- 'The Rational Impermissibility of (some) Racial Generalizations', Synthese (2018):doi: 10.1007/s11229-018-1809-5
- 'Reasonable Mistakes and Regulative Norms: Racial Bias in Defensive Harm'. Journal of Political Philosophy, Vol. 25, No. 2 (2017): 196-217. doi: 10.1111/jopp.12120
- 'Revisiting the Right to do Wrong'. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 95, No. 1 (2017): 43-57. doi: 10.1080/00048402.2016.1179654
- 'The Pragmatics of Slurs'. Nous, vol. 51 no. 3 (2017): 439-462; published online March 2015. doi: 10.1111/nous.12090
- Review of How Propaganda Works by Jason Stanley. Ethics, Vol. 127, No. 2 (2017): 502-507.
talks & conference presentations
- University of Queensland Philosophy Seminar, 1 March 2019
Moral Risks and Communicating Consent
In addition to protecting agents’ autonomy, consent plays a crucial social role: it enables agents to secure partners in valuable interactions that would be prohibitively morally risk otherwise. To do this, consent must be observable: agents must be able to track the facts about whether they have received a consent-based permission. I argue that this morally justifies a consent-practice on which communicating that one consents is sufficient for consent, but also generates robust constraints on what sorts of behaviours can be taken as consent-communicating.
Rights and Epistemic Risks: Beyond Subjective Permissibility
This paper argues that our understanding of objective rights must be sensitive to agents’ epistemic limitations. On one popular understanding (which I call the `full-information fact-relative' interpretation), considerations about ignorance are relevant only to the `subjective permissibility' of an act, affecting culpability but not whether an act is a rights-violation. Against this view, I argue that subjective permissibility is not an adequate answer to the problems that agent ignorance poses for the deliberative and distributive roles of moral rights. If rights are to fill the theoretical role assigned to them, they must issue fact-relative permissions that are at least somewhat sensitive to agents' evidential and epistemic limitations.
- Wuhan University Philosophy Seminar, 18 Oct 2018
- National University of Singapore, 16 Oct 2018
- University of Otago Philosophy Seminar, Oct 2018
- University of Melbourne Philosophy Thursday Seminar, Aug 2018
- Australian National University workshop on Ethics & Risk, July 2018
Naive & Non-Derogatory Slurs
Often speakers within a linguistic community use a term that they do not conceptualize as a slur, while other members of that community do conceptualize it as one. Theorists have been quick to categorize such speakers as linguistically incompetent naive slur-users when the terms in question are current, potent slurs, but it's less obvious what we should say for terms in murkier, transitional stages. This paper explores puzzles raised by these more ambiguous 'contested slurs', and aims to characterize some options for which facts we should take to determine whether a term is a slur in a given language, despite widespread ignorance of this fact, versus failing to count as a slur because of the widespread ignorance.
- Australasian Association of Philosophy/New Zealand Association of Philosophy Joint Conference, July 2018
The Case for conventional defensive permissions
On most accounts, whether it is morally permissible to harm someone in self-defense depends exclusively on whether doing so is necessary to avert a genuine threat for which they are responsible, or else is justified by lesser-evil considerations. Problematically, because they can't distinguish between genuine and merely apparent threats, these accounts leave agents prone to unintentional rights-transgressions, and fail to fairly distribute the risk of suffering unjust harm. I argue that this mischaracterizes agents' defensive permissions in a social context. Taking promissory obligations as a model, I show that there is moral reason to introduce a convention to mediate and extend agents' defensive permissions. Given the uncertainty that agents must act under, there is reason to permit defense against agents to avoidably act in ways that are conventional signals of aggression, even if (unknown to the defender) the threat is merely apparent.
- Australasian Workshop in Moral Philosophy, January 2018
- Stockholm Centre for the Ethics of War and Peace, Graduate Reading Retreat, November 2017
Epistemic Injustice and the Harm in Mental Illness Epithets
This paper aims to focus carefully on the topic of pejoratives relating to mental illness. I argue that though 'crazy' and similar mental illness-based epithets (MI-epithets) are not best understood as slurs, they do function to isolate, exclude, and marginalize members of the targeted group in ways similar to the harmfulness of slurs more generally. While they do not generally express the hate/contempt characteristic of weaponized uses of slurs, MI-epithets perpetuate epistemic injustice by portraying sufferers of mental illness as deserving minimal credibility. After outlining the ways in which these epithets can cause harm, I examine available legal and social remedies, and suggest that the best path going forward is to pursue a reclamation project rather than aiming to censure the use of MI-epithets.
- New York Philosophy of Language Workshop, Dec 2017
- Central meeting of the American Philosophical Association (symposium), Kansas City, March 2017
Explaining The Justificatory Asymmetry Between Statistical And Individualized Evidence
In some cases, there appears to be an asymmetry in the evidential value of statistical and more individualized evidence. For example, while I may accept that Alex is guilty based on eyewitness testimony that is 80% likely to be accurate, it does not seem permissible to do so based on the fact that 80% of a group that Alex is a member of are guilty. In this paper I suggest that rather than reflecting a deep fact about the content of types of evidence, this asymmetry might arise from the moral features of the relation between the source of evidence and the target’s agency. While relying on statistical evidence plausibly raises the stakes of error by introducing new kinds of risk to members of the reference class, paradigmatically “individualized” evidence—evidence tracing back to A’s voluntary behaviour—lowers the stakes of error. Plausibly the degree of evidential support needed to justify accepting a proposition as true depends on the stakes of error. If so, then these facts explain the apparent evidential asymmetry without positing a deep difference in the brute justificatory power of different types of evidence.
- Australian National University Economics & Philosophy Workshop, November 2017
the Moral Grounds of Mistaken Self-Defense
Mistaken self-defense presents a puzzle: in at least some cases agents are intuitively justified in imposing defensive harm on an apparent aggressor, despite (in fact) facing no genuine threat. I argue that these cases motivate a more expansive view of the moral grounds of permissible self-defense, allowing that in addition to liability-based permissions, defenders sometimes enjoy vulnerability-based permissions. In particular, when individuals S behave in ways that conventionally signal that they pose a threat to an agent P, S cannot reasonably demand that P refrain from defensive action, so P is permitted to defend herself. I develop an account of what it is to conventionally signal threateningness, and explore some limitations on what signaling behaviors can do the relevant moral work.
- Australian National University Thursday Seminar, Feb 2018
- Manchester Center for Political Theory (MANCEPT), Panel on Risk & Uncertainty, September 2016
- Harvard Graduate Political Theory Conference, October 2015
The Problem of the Mistaken Defender
There is widespread agreement that agents are justified in imposing defensive harm in at least some cases where they are reasonably mistaken about whether the threat is genuine (perhaps because the apparent aggressor is bluffing). Still, not every evidentially justified mistaken defense is permissible: in some cases (like McMahan's Mistaken Resident) the mistaken defender wrongs the apparent aggressor. I argue that none of the dominant accounts are able without supplementation to secure and explain the intuitive verdicts about the full range of cases of mistaken defense. At minimum we should look for an extension that identifies the moral feature that renders permissible mistakes permissible, links the permission in the right sort of way to the apparent aggressor's actions, and keeps the account from over-generating.
- Stockholm Centre for the Ethics of War and Peace Graduate Reading Retreat, September 2016
- Rocky Mountain Ethics Congress, Boulder, August 2016
The Rational Impermissibility of Accepting Racial Generalizations
I argue that racialized inferences (e.g. believing Fernando is a janitor, on the grounds that he is Salvadorean and most Salvadoreans in this area are janitors) instantiate species of a more general epistemic flaw: accepting a proposition when, given the stakes of the context, one is not adequately justified in doing so. I sketch an account of the nature of adequate justification---practical adequacy with respect to eliminating the ~P possibilities from one's epistemic statespace---and suggest that whether one is justified in accepting a proposition on generalized evidence partially depends on whether the membership conditions of the generalization satisfy constraints on permissible avoidable signaling conventions. If they do, then the moral stakes are lower, as the object of belief has waived their complaint against acceptance. Finally, I suggest that since racial membership conditions do not satisfy these constraints, generalizations based on race cannot justify acceptance of a proposition P if one risks wronging the object of belief if mistaken.
- St. Louis Annual Conference on Reasons and Rationality, St. Louis, May 2017
- Talbot Philosophical Society Colloquium, Biola University, November 2016
- Arche Graduate Conference, St. Andrews, October 2016
Reporting Bad Beliefs: Solutions For Pragmatic Accounts Of Slurs
Pragmatic accounts of slurs are characterized by commitment to the equivalence thesis: that slurs are semantically equivalent to their neutral counterparts. I present the three most common objections to pragmatic approaches stemming from this thesis: the equivalence problem, that it makes “all (NCs) are (slurs)” a conceptual truth; the substitution problem, that the view falsely predicts slurs may be substituted into intensional contexts salva veritae; and the conversational problem, that reports omitting slurs are intuitively incomplete and thus indicate that slurs differ from NCs in semantic content. I show that pragmatic theorists have adequate responses to each objection. The substitution problem relies on principles she is free to deny, while the equivalence objection is question begging. Finally, the conversational problem relies on delicate data that does not clearly support a semantic interpretation.
- Pacific meeting of the American Philosophical Association (colloquium), San Francisco, March 2016
- 9th Annual Northern Graduate Conference at Northern Illinois University, November 2015
Reasonable Mistakes And Regulative Norms: Racial Bias In Defensive Harm
A regulative norm for permissible defense distinguishes the conditions under which we will hold defenders to be innocent of any wrongdoing from those in which we hold them responsible for assault or manslaughter. The norm must strike a fair balance between defenders' security, on the one hand, and other agents’ legitimate claim to live without fear of suffering mistaken defensive harm, on the other. Since agents must make defensive decisions under high pressure and on only partial information, they will sometimes make mistakes. We have reason to want a norm that considers a mistake permissible when it was highly likely on the evidence that defense was proportionate and necessary to avert a threat. However, adopting an evidentialist norm under non-ideal conditions is treacherous business. I briefly survey empirical data suggesting that the type and extent of bias prevalent in the US renders a straightforward evidentialist norm unjust, and thus since the legal practice in the US relies on such a norm, we must explore avenues for reform. Preferably this will take the form of adopting a modified evidential norm, and I explore some promising options. If this proves impossible, however, then we have to accept a strict regulative norm (which does not consider any mistakes permissible), as the sole just alternative.
- Political Violence Workshop, University of Connecticut, December 2015
Metalinguistic Moral Disagreement
The problem of moral disagreement has been presented as an objection to contextualist semantics for ought, since it is not clear that contextualism can accommodate or give a convincing gloss of such disagreement. I argue that independently of our semantics, disagreements over oughts in non-cooperative contexts are best understood in the framework of metalinguistic negation, which is easily accommodated by contextualism. If this is correct, then rather than posing a problem for contextualism, the data from moral disagreements provides some reason to adopt a semantics that allows variance in the meanings of oughts.
- Central meeting of the American Philosophical Association (colloquium), St. Louis, February 2015
Revisiting the right to do Wrong
Rights to do wrong may be conceptually possible, but (contra Waldron, Enoch, and Herstein) they are not necessary (even) within the framework of interest-based rights aimed at preserving autonomy. Agents can make morally significant choices and develop their moral character without a right to do wrong, so long as we either acknowledge supererogatory and minimally satisficing acts, or allow that there can be moral variation within the set of actions an agent is obligated to perform. Agents can also engage in non-trivial self-constitution in choosing between morally indifferent options, so long as there is adequate non-moral variation among the alternatives. Furthermore, the intuition that in some cases individuals do have a right to do wrong can be explained as stemming from a cautionary principle motivated by the asymmetry between the risk of wrongly interfering and that of refraining from interfering.
- UCLA Law and Philosophy Graduate Conference, October 2014
The Specification Problem For Anderson's Democratic Egalitarianism
The specification problem is a challenge to both specify the content of our egalitarian obligations, and justify these obligations on neutral grounds. I spend the majority of the paper illustrating how the problem arises for one particular relational egalitarian theory, defended by Elizabeth Anderson. After reviewing the obligations Anderson aims to justify, evaluating three strategies one may use to ground these particular obligations, and finding that they all fail to simultaneously specify our obligations and justify them on grounds that are neutral between conceptions of the good, I contend that this failure stems from a structural feature of relational egalitarianism in conjunction with a capabilities metric. Consequently, it illuminates a general problem for relational egalitarian theories with such a metric: either they can specify the content of our obligations, or they can ground our obligations in neutral principles, but they cannot do both.
- Northwestern University Society for Theory in Ethics and Politics, March 2014
The Pragmatics of Slurs
It is standardly assumed that an adequate semantics of slurring terms must account for the peculiar embedding pattern exhibited by slurs, explaining why slurs often cause offense despite logical embedding. I argue that the offense generation pattern of slurring terms parallels that of impoliteness behaviors, and is best explained by appeal to purely pragmatic mechanisms akin to those at work in impoliteness phenomena. In short, in choosing to use a slurring term rather than its neutral counterpart, the speaker signals that she endorses the term (and its associations). Such an attitude is offensive, and consequently slurs generate offense whenever a speaker’s use demonstrates a contrastive preference for the slurring term. Since such an explanation comes at low theoretical cost and imposes few constraints on an account of the semantics of slurs, this suggests that we should not require semantic accounts to provide an independent explanation of embedding patterns.
- Princeton/Rutgers Graduate Student Conference, April 2013
- Texas Tech University Philosophy Graduate Student Conference, April 2013