All of my research is informed by the belief that social and political philosophy ought to be relevant to the design and assessment of real-world social and political institutions, and that it therefore must be cognizant of, and responsive to, non-ideal facts about the world. Given this belief, most of my research is multidisciplinary in nature, seeking to bring together foundational political theory and empirical work in the social sciences in a way which can inform our political and ethical theories, increase their salience to existing social institutions, and provide policy recommendations which are relevant to real world contexts. My work might therefore usefully be construed as "applied political philosophy".
The Social Value of Knowledge
My work in research ethics, and particularly the ethics of research conducted in lower- and middle-income settings, brings foundational work on concepts such as exploitation, the value of autonomy, and the nature and function of clinical research to bear on important applied questions. I argue that the purpose of human subjects research is the production of socially valuable knowledge, and that although other benefits may accrue from conducting, participating in, or hosting research, it is the production of this valuable knowledge which plays the essential justificatory role in utilizing human subjects in clinical trials. Much of my current work is centered on the development of a decision-theoretic framework for assessing the instrumental social value of new information expected from clinical research, and the application of this framework to current problems in research ethics, such as the responsiveness of externally-funded research, the appropriate standards of care and prevention, post-trial access to research data, and the policies governing public funding of clinical trials.
Autonomy and Non-Domination
More recently, I have become interested in the principle of respect for autonomy which is seen as foundational in much of bioethics. I argue that the principle of respect for autonomy, and the various competing conceptions of autonomy that inform it, fail to account for many of the underlying structural features of relationships between persons, and as a result cannot do the normative work that ethicists want it to. Instead, I argue that bioethics would benefit from a recasting of many important problems in terms of the neorepublican notion of freedom as non-domination. It is my belief that many of the normative goals that respect for autonomy is intended to support may be better reached by promoting this kind of freedom. This approach is theoretically more appealing insofar as it is not vulnerable to many of the feminist critiques levied at competing conceptions of autonomny. Moreover, it is explanatorily more powerful insofar as non-domination better captures the kinds of limitations of choice that ethicists are concerned to prevent.
My work in democratic theory is primarily focused on identifying the key empirical assumptions upon which accounts of democratic legitimacy are explicitly or implicitly predicated, and questioning the relevance of such accounts to actual political or other decision-making processes if those assumptions prove to be false. This approach is grounded in the belief that our theories of political legitimacy should inform both the design and normative assessment of decision-making procedures. If accounts of legitimacy are predicated on assumptions which are undermined by empirical data about the cognitive, behavioral, or deliberative capacities of individuals and groups, they cease to provide normative support for actual processes of decision-making.