One of the great perks of philosophy as an academic discipline is that it allows you to pursue research in a wide range of fields using various methods. So I tend to write about whatever happens to be on my philosophical radar at the moment. Topics have included free will, intentionality, cultural evolution, cognitive science of religion, the true self, and epistemological issues in Neo-Confucianism, among others. A full list can be found on the publications page.
Having said that, I have two rather long-standing projects that have remained fairly constant throughout my professional career to date.
Confucian Moral Psychology
What did early Confucian writings on ethics assume about human agency and psychology? There are, of course, well known claims and debates concerning human nature, as well as claims about the internal workings of our mental lives. But apart from these, we also find many fascinating discussions regarding the notion of influence and resonance—how things affect, prompt, interact, and shape each other. They also had probing observations about the ways in which power relations shape our moral lives. In an early essay (based upon dissertation research), I argued that Confucians saw persons as points of influence on the world, both in active and passive ways, and that this informed their normative commitments. I extended this project to discussions of early Confucian moral epistemology, especially the considerations motivating their norm of giving others the benefit of a doubt. This led me to explore what it means to think of oneself as a source of influence on others’ behavior, or to come to objective self-awareness, and how this might entail a rather stringent form of self-regulation. More recently, I have explored this topic using resources from network theory in the social sciences.
Folk Morality and Philosophical Metaethics
Many working metaethicists make claims about the nature of folk morality, or how ordinary people think and argue about the moral domain. Analysis of ordinary moral discourse is meant to reveal common platitudes (or truisms) about the nature of morality itself. But do philosophers investigate ordinary moral discourse in any systematic way? How do they arrive at such platitudes? On what grounds are they justified? I’ve been pursuing these questions in a number of papers. A couple of early papers (here and here) touched upon these issues, questioning how we ought to understand certain platitudes about the nature of morality. The first experimental foray gathered evidence suggesting that a foundational assumption in much contemporary metaethical work—namely, that ordinary folk embrace objectivism about morality—may not be true. I then turned to a general discussion of how both objectivism and relativism have been claimed as features of ordinary moral talk, and how we might consider revising current philosophical methodology to better account for the ways in which ordinary folk do seem to conceive of morality. More recently, I’ve been looking at how folk beliefs about morality might be related to other psychological factors, such as their conceptions of God.