Knowing Yourself and Being Worth Knowing
Journal of the American Philosophical Association, Forthcoming
Penultimate draft available here.
Philosophers have often understood self-knowledge’s value in instrumentalist terms. Self-knowledge may be valuable as a means to moral self-improvement and self-satisfaction, while its absence can lead to viciousness and frustration. These explanations, while compelling, do not fully explain the value that many of us place in self-knowledge. Rather, we have a tendency to treat self-knowledge as its own end. In this paper, I vindicate this tendency by identifying a moral reason that we have to value and seek self-knowledge that is independent of the reason that we have to value the beneficial ends that it helps us achieve. I argue that we are in an inescapable relationship with ourselves that requires both self-love and self-respect. Self-love gives us a non-instrumental reason to know ourselves, while self-respect demands that we take this reason seriously. To carefully pursue a project of self-discovery for its own sake, then, is part of what it is to stand in a loving and respectful relationship with ourselves.
Res Philosophica, 1:95-117 (2017)
Penultimate draft available here.
Agent-regret has often been thought to give rise to a philosophical problem. If we accept a theory of moral responsibility that says that we should not be held responsible, or hold ourselves responsible, for that which is out of our control (the ‘Standard View’), then our experiences of agent-regret—which involve both self-blame and a desire to make amends—seem rationally indefensible. And yet, despite this apparent rational indefensibility, agent-regret still strikes most of us as an entirely reasonable, and indeed a virtuous reaction to cases of bad moral luck. In this paper, I argue that we can successfully resolve the apparent conflict between agent-regret and the Standard View by appreciating a feature of agent-regret that has been overlooked in the literature. Specifically, I argue that we ought to understand agent-regret as one component of a larger social practice that helps us navigate our way through cases of bad moral luck. That agent-regret is merely one component of this practice puts limits on the sorts of questions that we can justifiably ask about it. We can ask whether a specific experience of agent-regret is rational given the standards set by the social practice of which it is a part, just as we can ask whether it is rational to drive on a particular side of the road in a particular country. We can also ask whether the specific practice of which agent-regret is a part is rational, just as we can ask whether it is rational to legislate that all drivers drive on a particular side of the road. What we cannot ask is whether agent-regret is in and of itself rational, just as we cannot ask whether driving on the left side of the road is in and of itself rational.
With S. Matthew Liao, The Hastings Center Report 48(3):18-19 (2018)
In "Genetic Privacy, Disease Prevention, and the Principle of Rescue," Madison Kilbride argues that patients have a duty to warn biological family members about clinical actionable adverse genetic findings. This duty, Kilbride argues, follows from the principle of rescue, which holds that one ought to prevent, reduce, or mitigate the risk of harm to another person when the expected harm is serious and the cost or risk to oneself is sufficiently modest. While we agree with Kilbride that patients often have a duty to warn, we argue that that this duty does not follow from the principle of rescue. Instead, we suggest that Kilbride may have underappreciated the role that the special obligations we have towards family members could play in generating a duty to warn.
Self-Deception as a Failure of Valuing (in progress)
In this paper, I argue that self-deception constitutes a particular type of valuing failure. Specifically, self-deception not only reflects and is motivated by an agent’s values, but also serves as the means through which that agent comes to distort and disrespect those very same values. Thus, self-deception, is not only undesirable from a detached, third-personal perspective, but also from a perspective that is both available to, and endorsed by, the self-deceiver.
Respect, Practical and Epistemic (in progress)
The question of why we ought to respect ourselves has often been answered in broadly rationalist terms. To be a person is, at least in part, to be a rational agent capable of making decisions and acting autonomously, and this status makes us worthy of respect from others and from ourselves. I believe that rationalist accounts of respect, for all their plausibility, suffer from an overly narrow conception of rationality. While philosophers writing in this tradition have emphasized the respect-worthiness of practical rationality, they have largely overlooked epistemic rationality as itself potentially deserving of respect. In this paper, I argue that the same reasons that we have for seeing practical rationality as a quality of personhood that ‘commands’ or makes us worthy of respect apply equally to epistemic rationality. This has significant implications for our understanding of what it means to treat people with recognition respect. Specifically, it implies that, just as respecting people requires that we respect their suboptimal life choices because they are theirs, so too does it require that we respect their suboptimal beliefs because they are theirs. This limits the tactics that we can use to try to change the minds of the bigots, anti-vaxxers and climate change deniers in our lives: while we can try to change their minds through rational discourse, the respect that we must have for them as epistemic agents forbids us from using scare tactics or presenting misleading information, even if the latter forms of dissuasion turn out to be much more likely to succeed than the former.
Why the Right to Know Won't Tell Us When It's Right to Tell (in progress)
To what extent are patients and research trial participants entitled to be provided medical information about themselves? In this paper, I push back against a premise that is widely assumed within contemporary 'right to know' debates within in bioethics, viz., that we can make significant progress towards determining what disclosure policies medical professionals ought to adopt by determining whether or not patients have a moral right to know medical information about themselves. I argue that even if we do have this right, it will not be morally weighty enough to settle disclosure questions in the sorts of cases that have historically driven these 'right to know' debates. Instead, I suggest that we may move debates about the ethics of disclosure forward by considering what range of disclosure policies may be justifiable to patients and trial participants given the various interests that they may have in receiving medical information about themselves, and given the background social context in which these policies are being enacted.