I study topics in ethics, epistemology, and decision theory. Some of my work in progress is summarized below.
No Free Lunch: The Significance of Tiny Contributions, Analysis 78 (2018): pp. 3–13. [link]
Fool Me Once: Can Indifference Vindicate Induction? (with Han Li), Episteme 15 (2018): pp. 202–208. [link]
Work in Progress
I'm working on a few different projects. I'd be happy to discuss any of these works in progress; just send an email.
Save the Five: Meeting Taurek's ChallengeSix people are in trouble; we can save five of them or just the sixth. In a fascinating and influential paper, John Taurek defends a radical view: We are not required to save the greater number. Taurek's paper has persuaded some, and 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 convince someone who doesn't care about numbers... to care about numbers. The paper I'm working on aims to derive the priority of the many from something more basic—the simple claim that if we can improve a person's chance of survival, then, other things equal, we should.
Statistical Evidence, Accuracy, and the LawMany 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 shared intuition can be justified, if at all. Two justifications are found, but neither gives us everything we want. The first route, which is broadly utilitarian, is fragile—it holds that the intuition should only be upheld sometimes. The second route offers a more robust justification, but it depends upon an unpopular form of proceduralism.
Concentrated and Diffuse Harms: The Good, the Bad, and the UglyYou can save one person from a very severe harm, or you can save an enormous number from a negligible harm. Many of us want to say that it would be better to prevent the severe harm, even if this choice prevents less harm in total. Though I feel this intuition myself, on balance, I do not believe that it can be defended. This paper argues that allegiance to this intuition leads us to an ugly place—the rejection of the transitivity of betterness.
Five Roles for InclinationInitially, you judge that p. You then learn that experts disagree. You believe that the experts are probably right. 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. This attitude of inclination 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.
Unorthodox Treatments for BaldnessBald? We in philosophy can help. First, you must grant that removing a single follicle of hair from a person's head cannot make them bald. (Call this 'tolerance'.) If you don't grant this, the treatment won't work. Now: Fetch a large number of people. We remove a hair from each, and transfuse those follicles onto your head. You're now cured—and, by tolerance, 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 tolerance-friendly frameworks.