I am a PhD candidate in Philosophy at Princeton University. Previously, I was at Yale Law School, where I completed a JD, and before that I was at Trinity College, Cambridge, where I earned an MPhil in Philosophy. My BA, which was also at Princeton, was in Economics and Applied Mathematics. You can view my CV here and a detailed dissertation summary here.
Legal Philosophy and Applied Ethics:
My primary research concerns the intersection of ethics, legal philosophy, and metaphysics. I study legal and moral norms—their nature and normative import. I am especially interested in the way conventions shape the content and significance of legal and moral norms. The main paper to come out of this project, "Juridical Norms at the Edge of Legality," argues that the conventional character of legal norms entails a surprising fact about the force of law for judges. Judges have little to no legal obligation to follow a rule or norm based on its legality when its legality, though genuine, is sufficiently uncertain. Another paper in this project, "Legal vs. Factual Normative Questions," forthcoming in the Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics, & Public Policy argues that the distinction between moral norms that are convention-dependent and those that are convention-independent entails a difference in how judges should treat moral questions that arise under contract and tort law. A third paper, coauthored with Erin Miller and forthcoming in the American Journal of Criminal Law, offers an account of what it means for judges to follow a rule out of a sense of legal (rather than moral) obligation emphasizing law's distinctive conventionality. We use this account of legally motivated decision-making to argue that whenever the law explicitly demands moral reflection from judges, as in the evaluation of mitigating evidence during criminal sentencing, legally motivated decision-making violates the law.
In previously published work in this area, I have explored the ethics of legal incentives ("Why Motives Matter"), and criticized the influence of folk metaphysics in criminal law ("How Folk Beliefs about Free Will Influence Sentencing").
Metaethics & General Metaphysics:
A second research project lies in metaethics & general metaphysics. I am interested in the prospects of quasi-realistic expressivism in ethics, and am working on an original version of the view. The primary paper in this area, "The Hard Problem of Supervenience," argues that the conceptual truth that the normative supervenes on the non-normative has been misunderstood, resulting in sham or incomplete explanations of the phenomenon. Normative supervenience, properly understood, poses a significant explanatory challenge even for expressivists. A second paper, published in Philosophical Studies, "How to be Impartial as a Subjectivist," defends expressivism and related views from an objection of David Enoch's: namely that expressivism makes it impossible to be impartial while standing one's ground in moral disagreements. I disarm Enoch's objection with an original account of what impartiality consists in. A third paper, "On Ground as a Guide to Realism," forthcoming in Ratio, explores what distinguishes full-blooded realists from quasi-realists about ethical features. I raise problems for Kit Fine’s criterion for realism, which distinguishes "real" features by assigning them a distinctive explanatory role. I argue that Fine's approach, which has proven influential in metaethics, presupposes a false principle of explanation. The distinction should be cashed out in terms of the natures or essences of the relevant entities not their role in explanation.
- On Ground as a Guide to Realism. Ratio (forthcoming).
I argue that a property can be real and fundamental without needing to be invoked in grounding explanations of true nonbasic propositions involving it. Among other things, this entails that Kit Fine's ground-theoretic criterion for realism, which has been influential in metaethics, must be rejected.
- What Unconditional Credence in Individual Desert Claims Does Retributivism Require? Illinois Law Review (forthcoming).
Punishing a person based on low unconditional credence in their deservingness to be punished is consistent with retributivist deontological principles. Negative retributivism absolutely prohibits the intentional or knowing infliction of undeserved harm on individuals identified as undeserving, not the intentional or knowing infliction of risks of undeserved harm on individuals. Meanwhile, the knowing infliction of undeserved harm on some unidentified individuals generates not overriding reasons against punishment, but pro tanto reasons against punishment that are to be weighed against other non-overriding reasons for punishment like crime prevention. The upshot is that uncertainty regarding any identified person’s deservingness to be punished does not entail that punishment is generally impermissible if negative retributivism is true. One might be misled into thinking that impossibly high levels of unconditional credence in individual desert claims is morally required by failing to distinguish our actual criminal law practices, which are extremely harsh and unjustifiable, from criminal law as it ought to be.
- Legal vs. Factual Normative Questions. Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics, & Public Policy (forthcoming, 2018).
I argue that the distinction between convention-dependent normative quesitons and convention-independent ones explains the differential classification of norms in contracts and torts as legal or factual under the common law
- What Constitutes Moral Consideration of Mitigating Evidence? (with Erin Miller) American Journal of Criminal law (forthcoming).
We argue that judicial evaluation of the weight of mitigating evidence at capital sentencing based on precedential reasoning or legal rules violates the Constitution. The Constitution demands moral not legal consideration of mitigating evidence. We clarify the difference between these two modes of consideration.
- How to Be Impartial as a Subjectivist. Philosophical Studies (2016) 173:757–779.
The metaethical subjectivist claims there is nothing more to a moral disagreement than a conflict in the desires of the parties involved. Recently, David Enoch has argued that metaethical subjectivism has unacceptable ethical implications. If the subjectivist is right about moral disagreement, then it follows, according to Enoch, that we cannot stand our ground in moral disagreements without violating the demands of impartiality. For being impartial, we’re told, involves being willing to compromise in conflicts that are merely due to competing desires–the parties to such conflicts should decide what to do on the basis of a coin flip. I suggest that Enoch is mistaken in his conception of what it means to be impartial. Once impartiality is properly construed, standing one’s ground in desire-based conflicts, whether or not moral values are at stake in the conflict, is consistent with being impartial. I defend a view on which impartiality can be understood in terms of features of our desiring attitudes. An agent acts impartially in desire-based conflicts whenever she is motivated by a final (i.e. non-instrumental) desire that aims at promoting the wellbeing of persons in a way that is insensitive to the identities of persons and their morally arbitrary features like their gender or skin color. Based on the account, I explain where Enoch’s discussion of the argument goes wrong, as well as why responses to the argument from Enoch’s critics have so far missed the mark.
- Why Motives Matter. Yale Law Journal (2014) 123:1070–1116
Legal rules and regulations are routinely rationalized by appeal to the incentives they create. This Note examines an important but misunderstood fact about incentives–namely, that they often "crowd out" the natural motivations that citizens have to engage in socially valued behavior, such as a sense of civic duty, a commitment to personal growth, and charity towards others. The “crowding out effect” of incentives has traditionally been viewed as problematic because of cases where it renders incentives counter-productive–when fear of legal sanction or desire for financial reward substitutes for other forms of motivation in agents, this often leads to less of the socially valued behavior regulators sought to incentivize. In contrast, I explore whether the effect of legal incentives on our motivational psychology might be inherently regrettable in some cases, quite apart from the effect on behavioral outcomes. I show that a reframing of the crowding out effect that takes seriously the inherent value that resides in our "higher motives" generates insights into a variety of legal phenomena, including doctrinal rules in intellectual property, contracts, and torts; and a neglected theory for legal reformation, one that bears on the choice between rule- and standard-based legal directives and on the strategic use of the law to improve the way citizens conceptualize their obligations to each other.
- How Folk Beliefs about Free Will Influence Sentencing. New Criminal Law Review (2013) 16:449–493.
Do results in neuroscience and psychology that portray our choices as predetermined threaten to undermine the assumptions about free will that drive criminal law? This Article answers in the affirmative and explains why a revision in the law’s assumptions is morally desirable. Problematic assumptions about free will have a role to play in criminal law not because they underlie substantive legal doctrine or retributive theory, but because everyday actors in the sentencing process are authorized to make irreducibly moral determinations outside of the ordinary doctrinal framework. Jurors, judges, and legislators are each required, at key points in the sentencing process, to make moral judgments that cannot be reached without reference to the person’s own understanding of free will. As a result, sentencing actors give legal effect to widely-held folk beliefs about free will, beliefs that the evidence suggests are scientifically suspect and morally distorting. The relevant beliefs make adjudicators less likely to attend to the underlying causes of crime, such as social deprivation; a tendency that biases adjudicators against relevant arguments for mitigation in sentencing. Modern science could have an important corrective effect in this context.
Work in Progress:
- Juridical Norms at the Edge of Legality (invited to resubmit)
- The Hard Problem of Supervenience (under review)
- Legal Humility (book manuscript)
- Varieties of Contractual Unconscionability
- The Hard Problem of Easy Ontology
- A Puzzle about the Fair Distribution of Tax Burdens
- A Master Argument for Color Primitivism
If you would like to watch a video recording of a lecture I gave for an introductory course in Metaphysics & Epistemology at Princeton University, as an example of my teaching, you can watch the video here.
If you're interested in my teaching evaluations, click here. The evaluations are
for an upper-division bioethics course I taught at NJIT, and courses I precepted at Yale: Introduction to Ethics and Death. The downloadable file
includes all the comments and feedback I received from students. It is not a curated list of greatest hits.
- 1. New Jersey Institute of Technology
- Bioethics (Spring 2015) (visiting instructor; responsible for all elements of course design and teaching)
- 2. Princeton University
- Normative Ethics (Fall 2015, for Johann Frick; lecture on moral luck)
- Introduction to Metaphysics & Epistemology (Fall 2017, for Gideon Rosen; lecture on arguments from design)
- Explaining Values (Fall 2017, for Michael Smith; lecture on resisting Humeanism about reasons)
- 3. Yale University
- Death (Fall 2012, for Shelly Kagan; assistant in instruction)
- Introduction to Ethics (Spring 2013, for Shelly Kagan; assistant in instruction)
- 4. University of Cambridge
- Formal Logic, Part 1A (Michaelmas term, 2010; co-taught with Tim Button)