I am interested in the political and ethical implications of information acquisition and management. My academic research occurs at the intersection of epistemology and political philosophy. Big questions my work addresses include: In what ways can political misinformation harm or wrong? What knowledge or beliefs must persons have for laws to be legitimately imposed on them? How must societies store information about past events like natural disasters and civil strife so that they not only remember that such events occurred but also react appropriately if they happen again?
I am currently writing a dissertation that focuses on the implications of our pervasive dependence on testimony for the proper use of political and moral authority. Many philosophers argue that such authority ought to be publicly justified. That is, authoritative political and social action is fully appropriate only when it is justifiable to everyone. I argue that our pervasive dependence on testimony requires us to consider public justification to have a strongly externalist aspect. In other words, whether or not an act of political or social authority is justifiable in the relevant sense partly depends on facts about which we cannot become aware.
Externalizing public justification has significant implications for our understanding of political misinformation, civic virtue, and social morality. Deceptive testimony undermines the externalist conditions for public justification, thereby preventing the public from enjoying an ideal of democratic discourse. This gives us important moral reason to consider political misinformation objectionable in addition to whatever bad practical consequences it may or may not have. Furthermore, almost all testimony involves simplification in that what we do say to others on any given topic is often just a fraction of what we could say. Testimony thereby makes misinformation likely even without deceptive intent. Whether the external conditions of public justification are preserved in such circumstances depends on the civic virtue of testifiers, such as whether they offered their testimony in a trustworthy manner.
Another project I’m working on investigates the importance of collective memory for avoiding social problems. Empirical research shows that disasters such as floods and civil strife occurring with a periodicity greater than living memory are especially hard to prevent. I am currently exploring work from philosophers, anthropologists, historians, and natural hazard researchers to argue that the problem is about preserving an ability for group action called collective procedural memory. Better understanding collective procedural memory opens new theoretical questions about how different kinds of collective memory are related and will hopefully lead to suggestions about policy interventions that can better prevent negative future events.