My research is in ethics and social/political philosophy.

 

Right now, my primary research project gives an account of the meaning and moral significance of domestic violence. Some of my other projects include exploring how we ought to educate citizens in non-ideal circumstances, the moral significance of our social relationships, the different kinds of moral injuries individuals can suffer, and how we ought to evaluate students in institutions that benefit from their exploitation. 

Current Projects (click title for abstract):

The Meaning and Moral Significance of Domestic Violence

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In the 1980s, anti-violence movements sought consistent enforcement of the law in cases of domestic violence. While laws existed that criminalized assault and battery, those laws were not consistently enforced in the context of intimate relationships. In the context of these movements and policy efforts, “domestic violence” essentially functioned as an identifier for a set of already criminalized behaviors. What distinguished this set from other criminalized behaviors was that, historically, given that the violence took place in private rather than in public, it was not seen as worthy of or subject to criminal prosecution.

Now we see acts domestic violence as distinctively wrong or harmful; it seems to be wrong or harmful in a different way than other forms of violence. However, not all acts of violence that take place in the home seem to have that distinctive moral profile. A burglar who attacks someone in the home is not a perpetrator of domestic violence. Further, a spouse who beats their partner on the street isoften considered to be a perpetrator of domestic violence. The domesticity of “domestic violence,” then, refers to a kind of intimacy involved between individuals rather than a physical location. But are all instances of violence between individuals who are intimate appropriately called “domestic violence”? Is a wife who slaps her partner in response to a degrading remark thereby a perpetrator of domestic violence?  

 

 I argue that we ought to narrow our use of “domestic violence” to refer to acts of violence that serve to coercively control victims in a domestic context. It is a feature of the way that human beings relate to one another that opportunities for coercive control are facilitated by intimacy. In domestic violence, the perpetrator has intimate knowledge of the victim. They know their strengths and weaknesses, their dreams and their fears. With this intimate access, perpetrators of domestic violence are better able to exploit their victim’s vulnerabilities. Thus, I argue, what’s morally distinctive about domestic violence is not that the perpetrator and victim live under the same roof, but rather that the intimacy of the relationship enables the perpetrator to undermine the victim’s freedom.

 

 Unlike the control an employer might have over their employee, perpetrators in an intimate context have pervasive control over the victim’s life.An employer can coercively control their employees, but after work hours, employees are free to pursue meaningful relationships. A perpetrator of domestic violence, by contrast, often controls the victim’s social life. Because our social lives are a source of meaning, in becoming alienated from their social lives, victims lose part of what makes their lives worth living. In conceding to perpetrators victims may also lose their self-respect. Under the threat of violence from their perpetrator, victims may even wrong others. Both by losing respect they ought to have for themselves and in wronging others, victims suffer moral damage. I argue, then, that domestic violence is distinctive for at least three reasons that are often overlooked: because the freedom of victims is undermined, because victims are alienated from sources of meaning, and because victims suffer moral damage.

 

One natural response to the recognition of domestic violence's moral profile is to increase our efforts to further criminalize and prosecute domestic violence. However, further criminalizing domestic violence may also exacerbate its harms. For example, although the victim deserves to be free from abuse, her abuser may not deserve the treatment he will receive by the criminal legal system. In demanding the victim's complicity in subjecting the perpetrator to the violence of the criminal legal system, the victim can suffer further moral damage.  In providing an account of the meaning and moral significance of domestic violence, I give policymakers a better understanding of what is at stake in their decisions. 

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Civic Virtue for  Non-Ideal Circumstances

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In this paper, I discuss what virtues ought to be taught as part of civic virtue education. Democracy can flourish only if citizens possess and exercise certain dispositions. Theorists and practitioners of education disagree about what dispositions these are. Should we teach students to be patriotic? Should we treat them to be tolerant of difference? I argue that even if we can resolve these disagreements, the dispositions that would be necessary for a flourishing democracy are not necessarily dispositions that we ought to teach our students. In this paper, I take civic trust as an example of a virtue that may be necessary for a flourishing democracy. I argue that teaching students to trust their fellow citizens would problematically instrumentalize students who are made vulnerable by having a trusting disposition, even if teaching them to be trusting would move us closer to having a flourishing democracy. Furthermore, if we are not starting from a flourishing democracy, teaching students to be trusting may bring us no closer to that ideal. 

An Aristotelian Approach to Education in Non-Ideal Circumstances

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In this paper, I discuss how Aristotle’s Politics can help us better understand the relationship between ideal and non-ideal theorizing in education.  Philosophers of education often discuss what principles ought to guide education in non-ideal circumstances. What should our aims be given that our resources are limited? Is it worth theorizing about how education ideally ought to look?  I argue that the relationship between Books IV-VI and Books VII-VIII of Aristotle's Politicscan serve as a framework for understanding the relationship between ideal and non-ideal theorizing in education. Just as Aristotle’s discussions of how citizens ought to be educated in defective constitutions and in the city of our dreams should be understood as shedding light on one another, non-ideal and ideal theorizing should be understood as necessary complements. 

Future Projects:

  • An account of the moral significance of our social relationships, more specifically the values and harms which they can realize.

  • A taxonomy of the different kinds of moral injury and damage individuals can suffer.

  • A feminist evaluation of Title IX policies and their support of victims of gender-based violence.

  • An account of the ethics of cheating in unjust institutions of higher education.