Does becoming more just also make one more merciless? Does one’s ability to endure suffering and pain negatively impact their empathetic capacities? My dissertation and related publications are motivated by these sorts of questions. I argue that certain negative consequences can arise from moral learning and virtue development. I also examine the role that deference and testimony might play in helping ameliorate these consequences. My dissertation focuses on (1) how certain moral experiences, habits, and moral learning might simultaneously result in virtue within one domain of one’s life and vice in another, and (2) the implications that this may have for our decisions to trust our own judgments and understanding or to defer to another’s moral testimony. In addition to my dissertation, I also work on (3) the nature of propositional faith, whether it requires a pro-attitude, and the relationship between faith and understanding.
My approach is an empirically informed one, often making use of psychology and cognitive science research. I am currently testing claims that I make in my dissertation through empirical research that is being carried out in Dr. Ethan Kross’s Emotion and Self-Control Lab at the University of Michigan. Through a series of studies, I look at whether the psychological adaptation of desensitization to one’s own physical pain and uncomfortability may also give rise to morally problematic consequences, such as a blunted ability to empathize with one’s romantic partner or close family members.
The Focus of Virtue: Attention broadening in empirically informed accounts of virtue cultivation
Situationism, Moral Improvement, and Moral Responsibility. In The Oxford Handbook of Moral Psychology, 2022.
Co-authored with John Doris & Manuel Vargas
Book Review – Karen Stohr Minding the Gap
Journal of Moral Philosophy, 2021
Papers Under Review
(1) A paper on moral perception, virtue, and moral illusions.
Abstract: When one fails to have an accurate moral perception, a defect in character is often invoked. This paper aims to show that certain inaccurate moral perceptions – specifically, moral illusions – may be a result of virtue, rather than a lack of it. By examining how an optimal perceptual system can give rise to perceptual illusions, a similar argument is made when it comes to moral perception: an optimal moral perceptual system plausibly operates by using stored probabilistic information and can likewise give rise to the occasional moral illusion. Furthermore, I argue that this holds even when virtue is taken to be an ideal, for I show that the ideal of virtue will also be constrained by empirical facts about human psychology. Lastly, I consider how the virtuous person is to navigate cases where they are undergoing a moral illusion.
(2) A paper on moral understanding, moral reasoning, and emotion.
Abstract: In this paper, I take on the view that affective states are part of moral understanding. However, my account gives a novel reason for why this is so. Like the Intellectualist, I hold that moral understanding involves moral reasoning abilities; yet I argue that these abilities will often involve affective components. I motivate my account by first showing that the Intellectualist account, as it currently stands, is unable to secure one of the values it takes moral understanding to provide – namely, that of moral autonomy. I then give my account of moral understanding, which I call the Integrationist Account, giving philosophical and empirical reasons for why securing moral autonomy will involve a kind of moral understanding that includes affectively involved moral reasoning abilities.
Papers in Progress
(1) A paper on the psychological relationship between virtues and vices
Abstract: There is a common assumption in virtue ethics that cultivating a virtue in one domain of our lives will lead to other virtues elsewhere: practicing self-control with food and drink will also help one exhibit self-control in other domains, such as sex (Aquinas, IIa.IIae.147.1). This paper calls into question the positive psychological consequences that supposedly arise from cultivating a given virtue. Rather than thinking that virtue will beget virtue, I instead argue that cultivating certain virtues may also result in unwanted vices. This paper concerns the psychological phenomena of desensitization – the idea that overexposure to a stimulus can make it appear less desirable or less aversive. I focus on desensitization to pain – in oneself and in another – which might plausibly be considered a virtue for those in certain roles (endurance athletes, manual labor workers, emergency medical personnel), while also giving rise to a blunted ability to empathize with one’s romantic partner or close family members while off the clock – which is plausibly a vice.
(2) A paper on the nature of propositional faith
Abstract: It has largely been assumed that having faith that p requires a pro-attitude towards p; if I have faith that God exists, then I want it to be true, or have some other sort of pro-attitude towards this state of affairs. In this paper, I argue that it is dubious that propositional faith requires a pro-attitude in cases where one (i) has trouble understanding the contents of p, such as in complicated and confusing propositions involving the nature of the Trinity, as well as when (ii) p is a ‘hard teaching’, such as the unrepentant or unbelievers spend eternity in Hell. Instead, I propose that the volitional state of acquiescence can take the place of a pro-attitude in these cases.
For paper drafts, please send me an email at: email@example.com
Society of Christian Philosophers Cross Training Fellowship Recipient, $34,000, 2021-2022
American Philosophical Association Sanders Graduate Student Paper Award, $1000, 2020
Young Catholic Scholars Grant Recipient, Washington University in St. Louis Catholic Student Center, $1000, 2017-2018