Research

I work on social and political philosophy, mainly on topics like secession, territory, revolution, sovereignty, self-determination, borders, colonialism, immigration, authority, and legitimacy. My main research centers around what I call "cosmopolitan instrumentalism" about self-determination, which is the view that questions about self-determination should be answered by asking what would be best from the point of view of cosmopolitan justice.

I also work on ethics, especially metaethics and applied ethics.

If you would like to hear more or read any in-progress papers mentioned below (or in-progress papers not mentioned below), please let me know.

Writing

For a while I did not include any of my writing on this page because it's a chore to keep it updated and because I have lots of drafts going at one time, which I think falsely gives the impression that I'm not seriously committed to anything and that I'm just dashing stuff off. That's not true - I just like to have a lot of irons in the fire, so to speak! I have overcome both hangups, although the cost of overcoming the former is that I don't keep this page scrupulously updated, so, keep that in mind. In progress papers do not have their titles included so as to provide a fig leaf of protection for anonymous peer review.

Social and Political Philosophy

Borders, Sovereignty, Self-Determination, and Related Topics

"Territorial Exclusion: An Argument against Closed Borders." Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy, Vol 19 No 3, 257-290.

In this article I argue against a right for a state to close its borders, because such a right allows the state to exclude people by seceding from the territory they live on. Because such exclusion is typically wrong, there is no general right to refuse to accept immigrants.

"Illiberal Immigrants and Liberalism's Commitment to its Own Demise." Public Affairs Quarterly, Vol 34 No 3, 271-297, 2020.

I argue that an opposition to immigration for the sake of protecting the liberal character of a society is indefensible.

"Colonialism, Injustices of the Past, and the Hole in Nine." Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, forthcoming.

Care Nine argues in "Colonialism, territory, and pre-existing obligations" that Lea Ypi's account of colonialism in "What's Wrong with Colonialism" cannot explain what's wrong with settler colonialism. Nine then offers a way to fix the problem. I argue that the problem should not be fixed.

"Helping Buchanan on Helping the Rebels." Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy, Vol 15 No 1, 2019.

In this comment I respond to a comment published by Massimo Renzo, "Helping the Rebels." Renzo argues that Allen Buchanan's account of the ethics of intervention allows for too much intervention, because it misunderstands the right to political self-determination. Renzo draws an analogy between individuals and groups: just like individual self-determination places limits on what we can permissibly do to individuals, group self-determination places limits on what we can permissibly do to groups, and these limits rule out some forms of intervention which Buchanan supports. I respond to Renzo by arguing that because individuals and groups are different in a number of relevant aspects, we cannot defend group self-determination with this analogy to individual self-determination. I further argue that this suggests we might not want to use self-determination to answer these questions at all: we might instead focus on cosmopolitan justice as what matters, rather than self-determination. In other words, we should go with cosmopolitan instrumentalism.

An Article on Subrevolution - In progress: Draft complete

In this article I develop the concept of subrevolution, which is a revolution which aims not at overthrowing the entire government but at overthrowing or eliminating some part of the government. I argue for the conceptual coherence of subrevolution and for its usefuleness as a concept, and I present a theory of the permissibility of subrevolutions based on cosmopolitan instrumentalism.

An Article on Statehood for Puerto Rico - In progress: Draft complete

In this article I argue that Puerto Rico has a right to become a state in the United States, for both remedial justice concerns and cosmopolitan justice concerns.

An Article on Joining a State - In progress: Draft complete

In this article I examine the right to join a state, i.e. the right to take one's territory and bring it under the control of another state. I defend a cosmopolitan instrumentalist approach to the right to join a state.

An Article on Colonialism - On hold: this will either get rewritten or scrapped

I argue that there is nothing per se wrong with colonialism. But please believe me when I say this article is not as evil as it sounds! Right as I finished writing this, Laura Valentini's fantastic article "On the Distinctive Procedural Wrong of Colonialism" was published. Valentini's article basically makes all the points I make, although I didn't sufficiently realize this until this article received a revise & resubmit and one of the peer reviewers made a small note that I should elaborate on a footnote in which I suggested that my argument is related to but distinct from Valentini's. In the process of responding to that note, I decided that my argument is in fact pretty much just a carbon copy of Valentini's. The future of this article may simply be in the trash can, but on the other hand, Han van Wietmarschen published a reply to Valentini, "The Colonized and the Wrong of Colonialism" which I think can be replied to, so I may try to adapt this article into a response to van Wietmarschen. Time will tell. I presented this paper as a job talk at the American University of Beirut in 2018 and at Ashoka University, also in 2018.

An Article on the Self and Self-Determination - In progress: Draft complete

Who is the 'self' that has a right to political self-determination? I argue that it's actually hard to answer that question in a satisfactory way according to typical accounts of the right to self-determination. Their inability to provide a satisfactory answer renders the traditional right to self-determination nonsensical and thus we should scrap it in favor of cosmopolitan instrumentalism about self-determination.

An Article on Recent Theories of Self-Determination - In progress: This is continually getting rewritten - there is a draft but it's patchy

In the days of yore there were two main theories of self-determination: the associationists, who thought that any group which wanted to associate together had a right to self-determination, and the nationalists, who thought that only nations (groups which share an encompassing culture) have a right to self-determination. People (myself included) have raised objections to both sorts of views. One option is to ditch self-determination, which is my preferred route. Others have developed newer fancier theories of self-determination to avoid the typical objections. I don't think these fancier theories work: I think they all collapse into one of the two main theories or they simply fail on their own terms. I argue as much in this paper, which keeps getting rewritten because people keep coming up with newer fancier theories of self-determination.

An Article on Secession - In progress: Draft complete

I wrote my dissertation on secession and I probably ought to turn it into an article by summarizing my theory of secession, which is a cosmopolitan instrumentalist approach to the question.

An Article on the Boundary Problem - In progress: This paper is approximately 30% written

What is the boundary problem in democratic theory, and what does it have to do with literal boundaries, i.e. the borders of states? And once we understand the relation between the two, what should we say about these topics? I defend (you guessed it) cosmopolitan instrumentalism as a response to what I call the "shifting boundary problem," which I argue is prior to and constitutive of the classic boundary problem. I presented an early version of this paper at the Moral and Political Philosophy at the Border conference in April 2019 at the University of Texas at El Paso. I also provided comments on a paper by Vuko Andrić at Rocky Mountain Ethics Congress 2019, and my comments drew on this research.

Civil Disobedience

"Must I Accept Prosecution for Civil Disobedience?" The Philosophical Quarterly, Vol 70 No 279, 410-8, 2020.

In this comment I respond to an article published by Piero Moraro, "On (Not) Accepting the Punishment for Civil Disobedience." Moraro argues that a civil disobedient, although they have a duty answer for their lawbreaking by undergoing legal prosecution, sometimes does not have a pro tanto duty to accept the punishment that is meted out. I argue that we should go further: sometimes there is no pro tanto duty to undergo legal prosecution. This is because often the government is not the right sort of agent to call the civil disobedient to account, and because there is no reason to think that one needs to answer for one's lawbreaking in the form of undergoing legal prosecution. There are also practical reasons to doubt the efficacy of a system according to which a civil disobedient must undergo trial but ostensibly has a right to avoid punishment.

An Article on Animal Rescue and Civil Disobedience - In progress: Draft complete

In this article I argue that, pace arguments by people like Jennifer Welchman and Tony Milligan, we should not conceive of covert animal rescue as civil disobedience. I argue that we should instead conceive of covert animal rescue as a form of subrevolution, because covert animal rescue moves the rescued individuals from one arrangement of sovereign power to another. I develop the argument by drawing on Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka's idea of animal sovereignty as developed in their book Zoopolis, and by drawing on my own work on subrevolution. A draft of this paper received comments at the Pre-RoME Conference on Animal Ethics in August 2019 and at the International Society of Environmental Ethics conference in October 2020.

Metaethics

Normativity

Two Articles on the Normativity of Requests - In progress: Drafts complete

When I make a request, like "could you please read a draft of my paper and give me comments on it," I give you a reason to do something. How does this work? These two papers defend the unpopular idea that requests only give reasons by giving you information. There's no special power attached to a request in itself. Why two articles? Because I can't fit everything into one! I presented one of the papers at the 2019 Southampton-Humboldt Normativity Workshop at the University of Southampton in June 2019.

Miscellaneous Metaethics

"On the Alleged Laziness of Moral Realists." The Journal of Value Inquiry, Vol 54 No 3, 2020.

In this comment I respond to an article published by Melis Erdur, "Moral Realism and the Incompletability of Morality" in which she argues that moral realism is objectionable because it suggests that we should accept easy answers to moral questions if they are available to us, and to do so is morally lazy. I argue that the moral realist is under no such obligation to accept easy answers, and also that Erdur's argument applies to many forms of moral anti-realism too. There is little philosophical reason to read my article, because subsequent to its submission, Justin Horn's excellent article "On Moral Objections to Moral Realism" was published, and the second half of his article says almost everything I say here. But my article makes a few additional points, it is shorter, and it has some phrases which, if you squint, are jokes, so maybe it's not entirely a waste of time.

Applied Ethics

I think of my political philosophical work as applied ethics, so for more applied ethics, see above. If you disagree because you think political normativity and moral normativity are different kinds of normativity, then at some point I hope to have an article on that topic which constitutes a reply.

Gender Abolitionism

Some Articles about Gender Abolitionism - In progress: I'm taking it slow. I have a lot of stuff written but it's not very polished

I argue that we should get rid of gender. This entails (among other things) giving an account of gender, explaining how and why we would want to get rid of it, and responding to some big objections, like the ostensible necessity of a concept of gender with respect to feminist political projects, or the importance of gender to marginalized people of various kinds, like transgender people. Support for this research has been generously provided by Ashoka University's Centre for Studies in Gender and Sexuality, which allowed me to hire some wonderful undergraduate research assistants over the summer of 2019. I presented some of this research at the MANCEPT 2020 Workshop "What is Gender and What Do we Want it to Be?," the International Social Ontology Society 2019 conference in Tampere, Finland, and in a keynote address at the International Conference on "Gender Equity: Challenges and Opporunities" at the Sardar Vallabhbhai National Institute of Technology in 2019 in Surat, Gujarat.

Miscellaneous Applied Ethics

An Article Defending Moral Grandstanding - In progress: Draft complete but maybe needs rewriting

I defend "moral grandstanding," which is doing something in order to make people think you are morally virtuous. I suggest that moral grandstanding can have a number of good effects, and also that an opposition to moral grandstanding is going to generally entail an opposition to actions undertaken by various oppressed groups. I'm not sure exactly how compelling my arguments are in their current form: this paper may need to be split into two separate papers because the two considerations I offer are mostly divorced from each other.

An Article on Shapes of Lives - In progress: Draft complete

Lots of people have the intuition that a life sloping upwards (i.e. getting better all the time, like in that song by The Beatles) is better than a life sloping downwards. I argue that the shape of a life doesn't matter.