Current Projects

Law and Emotion

The emerging field of law and emotion aims to identify how emotions matter for legal theory and practice. This is a fundamentally interdisciplinary endeavour, drawing insight from advances across the sciences, social sciences, and humanities. Emotions are dynamic processes that play a critical role in decision-making, especially collective decision-making in which multiple agents interact to form a decision. A pressing avenue of consideration is therefore the place of emotions in group and institutional settings, including the justice system.

This project draws on a broadly virtue-ethical theory of emotions to examine emotional group dynamics in legal decision-making. I have focussed on two sets of legal actors (lawyers and jury, and jurors and jury group) to defend an account of emotion’s power in creating legal values and performing collective deliberation tasks. Emotions such as love, fear, disgustcompassion, and anger can function as sources of information regarding the value of the emotional target or object and why it is worth pursuing cognitively. One question I consider here concerns the conditions (if any) in which emotions can operate as good heuristic guides in legal judgment. 

An urgent yet under-explored area of law and emotion concerns the emotions of those serving sentences. My current research draws on empirical and theoretical work in the philosophy of emotion to examine the role of suffering in criminal punishment. I aim to evaluate when imposing suffering through judicial means is or is not legitimate, and why. 

Emotion and Value in Risk Assessment, Management, and Communication

As part of the Rethinking Risk Project, I am investigating (1) the nature and value of epistemic emotions: how to create spaces that harness the attentional and motivational power of emotions towards the achievement of valuable epistemic goods, and facilitate the development of epistemic virtues; and (2) the role of emotions in imaginative and counterfactual theories of risk.

Political Emotions: The Citizens’ Income

An offshoot of my law and emotions research investigates arguments for and against establishing a Citizens’ Income. I address the cognitive science of fear and insecurity and the impact of these emotions on creative problem-solving.

Engaging the Emotions in Education

This project concerns the educational power of emotion. Here, I am examining developments on Solomon Asch’s now-famous series of experiments regarding group pressure and dissent, to argue for a constructive role of educating the emotions.

A second area of research interest here concerns students’ emotional experience of feedback and assessment. In particular, I am interested in how different methods of feedback and of assessment impact the emotions and how students’ emotional processing of learning material inhibits or enhances their engagement with that material.

History of Emotion

I also hope in time to return to a couple of lingering questions I have about some of the most vibrant yet understudied areas in the history of emotions: particularly pre-Aristotelian theories of emotion, and emotions in classical Athenian law and society.

Doctoral Research

The major work my PhD entailed was a close analysis of the metaphysics of love in Plato’s extraordinary dialogue, the Symposium. The study of the emotions is a significant trend in Platonic scholarship, one which widens the boundaries of ancient philosophy to speak to moral psychology, classical studies, and political theory. My thesis investigated the synthesis of cognition and metaphysics for Plato, particularly related to emotional attraction to the Form of Beauty. My starting point was Plato’s bold claim in line 211d: “Only in beholding beauty is human life worth living.” I argued for a fundamentally generative account of love, which bridges the gap that currently exists in the analyses of Plato’s account of love of beauty and the attainment of beauty: including beauty as a virtue of the soul. On this score, I concluded the thesis with an examination of how my theory can contribute to recent developments regarding the role of emotions in moral education. My PhD was fully-funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and a Shaw Philosophical Fellowship, and was awarded in 2014, with no corrections, from the University of Edinburgh.

Charles Le Brun, Expressions des passions de l'Ame (1732)

Charles Le Brun, Expressions des passions de l'Ame (1732)

Oddly, I have an Erdős-Bacon-Sabbath number of 12 (7+2+3).

Research Presentations