What I'm working on lately...
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 social epistemology, human rights, feminist philosophy, LGBT+ issues, the philosophy of race, and Kantian ethics.
Works in Progress
Democratizing Epistemology: Trust and Inclusion as a Remedy for Structural Epistemic Injustice
Among the many forms of social oppression which unfortunately persist in contemporary societies, that which implicates various groups’ status as knowers stands out as uniquely pernicious. Trends of epistemic marginalization and exclusion are particularly striking among the citizens and institutions of liberal democracies like the United States, who, in many cases, maintain and perpetuate narratives which comfortably relegate forms of oppression such as racism and sexism to a safely distant past. Miranda Fricker (2007) provides a compelling account of epistemic injustice in two basic forms, and proposes an interpersonal corrective measure to ameliorate them, which she calls the virtue of epistemic justice.
In this paper, I argue that Fricker’s account, while initially promising, requires solutions which operate in more clearly structural ways in order to combat the social problems she identifies on a sufficiently comprehensive scale. Ultimately, in response to ubiquitous forms of epistemic injustice, as well as to the shortcomings of Fricker’s interpersonal proposal, I advocate a move toward a qualified version of what Elizabeth Anderson has referred to as a democratic political epistemology. Such a conception is political insofar as it recognizes the extent to which fundamental democratic social institutions often serve as a developmental backdrop to various shared epistemic resources which shape, inform, and often constrain epistemic exchanges between citizens. It can only be truly democratic if it takes seriously the prescription that membership and participation in these institutions be comprehensively inclusive and open to all. While my own approach is informed by a tradition of similarly egalitarian intuitions in political philosophy, I stipulate that any corrective measure ought to be tempered by a serious consideration of the implications of feminist standpoint accounts of social epistemology. More specifically, I endorse the notion that marginalized groups have privileged epistemic access to their own experiences of oppression, and argue that we ought to integrate this key insight—a kind of epistemic prioritarianism—into our corrective account. It is my hope that a move toward this conception of epistemic inclusion 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.
Toward a Capability-Based Account of Intergenerational Justice
National University of Córdoba, Argentina
September 18-19, 2017
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
University of North Carolina, Asheville
July 14-16, 2017
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
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.