My interests are centered around applied ethics and metaphysics. Some of my research in clinical ethics concerns projects that are specific to the ethics committee, and so do not directly contribute to publication efforts. I am also concerned with the relation between academia and the extra-academic world. I have been selected as a Fellow for the Humanities Without Walls Pre-Doctoral Career Diversity Summer Workshop, which offers preparation for applying humanities skills inside and outside of academia. More information on all of these projects, including links to presentation slides and publications, is available below.
“Bruteness: Gender, Race, and Animality in Buffy the Vampire Slayer” in Superheroes and Critical Animal Studies: The Heroic Beasts of Total Liberation. Ed. J. L. Schatz and Sean Parson. New York: Lexington Books. (co-authored with Dr. Karin Anderson)
While Buffy the Vampire Slayer actively works to subvert many of the sexist tropes of its genre, as well as sexist standards in television and society more generally, it is unable to do the same for racial biases. People of color remain on the sidelines of the narrative. The status of animals as inferior to humans remains unchallenged as well, and within the context of the series, animality is at best considered base and counter to an elevated human nature. At worst, it is considered monstrous. As such, the series largely conforms to mainstream conceptions of animal nature as lesser than or dichotomously opposed to humanity. Moreover, because Blackness and animality are conflated, these prejudices viciously reinforce one another. While the series works to elevate the feminine, it ultimately displaces animality onto racial minorities, and fails to be appropriately intersectional.
When it comes to medical decision-making for unrepresented patients, the default model is generally based on medical best interest considerations, which means a prioritization of life-sustaining treatment and procedures that have health-optimizing potential. I argue that unrepresented patients can frequently participate in the decision-making process regarding their care, in ways that are often ignored by medical best interest models. While unrepresented patients lack full agency, there are vestiges of agency. These are capacities that are agency-like in the relevant way, namely in that they are expressions of that person’s character and identity in a way that carries moral significance.
"Wheelchair Ramps, Cochlear Implants, and Eugenics: How Do We Respect People with Disabilities in Social Decision-Making"
University of California, Riverside, CA
Within the philosophy of disability, two primary models have emerged as a means of defining disability, namely the medical model and the social model. These models do not simply offer competing definitions, but also guide our thinking in how to ameliorate the negative effects of the disability. A significant portion of the discord within the philosophy of disability concerns disagreement regarding which of these models ought to be authoritative. Showing proper respect to people with disabilities may, however, require differing, and on occasion even contradictory attitudes and actions. I argue that disabilities can be coherently distinguished by considering the degree to which the individual considers their disability part of their identity. This helps us identify the ways in which to properly show respect, not only to each distinct individual, but ultimately allows us to distill our social responsibility to people with disabilities all things considered.
The question I aim to answer is: How do we avoid harm, when we make decisions for those who cannot make decisions for themselves? I argue for a broad conception of harm that doesn't merely focus on medical best interests, and demonstrate how more inclusive models of decision-making are better able to identify the relevant harms and are thereby better situated to avoid them. In particular, I focus on mixed models of surrogacy decision making, that involve both medical and non-medical staff, who may be either involved or not involved in the patient’s care, as well as community members that have particular kinds of case-relevant expertise. I argue that these kinds of models are best suited to avoid harming the patient.
FELLOWSHIPS & WORKSHOPS
Program descriptions from the HWW Webpage: "This project aims to help prepare doctoral students for careers both within and outside the academy through a series of summer workshops. Graduate students selected for this program will engage in intensive discussions with organizers of public humanities projects, leaders of university presses and learned societies, experts in the various domains of the digital humanities, representatives of governmental and non-governmental organizations, and holders of important non-faculty positions in colleges and universities (academic administrators, student services professionals, librarians and archivists, development officers, and so forth). In the summers of 2017 and 2019, this project seeks to expand its reach beyond the consortial partner universities by drawing on a national applicant pool of humanities doctoral students."
WORKS IN PROGRESS
The presentations listed above are all WIPs. Additionally, I have a number of papers in process that I have not yet had the opportunity to present. A selection of these are presented below.
"Moral Responsibility for Omissions and the Asymmetry Thesis"
Frankfurt-Style Cases (FSCs) are cases wherein (1) A is intuitively morally responsible for X, and; (2) due to a potential intervention, A could not have done otherwise than to X (Swenson 2015, 1280). These cases are meant to be counterexamples to the Principle of Alternative Possibilities (PAP), which states that moral responsibility for actions requires being able to do otherwise than perform that action. When it comes to moral responsibility for omissions (intentional inactions), Frankfurt-Style Cases of Omissions (O-FSCs) indicate that the ability to perform the action is required. This is the Principle of Possible Action (PPA). The Asymmetry Thesis (AT) holds that “PAP is false, but PPA is true” (Cyr 2017, 2154).
While AT is popular, it is not uncontroversial. Swenson (2015) presents the No Principled Difference Argument (NPDA) to argue that FSCs and O-FSCs are structurally similar, and should therefore not yield differing conclusions. Cyr (2017) argues that accepting AT will in some cases result in a contradiction, in particular when an action can also be described as an omission. Finally, Sartorio (2005) rejects AT in favor of a different asymmetry between actions and omissions based on causal transitivity and overdetermination. The problem, in short, is that we have differing intuitions regarding moral responsibility for actions and omissions, which make AT appealing, while at the same time we have reasons of structural similarity and logical coherence that push us to reject AT.
I argue that the problem is grounded in an disparity in how we generally view and evaluate actions versus omissions: the moral evaluation of the action is exclusively about the behavior, while the moral evaluation of the omission recognizes distinct responsibility for the intention and for the omission or the resultant state of affairs. My proposal for solving this problem is to make these evaluations more symmetrical, by recognizing that actions and omissions are both layered phenomena, and moral responsibility for their constituent parts can vary. I suggest that one way to parse these parts is in the follow three parts: (1) the intention, i.e. the moral responsibility we have for forming the intention to act or abstain from acting in a particular situation; (2) the behavior, i.e. the action or omission, and; (3) the resultant state of affairs. Analyzing moral responsibility for actions and omissions in this way allows for a symmetrical analysis that is better able to parse which features of the action or omission the agent is responsible. Ultimately, this means we must reject AT, but also PAP and PPA, as they are insufficient to capture the nuanced nature of responsibility in all cases. They are mere heuristics that can be helpful in more straightforward cases, but that are insufficient to explain the cases under consideration.
"Intersubjective Standards in Hume’s Account of Practical Reason"
Hume’s tendency to break with established views, as well as the ways in which his unique understanding of language and mind influence his account of practical reason so as to frequently use language that lends itself to radical interpretations. This has allowed the neo-Humeans to take up his view as a strong subjectivism, and has allowed others to deny the possibility of practical reason on his account all together. However, these radical positions are not a necessary entailment of Hume’s writing on this subject. In the Enquiry, he notes the following with respect to reason and sentiment:
"But though reason, when fully assisted and improved, be sufficient to instruct us in the pernicious or useful tendency of qualities and actions; it is not alone sufficient to produce any moral blame or approbation. Utility is only a tendency to a certain end; and were the end totally indifferent to us, we should feel the same indifference toward the means … it is requisite a sentiment should here display itself." (Hume, Enquiry 125)
In other words, Hume claims that (1) reason admittedly is responsible for telling us the facts, and; (2) without sentiment to move us we will be basically morally indifferent to those facts. The claim here is not that reason plays no role in our practical reason and action, but that we must also feel something for the cause. This view can be contrasted with Kant’s, where reason alone can and ought to motivate us to action. And while for Kant irrational action is immoral action, for Hume irrationality is merely evidence that something might be wrong. Here, the wrong is not judged against the standard of reason (alone), but against the relevant interpersonal social standards.
I argue that Neo-Humeans and Humean skeptics fail to adequately account for the parts of Hume’s view that are able to ground intersubjective standards that mediates the threats of a completely internalist subjectivism or skepticism. My aim is to present a plausible argument for interpreting Hume as a non-Humean, rejecting strictly internatlist and skeptical neo-Humean accounts of practical reason. Instead, I attempt to show that Hume’s account is able to support a standard of inter-subjectivity that entails a rejection of internalism and skepticism about practical reason.