RESEARCH

​​The overarching theme of my work is the ethics of thinking. I'm interested in questions about:

  • Whether it is wrong to think certain thoughts or to use problematic categories, and if it is, whether it is fair to hold people responsible for doing so;

  • What constitutes morally or intellectually irresponsible practices of belief formation, revision, and transmission;

  • The politics of these practices, particularly insofar as they intersect with social injustice.

My interest in these topics has led to papers on epistemic injustice, moral responsibility, and conceptual engineering. Not all of these are on the ethics of thinking directly – some papers are meant to lay the conceptual groundwork for further research. In the near future I plan to write a book tying these strands together.

I have two major secondary research interests. The first is the philosophy of education, on which I wrote my M.A. thesis in Social Justice Education at the University of Toronto. The second is the philosophy of computer science, especially social and ethical issues connected with cybertechnology.

Current Projects

EPISTEMIC INJUSTICES

Epistemic injustices occur when someone is wronged in their capacity as a knower. As discussed by Miranda Fricker, epistemic injustices can take two forms: testimonial, when a speaker is unjustly viewed as less credible than they are on the basis of a prejudice held by the hearer, and hermeneutical, when the conceptual or linguistic tools needed to make sense of someone's social experiences have been unjustly excluded from the mainstream of society. I'm writing papers on the following issues in this area:

  • An analysis of miseducation as a distinctive form of epistemic injustice. (Outlined.)

  • Discussion of whether we are ever morally responsible for being ignorant of the concepts needed to interpret others' social experiences (In progress.)

  • Whether extremists could face hermeneutical injustices when their strange and politically dangerous views fail to be understood by the mainstream of society. Collaboration with Charlie Crerar. (Under review.)

  • Introducing a distinction between hermeneutical injustices that occur when the subject fails to understand their own social experience (the type most commonly emphasized in the literature), and when the subject is unable to communicate their social experience to someone differently situated in society. (Completed, see "Hermeneutical Dissent," below.)

RESPONSIBILITY

I'm interested in both moral responsibility (when are we responsible for the actions we take and the attitudes we acquire? what does it mean to act responsibly?) and intellectual responsibility (when are we responsible for the beliefs we acquire and the concepts we use? what does it mean to think and inquire responsibly?), as well as connections between the two. I'm also interested in issues that arise when the answers to these questions are unclear due to good or bad luck. I'm writing papers on the following issues in this area:

  • Discussion of whether we are ever morally responsible for being ignorant of the concepts needed to interpret others' social experiences (In progress.)

  • Vicarious responsibility (when someone is responsible for the behaviour of another agent or non-agential process) and its relationship with the notion of taking responsibility for something. (Under review.)

  • Why rebuke is an inappropriate way to express epistemic blame. (Under review.)

  • Whether we are ever morally responsible for using defective concepts. (Completed, see "Conceptual Responsibility," below.

EDUCATION

I'm interested in the philosophy of education in general, as well as in the higher education context specifically. I'm writing papers on the following issues in this area:

  • An analysis of miseducation as a distinctive form of epistemic injustice. (Outlined.)

  • The surprisingly long history of the debate over whether universities should be devoted to basic research or practical education, and why both sides are wrong. (Completed, see "The Concept of a University," below.)

COMPUTING

Since teaching computer ethics at Dalhousie University, I have started several projects on the philosophy of computer science. Most of these concern the ethics of cybertechnology. I'm also working with Darren Abramson on a project exploring and critiquing popular natural language processing datasets, which you can follow on GitHub. I'm writing papers on the following issues in this area:

  • Whether it is even possible to trust big tech companies. (Outlined.)

  • Social media, extended cognition, and epistemic agency. (In progress.)

  • A critique of natural language processing datasets. Collaboration with Darren Abramson. (In progress.)

 

Publications

MORAL ENTANGLEMENT: TAKING RESPONSIBILITY AND VICARIOUS RESPONSIBILITY

Forthcoming (in press).

The Monist (forthcoming).

     Abstract: Vicarious responsibility is sometimes analysed by considering the different kinds of agents involved—who is vicariously responsible for the actions of whom? In this paper, I discuss vicarious responsibility from a different angle: in what sense is the vicarious agent responsible? I do this by considering the ways in which one may take responsibility for events caused by another agent or process. I discuss three senses of taking responsibility—accepting fault, assuming obligations, and fulfilling obligations—and the forms of vicarious responsibility that correspond to these. I end by explaining how to judge which sense applies in a given case, based on the degree of (what I call) moral entanglement between the agent and what they should take responsibility for.

CONCEPTUAL RESPONSIBILITY

Forthcoming (published online August 2019). Online at Taylor & Francis.

Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy (forthcoming).

     Abstract: Conceptual engineering is concerned with the improvement of our concepts. The motivating thought behind many such projects is that some of our concepts are defective. But, if to use a defective concept is to do something wrong, and if to do something wrong one must be in control of what one is doing, there might be no defective concepts, since we typically are not in control of our concept use. To address this problem, this paper turns from appraising the concepts we use to appraising the people who use them. First, I outline several ways in which the use of a concept can violate moral standards. Second, I discuss three accounts of moral responsibility, which I call voluntarism, rationalism, and psychologism, arguing that each allows us to find at least some cases where we are responsible for using defective concepts. Third, I answer an objection that because most of our concepts are acquired through processes for which we are not responsible, our use of defective concepts is a matter of bad luck, and not something for which we are responsible after all. Finally, I conclude by discussing some of the ways we may hold people accountable for using defective concepts.

THE CONCEPT OF A UNIVERSITY: THEORY, PRACTICE, AND SOCIETY

May 2019. Online at Brill.

Danish Yearbook of Philosophy 52, Special Issue: Revisiting the Idea of the University.

     Abstract: Current disputes over the nature and purpose of the university are rooted in a philosophical divide between theory and practice. Academics often defend the concept of a university devoted to purely theoretical activities. Politicians and wider society tend to argue that the university should take on more practical concerns. I critique two typical defenses of the theoretical concept—one historical and one based on the value of pure research—and show that neither the theoretical nor the practical concept of a university accommodates all the important goals expected of university research and teaching. Using the classical pragmatist argument against a sharp division between theory and practice, I show how we can move beyond the debate between the theoretical and practical concepts of a university, while maintaining a place for pure and applied research, liberal and vocational education, and social impact through both economic applications and criticism aimed at promoting social justice.

HARMS AND WRONGS IN EPISTEMIC PRACTICE

November 2018. Online at Cambridge Core.

Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement 84, Cambridge University Press.

Edited book (co-editors: Simon Barker and Charlie Crerar), reviewed.

Contributors: Alison Bailey, Olivia Bailey, Heather Battaly, Simon Barker, Havi Carel, Quassim Cassam, Charlie Crerar, Miranda Fricker, Trystan S. Goetze, Heidi Grasswick, Keith Harris, Casey Rebecca Johnson, Ian James Kidd, Alessandra Tanesini.

     From the Back Cover: How we engage in epistemic practice, including our methods of knowledge acquisition and transmission, the personal traits that help or hinder these activities, and the social institutions that facilitate or impede them, is of central importance to our lives as individuals and as participants in social and political activities. Traditionally, Anglophone epistemology has tended to neglect the various ways in which these practices go wrong, and the epistemic, moral, and political harms and wrongs that follow. In the past decade, however, there has been a turn towards the non-ideal in epistemology. This volume gathers new works by emerging and world-leading scholars on a significant cross section of themes in non-ideal epistemology. Articles focus on topics including intellectual vices, epistemic injustices, interpersonal epistemic practices, and applied epistemology. In addition to exploring the various ways in which epistemic practices go wrong at the level of both individual agents and social structures, the papers gathered herein discuss how these problems are related, and how they may be addressed.

HERMENEUTICAL DISSENT AND THE SPECIES OF HERMENEUTICAL INJUSTICE

Winter 2018. Online at Wiley Online Library.

Hypatia 33(1): 73–90.

     Abstract: According to Miranda Fricker, a hermeneutical injustice occurs when there is a deficit in our shared tools of social interpretation (the collective hermeneutical resource), such that marginalized social groups are at a disadvantage in making sense of their distinctive and important experiences. Critics have claimed that Fricker's account ignores or precludes a phenomenon I call hermeneutical dissent, where marginalized groups have produced their own interpretive tools for making sense of those experiences. I clarify the nature of hermeneutical injustice to make room for hermeneutical dissent, clearing up the structure of the collective hermeneutical resource and the fundamental harm of hermeneutical injustice. I then provide a more nuanced account of the hermeneutical resources in play in instances of hermeneutical injustice, enabling six species of the injustice to be distinguished. Finally, I reflect on the corrective virtue of hermeneutical justice in light of hermeneutical dissent.

 

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