“Grit,” Ethics. Forthcoming. (Co-authored with Sarah K. Paul). Abstract
Many of our most important goals require months or even years of effort to achieve, and some never get achieved at all. As social psychologists have lately emphasized, success in pursuing such goals requires the capacity for perseverance, or “grit.” Philosophers have had little to say about grit, however, insofar as it differs from more familiar notions of willpower or continence. We propose that grit has an important epistemic component, in that failures of perseverance are often caused by a significant loss of confidence that one will succeed if one continues to try. Correspondingly, successful exercises of grit often involve a kind of epistemic resilience in the face of failure, injury, rejection, and other setbacks that constitute genuine evidence that success is not forthcoming. Given this, we discuss whether and to what extent displays of grit can be epistemically as well as practically rational. We conclude that they can be (although many are not), and that the rationality of grit will depend partly on features of the context the agent normally finds herself in.
“Believing in Others,” Philosophical Topics (Special Issue on ‘Can Beliefs Wrong?’). Forthcoming. (Co-authored with Sarah K. Paul).
Ronald David Glass, Jennifer M. Morton, Joyce E. King, Patricia Krueger-Henney, Michele S. Moses, Sheeva Sabati, Troy Richardson. The Ethical Stakes of Collaborative Community-Based Social Science Research. Urban Education. Vol. 53, No. 4, pp. 503-531. Abstract
This multivocal essay engages complex ethical issues raised in collaborative community-based research (CCBR). It critiques the fraught history and limiting conditions of current ethics codes and review processes, and engages persistent troubling questions about the ethicality of research practices and universities themselves. It cautions against positioning CCBR as a corrective that fully escapes these issues. The authors draw from a range of philosophic, African-centric, feminist, decolonial, Indigenous, and other critical theories to unsettle research ethics. Contributors point toward research ethics as a praxis of engagement with aggrieved communities in healing from and redressing historical trauma.
Reasoning Under Scarcity, Australasian Journal of Philosophy. Vol 95, Issue 3, 2017. Abstract
Deliberation consists in thinking about what to do or believe. Such deliberation is deemed rational when it conforms to particular normative requirements. These requirements require us to avoid certain combinations of attitudes. In the practical case, these combinations include: having intentions that are mutually inconsistent given one’s beliefs, intending an end without intending the necessary means, intending an end that one believes one has most reason not to intend, and so on. Failures of rationality consist in failures to accord one’s attitudes to these norms. If there are such norms, they are often taken to be necessary and universal requirements on our deliberation. What is often ignored is the role that an agent’s context can play in so-called “failures” of rationality. In this paper, I rely on recent cognitive science research on the effects of resource scarcity on decision-making and cognitive function to argue that context plays an important role in determining which norms should structure an agent’s deliberation. This evidence undermines the view that the norms of rationality are necessary and universal requirements on deliberation. However, this should not lead us to adopt a myth theory that denies that any rational requirement has normative force. The norms of ‘ideal’ rationality are a solution to the problems faced by cognitively-limited agents in a context of moderate scarcity. The problems faced by cognitively-limited agents in a context of severe scarcity are different and require deliberation structured by different norms. The norms of rational deliberation are not a myth, but they are contingent and relative to a context.
The Educator’s Dual Role: Expressing Ideals While Educating in Non-Ideal Conditions, Educational Theory, Volume 66, Issue 3, June 2016, pp. 323–339 Abstract
In this paper, I discuss educators as central examples of agents who engage in ideal and non-ideal ways of thinking. The educator, as a representative of the political community, is tasked with two aims. The first is nurturing students with the skills and knowledge they need for the world as they will find it. In pursuing this goal, the educator is assuming certain social facts, some of them unjust that constitute the present non-ideal world. The second is civic—educating future citizens. In so far, as the educator is involved in pursuing this goal he is playing a role in making certain future social facts true, hopefully, making the future slightly more ideal. I argue that if we think of these two aims instrumentally, they can come into conflict. I don’t suggest a resolution to this conflict, rather I develop an alternative expressive account of the civic role of the educator. Ideal thinking by educators is to be thought as constituting an expression of respect towards their fellow citizens here and now. I argue that this expressive component of the educator’s job is crucial to the educator’s role in the political community.
Unequal Classrooms: Higher Education and Online Learning Philosophical Inquiry in Education, Vol 23, No 2, 2016, pp. 97-113. Abstract
Online education is seen as an affordable solution to the demand for increased access to higher education. I consider whether online education can live up to the promise of giving low-income and minority students an affordable alternative to a traditional college education that will enable them to enter the middle class. I argue that replacing traditional college classrooms with online classrooms cannot live up to this promise because it has the potential to deprive low-income and minority students of education in the non-cognitive skills they need for social mobility. However, my argument against online education is not meant to offer support for traditional conceptions of the aims of higher education. I agree that the changing role that a college degree plays in accessing economic opportunities should lead us to rethink these aims. I suggest one way of doing so in this paper.
School Assignment Lotteries: What Should We Take for Granted? Dilemmas of Educational Justice: Cases and Commentaries (eds. Meira Levinson and Jacob Fay), Harvard Education Press, Cambridge, MA, 2016.
Molding Conscientious, Hard-Working, and Perseverant Students Social Philosophy and Policy, Volume 31, Issue 1, January 2014, pp. 60-80. Abstract
Teachers know that it is their hard-working, conscientious, and dedicated students who often are successful; those students end up achieving good grades, attending college, and finding good jobs. Recent research supports the view that, in addition to cognitive skills and intelligence, non-cognitive dispositions, those exhibited by the aforementioned model student, also play an important role in achievement. This research lends support to a seemingly straightforward argument for teaching these non-cognitive dispositions on the basis of their instrumental value in pursuing most reasonable conceptions of a good life. These instrumental arguments have been used by policymakers to encourage non-cognitive education. The U.S. Department of Education is currently considering such proposals. However, I argue that such arguments are often not sensitive to the unjust social, cultural, and institutional facts on which the truth of the instrumental claims they rely on depend. I offer a Justice-Sensitive Instrumental argument that justifies teaching non-cognitive dispositions only if they are instrumental in a diversity of just conditions and when their usefulness does not depend on unjust conditions.
Of Reasons and Recognition, with Sarah Paul. Analysis, 2014, doi: 10.1093/analys/anu026 (Co-authored with Sarah K. Paul).
Cultural Code-Switching: Straddling the Achievement Gap The Journal of Political Philosophy, Volume 22, Number 3, September 2014, pp. 259–281. Abstract
The ability of agents to “culturally code-switch”, that is, switch between comprehensive, distinct, and potentially conflicting value systems has become a topic of interest to scholars examining the achievement gap because it appears to be a way for low-income minorities to remain authentically engaged with the values of their communities, while taking advantage of opportunities for further education and higher incomes available to those that participate in the middle-class. We have made some progress towards understanding code-switching in sociology, psychology, and education, but the ethical and normative dimensions of the phenomenon have not been fully explored. In this paper, I take an initial step toward doing so by developing a moral psychological model of code-switching. On the basis of my analysis, I argue that code-switchers, if they are not to become ethically unmoored, must subsume code-switching under a comprehensive normative perspective from which they confront and resolve value conflicts. While my target in this paper is limited to code-switching as a means to bridge the achievement gap between disadvantaged minority students and white middle-class students in the United States, the analysis I offer can be extended to think about the moral psychology of biculturalism more generally.
Deliberating for our Far Future Selves Ethical Theory and Moral Practice,Volume 16, Issue 4, August 2013, pp 809-828. Abstract
The temporal period between the moment of deliberation and the execution of the intention varies widely—from opening an umbrella when one feels the first raindrops hit to planning and writing a book. I investigate the distinctive ability that adult human beings have to deliberate for their far future selves exhibited at the latter end of this temporal spectrum, which I term prospective deliberation. What grounds it when it is successful? And, why does it fail in some cases? I shall argue that an agent is warranted in deliberating for a future self when her reasons give her the right kind of cross-temporal authority. I argue that this authority is distinctive and cannot be accounted for by theories of agential authority that take desires, value judgments, or willings as the ground of authority in standard cases of deliberation. According to the theory I propose having the right kind of cross-temporal agential authority is not only a matter of having epistemic access to a future self’s reasons or being the same metaphysical person as a future self, it requires confidence that the agent’s reasons support undertaking such a normative commitment and that that future self will see the normative force of those reasons as the agent sees them. In other words, cross-temporal agential authority requires that the past self and the future self share a normative perspective. I show that this further condition only obtains if the agent sees her reasons in deliberation as having certain features.
The Non-Cognitive Challenge to a Liberal Egalitarian Education Theory and Research in Education, Volume 9, Issue 3, November 2011, pp. 233-250. Abstract
Political liberalism, conceived of as a response to the diversity of conceptions of the good in multicultural societies, aims to put forward a proposal for how to organize political institutions that is acceptable to a wide range of citizens. It does so by remaining neutral between reasonable conceptions of the good while giving all citizens a fair opportunity to access the offices and positions which enable them to pursue their own conception of the good. Public educational institutions are at the center of the state’s attempt to foster both of these commitments. I argue that recent empirical research on the role that non-cognitive dispositions (such as assertiveness) play in enabling students to have access to two important primary goods – opportunities for higher education and desirable jobs – creates a distinctive challenge for a liberal egalitarian education in remaining neutral with respect to conceptions of the good while promoting equal opportunity.
Toward an Ecological Theory of the Norms of Practical Deliberation European Journal of Philosophy, Volume 19, Issue 4, December 2011, pp. 561-584. Abstract
Practical deliberation is deliberation concerning what to do governed by norms on intention (e.g. means-end coherence and consistency), which are taken to be a mark of rational deliberation. According to the theory of practical deliberation I develop in this paper we should think of the norms of rational practical deliberation ecologically: that is, the norms that constitute rational practical deliberation depend on the complex interaction between the psychological capacities of the agent in question and the agent’s environment. I argue that this view does a better job of justifying particular norms for practical deliberation than intrinsic or constitutivist theories. Finally, I argue against the Myth Theory of deliberation, which takes there to be no such norms on deliberation.
Review of Nancy Cartwright and Jeremy Hardie’s Evidence-Based Policy: A Practical Guide to Doing It Better. Theory and Research in Education, Volume 13, Issue 2, July 2015, pp. 239-241.
Structured Paternalism and Political Legitimacy: A Review of Sigal Ben-Porath’s Tough Choices: Structured Paternalism and the Landscape of Choice, Educational Theory, Vol. 64, No. 5, October 2014, pages 539-546.
Rejoinder, Educational Theory, Vol. 64. No. 6, December 2014.
Review of David Shoemaker (ed.), Oxford Studies in Agency and Responsibility Ethics, Vol. 1., October 2014, pages 288-292.
“Reconsidering idealization,” The Philosophers’ Magazine, Issue 72, 1st Quarter 2016.
An Antidote to Injustice, The Philosophers’ Magazine, Issue 69, 2nd Quarter 2015.
Unequal Classrooms: What Online Education Cannot Teach, The Conversation at the Chronicle of Higher Education, July 29th, 2013. [Winner of the APA Public Philosophy Op-Ed Prize]
Work in Progress
The Ethical Costs of Upward Mobility (Book Manuscript Under Preparation)
“Norms of Practical Reasoning” (Co-Authored with Sarah Paul, Invited Contribution, Routledge Handbook of Practical Reason, Eds. Ruth Chang and Kurt Sylvan, Routledge, Forthcoming 2019)
“Poverty and Moral Psychology,” (Invited Contribution, Oxford Handbook of Moral Psychology, Eds. Manuel Vargas and John Doris, Oxford University Press, Forthcoming, 2019)
“Rationality,” (Invited Contribution, Handbook of Practical Reasoning, Ed. Luca Ferrero)
Can Education Undermine Representation? Abstract
Members of oppressed groups have sought access to educational institutions as a path to increasing their representation in politics, the media, academia, and other powerful institutions. These institutions are critical to the political decision-making process. Therefore, it is thought that the more diverse those elite institutions are, the greater the diversity of interest, opinions, and viewpoints that are being represented in the democratic process. In particular, an increase in ‘descriptive representation’ is thought to make for an increase in the likelihood that the perspectives of those who are oppressed will be heard. I will argue that education in elite institutions can negatively affect the representative function of members of marginalized and oppressed groups because access to and success in educational institutions often requires that one acquire and assimilate into the culture that dominates those institutions, namely, the culture of the dominant class. I rely on recent research from sociologists and social psychologists on the “cultural mismatch” between members of underrepresented groups—students from low-income predominantly Black or Latino communities—and selective educational institutions of higher education. I conclude that under conditions of severe injustice and educational inequality in which members of economically advantaged groups dominate and segregate into elite educational institutions, the path to positions of power through education is a double-edged sword for members of oppressed and marginalized groups.
An Expressive Defense of Ideal Theory. Abstract
I offer a defense of ideal theory on the basis of its expressive value. Political philosophers, who develop, defend, and articulate ideal theories can communicate respect to other members of the moral and political community by asserting their acceptance of an ideal for how we should treat each other, how we should fairly organize our institutions, as well as conveying their dissatisfaction with the current system. I argue that expressive value of ideal theory is not reducible to its epistemic or instrumental value.
Two Faces of Caring: Identification, and Recognition. Abstract
We are beings who care for ourselves and for each other. Often, it is in virtue of this that we desire that states of affairs obtain, feel particular emotions, and form beliefs about what we ought to do. But what is the relationship between caring and these volitional, affective, and cognitive attitudes? One proposal, the Bundle Theory, takes the bundle of these attitudes to constitute caring. In this paper I put forward an alternative, which I call the Object-Directed Theory of Care. According to this theory, caring is an attitude whose function is to attend to the well-being of the object of care by identifying with it and recognizing its well-being as independent of the agent’s perspective. I argue that the Object-Directed Theory does a better job than the Bundle Theory at explaining important features of the phenomenon of caring.
Governing a Self Torn Asunder: Injustice and Self-Governance. Abstract
Injustice can penetrate deep into the metaphysics of agency and undermine an agent’s capacity to be robustly self-governing. My argument proceeds by reflecting on cases of Unjust Dilemmas. On the surface, these cases appear as ones in which an agent has to make a hard choice between competing values or ends that she endorses. However, the fact that she has to choose between them is a result of background conditions of injustice. If those conditions were removed, she could and would have a life that integrates both values or ends. I argue that in those cases injustice is undermining the agent’s capacity for robust self-governance by limiting the agent’s capacity to reflectively order and organize her desires, values, and ends into a single life that reflects where she stands. Under unjust conditions, some agents cannot lead as unified, consistent, and truly self-governed lives as they could.
The Maturation of Agency. Abstract
What is it that children need to gain in order to mature into full-blown agents? In this paper, I consider three answers with analogs in the philosophy of action. The first is that children lack knowledge about how the world works. Maturing involves gaining knowledge necessary to exercising agency. The second is that children lack a values or ground projects. Maturing involves acquiring values or ground projects to pursue. The third is that children lack the capacity for reflection. Maturing involves the development of a capacity to reflectively endorse values, principles, or preferences to pursue. These views miss the importance that the child’s already existing cares play in the development of his agency. What children lack is the capacity to recognize that certain things are important in virtue of their existing cares and to deliberate, plan, and act in a way that gives appropriate priority to what is important.