© Alex Richardson, 2014

Research

What I'm working on lately...

My interest in philosophy stems from a lifelong fascination with some of the more nagging questions that surround our everyday lives. The most important of these, in my view, have to do with how we treat each other in various contexts and how we can live together in a decent society, which is why I spend most of my time thinking, teaching, and writing at the theoretical crossroads of ethics, politics, and social structures.

My areas of research specialization are in moral and political philosophy.  More specifically, I'm interested in liberal political theory (especially John Rawls and social contract theory), the capabilities approach to justice and development, and the applications these frameworks can have to tough applied issues, particularly those at the intersections of social, environmental, and intergenerational justice. I also occasionally like to do some thinking about human rights, feminist philosophy, LGBT+ issues, the philosophy of race, and Kantian (meta)ethical theory.

My primary academic advisor is David Reidy, and I'm also currently working on various projects under the direction of John NoltAdam Cureton, and Nora Berenstain.

 

Works in Progress

Capabilities Across Generations: A Constructive Approach to Climate Justice

In recent history, much of the conversation involved in social and political theorizing about justice has focused not only on articulating obligations of justice toward people who are sometimes spatially distant from us, but, increasingly, to those who may be temporally distant as well—future people. Global climate change presents a striking urgency in this regard, as it stands to disproportionally harm not only the most disadvantaged among our contemporaries, but threatens future people as well. Many attempts have been made to explain and defend accounts of intergenerational obligations to minimize and mitigate the effects of climate change. All too often, these sorts of accounts fall prey to application problems when fitted to an intergenerational context. In this paper, I develop an approach to intergenerational justice informed by the capabilities approach to justice and human development advanced, among others, by Martha Nussbaum and Amartya Sen, and seek to provide some theoretical resources for better understanding our obligations to future persons. Ultimately, I submit that this sort of view seems more well-fitted to this context than other approaches (e.g., contractarianism and consequentialism), and that it offers a unique vehicle for understanding our relations and obligations to future people.

 

Democratizing Epistemology: Trust and Inclusion as a Remedy for Structural Epistemic Injustice

Among the wealth of social problems involving various forms of oppression in contemporary societies, marginalization and exclusion along epistemic lines stands out as uniquely pernicious. Miranda Fricker (2007) provides a compelling account of two types of epistemic injustice, and proposes an interpersonal corrective measure in order to ameliorate them, which she calls the virtue of epistemic justice. I argue that epistemic injustice will likely require solutions which are more structural in nature in order to combat the problems Fricker identifies on a sufficiently comprehensive scale. Ultimately, in response to ubiquitous forms of epistemic injustice in contemporary democracies, as well as to the shortcomings of Fricker’s corrective proposal, I will advocate a move toward a qualified version of what Elizabeth Anderson refers to as a democratic epistemology, which turns chiefly among comprehensive equality of membership in meaning-making activities and institutions. While my own approach, like Anderson’s, is motivated and informed by a broadly egalitarian tradition in political philosophy, I contend that it ought to be tempered by a serious consideration of the implications of feminist standpoint accounts of social epistemology offered by theorists like Sandra Harding, among others. It is my hope that the move toward a conception of democratic epistemology can provide a suitably comprehensive method of structural response to pervasive epistemic injustices which are an unfortunate mainstay of contemporary democracies, both interpersonally and institutionally.

 

 

Presentations

Toward a Capability-Based Account of Intergenerational Justice

Meeting on Intergenerational Justice and Climate Change

National University of Córdoba, Argentina

September 18-19, 2017

[conference draft]

All too often, accounts of moral and political obligation to future generations in the wake of climate change fall prey to problems when applied in an intergenerational context. I draw on the capabilities approach to social justice and human development to provide some theoretical resources for better understanding our obligations to future persons. First, I briefly reconstruct a capabilities approach, examining this sort of view’s normative foundations and methodology. Using Martha Nussbaum’s capabilities list as a basis, I argue that various social and environmental functions which are threatened by climate change are crucial with respect to enabling morally and politically central capabilities for both current and future people. Then, I extend this strategy to argue that the capabilities approach provides a uniquely useful threshold conception of harm to inform our thinking about our relationship to our posterity. It is my hope that the capabilities approach so applied can give us a novel way of understanding our responsibilities toward future people in a time where such an understanding is both unfortunately lacking and increasingly dire. Finally, I will discuss some implications of a capability-based account in the intergenerational context and some justifications for applying the approach in this way. Ultimately, I submit that this sort of view seems more well-fitted to this context than other approaches (e.g., contractarianism and consequentialism), and that it offers a unique vehicle for theorizing about our relations and obligations to future people.

Epistemic Injustice in Philosophy: Building a More Inclusive Discipline

Summer Seminar on the Future of Philosophical Practice

University of North Carolina, Asheville

July 14-16, 2017

[slides] [outline]

Among various sorts of oppression which persist in contemporary democracies, epistemic forms of injustice stand out as particularly harmful insofar as they affect our capacities for knowledge about ourselves and those around us. This phenomenon is perhaps nowhere better illustrated than in the academy, whose members, in many cases (whether intentional or otherwise), seem to maintain a social and political narrative which relegates interlocking forms of oppression such as racism and sexism to a comfortably distant past. Epistemic injustices which occur in the academy are particularly striking, given the crucial role the university plays in a modern democracy—as a fundamental social institution where norms governing knowledge, credibility, and trust are developed, justified, and distributed. In this presentation, I will examine the phenomenon of epistemic injustice as it occurs in the context of the contemporary university system, particularly within the discipline of philosophy. After making some brief remarks about some available strategies for ameliorating epistemic justice more generally, I will sketch some best practices for reforming professional philosophy from within, both in our classrooms and beyond.

Epistemic Justice and the Imperative of LGBT+ Inclusion in Higher Education

OUTstanding: A Conference on Gender and Sexual Diversity

University of Tennessee, Knoxville

October 22, 2016

Presented with Elizabeth Williams

In much of the current public discourse surrounding the group-based oppression of women, racial minorities, and LGBT+ people, the notion of injustice is often invoked, be it social, political, economic, or otherwise. Conversations about these issues often defer to such crucial notions as fairness, equal protection, discrimination, etc. While these ideas do offer some important content to productive conversations about identity-based forms of oppression, we don’t believe they are alone wholly instructive. We propose to offer a close look at an intimately interrelated but distinctive facet of the injustice of group oppression that is particularly relevant against the contextual backdrop of the university as a social institution: epistemic injustice. Too often in contemporary society, women, racial minorities, and LGBT+ people are systemically excluded from institutional participation in the formation the epistemic norms which govern their lives. This, we contend, contributes to the relative ease with which our institutions form an oppressive posture toward these communities. Because of the crucial role the university in particular plays in constructing social and epistemic norms, as well as deciding who gets to count as a knower in the first instance, we argue that promoting diversity and inclusion in higher education is absolutely imperative for the university as a foundational guiding institution for 21st century democracies. We present, as a case study, our own community’s efforts and failures with respect to LGBT+ inclusion, and give several novel moral, political, and epistemic arguments for the value of diversity and inclusion initiatives within the university community.