My Research Interests
My research primarily concerns what it is for human beings to live well. I started out being interested in how people should reason or think about how to live their lives, which led me to write The Reflective Life: Living Wisely With Our Limits (Oxford 2008). In this book I tried to articulate an ideal of “reflective wisdom” that people need to live good lives, given our various psychological limitations. From here, I developed a theory of well-being that I call the Value Fulfillment Theory (Well-Being as Value Fulfillment: how we can help each other to live well, Oxford 2018). According to this theory, a person’s life goes well to the extent that she pursues, and fulfills or actualizes, her appropriate values over time according to the standards she takes to define success for those values.
In both books, values play a central role and the background philosophical worldview is Humean (after the Enlightenment philosopher, David Hume). When I say that I’m a “Humean” I just mean that I share with Hume the basic assumption that norms and values must be located in the natural world and, in some way, grounded in our subjectivity (our values, sentiments, passions), rather than in pure principles of reason or special facts about the world. Some of my earlier work aimed to show that Humeans can make sense of normative notions like values by appealing to how our sentiments form stable patterns that constitute justifications for us. I pursue these abstract questions in various papers I have written on constructivism, moral epistemology, and methodology in ethics.
My interest in well-being, and the inspiration of Hume, led me to be interested in what psychologists have to say about the topic. As I began to read psychological research on well-being, happiness, and virtue, I began to wonder about the division of labor between philosophers and psychologists, and to think about the question of what philosophers and psychologists each contribute to the study of well-being. This interest has expanded to a general interest in empirically informed ethics and epistemology. Eventually, I wrote a textbook on the topic, Moral Psychology: A Contemporary Introduction (Routledge 2015). I’ve also started to collaborate with psychologists on well-being in the workplace, well-being and personality psychology, well-being and genetics, epistemic virtue, and moral and epistemic agency.