My research interests lie primarily at the intersection of political philosophy, philosophy of language, and social epistemology. Over the past few years, I’ve been especially interested in developing a normative account of democratic public speech that is both realistic and action-guiding in non-ideal democratic contexts. Here are some of the more specific questions I’m interested in:
- What kinds of speech have a positive role to play in the public discourse of divided democracies? In particular, do expressions of negative emotions, such as anger, contribute a distinctive kind of knowledge in such contexts?
- How should we deal with hateful utterances or campaigns of misinformation? Can we neutralize their harms through ‘more speech’, or do they need to be excluded from the public sphere?
- How much of an obstacle do partisan divisions pose for epistemically fruitful deliberation? Specifically, do such divisions undermine the deliberative ideal of democracy?
Below, you can find some of my published and unpublished papers on these topics.
I am currently writing a monograph entitled Democratic Speech in Divided Times under contract with Oxford University Press. Democratic Speech in Divided Times develops an integrated philosophical account of what norms should govern political discourse in democracies marked by deep social divisions. Drawing on recent work in philosophy of language and social epistemology, it reformulates the ideal of inclusive public discourse so as to make it sensitive to the challenges raised by—among other things—expressions of deep anger, public hate speech, campaigns of misinformation, and social fragmentation.
(2) Journal Articles
(Forthcoming) Hate Speech Laws: Expressive Power Is Not the Answer. Legal Theory. Access here.
Abstract. According to the influential “expressive” argument for hate speech laws, legal restrictions on hate speech are justified, in significant part, because they powerfully express opposition to hate speech. Yet the expressive argument faces a challenge: why couldn’t we communicate opposition to hate speech via counterspeech, rather than bans? I argue that the expressive argument cannot address this challenge satisfactorily. Specifically, I examine three considerations that purport to explain bans’ expressive distinctiveness: considerations of strength; considerations of directness; and considerations of complicity. These considerations either fail to establish that bans are expressively superior to counterspeech, or presuppose that bans successfully deter hate speech. This result severely undercuts the expressive argument’s appeal. First, contrary to what its proponents suggest, this argument fails to circumvent the protracted empirical controversies surrounding bans’ effectiveness as deterrents. Second, the expressive argument appears redundant, because bans are expressively distinctive only insofar as hate speech is already suppressed.
Democratic Group Cognition. 2020. Philosophy and Public Affairs. Access here.
Abstract. Group loyalties profoundly influence people’s political judgments, including their judgments about politically relevant scientific matters. Political philosophers have widely argued that this ‘group cognition’ is epistemically misguided—and that, as a result, voters are insufficiently receptive to sound political testimony and argument. This objection, I argue, overlooks several important insights from social epistemology and philosophy of science, regarding: the distinctive experiences involved in being a member of a particular social group; the role of value judgments in scientific testimony; and the positive function of dogmatism in epistemic systems. Drawing on these insights, I demonstrate that group cognition need not endanger the epistemic value of inclusive deliberation.
Can ‘More Speech’ Counter Ignorant Speech? 2019. Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy. Access here.
Abstract. Ignorant speech—speech which actively disseminates falsehoods about people or policies—is pervasive in public discourse. A popular response to this problem recommends countering ignorant speech with more speech, rather than legal regulations. However, philosophers of language have influentially argued that this ‘counterspeech’ response is flawed, as it overlooks the asymmetric pliability of conversational norms: the phenomenon whereby some conversational norms are easier to enact than to reverse. After demonstrating that this conversational ‘stickiness’ is an even broader concern for counterspeech than critics suggests—it applies not just to hate speech, but also to policy-related misinformation—I argue that a more refined account of counterspeech can nevertheless overcome it. By distinguishing ‘negative’ from ‘positive’ forms of counterspeech, and by developing a more sophisticated account of the temporality of counterspeech, I show how we can counter ignorant speech without triggering the properties that render it sticky.
Rage Inside the Machine: Defending the Place of Anger in Democratic Speech. Politics, Philosophy & Economics, 2018. Access here.
Abstract. An influential line of argument condemns public expressions of anger on the grounds that they are counterproductive from the standpoint of justice. I resist this challenge by articulating a key respect in which angry discourse is epistemically productive. Drawing on recent developments in the philosophy of emotion, I contend that conveying anger to one’s listeners can play an indispensable role in alerting them to previously-overlooked injustices, and in enhancing their understanding of these injustices. I then defuse the most powerful objections to this defence by exposing how they overlook the systemic character of democratic deliberation.
Hate Speech in Public Discourse: A Pessimistic Defence of Counterspeech. Social Theory and Practice, 2017. Access here.
Abstract. Jeremy Waldron, among others, has forcefully argued that hate speech assaults the dignity of its targets. Without denying this claim, I show that it fails to establish that bans, rather than democratic counterspeech, are the appropriate response. By articulating a more refined understanding of counterspeech, I suggest that it constitutes a better way of blocking hate speech’s dignitarian harm. In turn, I address two objections: according to the first, which draws on recent work in philosophy of language, counterspeech does not block enough hate speech; according to the second, counterspeech blocks too much. Although these objections are forceful and should qualify our optimism regarding the effectiveness of counterspeech, each can be turned, with greater force, against bans.
Immigration Controls: Why the Self-Determination Argument is Self-Defeating. Journal of Social Philosophy, 2016. Access here.
Abstract. Why do states have the right to unilaterally close their territorial borders? A highly prominent argument holds that this right derives from the right to democratic self-determination. I argue that the self-determination argument is internally undermined by the principle that all persons subjected to coercive political power are entitled to an equal say in exercising that power. The self-determination argument’s premises rely, explicitly or implicitly, on a version of this principle. Since border controls coerce would be immigrants, this reliance renders the self-determination argument self-defeating.
(3) Unpublished papers
Resisting Political Minimalism
Abstract. Citizens in contemporary democracies are often highly ignorant regarding public affairs. This constitutes one of the most daunting obstacles to using democratic public deliberation to combat injustice. As a result, critics of deliberative democracy often recommend adopting more ‘minimalistic’ normative political models, which assign far less importance to participation by ordinary citizens. I argue that this is a mistake. Public ignorance, I demonstrate, is in fact at least as problematic for these minimalistic political models as it is for deliberative democracy. Thus, departing from deliberative democracy on this basis is misguided. Far from being the source of the problem, inclusive deliberation is best understood as an attempted solution to the ubiquitous difficulties stemming from widespread ignorance. Email for draft.