Research

I have broad research interests in political, legal, moral and social philosophy. My work to date can be broadly grouped under three key themes. Below, I offer brief descriptions of each theme and list some representative publications (with links to pre-print versions of the papers; for authoritative citations etc., please refer to the published versions).

Liberal ideals in a globalizing world

Liberalism is a powerful ideology. Its concepts and normative principles have had a profound influence on the political development of the western world and beyond. These concepts and principles were originally articulated in a world made up of relatively independent sovereign entities. What implications do liberal principles have for our increasingly globalized world? Can the core concepts of the liberal tradition help us make sense of our existing political conditions? Should they be reinterpreted? If so, how? Some of my research addresses these questions, focusing on the following core liberal concepts: (a) justice and beneficence; (b) coercion and freedom; (c) democracy; (d) (human) rights. Click on the text for representative publications in these areas.

Justice and beneficence


Coercion and freedom


Democracy


Human rights

The methodology of political philosophy

My work on the methodology of political philosophy is linked to my substantive interests. In considering how liberal principles fare in response to fast-changing political circumstances, I was prompted to reflect on the relationship between moral ideals and empirical facts. My research in this area has been guided by the following question: To what extent should we abstract or idealize away from real-world factual constraints when designing political theories, particularly (but not exclusively) theories of justice? By addressing this question, I have contributed to the debate on so-called ideal vs non-ideal theory. More recently, I have also been exploring, in collaboration with Christian List, the relationship between the methodology of practical philosophy (including moral and political philosophy) and the methodology of the philosophy of science and social science. In the medium-term, we plan to write a book on this topic. Click on the text for representative publications in these areas.

Ideal vs non-ideal theory


Practical philosophy & the philosophy of science/social science

Morality and socially constructed norms

Socially constructed norms—i.e., norms that exist as a matter of social fact—are all around us: from the “ladies first” custom, to the practice of queuing; from the religious norm that prescribes chastity before marriage, all the way to the familiar demands that legal systems place on us. A constant presence in our lives, socially constructed norms elicit mixed emotions. On the one hand, we often feel their moral pull: we think that we would act wrongly if we violated them. On the other hand, we look at them with suspicion: even the most ostensibly innocuous norms may reinforce unjust power relations and surreptitiously promote the interests of the elites. The challenge, then, is to establish when and why we are correct in feeling their moral pull—because those norms have genuine authority—and when we should instead distrust them. My current work—centered around a book project—addresses this challenge. I develop a framework pinpointing when and why socially constructed norms are morally binding. In particular, I trace their moral significance to the agential commitments that underpin them. I then explore the implications of this framework for several important questions in moral, legal, and political philosophy, including the grounding of moral rights, the obligation to obey the law, the wrong of sovereignty violations, and the nature of “normative powers” (e.g., the power to promise, consent, forgive, obligate through commands, etc.). Click on the text for representative publications/papers in these areas.

Agential commitments


Grounding moral rights

  • ‘On the Explanatory Dispensability of Natural Rights’, complete manuscript available upon request.

  • ‘Rethinking Moral Claim-Rights’, complete manuscript available upon request.


Obligation to obey the law / sovereignty violations


Normative powers

  • ‘On Public-Identity Disempowerment’, Journal of Political Philosophy, forthcoming.

  • ‘Normative Powers’, complete manuscript available upon request.