These are some of the projects I'm working on. If you are interested in any of these questions, please drop me a line and let's brainstorm together.
Importantly, psychological explanations, in particular those that appeal to implicit attitudes, do not trigger this worry.When discussing psychological and structural explanations of social injustice in the context of western philosophy and sociology, a worry raises: if what explains at least some forms of social injustice is not some set of mental states (e.g. implicit bias), but some so-called structural factors (e.g. Haslanger 2015) we are left with a picture of society populated by practices and structures, but no agents. That is, structural explanations, so the worry goes, challenge agency, for how can there be room for agency in social injustice if we are being pushed by external factors into doing what we do? Importantly, psychological explanations, in particular those that appeal to implicit attitudes, do not trigger this worry.
First, I argue that this worry is unfounded, for it is based on a wrong assumption, i.e. structural factors are deterministic external causes. Second, I point out that psychological explanations should trigger the same worry, and indicate three factors that might contribute to make structural explanations unintuitive and seen to trigger the worry. Finally, I call attention to two questions that make psychological explanations problematic.
In relation to the first point, I defend that structural explanations do not take structures to be deterministic, but rather understand structures in probabilistic or modal terms. Under a probabilistic reading, a structure affects the probability distribution over possible states of its parts, while a modal reading understands structures to make certain outcomes more or less modally close. I argue that unless we take agency to be something absolutely and necessarily unbounded, unaffected by any factor, structural explanations of behavior (when we understand structures in probabilistic or modal terms) are compatible with individuals exerting their agency.
With regards to the second point, I explain how some understandings of implicit attitudes pave the way for the claim that psychological explanations should trigger the same worry. For example, if as it has been argued people are biased as a result of living in sexist, racist, etc. societies (Saul 2013), and are alienated from their implicit attitudes (Glasgow 2016), then implicit attitudes are not initiated by the agent, and this seems to indicate a lack of agency. Also, if we take implicit attitudes to be automatized behaviors (or behavioral dispositions), it seems problematic to talk about control, and so agency (understood as having some sort of control over behavior) is jeopardized. I provide three reasons why in spite of this, psychological explanations do not motivate a worry about agency. The reasons are: the individual-centered worldview characteristic of western societies, the allure of reductionist explanations, and a preference for seemingly controllable causes. These three factors contribute to make structural explanations unintuitive, while making psychological explanations attractive.
Finally, I call attention to two questions that make psychological explanations problematic. The first exploits the distinction between individuals and the position they occupy in the structure: what if at least some biases respond not to social identities, but to the positions individuals occupy? The second problem is related to the idea that it is possible to exert some (ecological) control over implicit attitudes (Holroyd & Kelly 2016).
Structural Explanations & Speech Injustice (expanded version)
Implicit bias has recently gained much attention in scholarly attempts to understand and explain different forms of social injustice by identifying causally relevant mental states in individual’ minds. Here we question the explanatory power of implicit bias in a particular type of injustice, testimonial injustice, and more generally in what we call speech injustice. Testimonial injustice occurs when the audience deflates a speaker’s credibility due to the speaker’s perceived social identity (Fricker, 2007). We identify two drawbacks of a widely accepted explanation attributing testimonial injustice to prejudices (e.g. implicit bias) in the mind of the hearer, and argue that further understanding of this phenomenon can be gained from a structural explanation that appeals to discursive conventions and interlocutors’ positions in the communicative exchange.
The Need For Explanation
Why are some things, and not others, in need of an explanation? In virtue of what something needs an explanation? In contrast with existent accounts, in particular Grimm (2008) and more recently Wong & Yudell (2015), I introduce a view that acknowledges and capitalizes the role that values play, in both everyday life and scientific inquiry, in the determination of what stands in need of an explanation. I propose that the need for explanation depends not only on the adequacy between facts and maps or theories, but also on the appropriateness of the choice of contrast space, and the choice of the map/theory. In measuring this appropriateness, not only the epistemic values traditionally acknowledged as part of the scientific process play a role (e.g. predictive capacity, simplicity) but also, and importantly, other types of values, like social and moral.
Foreigners & Inclusion in Academia
This paper discusses the category of foreigner in the context of academia. In the first part I explore this category and its philosophical significance. A quick look at the existent literature reveals that this category needs more attention in analyses of dimensions of privilege and disadvantage. Foreignness has peculiarities that demarcate it from other categories of identity, and it intersects with them in complicated ways. Devoting more attention to it would allow addressing issues affecting foreigners in academia that go commonly unnoticed. In the second part I argue that current efforts to turn academia into a more inclusive environment should address the disadvantages that many foreign academics face. I focus on two senses of foreigner: working and living in a country that is not your country of origin, and being a non-native speaker of the language in which you work. I adopt Verena Erlenbusch’s taxonomy (Erlenbusch ms) and use material foreigner to refer to the former sense, and linguistic foreigner for the latter.
Foreigners in Philosophy
Here is a presentation for the Foreigners in Philosophy workshop I organized at U.C. Berkeley:
Why conceptual change? Well, why not?
Ameliorative projects face the need of justification. Why putting forward an enterprise as big as a change in our concepts. I describe some demands of justifications addressed at ameliorative projects and argue that they are not legitimate, unless we are willing to demand similar justification of descriptive projects, and of the very ways in which we advance our knowledge. I build my argument drawing upon the dynamics of science, where conceptual change and unintuitive moves are common and critical for progress. I take Haslanger’s ameliorative project on race and gender (Haslanger, 2000) as an example of the type of conceptual change that Thagard calls tree switching (Thagard, 1992), and argue that her proposal can be seen as a step forward in the historical development of the concepts of race and gender.
This work builds upon approaches to hate and oppressive speech (Langton, 2014; McGowan, 2044, 2009) and develops an analysis of the dynamics of the question "Where are you from?". I draw a parallelism between instances of that question and other speech acts that have the potential to discriminate not in virtue of their semantic content or speaker's authority, but of the speech act's covert performative force.