Trained as a lawyer, cognitive scientist, and philosopher, my research employs the methods of experimental cognitive science and analytic philosophy to address topics in legal theory, many of which are also of practical significance.
For example, I use experiments to study legal interpretation and evaluate what different tools of interpretation tell us about the “ordinary meaning” of legal texts. In other experimental work I examine the ordinary criteria of concepts of legal significance (e.g. reasonableness). This research program reflects the emerging field of “experimental jurisprudence,” an experimental-philosophical approach to legal theory.
Among the most pervasive legal tasks is the interpretation of legal texts. And within interpretation, perhaps the most pervasive inquiry is the search for "ordinary meaning." Interpretation--of constitutions, contracts, deeds, patents, regulations, statutes, treaties, trusts, and wills--regularly includes evaluation of how the text would be understood by ordinary people. A central component of my research involves the experimental study of ordinary meaning in legal interpretive contexts. One set of studies reveals whether dictionaries or corpus linguistics provide reliable evidence about ordinary meaning.
Private Law Theory
Legal and Moral Theory
I write on topics in moral and legal philosophy such as how theories should confront the imperfect acceptance of rules. In other work I have studied the nature of moral, legal, and philosophical "intuitions," asking whether they are reliable and if professionals - such as ethicists, judges, or philosophers - have expertise in intuition. I address questions like these in theoretical and experimental work.
Much of my work uses experimental methods to study concepts, especially ones central to debates in legal philosophy. In How People Judge What Is Reasonable, I report a study finding that the ordinary concept of reasonableness is a "hybrid concept," reflecting both statistical and prescriptive norms: consideration of what is common and what is good. The second half of that project provides a normative analysis regarding whether legal reasonableness standards should reflect this hybrid feature of the ordinary concept. Other experimental projects study concepts including intentional action, consent, causation, motive, contract, the self, and the law itself.
Empirical Legal Studies
In addition to my experimental work, I also pursue collaborations in empirical legal studies. Some of these projects employ traditional methods of empirical legal scholarship, while others make use of recent advances in machine learning and natural language processing. As one example, Elliott Ash and I are creating a machine learning legal dictionary.
The Self and Personal Identity
Which types of change make someone seem like "no longer the same person"? I've found that deteriorations seem more disruptive to identity, compared to similar improvements. My theoretical work asks whether this is an untrustworthy judgment, erroneously affecting our judgment of mental deterioration. More recent experimental work discovers similar judgments about changing non-human entities (e.g. organizations), and suggests that folk teleology drives these judgments.
Publication List and Links
Testing Ordinary Meaning, 133 Harvard Law Review (forthcoming 2020)
How People Judge What Is Reasonable, 70 Alabama Law Review 297 (2018)
Water is and is not H2O, Mind & Language (2019) [with J. Knobe & G. Newman)
Folk Teleology Drives Persistence Judgments, Synthese (2019) [with D. Rose & J. Schaffer]
Rule Consequentialism's Assumptions, Utilitas (2018)
"Personal Identity," in Oxford Handbook on Moral Psychology (J. Doris & M. Vargas eds. forthcoming) [with D. Shoemaker]
Estimating the Reproducibility of Experimental Philosophy, Review of Philosophy & Psychology (2018) [one of forty co-authors]
Disparate Statistics, Yale Law Journal 26(8): 2382 (2017)
Philosophy's Practical Turn, Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities 29: 239 (2017)
A Defense of Scalar Utilitarianism, American Philosophical Quarterly (2017).
“Intuition and its Critics,” in The Routledge Companion to Thought Experiments (J. Brown, Y. Fehige & M. Stuart eds. 2017) [with Stich].
“Experimental Philosophy and the Philosophical Tradition,” in The Blackwell Companion to Experimental Philosophy (W. Buckwalter & J. Sytsma eds. 2016) [with Stich].
Does Religious Belief Infect Philosophical Analysis?, Religion, Brain & Behavior 6(1): 56-66 (2016).
Personal Identity, Direction of Change, and Neuroethics, Neuroethics 9(1): 37-43 (2016).
The Language of War, The Monist 99(1): 40-54 (2016).
Normative judgments and individual essence, Cognitive Science (2016) [with J. De Freitas, G. Newman & J. Knobe].
Personal identity and the Phineas Gage effect, Analysis 75(3): 396-405 (2015).
Wonder and Value, Res Philosophica 92(4): 1-26 (2015).
Philosophical Method and Intuitions as Assumptions, Metaphilosophy 46(4) (2015).
The effects of cleanliness and disgust on moral judgment, Philosophical Psychology 28(4): 556-568 (2015).
Review of Moral Tribes by J. Greene, Philosophical Psychology (2014).
Rule Consequentialism and the Problem of Partial Acceptance, Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 16(3): 643-652 (2013).
Cleanliness is Next to Morality, Even for Philosophers, Journal of Consciousness Studies 20(11-12): 195-204 (2013) [with Stich & Chapman].
Moral intuitions: Are philosophers experts?, Philosophical Psychology 26(5): 629-638 (2013) [with Buckwalter & Stich].