Public Philosophy

Trained through the Beyond the Ivory Tower writing workshops, I work with the Prindle Institute for Ethics to increase philosophical and ethical literacy through critical analysis of current events. My pieces, which are intended to be incorporated into high school and college classrooms, strive to reveal the moral complexities and challenges raised by the most pressing issues facing higher education and society.

Every year, billions of dollars are spent prolonging our lives, and we are still waiting for the pill that cures aging once and for all. But if we lived forever, wouldn’t we just end up bored and depressed? If our lives continued on forever, then eventually we would have no goals left to accomplish, leaving us apathetic, unmotivated, and potentially downright miserable. A life worth living, though, is not merely the sum of our projects. Instead, there are certain things we enjoy doing simply for their own sake, and if not for our biological limitations, they could potentially go on without end.

We like to rate each other. We rate restaurants on Yelp, drivers on Lyft, and movies on Rotten Tomatoes. And these ratings can help us make decisions. With all of this rating going on, wouldn’t it be helpful if we rated how ethical other people are? Knowing the moral scruples of others could help us make friends, choose who to date, and avoid getting ripped off. But even though lots of ratings are useful, I don’t think that giving each other a moral score is a good idea. In fact, I think it might make us even more unethical.

Alongside other virtues like honesty, courage, integrity, and generosity, it is widely accepted that we should all strive to be humble people. But what if humility isn’t all it’s cracked up to be? Some philosophers, for example, have argued that humility can reinforce subordination and entrench exploitation. Despite some popular misconceptions, humility isn’t fundamentally about being servile. Humility doesn’t require being a doormat for whoever wants to take advantage of us. Instead, humility helps us avoid being distracted by our own egos, a trait that is valuable for those from all walks of life.

When polarization occurs on issues of race and gender, political boundaries are increasingly drawn along racial and gendered lines. One approach to improving the current political climate is by focusing on education for the civic virtues. While talk of citizenship or civic virtue might sound quaint or old-fashioned, the civic virtues are simply the habits that citizens need to support a healthy, well-functioning political community. These virtues are especially critical for liberal democracies, as democratic nations ultimately depend on the political engagement of their citizens.

Political polarization is at an all-time high, making partisan politics more bitter and divisive than even the recent past. One proposal for mitigating polarization’s rise is a focus on empathy, as empathizing with others can reduce feelings of contempt and encourage us to see things from another point of view. At the same time though, empathy comes with its own risks, calling into question whether it is the right response to the growing political divide.

Dishonest research violates one of the cardinal virtues of the academic vocation. Some readers might already be familiar with the traditional list of the cardinal virtues: Justice, Courage, Prudence, and Temperance. Honesty, of course, is nowhere on this list. So what do I mean when I call honesty a cardinal virtue? Professors typically have two primary tasks: the generation and transmission of knowledge. For both of these tasks, an emphasis on truth takes center stage. And this focus on truth means that honesty is particularly important for the academic vocation.

Research has shown that when healthcare providers have the time to show their patients compassion, medical outcomes not only improve, but unnecessary costs are reduced as well. At the same time, compassion also helps curtail physician burnout, as connecting with patients makes doctors happier and more fulfilled. But due to an emphasis on efficiency and increased medical surveillance, many doctors already say that they do not have enough time for compassion in their clinical routines. If compassion plays a significant role in providing quality healthcare, then that needs to change.

The Supreme Court has maintained that race-neutral admissions policies are preferable to race-conscious approaches, while nevertheless continuing to allow for race-conscious practices. How do we make sense of this? In this article, I use the ideas of ideal and nonideal justice to understand how the Court might maintain that it is not always best to implement the ideal policy.

Political issues are often very complex, calling for competency in history, economics, sociology, and political science, amongst other disciplines. Because we cannot be experts in all these fields, such complexities call for a large degree of intellectual humility, transforming the way that we approach and think about challenging political issues.

It is widely thought that moral education is not compatible with the mission of higher education. In this article, I point out that the issue is a bit more complicated. There are some virtues, like honesty, that play a key role in university life, making it possible that other moral virtues like justice and compassion might also be important for helping students succeed at their colleges and universities.

An important aspect of liberal democracies is their ability to accommodate reasonable pluralism. Many take this to mean that democracies should be completely hands-off when it comes to the moral formation of its citizens. In this article, I use Martha Nussbaum's capabilities approach to argue that there are certain virtues that are necessary for leading self-directed lives, giving even liberal democracies reason to encourage particular minimal virtues in their citizens.

Who is responsible for growing political polarization? To many, the answer is obvious: Irrational voters are to blame. This irrationality results in motivated, in-group reasoning that only serves to further deepen the political divide.  In this piece, I examine a perspective that holds that polarization results, not from irrationality, but from rational responses by voters to their limited epistemic resources.