I am a PhD candidate in the Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method at the London School of Economics.

I am interested in various topics concerning human interactions. The questions range from descriptive issues such as why humans cooperate, or how groups make decisions, to normative issues involving the good conduct of those interactions, as investigated by ethics and political philosophy. In my approach I draw on formal methods from decision theory and seek relations to the philosophy of mind.

In my dissertation I investigate the concept of agency and argue that non-human entities, such as groups, computer programs and robots, do things and can be held responsible for the things they do. In future work I plan to investigate important implications of such an expansive concept of agency for moral and political philosophy. Topics that interest me very much in this direction are, for example, robot ethics and collective responsibility.




Research

Research articles

Epistemic landscapes, optimal search and the division of cognitive labor

With Jason Alexander and Chris Thompson. Accepted subject to minor revisions by Philosophy of Science.

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: here.

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.

Manuscripts

Agency as difference-making

Abstract: This paper puts forward the conception of agency as difference-making. The proposal is that some a is an agent of an action x if and only if a‘s having a certain intention is a difference-maker to whether or not x occurs. I formulate this proposal in a propositional semantic and argue that it is both useful and plausible. I apply it to different cases to illustrate it. The proposal has advantages in particular in cases involving hierarchical groups.

Paper: here.

The paraphrase argument against collective actions

Abstract: This paper is on the status of collective actions. According to one view, sentences about collective actions are a shorthand for sentences about individual actions. This is taken to support a metaphysical reduction of collective actions to individual actions. I raise principled doubts about this view, reconstruct an argument for it and show that it fails. The view relies on a paraphrase procedure to unpack alleged shorthand sentences. I argue that, so far, no adequate paraphrase procedure has been put forward. Absent such a procedure, reductionists about collective actions have to resort to other strategies.

Paper: here.

Agency and embodiment

Abstract: In this paper I argue that an agent need not be embodied in order to act. For example, an agent need not be physically present. A commander may kill an innocent on a distance via a soldier who takes aim and pulls the trigger. Despite the soldier pulling the trigger, it might be the commander who kills the innocent. This view is counterintuitive because in paradigmatic instances of agency an agent is embodied in the sense that the agent is present and performs a bodily movement. I develop this intuition as three assumptions, which together I call the `embodiment view’. While this view is sound for paradigmatic instances of agency and widely voiced in existing literature, I argue that embodiment in this sense is not necessary to be an agent of an action. Each of the three assumptions of the embodiment view can be relaxed which provides a taxonomy of cases that violate it.

Paper: here.

Book reviews

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

for Economics and Philosophy.

Abstract: First, I summarize select contributions focussing mostly on social ontology. Second, I point to some flaws in particular arguments, and illustrate the potential of seeking synergies with related debates in the philosophy of mind. Third, I put forward the hypothesis that some disagreements between participants in the debate are merely verbal.

Paper: here.




Dissertation

In my dissertation I investigate the concept of agency and argue that non-human entities, such as groups, computer programs and robots, are agents and can be held responsible for their actions.

In the first part I focus on conceptual questions surrounding agency. I extend a counterfactual conception of causation to formalise the intuitive idea of agency as something that is up to an agent. I call this account `agency as difference-making’. I investigate in what sense an agent must have a body and in particular whether agency requires a human body, as some philosophers of action have assumed.

In the second part of the thesis, I turn to questions of responsibility. I investigate, drawing on agency as difference-making, where responsibility is located in hierarchical groups, such as the military, and under which conditions so-called responsibility gaps may arise.




Teaching

Here are courses that I have taught either as a primary instructor or as a teaching assistant (in the case of LSE courses).

  • Business Ethics,
    London School of Economics, Lent Term 2014.
  • Agency, Responsibility and Artificial Intelligence,
    University of Bayreuth, Winter 2014.
  • Ethics of Exchange, Allocation and Efficiency,
    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.