Research

My research can be usefully divided into three overlapping themes:

1) The epistemology of social progress: I am presently working on a book manuscript (Experiments of Social Living: Moral Progress, Democracy, and the Wisdom of Experience) that defends an “experimentalist” model of social progress. On the experimentalist model, societies improve their distribution of moral beliefs through “experiments of social living”: interventions in social practice that change habitual patterns of social interaction.                    

Drawing on historical episodes (such as the extension of marital rights to same-sex couples) and a wealth of contemporary social science, I reveal the way in which such patterns vitally shape the emotional dispositions and conceptual vocabulary through which we represent the concerns of others around us. Against those who see the democratic ideal in terms of rational deliberation, I argue that the moral vitality of democracy derives from the broad distribution of powers to contest and alter social practice in advance of rational consensus.

2) The epistemological dimensions of liberal democracy: As I argue in “Epistemic Democracy and the Social Character of Knowledge,” governance requires pooling and deploying an enormously diverse body of knowledge. Several of my published papers focus on the virtues of liberal democracy in achieving this task, and the normative implications of thinking about political organization in epistemic terms. For example, in “Epistemic Trust and Liberal Justification” I argue that the liberal norm of reason-giving is critical to achieving epistemic trust in the political context. And in “Democratic Consensus as an Essential Byproduct” I argue that valuable forms of political consensus derive from deliberation that aims at epistemic justification rather than consensus itself. Future work will focus on the tension between epistemic standards of political belief and democratic legitimacy as a function of popular consent. The key to resolving this tension, on my view, is recognizing that the truth about social morality is sensitive to — though not comprehensively defined by — the social distribution of beliefs and preferences as they vary across societies.

3) Philosophy of economics/business: I have become increasingly interested in bringing normative social thought to bear on economic aims and organizations. This has been facilitated by my involvement with the “Society for Progress” (http://societyforprogress.org) – an organization encompassing business scholars, social philosophers, executives, and economists – which is devoted to rethinking the relationship of business to social values. In “Contesting the Market,” I articulate a distinctive kind of threat that capitalism presents to democratic models of public contestation. In “New Prospects for Workplace Democracy?” (co-written with Julie Battilana and Mike Lee), my co-authors and I consider the relationship between workplace democracy and the balance between financial and social aims. I am presently at work on a book manuscript – Moral Capital (co-authored with Subi Rangan) – that offers tools for business executives to integrate moral reasoning into their organizational decision-making.

Scholarly Publications

Public Engagement

  • “A Failure of Democracy?,” DailyNous.com (2016): November 10 
  • “A Hollowed Out Civic Experience,” DailyNous.com (2016): March 14
  • “Thinking Civically” (with Jack Schneider), Social Education 77 (2013): 213-214
  • Healthcare Debate: Two Views of Liberty,” Minneapolis Star-Tribune, July 3, 2012