Current Academic Research

My philosophical research interests are primarily concentrated in applied ethics, normative ethics, and epistemology. Although I have been drawn to a variety of issues in different subfields in applied ethics, the dominant focus of my recent work has been intergenerational ethics, particularly the intersection between environmental ethics and procreative ethics. My main interests in epistemology are the ethics of belief and peer disagreement.

I have highlighted a few topics I am currently researching in the sections below. My Papers and Vitae also provide some insight into research I have conducted in the past.

Overpopulation

If you visit a webpage with a world population clock, you'll quickly notice two things: global human population is greater than 7.3 billion, and it is still steadily growing. Until recently, the dominant thought with respect to global population was that it would peak at about 9 billion in 2050 and stabilize or perhaps begin to decline, but recent projections from the United Nations and some other studies suggest that population stabilization may not occur this century at all. We could have a global population of greater than 11 billion by 2100 if current trends continue.

It's easy to be skeptical of concerns about population because those who predicted population catastrophes in the past, most notably Thomas Malthus and Paul Ehrlich, overestimated the impacts of population growth. Nevertheless, it is a mistake to ignore one of the variables in the IPAT Equation: environmental impact is a result of the multiplicative contribution of population, affluence, and technology. Even if we assume that technological innovation will reduce per capita ecological footprint, these reductions will not result in an overall decrease in environmental impact if population growth outpaces them.

Serious talk about population growth is often avoided, however. Discussing the issue brings to mind worries about forced abortions and mandatory sterilizations – severe infringements on reproductive freedom that are generally regarded as morally abhorrent. There is no doubt that taking population seriously requires directly addressing the conflict between promoting a sustainable population and promoting procreative liberties, and given the severity of the problems to which population growth contributes (such as climate change, biodiversity loss, and resource depletion), it's quite possible that no tidy resolution to this conflict will be forthcoming. But that's hardly an excuse to ignore the problem or act as if the carrying capacity of the Earth is infinite. Some recent contributions to academic philosophy, such as the collection Life on the Brink and Sarah Conly's One Child, indicate that philosophers are starting to share this sentiment.

In The Environmental Impact of Overpopulation: The Ethics of Procreation (forthcoming in 2020), I address the difficult moral question of what we ought to do – both collectively and as individuals – in response to rising global population. Although I do engage with some of the traditional issues in population ethics, such as the non-identity problem, my main aim is to craft moral principles that can help us respond appropriately to our actual population problem in light of the empirical facts about it. One of the dissertation's guiding themes is that responding adequately to overpopulation requires a long-term focus: we must take seriously the equal moral status of those who will not be born for centuries or even millenia. Taking the moral status of future people seriously means, among other things, that we should pursue lasting solutions to these problems rather than those that will only prove satisfactory for the next few generations. Unfortunately, developing such a long-lasting solution to the population problem without compromising other crucial moral values is no easy task.

Compensating Future People for Biodiversity Loss

One of the most significant environmental crises of the 21st century is the accelerated rate at which nonhuman species are going extinct. This biodiversity loss results from habitat destruction, climate change, poaching, and various other environmentally destructive human activities. The world that future generations inherit will be one that is far less biologically diverse than the one we currently inhabit. Typically, when we cause harm to someone else, we have a duty to compensate them for the harm they have suffered. Thus, I'm interested in considering the possibility that we have an obligation to compensate future people for biodiversity loss. We may have the technology in the future to resurrect extinct species or to create new species with similar appearances and ecological niches to old species. Could this serve as a means of compensation for future generations – a means of undoing some of the biodiversity loss that we have caused? And if so, is pursuing this research a moral obligation? I'm trying to answer these questions by by drawing on some of the ideas about intergenerational compensation that I first explored in my Master's Thesis.

Understanding Bioddiversity's Value

In What's So Good about Biodiversity?, Don Maier questions whether biodiversity is actually valuable. His central criticism is that all candidates for being the core value of biodiversity do not hold up to critical scrutiny. While most conservation biologists have not been persuaded by Maier's reasoning, an in-depth response to his central arguments has not yet appeared. I argue, in contrast to Maier, that biodiversity is quite valuable even if his central argument is ultimately successful. The value of biodiversity is best understood as a plurality of different but interrelated components, any one of which could be the primary source of its value in a given context.

Peer Disagreement

When we encounter another person who knows just as much about an issue as we do and holds a different belief about this issue than we do, we often worry that our belief may be mistaken. After all, if my peer has the same expertise on the subject matter as I do and the same access to information, doesn't her reaching a different conclusion about it suggest that my process of reasoning could have been mistaken? One of my current research agendas is to consider how we ought to answer this question. What impact (if any) should peer disagreement have on the beliefs I hold? In particular, I am exploring ways in which beliefs about peer disagreement might conform to our ordinary ways of conducting our intellectual lives, such as our conviction that appealing to the consensus of experts can be sufficient to justify one's belief about a topic, even if one knows little about the topic in question.

Skepticism about Complex Philosophical Arguments

Some philosophical arguments are simple and require affirming only a few premises to support their conclusion. Others are much more complicated. A common line of thought about arguments is that simpler arguments are better, other things equal. (See the Stanford Encyclopedia's entry on Simplicity for an overview of this position.) While I agree with this view, I worry that its significance is not taken seriously enough among philosophers. Based on straightforward principles of probabilistic reasoning and the prevalence of peer disagreement with respect to so many of the crucial premises in philosophical arguments, I suspect that (prima facie) the appropriate attitude to take toward any complex philosophical argument is skepticism about the truth of its conclusion, even if all the premises seem reasonable.

I am still in the process of formulating a formal version of this argument and determining what the implications of this view would be. There is a significant worry, for instance, that such an attitude would lead to a deep skepticism about many philosophical positions, since developing simple arguments for certain views may not be possible. My hope is that this implication can be avoided or at least mitigated, but we will have to see where the argument leads.

Biography

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I am currently a postdoctoral scholar affiliated with the philosophy department at the University of South Florida. My primary research interests are applied ethics and epistemology.

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E-mail: tgh1@usf.edu

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