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. Forthcoming in 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 and embodiment

Abstract: Most philosophers assume that agency must be embodied. In this paper I argue to the contrary that an agent need not be embodied in order to act. This conclusion has important implications for questions of responsibility and collective agency. I begin by clarifying the notion of embodiment and presenting three assumptions that comprise this view. First, an agent needs to perform an action herself. Second, the performance of an action requires a bodily movement. Third, a bodily movement involves a movement of the biological body. I argue that each of these assumptions should be given up. With each assumption that is given up, an additional kind of disembodied action becomes available. The different kinds of disembodied action include proxy actions, extended actions, and extended movements. We are encountering some of these possibilities now, and will plausibly encounter the rest in the near future. The distinctions I put forth clarify how agency works in groups, human-machine interactions, and virtual realities.

Paper: here.

The paraphrase argument against collective actions

Abstract: This paper is about 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 reconstruct the argument and show via counterexamples 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 arguments to support a reduction.

Paper: here.

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.

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

Can collectives and artificial entities be agents in the same sense as individuals? In my dissertation, I answer this question in the affirmative by developing a novel descriptive account of agency. Collectives such as corporations and the military often have a hierarchical structure, with individuals at the top wielding authority over members below.

Existing proposals have overlooked the problem of how to assign individual contributions to the actions of hierarchical groups. I develop a framework to address this gap and several puzzling phenomena in the domain of individual agency, such as omissions and mental actions.

I then apply this framework to tackle an important normative question: Who is responsible for the actions of hierarchical groups? I argue that those in power can be held responsible for actions they delegate to others to perform on their behalf.




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.