Many philosophers think of ethics as the study of how we ought to exercise our will, or what rules we should follow in our practical deliberation. My research concerns those many central parts of ethics that are left out of this conception -- in particular, the ethics of perception and of feeling. How ought we perceive each other? What is the moral dimension to our feelings? Perceptions and feelings are not voluntary, nor are they the conclusions of practical deliberation, and yet they reflect our character, and are morally evaluable in many of the same ways that we are. My research attempts to understand the moral evaluation of perception and feeling, among other things, and their relationship to our moral character. I am especially interested in how these evaluations are affected by the context of oppression.
In this paper, I examine the moral dimensions of gender affirmation. I argue that the moral value of gender affirmation is rooted in what Iris Murdoch called loving attention. Loving attention is central to the moral value of gender affirmation because such affirmation is otherwise too fragile or insincere to have such value. Moral reasons to engage in acts that gender affirm derive from the commitment to give and express loving attention to trans people as a way of challenging their marginalization. In the latter part of the paper, I will discuss how my arguments bear on recent arguments by Robin Dembroff and Daniel Wodak (2018) on the use of gender-neutral language. They argue that we have a duty not to use gender-specific pronouns for anyone. Their conclusion turns, in part, on a rejection of gender affirmation as a moral duty. The value of gender affirmation, rooted in our moral perception of trans people, should make us skeptical of this conclusion, in favor of a more nuanced and pluralistic approach to the ethics of gendering.
How to Do Things with Gendered Words (w/ Archie Crowley) (forthcoming)
With increased visibility of trans people comes increased philosophical interest in gendered language. This chapter aims to look at the research on gendered language in analytic philosophy of language so far, which has focused on two aspects: (1) determining how to define gender terms like ‘man’ and ‘woman’ such that they are trans inclusive and (2) if, or to what extent, we should use gendered language at all. We argue that the literature has focused too heavily on how gendered language can harm trans people, and has not considered how trans people use gendered language to create meaning and joy for ourselves. Pulling from the literature in sociolinguistics, we look at examples of how trans people use language to make their lives better by gaining recognition, playing with gendered language, finding joy in gendered language, and taking control of definitional power, concluding that debates about gendered language need to consider not only how such language harms trans people but how trans people use it for our own liberation.
The Racial Veil (manuscript)
Philosophers of race and other writers in the Black and Latinx intellectual traditions have remarked on what it is like to live under “the racial gaze,” to be shaped and limited by the way whites perceive us. However, little work has been spent developing how the racial gaze functions in whites’, and other racially privileged people’s, moral psychology. I argue in this paper that the way people often perceive people of color is in itself morally problematic. This claim builds on an insight from Iris Murdoch that our perception can be morally evaluable and extends it to issues of race. I articulate how racial stereotypes and misvaluing distort one’s perception of people of color and that these distortions are organizing around a dominant conception for race that plays an important role in the oppression of people of color. I believe understanding racist perception lays a foundation for understanding the moral dimensions of interpersonal (as opposed to structural) racism.
Arrogance Under Oppression (manuscript)
In this paper, I examine the attitude of arrogance in contexts of oppression, attempting to do three things. The first is to give an account of the moral psychology of arrogance, where what's central to arrogance is an inattention to others through reflectively endorsed self-preoccupied perception. The second is to utilize this account of arrogance to illuminate why people of historically oppressed groups are often called arrogant, even when they are not acting in a way that reflects the attitude of arrogance. Toward that end I present three possible explanations, two attend to the reasons why the viewers may believe these people are arrogant and one aims to understand the consequences of this practice, concluding that this practice reflects and reinforces the undervaluing of oppressed peoples. Third, I argue that in some cases where oppressed people are arrogant it is not necessarily bad. Instead, such arrogance serves as a form of resistance to oppression which gives it political value, which in turn has a kind of aesthetic value that inspires and motivates others to resist oppression as well. I call this kind of arrogance beautiful arrogance, which is not a vice but all things considered good.