My research concerns what we can do to live lives that are meaningful for us, and how we can do those things. I focus on what forms of socially embedded technology can help or hinder our making our lives meaningful, especially in the workplace. This investigation ranges over much fertile terrain, concerning not only meaningful activity, but craft, expertise, and the transforming nature and significance of work. I argue that the social organization of work is more determinative of how meaningful work is, and what opportunities for meaningful work we have, than the technology on hand. We make work meaningful by how we work together.
I am also interested in the nature and ethics of manipulation, especially as mediated by technology like social media and gamification platforms. I go against the grain in arguing that manipulation is not wrong because it threatens autonomy; much manipulation does no such thing. Rather, manipulation is wrong because it frustrates effective cooperation by undermining shared deliberation – deciding together what to do, and how to do it.
Below is a brief list of my writing on these and other topics. For more information, download my CV here.
"Meaningful Work and Achievement in Increasingly Automated Workplaces", in Journal of Ethics (online first, 2023)
As automating technologies are increasingly integrated into workplaces, one concern is that many of the human workers who remain will be relegated to less meaningful work. This paper considers two rival theories of meaningful work, achievementism and the practice view, that might be used to evaluate particular implementations of automation. Of the two, the practice view is the better tool for assessing the future of meaningful work, because achievementism is explanatorily inadequate in two ways. Moreover, the practice view can explain why the most meaningful forms of work cannot be automated.
This paper offers a tripartite analysis of nudging in terms of dispositions to decide using heuristics. It articulates and responds to the worry that nudging an agent undermines her self-guidance by undermining her good reasoning. Good reasoning is compatible with being nudged because the heuristics involved can be good rules to reason with, and the agent can be flexible with respect to their use. However, a more pernicious, manipulation-based worry comes to the fore: that, in nudging, our self-guidance can be exploited to undermine other aspects of our autonomy.
"Manipulative Design Through Gamification", in Fleur Jongepier and Michael Klenk (eds.), The Philosophy of Online Manipulation (Routledge, 2022): 216–234
This paper accounts for gamification as a species of nudging in which game-like rules enable certain patterns of playful, heuristic reasoning and acting. Design choices like these are manipulative when, and because, the activity they induce serves the designers' hidden purposes.
"Meaning in Life and Becoming More Fulfilled", in Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 20.1 (2021): 1–29
This paper connects personal meaning to the pattern of activity over time in which we learn how to better care for things and people in our lives. It argues that this process of becoming more fulfilled through what we do is a genuinely subjective source of meaning in life, and that two popular arguments in the literature against such subjectivist theories fail. It also shows that the view on offer is broadly intuitive.
This paper offers an account of Nietzsche's remarks on cruelty in light of his drive-based picture of human psychology. After offering a conceptual analysis of cruel acts, it argues for a psychologically pluralistic understanding of "the will to power" to make sense of Nietzsche's high regard for cruelty, especially self-directed cruelty, in individual greatness.
Currently, I have paper drafts available (upon request) on whether autonomy can be used to explain why manipulation is pro tanto wrong; on the possibility of ‘value learning AI’ being able to automate paradigmatically meaningful forms of work like caregiving, scientific inquiry, and art-making; and on how expertise can be signaled to manipulate trust on the part of non-experts (with a colleague).
A couple of papers are also in preparation, with drafts available very soon, on meaning in work versus the social meaning(s) of work, explainable AI and the ‘right to explanation’, trusting vs. relying on experts whose expertise one does not understand, and the role of playfulness in meaningful activity.