I'm interested in democracy.
I work on how well our democracies live up to democratic ideals and why it matters when they don't.
I'm also interested in grounding. I work on the logic of ground and what this logic tell us about the nature of ground.
Check out my CV.
I'm a PhD student at New York University. Before coming to New York, I completed the B.Phil in Philosophy at the University of Oxford. Before that I completed a B.A in Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford. I was at Merton College and Jesus College respectively.
I have broad interests. My dissertation is about how American democracy falls short of democratic ideals and why these shortfalls matter. In my telling, American democracy achieves little of what makes democracy valuable. And that transforms the rights and duties of American citizens: it undermines their obligation to obey the law and makes coercive enforcement of those laws more difficult to defend. I have quite different interests in metaphysics. Here I have developed a coarse-grained conception of metaphysical ground. In my view, this is superior to the standard conception: it admits of a nicer logic, avoids certain paradoxes and generates intuitively plausible principles about ground. Finally, I've been fortunate enough to have had fantastic coauthors on several subjects. I've cowritten papers on how much we should care about things, what the moral status of institutions is and what the political obligations of immigrants are. The links below will tell you more.
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Democracy is valuable in part because it achieves equality and in part because it achieves self-rule. This paper is about how these values interact with time. Does democratic equality require that people have equal power at each time? Or is it enough for them to have equal power across their entire lives? Does self-rule require that the laws manifest the peoples' current will? Or is it enough for the laws to manifest what people used to will? I lay out these different options, defend a position and explore the consequences of this position for issues of institutional design.
Modern states are riven by inequality. And that includes modern democracies. Some people have a lot of influence over the law. Some have none at all. I argue that this provides a novel basis for philosophical anarchism. When the laws are made very unequally, obeying the law means treating those with power as superior to those without. And, since we should relate to our fellow citizens as equals, this gives us reason to not obey the law.
We are not ideal citizens. We're ignorant: we don't know much about politics. We're irrational: when we reason about politics, we try to believe what we want to believe. And we're malleable: we take many of our political opinions from elites. This paper is about the implications of these facts. I argue they pose a substantial threat to our political autonomy. They impair our ability to make autonomous political choices. This frustrates the realization of a distinctive democratic value: self-rule.
I explore which types of polarization matter to intrinsic democratic values. On the one hand, I argue that, from many types of polarization, we have little to fear. The polarization of policy positions among the mass public problem is likely harmless. It doesn't impair democratic values. The polarization of the parties themselves is probably good. It probably promotes these values. But, on the other hand, I argue that we have much to fear from one type of polarization: the loathing cross-partisans now hold one another in. This replaces attractively egalitarian relationships with objectionably adversarial ones.
I explore the logic of ground. I first develop a logic of weak ground. This logic is a strengthening of the logic of weak ground presented by Fine in his 'Guide to Ground.' I argue that it generates many plausible principles which Fine's system fails to generate. From this I derive a logic of strict ground. I suggest that this logic of strict ground is elegant, parsimonious and explanatorily powerful. This provides a strong abductive case for adopting this logic.
Many people think that the distinctive value in democracy lies in equality. Yet there is a serious problem for such a position. All contemporary democracies are representative democracies. But representative democracies are highly unequal: representatives have much more power than do ordinary citizens. So representative democracy seems to fail to realize the distinctive value of democracy. I provide a solution to this problem. As long as representatives are under popular control, so I argue, their extra power is not objectionable. But I argue that the United States does not take good advantage of this solution.
This is a paper I co-wrote with Stefan Riedener. We investigate how important something is. By ‘importance’ we mean how much it is fitting to care about a thing. We defend a view about this which we call Proportionalism. This view says that a thing’s importance depends on that thing’s share of the world’s total value. The more of what matters there is, the less you can care about each thing in particular. The less of what matters there is, the more you can care about each thing in particular. We argue that, in many respects, Proportionalism is superior to its competitors. It captures some intuitions they leave out and it has a powerful motivation. So, we suggest, you should keep things in proportion.
I outline some paradoxes of ground. These are variants on the paradoxes described in Fine’s ‘Some Puzzles of Ground.’ I show how the system developed in my ‘The Logic of Ground’ evades these paradoxes.
This is a paper I am co-writing with Daniel Sharp. Many immigrants, we think, have agreed to undertake political obligations. For example, many have sworn oaths of allegiance. The paper is about these agreements. First, it’s about their validity. Do they actual confer political obligations? Second, it’s about their justifiability. Is it permissible to get make such agreements? Our answers are ‘usually yes’ and ‘probably not’ respectively. We first argue that these agreements, like most agreements, give rise to obligations. We then argue that getting immigrants to make these agreements is wrong: it makes their’ political obligations more burdensome than those of natural-born citizens. Thus, the practice of getting immigrants to undertake political obligations should be abolished.
Grounding internality is the thesis that grounding connections hold necessarily. I provide a simple proof of this thesis. The proof relies on a theorem I prove in my 'The Logic of Ground.'
This is a paper I am cowriting with Stefan Riedener. We argue that, intuitively, institutions have a peculiar moral status. They have neither a right to the vote nor a weighty right to life. We need not enfranchise Goldman Sachs. We should feel few scruples in dissolving Standard Oil. But they're not without rights altogether. We can owe it to them to keep our promises. We can owe them debts of gratitude. So, we can owe some things to institutions. But we cannot owe them everything we can owe to people. What explains this? We critique some natural explanations before providing our own.
Voters have many motivations. Some vote on the issues. They vote for a candidate because they share that candidate's policy positions. Some vote on performance. They vote for a candidate because they think that candidate will produce the best outcomes in office. Some vote on group identities. They vote for a candidate because that candidate is connected to their social group. This paper is about these motivations. I address what type of voter motivation are best for democracy, how well the motivations of American voters contribute to democratic values and how individual American voters ought to be motivated.