Academic Work (do get in touch if you would like to see a draft)

pov: you're witnessing the obsolescence of musical genres

To be presented at:

The way that we understand our taste in music, and form communities with like-minded listeners, can change as a result of changes in social and economic factors surrounding the production and distribution of music. For instance, some argue that economic forces in the late 20th century created a situation where being "highbrow" is less about listening to genres like opera and classical, and more about listening to a whole bunch of different types of genres, while "lowbrow" listeners focus on one or two genres. I suggest that, soon, describing music in terms of genres at all will be "highbrow," if not obsolete. Listening habits are increasingly being defined by recommendation algorithms which do not pay attention to the idea of "genre." Instead, our taste in music is understood in terms of personalized playlists and proprietary, obscure classifications of the sort highlighted in Spotify's annual "Wrapped" series. This will have significant effects on how people understand their relationship to music and what it means to have "the same taste" as someone else.

Alienating Forgiveness

To be presented at

Some promising accounts of wrongdoing and forgiveness view them in terms of a relationship. Each side has expectations for the other that represent the relationship's foundational values. Violating these expectations suggests that the violator isn't properly committed to the relationship. Forgiveness, then, represents a reestablishment of trust; we forgive when we are able to trust that, despite what they've done, the violator does, in fact, care about the relationship's foundational values. I try to expand the discussion by moving away from cases where agreed-upon expectations are violated and reestablished, and focusing on cases where the two sides don't have the same expectations for the relationship. If, as I said above, forgiveness represents the forgiver's trust that the violator does in fact care about the relationship's values, then what happens when the violator disagrees with them over what those values are supposed to be? To complicate matters further, there is a lot of social pressure involved, so that we often feel obligated to accept forgiveness, even if we notice something fishy about it.

Integrating the Incoherent

Presented at:

A relatively popular theory is that people try to integrate their experiences into some sort of coherent narrative. Some argue that this integration is necessary to have a stable identity or to live a fulfilling life. 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. 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 Erasure of Communities and Identities Founded on Mental Illness

Presented at

Socially, our current model for describing mental illness — how symptoms group together to form disorders — is extremely popular. More than ever, people are willing to voluntarily identify with and form communities around their psychiatric diagnosis. Scientifically, this model is extremely troubling. Many scholars across fields have suggested that we abandon this model and replace it with something more subtle. Above all, they often argue, we should view mental health as a matter of being at certain places along various continua, instead of having or not having distinct, self-contained disorders. One is "mentally ill" because they are too far to one or another extreme when it comes to various statistics, not because they're a fundamentally different type of person than one who is "mentally healthy." I discuss how this scientific advance threatens to undermine social bonds formed on the basis of mental illness, raising thorny questions about the purpose of psychiatry.

"You Have No One to Blame But Yourself": Gaslighting and the Line Between Intrapersonal and Interpersonal Deception

Presented at:

In normal deception, someone else misleads me into having a false belief. Most 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 "gaslighting," or the ongoing process of a perpetrator leading a victim to distrust her own ability to determine the truth. My point is that, according to many accounts of self-deception, a victim is gaslighting is self-deceived, and that's the end of the story. But there's more to the story: the intentions, emotions, and desires that hijack her reasoning are facilitated by her perpetrator. In the end, an obsession with clearly differentiating self-deception and interpersonal deception tends to push a false dichotomy.

Prospective Reasoning for Dynamic Identities: 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 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]