Research and Publications

I've long been interested in moral theory, particularly virtue ethics and well-being, which are the subjects of my dissertation. Recently, the experience of teaching has pulled my active research in the directions of practical ethics and philosophical methods. I also write short stories when time allows. That's where the moral theory questions that I've moved to the academic back burner tend to show up.

Academic Writing

"Humans Should Not Colonize Mars," Journal of the American Philosophical Association, Vol. 3, No. 3, 2017, pp. 334-353. [ doi | pre-print ]

This article offers two arguments for the conclusion that we should refuse, on moral grounds, to establish a human presence on the surface of Mars. The first argument appeals to a principle constraining the use of invasive or destructive scientific techniques. The second appeals to a principle governing appropriate human behavior in wilderness. These arguments are prefaced by two preliminary sections. The first preliminary section argues that authors working in space ethics have good reason to shift their focus away from theory-based arguments in favor of arguments that develop in terms of pre-theoretic principles and beliefs. The second argues that, of the popular justifications for sending humans to Mars, the justification of scientific curiosity alone survives reflective scrutiny.

"Fanciful Examples," with Jason Swartwood, Metaphilosophy, Vol. 48, No. 3, April 2017, pp. 325-344. [ doi | pre-print ]

This article defends the use of fanciful examples within the method of wide reflective equilibrium. First, it characterizes the general persuasive role of described cases within that method. Second, it suggests three criteria any example must meet in order to succeed in this persuasive role; fancifulness has little or nothing to do with whether an example is able to meet these criteria. Third, it discusses several general objections to fanciful examples and concludes that they are objections to the abuse of described cases; they identify no special problem with fanciful examples.

"Ways to Be Worse Off," Res Philosophica, Vol. 93, No. 4, October 2016, pp. 921-949. [ doi | pre-print ]

Does disability make a person worse off? I argue that the best answer is yes and no, because we can be worse off in two conceptually distinct ways. Disabilities usually make us worse off in one way (typified by facing hassles) but not in the other (typified by facing loneliness). Acknowledging two conceptually distinct ways to be worse off has fundamental implications for philosophical theories of well-being.

"Ways to Be Worse Off" won the 2017 Routledge, Taylor & Francis Prize awarded by the APA to the two best papers published by non-tenure-track faculty in 2016.

"In Defense of Hyperlinks: A Response to Dreyfus," Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology, Vol. 7, No. 3, Spring 2004. [ open access ]

In On the Internet, Hubert Dreyfus notes that by moving documents from libraries to the Internet we make ourselves dependent on search engines to locate the information we need. Because search engines are incapable of understanding the semantic content of documents, he suggests that we risk losing access to the information we archive online. I examine the strengths and weaknesses of the strictly hierarchical libraries that Dreyfus prefers and conclude that there are lines of inquiry that such rigorously-structured hierarchies actively resist; namely, they resist questions dealing with relationships between objects and questions dealing with aspects of objects that are secondary to the hierarchy's branching principle. In other words, there are good reasons to move documents from hierarchical libraries to the unstructured Internet. I then discuss the salient features of a search engine that could make relevance judgments of the sort Dreyfus claims are impossible.

Creative Writing

"The Sort of Thing Everyone Knows," Eclectica Vol. 21 No. 1 (Jan/Feb 2017).

My family moved to Sacramento from a small town in central Ohio when I was eleven. The immediate and unforeseen effect of the move, for me, was the discovery that I like music. That discovery in turn caused changes to my world-view and character, some of which probably qualify as significant. This personal essay/memoir traces some specific consequences of my youthful mania for Erasure. It also functions as an elliptical characterization of my understanding of the limited but real role philosophical reflection can play in moral development.

"The Egg Collection," South Dakota Review Vol. 51 No. 3&4 (2015).

When I moved to St. Paul for graduate school, my parents gave me a membership to the Science Museum of Minnesota. Back then, the museum displayed an early-20th-Century collection of birds' eggs, which I loved and visited a few times a year. Along with hundreds of eggshells from all over the country, the curators included in the display a bird-egg price-guide from 1920. It got me thinking about the different kinds of people who might have been attracted to egg collecting, back in the day, and the different ways they might have valued their collections.

"The Egg Collection" will be reprinted by Midwestern Gothic in 2018.

"Conflagration" (as D.L.E. Roger) in This Is How You Die (Grand Central, 2013).

T. Rex, star of Ryan North's "Dinosaur Comics," once fantasized about writing a story set in a world in which a simple blood test could determine, with perfect accuracy, the future cause of a patient's death. Ryan and some of his colleagues in the web-comic world pursued the idea, editing and publishing an anthology of stories using T. Rex's hook. It was an indy blockbuster, successful enough that they put together a second volume, which includes a story by me. (Visit the Machine of Death website for more information about the history of the anthology and its penumbra of spin-off projects.)

The editors used "Conflagration" in a few different promotional formats, including a lovely, freely distributable PDF, so you don't even have to spend your sweet, sweet dollars to read it.

"Neil the Intelligent" in Listen to the Future (A Different Drum, 2004).

My Siberian hamster, Neil, died my senior year of college, and I wrote a story to commemorate him. When Todd Durrant of A Different Drum Records put out a call for science fiction short stories, I sent it to him. It's arguably not science fiction in the strictest sense, but it is steeped in enough outrageous nerdery that he accepted it anyway. Todd passed it along to Finnish synthpoppers Neuroactive, who recorded an epic and charming instrumental based on it. Thus has it come to pass that people around the world have listened to a pop song about my long-dead hamster.

"The Lavender Retaliation," The Blue Mesa Review No. 14 (2002).

In 2002 Ernest Hebert selected "The Lavender Retaliation," as the winner of the University of New Mexico's graduate fiction prize. It became my first publication when it subsequently appeared in UNM's literary journal, The Blue Mesa Review.


The Reward of Virtue

Most work in neo-Aristotelian virtue ethics begins by supposing that the virtues are the traits of character that make us good people. Secondary questions, then, include whether, why, and in what ways the virtues are good for the people who have them. My dissertation is an argument that the neo-Aristotelian approach is upside down. If, instead, we begin by asking what collection of character traits are good for us-- that is, what collection of traits are most likely to promote our own well-being-- we find a collection of traits a lot like the traditional slate of virtues. This suggests an egoistic theory of the virtues: the virtues just are those traits of character that reliably promote the well-being of their possessor. In addition to making the positive case for character egoism, I defend it from some anticipated objections. Most importantly, I argue that character egoism doesn't inherit the problems of ethical egoism. I conclude by arguing that character egoism can account for two virtues traditionally thought beyond its reach: honesty and justice.

Précis of The Reward of Virtue (PDF)

I defended my dissertation on June 17th, 2011. This is the précis I prepared for the open-to-the-public portion of the defense. It's a 20-minute presentation, intended for a general audience.