I am a postdoctoral fellow in the McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society at Stanford University. Part of my time I spend at Apple working on the ethics of machine learning and autonomous systems.

Recently, I have thought a bit about self-driving cars, written about their ethics, and talked about their politics.

I enjoy working on practical implications of philosophical questions. I also enjoy thinking through some vexing philosophical puzzles about human agency and moral responsibility – especially when agency is augmented by technology and when responsibility arises from things done together with others.

My background is in philosophy, economics and public policy and also involves a short stint in journalism. Before moving to the Silicon Valley, I was a postdoctoral fellow at Humboldt University Berlin.

You can also find me on PhilPapers, Academia.edu, LinkedInTwitter and my bicycle.




Research

Research Articles

Punishing Groups

With Holly Lawford-Smith. The Monist (forthcoming)

Abstract: Punishing groups raises a difficult question, namely, howtheir punishment can be justified at all. Some have argued that punishing groups is morally problematic because of the effects that the punishment entails for their members. In this paper we argue against this view. We distinguish the question of internal justice – how punishment-effects are distributed – from the question of external justice – whether the punishment is justified. We argue that issues of internal justice do not in general undermine the permissibility of punishment. We also defend the permissibility of what some call “random punishment.” We argue that, for some kinds of collectives, there is no general obligation to internally distribute the punishment-effects equally or in proportion to individual contribution.

Paper: penultimate draft.

 

Never Mind the Trolley: The Ethics of Autonomous Vehicles in Mundane Situations

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 21(3), June 2018

Abstract: Trolley cases are widely considered central to the ethics of autonomous vehicles. I caution against this by identifying four problems. (1) Trolley cases, given technical limitations, rest on assumptions that are in tension with one another. Furthermore, (2) trolley cases illuminate only a limited range of ethical issues insofar as they cohere with a certain design framework. Furthermore, (3) trolley cases seem to demand a moral answer when a political answer is called for. Finally, (4) trolley cases might be epistemically problematic in several ways. To put forward a positive proposal, I illustrate how ethical challenges arise from mundane driving situations. I argue that mundane situations are relevant because of the specificity they require and the scale they exhibit. I then illustrate some of the ethical challenges arising from optimizing for safety, balancing safety with other values such as mobility, and adjusting to incentives of legal frameworks.

Paper: penultimate draft.

Related publications:The everyday ethical challenges of self-driving cars,” The Conversation, syndicated in The Boston Globe, and others.

 

Asylum for Sale: A Market between States that is Feasible and Desirable

Journal of Applied Philosophy (forthcoming)

Abstract: The asylum system faces problems on two fronts. States undermine it with populist politics, and migrants use it to satisfy their migration preferences. To address these problems, asylum services should be commodified. States should be able to pay other states to provide determination and protection-elsewhere. In this article, I aim to identify a way of implementing this idea that is both feasible and desirable. First, I sketch a policy proposal for a commodification of asylum services. Then, I argue that this policy proposal is not only compatible with the right to asylum, but also supported by moral considerations. Despite some undesirable moral features, a market in asylum facilitates the provision of asylum to those who need it.

Paper: penultimate draft, published paper.

Related publications: This proposal also made it to this book Wenn ich mir etwas wünschen dürfte (Steidl 2017) on the occasion of German general elections, and to a discussion in the Change My View Subreddit here.

 

Agency and Embodiment: Groups, Human–Machine Interactions, and Virtual Realities

Ratio 31(2), June 2018.

Abstract: This paper develops a taxonomy of kinds of actions that can be seen in group agency, human–machine interactions, and virtual realities. These kinds of actions are special in that they are not embodied in the ordinary sense. I begin by analysing the notion of embodiment into three separate assumptions that together comprise what I call the Embodiment View. Although this view may find support in paradigmatic cases of agency, I suggest that each of its assumptions can be relaxed. With each assumption that is given up, a different kind of disembodied action becomes available. The taxonomy gives a systematic overview and suggests that disembodied actions have the same theoretical relevance as the actions of any ordinarily embodied human.

Paper: penultimate draftpublished paper.

 

The Paraphrase Argument against Collective Actions

Australasian Journal of Philosophy 95(1), January 2017.

Abstract: This paper is about the status of collective actions. According to one view, collective actions metaphysically reduce to individual actions because sentences about collective actions are merely a shorthand for sentences about individual actions. I reconstruct an argument for this view and show via counterexamples that it is not sound. The argument relies on a paraphrase procedure to unpack alleged shorthand sentences about collective actions into sentences about individual actions. I argue that the best paraphrase procedure that has been put forward so far fails to produce adequate results.

Paper: here.

Related publications: The paper prompted a discussion note, which you can find here.

 

Epistemic landscapes, optimal search and the division of cognitive labor

With Jason Alexander and Chris Thompson. Philosophy of Science 82(3), July 2015.

Abstract: This paper examines two questions about scientists’ search for knowledge. First, which search strategies generate discoveries effectively? Second, is it advantageous to diversify search strategies? We argue pace Weisberg and Muldoon (2009) that, on the first question, a search strategy that deliberately seeks novel research approaches need not be optimal. On the second question, we argue they have not shown epistemic reasons exist for the division of cognitive labor, identifying the errors that led to their conclusions.  Furthermore, we generalize the epistemic landscape model, showing that one should be skeptical about the benefits of social learning in epistemically complex environments.

Paper: penultimate draft, published version.

Additional material: The model used for this article is written using NetLogo. The source code of our model is available here. It involves a swarm strategy, which draws on the model by Couzin et al. (2005) and the Boids model. You can find a simple simulation that I wrote to study the behaviour of this model here.

 

Book Reviews

Understanding Institutions: The Science and Philosophy of Living Together, by Francesco Guala

Journal of Social Ontology 3(2), September 2017.

Paper: online version (open access).

 

From Individual to Collective Intentionality: New Essays, edited by Sara Rachel Chant, Frank Hindriks, and Gerhard Preyer. Oxford University Press

Economics and Philosophy 31(3), November 2015.

Paper: penultimate draft, online version.

 

Dissertation “Agency as Difference-making”

Abstract: We are responsible for some things but not for others. In this thesis, I investigate what it takes for an entity to be responsible for something. This question has two components: agents and actions. I argue for a permissive view about agents. Entities such as groups or artificially intelligent systems may be agents in the sense required for responsibility. With respect to actions, I argue for a causal view. The relation in virtue of which agents are responsible for actions is a causal one. I claim that responsibility requires causation and I develop a causal account of agency. This account is particularly apt for addressing the relationship between agency and moral responsibility and sheds light on the causal foundations of moral responsibility.

Thesis: available online.




Teaching

  • Political Ontology: State, Law, and Gender
    Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Summer 2017
  • Authority, Democracy, and Freedom: Themes in Political Philosophy
    Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Summer 2017
  • Philosophy of the Social Sciences
    Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Winter 2016
  • Hard Choices and Transformative Experience
    Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Summer 2016
  • Equality
    University of Bayreuth, Summer 2015
  • Business Ethics
    London School of Economics, Lent Term 2014
  • Agency, Responsibility and Artificial Intelligence
    University of Bayreuth, Winter 2014
  • Ethics of Markets
    University of Bayreuth, Summer 2013
  • Philosophy of the Social Sciences
    London School of Economics, 2012-13
  • Policy Evaluation and Cost-Benefit-Analysis
    University of Bayreuth, Winter 2012
  • Reason, Knowledge and Values
    London School of Economics, 2011-12

Courses at LSE were taught as a teaching assistant; all other courses were taught as primary instructor.