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about.

I am a moral, legal, and political philosopher and a postdoctoral research associate with the Center for the Philosophy of Freedom at the University of Arizona. Beginning in Fall 2024, I will be an Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Arizona, and a core faculty member in the Center for the Philosophy of Freedom. I completed my Ph.D. at the University of Southern California in 2023, where my dissertation was chaired by Jonathan Quong and Mark Schroeder.

 

My current research focuses on the question how we should respond to harm and the threat of harm. I'm particularly interested in understanding the mechanisms by which our moral rights against harm can be modified or suspended --- and applying these insights to important social and political institutions, including war, policing, immigration, criminal law, tort law, and contract law. ​​

projects.
about.
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research

research.

publications

It is widely believed that there is both a "proportionality" and "necessity" constraint on self-defense. You shouldn't kill someone in self-defense who is only trying to pinch you on the arm; that would be disproportionate. But even when an attacker poses a lethal threat, you shouldn't kill them in self-defense if you can just as well stop their attack with less-than-lethal force; killing them would then be unnecessary. This paper develops an explanation, precisification, and unification of the proportionality and necessity constraints. Unjust attackers would be required to bear a certain amount of cost to avert their own attack were they able. This in turn determines what others may do to them: an attacker can only be made to bear as much cost to avert their attack as they would be required to take upon themselves. The proportionality and necessity constraints, I argue, both express this fundamental principle, only at different levels of generality.
 

You're under attack. I offer my protection. You refuse it. It seems that such refusal can sometimes make it wrong for me to protect you. Why? This paper defends an unorthodox answer to this question, and explores the implications for the ethics of humanitarian interventions. By refusing my protection --- I argue --- you remove me from the class of people with respect to whom your attacker is liable, thereby making it so that your attacker is not liable to suffer defensive harm at my hands.

under review

At the heart of the ethics of war and self-defense is the project of developing a theory of liability: a theory of when and why attackers forfeit their right not to be harmed. Many theories that have been proposed are variations on the idea that an attacker is liable to be harmed when harming them would prevent them from harming someone else. This idea faces a problem, however. Suppose a sloppy hitman attempts to kill you, but unbeknownst to you their gun is jammed. Or suppose a bank robber "bluffs" that he will kill you if you don't open the vault. You don’t need to harm the hitman or the bank robber to defend yourself. And yet it sure seems they are liable to be harmed, ignorant as you are that they pose no actual threat. In this paper, I argue that our standard conception of forfeiture is too coarse-grained to make sense of such cases, and that we need to distinguish between the forfeiture of one’s rights against harm and the forfeiture of the non-constitutive, contingent “perks” of those rights. Appreciating this distinction helps us better understand the moral status of “merely apparent attackers” --- and to answer a number of important challenges for the theory of liability.​​

  • What's for Desert?

The concept of desert plays a starring role in many non-consequentialist theories of punishment. Some have argued that this is a mistake, on the grounds that persons cannot deserve something like punishment on the basis of something like criminal wrongdoing. This paper makes a very different case against the centrality of desert in punishment theory. I argue that --- even if we grant that criminal offenders can deserve punishment --- desert still won't do the theoretical work for which it is typically invoked. Its fundamental limitation is that it does not help us answer what I call the Challenge of Alienation --- the challenge of explaining when and why criminal offenders lack some of their usual rights against punishment. No matter how we precisify the concept of desert, I argue, an offender's deserving punishment cannot explain why he lacks rights against punishment. We must look elsewhere for an answer to this crucial challenge. But this isn't to say that desert plays no role in the justification of punishment. There are, perhaps, more modest (but so far unheralded) roles for desert in punishment theory --- two of which I consider.

State officials regularly impose harm on the citizens they are supposed to serve, some of it wrongful. Who should bear the burden of paying compensation for
these wrongs? Should it be the agents themselves, or should the burden be spread across the citizenry via taxation? This essay develops a theory of limited official immunity, according to which citizens have a moral duty to assume the costs of (only) certain official wrongs. I argue that limited official immunity is an upshot of a general principle of distributive justice, according to which those who are morally required to participate in some project are required to share certain costs of that project. Understanding official immunity as derivative of this principle helps us to identify, not just the grounds, but also the limits of official immunity: it helps us to sort between the kinds of official wrongs for which the burdens should fall on the individual agents themselves and the kinds of wrongs for which those burdens should be assumed by the citizenry.

Who should we save when we can only save some? Many theorists want to have their cake and eat it too: they want to claim that some, but only some less serious harms can trade off against more serious harms. They want to claim, for example, that there is no number of people we could save from a papercut that would justify letting one person die, but that there is some number of people we could save from losing one leg that would justify letting one person lose both his legs. Standard attempts to deliver this result appeal to differences in degree of harm. I argue that this approach is untenable, and that we'd do better to appeal to difference in kind.

A military commander knows it is wrong to use disproportionate force in war. But she is uncertain whether a proposed bombing mission would be disproportionate. How should she proceed? More generally: how should considerations of proportionality enter into our decision-making about the use of force under conditions of uncertainty? Patrick Tomlin has recently developed what is, to date, the most careful and sophisticated answer to this question. In this note I argue that Tomlin's account, however, fails to do justice to the moral considerations underlying our concern that harm be proportionate, before proposing what I take to be a better answer.

It's plainly infelicitous to say, "It's raining, but I don't believe it's raining." Some metaethicists have argued that if Metaethical Expressivism is true, then we should get a similar infelicity when we conjoin moral statements with the denial of being in some non-cognitive state (for example: "Murder is wrong but I don't disapprove of murder"). But this isn't plainly infelicitous. Enter Nils Franzen, who has argued that the non-cognitive state Expressivism needs is the state picked out by the 'finds that...' locution. This note argues that Franzen's argument does not succeed.

under construction​​

  • A Promising Theory of Contract (co-authored with Simone Sepe)​​

This paper proposes a novel attempt to justify the institution of contract law by reference to promissory morality. The justificatory aim of contract law is not the keeping of promises for their own sake (contra Charles Fried). Nor is it the protection of the general practice of promising (contra Joseph Raz). Nor is it to steer and shape promissory morality towards the most socially beneficial ends (contra Liam Murphy). What justifies contract law, rather, is that it serves to rectify two injustices that otherwise plague the practice of promising --- both of which arise from the fact that, under realistic social conditions, resources for enforcing promises are unequally distributed. The upshot of the unequal distribution of enforcement resources is that some people lack access to opportunities for promissory exchange, and that, even where there is access, it often requires a promisor to make themselves morally liable to very serious enforcement harm. Contract law is structured in just the right way to rectify these two injustices. Understanding the justification of contract law in terms of this function, we argue, has significant advantages over alternative promissory accounts of contract. It explains why the state is not just permitted, but required, to institute a system like contract law. And it nicely captures both the ways in which contract law converges with, and diverges from, promissory morality.​​​

  • Punishment as Service.

This paper attempts to develop an account of when and why criminal offenders forfeit rights against punishment, and of exactly which rights they forfeit. The account I develop shares some foundational elements with Victor Tadros’s theory of punishment (The Ends of Harm, 2012). We both endorse what I call the ``Service Model'' of punishment: we both agree that a criminal offender forfeits rights against punishment only when (i) his wrongdoing has put him under a duty to serve some goal, and (ii) the punishment in question serves that goal. (It's a model where there is real cash value to the idea that justified punishment is about ``paying ones debts'' to society.) But Tadros and I disagree about the kinds of duties that ground punishment. Where Tadros appeals only to a kind of duty of compensation, my own view is pluralistic: I make the case that there are different duties that are incurred by different offenses and that in turn ground liabilities to different forms of punishment.​

  • The Justifier Pays Principle. 

Do we ever owe compensation for harms we neither caused nor are responsible for? Many theorists have thought that we do, on the grounds that a person may owe compensation for some harm simply by benefitting from that harm. I agree that beneficiaries sometimes owe compensation. But this isn't because they receive benefit. Rather, it is typically because it is their interests that justify that harm. We should reject the so-called "Beneficiary Pays Principle" and endorse what I call the "Justifier Pays Principle".

  • When Border Defense is Indefensible. (co-authored with Thomas Crisp)

Nations control their borders but such means as fences, detention, deportation, and threats of violence. Many of these practices impose harm: would-be migrants are harmed in an alleged effort to protect the interests of the "authorized" residents of receiving nations. Such treatment calls out for justification. The most plausible justifications (we claim) are those that draw parallels with cases of ordinary self-defense. Applying our best theories of the moral limits of defensive harm to the case of immigration, we develop a sorting between immigration restrictions that wrong would-be migrants and those that don't.​​

  • Immigration and Self-Determination.

An interesting attempt to justify non-open borders comes from Kit Wellman, who has argued that a political community's right to "freedom of association" entails a robust permission right to exclude others from that community. In this paper I argue that Wellman's argument ultimately fails, but that the failure is instructive. It points the way to a more plausible argument from freedom of association --- one that delivers a much more limited permission to exclude.

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teaching.

as primary instructor

This course is a tour through various conceptual and ethical issues concerning markets, money, and property. The course explores such questions as: What is money and how should we handle it? What are cryptocurrencies and what are their benefits and risks? What markets systems are morally best? What parts of an economy should be left to private individuals, and what should be left to public policy? What economic obligations do nations have to one another and to the citizens of other nations? What is ownership, and what sorts of ownership regimes are best? (Summer 2023 & Summer 2022, USC)

This course explores some of the most prominent ethical issues of the 21st century (so far). For example: corporate responsibility, democracy, voting rights, political polarization, punishment, reparations, war, immigration, privacy, abortion, artificial intelligence, environmental conservation, and our duties towards future generations. (Summer 2019, USC, w. Andrew Stewart)

as discussion instructor/teaching assistant

  • Philosophy of Law (Spring 2021, USC, w. Scott Soames)​

Subjects covered: nature of law, legal legitimacy, the nature of rights, legal interpretation, and philosophical issues in American Constitutional and Administrative law. 

  • Ethical Theory & Practice (Fall 2020, USC, w. Robin Jeshion)​

Subjects covered: normative ethical theories, animal ethics, pandemic ethics, justice, mass incarceration, reparations, misogyny, affirmative action, free speech/hate speech/cancel culture, "faith in humanity". 

  • Philosophy of Law (Spring 2020, USC, w. Scott Soames)​

As in 2021 section (above).

  • Moral Issues in the Legal Domain (Spring 2019, USC, w. John Hawthorne)

Subjects covered: nature of law, rights, consequentialism, punishment, insanity defense, self-defense, rules of evidence, product liability, privacy, free speech, death penalty, right to bear arms, citizenship, civil disobedience, drug laws.

  • Freedom, Equality, and Justice (Fall 2018, USC, w. Jonathan Quong)​​​

Subjects covered: nature of legitimate authority and political obligation, justice, Rawls, libertarianism, freedom and taxes/money/property, socialism, crime and punishment, justice and gender/the family, religion and politics, global justice, immigration, justice and past generation, justice and future generations. 

  • Epistemology (Spring 2017, Northern Illinois, w. Geoff Pynn)

Subjects covered: skepticism, rationalism, empiricism, analysis of knoweldge, internalism v. externalism, testimony, evidentialism, pragmatism, perception, inference, experts, gossip, rumor, conspiracy theories, epistemology and the media. 

  • Introduction to Philosophy (Fall 2016, Northern Illinois, w. Mylan Engel)

Subjects covered: logic, epistemology, normative ethics, applied ethics, freedom and determinism, philosophy of religion. 

  • Contemporary Moral Issues (Spring 2016, Northern Illinois, w. Nicoleta Apostol)

Subjects covered: normative ethical theories, relativism, metaethical theories, drug legalization, gun control, judicial review, freedom of speech, euthanasia, marriage, affirmative action, in-vitro fertilization, cloning, animal ethics. 

  • Logic (Fall 2015, Northern Illinois, w. John Beaudoin)

Subjects covered: deductive arguments, non-deductive arguments, possible worlds, forms of proof, fallacies, probability, causal reasoning, appeals to the best explanation, propositional logic, categorical logic. 

evaluations

(Password protected --- please contact me for password.)

teaching.
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