Each month, we sit down with a member of our research team to learn more about their areas of expertise, what the turning points have been in their career, and what inspires them in their daily lives…
What is your current area of research?
I have three current areas of research. First, in meta-ethics, I bring work on what metaphysics is and how it should be done to bear on debates about the metaphysics of morality and of normativity more generally. Second, in normative ethics, I explore the ethics of transformative experience, and its relation to love, friendship, family, and interpersonal value. Third, in analytic philosophy and ethics of culture, where I think about cultural identity, group membership, and belonging.
What question or challenge were you setting out to address when you started this work?
For the meta-ethics project, I was setting out to make sense of so-called ‘quietist’ or ‘relaxed’ forms of moral realism. These views have struck most meta-ethicists as hopeless. I think this is a mistake. To see why requires using work on the nature of metaphysics to inform what we could possibly be doing when we do the metaphysics of morality.
In the ethics of transformative experience, I set out to understand what is morally at stake when we consider trying to stop those we stand in special relationships to – friends, family, romantic partners – from making transformative choices, like having a child, getting married, or ending a relationship.
In the philosophy of culture, I honestly set out to make sense of my own experience as a ‘third culture kid’, that is, someone who spent a significant number of their developmental years outside of their parents’ culture or that of their birth.
Share a turning point or defining moment in your work as a philosophical researcher?
Three stand out. The first was being supervised by Roger Crisp and Tim Williamson for my DPhil (PhD) at Oxford. I couldn’t have asked for better supervisors.
Second, publishing a paper in Ethics that, I hope, illustrates the fruitfulness of my first project.
Third, publishing a paper in Analysis on the ethics of transformative experience that received substantial media attention: at the time of writing, it has the all-time highest Altmetric score of any Analysis paper (more, to my disbelief, than Edmund Gettier’s famous paper). That was itself a very interesting transformative experience!
Briefly, what excites you about your research?
That I get to (try to) think carefully about what the late, great Harry Frankfurt called questions that arise ‘as a human being trying to cope in a modestly systematic manner with the ordinary difficulties of a thoughtful life.’
I want to know what the world is like and how it ought to be, and my work is my small attempt to contribute to figuring that out. I can’t think of anything more exciting to make a living doing, alongside teaching this wonderful stuff to students.
What do you like to do when you aren`t working?
When I’m not working?! I’m not sure when that last happened, so I’ll have to cast my mind quite far back. But as far as I can remember, I think I enjoy museums, film, reading (mostly history and poetry, and philosophy – sorry!), music, martial arts, travel, wine, good food, old pubs, spending time with friends and family, and exploring beautiful – mostly old – places (especially if it involves a long walk and good conversation).
What are you currently reading?
In philosophy, I am currently reading Andrew Sepielli’s Pragmatist Quietism for a book review I’m writing on it for The Philosophical Quarterly. Outside of philosophy, I am reading My Uncle Napoleon by Iraj Pezeshkzad, a classic of modern Persian literature.
Do you have a favourite movie?
Kevin Reynolds’ film adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo. It is not the best film I’ve ever seen, but it is my favourite. Richard Harris as the learned Abbé Faria is particularly good, as he always was.
Is there a work of art that inspires you?
I am great fan of the English Romantic painters, especially John Martin and J.M. Turner. The Last Judgement, a triptych by Martin, is my favourite. Persian carpets, miniatures, and calligraphy are also dear to me. I’ve a calligraphy piece from Isfahan, from my mother, that reads, translated into English, ‘This Too Shall Pass’. It is an ancient Persian saying with a storied poetic history.
What would people be surprised to find out about you?
I spent much of my childhood training and competing in various combat sports; I almost pursued careers as an actor and as a professional fighter; I’ve lived in over 10 cities across five (soon six) countries and three continents; I love video games; and I have a deep, irrational fear of swimming in the ocean (despite being a keen swimmer; I think I’m terrified of sharks).