Academic Writing

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

Presented at (includes scheduled):

In normal deception, someone else leads me to have a false belief. Most accounts of self-deception try to specify what part of myself leads me to have a false belief. Is it a certain intention? Desire? Emotion? What all these accounts tend to ignore is that intentions, desires, and emotions are formed in a social context. In other words, just because my false belief arises from, for instance, a desire that warps my reasoning, that doesn't mean that, in another sense, it didn't also arise from someone else. As an example, I discuss "gaslighting," or the ongoing process of a perpetrator leading a victim to distrust her own ability to determine the truth. A victim of gaslighting will often form false beliefs in ways that fit the bill for accounts of self-deception, despite the fact that the process which, indirectly, led her to these beliefs was created and maintained by the perpetrator. In the end, the line between being deceived by myself and being deceived by someone else can be blurry, and attempts to clearly define the boundaries of self-deception tend to push a false dichotomy. [draft]

Prospective Reasoning for Dynamic Identities: Making Decisions That Make You Glad You Made Them 

Presented at (includes scheduled):

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. I focus on cases where the very decision to do something leads us to form attachments and commitments that make us especially likely to be glad that we did it. In the literature, this is generally seen as bad reasoning — we can't justify a decision by claiming that we will be glad we did it when making the decision turns us into someone who's glad we did it! 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. [draft]

Public Writing

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]

Projects in Progress

On Erasure of Communities and Identities Founded on Mental Illness

 An early version of this was presented at the annual meeting of the Mississippi Academy of Sciences, February 2023

In the last few decades, there has been a proliferation of thriving communities founded on their members' psychiatric condition, which has led to a proliferation of individuals affirming their psychiatric condition as central to their identity. As a number of philosophers and psychologists have pointed out, however, these conditions are scientifically and medically troubling. It often seems that clinical research and treatment would be better off if we stopped viewing psychiatric conditions as discrete entities that one might or might not have as a binary, and instead viewed them as locations in a nexus of continua. But locations on a nexus of continua are not well-suited for building communities, and thus this promising scientific advance involves a tension — in the hopes of better diagnosing and treating those with psychiatric conditions, we invalidate their social identity. This raises questions for psychological researchers (should precision be our only goal when classifying psychiatric conditions?) and for communities founded on psychiatric conditions (are we bound by a common culture or a common psychological condition? Or both?).

On Incoherence in Life Narratives

To be presented at the International Social Philosophy Conference, July 2023

A relatively popular theory is that people try to integrate their experiences into some sort of coherent narrative — it may even be central to living a fulfilling life. Sometimes, though, the logic of this narrative is disrupted. Some experience violates important assumptions about how people and the world work, and it is extremely difficult or 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. The oft-proposed solution is the develop a new narrative that integrates the traumatic event in a coherent way. I look to sketch a different kind of incoherent event; one which resists the idea of being integrated into any coherent narrative. The problem is not that the traumatic event led one to doubt their assumptions about the world, but rather that it led them to doubt that they should have any stable assumptions about the world at all. I draw heavily on literary accounts, notably those presented by Tim O'Brien in the novels The Things They Carried and In the Lake of the Woods and by Susan Brison in Aftermath, to develop the concept, then propose one way of reconciling this "radical incoherence" with a narrative conception of identity.

Alienating Forgiveness

To be presented at the Philadelphia Normativity Conference, October 2023

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 — she doesn't care enough about those foundational values. Forgiveness, then, is a way of reestablishing trust that both sides care about the relationship's foundational values. I investigate cases where the wrongdoer is forgiven, but realizes that she would not forgive the victim had their roles been reversed. Not because she's so much less forgiving than the victim, but because she doesn't believe she's shown a commitment to the foundational values of the relationship. The fact that the victim is forgiving her suggests that they have different ideas about what the foundational values of the relationship are. This forgiveness is alienating: There is a gap between how the forgiven sees herself in this relationship (as committed to the values that she thinks the relationship is founded on) and how the forgiver sees her (as committed to the values that he thinks the relationship is founded on.)

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]