My Dissertation

“Freedom as the Robust Absence of (Socially Remediable) Constraint”

My dissertation is animated by two distinct but related questions. First, how should we conceive of social freedom? Second, what should we do about it? In response to the first question, I defend an account of social freedom as the robust absence of socially remediable constraints. I believe the account is intuitively plausible in its own right but I regard its chief value to be its usefulness for political philosophy. When we understand freedom this way, it is easier to see the normative concerns at play, whether we are considering our roles as individuals or as members and participants in collective institutions such as the state and economy. In light of this conception, I answer the second question by defending a set of social ideals including robust exit opportunities, democracy in collective institutions, and interpersonal egalitarian norms.

Committee: Kyla Ebels-Duggan (chair), Cristina Lafont, Laura Valentini (LSE), 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.

Other Papers (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.

When Adequacy Isn’t; Educational Justice, Positional Goods, and Class Power (Under Review)

While few advocate for the substitution of an egalitarian barracks for the family, Plato’s work on the role of education in a just society has set a tone for political philosophers in identifying the importance of education, especially education for citizenship. Elizabeth Anderson and Debra Satz continue in this tradition with their work on the role of education in a democratic society. They argue that a just society depends on education helping citizens realize democratic or civic equality, respectively. Despite the apparent importance of equality, both philosophers are focused on legitimating a sufficientarian account against egalitarianism in education. In this essay I demonstrate that sufficientarianism is implausible in the educational context given both the way education functions like a positional good and the impoverished conception of power and class underlying adequacy accounts like Anderson and Satz’s. Instead I suggest that we endorse a generic egalitarianism about distributional goods with a special focus on outcomes for students who are not yet adults.

Extended Dissertation Abstract and Future Research

Fall Research Statement

%d bloggers like this: