University of Chicago (2012), Ph.D.
University of Chicago (2001), B.A.
My research focuses on the social dimensions of freedom. Because humans are interdependent, rational animals, I argue that being free is not simply a matter of pursuing one’s own private interests, but rather of acting with others and from a shared sense of the common good. My work thus defends the idea that freedom is a political rather than narrowly personal concept.
More specifically, I write on a tradition of thought stretching from Rousseau to Kant, Hegel, and Marx, and culminating in recent political philosophy associated with John Rawls. According to this tradition, freedom is deeply interconnected with questions of equality, economic justice, and the state. My current research includes papers on: (1) the relation between individual freedom and civic attachment in Rousseau’s political thought; (2) the role of meaningful work in a liberal society; (3) Kant’s justification of both private property and welfare rights; and (4) the concept of structural domination, i.e., threats to freedom that stem not from individual bad action but from unjust social institutions. Throughout my research, I am oriented by the idea that philosophy should move freely between historical and contemporary approaches, and incorporate insights from the social sciences.
As a teacher, I am most interested in exploring with my students questions like: ‘Why should I obey the law?’ ‘What does it mean to be free?’ ‘When I say that a particular social institution is unfair, what kind of criticism am I making?’ During the 2016-2017 academic year my courses will introduce students to classical texts in Western ethical theory from both the Analytic and Continental traditions, Freud’s conception of the unconscious, and Marx’s critique of capitalism, among other topics and themes. No matter what material my class is discussing, I aim to help students see how the claims of difficult and often historically remote texts speak to contemporary experience. For example, in my fall 2015 course, Justice, Freedom, and the State, we examined how classic justifications for the state resonate with one grim aspect of current political reality: systematic racism and racial exclusion. In my fall 2016 seminar Equality/Inequality we will try to figure out whether there are good arguments for the claim that a society in which some individuals own so much more than others is fundamentally unjust.
“Autonomy and Happiness in Rousseau’s Justification of the State,” Review of Politics, vol. 78, no. 3 (July 2016).
“Rousseau on the Ground of Obligation: Reconsidering the Social Autonomy Interpretation,” European Journal of Political Theory (online first August 2015).
“Rawls on Meaningful Work and Freedom,” Social Theory and Practice, vol. 41, no. 3 (July 2015).