Below you'll find links to my research: forthcoming, under review, and in progress. Comments always appreciated. Also Included is a brief statement of my research interests. Below that is an abstract of my dissertation along with a link to the document itself (for the very curious).
Virtual Reality Philosophy Modules
Click HERE to be taken to my Philpapers profile. From there, scroll down to the "Unpublished" section to download VR thought experiment modules developed by myself, Scott LaBarge, Miles Elliott, and Carl Maggio.
Shame, Embarrassment, and the Subjectivity Requirement. European Journal of Analytic Philosophy
Reactive theories of responsibility see moral accountability as grounded on the capacity for feeling reactive-attitudes. I respond to a recent argument gaining ground in this tradition that excludes psychopaths from accountability. The argument relies on what Paul Russell has called the 'subjectivity requirement'. On this view, the capacity to feel and direct reactive-attitudes at oneself is a necessary condition for responsibility. I argue that even if moral attitudes like guilt are impossible for psychopaths to deploy, that psychopaths, especially the "successful" and "secondary" subtypes of psychopathy, can satisfy the subjectivity requirement with regard to shame. I appeal to evidence that embarrassment and shame are grounded on the same affective process and data that psychopathic judgments about embarrassment are neurotypical. If I am right, then psychopaths ought to be open to shame-based forms of accountability including shame punishments. I conclude by considering why psychopaths rarely self-report shame. I argue that lacking a capacity to see oneself as flawed is a different sort of failure than lacking the capacity to feel.
Ecological and ethical issues in virtual reality research: A call for increased scrutiny. Philosophical Psychology
I argue that moral judgment studies currently conducted utilizing virtual reality (VR) devices confront a dilemma due to how virtual environments are designed and how those environments are experienced. I begin by first describing the contexts present in paradigmatic cases of naturalistic moral judgments. I then compare these contexts to current traditional (vignette-based) and VR-based moral judgment research. I show that, contra to paradigmatic cases, vignette-based and VR-based moral judgment research often fails to accurately model the situational features of paradigmatic moral judgments. In particular, I compare and contrast six recent VR studies to support my view that only simulations high in context-realism and perspectival-fidelity can produce ‘virtually real experiences.’ After analyzing the constituents of a virtually-real experience, I go on to propose guidelines for the creation of VR studies. These guidelines serve two purposes. First, I aim to increase the ecological validity of such studies in order to advance our understanding of moral judgments. Second, I believe that such guidelines should inform how Institutional Review Boards assess VR research. I show that our guidelines are urgently needed given the current lax review standards in place.
Real moral problems in the use of virtual reality. With Scott LaBarge. Ethics and Information Technology
In this paper, we argue that, under a speciﬁc set of circumstances, designing and employing certain kinds of virtual reality (VR) experiences can be unethical. After a general discussion of simulations and their ethical context, we begin our argu-ment by distinguishing between the experiences generated by diﬀerent media (text, ﬁlm, computer game simulation, and VR simulation), and argue that VR experiences oﬀer an unprecedented degree of what we call “perspectival ﬁdelity” that prior modes of simulation lack. Additionally, we argue that when VR experiences couple this perspectival ﬁdelity with what we call “context realism,” VR experiences have the ability to produce “virtually real experiences.” We claim that virtually real experiences generate ethical issues for VR technologies that are unique to the medium. Because subjects of these experiences treat them as if they were real, a higher degree of ethical scrutiny should be applied to any VR scenario with the potential to generate virtually real experiences. To mitigate this unique moral hazard, we propose and defend what we call “The Equivalence Principle.” This principle states that “if it would be wrong to allow subjects to have a certain experience in reality, then it would be wrong to allow subjects to have that experience in a virtually real setting.” We argue that such a principle, although limited in scope, should be part of the risk analysis conducted by any Institutional Review Boards, psychologists, empirically oriented philosophers, or game designers who are using VR technology in their work.
Psychopathy, autism, and basic moral emotions: Evidence for sentimentalist constructivism. In Serife Tekin & Robym Bluhm (eds.), The Bloomsbury Companion to the Philosophy of Psychiatry. Bloomsbury Press.
Philosophers and psychologists often claim that moral agency is connected with the ability to feel, understand, and deploy moral emotions. In this chapter, I investigate the nature of these emotions and their connection with moral agency. First, I examine the degree to which these emotional capacities are innate and/or ‘basic’ in a philosophically important sense. I examine three senses in which an emotion might be basic: developmental, compositional, and phylogenetic. After considering the evidence for basic emotion, I conclude that emotions are not basic in a philosophically important sense. Emotions, I argue, are best understood as socially constructed concepts. I then investigate whether these emotions are necessary for moral agency. In order to do this I examine the philosophical and psychological literature on psychopathy and autism (two conditions defined in terms of empathic and emotional deficits). Persons with psychopathy appear incapable of distinguishing moral from non-moral norms. Additionally, while persons with autism often struggle to develop their empathic capacities, they are capable of understanding and deploying moral emotions like guilt and shame. I conclude that, in line with the conceptual act theories of emotion, that only contagion-based empathy is necessary for the acquisition of moral concepts.
Empathy and the Limits of Thought Experiments. Metaphilosophy, 48 (4), 504-526
This article criticizes what it calls perspectival thought experiments, which require subjects to mentally simulate a perspective before making judgments from within it. Examples include Judith Thomson's violinist analogy, Philippa Foot's trolley problem, and Bernard Williams's Jim case. The article argues that advances in the philosophical and psychological study of empathy suggest that the simulative capacities required by perspectival thought experiments are all but impossible. These thought experiments require agents to consciously simulate necessarily unconscious features of subjectivity. To complete these experiments subjects must deploy theory-theoretical frameworks to predict what they think they would do. These outputs, however, systematically mislead subjects and are highly prone to error. They are of negligible probative value, and this bodes poorly for their continued use. The article ends with two suggestions. First, many thought experiments are not problematically perspectival. Second, it should be possible to carry out “in-their-shoes” perspectival thought experiments by off-loading simulations onto virtual environments into which philosophers place subjects.
A Conditional Defense of Shame and Shame Punishment. Symposion: Theoretical and Applied Inquiries in Philosophy and Social Sciences, 4 (1), 77-95
This paper makes two essential claims about the nature of shame and shame punishment. I argue that, if we properly understand the nature of shame, that it is sometimes justifiable to shame others in the context of a pluralistic multicultural society. I begin by assessing the accounts of shame provided by Cheshire Calhoun (2004) and Julien Deonna, Raffaele Rodogno, & Fabrice Teroni (2012). I argue that both views have problems. I defend a theory of shame and embarrassment that connects both emotions to “whole-self” properties. Shame and embarrassment, I claim, are products of the same underlying emotion. I distinguish between moralized and nonmoralized shame in order to show when, and how, moral and non-moral shame may be justly deployed. Shame is appropriate, I argue, if and only if it targets malleable moral or non-moral normative imperfections of a person’s ‘whole-self.’ Shame is unjustifiable when it targets durable aspects of a person’s “whole-self.” I conclude by distinguishing shame punishments from guilt punishments and show that my account can explain why it is wrong to shame individuals on account of their race, sex, gender, or body while permitting us to sometimes levy shame and shame punishment against others, even those otherwise immune to moral reasons.
Neurosurgery for psychopaths? The problems of empathy and neurodiversity. American Journal of Bioethics: Neuroscience, 7 (3), 166-168
I argue that deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a bad approach for incarcerated psychopaths for two reasons. First, given what we know about psychopathy, empathy, and DBS, it is unlikely to function as an effective treatment for the moral problems that characterize psychopathy. Second, considerations of neurodiversity speak against seeing psychopathy as a mental illness in the first place.
Can Suicide in the Elderly Be Rational? (with Lawrence Nelson). In Robert E. McCue & Meera Balasubramania, (Eds.) Rational Suicide in the Elderly: Clinical, Ethical and Sociocultural Aspects. Springer, 1-21
In this chapter, we consider, and reject, the claim that all elderly patients’ desires for suicide are irrational. The same reasons that have led to a growing acceptance for the rationality of suicide in terminal cases should lead us to view other desires for suicide as possibly rational. In both cases, desires for suicide can and do materialize in the absence of mental illness. Furthermore, we claim that desires for suicide can remain rational even in the face of some mental illnesses so long as four criteria are met: individuals must demonstrate rationality, have realistic information and judgments about their life-world, be in a state of mind (e.g., their emotions and will) that is not be severely compromised by mental illness, and make choices that are congruent with their fundamental values and critical interests. We conclude that some rational suicides can be ethically justifiable.
Receptivity, Reactivity, and the Successful Psychopath. Philosophical Explorations, 18 (3), 330-343
I argue that psychopathy undermines three important assumptions thought to favor moderate reasons responsiveness. First, I argue that psychopathic agency suggests that the systems underlying receptivity to reason bifurcate. Next, I claim that this bifurcation suggests that reactivity is not 'all of a piece.' Lastly, I argue that attempts by Fischer and Ravizza to address these concerns contain an appeal to internalism. Since Fischer and Ravizza do not want their theory to depend on the outcome of debates about the nature of reasons for action, this appeal to internalism is problematic. If we are to make sense of when and why psychopaths are responsible then a mechanism-based theory of responsibility must be able to explain how different systems of receptivity and reactivity come together to constitute one mechanism that grounds responsibility ascriptions and they must do that without tacitly appealing to an implausible form of internalism about reasons for action.
The Philosophy of Mental Illness (The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
A long-form (13,000 words) peer-reviewed introduction to the interdisciplinary study (theoretical and applied) of mental illness including a historical discussion of Freud, the iterations of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and issues arising from autism, psychopathy, body dysmorphic disorder, and bodily integrity identity disorder.
Critical Review: The Emotional Construction of Morals. Philosophical Psychology, Vol. 16, 3: pp. 461-475
Jesse Prinz’s The Emotional Construction of Morals is an ambitious and intriguing contribution to debates over the nature and role of emotion in moral psychology. I review Prinz’s recent claims surrounding the nature of emotional concepts as‘‘embodied representations of concern’’ and survey his later arguments meant to establish a form of cultural relativism. Although I suggest that other theories of emotional representation (i.e. prototype views) would better serve Prinz’s aims, the underlying meta-ethical relativism that results is well defended and represents a significant advance for constructivist Sentimentalists.
Psychopathy, Moral Reasons, and Responsibility. In Alexandra Perry and C.D. Herrera (eds.) Ethics and Neurodiversity Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp. 217-237.
In popular culture psychopaths are inaccurately portrayed as serial killers or homicidal maniacs. Real-world psychopaths are neither killers nor maniacs. Psychologists currently understand psychopathy as an affective disorder that leads to repeated criminal and antisocial behavior. Counter to this prevailing view, I claim that psychopathy is not necessarily linked with criminal behavior. Successful psychopaths, an intriguing new category of psychopathic agent, support my conception of psychopathy. I then consider reactive attitude theories of moral responsibility. Within this tradition, psychopaths are considered be blameless because of their pronounced affective deficits. Psychopaths are often considered morally blind because they lack the moral emotions that make us sensitive to moral reasons. I argue that, even if they are morally blind, psychopaths remain open to forms of blame stemming from non-moral reactive attitudes. These reactive attitudes remain appropriate because psychopaths can express hateful, disgusting, or contemptible non-moral values in their judgments.
In my dissertation I raise problems for Sentimentalist analyses of value. I first challenge traditional Sentimentalist theories of emotion. I argue against the 'basic universal emotion' view and instead claim that emotions have a prototypical structure that supports a constructivist view of emotion. I then show how emotions, understood as prototypes, can be used to develop a satisfactory theory of subjectivist Sentimentalist value that can make sense of evaluative disagreement. I close by proposing an empirical test for my view that involves a socio-historical analyses of cultural emotional concepts and values.
A full copy of my dissertation is available from ProQuest. Questions, comments, and decisive criticisms are welcome. E-mail is the easiest way to contact me.
Last updated 11/2018