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My Research

Areas of Specialty: Practical Rationality and Ethics

My research is primarily motivated by trying to solve the puzzle of why different paths to a meaningful life are permissible, given that values are objective. 

I reject the Humean idea that no coherent set of preferences (I prefer the term ‘evaluations’) is ever unfitting. Disvaluing the scratching of your finger more than you disvalue the destruction of the whole world is contrary to reason. The reason to which it is contrary is that such evaluations do not fit the objective values of those states of affairs. But what is fittingness of evaluations to objective values, and how stringent is it? It might not be too stringent because of two kinds of phenomena:

  1. Agent-relative Value: Some people have special reasons to value things.
    • E.g., a coach has special reasons to value his own team winning.
  2. Optional evaluations: It is merely optional that you value some things.
    • E.g., you do nothing irrational by valuing rare bottlecaps a fair amount or not at all.

Agent-relative value is a well-known phenomenon, but optional evaluations have not received as much attention. I use intervals to represent the gaps between the minimally required and maximally justified evaluations (e.g., you should value your own health at least this much and no more than that much). I respond to the primary objection to interval accounts (under review). I argue that our evaluations should be sharp even when objective values are not sharp (see Synthese, forthcoming). I also research what I am calling the ‘crisis of autonomy’—the existential vacuum one might feel because it would not be irrational to abandon some of one’s core interests (under review). My research overall has implications for questions regarding political theory, religion, diversity, and meaningfulness of life in general.

This research also leads me into investigating concepts such as parity (see Chang 2002), practical identity, narrative value, and the implications of nihilism.

 

Other areas of interest/competence:

Applied Ethics (esp. Medical and Business)
Decision Theory
Logic
Metaethics
Philosophy of Mind
Philosophy of Religion
Social/Political Philosophy

 

About Me

I began as an engineer. I often get asked how I made the transition to philosophy. I studied engineering with the intention of doing humanitarian work. While I was on an internship in Uganda doing just that, I discovered that I enjoyed teaching more than designing, so the transition began. Now, I hope to have a positive impact on society through education and philosophy instead of engineering. Although philosophy and engineering share little content material, I have actually found that they require similar skills, such as analytic thinking and creativity. The main residue of that season of life is a love of creating Excel spreadsheets. I primarily use the skill now to create unnecessarily fancy spreadsheets for grading and to win fantasy sports leagues.

I worked at a telecommunications contractor for five years in Oklahoma, where I met and married my wife. Our two little girls were both born during my doctoral program at Mizzou. They are objectively the smartest and cutest little girls ever. Dance parties occur frequently and without warning in the Asper house.

Although I am passionate about philosophy, my real life goal is to be the general manager of the Packers. I also enjoy trail running. I like how races provide long-term training goals. It is satisfying to create a detailed training plan and achieve the benchmarks leading up to the race. I approach long-term goals in philosophy similarly.