Many philosophers think of ethics as the study of how we ought to exercise our will, or what rules we should follow in our practical deliberation. My research concerns those many central parts of ethics that are left out of this overly narrow conception -- in particular, the ethics of perception and of feeling. How ought we perceive each other? What is the moral dimension to our feelings? Perceptions and feelings are not voluntary, nor are they the conclusions of practical deliberation, and yet they reflect our character, and are morally evaluable in many of the same ways that we are. My research attempts to understand the moral evaluation of perception and feeling, among other things, and their relationship to our moral character. I am especially interested in how these evaluations are affected by the context of oppression.
Perceiving through the racial veil:
On September 1st, 2016, NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick began a nationwide protest by taking a knee during the ceremonial pre-game performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” While he has come under fire for protesting in this manner, by the time the NFL season started later that month, eleven other players had joined him. Solidarity protests grew quickly across many different sports and leagues (both professional and amateur), yet many of the responses to Kaepernick’s initial act have been negative. Among the claims made against him, one in particular has stood out: Kaepernick is arrogant. Historically oppressed people are often called arrogant despite not showing signs of superiority. Why are such people often viewed as arrogant then? What does this tell us about arrogance as an (im)moral attitude? Could arrogance sometimes be good?
In this paper I examine the attitude of arrogance in contexts of oppression, attempting to do three things. The first is to give an account of the moral psychology of arrogance, where what's central to arrogance is an inattention to others through reflectively endorsed self-preoccupied perception. The second is to utilize this account of arrogance to illuminate why people of historically oppressed groups are often called arrogant, even when they are not acting in a way that reflects the attitude of arrogance. Toward that end I present three possible explanations, two attend to the reasons why the viewers may believe these people are arrogant and one aims to understand the consequences of this practice, concluding that this practice reflects and reinforces the undervaluing of oppressed peoples. Third, I argue that in some cases where oppressed people are arrogant it is not necessarily bad. Instead, such arrogance serves as a form of resistance to oppression which gives it political value, which in turn has a kind of aesthetic value that inspires and motivates others to resist oppression as well. I call this kind of arrogance beautiful arrogance, which is not a vice but all things considered good.
Gender Affirmation and Loving Attention (under review)
Gender affirmation is a regularly talked about topic in queer and trans communities. Whether its sharing things that give them gender affirmation or looking for said affirmation, it comes up regularly in person and online among trans folx. A number of interactions can give one gender affirmation, a trans woman having a door held open for her, a trans man getting a head nod from another man, or a non-binary person having gender neutral language used for them.
While gender affirmation is a regularly discussed topic and practiced rule in queer communities, little work has been done in understanding the moral value of gender affirmation--with most philosophical attention being on the moral harms of misgendering. In the interest of determining how we can be better allies and community members to trans folx, I believe this topic is worth philosophical exploration. In determining what makes gender affirmation morally distinct, we can understand better what provides us with salient moral reasons for our behavior toward them. This will have implications for how we use gendered language and engage in gender-coded behaviors.
My contention is that a significant amount of gender affirmation's moral value lies in what Iris Murdoch called loving attention. I argue that loving attention is necessary for gender affirmation to have moral value because it is otherwise too fragile or insincere to have such value. Moral reasons to engage in acts that gender affirm will come from wanting to reflect this loving attention to trans folx as a way of challenging their marginalization.
In the latter part of the paper, I will see how my arguments bear on recent work by Robin Dembroff and Daniel Wodak on the use of gender-neutral language. In their paper, “He/She/They/Ze” they argue that we have a duty to gender neutralize English, such that we use no gendered pronouns whatsoever. (This conclusion turns, in part, on their rejecting gender affirmation as a moral duty.) I argue that recognizing the value of gender affirmation, rooted in moral perception, should make us skeptical of this conclusion, in favor of a more nuanced and pluralistic approach to the ethics of gendering.