Research

My research is largely focused on democratic theory and applied ethics. On this page you can read about my research interests, and find links to papers I’ve written. This information is divided by general topic area. You can see a summary of this work and a list of my presentations on my CV.

 


 

Research Approach

My primary research is focused on normative questions that arise in democratic theory and applied ethics. I chose to attend Carnegie Mellon for my Ph.D. because the Department of Philosophy supports the use of interdisciplinary research methods to tackle philosophical questions. My work uses formal modeling tools from voting theory and game theory, and empirical results from social science, in the development of normative arguments and critiques. I believe that these tools are important for my research because they allow for more in-depth analyses of the political institutions and interpersonal relationships in which I am interested.

These analyses take two forms. First, voting theory and game theory models can be used to test claims that arise in democratic theory about the intrinsic fairness and instrumental value of democratic systems. By modeling the democratic voting and deliberation schemes promoted in democratic theory, we can test whether those systems (in their idealized form) would live up to the intrinsic and instrumental values that their proponents espouse. Second,  empirical social science is an important (but often overlooked) resource for political theory and ethics. In general, I believe that democratic and ethical theories should recognize and account for the non-ideal features of people and political institutions to which the theories are meant to apply. Empirical social science can be used to determine the applicability of political and ethical theories that make (a) assumptions about how people are, or what they are capable of doing, and (b) claims about the behavioral effects of policy interventions or institutional design choices for individual decision makers.

 


 

Democratic Theory

Within democratic theory, I am interested in the moral duties that voters have (or do not have), and whether we can expect real voters to live up to their duties in practice. This topic is the main focus of my dissertation, which focuses on the duties of voters within deliberative democratic theory. You can read my dissertation prospectus for a summary of the project.

I received my Master of Science degree in 2015 after defending a thesis titled “Voting in Epistemic Democracies.” In the thesis, I used modeling tools from voting theory to analyze the epistemic democratic claim that democratic voting, and in particular majority voting in which voters are independent decision makers, is reliable. I showed that the epistemic democrat’s claim is only applicable to idealized majority voting, and cannot be used as a defense for two common voting schemes: roll call voting and simple primary election systems. This, I argued, is a failure of epistemic democratic theory. You can read my thesis here.

 


Medical and Research Ethics

I also have research interests in applied ethics, and in particular, ethical questions surrounding interpersonal relationships in research and medicine.

In medical ethics, I have published a paper entitled “Adversaries at the Bedside: Advance Care Plans and Future Welfare” (forthcoming in Bioethics),  which focuses on the topic of advance care planning. This paper was co-authored with Dr. Alex John London, Professor of Philosophy at Carnegie Mellon University. In this paper, we argue that a debate surrounding the normative status of advance care plans in the medical ethics literature is flawed, in part because the debate fails to recognize the significance of institutional transparency and honesty in the advance care planning process. We then use a game theoretic model to describe in detail the structure of a patient’s choice with respect to advance care planning, and argue that advance care plans ought to be followed for several reasons. You can read the “online first” version of the paper here. Alex and I are now working on a project that considers the role of advance care plans in complex decision scenarios surrounding heart transplants.

I also have interests in ethics policy surrounding social scientific research involving humans. In “Freedom as Non-Domination in Behavioral and Biomedical Research” I explain how current US research ethics policy has been critiqued by some who argue that the policy fails to recognize the diffuse ways in which individual autonomy (and, consequently, one’s ability to consent to research) can be affected by social oppression. In the paper, I argue that the political theory of Republicanism can better address the concerns of both the proponents and critics of current policy. This paper is forthcoming in Research Ethics.

 


Pedagogy Research

The majority of the courses I have taught at Carnegie Mellon are introductory courses designed for students from a variety of disciplines. Because these students are new to philosophical reading and writing, I have started researching ways  to help students develop their reading and writing skills such that they are able to write an original, philosophical essay by the end of the course. To this end, I am studying the benefits of integrating low-stakes blogging assignments into introductory philosophy courses. You can read about this work in my forthcoming paper “Blogging as Practice in Applied Philosophy” due out in Teaching Philosophy in summer 2017.