Research

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My early research, on the work of John Gay (Utilitas, 2018) Catharine Trotter Cockburn (Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 2020), aimed to show how a Lockean science of human nature can make room for moral obligation. I argue that these post-Lockean moral philosophers conceive of obligation in terms of accountability. For them, to be obligated is to see ourselves as accountable to others. The relevant question for Gay and Cockburn is, “how do we come to see ourselves as accountable to others?” They rely on a subjective feature of our moral psychology – our being able to associate the happiness of others with our own, in the case of Gay, or our propensity to experience shame, for Cockburn.

I shortly became interested in the writings of Damaris Masham, who appeals to an intersubjective feature of our moral psychology to explain our sense of accountability: our experience of love. For Masham, we come to view ourselves as accountable to others in virtue of our capacity to love them. By loving others, we come to understand what it means to be accountable. She argues that this lesson is generalizable, and that love is a form of moral education. I examine Masham’s views on love and moral development in “How are we to Love Others?” (in draft) and elsewhere explore the impact of her insights on contemporary discussions about love and autonomy (Love, Justice, Autonomy, 2021).

On either view of accountability, once we come to see ourselves as accountable, our self-conception necessarily changes. Part of this change means developing a capacity for remorse. I explore this line of thought in the work of Sophie de Grouchy (Routledge Handbook of Women and Early Modern European Philosophy, forthcoming) and consider the possibility that remorse is always proper, making it difficult for us to have reason to love ourselves. I explore the possibility of self-love under these conditions in “Can We Love Ourselves?” (with Joel Van Fossen, in draft), and examine the failures of accountability and self-love in the work of Adam Smith (European Journal of Philosophy, 2020).

I have recently begun to explore ideas of accountability in the Native American tradition, which center on manitou, the source of personhood. Any being is potentially manitouki: this status is conferred on them by relations of accountability. By opting into reciprocal practices, like gift-giving, beings thereby make each other into persons. I argue that the concept of manitou helps us appreciate the relationship between love and accountability (in draft). I plan to extend this line of inquiry into discussions of self-love in the Choctaw tradition, the tribe of which I am a member. By drawing together European and Native thought I hope to further contribute to the expansion of our own, philosophical tradition.

Interested in what I’m working on now? For more, see my Current Projects