Research

Publications:

The pervasive structure of society
2017, Philosophy & Social Criticism Volume 44 Issue 8 (pay-walled link to published version) Post-peer-review, pre-copyedit version of this article.

What does it mean to say that the demands of justice are institutional rather than individual? Justice is often thought to be directly concerned only with governmental institutions rather than individuals’ everyday, legally  permissible actions. This approach has been criticized for ignoring the relevance to justice of informal social norms.

This paper defends the idea that justice is distinctively institutional but rejects the primacy of governmental institutions. I argue that the ‘pervasive structure of society’ is the site of justice and injustice. It includes all widely enforced social rules and norms, governmental and otherwise, such as informal norms of gender, language and class, and provides a revisionary foundation for the theoretical elucidation and practical pursuit of justice. It provides a framework for evaluating the ways in which people can and should promote justice in their everyday lives.

Charity vs. revolution: Effective Altruism and the systemic change objection
Forthcoming, Ethical Theory and Moral Practice. Post-peer-review, pre-copyedit version.

Effective Altruism (EA) encourages affluent people to make significant donations to charities that improve the wellbeing of the world’s poor and to use quantified and observational methods to identify the most efficient charities. Critics argue that EA is inattentive to the systemic causes of poverty and underestimates the effectiveness of individual contributions to systemic change. EA claims to be open to systemic change but suggests that systemic critiques, such as the socialist critique of capitalism, are unhelpfully vague and serve primarily as hypocritical rationalizations of their proponent’s unwillingness to make significant material sacrifices in the face of the moral emergency of severe poverty.

I reformulate the systemic change objection and rebut the charge of vagueness by outlining rival systemic critiques. I argue that in order to take systemic change seriously, EA must repudiate its current focus on quantified, observational evidence and embrace holistic and interpretive social analysis and that, in order to properly evaluate the chances of achieving systemic change, it must be sensitive to the complex dynamics of collective action for social change. By embracing structural analysis and the study of social movements EA is forced to sacrifice its a-political approach to altruism.

Previous formulations of the systemic change objection have failed to confront the need for extra-political everyday efforts to resist, subvert and reconstruct the social system could be just as effective and as demanding as charity.