Research Interests

Broadly, I have research interests in normative and applied ethics, political philosophy, and other cognate areas.

SCEWP Conference 2015, Bergamo, Italy (Photo by: Seth Lazar)

SCEWP Conference 2015, Bergamo, Italy (Photo by: Seth Lazar)

My main research project explores questions at the intersection of two important issues in ethics and political philosophy: partiality and war. In my work, I defend a modest form of national partiality in war, which has important implications for the central moral constraints governing both entering into war (jus ad bellum) and conduct within war (jus in bello).

This project was the focus of my dissertation, National Partiality and War. Click here for my dissertation summary, or go here to download the full dissertation.

My dissertation was awarded Honourable Mention for the University of Toronto Department of Philosophy’s David Savan Prize in 2019, a prize given annually in recognition of the excellence of a doctoral thesis in philosophy submitted and successfully defended during the previous calendar year.

Click here for my PhilPapers profile.

Publications


Under Review/In progress

(please email me for drafts or discussion of these)

In Progress

“The Algebra of Partiality” Centre for Ethics, University of Toronto, March 14, 2018; http://ethics.utoronto.ca

The Algebra of Partiality
I aim to show that our reasons of partiality can sometimes override our negative duties to others. In the course of arguing for this view, I will also shed light on the question of how much partiality is justified in a given case. My strategy throughout this essay is to consider several approaches to understanding the structure of partiality and how it applies to our various duties. I find that these functions are best illustrated with stacked bar graphs. A broader methodological aim of this discussion, then, is to take the insights of philosophers who have used similar illustrations to explore other issues in normative ethics, and show how such illustrations might be fruitfully applied to issues in the ethics of partiality.

Necessity and the Problem of Future Costs
Standard views of necessity in the context of war and self-defense ignore an important problem, which I call the 'problem of future costs': sometimes pursuing less harmful courses of action now will lead to future harms, or an increased risk of future harms, that would not have happened had one pursued the lethal course of action at that earlier time. In this essay, I outline this problem and show how the leading account of necessity, which I call the 'comparative proportionality view', fails to offer a compelling answer. The problems this account faces indicate a need for a multi-faceted notion of necessity, which I sketch in the final section of the essay.

Value-Promotion as a Goal of Medicine, with Eric Mathison
Physicians and bioethicists often reference the “goals of medicine” in debates at the frontiers of medicine. The idea, roughly, is that there is a circumscribed set of ends that physicians and other medical professionals, in their distinctive capacities, are permitted to pursue in treating their patients. Put differently, pursuing any treatment that does not align with these goals of medicine is morally wrong. In this essay, we explore an alternative view, which we call the value-promotion view. This view holds, roughly, that one goal of medicine is to promote the patient’s autonomous values. Our ambition in this essay is relatively modest: we are not attempting to show that the value-promotion view is the cardinal or even sole goal of medicine. Indeed, for reasons that are beyond the scope of this paper, we believe it has limits. Rather, we aim only to show that this relatively unexplored view has certain virtues that have gone essentially unnoticed in the goals-of-medicine literature, and the limitations and objections that spring intuitively to mind are not nearly as decisive as some might assume them to be.

Under Review (titles anonymized for peer-review):

[On the role of autonomy in medical assistance in dying, with Eric Mathison]
Most people who defend physician-assisted death (PAD) endorse the Joint View, which holds that two conditions—autonomy and welfare—must be satisfied for PAD to be justified. In this paper, we defend an Autonomy Only view. We argue that the welfare condition is either otiose on the most plausible account of the autonomy condition, or else is implausibly restrictive, particularly once we account for the broad range of reasons patients cite for desiring PAD, such as “tired of life” cases. Moreover, many of the common objections to an autonomy only view fail once we understand the extent of the autonomy condition’s requirements—in particular, the importance of one’s values for autonomous choices. If our view is correct, then the scope of permissible PAD is broader than is currently accepted in both the philosophical literature and the law, and therefore poses an important challenge to the current consensus on justified PAD.

[On the ways relationships of partiality, including national partiality, are restricted in scope]
Most of us believe that partiality applies in a broad range of cases. Many also accept that the underlying justification for partiality is the same in all cases. But this has led some to hold that certain forms of partiality—e.g., co-national partiality—are not justified in certain cases. I argue that this approach overlooks an important structural feature of partiality—namely, that its scope is sometimes restricted. Co-national partiality, I argue, has this structural feature. And this fact helps proponents of co-national partiality overcome a persistent objection to its application in cases like war.

[On the role of collectivism in national defense]
The predominant view these days in the ethics of war is “reductivist individualism,” which holds both that killing in war is subject to the very same principles of ordinary morality (reductivism); and that morality concerns individuals and their rights, and does not treat collectives as having any special status (individualism). I argue that this commitment to individualism poses problems for this view in the case of national defense. More specifically, I argue that the main strategies for defending individualist approaches to national defense either fail by their own lights or yield deeply counterintuitive implications. I then offer the foundations for a collectivist approach. I argue that such an approach must do justice to the collective goods that properly constituted states make possible and protect through certain acts of defensive war; and that any such picture of national defense must make room for some form of national partiality.

[On grief]
Recent empirical studies have suggested that we are more resilient after the death of a loved one than we might expect. Some philosophers have sought to show why we should lament this fact. Dan Moller has argued that resilience is a form of ‘adaptive blindness’ that prevents us from seeing or appreciating the value we once saw in our relationship. In this essay, I argue that Moller’s view has two serious flaws. First, it does not explain the particular sort of anxiety we have about these empirical findings—namely, that our well-being returns to its baseline after only a few months. Second, and more importantly, Moller assumes that the only relevant responses—i.e. emotions and judgments—following a loss concern the loss itself. But the phenomenon of acceptance proves this assumption is false. I offer a sketch of acceptance and show how it applies to the case of resilience.


Other writing

I am also working on a (currently very rough) translation of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Principles of the Right of War. Here's my draft of that.