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 promoting social justice through 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.

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).

Recent & Upcoming Talks

* denotes a peer-reviewed presentation

  • “Beyond the Call of Beauty”, University of Zagreb, Croatia, December 2017*.

  • “In Defence of Hate” (with Lee John Whittington), Scottish Emotions Network, University of St Andrews, October 2017.

  • “The Nature and Value of Suffering in Criminal Punishment”, European Philosophical Society for the Study of Emotions, Faculty of Medicine, University of Madrid, Spain, September 2017*.

  • The Pain Factory - Performance at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe's Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas, August 2017.

  • Invited talk on “Affective Imagination and Recidivism Risk Assessment”, The Whole Truth Project Workshop, University of Edinburgh, May 2017.

  • “Ethics in Comprehensive Mechanical Engineering Education”, Delft University of Technology, May 2017.

  • “Affective Imagination and Recidivism Risk Assessment”, Rethinking Risk Workshop, IASH, April 2017.

  • “The Citizens Income & the Philosophy of Fear”, Durham University, February 2017.

  • Invited talk on “Who's Afraid of a Citizens' Income?”, St Andrews University Philosophy Club, November 2016.

  • Invited panel talk “Negative Emotions in the Public Sphere”, Conference for Interdisciplinary Approaches to Politics, University of Leeds, October 2016.

  • Invited talk on “Human Dignity and the Emotions of Fear & Suffering”, Zentrum für interdisziplinäre Forschung, Universität Bielefeld, Germany, August 2016.

  • “Beyond the Call of Beauty: On Aesthetic Saints and Heroes” (with Alfred Archer), European Society for Aesthetics Conference, Barcelona, Spain, June 2016.*

  • “Fear and Suffering”, European Philosophical Society for the Study of Emotions Conference, Athens, June 2016.*

  • Invited talk on “Fear, Uncertainty, and the Citizens' Income”, TiLPS Ethics Research Colloquium, Tilburg University, Netherlands, May 2016.

  • “Plato's Bond of Love: Eros and the Participation Relation”, Relations and Relativity Conference, Durham University, April 2016.*

  • “Political Emotions: Research and Impact”, University of Kent, April 2016.

  • Invited talk on “Reasonable Doubt”, Edinburgh University PhilSoc Lecture Series, February 2016.

  • “Public Policy, Funding & Risk”, Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, University of Cambridge, December 2015.

  • “Gruesome Evidence & Judicial Anger”, University of Stirling, December 2015.

  • “Emotions in the Evaluation of Legal Risk”, European Philosophical Society for the Study of Emotions, July 2015.*

  • “Law and Love”, Edinburgh Law School Staff Seminar Series, July 2015.*