My Dissertation

Realizing Robust and Non-Moralized Freedom: Exit, Democracy, and an Egalitarian Ethos”

I defend an account of social freedom understood as the (robust) absence of (socially remediable) constraints. On this view, one is (completely) free just in case one is subject to no constraint or inability that could be alleviated by another agent. I use this conception of freedom to defend a set of social ideals: strong exit opportunities, democracy in collective institutions, and egalitarian social norms. Each ideal is justified ultimately as a means of limiting the constraints individuals are subject to. Exit and policies like open borders or universal basic income secure our freedom by ensuring we can leave those situations we reject. Democracy, whether in the form of a vote in one’s polity or union representation in one’s place of work, limits the constraints we must undergo in the institutions that are central to the functioning of our collective world. Lastly, the widespread realization of freedom must rely on informal norms that supplement, and sometimes even replace, formal legal mechanisms for the realization of freedom. In particular I argue that even where some individuals enjoy relatively superior status to others, an egalitarian ethos can prevent dominating unfreedom by the more powerful. Such an ethos, at its most powerful, makes it socially impossible to utilize one’s status in inegalitarian ways that would otherwise produce unfreedom in a way reminiscent of how effective sports teams deter ‘ball hogs.’

Committee: Kyla Ebels-Duggan (chair), Cristina Lafont, Laura Valentini (King’s College London), Stephen White


Effective Altruism and Anti-Capitalism: An Attempt at Reconciliation
Essays in Philosophy: Vol. 18: Iss. 1, Article 5.

Leftwing critiques of philanthropy are not new and so it is unsurprising that the Effective Altruism movement, which regards philanthropy as one of its tools, has been a target in recent years. Similarly, some Effective Altruists have regarded anti-capitalist strategy with suspicion. This essay is an attempt at harmonizing Effective Altruism and the anti-capitalism. My attraction to Effective Altruism and anti-capitalism are motivated by the same desire for a better world and so personal consistency demands reconciliation. More importantly however, I think Effective Altruism will be less effective in realizing its own ends insofar as it fails to recognize that capitalism restricts the good we can do. Conversely, insofar as anti-capitalists fail to recognize the similarity in methods which underlie Effective Altruism thinking about the world, it too risks inefficiency or worse, total failure in replacing capitalism with a more humane economic system. I first argue that Effective Altruism and anti-capitalism are compatible in principle by looking at similarities between Effective Altruist theory and some Marxist writing. I then go on to show that the theoretic compatibility can be mirrored in practice. I demonstrate this by considering and replying to objections to anti-capitalism as they might be raised by Effective Altruists and by replying to objections to Effective Altruism as they might be raised by anti-capitalists. I conclude by suggesting that their reconciliation would lead to better outcomes from the perspective of a proponent of either view. In short, an “Anti-Capitalist Effective Altruism” is not just possible, it’s preferable.

Why Adequacy Isn’t Enough; Educational Justice, Positional Goods, and Class Power (Forthcoming in Journal of Philosophy of Education)

Elizabeth Anderson and Debra Satz continue in the tradition of Plato with their work on the role of education in a just society. Both argue that a just society depends on education enabling citizens to realize democratic or civic equality and that this equality depends on sufficiency in the distribution of educational goods. I agree that education is important to preparing democratic citizens, but I disagree about the plausibility of sufficiency here, especially in the educational context. My argument is two-fold; I first reconsider a generic positional goods objection to educational inequality, I then argue that plausible sufficientarian replies to this objection fail insofar as they are premised on an impoverished conception of class and power that treats all statuses more like socio-cultural traits when they should instead be referencing the material conditions someone has inside a social structure. One cannot bring an individual X into the halls of power and simultaneously have X represent or compensate those who are presently disadvantaged in the way that X had formerly been disadvantaged. In short, we should worry about the realistic possibility of securing and sustaining a civic-minded elite because elites have the power and motivation to enrich themselves at the expense of the rest of us. For the sufficientarian story to work we need more that explains the realistic possibility of a benevolent ruling elite, until then, democratic equality seems to be better realized by aiming for equal educations, adequacy isn’t enough.

Works In Progress
(Drafts Available by Request)

Democracy and Justification: Why Equality is Not Enough

While it is often assumed that democracy is the most legitimate form of government offering a compelling and stable justification of this belief is no easy task. Unfortunately, this is not merely a philosopher’s puzzle. A justification is a practical necessity insofar as we want to motivate our complaints against anti-democratic demagogues at home or convince nondemocracies elsewhere to adopt democratic forms of government.  A plausible move is to appeal to a single egalitarian value as the source of democracy’s legitimacy. However, I show that such attempts to justify democracy fail insofar as they cannot adjudicate between democracy and other forms of symmetrical authority. I press the objection by showing that “Lottocratic Balloting Juries” are consistent with equality, and independently attractive for their epistemic benefits and protection against demagogues, mob rule, and other potential excesses of majority rule. However, they are not democratic.

Extended Dissertation Abstract and Future Research

Fall Research Statement

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