Moral Criticism and Structural Injustice
MIND. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1093/mind/fzaa098
Moral agency is limited, imperfect, and constrained. This is evident in the many ways we all unwittingly participate in systemic injustice through our everyday actions, which I call 'structural wrongs'. I argue that, to do justice to these facts, we should distinguish between summative and formative moral criticism. Traditional moral theory has focused almost exclusively on summative critical responses like blame, resentment, and punishment, which function to conclusively assess an agent's performance relative to some benchmark. However, it is also possible to give formative moral criticism that aims only to improve performance in an ongoing way, by pointing out how agents fall short of moral ideals. I show that the negative sanctions associated with summative responses are justifiably imposed under certain conditions when persons exercise their agency wrongly -- conditions that do not always hold for structural wrongs. Yet even in such cases we can still use formative responses, which are warranted whenever an aspirational ideal has not been met. Expanding out repertoire of moral criticism to include both summative and formative responses enables us to better appreciate both the powers and limitations of our agency, and the complexity of moral life.
Contingent Labor in the Academy: Power, Precarity, and Ideology
Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy. Advance online publication. doi: 10.111/hypa.12401.
Feminist philosophers have challenged a wide range of gender injustices in professional philosophy. However, the problem of precarity, i.e. the increasing numbers of contingent faculty who cannot find permanent employment, has received scarcely any attention. What explains this oversight?
In this paper, I argue, first, that academics are held in the grips of an ideology that diverts attention away from the structural conditions of precarity, and second, that the gendered dimensions of such ideology have been overlooked. To do so, I identify two myths: the myth of meritocracy and the myth of work as its own reward. I demonstrate that these myths - and the two-tier system itself - manifest an unmistakably gendered logic, such that gender and precarity are mutually reinforcing and co-constitutive. I conclude that feminist philosophers have particular reason to organize against the casualization of academic work.
Why Yellow Fever Isn't Flattering: A Case Against Racial Fetish
Journal of the American Philosophical Association Vol 2(3): 400-419.
Most discussions of racial fetish center on the question of whether they are caused by negative racial stereotypes. In this paper I adopt a different strategy, one that begins with the experiences of those targeted by racial fetish rather than those who possess it; that is, I shift focus away from the origins of racial fetishes to their effects as a social phenomenon in a racially stratified world.
I examine the case of preferences for Asian women, also known as "yellow fever," to argue against the claim that racial fetishes are unobjectionable if they are merely based on personal or aesthetic preference rather than racial stereotypes. I contend that even if this were so, yellow fever would still be morally objectionable because of the disproportionate psychological burdens it places on Asian and Asian-American women, along with the role it plays in a pernicious system of racialized social meanings.
What is My Role in Changing the System? A New Model of Responsibility for Structural Injustice
Ethical Theory and Moral Practice. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1007/s1067.
Structural injustices are highly complex phenomena with multiple causes and without easy solutions. Iris Marion Young has offered the most fully-developed account to date of responsibility for such injustice, according to which everyone who causally contributed to some unjust outcome is responsible for collectively organizing to change it. This paper motivates and defends an alternative model, which satisfies five desiderata that Young’s fails to fully meet. On the Role-Ideal Model, we are each responsible for structural injustice through and in virtue of our social roles, because roles are the site where structure meets agency. The Role-Ideal Model (1) explains how individual action contributes to structural change, (2) justifies why each particular agent is expected to act, (3) specifies the kinds of acts to be undertaken (4) moderates between demanding too much and too little of individual agents, and (5) provides an account of the critical responses appropriate for holding individuals accountable for structural injustice.
Attributability, Accountability, and Implicit Bias
In Implicit Bias and Philosophy: Volume 2, Moral Responsibility, Structural Injustice, and Ethics, Jennifer Saul and Michael Brownstein (eds.) New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. 62-89.
This chapter distinguishes between two concepts of moral responsibility. We are responsible for our actions in the first sense only when those actions reflect our identities as moral agents, i.e. when they are attributable to us. We are responsible in the second sense when it is appropriate for others to enforce certain expectations and demands on those actions, i.e. to hold us accountable for them.
This distinction allows for an account of moral responsibility for implicit bias, defended here, on which people may lack attributability for actions caused by implicit bias but are still accountable for them. What this amounts to is leaving aside appraisal-based forms of moral criticism such as blame and punishment in favor of non-appraising forms of accountability. This account not only does more justice to our moral experience and agency, but will also lead to more effective practices for combating the harms of implicit bias.
Bias, Structure, and Injustice: A Reply to Haslanger
Feminist Philosophical Quarterly 4(1). Article 4.
Sally Haslanger has recently argued that philosophical focus on implicit bias is overly individualist, since social inequalities are best explained in terms of social structures rather than the actions and attitudes of individuals. I argue that questions of individual responsibility and implicit bias, properly understood, do constitute an important part of addressing structural injustice, and I propose an alternative conception of social structure according to which implicit biases are themselves best understood as a special type of structure.
Race and Pornography: The Dilemma of the (Un)Desirable
In Beyond Speech: Pornography and Analytic Feminist Philosophy, Mari Mikkola (ed.) New York: Oxford University Press, 2017: 177-196.
Antipornography feminists have long argued against pornography on the basis of its racist representations of women of color. More recently, however, other academics and pornographers have advanced arguments to rehabilitate (especially non-mainstream) pornographic representations of race as sites of resistance and pleasure.
This chapter presents and criticizes three such arguments. On the one hand, pornography has the potential to expand and transform the standards of what is beautiful, desirable, and pleasure to include those in the bottom ranks of racialized and gendered hierarchies. However, pornography makes use of race always at the risk of reinforcing patriarchal and racist standards of desire. These risks and rewards represent the double-edged sword of pornography's critical role in the shaping of sexuality. The chapter concludes that we cannot in a principled way condemn or militate against pornography merely on the basis of its racial/ist representations.
A Job for Philosophers: Causality, Responsibility, and Explaining Social Inequality
Dialogue: Canadian Philosophical Review 57(2): 323-351.
People disagree about the causes of social inequality and how to most effectively intervene on them. These may seem like empirical questions for social scientists, not philosophers. However, causal explanation itself depends on broadly normative commitments. From this it follows that (moral) philosophers have an important role to play in determining those causal explanations. I examine the case of causal explanations of poverty to demonstrate these claims. In short, philosophers who work to reshape our moral expectations also work, on the back end, to restructure acceptable causal explanations—and hence solutions—for social inequality. Empirical and normative inquiry, then, are a two-way street.
What Kind of Responsibility Do We Have for Fighting Injustice? A Moral-Theoretic Perspective on the Social Connections Model.
Critical Horizons 20(2): 109–126.
Iris Marion Young’s influential Social Connections Model (SCM) of responsibility offers a compelling approach to theorizing structural injustice. However, the precise nature of the kind of responsibility modelled by the SCM, along with its relationship to the liability model, has remained unclear. I offer a reading of Young that takes the difference between the liability model and the SCM to be an instance of a more longstanding distinction in the literature on moral responsibility: attributability vs. accountability. I show that interpreting the SCM as a conception of accountability resolves a number of objections, while also highlighting the SCM’s distinctive stance on the relationship between ethics and politics.
Women, Work, and Power: Envisaging the Radical Potential of #MeToo
APA Newsletter of Feminism and Philosophy 19(1): 29–36.
I analyze the #MeToo movement alongside the Women’s March and the teacher’s strike wave, situating it between two poles of structured organizing and mass protest. This comparison highlights the imperative for movements to translate symbolic solidary power, which shift discourses and norms, into exercises of power that can alter structural conditions in a more fundamental way. I argue that while #MeToo has been highly successful in disrupting sexist mores and patriarchal norms on the cultural front, it must match this with a commitment to transforming the fundamental material conditions that enable men’s dominance over women.6 Eliminating sexual harassment— particularly of non-elite women—requires addressing the underlying job insecurity, poor working conditions, and economic vulnerability that threatens almost all workers. In short, #MeToo must go radical.
Review of David Shoemaker's Responsibility from the Margins, Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 27(2): E-9-E-17.
Review of Michael Hardimon's Rethinking Race:The Case for Deflationary Realism, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. November 2018.
Review of The Social Dimensions of Responsibility, edited by Katrina Hutchison, Catriona Mackenzie, and Marina Oshana, Australasian Journal of Philosophy 97(4): 843–844.
“Rationalization, Controversy, and the Entanglement of Moral-Social Cognition: A ‘Critical Pessimist’ Take” (commentary on Joshua May's Regard for Reason in the Moral Mind). 2019. Brain and Behavioral Sciences 42, E167.
Review of Marta Nussbaum's The Monarchy of Fear: A Philosopher Looks at Our Political Crisis. 2020. Ethics 130 (2): 250-255.
The People United: Solidarity and Difference on the Road to Social Change
Book manuscript in progress
Solidarity, the rallying cry of movements for transformative social change, is needed today more urgently than ever. Philosophers have conceived of solidarity variously as a kind of moral relationship that generates obligations amongst the members of a social group, political coalition, society, or all of humankind. But they have rarely focused on what makes it so vital for social movements: the fact that it is the only form of power available to the powerless. This book offers an account of solidarity from below, which explains how those who lack money, guns, or political influence can collectively confront injustice — and overcome it. Its key claim is that unlocking the power of solidarity requires a robust theory and practice of intersectionality and difference.
The first half of this book presents a cohesive and systematic intersectional account of feminist, antiracist, and class struggles. The second half offers normative guidance for practicing intersectionality in common struggle. Our differences, so often used to divide, can also be a source of collective strength.
(with Nils-Hennes Stear) Imagining in Oppressive Contexts, Or, What's Wrong With Blacking Up?
Presented at the Race and Aesthetics Conference (Leeds), the University of Barcelona, and UNAM.
Imagining is a perfectly everyday activity, and absolutely central to aesthetics. Many everyday imaginings, however, contain unethical content. Is there anything intrinsically wrong with such imaginings, if not acted upon? While many defend the affirmative, Brandon Cooke argues that only those imaginative acts prescribing participants to “export” unethical attitudes out of the imagined world and into the actual world exhibit intrinsical ethically flaws. This paper carves out a middle ground, using speech act theory to characterize some ethical flaws as arising in the act constituted by the imagining itself. What is being done with an imagining depends on the context in which it is performed: sometimes, imagining is oppressive when it prescribes unethical attitudes towards oppressed groups, even without export.
Expanding the Moral Repertoire: Oughts, Ideals, and Appraisals
Presented at the Moral Responsibility and Self-Knowledge (NTU), 2016 Joint Session, 2016 SSPP, 2016 Central APA, Conference on Interdiciplinary Perspectives on Moral Responsibility (UVU).
Philosophical work on moral criticism has overwhelmingly focused on blame and resentment. However, I argue for the importance of other forms of moral criticism that have hitherto gone overlooked. I introduce a new category of what I call "non-appraising responses" as opposed to "appraisal-based" responses like blame and resentment. I argue that two distinct domains of morality (Ought vs. Ideal), along with two distinct psychological systems of motivation (Approach vs. Avoidance), call for distinguishing these types of moral criticism. The justification of non-appraising responses does not depend on assessing an agent's quality, but rather on communicative and exhortative aims. This makes them appropriate responses for a wide range of moral circumstances beyond simple violations of duty.
On Activists and Allies: Solidarity and Good Faith Across Disagreement and Difference
Presented at the 2019 Meaning and Reality in Social Context Conference (IEAS), 2019 Responsibility and Solidarity for Our Times Workshop (Yale-NUS), 2019 BayFAP, 2020 Eastern APA.
I examine three commonly recurring scenarios that exemplify breakdowns of solitary communication, arguing that the general conditions that generates these scenarios expose certain unreflective assumptions that plague our understandings of injustice. By looking at a set of hypothetical and actual cases, I elucidate from both perspectives (which I dub “the Activist” and “the Ally”), the wider social meanings that are generated in these scenarios — meanings of which the two sides may be unaware or insufficiently mindful. I contend that all parties, due to the exigencies of solidarity, must be willing to make and reciprocate efforts to preserve good faith, but that the greater share of the burdens associated with doing so must fall on whichever party is less directly vulnerable with respect to the issue under discussion.