I’m currently dividing my time between two main research projects. The first is on well-roundedness. Many of us want to live well-rounded lives, and yet philosophers have paid scant attention to what well-roundedness is and why exactly it’s good for us. When we fix that, we can better understand what a well-rounded life is and why it’s a good kind of life to live—and this, in turn, helps us to make progress on some questions about well-being, normative ethics, and distributive justice.
The second project deals with questions about ideal and non-ideal theory in moral and political philosophy. Throughout my work in this area, I argue that when we understand how specific, concrete uses of ideals help us to answer particular questions, we will be in a better position to understand what ideals in general can do for us.
You can read my published work here:
"Incomplete Ideal Theory" - forthcoming in Social Theory and Practice (email me for a preprint): Even ideal theories of justice must take into account a decidedly non-ideal fact about us: that we are inherently imperfect reasoners. This means that insofar as we expect to put ideal theories of justice to practical use, these must be incomplete—we cannot expect to agree on a complete theory that fully answers our questions about justice. I show how work in philosophy of law can help answer these political questions: judges frequently agree on a ruling without fully agreeing on the theory behind that ruling. Reflection on this model reveals how incomplete ideal theory can guide sustained social progress over time.
"Effective Altruism: How Big Should the Tent Be?" - Public Affairs Quarterly 2018 (preprint): As effective altruism gains influence, the movement finds itself at a crossroads. Should it broaden its appeal by being more permissive about what kinds of giving count as effective? I argue that this permissiveness is inconsistent with effective altruism as it currently exists and, more importantly, with the philosophical commitments that set limits on what it can become.
"Ideal Theory and 'Ought Implies Can'" - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 2018 (preprint): When we can’t live up to the ultimate standards of morality, how can moral theory give us guidance? We can distinguish between ideal and non-ideal theory to see that there are different versions of the voluntarist constraint, ‘ought implies can.’ Ideal moral theory identifies the best standard, so its demands are constrained by one version. Non-ideal theory tells us what to do given our psychological and motivational shortcomings and so is constrained by others. Moral theory can now both provide an ultimate standard and give us guidance; this view also gives us new insights into demandingness and blame.
"Abortion and Miscarriage" - Philosophical Studies 2017 (preprint): The prevalence of miscarriage (particularly early miscarriage) poses a dilemma for those who believe fetuses are fully persons from the moment of conception. Either they must advocate for a radical change in our political and medical priorities, or they must revise their views on fetal personhood.
Projects I’m working on right now include:
A paper on well-roundedness (under review): I argue that being well-rounded requires us to engage in different pursuits (projects, goals, hobbies, and interests), which belong to different domains (intellectual, artistic, athletic, political, and many others), and which are not in service of or subordinated by any single overarching project (even the project of being well-rounded). Comparing well-rounded lives to one-dimensional lives shows us why the former are worth choosing. Living a well-rounded life brings us further benefits; among them, well-rounded people tend to be more successful in their pursuits, more resilient, and better able to relate to others. The well-rounded life is non-instrumentally valuable as well, because it is non-instrumentally valuable for us to live rich, full, diverse lives. Living a well-rounded life does have costs, and I discuss those too—but for many of us, those costs are worth bearing. I finish by exploring the ramifications of well-roundedness for our views of well-being and of moral theory.
A paper on narratives and well-being: In this paper, I question the view that a life is good when it can be captured by a compelling narrative. The significant disanalogies between fictional narratives and good lives mean that narrativism is doubly unhelpful: it is descriptively inadequate (because even good lives do in fact generally lack narrative structure), and it is prescriptively problematic (because it has tended to lead theories of well-being to place too high a value on an overly coherent, highly intellectualized, project-focused view of our lives). The inadequacies of narrativism should lead us to explore other possibilities for good lives, among them well-roundedness.
A paper on juvenile justice (under review): While in the ideal world we would be able to determine precise desert on a case-by-case basis, in our non-ideal world case-specific judgments overtax our cognitive, motivational, and financial resources and lead to worse outcomes. The Supreme Court has recently taken account of this by placing categorical restrictions on juvenile sentencing. These restrictions are bound to lead to the underpunishment of juveniles who are mature enough to deserve adult sentences. At the same time, they will prevent injustices caused by overpunishment. I argue that properly balancing these considerations shows that categorical restrictions are necessary even in an ideal criminal justice system. Because ideal theories cannot deliver perfect just deserts to everyone, they are limited in how ideal they can be.
A paper on the news: It seems that we ought to read the news, and yet many explanations why we have this duty (appeals to the consequences of being better informed, duties of self-improvement, and so on) fail. I argue that the only successful justification for this duty is that we ought to read the news as a way to respect others.
A paper on non-ideal theory of beneficence: When others are not helping the very poor, it seems like we should do more to prevent suffering and death. On the other hand, if we are obligated to do more in situations of partial compliance, beneficence looks to be overly demanding. I show that deontology provides a better answer than consequentialism to this dilemma. Consequentialist limitations to beneficence prove to be artificial and unstable. But because deontologists accept the existence of multiple sources of duty, they—both intuitionists and Kantians—can accept a moderate rise in our duties in non-ideal situations.
A paper on the structure of the duty of beneficence: It’s common to think that beneficence is a collective duty. But this is not consistent with what it is to be a collective or with what it is to have a collective duty. Instead, because beneficence is an individual duty, it is potentially more demanding than we might have thought.