Academic Works in Progress

On Misalignments in Relationships

Sometimes, we realize that the person we're in a relationship with views us in a way that diverges from how we view ourselves. Many suggest that this situation is a threat to our autonomy, and that we should assert our authentic self in the face of how we're seen from the outside. Others suggest that it is an opportunity to develop a particular version of one's self through a dialogue with the person they're in a relationship with. I find this dialogue-based account appealing, but introduce and analyze a variety of psychological factors that complicate the process, factors that these sorts of accounts will have to be sensitive to if they are going to apply to the messy, ugly world of real relationships.

On Forgiveness as Defining

Presented at:

Many popular accounts of wrongdoing and forgiveness view them in terms of abstract moral rights and wrongs. Here, I view them in terms of what one expects of a specific other person given their specific relationship to each other, independent of broader issues of rightness and wrongness. Once we see wrongdoing and forgiveness in this more local, indexed way, we see that forgiveness is not merely a relinquishing of resentment or an acknowledgement that the wrongdoer knows that they did something wrong, but can also be a way of defining the relationship moving forwards.

On Incoherence in Life-Narratives

Presented at:

This project has two parts, based on the notion that people try, or should try, to integrate their experiences into some sort of coherent narrative. 

In one, I attempt to make sense of the idea of an incoherent self-narrative, which is often maligned but rarely explained. I contrast the inability to tell a coherent story about how one's life events connect up with incoherence at the level of phenomenology, that interrupts one's ability to feel secure in how the world around them will unfold. 

In the other, I draw on novels, memoirs, and a variety of philosophical approaches to describe an experience that not only violates the assumptions that support a victim's established narrative, suggesting that they should create a new narrative, but violates their assumption that they should try to integrate the experience into a narrative at all. In effect, it causes them to give up on the idea of having any sort of stable identity, and generates a severe distrust of the world.

Other Academic Work that I've Presented (do get in touch if you would like to see a draft)

On Recommendation Algorithms and Ways of Understanding Aesthetic Taste

Presented at:

The ways that we understand our taste in art relies on certain well-established categories, which we use to distinguish ourselves from others in socially and politically meaningful ways. The recommendation systems used by media streaming companies, unlike, say, critics and DJs, ignore these established categories, creating their own, increasingly specific categories to more precisely target consumers. I ask what this rearrangement of our aesthetic taxonomy does our sense of our own taste, focusing on Spotify's automated playlists and "Wrapped" end-of-year overviews.

On Precision Psychiatry and Mental Illness as a Social Identity

Presented at

It has become increasingly common for people to understand themselves and their behaviors using the language of psychiatric diagnoses. However, there is much reason to believe that the current system of psychiatric diagnosis is scientifically unsound — indeed, it is becoming more popular to suggest that we shouldn't have discrete diagnoses at all, but instead classify people according to their location on a series of continua. I discuss how this potential scientific advance threatens to undermine social bonds formed on the basis of mental illness, raising thorny questions about the purpose of psychiatry.

On the False Dichotomy Between Intrapersonal and Interpersonal Deception

Presented at:

Most philosophical accounts of self-deception draw a dichotomy between deception that comes from within oneself — a desire, intention, or emotion — and deception that comes from an external deceiver. These accounts tend to ignore that my intentions, emotions, or desires are not only my own; they often arise in response to social pressures. I discuss situations in which someone uses forms of leverage, such as by exploiting power dynamics or their victim's insecurities, to create and facilitate intentions, emotions, and desires in their victim that lead to false beliefs. The upshot is that an obsession with clearly differentiating self-deception and interpersonal deception tends to push a dangerous false dichotomy.

On Making Decisions That Make You Glad You Made Them 

Presented at:

When deciding whether or not to do something, we might try to imagine ourselves in the future, looking back on the choice we made with gladness or regret. If we'll be glad that we did it, it's a good sign that we should do it; if we'll regret that we did it, it's a good sign that we shouldn't. This is often seen as a good strategy unless the decision itself turns us into someone who will be glad that we did it.It looks something like self-indoctrination or Stockholm Syndrome. I argue that it can in fact be very good reasoning, both because our identities are porous and dynamic, and because it allows us to make decisions with an eye towards personal growth.

Public-Facing Work

Twilight of the Highlight Idols

(The Point) [link]

Why Location Matters When Choosing a Graduate School

(Blog of the American Philosophical Association) [link]

What Should We Do About Problematic Characters and Their Bad Fans? 

(Aesthetics for Birds) [link]

Adolescent Ramblings (things written as an undergraduate; though the title applies to current work...)

Empathetic Blame: Moral Evaluation in the Face of Luck

 Undergraduate Honors Thesis

I argue that intuitions about when it's right to blame someone get undermined by circumstantial moral luck — that is, the luck of facing or avoiding a morally-charged decision. For example, Thomas Nagel notes that while we should blame citizens of 1930s Germany who condoned the Nazi party, it's not clear how to treat people who would have condoned the Nazis had they lived in Germany, but happened to live in other countries where Nazis had no influence. It's odd to blame them for something they never did. It's odd that they should avoid blame exclusively because of where they happened to live. I then develop a new account of moral judgment, where we criticize someone when they fall short of some moral standard, even if it's only due to "bad luck," and blame someone when we empathize with their situation and believe that we would condemn ourselves had we done what they did. This supports a notion of blame as foremost a social practice, rather than a claim about moral facts. [final draft]

If There's No Music Up in Heaven Then What's it For?: Music as a Vehicle for Philosophical Thought

 Published in Stance: An Undergraduate Journal

I use the work of Søren Kierkegaard to discuss how music can convey philosophical thought in a way that prose cannot, relying on an analysis of a song that conveys some of Kierkegaard's ideas. (Is this kind of question-begging? Is it just cheeky? No Comment.) The song, Arcade Fire's Here Comes the Night Time, describes missionaries attempting to impose a particular version of Christianity onto the residents of Port-au-Prince, and (I argue) claims that a more legitimate Christianity is found in rejecting that imposition and committing to one's own relationship with God, which involves dancing through the darkness of uncertainty. Both what's being asserted in the song and the fact that it's being asserted by a song illustrates ideas from, not only Kierkegaard, but Susan Sontag's revolt "against interpretation." [published version]