Research

Focus Areas, Articles, and Works in Progress

Research

My areas of specialization include theoretical and applied ethics (incl. bioethics), moral psychology, and the philosophy of emotion. Broadly speaking, I am interested in puzzles at the intersection of ethics and emotion. Exploring such puzzles often leads my research in an interdisciplinary direction – much of my work incorporates insights from other fields, including: neuroscience, medicine, psychology, sociology, the technological sciences, legal theory, and education. My recent projects span three overlapping areas of philosophy: morality and the emotions, applied philosophy, and social and political philosophy. To download my CV, click here.

Morality and the Emotions

I am interested in the nature of emotions and their relationship to morality. In particular, I am concerned to investigate how the emotional ties that bind us to other persons and objects in the world help to shape ethical norms and guide moral deliberation.


“On Being Attached”

Philosophical Studies, 2016, 173(1): 223-242.

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“On Being Attached”

We often use the term "attachment" to describe our emotional connectedness to objects in the world. We become attached to our careers, to our homes, to certain ideas, and perhaps most importantly, to other people. Interestingly, despite its import and ubiquity in our everyday lives, the topic of attachment per se has been largely ignored in the philosophy literature. I address this lacuna by identifying (a type of) attachment as a rich "mode of mattering" that can help to inform certain aspects of agency and emotion. First, drawing on insights from Ancient stoicism and developmental and clinical psychology, I suggest that the relevant form of attachment involves a felt need for its object and a relationship between the object and the attached agent's sense of security. I then argue that these features serve to distinguish the attitude from the more philosophically familiar notion of caring. Finally, I show that recognizing this form of attachment as a distinct mode of mattering has important implications for understanding grief.

“Love and Attachment”

American Philosophical Quarterly, 2017, 54(3): 235-250.

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“Love and Attachment”

It is not uncommon for philosophers to name disinterestedness, or some like feature, as an essential characteristic of love. Such theorists claim that in genuine love, one’s concern for her beloved must be non-instrumental, non-egocentric, or even selfless. These views prompt the question, “What, if any, positive role might self-interestedness play in genuine love?” In this paper, I argue that attachment, an attitude marked primarily by self-focused emotions and emotional predispositions, helps constitute the meaning and import of at least some kinds of adult reciprocal love. In this way, attachment represents a type of self-interestedness that not only contributes positively to such relationships but is also essential to them.

“Caring and Love”

with Agnieszka Jaworska. Oxford Handbook of the Philosophy of Love, eds. C. Grau and A. Smuts, forthcoming.

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“Caring and Love”

It is largely uncontroversial that to love some person or object is (among other things) to care about that person or object. Love and caring, however, are importantly different attitudes. We do not love every person or object about which we care. In this work, we critically analyze extant accounts of how love differs from mere caring, and we propose an alternate view in order to better capture this distinction.

“Early Relationships, Pathologies of Attachment, and the Capacity to Love.”

Routledge Handbook of Love in Philosophy, ed. A. Martin, forthcoming.

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“Early Relationships, Pathologies of Attachment, and the Capacity to Love.”

Psychologists often characterize the infant’s attachment to her primary caregiver as love. Philosophical accounts of love, however, tend to speak against this possibility. Love is typically thought to require sophisticated cognitive capacities that infants do not possess. Nevertheless, there are important similarities between the infant-primary caregiver bond and mature love, and the former is commonly thought to play an important role in one’s capacity for the latter. In this work, I examine the relationship between the infant-primary caregiver bond and love. I argue that while these very early attachments do not represent genuine love, a fuller understanding of them can inform extant philosophical views of love.

Towards a Theory of Emotional Attachment

Dissertation in Philosophy, UC Riverside, 2015


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Towards a Theory of Emotional Attachment

In the first half of my dissertation, I identify “security-based attachment” as a philosophically neglected, yet rich and ubiquitous emotional phenomenon. I articulate its key marks and distinguish it from related attitudes. In brief, I suggest that this brand of attachment is marked by a felt need of its object and an integral connection between engagement with that object and the attached agent’s sense of security. I argue that these features serve to distinguish securitybased attachment from more (philosophically) familiar “modes of mattering” such as caring.

In the second half of my dissertation, I show that security-based attachment has important implications for understanding emotion and agency. First, I argue that attachment plays an indispensable role in illuminating both the specific types of relationship that undergird warranted grief and the particular brands of affect and agential impairment characteristic of grief’s phenomenology. Next, I argue that contra strong disinterested concern views of love, attachment represents a kind of self-interestedness that is not only permissible in, but essential to, some kinds of love.

Applied Philosophy

I have very strong research interests in applied philosophy, including neuroethics and the ethics of technology.


“The Cure: A Thought Experiment Concerning Psychopathy and the Right to Non-Interference”

(In Progress)

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“The Cure: A Thought Experiment Concerning Psychopathy and the Right to Non-Interference”

Some theorists, in arguing for reduced responsibility for psychopaths, invoke analogies to those afflicted with other kinds of mental disorders and children, but while the latter two seem to have corresponding reduced rights of non-interference against us, it’s not clear that the psychopath would. For example, supposing a drug or surgical intervention that could cure psychopathy were discovered, one might wonder whether or not we would be justified in forcing a psychopath to undergo this treatment against his will – perhaps he doesn’t want to be burdened by cares and attachments. Would we have to respect his refusal, or does his impaired agency give us justifiable cause to override his decision? I consider two possible bases for denying full rights of autonomy to psychopaths (even those who haven’t committed any legal infractions): (1) The psychopath’s moral deficits preclude his eligibility for certain moral rights – he is not the kind of creature who resides in our domain of moral rights and responsibilities, and (2) Since we often take paternalistic measures toward those who suffer from prudential deficits, the psychopath’s prudential impairments might give us just cause to override his decisions for ‘his own good’ – even in cases where the decision would determine what kind of being the psychopath will continue to be.

“Treating Psychopaths Fairly”

American Journal of Bioethics (AJOB Neuroscience), Peer Commentary, 2016, 7(3): 158-160.

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“Treating Psychopaths Fairly”

Dietmar Hübner and Lucie White question the ethical justification of employing risky neurosurgical interventions to treat imprisoned psychopaths. They argue that (1) such interventions would confer no medical benefit on the psychopath as there is no “subjective suffering” involved in psychopathy and (2) psychopaths could not voluntarily consent to such procedures because they could have no “internal motivation” for doing so. I argue that there is good reason to doubt both of these claims. In at least some cases, psychopaths can be plausibly construed as experiencing subjective suffering on account of their disorder and as appropriately motivated to voluntarily consent to neurosurgical treatment. I suggest that the psychopath’s consent to neurosurgical intervention might nonetheless be problematic, as her emotional incapacities might preclude her ability to adequately appreciate the relevant risks.

“Video Games and Ethics”

Spaces for the Future: A Companion to Philosophy of Technology, eds. J.C. Pitt and A. Shew, forthcoming.

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“Ethics and Video Games”

Historically, video games featuring content perceived as excessively violent have drawn moral criticism from an indignant (and sometimes, morally outraged) public. Defenders of violent video games have insisted that such criticisms are unwarranted, as committing acts of virtual violence against computer-controlled characters – no matter how heinous or cruel those actions would be if performed in real life – harm no actual people. In this paper, I present and critically analyze key aspects of this debate. I argue that while many ethical objections to playing violent video games seem to miss their marks, there is sufficient reason to take modest steps in order to address the concerns that theorists have raised.

“A Humean approach to assessing the moral significance of ultra-violent video games”

Ethics and Information Technology, 2008, 10(1): 1-10.

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“A Humean approach to assessing the moral significance of ultra-violent video games”

Although the word empathy only recently came into existence, eighteenth century philosopher, David Hume, significantly contributed to our current understanding of the term. Hume was among the first to suggest that an empathic mechanism is the central means by which we make ethical judgments and glean moral knowledge. In this paper, I explore Hume's moral sentimentalism, and I argue that his conception of empathy provides a surprisingly apposite framework for interpreting and addressing a current issue in practical ethics: the moral significance of ultra-violent video games. Ultimately, I attempt to show that a Humean account of morality uniquely explains the dangers of ultra-violent video gaming by elucidating a direct connection between playing such games and moral harm.

Social and Political Philosophy

I have interests in Nietzsche’s moral and political philosophy and the philosophy of education.


“The Good of Community”

with Maudemarie Clark. In Nietzsche on Ethics and Politics: Essays by Maudemarie Clark, 2015, 184-200.

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“The Good of Community”

We examine the complex interplay between Nietzsche’s view of the import of the community and his perspectives on the flourishing of exceptional individuals. We argue against Julian Young’s claim that the flourishing of the community is Nietzsche’s highest value, instead defending the more traditional view that Nietzsche values the exceptional individual above all. We suggest that Nietzsche regards communities as valuable in proportion to the goods they make available and that the exceptional individual is the greatest of these goods.

“Film as an Instrument of Moral Education”

Journal of Moral Education, 2009, 38(1): 1-15.


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“Film as an Instrument of Moral Education”

In this paper, I advance three primary claims: (1) when properly educated, children are capable of thinking critically about ethical issues; (2) moral edification ought to have the dual aims of developing this capacity and educating the emotions; and (3) given these aims, the children's film genre is a surprisingly apposite tool for aiding the moral instruction of pre‐adolescents. I advance arguments for positions (1), (2) and (3), while considering objections to each view. I conclude the paper by illustrating how one film exemplifies the instructional virtues enumerated in (2).