I mainly work in ethics and metaphilosophy. I also have a background in philosophy of mind, Ancient (Aristotle), and political philosophy.
The central question that animates my research is to understand what reflection is, and what it is good for. I explore this through several avenues. In my dissertation, I asked how reflection – in the form of ethical decision-making – depends on our feeling capacities. In my more recent research, I ask what our institutionalized form of reflection (academic philosophy) is, and in what sense it is a needed part of any human society.
As individual human beings, I take it, we cannot not reflect on ourselves, our activities, our place within the universe, our social structures, and more, if we want to live a good life (while, as I argued, this kind of reflection includes our feeling capacities in an essential way).
As a society, I take it, we cannot not have an institution that promotes, preserves, teaches and revises this form of reflection, if we want to have a society that is conducive to a good life.
There can also be too much reflection and misguided forms of reflection. Hence, it is not clear at the outset – both for individual human beings as also for philosophy as an academic discipline – how we should deal with our need to reflect. In other words, we need the skill – both individually as also collectively – to distinguish fruitful from harmful forms and amounts of reflection.
My current postdoc project is situated in a research group on the notion of attention. I am working on developing a notion of attention that can be used to better understand the normativity involved in various phenomena.
I develop the normative notion of ‘paying attention’ to include the following two activities:
- actively seeking out an object
- actively preparing oneself for the reception of the object
For example, we can use this notion of paying attention to understand the normativity involved in friendship:
Having a good friendship means paying attention to someone else. Madeleine has a friend, Julia.
1. Madeleine does not just always wait and do nothing until Julia calls her. Instead, every once in a while, Madeleine takes the time to reach out to Julia and asks her how she’s doing, what is going on in her life, and what occupies her mind these days. Hence, she’s actively seeking out the object of her attention, her friend Julia. That’s what good, active friends do.
2. Even before Madeleine approaches Julia, she prepares herself to be ready to respond appropriately to Julia’s stories and concerns. In every friendship there might be topics from each other which are not easy to process. There might be issues Julia tells her about that she feels conflicted about, or that make her jealous, or that make her disagree with Julia. As a good friend, deliberately or habitually, she prepares herself for that kind of situation. It is in this sense that she is preparing herself for the reception of what she gets from her object of attention.
And we can also use this notion of paying attention to understand the normativity involved in doing philosophy (our institutionalized form of reflection):
- Are we actively asking what reflective needs currently exist in society?
- Are we actively developing the right methods to find out about, and respond to, the reflective needs of society?
This gives us a framework to better understand the normative role of philosophy within society.