Hi! (Students: click here.)

I'm an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the National University of Singapore. Before going into philosophy, I taught math to 11- and 12-year-olds. [PhilPeople] [cv]

I study topics in ethics, practical rationality, and epistemology. Current interests include voting, collective action problems, the ethics of aggregation and risk, practical rationality and followability, the epistemology of law, and the epistemology of philosophy. Some work in progress relating to these issues is summarized below.

I'm always happy to receive comments on anything I've written—write to me!

photo credit to Holly Tran

Papers

*Featured in The Philosopher's Annual 2021.


Work in Progress

Feel free to send me a note if you're interested in any of these works in progress.



Against Risk-Aversion

Orthodox decision theory forbids risk-aversion. For example, in a choice between saving one person for sure and taking a ¼ chance of saving five, orthodox decision theory requires us to choose the gamble. To many, this requirement seems too strict. Accordingly, some have proposed alternative decision theories that permit risk-aversion (i.e. saving the one person for sure) in cases like the above. It will be argued here, though, that orthodox decision theory gets these cases right. Decision theories that permit risk-aversion—including Lara Buchak’s risk-weighted expected utility—turn out to commit us to choices which harm some and help none. No matter one’s stance on risk, such a result is difficult to accept. The paper will discuss how this argument against risk-aversion differs from existing criticisms, which traditionally appeal to the fact that risk-averse agents are likely to lose out in the long run. The argument developed here does not rely upon this observation and can be presented in the context of a single decision.

Statistical Evidence, Accuracy, and Justified Conviction

Many of us strongly believe that it is not permissible to convict a defendant in court on the basis of purely statistical evidence. This paper explores how this widely held judgment interacts with differing theories of criminal punishment, including retributive, utilitarian, and proceduralist views. Surprisingly, it turns out that the first two approaches, which are both quite popular, are unable to explain and vindicate our unwillingness to convict on purely statistical grounds. Only the proceduralist approach has the tools to do this. This means that the anti-statistical evidence intuition and proceduralism turn out to have a close relationship: they stand or fall together.

Voter Ignorance, Voter Altruism, and the Prospect of a Decisive Vote

It has recently been argued that voting to change the outcome can often be rational. The argument, though, assumes that the would-be voter (a) knows who the better candidate is and (b) is a perfect altruist. Both assumptions seem false in most cases. How can it be legitimate to make false assumptions? This is a fair criticism. But I'll argue that there is a role to play for both of these assumptions in assessing the rationality of a given type of behavior--whether they are true or not. Ultimately, we will see that there remains a deep and important sense in which the act of voting is rational. At the same time, it may be that the vast majority of actual voters fall short of meeting this rational standard.

Five Roles for Inclination

Initially, you judge that p. You then learn that experts disagree. The experts are probably right, you tell yourself. Still, p continues to seem right to you, in some sense. You don’t yet see what, if anything, was wrong with your original reasoning. Under these conditions, we’ll say that you are “inclined” toward p. Inclination of this kind can play several important roles, both within epistemology and more broadly: Inclinations can promote the accuracy of inquiring groups; they can support rational participation within philosophy in the face of pervasive disagreement; inclinations carry information about individuals’ independent judgments and for this reason must be accounted for when updating on the opinions of others; they are connected to understanding in a way that belief is not; and finally, awareness of the inclination-belief distinction enables us to respond to a provocative challenge purporting to show that ‘thinking for oneself’ typically reduces expected accuracy and hence should be discouraged.

Save the Five: Meeting Taurek's Challenge

Six people are in trouble; we can save five of them or just the sixth. In a radical and influential paper, John Taurek argues that we are not required to save the greater number. Taurek's paper has persuaded some, but even those who are not persuaded agree that Taurek's paper raises a deep and important challenge: From where does the priority of the many derive? It seems difficult, or even impossible, to derive the importance of numbers in ethics from more basic principles. The paper I'm working on will try to do exactly this. Specifically, it argues that the priority of the many can be derived from something more basic—the simple claim that if we can improve a person's chance of survival, then, other things equal, we should.
Unorthodox Treatments for BaldnessBald? Maybe philosophy can help. First, you must grant that removing a single strand of hair from a person's head cannot make them bald. If you don't grant this, the treatment won't work. Now fetch a large number of people. Remove a single hair from each, and transfuse those follicles onto your head. You're now cured—and, by our earlier assumption, we didn't make anyone bald in the process. So what? Interestingly, if everything is configured just right beforehand, then the proposed treatment turns out to commit us to something surprising: baldness is not an intrinsic property—whether one is bald depends on more than the number/arrangement of hairs on one's head. Does this seem implausible? If so, then the observation makes trouble for recent attempts to devise frameworks friendly to the assumption made at the outset.