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, please let me know. I do not list my in-progress papers on this page because it is too much trouble to keep it updated.

Social and Political Philosophy


Borders, Sovereignty, Self-Determination, and Related Topics

  • "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.
  • "Territorial Exclusion: An Argument against Closed Borders." Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy, Vol 19 No 3, 257-290, 2021.

    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.
  • "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.

Civil Disobedience

  • "Covert Animal Rescue: Civil Disobedience or Subrevolution?" Environmental Ethics, Vol 44 No 1, 61-83, 2022.

    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.
  • "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.

Metaethics


Normativity

  • "What Makes Requests Normative? The Epistemic Account Defended." Ergo, forthcoming.

    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? I defend the unpopular idea that requests only give reasons by giving you information. There's no special power attached to a request in itself. I presented this work in the 2019 Southampton-Humboldt Normativity Workshop at the University of Southampton in June 2019.

Well-Being

  • (With Gil Hersch) "A New Well-Being Atomism." Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, forthcoming.

    Many philosophers reject the view that well-being over a lifetime is simply an aggregation of well-being at every moment of one’s life, and thus they reject theories of well-being like hedonism and concurrentist desire satisfactionism. They raise concerns that such a view misses the importance of the relationships between moments in a person’s life or the role narratives play in a person’s well-being, so aggregation is not an appropriate approach to well-being. In this article, we develop an atomist meta-theory of well-being, according to which the value of a life depends solely on the value of each moment of that life. This is a general account of momentary well-being that can capture different features of well-being that standard atomistic accounts fail to capture, thus allowing for the possibility of being an atomist without also being a hedonist or a concurrentist desire satisfaction theorist. Contrary to many criticisms leveled against momentary well-being, this well-being atomism captures all of the important features of well-being.

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.