Current projects

Relational autonomy and relational equality (with Natalie Stoljar, 2016-2019)

Natalie Stoljar and I recently received an Insight Development Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada to explore the philosophical connections between the notions of relational autonomy and relational equality. It will investigate four preliminary sets of issues. First, although relational autonomy and relational equality are both forms of relational theory, their motivation and emphasis are somewhat different. The project’s initial task will be to investigate whether the two debates have similar or distinct commitments in virtue of which they are both forms of relational theory. Second, the project will examine whether resources from one literature can be employed to respond to objections in the other. For instance, it has been objected that relational equality theorists simply assume rather than explain the injustice of unequal relationships. Can resources from the relational autonomy literature be employed to answer this objection? Third, the literatures on relational autonomy and relational equality suggest that oppressive hierarchies are inimical to autonomy and equality respectively. The project will analyze the ways in which relational concepts of autonomy and equality illuminate the morally problematic impact of oppression. Finally, the project will turn to an important debate within contemporary political philosophy between liberalism and perfectionism. It has been argued that the strongest forms of relational autonomy theory presuppose egalitarianism, and hence are criticizable as ‘illiberal’ forms of perfectionism. The project will take up this challenge to investigate whether relational autonomy presupposes relational equality and, if so, whether this is a form of perfectionism. Should either relational autonomy or relational equality be jettisoned on this basis?

Measuring global health (with Sam Harper, Nicholas King and Meredith Young, 2012-2018)

Funded by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, this project seeks to assess the suitability of the new DALY methodology in aiding decisions about resource allocation to address problems in global health. Addressing problems of global health requires the appropriate allocation of highly scarce resources. Decisions about how available funds should be spent must be sensitive to a variety of pressing health needs while also meeting considerations of fairness and legitimacy. Global health measures are an important instrument in such decisions since they can provide an assessment of the state of global health as well as allow us to quantify the health impact of different interventions and policy approaches. However, one of the most prominent measures of population health – the disability-adjusted life-year (DALY) developed as part of the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study – has been hugely controversial. Partly in response to the objections levelled against it, the measure has recently undergone its first major methodological revision since its inception in the 1990s. The aim of this project is to assess the suitability of the new DALY methodology in aiding decisions about resource allocation to address problems in global health. In particular, we will assess empirically how health measures are used in decisions about resource allocation in the real world, and we will conduct an initial experimental investigation into some possible concerns regarding the revised methodology underlying the new DALY.

Related publications:

(with Nicholas B. King). Out of alignment? Limitations of the Global Burden of Disease in Assessing the Allocation of Global Health Aid. Public Health Ethics, forthcoming.

(with Nicholas B. King). Disability weights in the Global Burden of Disease 2010 study: Two steps forward, one step back? Bulletin of the World Health Organization 2014, 92, 226–228.

Measuring global health. In Patti Tamara Lenard and Christine Straehle (eds.), Global Justice and Health Inequalities. Edinburgh University Press, 2012, pp. 139-156. [PDF]

Equality: distributive and relational perspectives (2013-2017)

As part of a project funded by the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Société et culture (FRQSC), I explored the relationship between distributive and relational conceptions of equality. Distributive approaches, such as luck egalitarianism, seek to directly assess the fairness of distributions (e.g. of welfare or some other equalisandum). Relational egalitarians, by contrast, argue that the focus of equality must be on how citizens relate to one another (and, on some accounts, on how institutions relate to citizens). As part of this project, I also became interested in concerns of testimonial injustice, which is concerned with how individuals relate to one another in their capacity as knowers. I plan to teach a class on different conceptions of equality in the autumn.

Related publications:

Testimonial injustice and speakers’ duties. Journal of Social Philosophy, forthcoming. [PDF]

Distributive equality, relational equality, and preferences about higher education. Theory and Research in Education 2017, 15(2), 109-128. [PDF]

Review of Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen, Luck Egalitarianism (Bloomsbury, 2016). Ethics 2017, 127(4), 939-943. [PDF]

(with Gry Wester). Relational equality and healthSocial Philosophy and Policy 2015, 31(2), 204-229. [PDF]