Hi

I am a postdoctoral fellow in the McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society at Stanford University. Part of my time I spend at Apple working on the ethics of machine learning and autonomous systems.

This summer I will take up a position as Assistant Professor in the Department of Public Administration and International Affairs in the Maxwell School.

Recently, I have thought a bit about self-driving cars, written about their ethics, and talked about their politics.

You can also find me on PhilPeople, Twitter, LinkedIn and my bicycle.

Research

My research is in moral and political philosophy as well as in applied ethics. I enjoy exploring conceptual questions about human agency and moral responsibility but also on practical issues about the ethics of self-driving cars, the right to asylum, values in data science and dilemmas of public policy.

Here is an overview of papers and book reviews that I have written.


Papers

Ethics of Technology needs more Political Philosophy   Communications of the ACM

The ongoing debate on the ethics of self-driving cars typically focuses on two approaches to answering such questions: moral philosophy and social science. I argue that these two approaches are both lacking. We should neither deduce answers from individual moral theories nor should we expect social science to give us complete answers. To supplement these approaches, we should turn to political philosophy. The issues we face are collective decisions that we make together rather than individual decisions we make in light of what we each have reason to value. Political philosophy adds three basic concerns to our conceptual toolkit: reasonable pluralism, human agency, and legitimacy. These three concerns have so far been largely overlooked in the debate on the ethics of self-driving cars.

Responsibility for Killer Robots   Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

Future weapons will make life-or-death decisions without a human in the loop. When such weapons inflict unwarranted harm, no one appears to be responsible. There seems to be a responsibility gap. I first reconstruct the argument for such responsibility gaps to then argue that this argument is not sound. The argument assumes that commanders have no control over whether autonomous weapons inflict harm. I argue against this assumption. Although this investigation concerns a specific case of autonomous weapons systems, I take steps towards vindicating the more general idea that superiors can be morally responsible in virtue of being in command.

Paper Published Online
Asylum for Sale: A Market between States that is Feasible and Desirable   Journal of Applied Philosophy 2019

The asylum system faces problems on two fronts. States undermine it with populist politics, and migrants use it to satisfy their migration preferences. To address these problems, asylum services should be commodified. States should be able to pay other states to provide determination and protection-elsewhere. In this article, I aim to identify a way of implementing this idea that is both feasible and desirable. First, I sketch a policy proposal for a commodification of asylum services. Then, I argue that this policy proposal is not only compatible with the right to asylum, but also supported by moral considerations. Despite some undesirable moral features, a market in asylum facilitates the provision of asylum to those who need it.

Paper Published Online

Related publications: This proposal also made it to this book Wenn ich mir etwas wünschen dürfte (Steidl 2017) on the occasion of German general elections, and to a discussion in the Change My View Subreddit here.

Punishing Groups (with Holly Lawford-Smith)   The Monist 2019

Punishing groups raises a difficult question, namely, how their punishment can be justified at all. Some have argued that punishing groups is morally problematic because of the effects that the punishment entails for their members. In this paper we argue against this view. We distinguish the question of internal justice – how punishment-effects are distributed – from the question of external justice – whether the punishment is justified. We argue that issues of internal justice do not in general undermine the permissibility of punishment. We also defend the permissibility of what some call “random punishment.” We argue that, for some kinds of collectives, there is no general obligation to internally distribute the punishment-effects equally or in proportion to individual contribution.

Paper Published Online
Never Mind the Trolley: The Ethics of Autonomous Vehicles in Mundane Situations   Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 2018

Trolley cases are widely considered central to the ethics of autonomous vehicles. I caution against this by identifying four problems. (1) Trolley cases, given technical limitations, rest on assumptions that are in tension with one another. Furthermore, (2) trolley cases illuminate only a limited range of ethical issues insofar as they cohere with a certain design framework. Furthermore, (3) trolley cases seem to demand a moral answer when a political answer is called for. Finally, (4) trolley cases might be epistemically problematic in several ways. To put forward a positive proposal, I illustrate how ethical challenges arise from mundane driving situations. I argue that mundane situations are relevant because of the specificity they require and the scale they exhibit. I then illustrate some of the ethical challenges arising from optimizing for safety, balancing safety with other values such as mobility, and adjusting to incentives of legal frameworks.

Paper Published Online

Related publications:The everyday ethical challenges of self-driving cars,” The Conversation, syndicated in The Boston Globe, and others.

Agency and Embodiment: Groups, Human–Machine Interactions, and Virtual Realities   Ratio 2018

This paper develops a taxonomy of kinds of actions that can be seen in group agency, human–machine interactions, and virtual realities. These kinds of actions are special in that they are not embodied in the ordinary sense. I begin by analysing the notion of embodiment into three separate assumptions that together comprise what I call the Embodiment View. Although this view may find support in paradigmatic cases of agency, I suggest that each of its assumptions can be relaxed. With each assumption that is given up, a different kind of disembodied action becomes available. The taxonomy gives a systematic overview and suggests that disembodied actions have the same theoretical relevance as the actions of any ordinarily embodied human.

Paper Published Online
The Paraphrase Argument against Collective Actions   Australasian Journal of Philosophy 2017

This paper is about the status of collective actions. According to one view, collective actions metaphysically reduce to individual actions because sentences about collective actions are merely a shorthand for sentences about individual actions. I reconstruct an argument for this view and show via counterexamples that it is not sound. The argument relies on a paraphrase procedure to unpack alleged shorthand sentences about collective actions into sentences about individual actions. I argue that the best paraphrase procedure that has been put forward so far fails to produce adequate results.

Published Online

Related publications: The paper prompted a discussion note, which you can find here.

Epistemic landscapes, optimal search and the division of cognitive labor (With Jason Alexander and Chris Thompson)   Philosophy of Science 2015

This paper examines two questions about scientists' search for knowledge. First, which search strategies generate discoveries effectively? Second, is it advantageous to diversify search strategies? We argue pace Weisberg and Muldoon (2009) that, on the first question, a search strategy that deliberately seeks novel research approaches need not be optimal. On the second question, we argue they have not shown epistemic reasons exist for the division of cognitive labor, identifying the errors that led to their conclusions.  Furthermore, we generalize the epistemic landscape model, showing that one should be skeptical about the benefits of social learning in epistemically complex environments.

Paper Published Online

Additional material: The model used for this article is written using NetLogo. The source code of our model is available here. It involves a swarm strategy, which draws on the model by Couzin et al. (2005) and the Boids model. You can find a simple simulation that I wrote to study the behaviour of this model here.



Book Reviews

Understanding Institutions: The Science and Philosophy of Living Together, by Francesco Guala   Journal of Social Ontology 2017
From Individual to Collective Intentionality: New Essays, edited by Sara Rachel Chant, Frank Hindriks, and Gerhard Preyer   Economics and Philosophy 2015


Dissertation

Agency as Difference-making   London School of Economics 2016

We are responsible for some things but not for others. In this thesis, I investigate what it takes for an entity to be responsible for something. This question has two components: agents and actions. I argue for a permissive view about agents. Entities such as groups or artificially intelligent systems may be agents in the sense required for responsibility. With respect to actions, I argue for a causal view. The relation in virtue of which agents are responsible for actions is a causal one. I claim that responsibility requires causation and I develop a causal account of agency. This account is particularly apt for addressing the relationship between agency and moral responsibility and sheds light on the causal foundations of moral responsibility.

Published Online

Teaching

  • Political Ontology: State, Law, and Gender
    Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Summer 2017
  • Authority, Democracy, and Freedom: Themes in Political Philosophy
    Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Summer 2017
  • Philosophy of the Social Sciences
    Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Winter 2016
  • Hard Choices and Transformative Experience
    Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Summer 2016
  • Equality
    University of Bayreuth, Summer 2015
  • Business Ethics
    London School of Economics, Lent Term 2014
  • Agency, Responsibility and Artificial Intelligence
    University of Bayreuth, Winter 2014
  • Ethics of Markets
    University of Bayreuth, Summer 2013
  • Philosophy of the Social Sciences
    London School of Economics, 2012-13
  • Policy Evaluation and Cost-Benefit-Analysis
    University of Bayreuth, Winter 2012
  • Reason, Knowledge and Values
    London School of Economics, 2011-12

Courses at LSE were taught as a teaching assistant; all other courses were taught as primary instructor.

  • since 2019Syracuse University

    Starting in the summer of 2019 I will be an Assistant Professor in the Department of Public Administration and International Affairs in the Maxwell School at Syracuse University.
  • 2017 — 2019Stanford University

    I am currently a postdoctoral fellow in the McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society.
  • 2015 — 2014Humboldt-Universität Berlin

    I was postdoctoral fellow at the department of philosophy and IRI THESys.
  • 2010 — 2016London School of Economics

    I read for a masters degree in Philosophy and Public Policy and did my PhD in Philosophy supervised by Christian List and Richard Bradley.
  • 2006 — 2010University of Bayreuth

    In the town of Wagner I studied for a bachelor degree in Philosophy and Economics.

Download CV

You can download my CV as a PDF.