I'm interested in a range of philosophical issues, but I specialize in ethics, and my central project concerns issues relating to social roles and
institutions. Does occupying a role give us non-derivative normative reasons to do well by the standards of that role? Can roles and their respective
standards ground a metaethical naturalist realist position? How do the standards of a role relate to the standards of the institution in which it is
embedded? How do role reasons and obligations relate to the reasons and obligations of universal morality? How do particular roles and institutions get
instantiated (that is, how are these social constructions constructed)? Why should we instantiate these roles and institutions and not others? How does
occupying roles and institutions impinge upon or enhance our autonomy and welfare?
Work on roles is on the rise, and I'm happy to be a project member of The Role Ethics Network, a grant funded by the
Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK). We're a group of 14 philosophers throughout the UK, USA, and Canada, and the grant covers three workshops and
one conference. It's been a great opportunity to share my own work and learn from the work of others. If all goes according to plan, our essays will be
published in a collection.
Alongside my interest in roles is research on the emotions, and especially on reasons for emotions. Emotions are representational mental states that are
motivational, and this makes them interesting for at least two reasons.
First, the representations constitutive of emotion are as of (purported) normative facts, e.g. guilt at having done wrong, pride for having done well, anger for being betrayed, and so on. How do we account for these normative facts? One possibility is that the various normative
properties are instantiated by virtue of people occupying the roles they do. One can, after all, act wrongly qua doctor, do well qua philosopher, and be
betrayed by a friend (but not a stranger). Furthermore, some emotions seem constitutive of being a good member of a role, e.g. a loving mother is,
ipso fact and ceteris paribus, a better mother than a non-loving mother.
Second, since they are representational and motivational, that gives us at least prima facie reason to think that a reason for an emotion speaks both to
how the world normatively is and how we ought to be motivated. If, for example, I have a normative reason feel guilty for the wrong I have committed, and
part of feeling guilty is being motivated to make amends, apologize, etc., then ceteris paribus it is reasonable for me to be so motivated and unreasonable not to be so motivated.
As an outgrowth from my work on roles, emotions, and normative reasons, I've become interested in how normative reasons relate to other areas in
philosophy. I've recently been doing some work on free will, where I'm interested in what compatibilists should say about normative reasons and determinism
in order to account for moral responsibility.
Lastly, I've been interested in Nietzsche since I was an undergrad, and my scholarship on his work has proven both interesting in itself and relevant to my
larger aims. I think Nietzsche holds a unique position in metaethics (he is, I think, a hermeneutic fictionalist in one regard and a revolutionary error
theorist in another), but most surprisingly, he has interesting insights into the ontology of roles and institutions, and my latest work in progress brings
Nietzsche into conversation with contemporary philosophers on these issues. In fact, some of my work on roles and institutions can be seen as a way of
answering a Nietzschean challenge to ethical realism.