My research concerns issues in moral psychology and moral philosophy—including self-knowledge and self-opacity, moral responsibility, and moral repair. I also work on Kant, especially his practical philosophy: I have published an essay on Kant and Freud, and am currently revising a paper on Kant’s concept of self-conceit and its relation to respect. Finally, I am interested in 19th and 20th Century European philosophy, aesthetics and criticism, and psychoanalytic theory. I am currently preparing a project that will bring these interests together, on responsibility for dreams and the aesthetic and ethical function of representations of dreams in film.
My dissertation provides a philosophical account of what I call practical self-opacity, the state of not knowing or understanding why one acts as one does. This often disorienting experience is familiar from ordinary life, and is a frequent theme of literature and film, yet it has not received adequate philosophical attention. Part of the problem is that within much mainstream moral philosophy, self-opacity is conceived solely negatively, as a failure of agency and an obstacle to ethics. In contrast I argue that practical self-opacity should be conceived not as a contingent privation but as a constitutive element of human agency. I also propose a different conception of its ethical value. On my view, practical self-opacity can be conceived as potentially ethically productive. Specifically, I argue that this involves cultivating a non-defensive relationship to self-opacity and that this is crucial for ethical relations with others and for moral growth. My work connects both to contemporary research in moral psychology (for example, Arpaly’s Unprincipled Virtue, Doris’ Talking to Ourselves, and Sher’s Who Knew? Responsibility Without Awareness) and to historical figures who challenge the idea and norm of self-transparency (especially Nietzsche and Freud, but also Kant).