When I say I work on the ethics of conversation, many people assume I am talking about good manners or political correctness. Instead, I recommend rude interruptions and argue against PC lists of 'what not to say'. Nor am I merely applying ethical theories to an understudied interaction. Traditional theories break down when we focus on conversation. Even models of hate speech or collective impact fail to capture the complexities of microaggressions--seemingly small slights that can accumulate into serious damage to marginalized individuals.
In my dissertation, I offer a new model of moral responsibility, based on the torts of trespass and negligence. Like trespass, microaggressions that directly target an individual are blameworthy, even when the speaker does not intend to cause harm and does not in fact cause harm. Like negligence, microaggressions that are overheard or read online are only blameworthy when a bystander is actually harmed by the speaker's risky behavior. Neither type of microaggression should be adjudicated in the court system, but the Tort Law Model of Moral Responsibility points us towards more effective remedies: apology and a more equitable distribution of microaffirmations to protect against future damage.
In the future, I plan to consider other sites of conversational damage: repetitive advice, misinterpreted questions, and refusal to change the subject.
"Theorizing a Spectrum of Aggression: Microaggressions, Creepiness, and Sexual Assault" (Final Draft)
The Pluralist 14.1: 91-101 (Spring, 2019)
Microaggressions are seemingly negligible slights that can cause significant damage to frequently targeted members of marginalized groups. Recently, Scott O. Lilienfeld challenged a key platform of the microaggression research project: what’s aggressive about microaggressions? To answer this challenge, Derald Wing Sue (the psychologist who has spearheaded the research on microaggressions) needs to theorize a spectrum of aggression that ranges from intentional assault to unintentional microaggressions. I suggest turning to Bonnie Mann’s “Creepers, Flirts, Heroes and Allies” for inspiration. Building from Mann’s richer theoretical framework will allow Sue to answer Lilienfeld’s objection and defend the legitimacy of the concept, ‘microaggression’.
"Do Your Exercises: Reader Participation in Wittgenstein’s Investigations" (Final Draft)
in Pedagogical Investigations: A Companion to Wittgenstein on Education, edited by Michael A. Peters and Jeff Stickney, 147-159. Singapore: Springer, 2017.
Many theorists have focused on Wittgenstein’s use of examples, but I argue that examples form only half of his method. Rather than continuing the disjointed style of his Cambridge lectures, Wittgenstein returns to the techniques he employed while teaching elementary school. Philosophical Investigations trains the reader as a math class trains a student—‘by means of examples and by exercises’ (§208). Its numbered passages, carefully arranged, provide a series of demonstrations and practice problems. I guide the reader through one such series, demonstrating how the exercises build upon one another and give us ample opportunity to hone our problem-solving skills. Through careful practice, we learn to pass the test Wittgenstein poses when he claims that something is ‘easy to imagine’ (§19). Whereas other critics have viewed the Investigations as merely a diagnosis of our philosophical delusions, I claim that Wittgenstein also writes a prescription for our disease: Do your exercises.
Revised and Resubmitted
"Microaggressions as Collective Harm but Individual Wrongs"
(4000 words, soon to be submitted for publication)
In a recent issue of Hypatia, Christina Friedlaender published one of the first extended engagements with the complex moral issues raised by microaggressions. Microaggressions are small slights that can accumulate into serious damage, so Friedlaender compares them to another case of cumulative harm: global climate change. She demonstrates the problems with using backward-looking concepts, like blameworthiness, and argues that we should instead adopt a forward-looking account that centers future contributions to cumulative harm.
When making this comparison, however, Friedlaender neglects to cite any philosophical research on climate change. This oversight is unfortunate because the solution she offers has already been proposed and rejected in debates surrounding the “Problem of Collective Impact.” Julia Nefsky has argued that harm-avoidance accounts, like Friedlaender’s, cannot work. I use Nefsky’s discussion to show that if microaggressions are indeed comparable to climate change, they will be similarly ineligible for such an account. I then outline three ways to respond to the problem I raise and suggest reasons to prefer the third way: switching to an account that highlights the differences between microaggressions and other cases of collective harm. In order to capture the unique features of microaggressions, we need to stop comparing them to climate change.
Talks within Current Research Project ( denotes link to handout):
"Microaffirmations, Privilege, and a Duty to Redistribute"
University of Toronto Centre for Ethics, October 2019 (invited)
Canadian Society for Women in Philosophy, October 2019
Society for Philosophy and Psychology, July 2019 (poster)
"Microaggressions, Torts and the Right to Apology"
Main Program Colloquium Session at APA Pacific, April 2019
Canadian Society for Women in Philosophy, September 2018
"From Hate Speech to Microaggressions: A Spectrum of Dominating Speech Acts"
Society for Analytical Feminism Group Session at APA Pacific, April 2019
"What's Aggressive About Microaggressions?"
Main Program Colloquium Session at APA Pacific, April 2018
Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy, March 2018 (winner of the Douglas Greenlee Prize for best paper presented by an early career scholar)
South-Western Ontario Feminism and Philosophy Workshop, September 2017 (invited)
"Microaggressions as Collective Harms but Individual Wrongs"
Halbert Fellowship Workshop, February 2018 (invited)
"A Duty to Avoid Committing Microaggressions"
Canadian Philosophical Association, May 2017
Center for Values and Social Philosophy at University of Colorado Boulder, April 2017 (invited)
"Frankenstein's Monster as Manipulative Gaslighter"
Health Humanities Consortium Poster Session, April 2018
"In My Thoughts and in My Words: The Morality of William James and Iris Murdoch"
William James Society Group Session at the APA Pacific, April 2017
"Beyond the 'Will to Believe': A Historical Solution to the Wrong Kinds of Reasons Debate"
Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy, March 2016
"How Best to Use the IAT: The Moral to Draw from the Moral Responsibility Debate"
MAP@Leeds Conference on Implicit Bias, October 2015
"Benevolence and Its Effects in David Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature”"
Main Program Symposium Presentation at APA Pacific, April 2015
Talks Outside Current Research Project:
[Title Withheld to Protect Blind Review]
Paper (co-authored with Regina Rini) about tensions within the empirical study of microaggressions and how to re-conceptualize microaggressions to allow for continued and improved scientific research.
[Title Withheld to Protect Blind Review]
Book chapter about the connections between the legal Critical Race Theory discussions of hate speech and modern microaggression research.