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Research

My research investigates the significance of our social roles for moral and political theory. While many philosophical views downplay social roles as simply a background feature of our moral lives, I aim to do justice to the familiar feeling that role norms are binding and often in seemingly genuine conflict with moral norms.

Works in Progress

  • Paper on moral ignorance and social roles (under review)

When are we blameworthy for wrongdoing committed in the course of our jobs? I argue that our social roles involve deliberative norms. Agents who conform to those norms may neglect moral considerations that bear on their decisions—and do so for good reason. According to some theorists, this can excuse them from blame. But even those who deny that moral ignorance exculpates, arguing that what matters is responsiveness to moral considerations, should take role-occupants' excuses seriously. The upshot is a novel position in the debate about moral ignorance as an excuse.​

  • The Normative Character of Social Roles

When and why should we do what our social roles tell us? One approach says we can rely entirely on ethical principles that apply outside of social roles, such as keeping promises or aiding those who rely on you. Many others endorse a different approach on which social role norms can have normative force conditional on some moral criteria being met. I argue against both approaches. We do in fact have reasons to comply with our role norms, even when they conflict with morality.

  • Role Responsibilities for Structural Injustice

Consider claims like this: "As artists, women, and most importantly dedicated Americans, it is critical that we stand together in solidarity for the protection, dignity, and rights of our communities" (actress America Ferrera). Ferrera suggests that we have responsibilities not only as persons or moral agents, but as artists, as women, and as Americans. I argue that this statement expresses something important: our responsibilities for structural injustice are deeply entangled with our social roles, vindicating the widespread but philosophically puzzling view that we have substantial local responsibilities for structural injustice. However, our roles do not themselves provide the grounds for our responsibilities. 

  • Social Philosophy for Tech Ethics Pedagogy (with Sonia Maria Pavel)

This project is based on our experience designing and teaching an expanded version of MIT’s Experiential Ethics course. The key commitment of Experiential Ethics is teaching ethics as a skill. To this end, we emphasize tools rather than theories (e.g. conversations about universalizability and character rather than deontology and virtue ethics) and allow students’ interdisciplinary expertise to drive the course. In other teaching, we noticed that a focus on individual decision-making can backfire: students correctly recognize that their individual agency as engineers or coders is limited, so they do not take up ethical questions as their own. Pavel and I designed new units for Experiential Ethics that incorporated more social philosophy, focusing on the structural and systemic nature of agency and social change. The revised course successfully prompted a broader engagement with ethics: 100% of students reported an increased ability to identify and critically evaluate ethical dimensions of real-world situations, interpret ethical arguments, and advocate for real-world ethical decisions in communities they participate in.

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