically democratic while being characteristically Islamic. My next project builds on my previous research and seeks to identify the conditions for, and delineate the contours of, non-secular democracy more broadly. In doing so, it also aims to make further progress in developing an Islamic critical social theory – a characteristically Islamic mode of evaluating and reflecting on social dynamics in terms of the hindrances they pose to individual and communal self-realization.
Since my graduation in August 2012, I have held various research and teaching positions in England, Germany, Turkey, and Lebanon. Given the relevance of my research to some pressing political problems, I have spent considerable effort on disseminating it beyond philosophical circles to build interdisciplinary bridges with the anthropology of religion and Islamic and Middle Eastern studies. I have also published a short non-technical piece (in English and in Arabic here, here and here) that targets a wide and non-expert audience. And in a peer-reviewed book-chapter, I addressed the status of non-Muslims in Islamic governance, a topic of much concern for many (here). I am in the middle of writing another academic piece on the tension between pluralism and solidarity.
Other than teaching Introduction to Philosophy, Introduction to Ethics, Applied Philosophy, and Medical Ethics, I have taught more advanced courses on Democracy and Religion, Multiculturalism and Political Theory, and Democracy and Contemporary Islamic Political Thought.