I am a Lecturer of Philosophy at Texas State University. I study the relationship between emotion and morality, the influence of evolution on human thought and action, and the problems raised by scientific studies of emotion. I approach all of these issues with a steady eye on empirical developments in a number of fields. Among them are neuroscience, psychology, behavioral economics and animal behavior.
My research began by looking at the relationship between anger and retribution. The capacity for anger includes a distinctive motivation to react to provocation. This motivation is backward-looking. It reacts to past events rather than pursuing a goal regarding future outcomes. Without this reactive motivation, it is unlikely that we would find certain retributive intuitions as compelling. Specifically, we would be less likely to punish based on what transgressors deserve and more likely to punish strategically, in order to secure good outcomes associated with punishment (e.g. deterrence or rehabilitation). Some of the questions I have tackled include the following: Why do we have this motivation? Why should we care about responding to past insults or grievances? Does evolution help to explain this? Once we understand the evolution of this particular motivation, will it become any more intelligible? Should we continue to value retributive punishment or would an evolutionary explanation allow us to undermine the credibility of retributive justifications for punishment?
My current research tackles the motivational structure of emotions, the relation of this structure to goal-representations, and the viability of evolutionary accounts of emotion. In future projects, I plan to broaden my focus to include a cluster of attitudes including not only anger and resentment but also contempt, disgust, gratitude, guilt, and shame. I am particularly interested in how these attitudes (and their influence on language and culture) shape our understanding of accountability, complicity, agency, and desert.
I am also increasingly interested in the role of emotions and other motivational states in shaping important dimensions of identity. Recent work on cultural evolution and social learning point to the critical importance of deciding which models or teachers to learn from, and one key strategy is to learn from models who are similar to the self along various dimensions, especially dimensions of gender and ethnicity. Thus, the adaptive value of social learning biases constrains hypotheses about the functional role and architecture of these identities and may help explain the important role that gender and ethnic identities play in human life.