Academic Work (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. For instance, we might say that we like a certain genre of art or art from a certain time period or the type of art that a certain critic or publication tends to prefer. These categories also help us distinguish ourselves from others in socially and politically meaningful ways. The fact that we like this category and not that one shows that we have "good taste" or are "down to earth" or are a "connoisseur"; labels that tend to reflect and reinforce social and economic divisions. Consumption of art is now dominated by media streaming companies. These companies also divide people up based on categories of art that they use to train their recommendation systems, but their categories are often very different from the categories we're used to. I focus on Spotify, the boldest of these companies, which carves up the musical world in a way that's radically different from how we do. Since Spotify actively and effectively shapes what music its users listen to, the way that Spotify divides up music and music listeners may soon be more accurate in reflecting how people actually listen to music than the sorts of categories that we're used to. Think of the "Listener Personality" and "Audio Aura" that you get in you "Spotify Wrapped" end-of-year overview. Might questions of "good" or "bad" taste one day be a matter of what "Audio Aura" you have? What political importance might that have?

On Forgiveness and Alienation

Presented at:

To be presented at: 

A lot of recent philosophical work assumes that, in a relationship, each side has expectations for the other that represent the relationship's foundational values, and that things go awry when one of those sides violates those expectations, which represents a lack of commitment to those foundational values. I want to expand that discussion to situations in which the two sides don't have the same expectations for the relationship, whether they know it or not. This makes the idea of "violating" expectations much more confusing — whose expectations did I violate? The expectations you had for me, or the expectations that I thought you had for me? How does this affect our ability to reconcile with one another? I use these complications as an opportunity to talk about the ways that resentment and forgiveness helps us make sense of our relationships, and how misalignments in expectations influence our views of ourselves.

On Coherence in Life-Narratives

Presented at:

A relatively popular theory is that people try, or should try, to integrate their experiences into some sort of coherent narrative. Sometimes, though, an experience violates important assumptions about how people and the world work, and it is impossible to integrate that experience into one's life narrative without a major revision to the whole thing. This has been widely discussed in the philosophical and psychological literature on trauma. This project involves two interrelated discussions of living with an incoherent narrative identity. First, I try to get a grip on what it's really like to live with an incoherent narrative identity. To do this, I look at other ways that we might discuss what makes us who we are—such as the ways that certain reasons but not others seem to motivate us to action or how we tend to perceive objects in one way rather than another—and ask what "narrative incoherence" looks like according to those frameworks. Second, 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.

On Precision Psychiatry and Mental Illness as a Social Identity

Presented at

Socially, our current system for describing and treating mental illness — how we group "symptoms" together to differentiate "disorders" — is extremely popular. Many find that this way of talking about mental health is extremely helpful in forming their identity and seeking treatment, as shown by all of the ways in which "psychiatry-talk" has permeated everyday conversations. Scientifically, however, this system is extremely troubling. Specifically, the ideas of a clear boundary separating "health" from "disorder" and clear boundaries separating one given psychiatric disorder from another are often viewed as scientifically unjustified. A better version of psychiatry, critics argue, would do away with these sorts of distinctions. 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:

In normal deception, someone else misleads me into having a false belief. Most philosophical accounts of self-deception try to specify what part of myself misleads me into having a false belief. Perhaps one of my intentions, emotions, or desires hijacked my reasoning and led me astray. These accounts tend to ignore that my intentions, emotions, or desires are not only my own. They often arise in response to social pressures. To highlight this, 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. When these victims end up with false beliefs based on faulty reasoning, current accounts call her self-deceived, full stop. If that's what your account says about this sort of situation, I argue, it's not worth much. In the end, 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. But sometimes, doing something will turn us into someone who's glad that we did it — the decision will lead us to form commitments and attachments that fundamentally change our perspective. This is often seen as bad reasoning. Choosing to do something that shapes you into the sort of person who's happy with your choice? 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, dynamic things, 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]