Research

Research Interests

My interests are primarily centered around applied ethics and clinical bioethics. I'm also interested in animal ethics, environmental ethics, metaphysics, practical reason, and philosophy of popular culture. I'm also concerned with the relation between academia and the extra-academic world. In 2019 I participated 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 these projects, including links to presentation slides and publications, is available below.

PUBLICATIONS & UNDER REVIEW

“Those Who Are Left Behind: An Etymological and Moral Discussion of Abandoned Patients, 'Granny Dumping' and Relinquished Patients”

There are several ways in which the relationship between institutions, providers, the patient, and the family can break down. The literature generally recognizes cases where the institution or the provider fails in their duty to care as “abandonment.” There are also cases where the family has abdicated their responsibility over the patient. This issue is underreported in the literature, and there does not appear to be adequate terminology to refer to this occurrence. I attempt to provide a foundation for future discussion by clarifying the etymological and moral dimensions of this phenomenon, which I refer to as “patient relinquishment.” This essay clarifies this term against related concepts, including “granny dumping,” “patient abandonment,” “unrepresented patient,” and “hospital-dependency.” It also provides a review of the relevant literature, as well as a brief discussion of the unique practical and moral dimensions surrounding relinquished patients.

“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.

PRESENTATIONS & TALKS

“Biochemistry & Cellular and Molecular Biology 461: Bioethics & Cancer”

Guest Lecturer Upper Division Undergraduate Course, University of Tennessee

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN

April 2021

I was invited to speak to this class about bioethics in the context of cancer. We began by discussion the relationship between medicine and ethics, working our way through some key court cases that have helped establish the standards for clinical ethics in the United States. Because students are approaching this subject as professionals, we talked about the role of the hospital ethics committee and bioethical frameworks. Here, we moved from the nature of informed consent to its role in decision-making, and then representative medical decision-making. Next, we discussed research ethics and the overlap in moral issues between representative medical decision-making and research. Finally, we analyzed case studies that applied the frameworks to relevant situations in medicine.

"Vestiges of Agency: Medical-Decision Making for Incapacitated Patients"

Tennessee Value and Agency Conference

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN

March 2019

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.


Presenting at the 2019 TVA Conference.

"Wheelchair Ramps, Cochlear Implants, and Eugenics: How Do We Respect People with Disabilities in Social Decision-Making"

Annual UC Riverside Graduate Student Philosophy Conference on Agency

University of California, Riverside, CA

February 2019

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.

"According to My Ability and Judgment: the Avoidance of Harm in Medical Decision-Making for Unrepresented Patients"

Intermountain West Student Philosophy Conference

University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT

October 2018

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

Humanities Without Walls Pre-Doctoral Career Diversity Summer Workshop HWW Consortium, Chicago, IL

Fellow, Summer 2019

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

"Wheelchair Ramps, Cochlear Implants, and Eugenics: How Do We Respect People with Disabilities in Social Decision-Making?"

One of the central features of our moral lives is our agency: our capacity for making decisions for ourselves that fit with our values and goals. The importance of agency raises questions for situations in which we make decisions for others, as generally occurs in three kinds of cases. The first is that of children. What defines this situation is that, at least according to most pedagogies, this is as it should be: we make decisions for children in order to keep them safe and teach them. The second is that of adults who, for whatever reason, are unable to make decisions for themselves. These are often situations that involve pathology, and frequently occur in a medical context. Finally, there is social decision-making, in which we assert our political agency in order to shape society. For this paper, I am primarily interested in our ethical responsibility with respect to this latter kind of decision-making as it pertains to people with disabilities. Using our socio-political decision-making in responsible ways requires an understanding of the nature of disability and respect.

In this paper, I argue two main points. First, in contrast to popular views in the disability ethics literature, I argue that there is not one unified way in which we can conceive of disabilities. Rather, disability is a heterogeneous notion, where varying conceptualizations are appropriate depending on the particulars of the situation. To support this notion of disability, I suggest a way of conceiving of disability that is identity-relative, and that centers around the degree to which the individual considers their disability part of their endorsed identity. Second, I argue that given this variegation in the concept of disability and our duty of respect to people with disabilities, we must proliferate options for accessibility and intervention, such that people with disability can fully exercise their agency. There are limits to this position, and I will take up with some of these at the end. Here, the main question is: If we have a duty of respect to people with disabilities, and one way in which we relate to people with disabilities is through our socio-political structures and institutions, then what kinds of attitudes, investments, organization, policies, projects, and research ought we support?

"Evaluating the Asymmetry Thesis: Symmetry and Difference in the Moral Evaluation of Actions and Omissions"

Moral responsibility for actions might seem relatively straightforward. Someone is morally responsible for action X if and only if (1) they did X freely and (2) they could have not done X. These conditions are explained by the idea that we are not responsible for actions we are coerced into performing, and that we cannot be held responsible for the inevitable. In 1969, Harry Frankfurt published his seminal “Alternate Possibilities and Moral Responsibility,” in which he demonstrates by means of thought experiments that the second requirement does not hold up. These Frankfurt-Style Cases have become standard in the literature as a means to draw out intuitions regarding moral responsibility for actions. What I’ll call the standard view rejects that moral responsibility for actions requires our ability to do otherwise. In the case of omissions, however, it is generally held that moral responsibility does require that one is able to perform the action one is omitting. While some have accepted this asymmetry between responsibility for actions and omissions, others have argued that their evaluation ought to be symmetrical. In either case, theorists tend to engage in a holistic evaluation of the action or omission by asking “is the agent morally responsible for this action/omission.” This question appears to capture the matter at hand; however, this manner of investigation obfuscates important features concerning moral responsibility, and as a result will inevitably produce some counterintuitive results. I argue that, with respect to moral responsibility, actions and omissions are best considered in terms of their mereological parts, and that in so doing the question of moral responsibility can be answered with greater accuracy and intuitive fit.

"Hume—Neither a Humean nor a Skeptic: 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.

"Embodied Freedom: A Comparative Analysis of Free Will, Moral Responsibility, and Agency "

Most theories of free will in the analytic tradition interpret the question of free will in a very specific way, which is steeped deeply in the Cartesian tradition and the inherent mind-body problem. Defending a positive answer to this question has proven difficult. The libertarian account seems like a carryover from a more anthropocentric time in our philosophical history, and accepting either determinism or indeterminism as a truth of our universe leads one down the rabbit-hole, searching for flickers of freedom. The most successful attempts have relied on conceptualizing freedom in terms of practice, i.e. free action, rather than metaphysics, and further defending these views against horrible hypnotists, and other forms of manipulation. In light of this difficulty it is interesting to note that the Cartesian interpretation of the core premise of free will has gone largely unchallenged. However, within the context of phenomenological thought, particularly in the field of embodied cognition, the fundamental assumptions look rather disparate. This tradition asks radically different questions, and while it has not dealt much with the problem of free will specifically, there is an interesting issue of how an embodied view of mind might change our perspective on this debate and subsequently inform our theory of free will.

My aim is to analyze the effects of holding an embodied view of cognition on our conception of free will. I argue that the embodied cognition framework rejects the Cartesian background against which traditional free will accounts are conceived. The embodied freedom account offers an intuitive, empirically grounded, and phenomenally commensurate theory of free will, moral responsibility, and agency. I take up this discussion against the background of the traditional, analytic debate. First, I show how four of the popular views in the traditional free will debate share a Cartesian foundation, and discuss the problem of epiphenomenalism as a consequence of accepting the Cartesian assumptions regarding mind and body, referencing the free will experiments performed by Benjamin Libet. Second, I explicate the embodied cognition framework and analyze free will in that context, citing the work of, among others, Rodney Brooks, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Shaun Gallagher. Third, I compare the embodied freedom account to other compatibilist conceptions of free will, and consider the centrality of moral responsibility to this debate as well as its relation to agency. Finally, I discuss a classical objection to compatibilism and whether the embodied freedom account can meet this challenge.