Research Interests

My research projects are unified by the theme of unjust inequality. I am particularly interested in how we might describe and evaluate unjust inequalities in various contexts, such as everyday choices, institutions, and inquiry. 

Manuscripts Under Preparation 

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Doctoral Thesis

Discrimination and Irrelevance 

In my doctoral thesis, I conceive of discrimination with a focus on a discriminator's rational decision-making. On the view I defend, an agent discriminates in engaging in differential treatment on the basis of attributes irrelevant to their legitimate goals. In the first half of my thesis, I expand on irrelevance and legitimate goals. In doing so, I show how rationality bears on discrimination. In the second half of my thesis, I address the worry that a focus on rationality dilutes discrimination's putative moral content. I show that my view allows that paradigm cases of discrimination, as marked by socially salient attributes, warrant special moral concern. In further chapters, I investigate the normative implications of my view. 

Chapter 1

I defend the view that an agent discriminates when they engage in differential treatment on the basis of attributes irrelevant to their legitimate goals. To choose on the basis of an attribute irrelevant to one's legitimate goals is to base one's decision on an attribute that is not a difference-maker by the lights of the evidential probabilities. An implication of this view, one that does not follow from the rival proposals I consider, is that discrimination is normative in two senses, not one. To know if an agent discriminates, we must know not only what makes for the agent's morally legitimate goals. We must also know how an agent rationally ought to pursue those goals. With an eye on rational choice, we can capture inequalities that intuitively generate claims against discrimination, even absent histories of injustice. 

Chapter 2 

I argue that extant accounts of discrimination have placed too little emphasis on an agent’s choice-situation. To assess if a discriminating agent is blameworthy or culpable, we must know how, and why, the agent had discriminated, as well as whether the agent could have done differently. To pay adequate attention to an agent’s choice-situation, we must identify the goals that are legitimate, or morally permissible all-things-considered, for that agent to have. However, fully describing such goals for any one socially embedded agent is a difficult task. By appealing to normative accounts of social roles, I describe one plausible framework for our thinking about legitimate goals. I note, however, two choice-points for any account of legitimate goals: one, the rightful scope of prerogative; and two, the rightful degree of perfectionism. 

Chapter 3

On several views of discrimination, socially salient attributes—such as gender, religion, or race—play a role in marking out discriminatory treatment. Despite attempts to define it, social salience remains elusive. On the one hand, social salience is intuitively mind-dependent: an attribute is socially salient only if people notice and care about it. On the other hand, socially salient attributes are purported to have normative import: they tell us when an act is prima facie wrong, in a way characteristic of discrimination. Two puzzles underscore a tension between definition and role. Do all socially salient attributes have normative import? Why do socially salient attributes have normative import? Key to solving these puzzles is telling a deeper normative story. I offer one such story here. Socially salient attributes have normative import when, and because, they either robustly determine justice-relevant outcomes or encode inequalities of regard, or both.

Chapter 4

Claims about moral distinctiveness are pervasive in moral discourse. Here, I consider whether discrimination is distinctively wrong. I distinguish between two nearby claims. One, something is distinctively wrong in virtue of its descriptive features. Two, something is distinctively wrong in virtue of its wrong-making features. These claims differ in logical strength: the former is weaker, and easier to prove; the latter is stronger, and harder to prove. I then argue against a presumption that discrimination is distinctively wrong in a strong, and not weak, sense. There are two upshots. One, discrimination may nonetheless be importantly different from nearby phenomena, like prejudice and hate crimes. And two, discrimination may be wrong for any one of a number of reasons. 

Chapter 5 

James Bernard Willoughby and I argue in favour of affirmative action policies. There are two central points to our argument. Less controversially, we argue that affirmative action policies should be used to break ties. Such policies distinguish between candidates that are, for all we can tell, equally competent. If two candidates have extremely similar qualifications, then we should use affirmative action policies to prefer the candidate from a disadvantaged background. More controversially, we argue that ties are much more common than traditionally thought. Ties are not edge-cases; rather, ties are ubiquitous. Our argument results in a robust justification for affirmative action policies from minimal premises.