Research

I currently have two main research projects. In the first, I develop a general account of individual freedom that specifically targets the structures of our interpersonal relations. In the second, I investigate the ethical and conceptual challenges that we face, given the fact of persistent and widespread unfreedom.

On this page, I provide general synopses of my research projects, with links to information about the papers that constitute them.

A GENERAL ACCOUNT OF SOCIAL FREEDOM

On typical liberal and republican political theories, “freedom” picks out a political concern for individual agency, understood as a capacity for choice. This political concern specifically targets distinctively interpersonal threats to the capacity for choice: namely, interference by other people, or subjection to others’ choices.

But think about chess. During a game, one’s opponent has the standing to capture your pieces, to block your strategies, to put your king in check (or even checkmate). This makes you vulnerable to interference, and subject to her choices. But that does not threaten your standing to play chess. It partially constitutes it. You couldn’t play chess without standing in a complex relation of mutual vulnerability and subjection with your opponent.

I argue that agency (in one crucial sense) is like the standing to play chess. It emerges from our interpersonal relations with the other members of our communities, which construct us “social agents,” or (in a more familiar term) persons. These relations are constituted in part by complex patterns of mutual vulnerability and subjection. And the structures of these patterns do not threaten our agency, but determine the kinds of people we are, from players of chess, to owners of property, to members of particular kinds of families, to voters. A concern for freedom is a concern, not for the capacity for choice, but for the ways in which our communities construct our relations with others, and for the kinds of persons these relations make us.

ETHICS IN A TIME OF UNFREEDOM

We live in conditions in which many people – perhaps the vast majority – are not free. Outright enslavement persists in diverse forms. Many of those who are not enslaved are vulnerable to some forms of exploitation or abuse, and lack the standing to make themselves heard by their oppressors.

It is easy enough to say that things should be better. But how ought we live here and now, in these conditions of widespread unfreedom? In these papers, I explore a number of questions bearing on this persistent challenge.