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Research Overview


My research is practically-oriented and interdisciplinary, and addresses contemporary ethical and public policy issues with tools from philosophy, economics, game theory, and biology. I have published on topics including rationing of healthcare resources, ethical issues in the use of reproductive technologies, the ethics of vaccination development and clinical trials, and public health and vaccination policy, as well as more theoretically-oriented work on foundational issues in economics and rational choice.

My current research project (Salient Solutions) deals with threats to normatively appropriate forms attention. The project tries to understand these threats and develop ethically acceptable ways of dealing with them. I connect issues of attention and salience with questions regarding tensions between individual autonomy and the public good, issues of social cooperation and coordination, and issues of democratic rights. Applications concern the ethics of nudging, vaccination compliance, and the regulation of social media, reporting, and advertisement.

Papers in Progress

The Case Against Mandatory Vaccination (revise & resubmit)

In this paper I take up whether mandatory vaccination is justified. I locate the strongest case against mandatory vaccination in respect for bodily autonomy and the doctrine of informed consent. I consider two kinds of justifications for overriding these considerations. The first contends that the doctrine of informed consent applies only to individualized health interventions, and not matters of public health. The second appeals to harm—individual and collective—done through vaccination refusal. I argue that these arguments fail to justify mandatory vaccination. Thus, we cannot consistently respect the doctrine of informed consent and protect public health by mandating vaccination.

What is Wrong With Commodifying Attention (with Sebastian Watzl, under review)

We develop an account of the commodification of attention and use it to address what is morally wrong with it. The commodification of attention, we argue, resembles labor markets: individuals give up some control over their capacities (here: attention) in exchange for something they want or need. We show, first, how and why attention markets often lead to problematic consequences when they intersect with other domains. We then employ two resources to argue that such markets are also intrinsically morally risky: (1) the ethical assessment of contested labor markets like those in sex work or reproductive labor, and (2) how attention shapes agency and its role as a gateway in the mind. The commodification of attention, we argue, is prone to undermine individual autonomy and violate the moral duty of respect for persons. We end by proposing measures to address the relevant problems.

Collective Attention: What It Is and Why It Matters

In this paper I provide an account of collective attention, with an eye to answering important normative questions that arise concerning group-level attentional phenomena. It is natural to speak of groups or collectives paying attention to certain things, and to make normative judgements about what groups should attend to.  But what does it mean for a collective to pay attention? And how and when can groups be criticized for what they attend to? While there is a well-established literature on collective belief and joint attention, there is to date no sustained discussion of the nature and normative significance of collective attention. I first argue that joint attention and collective attention are not the same phenomena.  I then distinguish different types of collective attention corresponding to the attention of structured groups (e.g., committees) and non-structure groups (e.g., members of the public). I argue that the attention of structured groups (what I call ‘group attention’) is non-summative, involves the group as the subject of the attention, and requires shared commitment on the part of the group members about the group’s attentional aim and that each member performs their constituent part in bringing about the attentional aim of the group. I show what licenses attributions of collective responsibility for group attention and how to make sense of attributions of praise and blame. The attention of non-structured groups, I argue, is different. I take ‘public attention’ as a leading example. Public attention on an issue, I argue, is summative, and emerges when enough members of the public attend to that issue and where there is common knowledge among members of the public that enough people are attending to the issue. I spell out more fully what these conditions require and show how and when we can deem certain distributions of public attention unjust.


The Just Distribution of Public Attention (with Zsolt Kapelner)

In 2023 the 5 wealthy passengers aboard the missing Titan submersile garnered a lot of public attention. A week earlier, a migrant ship (“the Adriana”) carrying an estimated 750 passengers quietly capsized off the coast of Greece, killing all but about 100 of those aboard. Very little attention was paid to these victims.  In this paper we argue that the passengers of the Adriana suffered an injustice by receiving less public attention than the passengers of the Titan. The more general claim we advance is that distributions of public attention are matters of justice, and we here offer a theory of how public attention ought to be justly distributed. We defend a view we call Public Attention Prioritarianism, according to which we should prioritize those who are worse off for lacking public attention. We end by taking up some practical implications of this principle concerning how social institutions should shape public attention in ways consistent with justice.

Informed Consent: From Bioethics to the Ethics of Attention (in preparation)

This paper examines the possibility of informed consent in the context of the attention economy, and the extent to which individuals should be informed of the risks associated with trading control over attentional capacities in exchange for technological services. 

Peer-Reviewed Publications

Motivation for Participating in Phase 1 Vaccine Trials: Comparison of an Influenza and Ebola Randomized Control Trial (with A. Cattapan, D.M. Halperin, A. Di Castri, P. Fullsack, J. Graham, J.M. Langley, B.A. Taylor, S.A. McNeil, S.A. Halperin)
Vaccine 35.2. (2019): 289-295

This paper reports findings from a survey administered to participants in Phase I (Ebola and Influenza) Vaccine Trials concerning their motivations to participate. While financial incentive ranked among the reasons particpants enrolled, altruistic reasons--like wanting to make a difference and to help others--ranked higher. 

Why Should We Team Reason?

Economics and Philosophy 34.2 (2018): 185-198

Team reasoning is thought to be descriptively and normatively superior to the classical individualistic theory of rational choice primarily because it can recommend coordination on Hi in the Hi-Lo game and cooperation in Prisoner’s Dilemma-type situations. However, left unanswered is whether it is rational for individuals to become team members, leaving a gap between reasons for individuals and reasons for team members. In what follows, I take up Susan Hurley’s attempt to show that it is rational for an individual to become a team member. I argue that her account fails to show that becoming a team member is necessary to gain the advantages of coordination in Hi-Lo games or cooperation in Prisoner’s Dilemma-type situations, and that individuals will often fare better reasoning as individual agents than as members of a team. I argue further that there is a more general problem for team reasoning, specifically that the conditions needed to make it rational for a team member to employ team reasoning make becoming a team member unnecessary.

Voluntary Sterilisation and Access to IVF

Journal of Medical Ethics 44 (2018): 262-265

Bill 20, An Act to Enact the Act to promote access to family medicine and specialized medicine services and to amend various legislative provisions relating to assisted procreation, was introduced to reduce costs associated with Québec’s healthcare in general and in vitro fertilisation (IVF) in particular. Passed in November 2015, the new law introduces a number of exclusion criteria for access to and funding for IVF treatment. Remarkably, one exclusion criterion—prior voluntary sterilisation—has prompted little critical commentary. The two justifications offered for restricting funding for IVF on the basis of voluntary sterilisation are that (1) there are cheaper options than IVF for sterilised individuals who want children, and (2) society should not have to pay for IVF for persons who are infertile by choice. I argue that both of these justifications are unsatisfactory, insofar as they contravene the chief value underlying, and current practices of, Canadian healthcare, and rely on problematic ascriptions of personal responsibility for health.

Reason and Pareto‐Optimization

Southern Journal of Philosophy 55.2 (2017): 196-213

This paper takes up David Gauthier’s most recent (2013) defense of the rationality of cooperation in prisoner’s dilemmas. In that defense, Gauthier argues for a Pareto-optimizing theory of rational choice. According to Gauthier, rational action should sometimes aim at Pareto-optimization, and cooperation in prisoner’s dilemmas is rational because it is Pareto-optimizing. I argue that Pareto-optimization cannot justify cooperation in the prisoner’s dilemma in a manner that is also consistent with Gauthier’s other desiderata. Either: (1) the rationality of cooperation must derive from what is beneficial for the group rather than what is beneficial for the individual, leaving the individual qua individual without any reason to cooperate, or (2) Gauthier cannot explain why defecting in prisoner’s dilemmas is not also rational.

The Measles and Free Riders: California's Mandatory Vaccination Law 

Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 25, no.3 (July 2016): 472-478

In this paper I take up California’s recently passed bill (SB 277) that closes all nonmedical exemptions for school-mandated vaccination. I characterize parental decisions to vaccinate their children as a collective action problem which reveals the presence of an incentive to free ride—to enjoy the benefits of others’ efforts to vaccinate their children without vaccinating one’s own. This article defends California’s legislation as a reasonable means of overcoming the free rider problem and of ensuring that the burdens of vaccination are shared equally.

Why Governance? A Challenge to Good Governance of Biobanks

Monash Bioethics Review 33.4 (2015): 295-300. 

In this commentary on Karla Stroud and Kieran O’Doherty’s ‘Ethically Sustainable Governance in the Biobanking of Eggs and Embryos for Research’ (2015) I call into question the need for good governance to overcome the challenges facing biobanking of eggs and embryos. I argue that the principles of good governance for biobanking that Stroud and O’Doherty outline come up short in providing concrete normative guidance to resolve the challenges associated with a biobank for eggs and embryos.

Two Problems of Cooperation

What Makes Us Moral: On the Capacities and Conditions for Being Moral, eds. Bert Musschenga and Anton Harskamp. Springer Publishers (2013): 31-50.

Morality, Prudential Rationality, and Cheating (with Alister Browne)

Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 16.1 (2007): 53-62. 

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