Many philosophers think of ethics as the study of our moral obligations to one another, including such questions as how we ought to exercise our will, or what rules we should follow in our practical deliberation. In contrast, I think of ethics as broader, including the study of all the aspects that constitute living a good life, especially our habits, perceptions, and emotions. I’m particularly interested in understanding how these aspects of our lives are affected by living under oppression. I pursue this interest in various directions.
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.
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 (under review)
There is a curious phenomenon where people from marginalized populations are taken to be arrogant when they show no signs of superiority. In effect, their actions are misconstrued, and their attitudes are rendered unintelligible. Given that arrogance is standardly taken to be a flaw in one’s moral character, understanding such misattributions should give us insight into the affective marginalization many people face. This talk aims to give a thorough exploration of arrogance under oppression. I argue that arrogance is a kind of self-preoccupation that involves projecting one’s values, goals, and concerns onto others as if they were objective values, goals, and concerns. When the affectively marginalized communicate their self-respect through things like protest, people mistake that self-respect as self-preoccupation given how the affectively marginalized are constructed. Furthermore, given how affective marginalization not only inhibits how the marginalized are understood by others, but inhibits their own affective lives, I argue that taking up an arrogant attitude is not always morally vicious, but can be a beautiful form of political resistance but all things considered good.
Moral Shock and Trans "Worlds" of Sense (under review)
Building on Katie Stockdale’s recent work on moral shock, I explore trans people's experience of moral shock, how it reminds us of our lack of belonging in the dominant "world" of sense and the possibility for chronic, cyclical shock which adds to our burnout. Moral shock is when one experiences bewilderment in the face of some moral act, typically morally bad act, which conflicts in a shocking way with one’s normative outlook. Given that trans people’s very existence comes into conflict with most people’s belief in the existence of only two immutable genders, we are uniquely positioned to experience a lot of conflict between our existence and other people’s beliefs about society, creating the perfect conditions for shock. Since moral shock is emotionally exhausting, and trans people experience a lot of it, this contributes to trans burnout--that trans people are disproportionally likely to experience emotional burnout by merely surviving in a transphobic culture. Such chronic cases of moral shock only exacerbate this problem, requiring more significant action on the part of others to create resistant "worlds" of sense that are more hospitable to trans people.
Gender Identity, Much Ado About Nothing: or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Trans (w/ Rowan Bell) (writing)
In recent years, philosophers have tried to give a substantive account of “gender identity” that can ground our moral and political responsibility to trans people. For example, such concepts have been mobilized to solve the inclusion problem (Jenkins 2016, Andler 2017), to ground first-person authority about gender (Ozturk 2017, Cohen 2018), to explain dissonance between gender appearance and gender reality (McKitrick 2015), and to explain the harm of misgendering (Jenkins 2016). We argue the subsequent ontological “whack-a-mole” is neither necessary nor helpful. Instead, we defend a deflationary account of gender identity, where a person’s gender identity is straightforwardly the gender they identify with their words, actions, or behavior. Furthermore, moral and political reasons for acknowledging and respecting trans people do not require gender identity to be ontologically significant or substantive. Finally, we suggest that trans people use “gender identity” prudentially to gain legibility and legal protections, and not as an explanation of trans identity and experience. Understanding “gender identity” to serve this purpose is evidence of its deflationary status.